For most people, today is just another ordinary day, one of countless dull Wednesdays you will experience throughout your long, boring, pointless life. Unless you wrote a check this morning, you probably didn't even notice that it's February 29, also known as leap day, which only occurs every four years (except for years evenly divisible by 100 but not 400!). And why should you notice? Outside the world of 30 Rock, leap day is just an uncelebrated calendar quirk, not a holiday. But for those select few who were actually born on leap day, it's a special day indeed. People, like, say, Don Ruge Jr., an artist from Longmont, Colorado. Yesterday, we spoke to Ruge about what the world is like for people like him — celebrating birthdays, filling out forms, and dealing with morons who confuse leap years and dog years.
How old are you tomorrow?
I’ll be turning 60, or 15 in leap years.
You obviously consider yourself to be 60 though, not 15, right? That would be weird.
What do people born on leap days prefer to be called? Is it "Leap Babies," or "Leapers," or ... "the birthday-impaired," or something like that?
[Laughs] Birthday-impaired, I like that. You know, all these years I don't really have a preference or actually even remember being called anything specifically. I think Leap Baby is kind of corny, but I guess when people do say something, if I mention my birthday, they say, "Oh, you're a Leap Year baby."
Growing up, what was the first time you realized that you were ... different?
I think [it wasn't until] I was maybe around 12 or 13, because we'd still celebrate my birthday on the 28th (versus the first of March). Actually, that has continued. I've tried March 1, but since it's gone into that next month — we connect a lot with the month we're born in. I think of my birthday as the last day in February, so in the off years that I've tried March 1, that didn't feel right. So I've pretty much kept it as February 28, and that seems right on those three out of four years.
Is that how most, uh, leap people do it? February 28?
You know, I don't really know anybody with the 29th birthday.
Have you ever met a fellow leap person?
Yeah, and actually, it's kind of a strange coincidence I guess. I've known two other people that were born on the same day, February 29, and in the same year, 1952. One was in high school, and I went to a very, very small school, so it was very odd that I had a fellow classmate that had the same birthday. But then I also met somebody when I went to art college that was born on February 29, 1952. And both these people were artists, as I am, and thought that was kind of interesting.
Do fellow leap day people have a special bond between them? It's kind of a rare thing that you share with another person.
It is a rare thing, but in terms of any kind of bonding, for me, it takes a lot more than being born on the same day to kind of connect with people, you know? I know there's a club for people who were born on February 29, and I actually looked at the website last night and thought it was kind of corny. They compiled a list of books with a leap year theme called "leapified" books, which [laughs] is kind of strange. But I guess it's sort of like being a twin. Maybe if you met another twin you'd say, "Oh, boy, you're a twin, and I'm a twin." But after that, then what do you talk about? So at this point in my life I really don't know anyone else that's born on the 29th, and even if I did, if there wasn't more to our connection than a birthday, I probably wouldn't stay in touch with them.
So what do you do when it's actually leap day? Do you have a crazy party or something? Or do you still celebrate your birthday on 28th?
Oh it's definitely the 29th when it comes around. And whether or not the celebration is any greater than the years that don't have February 29, it still does seem a little more special. It does seem like, this is cool, I actually get a birthday this year. And so maybe just in general, the tone of it, to me anyway, any kind of party or celebration seems more important if it is on the actual day.
Have you ever run into any bureaucratic difficulties — there's no February 29 on a form, or something like that?
That's only happened to me once, believe it or not. And it was a problem I had, I think it was back in the mid-nineties, when I was traveling and I needed to rent a car. And the way their system was set up, it wouldn't accept the information from my driver's license, because my driver's license expired on February 29, but not on a leap year, because that stuff is all so automatic. We kept going back and forth and back and forth, and finally, I think we plugged in the 28th and it ended up working.
So that was the only time — you don't feel discriminated against on a regular basis.
No, I've tried to lead a somewhat normal life in my own quiet way [laughs]. But I actually feel like I get a lot of mileage out of it. If I've just met somebody, in a short time we'll be talking about birthdays, and I'll say, "My birthday is the easiest one to remember because it actually doesn't come every year." And they look at me like I'm crazy, and then I tell them it's the 29th.
But one thing that sort of amazes me is that, while I'm very conscious of leap years, and the 29th, and why it happens, and all that — it's not brain surgery, it's every four years you get another day in February — I'm constantly surprised at how people are not aware of it. Not that it should be at the top of their lists, but it's a basic thing.
Are you saying that people are not even aware that leap days exist, or they just don't know why?
More the former than the latter. I think their level of consciousness, in terms of awareness of February 29, must be way back in the back somewhere. Or that people are even born on that day. I'll get an incredible reaction from some people: "Are you kidding? You were born on that day?" Yeah! It was the day after February 28 in 1952.
Like births just stop that day.
Like it doesn't count. I guess that's what amazes me a lot. That level of consciousness of people. [Leap day] affects everyone, we experience it when it comes around, and whether your birthday is on it or not, it's part of the calendar.
So taking everything into account, do you ever wish you were born on a normal day, or are you cool with the way things went for you?
I'm cool with the way things went. I kind of like having that special little thing. Like, for instance, I work in a department store now, and we always have a meeting first thing in the morning, and the manager will announce whose birthday it is that day. And I've worked at the store for about six months. So tomorrow that'll be announced, and I kind of get into that, because I like the oohs and aahs and, "Oh, you're a leap year baby? I've never known anybody like that! And how old are you?" Sometimes people get leap years and dog years confused. They'll say, "So you have a birthday every seven years?"
Are you serious?
Someone has said that to you?
Yeah. I'll say, "No, that's for dogs. My birthday is every four years." And they'll say something stupid like, "So what are you, like 23?" No ... that would make me almost 100.
People aren't great with math, generally.