If you’re at all like me, you view New Year’s Eve with a certain amount of incipient reveller’s dread. Maybe you’ve been invited to some function or other. Maybe you have a new dress for it. Maybe you have a date, too. And yet, you can’t help but feel that no matter the amount of careful planning — the right company, suitable footwear, a pleasant venue, right down to the proper intoxicants — no New Year’s Eve will ever measure up to the holiday’s Platonic ideal, in which black-tuxedoed waitstaff (possibly on ice skates, also possibly actual penguins) swan around some Versailles-style salon bearing silver trays of Champagne, and at the magical stroke of midnight, as a gossamer rain of silver tinsel cascades from the mirrored ceiling, you merrily make out with somebody who preferably hasn’t just eaten a lot of Doritos … and then, after disco-ing all night long, Prince, Betty White, Julie Andrews, and
circa-1958 Cantinflas show up at 4 am in a giraffe-drawn coach with a hot tub in it to take you and your friends out for breakfast tacos. THAT NEVER FUCKING HAPPENS.
Perhaps my expectations were set too high in childhood, when none of that happened, either, but I was just thrilled to be allowed to stay up past midnight. Another factor which undoubtedly increased my NYE expectations happened in 1979, when the Village People appeared on (if I remember correctly) the Dick Clark New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and performed “Are You Ready For the 80s,” (which you can find here: http://video.aol.com/video-detail/village-people-ready-for-the-80s/3047313908), thereby convincing me that the oncoming decade was bound to be one long costumed dance number for which I was so achingly ready that my eyes were bugging out of my head.
The ’80s came and went: in like a lion in leather-daddy gear, out like a surly teen who spent the final NYE of the decade on her hands and knees on Bernie Schwartzberg’s* parents’ driveway, trying to find the film canister of weed that had rolled under her (Dorito-crazed) boyfriend’s pickup truck.
In short: New Year’s Eves weren’t all that great during my adolescent years. Frankly, most of them were spent babysitting till the aforementioned Schwartzberg soiree in ’89.
The ’90s brought legal drinking, more hapless boyfriends, moves to Austin and New York City, some wild-to-the-point-of-pukey NYE parties, and, somewhat anticlimactically, the millennium. I spent the millennial midnight on the patio with various peeps at Taco Land, drinking Tres Generaciones out of a plastic Jhirmack crème-rinse bottle with, among other peeps, Ram Ayala and my sister Annie, who later that night first kissed the guy who was to be her husband. Me, I got to drive.
I moved to New York soon thereafter, and spent a lot of NYEs at good parties. Some of these were so good, frankly, that I was barely qualified to attend them. And yet, I so often thought, à la Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” One NYE my foot was painfully stomped in the Times Square subway station; another I barely remember; another convinced me to try a drug I dare not name, but which had me plastered to the sofa the next two days, unable to do anything but watch Mary Tyler Moore and weep softly.
Then three years ago, I caught a wicked-nasty flu from (I suspect) my sister’s disease-vector younger child, and thence grew way too ill to fly back to New York City in time for some or other New Year’s Eve party to which I was invited. Despairing and suffused with self-pity, I called my friend Wallis. Wallis and I had lived together in Austin for many years and have remained close; he’s one of the few people I would ever allow to see me flu-ey and grumbling on a national holiday. Plus, I knew him to be a vicious hater of all things conventionally social, particularly NYE, which he dismisses as an amateurish attempt by the boring to publically ape the less-admirable substance-ingesting peccaddilloes of the famous or fictional. And, moved by mercy or simple restlessness, he was willing to come down and spend the night with me in my parents’ house.
And here’s what we did: Ate Velveeta and Ro-tel queso; watched a Discovery Channel documentary on Jack the Ripper and another (incoherent) one on the Hatfields and McCoys; drank several bottles of cheap Champagne; discussed, among other things, which American serial killer is the best-looking (Bundy vs. Ramirez?), why it is that Russians have it all over any other nation in ballroom-dancing, foreign policy vis a vis Africa, and how he once saw Helen Mirren in a hotel bar. We greeted the wee hours by howling along to YouTube scenes from Cabaret. Finally, we fell asleep at dawn .
It was marvelous.
There were no expectations, nothing to arrange, nothing to aspire to, nothing to dress up for, nothing to regret, nobody to flirt with, no moments spent alone. We have enough of that shit in the rest of our lives. We’ve since repeated the ritual every year. We employ slight variations: The television programming may change, though it usually includes something old-timey and grisly, and we’ve included Edith Piaf in our roster of vocal performances, which has led to his high-school French improving and my no-French improving to tiny-French (as well as the invention of a game, in which I string together as many French words as I can remember, and Wallis tells me what I’ve said (including “Oh, God! Men in the milk-type hats wait on the bridge!”). As in many cultures’ New Year’s rituals, we both awake (at 2 p.m.-ish) hung over and, perhaps, faintly regretful — though not over any ill-advised hookup or unjust word; rather, that we’ve strained our vocal cords keening Non, je ne regrette rien for the eighth time in our “thousand demon” voices.
In closing, I heartily recommend that this New Year’s Eve, you forgo buffet tables, cocktail dress, and driving. I humbly suggest you corner a loved one, one who knows your history and who makes you laugh, who truly understands you and doesn’t mind your singing, to celebrate the joy of entertaining yourselves, minute by ball-dropping- countdown minute. I’m pretty sure this is a metaphor for something, y’all: the countdown we’re each of us engaged in all the time, but shout out in unison, ten-nine-etcetera-one, once a year. Make of it what you will. •
* Not his real name, as he is now a lawyer.