Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chasing the New Year’s Eve Dream


Which is worse? Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve? Both holidays involve culturally mandated fun. Both are loaded with unrealistic expectations. Both measure the success of one’s social life and tend to make you feel like a loser if you’ve got no plans.

In my earlier single days, I would have been quicker to say Valentine’s Day was my least favorite. There’s all that pressure to be coupled or, if you are seeing someone, all that pressure to validate the relationship with the perfect box of chocolates. Still, it’s easy enough to eschew the pink-hearted mushiness if you choose. Chances are there’s a group of like-minded friends you can join for ice cream or martinis and share the “We Hate Valentine’s Day” sentiment. One of my friends used to throw an anti-Valentine’s-Day party every year (ironically, one or both of us typically ended up hooking up with someone afterwards).

New Year’s Eve is trickier. It takes more than a dinner date or a cynical cocktail with friends to feel like you’ve met the cultural obligation of The Biggest Party Night of the Year. You’re not required to have a partner; you’re required to have a wild bunch of fabulous friends to help make it a night to remember. It’s supposed to be the most incredible, over-the-top fun you’ve had all year. The New Year’s Eve myth is harder to deconstruct, because it’s not as obvious as the couple-centric Hallmarky Valentine’s Day myth. Cynical as I am, I spent a good part of my 20’s chasing that New Year’s Eve dream.

I suppose it all started in the mid-1970’s for me, attending the Hickory-Farms-cheesiest New Year’s Eve party ever at my mom’s friend the Avon Lady’s place. I was only 7 or so, and I thought her house was the height of elegance because it was filled with fancy Avon knick-knacks and had those white fake fur things draped over the pea-green sofas. I remember settling into the comfy shag carpeting and gazing enviously at her bright blue eyeshadow, imagining she was a queen. The concept of New Year’s Eve was new to me, but I was instantly captivated by the romanticism of it all. You stay up until midnight and a whole new year begins, right there in front of you! And there’s fondue!

Unfortunately, my mom was keeping a close eye on our snack consumption. At our usual bedtime, we were sent to her friend’s daughter’s room with the rest of the kids. We all thought it was incredibly unfair. At first, we kept sending my littlest sister out to the party to sneak chips back to us, but the adults got wise to that pretty quickly. As the Avon Lady’s daughter played her Captain & Tennille and Donny & Marie records for us, I grew more bored and frustrated by the minute. The grown-ups sounded like they were having so much fun out there.

Every disappointing New Year’s Eve I’ve had since then has been some version of that first one – stuck in a dull room while the real fun appears to be happening elsewhere, inaccessible. I’ve attended several parties where I was the only female guest in a roomful of my hapless buddies and their bitter “Women Don’t Like Nice Guys” friends. Then there was the time my boyfriend and I were feeling too vaguely sick and weary to go see Poi Dog Pondering like we’d planned, so we ended up watching SNL reruns on his crappy old couch instead. We watched the VCR clock turn over to 12:00, but he thought kissing at midnight was too lame or “establishment” or something and flat out refused me.

Even those times when I did manage to scrape up some conventionally fun plans, it kind of left me cold. One year, for example, I spent hours waiting for my friends to call and tell me where to meet them. They finally got around to remembering me at 11:30 and it was shortly after midnight by the time I made it to the club.

The place was packed, smoky, and sweaty, but I found my friends easily enough. These were people I’d been going out with that whole year, and every time was such hilarious fun. But not this time. I had one guy nagging me to talk about my Problems so he could Help me with them. Two more guys were drooling all over themselves thinking my friend and I were a lesbian couple. Meanwhile, another friend staggered off to make out with some random dude. He tagged along with us to a diner after closing time, and you could tell she was already kind of sick of him.

Come to think of it, this wasn’t much different from any of our other nights out. I don’t know why I remember all those other nights so fondly but regard this one as being kind of lame. Expectations, I suppose. If this had been a spontaneous night out in March or August, it might have seemed more exciting. Maybe it was the “Amateur Night” factor, being out on the streets with all those neophyte partiers from the suburbs bumbling around trying to hail cabs and walking six-abreast down the narrow sidewalks. Whatever the reason, I still hadn’t found the elusive euphoria of New Year’s Eve. Not in parties, or clubs, or quiet nights with a boyfriend.

Until 1998 – my first New Year’s Eve in Seattle.

Mr. Black had been living here for a few months, and I was in town finalizing my plans to join him. I’d just signed the lease on a new apartment that morning. I’d be heading back to Philly in a few days to pack up my old place, get my cat, and join my love in Seattle once and for all. The whole thing felt so blissfully surreal. It was every moment in every romantic comedy that we’ve trained ourselves not to believe.

We’d been so wrapped up in our rain-soaked apartment hunting, New Year’s Eve was more of an afterthought. We went to the gritty U-District Safeway and bought a bottle of cheap champagne, poured it into a thermos, and walked down the Burke-Gilman trail to Gas Works Park.

That night was cold and remarkably un-rainy for a change. Boats adorned in Christmas lights sailed along the ship canal toward Lake Union. The closer we got to the park, the more people joined us on the path, heading down to Gas Works for a great view of the Space Needle fireworks. But it wasn’t crowded or obnoxious; just casually merry with a friendly neighborhood feel. We found a good spot to cuddle up, enjoy a perfect skyline view, and share our thermos champagne. Mr. Black’s not much of an “establishment” guy either, but he had no problems kissing me at midnight.


Now that’s what New Year’s Eve is all about. What could capture the true spirit of welcoming a new year more than that – standing on the brink of the biggest change in your life, next to the person you’re taking the plunge with, on the edge a lake full of festively-lit boats and fireworks. I haven’t even tried to top that one. How could I? That was the one time in my life when ringing in a new year really meant something.

This year, we’ll be flying home from Pennsylvania on New Year’s Day. I expect our New Year’s Eve activities will involve little more than packing up the suitcases, watching a DVD, and sharing what’s left of my dad’s Sam Adams holiday beer sampler. And as long as my guy still kisses me at midnight, that’s good enough for me.


Teacher Tom said...

After one very debauched New Year's eve at least 20 years ago when we wound up at a party at the Four Seasons where I drunkenly told Tom Robbins, "I'm a writer too," Jennifer and I have made a point of staying home on New Year's Eve. We watch sitcoms. If we're awake at midnight we kiss.

Valentine's Day has gotten much better now that I simply assume it's for the kids.

DGB said...

I have been informed by WonderWife™ that she will not be making it up until midnight this year.

It's also my son's birthday that day.

So gone are the days of the raucous party.

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