Three years ago, I had been back in Alaska for about four months. I was dating a woman I respected a lot and liked a lot, but I was coming off of a bad break-up and couldn’t bring myself to commit, so our plans were more along the lines of “we’ll just see what happens”. That’s how I wound up downtown without her during the full week leading up to the New Year.
My friend RJ was in town for the holidays and he was leaving, I think, on the second or third. I had moved across the country twice with this guy by then, so we celebrated his visitation by going to our favorite karaoke bar and spending most nights in a blackout being smarmy assholes. It was a blast. It was a lot though. Our bodies couldn’t handle the liquor the same way it used to, and so it happened that on New Year’s Eve, THE DAY for drinking (besides Cinco de Drinko and St. Alcoholic Fake Irish Day), RJ and I met downtown, stood on the sidewalk, looked at the outside deck of our bar, shook hands and walked away.
The woman I was seeing was working the bar in a nice restaurant that night. I can’t recall if she got off early or had the night off, but she told me that she would be there. It was a few blocks away from where I was, so I rushed my ass down there as quick as I could. Time was, as they say, of the essence.
When I arrived, the room was packed from wall to wall with people hoisting champagne toasts. The ball was dropping. Everyone was chanting the countdown. Like the movies, I pushed my way through the crowd to my lady, pulled her into me and kissed her deeply.
That was the last good New Year celebration I’ve had. It was also, until last night, the last one I spent predominantly sober. I was single and lonely and hammered the last two times a year died, and last night I figured I should only be the first two things.
Let’s back up a little bit. My store was open yesterday until six. It was slow, as is common on days where nobody knows if you’re open or not. I did get once customer who needed very, very basic troubleshooting for his phone. He and I sat down at a table while his phone charged and I did the small talk thing as all retail employees, upon hatching from their eggs, are genetically coded to do.
“So,” I said suavely (the only way I do anything), “have you got any resolutions in mind for the new year?”
The guy was in his seventies. I don’t know what I expected. “No”, perhaps. Maybe a Roger Murtaugh-esque “I’m too old for this shit.”
He said instead that he grew up being the kid who traveled around and got mixed up in all matters of hijinks, but with the understanding that he could always return home. It didn’t matter if he messed up, and though he never was in dire financial need, he knew he didn’t have to worry about that, either. He was the favorite child, while his older, more conservative, better behaved sister wasn’t ever regarded the same way.
Maybe that’s what did it. Maybe my customer was a piece of shit. Maybe something else happened in the 70+ years since he’d been born. Whatever the case, his sister had forbade him from coming home. She had a lawyer work their father’s will so that everything would be left to her and nothing to her brother. She reached out to a mutual friend and told them to lie to him about having a restraining order put out. “It turned out to be a bunk claim,” he told me. “But I had to check. You’d feel pretty stupid getting arrested when you were warned about it ahead of time.”
He told me he didn’t know what he had done to upset her so. She was in her eighties and he wasn’t even entirely sure if she had all of her mental faculties anymore. What he did know is that he didn’t want to leave this life without resolving whatever conflict had separated them so vitriolically.
In my experience, people in that kind of situation tend to have done something profoundly fucked up at some point. In some instances, that person has been me. However, I’ve also seen the reverse, where the other person just has a vendetta for exaggerated or imaginary reasons. Either way, it broke my heart a little to see someone with so much life under his belt still dealing with unresolved issues with his sibling.
At the same time, it was sort of humbling that this man’s resolution was such a powerful one. This wasn’t some “New year, New me” bullshit. This guy wasn’t going to join a gym (for ten days) or lose weight (until November). This was a guy in his twilight years reflecting on his relationships and outstanding enmities and resolving to find a way to fix them.
That interaction put me in a weird mood. I was already exhausted – I worked on my book so much the previous night that I forgot to sleep more than three and a half hours – and I was convinced I would be depressed if I went out, but suddenly I wanted to see how other people rang in the new year. I had spent the previous two years drunk off my ass and the year before that lip-locked with a woman I would lose to my indecision and general shittiness, so I thought this would be a good chance to observe and write about what I saw.
I showed up at the bar at 7 and tucked myself into a nook (possibly a cranny), using the time to work on my novel. I finished writing a scene by 9, at which point several people had already arrived. The bar had a Goldfinger/Goldmember theme. Yes, both. James Bond and Austin Powers played on televisions in the main bar, muted, while an excellent band rocked the fuck out on stage.
Most folks were dressed in gold, or suits and dresses, or gold suits and dresses. Champagne was being sold at the bottle, ranging from $22 to $500. There were no hors d’oeuvres that I saw
It’s a bar, for God’s sake.
I saw a lot of “Happy New Year” hats and tiaras, and I’ve got to say: I’m a fan. I hate the same shit when it’s a birthday or a bachelor/bachelorette party. They just scream for attention. They’re sort of a narcissistic window dressing. Fuck those. But Happy New Year hats? The exact same and completely different. It’s a communal message, a celebration of life and the evolution of time. Nobody is singled out. Nobody is brushed aside. “It’s not YOUR birthday, it’s MINE. Drink and presents, I’m a fucking bad-ass/princess/bad-ass princess”. But it’s EVERYBODY’S happy new year. You fucking go, Terra. Do you, baby.
Back to the party, sorry.
At first glance, by the time 10:30, 11 rolled around, you would think this was no different than the typical weekend crowd. I wasn’t much impressed, so I started looking more closely at the details. The first thing I noticed was that people were…happy?
Maybe not exactly happy, but they were smiling. Whereas the folks that frequent the weekends often seem to do it because it’s routine, because that’s just what’s done on the weekend, because they just want to escape their shitty week by drinking six beers in three hours and seeing which college chick is least repulsed by thirty-year old pick-up lines…where the weekend crowd is usually frenetic in its dour aimlessness, the bulk of last night’s crowd was having a goddamn great time. They were there to usher in a new year as a whole, as a representative of humanity lasting another year on this rotating, revolving space rock.
It made me think about all the reasons people were toasting drinks and cheering and hugging. While I’ve stopped thinking of years of my life as January 1 to January 1, it’s easy to compartmentalize everything that’s happened in a single label. “My 2014 was garbage.” “I was 18 in 2006. 2006 was…a good year.” So people are thinking about everything those twelve months gave or took from them. The births that happened. The marriages that ended. The milestone anniversary they celebrated. The vacations they took and the sight they saw. The diagnosis they received. The first day in January is the start of a fresh year, moving away from the deaths they felt so hard, or into the newly official nuptials they’ve committed to.
I looked around at the little tables scattered through the bar, leather topped kegs acting as seats around them, and I saw couples IN each other’s eyes. Do you know what I’m talking about? That fresh love, the love that has that unbroken-spine-new-book smell on it. They’re not at the bar because they “do things together”. They’re not holding hands and nuzzling close because they’re drunk. They are putting their hearts in their partner’s irises, there to celebrate the turning of the calendar with a positive crowd because they fucking love each other.
That love could last six months, six days or forever, but in that moment, that midnight strike, it is everything that matters.
It neared midnight and I began finding it harder and harder to treat the evening as an experiment. It was difficult to remain objective as people paired up and a girl I like a lot told me what I could do to make myself more attractive (it’s not as depressing as it sounds, probably, so let’s pretend it didn’t twist my guts up anyway). There is a romantic novelty to the idea of a kiss as the clock strikes midnight on the new year, and it’s hard to separate yourself from that, even if you’ve been single for years, even if you know all you had to do was talk to someone, even if you didn’t even necessarily want to talk to someone.
Either way, the lead singer shouted the count down into the microphone after buying shots for some of the crowd on the dance floor. People kissed, and for the most part it was beautiful. You had your drunken outliers, your people clinging to the nearest receptive single person, but baby, ain’t anything wrong with that, either.
I stuck around afterwards in a little bit of a funk. Curiosity, I told myself. Curiosity and whiskey. I genuinely wanted to see, though, how many people I’d leave immediately after midnight, year greeted, lips kissed.
Turns out a fucking lot of people. It wasn’t Wednesday night, it was NEW YEAR MORNING. Federal employees got the day off. People who worked, myself included, volunteered to cease all shit-giving, and Dionysus was moved to joyful tears.
I got my dick grabbed. Multiple times by multiple women, and not gently. It was disconcerting. I had shots bought for me by women who realized only after that, “wait a second. I’ve spent a lot of money on you. Usually guys buy the shots.” Heh. Sorry, thanks for the drinks.
And you know, six months ago, I probably would have been down for some drunk, no-strings attached sex followed by an awkward goodbye in the morning. I am great at awkward goodbyes. I’m not bad at awjward hellos, either. But I am really trying to get away from that kind of behavior and find something more, I don’t know, fulfilling? I’m not trying to be a “new” me. I am trying to be a better, more focused me.
Basically I felt really awkward and out of place after midnight, and I was starting to get a little depressed. Then a friend of mine, another woman I like quite a bit, came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek for New Year and told me to just keep doing me. That might sound really stupid, but sometimes when the night gets a littler darker than black and I start thinking the bad sides of thoughts, all it takes is a little kick in the ass to put my mood right.
That was it, really. The night ended, as nights do, and I found myself home and in the comfort of bed. I slept, and if I dreamt, I remember none of it. And this morning…this morning I woke up seven minutes before I was scheduled to work.