A Sentimental Journey Through New Year’s Eves Past And Present
My parents always had a big party with their friends from the neighborhood in the housing development in which I grew up. It was a traveling affair, where various people hosted different courses in a big meal, and the grown-ups would go from house to house over the night, eating and drinking. The party always ended at my house, where my sister and I were excited to have our favorite babysitter over, and we were allowed to stay up late. Around eleven that night the grown-ups started trickling in, and my mom spread the dining room table with desserts, and the kitchen counters lit up with the glitter of booze bottles shining from the fluorescent hanging overhead. We kids sat in our television room watching Dick Clark’s countdown. By that time the adults were fairly tipsy, passing around funny hats and noise-makers and giving us unwanted attention in the form of hugs and kisses. It is no surprise that our little brother was — according to my parents — conceived one early AM, post New Year’s Eve party.
By the time I carted off to college, the novelty of the countdown had worn away in favor of my own disposition for experience-altering substances, and the social gatherings related to such indulgences. I mean, I was going to my own New Year’s Eve parties and getting messed up. Perhaps my lady luck would’ve been enhanced without these propensities? My freshman year, returning home from school, some former high school classmates and I met up for a party. Prior to this fest I had encountered a beautiful young girl, herself a college sophomore, also a former high school classmate, a girl named Michelle, with whom I’d had a Spanish class years earlier. Talking that afternoon, we’d compared colleges and what we were learning. I learned she wore a tight and short pink dress that outlined every curve, and that she planned to attend that night’s party, and that she seemed genuinely interested in the fact that I would be there, too. Fast forward a few hours, to when Michelle finally walked into said party, and I sat at a table full of kids, a brunette on my lap, bong in my grip, and I watched as Michelle saw me. Her smile dropped, her eyes averted. The girl on my lap I would later end up with in the front passenger seat of a Corvette, still attached to my lap like a growth, the bong still smoking. When I tried to kiss her she said, “Whoa, what about my boyfriend?”
Senior year in college the world was about to end, so everyone thought. There was all this talk about computers not calibrated to deal with the centurian shift from the 1990s to the 2000s, or something. I didn’t — and don’t — really know what the supposed problem was. All I know is that my friends and I decided that we’d spend New Years Eve on Peavine Mountain in Reno, among the sagebrush, overlooking downtown. If the lights were going out, we’d certainly see it all from up there. We’d worked a shift at the local pub. My girlfriend was there, a woman who smoked Marlboro Lights and drank any beer she could get for cheap, or free. Let’s say that we hadn’t the best relationship. By this time I’d already twice tried to kill myself with pills, but I was, and am, too much of a coward. The police knew us by name, had our address memorized. The casinos’ lights danced up and down Virginian Street below us, on the tiny canyon of buildings. All around us, out in the scant desert, was darkness, like space, the absence of stars. When the countdown came we all chanted. The radio crackled. After zero there was nothing but fireworks; the city below ablaze in the reveling of life lived. We’d made it. Maybe that’s what started the fight? My girlfriend was a woman with eyes that slanted, as if she was Asian, but she wasn’t. She could look at you, and if you didn’t know it, you’d think she hated you, with those eyes squinting into black dots, even if she did not in fact hate you, but it’s likely that she did. She said things like, “Screw you,” and, “I can’t believe I let you do me in the ass.” All this in front of my — our — friends, who stood in the desert dust, beers-in-hands. When it was over and she had left, I smoked a cigarette, and my friend Bob told me not to worry, that everything was going to be fine.
I’d broken my leg and had two screws holding everything together at the ankle. I pushed a wheelchair around or swung through crutches. I wore a plaid wool jacket with no buttons that had been given to me by a friend before they sent him off to a federal prison in Herlong. For a few years now my friends from the bar where I had worked for a year and where I now drank all drove to my family’s cabin in Squaw Valley in the Sierra Nevada for a snowy New Year’s Eve party. There I also met my brother and sister, and my cousins. While my siblings were aware of what lay in store with me and my buddies, the cousins met the surprise of the master bedroom taken over, coke snorted off the dresser’s lacquered top. My cousin barricaded herself in one bedroom, crying, for I’d ruined her New Year. But me, I didn’t care. I was gacked out in a wheelchair. I rolled out onto the snowy deck and, under the Sierra stars, I chainsmoked.
Not long after this I met the woman who would become my wife. We trekked out to Jonesboro where, at a tree farm, we hauled a scraggly pine on a sled over fireant hills, and we drank hot cider and watched other people’s kids pile onto hay in a tractor-pulled trailer. We spent our first New Year’s Eve together after she’d returned from her parents’ in Pennsylvania, and I from mine in California, and everything was new, so while apart from each other we talked incessantly over the phone and longed like stupid children. When we were back together we couldn’t keep our hands from caressing cheeks and arms and thighs and hair. We exchanged belated Xmas gifts while outside fireworks crackled in Atlanta’s streets. We lit sparklers out Sarah’s second storey windows and watched scant bottle rockets pop through the barren tree branches. I had no reason to return to Reno, now that I was falling in love. Besides, the last New Year’s Eve party my friends and I had we broke into an empty apartment in a dilapidated building on West Second Street. Windows broke. Bodily fluids soaked a closet carpet. The flames from fireworks scorched the wood of the kitchen cabinets. By morning we were long gone, leaving only the evidence. But by now, this year with Sarah, I’d quit smoking. When our sparklers died, Sarah and I were off to bed, but not to sleep, while still outside the revelers reveled, their yells like those of natives in the midst of a forest battle.
We got engaged; we married. That year after Christmas we hopped the Atlantic and landed in Moscow, where Sarah had lived for years, and I followed her through the city’s snowy concentric streets. We made our way to the edge of Siberia, and on the most frigid night I’ve lived, at -28º C, we sat in a Russian apartment heated to that temp’s thermometric opposite. The Russians forced upon me salat, or salad, and by that I mean mayonnaise and whitefish topped with pomegranate and formed in the shape of bunt cake. But there was plenty of cognac and piva, and every minute or so another Russian proposed another toast, and we all tilted back shot glasses till our faces reddened from not only the cold outside. Saint Petersburg’s S Novum Godom lights twinkled and flashed along Nevsky Bridge. We drank steaming Glintwein and nibbled shashlik while all around us children milled in frilled jackets, each breath a puff of hot life.
This year we have our own child who’s now old enough to say “Santa,” with whom she apparently holds conversations in her crib before she drifts off to sleep. Keeping to our tradition of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Eve, our tree’s still up and shimmering with the lights and ornaments with which my wife so meticulously decorated it. Gifts stack at its base. The baby will play on the new tricycle we bought for her, and that I’ve still got to put together, so that “Santa” will have done his job. I’ll put together a feast of stuffed Cornish game hens, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato biscuits, hot apple pie. We joke with our friends about how, after our daughter goes to bed, the wife and I will struggle to stay awake to just past midnight, when we’ll toast and sip a small glass of champagne, after which we’ll fall into a heavy sleep. No more psilocybin and whisky. No more bong rips and cocaine. No more cigarettes and elbows rubbed raw from propping them on a bar for eight hours. The doctor tells me that there’s hope yet. New Year’s Day, like every other day, our daughter will have us up at six in the morning.
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