Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - A New Year's Eve Oldie But Goodie

Some of this you and I have discussed before. Some of it not. This essentially is a blog flashback episode. But, given this week's holiday, it's time to remember one more time.

Past New Year's Eves.

The photo above is historic as previous blog entries will remind you. You may recall my tale of serving as the seven-year-old bartender for some family gatherings on December 31. Here I am on one of those infamous nights. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any photos of some relatives lying drunk underneath the buffet table of cold cuts and German potato salad.

It all came about because I had nothing else to do at these parties usually held at some relative's home or perhaps even our own freezing meat locker of a basement. At this age, I was in a party purgatory. I had nobody my age to play with. My older cousins were usually sequestered in some dark corner of the house with whatever girlfriend or boyfriend they were either groping or being groped by at the moment. They didn't need me hanging around with my nagging questions. "Why are your hands there??" I often heralded in the new year with the greeting, "go away, kid."

So, I wound up with the adults, listening to dirty jokes that I didn't get. I'd camp out at the liquor table. My family was so proud of the array of bottles that they would feature at these soirees that I actually have uncovered photos of nothing but booze.

To keep myself busy, I would help my father make the drinks. At first, I was relegated to the placement of ice cubes. Then, I graduated to the insertion of tonic, Tom Collins mix, or whatever soft beverage was being included. At some point, my father decided to go and have some fun on his own and I would man the cocktail dispenser all by myself. Each relative would come up and direct me how ot make whatever libation theyr were desiring. And, pretty much, every dialogue included this exchange:

Relative: "Whoa, you put way too much booze in there."

Me: "Okay, I'll start over."

Relative: "No, no, don't throw it out. I'll drink it."

This happened every single time. It's no wonder why most of my family was tanked by 12:15AM. At this point, they didn't give a shit whether it was New Year's Eve or Arbor Day. When I canvassed my dad's slide of these parties, I could actually tell what time the photo was taken from the looks of some of those faces. In one shot, I saw some distant uncle modeling certain body parts made out of balloons. Now, regardless of your age, every family member at this party was R-rated. Except for me. Hell, even Grandma and Tante Emma would get into the act with a polka.

Back then, this photo meant nothing to me. In retrospect, it looks like a senior citizen center's production of "The Children's Hour."

And, given the stress level of my solitary confinement at these gatherings, I couldn't even calm myself by eating. Not that the food we put out was bad. But, for me, there was one bowl on the table that tainted everything else.

Herring in sour cream. The odor was nauseating. It permeated the entire buffet. The ham smelled like herring. The pickles smelled like herring. I started to smell like herring. And I have no idea who the fuck was eating this shit. I think my grandfather did. As a result, there might have been some years where I avoided him until July or August.

While these parties sometimes lasted till 2 or 3AM, I usually didn't. I'd get bored and head up to bed, carefully tiptoeing around some oversexed cousin who was crawling on top of some date on the stairs. I vowed that the next New Year's Eve would be better for me. It never was.

Oh, it would be years later that there would be some year-end celebrations that would be memorable for me. In college, we once welcomed the passage of time with a raucous hockey game in the dorm hallways, using a friend's crutches as sticks. 

There would be another year where I went to a taping of the Tonight Show. As it recorded at 530PM, the audience was coached on how to sing "Auld Lang Syne" six hours early.

There was the year where my fractured shoulder was in a sling and I could barely reach for the dice playing Trivial Pursuit at a neighbor's house. There were years when I remembered what I saw my cousins doing and I put the memories to good use myself. 

And there was the fateful Eve where I returned from a house party to hear that my mom had just lapsed into an irreversible coma at the hospital. Suddenly, the herring smell years paled in comparison.

And then there was my favorite New Year's Eve of all time. 


I had wavered on definitive plans when a good friend called with a bright idea. He and his wife were going downtown to an oldies club called Shout. In the truest spirit of marketing, the place played the song several nights that night. My friends even had another girl going, so we could easily divide the drink bill equally four ways.

To be honest, I don't remember who they brought along, because I danced with so many people that night. The evening was electric. One big hit from the 50s and 60s after another. At several points out on the dance floor, we toasted catcher Gary Carter, who the Mets had just obtained in a trade. 

At midnight, they dragged out "Shout" one more time. And we did. I kissed a few of the patrons around me. I had no clue who they were. I didn't give a shit. It was that free. And easy. And spontaneous.

We had so much fun that, by January 2, I was already making plans to duplicate it the following year. And we kept spreading the word around amongst other friends as if we were sharing a secret handshake. 

By the time December, 1985 had rolled around, most of the names in my Filofax had been invited. And I had a girlfriend, to boot. A non-stranger to kiss at the stroke of 12. This was going to be super-electric.

It was horrible.

What had been spontaneous the year before was now over-planned to the hilt. And the cast of thousands of my friends didn't exactly mesh. It was the Hindenburg of celebrations. To make the gloom even more pronounced, we got word in the middle of the evening that Ricky Nelson had been killed in a plane crash.

To this day, I still don't know what happened from one year to another. I'm not even sure the club stayed open much longer. New Year's Eve eventually returned to "crapshoot" status as far as I was concerned.

These days, the night is really nothing extraordinary.   Usually a dinner with a friend or two at a late restaurant seating.   As midnight approaches, they give you some funny hats to wear and some noise makers to blow on.  It's fine, but I realize it's all forced merriment for just another day.

But, as the clock strikes twelve, I hear the song in my head all over again.   Nope.  Not "Auld Lang Syne."   It's another one.

You know you make me wanna (Shout!)
Kick my heels up and (Shout!)
Throw my hands up and (Shout!)
Throw my head back and (Shout!)
Come on now (Shout!)

I'd love to do that one more time.

Crap.  With my knees?  Forget it.

Dinner last night:  Bacon turkey burger.


Djinna Gochis said...

I think I remember that 1985 at Shout having come in from California to visit you And my college friends. I wish you had had the blast I did. I didn't know the evening was so horrible for you till I read this. Bye is a very personal experience. I think it should not be forced.

Len said...

Indeed, maybe horrible was too harsh a word. Th3e 1985 edition was overly planned and too anticipated. The 1984 edition was totally organic and spontaneous, so, as a result, much better.