Sunday, January 01, 2006

Ringing in the New Year: A Modern History

New Year's Eve and I have had some interesting showdowns over the past 11 years or so. Perhaps that's why I can now very gladly kick back with a DVD and a glass of wine (or even a good hackable keyboard and a mug of Tension Tamer tea!) while the rest of the planet rocks and rolls and rings in the new year whilst banging out the old.

That is to say: here's my modern history in brief with Old Man Time and Baby New Year.

Ringing in 1995
About a girl
The Wetlands, New York City

The music was loud and funk-inflected and hipster-crunchy, the beer was good and cheap (and all the sweeter as it was somehow illegally procured, as I was three months shy of my 21st birthday at the time), the electric pulse of New York's night beat strong. I met a girl. We danced and later we kissed amongst the neon-spared shadows of the downtown cityscape. She happened to attend my university, and we wound up dating for most of the spring semester. It was a strange and awkward relationship that ended badly, but it doesn't erase the memory of a perfect New Year's Eve.

Ringing In 1996
Crash: taxi accident
Somewhere in the vicinity of 84th St. and 2nd Avenue, New York City

It was an ill-prepared and ill-arranged evening all around, perhaps symbolic of a sloshy year spent playing rugby and parties that drifted into one another as I waited for school to end and real world horrors to begin. A few friends and I bumped into several more pals and acquaintances and hangers on in New York City's chaotic Penn Station. We had a few drinks amidst the mad bustle before making hasty arrangements to divide into two cabs with the goal of meeting up at a friend of a friend of an uncle's goat's all night fiesta.

About a quarter to midnight, I sat in the passenger seat of a taxicab next to a driver of undetermined ethnicity. He had a habit of jumping off the mark five seconds or so before red lights changed to green, but I ignored it. Bad cab drivers are a New York institution, and besides, I had the notion of getting my party on draping my thoughts along with the several beers I had already imbibed.

Around 84th Street, luck ran out as we broadsided a white boat of a Cadillac that chose the wrong time to sail east across Manhattan's mass. I had time to brace myself (no seat belt for me, of course, in those days) and ended up with nothing worse than sore knees and a New Year's tale. A girl in the back left seat – who had no way of knowing what was going to happen – was not so lucky. Her mouth was fairly well bloodied, but she refused to have an ambulance called (we learned through muffled sobs) because "her dad was going to kill her."

We decided to take a subway back to Penn and call it a night. As fireworks exploded over the night, my friend looked at me and said, with a perfection of ironic timing and tone, "Happy New Year."

Ringing In 1997
Too sick to party, let alone care
Chatham, England, about an hour east of London

My American housemate and old time compatriot and I had been amped for New Year's for weeks. The miserably damp and dreary English winter would surely be brightened by the prospect of Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve. Legend had it that young lasses of a mind would even be so kind as to kiss mysterious and anonymous young men to help ring in the new year!

But alas, I became very ill and had in the neighborhood of a 103 degree fever on what was a cold and wet winter's eve. My mate sulked as I sniveled, too sick to really get worked up about anything at that point. I do remember reading The End of the World News, by Anthony Burgess, which is really a masterwork of inventive and even experimental storytelling.

Ringing In 1998
The girl who got away
Phoenix, Arizona

Ah, New Year's Eve '98 arrived during the heart of my road days. So much so, in fact, that December 31st, 1997 culminated a three or four day blast across the American South, from New Orleans all the way to Phoenix, Arizona. Another old and dear friend from my university days and I were in the midst of a five-week trek across the nation in search of, well, kicks I suppose would be the appropriate term. Phoenix was an important destination as another old friend of mine was there and that meant party-hook-uppage for New Year's.

We made it in good time and found ourselves at a rather fun and freewheeling bar frequented by the alterno-set of the southwestern scene. I ended the night chatting up a lovely young lady who I immediately and inevitably fell very much in love with. The night ended with nothing more than a fare thee well, a long pause, and a soul piercing look that haunts me to this very day. (The royal Queen of girls who got away is a lovely young Catalonian woman from Barcelona, but that's a tale for a difference piece!)

Ringing in 1999
Straight minority status pays dividends
Oakland, California

I had just recently moved from New York to the West Coast and was already tired of the endless raves and trance-fests that seemed to plague San Francisco, California (at least in my ultra-limited view). A new roommate of mine, a lesbian lass, invited me to come down to ring in the new year at a famous East Bay gay bar and club. Grudgingly I agreed to come along as I figured it would be a good experience, if nothing else.

I wound up having a surprisingly great time. The drinks were cheap, the mood upbeat and jubilant, and them folks can dance. I somehow found myself with someone who was possibly the only other straight addition to the party, a French girl and friend of my roommate's girlfriend.

I recall thinking, "Who knew?"

Ringing in 2000
Millennium jitters, dot com dreams
Berkeley, California

I had just started dating the woman I would later marry. Like every other year since, it seems, she had to work at the hospital on New Year's Eve or Day (Day this year to ring in '06). Therefore, a fellow co-worker at the start-up dot com of the moment and I laid low and had a few drinks in front of the television. Y2K turned out to be mostly hype, so the only really interesting upshot of the evening was that my friend seemed very intent and neurotic about collecting the nearly empty bottles of liquor he had brought over to celebrate with.

Ringing in 2001
Speedy on cold medicine and Sex in the City
Richmond, California

My girlfriend and I drove from her parent's place in Southern California back up north to the East Bay on New Year's Eve day. We both were feeling a bit under the weather, so we popped some cold medicine that somehow had the effect of keeping us both wide awake and speedy throughout the night. We caught a Sex in the City marathon on television which ended around five in the morning (Mr. Big ended up being out of the picture, as I recall). As luck would have it, I had free cable in those days in my studio apartment in the Oakland Hills.

Ringing in 2002-2005
Not very much to report
Richmond, California and Pasadena, California

New Year's Eve became more of a quiet night than anything else for me. I wrote, watched television, went to the 24 Hour Fitness gym once or twice. You know, boring!

Ringing in 2006
A little older, theoretically wiser, looking forward to the year ahead
Pasadena, California

I'm writing these words on New Year's Eve, several hours before 2006 kicks in and a new adventure and swirl around the calendar begins.

It's been a wild ride, and each year seems to bring as many questions as answers to life's endlessly quixotic riddles. But I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for, and a hell of a lot to look forward to in the new year.

Happy new year to all… and let the next round of games begin.

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