Thursday, December 15, 2005

Drinking the Champagne of the Dead (A Decade of New Years Continued)


I was trying to redo this blog, however, predictably it got messy and the fiasco has now turned into a project more along the lines of "rebuilding" this blog. Thanks for your patience. Hopefully, in a few days it will be redesigned: pretty looking and full of all sorts of new stuff.

In the meantime...

A little catch up for anyone just visiting: I'm heart-deep in a project chronicalling the last decade of New Years Celebrations (See :It's New Years So Save Those Loving Arms For Me). I'm not sure that "Enjoy!" is the exactly the right word but here it goes...

A Decade of New Years
(a memoir of remembering quite a bit and not a whole lot, Part II)

(Ann Arbor, MI)

I’m back in Ann Arbor because in the spring of 1999 my world fell apart. I had managed, only through the boundless love and assistance of my mother, to complete my transfer applications to Oberlin and Reed Colleges from the Psych ward at UofM medical centers. I was accepted and offered a full ride a Reed, a mostly full ride at Oberlin. For anyone who has ever wondered how I decided between the two it simply came down to this: I chose Oberlin because it was only 2 hours away, and could drive home whenever I needed to, even in the middle of the night (which I did do on a couple of occasions).

By fall I wasn’t ready to go back to school. After all, I had only recently remastered the little things like eating food and not staring at walls for hours on end. I was working at the same mom and pop party store I had been working at for a while and living in a house with 6 guy friends. I drank heavily, my boyfriend drank heavily.

It was the end of the century and I was a ghost. People were making a big fuss about Y2K, stocking up on water and batteries and expecting every computer in the world to crash. We knew it was all hype and yet, that New Years Eve there was a tinge of something apocalyptic in the air. It was thrilling and dangerous like it could be our last night on earth.

My boyfriend and I went to a party at the RAW house, an institutional Ann Arbor punk house which back then was in a particularly ripe moment in its crusty history, stocked with filthy traveling kids, vermin, broken down bikes, and on one occasion, a take-out container in the fridge full of bloody tampons. We showed up just in time for the ball drop (not like there was a T.V in the house). The band had just finished playing and the house was sweaty, stinky and packed. I knew virtually everyone there, many of them Ann Arbor kids I’d known since I was 15 years old. At midnight, the hugging and kissing lasted for a good 10 or 15 minutes solid. On no new years before or since have I experienced such family, such camaraderie. Everyone was wasted. Everyone was glad to be alive.

For some reason I had chosen Southern Comfort as my flask for the night. Later, I’d learn a valuable lesson regarding the unholiness of mixing that SoCo, with beer and champagne. I shared my liquor with my friend Dave upstairs in the keg room. I didn’t like the stuff much but he was excited to see it. When he died two years later I kept remembering for some reason, his big shit-eating happy fucking new years grin as I passed him the bottle and he took a mighty pull while filling my beer cup with his other hand.

My boyfriend and I walked the whole way back, a mighty long walk in the deep Michigan winter. We were wasted and along the way I started to cry for reasons I didn’t even understand. I was recovering from a traumatic experience earlier in December I couldn’t make sense of at the time in any way besides drinking. The portent of New Years Eve, feeling like the world was coming to an end just heightened everything. We stopped for a pizza on Packard St. and ate some of it on the way home. The steam from the pizza and our breaths cheered me somewhat. When we got home, Sara (who had just moved in to the basement) was up studying on one of the sofas. “Happy New years” I cried with slurry, forced gaiety. I stumbled toward the sofa opposite her and tried to sit down but somehow ended up flipping over the back of it onto the floor.

Sara just looked at my boyfriend in horror and said, “What did you do to her?” We were in bed shortly thereafter but no sooner had I gotten settled and the world began to swirl, I had to run to the bathroom and throw up all my pizza.

(Pittsburgh, PA)

I’m back in Pittsburgh, this time visiting my friend Alicia. She’d moved into a new place on Penn Ave, which was quite an improvement over her last apartment in Friendship, a roach infested dump outside of which her car had been stolen (count them) 3 times and the previous tenant had been a pimp who’d been found murdered on the premises.

I was having a fantastic visit. The night before New Years we went to a show at the (now defunct) Millvale Industrial theatre. Alicia was working as an assistant to a potter whose studio was right across the parking lot in a blustery old warehouse. Alicia took me on a tour of the building, chilly and expansive and scary at night. The entire first floor was filled with junked cars, the overflow of which extended out into the lot. Some of them were ancient and beautiful, big bench seats, skinny wheels and converted push-button starters. We climbed up onto the roof and drank a bottle of MD 20/20 and smoked cigarettes and watched all the lights twinkling on all the bridges.

At the show I met Paul the famous rock star. He was good looking and the kind of drunk and raucous crazy I tend to find brilliantly attractive. When Alicia and I tired of dancing around atop a field of snow-covered, junked Pepsi machines outside, he and I started breaking into the old fancy cars, pretending we were going on trips. “Let’s go to Toronto” he suggested, flashing the most charming, mischievously boyish grin, “I’ll take you to Toronto, seriously.”

Back inside the show we talked a little about our New Years plans. “I’m going wherever Steve and Alicia take me,” I shrugged. “What about New Years Resolutions?” he asked quite earnestly. “Fuck ‘em,” I said, bumming him another cigarette, “Who really keeps them?”
“You should make just one resolution and see if you can keep it for the year.” He insisted.
“Fine,” I said, not one to back away from a challenge. “What should I resolve to do?”
“Or not do…” He mused, face getting all mischievous again. “How about this? How about for the entire year of 2001 you won’t eat any grapes? Not a single grape.”
“Red or Green?”
“What about wine?”
“Wine’s ok, just no actual grapes.”

Gawd I liked this boy.

“Deal.” I said. And we shook on it before ten of us piled into cars and drove to Ritters where Alicia and I rolled our eyes and conspiratorially tried to discuss worldly matters while the boys argued vociferously about their favorite Van Halen albums.

The next night, New Years, Alicia, her boyfriend and I went to a party at the Don Caballero house. I remember lots of framed pictures of betty Page on the wall and Alicia and I getting into a friendly, smack-down wrestling match in the living room. The night wore on and eventually I meandered down to the basement where I ran into Paul the famous rock star. Someone had given me a tube of smarties and I was consuming them with voracious, drunken relish. “Can I have one?” he asked, looking so handsome in his beatle boots and tweed jacket and crocheted scarf. I didn’t stop to think it over I just did what seemed natural, which was prying a smartie out of the plastic and slipping it coyly into his mouth. The next moment we were kissing.

I brought him home with me to Alicia’s house and we made out all night on the sofa. He was surprisingly gentlemanly and although not exactly smart, very good company nonetheless.

I went back to school in Ohio with a monster crush on a worthless rockstar. Needless to say there wasn’t a happy ending. I tried to get in touch, he blew me off. I had trouble taking the hint but eventually got it. A month or two later I was back in Pittsburgh visiting Alicia again. We were sitting at the Eat N’ Park on Murray avenue having a meal that was somewhere between lunch and dinner. “He’s a total dick, Abby.” She offered, trying to console me. “Everyone knows it. At their last show, they had a chick take her shirt off and dance topless while they played.” It was a small comfort. When you like a guy, after all, they could do just about anything--murder your mom even-- and you’d find a way to explain it.

It was gloomy and wintery outside. I pulled out the creased crossword I'd been working on for two days and asked Alicia for help until our meal arrived. The waitress gave me a strange look as she set down our food.

All I had ordered was a bowl of grapes.

(New York, NY)

This year I have a boyfriend and he’s from New York. He invited me to spend New Years with him at his parents’ house. I was thrilled. It was to be my first trip to New York since visiting with my grandparents as a kid.

My provincial mid-western ways clearly pained my boyfriend, the son of two artists, who fancied himself very hip and tough and sophisticated, having grown up in a So Ho loft all his life. (There is more about him in a book I wrote entitled “New York Boyfriend” if you are interested, just holler and I can send you a copy). Fortunately his parent were very warm and welcoming and sweet and enjoyed proudly showing off their city. On my first morning there, his dad led me to a coat closet with a New York transit map pinned to the inside. “Ok, “ He began using a pencil like a school marm’s pointer, “These are the boroughs…” and he had me recite the names as he moved the pen across the map. I nodded studiously. I was on my way to untangling the mystery of New York.

“Its like John Updike once said,” his dad beamed at me from across the breakfast table, “There’s two places in this world, New York…and everywhere else.” I laughed uncomfortably. His mom rolled her eyes. After all, she was a Michigan girl like me. She used to party in Ann Arbor with Iggy Pop and the Ashton brothers. “Those were crazy times,” she’d say with a rueful laugh, still totally fucking gorgeous on the cusp of 50, “too bad I don’t remember too much of it!”

On New Years, his parents hosted a dinner party. My boyfriend’s mother made delicious lasagna for everyone. The younger set sat in Boyfriend’s room smoking Marlboros out on his fire escape and blowing coke and drinking whiskey. I had plans to go with Avi to Darren’s party way uptown and then take a cab out to Brooklyn and meet up with the boyfriend. I know it’s embarrassing (and I could never tell my New York Boyfriend because he’d roll his eyes) but I really wanted to see the ball drop in Madison Square. Avi and I galloped through the train station, the bottle of champagne I’d stuffed in my coat bruising my ribs, only to emerge five seconds after midnight. I was somewhat crestfallen.

I drank a lot of vodka and orange juice at Darren’s party. Avi walked me out and hailed me a cab. I didn’t know shit about New York. Recalling Ric’s lesson, I knew that Manhattan was a borough and that Brooklyn was another borough and I was in one and needed to get to the other but that’s about it. All I had was the mystical codex of a post-it note on which the boyfriend had scrawled the address of the loft party. It was a letter street that’s all I remember. My cabby nodded confidently and we sped off, chatting about terrorism, racism and the newly minted post-9/11 New York. Right by the bridge a limo wiped out in front of us, swerving and clipping a fire hydrant with a violent crunch. It was very scary but I was so drunk and ecstatic to be in New York on New Years I started bouncing around in my seat and clapping. The scenery went by in a blur until we were in some industrial looking neighborhood. The cab had slowed to a crawl.

“This is your address?” the cabby asked skeptically in a thick Pakistani accent. Truly, there was nothing going on. He checked my paper again and nodded like he’d suddenly got a brilliant idea. He rammed the cab in reverse and we tore through three full blocks going backwards. He peeled out and wove through a grey labyrinth of streets before eventually arriving in front of a loft, bearing an address similar to the one I’d handed him, and looking mighty populated. “This is it!” I cried thanking him profusely and handing him a ten-dollar tip. I teetered out of the cab and bounded up the stairs. The party was throbbing but amazingly enough the first person I saw when I walked through the door was my boyfriend. He caught me up in a tremendous hug, telling me how worried he was because he realized he’d given me the wrong address and didn’t know how to get in touch with me. Now that we have cell phones we might get lost less frequently but we are also deprived of that joy of being found.

I can’t even remember how many parties and bars we went to after that. We shared a very crowded cab back to the city and still ended up with a bit of a walk back to his parents’ house. It was about 4 or 5 in the morning and no one was around. Through my drunken haze I realized that I was squinting in the glow of brilliant electric lights. “What’s all the light?” I asked squeezing his hand. “That,” he said, gesturing with his free hand, breath escaping from him mouth in a way that suddenly struck me as utterly exquisite, “is ground zero.” And that’s the closest I ever got to it.

Back at home we stumbled into Boyfriend’s room, spent, cashed, exhausted. We were just starting to disrobe when there was a knock on the door. It was his dad. He was always so friendly and accommodating but this was a little odd. “Hey guys, Happy New Years.” He grinned brightly. We were drunk, on drugs, reeking of a thousand cigarettes and it was the middle of the night. “Hi.” We mustered weakly, eyes blood-shot and weary. “I brought you this blow up mattress,” He continued, presenting us with a glossy box. “Thought it might be more comfortable that that little bed.” My boyfriend raised his head and I watched his face slowly form into a look at once totally quizzical and withering. It was very surreal. “We’ll be fine, dad, goodnight.” And that was that. Then we got in bed and made the sweet, sweet love until the sun dawned over Manhattan and the year 2002.

(Donna says I should end this story on a happy note so I’ll save the part about our miserable breakup for another time.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

brilliant... absolutely brilliant!



4:24 AM  

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