was that a collective sigh of relief I heard on January 1? Yes, New Year's Eve is dead and gone, not to be seen for another 360-odd days.
Is there anyone in the world still laboring under the expectation that the night of December 31 is designed for fun and frivolity? Those of us who enjoy ritual events would like to know how New Year's Eve even got a place on the list of things to celebrate. Listen to the stories of your friends who claim to have had a good New Year's Eve: More often than not, particularly in this age of austerity, it will be a description not of things that they did, but of things that they didn't do.
I once heard that a woman in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan claimed to have had a good New Year's Eve. Airfares being what they are, and knowing I'd be hard pressed to get an interview with this celebrity she must surely be swamped by reporters, media hounds and pop-eyed groupies I took an informal poll closer to home.
"I had a good New Year's Eve once," said my friend Claudia. "I pulled the shades, unplugged the phone, turned up the heat and read 'Crime and Punishment.' At midnight, I was cutting my cat's toenails. I paused for a moment of silence. Then I washed my hair."
"I worked this year," said Erin, my waitress friend. "You know, it was okay. Only three of my tables got into drunken brawls. As for the others, one woman spent the entire time in the bathroom, another got in a fight with her husband, and a guy sat at a table crying from 11 o'clock on. The last table, a five-top, would have been all right. They drank five bottles of Cristal. Then I had to tell them that their platinum card had been declined, and American Express wanted him to come to the phone. Then he accused me of trying to sabotage his New Year's Eve. So my manager talked to him and they got in a fistfight. But you know, the tip was included in the price of the party, so it worked out fine. I made three hundred dollars. I only had to work 13 hours, too."
"We were invited to three parties," said Matt, pausing to glare at his girlfriend. "Now, what would you do? How about select one and just be determined to make the best of it? But oh no, that would be too easy. No, we had to go to all three. And where were we at midnight? In a cab, stuck in traffic on Gough Street."
"At least we had champagne," said Kirsten. "Half of which we wore."
"You were the one who shook the bottle."
New Year's Eve for me doesn't entail a lot of melancholy reminiscing, nor any crippling depression, but just sheer anxiety. It doesn't matter where I am if I am having a decent time, I am convinced that somewhere, someone is out there at a better party, with a better crowd, having a far better time than I could ever hope to. This neurosis often manifests itself in a lot of frenzied all-night cab hopping (when available, this being San Francisco), coupled with the ominous belief that I should have stayed at home.
This year, as that dreaded night crawled into reality, I assessed my options. An annual party, held by some extremely smart friends, which would begin promptly at 6 p.m. and end three hours later, at which time they would throw everybody out. Another party by some bohemian North Beachers whose invitation read, "Dessert and Dancing. Dress Accordingly. Instruments provided." Still another party held in a hotel suite thrown jointly by a friend who is a phone sex worker and her boyfriend, a former client. Or ... a quiet evening by myself assessing the end of 1996, complete with nice dinner of marinated lamb loin, a half bottle of Calera 1994 Pinot Noir and a stack of videos including "Of Human Bondage"?
I would love to tell you that the latter choice prevailed. Oh, come, come. At 7:30 p.m., curiosity won out. I rushed out to all three parties, downed three glasses of something yellow and effervescent, and was sandwiched between (and thus kissed by) two crusty ex-Beats when the clock struck 12. In short, like everybody else, I had a fair-to-partly-cloudy time of it. By 2 a.m., after walking home two miles in three-inch-high heels, I was curled up in bed with George Eliot and was heard to plaintively ask her, "Where have you been all night?"