Welcoming the 1980s – from right to left, my father, my mother’s younger sister and my mother. One of my aunt’s daughters is at far left.
On December 31, 2010, I decided spontaneously to go out for New Year’s Eve. I had been laid off nearly three months earlier from an engineering company and wondered when things would improve. I visited my favorite bar just north of downtown Dallas and was glad to encounter a few friends and acquaintances. As I stood near the DJ booth, surveying the eclectic crowd, I suddenly recollected the very first New Year’s party my parents had decided to throw – 1973.
We had moved into our new house in suburban Dallas a year earlier. My parents had already made friends with several neighbors; their ebullient personalities attracting even the most staid of individuals. As the clock struck midnight, and we welcomed 1974, I pulled back the heavy drapes against the patio door to look for my then 7-month-old German shepherd, Joshua. His ears already beginning to triangulate, he glanced at me and jumped up. I went outside to pet him and wish him a happy New Year.
By the time I rang in 2011, Joshua had been dead for a quarter century, and my parents had long ceased their partying ways. Last night, I sat with some wine coolers and watched television. My parents and my dog, Wolfgang, all had retired for the night. I’m so glad to see 2013 go, happier than I was three years earlier. In fact, I haven’t been this thrilled to let go of a year since 1985 – the year we put Joshua to sleep; a year I’ve always considered the single worst of my entire life.
New Year’s is my favorite holiday. It’s not just the feverish atmosphere surrounding a fresh start. For me, it’s always been associated with the gathering of family and friends; people who occupy our lives and make it good. Besides, most everyone feels giddy on New Year’s Eve. Why not celebrate?
My parents threw a number of New Year’s parties. Ours was the fun house on the block. It was during those raucous indoor festivals when I learned how to spin records (on a turntable), mix drinks, and show people how good I could dance. I can still bump and grind with the best of them, but usually the lights have to be dim.
Two of our perennial guests were among my parents’ closest friends: a young couple who lived next door and were among the first people we befriended in the neighborhood. They were both exceptionally tall. They got me addicted to “National Geographic” by purchasing us a gift subscription in 1976. And, they offered my parents and me one of the best bits of advice anyone could hear: always hang around people who know more than you do.
At one particular late 1970s New Year’s gathering, a neighbor got so drunk we escorted him into my parents’ bedroom to lie down for a while. My dad took Polaroids of many of us – including the man’s wife – encircling him on the bed. It was a while before he returned to our house for another New Year’s party. When he did, his wife became so intoxicated she had to spend the night in my bedroom; her husband returned home (I think) alone. I slept on the living room couch.
Some other neighbors, a couple whose kids attended the same high school I did, were also frequent visitors. The man would often bring his guitar and sing along with his wife. And, they really could sing. As newlyweds in their native New México, they once entered an amateur singing contest, but lost out because the judges said they sounded too much like professionals. That didn’t matter to us so many years later, though, as they strummed out tunes from José Feliciano and even The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”
That was quite a different reaction from that of another neighbor, a housewife who lived up the street with her stony husband and three unruly children. At one New Year’s party, she imbibed in too many of the margaritas I’d whipped up and haphazardly commented that she liked to sing. Seeing a chance to humiliate a fat, drunk stay-at-home mom who sold decorative glassware on the side and considered herself a devout Christian, two other friends – a neighbor and a man my parents had known for several years – began escorting her around the house; telling certain individuals, ‘You gotta hear this!’ And, as the woman started to croon, sounding much like a Hereford cow going into labor, the two men merely stepped away. They’d return a minute later to set her upon another unsuspecting partier.
My favorite New Year’s gathering took place at my parents’ home in 1979. I was excited to bring in not just a new year, but a new decade. If you’re old enough to recall the fashions and hair styles of the 1970s, surely you can identify with my elation in sending that decade into the history books. It was a unique affair in that we invited both family and friends – and they all showed up! We didn’t think this house could hold that many people and not incite calls to the police. Even my grandmother was there – and, aside from midnight mass on Christmas Eve at her local Catholic church, she was almost never up past 9 P.M. Above the fireplace I hung a large piece of blue poster board with the term “The ‘80s” on it. I had spent days cutting up sheets of colored paper into tiny squares to make confetti. I stuffed it all into a large brown paper sack and hurtled the pieces into the air at the stroke of midnight. As we cleaned up later, my mother commented that “we’ll be picking up confetti for a year.” And, sure enough, exactly one year later – after another New Year’s blowout – I found a single piece of confetti buried beneath a couch.
Another New Year’s party, with my mother clowning alongside the friends who often entertained us with a guitar and a song. My mother just turned 81, but the couple left us more than three years ago.
Of course, we attended New Year’s parties at the homes of other friends and neighbors. Whether at my parents’ house or somewhere else, I always made it a point to have a good time – and not just because alcohol and food were plentiful, although that adds to the fervor. I just really enjoy New Year’s celebrations. Regardless, there’s something unique about ringing in a new year with the people closest to you.
On New Year’s Eve 1988, I was at the apartment of a friend, working on a stage play. Along with some other friends, her and I were trying to launch our own theatrical group and had scheduled a handful of gigs for the spring. It was almost half past midnight before we realized it was 1989. We hugged and clinked wine cooler bottles, then got back to work. I did make it a point, though, to call my parents from there and wish them a Happy New Year. I was surprised to find out they were already in bed. “I was just thinking about all the New Year’s parties we used to throw,” my dad told me, sounding rather sad.
A year later a friend and I decided to usher in the 1990s at Dick’s Last Resort in Dallas’ West End. For a $20 cover, we could have all the food we wanted and a variety of drink specials. But, my friend was coming down with a cold and, around 10 P.M., asked me to take him back to his apartment. So much for that $20! But, I decided to join another friend at a warehouse party just south of downtown. He was both surprised and glad to see me. Standing 6’7”, he was almost a whole foot taller and considered me his adopted little brother. His older brother had died of cancer shortly before Christmas 1978. Even though a fight broke out between two guys – one who showed up high on something – I had more fun than I probably would have at the other place.
I spent New Year’s Eve 1990 with a friend, Daniel, who I wrote about recently. He was sad because he’d just learned his former long-time boyfriend had died of AIDS a month earlier. As we sat listening to a jazz version of “Auld Lang Syne” on a local radio station, his two Lhasa Apsos resting near the fireplace, we heard what we thought were firecrackers. When I looked out the patio door of his second-story apartment, I realized the popping sounds were coming from a burning car on the opposite side of the highway. “I hope they weren’t on their way to a New Year’s party,” I said.
I peruse the bevy of old photos from our various New Year’s gatherings and wonder about some of the people in them. The tall couple eventually sold their house and moved to El Paso, Texas before I graduated from high school. They promised to stay in touch, which they did – for a little while. But, we haven’t seen or heard from them in over two decades. The drunken neighbor moved away a few years ago – not long after his wife succumbed to cancer. The guitar-playing couple died within two months of each other in the summer of 2010. The would-be songstress and her husband also vacated the neighborhood long ago. Strangely, I ran into their daughter in the summer of 1985 at the country club where we both worked. My friend Daniel died in 1993, and I eventually lost touch with those other three friends.
My grandmother passed away in 2001, and most of my cousins have married and had kids of their own. We’ve all gone on to lead our own lives, but I’ve managed to stay in touch with a few. It’s still fun, though, as I recollect the good times and gaze at the scores of glossy photos that captured those moments. Yes, that’s happening with greater frequency as I get older. But, life isn’t worth the trouble if you can’t have fun with family and friends and then, remember it all.
I commandeered the bar at the home of some long-time family friends on New Year’s Eve 1983. My jacket was faux leather, but the hair was real! When the hostess asked what speed she should set the blender to mix margaritas, ‘whip’ or ‘puree,’ I said, “Drunk.”