A List of the Nicest and/or Sexiest Things About and/or Having to do with New Year’s Eve
Hello to all of us here in this last week of the year, known for its lack of plans and abundance of cookies (my friend Bret calls it “Twixmas”). I told myself it would be ok to not do any work this week- to relax, take it easy, gather my energy for the work to come. But alas, my anxiety, along with the loss of significant gig income due to this new Covid surge, have combined to compel me to write as if it were tending to the last precious jewel in grandmama’s chest. So here I am, hat in hand, once again thanking you all for your support, and for reading my work.
Anyway, onto business. Here they are, in no particular order - Some of the Nicest and/or Sexiest Things About and/or Having to do with New Year’s:
When Harry Met Sally (Sexy, but also Nice)
A few years ago I spent the week of New Year’s Eve in a house out in Fanwood, NJ, taking care of a friend’s two beautiful dogs while he and his family went on a cruise. I say, with little hyperbole, that it was one of the best weeks of my life. As a woman in her 30s who has never owned property, having an entire house to myself along with two dogs and access to a car was the stuff dreams are made of.
I was working on a play at the time- something for a 10-minute play reading- and I needed some guidance on how to write good dialogue. Enter Nora Ephron. When I wasn’t cooking, taking care of the dogs, shoveling snow, or writing, I was curled up on the couch, watching When Harry Met Sally over and over again. I probably watched it five times that week. That script fucking slaps, and learned a great deal from listening to it so many times.
The final scene takes place on New Year’s Eve- Harry and Sally (played by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) are on the outs, and Sally is at a party not having a great time and wanting to go home (relatable). Also? She looks fucking great.
Then here comes Billy Crystal running in with his schlubby outfit and sweaty face, and he wins her back with one of the most famous proclamations of love in movie history, ending with this:
“And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Suddenly this schlubby sweaty man standing in front of Meg Ryan is pretty damn sexy, because it’s obvious that he really did want the rest of his life to start as soon as possible- otherwise he would have, I don’t know, taken a shower, or at least put on a nice shirt. He looks like crap, so he really must mean it. I’d hit that.
People in my friend’s neighborhood shot off fireworks that New Year’s Eve; I missed the countdown to midnight because I had one of the dogs wrapped up in a blanket, holding her in my arms as she trembled.
The post-midnight hang (Nice, Sometimes Sexy)
So much of New Year’s Eve planning focuses on what happens leading up to and at midnight, and not nearly enough of it focuses on what happens after. We all collectively do this big Time Climax together- and then what? I find that those moments after the ball drops are what really determine if a party was a hit or not.
My favorite part of a party is the end. If I’m present at the end of a party, it means I had fun, and I was with people with whom I truly enjoy spending my time. The end of the party is when everyone starts the relax, sit down, change the music. The end of the party is where deep talks can happen, where both friendships and romance can bloom like a hothouse flower.
There’s a New York party I’ve gotten to attend a few times that doesn’t even start until after midnight. It’s the hang for the musicians who had gigs that night and couldn’t kick back until 12:30 or 1am, after they’ve packed up their instruments and headed uptown. This wonderful horn player I know would host it in his decked out apartment- it has a bar that he built himself, and a jam room with a piano and drums. The last time I got to go was the New Year’s Eve when I decided to become a whisky drinker. Probably the New Year’s Resolution I’ve stuck with the most in my entire life.
Not going to Times Square (Both Nice and Sexy in Equal Amounts)
In August 2011 I attended an old, old horse race in Siena, Italy called Il Palio. The hill towns of Tuscany are teeming with traditions that go back hundreds of years- races, jousts, festivals, mutual hatred, etc.. Il Palio is one of them. Each of Siena’s 16 contrade (neighborhoods) has a horse in the race. They lay thick clay earth around the circumference of the main piazza, and the entire town is wrapped up in activities and events leading up to it. My colleagues and I crashed a Palio party one night, and another day watched with puzzlement as folks from one of the contrade paraded around the cobblestone streets in baby gear- pacifiers, bonnets, you name it. I think it meant that they won the time before? I still don’t quite understand it.
Being not-yet-30 and still game for most Experiences, I went with some of my colleagues the day of the race to stake out a good spot. We arrived at the center of the piazza a little after noon, snacks and water in hand; soon after the entire center area started to thrum with an excited crowd, and we were closed in, unable to leave.
Several very hot, very uneventful hours passed, until finally around 5pm a medieval style processional began along the dirt path surrounding us.
It looked like something from a Renaissance fair, except this is probably exactly what the people of this town have worn for this race the entire time. The race horses also presided, each one young and incredibly beautiful (as you can see at the top of this section). They had all been blessed by the town priest, and were ready to go.
Finally, the riders began to set up for the race. There is a very particular way that the horses have to line up that I don’t quite understand- all I know is that it is difficult to do exactly right/without one of the riders trying to cheat (?), and they had to restart the order multiple times (NB — I did no further research into the Palio for this essay, this is all from memory, sorry ‘bout it).
THE SUDDENLY THE RACE! THE RACE! IT WAS HAPPENING! AAAAA!
BLURS OF COLOR, SHOUTS AND CHEERS, AN INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF BUSTLING
And then it was over, as suddenly as it began. The giraffe neighborhood won.
Everyone around me was losing their absolute shit- screaming and crying and celebrating. As suddenly as the race started and then ended, I felt afraid. Fearing being trapped and trampled in the melee, I turned to my colleagues and said, “We need to get out of here.”
We climbed over a nearby gate and scurried out to a quiet street, stopping at a pizzeria to recover and replenish.
It was hot, thrilling, exhausting, fun, and harrowing. I am so glad I did it, and I will never do it again.
The United States, on the other hand, is still, by many measures, an incredibly young country. Our traditions are surface-level, devoid of any true identity, for they all scream of freedom when none of us are truly free. From what I’ve read, and heard from friends who have braved the experience, being in Times Square on New Year’s Eve is like being trapped inside of 50 SantaCons- a chaos dungeon of tired, grumpy, possibly inebriated people, and also you have to pee in a bottle. At least in Siena I was too dehydrated to have to use the bathroom at any point.
As someone who has lived in NYC for over a decade now, no part of me has felt like I have missed out on something by not watching the ball drop live, and the fact that I’ve managed to navigate many New Year’s Eves without those events affecting me in any way makes me feel like the sexiest person on the planet.
Memories in General (Nice)
I think we like to mark arbitrary moments in time because they help us remember things. All the moments we live through in life are more easily filed away and preserved when we can put them in boxes. I think I remember more moments from New Year’s Eves past than I do from my own birthdays:
- The New Year’s Eve when I discovered that, for me, alcohol and marijuana do not mix.
- The New Year’s Eve when I sat with friends in a restaurant in deep New Jersey and watched white people dancing in another room. I woke up the next morning and got to play with a dog.
- The New Year’s Even when there was a restaurant table on Flatbush Avenue crammed full of friends and sushi and laughter, when what followed was a walk into a dark, snow-covered Prospect Park, and fireworks at midnight. Clouds of breath, and furtive swigs of champagne. A sleepy afterparty and not remembering when or how I got home the next day.
- The New Year’s Eves in my childhood home with pigs in blankets and sparkling apple cider. That one New Year’s Eve when I also had strep throat but painfully choked down the sparkling cider anyway.
- The New Year’s Eve when it was 1999 and my mom took us to a midnight church service instead, just in case that Y2K stuff ended up being a Thing.
- The New Year’s Eve when I went to a party and finally met a fellow horn player I’d heard about for ages and we became friends immediately, talking loudly at each other all night while a sweet pit bull stopped by for pets.
- The New Year’s Eve in China, 13 hours ahead of almost everyone I knew.
- The New Year’s Eve in Germany, with food and sprinklers and joy, and an impenetrable fog that descended upon us as we returned to our hotel. Our car carefully inched through the thick curtains of mist; we had no idea what lay ahead of us. Those were my very first hours of 2020.
- The New Year’s Eve the following year where I sat alone in my apartment under hot lights and performed and smiled for people in boxes on my screen, and at midnight threw the confetti the show had mailed to me over my head and cheered and smiled, and soon the screen grew quiet again.
One of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had in the city was back in 2012 when I worked for an art installation called The Clock. It’s a 24-hour film collage that also works as a functional clock as you’re watching it. The artist Christian Marclay and his team sourced hundreds and hundreds of film clips that reference time in some way- a clock on the wall in a scene, or a character looking at their watch and saying, “It’s four o’clock”. When you see that on the film screen, you know that where you are, it is four o’clock. I worked the installations of it at both Lincoln Center and at the Museum of Modern Art later that same year, and between the two gigs I got to see about 22 hours of it. It’s an incredible feat, and a profound meditation on both time and movie history.
The thing I loved most about the job was that, since the collage is 24 hours long, some of my shifts happened in the middle of the night. How often do you get to be inside of the MoMA at 3am? When I took my breaks I would wander around the galleries that were still accessible after the rest of the museum had closed for the day, and listen to the echoes of sound installations on the upper floors. For multiple nights I was plagued with curiosity over an install that played a section of Rite of Spring on loop- it was on one of the upper floors but I couldn’t tell which one. I finally was able to come in during regular hours and found the culprit- an exhibit on Abstraction.
The installation at MoMA happened around New Year’s. I took a shift on New Year’s Eve because I didn’t have any plans, and I thought it would be cool to be watching The Clock right at midnight. I stood in the dark screening room with a hundred some-odd aesthetes, and watched as dozens of movie clocks brought in the New Year. Clock towers, alarm clocks, bell tolls, fireworks. Midnight after midnight after midnight after midnight.
So many midnights in our lives, and we pick one a year to care about. I hope you make yours ones worth remembering.
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