Auld Acquaintances Not Forgotten

Greetings one and all, and Happy New Year!

Sorry for the delay between posts, but I’ve been a bit under the weather (thank God not from the usual Holiday Cheer which I no longer partake in).  New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day has taken on a very different form since I got sober; a far cry from the days where both my wife (who is not an alcoholic, but no longer drinks because she was a bit of a wild one and is supportive of my abstinence by her own) and I used to ring in the New Year with much fanfare.  We would usually get together with several couples that were close friends or family, and attend an all night function at a hotel that would include a room (no drinking and driving for us, thank you very much!), the dinner, and most importantly an open bar.  With top-shelf liquor, I might add….LOTS of top-shelf liquor; sometimes at the expense of the meal, which was usually quite good except for one year…hmmm…that gives me an idea.  Allow me to recount for you some of the more memorable New Year’s Eves that my wife and I partook in, and the tales of drunken debauchery that took place.  The names have been redacted to protect the very inebriated.  Please remove all young children from the room.

New Year’s Eve 1991-92: Our first New Year’s together as a couple, and just over a month since I proposed to my wife (which is another story in itself).  We were with her best friend and her fiancée, and two other couples who were their friends.  My wife and I had no idea who anyone was outside of the engaged couple, but we soon bonded.  Yes, it’s an amazing thing how complete strangers can bond over something as insignificant as a drink, in this case, something called a “Woo-Woo”.  I have no recollection what was in the damned things, all I remember was the eight of us toasting everything out of shot glasses…poured from a pitcher no less.  You know you’re in trouble when you’re drinking out of shot glasses.  Every toast no matter how serious or ridiculous ended with the rallying cry of “Woo Woo!”.  We sounded like a bunch of drunken Ed Nortons coming up from the sewer on New Year’s Day.  As the evening progressed, the highlight of the entertainment was to watch about 200 drunken, white suburban New Jerseyites attempt to do the “Electric Slide”.  Busby Berkeley was rolling over in his grave; and June Taylor’s services were sorely needed.  It was during one of these intoxicated processions that my wife’s foot was impaled by her friends high heel; a New Year’s gift that kept on giving all through the evening as my wife spent the better part of the night with her foot in a bucket of ice.  All and all, a most memorable evening.

From New Year’s Eve 1992-93 to 1994-1995: Same place, same two central couples (being my wife and I, and her friend and her husband); but the rest of the central cast of characters changed.  In addition to friends being added and couples breaking up, there were four marriages (including my own), one engagement and one divorce, as well as that other central couple I was talking about having their first child.  Yes, there were the ever present Woo Woos along with the accompanying rally cry and the nasty hangovers the following morning (my wife has some PRICELESS photos of me one particularly nasty morning).  There was also excellent food and friendship and incredible good times.  We were all in our early 30’s, at the start of our marriages, and at the rise of our careers and there was an endless stream of possibilities that loomed before us.  It was definitely a heady time, and for me personally it one of the best periods of my life.  My career was on a MAJOR upswing, and I was recognized as one of the guys who might very well be a candidate for Senior VP down the road; probably in the next ten years time, and that was the belief among my co-workers, staff, and my superiors.  New Year’s was a time for me to blow off one year’s worth of stress and aggravation and spend it with my lovely wife (who also had her own career going at that time as a Case Manager RN in the Insurance Industry) who was doing the same.  She made sure she stayed away from her friend’s high heels though, and she never had to worry about waking up to a foot in an ice bath again.

New Years 1995-1996: We took a detour this time from our usual spot, which was now being remodeled into an up-scale brewery.  We instead went to a hotel that was near our apartment, a VERY high class establishment where my wife and I stayed on our wedding night and were suitably impressed.  They promised a room, open bar, and a seven course meal.  Sounds great, right?  This was a tour-de-farce that could probably be written into a Broadway comedy, but I’ll try and encapsulate just how interesting an evening this was.  First off, I put the reservations to HOLD on my Corporate American Express.  The hotel was not supposed to charge the card, it was just supposed to be a good faith gesture until we got there and paid in cash (which we did).  Needless to say, they charged the card…which I was furious at, because I would now have to explain that charge and it’s reversal to my boss and HIS Senior VP.  While my boss had a conniption (and for a while so did I), the SVP was someone who I occasionally drank with and smoked cigars with (Cubans which he provided, smuggled in from Canada) in his posse of peers and protegees.  He did manage to get a good laugh out of it, especially when I told him the rest of what you’re about to read; so I was forgiven and told make sure it didn’t happen again.  After that little incident at the front desk, we got the keys to our rooms…or should I say igloos.  The heat was turned off in the rooms and we managed to get the heat going (our igloos having a lovely view of the FROZEN Shrewsberry River); by the time we returned somewhere around 3AM, the temperature was hovering around 60…but we were too drunk to even feel a thing anyway, more than normal in fact.

The downhill spiral continued as we arrived into the Main Ballroom and were seated NEXT to the band.  As in close enough for me to play the congas (which I actually did on a couple of songs).  Remember that seven course meal?  Oh, we got it for sure; what they didn’t tell us was that it was all on the same plate.  In keeping with the hip nouveau cuisine of the day, the hotel served us dollops of food (all lovingly dolloped in a colorful array, I might add).  They also didn’t allow us to have more than one drink at a time, didn’t make pitchers of anything (let alone Woo Woos), and stock liquor only.  That quickly changed as we bribed our waitress Flo to keep the liquor flowing, taught her how to make Woo Woos and at least get them served in a full glass instead of a shot glass or a pitcher.  Nice happy compromise; nice happy band of delirious drunks; massive group hangover by all concerned the following morning.  Despite the misery inflicted upon us, we had a good time just because we could not possibly believe just how bad everything went…it was the Universe playing a cosmic payback on us for all those other great times we had.

New Year’s Eve 1996-1997: Our usual spot had completed their renovation and conversion to an upscale brewery, and threw a New Year’s Party again…only this time, with limited seating which they cordoned off in a pretty small room where everyone was rubbing elbows…but it was infinitely better than the previous year’s debacle.  Yes, the Woo Woos were flowing again as well as some excellent beer from the on premises brewery.  Yes, there was the usual drunken Electric Slide…but one thing none of us ever saw, at the time but perhaps we were thinking in our hearts, was that this may indeed be our last New Year’s together as a group.  We were right.  The two couples who were there the first New Year’s we spent together got divorced: one because the Cola heiress he was married to found another guy (and he himself passed on away from Hodgkin’s Disease a few years after that), and the other because the wife decided to come out and leave her husband for another woman, which pretty much shattered the guy.  The other central couple would still be together and add two more daughters in the intervening years; another couple would add a son in 1997 (and they would later be Godparents to my second daughter as well); and my wife’s brother would pass on (he had become a regular attendee at these shindigs with his live-in ex-wife…don’t ask…in the last few years).

In 1997, our first daughter was born and my wife and I stayed locally at a nearby hotel attending their own New Year’s bash, which was quite good.  My in-laws came down and watched Kate for us while we went out for which would turn out to be our last New Year’s Eve going out and having a wild time.  We bought a house the following year, and after then, we pretty much had gotten used to a quiet New Year’s Eve alone with a couple of bottles of champagne.  My wife went back to work in 2005, and New Year’s Eve 2005-2006 would be the last time I would ring in the New Year with a glass of booze in my hand.  In fact, I didn’t even make it to midnight that year and my wife got home from work and went straight to bed leaving me alone and drunk.  The past few years have been quiet ones (sober ones for me), spent with my wife making it to midnight sometimes or having to go to bed because she worked on New Year’s Day.

Tonight, my wife will be in bed when midnight strikes…but I will be up at midnight with both of my kids with nothing but a glass of Coke in my hand, and I’ll probably let them have one or two themselves.  We’ll have Ravioli and Marinara Sauce with Meatballs for dinner tonight, and probably Chicken Parmigiana for tomorrow, and I’ll have a new kitchen in which to make them.  I’ve come a long way since my days of Corporate Cards and Cuban Cigars and days of wine and roses.  I have the best job in the world right now: father to two of the greatest kids on the planet and husband to one hell of a human being who managed to hang in there with me in both good times and in bad, sickness and health, richer and poorer.

The only way I’m alive to write these words and what is to come is because of her.  This piece is for you Tess…Happy New Year, baby.

“The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk.  This drunkenness culminates on New Year’s Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you’re married to.” – P.J. O’Rourke

“Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve.  Middle age is when you’re forced to.” – Bill Vaughn

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.” – Benjamin Franklin