I honestly can’t remember most New Year’s Eves in my life. Not because I was drinking so much, but because I’m over 60 and there were so many. With few exceptions, they have been either unremarkable, anti-climactic or so lonely and pathetic that I don’t even want to talk about it. Don’t get me wrong. I love any excuse to eat fun foods, drink alcohol and celebrate a contrived tradition that has no real meaning for me. But at this point in my life, I want to be invited to all the parties, I just don’t want to attend any of them.
One of my favorite New Year’s Eves was when I was 12
My parents dropped me off with a friend who was staying with his grandparents so they could go out and attend several different parties around town. (That was back in the days when drinking and driving was practically legal and was still fun.) We were a couple of unsupervised adolescents in a retirement home in Miami Beach, and our idea of a wild night was throwing garbage off the balcony while yelling dirty words we weren’t allowed to say. (Woo-hoo!) We wanted to offend all the old people in the complex, but everybody was either already asleep or too deaf to hear us. It was pretty pathetic, but we had a great time and laughed until milk came out of our noses. It’s a good thing adults don’t laugh like that. It would probably burn like hell if alcohol came out of your nose.
My most memorable New Year’s Eve was in Times Square in 1977
This was before they started barricading off all the streets or exercised any real crowd control. There was very little police presence, as if the cops knew better than to go into that neighborhood on that night. The temperatures were below freezing but it was so crowded we were kept warm by the body heat of thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder. Everyone was all pumped up and pressed together like sardines in a can of crack. I was squeezed in so tightly that there were moments I could have lifted my feet off the ground and not fallen. It was the only time I ever felt claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time. But that didn’t stop any of us from celebrating with unrestrained hedonism. If anyone had the slightest bit of elbow room it probably would have turned into full scale riot or an outright orgy. I’m glad I did New Year’s Eve in Times Square once in my life, but doing it again, at my age, would just be stupid.
It’s the young who always eagerly await this overly-hyped annual event. Those of us who have lived through enough of them have come to see it as the inevitable passing of another year that is capped off by a perfunctory need to make a big deal out of it. It’s one of those fun things in life that most of us eventually outgrow, like ordering off the kids menu or having wet dreams.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve has become a sobering metaphor for how we age through the decades
In our 20s, we want to party-hardy (as we used to say). We want to go out to celebrate, get drunk with friends, have indiscriminate sex with strangers and ideally black-out completely so we don’t have to live with the shame of our reckless behavior.
In our 30s, we’re perfectly happy to spend a cozy evening at home with our partners, some good wine and perhaps a few intimate friends. We don’t want to drive because suddenly we’re concerned about all those drunks on the road and we start saying things like, “New Year’s Eve is amateur night.”
By the time we reach our 40s, we really don’t give a shit anymore. We just want to stay home and avoid all the craziness. (Preferably not alone. Otherwise, we could wind-up having a pity-party for one.) We feel smarter than all those people on TV who are trying so hard to have a good time that they’re willing to stand in the freezing cold for hours. And instead of wanting to go to loud places, the noise from our neighbor’s party is starting to annoy us.
Somewhere in our 50s, we find ourselves struggling just to stay awake until midnight. One of the major advantages to living on the West Coast is that we can watch the nine o’clock feed of the ball drop and call it a night.
So for those of you who are still young enough to make the attempt, knock yourselves out. Dick Clark would be proud of you. (Although, if you’re that young, you probably don’t even know who Dick Clark was.) For those of us who are too old to care anymore, that’s okay too. Release yourself from any pressure to celebrate outside your comfort zone. There’s nothing wrong with watching a good Marx Brothers movie marathon.