Somewhere. People stand in a room where loud music plays and the lights are low. Drinks are poured. Dance moves are put on display. All talking is done in shouts and yells. Men and women look around longingly, trying to spot their person. The one, the special one, who might be willing to kiss them at midnight. The room is filled with hope and tension and the vague promises of the upcoming new year. Yes, there is sadness and desperation, but all of that is in the background, made insignificant by the excitement and the energy and the wonderful idea that there is an ending to be made, and all one has to do is write it.
New Year’s Eve has always been my favorite in-theory-but-not-in-practice holiday. I mean, in theory, New Year’s Eve is awesome. It’s about the passing of time – but not in a bad way, not like a birthday. A birthday is an unsexy passing of time, filled with the subtext that you’re getting older and closer to becoming senile. New Year’s Eve is seductive. It’s like foreplay. It puts time in a g-string. New Year’s Eve is the only holiday that’s supposed to end in drunken sex. Easter doesn’t end like that. There’s no one drunk or having sex at the end of Easter. At the end of Easter, you’re sober and saying goodbye to your grandparents. And New Year’s Eve is also awesome because it’s all about erasing the slate, too. Whatever dumb shit you did the previous year is okay, because now that year is over, and all your mistakes are forgotten, even if they just happened the night before.
But that’s all in theory. The hooking up and the resolutions. The sloppy sex and the forgiveness. In practice, I’ve usually ended up in some club, striking out with the ladies and getting wasted with my friends, and then feeling hopeless and like a loser the next day. In reality, New Year’s Eve is pretty much a tease. It’s like a plan you make when you’re drunk, like when you go ‘Hey, maybe if I call my ex right now, we can get back together.’ It all seems brilliant and filled with possibility at the time, but in the end you wind up alone, wondering what you did wrong and peeling the labels off your beer bottles.
This year, at age 37, I wanted to do something different. No bars. No electronic music. No…young people. That ‘somewhere’ at the beginning, that was my memory, and the last thing I wanted was to repeat that scene yet again, regret and rejection being my New Year’s traditions just like a birthday has cake and presents.
So my girlfriend and I concocted a plan that seemed both fun and age appropriate. We booked a night in a fancy-pants hotel in downtown Beijing, and decided we would spend our New Year’s Eve pretending to be rich people. Because really, in a vacuum, a person can be anything. Put into the context of one isolated night, the money I have in my bank account indeed makes me wealthy. It’s when one elongates the time frame, when that same amount of money becomes not for one night but for an entire lifetime, it’s only then that I become economically disadvantaged. In the vacuum of a single night, we could be rich and successful and in love and everything else, and so that was our New Year’s theory. It’s harder to be all of those things over the longer haul, next to impossible, and so to ease that looming truth, we stocked up on wine.
By five o’clock on New Year’s Eve, we had checked into our five-star hotel and were busy figuring out how to turn the lights on. The room was big and spacious and dimly lit. It had a hot tub and everything was elegantly painted in hues of dark browns and creamy off-whites. There was a large television and a huge desk with a phone on it. I wondered briefly if the room also came with a secretary. Outside we could see the Beijing cityscape, all the tall buildings wrapped in the romantic soft-focused haze of heavy smog.
Dinner. Fettuccine with sea bass and a bottle of Chardonnay. We left the restaurant happy and light headed. The time was 7:30 pm.
“Wow, it’s earlier than I thought,” I said. “We’re really going to need to drink a lot to stay awake.”
Back to the hotel room. A bottle of Riesling. My girlfriend put on some music, a strange mix of pop tunes that began with lots of club music and eventually transformed into a long Juliana Hatfield playlist. I sat on the bed and watched basketball highlights. We finished the bottle. Time – 9:15 pm.
“We’re never going to make it,” I said. We’d started too early. The rich don’t eat dinner at six and they certainly don’t get bored before ten. We decided a change of scenery would be good and we went down to the hotel bar. The place was dead, about nine people lingering around and having cocktails while a DJ spun dance music. Balloons were everywhere and we sat at the bar and drank Cuba Libres that were cut with so much lemon juice they tasted like Hooch (which in turn sparked memories of New Year’s Eves from the late ’90s).
Back into the elevator. We inserted our key and hit the button. Drunk and exhausted. Time – 11:00.
It was then that I started thinking about time, right then as the elevator went higher and higher. Because time, I decided, is a lot like the floors in a big hotel. The numbers keep going up and up and getting larger, and it feels like you’re really going someplace. Like there’s this progression happening. I thought that the next year isn’t much different from the next floor, a step along the way to the top. But really, if you get off on any floor, you’d find that they’re basically all the same. Floor 5 looks a lot like Floor 15 and they both get mirrored by Floor 25. And that’s what I decided time is like too. That all these floors, all these years, it isn’t really a progression as much as it’s going from one thing to another thing that’s almost identical. Sure I’d gone from clubs and house parties to a swanky hotel, but I was still the same guy, and New Year’s Eve still felt like a tease to me.
Where was my fucking optimism? Where was my hope? I looked at the beautiful girl standing next to me. I could marry this girl and start a new life with her. I could begin a family and name my kid after a cocktail. Harvey Wallbanger Panara or something. I could do any of that. The elevator got to our floor and the doors dinged open.
We got back into the room and my girlfriend started up the hot tub. I stumbled over to the big desk with the purpose of opening up the champagne. I listened to the water running and I went over to the bed and laid down. I was beat. The time was 11:30.
I was ready for the new year, and I didn’t really care to wait for it. The new year would get here. They always do.
I closed my eyes and fell asleep.