Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Auld Acquaintances, Not Forgot

New Year's Eve and I have never been well matched. When I was 20, I was invited to the home of my precocious 17-year-old college freshman girlfriend, she of the glorious Jean Shrimpton mane and wild dancing. She’d gotten all tarted up for me, in a very short skirt and sparkly stockings, the idea being that I would relieve her of her virginity. But my squeamishness (she wore a colostomy bag) trumped my horniness, and I made up a not-very-credible excuse to go home well before midnight.

When I was 22, I went to the home of another girlfriend. There was a lot of singing along to the then-recently-released Abbey Road; my fellow revelers exchanging cute, knowing smirks on the title line of "Maxwell’s Silver Hammer" made my flesh crawl. I sneaked upstairs several times to phone a former girlfriend, M—, who’d just been left by the guy for whom she’d left me two years before, and who’d phoned that afternoon to ask if she might come down to Hollywood and stay with me while she recovered. I was still a little bit in love with her, and eagerly — foolishly — agreed. Her subsequent visit later inspired one of the bitterest songs on the Christopher Milk album. Against all odds, I am now Facebook friends with her, as with the girlfriend at whose house the Abbey Road sing-along occurred.

When I was 26, I took P—, the universal object of desire, to dinner at Au Petit CafĂ©, a French restaurant on Vine Street in Hollywood that I adored. It may have been the only time I actually paid to dine there. Ordinarily, a record company publicist (P—, for instance) would pick up the tab, which sometimes, almost inconceivably, exceeded $40 for two.

By the time I was 27, P— had left me, as I’d given her abundant cause to do, and I welcomed the new year by getting very drunk at the Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset Blvd., where some weeks before, The Kiddo and I and Earle from Sparks had gone to forage for prospective procreative partners. I, the shyest of the trio, had stayed behind at our table while my two companions approached a gaggle of prospects. Said prospects made it known that they found me the cutest of the three, and asked my friends to convey that they would return on New Year’s Eve. A few minutes after midnight on which, nearly too drunk to slide out of my booth, I staggered over and invited them en masse back to my slightly greasy bachelor pad high above Sunset Blvd. (in what today is the Hotel Mondrian). They seemed not to find charming my disinclination to distinguish between them, and I drove home alone and unfollowed, gravely endangering the lives of both pedestrians and fellow motorists.

When I was 32, I went with The Kiddo to Flipper’s Roller Disco (formerly La Cienega Lanes, where P— and I had happily squandered many an evening playing pinball). I was myself a universal object of desire by this time (as the preternaturally good-looking Kiddo had been for years, though you wouldn’t have known it from the way the maidens of Hollywood bypassed Christopher Milk’s dressing rooms en route to others’), but no less shy, and spent the first few hours wishing I had the gumption to strike up a conversation with one of the spandex-encased sexpots who clogged the place. As the new decade drew ever nearer, I resolved to greet it with my tongue in one of their mouths. As the countdown started, I tapped a gorgeous young thing on the shoulder and then, when she turned around, kissed her with fervor. Boy, was she not amused. Boy, do I feel a jerk remembering this.

When I was 34. I took my first wife (The Kiddo’s ex-girlfriend) to dinner at an expensive, allegedly Italian restaurant on Beverly Blvd., all of whose wait (and, presumably, kitchen) staff were patently chicano. Though we got along famously the first four years, and even had a daughter together, my first wife and I were severely mismatched, in that she was fervently fun-loving and I anhedonic, innately fearful of pleasure. Five years later, she looked spectacular in a sort of tinsel wig on New Year’s Eve, which we spent dining at a Japanese restaurant in Petaluma with friends, and we shouted at one another in the car on the way home to Santa Rosa. It would be our last New Year’s Eve together.

When I was 40, I went with a friend from the fascist law firm at which I worked to a chic Boz Scaggs co-owned nitespot in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow. My friend was connected, and we were able to breeze past the plebes lined up on the wrong side of the velvet rope. When she saw that we were about to get the royal treatment, a tall redhead who looked a lot like Jerry Hall mused pointedly about how much she wished she were going in with us, but the old shyness kicked in. I spent the evening getting drunk with my pal and gnashing my teeth.

I had a couple of wonderful New Year’s Eves with my daughter when we lived in San Francisco. One year, we had Korean barbecued chicken at our favorite place, on Polk Street, and then drove into the Castro as midnight approached. When the new year arrived, loudly, my daughter was flabbergasted, and not a little amused, by the spectacle of dozens of gay men dropping their trousers in unison. But the following year was even better. She wasn’t feeling well, so we came home early and watched Nickelodeon, snuggled together on my big garage sale recliner, for a couple of hours before we both nodded off.

On the last night of the 20th century, Nancy and I watched the bombs bursting in air over Seattle’s Space Needle from our pleasant hotel room in an art deco hotel while nibbling Trader Joe’s pralines. At my insistence, we’d earlier dined for the second evening in succession at my favorite restaurant in the Pacific Northwest, Wild Ginger, and then been pulled over on the way home by over-zealous cops who were pretty displeased with me for having had only one Tsingtao. We woke up the next morning to discover that there’d been no Y2K cataclysm, and drove to Vancouver for a look around.

At the end of 2001, Claire and I invited my daughter, seething because she didn’t have more glamorous plans with other teens, to accompany us to see Ali in San Francisco, and then dine at the Stinking Rose, famous for its immoderate use of garlic. We had to miss the end of the movie to arrive at the restaurant in time, the food wasn’t very good, and within three months my daughter had ceased to speak to me, as she continues not to.

Back in the USA (specifically, Madison, Wisconsin) in 2007 for the first time in five years, I went to a big jamboree sponsored by the local alternative newspaper for which I was about to begin writing so controversially. But if I’d been shy when I was a universal object of desire, I was even more shy as a withered old embarrassment, and soon beat a reluctant retreat down to the Brazilian restaurant where a couple of friends from a local Gypsy jazz band, with a dreadful pickup drummer, were entertaining the local carnivores. Last year, in Beacon, New York, I took a solitary walk on Main Street, and was wished a happy new year by a trio of young men in very baggy clothing I had half expected to try to mug me — the young men, not the clothing.

This year’s will be the third successive New Year’s Eve I’ve spent alone, but if I’m not accustomed by now to the feeling that the rest of the world is having a lot more fun than I, to what would I be accustomed?

[Hear my life-changing new album Sorry We're Open here! Facebookers: Read more All In Tents and Porpoises essays and subscribe here.]

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