Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | December 29, 2009

Echoes: New Year’s Eve, 1991

That was another world then,
That was another time —
You can never go back to the place where love is blind,
You can never go back to the scene of a perfect crime.

–Concrete Blonde, Scene of a Perfect Crime

New York City, December 31st, 1991.

There were four of us spending the holiday together: Natalie, Rhetta, Sharin, and me. My friend Kyle was supposed to join us as well, but he ended up celebrating the New Year with his parents in New Jersey. Too bad. His absence resulted in me being the only male in the group. Not necessarily the worst way to spend a holiday.

Natalie and I had been in a Long Term Relationship for almost two years by this time. After we’d graduated from University, we never again lived in the same city, but at this point I was living in Philadelphia and she was living in Manhattan. Two hours by car, but only one hour by train. We took the train a lot, visiting each other in alternating cities on the weekends.

Our original intention for ushering in 1992 was to spend a quiet evening at either Natalie’s or Rhetta’s apartment — both lived with their respective parents in large condos in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I had expected that we would dine out, maybe rent a movie, and toast midnight with champagne as far from the crowds as possible. Yes, I was in New York and didn’t want to go out to see the famous ball drop. The quiet, dignified ceremony for me.

Rhetta, however, had other plans. On the way to the Indian restaurant — we had reservations for 7 o’clock, but we were running rather late — Rhetta kept talking about doing the “First Night” scene downtown. If I’d wanted to do a “First Night,” I’d’ve gone to Boston (my favorite city to visit, both then and now).

We arrived at the nearly deserted restaurant and perused the menu. I decided to be adventurous and order the hottest thing on the menu: Vindaloo. When I ordered it, the waiter raised his eyebrows and nodded at me with a smile which seemed to indicate pleasant surprise. When he turned away from us, the others at the table told me how daring I was being. Which, of course, made me worry if maybe I had overdone it. I mean, I’m used to eating hot foods, but was I about to burn my lips off? That could be embarrassing among a crowd of women.

As it turned out, the dish they’d prepared for me was wimpy. I’ve had spicier meals at my parent’s dinner table, for crying out loud, and my father didn’t/doesn’t like hot foods. I’d like to say that the women were suitably impressed with the way I finished my plate without the need for water, but they eventually asked to sample a bite, and they  came to the same conclusion I had: that the staff wimped out on the spice because they assumed a fair-haired, fair-skinned Yankee like me couldn’t handle it.

At some point, while Rhetta had excused herself to go to the restroom, I reminded Natalie about my reluctance to go to First Night. She agreed, and when we all left the restaurant, Natalie — who had been a good friend of Rhetta’s for about ten years — conveniently pointed out that we didn’t really have enough time to make First Night and see the ball drop at the [Couple]’s. These people were friends of Rhetta and were throwing a huge party in a building on a street from which the dropping ball could be seen. I soon learned that the plan now was to say our hellos to these folks and then return to the street to watch the ball drop. So much for a quiet evening.

The subway didn’t take us very close to our destination, so we did a lot of walking — much of it on 7th Avenue (I think), where there were already lots of people assuming their positions to view the glowing globe atop Times Square. While there were a great number of individuals milling about, the crowd control was excellent and our progress was barely slowed. The cops had everything well in hand, and the people were less obnoxious (and, for that matter, crowded) than I expected. I guess it was about a quarter after 11pm by the time we arrived at the building wherein resided the [Couple].

By this time, I needed to use a restroom, myself. We waited forever for the elevator to arrive, the four of us got on, and then another party of three or so showed up at the last minute to crowd into the elevator. Just as we were about to get on our way, yet another woman squeezed in before the doors slowly slid shut.

The elevator stopped between floors.

The last woman on pointed out that we had stopped moving, and didn’t know what to do, so someone (mabe me, maybe not; I don’t recall) suggested that she press the emergency call button. This same individual — the last person who got on — kept saying, “There’s too many people on the elevator, that’s why it stopped.” As if it were someone else’s fault.

While we were waiting for someone to pay us some attention, a few of us took off our coats. Someone asked what time it was. It was 11:30. There was a great deal of nervous joking about ringing in the New Year trapped in an elevator, and I was concerned by the fact that I was still in need of a restroom.

Finally, someone from outside the elevator called down (or up) to us and said they were going outside to fetch a cop. The woman nearest the door, the one who was the last on and couldn’t seem to figure out how to use the emergency call button, was still telling us how there were too many people on the elevator. It would later become obvious that she knew what she was talking about — she lived in the building. So, if she knew there were too many people on the elevator, why the hell did she get on in the first place? New Yorkers. Feh.

Before the mild nervousness among the elevator passengers could reach a more serious state, the door slid open. Our car was maybe a foot lower than the fourth floor, but it evened out as people got off. The twit woman went to her apartment, and all of the rest of us all headed to the [Couple]’s apartment. (Coincidence? I think not. Which reminds me of a joke. Descartes walks into a bar, and the bartender asks, ‘The usual?” “I think not,” Descartes replies, and he disappears.)

The party to which we all ventured consisted of about fifty people cramped into a space that could comfortably hold no more than twenty-five. After I attended to my aforementioned needs, I inspected what I can only describe as the largest personal collection of records and cassettes that I had ever seen — and I had worked at a radio station, with its full share of audiophiles. At the time, I personally owned about five or six crates filled with vinyl records and a few hundred cassette tapes — the [Couple] easily had five times as many records and possibly ten times as many cassettes. Their stereo equipment consisted of the finest turntables and mixers; the turntables were like the professional mobile-gig record players I’d used when I worked for the Mobile Sound unit at my radio station, and the mixers were far superior to any I’d ever seen in a personal system — as well as two electronic keyboards, high-tech cassette decks, and so on. The only things missing from their assemblage: compact disks and a CD player. (That was still new technology at the time.)

So much for me not wanting to visit the [Couple]! For all that, I had only a couple minutes to drool over the absolutely stunning collection of records before it was time to head outside and catch the show.

It was pretty exciting, I must admit, to be there in that crowd to watch the ball make its descent. I was happy to send off 1991 on such an uplifting note. Once the ball had plunked down and the “1992” sign lit up, we all did an about-face and watched the fireworks over Central Park.

Ooh. Ahh.

After the finale, the crowd dispersed easily; as if the nearby buildings were giant sponges that sucked the thousands of bodies right up. It was amazing to behold. We started our trek uptown and never had any trouble with the human traffic. We stopped at an Irish pub along the way, where I ordered an Irish Coffee. You may think this would be an odd thing for me to do — I don’t like coffee and I don’t drink alcohol. But, hey, I wanted to see if this concoction bore any resemblance to Irish Creme (which, of course, it doesn’t. Wow! Not what I was expecting at all.) I confirmed, yet again, that I have no taste for alcohol and even less for coffee.

[Let us pause here to consider the irony that I have now lived in Seattle for most of my adult life. And I don’t drink coffee.]

I tried about three sips. Considering that the drink cost five bucks (in 1991 dollars), I’d say it was a somewhat expensive experiment. It as pleasant enough, however, to wind down the evening in an Irish pub with good company and smiles all around.

There’s more. During our wandering, I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in over five years, from my days in yet another city. Totally random. We walked for miles, eventually escorting Rhetta and Sharin to their destinations, with Natalie and I then completing the journey back to her apartment.

Natalie’s parent’s place was very large and very sound proofed and it was well understood that even though she lived in her parent’s place, she was an adult, after all — but we still did not tend to be particularly frisky while her parents were around. So it was pleasantly convenient that her folks were out of town for the week leading up to and following this particular holiday. We had the whole place to ourselves.

Here’s what we did for the next eighteen hours:

We made love. We slept. We woke up in each others’ arms. We made love. We slept. We woke up in each others’ arms. We made love. We slept.

Food was involved in there somewhere, too.

In all of my life so far, I’ve never felt as comfortable, as at peace, and as truly connected as I did during that New Year’s Day, 1992.

Somewhere amid all that, we might have watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that’s just the kind of nerds we were. Nerds in love. Sex and sleep and food and maybe a little nerdy TV. Contentment.

Which is how I know it’s possible — that it’s possible for me to be content. Because it’s happened before. I didn’t plan for it; I didn’t make it happen. In fact, none of that holiday went according to plan. But I allowed myself to go with the flow, and when contentment came my way, I was ready to welcome it.

It can happen again. If I let it.



  1. Of course it can happen again. I believe it too. I miss the passion of those kinds of days/nights. Someday.

  2. Nice story! It tells me that you are beginning to leave your emotional present behind you. The lesson you are telling yourself here is what kind of person you want to have based on the things she thinks important as you do. I’d look at this episode in your life in a little greater detail for clues on what to look for and do in your future (and I don’t mean drinking Irish Coffee!).

  3. Yes, it can happen again. It is happening to me , now. You’ll never be too old to fall in love….or to act a fool. You can. however, be young enough (or naive enough) not to know the difference. This is why (I believe) life gets better as we get older.

    • Nicely put!

  4. Oh… so torn. I too love TNG but I also love coffee!

    Hey, is the Irish coffee a metaphor for your relationship with Penny?

  5. Some of the best things in life aren’t planned. Some of the things we try hardest to plan and make work end up being the worst things for us. Going with the flow and having a sense of your destination…that’s when the magic happens.

    You will be content again…and truly happy.

  6. You put me right back in those exact same moments I have had like that. We share a lot my friend. It will happen again. Perfect contentment

  7. Great story! You’ll find happiness again, I just know it. You were once clearly open to be yourself and to find the kind of love that you deserved. Thinking that, and thinking about my own experiences with love, gives me hope that someday I’ll find it again too. When I’m open to it and I allow it, like you said. Thanks for giving me hope!

  8. Oh. So lovely. Which episode of ST:TNG was it? 🙂

  9. […] aforementioned Long Term Relationship with Natalie began to fall apart when certain subjects became verboten. What good is sharing a secret language […]

  10. Sounds like quite an event to try and trump!

    The best days are always unexpected.

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