I missed the last hour of 2008. Through a fogbank I heard a countdown, spat some puke taste onto the pavement, and dimly reflected that a midnight kiss was probably out of the question. Came to around two in the morning, swapping calls with a friend at some Los Feliz party and asking if her DD wouldn't mind swinging out to some far-flung asscrack corner of the Valley to pick me up and take me home.
The party was a gathering of members from a self-proclaimed online geek forum. Many of them were best friends meeting each other In Real Life for the first time. These are the people who have seen every episode of Cowboy Bebop eighteen times; who actually buy the Sailor Moon and Final Fantasy models you see on display at Power Anime and Puzzle Zoo, and—according to a source—rub their testicles on them to demonstrate ownership. When I mentioned that the last video game console I owned was an N64, I was branded Pariah. Aside from the friend who brought me there, I didn't know a soul. So, in what I understand to be the true spirit of the holiday, I drank as much as I could, and then kept drinking.
I always mean to take lots of photos on nights like these, because either I won't want to or won't be able to remember everything. I seldom blackout; I frequently pretend to have blacked out to save face the next morning. I remember that there was a lot of vomit, which is atypical given my cast-iron stomach and Irish-bred tolerance for drink. I remember fleeing a clogged toilet to pee on the stump of a tree on a front lawn. I remember someone telling me that he screws limbless hookers with a sword. I remember a DJ spinning nauseous mixes of Beatles songs, Wet Hot American Summer playing on a loop, and at least three cigarettes on the front steps. That should have been an early warning: I quit two weeks ago.
I have a maxim that I've been meaning to get tattooed to my forearm, Memento-style: "If you catch yourself drinking straight from the bottle, the night has taken a wrong turn." To be sure, there are other strong indicators that the night has taken a wrong turn. If you suddenly decide you want to become a bourbon connoisseur and find yourself downing Knob Creek, Maker's, Jack, Jim, and half a dozen other brands that random folks brought in quick succession at the behest of a fellow you just met in a tweed coat and Soul Caliber t-shirt, then the night has taken a wrong turn. If you emerge from a stony drunk to find dampness all over the pants and are unconcerned, the night has taken a wrong turn.
What are we meant to be doing on New Year's? Do we ritualistically purge the old year in a ceremony of blackouts and puke? Are we measuring the time lost in empty bottles and tons of trash in Times Square? Is it a spiritual renewal or a secular splurge? Resolutions are treated like dry jokes: belated Christmas gifts from yourself that you don't really want. Maybe it's all about coming-together: a soft, self-applied balm for other lonelier nights; feeling important enough to be invited to a friend's house; toasts and games; counting down to midnight in one voice; sharing a kiss, a drink, a cig, or a dance.
I like to drink; and I know how to do it. Years of practice later, I've zeroed in on my tolerance point, gotten to know exactly how much and how fast I can swing em and still get myself home and functional before noon the next day. Holiday drinking, also, is something I've come to master: The last two Halloweens, I've navigated the glorious insanity of the Village with a pleasant buzz and no worries; Christmases are spiked egg nog and festive familial boozing; birthday parties are all about staying exactly one drink behind the host; St. Patrick's Day is still, for me, more about wearing green and getting pinched than green-colored Harp's; and so on.
New Year's should be my own personal second Christmas: The holiday that is all about drinking. But this year I ended up in a brownout funk, on a curb, alone, drunk beyond drunk and January 1st was one of those day-long mornings where the hangover doesn't kick in till sundown cuz you're actually still drunk when you wake up.
Last year, a good friend of mine who had historically guarded himself at parties with a one- or two-drink maximum decided to try his hand at binging. He turned yellow that night. I came within an inch of calling an ambulance. We lifted him off the bathroom floor and carried him to a bed. He emerged from his stupor long enough to tell me that he was afraid he was going to die. He puked for hours. Then he dry heaved in his sleep for a while. I was the last man standing at that party. Everyone else woke up with fresh barf on their pillows. I took pictures; it was the only thing left to do. I spent my first few solitary hours of 2008 hitting a bong and watching Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
The year before that, I was with many of the same people at a friend's house in Santa Monica. Chips, dip, champagne, cigars, cigs, and all kinds of spirits. Have you ever noticed how quickly the mixers go at these things? I wasn't about to let that stop me. Since then, I've become accustomed to taking my drinks straight up—I find mixers get in the way of my drinking. And at a house party, when the OJ's drained within an hour of doors opening, it helps to have a stomach inured to straight vodka. But I was younger in 2006, nearly 2007. The cigars didn't help: an amateur tobacco smoker then, and burgeoning pothead, not-inhaling was something I'd worked hard to overcome. A lungful of Cristo isn't doing your stomach any favors. 2006 ended with me screaming epithets and drunken curses at my then-girlfriend on a front lawn somewhere. I don't remember why. She drove me to her place and I woke up in 2007 in the guest room with my shoes on.
New Year's, for me, has been a snake that eats its own tail: We celebrate by drinking, so I drink to celebrate, and then end up missing the celebration—the coming-together part of it all.
The best New Year's I can remember was 2006. Notable and distinct from the last three because that night I didn't have a single drink. Me and my oldest best friend and then-girlfriend (the same who would drive me home next year) had dinner at my house in Ocean Park, Santa Monica. We thought we might swing by a house party round 11; I was DD, and, in solidarity, my friends agreed not to drink without me. Come 11:30, we hadn't left, we hadn't drunk. So my friend donned a cowboy hat, my girlfriend and I grabbed noisemakers and kazoos and we wandered down to Main St and walked past all the bars and clubs we weren't old enough to get into: Finn McCool's, Circle, Barcopa, World Cafe, O'Brien's, Library Alehouse, The Firehouse.
Finally, we stopped at Tavern on Main's outdoor patio; from the sidewalk we caught the countdown on the bar's old TV and cheered with the smokers outside and revelers inside. We hadn't been there for five minutes before we caught twice as many names; it didn't matter that we weren't drinking. My girlfriend and I kissed; still the only New Year's midnight kiss I've had. We strolled back down Main St; there were firecrackers echoing from the parking lots, car horns honked in the streets.
We walked to the beach. No fireworks in Santa Monica that year, but there were dim flashes of color through the fog from Malibu and Palos Verdes and the ferris wheel on the Pier. No sounds but our kazoos and ocean waves. 2005 came quietly to a close, and I woke up in 2006 with no hangover, no pot-induced brain fog, no brownouts nor bad memories, and no shoes on.