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Happy New Year! I’d say “belatedly,” but I did put up a post on Friday night. No, I didn’t got out. Didn’t want to. The imperative to stand in a crowded room with people in silly hats and issue razzing sounds though plastic horns was never great when I was young; now it seems a trial, an ordeal you have to endure to get to the final objective of every long day, which is deep sleep in a warm soft bed.
I like staying up late; I like witty nights around the table with cocktails and bon mots and all that, but on New Year’s you have to thread the gauntlets of yobbos and boozers, hope no one T-bones your car when you drive through an intersection, and other such complications. Shredding my vocal cords in a spare bar or well-reviewed restaurant known for its exquisitely presented portions of ginger-infused shaved tofu is fine, but not on Amateur Night. Last year I was in such a hip place, and met an old chum from the hip 80s; he was part of the journalism circle, and was known for being one of the sponsors of an annual elegant formal party where we all pretended we were sophisticates who’d earned all the right to carry off a tux. Now he’s the mayor. I wished him well. He made a bid for the governorship, and didn’t make it. I’m still annoyed at some aspects of his tenure, but he’s one of those politicians I do believe loves this city as much as I do, and on that fact we could clasp hands and think remember when, and huzzah for what’s to come.
This year? Daughter went to a sleepover; I stayed up late with my wife talking in the kitchen about life and the year ahead. Since it was Friday I got a pizza, and went to Davanni’s. Hadn’t been there for a long time, since child insisted that Domino’s was the new ruling paradigm, but she’s sick of it too. Davanni’s moved from the old strip mall to a rehabbed restaurant that used to be a Big Boy in the suburb’s post-war heyday. Its last incarnation was a Thai restaurant, and you may recall the tale of the manager who insisted that the dark-meat chicken curry was totally authentic because Thai people used dark meat, not white? Uh huh. I wrote about that here. I heard from people from, oh, Thailand. Never went there again, and shot the place hot daggers every time I drove past. It closed, and after a year standing vacant it reopened as Davanni’s.
So I walk in, and the manager opens her arms and says LOOK WHO’S BACK.
This is what it means to live in a place for a while.
Really, it’s been a year. She wants to know what I think of the store, and I tell her it’s fantastic. It used to be a Big Boy, I say with the sage tone of the urban archeologist.
“I thought it was Mr. Steak,” says the cashier. I point out the window across the street.
“The Foot Clinic that went out of business was a Mr. Steak,” I said. “I don’t know what the child-care place next door was, but it was a fast-food place.”
“And the used car dealer down the street was an Arby’s,” said the manager. I grinned. Uh huh. If they’d had a plastic tray on the counter I would have picked it up and smacked it into my forehead repeatedly. All these years. All these years I have wondered what the HELL IT WAS and OF COURSE IT WAS ARBY’S.
For Crom’s sake. I should know this.
Not that’s important, but in a way, it is. Styles of commercial architecture in the 50s and 60s were intentionally distinctive, and if you want to be able to read the vernacular, you need to know the nouns. (Neon was the verbs.)
I picked up the pizza and went home and we had a fine feast, even though I live with philistines who will not let me order extra sauce because, and I quote, it’s too saucy. Gah.
Daughter went off to sleepover; parents stayed home. At midnight some people in the neighborhood set off fireworks, as is their wont – and we’re talking big belly-feel concussive shells, too. I still remember our first year here – we moved into Jasperwood in 2001 – how they set off the shells to salute the new year. What a miserable fall that was, what a grim winter. What a strained, rictus-grin Christmas. The bombs bursting in air at 12:00:01 were an analogue to the Times Square celebration I’d watched an hour before. Usually I don’t care if everyone’s freezing in Times Square counting it down, but that year it felt like defiance to show up, and solidarity to watch, and hope nothing happened.
We forget how much we thought something might happen.
Sunday: the tree came down. Sadness. All the holiday decorations were gathered and packed and stored and stowed – an annual duty that feels as if you’re not just closing off the emotions and memories of the holiday, but undoing them. I always want to tell the tales of the ornaments when I put them up; no such honors attend their annual internment. Away, mice playing with the 50s lunchcounter Coke dispenser. Silence, now, Retro Mickey bringing a snow-bedecked tree to Pluto’s doghouse. It all feels like exchanging personal items after a breakup: sorry it didn’t work out, here’s your hairbrush and CDs. I severed the android tree into its three segments, wrapped them in shrouds and stored them in the cave of the basement. As I noted on Twitter, the chair no one sat in was moved from its holiday spot – where no one sat in it – back to its usual place, where no one will sit in it. The chair is a tremendous chair. Sometimes I sit there and read, but it’s once a year, twice at best. It seems to be a ceremonial chair, waiting for something.
This is the point where you buckle down and plunge right into the duties of January, the aching expanse, the long frosty slog. In normal times that’s exactly what I’d be doing, but these are not normal times.
See you tomorrow . . . elsewhere. That’s right: it’s the first-ever on-the-road travel blog.