But a new year means a renewal. Fresh calendar, fresh fiscal year for many businesses, fresh start - even if somewhat illusory. And yet, not surprisingly, I'm looking backwards as well as forwards, occupying a temporal limbo between the world that once was and the world that is yet to be.
This year Jen and I stayed in, which was quite pleasant. She worked all day, and Tinker Bell (our shih tzu) doesn't do all that great with fireworks. So we had a nice, quiet night. Watched some TV. Jen was asleep before midnight. Contrast that with last year, when we packed into Duval Street in Key West to witness the drag queen Sushi descend in her ruby slipper to welcome in the new year. That was really something to see.
Over the years I've had a full range of New Years experiences - in Times Square New York, in Philadelphia, in Michigan, Chicago, Seattle - sometimes alone and sometimes with friends and loved ones. My thoughts and feelings about all of these various and diverse experiences shift over time, but the New Years memory that has come most vividly to the forefront as my favorite was the one that I was initially the least excited about.
It's the New Years I spent with my grandparents on my mom's side. Marty and Selma.
I think I was maybe 12 years old - just at the point of being self consciously aware that spending New Years with your grandparents was uncool. I let go of my reluctance, not really having any other options, and resigned myself to an evening of wishing I was elsewhere. I recall bits and pieces rather than the evening in its entirety. I know we played monopoly (monotony, as my mother called it), as we did as part of most of our visits. I also recall that at some point, after an hour or two once all the properties had been acquired and the gave transitioned to making alliances and negotiations, my sister slipped away to tie a bandanna around the lower half of her face, arm herself with a pair of pop cap guns and push through the swinging doors into the 1950's styled kitchen to announce that she was robbing the monopoly bank. This had also become part of our tradition and signaled that it was time to transition to a new activity. I can still hear my grandfather's deep, whole-body laugh, the epicenter of which was somewhere in his belly.
I think it was at that point that we went upstairs to the den that I always think of as the circus room, with its slightly unsettling cubist clown paintings, burgundy carpet and red and white stripped lampshade. We probably watched Johnny Carson and at some point my grandmother brought up a bowl of perfectly roasted chestnuts, made all the more memorable for bucking the trend of her countless kitchen fiascoes (which regularly set of smoke alarms and on at least one occasion required that we all take cover from projectile hard boiled eggs). Just around the stroke of midnight I think I dozed off on the couch with tiny diodes and circuitry in my hands, trying to reconfigure a disassembled old radio that would remain forever mangled.
The following morning we watched the Mummers and the floats parade by on TV, after which I went with my grandfather to synagogue, where we somehow ended up with dozens of balloons which had been left over from a new years celebration the night before. Once we returned home I proceeded to tie them all together and wrap them around the legs of tables and chairs on the lower floor of the house, creating a web-like maze through which my sister and I crawled the rest of the morning.
Somehow, over the course of the stay I'd gone from wishing to be anywhere else to wanting to be nowhere else on earth, and for all the unusual and interesting new years experiences I've had since, not one can hold a candle to that new years eve I spent with my sister, the monopoly bank bandit, and my grandparents.
Jen and I and my grandmother at brunch in Jenkintown.