Even by age 30 when I was still young enough on other occasions to party all night, I had begun my New Year's Eve ritual which I have followed unerringly ever since: purchase something wonderful for dinner, a meal not frequently indulged in due to health or price considerations, a good book I've been looking forward to reading or finishing and sleep before midnight.
To be honest, I've broken my December 31 ritual a handful of times. Long ago, I held a few New Year's dinner parties with friends. One year, some young friends on their evening rounds dropped by unannounced, catching me in my newest, although definitely dowdy, flannel granny gown. But they didn't seem to mind and we had a fine ol' time until they moved on, a couple of hours later, to their next holiday destination.
The New Year's Eve that sealed the stay-home-alone deal for me happened 30 or 35 years ago. A friend whined enough that I agreed to accompany him to his cousin's annual party at her penthouse on the upper East Side of New York City. He had never attended before and, he said, she insisted he not come alone. It wasn't my usual style, but friends are friends and you do what you can to help out.
It was a formal-dress occasion requiring a tuxedo for my friend and a long dress for me. I demurred; no way would I purchase an expensive gown I'd never wear again and anyway, I had a sensational, new party dress that year, although only knee-length, and any number of fabulous, high-heeled shoes to choose from. My tiny (as in, hard to know they're there) diamond earrings would complete the costume.
We taxied to the party, my friend in his handsome cashmere overcoat and me in my dressy but light-weight velvet coat on that cold, winter's night. It was evident, when the cousin greeted us, that I was way out of my social class.
In her exquisite gown, ears, throat and wrists afire in diamonds and emeralds large enough to be museum pieces, she glanced at the the length of my skirt with – was it disdain? She covered her near-faux-pas quickly, but I was the only woman there with her legs hanging out.
There is no telling how many millions of dollars in designer duds and precious jewels swirled about those rooms high above Central Park. A table was laden in sterling silver and several pounds of mounded caviar – the really good stuff I had tasted maybe twice before. Many waiters circulated with champagne and sumptuous hors d'oeuvres.
It was a gender-segregated party by default if not design. The men gathered in the wood-paneled den smoking cigars and talking Wall Street. I didn't have much more in common with the women who mostly discussed clothes, dropping haute couture names like rose petals at a wedding and making arrangements for lunch at Le Cirque the following week. Peasant that I am, I was more interested in one waiter's odd, furry shoes. He said they were monkey hair, but maybe he was pulling my leg.
After a couple of hours, my friend suggested we taxi back downtown to the Village to a favorite old restaurant for a quiet supper. Good idea, but it didn't work out so well.
A light snow had begun falling. Every taxi that passed was in use so after ten minutes waiting on a windy corner in frigid temperatures, we trudged – me in my strappy little high heels not suitable for long walks in winter weather - toward a subway ten blocks away. We paused now and then to see if there was a free taxi. Nada. With nothing between my skin and the icy air but a satin dress and evening coat, my toes and ears were numb, and my butt too.
The only difference between the outdoors and the subway platform was relief from wind and snow – but not the cold - as we waited half an hour that felt like three days for a train. Now my fingers were numb too. A second cold, half-hour wait among the chaos of hundreds of drunken, noisy revelers when we changed trains at Times Square and my misery convinced me: all future New Year's Eves would be spent at home. No exceptions. Even for good friends. They are welcome to come by, but they must do the traveling.
And so it has been ever since.
Tonight, I will happily sit down to hot clam chowder and warm lobster with a glass of good wine. Then I'll snuggle up in bed with Ollie the cat to read some more of the book my brother sent, The Museum of
Excellence Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. It's very good and I'm eager to get on with it.
What about you? What are your plans tonight?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: Hanes Black Magic