Thursday, January 04, 2007
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
I’m not really a fan of New Year’s Eve. Very few of them, other than my husband’s marriage proposal, were monumentally memorable. For some reason, I have always felt like an outsider looking in.
As a child, I remember some house parties that my parents had; loud and crowded in the days when everyone, except my mother, smoked. The smell of cigarettes and the sound of laughter were irresistible lures to sneak peeks of the goings on from our banished bedroom prisons.
Throughout high school, babysitting offered a different outsider view. Grown-up couples, adorned in their slickest eveningwear left with hurried instruction, taking the excitement out into the night with them. Alone with sleeping children, it was me and the TV, observing celebrations around the globe, culminating of course with Time Square, Dick Clark and ball-dropping kisses between happy beautiful people.
By the time I was in college, I had taken waitress work to help pay my way and New Year’s Eve was, of course, big bucks. This view was almost like being actually “in” the celebration; certainly closer than smoky cracks in the bedroom door or the 2 dimensional view of the television; 3 D live people in their finery, laughing and toasting at my fingertips. Adorned with apron, a tray and a pocket full of money, it served as a decent passage of old year to new. But still, the feeling of being just over the threshold of insider lingered.
I do remember a black velvet, dance-all-night evening while dating my husband, followed the next year by a house party with good friends, good champagne, and a confetti strewn, one-kneed marriage proposal at midnight; I was indeed ‘inside’ the celebration. The eighteen years between then and now have seen the tamer side of the Holiday. There was the pregnant year, the new baby year, another pregnant year… and house parties that ranged from racy to reserved.
Having children led me out of the 9-5 business world and back to waitressing and therefore, New Year’s Eve droned on year after year as a lucrative, unceremonious work event. In the restaurant business, it is known as amateur night; people paying too much for too little and trying too hard to appear happy. As an adult viewing closely from the outside, it was nowhere that I wanted to be. Dining rooms were filled with people, often out because they were supposed to be, complaining of waiting too long and allowing their unhappiness to push through the make-up and jewelry. I was cynically happy not to be among them.
Last year was my first New Year’s Eve home in many years. We dined quietly on exquisite food with only a few visitors and whooped it up with our children at midnight. I’d be quite content with that celebration from year to year, but 2006 held more in store for me.
My husband’s territory as a regional manager includes the casinos; big accounts with big expectations. It was where we were expected to be on this most celebrated of evenings. It is not my cup of tea. Still, in spite of the hundreds of reasons I thought of not to go, dinner in one of the restaurants and a VIP table at their finest nightclub was the plan.
My first obstacle was deciding what to wear. The casino is a catch all from Salvation Army to Ultra tacky; from jeans to jackets and in no way measure of a dress code. The restaurant was casual, the nightclub… well, a nightclub. “You know, nightclub dress,” answered my husband.
“Actually, no I don’t know, as the last nightclub I recall was before we were married.” I pointed out to Mr. Business traveler.
“You know… sexy… night club.” I looked in the mirror and realized that ‘sexy’ was not an adjective that I could apply to my body this particular year and added a mental note to boost diet and exercise to # 1 and 2 instead of #5 and 6 on the resolution list.
Settling on a black sequin jacket and a pair of slimming black pants, I reviewed once again the instructions for the evening with my kids. My oldest chided me with mumblings of the ‘gynourmous’ house party he had pending (at my house) and I carefully put all systems in place. The youngest would judge the elders on who was the kindest sister-sitter (to whom there would be a monetary award.) The middle child was secretly told that he was actually in charge and being paid to report any indiscretions or un-authorized visitors. The eldest was once again warned the old people in the neighborhood had nothing to do but watch our house.
I suppose if you believe that we attract what we put out, I fully deserved the evening at hand. My first worry was the potential drunk drivers and the hour to and from our destination. My second worry settled in as the casino property loomed on the horizon. At least one hundred thousand people clamored into the glowing oasis for an evening of indulgence; drinking, gambling, and wild behavior; the perfect target for a terrorist attack. Yes, chemicals would surely be released into the ventilators at midnight and this potentially the end for me. I mentally added #3 to my resolution list; to stop watching realistic fiction on television
After circling the parking lot for forty minutes and following anyone possibly leaving like obvious stalkers, we squeezed into a spot on the roof top; the farthest spot from the action and the last to make it out in the event of a hurried evacuation. My paranoia heightened as we entered the building and I noted the absolute lack of security of any kind. I refused to allow myself to start looking for bulky jackets or unattended suitcases and called my children to change the pace of my insanity.
“Just calling to say we are here and that I’ll check in with you guys now and then, since it is loud and I may not hear my phone ring!” I bubbled enthusiastically.
“Mom, I think I’m going to throw up.” my little one whimpered. I instructed her brother on what to do and who to call if the dreaded feeling turned to reality and promised to call back soon.
After passing through a sea of people in the smoky, clanging, humming, flashing and endless circle of gambling, we arrived at the restaurant to meet my husband’s colleague and wife. The restaurant, a steakhouse, was the finest on the property and I was relieved to be in a more comfortable environment. I checked in one more time with my children before the four of us were ushered to our table, only to learn that the little one’s tummy had recovered and the dog had diarrhea on the rug. I made a note not to check back again until after dinner.
The food, wine and conversation were fulfilling and I had relaxed about having to spend this evening out. That is, until I made a trip to the ladies room. Somewhere during our two and a half hours at the table, the crowd had transformed. There was, of course, a line in the ladies room, but with three stalls serving two large dining rooms, this would be expected even on a typical day. I was only 5th or 6th in line and settled in to wait, taking in the sights around me. It seems the girls had all either ripped their shirts or had forgotten some portion of their attire as their tops were all open to their navels and a slight bend left or right resulted in an instant wardrobe malfunction. Perhaps that was the function? Breasts were falling out everywhere!
The girl in front of me in line had slowly sunken down to her knees and was in what looked like a head down prayer position. She spoke in drunkeneese, explaining to her breast-flashing counter part that she had only had a half of a ham sandwich and four martinis. I wondered who would try to balance 4 martinis with half a sandwich and prayed that she wouldn’t get sick right there in front of me. After all, I was enjoying being one hour away from the vomit and diarrhea scene at home.
Eventually, it was her turn for the bathroom and she made her way with no less effort than a pin ball in a machine, bouncing from sink to wall to friend and eventually landing in the stall. I was so fixated on the scene in front of me that I had not realized that guys had entered the ladies room. “Anyone want to use the men’s room, we’ll hold the door!” I looked down at my sequin jacket to reassure myself that I had not time-warped back to college.
Back at the table, we relinquished plates full of fabulous food to the waitress, unable to eat anymore. I regretted not being able to take the beautiful steaks home to my bottomless teenagers, but realized that hauling bags of meat to a fancy VIP nightclub table probably broke an etiquette rule. We paid the $500 dinner tab, making me wonder if bags of meat would really be so bad in a nightclub, and swiftly exited at 11:40 to our final destination.
Approaching the nightclub, men looking like secret service waited at the end of a long, red glowing hallway, talking quietly into headphones. Our VIP status came from my husband’s company spending an enormous amount of money to secure one of these special tables, held for celebrities and high rollers. Head nods and escorts, as if we were famous brought us to the place where one year would flip to the next. I knew immediately that I was in trouble as I did not know sign language, and only a deaf person with those skills would have communication abilities here.
The music pounded so loud and hard that my eyeballs vibrated in my head. It took a while before I could even attach a tune to the pounding. My attire, which went from overdressed in the casino to sophisticated in the restaurant, suddenly morphed to ‘over dressed’ in a different way. Clearly I had on way too many clothes to fit in. In fact, the breast flashers in the restaurant bathroom were too modesty dressed. I was instantly glad I did not search for ‘sexy’ in my own closet. It would not have held up here.
As we followed our guide, I was hoping that the VIP table would be in some magically quieter part of the club, but to my shock and dismay, the special tables were located on platforms in the four corners of the dance floor. On these platforms were low bench style couches with tiny tables all snugly nestled around, oh yes, the speakers! These were not ordinary speakers, they dwarfed my kitchen island! In fact, the speakers doubled as little dancing stages were girls randomly came up and gyrated on the six inch, strappy sandals that connected their long legs to their bodies. These were not hired dancers; merely girls out on the town having fun! I must say, the view from the couches left nothing to the imagination. While the girls shook and thrusted and caressed themselves to the music, cameras filmed them and projected their images to a giant screen just above the DJs head; drunken moments of fame.
My husband’s mouth moved and I knew that meant he was talking to me, but making sound of any kind was not possible, so I sat on the couch wondering if I could ask the DJ to turn it down just a little. Champagne was poured and my husband made a second attempt to communicate, this time pulling his head close to mine. I shrugged as if to say I can’t hear you, so he leaned in to my ear and yelled again, this time, not only could I not make out the words, but I was sure my left eardrum was perforated.
Finally, he made some dance moves and pointed to the dance floor which was packed body to body with twenty-five-year-olds. I squinted my eyes in the strobe lights and shook my head no. Through a combination of charades and lip reading, he managed to ask me if I was “old.” I looked at the bottle on the table and wondered if there was enough in there to make any of this seem normal. I opted for the “When in Rome” plan and I tossed back my little glass of champagne and hit the dance floor. The DJ played snippets of retro music between the vulgar contemporary noises. My hearing had finally been damaged enough to make out the words and to even recognize some music from back in the day.
“I wear my sun glasses at night” pulsed through the speakers as my husband made his fingers into upside down circles across his face, earnestly attempting every corny passé dance move ever known as if to intentionally add to the outrageousness. Before long, but not soon enough, it came time for the countdown. I know this only because the numbers were flashing on the screen where the dancing girls had been. I wondered if this is when the nerve gas would come through the vents and wished I was anywhere but there. Just for fun, I clicked my heels together and yelled ‘there’s no place like home!’ No one even noticed, proof positive that we were light years from reality.
The music continued to pound, no Old Langsyne in the house, and dancing and kissing blended into one big throbbing blur. I fought my way to the bathroom, warding off a couple of charade like pick up lines, proving that it was far too dark and drunk in there. I would have lectured the young men that I was old enough to be their mother, but they wouldn’t have heard me.
Back at the VIP couch, I looked at my cell phone and noticed that the kids had called several times. I knew there was no way to call them back, but decided this was as good a time as any to learn how to send a text message. It’s a tricky process to get a whole message typed in there, particularly in a dark and vibrating room, and after I had mine completed, I pressed the wrong button and deleted it. I had endured one hour of madness and finally realized that there was not enough champagne in the building to turn this around. I handed my husband his jacket and headed for the door.
Outside in the casino, I welcomed the smoky air and noticed that I could no longer hear the humming and clanging. I dialed home, but could not hear if anyone answered so I left what may have been a message. In the car, I realized that there were a million crickets chirping loudly in my head. I carefully watched for evidence of drunk drivers and pointed out to my husband every time the speedometer register over 65, although in the blissful state of deafness, I’m sure he did not hear me.
When I awoke in the morning, the crickets were still chirping in my head. “Happy New Year,” my husband said rolling in my direction, “Can you hear me now?”
“Crystal clear,” I answered, “and yes, Sir Dancealot, apparently I am old.”