The holidays near their end with the coming of the New Year, and while New Years Day may be a big deal to lovers of College Football, or if you live in Philadelphia, the Mummers Parade, for the most part it is New Years Eve that attracts the most attention, and demands the most energy.
I must say as a child it didn’t hold near the excitement of Christmas Eve (no presents, no Santa etc.), and I probably was most times looking forward to New Years Day which we traditionally spent with our Cousins Lorraine and Robin in Flushing Queens.
But it did have its charm. And one reason for that is it was another occasion to see Mom and Dad dress up for a night on the town, or as close as they were going to get to one with two kids in tow. Now I am sure before we came along they probably had some pretty hot times on New Year’s Eve together, but then you know, you have kids, make a family and you can kiss those hot times goodbye.
Years later of course, as a teenager, I would have my own hot times out on the town, but I was usually too stoned to remember much of them, but I was assured they were really hot.
Anyway back to West 12th Street in the 60’s and Mom and Dad getting ready to take us out. What we did was actually pretty cool, at least I think so now, and wish I had the opportunity to do what we did then. You see Dad would take his family uptown to 52nd Street, Music Row and we would stop in at various jazz clubs to get a bite, a drink, and to hear some jamming.
As with everything else we write about times have changed; then there were no cover charges on Music Row; it was a real haven for musicians, a place to hone their craft in front of live audiences. And New Year’s Eve was a great time to get some real time experience performing in front of a rowdy, happy crowd. Of course, we were not rowdy. We would sit at a round table, a ginger ale in front of Don and I, a glass of wine in front of Mom, and usually a Highball (Rye and Ginger) for Dad. In a lot of these places the food such as it was, was complimentary so Don and I would wipe out bowl after bowl of Chex Mix, and Mom would nibble on a canapé and Dad would down a few fried clams.
And that was just at the first stop. Sometimes there were three or four more depending on our stamina. The Old Man could have kept going all night, and not because of the booze or the crowds, but he would just sit there transported by the jazz. Sometimes he would comment to Mom about someone’s performance:
“See there, ya see there, he should have made that ride smoother to the next staff”.
Mom would nod like she knew what the hell he was talking about; I would look over at Don who just shrugged; it was a language all its own, and only cool hepcats like Dad that breathed jazz like I did air would ever get it.
Dad got it.
So after a few hours, we would find ourselves back at the apartment. There is nothing like taking off fancy clothes to put on your favorite jeans and sweatshirt; it is a kind of bliss that is hard to define but pretty universal.
Dad would usually turn on the television to, of course, the live action at Times Square where in about an hour the ball would drop and another year would drop dead with it.
Now by this time, I was ready for the warm comfort of my lumpy bed and really never quite understood how 12:01AM was all that different from 11:59PM – I always felt the same, the apartment looked the same, we were still poor, I still had to go to school; big deal another year.
So off to bed I went with Mom promising to wake me up for the big moment. I am not sure if I ever slept or not, because after putting me to bed, she would start to prepare the traditional first dish of the New Year, to be eaten right after midnight. I am equally not sure if there is some meaning or real tradition behind this or not, but in our house, it was lock solid.
And what a meal it was. How could I fall asleep while smelling the divinity that is peppers and onions frying in Olive oil? How Oh how could anyone sleep with the aroma of the fresh Italian sausages that Dad had brought home from Faicco’s on Bleecker St sizzling in the pan??
Smelling that laying in bed I began to reconsider my second place ranking of New Year’s Eve. I mean yes the other had Santa but Santa was no sausage, pepper and onion sandwich on fresh loaves of bread from Zito’s. No, I might just have to crown a new Numero Uno for Eve Holidays.
After a bit, Mom would come in to “wake” us and we would all gather around the black and white television and watch some ball come down much to the glee of the inebriated crowd below. Mom and Dad would have a toast, and there were hugs and kisses all around.
And then we ate.
Maybe if I had that food again today, it would not measure up; time has a way of doing that. But at that moment, with the hot grease from the sausage dripping down my chin; taking that first bite with its explosion of flavors; the bread perfectly done,…well….words fail me.
There, inhaling good food, surrounded by a loving close family, grateful to have made it through another year, there, for a moment I did believe yes…maybe the New Year will be a happy one.
And it usually was.