Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's New Year's Eve. Pass the Root Beer.

So, it’s New Year’s Eve. Woohoo! Let’s party!!

Or not. Because New Year’s Eve has never appealed to me much as a “holiday.” I think the only time I ever really made a concerted effort to “celebrate” it was during a three- or four-year span during my teenage years. Maybe from the time I was 15 or so until I was 18?

Back in those days, I did some really stupid things. Overall I was a terrific kid (you can ask my Mom), but damn…when I look back and reflect on some of the behaviors I engaged in, it scares the hell out of me.

Having grown up in an alcoholic home (compliments of my Dad), I always associated New Year’s Eve with drinking. Not that it was much different than any other night in my house. I mean, my Dad was always drinking. I guess New Year’s Eve just meant that the beverages consumed included some more variety. Instead of just the usual Club Manhattans on the rocks, maybe there was some Champagne or Cold Duck thrown into the mix, too. And, of course, the kids were always invited to imbibe at the stroke of midnight, if not before.

(Cold Duck, a combination of wine and Champagne that was invented at a restaurant in Detroit--yes, as a Detroiter my Dad knew the history--was big in our house at holiday time. The first time I ever got drunk was when I had too much Cold Duck to drink one Thanksgiving. I was probably 12.)

So New Year’s Eve was, to me, a drinking holiday. Growing up, that’s what I saw, and it was engrained in me from an early age.

I think I was 15 when I had my first truly horrific experience with alcohol. It was New Year’s Eve and a girl down the street was having a party. I was excited to go because I had a bit of a crush on this girl, and she had way cool parents (or so I thought at the time). Her parents were so cool that they were letting her have a party with alcohol. The plan was for everyone to bring a bottle of something, then it would all be mixed together into a “punch.”

Great idea, right? Wrong.

Looking back, I can’t even fathom how something like this was allowed to happen. I know it was a different time--likely 1976--but what the hell kind of parents would let such a thing go on in their house? I can only imagine that it must’ve been an extreme case of “If they’re gonna drink, let’s have ‘em drink at home so we know they’re safe.” Sadly, I think some parents still subscribe to that theory, although I’m certainly not one of them.

But back to my story.

I went to the party. The punch was mixed. I drank punch. Actually, I drank a lot of punch, because I didn’t know what the f*ck I was doing. By 9:30 or 10:00, I was completely wasted. I knew I was going to be sick, so I made my way from the basement (party headquarters) to the bathroom at the top of the stairs. So, in what was probably one of the biggest examples of Murphy’s Law I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime, what do you suppose happened when I got to the bathroom? Yup. It was occupied.

I certainly wasn’t planning for that scenario. I started to make my way back downstairs, but only got down a couple of steps before I threw up. And boy, did I throw up. All over the stairs. All over the wall. All over myself.

Strangely enough, nobody noticed. The kids downstairs were partying too much to notice. And the music was so loud that nobody--downstairs or up--could hear me being sick. At the time, this gave me the false impression that I was home free. That nobody would know that I had been the one to fill the stairwell up with vomit.

Yeah, right.

It didn’t take long for the girl’s father to find the mess I had created. And it took even less time for him to pin the crime on me. The fact that I was covered in my own puke kind of made it a dead giveaway.

Long story short: I was asked to leave. I grabbed my coat, left the party, and made my way down the block, on foot, back to my house.

It was very snowy out and I have no idea how I managed to navigate my way home that night. I remember wondering what the hell I was going to tell my parents, who would most certainly be up and about. But somehow I managed to go around to the back door, waited for the perfect opportunity, and snuck in without anyone knowing. I quietly went to my room, took off my soiled clothes, and got into bed.

I remember waking up the next day with my first hangover. I felt like I was dying. And at that point I wanted to die.

Happy new year, huh?

You would think that that incident would’ve taught me a lesson, but it really didn’t. I remember going out and drinking for the next couple of New Year’s Eves, too, but I didn’t get sick anywhere but in my own bathroom at the end of the night. Needless to say, there was a period during my teenage years when I was obviously hanging out with the wrong people. When I found a different crowd to run with, things definitely changed for the better. Thank God.

Maybe that horrific experience back in the mid-seventies helped mold my current opinion of New Year’s Eve. I’m sure it must’ve had some effect. In any case, for me New Year’s Eve ranks right up there with St. Patrick’s Day as, first and foremost, a “drinking holiday.” That’s why I like to spend December 31st at home, safe and sound, with people I love.

Tonight I’ll cook a nice meal, we’ll enjoy each other’s company, and maybe we’ll even make it to midnight. But it will be an alcohol-free “celebration,” and the only scary thing about it will be hearing the gunshots ring out from across the border in Detroit at 12:00.

I hope all of you out there enjoy your New Year’s Eve, no matter how you celebrate it. Just remember: if you drink, don’t drive. Don’t make this holiday one your family will never forget for the wrong reasons.

Now, pass the root beer.

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