Lee Streiff – New Year’s Eve 1954

Phyl and I stepped down from the stairs into Bruce’s dimly lighted basement. The room was crowded with people and a fire burned in the fireplace at the far end of the room. A scratchy record of “September Song” rose above the din. Bruce advanced out of the darkness.
“Come in!” he shouted in an agitated tone. “It’s about time!”
“Time for what?” I said.
“Time, that’s all!”
Bob waved at me from a nearby chair. I could make out Alice Ann sitting in the chair next to him. She smiled and waved. I waved at them, and turned back to Bruce.
“Now what’s all this?” I asked.
“The balloons and cotton candy!” he hissed loudly, “You fool! You absolute fool! The calliope! You’ve forgotten everything! Quick, look in your pockets; where have you misplaced the calliope!”
He grasped my jacket by the lapels and then started digging into my pockets, throwing cigarettes, matches, coins, and scraps of paper into the air, giggling and laughing.
“They’re not here!” he shouted and fell down to the floor, grasping his sides and laughing and rolling over. “What happened to the calliope?” he gasped through tears of laugher.
I picked up some of the things he had thrown around and stepped over him and went into the middle of the floor, almost colliding with Jo, who was dancing with her husband, Buzz.
“Hi,” she smiled at me. “Hi, Phyl.”
I smiled and waved as they swirled back into the darkness. I turned to look back for Phyl and saw that she had stopped to talk with Dave. I went over to where Alice Ann and Bob sat.
“You’re looking well,” I said to Alice Ann.
“Lots of good things have been happening to me,” she said.
I turned to Bob, “May I dance with your date?”
He shrugged, “Whatever.”
“Dance?” I asked her.
“Sure.”
She rose and moved into my arms. We danced out into the center of the floor.
“I took your advice,” she said in a low voice.
“So I see,” I said.
She smiled in a puzzled way.
“That is what you meant?”
“Yes,” I said. “Ride in a coach-and-four, and enjoy the ride.”
The record changed, and a new record started.
“How apropos,” I said.
“What?”
“The song. ‘Once in love with Amy, always in love with Amy. Ply her with Bon-Bons, poetry, and flowers.’” I laughed.
The record came to an end, and we turned to walk hand in hand back to where Bob sat.
“Thank you for the dance,” I said.
She squeezed my hand, and then turned and sat down in the chair. I looked at Bob, who was talking to John, who was getting drunk. I looked back at Alice Ann.
“Save me another dance later,” I said.
She nodded. “I will.”

An hour later I was slightly tight myself.
Corban and I were upstairs now, playing our guitars, and singing folk songs. A little group clustered around us, sitting on the floor or on the richly overstuffed chairs. Alice Ann sat opposite me, sunk deep in a wine colored chair. Audrey sat on the floor at Corban’s feet. Dave stood in the doorway, his arm up along the frame. David and Virginia sat on the sofa.
I glanced at Alice Ann as Corban played through an invention of Bach. She sat quietly, her hands crossed in her lap, a slight smile touching her lips.
Then it was my turn to sing.

“We have a flower in our garden,
“We call it marigold.
“And if ye would not when ye may
“Ye shall not when ye would.
“And sing blow away the morning dew
“The dew and the dew —
“Blow away the morning dew —
“How sweet the winds do blow.”

It was also apropos, I thought to myself.
Bob came into the room and walked over and sat down on the arm of Alice Ann’s chair. He whispered something to her and she nodded. He went into the bedroom and emerged a minute later with their coats.
“We’ve got to make it at my brother’s party before mid-night,” he said. “Maybe we can get back here later.’’
Corban nodded, and continued playing; his spare, angular frame hunched over the guitar.
I felt regret when the door closed behind them. There was an emptiness in the room. I took another sip from my bourbon. I got up and laid my guitar against the sofa, and went back down stairs.
I danced with Jo, and later, when Audrey came down I danced with her several times. I felt a little better.
John was now in a blue funk; he slumped down beside me on the couch and rubbed his eyes. “Ohh!” he gasped. “What a drag! What a God-Damned drag!”
“I know what you mean” I said, getting up from the couch. He looked up at me, not quite sure what I meant. I turned and walked toward the far end of the room.
Dave was in the corner, sitting on a bench talking to Bruce. I debated whether to go over, and decided not to. I went over to the fireplace and sank down into one of the overstuffed chairs. Carolyn, who had come with George, sat on the hearth looking into the flames.
I couldn’t bear to talk, and I withdrew into myself. Lights seemed to drift in the semi-darkness.

The others were coming noisily down the stairs. I could see David looking around in the dim light for us, and then making his way through the dancing couples, followed by Virginia and Corban and Audrey.
“It’s nearly midnight,” he said, stopping in front of George, Jim, Phyl, and Dave, who were gathered in a small circle.
Bruce turned up the radio at the other end of the room.
“Quiet, everyone!” he shouted. “We’re into the countdown.”
He leaned down behind the bar and pulled out a large brass trumpet. He put it to his lips and waited; and then blew a loud blast when the announcer on the radio declared that it was officially mid-night.
“Happy New Year!” Bruce shouted, and blew another blast on the trumpet.
David leaned over and kissed Phyl.
Suddenly, everyone was kissing everyone, and Bruce was in the midst of the group, running from one girl to the next, kissing them all, in a flurry of movement, with big sloppy kisses.
“Happy New Year!” he shouted, pulling Audrey to him and planting a big kiss on her lips.
Carolyn had turned her back to them, looking into the fire again.

John had been right in his own way — we had only acted out the form and conventions of a New Year’s Eve Party. The swirls and eddies of emotion and feeling that had emerged out of the past had not resolved themselves in the present. We had been suspended in another dimension, and there was nothing of the future in any of it.Lee Streiff

New Year’s Eve 1954

Phyl and I stepped down from the stairs into Bruce’s dimly lighted basement. The room was crowded with people and a fire burned in the fireplace at the far end of the room. A scratchy record of “September Song” rose above the din. Bruce advanced out of the darkness.
“Come in!” he shouted in an agitated tone. “It’s about time!”
“Time for what?” I said.
“Time, that’s all!”
Bob waved at me from a nearby chair. I could make out Alice Ann sitting in the chair next to him. She smiled and waved. I waved at them, and turned back to Bruce.
“Now what’s all this?” I asked.
“The balloons and cotton candy!” he hissed loudly, “You fool! You absolute fool! The calliope! You’ve forgotten everything! Quick, look in your pockets; where have you misplaced the calliope!”
He grasped my jacket by the lapels and then started digging into my pockets, throwing cigarettes, matches, coins, and scraps of paper into the air, giggling and laughing.
“They’re not here!” he shouted and fell down to the floor, grasping his sides and laughing and rolling over. “What happened to the calliope?” he gasped through tears of laugher.
I picked up some of the things he had thrown around and stepped over him and went into the middle of the floor, almost colliding with Jo, who was dancing with her husband, Buzz.
“Hi,” she smiled at me. “Hi, Phyl.”
I smiled and waved as they swirled back into the darkness. I turned to look back for Phyl and saw that she had stopped to talk with Dave. I went over to where Alice Ann and Bob sat.
“You’re looking well,” I said to Alice Ann.
“Lots of good things have been happening to me,” she said.
I turned to Bob, “May I dance with your date?”
He shrugged, “Whatever.”
“Dance?” I asked her.
“Sure.”
She rose and moved into my arms. We danced out into the center of the floor.
“I took your advice,” she said in a low voice.
“So I see,” I said.
She smiled in a puzzled way.
“That is what you meant?”
“Yes,” I said. “Ride in a coach-and-four, and enjoy the ride.”
The record changed, and a new record started.
“How apropos,” I said.
“What?”
“The song. ‘Once in love with Amy, always in love with Amy. Ply her with Bon-Bons, poetry, and flowers.’” I laughed.
The record came to an end, and we turned to walk hand in hand back to where Bob sat.
“Thank you for the dance,” I said.
She squeezed my hand, and then turned and sat down in the chair. I looked at Bob, who was talking to John, who was getting drunk. I looked back at Alice Ann.
“Save me another dance later,” I said.
She nodded. “I will.”

An hour later I was slightly tight myself.
Corban and I were upstairs now, playing our guitars, and singing folk songs. A little group clustered around us, sitting on the floor or on the richly overstuffed chairs. Alice Ann sat opposite me, sunk deep in a wine colored chair. Audrey sat on the floor at Corban’s feet. Dave stood in the doorway, his arm up along the frame. David and Virginia sat on the sofa.
I glanced at Alice Ann as Corban played through an invention of Bach. She sat quietly, her hands crossed in her lap, a slight smile touching her lips.
Then it was my turn to sing.

“We have a flower in our garden,
“We call it marigold.
“And if ye would not when ye may
“Ye shall not when ye would.
“And sing blow away the morning dew
“The dew and the dew —
“Blow away the morning dew —
“How sweet the winds do blow.”

It was also apropos, I thought to myself.
Bob came into the room and walked over and sat down on the arm of Alice Ann’s chair. He whispered something to her and she nodded. He went into the bedroom and emerged a minute later with their coats.
“We’ve got to make it at my brother’s party before mid-night,” he said. “Maybe we can get back here later.’’
Corban nodded, and continued playing; his spare, angular frame hunched over the guitar.
I felt regret when the door closed behind them. There was an emptiness in the room. I took another sip from my bourbon. I got up and laid my guitar against the sofa, and went back down stairs.
I danced with Jo, and later, when Audrey came down I danced with her several times. I felt a little better.
John was now in a blue funk; he slumped down beside me on the couch and rubbed his eyes. “Ohh!” he gasped. “What a drag! What a God-Damned drag!”
“I know what you mean” I said, getting up from the couch. He looked up at me, not quite sure what I meant. I turned and walked toward the far end of the room.
Dave was in the corner, sitting on a bench talking to Bruce. I debated whether to go over, and decided not to. I went over to the fireplace and sank down into one of the overstuffed chairs. Carolyn, who had come with George, sat on the hearth looking into the flames.
I couldn’t bear to talk, and I withdrew into myself. Lights seemed to drift in the semi-darkness.

The others were coming noisily down the stairs. I could see David looking around in the dim light for us, and then making his way through the dancing couples, followed by Virginia and Corban and Audrey.
“It’s nearly midnight,” he said, stopping in front of George, Jim, Phyl, and Dave, who were gathered in a small circle.
Bruce turned up the radio at the other end of the room.
“Quiet, everyone!” he shouted. “We’re into the countdown.”
He leaned down behind the bar and pulled out a large brass trumpet. He put it to his lips and waited; and then blew a loud blast when the announcer on the radio declared that it was officially mid-night.
“Happy New Year!” Bruce shouted, and blew another blast on the trumpet.
David leaned over and kissed Phyl.
Suddenly, everyone was kissing everyone, and Bruce was in the midst of the group, running from one girl to the next, kissing them all, in a flurry of movement, with big sloppy kisses.
“Happy New Year!” he shouted, pulling Audrey to him and planting a big kiss on her lips.
Carolyn had turned her back to them, looking into the fire again.

John had been right in his own way — we had only acted out the form and conventions of a New Year’s Eve Party. The swirls and eddies of emotion and feeling that had emerged out of the past had not resolved themselves in the present. We had been suspended in another dimension, and there was nothing of the future in any of it.

 

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