Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Melissa comes over after her half-day of work, and we began discussing the menu. We didn't want to make a meal, but wanted the food to be more substantial than chips and dip. Melissa and I bond in many ways, but food is one of the nicest. I know people who just don't care about food; for them it's nothing but fuel. Taste, presentation, all of that is irrelevant. I do not understand these people. I don't judge, really I don't, but I don't think I can ever be close to them. Respect, value, enjoy, admire, I can do all that... but we're never going to be close. How would we celebrate? Dancing can work, but even it's better with a meal, or a glass of wine.
ANYway... we begin discussing dishes. Melissa wanted to experiment by making up new ones.
"What if we took a cracker, cover it with a piece of lox, then top it with a blueberry? I think it would look beautiful. No idea what it would taste like."
"Um, okay, we could try that."
"Oh, then what if we took blue cheese and strawberries, rolled them up in a tortilla, maybe fry it, then cut it into bite-sized bits?"
"Sure we could do that too, but--"
"OH and then what about..."
Eventually we agree that we'll try one experimental dish, but also make some dependable stand-bys, just in case. Nine sweet, forgiving people are coming over, but we'd like there to be one or two sure hits.
A trip to the grocery store is always more fun with someone, so this is already a rare treat for me. We stock up on nice cheeses, a mix of fancy and everyday, melon, blueberries, turkey burger, the ingredients for pizza, bread, and something the recipe calls congo squares, but we both consider blondies.
My kitchen is decent by New York standards, but you have to understand that still means we have exactly one counter, about the size of a bread-box, and a good sized table that can be a work surface, when it's not a storage space. All in all I think Melissa and I do quite well navigating around one another. I am perhaps just a bit too excited to be using my new mixing bowls and other rarely used ceramics, but Melissa shares my enthusiasm, or at least does a bang-up job pretending. She doesn't really drink, and I have forgotten to get any wine, but we are confident we can count on our guests for that.
We specify the party starts at 8pm, knowing that will mean people will show up no earlier than 8:30, but as 9:30 rolls around with us the only celebrants on hand, we begin to think that the mountain of food we have already is going to be enough. Our attempt to make at least one non-wheat and milk-products dish for a friend with allergies ends in failure when the corn tortillas refuse to stay closed no matter how much egg batter we use. Ultimately the spirit of experimentation brings us to use wheat tortillas to great success, but only after we've been cooking them for a while, do we realize we lost the original intent. Next time we'll get bigger corn tortillas, the little ones are two small and thick. We liked them because they were blue. The wheat tortillas work a treat, however, and turn into a kind of egg roll shell after being fried. Yup, this event is going to be lots of dough, cheese and meat, and we both couldn't be more delighted. We had agreed from the beginning that we would still have fun if it were just the two of us, but we probably would have cooked on a smaller scale.
Around 10pm every single guest shows up in quick succession, in the space of about fifteen minutes, as if they were all waiting together somewhere and thought they should trickle in so as not to seem suspicious. As they arrive I realize that no single guest knows more than three other people in the room, and one brave soul only knows me. Even I am meeting two new people. Despite this, everyone begins talking the instant they arrive, with none of that awkward sitting around in silence that often can mark the beginning of even the nicest gathering. Melissa and I had failed to make clear we would be making food, so everyone comes having had dinner already. Must remember that for future events; if you say 'party', especially for New Year's Eve, people understandably expect no more than chips, dip, a carrot or two, some cookies and a whole lot of booze unless you say otherwise. As we had predicted, our lovely guests had brought wine, juice and champagne, so along with the house Ginger Ale, everyone seems reasonably content with the beverages. Genna and Jeff have indulged me by bringing their spinach dip, which I devour as if I hadn't just finished the batch they brought for Thanksgiving.
My living room is a very odd shape. It's long, thin, and always wants to divide itself into two spaces, no matter how I arrange the furniture. I wonder if that was how it was built originally, there are some structural elements to suggest it. And of course my furniture is a hodge-podge of things, my design concept for the whole apartment having been "Are you done with that?" Hand-me-downs and street-side salvages provide a futon couch, papasan, easy chair, and plenty of wooden chairs. By funny coincidence, there are exactly as many seats as there are people. The room dividing means that three to five conversations are going at any one time, but we soon discover that eleven is just about the right number for everyone to join into a single conversation. Naturally we discover this when someone telling a story to a small group says into an unexpected silence "so he sat down beside me, put his hand on my knee, and said, 'let's have sex.'" As the evening progresses, we bounce back and forth between one conversation or many; the papasan, sitting in the center of the room like a throne seems to dictate this pattern. Often the person who instigates a group discussion will be the one presently occupying this seat.
Midnight creeps up; for some odd reason I am unable to get the remote control to turn on the cable and TV at the same time until just the moment when the ball drops, but we all watch, cheer (hearing it all through my neighborhood) kiss or hug whether we've known each other for decades or hours, (though of course there is kissing, and then there's kissing,) champagne is poured (oh goody, there are just enough extra glasses and rarely used ceramic cups so everyone can have a clean vessel!), and we toast the new year and one another.
Melissa bakes the blondies, and our guests bravely soldier on, making a serious dent in them as they have all the food, not wanting Melissa and me to feel bad about our efforts. That's just how classy this crowd is. More conversations big and small, silly and serious, then around 3am, the realities of long commutes on holiday trains (the bane of New York socializing) catches up with people, and they leave as they arrived, quickly in twos or threes. I hug Keong a little longer and tighter, since in a few hours he's leaving New York for good, off to a promising career in LA. He's been a part of my life since I moved here, and has been confidante, cheerleader, inspiration and bitching-partner for the last twelve years. I'm not as sad at our parting as I might have been in the past though; by now I've learned that you cross paths with the good ones again, often sooner than expected, and the conversation picks up where it left off. In fact I'm in the process of doing just that with another friend in the room, Cheryl, after a gap of twelve years. On another day I might be sad about the fact that my loved ones get spread farther and farther away, the gaps between contact gets longer, and in particular more of my theatre peers are leaving town (I'm the oldest person in the room by at least six years, and as many as thirteen), but tonight, nestled among loving friends old and new, I feel only gratitude for Keong, and many others.
Melissa and I clean up, leaving the place looking better than it did at the start, then we fall asleep at 4am. Breakfast comes around 11am, with bread and melon that was overlooked or forgotten, eggs and of course, coffee. LOTS of coffee. We continue our seven year old conversation about love, sex, art, finding a way to live in the country but work in the city, (where the hell IS the teleportation technology, already?), funding our work, and seeing our friends more than once every six weeks.
This apartment warms up when it hosts social gatherings, and this morning the energy in the place is still vibrant and cheerful. Melissa is working on an important grant in the living room, and I'm about to go discard dead plants, and plan what to do with the dirt and planters. It feels right, with the moon waning on January 1st, that my first tasks of the year be purging excess and discarding things that have served their time. The drumsticks never made it into the oven, and there are still some left-over pizza, cheese, and bread, but luckily Tommy and Ellen are home now to help eat. Coltrane has already patroled the space; I think he smells that there were lots of other people here, as he vacuums up tidbits we missed in our late-night cleaning. Turkey burger can get away from you easily, so we're fortunate to have such a diligent and low-slung presence in the place.
It's already 5:30pm and the sun is down again, but I don't feel my usual guilty dread at having missed so much daylight. It was a good party. I met two wonderful new people, reaffirmed my love for old friends, and maybe best of all, got to watch many of them discover new connections with one another. Warm interactions at parties don't have to mean more than that, I am old enough to appreciate that they have their own worth, whether long term friendships result or not. I needed this. My ambivalence about NYC is always highest just after I've visited my family. It's too easy to contrast the concrete joys of family and surroundings there (and vacation time of course) with what is often just potential here; potential work, potential community, potential income. Being with these folks reminds me just how wonderful it is when I manage to turn the potential into reality, no matter how briefly.