New Year’s Eve with David Sedaris

(Essay)

Celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends has been a practice for us for the past several decades. Back in the early ’70s when Bharati had not arrived in the United States I visited Times Square in New York City with my friends Narayan and Jayaram. We were all single. The place was crowded as expected. We walked as close as possible to the site of the ball drop. After the ball drop we, the three amigos, walked along the streets of midtown Manhattan looking for a reasonably priced (I don’t want to say “cheap”) place to eat. None of us had a well-paying job to splurge on entertainment. We located an Indian restaurant on 44th street and grabbed a beer.

When Bharati arrived we first lived in a single room studio apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. A couple of years later we moved to a two-bedroom apartment in Kew Gardens. Through an acquaintance of Bharati, we were introduced to Arun and Taruna who lived in Brooklyn. Arun was a research scientist at the Downstate Medical center. He often told us how his research was so far advanced that it was difficult to explain in layman’s terms.

We soon established a rapport with Arun and Taruna and they became good friends. Arun owned a Ford Torino. He said he had bought it because the name almost rhymed with Taruna. He would take us to his apartment for the celebrations. We would spend the night with them and the next day he would bring us back to Kew Gardens. I remember one New Year’s Eve we had a good dinner in an Italian restaurant in Little Italy which reportedly was the scene of a mafia-related incident a few weeks ago. Then we saw the movie The Godfather.

Eventually, we purchased a small split-level home in Commack, Long Island and Arun and Taruna moved into a sprawling house in Rosslyn. Each year Arun’s house was the center of the New Year Eve celebrations. We would gather by the fireplace for drinks, then while away the time in chit-chat until midnight. This continued for close to eight to ten years. It was through Arun that we got to know Subhash and Sangeeta who lived in a two-story house in Huntington. Subhash worked as a doctor at the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood.

As they say “good things don’t last too long.” Arun received a great offer to continue his research in his field of pharmacy. But he had to relocate to Detroit, Michigan. We were sorry to see them leave. Our New Year’s celebrations then moved to Subhas and Sangeeta’s house. Our house in Commack was not large enough to accommodate a large gathering. We often would go to their house late in the evening to take part in the decorations and set up for the party. Subhash’s mom whom we called Mai loved us visiting their house. One year upon our arrival she hugged Bharati and said, “Bharati, now that you are here let the action begin. You are the energizer. It was getting to be so quiet.”

We continued celebrating New Year’s Eve at Subhash and Sangeeta’s house for almost a decade. One year we decided to alter our plans. Bharati, me, and our children Sachin and Sukanya drove from Commack to Kew Gardens, parked our car by the metro station, and took the F train to midtown to watch the ball drop, just like I had done years ago. After the ball drop, we returned to Kew Gardens and took a chance to go the Subhash’s house. It was well past 1.30 a.m. but the party was still going on.

I always say that in America nothing is permanent. In 1992 my company moved us to Virginia. We moved into a large colonial house in the sought-after Hampton Chase neighborhood. It was new construction as were the houses in our vicinity. So, our neighbors were also new to the community. We took turns in hosting Sunday brunch to get to know each other. That’s how we met Ann and Jim and Jane and Al. Bharati, Ann, and Jane hit it off immediately. A case of natural selection, you might say. It was also because of their fun-loving nature and common interest in arts and literature, gardening, and bargain hunting. Our children were of the same age. That also helped.

We got together often including to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I remember one year Jane and her family had to go on a vacation during Christmas week. They were to return on New Year’s Eve exactly at midnight. Jane had given Ann a spare key to her house, just in case, she needed to access it. We made good use of the key. We gathered in Jane’s house late that evening, lit the fireplace, shut the lights off, and waited for them to enter. We shouted “Happy New Year” as they entered. You can imagine the expression on Al’s face to discover someone had “broken” into their home. Jane of course was a party to the joke.

A few years later Jane and Al moved first to Pittsburg and then to Colorado. Ann and Jim moved to New Jersey and then to Richmond, Virginia. But the bond of sisterhood between Ann, Jane, and Bharati is still going strong. No matter where they are they try to meet every year to catch up on the latest events.

Bharati had joined the Hampton Chase Garden Club. She became more active after Ann and Jane’s departure. Over time she became a good friend of Claire.

Claire started inviting us to her home for the New Year’s Eve party she hosted at her house. We liked to go to her party because it was in our neighborhood and we didn’t have to drive long. Roads are always dangerous especially after a new year’s party due to some people drinking and driving.

Clair’s party was a joy to attend. It started at 9 p.m. Everyone dressed up for the occasion in colorful attire and brought delicious finger food to munch on. We chatted, exchanged stories about what we did over the year, vacations we took, and the ones that were on our bucket list. Very rarely did we talk politics. It was for the better because a majority were of the opposite inclination than us. Ten minutes before the stroke of midnight Clair’s husband Jim would start opening bottles of Champaign. We all helped in filling the glasses and distributing them to all. There was a good supply of noisemakers and hats. We counted the seconds as they showed the ball drop on TV. We hugged, shook hands, kissed the ladies on the cheek, husbands and wives kissed as we said HAPPY NEW YEAR, HAPPY NEW YEAR, to the accompaniment of the noisemakers. Some left soon after the party, but normally Bharati and I stayed much longer chatting with Claire and Jim and whoever stayed behind.

Alas, this too came to an end. In April of this year, 2021, we left Fairfax, Virginia to a townhome villa in Ellicott City, Maryland to be close to Sukanya and her family. The Covid 19, especially the Omicron virus is so rampant that we were afraid to venture out anywhere. Even the party that Sukanya was supposed to attend was canceled due to the rampant spread of the virus.

We invited Sukanya, her husband Ryan, and children Maya (9) and Kieran (7) to our house for dinner and a small celebration. We baked cookies. Bharati made snacks and Bhel as requested by Sukanya. We watched the fireworks of the New Year Eve celebrations in parts of the world where it was already a new year. Around 8:30 p.m. both M and K started yawning. They had to leave early.

We were alone, just the two of us. We debated whether to stay until midnight to see the ceremonial events in Time’s square. We switched to the regular TV. The Dick Clark show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest, was on ABC. Anderson Cooper was emceeing on CNN. Nothing seemed appealing. We thought, just for this year, we should turn in early.

“Why don’t we watch some of Sedaris’s lessons that we left off yesterday?” Bharati suggested.

I agreed.

Mr. Sedaris is a well-known American essayist, humorist, and author. He is well-liked and admired in our family. I have several of his books in my library. Our son had generously gifted us with a one-year subscription to the Master Class for unlimited use for one year. We watched his lessons on the subject of writing on the Master Class website projected on our big screen TV

We were hooked on the Master Class presentation. Mr. Sedaris had a soothing voice and his anecdotal delivery was entertaining. He told us about his habit of always carrying a notebook and observing when people talk. He could be reading a book but his ears were tuned to his surroundings. In one session with his sister Sally she says, “I saw you writing something in your notebook and I said ‘oh, oh. I wonder what you are going to write about me.’” We were surprised to learn that sometimes he revised his story draft fifteen to eighteen times until he gets it right. He demonstrated how he wrote five versions of the beginning of a story describing a simple event involving him and his sister going to an airport in North Carolina in a small matchbox car and meeting someone in a large expensive car. Being a writer is not easy he said. According to him, it took him more than fifteen years to be recognized as an author.

The stories he narrated were so mesmerizing that we kept watching one episode after another. When we looked at the watch, we realized it was eleven fifty-five already. We switched back to regular TV and CNN. The crowd was ready for the “event”. Some wore long colorful hats, some danced, others waved at the camera. The seconds clicked, the ball dropped and it was the end of another year. We watched the TV for a bit longer because Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York City, was being sworn in.

We remembered the time when we used to call our friends at this late hour to wish them a happy new year. We didn’t do that. We did receive a few text messages. Times have changed. This was, for us, a New Year’s Eve quite different from others but more peaceful and memorable without the hoopla associated with a party.

4 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve with David Sedaris

  1. You took us through your 50+ years’ New year celebrations. It has been a happy journey. Enjoyed reading it.

    Like

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