I glided home as if walking on air, the soles of my feet insensate against the frozen concrete. It was three in the afternoon. Never mind that I had spent the last eight hours pacing back and forth in a kitchen, or that I had been fighting a lingering headache since 5:45 in the morning: my pain and fatigue diminished with each step, as improbable as that sounds. The sun was shining, the air crisp and still. There was anticipation manifest in my every movement, a tingling expectancy that precluded all other sensation and tugged upward at the corners of my mouth like a twitchy reflex. I was smiling, singing loudly, acting foolish. It was New Year’s Eve. My friends were in town and we were having a party, potluck-style. Just like the old times. Oh yeah, and KCM was going to be there. I was in love all over again.
At the kitchen table I arranged the components of my dish. One onion, three cloves of garlic, a couple dried bay leaves. Half a pound of macaroni and a block of sharp cheddar. Whole milk. Stale bread. I set a pot of salted water to boil on the stovetop and pulled out a cutting board to dice the garlic and onions. Into a frying pan they went, along with a good-sized chunk of butter and the crumbled-up bay leaves. As these sautéed I grated a lurid haystack of cheese, dividing it in half and setting it aside. I whisked a few tablespoons of flour into the pan to get a roux going, adding milk and cheese slowly to build the sauce. I tempered in an egg, whisking all the while, then turned the heat down to a gentle simmer. The pasta water was boiling, so I threw the macaroni in and started on the crumb topping. Tore a potato loaf into little chunks, tossed them with olive oil, and roasted them in the oven for ten minutes. Pulled the tray out, crushed them with a rolling pin, and presto: denatured bread. Once the macaroni was done, I drained it and poured on the cheese sauce, stirring the noodles to get an even coating. This mixture was ladled into a casserole dish, layered with the remaining cheddar, and topped with the bread crumbs. I baked it just long enough to brown the topping. Because I had time to kill before Willis stopped by, I threw together a chicken Caesar salad large enough for six, just to be sure we would have enough food. Then I read the paper. At 5:15 Willis showed up and we chatted for a bit, sipped some Maker’s Mark and gathered up the dishes for transport. We were on the road by 6:20.
Driving down I-5, R. Kelly was oozing out of the stereo and Willis sang backup like he meant it. (“Girl you make me wanna get you pregnant/lay your body down and get you pregnant…”) I read aloud the Mapquest directions to the house (which neither of us had been to before). Off the freeway, we found ourselves somewhere in the University District. Willis remarked on the strange familiarity of the neighborhood, and then it dawned on him: The parents of an ex-girlfriend of his lived just three houses up from our destination. “You should go say hi to them,” I said. He laughed. Willis was apparently envisioning a boozy night ahead. “Nah, if I went, I’d just be drunk, and that wouldn’t be good at all.”
Naturally, we were the last guests to arrive. It was almost seven and everyone was itching to eat. Everybody was dressed to the nines, too; everybody but me, as it turned out. My jeans and tattered flannel looked decidedly hobo-esque amidst all the button-downs and party dresses. KCM was stunning as always, decked out in a satiny gold dress and black leggings. To keep from outright leering, I turned my attention to the food. It suddenly occurred to me that I was ravenous. The dining room table was piled high with hors d’oeuvres: avocado salad, chips and salsa, crackers with walnut-grape compote, oatmeal cookies, handmade chocolates, baked Brie. Everyone nursed glasses of the house cocktail, a pomegranate/vodka mix dubbed the “pompom”. (“I made it myself,” gushed our hostess. “Two whole bottles of vodka went in there.”) It was bright magenta and beguilingly sweet. The main course was a medley of homemade pizzas, including veggie-laden margheritas and an exquisite smoked salmon pepita-pesto. After the “miracle menorah” was lit (commemorating the miracle of, well, everything), we heartily dug in. Pizzas and pasta and salad were diligently devoured. The spirits flowed freely throughout the feast, pompoms chased with whiskey followed by rounds of beer. I was drinking like a fish. Willis pulled a shofar off its display (this was a Jewish household) and sounded it rather unmusically, and he and I danced in the kitchen to Ziggy Marley on the iPod. The others looked on amusedly, if not with a hint of concern for our general well-being. Such was the tenor of our evening, and it had only just begun.
Plans called for us to venture over toward the Seattle Center for fireworks at midnight. Somehow all twelve of us made it onto the same bus, which I imagine was a bit like corralling drunken kittens. One of our party brought along a Nalgene flask full of gin, and this struck me as perhaps the most eminently brilliant idea ever conceived, ever. She also brought a Nalgene full of water: also a good idea, but in an entirely different sense. “Hey Maggie,” I said, turning around in my seat to face her, “can I have that Nalgene for a second?” She apparently misgauged the level of my drunkenness, because she handed me the water without a second thought. “Actually, Maggie, can I have the other Nalgene, please?”
I had never been much of a drunk-dialer, but while sitting there on the bus next to Willis, calling far-off friends and yelling at the receiver from an arms-length away seemed like the most pragmatic use of our time. Thankfully, many didn’t answer, and were mercifully spared our boozy verbiage. It was at that point, I believe, that I began having troubles with my volume-control. Another passenger came down the aisle and stood in front of us, asking to take a picture of me—she said I was “her friend’s Doppelgӓnger.” Ok, whatever. But as she walked back to her seat I decided to put on some mock indignation, for reasons quite beyond me. “Doppelgӓnger?!” I practically screamed, “that’s fucking bullshit!” She was only maybe three seats in front of us. Very perceptive, I was. She whipped around, saw my chagrined smile, and laughed, looking relieved. Just another besotted moron, that was all.
We got off the bus at the Seattle Center, where apparently half the city had come out to revel. It was bitingly cold but I felt fine; my beer sweater (more like a parka at that point) enveloped me in pleasant layers of oblivion. We navigated through scarf-swaddled throngs until we reached the warm and expansive Center House. Inside, an 80’s/90’s cover band was playing to a rather indifferent crowd, and there were lines at the restrooms. In fact, one of few things I remember about the Center House that night was the intense fetor of ammonia emanating from the men’s room. Willis and I decided we needed to go, needed to dance, so we ran off into the night.
Literally, we ran. Ran until we reached a bar that sold Kokanee tall cans, and even then we felt like running still. “Should we just take these with us?” Willis asked, quite illogically, motioning to our beers. “Yeah man, totally!” Willis was lucky enough to be grabbed by a patron near the door (“Dude, you can’t do that”); I made it outside where a dreadlocked bouncer was waiting to intercept me. “Hey bro, whaddya think you’re doing?” I looked from him to the frothing beer in my hand. “I’m…gonna go back inside?” “Not with that, you aren’t.” He grabbed my brimming Kokanee and threw it in a trashcan. More confused than anything else, I ran back into the bar and found Willis just dying with laughter. I bought another Kokanee at a discount (the bartender had seen the entire episode and felt bad, I guess) and we chugged that watery brew and took off for someplace else.
It was almost midnight. We had run close to a dozen blocks going mostly north, and we were going to miss seeing the fireworks with our friends at Seattle Center. I felt bad: I adored them all, KCM especially, and many of them I would not see again for months or years, even. But I was drunk-running with Willis, and that was all right by me. We took off our shirts and wove through the crush of pedestrians, screaming “Happy New Year!” and drawing cheers and jeers and plenty of honks. “Oh man, they cuttin’ glass with those nipples!” exclaimed one guy as we flew past. There was even a critic or two: “Hey, that’s not streaking…” It was 21 degrees out and we were almost sweating.
By 1:45 or so we ran out of steam and decided to try for a bus back to the University District. We put our clothes on, waited for a while, got real cold, and then started walking. Asking around for directions, Willis approached a group of guys who, upon realizing that we were all headed in the same direction, invited us to join them. We stopped at a bar and I was handed a shot of tequila by some guy I didn’t know. Willis pointed up at the TV, where the rapper Drake was performing a concert somewhere. “Have you heard of Drake?” he asked. I said yes, sort of, why oh why. Willis looked very out of it. “Oh, I don’t know. He just looked like an idiot on stage right then, that’s all.”
We left and wandered some more, Willis leading the way because I was hopelessly lost and had been so for the past two and half hours. I found an uprooted “No Parking” sign still attached to its post and schlepped it along, somehow imagining it to have vast potential as a prank somewhere down the road. Willis thought I was crazy, and I couldn’t rightfully blame him. As we neared our destination, I said I wanted to leave the sign on his ex’s parents’ doorstep, mostly because I had failed to come up with any better alternative, and also because it was getting really heavy and my hands were cold. “Let’s do it!” I urged, walking up the steps toward their house. Willis remained at the curb. “No, you do it, and I’ll watch.” It was almost three in the morning. We continued down the street to our hostess’s place. By some miracle (yes, a miracle, indeed), a friend of ours was up still and let us into the darkened house. We had made it! Happy New Year.