All day long people trickled into Manhattan. By 6 PM people started buying booze, staking out their spots, or hanging out at bars, diners and delis, killing time. By 8, the subways had reached critical mass. Underneath, Times Square was a teeming mass of humanity buzzing with babel-like accents and dialects. I hardly heard a word of English. But then again, the New York accent sounds foreign to my California ears.
Overheard on the subway:
“Dad, I hurt my hand.”
Dad to young son: “You’ll live.”
The world seemed to descend on Times Square that night. Men in Jesus robes handing out flyers about the Rapture were as busy as whirling dervishes, out to save every soul passing through the turnstiles. Girls-gone-bad types, giddy with the early gulp of bubbly were everywhere, as were frat boy look-alikes, out to get lucky.
Four hours to kill before the ball drop. I was beginning to have misgivings. Monette and I had been all over Manhattan on foot the day before, and we had stayed up with two other friends, Ann and Marlina, chatting until dawn. Truth was, I wanted to go back to Ann’s apartment in Queens and watch it from TV. But I was already in Manhattan! There was electric excitement in the air. The whole world would be watching and I would wave to them on TV.
After big farewell hugs and new year's wishes, Marlina and her parents dropped us off at deserted Battery Park so we could look out on to Ellis Island and Lady Liberty. From there we crossed the street to the former site of the Twin Towers. Ground Zero. It was church-quiet there. The few people who were there walked with reverence, in hushed tones, as though afraid to awaken the sleeping.
Marlina told us to park ourselves in front of Planet Hollywood, next to the Charmin’ toilets. “They’re handing out free rolls of toilet paper there,” she said gleefully.
Instead, Monette and I ended up at a Korean-owned deli where the savvy but ruthless business owner demanded a purchase from everyone in order to sit and wait inside, or to pee in his one-stall men and women’s bathrooms. All night long there was a long line leading to the loo. Cha-ching. New Year’s Eve dinner was kimchee-flavored instant cup-o-noodles.
Outside, the cops directed people to enter through a wanding line. We entered three at a time, arms high to the side, while cops opened our backpacks and inspected New Year’s noisemakers and paraphernalia. When Monette and I finally made it into position, we found ourselves at the back of the crowd. A clever one started a mambo line, and people at the back jumped in. I grabbed Monette’s hand and said, “Hop in so we can get to the front!”
That’s what I’m talking about! The people in front who didn’t know what the hell was going on gave way to the mambo line and found themselves outsmarted, outflanked, and displaced. Meanwhile, Monette and moi got to the front, with only a row or two of merry-makers in front of us.
Tall buildings flanked us on both sides. On my right side, a 10-story high picture of CNN’s silver-haired wonder boy Anderson Cooper, wide-stanced with arms crossed sternly, stared down on the masses, while he took the front row seat at the celebration. How did he get so lucky? On the left, a plastic 3-dimensional 5-foot-tall lobster with swinging arms, and clutching claws, stood above the rotating door of Red Lobster. Neon lights imbued the streets with an other-worldly glare.
Throughout the long wait, the crowds amused themselves by volleying balloons, shouting, screaming, singing, swearing, hissing, booing.
Overheard, an exchange between a foreign tourist and a local:
Question: “Why booing?”
Answer: “Whaddaya think?”
People sang the Star Spangled Banner, Auld Lang Syne, smoked weed, cheered, jostled, swayed, did the wave. Helicopters hovered in the air. Excitement was reaching a crescendo. Finally, it was time.
“10 – 9…”
The ball started descending…
“8 -- 7…”
The ball disappeared behind the building’s rooftop screen.
“Where’s the ball?”
“WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BALL?”
“What the fuck?”
“Where did it go?”
“WHAT THE FUCK?”
“Damn, all this for that?”
“WHERE’S THE FUCKING BALL?”
“You and your great idea. I’m through with you.”
“We always do what you wanna do on New Year’s Eve…”
“Yeah, but this? This is a fucking waste of my time!”
“WHERE’S THE FUCKING BALL?’
“Is it New Year yet?"
Monette and I dropped our gaze from the heavens and stared at each other in disbelief.
“Happy New Year, Monette.”
“Happy New Year, Maya.”
“Which way to the subway?”
“C’mon. Let’s go get a hot dog.”
And that’s New Year’s Eve… live from Times Square!