Maybe it’s that end of tour, that time of year feeling. Or the holidays, or sinus, or hormones. Maybe it was the news of little kids and teachers being mowed down in a small town school that made me feel like everything is just…hard to get a hold of.
But my brother Pat and his wife and my niece were visiting for the first time since we moved to America, and we had a nice time and talked, looked at our beautiful town, played Boggle and ate Eric’s delicious bourguignon and made the mistake of watching an Adam Sandler movie. At least that was crap you could laugh at. And turn off.
We drove down to the city for a day, happy to be together, excited to experience New York City in holiday mode. Eric stayed behind, not interested in the crowds.
“Look at all those people in red!” my niece said, as we came down the West Side Highway.
“And they’re in Santa hats! How cute! I love the city.” It did look jolly – there were hundreds, waiting at crosswalks, walking uptown and downtown.
“Michael (one of the other brothers, who is prone to exaggeration) was telling me about this thing, Santacon,” Pat said. “People dressed up like Santa gather to get really drunk.”
“The public vomiting starts about mid-afternoon. Then they turn violent.”
“Seriously, he says he won’t even go outside during Santacon.”
“That Michael – he can’t stand to see others having a good time.” We scoffed, pointed at Santas and managed to talk him, his girl Sara, and brother Riley and girlfriend Natalie into joining us on the Highline and walking up to see the tree at Rockefeller Center.
By the time we got up in the thirties, the crowds were growing as was the ratio of aimlessly milling red-suited young men and women. We made do with a quick peek at the tree at Bryant Park, a suitable stand-in for the Rockefeller Center tree due mainly to its proximity to a decent public toilet in the 42nd Street library. Then complete human gridlock, a glance at the Saks windows, and a traipse through the Waldorf Astoria to get to the subway.
Coming back to 14th Street, I told the others to go on ahead without me while I took a few pictures. When I turned onto Avenue A, a block from my brother’s apartment, I expected to see my family making their way, and maybe a person or two walking home with shopping or waiting for a bus.
Instead it was like spring break for Santas, hordes spilling out of a load of bars I hadn’t bothered to notice before and off the sidewalks and into the street. I never felt so alone.
By cellphone I found the gang and we managed to push through a crowd of girls at the liquor store (“We already drank five bottles of red, so maybe we should have white now, y’know, like a palate cleanser?”) to buy drink and food of our own, and had a good night, mostly in the safe confines of Michael’s apartment.
But as I tried to sleep on the couch, the off-kilter bass patterns of his downstairs neighbor’s music grew more and more disturbing.
“She listens to this group Die Antwoord” (he quickly showed me a video, which I begged him to turn off. Don’t show me things I don’t understand – there’s too much going on I don’t understand – flash mob, Kesha, gangnam…gunman in a grade school).
3 AM The music kept on. Ah well, young people will stay up late on Saturday.
5 AM This is really unthoughtful…but Michael rehearses his band above her in this apartment. If we complain, she’ll tell the landlord.
7 AM Crack whore, skank, I just know she’s passed out down there with some guy dressed like Santa.
There was nothing else to do but get up.
After I said goodbye to the family, I went to the Met and even though I’d gone for the George Bellows exhibit, I ended up standing in front of Van Gogh’s familiar swirls – something to hold onto.
Then I found solace downtown in a homemade marshmallow in the center of a City Bakery hot chocolate. But the close proximity of the next table (“he’s a musician, they’re into the obscure, so they’re doing Greek sea shanties sung in the ancient Greek so he doesn’t even know what it is he’s singing, but that’s part of the beauty of it”) meant it was time to press on towards the train station and home.
But first a stop at the movie theater to see Lincoln. It cost five dollars more down here in the city.
It was worth it, to be swept up in the characters, story and history, to think about the political process, not as an abstract, to be reminded of human dignity and courage and equality. It was worth it to watch, at one with the crowd in a movie theater, no obnoxious Santas – or who could tell, in the dark? If they were there they were silent, or at least sleeping it off.