With a Bang (ish)
It’s 2012! The year the world ends, or whatever. And, however morbid it sounds, I think I can say that if this past New Years Eve celebration had to be my last, I could probably make peace with that. (But still! What gives, Mayan calendar?!)
For the past two years, I’ve gone down to Florida to visit my grandparents with my family for Christmas and New Years. And, let me tell you, it is a blast. First, it’s the only time my parents, sister and I get to spend a large chunk of uninterrupted time all together, and we have the most fun four people can possibly pack into two weeks. Second, my grandparents are wonderful. All they want to do is feed you and tell you stories and argue with your political opinions while they hug you.
Every night, the dinner conversation basically goes (and I may be paraphrasing), “I don’t agree with ANYTHING you are SAYING. Also, I LOVE you and think you are GREAT! Hey, do you want pancakes for breakfast? How about eggs? Fruit? Bacon! Here, finish your pasta.”
My grandparents live in this town in southwest Florida that is almost entirely populated with retired transplants. And, possibly, alligators. I can’t speak for the gators, but the people are almost all uniformly tiny, old, Italian, and generally from Queens. It’s like everyone you’ve seen in Goodfellas has a non-mob affiliated doppelganger, and they all live there together. Also, everyone perpetually thinks I’m 12. I routinely get carded at the country club, and at Carrabba’s, which is like the Olive Garden’s more legitimate sibling.
Christmas, for the most part, is pretty much how we would spend Christmas anywhere. We hang out with relatives, eat too much food, yell at each other across the table, and my dad is generally the only guy in the room not named Sal.
“Not you! Sal!”
“Oh hey, Jim.”
Meanwhile, my grandfather is the definition of the neighborhood watchdog. He is constantly uncovering scandals and Busting Shit Wide Open and it’s awesome. He used to have this column in the local newspaper, and it was like Andy Rooney, but with more action and less whining. (I still love you, Andy.*) In addition, he loves to tell stories. He’s hard of hearing, so most of his stories END UP BEING TOLD LIKE THIS. Normally this is fine, but sometimes he starts talking shit about the neighbors who live across the canal, and then outdoor dinners get a little dicey.
“HE’S A HORSE’S ASS!”
“HE IS! HE’S A HORSE’S ASS!”
“Keep your voice down!”
“What? Doll, he can’t hear me!”
“…yes he can.”
“Oh. Well, he’s a horse’s ass.”
On New Years, reservations are made at Palmetto Pine Country Club. Last year, my sister and I opted out of the celebration. Instead, we stayed home and yelled greetings to the Fun Family across the canal (not the horse’s ass). We ate pancakes, trapped a giant bug that looked like it had escaped from Jurassic Park in the bathroom, and jumped in the pool at midnight, just because it was there. But this year, we compromised. Sister and I would attend dinner at the club, but we would go to the early seating (to beat the crowds, naturally) and ring in 2012 at home.
At 6:00, we walked through the door. The room was decorated for a party, but it sort of felt like the weird kid’s birthday party in fourth grade. The dance floor and most of the tables were empty, everyone looked like they were there for a stop and chat before moving on to the next part of their evening, and the DJ wouldn’t arrive for another few hours (for the late seating party people). An old guy sat at one corner of the dance floor, playing a tiny upright piano. He was really good.
Otherwise, the club looked the same as always. Palmetto Pine has been the scene of many a life-moment for me. There is a family-famous picture of me running across the golf course when I was maybe three or four. I’m wearing this strawberry print dress and ruffled socks and my hair is everywhere and I look like I’m about to explode with joy. We used to come all the time for lunch when we visited, and they had the greatest chicken fingers in the world, and a pool table in the men’s locker room. My rant about the latter was maybe my first foray into speeches about gender inequality. Also, I learned to drive there. When we were younger, my grandpa would take my cousins and me out in his golf cart, and teach us the rules of the road. Two of us sat with him on the bench seat in the front, while the other was strapped to the back in the place where the golf bag would go. And, because we were between the ages of 6 and 10, there was the occasional problem.
“Okay, nice and easy. Now ease your foot off the gas. Slower. SLOWER! SLOW DOWN!”
Unfortunately, there was no time for golf carting on New Years. We made our way around the room and my grandma introduced us to everyone. If New Years were prom, my grandma would have been the queen. Everyone loves her and she is the greatest! We paraded around the room and as usual, everyone thought I was 12. I was wearing makeup, so maaaybe 16. Maybe. Then we sat down.
“Can I take your drink order?”
I mulled this over. Lately, I’ve been very into sampling the wide world of whiskey. This might be because I’m working my way up to scotch – but just so I can drink scotch and sing about it in my disgruntled old man voice. (This is a thing.) But my alcohol tolerance is iffy. Sometimes, when properly conditioned, I can drink things like whiskey and be an adult about it. Other times, I’m two beers deep and singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” under the table.
But by this point I’d been on vacation for two weeks and the previous night had been two-for-one cocktail night at Carrabba’s, so I was ready. I decided I could go with something girly and delicious, like an old fashioned or Maker’s and ginger ale. But this was NEW YEARS AT THE COUNTRY CLUB. Go big or go home, kids.
“Jameson on the rocks, please.”
Everyone looked at me. Everyone. My sister, my parents, my grandparents, the waitress. People at the next table, the old guy playing the piano, probably the alligators lurking on the edge of the golf course.
“How-how old are you?”
“25. I have ID. Do you want to see my ID?” I ask people if they want to see my ID almost like it’s a dare now. Like the way a pirate would ask someone if they want to see what’s under his peg leg.
“No, that’s okay.”
When she brought our drinks, everyone asked me what mine was. Grandpa was especially intrigued.
“What is that?”
“Irish whiskey,” dad interjected. (Ireland represeeeent!)
Eventually, this evolved into a story about how my grandpa used to go out drinking with his navy buddies, and they all got whiskey and he was not having it. They teased him and ordered him a glass of milk. Whatever, milk is delicious. They made poor life decisions and my grandpa did not. He is the best.
It was just after 8:00 when we finished dinner, but the entire town was practically shut down already. We pondered what to do next. Sister wanted chips and salsa. Mom wanted to go dancing. Dad wanted fireworks. I loved all these ideas.
We bought chips at CVS before mom and I tried to convince the rest of the family to go dancing at some place we found on Google maps called the Dixie Roadhouse. This was a no go. But dad did convince us to indulge a long-held fascination of his: the roadside fireworks stand.
We drove around for a while listening to a random mix CD we found under the passenger seat. The Beach Boys, Clapton, the Stones, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, the Who. We found a tent selling fireworks next to a strip mall and pulled into the parking lot. Stairway to Heaven came on and my mom decided this was her JAM. Dad got out to peruse the explosives, while the rest of us turned up the music. That is how I came to be sitting in a southern parking lot, blasting Stairway to Heaven with the windows rolled down on New Years Eve.
I leaned out the window and yelled, “DAD! SPARKLERS!” Everyone loved us.
We drove back to my grandparents’ house blasting Baba O’Riley. We parked in the driveway before the song ended and the four of us sat there until it did: singing and playing air guitar solos and steering wheel drums. There’s video evidence of this, but they might kill me for putting it on the internet. (Parents, would you like to weigh in here?)
We went out onto the pool deck and continued the danceparty. And then it was time to break out the fireworks. Dad had gotten a bunch of roman candles and little rocket things and sparkers, and we took them all out onto the dock. It was pitch dark, so dad had me shine a tiny flashlight over his hands while he lit the matches. It was a foolproof system and not at all the way people lose fingers.
There were sparks and several pops before the first rocket shot up over the canal like a flare gun.
“That was it?” mom asked. We glared at her. “I mean wow! That was IT!”
Dad encouragingly mumbled, “at least we know where the fuse is!”
We looked at each other and pointed. “The quick fuse!”
We shot off several more roman candles, danced around the pool with sparklers, drank champagne while wearing sunglasses and watched the first fireworks of 2012 explode over our heads just after midnight. Then we all fell asleep watching Jaws.
Hopefully, the Mayans and the crazies are wrong and I’ll get to do it again next year. But until then, I’ll be back here, writing things and watching out for rogue manatees.
*Just in case his ghost is reading this? I don’t know.