As I write this I’m sitting at a Chinese restaurant, sipping tea. It is cold outside (forecast: colder); there is a light dusting of snow, but not enough to cover the bits of charred paper, red and yellow, scattered all about. The remains of fireworks. Stacked just outside my window are several large pyrotechnic skeletons, bones of flaming dinosaurs (or dragons, I suppose) that once roamed the neighborhood. One I can see has 100 launch tubes, each about an inch in diameter. I bet that looked pretty cool going off.
I mention the remains of bombs and mortars lying about for perspective; this is a quiet neighborhood. I have never been to the crazy festivities downtown, and this year I decided I needed to see it once. (“Wear eye protection,” several people advised me. “Keep your hair covered.”) My plan was to go more as a journalist than as a reveler, to record the craziness and report it to you, faithful reader. I even decided to take the good camera.
My neck is stiff now. Yesterday I spent a while in bed wondering why, until I remembered that somewhere in the night I tried head-banging to see how it worked with my hair. I couldn’t see the result, so now I have a stiff neck and I’m no wiser. In fact, New Year’s Day was spent in true MR&HBI fashion, happy that January 2th, New Year’s Day (observed), is there so one can do all the things one would have done on January 1st had one been able. Like, for instance, writing this blog episode. But I digress.
Plans often change, and New Years’ Eve plans are less stable than most. I popped zlato a message as darkness fell, asking how plans were shaping up. Just like that I was invited over to Izzy’s place for a party.
This was not a wild party by any means; Izzy, zlato and a friend I haven’t made a name up for yet have formed a band of sorts, and the party almost immediately turned into a band practice with the other guests encouraged to participate. I spent a lot of time on washboard. As the night wore on and the champagne started taking effect my confidence on the instrument grew, but I didn’t do very well on my solo. Still, good times.
The males at the party were far more interested in the music, and as midnight approached the women-folk began to agitate for going out to a bar. One of them worked at a good place that was an easy walk. I told them my plan to go down to the center, a move universally regarded as a Bad Idea, but each of them had a story of singed clothing and reckless abandon (“I have a picture where one is going right over the camera, right at my head.”), and you don’t get stories like that sitting in a nice warm bar.
Then again… I like nice warm bars, and it was cold outside. I was having fun in the present company, and I as I don’t get out much I thought it would be good to hang longer and solidify myself as part of the group. Musician-to-be-renamed-later suggested that we stay behind and keep making music and just let the girls go out, but eventually we all (except zlato) saddled up and headed to Bukowski.
On the walk over to the bar, loud explosions reverberated up and down the streets. Intersections were commandeered for impromptu fireworks displays, while roaming bands of teenagers lit of very loud bombs. Even the strings of smaller firecrackers were quite a bit louder than the things you find in the US. I think it’s safe to say that in the ten-minute walk we heard a significant explosion nearby every fifteen seconds and more distant reports were more or less constant. I wondered once more what it would be like in the parts of town where things were crazy.
Bukowski was indeed a good place to go. It was crowded but not packed; in fact there was a very comfy-looking back room that was completely empty. I have no idea why we didn’t take it. Instead, after a period of bumbling around we wound up packed around a couple of tables, along with two Polilsh guys.
The very first thing the Polish guys asked was whether Izzy and I were a couple. I’ve been hit on by enough guys over here that I didn’t think much of it; I just shrugged it off, stated in a joking fashion but quite clearly that I was herterosexual, and left it at that. No worries about sending the wrong signals this night. The only reason I bring up the incident at all is because it might have some bearing oh what happened later.
We sat, we drank, and we were feeling jolly. The annointed hour arrived, and we sang Auld Lang Syne with more gusto than talent. I was talking to Still-unnamed-musician, his main squeeze, and Izzy when another of our party, whom we shall call Malcom, shouted, stood from the table and grabbed a bottle to brandish as a weapon. In a great spray of champagne he brandished it at the Poles. It was about then that the table was toppled over, dumping various liquids (including candle wax) over Izzy and me as the table’s cargo fell to the floor with a great crashing of glass.
For the record, I saved my beer.
It took several people several minutes to restrain Malcom, who remained insane. Finally a group of friends and other bar patrons got him disarmed and outside. One regular closed the door and leaned on it to keep Malcom from coming back in. That was only partially successful; Malcom did not come back in but he mortally wounded the door. Through all this, the Poles sat quietly. “A bad joke,” one said to me as I got my things together. Could it have been as simple as a gap between Polish and English humor? I don’t know; I suspect not. I wasn’t paying any attention to that end of the table at all, but people who were around them said the Poles were needling Malcom all night. My guess is that Malcom doesn’t react to comments that seem to question his sexuality the same way I do. Just a theory; I know Malcom only a tiny bit better than I know the Poles.
I have since hatched a likely-harebrained theory about the Poles. When they started joking about me being gay, I simply assumed they were gay and were trying to hit on me. I still think I was right. Poland, I’m guessing, between Slavic machismo and Catholic influence, is probably a tough place to be gay. I could easily imagine that in that situation a person might use insults as pickup lines, a false front of homophobia to allow the subject to be broached at all. (Sociology majors please note: don’t use me as a reference in your work. I’m just talking out my ass. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Anyway, we left. Malcom was long gone; management wanted to know who was gong to pay for the door. While I sympathized with the bar owner, I wasn’t going to volunteer to pony up the 3,000 Kč for the door repair. (Now that I think about it, the fact the manager had a ready number makes me think this kind of thing has happened before.) Once clear of Bukowski, we discussed what the rest of us should do next. Another bar seemed to be the right answer. “I’m all adrenalated,” I declared.
We walked through the banging, popping, whistling night to another bar, which had a small room just off the dance floor that was unoccupied. This time we made the smart choice. We sat, Izzy brought beers (in plastic cups), I danced a bit until the music changed from punk to big band. After a while the couples started acting like couples and I knew it was time for me to go.
I walked back to my brother’s place, but realized that if I stayed there I would have no computer. No computer, no happy new year chat with That Girl. A walk home would be good for me, I thought, a chance to metabolize some of the alcohol in my blood. The perfect timing of the night tram and the cold night air quickly undermined that resolution. Home then, on tram 51, to my cold cold apartment.