Okay, so I did not ring in the new year with a kiss. Boo hoo.
Actually, I’m quite all right with that. Some years, you may begin with a passionate kiss and stumble out the other end with a broken heart; others, you begin solo, and a cornucopia of interesting adventures follow. The latter may be one of those years. Let’s just say that I’m at my core an optimist, like my now-departed mum.
So goodbye to 2009, a year with a lot of personal suckage mixed with some real blessings, and goodbye to the 2000s, the Decade of Douche, and hello to a future so bright I’ve gotta put my goddamn sunglasses on.
I may not have begun 2010 with a kiss, but I was among some close friends and a bunch of other vibrant, creative people I don’t know well, but hope I will someday. One of the nice life lessons I’m learning these days is that when the choice presented is to expand and mingle or shrink toward hermitage, it’s usually beneficial to make the effort to hang with other people, because you never know what might happen. Being a hermit is pretty predictable.
I’d ridden up to my pal Jeff’s place north of Nevada City with Jerry and Linda, a couple of longtime friends from here in Sacramento. I no longer drive: first, because I can’t afford to; second, because I recently had to turn my car over to the bank that got the federal bailout to stay in business, because I couldn’t continue to make the payments. I had a little over a year left. Those are the breaks; no federal bailout for me. So now I ride a bicycle, and Nevada City is too far for me to ride to, at least in wintertime.
We’d stopped to pick up a large takeaway order of Indian food at Kaveri on Fulton Avenue, and then I got to ride all the way to Nevada City in the back seat with the aroma of tandoori chicken and benghan bharta wafting from behind me. Torture, I tell you. Once we arrived, we shlepped the food in, and I brought my guitar — a mistake — and then more people started showing up.
I say mistake, because I hadn’t intuited the true vibe of the situation. Last year, I’d brought the guitar, and Jeff’s friend Trista and I found ourselves still awake trading songs as the sun rose that morning. I was prepared for something similar this year, but a wild card had been thrown into the mix, and that wild card was Jeff’s friend James, a record producer and engineer from L.A.
Years ago, when Jeff lived in Laurel Canyon, he’d posted a “No Foisting” sign on his refrigerator, because James was notorious for bringing tapes of whatever project he was working on, and then subjecting whoever was there to a forced listen. I guess it got out of hand over time. And I’ve been culpable for plenty of foisting, myself, over the years, and the guitar I’d brought bore testimony to that fact. So because I’d brought the guitar, I made myself vulnerable, the weak link perhaps, stripped of the automatic immunity conferred by the “foist-free zone” context of the party, James targeted me: You listen to what I’m working on, and I’ll listen to a couple of your songs.
Which I did, on headphones, while Dog Party, a charming duo of two sisters aged 11 and 13, was commencing to play in the other room. Immediately, my laptop ate the CD and wouldn’t spit it back out, which distressed me greatly. Not even the evening’s DJ, Dana, who knows a thing or two about Macs, could get the disc out. (For the record, I was able to coax it out the next morning, which involved: 1, shutting down the computer; 2, restarting while holding down the button on the mouse, although the trackpad button will also work; 3, inserting a piece of thin cardboard into the disc slot to stop the disc from spinning on startup and pressing the eject button, upon which the disc was liberated.)
I’d somehow activated some malevolent sprite of foisting jinxes, and felt terrible. The whole impulse to foist arises, at least for me, from a need to be validated, and sometimes that need is activated in circumstances where I really don’t need to seek validation. Actually, we never really need it; we each already are validated by our intrinsic Buddha natures, and if we stop hungering for people to recognize the beauty in us that we know we carry around, a beauty that the world tragically just isn’t seeing, we begin to see that beauty in other people, and it is reflected back to us. And here we were in a room filled with fabulous, talented and radiant people. Anyway, I caught the last few songs by Dog Party, and then had a head full of swampy remorse and self-hatred that threatened to sink immediately any good time that was available to be had.
Which was there. People were dancing. I made my choice, getting into a nice conversation with a woman whose name I criminally cannot recall, but we did talk about favorite film directors. Hers was Ridley Scott, and her favorite film was Gladiator. Which I’ve seen, but it wasn’t as much of a riveting, life-changing experience for me as it was for her (then again, I’m the one who’s always pushing people to watch Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, so there’s no room for me to talk).
I saw some people looking at the big blue moon through a skylight, so I kinda sidled over there, and a rather beautiful woman named Jennifer asked me to dance. We talked some about outsider artist communities along with rundown urban industrial districts and the best way to see them, which is by bicycle, and a few other topics. She’d moved here from New York, one of my favorite places, although I’ve barely scratched the surface on exploring Brooklyn, the borough where she’d resided. Perhaps it’s a subconscious anti-Dodger bias for this lifelong Giants fan.
Anyway, I wish I’d gotten her contact information — not to ask her out or anything, but just to continue the conversation. (And being of a somewhat, ahem, bindlestiffian socio-economic status these days, my inner guidolothario seems to have been subjugated to the status of humble observer, hamstrung to watch other preening males of the species get their ladeez’ man on whilst yours truly dreams of tangy days past and it is hoped future and actively suppresses pickup lines of magnificently impressive potency, marginally witty even, and if this trainwreck of a parenthetical sentence isn’t the most overwritten stir-fry of letters, words, mixed metaphors and outright bullshit in the history of the English language, well then, fuck me silly.)
If the party had a theme, it was masks, like we were in a big year-end commedia dell’arte or something. A lot of people were wearing them, and some of the people there — younger, artist types from Nevada City and Grass Valley, mostly — had made their own; some were quite beautiful. One man, an artist named Brook, wore an elegant white mask with wings. I know if I’d rocked a headdress like that, my head most likely would fly off my body, leaving my fellow partygoers with the nasty specter of a Washington Irving character lumbering blithely in their midst.
And lumber blithely I did; the best part of the evening for me was just dancing. Most people who know me at all know that me and the dance floor are anathema, and that I’m a pretty classic wallflower and uncomfortable with any kind of public movement; chalk that up to me being a 6’7” lifetime spazz. But if one wants to initiate change, what better way to do that than try something different? And with this being a brand new year, it was incumbent upon this man to come in and do the popcorn; James Brown may have fined me for my dance-floor crimes, but I’m guessing that Orville Reddenbacher might have approved. But what the hey: Both those guys are dead. Currently, I’m not. And dancing felt good, and I spent a lot of the evening just tripping the light spasmodic.
For those who didn’t care to shake it, Jeff had set up karaoke in a side room, and the results were pretty hilarious. People with hipster disconnects can be murder on the cheeseball repertoire associated with most karaoke — which tends to be reasonably bereft of any gems from the Jonathan Richman or Leonard Cohen songbooks — and the liberties taken with the poop that came out of the speakers was at least as entertaining as anything I’ve seen lately.
One highlight was a duet between Jeff and Joanna, a friend of his who’s pretty well known for singing and playing the harp. They theatrically deconstructed an abysmally overwritten Sheryl Crow butt nugget, “All I Wanna Do,” which got some pretty decent laughs from everyone. And it seemed the default voice for rendering rock classics toothless and laughable was a Walter Brennan imitation, always a good idea. I’d managed to clear the room with a dramatic Shakespearian rendition of Debbie Gibson’s “Electric Youth,” so fortunately no one heard my Indian subcontinent mini-mart clerk version of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.” This is a good thing.
By this time, people were clearing out, and we grabbed our stuff, hugged a few folks, and departed. It was weird riding home — we left around 4 a.m. — and in the drive-home conversation with Jerry and Linda, coming to realize that Andy, the guy Joanna had brought with her, who we’d been hanging out with and was cracking us up, was the dude from Saturday Night Live, the one who did the “Dick in a Box” video with Justin Timberlake. I knew he looked really familiar, but I tend to be completely clueless when it comes to spotting well-known people in public.
Of course, that’s quite okay. If the outgoing decade was plastered with the antics of way too many celebrities, here’s hoping the one we’ve just danced our way into is much less douchetastic and a lot more wonderful. Dunno about you, but I’m always hopeful. —Jackson Griffith