Per Suede

convincingly by argument or evidence
Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 28, 2008 7:44PM

Biting the Big Apple on New Year's Eve

Rate: 7 Flag

Plans to devour the Big Apple had been in motion for months. The red-eye flight reservations were booked and arrangements to bunk with Carmen’s childhood chum, Chad, a southern transplanted New Yorker, had been made. Other than Vegas where sin attraction tickets are redeemed 24/7 365 days a year, nothing rivals a New York holiday. The crescendo-building buzz that soaked the city in its seductive 80s reign was hands down unmatchable.  

By mid-morning, hosting 25-30 friends in Chad’s Manhattan matchbox apartment on New Year’s Eve was eight hours around the clock’s corner. A packed house ablaze in seasonal festivity, however, didn’t make it most memorable.   

Declining Chad’s generous invitation to the nightlife capitol, home to Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater and the legendary Blue Note Jazz Club, was never an option, for the maze of maddening crowds and endless audio and visual stimuli was too magnetic. Just as we eagerly anticipated East Coast flavor steeped in eclectic culture and limitless decadence, our suitcases, similarly, awaited stuffing one more day like Thanksgiving turkeys. With our clothing’s coolest and crab boil recipe fixings securely in tow, the anxious countdown to the year’s last day began as soon as we arrived.

Dining out hadn’t ballooned to tabs requiring an arm and a leg yet, so neither of us was well acquainted with a kitchen. Our keen décor knowledge didn’t exactly preempt our cluelessness if forced to distinguish a saucepan from a stockpot. I regretted volunteering to prepare a pre-party meal as reciprocation for the host’s red carpet kindness. Yet, the previous night’s intoxication and near fatal overdose on Donna Summer’s trance-inducing disco offered lame excuses. Besides, for choosing his friends based on intellect instead of income, I’d always admired Chad. Buffed like a freshly manicured nail at 6-feet, the budding investment banker was, in short, a man’s man.   

The menu, consisting of red potatoes, shrimp, crab legs, crawfish, sausage and corn cobs shimmering in a Cajun-spiked crab boil, would be washed down with cases of cheap champagne. My meal’s imperfect pairing had the potential to wad seasoned chef Emeril Legasse’s panties, but in this instance, sheer diligence camouflaged culinary dysfunction. Thus, I bypassed the aromatic stick circulating the room and braved the heat.    

When I wasn’t phoning home to confirm ingredient measurements, Carmen's strong style priorities kicked in as she frantically sought ambience tips from her Mother. Per usual, the infamous procrastinators were pressed; however, my partner-in-crime assured that we’d pull off the evening masterfully.  Plus, had we not run into Lisa, a former classmate whose political passion took her to Washington, D.C., in Bergdorf Goodman’s yesterday, the preparations might’ve been well on their way to perfection. The interruption, fortunately, amounted to a minor sacrifice. Otherwise, I may not have spotted feminist activist Gloria Steinem, shielded behind customary oversized glasses, riding the store’s elevator. High on the popularity pedestal at that time, Steinem was a pop-culture junkie’s dream.      

After Chad fetched Merlena who had flown in from Germany, other members of his global entourage began pouring in around 7pm. Gary, a gangly African-American with Italian blood, made the initial grand entrance. In exaggerated animation, he instantly activated “show and tell,” rolling a taped “Star Search” segment spotlighting Dan Hankins pantomiming Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie in split-faced drag.  As the clock approached the ninth hour, my face flushed with frustration. Jeffrey, an Asian illustrator for a national NY-based magazine, had joined Gary’s systematic efforts, subjecting all guests to the performance, whether they wanted to see it or not. Unfortunately, the buzz showed no signs of breaking.     

I pondered unplugging this endless loop of show-stopping drag until a sepia-fleshed Dan Hankins sauntered in awash in star-studded regalia. Even those  high on chemically-induced euphoria didn't distract from the coalition of blacks, whites, yellows and browns, both gay and straight, huddling the performer with adulated applause. Dan, fighting tears determined to flow, spoke briefly about yearning for acceptance his entire life and like a UPS delivery at Christmas, it had arrived. The Houston resident went on to headline an Atlantic City show enthusiastically endorsed by comedian Bill Cosby.  

That New Year’s Eve in the 80s marked a personal moment of diversity at its finest where people systematically dismissed by mainstream standards gained acceptance. Indeed, gender-bending Dan was unmistakably unique but bottom line, like you and me, he was a human being. Just imagine how proud the collective signature on diversity's dotted line to elect Barack Obama as the 44th U.S. President would've made him.  Sadly enough, the ravages of AIDS robbed Dan's chance to see the seeds of change in full bloom.

See Dan Hankins link below:


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open call, new year's eve

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Thank you, Barry, for your gracious comments. Indeed, the 80s represented the heydays of diversity long before it became an employment buzzword. I'm very honored that you stopped by.
Good SOC writing. Caught the 80s just right. God, Donna Summer!
Sheer perfection, Ms. Suede! I wish I had been there.

Made me miss a lot of folks who aren't alive tonight, too.
Reading this, I'm struck at the contrast between the freedom and diversity people enjoyed in those days compared to the restraint of today. Was it all because of AIDS? I don't know. It just seems like those days were much more carefree. Are we, as a nation, too conservative now? I look forward to enjoying diversity again. Thanks for a great post, Suede.
Connie Mack - Thanks for visiting. The latest New Year's Eve was still enjoyable with family and friends though drastically low-key.

GregorMendel - Indeed, those were the days. Rewinding brought back some great memories embedded beneath the flood of today's reality. Thanks for reading, rating and commenting. I hope we connect soon.

Lisa - A segment of Black America once perceived AIDS as a "white gay male" disease; however, the support tides turned when it hit home. This launched a cooperative effort of blacks and whites to put the killer virus at the forefront of social consciousness.
To date, AIDS' prevalence due to the sexual or drug use recklessness or lack of access to health education continues to ravage the black community.

Also, if I recall correctly, AIDS initially puzzled medical experts though many gay men were mysteriously dropping like flies. The wave of death , of course, scared the wits out of most who were at greatest risk for infection. Back then, sex and drugs in the gay community was like bread and butter - you could hardly have one without the other. Since little comfort was found in the medically unknown, there was greater comfort in banding together, regardless of race.

The cohesiveness has since been broken, I think, by a crop of other escalating issues that sometimes politically conflict like Prop 8.
Thank you so much for a vibrant depiction of 80s exuberance and anxiety. Your post focusses more on the exuberance--the realization of people under pressure living life to the fullest. It's weird how I remember these times being full of anxiety about how we were going to survive and yet I remember moments of looking out on my crowd and being grateful and proud that I was part of something so alive.