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: