My blasé attitude toward New Year’s Eve was challenged while standing in the dairy aisle of the grocery store.
Before that moment, I have never been one to indulge in the holiday branded with sequin dresses, champagne flutes and a drunken chorus counting down to another year of obligations. The occasion never quite seemed to fulfill “An Affair to Remember’s” promise of finding romance atop the Empire State Building.
Yet, the disillusionment accompanied with New Year’s Eve unexpectedly returned to my mind last December. As my mother’s daughter, I was raised to always check the item’s expiration date while grocery shopping. In accordance with her principle, I stretched my arm into the cooler scanning for the freshest gallon of milk, only to realize the entire shelf was stamped with the imminence of 2019.
All of the 2018 milk was gone. The dairy aisle had already moved on to the promise of a new year. There would never be another gallon of milk on the shelf expiring in 2018. I felt a fizzy sentimentality bubbling inside of me. Perhaps this was the feeling people seek to experience when the clock strikes midnight.
Standing before the milk and all of its oat, soy, almond and skim siblings, I decided I was going to wholeheartedly embrace New Year’s Eve this year. My family was headed to the beach to escape overcast Midwest skies and the hazy disorientation that accompanies the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
A perfect opportunity to give New Year’s Eve a second chance.
The night arrived and I donned my gauzy linen pants with an airy top. My mom told me I looked like Annie Hall if she was going to the beach. Diane Keaton is a legend, so I took her words as a compliment.
Despite the fact we had been on vacation for nearly a week, my Irish complexion was barely sun kissed — I preferred to camp out under the beach umbrella. The thought of being kissed at midnight briefly wandered across my mind, before I realized my expectations were a construct of watching far too many romantic comedies.
The spontaneity of my New Year’s Eve rested upon the resort’s banquet seating chart. As someone who has only ever attended one wedding and drools over Anna Wintour’s Met Gala seating chart, I was thrilled by the prospect of indulging in conversation with total strangers. Maybe I would meet my own Cary Grant.
I found my seat and eagerly waited for my dashing “An Affair to Remember” moment. The hostesses swam through the tables guiding families to their seats. My eagerness resembled the novelty of watching passengers file onboard an airplane as you cross your fingers for an amiable person to fill the empty window seat next to you.
A family moved through the crowd and paused at our table. I looked up, ready to lock eyes with the person who would prove to me the glamour of New Year’s Eve is not reserved for Deborah Kerr. Yet, my leading man was not a handsome Brit. As fate would reveal, I was seated across from a 12-year-old boy.
His name was Daniel. Last name unknown. We were both seated at the end of the table, awkwardly too far away to be included in the “adult” conversation that our parents were already engaging in. I found myself staring at the buffet fixings on my plate. Lobster Imperial. Sushi. Lasagna. Hummus. It looked like Epcot had spewed all over my plate.
I should add this experience was made even more bizarre by the theme of the banquet: medieval renaissance. Waiters donned knight costumes and the call of bugle horns bellowed throughout the hall.
So there we sat, Daniel nibbling on his kosher chips and salsa with the muted dialogue of his mother explaining the stress of bar mitzvah season on the Upper West Side floating in the background.
I figured I would introduce myself since our eight-year age difference seemingly burdened me with the responsibility to lead the conversation. I would characterize the discourse that ensued as more of an interview. I would ask questions and he would respond.
I asked him what he did for fun and soon learned he enjoyed playing chess. I harkened back to my limited exposure to the game as an elementary school student during recess — Daniel was quick to correct me that he is a competitive chess player.
The rest of dinner conversation was checkered with Daniel explaining the lifestyle of a burgeoning chess champion. He outlined his rigorous practice schedule with both a private chess coach and online portal only accessible to ranked players. He described his plans to travel to Norway to compete against chess grandmasters in a tournament. I learned about the governing bodies of the chess world — both domestically and internationally. He revealed tournament scandals, like the time a player flipped the entire chess board over in frustration mid-game. He noted the disputed rules of chess and how computers have made gameplay more vulnerable to cheating. And thanks to our conversation, I now know the best chess players are from Turkey and Scandinavia, but the United States holds its own alright.
This conversation lasted until Daniel cleared his plate and left to go play pool. I say this nonchalantly, because by the end of our conversation on strategy games, I would not have expected anything less from the boy I had just met.
I soon excused myself, too, bid farewell to my parents and schlepped off to my hotel room well before midnight.
There I found myself lying on the bed watching Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen head into the fourth hour of their New Year’s Eve broadcast. As “Auld Lang Syne” began to hum from the televised streets of Times Square to my hotel room, I realized while I would likely never see Daniel again, he was certainly an acquaintance I would not forget. Maybe New Year’s Eve isn’t about finding love. Maybe instead it is a night that glimmers with the hope of witnessing something unforgettable.