Keith Eubanks II

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Auld Lang Syne

In Dreams on January 2, 2011 at 4:37 am

I’m not superstitious. I understand the impulse, but I consciously resist it. I once heard superstition called “the religion of the ignorant” and I immediately accepted the statement as an axiom. But there is a compulsion towards ritual – even among those that do not believe.  I think this is why people look to the new year with the best of hopes and intentions – and great care. Three hundred and sixty-five days can be a very long time. Best to start it right.

So the parties are well planned.

For many years the party was my business and I had a unique view from behind the three feet of mahogany that kept me professionally distanced from the happy chaos beyond. My friends and fellow bartenders, Bill Hill, Steve Nicoli, Roland Lopez and Jimmy Costa would mix drinks as fast as we could make them, sneaking a few for ourselves as the night wore on. The room was crowded, the men and women beautiful in their finery and drunk and happy. As the last few seconds of the year slipped by I always felt profoundly the passing of time. Across the bar, frenetic energy and noise as the horns were blown and the voices cheered the coming of another year. Another start, another chance at a dream, a life, a love – another beginning- kisses and hugs and the best of hopes and intentions.

And as those last few moments slip past, no one shouts their orders across the bar. The bartenders and waitresses are forgotten in the din of celebration and  revelry. Roland or Steve pours a round for the bar staff, and we drink to each other and a job well done. For us there is a moment of calm, and we see clearly the one year end, and the other begin. The balloons fall from the ceiling, the confetti and streamers fill the air, and I  look across the dance floor at the happy chaos, breathing in the first few moments of the new year. The nostalgia heavy upon me.

It is like standing in the middle of a snow globe, as the balloons drop and the confetti flies, and the thunderous sound shakes the air.  But as the last seconds pass into midnight, I always feel very much alone. And then the music begins. “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?” The words “auld lang syne” mean “old long since” in the Scottish dialect and refer to the passage of time – or time long since past.

The song asks us to remember as we stand in a moment of time swirling in memories.

Last night I celebrated the new year with Steve Nicoli at one of my favorite restaurants, The Sardine Factory, in Monterey, California. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the new year. It was the first time Steve and I had spent the new year’s celebration together – on the other side of the bar. I enjoyed sitting across the table from Steve remembering old times and absent friends. I ordered a bottle of fine wine and we dined on filet mignon and oysters on the half shell. Steve was in my wedding – and he is one of my dearest friends. One of the few people that knows me well, and his wit and humor and honest conversation has not diminished over the years.

As we ate and drank and talked into the night, we very nearly missed the countdown to the new year. With five minutes to spare, we abandoned our table and moved into the bar which was in a familiar state of anticipation -if not hysteria. The room was more elegant, formal, and smaller than the nightclub we once commanded, but I felt the familiar, intense energy as we began to count down the last seconds of 2010.

And as the small crowd cheers and the balloons fall to the floor, I kiss my wife and feel strangely alone. Time is passing by and I can feel it moving around me. I am in a snow globe swirling with memories, hopes, and the best of intentions. The present merges with times long since past. The familiar song is played, and I think some people sing the words, but I am remembering.

I remember my Grandmother, Bea Eubanks, baking a pie in her kitchen – an apricot cobbler- and  we are sitting on the front lawn watching the sun set over Tranquillity, California. The sky is a fiery red. We are singing an old gospel hymn: “Sunlight, sunlight, in my soul today . . .” There are soft drinks in the back room and candy in the cupboard. Years later she is sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace at my Grandmother Sue’s house in Fremont. Her legs are curled underneath her and she is afraid. She looks vulnerable, distracted. The doctors have found a spot on her lung -she doesn’t smoke- and is having surgery at Stanford in a few days.

It is her last Christmas.

I remember my cousin, David Brown, straddling a teeter-totter across from me, a farmer’s cap on his head. A skinny boy in a tee shirt, his cheeks and ears red and burnt from the summer sun. He is smiling. We are boys, trying to set the world record for the longest time on a teeter-totter. And for a while, we believe we can do it, but before we can finish, crayfish are raining down from the sky. A cosmic event ending an epic dream.

When I think of balance, I think of David.

I remember my Grandmother Sue as she once sat at our kitchen table in Tranquillity, spearing the green beans off of my plate when my parents weren’t looking. And we are sitting in her home in Niles Canyon sipping coffee. I have moved to the Bay Area, in part I think, to be near her, and I feel like I have her all to myself for a while. She is wise, her home a sanctuary I come to as often as I can. She knows me, and loves me anyway. And then my head is in her lap as she sits years later, greatly diminished, her arm around my shoulders. I am crying – sobbing- and she is saying “One day you will get a call, and they will tell you I am gone. Just say ‘Hallelujah!” You know where I will be.”

And I am upstairs in my home in Arizona. I have forgotten for a moment that such a call could ever come, but  the phone rings.


And I am with Clifford Norton in a townhouse apartment in Fresno, California in the early 1980’s.

Apartment C.

And Danny Garcia and Jean Pierre Ardans and Butch Pritchett are there and we are laughing and young and immortal. We lived for a time in a mythology of our own making and we were strong together, sharing time. We pushed the limits – forgot there were such things- and Jean Pierre is gone. Time passes – so much time- and they are in my mind and heart as they once were, but Cliff is on the phone telling me he is in a wheelchair. “It’s terminal.” I don’t know what to say. But we are telling stories and laughing. His laugh is just as I remembered it.

I never really said goodbye, just a vague promise of a meeting sometime in the future. The things we tell ourselves . . . pleasant fictions.

And only days ago a text from Danny: “Cliff passed last night.” I read Cliff’s Facebook page. In his profile he writes: “After high school I spent some really good times as a member of Apt. C.”

You were Apartment C.

He told me once about a night, long after we had all moved away, when he had returned to our old apartment. It was empty, between tenants, and he had gone inside. “There are ghosts there,” he told me.

I’ve been there, too. And he is right.

And I am laughing with Misty Silva, caught somewhere between the moon and New York City.

And I am thinking of Nadia – who made me feel it. She is in a long black dress at the end of the bar pulling me toward her – whispering things in my ear.  We are in a park, and she is babysitting two young children who are playing nearby. She is dressed comfortably in an over-sized sweatshirt, her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. She isn’t wearing any make-up. She is so much like the version of herself I first met years before. She is a girl, and I comprehend and feel the vast distance of experience between us. And she is in my apartment and  I am telling her to go to him if you must and I feel like an adult saying it – perhaps for the first time in my life. I am determined to do this well.

But I don’t really want to.

And Brooke Eisan is cutting limes at the bar at Maestro’s. It is her first day of work and I ask her if she likes to read. I have offended her. She is applying to graduate school. I notice her legs as she takes the fresh cut limes to the other end of the bar. And she is gripping my hand, trembling as she says “I do” in a church in Danville, California.  I see her beautiful face through the veil and time is standing still, collecting itself, before the torrent of joys and despairs and compromises to come. And we are in the hospital and Brooke is reaching out as I place our daughter, Madeline, into her arms. There are tears in her eyes and she is exhausted.

And I am in the surf at Lover’s Point whispering a song. My daughter’s feet glistening in the clear, cold, briney water. And she is older now, and the best of us, and she is holding my hand and leans near to me and says, “I love you, Dad,'” her heart-shaped face looking intently into my own.

And Abby is winking at me – a new trick she has not quite mastered. She is dancing around the room like a sprite, her long blonde hair flying around her head, reflecting the light. And she is not of this world, but I knew her the moment she was born.

And Katie is walking through the house, laughing, two years old already. I ask her: “Are you a monkey?” and she smiles at me and says, earnestly, “No, I am the baby.”

And we are laughing, and time is moving so slowly, we hardly notice at all.

And I am kissing my wife as the balloons drop from the ceiling. The long since past is swirling gently around the room with the best of our hopes and intentions.

Should they ever be forgot . . .

It’s a good start.

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