Sunday, December 30, 2007

Guest: Ann Hagman Cardinal. The New Year’s Lamppost.

Tildes to everyone, one and all. When you wish someone happy new year in Spanish you gotta have that tilde, que no? Que si! Feliz ano nuevo, if you've had plastic surgery. Otherwise, it's feliz Año Nuevo! (Windows: numlock on. Hold down the ALT key and type 0241. Mac: Hold down your Option key, press letter n, then letter n again.) La Bloga welcomes our friend Ann Hagman Cardinal to her third guest column. Looking forward to much more from Ann in dos cientos ocho. A ver.

The New Year’s Lamppost

I’ll never forget my mother’s response when I told her my friends and I wanted to go to Times Square for the big New Year’s Eve celebration: “Okay, my mother told me not to go, and I went anyway, now I’m going to tell you not to go but you’re going to go anyway. Just take this small bit of advice from your mother: grab a lamppost.”

“Uh…okay, Mom.”

I admit I was baffled by this conversation but was so pleased that she was going to let me go, I didn’t question it.

There were six of us in our group, all around sixteen years old, and as we rode uptown on the subway we were excitedly chattering like monkeys. We had spent the last few New Year’s Eves watching the festivities on the television screen and it seemed like such an incredible party the fourteen-inch screen could barely contain it. It was hard to believe we were finally going to be in the middle of it. After emerging from the Times Square station, we edged our way through the crowd on Broadway, situating ourselves less than a block from the glowing ball that was suspended high above the teeming streets. The air seemed electrically charged with the excitement, the scent of steamed hot dogs, firecrackers, sweat and alcohol hung about the crowd in a haze. We felt as if this was a right of passage; we had finally graduated from the kids’ table and were celebrating with the adults.

Almost as soon as we chose our spot, the shoving began. There was a gang of young men, half of whom were starting fights to distract the onlookers while the others snatched purses and wallets. Our lower stature allowed us to discern what was going on earlier than most, and we quickly put our valuables inside our jackets and kept our eyes open. Suddenly I found myself picked up off the street, the crowd lifting me and dragging me along. I saw the heads of my friends as they too got carried off in different directions and my throat tightened with panic. It was like drowning in a sea of people and I knew I could so easily fall beneath the wave and get crushed. Just as my asthmatic lungs began to wheeze in my panic, I was carried by a lamppost. I reached out and grabbed it with both arms, stepping up on the base and lifting myself above the crowd. I was in control again and could see what was going on around me. I noticed an ebb in the flow of people in a certain direction and made a dash through and out of the crowd. Each of my friends eventually made it out too, and as we stood there, our hands on our knees trying to catch our breath, tears pouring down our cheeks, we looked up and saw that the ball had already dropped, the din of the crowd deafening our words of consolation.

We had missed it all.

Suddenly the festivities took on an ominous air, every face that went by seemed menacing, every shout a threat. We went straight home, accompanying each other on the train (there are no cabs to be had in NYC on New Year’s Eve) and that night as I lay in bed, I pledged to celebrate future New Year’s in a more tranquil fashion.

I have since heard talked to people who had wonderful experiences in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. It is certainly true that it was a different place then—now it seems to be like a concrete-floored yuppie mall—but it is not an event I care to experience again in this lifetime. This may seem a somewhat dark column for such a festive time of year, but what I really want to share with you is the gift that the experience gave me, what I learned. I have thought a lot about my mother’s advice since that last night of 1979, and find myself seeking that lamppost whenever I feel unwillingly carried along and out of control. There are certainly times when being lifted off the ground and surrendering are good choices and in fact encourage our growth, but many times they are unwelcome guests. My lampposts have come in different forms throughout my adult life—my family, friends, writing,—and I am grateful for the support they offer each and every time. It is my hope for the coming year, La Bloga readers, that you find your own lampposts when they are needed, and with them you are able to get a better vantage point, see your options, and choose the ones best for you. But if you are entertaining any thoughts of going to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, please email me first.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ann, I Emailed you but got this auto-response:
"I'm away in NYC til 1/4/08."

Don't tell me you ...


Seriously, I enjoyed your post: insightfull! And welcome to La Bloga.