A fight broke out seven hours into the new year.
“You’re my fucking brother,” shouted a man on Houston Street. “I’ve known you for, oh, how many fucking years, and you know, on our mother, I would never hit somebody.”
The stomping and tears echoed four floors below our apartment. From out our window, where we were smoking, the two men ended a long night—stretched into daylight—with an argument kicked up along the shuttered storefronts of the Lower East Side.
The sun was trickling in over the fire escapes that drip down buildings to the East River and they went on, bellowing.
“I can’t believe you,” another man responded.
The Observer, safe in our bedroom, listened while nursing a leftover can of beer.
“Well fuck you!” the first man yelled back.
Sirens bounced around the numbered blocks to the north. A few cars drove by, mostly cabs scrounging for the last bits of the New Year’s Eve revelers.
The window’s vantage was such that we could see the belligerent pair, but they could not see us. We could listen to a snippet of their night, but they could not hear our story.
New Year’s Eve in New York City smashes together its denizens, first in restaurants then bars then after parties then late-night pizza places. But we’re all strangers, alone together. Each new calendar starts with a story, its disconnected characters ignorant of the intersecting plots.
The Observer woke late on the last day of 2011 to a pile of detritus beside our bed, coughed-up air of stale beer tickling the room’s corners, a light whiff of spent sweat and mixed perfumes—we had thrown a big party the night before New Year’s Eve (in retrospect, perhaps a misstep). The mess evaporated along with the day’s remaining afternoon hours and after a wine-soaked dinner out-of-town friends swung by the place for a cocktail.
Out the window, the Empire State Building glowed red and green, a yuletide holdover.
“We have so much booze,” a friend texted. That was all we needed to hear, and a cab ferried us through the waves of pedestrians—tiny armies of heels—to Union Square. A few had come up to the fifth-floor loft, where a projector displayed ambient whirligigs on a white wall, screen savers set against the desktop of the party. It switched to Times Square when the ball dropped.
With each bottle of champagne came new arrivals to the party, which at its peak boasted a mix of actresses, DJs, public relations reps, artists, writers, promoters and even a professional magician. 4:00 AM occurred, and we moved on.
There was a party downtown, on Walker Street near Broadway. With a last gulp of communion we stepped outside to see the activity in the Union Square Park, a loud gathering that spilled into the streets.
“Who lives here again?” we asked as a door opened to the Soho loft. Francesco Civetta, the DJ formerly known as Izzy Gold, manned a laptop surrounded by giant canvases, some hanging framed on the walls, others stacked in batches of three. It was quite a place to dance in. Religious trinkets from the far east were scattered on shelves, a long picnic table made for an ideal smoking spot and a series of halls led the adventurous ones to plush bedrooms.
The paintings, their black outlines, their profanity, their cave-art carnality—we recognized this artist.
“I think this is Harif Guzman,” we said to our date, as we peered over at the skeletons repeated from canvas to canvas. His work once covered the now-gone Don Hill’s. Then, we saw Mr. Guzman make his way through the crowd. It was, in fact, his place.
But the party ran out of beer, and we left to an apartment in Little Italy. When we entered, someone was already passed out on the couch.
“Did someone leave the gas on in here?” a friend asked after we climbed the six floors.
We checked the stove and found the errant knob.“Maybe I was trying to kill myself,” the couch-dweller said. That was our cue to leave.
And so we found ourselves back at home treating ourselves to a solo nightcap as the argument between brothers raged below. The night was over; the day had begun.
Just before we began our first sleep of a new year we caught the last snippet of the story unfurling below, leaving the rest of the plot out of earshot.
“I know you want to be the prince of the whole fucking world, but you can’t be prince of the whole fucking world,” the first man said to his New Year’s Eve cohort, and to the rest of New York City. “All I’m saying is, don’t choke.”
Happy New Year. Don’t choke.