January 01, 2006

New Year's Eve: Afternoon through Midnight

It’s been beautiful here in Austin for at least a week straight: brilliant blue skies, temperature in the 70s. On the Hike and Bike Trail, which follows the Colorado River on both sides for several miles, bikes are weaving around us; a sweaty dad is jogging while pushing a twin stroller up a hill; our kids are dashing hither and yon discovering forts and shooting at us with sticks from behind trees. On East First Street, which is also called Cesar Chavez, a crew of roadies is setting up a concert for the evening, the city’s first annual First Night event. On the blocked-off bridged across the river, a line of kids and adults are sitting in the middle lane drawing pictures with sidewalk chalk: the ribbon of one-foot-square picture boxes grows longer and may eventually cross the whole bridge. Our sons, Agents 95 and 97, refuse at first to participate, claiming that they dislike sidewalk chalk, but on being told that it’s not chalk, it’s pastel, 95 gives in. 97, looking critically over his brother’s should, still demurs.

As usual, the kids have become thirsty within minutes. We go into city hall and point out the water fountain in the lobby.

Agent 95: “I want something to drink that’s more explicit than water.”

He also thought of a new euphemism for the present participle of the f-word, to go along with “flipping’” and “bleepin’”: “matin’,” as in, “Eat your matin’ peas.” Which, as Agent 97 pointed out, implies that your peas are doing it on the plate.

Tomorrow’s slang today: read it here on the RLC blog!

After the water, we get pizza and soda from the line of booths that’s been set up on the sidewalk, then stand gawking upwards at the side wall of the 12-storey Radisson Hotel, where people are ascending on a pair of rope ladders while, nearby, other people are rappelling down. It’s apparently some sort of civic activity: they’re harnessed for safety, and on the roof a cluster of people looks down encouragingly. A long, lean, gray-haired man in a business suit rappels down skillfully. Then descends a man who stalls a bit starting out and turns upside down, then rights himself and goes the rest of the way in one long quick drop. Of the two women going up the rope ladder, one progresses smoothly while the other, straining with a lot of leg motion, is hardly climbing at all. Finally when she’s about halfway up she lets go, pushing outward from the wall, arches her back and stretches her arms like a trapeze artist, and turns upside down gloriously as she’s pulled upward.

It looks like fun – for someone else. We walk behind the Four Seasons, where guests are lounging at the outdoor swimming pool. That’s more my idea of fun. As we walk back to the car, the kids, fueled by Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola (a rare occasion when they’re allowed caffeinated drinks – I hasten to add for critics of my parenting – a decision made for tactical reasons and because it was only 2 pm), are talking rapid-fire about how they’re going to become rich by patenting inventions when they grow up, and how they resolve (their words – “resolve” and “patenting”) that what they’re going to patent is ways to repair the ozone layer and replenish the atmosphere, thus to achieve immense wealth and save humankind in one heroic stroke.

“Will you buy me dinner sometimes?” I ask.

Agent 95 looks at me appraisingly. “It depends.”

Which reminds me, they declared recently that they’ve experienced enough slavery in their lifetime: it’s time I became their slave. This morning Agent 95 asked me for a glass of milk; when I pointed out that he could get it perfectly well for himself and was as close to the fridge as I was, he promptly smacked me atop the head and said, “Bad Dad! No biscuit!”

Could this have anything to do with the fact that we bought them the three-volume Complete Calvin and Hobbes for Christmas? They’ve been reading it religiously ever since.

A high-creativity day for Agent 95: in addition to contributions to the lexicon of his mother tongue, he thought of two ideas for science fiction series and began working on a magazine he conceived.

New Year’s Eve? Anticlimactic. We had leftovers for dinner (coq au vin and spaghetti and meatballs, both cooked by me), rented the delightful movie Charade, played Scrabble, ate chocolate, and drank champagne (Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Blancs Brut: fresh, pale, citrusy, strongly effervescent, with a long, complex finish). A fraction of a glass for Agent 95; Agent 97, who’s feeling feverish, drinks water, then lies on the floor with a pillow and a blanket and falls asleep next to a stuffed leopard. At this very moment – simulblogging! – we grownups are bravely trying to get through the bottle of champagne, while Agent 95 is asking us if we’re buzzed, and reading Ask magazine for ages 7-10. We briefly recalled the events of the year – mostly good for our family, except for the death of my mother – and for the world, troubled and inconclusive, auguring things yet unknown.

2006! It just keeps going, doesn’t it? I remember when 2000 seemed impossibly far in the future. Not just as a child, but as a young man, I read science fiction novels of nuclear war set in the 1980s or 1990s. I remember when 1984 finally came around, the totalitarian prophecy put to rest. I remember a novel of a future election entitled “1968.” I remember reading about how the 100th anniversary of the Civil War had arrived, in a year whose numerals were the same read upside down and right side up. I remember Hawaii and Alaska becoming states, and the Giants and Dodgers leaving New York City, and the first nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus, sailing under the Arctic in photos in Life magazine. How long will I be able to remember?

My wife asked Agent 95, for some reason, what part of the world he would most like to see, and he said the Australian outback. G’night!

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