This year my wife and I went to Bob Evans restaurant to ring in the new year, or to come as close to ringing it in as we care to get. We chose Bob Evans not only because it serves our favorite kind of down-home comfort food with breakfast at any hour, but has no alcohol, an elderly, quiet clientele, no TVs mounted on the walls, and no celebratory atmosphere at all. It doesn’t stay open late, requires no reservation, and is hardly ever crowded. At five p.m. on New Year’s Eve the place was almost deserted. We found a parking spot right by the front door and followed a young man and his wheelchair-bound father right on in to the sober greeter.
We once stayed out past ten on New Year’s Eve and tasted alcohol too. The experience threw off our sleep cycles and circadian rhythms to the equivalent of twelve hours of jet lag. My wife, who suffers from moist palms and anxiety, swears it also gave her a calcium deficiency, and I’ll never forget the ringing in my ears that lasted until mid-February from that drum kit across the floor. Add to that being jostled by perspiring, red-faced celebrants, and we vowed never to repeat the experience, and never have. We haven’t even felt the temptation. We’re not kids anymore after all, with both of us pushing 38. Some things are better left to the hardened, besotted, carefree young.
With seven hours to go before the big calendar change and that gaudy ball dropped off the tower in that frozen, overcrowded city synonymous with filth and high blood pressure, my excitement started to build; that of my wife too, I assume. I decided to start off with a piece of pumpkin bread from the famous Bob Evans bakery, while my wife, scarcely able to restrain her enthusiasm, went with banana bread. Both are delicious, and our waitress, whom we have known for months and is a business student at a nearby college, smiled in understanding.
She was cheerful despite having to work the holiday. But then, she’d be out the door by closing time at nine, when the night was still young, and who knew what shenanigans this twenty-something had in mind? We didn’t ask, and she didn’t tell, likely because she thought we would disapprove. For her discretion alone I knew I’d be leaving a sizable tip, somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of our unusual $20 tab. But then, if we shared a piece of cheesecake at the end, in honor of the special night, the gratuity might set me back as much as $3.75, a daunting thought. I hoped my wife had brought along a discount coupon, but at her age she’s forgetful about such niceties. If you’re thinking dementia, so am I.
I sat trying to decide between an evening breakfast of a small egg-white omelet with a tiny bowl of fruit and the gargantuan roast turkey dinner with six sides, a sumptuous meal I hadn’t ingested since Christmas a week ago, and my wife faced her usual dilemma of how many pancakes she felt up to. We both looked up as a pair of immortals took a booth near ours. My wife and I smiled at each other, since this duo certainly didn’t look liable to put the kibosh on our evening with any untoward jubilant behavior or celebratory noisemaking, unless gramps had some noisemakers in his pockets or granny began belting out “Auld Lang Syne.”
In fact, they ignored us completely and looked about ready to fall asleep before they ordered. The first thing gramps did, after the waitress arrived, was spill ice water all down his Rick Santorum vest. I listened in amusement as he finally ordered the pot roast, and she a Cobb salad, both with hot tea. I was amused because my wife and I had ordered the identical meals for ourselves not two weeks ago, almost identical, except I got steamed broccoli and this old bird wanted green beans. Wasn’t that amusing? I thought so, and it seemed to be getting the new year off to a good start, though technically the new year didn’t start for another, what was it now, still more than six hours. I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep through them, burping turkey.
All was thrown into jeopardy, however, when a family of five came in, including three children. I saw the tension in my wife right away, her fixed stare and then the involuntary tightening of her pale, thin but very damp hands around her utensils. I myself was not immune, and feared some childish disturbance from the three-year-old or infantile outburst from the baby that would turn the peaceful eatery into Times Square. My wife and I had not been blessed with children, and had never desired any. We had her cat when we were first married, but by agreement had it put down because it mewed, sometimes at night. What a pest that creature had been. It had also required food and grooming, can you believe.
Twenty minutes later my wife and I were beaming and content. Our meal hadn’t been disturbed, and the children of that other couple had been of the seen but not heard variety, increasingly a rarity in today’s society where a single howling brat often disrupts the serenity of an entire Walmart store. Nor, at this early hour, had there appeared a single patron in a party hat or trumpeting on a paper horn. I decided on a full 15 percent tip, and I drove us home sated with gravy and maple syrup.
All was well until we reached our neighborhood. Cars now lined the street near those homes that were party zones, making navigation difficult. Once at this time of year, when we were new to the neighborhood, my wife and I unwisely accepted an invitation from the people next door. We had already become bitter enemies back on Arbor Day, when their child planted a tree near the fence that separates our properties. It was the merest sapling, yes, but a ticking time bomb that after twenty or thirty years would grow to hang over our property and one day probably fall, killing us. We weren’t about to forget this pending threat to our safety over some silly holiday, and after graciously eating one or two of their slimy and rancid hors d’oeuvres, we departed very early, even for us, and were in bed by eight.
My wife couldn’t help throwing a glance at their place as we mounted our front steps, and I felt her body grow tense and clammy from her hands to, well, everything. I knew what she was thinking. It wasn’t the tree, which may have died in a stunted state during the last frost, but she knew that at midnight they’d be setting off fireworks and ruining our sleep, as they did last year. Right on the stroke of midnight had come this noise, not terribly explosive but like a bag of popcorn in a microwave in a distant room down a long hall, that woke us up and left us trembling with rage in bed.
She had denied my request for intimacy then, and continued to do so for the entire year. This year, I saw, would be just as chilly. All because of that popping sound. Darn noisy neighbors.
But there’s one thing my wife and I agree on any time of year: that fresh bakery bread at Bob Evans is delicious.