Monday, January 4, 2010

A New Year's Eve Tale: Up On The Roof

A New Year's Eve story... And you know what? It's my feeling that this doesn't need pictures. Just imagine... darkness!

I’ve yet to understand if I am supposed to attach some divine meaning... whether it’s a sign for the year ahead—or worse—the coming decade.

I just know I had no intention of spending the dawn of the new year locked outside on a rooftop on New York’s Upper West Side. Granted, it could have been much worse. First, it wasn’t particularly cold. It wasn’t raining. And most important, I wasn’t alone.

See, here’s how it all went down. Ayhan, Tinatin and I joined longtime, beloved friend Francie and hubby Nick at his aunt’s apartment on West End and 94th/NYC for this New Year’s Eve. We’re having a grand time by 10 p.m. We share some cocktails. It’s Francie’s birthday, too, so there is even higher cause for celebration.

Aunt Nancy serves delectable homemade chili. ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” quietly drones in the background, with robotic Ryan Seabreast reading his cues, as Jennifer Lopez, nearly naked in a spotted cat-suit, lip-syncs and fosters a fascinating group exchange: “She’s recording again? I like chocolate ice cream more than strawberry.” Francie and Nick’s two kids were even down for the night… It was cordial and engaging, conversation flowing… a gratifying, family feel for one of the first New York New Year’s Eves I’ve spent outside of a bar or at a raucous party. And I was perfectly content.

Around 11:40 p.m., Francie, Nick and I skipped up one flight of stairs to the rooftop. Eighth-floor, overlooking the glory of Manhattan on a damp, if not actively rainy evening. We chatted, enjoyed a smoke and turned around, with plenty of time to celebrate the New Year with our loved ones downstairs.

Nick turned to the steel door and grabbed hold of the latch. “Wait, is it locked?” Being that the door didn’t open, it was one of those moments where stating the obvious out loud made it sound a bit ugly. Ha, but that, of course, wasn’t going to stop us from getting in. The credit card trick! Nick gently swiped to release the lock. Francie and I giggled at our folly.

Hmm, the door didn’t give. It’s 11:50. “Oh, surely, they’re going to realize what’s going on downstairs, and they’ll be here any minute.” We chuckled… Just in case, I walked around the rooftop, checking the other doors… something about the elevator shaft, it said. Locked tight. Another that must lead us out… locked. 11:55 p.m.

“Shit, what if we…?” I’m not sure anyone said it out loud, but I pronounced, “Well, we’re not going to die up here or anything. Last year it was 7 degrees. The worst that could happen is…” Suddenly, we heard a collective cheer around us. Clanging. Horns honking. I glanced at my watch. “Happy New Year, guys! I love you.” We hugged, we laughed—actually, with a good deal of joviality—and realized that our friends down below didn’t give a flying fuck whether we lived or died. We had been deserted.

This was beginning to feel a tad ridiculous, so Francie, Nick and I walked to the edge of the rooftop to ask any passerbys to please call our “friends” and let them know that we were… trapped. It’s midnight, New Year’s. Want to guess how many people were actually on the street? We found three. We called down: “Hey, hey! Do you have a cell phone? We’re locked on the roof. Can you please make a call for us?” The party-goers below looked up… and waved. They waved. And kept walking. The streets otherwise: barren.

In the building across the street, at West End and 93rd, Francie noticed a man in his bedroom, watching TV. “Do you think we can get his attention?” She waved her arms. She may as well have been doing a Russian clog dance for a collective of Japanese tourists. It became apparent : This dude, who appeared to weigh in around 400 pounds, probably hadn’t left his bed in five years. The idea that he might dash to the window and come to our rescue faded as quickly as the nausea began to rise in our throats, as we theorized his likely years-long inactivity. Ew.

12:10 a.m. Okay, obviously our friends have forgotten that we exist. What to do? Again, I walked the expanse of the rooftop. On the outside of the building, there was a fire escape—which began at the seventh floor, one level below us. And honestly, even if there had been a way to climb down the outside of the building from roof level, well, I expect we’d still be there now, three days later. Heights +open spaces = certain death.

But there happened to be a fire escape on the interior side of the building, between the two taller columns of the structure. Get it? I am not a fan of heights. The Grand Canyon remains the most terrifying experience of my life, and looking down… down… down… you may as well have asked me to descend the ladder to hell. But gee, by golly, gosh, I took a look at poor Francie and Nick, and realized that someone here had to come to the rescue. (Okay, or maybe I just really needed a drink.)

“There’s a fire escape on the interior,” I offered. “Maybe if I head down floor by floor, I’ll see someone in a window who will call Ayhan or Tinatin or Nancy.” The notion of walking all the way from the eighth-floor roof to ground level… I refused to fathom. One step at a time, right? It snowed earlier that day, rained that evening and the iron stairs were potentially slick. My fashion-conscious New Year’s Eve shoes were not prepared for a superpower endeavor… so I crept down ever so slowly. Francie continually assured me each step of the way. “I’m here,” I would call with each landing. “Honey, are you okay? You okay?” she would call out. I could see her peering over the edge, offering persistent encouragement.

Downward to each floor, as I glanced into each window, and to my horror, it became obvious that each landing faced a bedroom. I imagined tapping ever so lightly, while tenants enjoyed a solitary New Year’s Eve, or worse, were celebrating in more amorous fashion. Neither option seemed particularly constructive to our cause. Fortunately(?), I didn’t see a soul…

12:15 a.m. Finally, I reached the bottom of the fire escape. My thighs ached from each cautious step. At one point, I jammed my shoe into a step and slightly sliced into my foot. But we were redeemed. Soon, we would rejoin our loved ones. Ha! We would all laugh out loud about our cute calamity. Hee! We would celebrate with champagne, after the fact, and wonder aloud if it was supposed to mean anything. Whee! I would write a blog entry about it, to share with the world. La, la!

Wait a minute. Where the fuck is the street? This is nothing but roof, in fact, MORE roof. I called up to Francie: “I made it. But where is the street? Where am I?” Nick voiced, “Oh, you’re on the second floor. You’re above the parking deck. You have to go down another level.”

Well, great. Just goddamn great. All I’m thinking is, I am not climbing back up those narrow slick fire escape stairs to that roof. No way. Not gonna happen. So the only way is down. I looked toward 95th Street and see what appears to be a downward stairwell. Steel door. Two bolt locks. The top is already disengaged. Sweet. I work with bare hands to twist the bottom lock open and find freedom. Nothing doing. It simply won’t give… Perhaps… yes! Sure enough, there is a parallel door on the opposite side, facing 94th. This time, both bolt locks were intact, but with a modicum of jiggering, the top clicked up and moved to the left. And then the bottom: Click, left.

As I pushed the steel door open, there was but a single staircase between myself and the sidewalk. Freedom, as if we’d escaped a POW camp. I strutted down, turned left toward West End, another left into the building, where the doorman cheerfully greeted, “How ya doin’?” I responded, “Just great.” I think I really meant it. Then entered the elevator and ascended to “7.”

Along the way to rescuing Nick and Francie from certain death—I felt a bit like a superhero at this point—on the way up one flight to the roof, I threw open the door of the apartment where we’d been celebrating New Year’s Eve 45 minutes earlier and barked, “Thanks a lot for coming to rescue us from the roof,” let the door slam, then climbed the stairs to redeem my friends from their, uh, heavenly purgatory.

Once we all returned to the apartment—get this—it turns out that Ayhan and Tinatin were PISSED OFF at us. As we triumphantly returned from our horrifying nightmare, possibly trapped forever on a wintry rooftop, we were greeted with disdain! Yes, I used an exclamation point! Two, now. For some curious reason, they resolved that we three decided it would be more fun to welcome the new year, the new decade, the rest of our lives and all, without them. Huh? Honestly, it never occurred to them that this wasn’t a choice?

Okay, so as the story then unfolded, including the peril of our daring fire escape-escape; the fact that obviously, none of us carried cell phones to the roof for a five-minute smoke, and the despair of nobody on the street acknowledging our quandary, and ultimately—I still kind of wonder why, but following our apologies—kisses were exchanged, champagne was poured… oh so what, a little late… and we proceeded into 2010 (or as I prefer… twenty-ten… cause that sounds macho) with dear friends and much love.

So what that I climbed down eight stories—oh, and my thighs still ache, but no, don’t pity me (you know, some is fine, but a lot would just embarrass me)—but as I’ve mandated for a good 20 years: Anything that turns into a decent anecdote was likely worth living. Indeed. And so there so have it.

My new year launched with a grand spirit of adventure. Unpredictability. The slightest hint of danger. A good hearty laugh. And best of all, one hell of a story. I say, I’m off to an ideal launch.