I've never been a big fan of New Year's Eve for some reason. I always find it somewhat depressing, but I don't think any New Year's will ever be more depressing than 2000-01.
I was living in Zurich and pretty much depressed to begin with. My job was a real disappointment, my salary was well below the Swiss national poverty line and I was having a very hard time making friends, not least because I couldn't afford to do anything.
I was casually dating a local guy named Thom. Thom spoke absolutely no English, and my German was still pretty basic. I'm not sure we'd have had anything to talk about anyway.
Thom was about the biggest flake I've ever known. He was astonishingly insensitive, even more than your typical Schweizer. He really wasn't cruel, but he was just so clueless that he had no idea when he'd hurt my feelings -- which he did with regularity. The problem was I felt a near animal attraction to him. Everytime I saw him, I just wanted to rip his clothes off.
I was paid monthly in cash, and after I paid my phone bill, my rent and my monthly transit pass, I had about $13 a day I could spend on food and anything else I needed or wanted. Thom never quite understood the position I was in, and he certainly wasn't the type to offer to pay for dinner or buy me a drink. (Which in Switzerland is not at all unusual or rude.) Because of the holiday weekend, the cashier at the opera house was closed until January 3rd, so that month I had to stretch my money even more tightly. I couldn't use a credit card for anything because I had no way to pay the bill, since I couldn't afford to have a bank account.
So December 31st rolled around and I was down to my last few franks. I had called Thom several times to see what he was doing, but hadn't heard back from him. I decided just to save money and stay home, but then I said to myself, "Wait a minute, it's New Year's Eve, you're in Europe, screw this, screw Thom, go out and have a good time."
I got dressed and headed off to my favorite bar Cranberry, which incidentally is where I'd met Thom. Drinks of course were expensive and I didn't have money to spare, but I decided I had enough to budget for one glass of champagne at midnight. So I hung out at the bar, smiling like an idiot, not drinking, with no one to talk to. (The Swiss don't make polite conversation, and they don't really flirt. They figure if you were worth knowing, they'd know you already.)
We missed midnight. I don't know how it happened, but at one point someone said, "Hey, happy new year" and the bar sort of mumbled in celebration, and that was it. Here I'd been diligently practicing my "Feuf...Viär...Drüü...Zwei...Eis!", all for nothing. I slowly sipped my Veuve Clicquot and kicked myself mentally for having not stayed at home.
Around 12:30 I looked up and saw Thom coming toward me with a big smile on his face. "Hoi!" he called out. "I tried to call you!"
"When?" I said. "Around 11:30." Now, I didn't have a cellphone in Zurich -- that was WAY beyond my means. So I said, "You called me at 11:30 on New Year's Eve and thought I'd be home?" And he said, "Yeah." So I said, "Well, I'm done with my champagne, so I'm gonna head home now, nice to see you." And then he did what he always did: he made the most amazing puppy dog eyes and said, "Home? You can't go home, I just got here."
Of course it's TONS of fun to hang out at a bar when you can't afford to drink and no one is buying. Thom's friends always acted like I was invisible. They never acknowledged me, and Thom barely did either. But my self-esteem was in the toilet, so it was enough just to be around people who were having a conversation, even if I wasn't in it. That's how bad my life was there.
So a little after 1:00 Thom announces that they are going to this club up the hill to dance. "Hmm, sounds like fun," I said, "but I really can't afford it." Thom made the puppy-dog eyes. I sighed. "Well, how much is it?" "Fifteen franks," he said.
Okay. I had exactly 20 franks in my wallet -- around $13, and that had to last me three whole days. I had no reserves, no backup, no way to get any other money. That was all I had in the world. "I can't, I'm sorry," I said. "Please," whined Thom. Then leaning in close to me he said, "I promise you'll have a good time."
So then the little red devil on my shoulder said, "Oh for God's sake, Andy, just go live for once in your life, consequences be damned. Go have a good time, you can survive somehow on three dollars for three days. It's not like you're going to die." So I said okay.
Up the hill we went. There was a long line to get into the club, and it was raining, and I didn't have an umbrella. Thom's friends didn't share theirs. I stood at the back of the group behind Thom, and he ignored me as he always did. When we finally got to the head of the line after about ten minutes, there was a sign that read: "EINTRITT: CHF 35."
I tapped Thom on the shoulder. "I don't have that much money with me," I said, mortified.
"Oh, sorry. Okay, well, I'll call you." And then he turned and went into the club with his friends.
And then the people in line behind me laughed.
And then, because public transit had long stopped running for the evening, I walked two miles home in the rain and went to bed.