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Konichiwa*, 2002!

*That’s “hello” in Japanese, kids.

For your amusement, all my New Year’s doings from December 31, 1998 to last night, in reverse chronological order. (I’m working off a hangover by writing.)

December 31, 2001 – Toronto

This New Year’s Eve was different from the past few — for the first time since 1995, I stayed in town. It’s a little more low-key that the usual Joey production, but still a good time. I didn’t throw a party or attend some kind of over-the-top bash; I just dropped by some house parties, drank a lot of Freixenet, played the accordion (the usual repertoire, plus Auld Lang Syne at midnight), nearly passed out, somehow won a game of Uno even though I was only semi-conscious and then went home to eat some homemade beef stew that we’d put in the slow cooker and then passed out. As we used to say back at the pub where I worked in University, “if you’re not wasted, the night is.” I got to entertain a crowd, meet some new people, catch up with a friend or two I haven’t in a while, and got the drunkest I’d been in a dog’s age. Not as way-out-there as some other New Year’s bashes I’ve done, but I’m still smiling (if a little wobbly today).

December 31, 2000 – San Francisco

I was moving into the company’s corporate apartment in San Francisco, and my then-girlfriend E. came down to visit. We had a fun week exploring San Francisco and she also joined me on a trip to L.A. where I spoke at a DJ conference (my first-ever public speaking engagement of my professional career) and hit the Sunset strip.

December 31, 1999 – Prague

My friend Andre is a crack neurobiologist who works at the Neurophysiology Department of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. He threw a party called Millennipalooza (yes, the millennium didn’t happen until the crack of 2001, but the odometer rolls at 2000, doesn’t it?) where he invited about 60 of his close personal friends (and their dates/buddies/tag-alongers) to party like it’s 1999 in a mini-castle called Zamek Roztez, located about an hour outside Prague. I had a really, really great time and met someone cute as well (the pictures here will attest to that).

However, the really interesting story took place a couple of days into 2001. I was staying in a short-term-rental apartment near Prague’s Old Town and enjoying my vacation. Some very drunk Swedes kept me in beer and sausages (the only items on the menu) at one of the Czech beer halls one night, while at the bartender at the James Joyce stood with me on the bar and did a rousing version of the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles. At several pubs, the accordion once again proved its worth as a machine for turning music into free beer and strangers into drinking buddies at several fine local pubs.

The accordion also saved me from an attempted mugging.

Prior to the trip I’d done some research on Prague, reading a few books, checking out the travel guide Web sites. The discussion boards where travellers posted their stories were the most interesting, especially the “horror stories” about how they’d been robbed or swindled by the locals. I read one story about how this one guy was appraoched by a seemingly lost man while on Prague’s Left Bank. He asked for directions in Spanish-accented broken English, while fumbling with a large map of the city. While the man asked for directions held the map in front of the tourist’s face, his accomplice picked his pocket and then both crooks disappeared down an alleyway. I made a mental note to avoid this situation.

I was enjoying a pleasant walk on the Left Bank on an unusally quiet and empty street, my accordion slung on my back. I thought I heard someone shouting in English behind me, but I ignored it until it became louder.

“Please help,” the voice said in Spanish-accented English, “Need directions. Please.”

This can’t really be happening, can it? I thought to myself. I picked up the pace of my walk. I couldn’t run — my beloved pair of steel-toed boots were finally wearing down and running in them hurt my feet. I looked for a building full of people to duck into, but there were only houses to one side and a large open park on the other. The Lost Man ran and caught up with me.

“Please. Am lost. Need directions. Need to change money.”

“Talk to the hand,” I replied, holding out said hand. He might not recognize the TV talk-show idiom, but he’d know what the hand in this face meant.

He held out a wallet packed with what looked like a fat sheaf of Polish Zlotys. “Please, can you change money? I give good rate.”

And that’s when the plainclothes cops appeared. Where the hell did these two come from? I wondered. They wore black from head to toe — toque, bomber jackets, jeans, boots. If they’d been wearing black paintstick on their faces, they would’ve looked like those special forces guys you always see in action films, if somewhat scrawnier. One of them held a greasy plastic-looking badge that had a Czech word emblazoned on it. I assumed that word was Czech for “police”. One of them said something in Czech to the Lost Man, who simply held his hands up instead of running.

“He is counterfeit money changer,” one of the cops said to me. “You get money from him?”

“He sell me Zlotys!” said the Lost Man.

“You lie, zmrd” I said, calling him an asshole in Czech. (Like my buddy John, I make it a point to learn to swear in the local blabber.)

“Please to be inspecting your wallet and passport now,” said Cop Number Two.

Wallet inspectors? I thought, That’s a scam from The Simpsons!

While hanging out with my sister’s buddies from the U.N., I learned the drill for handling cops, real or otherwise (I couldn’t be sure whether these guys were crooked cops or simply pretending to be cops). “No,” I said. “You do not get to see my wallet. You do not get to see my passport. If you want to arrest me, I demand to be taken to the Canadian Embassy right now.”

“Please to be inspecting wallet!” yelled a huffy Cop Number Two. He gave me hard shove backwards.

I fell back hard against a stone wall and heard a crack behind me. The accordion, still slung on my back had taken a hard blow. Had it not been there, my head woould’ve made hard and fast contact with the wall. I wasn’t fully aware of this fact, just that an accordion I’d spent a couple of hundred dollars to get fixed had been damaged.

“Hey, asshole!” I yelled, forgetting to say it in Czech. “That cost me a lot of money to get fixed!”

To everyone’s surprise, mine especially, I kicked at Cop Number Two with a steel-toed right foot. I connected with his kneecap, and he dropped to the ground. The Lost Man, seeing this, fled. Cop Number One looked at me wide-eyed and -mouthed. I later learned that guys like this like to attack Japanese tourists because they’re so unused to muggings and the like that they tend to be complete pushovers in these situations. They probably assumed I was Japanese and weren’t expecting an “Ugly American” style of reaction. Hell, I wouldn’t have expected that of me.

There were still the two cops, and even the injured guy could’ve easily used me to wipe the walls. It was time to negotiate, Third World Style. Bribing the cops is an honoured tradition in the Philippines, and I guessed that it might work here in the Czech Republic as well.

“Okay,” I said, in my loudest busker voice, waving a 1000 Crown note. A mere $40 Canadian, but it would buy a lot of beer and sausages in Prague. “This is for you,” I said, planting the note very firmly in Cop Number One’s hand. “Now you go levo,” I said pointing to my left, “and I go pravo,” as I pointed to the right. “Okay?”

“Okay.” said Cop Number One with a single nod, as he picked up his fallen comrade, who was still kneeling on the ground, rubbing the knee I’d kicked.

I swaggered around the corner, trying to look tough. Once around the corner I ran (Mama didn’t raise no fools) despite the pain my boots were causing me. There was a Japanese tour group a half-block away and I joined them, wearing the accordion on my front so the “cops” couldn’t see me if they were following. Once free and clear, I went to the Terminal Bar, where I finally calmed down after three pints of pivo.

December 31, 1998 – Halifax

Wow. We’re in the pre-accordion era now.

I’d conviced my friends Chris and Karl to rent a car with me and drive to Halifax to attend a rave with Jenn, my old friend from University. We got the car at around 11:30 p.m. on December 30th and drove all night. Karl has somehow convinced us that the trip would be only 14 hours, but he was off by almost 7. We arrived in Halifax at 8:30 p.m. on the 31st, rested for an hour, and raved until 7 the next morning, fueled only by Pepsi and other stimulants. Since Chris has to be home for some kind of work contract by the 2nd, we had to make the same marathon drive back to Toronto in near white-out conditions. The only disappointment was that we were in and out of Halifax so quickly, we never got see the ocean!

December 31, 1997 – New York City

After making a last-minute decision and somehow securing seats on a plane, I flew down to New York with my sister Eileen in the early afternoon of the 31st and didn’t have any plans made, other than to meet up with friends at a bar.

Dinner was going to be a big hurdle — being New Year’s Eve, we didn’t stand a chance of getting into any place decent, but we were going to give it a try. We went to a nice-looking Italian restaurant whose name escapes me. As I walked up to the maitre’d, Eileen whispered to me “We have reservations. Got it?”

“Hi,” I said, in my cheery “let’s eat!” voice, “deVilla, party of five?”

The maitre’d shuffled through the reservations book, naturally finding nothing.

I peered over the edge of the book, feigning an attempt to help.

“Sir,” the maitre’d asked. “when did you make these reservations?”

“About two weeks ago, I’d say? It’s deVilla. d-e-V-i-l-l-a.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t find it. Please wait, I’ll see what I can do.”

The maitre’d somehow managed to squeeze a couple of extra tables from a storage room into some unoccupied space in the far corner of the restaurant and had us seated there. Sure, it wasn’t on par with the Great Ferris Bueller’s restaurant scam, but I take whatever little victories I can get. Nice osso buco too.

After dinner, we went to a bar called Opaline on Avenue A, where we were to meet our friend Andre for drinks. We had a crantini in the front lounge and chatted for a bit. Andre still hadn’t shown, but Eileen had noticed another room behind the lounge and asked me to go see if he was there. I walked into the back room, which was even larger than the lounge and suddenly heard my name being called out from a voice I thought I’d never hear again.

It was K., one of my sister’s floormates from her first year at McGill. We’d gotten chummy and attempted to start a relationship, but that ended when she backslid towards her previous boyfriend and I ended up dating her sister, E. For a brief period, I dated both, hoping that neither one would find out about the other (Hey, I was 19 at the time. You’d have done it too). Both relationships ended in a Kafka-esque flameout ten years prior, and I hadn’t seen or heard from them since.

After a big hug, she yelled in my ear “and you’ll never believe who came with me!”

E. walked up to see what the fuss was all about, saw me, and more hugging ensued. E. introduced me to her boyfriend, who promptly vanished for the rest of the night with a bunch of jock-ish looking friends to another corner of the bar for I-couldn’t-give-a-damn-why. We spent the whole evening catching up on what the other had been doing with their lives for the past decade. “Still silly after all these years,” she said of me. At the end of the evening, we exchanged e-mail addresses and kept sporadic contact with each other.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this chance encounter would lead to my dating E. for most of 2000.

December 31, 1996 – Boston

Drove down to Boston with my then-girlfriend C. It was a nice trip — we got to see Boston, Cambridge and Salem, pick shells and rocks from the seaside and go wandering through the woods of upstate New York.

December 31, 1995 – Manila

First dinner at the Hotel Shangri-La, followed by drinking and dancing all night at a club called Zu, where they pulled out all the stops. If you ever get the chance, I very strongly recommend clubbing in Manila.

December 31, 1994 – Toronto

I’d just graduated from Queen’s and was now in the Real World, looking for a job. I DJ’d a private party, with my cute if somewhat clingy — okay, incredibly clingy girlfriend, S.

December 31, 1993 – New York City

My all-time favourite girlfirend had just broken up with me, so I spent the Christmas holidays in a kind of “just kill me” funk. Soy uno perdidor, I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me and all that. I went down to New York City with my sister Eileen to attend a New Year’s Eve party my friend Andre was throwing at his apartment.

Andre had managed to expand his usable party space by taking advantage of a door in his apartment that opened onto a flat expanse of roof. He set up a tent to block the wind and several clay braziers full of coal to stave off the cold. Between these measures and the crowd, it was actually comfortable on the roof, even though it was an unusually cold winter.

At some point during the party, I was on the roof talking about beer. I was referring to the new crop of American microbrews that were actually good. I think I also made some offhand remark about how soda-pop-like Rolling Rock was and expressed amazement that fratboys actually managed to get themselves killed drinking the stuff. An Asian guy walked up to me and said “You don’t like the beer here? Where you from?”

“Canada,” I said.

“Canada?!” he sneered. “What’s that, America lite?” That got a laugh out of his buddies. “So where in Asia are you from, guy?”

“The Philippines,” I said.

“Philippines?!” he sneered again. “What’s that, Asia lite?” That got an even bigger laugh out of his buddies. I had a guess as to where he was from, and was already loading my verbal ammo.
“And where would you be from?” I asked.

“Korea, man.”

Bingo. You wanna get ethnic on me, kimchi-breath?

“Ah, you’re one of the fruitstand people. If the Japs aren’t using you for comfort women, the bruthas are using you for target practice.”

Silence, followed by a lot of laughter from his buddies.

He put his arm around me in a friendly manner and said to his buddies: “I like this guy.” He turned to me and said “Sorry for being such a shit to you. Just breaking your balls, see.”

Ethnic slurs for harmony. New Yorkers. Geez.

December 31, 1992 – Manila

I was there for a month over the Christmas holidays, having the time of my life. Back home, my school marks were peaking in the 80’s and 90’s, I had a great new girlfriend, my DJ career was going very strong, and when I got home from the holidays, our band was going to have its first gig. In Manila, I was having a lot of fun hanging out with my cousins and friends in the districts of Makati and Malate.

I even got to geek out a little: I spent some lazy afternoons doing my first-ever readings about object-oriented programming under my Aunt’s palm trees by the pool. A friend of my aunt visited one day and saw me reading up on C++. She turned out to be the Dean of Computer Science at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and asked me if I would like to speak in front of an assembly of computer science students and tell them about being a computer science in North America. It was a lot of fun, I got to hang out with the students and I got the VIP treatment from the faculty. The Dean took me aside at one point and asked if I could send her some copies of the new Borland compilers — the university, being a state-run institution in the Third World — was pretty strapped for cash and couldn’t afford even a single copy of Turbo C (Linux was still in its infancy at this point, Free Software was still somewhat obscure and the Open Source movement was five or six years away).

December 31, 1991 – Toronto

It started innoncently and boringly enough with me and my friend Henry going to our friend Kevin’s house, where we caught the tail end of Predator 2. The movie ended at 9, and we decided we weren’t going to be caught at the stroke of midnight sitting at home and watching TV.

We headed downtown and ended up at the Rotterdam Pub, somehow managing to find a table. Henry and I were short cash, but Kevin told us not to worry; he’d take care of it. A minute before midnight, we got the bill and Kevin announced to us that “Operation Drink and Dash” was about to commence.

Oh, crap.

It turned out to be simpler that I thought it would be. At midnight, everyone started the usual hugging and kissing. We simply hugged and kissed people in a straight-line path, pushing our way through the crowd toward the door. Kevin led us, walking out the door very casually, turning the corner and then bursting into a full gallop. We ran a zig-zag path through alleyways for four blocks, and collapsed in an alley, panting and laughing.

Kevin offered us some of the Rotterdam beer glasses he’d stuffed into his pockets. “Souvenir of one fine New Year’s Eve, gentlemen.”

December 31st, 1990 – Montreal

I managed to convince my friend Rob, who normally isn’t into this sort of thing, to come with me to the GWAR concert at the Rialto. The Lunachicks opened, and at the stroke of midnight, GWAR burst through a fake brick wall and their lead singer, Oderus Urungus wished everyone “Happy New Year, human scum!” I try and put a little bit of the GWAR show into every accordion performance of mine.

December 31st, 1989 – Toronto

A house party at my friend Nick’s, which I attended with my then-girlfriend, G.

December 31st, 1988 – Quebec City

There were two couples — Andre and his then-girlfriend Catherine, Kevin and his then-girlfriend Kelly — and me and Henry, who were playing the part of the two “fifth wheels”. We’d dropped off our stuff at a youth hostel and gone for the 8 o’clock dinner sitting at one of the nicer restaurants within the walled part of Quebec City. Afterwards, we were to go to a club that came highly recommended by Andre — a place called L’ombre Jaune — The Yellow Shadow.

“They’ve got the best music,” he said. “Great DJs, friendly staff, great crowd. You’ll probably meet some really cute chicks tonight,” he said to me and Henry.

When we got to the address that Andre has provided the cab driver, it turned out that L’ombre Jaune no longer was in business. Instead, the building had been divided into two establishments. In the basement, a place called Le Cheap Bar, and upstairs, a fully-equipped disco whose name I’ve forgotten. Le Cheap Bar was half-empty and occupied by bored-looking patrons, while the upstairs place was charging a cover that none of us could afford. It was about an hour until midnight, and knowing of no other place that we could go to, we settled for the aptly named Cheap Bar.

The bar did have some guy in the corner running CDs through the disc changer and the bartender was nice enough, but it just didn’t seem quite right. The place filled over the next half-hour, probably with people who had nowhere else to go, and Henry and I drank our beer while looking longingly at the line-up to the entrance to the upstairs bar. A cougar started paying a lot of unwanted attention to Henry, and he decided to dodge her by going into the back alley for a smoke. I tagged along to keep him company.

We could hear the thumping of house music from above. Someone had left a fire escape door slightly ajar, probably to let in some of the fifteen-degrees-below-zero outside air into the upstairs club. We looked up and then at each other and simulateneously came to the same conclusion.

The fire escape ladder was icy, and Henry nearly kicked my party hats off when his boot slipped. When we got to the top, we could see through the crack that there wasn’t anyone watching the door, just some club-goers getting their noisemakers ready. It was ten seconds to midnight.

We waited for the countdown to reach zero. The DJ started into some big number — I forget which. We opened the door; the cold air cut a path through the smoke machine’s fog. People turned to face up and started to clap.

Henry and I were each wearing two party hats like horns and had noisemakers in our mouths. “They think we’re part of the act,” Henry said, to which I replied “Let’s start a conga line!” Henry took the front, I was behind him, and we got a good chunk of the dancefloor to join us.

To our surprise, no bouncers came to kick us out. We spent the rest of the evening dancing and schmoozing in the fancy club upstairs while our coupled-up comrades downstairs were making kissy-faces.

“Let’s break into a club every year,” Henry said.

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