Happy New Year! We had a nice little party, and as soon as our bedroom windows get fixed we can go back to being at least halfway warm at night.
I should explain.
There wasn't any official New Years Eve celebration, but of course we had a party and Kit and her husband turned up, as did Security Joe and Cuppa Joe, and, surprisingly, Greg. I don't think any students came in who weren't here anyway, but it's sometimes hard to tell, since people have been coming and going a lot.
It was pretty low-key, actually, especially at first. After dinner we just turned on the tree and broke out the booze and the leftover holiday cookies and sat around talking.
"So, where's my flying car?" asked Arther at one point. "Weren't we supposed to have flying cars by this point? It's 2001, for crying out loud!"
"If we did have flying cars, we'd crash them," pointed out Andy. "Three-dimensional traffic jams? I'd kind of hoped we'd be done with cars by now, actually."
"We'd all switch to bicycles?" asked one of the Ravens, teasing him. Andy colored, but recovered his dignity.
"Well, yes. Or walking. Walking's lovely," he said, quietly.
"It's not like nothing's changed since we were boys, for better or worse," pointed out Greg.
"That's true," Arther conceded. "Consumer electronics, the moon landing, nuclear power, plastic everything, a lot of pollution...and civil rights, and the repeal of Britain's anti-witchcraft laws. I rather appreciate that one."
"Free love and The Pill?" asked Greg, with half a smile.
"That, too," conceded Arther. "Viva La Revolution!" and he took a swig of something. I don't know what was in that bottle, it never got around to me. Willa giggled and Ollie, his hand in hers, looked at her oddly.
"Flying cars and video phones are just consumer interest issues," declared Ollie. "We could have them if enough people wanted them, the technology's there. But we don't have intelligent computers or the Cavradyne drive."
"Cavradyne drive?" asked Arther.
"The propulsion system of Discovery One, in 2001: A Space Odyssey," supplied Rick, before the answer could make its way out of Ollie's open mouth. Willa giggled again and Ollie frowned at her. "The book, I mean," continued Rick, not appearing to notice. "You want to bet that movie is on at least one TV station tonight?"
"Too bad we don't have a TV," said Andy.
"Oh, hang on," interjected Greg, and went upstairs. He came down a few minutes later with a copy of the book and we took turns reading passages from it. I've seen the movie a few times, but I'd never read the book. We didn't get through all of it, obviously, so I think I'm going to have to read it myself at some point. The language is wonderful.
More often than not the ship would reverberate to the tunes of the harpsichord, frozen thoughts of a mind that had been dust for twice a hundred years.
Anyway, along around 11, Andy giggled.
"Did you know you're slurring your words?" he asked Arther, who was, just slightly. "It's neat to be the only sober one in the room. You're all very entertaining."
"You're not the only sober one," I told him, which was quite true--I'd poured myself one cupful of hard cider, and tasted some of the new applejack (you make that by letting hard cider freeze; the alcoholic fraction stays liquid, so you pour that off and it ends up about as strong as brandy), but after that I'd switched to cocoa. I was on a sugar high, if anything. But I got the hiccups right after I was done speaking, which kind of ruined the effect. Everybody laughed at me. What is it with hiccups? The few times I have been drunk I didn't hiccup.
"If you're going to be drunk, though," continued Andy "you might as well do it up right, right? Be Really fun to watch? This is New Years."
"What" hic! "do you" hic! "have in mind?" hic! "Damnit," I said.
"BOO!" cried Arther. I jumped half out of my chair, spilling my cocoa.
"That never works!" I complained, and hiccuped again. Everybody laughed at me, again. But after we'd gotten the spilled cocoa cleaned up the party at last started to pick up. Except for Arther, I think most of us were sober, or nearly so, but we were tired and sometimes that's almost the same thing. Once we started getting goofy we couldn't really stop. Along about midnight somebody said we should have a parade, so we all ran outside and tromped around in the snow playing "When the Saints Come Marching In" on kazoos on the big flat pasture out by the Edge of the World while fireworks and shotguns went off in the distance. The sky was clear, but the snow was fresh and I realized that the next day the field would bear tracks like the invasion of a giant and slightly tipsy centipede.
The next day was pretty normal for winter around here, except that I fell asleep during zazen, which I normally don't do, and Kit hung around happily lecturing anyone who would listen on the history of the Philadelphia Mummers tradition. As the afternoon wore on a storm blew in, but I didn't care much because I had nowhere I needed to be. It was a bad storm, though, and the wind was still getting stronger when I went to bed just before ten.
That night--which was last night--something like an explosion woke me. Everyone else was awake, too, and everything was confusion. Eventually we figured out that the wind lashing the branches of the elm tree at the corner had broken a couple of windows. Even as we talked about it we could hear more windows breaking. My room is ok, it's nowhere near the corner, but there was snow and broken glass in a couple of different rooms, and with the wind still blowing more windows could break.
Chuck--who, if you'll remember, isn't Charlie, but the head of maintenance, came down to look at the broken windows.
"We can't fix this tonight," he proclaimed, "and I doubt anyone will sleep well wondering if their window's about to break. Some of our windows broke, too--in the breakfast room? Why don't we all move down to the Great Hall? It'll be easier to keep warm than this Swiss cheese up here."
He was right; the temperature in the dorms had already dropped ten degrees and was falling fast.
So, that's what we did. There's a curtain rod running the width of the Great Hall, I think they used to use half of the room for performances or something, so we took the evergreen garlands down from the rod and tied a line of blankets up there to keep the heat in and then carried our own bedding down.
The masters came down, too, mostly half asleep. Kit's hair stuck up every which way, like a giant red Afro, but she seemed bright-eyed enough. I tried to see where she went, but I lost her in the crowd. Greg still wore his school uniform--I've never seen him in anything else, I don't suppose he has much else in the way of clothes. Allen wasn't there--I've heard a rumor he's in the Florida Keys with his family for a few weeks. Joy wasn't there, nor was Karen. I don't know where Karen was. Joe, my boss from the janitor crew came down, looking odd in a pair of boxer shorts and a truly ugly sweater. Sarah and her family were not there, and neither were Sadie and her family. Sharon never seemed to be anywhere except when she works in the office. She's a complete mystery. But Aaron, and of course, Chuck both showed up. I hadn't known Aaron was on campus. Charlie came downstairs in a flannel nightshirt and shearling slippers. He's let his hair grow out a little since classes finished and it's long enough now to give him a definite case of bed-head. He didn't look like anyone's guru, he looked like an old man shuffling around looking for his bed.
Eventually, we all settled down on the couches or on the floor, and someone turned out the lights. Except, we were all probably still too jazzed up to sleep. I was. Finally someone said it.
"I can't sleep," complained a voice.
"Do you want a lullaby?" another voice jeered. But someone took the suggestion seriously.
There is a castle on a cloud
I like to go there in my sleep
Nobody shouts or talks too loud
not in my castle on a cloud.
It was Kit's voice, from somewhere near the fireplace. When she was finished, someone said "encore!" and we all laughed. Someone else sang, not Kit, I don't know who, but a woman's voice. "Hey Jealousy," I think? Song, after song. I'm not sure everyone wanted to stay up singing, but no one complained.
Finally, I heard an odd voice--I couldn't figure out who it was, but I almost recognized it.
Did you come here for forgiveness?
Did you come to raise the dead?
Did you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head?
I looked around. We'd left the tree lights on, so anyone who had to get to the bathroom could navigate without shining a flashlight all over, and I worked out that the voice was coming from near Cuppa Joe. I could see his head silhouetted against the lit tree. But he wasn't singing. Presumably, Security Joe was.
You act like you never had love
and you want me to go without.
Was it only a pretty song to him? I wonder about Security Joe, what it's like to be him. He does not talk about his life to me, and I do not ask. What is it like to have the legal part of your marriage evaporate like sublimating snow? Or, maybe it was just a song to him. It is pretty.
We were all quiet for a while. Then, I heard Willa's voice.
Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain, we all have sorrow.
But, if we are wise, we know that there's
I heard Ollie join in beside her. Then another voice. Then I joined in. Then Kit--I'd know her voice anywhere. Then other voices. Soon, we were all singing.
Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For, it won't be long
Till I'm going to need somebody to lean on.
I don't think we were singing to Joe specifically. He wouldn't have appreciated it, for one thing. People who don't share their troubles tend to not want a lot of public sympathy. I'm not even sure how many people in the room knew Joe might have had private meaning to his song--or knew him well enough to know whether he meant it that way or not. But the song felt right, no matter who it was for. Dozens of people, singing together, in a damaged mansion with the wind still howling outside.
You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand.
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you'd understand
We all need somebody to lean on.