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After Work: A Hippy New Year

“Who was this woman? A woman alone on New Year’s Eve? Why wasn’t she home with a cat on her lap, a cup of tea on the table and reading Emily Dickinson?”

While her husband was in hospital, getting a new hip, Dona Gibbs raised eyebrows and temporarily halted the movement of knives, forks and spoons in an Italian restaurant in New York as the final hours of 2006 ticked away.

What can cause so many questioning glances as a woman dining alone?

I have an answer.

It’s a woman dining alone in New York on New Year’s Eve.

I should know. It’s just happened to me.

My husband, my intrepid, enthusiastic companion, had his New Year’s resolution fulfilled. He’d gotten a new hip. I think besides getting rid of persistent pain, he really believes that a new hip will take many, many stokes off his golf game. And allow him to dance every dance. (The Twist is his specialty.) So he was recuperating in one of New York’s fine hospitals, a distinguished medical institution where surgeons specialize in hips, knees and other creaky joints. So far, So good. Knock on wood and every other solid surface.

Visiting hours had ended. It was December 31 at 8:30 p.m. and I was hungry and unhinged. I needed food and the comfort of someone else putting it in front of me on a carefully set table. The cauliflower and broccoli in the fridge didn’t appeal.

I walked in to the dimly lit small Italian restaurant past the acoustic guitar player and stood before the maitre d’ podium where I asked for a table of one.

It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone in this maybe thirty-person place looked- swiveled in his seat and stared.

“Who was this woman? A woman alone on New Year’s Eve? Why wasn’t she home with a cat on her lap, a cup of tea on the table and reading Emily Dickinson?”

She was too dowdy for a hooker. Too well dressed for a bag person. Too quiet for a real crazy.

“Please go on,” my eyes pleaded. “Don’t mind me. I’ll just be having some Italian food and pushing off. And I certainly won’t be looking for a smooch at midnight.”

The maitre d’ scurried off, as maitre ds are wont to do, checking for a suitable table for one.

He seated me with a flourish. A flourish was the last thing I had in mind.

Everyone it seemed to me stopped in mid-chew, “ Oh the poor thing, alone on New Year’s.”

New Year’s. And a husband in the hospital, I could have added. One minute more of this and I’d be awash in self-pity.

But for me: why wallow, swallow.

So I ordered. House salad, pasta, veal Champagne and dessert.

The couple next to me couldn’t hold in their curiosity.

Who was I? Why was I alone on New Year’s?

So I told them. They found it riveting. Maybe they’d actually found a New Yorker in New York.

Then it was my turn.

I asked them where they were from.

“Out of town,” they answered.

“The Albany area,” the wife ventured. They’d heard you couldn’t be too careful in the city--can’t be specific, can’t give names ‘cause you never really know if some grey haired woman with a husband in the hospital would come upstate and rob you.

They told me they were visiting their son who was embarking on a new job in down here in the squalid city. He was selling ad space. They told me how appalled how much rent he was paying. How small his apartment was.

I was amused, but not surprised.

They finished their meal and I mine.

As they scrapped back their chairs, I wished them Happy New Year’s and Happy Walking Up Five Flights.

They turned and looked alarmed. Maybe I was the Mad Stalker after all.

I tried to wave off their concerns, “It was just a guess.”

My own alarm came soon after when I was presented with the check.

New Year’s Eve carries an extra tariff. I had missed the fine print.

And I discovered for me, in my musings, there was another extra cost of being alone: heartache. Which all the pasta in the world couldn’t cure.

But next year—next year—it will be hip, hip hooray.


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