Cardella: The Worst Night of the Year

Well, I’ve survived the worst night of the year. New Year’s Eve. A night full of great expectations. A night that asks so much and gives back so little. When I was single, New Year’s Eve was a night that always disappointed. Oh, those sad tales about New Year’s Eve. The all-time bummer that you can never forget. My worst New Year’s Eve happened somewhere in the early ‘60s. Cue Auld Lang Syne, Maestro.

In my case, disappointment on New Year’s Eve always seemed to involve a girl. Love gained and lost. There are many variations of that saddest of themes. But they all center on romantic hopes dashed upon the rocks of desire. The realization that we are all pawns in the hands of fate. The one truth that haunts our lives ever after. The one note that is always off key.

I had just met a girl after a stint in the service. It was at a dance sponsored by some bachelor organization that was popular back in the day. Teasingly called SAINTS AND SINNERS. A forerunner to computer dating services, before there were computers.

The dance was more like a prom than an attempt to match people of compatible interests. Instead of a photo, you met real-live people of the opposite sex. You wore a tie and a sport coat. The music was live. Kids today would think the whole thing corny or something to that effect. But that night, it seemed sweet. Romantic. Had a whiff of innocence that some of us miss today.

She was with a few of her female friends. I approached her, not knowing where I got this sudden burst of courage. We danced a few dances. I tried to cover for the fact that I was not a good dancer. That’s when I usually got the polite brush-off. After the girl chose not to spend the rest of her life — make that the rest of the night — stuck with someone who couldn’t dance. But somehow my stumbling around on the dance floor didn’t frighten this girl away on this night. Encouraged — I decided to ask her out for New Year’s Eve, which was just a few weeks off. I sensed a rare opportunity to have an actual date on New Year’s Eve. She said yes. I purchased two tickets for the show at the Latin Casino. For merely the price of $75 per ticket, I felt myself believing in the promise of New Year’s Eve again. But alas, fate was ready to intervene.

I couldn’t wait for New Year’s Eve. It seemed a million nights away. Meantime, I was the big man on the corner. None of the other guys had a date. It was a time when private social clubs were scattered around the city. My friends were going to a South Philadelphia Italian social club where for 25 bucks you got drinks with your roast beef sandwich.

Less than a week before New Year’s Eve, I got a phone call from my date. The tone in her voice was very apologetic. She had to cancel our date. My heart sank. I don’t remember now what her reason was. She kept explaining and apologizing, something about being called out of town maybe — but my sorry heart had already tuned her out.

What to do about the tickets to the Latin Casino? None of my friends could afford to spend $150 to buy the tickets from me. Letting the tickets go to waste would’ve been a total embarrassment. I decided to give the tickets to one of the guys in the hope that he could pay me back in the future. Armed with tickets for the Latin (our nickname for the nightclub), he did land a date. He took the tickets and promised to reimburse me. But no one could reimburse me a broken heart.

The other guys felt bad for me. They encouraged me to buy tickets for the party at the social club. I sprung for two tickets. Hope for New Year’s Eve had not died, but the cost had risen.

I don’t know why I thought to call my original date. After all, she had already told me that she would be out of town that week. Maybe I suspected she had ditched me under false pretenses. When she answered the phone, I noted her surprise to hear my voice on the other end of the line. I had to give it to her. In about three seconds, she came up with an excuse as to why she had canceled her out-of-town plans, but still was not free to go out with me on New Year’s Eve. I would be going stag on New Year’s Eve to the party at the social club. We made plans to meet at 10 p.m. At least I would be with the guys when the clock struck 12. And they promised me that the girls far outnumbered the guys. I would have no trouble finding a date at the social club. Anyway, everybody went alone to the club on New Year’s Eve. Qualification — all you had to be was Italian, ha, ha.

I got to the club at 10 p.m. sharp. The place was crowded — with couples! But where were my friends? None had shown up. I waited and looked around to no avail. Finally, I went home — alone. Made sure I got out of that place before 12 o’clock. Spent a total of $200. Never got reimbursed. Never got a good explanation about what happened to the guys on the corner. Didn’t have to.

It was New Year’s Eve.