It would have been Christmas Eve, 1967, just at dark. So I was eight, third grade. The last Christmas we lived in the house on Kensington. My mom had kicked us out – my grandparents and my aunt were on the way over, she had things to do, didn’t need a mess of Christmas-crazed rug rats tear-assing around the place. So I’d grabbed the kid next store and gone down to the park to go sledding. Now the sun was just about down and we were headed back, I couldn’t wait to make the corner at Kensington. I’d be able to see the driveway from there. If my aunt’s tan AMC Rebel was in the drive, then Christmas had officially begun.
There was a house at the corner of Harrison and Lakewood, a fifties ranch design, but one of the better ones. Dark brown cedar and stone, a big bay picture window facing the street. Christmas had begun there for sure – the room was full of adults, all in festive dress, all with drinks in their hands. Younger than my parents, more stylish, no kids running around. It was full dark almost, so the well-lit scene behind the picture window glowed like a TV screen and the people in the window had the trim, confident air of a gathering from one of the Christmas specials that used to run back in the day, Maybe the one where Perry Como would just be hanging around his place in a ski sweater when Harry Belafonte happened to stop buy with some friends and they’d all swap some scripted wisecracks before they broke into a calypsoed-up version of The Little Drummer Boy. One guy in the window really caught my eye – a little taller than most of the room, broad shouldered. his hair long enough to have just an edge of hippie to it, but still combed neatly, the guy wearing a pair of caramel corduroys and a bright red V-neck over a white shirt. He had a rocks glass and a cigarette in his hand, something dark in the glass, and these two women, mid-twenties I’d guess, stood rapt, flanking him – one blonde, one brunette, both with long, loosely curled hair, both in mini-sweater dresses that stopped mid-thigh.
I was eight, didn’t have much in the way of a fantasy life yet, but I knew if you wanted to one guy in that room, it was him, and that if you wanted to be at one Christmas party ever it was that one. Better than forty years on and I can still tell you everything about that scene – the way the tree was tucked in the back right corner, the way the blonde gave her head this little tilt-and-shake that sent this wave down her platinum tresses, how she did that a couple of times in the thirty seconds or so that I watched from the sidewalk, how the wattage on her smile would ramp up for just a instant when she did, how I had no idea what that meant, but how I’ve spent the rest of my life wishing that a woman who looked like that would shake her head and smile at me that way someday, the way the brunette saw her do it and looked down, like she’d lost at some game to which I didn’t even know the rules, and how the guy looked up, saw me on the sidewalk, how I must have had that orphan-with-his-nose-pressed-against-the-glass look on my face, how he raised his drink just a little and gave me this wink that seemed to say I could be him someday but that only instilled a melancholy certainty that I never would be. Even then, even at eight, I knew myself well enough to know that I was never going to be the guy the room revolved around. That I was always going to be the guy watching and taking notes.