New York City, NY

My first time drunk: New Year’s Eve in ninth grade; watching ball drop in NYC

David Heitz

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(Thomas Park: Unsplash)

I never will forget New Year’s Eve, 1984. It marked the first time I got drunk.

And I got really drunk.

I was only 14 years old. My best friend had spent the night. We got into my parents’ liquor cabinet after they went to bed.

Two other friends spent the night, too. They both were girls. I’ll call them Molly and Sally.

Molly told her mom she was spending the night at Sally’s. Sally told her mom she was spending the night at Molly’s.

But they both spent the night at my house.

The four of us had a great time, although I am not proud of getting drunk at age 14. Still, it happened and there’s nothing I can do about it. In my town, drinking young was a rite of passage.

Hollywood made a movie about my town. It’s called “Road to Perdition” and it’s all about the gangsters who ruled Rock Island, Ill. The motion picture starred Paul Newman and Tom Hanks in the early 1990s.

Blackberry and peppermint don’t mix

When we raided mom and dad’s liquor cabinet, we didn’t care what we drank.

We ended up getting drunk off blackberry brandy and peppermint schnapps.

I can only wonder what we talked about that night. The four of us all were known fun-seekers and I only wish I could remember more details.

Sadly, I no longer talk to the girls (now women) who were at my house that night. Sometimes we grow apart as adults.

If I still talked to them, I’d ask them what they remember about that night. I’m sure they haven’t forgotten what my friend Jeff did.

At about 3 a.m., Jeff threw up all over the place. It woke my parents up.

We were busted.

“I smell blackberry brandy!” dad hollered as Jeff sprayed vomit like the Exorcist baby. “Barbara, they’ve been drinking!” he announced to my mother.

I did get in trouble, although I used to just laugh that off. I was a brat.

Ringing in the 10-degree new year in swimsuits

Earlier in the evening, we rang in the New Year in our swimsuits.

It must have been about 10 degrees outside, but Molly and Sally donned one-pieces and ran around the court banging pots and pans together at midnight.

In their swimsuits. Jeff and I were out there too without shirts.

You’ve got to love the things high school students do.

Earlier in the night, we had watched “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.” No doubt we danced in the basement and thought we were cool.

The time I rang in the New Year in Times Square

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Joshua Earle/Unsplash

I can’t write a column about memorable New Year’s Eve celebrations without mentioning my trip to New York City.

My freshman year at Augustana College I went with a guy from my dormitory to Times Square for New Year’s Eve. We stayed with a Lutheran pastor who had a parish right in Times Square.

Elegance comes to mind when describing his living quarters. Drinking Manhattans in Manhattan New Year’s Eve 1988 (still only 18) made me feel like a superstar.

Some clergy really love their cocktails. “Pastor,” as we called him, was a gracious host.

I remember watching the ball drop in Times Square, all of us packed in like sardines. I remember the pastor had a friend come visit that night who worked for the phone company. He gave my friend Hans and I cool little telephone gadgets as gifts.

We also met a woman who to me seemed the most worldly I’d ever seen. Her name escapes me, but she took us sightseeing. She was smart, well-dressed, and beautiful.

I remember thinking New York City felt like a different country from Rock Island. I loved it, and yet many years later I turned down a chance to live there.

I just didn’t have an interest in working for the New York Times.

New Year’s Eve 1984 just a blur

I wish I could remember more details about New Year’s 1984, the first time I got drunk. That was 36 years ago. So much has changed since then.

At one time a picture existed from that night where I am praying to the porcelain god. I have no idea what happened to the picture.

This year, I will ring in the New Year sitting right here at my computer, where I always am. Isn’t it funny how much your life can change in 36 years?

The last thing I want to do on New Year’s Eve is drink. I don’t drink anymore.

It's nothing short of a miracle. That drunken high school New Year set the tone for my life.

I am an alcoholic and that’s why I don’t drink. I was one of the worst drunks you’ve ever seen.

It would have been inconceivable to me up until seven years ago to have an alcohol-free new year.

I can remember messy New Year’s Eves aplenty for decades in a row. Horrible hangovers, beer goggles, and worse.

Still, I never will forget getting drunk New Year’s Eve 1984 for the very first time.

Had I not had so much fun that night maybe I would not have become such a drunk.

Because I do remember we had fun.

#NBHolidayCheer

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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