My Homeboys in Hampden

by Jesse Fask
       You know,” I told Dan, one of my New Year’s Eve party patrons. “I never worried much about having someone to kiss at midnight until now, because now I don’t have anyone to kiss.”
       Dan smiled, all goatee and long hair, “Well, that’s just it.”
      “I mean,” I continued. “I had someone to kiss the last five years and I don’t remember the ball dropping and kissing her happily while people celebrated on the TV at Time Square. I couldn’t have cared less. But now that I have no one, I’m making myself feel like the biggest loser because I can’t do this thing I feel obligated to do and when I had the opportunity to do it, I never did it anyway. Do you know what I mean?”
      “Yeah, of course,” he said. “We all want somebody to kiss when we don’t have anyone.”
      I looked around my Hampden rowhouse living room and I was not having a good time. I headed back to the keg of Killian’s for another alcohol injection. Kissing someone at midnight. What a stupid tradition. Why was I so worried about this? I felt like a character on Must-See-TV or like I’d seen “When Harry Met Sally” too many times. It’s this obsession I have with pop-culture. Or maybe I was just obsessed with my ex-girlfriend, that she wasn’t where she was supposed to be because she was no longer who she used to be.
      Two of her closest friends walked into our party like she sent them to spy on me and to see how lame my New Year’s Party was. They stayed for about 20 minutes and then quickly exited, laughing in my paranoid mind.
      The rumor was that a ball was going to drop one block up from my rowhouse and Thirty-Fourth Street in Hampden would be filled with hundreds of people by the Christmas lights, but at twenty-five past eleven, the street was as empty and lonely as I felt.
      At doctor’s offices that week, I’d read magazine articles about how people were “staying in” for the millennium. I had surrounded myself with all of my closest friends but it wasn’t helping anything. I continued to drink more and wish the night was over, thinking still that someone had an eye on our party and that the amount of people who had showed up so far somehow made it a flop. I feel now that most of the people there had a great time, but at eleven forty-five, I felt like all my friends must feel horrible that this is how they will spend December 31, 1999.
      But I don’t think most people think like me.
      When I was a kid, I used to think about where I’d be in the year 2000. I remember calculating that I’d be in 18th grade, which my grandmother assured me was called graduate school. I pictured myself married with a kid and we’d spend the millennium flying around the moon, avoiding the gunfire of Soviet star destroyers and being served macaroni and cheese by robots. Slowly that vision of the turning of the year two thousand turned into spending the evening with the woman I’d loved for five years who was no longer there but had left me for someone else, someone seemingly less interesting, creative, and handsome. And here I was spending this night I’d thought about for so long with my homeboys in Hampden.
      That’s when I saw them beckoning me out to see all the people on the street near our house. I was grabbed by friends I’d known all my life and thrust out into a jubilant street, my street. And all these people were in my neighborhood, but there were no cars anywhere. People were just coming out of their houses to congregate in this one area, like the Hoo’s on Christmas morning celebrating after the Grinch had taken away all of their toys.
       And now I was the Grinch, my heart growing by the second, and my friends and I were about to reach this climax at the Christmas lights and a new era would begin where I wouldn’t have to think about her or kissing someone at midnight.
      Then the countdown began. Ten. As this little ball no bigger than a cantaloupe, began to fall. Nine. I looked up and down the fabulous block of hubcap Christmas trees and sleighs pulled by crabs. Eight. And my neighborhood seemed so charming. Seven. And all was right with the world. Six. And I felt like I was entering a new era. Five. The twenty-first century would be the century of Jesse. Four. Jesse in Hampden surrounded by all these happy people. Three. As I realized my mania for neighborhoods, attained by years of listening to hip-hop, rappers shouting out borough checks and neighborhood roll calls. Two. How I love neighborhoods portrayed in film from Spike Lee’s Bedford-Stuyvesant in “Do the Right Thing,” to the way John Waters does my neighborhood in “Pecker.” One. And here I was and this is where I’d remember being when nineteen ninety-nine-turned to two thousand. Happy New Year.
      And then the way I was thinking didn’t seem so bad. It was actually making me happy. Picturing myself in this euphoric movie that I would eventually write. And these past few weeks have been great. So far this has been the century of Jesse. And I didn’t even have anyone to kiss at midnight. Maybe next year.

      Jesse Fask, a graduate of Baltimore City College and Beloit College in Wisconsin, has returned to his hometown to work and launch his writing career.

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This story was published on February 2, 2000.