It’s hard to convey to those who didn’t live through the 1970’s what the counterculture was like and the residue it left behind. It wasn’t really as strident or militant as anti-liberal revisionists would have you believe today (damn that Hanoi Jane.) There was just an overall rejection of middle class, nuclear family values and religious doctrine that had never been allowed to be questioned. Basically, we were blocking out the mainstream.
Life was subterranean and we made our own rules. Until it came to the holidays. We weren’t about to squander a day off and a chance to party.
Be it Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Valentines or Arbor Day, the resulting fetes were pretty much the same. Only the decor changed. Virgin births and body resurrections were left to others while we focused on bacchanals that were a hell of a lot of fun and completely devoid of meaning.
It was with this tongue in cheek attitude that Kathy and I began our annual Christmas date. In 1977 I had my first real private sector job and we planned to meet after work. That alone had many of my friends thinking it was a goof. Me? In corporate America?
Those friends also thought it kind of dumb that we were getting together for something so mundane as looking at decorations and shopping. Our generation didn’t do that. But really it was just an excuse to take a qualude and have a martini. We enjoyed that first date so much we repeated it the next few Christmases.
Our routine was to meet in front of Frank Moore’s on Union Square because we both loved his shoes (Kathy: his cuban heels; me: his vintage stilettos). We’d drop the lude then ooo and aah at the department store windows. When it was time for drinks and dinner we mock-honored tradition by choosing that film noir institution, John’s Grill.
As our stomachs matured and lost their cast iron lining, we couldn’t take John’s cooking after those first few years. But that didn’t stop us from popping in for a cocktail before heading off to dinner somewhere else. Which we’ve done every year except one.
Kathy moved to Los Angeles and was not in town for our date in 1984. Her life there was nothing but trouble: with her relationship, with her job, with housing, with her general well-being. She had problems. After a year she moved back to San Francisco.
I tried to be conciliatory and supportive when she returned but I felt compelled to point out that misfortune might not have befallen her had she not skipped the annual date. Although still not one for immaculate conceptions, I’m not above an occasional mystery curse.
Last night we had our annual drink at John’s and, for the first time ever, cameras were allowed on the date. There’s a possibility that one or both of us may not be living in San Francisco next Christmas but we’ve vowed not to let tradition die after only 37 years. Neither of us can afford another 1985.