December 31, 2018
A sparkling blue lagoon pool snaked its way around the back patio of the luxury resort room I was sharing with my mother in Port Stephens, but not even the sweltering dry heat of an Australian summer made me want to swim. This kind of excess, despite an endless beach only meters away.
My mother made a booking on Hotels.com for a quick scenic getaway only four days ago, when I first arrived home from New York for the holidays. But she soon realized she likes crowds, not secluded coastal towns. We walked along the beach fully clothed to avoid sunburns, and decided to drive back the next day.
That morning, I sipped tea and watch the day’s news on the mounted television screen in our room. The last day of 2018 – the year that was. Segments included: “Best books, movies and moments of 2018,” “Biggest disasters of 2018,” and “How to stick to your New Year’s resolution.”
On one channel, a news presenter gave a rundown of all the fireworks displays across the country. He made sure to note that the best fireworks were always at the Sydney Harbour. “Hard to compete with that,” he said to the woman who organized the fireworks in Townsville. On another channel, an interview with Steve Backshall, Britain’s version of the Crocodile Hunter, about how he fearlessly tackles crocodiles on the Australian coast.
We ventured out for brunch to a trendy Australian cafe complete with flat whites and avocado toasts, but were told the wait was 45 minutes. It was as if I never left Brooklyn! “Do we mind waiting outside?” a 15-year-old barista on the cusp of late puberty asked us. We certainly did not, despite the fact that we were sweating, because the other options in sight were a dubious vegan cafe and “Red Neds Gourmet Pies,” where the day’s special included a “Crocodile pie in white wine and spinash and mushys.” We were seated five minutes later; we ate avocado toast.
We began to head home. As I drove on a long highway and my mother drifted off to sleep, I thought about buying a new outfit for the night. New Year’s Eve marks something special, whatever that may be, and I needed to dress the part. After dropping my mother home, I wandered in and out of clothing stores in my suburban, five-level shopping center before deciding that I wasn’t willing to pay $100 for a party outfit.
Instead, I bought some fresh figs, which are available in supermarket chains here, prosciutto and goat cheese for a salad I was preparing for dinner, and some taramasalata for good measure. It was almost too easy to procure bougie white foods in Sydney.
I headed to my best friend’s terrace in the inner west to welcome the New Year with her, her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s best friend. I feared I’d be a social accessory in this gathering, but on the way, I got a message asking if I wanted to come to a party hosted by a boy from university whom I was once obsessed with. I said yes.
At my best friend’s house, I made a fancy salad for four, and over dinner we settled in to watch the remake of the cult hit “Carrie.” It stars Julianne Moore, who’s a goddess, but it was still terrible, because for some reason it supplanted the 70s into 2013. We missed the 9 p.m. fireworks show because of the movie, but to make up for our losses, we rewatched the Sydney Millennium fireworks on YouTube, since it was an iconic event, known as the Best Fireworks Display in history. Then, my best friend’s girlfriend searched for videos of “the worst fireworks ever.” We found a collection of fireworks that never got off the ground and fizzled into nothingness. Truly the worst.
Our downward YouTube search spiral led to “biggest waves of all time.” Frankly, I was surprised by just how overpowering large waves can be, but I also wondered how one could possibly know which wave was the biggest if one was not present to record every wave. I decided I was ready to head to the party.
I got an Uber pool. The girl sharing my ride wanted to know all about my plans after telling me she was going home to watch TV in bed. I envied her but didn’t tell her this because I was annoyed by the amount of unnecessary banter I was expected to participate in.
At the party, the boy I was once obsessed with put together a slideshow of all the guests in attendance. A random picture of me and my dad from my Facebook floated onto the screen. I was mortified, but also impressed. The boy was now a professional comedian, and many people at this party were also in comedy. Later, I listened to him and another boy debate who was funnier.
At midnight, we once again gathered around the television screen to witness the fireworks spectacular welcoming 2019. A countdown began, and I chanted along in anticipation. The clock struck twelve and pyrotechnic confetti burst through arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I turned to a stranger next to me and hesitantly said, “Happy New Year.” Sydney was 15 hours ahead, so my messages to friends in New York arrived a little too early and a little too enthusiastically, much like 2019.