“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days o' auld lang syne.” -Robert Burns (?)
Every Dec. 31 at the toll of midnight, in bars and parties around the world, we sing “Auld Lang Syne,” yet nobody seems to know what the lyrics are, why we are singing it or what it even means. Well, because I'm a bartender, I figure that it's my duty-nay, my privilege-to explain the meaning of “Auld Lang Syne”:
Tony Battista is my closest friend. You know, best man at his wedding, godfather to his first-born and all that. Actually he was my best friend. Past tense. I hate him now. We'll get to all that.
Tony and I grew up in upstate New York and were inseparable-until after high school-then life happened, and Tony went to college to get a doctorate and I went to California to get a tan. After he graduated though, Dr. Battista visited me in San Diego and accidentally stayed for three years. It was great! The boon companions since boyhood-together again-tearing it up in Southern California, drinking wine, traveling, loving life. But life separated us again. This time, for a woman.
Tony fell in love.
From the start, Karen did not like me. I was the quintessential “bad influence.” She believed that, if left to my designs, I would pour rotgut down Tone's unwilling gullet and force him to go whorehouse-hopping till sunup every night of the week. Happy was her day when they finally moved away from my wicked influence.
That was a long time ago.
Tone and I didn't see much of each other after that; about once every three years or so, and always with his wife in sniffing distance. This past November, however, Tone called and said he had business in Austin and suggested we meet there for the weekend to drink upon our old long agos. Which brings us to why I hate Tony.
Not until after I purchased the non-refundable flight to Austin and dispatched my bar shifts-did Tony cancel the weekend at the wishes of Karen. Apparently, she did not trust us alone in Austin. Can you imagine that? “Forbidden”? All these years later, and this crotchety crank is still playing these games. After all these years, she would stand between good, true friends. It just sickens me to consider it.
But as much as Karen's actions insult me, it was Tony who threw our friendship away. And he knows it: He calls to apologize, but I don't answer. He sends e-mails about “So sorry,” and I sneer and hit delete. He sends a Christmas card about, “'Tis the season for forgiveness,” and I chuck it in the garbage alongside the putrid scales of last night's salmon.
Finally, I broke the silent treatment with a Christmas card of my own. It said: “Merry, merry Christmas to the entire Battista family (except Tony). During this holiday season, we are reminded to love all mankind (except Tony)... and God Bless us, everyone (except, of course, for that miserable sonovabitch Tony Battista). Tidings, Ed.”
After I mailed the card, I plopped on my recliner, folded my arms smugly and steamed over $300 in wasted plane tickets, steamed over lost bar shifts and lost friendship-and wondered how any man with his nuts still intact could allow Mrs. Bitchass to “forbid” that he come out and play?
I remembered when Tony first came out to play. We were about 14-ish. He had just moved into the neighborhood and asked if he could get into our baseball game. Everyone laughed because he was such a world-class doofus, but we said yes anyway. Soon after, Tone and I were borrowing each other's records.
Sitting there in the recliner, I remembered when we discovered The Kinks and how, from that moment on, Ray Davies was our God. I remembered when the Yankees' Bucky Dent knocked it over the Green Monster in Fenway Park and how we did the happy chicken-step around my parents' coffee table because the Yanks were headed to the playoffs; remembered when we drank electric lemonade and flipped out at the midnight showing of The Wall; remembered how we laughed at shit nobody else thought was funny; and how we just plain knew each other. And you just don't get many friends like that.
I got up off that ratty recliner, racked Muswell Hillbillies on the turntable and everything-everything, I mean every fucking thing-came rushing back.
It is that moment-right then-when memories bum rush your chest. That is what “Auld Lang Syne” is about: “For old long ago, my jo. We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for old long ago.” That is what we'll be singing on New Year's Eve, when 2003 kicks in. And when I'm done singing, I'll tilt one back for Tone, my dear old jo; tilt one back for our old long ago.
You are forgiven, you stupid, sorry bastard.