Just ten bucks a head. Not much considering it paid for fun, music, drinks, even breakfasts after midnight. Dinner was included, a buffet I think, but it was a long time ago.
We needed money for other things, like living expenses in an apartment furnished with aluminum lawn chairs, S & H Green Stamp lamps, and assorted hand-me-downs. Our dining room table was a cast-off from the junior high school cafeteria, repainted gunmetal gray, very large, very round.
The affair was at the same place where we’d had our wedding reception, River in Washington. Yes, the wedding. It was a wonderful day in July 1970. We’d gotten married at the National Cathedral, that imposing but unfinished gothic edifice built on the highest hill in Washington. We made the 200 guests go by car along serpentine streets of the capital to the reception at Bolling. In those days, guards were friendlier; gates less restrictive. They waived you through.
That was only a year and a half before, a day in a place of splendor, a moment in time. Five members of the US Air Force Band moonlighted as orchestra for our first dance. We drank Dom Perignon champagne, maybe a tad too much. It was giddy, exhilarating, the kind of day that needs to be remembered with fondness, with happiness, with love.
Now it was December 31st, New Year’s Eve. Snow was in the forecast. We had a joke that TV snow predictions meant dry pavement. Wrong this time, it really came down, and wet. I followed a city snow plow along the parkway, the defroster and heater in our red four door Ford Maverick barely keeping the windshield wipers from freezing. I rubbed the inside of the windows with my scratchy woolen glove, hoping to see better.
We slid in into the “ANY SECOND LIEUTENANT” parking space in front of the officer’s club. Smack dab right next to the generals.
As I handed our coats to the checker, I heard my name paged over the intercom. “Phone call for General Denk,” the voice said officiously. Sheepishly, I headed for the phone, picked it up and said, “this is, well, this is Roger Denk.” It was a friend, also coming to the party, telling me that he’d be a little late. They needed to plow his street, so he could get to the main roads to get over the river. The people around me looked suspicious, and I’m sure I looked guilty.
We ate, drank, danced, then made a stab at eating bacon and eggs, and incredibly, made it home in a blinding snowstorm, this time without the snowplow in front of us. Tuning that Am radio and cranking it up, we sang along with Carole King’s, “It’s too late.” Our heated breath fogged the windows. It was about two in the morning when we turned off the bedside lamp, the S&H Green Stamp one, and drifted off to an alcohol-assisted sleep.
It was now January 1st, 1972. The war in Vietnam was supposed to be winding down, but the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam meant to bring them to the Paris Peace Talks would happen almost a year later. Nixon’s visit to China would happen in a month, but Watergate was still six months ahead in the distance. Anti-war protests had calmed down, and the streets were filled with shoppers getting after after-Christmas bargains. We looked forward to those Twentieth Modern Olympic games in Munich.
There’s a box camera snapshot of me at that party, the New Year’s Eve one. I’m smoking a large cigar, wearing one of those silly paper and plastic top hats that people don for the occasion, looking as raffish as you can look with a military haircut and a PX suit. It was a time when we celebrated being alive, being poor, and being in love. Yes, it was a good party, and it was going to be a good new year.