New Years

Tales of Old Austin: New Years ’03

One of the things about not having a normal job, schedule or vaguely normal life is that holidays hold a tenuous place in my life. I’m usually the last to know about an upcoming holiday. Students will be the first ones to inform me of some day off on a seemingly random Monday. Unlike Columbus Day, Arbor Day or President’s Day, there are ones you can’t miss. New Years is one of those.

Lodged in the middle of a traditionally slow time of year, between vacations and calendars, New Years Eve is hard to ignore. While not going out is always the safe play, sometimes it can’t be avoided. Over the twelve years I lived in Austin, I have plenty of fond New Years memories. Moments of fireworks, homeless style bonfires and various house parties soaked in all manner of alcohol all recall fun times.

The New Years Party

Even through the hazy desire to outdrink your normal habits, a few New Years became notorious for a variety of differing reasons. One of the first Austin new years I remember was a house party. It was across town at the house in front of my shared painting studio. I took a raglan baseball shirt and painted an ‘03’ in a varsity font on the back, ala a beer league softball jersey. I ran into friends I hadn’t seen for years from another city, met a slew of new folks and had a great time. The hosts ensured everybody was well liquored up. Various groups splintered off to try out their various drugs, but I just kept drinking and laughing. 

As the night started to fade into those uncomfortable hours well past closing times and before dusk. Accordingly, I realized I was done. It was time to make my unannounced exit and walk the seven or eight miles home. Being Austin, frigid freezing temps never really were a factor on New Years, so it seemed like a reasonable proposition. I headed out, in the days before uber and without today’s insane reliance on phones. I ventured through, arriving on the cusp of the UT campus, meaning my final destination wasn’t too far off, but I was fading fast. 

The Journey Home

Realizing the seven mile journey was a bit too much, I started taking stock of alternatives. Fortunately, there was a quiet, fenced in field nearby. It looked just out of the way enough to seem like a safe resting spot for a few hours. I hopped the fence and meandered off towards the edge of the field. It was an attempt to not be 100% obvious, and curled up to sleep off the excesses. 

Sometime after dawn broke, I awoke, my raglan shirt surprisingly providing enoough heat throughout the evening.  As I rolled over to clear my head and take stock of my situation, I took a deep breath, the first of 2003. There was a little plaque in the ground, and I quickly put things together. I spent my first night of the year in the paupers’ graveyard. Well, a burial ground for not exactly paupers, but the cemetery for the Austin State Hospital. This was where countless mentally ill and infirmed were buried and left to wander since its opening in 1861. 

I walked off the remnants of my drunken poisoning and contemplated what exactly, was the ramifications of sleeping in a cemetery on New Years. While not wildly superstitious, I am careful not to upend the apple cart. I did not need to live with a curse. Was this a test like Cool Hand Luke having to dig and fill and dig his own grave? Would this be a spiritual rebirth, in three hours instead of three days? I was 28 at the time, so perhaps it was a spiritual nod to all the rock stars and artists who died at that age? The world never told me and all I have is the memory of waking up on a grave on New Year’s Day.