In the happy crowd, my husband found my arm and leaned to my ear.
“You think we better go?”
“Oh, I forgot. You have that box drop thing.”
Indeed. We did have that box drop thing. So, we hugged our people and left a perfectly sparkly New Year’s Eve wedding reception in pursuit of making it to the Marietta Square before midnight.
See, the city of Marietta had for two years in a row hosted a New Year’s Eve event in which an object was dropped from a box. The first box drop was widely controversial. Last year’s box drop was an exercise in safety. And, this year’s box drop was still shrouded in mystery.
Last week, we noticed that the LED message sign set-up at the corner of Whitlock and the loop included the hashtag “#chickendrop18” along with a message about the Square closing for New Year’s Eve.
But, earlier in the day, an Instagram post teased, “The box is on the move….13 hours till we ring in the New Year! #SquareDrop2018 #YouThinkYouKnow #NotADude”
You think you know.
Was the ‘chicken drop’ hashtag a cunning ploy to plant the seeds of surprise? Or, had the volunteer committee merely not coordinated as to whether this year’s object should remain a secret?
The suspense engulfed me.
At home we switched out of our formal shoes and piled on as many extra layers as we could bear. November had been comically warm, but December hit us with an arctic blast, the kind that we native Southerners simply aren’t equipped to endure.
In the second weekend of the month, our town received a blanketing of snow, somewhere between 4 and 11 inches, depending on who you ask. It was wonderful and treacherous. Tree branches fell and transformers blew. Linepeople worked through days and nights. Some of our kin who live up on the hill got stuck without power for three days. Even the little Christmas village on the Square had to shut down due to conditions, and mothers rioted over their lost time slots for photos with Santa.
The last of the accumulated snowy patches melted a week later, but the atmosphere remained chilly through the end of the month. In our house, it was so cold that the butter I’d left on the kitchen counter was too cold to spread on bread.
“Are those fireworks?”
“Sounds like it.”
“Where are they coming from?”
As soon as the words fell out of my mouth, the asphalt next to my feet lit up.
“Please don’t catch me on fire!” I shouted, waving to my neighbors who’d been tossing firecrackers from the doorstep of their stately Colonial.
“Ya know, my Dad just posted a video of a commercial spot they play on cable in Columbus,” I said to my walking partner. “There’s this lady named Wanda who calls herself the Bang Bang Lady. Her website lists the names of all her grandkids and her hobbies which include canning and gardening. And, I guess she sells fireworks off of Highway 431. Isn’t that somethin’?”
While we walked, breathing in the bitter air, I said a silent prayer for all of the owners of little dogs who can’t handle pyrotechnics.
When we reached the Square, we found it blocked off from thru-traffic.
A handsome man was crossing the street in front of the pizza shop with a grade-school aged boy. The boy was wearing a knit hat and a warm coat and he was soaring through the crosswalk with his arms out in the air, king-of-the-world style, a big grin on his face, exclaiming, “I am loving this!”
And, suddenly we were, too.
If the Square looked empty, it was only because everyone had ducked into whatever establishments were open. Couples sat in the windows of the Italian restaurant, looking just like a scene from a Hallmark movie. We made it to our usual spot and ponied up at the concrete bar.
I ordered something frothy and orange with bourbon and satsumas. My husband — who was suffering a headache — first passed on drinks, but he was eventually persuaded to the idea of a hot toddy. His dimples were showing when he pulled the steaming mug up to his face.
We found a table of friends who had just finished their desserts, and they were kind enough to invite us to cram into their booth.
“What do you think they’ll drop this year?”
“It’s going to be a chicken. I know it. I saw them loading it into the box.”
No. It couldn’t. They wouldn’t. Not again.
“Are you sure it wasn’t a red herring?”
As it neared midnight, the restaurant got rowdy. We braced for the elements and went on a mission to find a street vendor selling champagne. The Strand had a skeleton crew working on the corner.
“A bottle of champagne please!”
“Do me a favor? Run inside and see if you can find a couple of bottles?”
After a dash into the theatre and a brief negotiation with a bar manager on the second floor, I made it back to the street tent. I handed the server one of the two cold bottles of bubbly and a crisp piece of cash, and he gave me a stack of six plastic cups in return.
Tipsy little luminaries lined the edges of Glover Park. A boogie woogie band called Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho-DeVilles played from the pavilion. The customary concert tables had been propped up throughout the park in front of the stage.
In the summer these concert tables would be lovingly decorated with tablecloths, themed centerpieces, and spreads of cheese, crackers, and crudités. But on this night, shivering families wrapped in fleece blankets circled the barren tables like passengers of the Titanic looking for lifeboats that weren’t broken.
In my life a “ski mask” had always been a costume piece worn by nightly news criminals at hold ’em ups. I’d never seen someone wear one in earnest before, so when I turned around and saw the man behind me had a black quilted hood covering his whole face but his eyes, it took me a second to realize that I wasn’t being mugged.
I found my buddies at table 21. My girlfriend popped the bottle for us. With her silky hair tucked into three different scarves and a black fur hood pulled up over her pretty head, she had the appearance of a very attractive Bond villain, the kind that might be from Russia and determined to seize a stolen diamond.
“10, 9, 8…”
There we were. Huddled together, shaking in our boots, honey-colored Korbel trembling in our gloved hands, when we saw the inevitable base of the Big Chicken, sinking from the hull of its shining square keep.
A bright magenta flare shot up from the ground. The crowd cheered, “Woooooooooooo!” as the bird made its final descent.
“Happy New Year!”
My husband tapped me on the shoulder for a kiss, waking me from my deflated daze.
The people of Marietta had the audacity — the nerve — to drop a little Big Chicken TWO years in a row.
Now, y’all fine folks might be satisfied with a chicken. After all, it is a local landmark and family-friendly to boot. And, some discourse online leads me to believe that they at least tried to switch things up by incorporating some UGA paraphernalia into the chicken’s accessories. Go dawgs.
But, you see, I’m still craving the glory, the magnificence of something as splendid and novel as the sight of a half-naked man in shiny pants suspended in mid-air.
As the cleaners took to the streets, vacuuming up the shreds of confetti, I reflected solemnly on the opportunity lost.
This year, when recalling the great dude drop of 2016, someone said, “I’m surprised no one got fired for that!” The rightful retort was, “Fired from what? Their position on the volunteer committee?!”
It’s true. The event is executed completely by civil servants, working with limited resources and seeking to do what’s best for our humble hamlet. We don’t deserve them.
Marietta is a city of constants where we treasure that which remains the same: the familiar sound of the trains at night; the hill we call a mountain, looking over us steadfast; the center of gravity that is our town’s Square, always pulling us together.
Still, for the sake of our future, I pray for courage. Courage that we’ll see clearly what to keep and what to let go.
Lord, in this year, give us the strength to embrace the surprising and fantastical. May next year’s emblem for the New Year be something glittering and gauche. Maybe a smiling man in American flag knickers, waving little American flags in each hand. Or, a papier-mâché waffle. Or, a glowing effigy of Cassi Costoulas’s face. (I miss her already.)
After all, if we continue to drop the same bloody chicken, I won’t have any new material to review.
Happy 2018, sweet neighbors. Until next year, be brave.