I don't remember at what age Mom let us finally stay up all night, but boy, was it an occasion. Mom painted my fingernails for the first time with a sparkly, pink polish, and we got ice cream too. The television in the living room was on to ABC and we would watch in awe at the thousands of people in Times Square throwing confetti and cheering as the camera panned over them. The night looked fun, and Dick Clark was there to emcee it all: the bands, the interviews, the look back at the highlights of the year.
The next year, Na and I decided to host our own New Year's Eve special at the stairwell landing in our house. We spent weeks preparing it: choosing music from our favorite cassettes and "auditioning" Beanie Babies and Barbie dolls. Dad would take out an old camcorder that didn't work anymore and set it up for us to use before he left for work that night, and after dinner and showers, we would begin our show. I don't remember how many years we did this, but we always had impeccable timing because, right before midnight, we would rush to the living room and join Mom on the couch with our plastic flutes, pick up the cordless phone to call Dad at work, and get ready to toast to the new year.
Even as we got older and stopped our faux New Year's Eve specials, and even for the New Year's Eves I spent away from home, we always made sure we were in front of the TV before the Times Square Ball dropped, ready to listen to Dick Clark countdown with the crowd: "10...9...8..."
When Clark suffered a stroke and didn't host in 2004, we still watched, but with heavy hearts. It wasn't the same. Something felt weird about kissing each other on the cheek without also seeing him kiss his wife.
Earlier today, I had just got back to my desk from a coffee run when an update on my Twitter feed caught my eye: people were saying that TMZ was reporting Dick Clark's deaths. A few minutes later, it was confirmed, and I was listening to Martin Bashir announce, with sadness, "The legendary entertainer and producer, Dick Clark, has died."
As the obit reel rolled and I texted my mom the news, I thought back to those nights spent as a child on the carpeted stairs of my home, reading index cards as if I were Dick Clark and counting down what Na and I thought were highlights of the year, and dreaming about the day I might get to see the Times Square Ball in person.
Every morning now, as I walk to work, I peek over at Times Square and the crowd of tourists all looking upwards with their cameras and phones in hand, and I know the six-year-old me with my sparkly pink nails and plastic flute of Martinelli's would be really excited.
Dick Clark brought music, diversity, optimism into American homes for decades. Of his incredible American Bandstand, he said, "It's hard to explain how a silly little dance show with a guy playing records and kids dancing could have any significance."
Oh, but it did. That's the thing about legends, about icons and heroes: they inspire, they excite, and they leave a lasting impression on culture and the society that they will one day leave.
And, now, read/watch other things that also made me cry a lot tonight: