Best Day of the Year

James McAllen
5 min readOct 2, 2023

It had been another rough weekend at the tail end of a really bad summer. I had been trying to drown myself that entire year, and it was no longer working. I went out for a taste on Thursday, and then Friday and Saturday had been one long journey into oblivion. I woke up around noon on Sunday, September 27th 1987, still drunk, and stumbled out of my house and made my way up the the annual 3rd Ave Festival, here in Bay Ridge. It was a week after my 22nd birthday, and despite the downward spiral that was my life at the time, I looked forward to the “festival”; The unofficial end to summer.
It was one last chance to see all the people from high school that you no longer hung out with; one last chance to run into that girl that you saw in a bar but never spoke to, and in the case of some of my friends, one last chance to get into a 20 person brawl over a broken shoelace.
It was my favorite day of the year.

I made my way up to 3rd Avenue, and at the first food stand that I came upon, I bought a shrimp cocktail and a 16 ounce beer.
That’s pretty much the last thing I can clearly remember.

The rest of the day is just a blur of images:
Double Vodka Tonics in Wavelengths, and cocaine in the bathroom.
I seem to recall having a fight with my girlfriend,
And then another fight with my other girlfriend as she was on her way to meet her other boyfriend.
I may have pissed myself, or was that just another spilled drink?
The highlight of the day was when I found myself with my running buddy, plotting a cocaine caper for when we got back to the “Bistro”.

“Jim. We’re already in the Bistro.”
Ooops.

The lowlight was arriving back home at 2am, stumbling up the stairs, and discovering, that I had lost my house keys somewhere along the way. Forced to ring the doorbell, I can still see the look of disgust and disappointment upon the face of my younger brother when he saw me in the doorway, holding on for dear life.

I spent the entire next day in bed, hoping that the world would end
before I woke up.
It didn’t.
A few days later, I reached out to my good friend, someone who had managed to get his life on track earlier that year, and unknowingly asked for help.

I haven’t had a drink since.

Most people wouldn’t want to go back to the scene of the crime, but then again… I’m not most people.
When the next year rolled around, I couldn’t wait to get back to the festival. It was still my favorite day of the year, only now, it was a celebration of life, rather than another drunken party. I don’t think I’ve missed too many in the intervening 36 years. I count September 29th as my sober date, but the 3rd Avenue Fest was always “My day”. Still the best day of the year.
After 9/11, the fest was postponed until mid-October. It was a muted, solemn day, of course, but on that day, I got to shake the hand of Senator John McCain, one of my heroes. It’s a treasured memory for me.

2023 was going to be the best summer ever. We had lost two summers to Covid, and then in 2022, we spent the summer living in a construction zone while the house underwent renovations, aka the marriage killer. We survived, but we resolved that this year was going to be a summer of fun and leisure.

And it started off great! After years of badgering, Valarie agreed to accompany me back to Los Angeles and then we spent the most amazing week there for our 8th anniversary. We got home renewed and energetic; grateful for our lives, and the blessings that had been bestowed on us.
The next day I got Covid.
It was my 3rd bout, and it was the worst of the three.
I basically lost all of July. (See previous blog).
When that had cleared up, I discovered that I could barely hear in my right ear due to a clog in the plumbing. Being that we’re both in our 50’s now, August went by in an endless string of doctors and dentists and specialists and testing…
But there was always September to look forward to.
My birth month. The start of football season. The 8th Blissstock reunion,
and of course, the 3rd Avenue Festival.
My Day.

Valarie was sidelined by a dental surgery today, so I headed out without my partner in crime. I didn’t make it a block before I ran into the first of what would turn out to be many — handshakes and hugs and “how you doin?”, and how’s the kids and who’s going to college and who’s getting married? There was plenty of discussion of middle-aged ailments and mortgage payments, and promises to keep in touch in the future. Maybe it’s the passage of time, but the hugs seemed to be a little tighter and the “glad to see ya’s” seemed a little more heartfelt.
And of course, there was the never-ending, “Where’s Val?” inquiries.
What? Am I not good enough?

And then there were the ghosts. All the people who left too soon, some of them long past, like Jimmy Hunt and Steven Ingebretsen, and others, more recent, like Eugene Gallagher. Their names were spoken and their presence was felt, peering in from the shadows, and their stories were told, and the memories of other days were brought rushing back, making this day all the more special.

And then, like all good days, this one came to an end. Even though the sun was still shining and the bands were still playing, it was time to go. My 58-year-old back was starting to bark (probably the result of holding in my stomach all day), and there was meatloaf waiting in the oven, and another midnight shift waiting for my arrival. After a final round of hugs and goodbyes, and “I’ll call ya!”, I made the trek back, alone.
Almost immediately, the sadness and melancholy rolled in.
It always happens, but in the past, it was just the knowledge that summer was over, and that the cold weather, and the darkness of winter were on the horizon.
Today was a little different.
It was the possibility that I might be seeing one of those people for the last time, and hoping that it wouldn’t be me who was absent next year, but confident that if it was me, those remaining would speak my name, and laugh at the memories, and tell stories of what a great guy I was.
Hopefully not for another 20 years.
I made it home exhausted, and yet thrilled.

Still my favorite day of the year.

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