Where I am right now it’s cold. I’m home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and I’m sitting next to a window which is probably why it is so damned cold. There is an ice storm outside and my mother just banged her Jeep into my brother’s car while pulling down the driveway. She knocked out the tail-light but other than that everything – and every one – is fine. Last week I went sledding with a friend and, as we walked the mile or so back to her house late that night, I noticed that nobody else was outside. It wasn’t because so-and-so was on Letterman. It was because it was winter and outside it was cold.
The bears have it right, for they hibernate during the winter before reemerging in the spring. We, as homo sapiens, do not have that luxury. Instead we build ski slopes and we rope tow our way into spring. Or we wait it out in the seclusion of dorm rooms watching Party Of Five or 90210 or we spend it shoveling our driveways, getting that last bit of snow cleared before the great sky mocks us and sends the snow once again and, beaten but undaunted we go inside to warm up with hot cocoa and firewood.
You must admit there is a certain amount of symbolic hibernation going on there. This is good though, for it gives us time to reinvent ourselves, a time for sacred renewal, a couple months scattered with snow-days and cancellations where we are forced to take time off and relax and have fun while not necessarily going anywhere and this allows us time for reflection. Being trapped with ourselves forces us to hang out with ourselves, get on our own nerves, laugh at our own jokes, and be revealed by our own shortcomings.
Winter is the loneliest of all the seasons. Last week, as I said, I went sledding with a friend down the hidden slopes of the Camp Hill Park. During one run, I wiped out after nearly hitting a tree. Out-of-breath, I sat there with snow in my gloves and icicles forming on my beard and a runny nose and it was wonderful.
I was happy to be with my friend and I was happy that I could still enjoy sledding in my twenties and I was happy to have the strains of MOMA Dance reverberating in my head. I looked around the park. It was 10 or 11 at night and, besides the laughter of my friend Beth as she recouped from a similar sledding incident, everything else was still. Almost eerily so. And yet beautiful too, with nature putting on its Sunday Whites yet standing stark naked in its Winter Wonderland.
This is how beginnings are made. For next comes spring where the flowers bloom and where the harvest is first planted and where the children swing after school and the kids stay out late on Friday nights, cruising down main street with the windows down and the radio on.
12:00 AM on New Year’s Day is the very beginning of this cycle. For twelve months it will be 1999. For only twelve months. After that it will be 2000 and we’ll have to start at one again. We had better use these twelve months wisely. Not carefully, not prudently…but wisely. The Grateful Dead once sang, “The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own.” Here, here – that’s a yes on all three counts.
New Year’s Eve itself is no mystical turning point, no intrinsically linked universal – rather it is merely an arbitrary accounting for the passage of time as recorded by the Christian calendar. That’s all. I’m not a Christian. And so why should it matter to me if it has been 1999 years to the day since somebody started counting? But it does matter. The calendar has crossed over so to speak, and so, on New Year’s Eve, I look back and reflect upon what it was I accomplished in that year, and it is a time to look ahead to see just what it is I’ll be shooting for in the coming year. Not resolutions, but dreams and vague directions. It is also a time for us, as homo sapiens, to pat each other on the back and say, “Congratulations kid, you made it another year.”
Congratulations kid, you made it another year.
12/31/98 – New Year’s Eve
Silk City; Philadelphia, PA
As The Disco Biscuits burst into a trance-inducing rendition of Helicopters, I was catapulted stratospherically to a cosmic barnstorming; a real lynch mob hootenanny and dance concert.
To the right of me, some girl was raised above the head-boppers, pulsating on top of a lighting truss. The entire Silk City was erupting into mass frenzy and fever-pitch euphoria, the like of which hasn’t been seen since the reclusive Dionysian cults unleashed itself in the black midnight hills of Greece. Amidst the sea of embraces and auld lang synes, I paused for a second to look around. Not a person in the place wasn’t in motion, eyes alight, whether brightened or blurry, enlightened or slightly fuzzy, everybody was, for the moment, rejoiceful at the new year, having traversed successfully into the last year of the nineteen hundreds. It was a monumental achievement, even though we had done nothing but be alive. It wasn’t as if we had worked hard for it –
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Um, just trying to make it to 1999, officer.”
Well, we made it. Intentionally or not. And, alive, we danced.
From the stage, a music emerged that was of a sound and a groove I have never heard before in all my years as an avid music fiend. It howled with the cults back in Greece and it rolled with the kids in the shakedown alleys. It celebrated all that was and yet it also nodded markedly to all that yet will be.
Never in my life have I ever heard a music more promising, a music more forward thinking, a music that opened up to a possibility of a whole new year rather than a culmination of the past year and rooted firmly still in the celebration that was occurring right then. Right there. In an energy packed club in Philadelphia.
I was dancing directly in-front of the band and it was time to explore a little, move to a place where I could shake it and welcome this strange and unusual year – I have never before lived in 1999. I had only lived in the years leading up to it. It was time to accept a new call to adventure and I was ready to get down with it. As I writhed and pulsated through the kinetically charged crowd, a friend and marvelously talented writer, Patrick, stood wide-eyed and angelic, offering me a large candy ring.
It was all so perfect. Behind me Rob and Dave, two goofy-grinned and pure-hearted tribesmen danced in their electromagnetically lit radiance, slapping fives and smiling. The jam, at this point, was transcendent and as I looked around the room there were saints everywhere, all of which deserve mention and with a Red 7 Uno card placed like a feather in my hat, I nod to all of them, angels and pepperland players and oompa-loompas alike. As I looked around taking it all in, I couldn’t help but to say aloud, “What more could you want?” and “If this isn’t good, what is?” To those who could hear me, it came out sounding like this: “Unbeliieeevable!”
Across the room I saw a beautiful ballerina dancer, one of the few people there who I hadn’t met before, and for a second I thought about doing something I’ve always wanted to do on New Year’s Eve, which is to run up to a complete stranger and kiss her full on the mouth. But this Helicopter was taking off and my feet just wouldn’t carry me across the room. It was time to get down for the New Year.
After the show, the band invited everybody back to their house for a party. When was the last time you heard of something like that? It was 2 AM and I was hopping in a car which zipped and zagged across town for the party of the year. And this was day one! For the next eight hours straight the party continued, and when I left with some friends at 10 AM on January 1st, the band was still bopping about their house, partying with their friends and fans. And this was just day one. The idea is that this party can’t stop for another twelve months. After all, it is 1999.
Congratulations kid, you made it another year.
And this was just day one. The party’s going to continue straight-on for another three hundred and sixty four more days. And so who am I to argue with the host? Whether back at work, or back at school, or in your car, or at a friend’s place, or at an all-night diner at 2 in the morning with stale coffee and an unlit cigarette, or at Sunday Brunch with the folks – we only have twelve months in this particular year. Let’s not waste them, eh?
Suddenly I am taken back to the very first moment of 1999.
Before the hugs, before the revelry, before I had a chance to react even, when I turned around to look at the crowd. The old T.C., a friend and fellow Biscuit boy, stood tongue out with a sizable and undetermined amount of blotter. As arms went up and “Happy New Year’s!” were being given back and forth throughout the crowd, he looked at me glitter-eyed and said, “Let’s do it right!” I think you’re onto something there, T.C. Indeed…it’s 1999 –
Let’s do it right.
Columnist Benjy Eisen is currently a Snake Oil salesman in Sante Fe, New Mexico. His motto, which sells the most amount of Snake Oil, is “Let’s Do It Right!”