HAPPY NEW YEAR, and a very special new year at that. For anyone who is paying attention, the millennium is now eighteen years old, which means, according to most standard definitions, it is an adult. Now is the time when we tell the millennium to get its ass off the couch, and get a job, and take some responsibility for itself, and stop being such a sniveling baby, and to buck up, and whatever else we tell teenagers on the verge of adulthood.
Actually I’m not sure what the technical and legal definition of adulthood is these days, if it corresponds with some agreed age of consent, or even if there is a national standard. It may very well depend on the state, and if that is the case, then in New York the legal definition of maturity is when a girl is old enough to curse you out from a street corner while smoking. In California you are old enough when your cult leader tells you that you are. In Alabama it is like ten and up, and in Mississippi anyone that can spell ‘Mississippi’ or at least recognize the word as that thing “we all live in” is pretty much ready to operate a motor vehicle and buy lotto tickets. In Alaska you have reached manhood when you can catch a salmon in your teeth while standing in an ice cold river, and in Massachusetts it begins with the formal repudiation of the letter ‘R.’ In Kentucky it takes shape when a sibling joins the fight against the family he is a ‘feudin’ with, and in Nevada when a desperate boy with hair under his arms gets a job to help pay for his dad’s huge gambling debts. Ain’t that America, for you and me.
It’s been a great many beers and years since I was eighteen, and of the two I’m not sure which has had the more deleterious effect on my memory. I do recall, though, because it is still there, getting a tattoo when I was eighteen, because I could, and registering to vote, because even back then I was a comedian. I also stopped committing violent crimes. The system is a lot more lenient on juvenile maniacs, as it turns out.
Completely rehabilitated, I have a tradition every January 1st. I get up and go running. It’s a salutary way to start the new year. I might even go as far as to say salubrious. You know what, I will say it.
And because this past New Year’s Day was a brisk 20 degrees Fahrenheit, there was a little extra exhilaration to the whole exercise. My running route is generally the same throughout the year, so I know what to expect, but that morning I came across something in the road that was extremely puzzling. At first I thought it was some kind of wild, technicolored, conical party hat, one of those oversized absurdities that people use at New Year’s Eve parties across the country to be recognized for a kiss at midnight. I figured it had been drunkenly cast out of a moving car. It was only when I neared it that I realized what it was, and of course I should’ve known. Because of the sheer amount of gastrointestinal residue, I decided that a grizzly bear had been wandering the neighborhood and had emitted an entire winter’s worth of hibernation sustenance. In short it was the biggest pile of puke I had ever seen. Cars swerved to avoid it. Buzzards circled overhead. A county official came out and assessed it a property tax. More than anything it was a horrendous monument as to why I usually avoid New Year’s Eve, and the indulgence that tends to go with it.
Then there was a commotion on the front lawn of a nearby house, a tableau that became clear in an instant. A father who was so red with anger that he didn’t even need a coat, only a tee shirt and shorts in the freezing weather, was marching a bucket of hot water down his driveway. Behind him his sheepish daughter shuffled, also with a bucket of hot water. The daughter was blanched and shaking, the grim specter of death hovered over her. I understood. I had been there myself. She couldn’t have been older than seventeen or eighteen, a victim of the rocky seas of celebration. They walked out into the road and dumped their buckets on the offensive pile of last night’s party buffet frozen like Kilimanjaro in the middle of the street, while the father unleashed a string of furious threats on his ashen issue, who cowered in malaise and regret. It was a modern ritual, a funereal procession of cleansing being acted out in neighborhoods and villages across the world, a harsh yet necessary lesson about the whiplash of consumption. On some level, the girl had crossed the rubicon into some higher truth about living.
They paused when they saw me go trotting by, unsure of what to do or say, like I had ruined the solemnity of the occasion.
“Happy New Year,” I waved, but instead, the lyrics to the old Urge Overkill song blasted in my head.
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman….Soon
More Alembics to come