' ' Cinema Romantico: A New Year’s Missive

Thursday, December 31, 2020

A New Year’s Missive

The other day My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and I took a walk along one of our usual routes, passing a house we had not passed more than a week ago. Except now the house was gone, having been knocked down, the bulldozer still standing there, as if proudly lingering over its demolition. If, as cursory research suggested, this bulldozing stemmed from the lot having been sold, whoever previously owned the house seemed to have left behind a few possessions, including a wooden rocking horse, sitting beside the front steps that now led to nothing. We had simply wanted to go for a stroll to get out of the house and to try and briefly fool ourselves into thinking it was not 2020 but here was a 2020 metaphor staring us straight in the face, the wooden rocking horse’s googly eye seeming stricken, like it was asking, in what I imagine as a high-pitched, frantic squeak, “What just happened?” The yard sign a few houses down decreeing that Everything Will Be OK felt even more untrue than usual framed through this light. Everything Will Be OK? Tell that to the rocking horse, man.


As you get older, the so-called Magic of Christmas inevitably dissipates, not just in discovering how all those presents under the tree accumulate overnight but from the season’s overwhelming commercialization and how time just doesn’t stop when Christmas beckons, that life, in all its profound complications and misery, goes on. It is not just the Magic of Christmas that evaporates, however, but the less-mentioned magic of New Year’s Eve too. When you’re young, staying up until midnight means the forbidden is suddenly permitted, allowing you to experience how those hours you have heretofore only spent sleeping feel. It does not take long, though, for that innocent magic to be compromised, whether by drunken revelry that Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve somehow managed to keep offscreen or the shattered belief that a ball dropping in Times Square signals a Fresh Start, a New Beginning. The New Year’s Baby, it turns out, is a bigger myth than Santa Claus. 


If last New Year’s Eve I had no idea in the coming weeks that, after My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife confirmed via phone with the CVS nearest to us that toilet paper was still in stock, I would be rushing out the door at 8:00 at night, past shuttered bars and restaurants with chairs up on the tables, no one on the street save for a lone dude in a mask passing me going the other way, a dog literally howling in the distance, I nevertheless had a sneaking suspicion that 2020 was going to be bad. I even have the blog post to prove it. And the wariness I took into 2020 is the same wariness I take into 2021, the belief that turning the page will not magically make everything from the last ten months, never mind the preceding four years, heal. But while I considered going to the Keira Knightley meme well one more time, in the manner my faithful frustrated followers demand, proffering an Unamused Keira face with a caption saying something like “tfw when someone tells you 2021 will be better”, I could not bring myself to do it.  


I have been thinking a lot about New Year’s 1988. I had already stayed up until midnight for New Year’s, like the previous one, though we spent that December 31st at the home of family friends and what I remember is horsing around all night with their kids, not the clock striking midnight. At the end of 1987, on the other hand, in my own house and armed with noisemakers, I was ready. Mid-evening my mom instructed my younger sister and me to stay out of the basement so Grandpa and Grandma could take a pre-celebration nap. It didn’t make sense to me then, of course, but it makes sense to me now (like a couple New Year’s Eves ago when I took my friend Cindy up on her offer of 10:30 PM coffee). And I remember the cheerfully eerie feeling leading up to 12:00 AM. I didn’t have the understanding or vocabulary to explain it then but I do now; it was anticipation, like the feeling I get before a concert of a band I really, really like or a transatlantic flight to somewhere new.

Not long after midnight on that first day of 1988, my mom led my sister and me upstairs and told us to look out the back window, to “look,” she said, “at the New Year.” I remember seeing the snow, the way it sloped down the train tracks behind our house. I must have seen the grain elevator too, the faint red light at the top, and probably the Casey’s General Store across the way, closed up and darkened for the night. I do remember thinking how it didn’t look much different then it did a few hours ago. Still, I kept looking, hoping I might see something new. 

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