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Posted on February 7th, 2017

The Geography of My Mind – Ringin’ in the New Year

The last six New Year’s Eves I’ve spent in Portland, Oregon seeing the same band with mostly the same people. Only one of those years did I actually live there; the others I either traveled from Colorado or Illinois (on hiatus from Texas). They all took great time and energy – and great expense – to get there. This is obviously one of my favorite bands, and these people are pretty darn good too. But elsewhere in one of these columns (who knows which one anymore; I’m too lazy to check…) I’ve written about the ridiculousness of premeditated celebrations and holidays in general, and how much I hate traveling, especially by plane. Yet, every year now for the last six, I throw common sense (and oodles of dollars) aside and make the trek. Do I enjoy myself? Yes, of course. I’d like to think I’m not so much a dullard that I’d keep returning to the scene of the crime if it weren’t any fun; but then again, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t put anything past me. But, yes, I do enjoy it. But is it worth it? That is another question altogether… How do you measure “worth”?

First, let’s start with the inanity of New Year’s Eve. Just like U2 sang, “Nothing changes New Year’s Day.” Yet all over the world people act as if there is something to celebrate. My best guess is the only real reason to celebrate the turn of the calendar is because the ending year really sucked – as did 2016 – it was a doozy. So many great musicians lost, tragedies worldwide, terror, a fractured country, etc., etc. But the thing is, even though we put to bed 2016, there is no guarantee 2017 will be any better. Lou Holtz once said, “It’s never as bad as it seems, and it’s never as good as it seems.” Music to the ears of a cynical optimist like myself. In fact, to tag on that, for as long as I can remember, my mom has always used (more like appropriated) Murphy’s Law: “What can go wrong, will.” Only she calls it Esquandoles’ Law.

So it seems I was engrained with bad expectations from the beginning. I remember when I was young there used to be a bunch of old magazines in the bathroom, and there was always some copies of Reader’s Digest (side note: communal magazines in a bathroom is gross). One time I was flipping through one and found a short quip about how this guy always expected the worst. He traveled a lot and had a dog. He always feared something was going to happen to it when he was gone. Whenever he came home he was relieved it didn’t die. Then one day the dog finally did die. His moral of the story: that he preempted the sad feeling by always thinking the worst. Yikes. That’s weird. My point is (right about now you must be like, “Wait, there is one?”) if we’re always expecting the worst – or the best – we’re going to get let down an awful lot. Celebrations like New Year’s Eve do just that – New Year’s resolutions, anyone? But if we’re being honest, I don’t know what percentage of the population puts a lot of stock in NYE beyond it just being a valid societal-wide excuse to get hammered, just like Halloween is a valid societal-wide excuse to dress “sexy” (I hope you know I mean a different word), and Thanksgiving is an excuse to channel your inner Joey Chestnut (Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, anyone?). So it seems we’ve covered three of the seven deadly sins: gluttony, lust and pride. I’m sure I could weave the other four in here but it appears I’m leading us astray…

Why do we make plans around artificial celebrations? I don’t think I’ve ever looked back on any national, annual holiday and recalled it as one of my “best” nights. The ones that I do recall fondly are the often the ones that were not scripted, typically spontaneous. But, as we do for everything in this culture of ours, we follow the norms for years, if not decades, until someone carves another path for us to follow. We’re sheep. More accurately we’re lemmings. We just haven’t found the cliff to walk off – yet. Back to NYE: what’s the point of the countdown? Especially at rock show? I mean, do we really need to stop the music just to have some half-deflated balloons, watered-down champagne and awkward embraces? Being the Casanova that I’m not, more often than not I am unadorned with a female companion on NYE; strangely that is often true for my birthday as well. Since my relationships often have a shelf-life of 3-6 months, so it seems, I “plan” them poorly and miss out on those few days that are supposed to be made for couples. Now that I write that, I think I’m actually thankful. That way I don’t have to ruin anyone’s “good” time by me not having one right alongside them. The only holiday I can imagine really being any fun with a girlfriend would be Arbor Day; that way she can carry the shovel back to the car after I’ve planted the tree. Teamwork.

I was telling someone this past NYE that I’ve spent three of them in the last decade or so home alone and asleep before midnight. They looked at me like I was crazy. Like I had committed some great sin (the eighth deadly sin?) or was missing out on some cultural rite of passage. My boozy friends’ call NYE (and Halloween, and 4th of July, and Labor Day, and Memorial Day, and Fridays, and Saturdays…) “amateur night.” I agree. I’m nowhere near as boozy as I once was, but when you pick any one day as your savior, your hall pass, or your excuse, clearly you missed the point. Life should be less about being a puppet and abiding by the preferred days of revelry – make your own. Not that you can’t do it on NYE, just that it will cost you a hell of a lot more, be a hell of a lot more crowded, and likely be ruined by various other doorknobs who are only really good at ruining other people’s good times. I told that same person that I would be just as happy, if not happier, to see that same band with those same people on a Monday night in South Dakota as I would on NYE in Oregon, and it would cost a hell of a lot less for the travel, lodging, booze and amenities. They stared at me like a cow chewing its cud. I guess common sense and adventure is lost on some people…

I was at the airport on New Year’s Day and there were a gaggle of buffoons wearing tiaras and those corny cardboard top hats with “Happy New Year” on them. I was so drained of energy from three days of late-night music, and from beer and vodka transfusions, to make too many disparaging comments; but as I got back to my destination and took to the town to walk the dog, get food, re-enter society, etc., I was greeted with that salutation: “Happy New Year!” But what does that even mean? I’m not sure what the proper greeting is upon arriving or leaving a funeral, but I imagine that might be more appropriate for the day the calendar turns. Maybe we should start saying, “Sorry for your loss” on New Year’s Day, or perhaps, “It had a good run.” Or simply, “Well, it went hard and fast. I hope it didn’t feel any pain.” Try that next year. On a related note, why do we even feel the need to greet people? I mean, in a city like New York they never make any eye contact or attempt at acknowledging someone they don’t know. That’s how drifters and conmen know who to take advantage of in any big city: the dupes respond to their invitations and solicitations. Perhaps we should look at people who say, “Happy New Year,” “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Thanksgiving,” or “Happy 4th of July” as just exactly the people we should encourage not to add to the gene pool. The only acceptable greeting would be a cold 100-yard stare to ward off scallywags and hustlers…

And so here I am. Having celebrated a bunch of New Year’s celebrations like any good pawn, doing the bidding of culture, supporting the economic machine, and setting my hopes and expectations by someone else’s standards. I’m not sure I’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution, but if I would, it might be something like this: “This year, I promise not to lose weight, drink less or be a better person. In fact, I’m going to try and be an even worse person.” At least it’s a promise I can keep.

Marco Esquandoles
12:01 Party-pooper

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