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A New Year's Carol

I am one who adores Christmas but despises "New Year's" and all that comes with it. You may wish to call me the "Scrooge" of New Year's and if that's your mind, then so be it. New Year's Eve? Bah! Humbug!

It always seems to me that the day after Christmas, when the house grows empty and quiet, is a sad time. There's not a whole lot to look forward to until those first buds of spring come popping out of the ground - and even then there's always the dismal damp weather of March to deal with.

Oh! Yes! My little town is situated in northern Ohio. Those with the brains and the money have long since departed this forsaken climate for places warmer, sunnier, and drier. I am neither smart or rich, therefore I again find myself stuck here in my little town at the beginning of winter and yearning for spring already.

There's even a caveat to waiting for spring in my little town. Here, spring, even when it comes, brings bone-chilling rain and gloomy, slate-gray skies - at least at the beginning of it. Most springs don't really begin or end around here. The seasons change though. One day it will become stiflingly hot and humid and we will call that "summer". Then one day it suddenly gets terribly cold and wet. We call that "winter". Spring and fall, what there is of them, are too-short interludes in a never-ending cycle of winter and summer. Like I said, those with the cash and the brains have long since departed this brown-gray landscape for palm trees, blue skies and sunshine.

But let me get back to the "Bah! Humbug!". Christmas is gone. Most "normal" people are looking forward to New Year's Eve, the party hats, the revelry, the tooting of horns, the confetti, champagne, and the noise. Oh, and don't forget that stupid "Ball".

I'm not looking forward to New Year's Eve. New Year's? Bah! Humbug! New Year's Eve? A humbug you say? Yes indeed! What is New Year's Eve but a time for "paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer". One more precious year of my life is "in the books" and the best I can think to say is, well,  "I made it!".

New Year's Eve? Bah! Humbug!

Now before you, dear reader, start thinking I have suddenly become morose and curmudgeonly in my declining years, you may desire to read on. My spirit seems to be beyond reclamation as you will learn, but I have not always been so melancholy about New Year's Eve or so bitter about the climatological attributes of my little town. I've experienced New Year's Eve the way most "normal" people do. I've worn hats, tooted horns, drank my fill of alcohol, spent the evening in bars counting down the minutes until the "New Year". I've even watched "The Ball" drop.  But still, I cannot ever remember not thinking how totally stupid the rituals surrounding  New Year's Eve seem to me. Do I appear a bit bitter? Not really bitter. Maybe just realistic. Or maybe I'm ready for the funny farm; or just a step or two away from it. I wouldn't blame you for thinking that. I'm not so certain of my sanity these days. There's a fine line between "normal" and "crazy" you know. I'm not sure where that line is - and maybe that's a problem in and of itself.

Anyway.. so it was: Another New Year's Eve and I found myself sitting in my favorite chair, remote in my hand, flipping through all six thousand cable channels looking for something to watch. The clock struck eight - its chimes as melancholy as my mood. A light drizzle dripped down my steamy windows - not even a snowflake appeared or danced through the air to grace the dank, gloomy night.

After flipping through the channels for the tenth time, I finally decided to watch a special on The Science Channel about worms. A fitting subject for such a churlish man on such a winter's night.

With earthworms crawling through tunnels deep under the ground as my only companion, my eyes felt heavy and my thoughts turned from the slimy creatures cavorting underground to folks dressed in funny hats blowing horns. I fell asleep.

Suddenly, a bright flash of light flooded the room and a terrible clattering and clanking rumbled toward me from the kitchen. I shuddered as the cold of primordial fear pierced my soul. I kept my eyes tightly shut as any brave man would do in my situation. When I opened them, I wished I would have kept them shut.

Standing before me - less than three feet away - stood a ghastly figure: a ghost. A ghost that looked remarkably like Dick Clark. I should have kept my eyes closed I reminded myself.

He stood gazing upon me with dead eyes and his powder-white skin seemed to glow in the dark. He wore a red cape and black tights. He had an "American Bandstand" tattoo on his bare white chest, and silky green elf-shoes that looked like bad slippers. He dragged a big, mirrored ball behind him connected by a chain to his waist. A ghastly sight, indeed.

"Ebenezer Thundercloud!" the ghost bellowed. "I am the ghost of New Year's Past. Do you believe in me or not?"

"I don't know," I said sheepishly, trying to act braver than I felt. "The senses do play tricks on one especially those my age - you could be a bit of a bad Frito, or gob of moldy salsa - you might even be that sliver of forbidden pie I ate."

The ghost rattled his chain and drew the big mirrored ball closer - ripping up my carpet in the process. It was a horrible sound, like that made by long, untrimmed fingernails, scraping across a chalkboard. I was nearly out of my mind with fright and irritation.

"Well do you believe in me or not?" he screeched.

"Ummm, well, er, I guess I must believe in you! You've wrecked my carpet and you look an awful lot like Dick Clark." I replied, regaining some semblance of composure.

"Take hold of my cape, Ebenezer Thundercloud!"

I grabbed his cape and we flew together through the dank, drizzly night. And above the dim, wet streets of my little town we flew. Away into the mist the ghost and I drifted - farther and farther from my little town. My eyes were closed tightly against the advent of a premature landing. In short, I was petrified.

When I opened my eyes, they were immediately assaulted by smoke from a thousand cigarettes. My ears were bombarded by the loud twanging of electric guitars and the pounding of many drums. The ghost pointed toward the stage and I saw myself as I was decades ago - a long-haired, Bohemian, strumming on a Rickenbaker electric guitar, screeching into a microphone, near-sighted and carefree.

It was New Year's Eve and I was part of the revelry.

The ghost pointed again and shouted above the din: "Do you recognize that young man?"

"I do" I said. "That's me - all young and stupid."

"You didn't think you were stupid then, did you? You thought you knew it all. Look! Look at yourself. You're having fun."

I looked where the ghost pointed and noticed that the noise had stopped. The band had taken a break. I looked around and found myself sitting on a bar stool drinking something strong and surely alcoholic, smoking a cigarette and ogling the girls.  I can only imagine what I was thinking. I wanted to walk up and slap myself, but the ghost stopped me.

"We are invisible. No one can hear you, see you or feel you." the ghost admonished.

What's wrong with this picture?

"You sure look like Dick Clark" , I said.

The ghost just rolled his dead eyes and pointed his bony finger.

It was nearly midnight at the bar and the patrons smoked and drank furiously as if they had to do it to get ready for the big hour. I watched the young version of myself sitting at the bar lighting another cigarette, drinking another drink and ogling the girls. If I didn't know better I would have thought I was drunk. I know better, and I was.

The ghost stood beside me and said: "Look at you! You're having fun. You're enjoying life. You're celebrating New Year's Eve with the rest of humanity. You're relaxed and alive! Look at yourself. Now, look at what you've become. No pie, no cookies, no cigarettes, no strong drinks, no high fructose corn syrup, no trans fats, no fun! You're just a worried older guy who's turning himself into an odious curmudgeon. The world is having fun while you sit at home on New Year's Eve watching a TV documentary about earthworms."

"But, I was drunk, Dick! Give me a break!" I muttered. The ghost, glowered at me - ignoring my observation.

I watched the younger version of myself chugging a beer with my arms around two gorgeous girls. I thought to myself: "How'd I get from here to earthworms? Maybe the ghost, that looks remarkably like Dick Clark, is right. Maybe there's something to this New Year's Eve stuff."

I turned to the ghost and said: "Take me home. I can't stay here. Look at me!  I'm ruining my lungs and my liver and girls that age would surely give me heart attack or stroke!" You're only making me feel worse!"

The ghost shook his Dick-Clark head and mumbled something that sounded like "pathetic" but I couldn't quite be sure. His mouth was full of sushi.

When I awoke, the earthworm show was over and "The Dog Whisperer" was on. And, I know from experience that when "The Dog Whisperer" starts it never ends. I quickly flipped through the channels and stopped at the Weather Channel. They were showing various inebriated masses running amok in cities all over Europe where the New Year had already begun. Yippee! There were people my age in silly hats, blowing silly horns, and jumping around, celebrating a new year -one in which they will surely inch closer to their own inevitable demise. Toot! Toot! Happy New Year!

Suddenly, my worst nightmare unfolded. For now, right on the screen in front of  my weary eyes, in glorious HD was - "THE BALL". Something that I have avoided for years and years had finally snuck its way on to my LCD TV screen. It was the same ball the ghost in my dream had dragged over my carpet. It was "THE BALL" my parents made me watch every New Year's Eve.  I couldn't change the channel fast enough and I cursed The Weather Channel for showing Time Square and The Ball.

10:15PM - New Year's Eve.

Luckily for me, The African Queen is on Turner Classic Movies and I know I am safe even if I made it until at least midnight, which I am not of a mind to do. It is fine with me if I wake up at 5:00AM and discover the calendar has turned another page without my witnessing it. So what if it's a "new" year. What the heck was wrong with the old year. At least I was comfortable with it. I have (almost) lived through it. Now I grow another year older, not a penny richer or an hour wiser. Another year closer to my own sure demise. Now another new year is being thrust upon me and I'll have to find my way around in it just when the old year was starting to feel nice and comfortable.

The next three weeks or so, I'll be putting the wrong dates on checks and other things which need to be dated - and each time I do I'll be reminded that it's a new year. I don't want to be reminded. That's why I don't watch "THE BALL" drop (or go up) or whatever it does on New Year's Eve. It's bad enough we're all another year older without having to be reminded of it every time we write a check or have to put the date on something.

I've lost my spirit of adventure these days. I'm not so keen on wondering what lies ahead. I'm too old to expect deliciously that every new crook in the road ahead will bring something wonderful my way. I don't like crooks in the road anymore - they're sinister at my age. I'd just as soon it stay nice and straight so I can see what's up ahead - with maybe a gentle curve far in the distance so I can't see the end of it.

If you're one of those who finds great joy in welcoming in a New Year, I hope you're not offended. I will never understand your yearning to leap into the great unknown - especially if you're over forty. If you didn't like the old year, what makes you think the new one's going to be any better? And if you did like the old one, why are you celebrating its demise?

I'll get used to the new year. I'm sure I will. And, Good Lord willing, I'll be writing about how nice and comfortable the old year was when the next New Year's Eve rolls around. But for now: New Year's?  Bah! Humbug!

I sure hope I don't have anymore dreams about Dick Clark. What a nightmare. I can almost hear him counting down as the ball drops and saying "HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYBODY!" Happy New Year to you Dick! You have to be 107 by now. How many face lifts have you had?

New Year's Eve is a humbug and I mean that. But I do want to wish you all the very best in 2008. That's the best this old curmudgeon can do.

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