For starters, January is not the beginning of the year. September is. A new year is not properly welcomed with champagne, corny toasts, and noisemakers, but with the purchase of fresh pencils, comfortable shoes, and a certain amount of plaid.
As a kid, December 31st was the night we went ice skating on a nearby pond with the Rosses. It sounds unsafe now, but I guess they had plenty of kids and it didn't matter much if one or two fell through the ice. After skating we went to the Rosses' and watched Guy Lombardo, stayed up all night, and got in trouble the next day for being cranky. Now, no Guy, no glory. Not to mention that--at this point in my life--sleep is the most pleasant celebration I can think of.
I've worked as a stand-up comic on New Year's Eve for the last 15 years. In the storage area of almost any nightclub there are cardboard boxes marked "New Year's." Those boxes contain the party hats, streamers, and noisemakers that were packed away 364 days before. Adding those party tools and one glass of bad champagne to an otherwise normal nightclub performance increases the ticket price by about 50 percent. The hats often have glitter--that could explain the cost.
It's a tough night to perform because I keep thinking I should be something bigger for the crowd. Everything feels a bit anti-climactic. I'm doing, of course, the same act I performed on the 30th. It's just that, on the 30th of December, I didn't feel so bad about not doing something bigger.
Often on New Year's Eve the nightclub puts a big clock on stage and insists I do a countdown starting the minute before midnight. The audience feels ripped off if I don't. One year I was telling a story that seemed like it might take a while, so I moved the hands of the clock. The whole room gasped.
Most years I do the goofy countdown right on schedule. Year after year there is a palpable letdown when it's over. It's like driving over the Alabama-Georgia border. There is no difference. Still, people insist on yelling and hooting and carrying on.
Then, of course, there's that post-hoot embarrassment, when people stop and slowly realize, "I've hooted really loudly in a public place, and now I'm not sure what to say or do." Post-hoot embarrassment is a sign of at least some intelligence. After all, hooting in football stadiums is not followed by post-hoot embarrassment.
This year I think New Year's hoots will be more hollow than usual. As we wait for our newly elected officials to take office, is anyone actually looking forward to 1995?
Well, I admit I look forward to 1995 a little, but only because my cat, Haskell, has been included in the 1995 Purina Celebrity Cat Calendar. She's November, so there's a lot of months to get through. Don't worry about me, I'm sure I'll fill in the time with some little activity. David Hasselhoff's cat looks embarrassed, by the way.
It's the resolutions that really make New Year's a lousy holiday. Each year I feel compelled to come up with resolutions I then fail to keep. Seven days into the new year I can't help noticing I haven't jogged, I still don't speak Spanish, I haven't memorized the location of one other country, and I'm still seven nights behind in reading every night. By January 8th I've already put my resolutions on back order for the next year, and I feel, once again, like my name has been entered into the Big Book of Losers.
I try to remember never to make the mistake of telling anyone my resolutions. Otherwise, three days into the new year, I'll be shoving a fudge-covered Oreo into my mouth and I'll hear, "I thought you were gonna go on a diet." And, with crumbs stuck to the corners of my mouth and my lips bulging to cover the cookie, I'll have to mumble, "I'm starting tomorrow."
This year, in order to harvest the good feelings of success, I'm making my resolutions more user friendly, better suited to my strengths. Last year I resolved to:
- Write every day.
- Lose weight.
- Be a nicer person.
- Talk less.
This year I will:
- Watch "Murder, She Wrote" each weeknight. (Jessica Fletcher is a writer. I could get some pointers.)
- Walk to breakfast.
- Sleep more.
- Sleep more.
Tonight I was watching interviews on "MacNeil/Lehrer" with new congresspeople going to Washington. They were asked what they were going to do there. Both the Democrats and the Republicans said stuff like "fight for change" and "restore values." Pressed for specifics, they could only espouse more grand resolutions.
This year I swear I'm gonna work toward campaign reform.
Letters to Paula Bill Roth, San Jose, Calif.:
> Why do they call those spiders "daddy longlegs?"
A: Bill, I picked your question because I thought it would be easy. But most of the insect books at the library don't even list "daddy longlegs." The only thing I found is that they are also known as harvestmen.
I thought that was interesting, but the 20th time I heard, "You know, they're also known as harvestmen," in response to my question about the name "daddy long-legs," I realized that "you know, they're also known as harvestmen" is actually code for "beats the hell out of me."
I called the Los Angeles Zoo, but they didn't have an answer. They did offer to answer questions about tapirs, though. I'd like to extend the same offer to you, Bill.
Even experts are baffled. The "longlegs" is obvious, but I think it's time for me to guess about the "daddy." The male "daddy longlegs" has a penis (an image I'm not likely ever to forget). After he has sex with the female, which he does over and over in a brief span of time, the male defends the female until she lays the eggs.
I believe that the "daddy" is sort of a Mae West-Belle Watling-dime-a-dance-come-up-and-see-me-sometime kind of daddy. Not a sweet paternal folksy name, but more of a bump-and-grind "Big Ol' Daddy Longlegs" kind of handle. There was, however, no reference to this in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Lisa Hoferkamp, e-mail: Why is the number 13 considered unlucky?
A: I called the Salem Witch Museum around Halloween for an answer. It never occurred to me that it was their busiest time of year. They said that in trying to discredit women and pagan traditions, patriarchal Judeo-Christian religions gave the number 13 a bad name because there were 13 moons in a year and 13 cycles in a woman's menstrual year.
If they had realized that we women are scatterbrained and drive badly, the good name of 13 might not have been further besmirched. Still, it would be an uphill PR battle to get over the fact that Judas was the 13th apostle.
Even before Christianity, the Romans associated the number 13 with death. I don't know why. However, 1 p.m., the 13th hour, is the broadcast hour for "Another World," "The 700 Club," "Maury Povich," and "Suzanne Somers." The Romans may have had a point.
J.D. Alvarez, St. Louis: My roommate's cat, Zachary, has a fluffy tail, and he walks with it sticking straight up. I think Zach's behavior indicates he is proud of his tail. My friend, a veterinary student, says cats can't feel pride. What do you think?
A: J.D., I asked my vet your question. Brace yourself. My vet says cats don't feel pride. I guess I seemed upset, because he added that this is strictly scientific and that when owners anthropomorphize their pets, it's an indication of caring. Gee, when peacocks find out they'll be so ashamed.
I'm sure that's as far as science has gotten in the study of cats. I'm equally sure that my six cats have a wide variety of emotions; however, I don't like to say this to scientists, because I can just picture them in a lab somewhere purposely trying to hurt a cat's feelings.