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On New Year's we tend to overwhelm ourselves with fun. We shouldn't try so hard.

Just Another Day


This New Year's Day my friend, her husband, their children and an extended family of 38 are sailing somewhere over the Caribbean. God bless them.

They planned the seven-day cruise a year ago, convinced it would be a festive if not entirely relaxing way to embrace 2002. When I imagine the scenario on that ship I picture a cross between an Osmond family vacation and what could become new material for a "Love Boat" reprise.

I was invited too. I declined. Instead I will sit snugly on New Year's Day, spooning black-eyed peas and stewed tomatoes. I'll take down holiday decorations and watch football. I will ponder my New Year's resolutions and whether I am truly inclined to keep them. And I'll wait for the gust of 2001 to subside.

Still, in the midst of this mild self-reflection I can't help but marvel at how we punctuate the New Year. We labor every year to make it authentic and, dare I say, extraordinary.

Perhaps we shouldn't try so hard.

I recall a New Year's Eve many years ago when my Aunt Miriam and cousin Benji spent the night at our house. My aunt had agreed to watch the kids while my parents went out. My brothers, Benji and I ate my aunt's famous fudge and popped popcorn on the stovetop. The house smelled like cooking oil and chocolate.

We tramped downstairs, pushed a few chairs out of the way, moved the coffee table and pulled up the rug so the linoleum floor was exposed. Then we put on roller skates and played records.

I performed a stunning version of "Copacabana" by Barry Manilow only to be upstaged by my brother's technically taut rendition of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You." The talent in the house was formidable. Later we cut construction paper into tiny pieces for confetti. We watched Dick Clark on TV as he talked to stars like Dionne Warwick and Olivia Newton-John.

Minutes before midnight we made a run for noisemakers. We grabbed tops of pots from the kitchen. They became cymbals. The countdown was on in Times Square and at my house. We couldn't wait for that giant silver ball to drop. It did and we went nuts.

As an adult my New Year's Eves have been less jubilant. I spent a decade of them working in trendy restaurants. Anyone who has done the same knows the nightmare. Inevitably the most popular dishes run out, the dinner takes hours and service is slow. Equally predictable, I'd end up waiting on people I knew, people who seemed to pity me scurrying about in a daze. I wasn't a great waitress. But I would dutifully pass out glitter-covered top hats, feathered headbands, bright-colored leis, and plastic horns all before the stroke of 12. By then the wine and champagne had almost always quelled tempers.

I watched people muster silly fun. They'd kiss one another and sing "Auld Lang Syne." At the end of the shift I'd collect my wad of cash and collapse. I celebrated solace, in the aftermath of another New Year.

But every year, whether I had worked or had concocted illustrious plans, I longed for one twinkling moment, a comma in time, to mark the New Year. Only recently have I started to relish it again.

Last year a group of my friends and family got together to play games on New Year's Eve. None of us had made plans to do anything spectacular. We began the night with a highly competitive battle of charades, followed by a white-elephant exchange. Each person had brought a tacky present to give to another member of the group. We drew numbers to see who would get what. Once the gifts were opened one trade was allowed for each.

Finally we were stuck with our treasures. One person ended up with a 40-ounce bottle of Colt 45, pork rinds and two lottery tickets. Another was thrilled to glean edible underwear from the exchange. I got a tilting cedar birdhouse. But I was most pleased with my extravagant $8 contribution. I had found at a rummage shop a ceramic pair of clerics conjoined at the hips by a clock. One was pale blue, the other pink. The frosty-glazed figurines were as heavy as cinderblock and stood over 15 inches tall. It tickles me deeply to know my conjoined clerics are on display in another friend's home. We rang in the New Year with karaoke. What better time to sing Patsy Cline? There were no cymbals. We were the noisemakers. And how could we keep from singing?

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