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New Years Eve is for the believers
will I be with you or will I be among the missing?
I only recently realized that I hear Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘What Are You Doing New Years Eve?’ differently than most people. It turns out that most people hear that song and they hear a woman crooning to a man, begging him to spend the midnight moments of New Years Eve with her. But I hear it as a sort of siren’s song for the night. When I hear it, Ella has far more faith in the promises of New Years Eve than she does in her would-be lover. And, in this interpretation, I believe I’m correct — just listen to how she sings it.
I remember every New Years Eve of my entire life and I remember that song playing from an iPhone speaker — echoing tinny in a brightly-lit hotel bathroom where the girl I was seeing stood, curling her hair in the mirror. It was a few hours before a new year and the hotel was in Washington DC, somewhere near the White House. The girl was blonde and very pretty and I sat on the bed, drinking wine and looking at her (I could see her in the mirror by the bed). Her eyes moved over her face and body in the bathroom mirror. You could tell by her eyes and the corners of her lips that she was happy. And I sat there, looking at her in both the mirrors and tried to figure out if I was in love with her. But I was pretty down on love at the time and all I could come away with was the determination that I believed in the promise of New Years Eve.
That was several years ago and now, at thirty-one, I’ve lost most of my illusions about the world. I’ve lost the conviction that the lights will always turn green. And yet, I still believe in New Years Eve.
But what does that mean? I still believe in New Years Eve. I’ll admit it rolls off the tongue like a cliché. And I hate clichés. But what I mean, specifically, is that I retain my lifelong belief in the potential to spontaneity of any given New Years Eve. I no longer believe in the historicity of the Book of Genesis or in the notion of soulmates. But I believe in love-at-first-sight on New Years Eve — and only on New Years Eve. And I’m not suggesting that this isn’t a ridiculous romanticism. But it’s one I refuse to abandon. To me, when Ella Fitzgerald sings “what are you doing New Years Eve?” she isn’t singing to a lover as much as she’s saying that you can do anything you want on New Years Eve.
For example, did you know that if you play ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins on December 31st, 2022 at 11:56:40 the drums will roll just as the clock strikes midnight? And did you also know that on New Years Eve, I once saw a woman doing cocaine off the crumbled wreckage of the World Trade Center’s radio antennae? I should say, the wreckage was on display at a now-defunct museum and the New Years Party was also at this museum. But my god, there she was, just snorting a line off American history. Doing blow off the start of the 21st Century. And now why would she do that? It was obviously an aesthetic choice — it certainly couldn’t have been a moral one. Because, if we’re taking morality into account, it’s a remarkably fucked-up thing to do. It’s the kind of thing, you might say, that you can only hope to get away with doing on New Years Eve.1
Now, I’m not condoning this behavior. I’m not even condoning my own romanticism. Again, I know it’s ridiculous (and, I suspect, detrimental) to believe that there’s an unbounded potential withheld in New Years Eve. But that’s the problem I’ve always had with the Stoics. Epictetus tells you not to bury your emotions into anything — to react the same way whether misfortune has delivered you a broken cup or a dead wife. But what a boring (and, I suspect, unfulfilling) way to go through life, cherishing nothing. Sure, tend your garden but what’s the point of growing roses if you’re forbidden from smelling them?
I know it may not be sound logic. It’s the same sort of logic I once used to justify smoking cigarettes — essentially, life is for living. And sometimes, the belief in a great big hope is the only thing that ever comes of the night. You simply felt good, you felt promising. I remember another New Years Eve — this was actually a few hours after midnight — and I was standing in a kitchen somewhere in Washington DC with all these French people. I think maybe they worked at an embassy or something. There was a light, warm rain outside and we were smoking Gauloises. I remember there was a blue carton of Gauloises right there on the kitchen island. And anyway, it was really smoky in this kitchen. Like the inside of a cloud. The windows were cracked and you could barely smell the rain outside. And somebody came into the kitchen and they started coughing and said what the fuck are you doing in here and the guy next to me said in a thick French accent, we’re giving up smoking — New Year’s resolution. And the whole room, everybody inside the cloud, had a big laugh.
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And that’s really the only noteworthy thing that happened. Like, for the whole night. We laughed and we felt good. It doesn’t fulfill any great big hope under the standard definition. But still, still, when I bring that night to mind, I have a good feeling about it. It makes me feel good in the way it makes me feel good to look at certain things by Hockney or Cézanne. I can’t describe the emotion buried inside a New Years Eve memory or inside ‘A Bigger Splash’ — but I like it.
A few years before this, even before the girl in the mirror (whom it later turned out, I did love), I was thrown out of a beach bar only half an hour before midnight. It wasn’t actually my fault except that I’d played an auxiliary role in a bar-fight. But we — my buddy Jake and I — we were walking along the dark face of the ocean when I realized I didn’t have my wallet or my phone. This happened as I was rifling through my empty pockets and Jake was saying we should go to a different bar. Really, you could say, the situation was hopeless.
But then we stopped walking because I got distracted by the lights of a single tanker on the horizon and the stars sprinkled above it. And I looked at all that and I asked what time it was. Jake said it was eleven-fifty-seven and that was it. We stood there by the ocean, looking at the tanker moving slowly south. And I remember that when the new year hit, I was thinking about how it didn’t matter that I didn’t have my phone or wallet because this was supposed to be the start of something new and my old things would be useless here. But of course it wasn’t the start of anything new, the fun was only in believing that it was.
I sometimes think about this moment and try to figure out what do to with it. It feels like an image from ‘Howl’ — but like, worse. I’ve sort of decided I’m probably not going to be able to put it anywhere. That’s probably why it ended up here. In the blog. It’s one of those moments when you look at real-life and say now this is really just bad writing. If you live in Washington DC and you work in politics, you encounter those moments constantly. Kanye going full-Nazi, Donald Trump hawking NFT cartoons of himself, George Santos claiming he’s Jew-ish. All of it. It’s all bad writing.