Pop Goes the Culture
By Paul Tatara
I love the holidays. I really do. Of course, like many other people, I’m appalled by the commercial-driven glacier that rolls over otherwise well-meaning festivities throughout the season. But a commercial-driven glacier is always rolling over us, and global warming won’t do a thing to dissipate it. At least at Christmastime there’s shiny wrapping paper involved, and some people make hot chocolate, and you get to watch The Grinch and Charlie Brown on TV.
So I do my best to take pleasure in the lights and music, and I always try to ignore my customary reservations about turning the next corner, both literally and figuratively, until the season is officially over. I wait until the morning of December 26. I know most people would argue that I should be holding on until January 2, but I surrender on the day after Christmas because, as far as I’m concerned, New Year’s Day isn’t a holiday. This time around, I’ll be calling it “Tuesday.”
Christmas, of course, is a time when many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a soft-spoken young man who was either the Son of God or had an amazing publicist. But whatever the locus of your focus, Christianity or Santa hocus-pocus—it just occurred to me to write it that way—you’re still celebrating something. And if you’re being honest, your inner Linus always remembers, to whatever degree it suits you, that it’s Jesus’ birthday. That’s what’s going on. We’re rejoicing overa positive event.
So what are we celebrating on New Year’s Day? Or better yet, what the hell is going on on New Year’s Eve, outside of large masses of people getting sedated, then counting backwards for ten seconds? The logical next step would be deep sleep, then surgery, but there’s nothing logical about anything that happens on the final day of the old year, or the first day of the new one.
I reside in Manhattan, and, for about seven years, I had an apartment a few blocks away from Times Square, home of “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Two-Million Drunks in the Street About To Pee Their Pants Eve Spectacular.” It kills me when people who don’t live here talk to me during the holidays, and ask if I’m going to Times Square on New Year’s Eve. It’s like asking me if I’m hoping to spend a day chained to Dustin Hoffman on Devil’s Island. I never once got near it, but you could hear the crowd roar from my bedroom window when the ball came down. Without the visual, it sounded like God sighing.
When I look back on it, the only New Year’s Eve gathering I’ve ever attended where something interesting happened due to a revved-up sense of let’s-get-it-going, was at the house I grew up in, as 1976 rolled into 1977. I was 13 years old. We lived in a small town, but our end of it was hardly what you would call farmland. It was, however, what you would call Alabama, so it wasn’t all that crazy to occasionally hear someone firing a rifle in the woods across the way . . . probably shooting at tin cans, or, God knows, maybe at a picture of General Grant. Guns were just part of the landscape.
Anyway, my dad decided that, after we all counted down to zero, he was going to walk out in the backyard and fire a rifle in the air. This was totally unlike him, and no booze was involved, so I don’t know what possessed him to do it. He just thought a little noise was in order, and he had that gun in the back of the closet that he’d shot maybe five times in the past ten years, so why not let her rip?
Why not indeed. When we counted down, Dad stepped off the porch, moved away from the house, held the rifle out with both arms, pointing it straight upward, and fired. The noise was terrific, and we all thought it was great, until Dad stepped back to the house. The recoil from the shot kicked the rifle back in his hands, and he split the skin between his thumb and pointing finger, all the way down to the socket. The wildest thing about it—and this was like my dad—was that he said it didn’t hurt at all. I clearly remember him saying, with a tone of amazed fascination in his voice, “Look at this, Paulie.” Then he showed me what it looks like in there.
If two million people pulled something like that when the ball dropped in Times Square, you bet your ass I’d tune in.
Visit “Wall of Paul” (http://wallofpaul.com/) for more doses of undiluted Paul Tatara.