Saturday, January 01, 2005
11:43 PM |
Thoughts Coming In Like the Flash of Fireworks
This was it, my New Year so clearly defined before me: a salsa-dancing CocoAmigos bartender gyrating, hips psychedelic, to a wild Latin beat, and I ... I was on my second glass of white wine, tiptoeing the line between past and future years, wondering what it would be like, this New Year that was suddenly facing me, gyrating bartender and all.
It was a bit difficult to think through the cacophony of exploding gunpowder, shrill horns, cars blaring, and what suspiciously sounded like empty skillets pounded against will -- bland and shrill percussion instruments sounding like bells being raped -- all gathering up towards the stroke of midnight.
We were here to welcome 2005, but for a moment, New Year only meant headache, earache. Why do we celebrate the passing of time this way? I silently asked -- but not too silently: my eyes spoke too much, and Uncle James was looking at me.
He smiled. "The noise ... there's an ancient Chinese custom, and the noise is supposed to drive off all the evil spirits of the previous year."
"Yes," I said, "but we did the same thing last year, and it never quite worked. It's been, on the whole, a bad year for everybody."
"Well, sometimes we do certain things because of the comfort the routine gives us, like an old blanket," he said.
I suppose he was right, but already the bar had become much too noisy, compounded by the shrill sounds of plastic horns some of the customers were tooting -- it was the sound of children crying. In the distance, there were occasional fireworks displays that pulled at my cynical heart: streams of red, blue, and yellow flowered briefly against the dark of the sky.
Fireworks make men smile, but their pleasures are often too brief, too expensive. What happens between the moments of explosion, the collective ohhs and ahhs, and then the quick disintegration of light into the surrounding blackness? A rising of spirits, briefly, and then the rush of nothingness: the feeling of emptiness after the orgasm.
It was the midnight of 1 January 2005. Did I know where I was?
Not for a brief moment, no. Everywhere else, including the TV, people made moves to start the new year right, with rituals, with food, with fuses and matchsticks, with shopping: the whole of Saturday was a beehive of people darting forth to buy the last bits for a New Year midnight feast -- not, without question, leaving out what was most requisite by tradition: something round and spherical and fruity, symbolic for Good Luck. Oranges, apples, lanzones, grapes, pineapples.
"And melon, too?" I asked Ma.
"Melon, too, sometimes," she said, "but it can be too big -- not right, aesthetically, for the dinner table."
"Why must it be a round? And why must it be a fruit?" I asked.
"I have no idea."Nobody
had any idea when asked, except to gesture somehow to the practice's symbolism for bringing in good luck.
How is something round "good luck"? "I suppose it is the infiniteness of the spherical object," my erudite friend Samantha answered for me. She was always the one with the encyclopedic answers: she wears her eyeglasses like a badge. "The circle is a perfect shape, almost divine. I suppose that's why it signifies good luck, although I'm not sure."
"And you take in the good luck by eating the fruit?"
"Well, fruits are fruits. Would you rather have tennis balls on your dining table?" she said, irritated. We were drinking Vienna coffee and eating vanilla puff in Chicco's.
"So, what are you planning for New Year midnight?" she finally asked. She was going to her auntie's, and I was not invited.
"Nothing I suppose, just like Christmas," I said. "My mother plans to go to bed early."
"A strange family," she said.
"Not really," I said. "We traditionally do all the seasonal stuff the previous years, but this year ... well, everyone just felt we weren't up to the task. It's been a weird Christmas season, but in a sense I like the change. So this year, it's TV, and the next day, I'm going to take Ma for dinner at ChowKing."
"Ma is addicted to their sweet and sour pork lauriat," I replied.
"Oh yeah," Samantha said. "I love the shredded garlic sauce they offer. What do they call it?"
"Umm, shredded garlic sauce."
But it wasn't TV or sleep come New Year, but CocoAmigos and their dancing, gyrating bartender. And the white wine. With my brother Edwin and Uncle James. Which made me appreciate the way the bartender moved: the spring to his steps! the swish in his hips! and how low he could twist! We saluted to dance steps and "The Ketchup Song" and bartenders in general.
We saluted the New Year.
But for a while, 2004 lingered like smoke clinging to old clothes. Each clink of wineglasses and each salute to something else brought back how the previous year was: triumphs and tribulations, heart aches and joys, gains and losses. And so many deaths.
Each clink was an accounting of things past -- and a resolution for things in the future. Each clink was an invitation to a quick parade of questions: should I get new contact lenses? must I persist with gym and dieting and playing badminton? how should I grab the future right now before me?
That was a lot of white wine, and already the New Year looked tipsy. How funny, and how sad. The mind, after delirium, took time to settle from its drugged torpor: everything else had suddenly become a nauseating brightness, or incandescent colors this shade of puke green. One more clink, and we all had drunk to our health, to our New Year, to our new hope.
"To meeting new, interesting people!"
"To a better love life!"
"To better books to read in the coming year!"
"To have time to read all those better books!"
"To have time at all, for anything!"
"To have time to breathe and relax, and know that there is much more to life than what we have in our hands!"
"To stop talking like bumper stickers!"
And we laughed, and we shut up. And we went home. So you see, this is not another one of your typical New Year's Day post either.
Here's to your year. Don't expect anything.
Sometimes the best surprises are best because they come out of the blue.
So here's to that, and a Happy New Year, too.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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