Saturday, January 1, 2011

Another new year

The New Year turned over last night right on schedule. Amazing how that works. Fireworks exploded. Balls dropped. Corks popped. Strangers kissed each other. The usual tunes were played: "Auld Lang Syne," "What a Wonderful Life," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." In Times Square they played Sinatra's "New York, New York" and Ray Charles's "America the Beautiful." I guess it was supposed to be moving, that big empty ritual, with its confetti, its grinning out-of-town celebrants wearing foamy Nivea hats making repeated gestures of comradeship and courtship. I get it, we're one big happy family. Up here in the wilds of New Jersey someone set off firecrackers a few minutes after midnight, followed by the barking of the dogs. I looked out over the shimmering lake and saw about half the homes still had their lights on, their occupants poring over bills, staring at their laptops, looking for signs that relief would come soon.

As they say, the weather cooperated. It was relatively warm -- a few degrees above freezing -- and partly cloudy, wonderfully temperate after the blizzard at the beginning of the week. I had spent most of my time off in the woods, avoiding the year-end "news" roundups -- so little of that tripe matters beyond the moment. People misbehave or simply get along, driving around from job to market to domicile and back again. Who cares what they believe? Every so often an extraordinary act of heroism is performed and one takes notice. But most people don't want to be put out. For all practical purposes the earth is flat.

Earlier yesterday, I had to go grocery shopping at the Shop-Rite over on Route 10. No matter how often I encounter the spectacle, it scares the bejabbers out of me to watch untold hordes of consumers on the move, crossing the vast unpoliced parking lots of Succasunna. Unquestionably, the shite they buy and eat accounts for their size and shape, their imperturbable mass. They get out of their big vehicles and waddle across the macadam, unaware of cars backing in or out of the spaces around them, horns blaring. I suppose accidents occur regularly. Some of these shoppers are so obese that they need electric carts to move around in, followed by their embarrassed offspring. Maybe it's something chemical, something in the air or water out here. I was taught to be charitable but it's near impossible to imagine what goes on inside these people -- they appear almost to be another species of hominid than the one I'm acquainted with back in the city. I think to myself, love thy neighbor as thyself. Cripes, it's effin hard work.

It's the religious training I grew up with, believing that every junkyard dog is all bark and no bite. It took half a dozen stitches and a tetanus shot to prove me wrong. Now I carry a strong stick with me whenever I go out, especially in the suburbs, especially down at the supermarket. I watch the pimply kids smoking out back, taking a break from cashiering and bagging. They look like they were born yesterday, despite the tattoos and piercings, the weirdly colored hair and low-rise jeans. I have this unaccountable urge to take them away from here. We'd head for a white tablecloth restaurant, eat real food, drink a decent wine and talk about the future. The real future, not the fake shite they see in advertisements. The real future of struggling to earn money, of falling in and out of love, of failing at close relationships, of unsteadiness in the face of a constantly pummeling need to compete with one's neighbors -- the bastards who will always be better off than you. The real future of layoffs, bad debt, constant property upkeep, of buying and selling, selling and buying, of boredom and fatigue. The real future of pursuing happiness, that inalienable right.

These kids stand around the empty pallets and rusting dumpsters, smoking and chatting, squinting against the bright sun as their eyes follow the chaos in the parking lot, the randomness of the traffic, the given situation they find themselves in, trying to discern a pattern to it. No need to get sentimental -- I can't take them anywhere. They feel these things they can't name but the years will grind them down. Big emotions, important ideas. The years will take their toll.

There's nothing futile about celebrating the passing of another year, ripping the old calendar off the wall and pinning a new one in its place. Listen to the savants: it's all good, even the suffering, if you know how to use it to your advantage.

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