By Jeff Weinstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers
The night of no date, more devastating than any of your many nights of no date.
The night of no party, not even a just-drop-by, to prove how truly popular and well-connected you actually are.
The night of amateur drinking, when "you're such an expert.
The night of no regular restaurant reservations, for a regular hungry customer with nowhere else to go, like you.
The night of flimsy hats, dizzy balls, antic anticipation and promises - sorry, resolutions - broken even as they're made. The night in which the whole fractious, foolish world and everything, everyone in it becomes simultaneously older, one hoary step closer to the ...
Surprise! It's my favorite night of the year.
Don't get me wrong. All these disappointments, and more, have been mine in spades. But for those of us (and there are some few) who claim no religion to tack the usual holidays onto, celebrating the event of a new year is everything a holiday, authentic or commercial, is supposed to be.
And just what are holidays supposed to be? I'm not exactly certain, but holiday aficionados know that they cover many, even mutually exclusive, bases. Holidays are acknowledgement of universal fellowship and connection, but also ritual affirmation of one's own particular belief. They are blessed opportunities for generosity and selflessness, but also gold-star vehicles for competition and, sigh, greed.
Uh-oh, he's preaching.
Yes, preaching is also high on the holiday list. But except perhaps for this heartfelt defense, preaching takes a holiday on New Year's Eve. It's one of the many reasons I look forward to the end of December.
The seeds of my New Year's affection seem to have been sown early, in a cocktail-peanut and noisemaker kind of way. There were no querulous aunts and pinching uncles to visit, no gifts to be worried over and rejected, no frozen birds with goosebump flesh to be roasted, dismantled and devoured. New Year's, I understood even as a tyke, was a party! And it was a party with a point.
That point, the infinitesimally small, even immeasurable instant when a solid number shimmers and transforms itself into the next, is why I fastened onto New Year's and have never let go.
There's a passage in Vladimir Nabokov's novel "Lolita in which the title's forward adolescent, purloined by her enamored stepfather on a cross-country car ride, wonders aloud if the odometer's many new zeros would revert to nines if the auto - if her life, of course - were put in reverse. (My father, a used car dealer, told me years before I read the book how the mileage could be quietly spun back to any incarnation a seller desired.)
Forget time zones. Forget cultures without clocks, wrists without watches. There is one moment a year when all the nines turn to zeros, a moment that nobody, not even my father, can turn back.
How I looked forward to that. On our first New Year's Eve without a babysitter, my little brother and I pulled every Revere Ware pot and pan out of the cupboard and, as the constitutionally fey Clifton Webb did his best to portray John Philip Sousa on TV's Million Dollar Movie, crashed and banged our way, at midnight, all through "The Star Spangled Banner."
New Year's noise is necessary. With it, we ring in the new number, and there really is no retreat. We toast optimistic potential: War and its scythe will be urged, at least, to reckon with peace in its diaper. The irresistible need for a ruckus, for a showy, mutual embrace of hope, explains the most inexplicable behavior.
There's no sense to it, but in the years I lived in New York's Lower Manhattan, literally miles from Times Square, every December 31 at 11:59 p.m. I would lift up the tenement window, breathe in the icy air and wait, confidently wait, to hear the midnight ball-drop roar of the crowd.
The window is still open. Happy New Year to us, every one.
© 2002, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.