The North Georgia mountains are cold tonight. I am inside a cabin with my wife. It’s late. Music is playing. I am watching a fireplace.
We are minutes away from a new year, I am keeping an eye on the clock. Nobody here is watching the Time Square ball drop on TV. For one thing, there is no television in these remote woods. For another, you can’t replace Dick Clark.
But there is a record player. I am listening to Ray Charles sing. My wife and I are drinking glasses of magnesium citrate because my wife’s favorite sport is taking vitamins.
I know we should be drinking champagne, or beer, or something fun. But it’s just too dang late. We are middle-aged people who don’t even eat spicy foods past 5 P.M. anymore.
So we drink fizzy magnesium which my wife forces down my gullet each night because it helps with “regularity.” And she wants me to be a “regular guy,” if you catch my drift. My wife stole this particular concern directly from my mother’s playbook.
When I was younger, New Year’s Eve was a wild holiday. Mainly because ever since my teenage years I played barroom music after hours. On New Year’s, anyone who owned a guitar played a party.
Thus, every December 31st of my adult life was spent with a band on a rinky-dink stage, playing for people in sparkly hats.
We used to play some big shindigs. We wore neckties, sang until morning, and the money was always good. When the clock struck midnight, we would play “Auld Lang Syne.” Whereupon the guys in the band would hug each other and make deeply emotional remarks like, “How much will you pay me to drink bourbon out of Mike Brahm’s shoe?”
“I’ll pay twenty if you do Fireball.”
“I’ll take that action.”
“Count me in.”
“You can’t plug your nose though.”
Before the night ended, we would launch into Ray Charles’s rendition of “Singing This Song for You,” and men on the dance floor would slow-dance with their wives, girlfriends, grandmothers, sisters-in-law, daughters, granddaughters, landladies, nuns, etc.
And in my years of music, there was nothing sweeter. Huddles of uncoordinated couples dancing, foreheads touching. I never saw an angry face. Not once did I see an argument. And I never saw any middle-aged white men dance the Twist like they do at, for example, wedding receptions.
No, New Year’s was different somehow.
Maybe it’s because everyone knows we stand beneath the door jamb of something wonderful. A little scary, yes. But wonderful.
The old year is over, our problems are paused—temporarily. And we slow-dance like penguins at high-school prom.
We’re not stupid, of course. We know this year will suck somewhat. All years suck a little. If they didn’t, nobody would ever develop gray hair.
We know that during this coming year friends will pass away. Loved ones will die. Parents will go downhill. Memories of the deceased will get hazy, and it will be difficult to remember the face of your late father even when you close your eyes.
And still, everyone smiles on New Year’s Eve. Because we also know that we will win more than we lose. We will cry, laugh, ache, and wear one too many polite smiles. We will screw up so badly that we nearly hate ourselves. And we will get fat.
But oh, the people who are gullible enough to fall in love with us. The people who think we are the greatest, even though we know better. Life would be so empty without them.
And the best part is, it seems like the greatest friendships are made from people who are polar opposites.
A Nervous Nellie falls in love with a Lazy Larry. A control freak becomes best friends with someone who doesn’t comb his hair. An uptight woman who scrubs her baseboards every Tuesday and Friday marries a man who hasn’t lifted the toilet seat since the Carter administration.
These people hook arms with each other, and by some strange mystery of the universe, they love one another.
I guess this is why I always liked to see partygoers swaying to the band’s twelve-eight rhythm. I would see a couple looking into each other’s eyes, promising to try harder next year.
That’s all anyone ever does on New Year’s. We promise to try harder. And of course it’s a flat-out lie. Nobody ever tries harder. Because the truth is, even though you might not know it, even though many people don’t want you to believe it, you’re doing just fine.
You you beat yourself up about little things, you feel guilty too often, you don’t give yourself enough credit. But you’re good. And the people who truly love you don’t hold a thing against you. If you could only see what they see.
When your dance partner looks at you, arms wrapped around your waist, forehead pressed against yours, he or she is thinking “God, do I ever love this perfect fool.” And chances are, you’re thinking the same thing.
Even if during this moment you aren’t at a party at all, but slow-dancing in a primitive cabin in the North Georgia mountains, listening to Ray Charles, holding a woman who rests her head on your shoulder and hums with the music.
You’re keeping an eye on the clock. Because when it hits midnight, you know what you must do. You will do what all men have been doing since the invention of wives.
You will drink your magnesium.
May your New Year be beautiful. Just like you.