2004: Thank god it’s finally over

    Oh, what a strange year it was. 2004, that is (alas, this academic year’s still underway). Let’s see — The Terminator was given a mandate by a whopping 15 percent of the California electorate, giving way to the phrase “the Schwarzenegger administration,” simultaneously the most unlikely and sob-inducing phrase in the English language. George W. was elected president for the first time. The Olympics came and went (leaving most American females in a seemingly perpetual state of Speedo withdrawal), as did the ridiculously hyped Super Bowl breast flash. Paris Hilton continued doing nothing, but because she’s rich and trashy, that’s worthy of an entire newscast.

    Well, enough random moments disguised as “2004 in Review” — we’ve got some New Year’s resolutions to make! What, you wanted more about Paris Hilton? Well, sorry.

    Back in elementary school, my teachers would urge us to share our New Year’s resolutions upon coming back from Christm — er, Winter Break. Cries of, “My resolution is to learn to color better!”; “I resolve to stop kicking Tommy in the head on the playground!”; “I resolve to stop getting detention so damn much — and to stop swearing!”; would spew forth. At the time, I vainly hoped that all this resolution nonsense would evaporate once I reached, say, my teens. Not so!

    And that’s why we — otherwise sane, mature adults — persist in bombarding our friends and family with phony vows of self-improvement each January. Not that I’m against self-improvement. But, maybe because I’m a fragile, sensitive violet, I’m downright embarrassed to have to report my resolutions to everyone as if they were the useless factoids I usually throw out to sustain my conversations with other people.

    I suspect that if anyone truly wanted to seize on the dawn of a new year as an opportunity to really better themselves, they wouldn’t want to spill the results of some serious soul-searching to anyone who asks. Take this hypothetical conversation.

    “So, what’s your New Year’s resolution?”

    “I’m going to try to stop cheating on my girlfriend.”

    “Jesus Christ, you’ve been cheating on your girlfriend? You’re a monster!”

    See? Being honest just sets you up for a lot of pain and embarrassment, so the unspoken rule of New Year’s resolutions becomes: Be as banal and inoffensive as possible. This rule renders unacceptable the resolutions we should be making, and instead whittles down acceptable resolutions to a small few, such as: “I’m going to be more responsible with money”; “I’m going to be more appreciative of the people I love”; “I’m going to lose weight”; “I’m going to make the call that could save me 15 percent or more on car insurance.”

    And the last step: Abandoning your chosen resolution (feel free to choose from the list above; I won’t mind) in two minutes — three minutes, if you’re a real go-getter. Would you like to join the millions of people who haven’t lost an ounce of weight after resolving to slim down on Jan. 1? Hop aboard!

    But for better or for worse (okay, worse), this resolution business isn’t the only sign that the new year and all its corresponding responsibilities (okay, one responsibility: buying a new calendar) are upon us.

    I’m always charmed by the legions of “This Year’s Top …” and “Year in Review” compilations put out by news programs, newspapers and other periodicals as soon as January waves its arms from the distant horizon. Wait, did I say “charmed”? I meant “painfully hypnotized.” December is used as an excuse for the newspapers to ignore all the news that’s fit to print and instead print all the fluff that’s fit for a 7-year-old’s diary: “The Year’s Top Movies You Didn’t See!”; “The Year’s Top Ten Movies You Did See, But Immediately Wished You Hadn’t!”; “The Year’s Top TV Shows We Got Paid to Promote!”; “The Year’s Top Vegan Quiche Recipes!”

    The possibilities for lists are endless, and they’re all painful to read, not to mention useless. Newspapers only print them because they’re fun to write (they give the reporters a break from the drudgery and legwork of actual reporting), they fill a lot of space and they give newspapers a reason to print Paris Hilton’s mug over a quarter of the page.

    But let’s not forget the last charming feature of the New Year’s holiday: the Times Square pageantry, kindly watched over by the spirit of Dick Clark (or Regis Philbin — whoever’s not incapacitated by a stroke). For some reason, people find the New York Ball Drop so enthralling, year after year after year, that they invariably switch it on during New Year’s Eve parties. Ooh, fun! Let’s all sip Martinelli’s cider and watch TV, as if that’s not any different from any other night of the year! Call me a party pooper, but if I had a late-night hankering for a TV personality way past his prime, I’d just watch Jay Leno.

    But maybe I just need to widen my scope of what I find entertaining. Heck, that could be my New Year’s resolution.

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