[Editor’s Note – Ned Bitters is still in a drunken haze, so today we bring you this New Year’s column from the vault, which originally ran on the site January 3, 2008.]
This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … New Year’s celebrations.
It is noon on Dec. 31 and I just returned from the grocery store, where for the umpteenth year in a row I witnessed the number one New Year’s Eve tradition in America: The buying of the shrimp.
What is it about this overrated holiday that makes people want to celebrate it with shrimp? Or, if you are black, with shrimpS. (Oh, settle down, folks. There’s nothing at all racist in that.) I counted 17 people in line at the seafood counter this morning. Normally I might see one person at the fish station. However, it’s New Year’s Eve, which means that by law we must bloat ourselves with peel-and-eat cold spiced shrimp.
While the need to see in the new year with shrimp is puzzling enough, it’s not as puzzling as our need to celebrate the turning over of a new year. Is there any other holiday that seems more pointless? I have never understood the need to finagle an invitation to a party, dress up, dance, mingle, drink copious amounts of alcohol (including some mouth-parching champagne), watch the descent of a gaudy crystal ball, listen to a black-haired octogenarian appropriately named Dick demonstrate that his recent stroke has not affected his Einsteinian ability to count backwards from 10, sing that heartbreakingly maudlin “Auld Lang Syne” and … eat shrimp. All because of a change in the calendar.
I think every other holiday on the calendar deserves more recognition than New Year’s. How about Arbor Day? We all like a nice, shapely tree. Trees are important. They give us oxygen, wood and one less Kennedy or Bono in the world.
How about All Saints Day, which falls the day after Halloween? That’s the day we adults get to savor watching the little fuckers who irritate us all year – kids – spend the day with stomach cramps and bouts of vomitting due to their inability not to scarf up half of their Halloween take in the first 12 hours. That’s one day in which revenge is truly sweet.
I can’t keep the plethora of Jewish holidays straight, but even this former Christian turned atheist gets more kicks from those days than from New Year’s. Just pronouncing the damn days is more fun than drinking until 3 a.m. every Jan. 1. I dare you to say the words “Rosh Hashanah” without smiling at how silly your breathy voice sounds and how funny your jaw looks bobbing up and down like a spasmodic toad. Yom Kippur is fun no matter how you say it. You can cut loose with a perky little Yom “Kip-per,” which makes it sound like an amusement park ride (“Please dad, can we ride the Yom Kipper one more time!” “No, goddamnit, quit whining.”), or you can give it the more traditional Yom “Kip-poooorrrrr,” which makes even the ugliest, untraveled American feel a bit worldly for two or three seconds.
Memorial Day doesn’t get half the attention New Year’s does, but it’s a more important day. This is the day we celebrate those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom by gorging on burnt hot dogs and pounding 14 Budweisers as we kick off yet another summer of … eating burnt hot dogs and drinking too much Budweiser. Hey, you … yeah you, the poor 18-year-old from Schenectady who got blown to smithereens on Omaha Beach back in ’44? These Buds are for you. Now where’s my goddamn sunblock, because summer’s coming on fast.
Labor Day is certainly more important than New Year’s. This is the day we celebrate the American working man. How do we do this? By giving a day off to the white collar workers so that they can go shop and eat at places being manned by the poor working man who was not given a day off from his menial job so that he could celebrate his laboring.
Let’s not give short shrift to Columbus Day. Federal employees get the day off to commemorate the man who bumped into America on his quest to find one of the Indies (West? East? Who the fuck knows … obviously not Columbus.). It’s a day worth celebrating in this country, because the forward thinking Spaniard kicked off one of America’s earliest traditions, the indiscriminate slaughtering of the red man, which hundreds of years later led to some of the finest casino resorts in the world. If you’re gonna celebrate something with shrimp, this seems to be as good a day as any to indulge. You can double down while dipping into the cocktail sauce.
Veteran’s Day should also take precedence in the Get Piss Drunk and Eat Shrimp holiday hierarchy. This is the day we are supposed to laud the brave men and women who didn’t end up as human minced meat on some foreign soil. You know, the ones who spent four years in uniform and then spend the rest of their lives getting their identity and self worth from those wasted four years, resulting in free college tuition, corny vanity plates (RETD-COL or GRNDA-VET), and a sense of lifelong entitlement.
Yet we get all excited and drunk every Jan. 31 just to acknowledge the fact that the earth has – surprise, surprise – made another revolution around the sun. The roads will be filled with amateur drinkers zizzagging their ways to other parties or the local Denny’s (because nothing goes better with a stomach full of champagne and shrimp like a greasy Grand Slam breakfast). Every television station will have on some overhyped show that features some ultra-bland pop star performing his or her atrociously bland pop songs while an even blander host shivers in the cold and keeps us updated on the year-end countdown.
Once again this New Year’s, I won’t be going to any parties. (No invitations.) I won’t be watching the corny TV shows. (My middle-aged ass will be asleep by midnight.) I won’t sing Auld Lang Syne. (Despite 347 viewings of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I don’t know the words.) I won’t be pie-eyed drunk. (I’m an alcoholic, so I have an insane tolerance for alcohol.) No, I’ll be busy planning my activities for the next big holiday, one truly worth celebrating: Martin Luther King Day. In fact, let me start my to-do list right now.
Item # 1: Order ShimpSSS.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.