Q: How did you ring in the New Year?
A: We made even less of a deal out of it than we normally do. In an average year we let talk show hosts boozily introduce singers we can’t stand while we binge-eat Christmas cookies and donate to causes we love but have totally forgotten about for the past 11.5 months at the literal 11th hour. Last year we got particularly ambitious and all did paintings on cheap canvases, based on what we wanted our “theme” for the year to be.
This year we rolled into town after a 7-hour drive and fresh off a visit with my parents, to a fridge devoid of food, a bare liquor cabinet, no art supplies, even less money, and no real plan. I poured wine from a box for those of age and we made nachos out of thin air and watched whatever was appropriate for our youngest and still capable of holding the attention of the older kids who are still around for the holidays.
At 9:15 our time we told P it was time for bed, but her older sister blurted out, “doesn’t she want to watch the ball drop?” which elicited a near-Pavlovian response from P. Apparently her teacher has been talking about this Times Square tradition, and now she’s been waiting “her whole life” to see it.
We’re in the Mountain time zone, so that meant keeping a borderline-narcoleptic kid awake for another 45 minutes, or roughly 90 minutes past her bedtime. To see something that I silently predicted would be a confusing disappointment.
And in that regard, it did not disappoint.
We arrived in Times Square, via YouTube, approximately 15 minutes prior to launch and smack-dab in the middle of a discussion on human trafficking. We get a few promos on some investigative series on fentanyl, whereby we made the call to switch to Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus—a call I immediately regret, as it means seeing David Byrne lower himself to singing “I”m unstoppable” with Sia—and to be clear, he isn’t singing a real song called that, just those two words, about seven thousand times. The next thirteen minutes and 55 seconds are the longest of my life to date—and the best part is, we get to see just how slowly each second ticks off by the clock in the bottom-right corner. Eventually we switch back over, to a glittering ball looming like the sword of Damocles over New York City.
But is it, though? At first, all we get to see is a bunch of 20-somethings in purple paper crowns from Planet Fitness, looking like the kings and queens of the Greater Moline Mardi Gras festival. With about 15 seconds to go the camera cuts to the top of a building, and…I…think…we can see it up there? It’s hard to tell, what with the giant freaking KIA corporate logo piercing the night sky like a knockoff bat signal. I look over at P, who’s squinting at the TV despite it being approximately 50 inches bigger than the one I watched the ball drop on when I was her age.
“Can you see it, up there?” I ask. She shakes her head, but by then we’re full-on into countdown mode.
When we hit “3” I can tell she’s anxious for something cool to happen, some life-shifting moment. Albeit two hours early than when it’s actually going to be 2023 for her. She needs this to be great. We’re trying to make it great for her, despite the evidence to the contrary. We’re all shouting, “…2…1…HAPPY NEW YEAR!” and watch as the ball doesn’t drop so much as disappear into the night, replaced by a giant “2023.” And there’s that damn KIA logo again.
“That’s IT?” P is irate. “That’s ALL? Why didn’t it DROP? If you say there’s going to be a ball drop, you should GET TO SEE IT DROP?” She’s kicking couch cushions with her heels. We move her tea away from her arms, which are flailing in exasperation. Her rant, which would’ve made Lewis Black proud, goes on for several more minutes, lulling into quiet grumbling before erupting again in disbelief that THIS is what she stayed up until 10 for.
She wasn’t wrong. A ball of light that is there one second and then isn’t the next was hardly how I remembered this whole spectacle during my childhood. Fortunately, YouTube had my back on that, too, allowing my to relive pretty much any year I wanted with just a couple of key words. Back in ‘87 a glowing red apple actually did descend before the year stole its spotlight in a blaze of lame numerical graphics. A Gumble and a Muppet were the ones leading the countdown that year, and it looked, dare I say…authentic? Like there might’ve been actual joy in the air? And I know how I sound but did we really need a reminder that a Korean car company has cars for sale, and those models are out right now, in 2023? Must we wear purple paper crowns to remind us all that the Planet Fitness membership we got last year as part of our resolutions is still automatically deducting $50 a month from their checking account, despite us not walking through the front door of that place since last February 15th?
We turned off the TV with a sigh of relief. Better to pretend that the whole thing had never happened, to go to bed early and thank our lucky stars we weren’t out in some crowd somewhere pretending to have fun, pretending that Dolly and Miley didn’t just murder the ghost of Whitney Houston with that version of “I Will Always Love You,” pretending that this mattered, that we needed to feel something in this moment other than sleepiness. We turned in, grateful that we were in jammies and not puffer coats and paper crowns, grateful to be safe and warm and completely unfazed by all this New Year, New You bullshit. There will be no resolutions here. No taking stock of our lives and vowing to do better. Maybe we will save that for our birthdays. Or April Fool’s day. Feels better there, anyway.