110_box_348x490For a number of years, Matthew and I had a New Year’s Eve tradition: we would go to bed early—well before midnight—and when the new year came, we’d rouse to the noisemakers and the fireworks, and turn to each other, and mumble ‘happy new year,’ and kiss, and then go back to sleep.

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This year, we went to a friend’s house for an evening of board games. Foil hats, hors d’oeuvres, plastic leis. Ball drop, champagne toast, kiss, Auld Lang Syne. Then it was time to go.

The highways were empty. No tractor trailers, only a few other cars. Everyone, I suppose, was enjoying their night off, except for those bartenders, policemen, taxi drivers, and hospital workers who kept the world in working order for us to return to the next day. On the drive, Matthew said that he could see fireworks from between the buildings of Wilmington, but by the time I looked, they had dissipated.

Matthew went to bed soon after we got home. I watched M. Hulot’s Holiday. On New Year’s Day, Southerners eat black-eyed peas and collard greens to represent prosperity. The Irish eat ham and cabbage. Maybe watching M. Hulot’s Holiday signifies gentle humility. Or having gimlet humor towards the world. Or maybe I, myself, need a vacation on the Brittany coast. As I watched, the movie was punctuated, from outside, with occasional bursts. Fireworks—or perhaps gunfire, both wholly American traditions.

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Towards the end of the film, M. Hulot accidentally sets off a shed full of fireworks. Some of them hit the pension where he’s staying in what director Terry Jones describes as an “artillery barrage.”

“It’s almost as if,” Jones says, “Tati was mounting a military assault against the stuffy old world of the past.”

The racket wakes the other vacationers, the lights in their rooms turning on one by one. And as they leave their rooms and gather downstairs, where raucous jazz plays, they begin—begrudgingly—to have fun.

*

New Year’s Eve, 1999. We weren’t afraid of the Y2K bug—not really. But, just in case, two hours before the catastrophe hit, Matthew drove me in his green Jetta (named Clio, for the muse of history) north from Denver. We had planned it so that when midnight struck, we’d be over the Wyoming border, but still far enough away from Cheyenne to miss the cataclysm. At midnight, we pulled into a scenic overlook on the side of the highway. We got out of the car—after all, it, too, had an internal computer and may have been susceptible to spontaneous combustion. It was cold, I remember, though there was no snow, and we huddled beneath the light overhanging the highway, the orange glow almost nuclear in its brightness. At midnight, to the north we could see fireworks, and to the south, another set of fireworks. The wind, with sharp teeth, brought the sound of distant explosions. And we stood there, holding each other, until we were sure that the world hadn’t ended after all, and then drove home.

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