I hate New Year’s Eve. No adult past the age of 30 needs an annual reminder that his days are numbered. Sure, you can spin it differently and say New Year’s is a holiday for new beginnings, but if you want to rearrange your life you can start any Monday.
As you might imagine, I have personal reasons for feeling this way. That is because I blame New Year’s Eve for ending my childhood prematurely. And as Michael Jackson can tell you, you can’t get that back. Let me explain.
In 1971, at age five, I was an avid watcher of a long-running afternoon kids’ show called “Bozo’s Circus” that featured a gangly, menacing Bozo and a host of other characters, including a bandleader. The audience, consisting of kids and mothers, sat in a studio grandstand while games and contests were conducted. The bandleader, Mr. Ned, wore a bright red tuxedo coat with black lapels and a top hat. He had a round, lined face that was supposed to be avuncular but didn’t quite make it. It always seemed like there was a stern schoolmaster under that bandleader’s exterior.
I am one of those people who finds clowns disturbing, so naturally I was drawn to Bozo. His clown suit was powder blue and looked like a hybrid of a navy man’s uniform and children’s pajamas. His voice was raspy and his red hair, a kind of clown afro, shot out of the sides of his head and circled around like the rings of Saturn. The worst part was watching him talk. He had the traditional clown makeup of white face with red around the mouth and when he spoke, it was frightening to see the red outside and inside the mouth, contrasting with the bright white of his face. It made his tongue and gums look as if they had just tasted blood. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His creators must have had advanced degrees in child psychology.
Bozo and Mr. Ned were doing a program for New Year’s Eve 1971. My memory is sketchy, but it went something like this:
“Well Bozo, it’s the end of another calendar year.”
“Come again, Mr. Ned?”
“I said, Bozo, the end of another calendeer…”
“Call a deer?” The kids laughed and cheered Bozo.
“Oh,” Bozo said and turned his grotesque shape to face the kids. “Mr. Ned says it’s the end of another calendar year!” The kids applauded. Then they started some kind of exercise with calendars, ticking off months and days, and finally Mr. Ned commanded the screen by himself. His face was grave and firm, and he spoke as if he was announcing that he had a terminal disease.
“And so, boys and girls, this is our last program of 1971. The next time we see you, it will be 1972.” As he spoke these words, the band struck up a martial drumbeat and the screen faded to black. Soon a newsman was on the screen reading the weather. No more Bozo. I went upstairs to ask my mother about it.
“That’s right,” she said, hurrying around our kitchen, “tomorrow will be 1972. No more 1971.”
“When does it become 1971 again?”
“Well it doesn’t,” she said, turning to look at me, realizing she might have a teaching opportunity on her hands. “Once 1971 is over, it becomes 1972. That’s how we measure the time, in years.”
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