Another Perspective

New Year’s Is for Bozos

Let auld acquaintance be forgot -- please.

By 12.30.03

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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.

"Calendar year!"

"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."

"So 1971 will never be back?"

"No, 1971 will be gone for good." The phone rang and she reached to answer it.

I staggered downstairs with the news. It wasn't that I was so attached to 1971. It wasn't like my access to Oreo cookies or baseball cards was going to be cut off. I didn't see a problem, in theory, with going to 1972, or even 1973, as long as you could return. But it didn't work that way. I kept turning her words around in my head -- "1971 will be gone for good." It seemed impossible that today was 1971 and that tomorrow we could never get back to it. Here would become there. And a darker corollary came to me: this must also mean that I would only be five once, only six once, only seven once, and so on. You couldn't go back, you could only go forward, until you were finished.

That was my initiation into consciousness and gloom. From then on, no occasion big or small was free of that inner voice intoning, "This will pass away and never return," and the struggle between the urgency that seeks to savor the moment and the despair that watches others do so instead. It was something of a consolation, though, to learn that everyone was in the same boat. Even Bozo.

The other consolation is that I might have grounds to sue and collect damages. After all, since I started thinking this way at a premature age, due to no fault of my own, somebody has to be to blame. My most likely target is the Bozo franchise, although my mother, as a sole defendant, might be a more winnable case. On the other hand, her track record as a mother of four other children, none afflicted with melancholia, and her 32 years of good behavior since ruining my life, will weaken my case considerably. But I'll think of something. Perhaps I can sue the estate of Robert Burns, the 18th century Scottish poet who wrote "Auld Lang Syne," or champagne bottlers, or the networks. Somebody's gotta pay up. I'll make that my New Year's resolution.

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About the Author

Paul Beston is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.