It’s not difficult to determine the work force pecking order in these final days of the year, this National Goof-Off Week between Christmas and New Year’s Day when absolutely nothing of any consequence gets accomplished in support of the gross domestic product.
If you had this week off you are a Beautiful Person. Anyone who’s anyone snagged the year’s only vacation week that is sandwiched between the festive bookend holidays of peace and good cheer. On the other hand, if you are a worker bee who has been stuck on the daily grind down at the local widget factory all week, your power rating is about on a par with a Democrat in the Florida Legislature, which is to say anemic, at best.
No matter. Whether worker bee or Beautiful Person, the year is behind us. Only one odious chore remains as we prepare for the real start of the next millennium. That is to endure those sappy and highly subjective year-end media polls to determine the year’s greatest this or the best that, and the worthless year-end wrapups that assault us from all directions, their worthlessness compounded in many cases by predictions of what the new year might bring. As though anyone could possibly know, or, if they could, that the rest of us would pay them any more heed than we do the television weatherman whose accuracy index has taken a beating of late.
Although I’ve produced more than my fair share of such dubious compilations over the past four decades, year-end reviews in newspapers and other publications have always seemed to me to be a massive waste of space and a superfluous informing of the already informed. The reader, after all, has been along for the journey from the first day of January just as the compiler has, and chances are his memory of then-current events is every bit as good as the rehasher’s. He needs a refresher course like he needs another hike in the price of heating oil, I suspect.
The typical published year-end review is a lot like having Dan Rather tell you what you have heard after you’ve just watched a presidential debate on television, a summation guaranteed to provoke a scramble for the remote control gizmo in most any household you’d care to check.
The speed bumps along the information highway in the year 2000 remain so vivid in the public’s mind they require no retelling. The year began with the bashing of foreigners, minorities, women drivers and New Yorkers in general by Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker; then saw Democrats and the liberal press pundits who had been outraged five years ago when incoming Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich signed a $4.5 million book contract remain strangely silent when Hillary Clinton agreed to an $8 million book contract as she was about to become a United States Senator. It concluded with the never-ending presidential election Recount From Hell in the quirky precincts of Florida and a tragic massacre in Massachusetts by a crazed Charles Manson look-alike toting a semiautomatic assault rifle. It was a year we’ll need no help in remembering, much as we might wish to forget it.
To me, a good year-end story runs along the lines of one I found in a little book titled “Twenty-some ‘Simposiums,’ Including Getting A Job” published in 1940 by W. E. Simpson in Elkhart, Md., and given to me by a reader who deals in old books.
The author had been a World War I Army officer. While serving in France in 1918, he had dined with French officers on Christmas Day, bringing along a supply of champagne “which was appreciated apparently out of all proportion to the sacrifice. My buying champagne sure rang a bell with that crowd.
“All was merry and joyful and then a fat lieutenant broke down and started to sob violently with tears falling almost in a stream. We, in America, can hardly appreciate what the French had been through during that four years of war in which everyone living had lost numerous friends and relatives, to say nothing of jobs, careers and fortunes…
“Addressing an English-speaking lieutenant, I said that I supposed the fat fellow was thinking of home and his relatives and friends lost in the war and that all this with Christmas was too much for him.
“I was greatly surprised when he responded, ‘That hoggish so-and-so thinks he is sick and his doctor forbade his drinking any wine, so he has to forego this champagne and THAT is what is too much for him.'”
May you have no such rotten luck as you begin your pursuit of a Happy New Year.
NEWS columnist Kent Ward lives in Winterport. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.