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End of Year Musings

In just a few days, it will be January 1, 2022, the beginning of another year. You already knew that, of course. This number is meaningful to me, because my birthday is June 22. My mother’s birthday was June 21. My father’s was February 22, the same day as George Washington. So 22 has always been a number I liked, and my girlfriend is always excited when it comes up in an article or statistic. And it certainly was important in the movie “Casablanca.”

So she thinks that this will be a very good year, and I hope so, too. Very few people ever get to see the same year in different centuries, and I have not. Betty White will, though, and so did the charming and talented actor Norman Lloyd, whom I got to see twice; once when doing a table reading presentation of Shaw’s play “Heartbreak House,” I think just about on his hundredth birthday, they had a cake for him; and then when he made a special appearance at a classy independent theatre to introduce the movie of his close friend Charlie Chaplin, “The Great Dictator.”

I am sort of worried that like all years, 2022 will have bad moments, thus perhaps spoiling the specialness of 22. One of the bad moments could occur on the first Tuesday in November. I am not at all looking forward to that day and night, and may just lie under the covers for a month, but that doesn’t accomplish anything. Or maybe I will seriously think of leaving the country, but I still hope that this will not be necessary for any of us.

But with all the gerrymandering probably literally costing us 30 or so House seats that we would otherwise have; and then the other manipulations, it seems almost impossible to imagine that we could somehow hold onto the majority. However, if somehow, some way, the Voting Rights Act would pass, we might have a small chance. So we’ll cling onto that spar for now.

As a boy, and as an adult, I have always loved presents. That might sound superficial, but I am not greedy, all I wanted was books to read, some balls to play with, maybe a few board games, and a few record albums. I never wanted a big present, although Dodgers tickets, where the whole family would go, was a summer highlight.

I thought I had a great day for a birthday; it was just the beginning of summer vacation; it was the day after my mother’s birthday, so we could celebrate hers and then mine; and it was six months away from the holiday season, giving me and my parents lots of time to think of more presents. “22” has always brought up nice images for me.

There is always this significance placed on the beginning of a new year. All the celebrating, and then New Year’s Resolutions. All the “year in review” articles, as well. I usually skip those, because they seem obligatory, and also because I do not share that much of the popular taste, so that I am not too enthused about reading what they have to say about the trends and achievements.

And then the “Best of” lists. I used to like those, but it seems to me that the quality has diminished in most of those areas. I am somewhat chagrined to admit that I probably have not read even one of the books listed in any critic’s top ten. I haven’t gone to a bookstore lately, whereas I used to spend a good deal of time at them. But when I go, and I quickly peruse the “new fiction” area, I don’t see any that I think I want to read. And I’m probably right, though I may miss one here or there.

I would love to discover a great new writer, who can capture the spirit of this age, with insight and vibrancy. I just now thought of a book I don’t think that many here have heard of, “Riddley Walker,” by Russell Hoban. Actually, that is set in a time in the future, but one still recognizable from the past, and it is written in its own language.

It is absolutely brilliant; and I remember reading about it in the Los Angeles Times Book Review section, in the early ’80’s, and then buying it. It is so good that a professor I had who taught Milton’s works, had enough status to be allowed to do a course in science fiction, and taught “Riddley Walker” in it. It is a book that one never forgets, and I have not, but I would like to find something as groundbreaking and brilliantly written as that one.

I greatly miss Graham Greene, and John Le Carre. Kingsley Amis, and Irwin Shaw, and of course Philip Roth; and Philip K. Dick, and Robert Silverberg, who may still write, but only in the pure fantasy realm, and Russell Banks, and others. There has to be somebody out there whose new book every few years, one is excited to pick up, but I haven’t recently found someone like that. I miss Agatha Christie and Rex Stout, and John Dickson Carr, and Ross MacDonald, the great mystery writers of a fairly recent time, whose books I was always so excited to open.

There still is this sense of excitement as New Year’s Eve approaches, and then a few days later, we are in the new year, and pretty soon it seems not too much different from the last one, which is of course not surprising. And the days start to get longer, and then in a few months, they yank the clock forward, which I hate, if you remember my essay on that. And each day brings us closer to the first week in November; otherwise, I would enjoy the progress toward Spring.

I rarely do anything for New Year’s Eve. I guess I must have gone to a few parties, but not many. I do not like to drink, I do not like boisterous merriment which always seemed forced. And I hated to be out driving then. I mostly remember sitting at home watching the Gator Bowl, which was always on that night, and usually was a pretty good game. This was not out of loneliness, I just had no wish to be out with the revelers. And then I usually bet some of the New Year’s Bowl games, and I wanted to be up early for them. This year, Bowl season is not the same, as game are being cancelled because of Covid.

Even with all that, I am looking forward to 2022. And if it weren’t for political matters, I would be looking forward to it even more. I wonder sometimes if it would be better if I did not care that much about those things, but I always did, and my family did, too. I just did not think I would see a time where the entire future of America as a democratic country was in serious jeopardy.

I think this is sinking through to at least some people, but perhaps not enough of the right ones. David Plouffe, probably the most thoughtful of the Obama campaign veterans, seems very worried. And yet the other day, he went back to talking about how Trump might not run; and then, that most potential candidates in a party would not run against an obvious frontrunner, but that he and the Obama team did it, even though Hillary was in a very strong frontrunning position in 2008. Well, how wonderful for you, David, but perhaps ultimately not for the country.

And then I thought, for the hundredth or more time, that if only Plouffe and those others had not been so taken with themselves, and had not felt that it was so important to put all their efforts and support behind a man who had been a U.S. Senator for a year and a half, we would have had gotten Hillary elected. And I guarantee you that the Republicans would not now own the Supreme Court and most of the state legislatures, which combine to give them an immense reach and almost impregnable control.

Sometimes I almost think that Plouffe realizes that on some level, but probably not. That was the most costly and misdirected fun and excitement that the Democratic Party ever indulged themselves in; and yet we who knew better, and who had a very good idea what would happen, don’t even get to say, “we told you so” to them, because they think they did a great thing. All of them: Plouffe, Favreau, Gibbs, Axelrod, what do they have to say about the Obama years now? The Democrats could conceivably have had eight years of Hillary, and then possibly have gotten Obama if they wanted him. It did make those people a lot of money, though, while it cost the country at least one, and probably three, Supreme Court seats, and a vibrant Democratic Party at the state level.

The end of a year can bring such thoughts. The Romantic poets wrote poems about rebirth and renewal and the promise of a new age. The sense of a year ending and a year beginning, has an elemental power to it, at least for a few days. I have a few resolutions to make, and will have some ideas about how one might want to look at the next year, personally, and collectively. A toast of fresh lemonade, my favorite drink, to the New Year to come! Let us fervently hope that it is better than this last one.

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