New Year’s Eve

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(HOST) When it comes to New Year’s Eve, commentator Marialisa Calta says that – for her at least – the party just isn’t what it used to be.

(CALTA) What is it with New Year’s Eve, anyway? I think of it as a night of forced revelry, a night when – like the senior prom – reality can’t possibly fulfill expectations.

I didn’t always feel this way. When I was a child, the holiday was fun. I got to stay up late, and watch t.v. I got to eat a lot of candy. I got to spend New Year’s Eve with Judy.

Judy was my first Best Friend. We hooked up in second grade, soon after my family had moved down the block from her house. We were physical opposites: I was a large, fair-haired, klutzy of kid; Judy was small, dark and lithe. Judy was raised in a Jewish household by parents of Russian and German descent; my family was from Italy, and devoutly Catholic. My mother called us “Mutt and Jeff.”

But we both read a lot, and loved long hours of Make Believe. We pretended we were rich orphans, adventuring around the world. We were explorers in the nearby woods, swearing blood oathes in our secret hiding places. We were world-famous child detectives solving chilling mysteries. We pretended we were child stars, or musicians, that we were blind, that we were French.

We were competitive, and we always kept score. I got a larger speaking part in the third grade play, but she got to scream on stage. I wore nylons first; Judy, the first pair of contact lenses. Judy accused me of being the “Teacher’s Pet.” I said she was bossy and jealous. We spent weeks not speaking to each other, walking to school on opposite sides of the street. Then, when a nun told me that Jews couldn’t go to heaven, I decided there could be no heaven without Judy, and baptized her on the sly. On the day the nation buried President Kennedy, Judy went with me to the orthodontist and noted in her diary “Today Maria got rubberbands.”

Because of religious differences and family obligations, we celebrated few holidays together. But New Year’s Eve was ours. On New Year’s Eve, we stocked up on M&Ms, both plain and peanut, always served in separate bowls. We played games, like seeing who could write the digits of the new year a hundred times, fastest. We would stay up until midnight watching the ball coming down in Times Square. If I fell asleep, as I was prone to do, Judy pinched me into wakefulness. The New Year had started! Maybe we would solve a real crime! Maybe we would become child stars, maybe some unknown and eccentric relative would die and leave us millions. The possibilities were endless.

Many New Year’s Eves have come and gone. In my young adulthood, they involved dates – good and bad, drunk and sober. They were never much fun. Marriage brought children, who were invariably sick during the holidays. New Year’s often meant taking turns with my husband, stroking feverish brows and soothing upset stomachs. But even though the kids are older now, we’ll most likely stay home again this year. We’ll put a bottle of champagne on ice. After all, there are still possibilities.

Marialisa Calta is a free-lance writer and cookbook author.

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