Auld Lang Syne 

Do you want to know what song I loathe?  What song sticks in my craw? Waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square, I hear it in a subtone on my television.  Drop already? Why must you drag on my misery?  

Auld Lang Syne.  Robert Burns put one of his poems to a slow marching beat called “Will ye no Come Back” and now I must suffer through this tune with people wearing silly hats much to drunk to do a proper Karaoke.  Do you know what Karaoke is in Japanese? I translated into “Kill me quick.” Could be wrong, but it seems fitting. In one of my desk drawers which I use to discard paper I have written on, but have totally forgotten what or why.  There are three hundred sixty five days in a normal year, the time it takes the earth to orbit the sun and every four years in order to make things accurate, they tack on another day. In that time, we are required to make resolutions about what we are going to change for the better.  Where do I start, for heaven’s sake? My list last year was quite lengthy due to my state of inebriation at the time. I had a bash at my place so I did not have to drive and got totally shit-faced. It was wonderful, but the next morning when I managed to rise from the dead, I took one look at my illegible scrawl and decided to put the list in the proper receptacle.  It was really better off that way. And I proceeded to skip the gym and avoided any semblance of dieting, because diet is simply “die” with a “t” tacked on.  

Phone rang.  I closed my eyes.  The “Do Not Disturb” sign was out of order.  I pulled out my cell phone, “Hello.”

“Roger? What the heck?” It was Muriel.

“I am sitting watching television.” I said.

“We are all down here at Joanie’s.  We the hell are you?” Her voice was no longer soft.  During the past year we hooked up for a couple months before nearly driving ourselves to the edge, because we are both made to be alone.  Human contact is highly overrated, but she does have social needs from time to time. 

“I never promised to come out.  I hate going out, you know that, Muriel.  You found that out last summer.” My voice had absolutely no energy to it.

“You need to see somebody before you wind up on the front page.” She hissed at me like Satan which I figured she was a week before she decided to walk out of my life, but now she was back. “You sit in that shitty apartment that is more like a jail cell, you know that?”

Oh God, not the “you know that” catchphrase she nearly drove me crazy with.  Even now I can hear those words pinging in my head.

“You should make a resolution to get your ass off the couch and do more socializing.” She scolded me.

“I like being alone.” I groaned. 

“It ain’t healthy, you know that.” She cut the connection with a press of the button.

I closed my eyes still holding the silent phone to my ear.

  • I will lose 25 pounds by next New Year’s eve.
  • I will go to the neighborhood gym three times a week.
  • I will call mom at least once a month.
  • I will vote.
  • I will put more effort into my job.
  • I will take a couple of online courses.
  • I will take a vacation out of state.

With my eyes closed, I could see that accusatory list as if I had just written it again.  There wasn’t a single thing I could check off. Not one single victory. This past year had nothing but a ring of an empty promise.  I work as a produce stocker at my local grocer. It’s a big chain where you can easily hide in the cracks. They offer all kinds of incentives to rise on the corporate ladder, but everytime I consider such a thing, I see the ugly side of it.  Guys with ambition who rise from their foxholes only to have their heads shot off by the upper echelon.  

My parents live in Florida in a stereotypical retirement community where they drive in golf carts to get around.  My dad had a heart attack and he put in for an early retirement after over thirty years as an investment counselor.  I was never sure what he did as one of those counselors, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t one hundred percent legit. Mom stayed at home to raise us kids.  As I was the youngest of the trio, I got some special attention she didn’t have time to give the others. And so my brother and sister were envious of me for many years, straining our relationship.  

“Dear, you should come down to Tampa and see this place.  It’s gorgeous.” Her New York accent evident with every syllable spoken. I can hear dad in the background complaining about the coffee.  Can’t help feeling bad when I go another month without calling, because Muriel kept nagging me that they won’t be around forever and I know this is right.  Muriel lost her father to cancer and her mother from not being able to recover from the shock of his death, but actually he was such a control freak, something he passed on to his daughter, that she never learned to function without his constant input. 

My parents are fine.  They did alright by me and my siblings, but in my hurry to get this over so I can get on with the next, I neglect certain things that are important.  I’m not perfect.  

I also find it easier to eat at one of the grease pits between here and the grocery store that I can never seem to keep on a steady diet and lose the weight that makes me look chunky, as Muriel said to me once.  Chunky? This was not what I was hoping I’d become, but just like everyone else I settled for far less than I had seen myself when I walked during graduation. I was voted the “One Most Likely to Succeed.” Who the hell figured that one?  Who saw me as someone who would rise above the rest? Raising my expectations higher than I could reach? How unfair was that? Potential energy is energy at rest, thank you Isaac Newton. You have given me a place I can hang my tattered hat. 

Auld Lang Syne means times long past.  How sad is that? Life is like some kind of crazy movie that has no rewind at all.  Mistakes accumulate and best intentions are lost along the way like a balloon tethered to your wrist that gets free and floats away never to return. 

What is wrong son?  What? Oh your balloon is floating up there.  It’s alright. It came off your wrist is all.

Is all?  What will happen to my balloon up there?  I can’t help it, I’m distressed as I watch my bright red balloon bob and float on the summer breeze without me.  It has left me never to return.

Holy Christ, I am crying.  Tears are running freely down my face.  The most perfect day in my life floated away.  Sitting on my best friend Jason’s porch smoking weed and listening to Led Zeppelin feeling like I was walking up a Stairway to Heaven.  Then a month later Jason joined the Marines and died when an IUD exploded near his vehicle just outside of Kabul. I could not even go to his service, but I have visited with him on some of my darker nights when I close my eyes after a hard day at work.  If I could Jason, I would press “Slow Motion” and we could live that moment again and again.  

I did not vote.  Once again I found life too hard to make the effort and so I let someone else speak for me as I have so often, I no longer have a voice.  I hate what is going on and how little by little they are taking away the few and far between breaks we once had. And we have no one to blame but ourselves for our lack of concern about how the train is currently running.  I scream at the television when I hear one of those guys making a statement that is wrong on every level. I hear about how the climate is changing and how one day this planet will look like its neighbor, Mars.  

You know when I first heard that Mars once had water and life forms like this planet, I thought Gene Roddenberry was running the show, but slowly that far fetched isn’t that far after all.  Nature doesn’t give a shit about us, whether there is good air to breath or good water to drink, whether we live or die, it’s all the same to Her. I hear about how my carbon footprint keeps getting larger. And the more we have, the more we throw away.  My dad told me about how he used to take his shoes and watch into a repairman to have them fixed.  

Ack, there is that song again.  It is almost midnight. It’s almost the New Year when we will have another change to come up short on our resolutions, but I’m going to fool everyone, I am not playing this game.  I refuse. I Roger Benniger refuse to make a resolution. To commit myself to a cause I know I will not be able to keep, like all the other suckers so that at this time next year, I won’t have any regrets and I won’t have to sing that song that I loath.  What were you thinking, Robert Burns? What made you pen the words that would sink into my soul like a fish hook every time I hear it. Why must we ruminate on the past so? Why are bygones what we measure the present with? Saying that if we don’t learn from the past we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.  

Five, four, three, two, one, happy new year. The ball drops.  What are we going to do that is different from last year? Perhaps learn a new tune so I don’t have to hear that dirge “Auld Lang Syne” one more time.  I’m sure the gang down at Joanie’s is blowing their noisemaker horns and kissing everyone who dared come out to celebrate in our neighborhood pub that will be almost empty a week from now when the days begin to pass again and the next day is just like the previous one.  Yawn.  

No, I won’t be at the gym.  I doubt I’ll improve my job performance.  Most likely, I will not meet the woman of my dreams or go hiking in the hills or do any of the things on last year’s list.  I am having trouble keeping my eyes open. I seldom stay up past midnight these days as working does take a lot out of me.  

At first there is a blurry image which I attribute to being overtired, but then the image has a voice and I am immediately awake.

“Roger. Long time.” The image has a familiar voice.

“Jason?  Is that you?” I ask knowing that I must be dreaming.

“Yes, it’s me.  And I saw how you were alone on New Years.” His smile was always reassuring to me.

“How?  How are you here?” I ask befuddled by his presence. 

“Your mind is very powerful.” He laughs like he did when we smoked some of his weed. “You can conjure up images from the past.”

“You mean like Ebeneezer Scrooge?” I shook my head.

“Yeah, just like that.” He snapped his fingers. “I was on patrol.  It was just another day pounding the rocks around Kabul when I heard Mason yell about the IUD.  It was the last thing I heard on this earth. But there was this guy kneeling by my side. He took my hand and I rose to my feet.  All of it was so peaceful, so right, I did not question any of it.” 

I swallowed hard as he continued, “Now I know you have had some bad things happen to you, but you have to learn to roll with the punches.”

“I do and I get shit on.” I moaned.

“Then brush the shit off and try again.  This is all we have. It was all I had. I asked that man if I could come back here to tell you it will all be okay and he said yes.  Can you believe it?” Jason began to fade, his face became transparent. “I gotta go, Rog, but keep me in your heart. You can do that by making a promise to keep moving forward.”

“Moving forward?” I called out, but the room was empty once again.

It takes three hundred sixty five, sometimes six days for the earth to orbit the sun and in that time we have choices to make.  We can either be paralyzed by our past failures or we can forge ahead knowing that we could fail once again, but with the hope we won’t this time that keeps us moving forward.  

I pick up my cell phone, press some numbers and hear the voice at the other end say, “Hello?”

“Hi mom, it’s Roger.” I say holding back my tears.

“Roger?  Oh dear, happy New Year.” Her voice rises a few octaves.

“Just don’t sing that dreadful song.” I request.

“What song?” She asks and I can see her confused facial expression. 

“Auld Lang Syne.” I whisper.

“Oh no dear, no need for that.”

“How’s dad?” I ask.

“Still in bed the lazy old coot.” She laughs.

“I just wanted to call and tell you both that I love you.” I wipe a single tear from my cheek.  

“Oh yes, we love you too son.” She sounds delighted.

“Did I wake you?” I ask.

“Not me. I stayed up to watch the ball drop.” She says so matter-of-factly. 

“Me too.” I chuckle to myself.

“Why don’t you come down to Tampa.” She asks me like she always does.

“Maybe sometime in April when the weather gets dreary.” I close my eyes again and I can still see Jason’s smiling face. 

“I will text you when I am coming down.” I affirm.

“Must you?  You know how that stuff goes over with us old folks,  We never get the hang of this new technology.”I can see her wave her hand as a gesture, “Get out of here.” 

“I may even write.” I add.

“That would be great, dear.  We get mail at our condo, you know.” 

Of course I know, she never fails to tell me before I hang up.  I will write. I do not need to make a resolution, I will do it like I promised. Next I dial a new number.

“Roger?” Her voice sounds delighted, “We just gave our cheer for the new year.”

“I will add mine now.  Happy New Year, Muriel.  Give my best to the gang.” I sigh.

“C’mon Roger, come on down.  We’ll be hanging out for at least another hour.” She begs.

“Perhaps.” I nod looking at my jacket hanging on the hook by the door. “The weather is dreadful.” 

“You’re not made of sugar.” She gives me an audible smack.

“How do you know?” I ask flirting for the first time in a long time.

“You are too ornery to be that sweet.” She giggles.  It is a giggle that sounded like music to my ears. 

As I put my coat on, I realized that the spirit of the New Year is not to throw away everything, but rather keep moving forward making small changes while keeping your eye on the horizon and believing that you will make it there one day.

When I got to Joanie’s, they were huddled at a table, all eight of them, most of them would need a cab to get home before dawn and they were singing “Auld Lang Syne” when I walked in and even in their off key, catawald, it was one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.  

January 18, 2020 20:08

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