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December 29, 2011

Listmaking, Bonhomme Janvier, and other crazy white people things

By now you already know this little stretch on the calendar is one of my favorites, the end of an old year and the crisp optimism that comes with a brand-new set of months. All possibilities are back in play.

Yesterday I was at Umberto getting my hair cut and absorbing the wise counsel of Aharon, hair stylist extraordinaire, who knows more about people and human nature than almost anyone I have ever met. He also knows quite a bit about the right shade of blonde. Aharon has an assistant named Troy who is exactly the picture I have formed in my head of what the perfect assistant should be: funny, easy-going, happy and ridiculously good looking.

People, I plan to have an assistant one day. Along with a hefty insurance policy covering sexual harassment claims. And also I want to get a horn for my Dad that plays "Deep in the heart of Texas..." What can I tell you. I have lofty aspirations over here.

ANYWAY. Troy and I were chitchatting about New Year's Eve, I love to hear what everyone has planned for that night. Some folks are very contemplative and nesty on that night, some care nothing for it, some plan dramatic excursions to Hawaii or Las Vegas or go to big parties in the Hollywood Hills.

"Are you going out?" I asked Troy. "Your girlfriend is still in town on winter break, right?"

"Yeah, we might go out to a party." he said. "But I think my mom wants us to be with her. It's a Korean thing."

This is probably a good time in the story to mention Troy is Korean.

"What is a Korean New Year thing?" I asked.

"My mom wants us to go to church with her," he said. "In our culture we have a service just before midnight, like to get rid of the old year. Then there is another service right after midnight, bringing in the new year."

I thought this was one of the best things I had ever heard and I said so. I was so taken in by this idea that I was just about to invite myself along until he mentioned the whole service is in Korean and all of it lasts about three hours.

"Do white people have any crazy traditions like that?" he asked. "I've never heard any, not about New Year's anyway."

I enjoy being the representative for all white people, especially crazy white people. I feel I could take it on as an ambassadorship of some kind.

"Well," I said, "Southerners have all kinds of weird superstitions around the New Year, like you have to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for good luck and even if you hate black-eyed peas you have to eat at least a spoonful or the year is done before it starts."

"Black Eyed Peas? Like the band?" he laughed.

"Oh they're better," I said. "Especially with hot sauce. And Cajun superstition is a whole 'nother ball of wax, because for Cajun people New Year's Eve was when Bonhomme Janvier brought little presents."

"Bahn ome who?" he asked.

"Bonhomme Janvier, he's the Cajun Santa," I explained. "And down in the bayou there's all kinds of stuff about sweeping bad news off your porch, and there's one superstition about whatever tasks you do on January first set the tone for the whole year. So you don't want to bury a body or scrub toilets or get scabies. You can only do happy things like eat and drink and get naked."

Troy tipped his head back and laughed.

"I don't think I've ever met any Cajun people, but they sound almost as nuts as us Koreans," he said.

"Oh trust me," I said. "Southern people and Cajun people are much crazier than Koreans. We might both be from cultures with good food, and you might even have the edge on spare ribs, but we have you beat on crazy. We invented drinking, I'm pretty sure."

He started to argue but I hit him with the last and very final word in crazy.

"We invented country music," I said.

I had won the argument. Do not even get me started on Zydeco!

Eventually I left, of course, one inevitably must leave the comfort of the Beverly Hills flat iron and return to the Valley floor. It was so warm outside that I zipped the windows off the Jeep and cranked up the radio. Driving up and around and through the canyon roads of Los Angeles on a balmy December day is like pure honey, there is nothing better. When traffic is moving and a good song is on the radio there is no other place in the world you want to be.

I thought about the few little squares left on my calendar, the last days of the year. In my head I started making a list, all my resolutions, my goals, my tasks, people I need to email, people I need to call, bills I need to pay, stuff I need at the market, I'm almost out of half-n-half.

I came around a curve on Crescent Heights and I was singing along with the radio, making my list, and out of nowhere I saw a guy on rollerblades walking a giant black poodle up a driveway. Or maybe the poodle was walking him. And it was 78 degrees on a December day at the very end of 2011 and in that one absurd moment it didn't matter who I needed to call. Everything would still be there in a few days.

All I had to do was stop at Ralph's and get a can of black-eyed peas. The only thing you must must do on New Year's Day is eat your black-eyed peas.

That and avoid burying bodies.


So tell me, I want to know: What is your New Year's tradition? What is your unique superstition? What is on your list? Do you eat your black-eyed peas, do you go to church at midnight, do you sweep the porch?

I love the New Year because it is the one night and day that everyone (all of us, hot Koreans and crazy white people and Cajuns and everyone in between) mark in the same way, flipping a new page on the calendar, recognizing the dawn of a new year.

How do you do it in your house?

Do tell.

Posted by laurie at December 29, 2011 10:36 PM