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How not to blow it on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s heave



Ah, New Year's Eve. Is there a holiday more irresponsible? For several hours, from coast to coast, the United States becomes one noisemaking, binge-drinking, screaming throng ready to ring in the new. We've all had that midnight kiss to the sweet strains of "Auld Lang Syne" and felt good about the future. But it was usually because we'd just downed 10 shots of 151-proof liquor, and we were going to wake up with a mind-bending three-day hangover that would make a Marine sergeant whimper.

Well, it doesn't have to be like that. You can moderate a little.

I say all this as a person who likes to drink and has gotten wild from time to time. Yes, a drink or two can loosen a person up and allow them to have more fun than they normally would. But just because two drinks make you feel better, don't think 13 of them will make you feel 650 percent better yet. You might wake up in a jail cell, a hospital, or, worse still, the cemetery. Here are some thoughts on holiday drinking.

The road of excess

New Year's Eve used to be our one, big, super-drinky holiday. But nowadays, we've done that very same thing to every holiday in America. Almost every authentic celebration originally themed to food or costumes or gifts is now marketed as a booze-fueled binge. The green beer and bead necklaces of St. Patrick's Day are one thing, but when did Cinco de Mayo become Drinko de Mayo? More and more, every holiday seems to come with its own themed beer packaging, down to bottles of whiskey emblazoned with the U.S. flag that seem to appear just in time for Veterans Day.

Some people trace it back to 1996, when we began seeing ads for spirits on television again. Gone were the days when being a party animal was something slightly subversive. Madison Avenue traded in the anarchic Bluto for a smarmy bartender with a three-day beard pouring trademark liquors for pout-lipped, doe-eyed girls.

In short, partying use to mean something, man. It meant breaking the rules. Usually nothing big, but at least the police showing up. In a strange turnabout, drinking has become a badge of consumerism, and the establishment seems to be shouting, "Chug! Chug! Chug!" (With a little voice at the end urging you to "drink responsibly," of course.)

'Amateur night'

The good news is that Americans don't seem to be drinking much more than they have. But the real danger of a holiday like New Year's Eve is a phenomenon known as "amateur night." Normally reasonable people who do not drink a great deal suddenly feel the pressure to tie one on. You see, just like eating, drinking is social. If you're around people who are burning through bottles of tequila, it's only natural to drink a little more than usual. (Or about five times as much.) And that is where the trouble begins.

There are roughly four stages to drinking. The first is the loosening of simple inhibitions: Somebody who is typically wound a little bit tightly starts to relax, to join conversations, and laugh more. This is where you want to stay. Of course, there is stage two: That's where our reveler begins to make off-color jokes or cringe-inducing admissions. The third stage is the loss of simple motor skills: fumbling with money and knocking over glasses.

The fourth stage? It's totally stinko. The person will collapse, fall asleep, vomit, or otherwise become too inebriated to move. But a certain, significant percentage of people get blackout drunk: They are still drinking, walking, talking, doing things, but they are in a dreamlike state they will have difficulty remembering in the morning. This is the most dangerous stage of all, because somebody will tackle things they shouldn't, like trying to drive, or picking out which person to go home with. Stay away from stage four drunkenness if you can.

Alcohol and firearms

Sure, it always seems like a good idea to fire shots into the air at midnight on New Year's Eve, but it's not recommended. In most communities, discharging a firearm is prohibited, which means if you're screaming and pumping lead into the sky like Keanu Reeves in Point Break, you may be breaking the law.

We also hear they do come down, which means some poor bastard's roof may be damaged, or you might crack somebody's windshield. Also, if you're firing a semi-automatic handgun, you might get sloppy and place your thumb behind the upper receiver; that can lead to a nasty injury that can compromise the use of your thumb.

If you must fire off a gun, you might want to sneak away to an unpopulated area, where you can blast away at the sky to your heart's delight.

Singing at midnight

It's so well-known as to be a cliché: At midnight, you kiss your loved one and welcome the new year with a hearty rendition of "Auld Lang Syne." And it's usually awful. Why? Because nobody really knows the words. What you get is this:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And na na na na na.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And days of auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne my dear,

For auld lang syne.

Na na na na na na na na

For auld lang syne.

If you're going to try it, it's a snap to look up the actual lyrics. Should you memorize them, and actually know how to sing, well, give it a try.

You can't fake fun

Seriously, folks: There is no drug to manufacture joy. What's a holiday about, anyway, but taking the goodwill you do have in your heart and gathering with friends and loved ones to regard the past and hold out hope for the future? You don't need booze for that. There is no silver bullet that will exhilarate you automatically. Sure, somebody snorting a few rails of coke and guzzling cinnamon whiskey may be very entertaining and appear to be the life of the party. (He may also be naked and on fire.) But the real reason for the season is something you can't get out of a bottle: getting together with the most special people in our lives and hooting as loud as we can while the annual odometer flips its numbers. Ingest, smoke, or snort whatever you feel you must, but don't forget, kids: Most of that New Year's Eve magic comes from inside.

Happy New Year!

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