When we were young and back at school after the winter break, we would write the date of the new year on the top right-hand corner of a piece of paper for the first time. Then for about six weeks after we would keep forgetting and write the old year.
When we were young we used pencils with erasers on the end so we could rub away our mistakes and start over. By the end of the day, eraser dust might still cling to our laps or sleeves, we made so much of it. A single pencil was mighty in its power to both write and right our wrongs.
Nowadays I’m not sure that anyone has occasion to write the year by hand, except I still do, and when I go pick up the dry cleaning I will get it wrong for a few more weeks or even months. Getting the year wrong might not constitute a mistake these days, since I don’t know how checks are handled by banks or whether human minds are still engaged in the process.
When we were young we didn’t use credit cards for little things like dry cleaning, lunch or stamps. (Actually, we didn’t even use dry cleaning.) Credit was used for buying cars and washing machines. For everything else we used checks or cash money for which we had to use our hands and head. That’s why we learned math: to keep track so we wouldn’t be fooled or cheated.
When we were young, my mother told us to clean the bathroom every Saturday. This was an awful chore at the time, but now I see it as a timeless profundity. We used Comet cleanser, which you can still find on the bottom shelf of the cleaning supply aisle at the supermarket, outshined by a mile of other colorful, expensive and overhyped products. The world literally turns for those few who notice, first, that the bathroom needs cleaning and, second, that farfetched promises don’t get the job done.
When I was young and in first grade, a second-grade boy stole my shoe and ran around the playground teasing me. I chased him over the grimy asphalt with a shoe on one foot and a blackened sock on the other. I fell far behind, vanquished by his ugly, embarrassing audacity. When I gave up, he pretended to pee in my shoe before he threw it back at me. The meanest kid in second grade will soon be the president of our country.
It seems like I’ve been here before: my thoughts on the new year.