By Garrison Keillor
I don’t do New Year’s Eve anymore because the parties never were that much fun and we wound up trapped in corners in the usual intense conversations (kids, schools, political lunacy), and some people drank too much and forced the rest of us into a guardianship role and the sheer awkwardness of telling an old drunk to let his wife drive him home, and so the party ended with us wondering: why do we not know how to have a good time? White liberal guilt? The inbred gloom of northern people? Too many books one has read and is eager to quote? Lack of dancing skills?
The correct answer is No. 4, the inability to dance gracefully with a partner. Jitterbugging and fox-trotting and waltzing were slighted in our curricula in favor of math and science, and how many people can whoop it up with algebraic geometry or number theory? So the party drags and guests wander from room to room with plates of raw vegetables and hummus, glancing at their cellphones, wishing they were elsewhere. No doubt about it, dancing is the key to a good time and the great dance tunes of our youth, like “Brown Sugar” and “Brown-Eyed Girl” when we used to sing, “Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da” led to some fine solo shimmying but that was long ago and we were twistier then. Past the age of 40, you feel self-conscious slipping and sliding alone, whereas when the band strikes up “I Saw Her Standing There” and two jitterbuggers make eye contact and hit the floor for the step-and-hop-and-step-and-hop and quick quick and dip and kick, you’ve got two people having a big time, no gin needed. I’ve seen people polka to “Purple Rain” and look good doing it.
In my high school years, phys-ed class included a few weeks of ballroom dancing but we were too young to appreciate it. The waltz and fox-trot were old dances and we favored the twist. But the twist faded like snow in April while the classics prevailed and there are, you must admit, few things so simply transformative as slipping into the arms of another — your wife, your mother-in-law, the cleaning lady — and moving gracefully in conjunction. It dispels gloom and redeems you from show-offy self-righteous conversation, which is what four-fifths of all conversation is about. Just shut up and be beautiful, swing and sway and smile at your partner, and bow and say, “Thank you.”
The problem, as it so often is, is individualism. If everyone at the party could jitterbug adequately, the party would take off for the moon, but my generation resisted universality, thinking it was regimentation, and opted for uniqueness, which doesn’t exist, as you find out around the age of 40. Being Yourself is a dead end. Every rat who sees the cheese on the little metal flange with the fancy wirework around it thinks he is the first rat ever to come upon such a treasure. It’s a waste of a perfectly good rat.
Someday before I leave the earth, I want to throw a party that people remember with pleasure long afterward. No need for a extended eulogy at the funeral, just stand and say, “Remember his birthday two years ago?” and sing, “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain, too much love drives a man insane” and everyone jumps up and dances, arms in the air. David danced and leaped before the Lord, willing to look foolish in his praise, and why shouldn’t we? There is a mysterious chemical link between dancing and hopefulness. Jump up and down and swing your arms for a while and you’ll discover it.
I am hopeful about 2020, no need to brood over the past. I’m old and have more regrets than Amazon has fulfillment centers. So what? It’s a New Year, one named for clear vision, and after all the hogwash and chicanery, America is ready to embrace common sense. When the LFW (Leader of the Free World) takes TV shills as top advisors, you know it’s time for new furniture. No need to wear a button on the lapel, but in November, we will vote for someone who doesn’t insult us ten times before breakfast and then we’ll grab each other and dance. Sha la la la la la la la la la lah de dah. You read it here first.