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The difference between New Year’s Eve in your single days, and the version you have as a parent? In the latter example, your child throws up. Nothing minor – some stomach bug of the sort kids get. A few urps and hurls, no fever, no lethargy, so no emergency room. Although I wouldn’t have minded. That has to be an interesting place at 1 AM as the New Year stirs to life; it’s the only place you’d overhear hysterical explanations to the triage nurse that defend the use of a nailgun as an instrument of calendrical celebration.

Otherwise, an ordinary night. I don’t do resolutions or grand summations, since the change of the year seems arbitrary and somewhat alarming – you tend to think how old this year will find you when your birthday comes, even if it’s eleven months away – and after the clock moves past 12 you’re dumped in the empty steppes of January, which is not my favorite month. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s mean and it’s long, solid in a way few other months are. February is a short shivering thing, March harsh and cruel, but you can bear March because you know what’s coming soon enough. January is just a big square block of ice, all work, no play. But I hate to begin the year by urging its speedy passage. “Ungrateful” is the word that comes to mind.

It was 50 degrees a few days ago; 2004 bowed out with elegant grace. The first day of the new year began with sleet and icy snow. The ground is white again, locked down, silent, resigned. Yet the year began as they always do around here: the neighbors lit off fireworks at midnight, blue flame arcing into the trees, red flares, whizzing white streaks. I suppose it beats lighting off explosives in honor of the year just past; better to bring in the new one with cheer and noise instead of hushed supplication and don’t-beat-me postures.

But the old year never does go away, does it? The old year has a long reach and it doesn’t let go. I don’t even like to think in decades; too neat, too pat. I think things move in 7 to 11 year cycles, and it’s all connected to the sunspots. Expect a self-published monograph on the subject soon, complete with detailed & incomprehensible diagrams, petitions to the UN, and great scorn poured on my arch-foes, who credit the moon as the primary influence on geopolitical events. Fools. Everyone knows that’s something the Rothchilds put out in the 18th century to OBSCURE THE TRUTH ABOUT SUNSPOTS.


Today we start an unusual project. Thanks to my friend and indefatigable research aide Mr. George, I have a large collection of matches from a gentleman who lived and traveled in Ohio in the 50s and 60s. I don’t know anything about him and I don’t want to. After culling the matches I had 200 + keepers, which was rather alarming: at the usual rate of one per week, it would take four years to post them all. I scanned them, eight to a page, and spent idle hours arranging them for the site. It’s therapeutic. The scanning part, as I noted the other day, is maddening, but somehow the post-scanning work has a calming effect. I copy the images, straighten them out, carve them up, add the drop shadow, downsize, and save. It takes about 15 minutes per page. Writing and researching takes half an hour, but I usually do that on Saturday morning when wife and child are off on errands.

Rather than dribble them out once a week, I’m going to put up a matchbook every day, M-F anyway, and write a running fictional narrative of the fellow who collected these items. I have no idea where this project will go, except that when it’s done we will have learned a good deal about the ordinary & forgotten aspects of mid-America culture in the post-war era. They’re arranged alphabetically, which may shape the narrative in odd ways.

I know that my interest in these little things is hardly universal, and I know that the Matchbook site doesn’t provide the same sort of har-de-har that the Institute may yield. But it’s actually my favorite ongoing project, and I want to (coff) elevate the Matchbook Museum to something other than the usual gallery of old scanned stuff.

The daily updates will compensate for the diminished bleatage that will be the unfortunate norm until the next book is done. Don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere, and this is not the beginning of the end or a sign of burnout. I’m trying to do something with the new book as well.

So, having raised your expectations: the inauspicious beginning.