Guns at midnight

If you were outside at around midnight on New Year’s Eve, you likely heard the reports of a huge variety of firearms and a demonstration of the wide discrepancies in local time pieces. The shots should all occur at the stroke of midnight but usually start at about four minutes before and continue for about three minutes after the New Year is in.

My contribution was an Iver Johnson Champion 16-gauge single shot firing a number five high brass shell followed by its near twin in twelve gauge with a low brass number seven target load.

I’m careful not to get involved in celebrations with roots in Pagan customs and I do not consider this practice to be one of those. To me, this annual fusillade is merely performance art in which anyone, regardless of their lack of talent, can participate.

It is art in that these lonely reports in the darkness tend to evoke deeper feelings. A lonely, perhaps frustrated soul tossed about on the turbulent sea of life’s misfortune declaring his or her place in time to the cosmos: “I’m still here and I’m ready to tough it out for another year.” Kind of like Dr. Suess’s Horton Hears a Who.

And artists they are — they even have subgenres. The Boomer; the category to which I personally subscribe, fires one or two dull, heavy gauge shots, then sits back and listens to the other genres such as the Dumper. The Dumper “dumps” a full clip from a semiautomatic, sometimes using that trick with the trigger finger in order to sound full auto. On New Years 2000, one such character on the ridge above us, after releasing his volley, loudly voiced to our valley below a most colorful suggestion as to how we might address the new millennium.

Our newest addition is the Cracker. The Cracker fires the contents of a tube-fed pump or lever action rifle into the air. The bullets make their crackling little sonic booms as they speed through space. This is a little unnerving since what goes up must come down. The Lone Ranger may have left us a bad example about firing into the air even though during the opening theme and credits of each episode he is touted as “a fabulous individual.” I hope that the Cracker will fire into the ground next year. Anyway, it was a pleasantly haunting feeling to listen to these folks making their statement — whatever it might be — or just having fun in the exact same place that our planet was situated 365 days before.

I first became aware of the significance of this moment in the waning hours of 1957. I was just a tiny tot in pajamas, getting ready to turn in for the night. My parents had gone out for the evening leaving me to be babysat by two older girl cousins from some obscure Arizona branch of the Kalvitis clan that happened to be visiting the area. I seem to remember that the older girl’s name was Margie, like the song; a fortunate name to have in the Polish/Lithuanian Polka culture. Since Kalvitis is Lithuanian for Smith, we’re everywhere.

Lithuanian women, especially when their appearance hints of a shared lineage from Sweden and Norway across the Baltic, can be exceptionally beautiful. Even at age 4, I was aware of such things. Just as I was about to call it quits for the night, one of these tall blonde beauties mentioned that she intended to stay up and see the new year come in. I immediately realized that I might be missing something really cool so I insisted upon staying up as well.

The girls complied and I stationed myself in a chair looking out of a large picture window at the solid blackness of the night. Their repeated mention of “seeing” the new year come in somehow caused me to expect a visual experience. I kept an eye on that part of the sky which always yielded flying wonders — bombers, transports and passenger planes headed for Idlewild, LaGuardia and the naval bases along the coast. An occasional blimp would go over, flying low, its noisy engine spinning a slow-turning propeller. This, I reasoned, would be the direction from which 1958 would arrive, throttling down on its approach.

To stay awake, the girls busied themselves with various little bits of busy work and by pacing about saying, “I wanna see the new year come in.” Me too! I watched the night sky, still not knowing what 1958 would look like upon its arrival.

I awoke in my bed the following morning and was informed that I had missed seeing the new year come in. I was sorely disappointed. One of those beautiful young women had carried me to bed and perhaps had kissed my angelic little forehead. I had missed that as well. Considering my current outlook regarding such matters, missing that was probably an even greater disappointment.

Still, as I looked out of my window at the snowy world outside, I thought, “Wow — it’s 1958 — no more 1957.” I can’t say that I wasn’t impressed.

Well, we’re already on our way on another trip around the sun. I’ll look forward to meeting my fellow performance artists at the same place in our orbit where we were nine days ago. Maybe I’ll have a 10-gauge by then — art favors the exotic, you know.

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