It’s a new year, and only the calendar has changed |

It’s a new year, and only the calendar has changed

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Another year begins. We celebrate a new start but what really changes? New Year’s Eve might be more of a celebration of constancy than new beginnings and change: “Hooray, we’re still here!” is the feeling for me. “We’ve got a lot of problems and we might not be around much longer but we’re still kickin’, baby, so toast to that.” It’s sort of like how a birthday party celebrates the fact that you’re not dead. Why not? We’re born into this world and have nothing but time on our hands, so why not watch the clock, waiting for the minute hand to land on what might as well be a random number – party time; an excuse to push the endless stream of responsibility to the side and get on down to the dance floor, because life might be too short and aimless otherwise.

Friday night was cold (3 degrees Fahrenheit) and clear. I wondered how the homeless might be spending their New Year’s as I walked to a bar with my girlfriend, our feet crunching through snow along the unlit bike path. The streets were empty, the air was still and all the twinkling space of the universe yawned above, as if swallowing the earth like a single-celled organism.

Eventually the faint sound of drums, guitars and brass could be heard around the corner as we neared the tavern. The bar was like a tiny orb, a lantern in a long tunnel, its yellow light and noise flickering out into the sidewalks. We entered and shook off the cold. As small as the brick cell looked from the outside, it contained an entire world on the inside. The room was decked with sparkly tinsel and flashy paper ornaments. Strange hats bobbed on heads in the crowd, and costumes made it hard to recognize anyone. Sobriety was hard to find, too. People swayed and sweated it up to the funk-groove stylings of a local band, and Mandi and I surveyed the scene, looking to fit in.

Some animated young men jumped to the front of the dance floor. Their arms swung around their swaying bodies, exaggerating the rhythm in a kind of chicken dance. One of them had stitches on his forehead and wore fat, red suspenders over a white, buttoned shirt and trousers. I had seen the guy around town earlier in the day and he had been on crutches. He sure didn’t need crutches on the dance floor and the way he shook his butt reminded me of a friend affectionately called “the Grubbler.” The other man had a similar dress and style, and the two started dancing together, hand in hand. Then more men came onto the floor. Soon a chicken-dance conga line formed among the men. The scene suddenly seemed very gay – not that there’s anything wrong with that … but it’s something I don’t see often.

Mandi and I bobbed to the music, standing off to the side, and marveled at the spectacle. Then something happened that made us feel very uncomfortable for about 15 minutes. Mandi and I were swaying to a dirty funk beat, the kind that sensuous, groovy types of cats and dolls probably put on the record player and made out to in the 1970s as they ran fingers through their ‘fros. Bodies pressed in around us as people made their way around.

Then he was there. A tall man pressed in between us from the back – not all the way at first. He lingered, initially unnoticeable. Somehow I didn’t have to look to see his face. I just did. Eyes bulged from a pale face with purple blotches around the sockets, mouth slack, disheveled black hair over his forehead. When I saw him later, his face looked green and purple. He looked straight ahead, zombie-like, and kept pressing between us. At last he made his move. Maybe he was too drunk to stand on his own and was merely leaning for support, but I felt an open hand drag slowly across my butt to the small of my back – I saw he had his arm around Mandi in the same way – and both of us were pulled toward the dance floor with him. It made me feel like his face looked. Was the man propositioning us for some freaky action? It seemed to be a clear yet subtle invitation, and I had to admire that, but I lost the will to dance for a short while.

Oh, well, it was New Year’s. Apparently it was just another good time – another tiny moment in a tiny speck of the great, wide universe – another year ushered into the book. The sun still rises and people are still funny to me, like fruit flies mating in the kitchen. Some things don’t change and I’m happy for that.

Derek Franz’s column appears every other Monday. He can be reached at

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