'Trim them eyebrows, mister?' 

Before we let another January escape unpinned, I'd like to explore this notion of New Year's resolving a little further. It's a very appealing ritual, making those resolutions. A hopeful, positive activity if you can bring any sincerity to it. Promising some of the lovely encouragements and consolations that the church does, that betterment organizations like AA do, that rehab does. Maybe the best thing it does is free you from your past, from the curse of being yourself, if only for a little while, and lets you do the designating of who the new alas-ephemeral you is going to be. The old Listerine ads used to say you never got a second chance to make a good first impression, but New Year's resolutions give you that second chance, and give you another second chance every year. Every January gives you a new first day of the rest of your life, a chance to start down a new path with none of the old baggage. You can wake up tomorrow as Joe Cool - and as long as it's a tomorrow proposition, you never have to settle for less. 2004's rosy-with-promise dawning inspires this resolute New Year's litany. This unkempt appearance has gone too far. It has taken on a homeless aspect. Strangers press dollar bills on me. I'd appreciate some kempt tips. Anything that might help me get sheveled. And don't be trepid about it. In the same way I hope you'll help me with my couth. I can be as couth as the next bastard - at least as couth as the next newspaper columnist. I can admire pottery and listen to the violin masterworks without a lot of squirming. Couthing right along with admirable couthness. But then I'll have a head-on collision with a pun, a vulgar expression I haven't heard before, a revival of the old hankering to live in a trailer with a pink flamingo out front. Help me formulate a resolution concerning couth. A little more sang in the froid, bada in the bing, swash in the buckle, savoir in the faire. All of this intending to say livelier greens in the salad - a metaphor for vocabulary and topic selection, both of which can stale out and dull up on you in this business in a hurry. An occupational hazard. Also, I'd like to bring sufficient discipline to the eyebrows so the barber won't be asking, every haircut, if I'd like them trimmed. He says it like he would to a werewolf or Cousin It. Very polite. Maybe just a little too polite. Leaving me to think, Damn! Are they really so uncouthly, unkemptly runaway bushy? I honestly don't think they are, but he has to ask every time, making me imagine he sees an emergent Andy Rooney, or the singer Pavarotti, who shaves his off and paints on new ones the way Joan Crawford did. And I want to conquer this feeling - no, this rock-solid certainty - that all other drivers of automobiles are either imbeciles or psychos, and I'd like to be able to not swear or mutter at them, even though as God is my witness I've never said profane word one about any of them that wasn't totally accurate and fully warranted; I'd like not to feel obligated to shake my fist at them, make those rude digital gestures, or mouth the insults in that exaggerated way that will leave no doubt about the vastness of the contempt that I have for them and for their maddening behind-the-wheel ineptitude and thoughtlessness. I want only to wish them and theirs the very best, and to driving away thinking this thought: Serenity now. Crude is not funny; it can be an element of funny, but it isn't funny in and of itself. For instance, Beavis' and Butthead's favorite bird: the titmouse. Even if I have to sit in the nosebleed section, I hope my regard for originality will lead me to call it something else. I mentioned sincerity. What's really on my mind is sincerity's opposite, and that would be posturing. Sick to death of it; not going to do it anymore, as George I used to say. That's no easy promise me to me because my trade has become just eat up with posturing. Posturing is not only fashionable in American journalism, it's comprehensive; it's all that's left, the comics and obituaries not excluded. (Nor this, alack!) So save me from the posturing, even at the penalty of deepening the obscurity. Struggling on through the murky eccentric (aye, also a posture) into the pure ether of geezer yammer sounds about right to me, a fit path for Smokehouse and old Ez. ("What could he possibly be talking about, darlin'?" I hear you ask the spouse, and I apologize; I know it's courting opaque.) I'm just reading a book by a scientist who gave most of his life to investigating what caused the great K-T mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs and most other life on earth some 65 million years ago. He and other rock sleuths ID'ed an asteroid as the culprit, and patiently made their case, and got a conviction, and with that task finished the scientist turned his attention to an even greater mass extinction, one that killed 90 per cent of earth's creaturely types about 250 million years ago, during the reign of the gorgons, some pretty fearsome dudes. I want to be able to view the human foibles that together go to make up one issue of the paper, or one TV newscast, from that man's perspective, against a backdrop going back a quarter of a billion years. Watching us come up from ratty little shrews, knowing our own Waterloo looms and knowing it in my nads - bound to make me a better, wiser person. A courteous driver, too.

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