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Anderson Cooper

Just say no to New Year's Eve

By Anderson Cooper

Editor's note: Anderson Cooper anchors CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360°," which airs weeknights at 10 p.m. ET. He also is a regular contributor for Details Magazine. This article was published in the December 2004 issue.

Anderson Cooper


Anderson Cooper

If you ask me, New Year's celebrations are proof that we are essentially optimistic creatures.

Despite hundreds of years of pathetic parties, ridiculous resolutions and hellacious hangovers, we still cling to the notion that it's possible to have fun going out on New Year's Eve.

It isn't.

There's too much pressure, too many people, and too few bathrooms.

New Year's Eve always frightened me as a kid. It seemed so mysterious, so adult, like a cocktail lounge I was too little to enter.

I'd try to stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square on TV, but inevitably I'd fall asleep.

I didn't want to be in Times Square, mind you -- I was watching Dick Clark as a kind of sociological study, trying to understand why on earth anyone would want to stand in the freezing cold, crammed next to tens of thousands of people, all of whom screamed every time someone pointed a camera in their direction.

Even in those pre-hi-def days, you could almost smell the alcohol through the TV screen. It just didn't make sense.

I was born in Manhattan, and to most residents of this thin little island, the ball drop was best left to out-of-towners, like eating at Tavern on the Green or taking the Circle Line.

Pretty lights, sure, but not for us.

I know there's a whole industry built around maintaining the lie that going out on New Year's Eve is fun, and I certainly don't want to make anyone lose his job, but let's be honest, have you ever been to a New Year's Eve party that surpassed or even came close to meeting your expectations?

I didn't think so.

If you go to a party and drink on New Year's Eve, it's inevitable: You will at some point find yourself alone and despondent, and the manic merriment and slurred singing of "Auld Lang Syne" won't help.

I don't want to sound like Scrooge McDuck, but whenever I hear that maudlin, melancholy melody on New Year's Eve I'm instantly ravaged by the twin ghosts of failures past and future.

Sadly, these twins look nothing like the Olsens.

A friend of mine who works the door at a big Manhattan nightclub always tries to take New Year's Eve off.

"It's amateur night," he explains. "All these people who never go out try way too hard to have fun. As the hours go by, they begin to realize this party isn't going to be the best ever, this night is going to end, and this next year won't be all that better than the last one. So they drink or take another pill, and that's when it gets really messy."

I was stuck in Moscow one New Year's, and about the only difference is that in Russia the party starts much earlier and the vodka is much stronger.

By the time the new year actually rolled around, my Russian host had passed out and his friends had taken off to find themselves some prostitutes.

The following year I was in London. Everyone talks about how elegant and refined the British are, but stand outside a London pub on New Year's Eve and those aren't the two words that come to mind.

Roman Vomitorium more accurately describes the scene.

Chunky lads and lasses standing in gutters spewing chunky bits and pieces, then returning inside to guzzle more Guinness. Cheerio!

Given my lifelong aversion to New Year's Eve, I was reluctant when asked two years ago to host CNN's special coverage of the ball drop in Times Square.

I was going to say no -- after all, Dick Clark has had a lock on the night for decades. But it had been a couple of years since I'd gone out on New Year's, and I figured, "What the hell?"

Dick Clark's face may not have grown older, but I have, so I decided to give New Year's Eve one last chance.

New York City sets up a stage and bleachers right in the center of Times Square, and each news organization is allotted a small spot on which to place a camera and correspondent.

On TV it looks like you are the only reporter in Times Square, but in fact you are jammed in almost shoulder to shoulder with dozens of others, many of whom seem pissed that they pulled the short straw and have to work.

A lot of the visitors who come to Times Square on New Year's have been before, but the newbies often don't know what they are in for.

First of all, it's cold -- really, really cold. I met a Spanish couple who arrived wearing denim jackets.

Within 10 minutes they seemed to be in the early stages of hypothermia, their teeth chattering like Castilian castanets. They wisely decided to go back to the warmth of their hotel and watch it on TV.

What many first-time visitors don't realize is that when they get to Times Square, they enter a maze of barricades and end up herded into pens.

Once they find a spot, they're stuck, unable to move -- much like ducks being bred for pâté.

As a reporter, there are certain Times Square traditions you are expected to adhere to.

The company that makes the ball supplies you with endless factoids about its weight and history and how it's made, so when you run out of things to talk about, you can always fall back on that.

New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg comes by and makes the rounds of reporters. It being New Year's, you have to ask him about his resolutions.

The first time I did, he made a joke about his golf score. I should have known it was a joke, because I saw him sort of chuckle, but the truth is I don't know anything about golf, and I think I kind of stared at him blankly.

I resolved to at least attempt a smile the next year .

I started a new tradition for CNN, although I'm not sure it's going to last.

In addition to the ball drop in Times Square, we had cameras covering the Drag Queen Drop in Key West, where, at the stroke of midnight more or less, a drag queen named Sushi, sitting inside a giant ladies' shoe, is lowered from the roof of a gay bar.

We'd interviewed Sushi live a couple of times throughout the night, and by midnight ... well, let's just say that Sushi was no longer too fresh.

When she started to descend, something malfunctioned, and the shoe stalled. The last we saw of Sushi, she was crawling on all fours along the roof of the bar.

I told the director to cut away. Seeing a drag queen actually drop off a roof is not how I wanted to kick off the new year.

Say what you will about New York, but it sure does know how to throw an amazing public party.

At the stroke of midnight, when the ball has landed and the new year has begun, it is a sight and a scene that can't adequately be captured in words or by the small lens of a TV camera.

It is a hurricane of confetti and light, a clash of neon and noisemakers, a collision of past, present, and future.

It is like New York itself: noisy and messy, cold and chaotic, wildly, exasperatingly wonderful.

As a television production, the ball drop gives off so much energy that all you really have to do is let the cameras roll and get out of the way. After that first time, I've continued to volunteer to host New Year's specials for CNN.

Something very magical happens in those crowded, confetti-covered streets. There is a continuity to it, a connection between strangers, a connection from one year to the next.

I still think going out on New Year's Eve is lame, so if you can't make it to Times Square, I recommend curling up with someone and watching it on TV.

The truth is the parties and promises never quite live up to expectations. And maybe that's the whole point. It gives us something to look forward to the next year.

After all, if New Year's Eve really were the most fun night of our lives, the wildest, the best, then what would be the point of waking up the next day?

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