I decided to do something different this December 31st. For as long as I’ve been celebrating New Year’s Eves, I’ve been greeting the subsequent morning with blurry eyes, a hangover that proves impervious to all the bacon and coffee I can throw at it, and a sullen and increasingly loud resentment of sunshine.

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been some very good New Year’s Eves in there; the problem is usually the reverse. Some of my particular favourites have been spent working in clubs, because there’s nothing quite like the combination of free alcohol, double time pay, and a crowd of a couple thousand people, all secure in the knowledge that no matter what happens, they don’t have to go to work the next day, to spell out a good time.

But, after the train wreck that was 2009, it was time to switch up my style. Not only did I swear to myself I wasn’t going to wake up hungover on New Year’s Day, I also decided it was time to use the fresh start that everyone talks about as just that: a fresh start. After some lengthy discussions with the incomparable Zara Potts, I worked out just what I was going to do.

For a couple of days prior to NYE, I’d been writing down everything I was done with. Personal demons and demonic persons, mental confusions and spiritual contusions, grim frustrations and grimmer situations… everything got named and nailed down onto scraps of paper; mugshots of the things I wanted to change. I stuffed them all into a cardboard box and sat it on my desk – from time to time I would eye it off uneasily, half-expecting the unpleasantness defined inside to stage some kind of Dillinger-esque break-out as I added to the collection.

At sunset on New Year’s Eve, I took the box outside, placed it on a concrete slab so there would be no last-minute fire outbreak (although I would have grudgingly acknowledged the irony of such a well-placed final fuck you from 2009, and half-expecting one, I placed a bucket of water nearby), and put a box of matches to it. Of course, as I lit the matches, they flared up in a burst of sulphur and singed my fingers. Couldn’t resist one last bite out of me, could you, assholes? I thought, and dropped the matches into the box¹.

It burned sullenly, at first. The flames flickered around the thin cardboard edges of the box, catching in parts, then sputtering out with the job only just begun. The papers at the top were left singed and charred and rimmed in glowing lines of ember, giving the impression that everything had burned, but I refused to fall for that ruse.

Sorry, guys, I thought. There’s no escape. Not this time. Not for you.

Remembering the basic physics of fire (Dear Mr. Strohfeldt. Thank you for being such a wonderful high school science teacher. I remain truly sorry about the time I filled your classroom with the smell of deodorant. It was horseplay gone wrong, and nothing personal), I flipped the box and lit it from underneath, where the flames could suck in oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere and burn upwards.This time the fire caught rapidly; hungrily it ate through the stacked papers, long tongues of red and orange and yellow flicking across the undersides of notes crowded with the things I longed to erase. And I stood and watched every last piece of paper burn to ash until finally everything, box included, had been consumed.

Let me tell you, that’s a satisfying sensation.

Minutes after the fire was done, the clouds opened up into thunder and lightning and rain. And I drove to my friend Dean’s house to ring in the new year.

I got home the next morning at five, and sober², with an hour to wait until dawn and the second half of my plan.

Minutes before six, with the first sunrise of the new year starting to move up from behind the horizon, I took the second box, the one in which I’d stored my notes of all the things I wanted for myself, my family, and my friends in 2010, and tied the fifteen helium balloons I’d bought for just that purpose to it. I walked out to my back yard, found the clearest space I could, and, at sunrise, released them.

It was overcast and breezily cool, and I was worried the wind might carry the balloons into the higher branches of one of the surrounding trees (which would have been an undeniably bad omen). But the wind died just as the clock hit 6:01, the time of the rising sun. At first the balloons broke ranks and split away from each other, jostling for direction, but they quickly moved back into a cohesive unit that looked, to my fatigued eyes, as if it was moving with definitive purpose into the air.

And I stood and watched my colourful balloons and the box of my hopes and dreams rise swiftly up to the moody grey sky. In a few seconds, they were a tiny dot far up and away towards the clouds.

That’s right, 2010, I thought. You and me, baby.

So with a clean slate, a request list for the year to come, and 365 days that I’m really looking forward to, I have only this left to say:

Happy New Year.



¹ sadly, the box³ neither screamed nor did any gibbering phantoms fly out, as I was kind of hoping.

² mostly

³ yes, I lifted the phrase ‘Box Full of Evil’ from Mike Mignola. I apologise for nothing.


Mary Richert reads a piece called “Joyously Obscene.” Produced by Aaron M. Snyder and Megan DiLullo. Questions or comments about our podcasts? Please email us.


TNB Hall of Fame
In a short essay entitled “The Economy and Neurosyphilis”, author Mary McMyne finds a way to feel optimistic about being a writer in the depths of The Great Recession. “Recently,” she writes, “in an attempt to keep my brain occupied (read: prevent utter mental paralysis) while my agent shops my novel, I decided to begin researching my next project. So now, instead of lying awake in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, pondering the terrible economy and my dumb luck to finish writing my book this of all Novembers, I am lying awake in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, pondering my awesome luck at being born in twenty-first-century America where no one ever gets neurosyphilis.” Looking for a way to feel better about your plight as we careen into 2010? Look no further.


In 2008 I began writing letters to famous people because I didn’t have many other things to do at the time.

Some of these letter appeared on my now defunct MySpace blog, and several were used in my final stand-up attempt in early 2009.

Not one of my letters garnered a response.


An Unanswered Letter to Nigel Waterson (MP for Eastbourne)

Dear Nigel (forgive me for dispensing with the formality of including your surname, but I’m sure you must know it by now and I wish this correspondence to be brief),

This letter regards the floral decorations of our great and glorious Eastbourne. I visited the town itself today (for I reside a short train ride away myself) and it really doesn’t look like a town gearing up for victory in the upcoming Sussex in Bloom contest.

In fact things are looking pretty grim— almost as though the town isn’t even aware that such a contest is moving towards us at quite intense speed.

I would like to know exactly what our tactics are for this proud and prestigious botanical bout— even Bexhill-on-Sea has a few cheery hanging baskets adorning it’s otherwise pitiful high street!

If we act fast it will not be too late! With our buds barely blooming, let alone arranged in aesthetically pleasing formations, we have little time, but surely we can throw something together?! I have no ideas myself— I am far from an expert in the field, merely an enthusiastic fan of foliage.

We could of course cheat and use plastic plants; but we must ask ourselves if we really want to be the Michael Jackson of the contemporary flower exhibiting world… I don’t think you need me to tell you that we most certainly do not want that foul infamy!

I wish to see victory (and restoration of local pride) before the imminent death of my poor, world-weary goldfish Colonel Kurtz (named, of course, after Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather).

Whilst we’re on the subject of my goldfish, I wonder if you can assist me in matters of goldfish behaviour. I do not know whether you are anything of an ichthyologist, but I feel it’s worth a shot.

Kurtz is a very mischievous fish. I often tell him that if he doesn’t behave he shall end up sleeping with the fishes, but this only serves to make him more frisky and excitable than before. Have you any idea how I can restore discipline and order to my fishbowl?

Thank you for your time,

James D. Irwin


An Unanswered Letter to Bruce Willis (Voice of Mikey in ‘Look Who’s Talking’)

Dear Mr Willis,

I am not altogether convinced this address is genuine, but if it is, I have a number of questions.

Firstly, I dined at Planet Hollywood last year. Whilst it was great to see the motorcycle/chopper from Pulp Fiction (I do a great impersonation of that entire scene, playing both your role and the part of Fabienne) and although I was also thrilled to find that our hands are exactly the same size, one question could not escape my mind:

Planet Hollywood was set up after the immense (and richly deserved) success of the seminal action film Die Hard, in which you played the main character. Why then, did you not name the restaurant Dine Hard? And since the world has become full of left-wing lunatic hippies who think that meat is murder, the avenue for a vegan outlet named Dine Hard: With a Vegetable was wide open! Just a thought…

Also: I have a suggestion for a new condiment, also along the Die Hard theme. Salt and Pepper are as old hat as Salt-N-Pepa, why not spice things up with a little Yipee-Cayenne-Pepper? The place is film themed, right?!

Also, is The Sixth Sense a sequel to The Fifth Element? Because they are quite similar (i.e. you are in them) but they are also different (i.e. they are clearly two very different films).

Finally, why is the food at Planet Hollywood so expensive? Please don’t tell me it’s because the film roles are drying up, because I do enjoy your films.

Sincerely,

James D. Irwin

P.S. Who would win in a fight between John McClane and Harry Callahan? I mean ’70s era Callahan, because he looks a bit frailer in that last film with Jim Carrey and the exploding remote control car (something sadly lacking in the Die Hard films).

OR

Would you join forces and take on Chuck Norris in a No Rules Cage Fight? I would be willing to pay anything between $6-12 to see it happen.


An Unanswered Letter to Brad Pitt (Star of Seven and Years in Tibet)

Dear Mr Pitt,

I haven’t seen many of your films, but having seen both Seven and Fight Club, as well as the trailers for Ocean’s 11-13, I’m confident you have the talent, gravitas and cache for my latest foray into the world of cinematic excellence.

Admittedly my plans rely heavily on you either knowing somebody with the surname Pendulum, or adopting a Rwandan child and calling it Pendulum.

The film itself would be a screen adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe classic.

Imagine the bill Brad… PITT and PENDULUM in… THE RAVEN! Catchy, don’t you think?!

The tickets practically sell themselves!

Question: Poe lived in Baltimore. Baltimore’s NFL team is called The Ravens. Is this a coincidence?

I would like to see more of your films before I write the script, what would you recommend? Also, you might want some say in your supporting cast, but I’d very much like to cast Morgan Freeman as the narrator. Isn’t his voice wonderful? It’s the audio equivalent of taking a bath in hot chocolate whilst Kiera Knightley massages your thorax with warm, fresh honey…

Sincerely,

James D. Irwin

P.S. I want you to reply as hard as you can.

P.P.S. That was a Fight Club reference.

An Unanswered Letter to George Clooney (Nepresso Coffee Spokesperson)

Dear Mr Clooney,

Is there going to be another Ocean’s film?

I can’t help but think the number of Ocean’s films is rising rapidly— perhaps too rapidly. I wonder then, if this is a subtle message regarding global warming?

Perhaps your next Ocean’s film could directly address this phenomena… Ocean’s Rising.

The plot would see another casino being built— a gaudy super-casino, which tips the world’s C02 omissions over the edge, triggering a huge climate change and the oceans literally rising and drowning the Netherlands and Norfolk, England.

Then you, Matt Damon and the other ones (except Brad Pitt, who’ll be busy working on an adaptation of ‘The Raven’, which is being narrated by Morgan Freeman) have to save all the Dutch people. You could save all the people in Norfolk, but Dutch girls are very pretty and the good people of Norfolk have something of a reputation for webbed feet and inbreeding…

Please don’t hesitate to tell me what you think. I don’t have anything locked down as yet, and am very open to suggestions and script alterations.

James D. Irwin


An Unanswered Letter to Matt Damon (Popular Youtube sensation)

Dear Mr Damon,

I recently treated myself to a viewing of Team America: World Police. I was saddened to see you, Matt Damon, offer the most wooden performance I have ever seen. You seemed to be little more than the director’s puppet. It was a particular shame given how great you generally are in films and stuff.

I have enjoyed The Talented Mr Ripley countless times, because one can never tire of watching Jude Law being murdered.

Anyway, I digress. This letter regards your future, and presents to you a prospect I think you’ll find hard to turn down (I would say “an offer you can’t refuse”, but quoting Apocalypse Now is becoming rather cliché).

I may not be a big name in Hollywoodland (although I possess far more talent than the cast of Hollywoodland) but I have some big ideas!

As Brad Pitt and I have already begun to collaborate on a new version of Poe’s “The Raven” (to be narrated by Morgan Freeman) you’ll find your role in the new Ocean’s film much expanded. George and I haven’t come to any firm agreements yet, but as it stands the plot revolves around you and The Cloonmeister saving the Dutch from the catastrophic effects of global warming. The final scene will probably involve pretty Dutch girls with unlikely surnames “thanking” you for your heroics (this scene won’t be too graphic however, as we really need a PG-13 certificate to maximise our demographics).

Now we’ve got that out of the way we can turn our attention to the Bourne films. They’ve done remarkably well, considering you look like my friend Dan who has a dodgy heart.

You may be aware that Mr Robert Ludlum has been very inconsiderate in dying, leaving not so much as a partially finished manuscript on which to base another exhilarating caper for everyone’s favourite amnesiac action hero.

However, I have a sure-fire, whizz-bang of a hit under my belt (just ask the ladies!)

Seriously though… After all that killing he’s done and loved ones he’s lost, Jason Bourne is probably at something of a low ebb. He goes to church, confesses all of his sins and becomes a do-goody Christian— a Born Again Christian.

The film would be called ‘Bourne: Again’ and focus largely on character arc and setting up a high-octane sequel. We’d have to be very careful in making sure that the film was not mistaken for popular ABBA tribute act Bjorn Again— but perhaps they could do the soundtrack?

Towards the end of the film Jason Bourne, now the pillar of a small Mid-Western community, is attacked by a group of no-good punk kids. Attempting to open the can of kick-ass moves demonstrated in the first three films he finds he simply cannot: Jason Bourne is unable to defend himself, and as he lies beaten, bruised and bleeding in the street, he finds that God can’t always defend him.

Bourne is then forced to choose between his faith in God and his faith in beating people shitless.

This sets up the sequel we see that you, Jason Bourne, have opted to put your faith in beating people shitless and have begun to train yourself up to battle man’s greatest foe: God (played by Chuck Norris).

In a thrilling climax Bourne confronts God in an epic battle royale in which both men attempt to out-smite each other (working title: Matt Damon Versus God: The Smitening).

I can’t see any flaws, except the (slim chance) that Mr Norris is eviscerated in the upcoming Cage Fight against Bruce Willis and ’70s era Harry Callahan (tickets $6-12).

I would be delighted to hear your thoughts— and I am, of course, open to any of your suggestions. After all, you have written a multiple-MTV Movie Award winning film!

Sincerely,

James D. Irwin

2009 is almost gone.  I feel like I made it through this year the same way I got through high school, which is to say I skipped most of it and barely squeaked by the rest.   One of the greatest perks to writing as frequently as I do is that there is always a record of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
I rolled into this year as unobtrusively as I possibly could, falling asleep on my brother’s couch an hour or so before midnight.  “If I’m quiet maybe ’09 won’t notice me”, I told myself, and for the most part it didn’t.  I spent January in the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced, -21 in Indianapolis.  Negative.  Twenty-one.  At that temperature even your soul freezes.
That probably explains why I was so sick a week or so later in New Orleans.  Instead of wrought iron and beignets and the banks of the Mississippi, I spent my time there huddled in the Ambassador Hotel hiding from fever induced nightmares.  That didn’t stop Wild Bill Dykes and Sam Demaris from dragging me to Vic’s for a glass or two of James.  I went straight from there to the Oklahoma foothills for a few nights of nothing but wilderness and fire.
There was a very blurry weekend in Shreveport somewhere around that part of the year, too.  I remember Justin Foster not wearing pants for most of it.  Sam and I stole a tree.  We also almost fought Elmo and Cookie Monster.  Wait, maybe that was last year.  This year we beat up a midget.  In our defense, he said he was in the UFC, which prompted the response, “Not unless Arianna Celeste writes a number on your chest and holds you over her head between rounds.”
I spent most of my May hopping around the Middle East with Don Barnhart and Bryan Bruner, which is not the place to visit during the summer.  I got to bake in the Qatari sun and walk the streets of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.  It was nice to find out that Saudi was so much different than I had thought it would be.  I got to soak for a few unplanned off days in a lagoon attached to a luxury hotel in Bahrain.  It was an oasis by every definition of the word and a very welcome respite from the hot desert sun.
While on that side of the world I got demolished in a game of soccer by Djiboutian children, met too many amazing people to name, played with wild cheetahs, and watched Christian Slater rescue a Marine girl from being attacked by one.  A cheetah, not a Djiboutian kid.
Somewhere in that same time period a German woman decided to go skinny dipping with polar bears at the Berlin Zoo.  I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.  We were soon inundated with more attacks from the animal world, this time in the form of the Pig AIDS.  Swine flu.  H1N1.  People wore masks and we all watched as the death toll rose on national television.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that it was a pointless thing to be afraid of.  “Save your fear,” we told ourselves, “there are underwear bombers coming in December.”
The King of Pop died right in front of all of us this year, too.  Sam was in Seattle when it happened, and managed to sleep through the news.  As long as I can remember, he has had one line in his show that takes a crack at Michael.  He called me that night to tell me he did the line on stage and was booed by the entire crowd.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“He’s dead!” yelled someone in the crowd, to which Sam replied, “No he’s not.  He just looks like that.”
Here’s hoping nobody dies while you’re hungover in 2010, Sam.
I was almost arrested in Dallas on my birthday until the cop admitted that some friends of mine had set me up.  He laughed as he took the handcuffs off, and I resisted the urge to kick my friends in the head.  It wasn’t the only time I would find myself in a cop car this year.  Back in Indianapolis, Billy D. Washington and I recruited a ride to our hotel from Indy’s most eccentric police officer.  After tazing himself a few times in the leg, he invited us into the cruiser.   What should have been a ten minute drive took forty minutes, reaching a conclusion only after I managed to pinpoint our location on my phone’s GPS.  To this day I’m not certain we didn’t get a ride from a guy that had just recently stolen a cop car.  Billy and I laughed until we cried, making that one of the most memorable weeks of the year.
I got to climb a bit in the Rockies this year as well.  There was a lot on my mind this summer and nothing clears it like thin mountain air and thousand foot falls.  Charlie Moreno and I watched a Gay Pride parade, a Mexicans for Jesus rally, and a Free Iran protest all take place in downtown Denver within a block of each other.  We watched street musicians and crazy people for a few hours before heading back to the Springs.  I was introduced to K’naan on the drive back, which only made the trip that much more worth it.
In July I got to briefly see my friends Kevin and Pete, who I see far too rarely.  I also got share some of the finest Irish whiskeys in the world this year with BC and Mike Flores.
Fall was spent in Canada, riding trains across Ontario, and drinking Alexander Keith’s with a slew of new Canadian friends.  For a comedian, the stage at Absolute Comedy in Ottawa is as close to heaven on Earth as one can possibly get.  It is to comedy what Nirvana is to both Buddhists and grunge fans.  I was also given the grand tour of Toronto by Jeff Schouela.  If you have to spend a few weeks in Canada with anyone, you could do far worse than Jeff.
On top of all of that, I lost my two best friends.  Tiger Woods fell from his perch at the top of the sports worlds.  I saw snow in Houston.  A family pimped their kid out with a childish balloon hoax.  I fell out of touch with my favorite person on this planet.  Billy Mays and Farrah Fawcett and Patrick Swayze and David Carradine and Jim Carroll died.  I made a stupid bet with my friend Titus.  I saw my friend Rachel turn orange.  I met new people and reconnected with some old friends.
And with all of that said, I managed to accomplish absolutely nothing.  I somehow managed to end the year precisely where I began it: in front of this desk, staring at this screen, drinking coffee.
Here’s to 2010.  I don’t know anything about it yet, but like most wild animals, it probably won’t bite you if you don’t look it in the eye.  I was a little passive this past year however, so I may very well pick a fight with this one on purpose.  It might kick my ass the way ’07 and ’08 did, but I also might find a way to tame it.
Good or bad, it’s pretty much upon us.

I’ve discovered, by traveling at the holidays, that people in general are not a particularly nice bunch of bipeds. Especially at Christmas. They’re greedy, self-centered, bitter, and not above running you over for a better parking space. By the time I leave Maryland for the Great White North of New Hampshire and my family’s Christmas traditions, I’m so sick of humanity that I want to bitch slap it into the New Year.