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.


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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

71 responses to “A Box Full of Evil and Fifteen Balloons”

  1. Tom Hansen says:

    I can feel your palpable hatred for 2009. It made me smile. I might have to do a little burning myself

  2. Matt says:

    I’m sure Mignola forgives you for thieving his box full of evil. Now, Hellboy on the other hand (of Doom?)…well, that sir is a different story.

    From where I sit, 2010 is still three hours and twenty minutes off. Soon I will dress in some of my better clothes and head off to welcome it with beer pong and pool at my friend’s party. I’m going to wait until 2009 has its back turned as it heads out the door, and then I’m going to shank the fucking thing in the kidneys. We may very well eat the corpse, once it finally dies squealing, but I leave that final decision to my hosts.

    May your fifteen balloons soar like the mighty albatross, my friend. Viva 2010.

    • Mignola is the forgiving type, all right. Hellboy too, I think.

      Getting closer, amigo. Now it’s 2:33, if my mental calculations are correct.

      If I’ve learned anything from Oz (apart from avoid Adebesi), it’s this: if you’re going to go shank-crazy, pay off the hacks first.

      Thank you, sir. Viva 2010, and may it bring you everything you want. Unless it’s something I want too, and there’s only one to go around.

  3. What a great way to end the year. It would have been really cool if the box had screamed…

    I wish I’d thought of that. 2009, for me, has been up and down. Amazing in someways and shit in others.

    • Oh, man, I wish that had happened. And I would have laughed and laughed and said ‘Now you know how it feels!’

      I was talking to someone about this the other day – 2009, for me, was the year that I zigged every time I should have zagged, and couldn’t avoid the subsequent bullets. Which is a shame, because dodging bullets is one of my favourite things.

      • The problem with me is that I always hate the present. People think I’m a pessimist because I’m actually a realist (I know, I know, that’s what they all say…) but in fact I’m really an optimistic realist. I see the present for what it is, and the future is always something better. When it comes to the past, I also see it in rose-tinted glasses, but that’s because I’m a writer. If something awful happens I’m bummed. But the next day I think “Great! Now I have something to write about!”

        • But what if past, present, and future are all static moments; a fixed dimension like that of space, and the difference in perception is in fact a human invention?

          Sorry, sorry. I’m getting carried away ever since that damn Ben Loory recommended An Experiment with Time.

          I’m actually a pretty optimistic realist myself. I do tend to wallow, however, when it comes to what has come before. The past is like a crime scene to me; I won’t be happy until everything is catalogued and labeled and I’ve been sent the lab reports back. I’ve been chasing some convictions for years.

          The future is a mix of extrapolations and fond fantasies that I’ve put together from YouTube clips.

        • I mean, I’ve been getting carried away.

          See what I mean! Even the tyrannies of English grammar are no match for my current temporal slippage!

        • Human invention? I blame the cats.

          Never read that book myself. I think it was written by a dog, to expose the cat-built Matrix. If I read it my mind wouldn’t work and they’d remove me from the cat Matrix, which would catastrophic…

          Wait, what were we talking about?

          Ah, yes, I see… Cats. No, wait. Time. Perceptions. Yes.

          I don’t need closure. The way I see it, my life is one long story and stories are often chaotic. You impose a storyline by glossing over things and altering your perception of others. Focusing things. Managing it. I think I do that pretty quickly.

          Oh god, I’m still drunk from last night, and from the beer I had for breakfast. And the tacos I had for breakfast, which have crudded my brain with cheese.

        • Heh. Catastrophic. I see what you did there. It was very catfunny.

          Damn it.

          It’s an interesting book. But it does mess with your head a little. Too many books have been doing that lately.

          Fuckin’ House of Leaves.

          No! We must have truth! The impossible truth! Perception’s a son of a bitch that will promise to respect you in the morning and then laugh and laugh as you walk in on it thumbing through your secret diary.

          How are Korean tacos?

        • After you spend a couple of years in Korea it’s hard to tell good food from bad, to be honest. Things that seem good are things that you would have hated before coming to a country where ubiquity is priceless. Everything tastes the same here, so when they try and do food from other countries they usually fail. Tacos are no exception. They still taste better than Taco Bell, though. That place sucks.

          Which just goes to show that perception is a bitch even when it comes to food. It constantly leaves you feeling like an idiot. I wander around rubbing my head and looking mournful. “Did I just get served? I feel like I just got served…”

          I went to Koreatown in Beijing, once, to sample China’s version of Korea’s version of America’s version of pizza. It had banana on it. Go figure.

        • Ben Loory says:

          glad to be of help!

          and house of leaves… that book was awesome. i’ve never turned pages so frantically in my life.

          i hope 2010 totally rules for you, simon smithson!

          (for me, all years partake equally of perfection.)

        • You’ve destroyed me, Loory.

          I mean, thanks!

          I know, right? Leaves hooks you and just doesn’t let up.

          (it will. Rule, that is. Don’t you worry about that)

        • Simone says:

          You guys reminded me of this quote by *Dean Koontz:

          “Reality is perception. Perceptions change. So if by reality you mean reliably tangiable objects and immutable events then there is no such thing.” (Tick Tock)

          *Admittedly, I’m a Koontz Fan.

        • Simone says:

          Should I even ask?

        • Man, I really need to get a handle on all this stuff…

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Hey! Why am I not in the tags??
    I’m glad you said goodbye to 2009 with such finality, Simon. It does your soul good, I think.
    Here’s to 2010 and may all you wish for come true. You deserve it.
    x

  5. James D. Irwin says:

    I woke up relatively early in 2010, despite a late (yet sober-ish) night. I woke up to a bright sunny day, Livin’ on a Prayer on the radio and it’s begun to snow.

    It’s all pretty good so far.

    Happy new year!

  6. Greg Olear says:

    I’m a big believer in intention, and last night there was not only a full moon, but the second one in the month…a blue moon, in other words. Plus, the first full moon after the solstice is when the pagans celebrated the solstice. So, unlike on previous NYEs, there was actually some significance to last night.

    And good for you for not being hungover. Hangovers are no way to start the year, not when NYE is the ultimate Amateur Night.

    Here’s to a kickass 2010.

    G

    • Yes! I read about the blue moon. Although I think technically for us the blue moon will be the second full moon of January.

      Damn Yankees.

      Thanks! I feel good about it.

      2010 is going to kick so much ass.

  7. Happy happy happy twentyten, Simon. May you get all the twinkies and Jeanane Garafolos you can stand.

    Burn, baby, burn!

    • Happy happy happy twentyten to you too K-Dub. Twinkies and Janeane Garofalos sound like a wonderful way to spend the year.

      Damn it! Should have written Janeane Garofalo in the balloon box. Oh, well. I’m sure the universe will understand.

  8. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    Simon,
    You are spiritual and concrete at the same time.
    A riddle.

  9. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Symbolic actions have a way of incarnating. May the wishes in that 2010 box all come true. Happy New Year!

  10. Mary says:

    Great post, Simon. Happy New Year to you, too. This one was an absolute pleasure to read.

    • Hey, thanks Mary! Have a wonderful, wonderful 2010.

      I’ll admit, I do have some fear remaining that I’m going to open the paper tomorrow to read ‘Flock of new species of bird discovered only after they choked on mysterious balloons and fell from the sky’.

      And then I’ll be identified by the wish I made about Buck 65 coming to my house for dinner some time.

      • Mary Richert says:

        It’s always risky at the beginning of a new year when you let go of old negativity and make big promises to yourself. There is always the possibility of failing. But you know, that’s why we’ve stayed with our old habits and fears so long to begin with — that fear that we will try and then face the disappointment of failure. That’s ok, though. I have faith in you, Simon. I expect you to have excellent fortune in 2010. 🙂

        • Ah, shucks Mary. Thank you.

          2009 was the Year of Fear for me. I’m ashamed to say that just about every time it came calling, I invited it in and cooked it breakfast (fearfully). Except when I was up on top of the Sky Tower, that is.

          The way out, I believe, is through.

  11. […] for me, I had Simon Smithson on speed dial. I asked him to call me at one minute past twelve (after I had pulled in my box) and […]

  12. You are officially on the other side having ushered in twenty-ten with admirable elegant restraint ( no hangover, I mean). Here’s to a great one…..

  13. jmblaine says:

    The prophets say
    first time the world
    ends
    by water
    next time
    by fire

    Fire on you
    2009!
    Fire!

    Here we are
    Simon
    all of us together
    alive & well in
    2010~

    • 11,
      There was fire
      And then water
      (and thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me)

      And here we stand together
      In 2010’s warm embrace

      With 2011 already
      On the way
      In 363 days
      Your power will be amplified
      By twice ten.

  14. Marni Grossman says:

    2009 sucked. Big time. For most of it I was either underemployed or unemployed. Intermittently, I lived with my parents. I was single. Also, Brittany Murphy died, officially killing off my childhood.

    I’m with you, Simon. Let it burn.

    • It’s OK, Marni. It’s gone, done and dusted. 2009 had moved on, and so have we.

      Now, 2010, on the other hand… score.

      (But Jesus, 2009 was a bad, bad year to be a celebrity).

  15. Burn, baby, burn. Happy New Year, Simon.

  16. Amanda says:

    Until I read your post, it had (ignorantly) never occurred to me that on January 1st, New Zealand and Austrialia greet the sunrise as early as I do in Canada in July. That’s some sort of mean trick, really, and made me grateful that through the many years of grueling New Year’s Day hangovers, I was able to lie in darkness till nearly 8 a.m.!

    This year, I started things on a more sober, rested and things-are-looking-uppish note, having done a better job of balancing cocktails and good times with moderation and good sense on the 31st. And, I, too, had a nice little ritual to let all the poo of 2009 go, make sure it stayed in last year and didn’t tag along or hide itself in my pocket in order to stick around. Your box-burning was genius.

    A fresh year to you!

    : )

    • Oh, my, yes. 6:00am is how we roll over here. At the moment the sun goes down at around 8:45pm or so; so I’ve got plenty of hours to add to my sunlight collection.

      I should probably go and turn out all the pockets of all my clothes now, just to make sure no 2009 slipped into one of them while I wasn’t looking.

      A fresh year to you too Amanda!

  17. TammyAllen says:

    You are my hero.

  18. josie says:

    Cleansing and uplifting – what a great serious of rituals.

    May your exorcism be complete and may your desires rain down on you like manna from the heavens.

    …And may that box not hit you in the head…
    Happy Year – now and forever!

    • Out with the old and in with the new. And the new will be everything I’ve ever wanted. So, you know. Score!

      May your 2010 be a magnet for health, wealth, and wisdom, Josie.

  19. Simone says:

    Gelukkige Nuwejaar, Simon!

    Your ritual seemed to be a cathartic experience. I may just follow your lead with something similar.

    I heard a song the other day by Jason Mraz, called “Details in the fabric”, the chorus of which I’m stealing to be my mantra for the year:

    “Hold your own,
    Know your name,
    Go your own way”

    May twentyten bring you all your heart’s desires, and more.

    • Cathartic is just the word, Simone.

      And now to wait for the money to roll in.

      Nice mantra!

      I hope twentyten brings me all my heart’s desires too. Because my heart desires so very many things.

      Also, I hope the same thing for you.

  20. D.R. Haney says:

    This is a copy of the text you sent me an hour or so after we put you on the plane in September:

    Melbourne: Cherry Bar, St. Kilda Beach, Lygon Street. You’ll love it.

    I kept it, obviously, just as I kept the text Zara sent me after my second sad trip to the airport in less than twenty-four hours. And my antiquated phone doesn’t hold many texts. I erase almost all of them.

    I consider your text a plan. I damned well do, my friend.

  21. I bet the box screamed in a frequency that humans can’t hear. I bet a dog would have barked or horses galloped away.

  22. Brin Friesen says:

    I was a little late getting to this. You’re very fun to read, Simon.

    • Ah, shucks, Brin. You ain’t so bad yourself. Some day I’ll work on talking about something that’s actually happened to me, so I can try to put some of the lessons I’ve learned from reading your pieces into play.

  23. Brad Listi says:

    Good on ya, Simon.

    I’m a fan of the novel approach.

    I’ve also got something of a good helium balloon story.

    Goes back to when I was a child.

    Maybe six or seven years old. Somewhere in there.

    I went to church with my family one Sunday.

    Donuts afterwards. Helium balloons.

    I take a balloon home, write a note, self-address, attach to balloon, and let sail.

    The balloon goes up with my note.

    This is suburban Milwaukee. Southeastern Wisconsin. The Great White North.

    I forget about it after that.

    I’m a kid.

    **

    Then a couple of weeks later, one of my neighbors comes up to me.

    A girl named Leigh Ann.

    She tells me that her grandmother read about me in the news in northern Michigan.

    Northeastern Michigan. A town called Alpena.

    A kid my age was walking home from school through an empty field and my balloon, with its note, fell into his hands.

    The local paper did a story on it. Printed my name.

    He wrote to me shortly thereafter. We were penpals for a while.

    I wish I could remember his name.

    **

    The balloon traveled the entire width of Lake Michigan and the state of Michigan.

    A pretty incredible distance as the crow flies.

    Must’ve gotten caught in the jetstream or something.

    Anyway, there you have it.

    • Wow. That’s pretty cool – I wonder if there are jetstreams in Australia? I honestly wouldn’t know. We don’t like to talk about our meteorology a lot.

      What if the kid’s name was like, I don’t know… Nick Belardes?

      Shoot. I just looked at a map. That’s quite a way. And to not come down over the water? Snap.

  24. Ryan Day says:

    I spent the New Year at a Dominican club in Boston learning how to… dance? Looked like something else to me… I like the ritual. Way to cleanse. And don’t let 09 get to you. It burned my fingertips a little too…

    Here’s to a truly new New Year.

    It’s been a pleasure getting to eknow you (I’m not sure if that was electro-jive or a Spanish accent, but in either case… true).

    Best

    • We’ve got a ‘Spanish Club’ over here. I have no freaking idea what goes on there. Seriously. None.

      What do they do there?.

      Shit, that’s going on my to-do list. Right now.

      Right back atcha, in electro-jive Espanol, amigo.

      Encantatho.

  25. Erika Rae says:

    Dude. You’re never going to believe what I found caught in a tree on my property this morning. OK, not really. I was just jealous of Brad’s story. But I did get them…metaphorically speaking. They were lovely.

    I wish you a happy and satisfying 2010, Simon.

  26. Rachel Pollon says:

    So cool. I’m digging on all this optimism. I feel that goodness is in our grasp and I realize it’s even more tangible when we (you) are proactive about it. 2010, wee-hoo! Happy. New. Year.

    • The fourth part of the puzzle – not just optimism, not just goodness, not just proactivity… what you need to do is get Zara Potts to find a ring on the street of LA and give it to you. Then it becomes your lucky universe ring and you are unstoppable.

      You should get one.

      Happy New Year, Rachel!

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