The advent of the New Year in the US has always been about regeneration, reflection and apologizing for relieving myself inside your piano bench, on top of the sheet music for Haydn’s L’impériale, which is an inferior symphony, I’ll have you know, but I’m sorry anyway. Regeneration is for lizards and draculas and reflection gets you nowhere. So how are we to deal with this maelstrom of transient morality, half-baked resolutions to get thin or stop sprinkling cocaine on my Fruity Pebbles before work? I say we go Chinese.

The Chinese New Year is transparent, honest and sincere. And just because it involves a little bit of ancestral ooga-booga, this doesn’t make it any more preposterous than our rituals involving black-eyed peas, soggy cabbage and the annual scavenger hunt to find my car on New Year’s Day, usually located somewhere between Bed-Stuy and Baltimore, if I’m lucky.

The Chinese New Year is steeped in a rich cultural tradition, like most things Chinese, including the terra cotta warriors of Xi’an and the “Dumpling Man” of St. Mark’s Place, next to Tompkins Square Park. I’m told that typically, the Chinese New Year begins with a massive house cleaning to sweep away any bad juju from the previous year. I suspect, however, that my girlfriend, who has been nagging me incessantly about tossing out my collection of jock straps from retired Mets, may have fabricated this “tradition.” She’s also not even Chinese, but sometimes love is about compromise and I must agree, Marv Throneberry’s athletic supporter doesn’t exactly “go” nailed up next to her Kandinsky print.

As I’m sure you’re also aware, with every Chinese New Year comes an animal used as the years’ avatar. This year, it’s the tiger, a charismatic megafauna that is ferocious and totally bad-ass, unlike the stupid ox, last year’s loser. The ox achieves through routine, and last year I was the picture of an ox, routinely watching the Law & Order/ CSI: Las Vegas cocktail and eating jelly-filleds from Doughnut Planet while cashing my unemployment checks for 1970s pornography on Betamax. The lesson here is to be careful. Next year will be the Year of the Rabbit, which will hopefully translate into lots of sex, but could also mean a year of coprophagy, or the consuming of night feces, another distinct and altogether unpleasant activity engaged in by the rabbit. But that’s the beauty of it. To coin a phrase, Chinese New Year is like a box of chocolates: You never know if you’ll be eating shit or running free, preying on antelope in the African savannahs.

Another interesting nuance of the Chinese New Year involves not just one night of revelry, but count ‘em 15 days and nights of rabble-rousing, which include setting pretty much whatever you want to on fire. For instance, the First Day of the Chinese New Year marks a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. A lavish meal is served, scantily clad second cousins perform a lion dance to keep evil spirits away, then the old people are typically set on fire and the fun can really begin.

The next thirteen days of the Chinese New Year are traditionally spent in a huangjiu-induced stupor. Huangjiu, or “yellow-liquor” was a particular favorite of Chinese poets in the Tang dynasty. Li Po’s protracted ode to yellow liquor, “I Can’t Feel My Face,” is a prime example of huangjiu’s influence over political and family life in China at a time when most people were in the middle of a gargantuan blackout. The thirteen-day blackout is also a good idea because most of these days are devoted to The Jade Emperor, who is often a royal pain in the 屁股. According to one of several Chinese creation stories, the Jade Emperor fashioned the first humans from clay, but as he left them to harden in the sun, a storm came down, misshaping some of the figures, accounting for the origin of infirmity, physical abnormalities and The Jonas Brothers. Just to hedge your bets, though, it’s never a bad idea to set something on fire to placate The Jade Emperor, because you never know. It’s said that The God of The Kitchen reports back to The Jade Emperor with news of our shortcomings and transgressions, but I’m not too worried about the God of the Kitchen. Oh, my coq au vin was too stringy? Do you really think the Jade Emperor gives a shit? But, like I said, better to torch a miniature pony or a clown just to be safe.

A brief note on safety: With all this arson going around, it’s easy to find yourself engulfed in flames, especially if you are dressed as a dragon or as an old person. So during Chinese New Year festivities, be sure to coat yourself in a fire-retardant material like asbestos cement, or for increased range of movement, calcium silicate.

Now, on the 15th and final day, the celebration starts to wind down. People usually eat vegetarian meals to cleanse their bodies after the two week pork party. This, and the fact that football season is over may be the main drawback of Chinese New Year. Why all this cleansing? It reminds me of the American New Year’s, where everyone gets new shoes and pretends to run for a week. Then we get all this alternative dietary claptrap so popular with today’s homeopathic nitwits. It’s hypocritical, it’s creepy and it’s mediocre, people. We are TIGERS this year. Fierce Chinese tigers. Would a tiger subject himself to vegetarian soysage or the indignities of the enema bag? Or hop in a Prius to go prance around at Pilates, under the illusion that the New Year has propelled him into righteousness? No, a tiger would probably eat everybody at the Pilates class, then drive around town growling or spraying anal gland secretions to pick up babes. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I’m going to roll in 2010.

America, you can have your Times Square apple drop, your awkward midnight smooches, your mindless Gregorian calendar, your one night of fatuous, yawning “fun,” your black-eyed peas—your whole wretched, fabricated New Year’s hoodwink. I will take the Chinese and their fecund cultural traditions, their poetry, their piety, Peking Man, and Peking Duck. In this year, this glorious dawn of 2010, I will take the form of the tiger.

And if that means I relieve myself inside your piano bench, soiling the sheet music of the Yuan dynasty classic, Rejuvenation of the Red Plum Flower, that’s just the tiger in me. Plus, I think we both know that Cantonese opera is far inferior to the majestic musical treasure known as Kunquopera. But yeah, again…I’m real sorry about that.

There are many wonderful things about being a dog owner. The playing, the walks, knowing that your dog wouldn’t do a damn thing to stop a robber but would, without hesitation, risk its life to protect you and your loved ones from squirrels. These things, however, pale in comparison to one of the true joys of having a furry friend. I’m talking, of course, about standing on the grass for unbelievably long periods of time waiting for your dog to pee.

My wife Julie and I adopted Chloe (the Wonder Shih Tzu™) last August. Since then, I estimate we’ve spent roughly 14,285 hours waiting for Chloe to pee (that’s 45 years in dog time). It’s not as dull as it sounds. See, “waiting” implies you’re merely standing around, checking your watch every ten seconds, your anxiety level rising because you’ve got to catch the train to get to work on time and the clock continues to tick, meanwhile Chloe is having a gay ol’ time sniffing around yet failing to do anything that resembles peeing and, for the love of God, you’re going to miss that train! No, our morning pee trips are considerably more engaging than that—largely due to the amount of begging involved.

“C’mon, Chloe!”
“Okay, Chlo. Time to pee!”
“Goooo, good girl. Let’s peeeeee!”

These requests accomplish two things:

  1. Chloe staring up at us and rolling her eyes to say “I don’t watch you pee, dude.”
  2. Strange looks from passerbys who likely thought we were perfectly normal dog owners at first but, after witnessing this ordeal, now look at us much like you would at the guy sitting on the mall bench, big globs of drool falling from his mouth as he clutches a high heel to his chest.

Naturally, this ordeal begs the question, “if Chloe isn’t peeing during this time, what is she doing?” (as opposed to the more obvious question: “whatinthehell is wrong with you?!?”). Good question. If you must know (and she’d be soooo embarrassed that I’m telling you this), Chloe is what you’d call a yenta. For those of you who don’t speak Yiddish or own the Mel Brooks Anthology, yenta means a “busybody” or “gossip.” The original paparazzi, if you will. And that’s Chloe.

If someone is pulling out of their driveway four miles away, she’ll hear the running engine and want to check it out. If another dog is peeing in another zip code, she’ll want to smell it (the dog and the pee, that is). And don’t even get me started about what happens if she sees a squirrel. “Stop, Chlo!” I’ll shout as this 17 lb. ball of fur and crooked teeth is pulling me cartoon strip-style across the grass in a frantic effort to catch the squirrel.

Anyway, once everybody—and everything—in the continental US finally cooperates and gives Chloe the complete peace and quiet she needs, then, AND ONLY THEN, will she squat down. Julie and I celebrate this triumphant act with the type of celebration you’d bestow upon someone for a truly spectacular accomplishment such as winning an Olympic gold medal or resisting the urge to make fun of a really bad toupee.

“YAY, CHLOE!,” we’ll shout. “GOOD GIRL!” (I won’t even tell you about the types of looks people give us here).

Now Chloe wasn’t always a slow pee-er, mind you. There was that time, last September, when the vet, in an effort to control Chloe’s allergies, put her on steroids. Two words: ‘roid rage. Seriously. The steroids turned Chloe from Wonder Shih Tzu into Shih Tzu Badass. Among the side effects of the steroids was a sudden increase in energy, a desire to devour anything resembling food, and Chloe shaving 5 seconds off her 440 time. And then there was her increased thirst. When she wasn’t killing a pack of bubble gum (again, seriously), she was inhaling her water dish. Which, of course, meant she was peeing. A lot.

We’d take her outside and before she even had a chance to plot her squirrel-killing strategy, she’d pee. Then, on our way back inside the house, she’d pee again. Of course, it’d be wrong to keep Chloe on steroids just so she’ll pee faster. I mean, aside from the ‘roid rage, we’d have those pesky random urine tests to worry about. I guess that means we need to find another way to move the peeing process along.

We’ve talked to the vet and he suggested using some sort of a reward system to encourage quick peeing. You know, she pees and we give her a treat, such as a dog biscuit or a blueberry. I’m all for trying this idea though, to be honest, I think the key element here is selecting the right treat. Can you say “squirrel”?

An open letter to Maggie, my neighbor’s black Lab:


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Dear Maggie,

I think your name was Maggie. You were a black Lab, and you lived in a small kennel made of chain-link fencing and wood in my neighbor’s backyard. I peed on you one evening when I was about seven years old, on a dare from a few of my friends. We were standing around your kennel, looking at you, when suddenly it occurred to me that I had to urinate. I mentioned my condition to my friends, and one of them suggested that I pee on you, for fun. And then the rest of them said, “Yeah, I dare you.” And so I did.

I remember you ran back inside your doghouse once you realized that I was peeing on you. And then I ran home.

My mother got a call from your mother a few minutes later. Apparently, she had seen the whole incident from her bedroom window. On hearing the news, my mother was horrified, and fittingly, I was grounded for the better part of a week as punishment. I also had to walk over and apologize to both you and your mother in person. I can only hope that you forgave me. I really felt bad about peeing on you, in the pit of my diminutive soul. I always thought that you were a really cool dog, and I secretly wished that you were my own.

Sincerely,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA


An open letter to God, Creator of the Universe:


God



Dear God,

When I was a kid, I was forced to go to church, and I was advised by my elders to believe in you. On many occasions, while seated uncomfortably on a hard wooden pew, listening with grave confusion to the rambling of a large, avuncular preacher, I turned my gaze heavenward and prayed in your direction. Almost every time, I prayed that you might provide some sort of definitive, supernatural evidence of your ever-abiding existence.

Dear God, I’d pray, could you please shoot a beam of purple light through that window up there above the altar, so that I can know for a fact that you’re actually listening to me?

Or:

Dear God, could you please blow out that candle sitting over there by the piano, so that I can know for a fact that your powers are actually real?

Naturally, on every such occasion, my heartfelt prayers went unanswered. My pleas were met with an altogether deafening silence.

Here and now, as I enter the prime years of my adulthood, I certainly wouldn’t expect you to trouble yourself with any of my petty requests issued forth in prayer. I can imagine that you are an incredibly busy entity with plenty of universal responsibilities to attend to. I wouldn’t think to bother you.

At the same time, I continue to find myself troubled by your total lack of regard for the innocent requests that I made as a young boy. One would think that a being as powerful and compassionate as God could trouble himself momentarily to shoot a beam of purple light through a small stained-glass window for the benefit of an innocent child.

No offense or anything, but the fact that you ignored me is pretty fucking lame. Hopefully, you will see fit to change your protocol for the next generation of good-hearted inquisitors.

Stay black,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA