I, of the TigerBy Tyler Stoddard Smith
February 08, 2010
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.