Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, y’all.

Why the above picture?

When I was a kid, Mom was a dedicated subscriber to the New Yorker. As far as I know, she subscribed right up until the day she died, and for that matter, quite some time after. Dad never got around to cancelling subscriptions to Mom’s magazines; when I visited him over a year after her death, new issues were piled up in stacks in the living room. Probably hurt him too much to think of doing anything about it.

I don’t know when she started her subscription; when I was a little kid, the New Yorker was already there. I can’t visualize our house in Blacksburg without there being a few issues in the dining room, living room, den, bathrooms … awaiting the eventual cull when Mom decided she’d read everything worth reading.

As a kid, of course, I was primarily interested in the cartoons. I didn’t understand a lot of ’em at first, naturally. Richard Nixon and Watergate were a thing, and newspaper editorial cartoons were always going over my head with references to bugs and plumbers. The New Yorker cartoons, aimed as they were at the self-identified intellectuals among us, were even more cryptic to little me. (Except for the cartoons of the legendary George Booth. Man was a goddamned genius.)

And then came the December 30, 1974 issue. That’s its cover, above.

I would have been, oh, seven years and three months old when that issue showed up in our house, and for some reason, it really left a mark on me. I stared and stared at the cover, trying to decipher its meaning — other than the obvious, that is, that the ‘4’ in ‘1974’ had been replaced in the circus act by a shiny new star, a ‘5’. I guess I wasn’t very up to date on surrealism or whatever genre of art it would fall under.

(Coincidentally, it was just three weeks later that the greatest New Yorker cartoon of all time, “Ip Gissa Gul“, was published. And yes, that was a Booth effort.)

Even though that one issue was just one of hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers that passed through our house, that’s the one that stands out in my memory. And every year, when the old year dies and the new year takes the stage, it always comes unbidden to my mind’s eye.