Live and learn -- like hell 

When the 12 chimes of midnight are silenced and the New Year has been successfully toasted in, I'll be happy, but it will also feel like one of the best cats I ever had just got hit by a car. I loved 1998. I know everything has its time and the new kitten of 1999 deserves a chance, but I liked the old cat. I don't want to cradle its rotting corpse, but I'm not really ready to bury it, either. In the headlines and in my dayplanner 1998 had hustle in its muscle. It will be a hard act to follow.

Fortunately, I get to force the cat into one more game of Busy Balls before rigor mortis sets in, since it's the duty of columnists to play "review and resolve," reviewing the past year and resolving to make the next one better, composting the past to fertilize the future. In other words, to talk crap and hope it helps.

Repeat after me

"Review and resolve" is a form of learning from one's mistakes, which I don't buy into. Not repeating the same mistakes implies that you will be the same person encountering the same situations, which only happens to Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," never in real life, which is always shifting like a lava lamp (provided yours isn't full of lumpy wax). Also, learning from your mistakes involves examining them repeatedly in detail, which is no good for your morale. You don't think Demi Moore got to be a huge megastar by constantly thinking "I was in "Blame it on Rio'" over and over, do you? Whatever "Blame it on Rios" you have in 1998's "in" basket that are making you feel small and stupid, just ignore them. I'm sure you did your best with what you had to work with, and it isn't your fault that you're surrounded by idiots who drove you to (a) drink until you fell into the litter box, or (b) laugh convulsively during that one funeral, or (c) fall for yet another person you had to explain to your friends with "he/she really isn't like that." You can't change the past, so just forget it ever happened.

It's the mistakes of others you want to examine and promise yourself you will never make. You only have to look at a burn victim to know that searching for a gas leak with a lighter is a bad idea; you don't need to try it yourself.

With that in mind, here are some highs and lows of '98, plus a few thoughts on how they might help you improve your '99:

Peak performances

• Discovery News: The Discovery Channel recently aired a special called "Our Favorite Fun Foods," detailing the histories of stuff like Twinkies, TV dinners and Pez. In a segment on Jell-O, the wobbly, wiggly food-toy was hooked up to an EEG machine and found to have the same brain waves as men. Think about that. You could well be tormenting yourself over whether Jell-O thinks you're cute. Stop it.

• Teletubbies: While you've been hard at work on the magnum opus that will reveal your shattering intellectual insights, some Brit made a mint dressing up people as fat, colorful ants and having them say "uh-oh!" Lighten up.

• Advertising: A local animal shelter is airing touching commercials profiling adorable dogs and cats for adoption. They mention they're right across the street from Flea World. Pay attention to detail.

• Hysteria: In Java more than 150 people were killed by vigilante groups convinced the victims were sorcerers with evil powers. Sometimes the decapitated heads were carried through the streets on pikes. Quit bitching about where you live.

• AOL: More fashionable to hate than disco ever was, but everyone has it. System often can't connect because "too many requests are pending." Get out of the chat rooms. Like my friend Herbie says: Nobody cares what you think about "Dawson's Creek."

• M-I-C ... See you in court ... K-E-Y ... Why? Because you're under arrest: Darlene Gillespie, one of the original Mouseketeers, was arrested on stock-fraud charges. Every day is "Anything Can Happen Day."

• Circumstance is evidence: In Miami in July a guy drowned in a 3-inch puddle after robbers knocked him unconscious. There was a witness, a deaf mute, who could have rescued him but feared the robbers and, I'm assuming, was unable to get help quickly. See? One minute you're riding your mountain bike, the next you're dead because there was a puddle on the ground. Not only are you robbed of the bike but of the chance to say and do all those things you were going to get around to doing when you had more time, which you just ran out of, bam, like that. Say what you have to say. Do what you need to do. When you meet your puddle, it's likely you won't be glad you kept your mouth shut. Oh, and fercrissakes, get a decent car.

That said, have a loud, obnoxious, visible, wide-awake 1999. Sure, it probably won't all end tomorrow. But how much are you willing to bet?

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