For some years it has been fashionable to argue that, the rhythm of American life being such as it is, the real New Year begins not on the first day of January but on the day after Labor Day, and that this year has only two seasons; they are called School and Vacation. This is a plausible notion, and an appealing one, and my inclination has been to go along with it. Of late, though, I have been giving it sober contemplation, and have reluctantly concluded that it is entirely off base.

This is because the wrenching experience of the past two weeks has convinced me that the true American New Year begins in the first week of April and is divided into two seasons, or parts, so astonishingly dissimilar as to numb the mind. These seasons are known as Baseball and The Void, or, in certain less interesting circles, as Summer and Winter. In the current year--the Year of the Bird--it has now been two weeks since Baseball came to its sudden and wholly gratifying conclusion. Unfortunately, we were able to enjoy this gratification for only an instant, since with the final postgame interview we were plunged immediately into the outer darkness called The Void.

There are many ways to describe the differences between Baseball and The Void, and they were nicely summarized last week by a friend of mine who, contemplating the long, bleak, dolorous times ahead, poignantly asked: "But what do we do at night?" That, indeed, is the question. During the season of Baseball, it hardly ever has to be asked; except on the occasional rainout or off day, at night one goes to the game, either in person or by means of the radio. But during The Void, there are no games to attend and thus there is nothing--or at least nothing important--to do. During The Void, we are left entirely to our own resources, with consequences that occasionally are pacifying but often are merely terrifying.

To be sure, during The Void it is possible to make the acquaintance of certain amenities that tend, during Baseball, to get lost in the shuffle between Fenway and Anaheim. Among these are music, books, movies, the theater, restaurants and even (!) work. Were it not for The Void I might never have chanced upon Cesar Franck's Sonata for Violin and Piano, or Ross Thomas' novel "Missionary Stew," or the movie "Atlantic City," or the play "The Dining Room," or the Imperial Crab at Thompson's Sea Girt House--and without these, admit it I must, life would be considerably less interesting than it is.

It is also true that during the endless days of The Void it is possible to undertake the arrangement of that peculiar institution known as "social life." During Baseball, the only permissible "social life" involves sitting next to a person, preferably a person with whom one is on speaking terms, in the ballpark; if a person wishes to see one "socially" and does not enjoy the pleasures of the ballpark, that person's wishes cannot be accommodated. Thus it was that, during the recently ended Baseball, I had no choice but to fend off the invitations issued by an otherwise charming acquaintance who, being of the British faith, had not the slightest appreciation of the "social" subtleties of Baseball. Now that we are in The Void it will be possible to see this gentleman again--and I look forward to our meetings as though they were glowing candles in the long darkness.

It is furthermore true, to give the Devil his due, that during The Void there are certain liberating elements toward which gratitude must be directed, however reluctantly. It is not necessary, during The Void, to grope for the telephone in the early-morning hours in order to dial the number that gives recorded scores from the West Coast; not having to discharge this responsibility at the crack of dawn is, I must acknowledge, a relief. It is a relief--well, at least it's a change--to be able to undertake an activity at 7:35 of an evening without fulfilling the conflicting obligation to turn on the radio and enter that three-hour period of apprehension and agony known as a "game." It is a relief--sorry about that, guys--to be able to get through the sports pages in five minutes and thus have ample time for the contemplation of James Watt, Margaret Thatcher, Johnny Carson and other personages of grave import before setting about the day's affairs.

In fact, so long as confession is being made, let it be said that during The Void it is possible to travel--to travel as freely as a bird, with no restrictions imposed by the Scheduling Department of the American League. Not merely is it possible to get up and go at any old moment, with nary a thought for the home-and-away rotation, but it is also possible to get up and go to any old place, even if it doesn't have a radio station. It is possible to arrive at some distant and alluring place and to read its newspapers without cursing them for failing to elucidate all matters Baltimorean to a length of several thousand words and 87 inches of statistics.

Okay: It had just as well be acknowledged that during The Void there is time to renegotiate diplomatic relations with the rest of the world, a world that quite simply disappears during Baseball. This is a world that contains the likes of dentists, art museum guides, appliance repairmen, symphony conductors, loan officers, butchers, insurance adjustors, professors, upholsterers, cabinetmakers, barristers, comedians, bosses--all those people who vanish into the ether at the beginning of Baseball, which of course occurs on that great national holiday called Opening Day. The Void is the season when one deals with these people. There are, by my count, a mere 154 days remaining in this season of The Void in this Year of the Bird, which is to say a mere 154 days in which to take care of all the year's trivial necessities before the arrival of that necessary triviality called Baseball.

So what I want to know is this: If The Void offers as much pleasure and productivity as, alas, it seems to, why do I spend all six months of it wishing it were over?