I DON'T MAKE New Year's resolutions. My brother told me it would grow hair on my palms. Besides, how can you possibly feel resolute in a month named for a guy who couldn't even decide which way to go?
I know people who lust for lists, for whom January is an absolute ecstasy of emotional attic-clearing. But not for me. I'm soul-deep disorganized. Improvised. Adam's rib, ad lib. The only way I can get anything straight is with a twist.
And you know what? It's working.
Organization requires imagination -- and that, we got. If you're having trouble squaring up to 1988, why don't you try a new angle? Besides, you have until February 17 to face the new year -- Chinese New Year, at least.
First off, deal with the things you didn't do in December; otherwise, they'll make you feel so guilty that you'll procrastinate right through another year. In other words, write your relatives. It's one way to get rid of the personalized greeting cards you ordered too late to mail out last month.
Meanwhile, go through your own mail. Unless you're a member of a monastic order that prohibits personal spending, the bills are coming in hot and heavy. (In fact, that's probably why Janus looks both ways: He's keeping an eye out for credit card collectors.) So start a belated Christmas club savings account -- an automatic one, if possible, with the money being withheld from your paycheck. If you had any self-discipline, you wouldn't be in this fix in the first place.
On the other hand, if your niece/godson/stepchild hasn't forgiven Santa his oversights, you can still make a special shopping trip to FAO Schwarz -- in
anhattan. This is the last weekend of "Christmas in New York," a joint Schwarz/Plaza Hotel package for sleep-over shoppers. The $175-a-night tab includes private, early-morning access to the store, a $10 gift certificate and a Teddy bear (212/759-3000). Besides, admit it: You and your Significant Other pooped out on New Year's Eve, didn't you? Well, bubbly's better late than never, too.
And if you're just getting around to admitting it's cold out there, waddle right down to Scandia and get yourself a goose-down comforter. All through January, the Etheria comforter, Consumer Reports' 1985 pick of the pack, is 30 percent off -- $245 instead of $350 for queen-sized.
Okay, that's it for '87. Wad up your unanswered phone messages, and let's press on.
There are plenty of 1988 calendars still around, and the traditional paper and pocket diaries are on sale. If you're determined to get organized the trendy way, go ahead and get that portable secretary -- the leather-bound Filofax you saw a month ago is still in Bloomies' handbag department, and what's $160 against a life of chaos?
Even trendier, and more intriguing, are the new pocket-size computers, miniature PCs the size of credit cards into which you program times, dates, stats, etc. Depending on the capacity, these robot rolodexes range from about $39 to $99. If you're one of those people who fanatically collect -- and then lose -- scrap-paper phone numbers, Casio makes a quicker picker-upper: a miniature calculator that not only stores phone numbers, but also dials them for you (about $39 at Circuit City).
Make an appointment to meet with your tax preparer February 8. That's a Monday. Since federal law says all the banks and credit card companies and employers must mail out your tax information by January 31, you ought to have it all by the 5th, and that'll force you to spend that weekend digging up your deductibles now, while the weather's yucky, instead of in the spring, when all those distractions are abloom. If you're really tired of being part of the overextended generation, make an appointment with a financial planner. In advance of which, make an appointment with a doctor who dispenses Valium.
Now, let's talk body -- which, after all, is the subject of the vast majority of traditional New Year's resolutions: This is a good time to join a fitness club, and not only because there'll be a lot of good deals going around. (As one Holiday Spa staffer admitted recently, "There's a membership special just about every month.") It's also the only place you have to wear a bathing suit all year round. If the view from the Jacuzzi can't shame you into shape, nothing will. And it's a lot more respectable than a singles bar.
Aerobics (see opposite page) is still the most social sport; in fact, it's the only exercise routine known that apparently requires full makeup. But spandex should not replace smarts: Check out the intructors' credentials. Of course, the latest craze in conditioning is giant rubber bands -- cheap, but the noise is terrible.
If gadgetry helps keep you going, consider a high-tech talking scale (although frankly, the idea of having a machine make a public announcement of my weight first thing in the morning strikes me as an obscenity). Sharper Image has them, complete with memory program, for $99.
You might contemplate hiring a personal trainer. If you respond well to Pavlovian reinforcement, they're a lot friendlier than a talking scale. Some clubs have trainers-in-residence -- members of the downtown YMCA have the benefit of training director Maria Bach, for instance -- but non-members can contract with Bach or one of her colleagues for about $25 an hour. If you run up to Body Design by Gilda before Monday, you can save $5 on a month's all-class card -- $127.50 instead of $132.50.
Or, if only the drill sergeant approach can drag your waistline back from AWOL, submit to the master -- Marine Master Sgt. Bill Dower's "Armed Forces Workout" video, $40 from Erol's.
If you're just a cold-weather couch potato who does pretty well in the summer sports season, consider joining an indoor tennis club, taking up racquetball, or playing stadium softball. Even if you consider indoor tennis a crime against nature, at least look at the sporting-goods ads; there have been $120 graphite racquets on sale for $60, $760 racing bikes for $600, rowing machines, stationary bikes, etc., etc.
If you're a wine lover, you can pamper your palate and protect your wallet simultaneously by investing in wine futures. In the next several weeks, the winemasters at Addy Bassin's MacArthur Liquors will begin offering futures on some of California's finest '86 cabernets -- such as Stag's Leap, Caymus, Robert Mondavi Reserve, William Hill Reserve -- that could eventually save investors up to half the case cost.
If you're tired of complaining you only get pesto in summer, sign up with Thomas Garroway, Inc. (800/356-7070), the gourmand's answer to a book-of-the-month club. For $12.50, a new subscriber gets to choose three foods from a list of 10 -- including the pesto -- plus a Kate Greenaway-ish wicker picnic basket and a no-obligation ordering catalogue of molto goodies. A shipping catalogue such as Park's (803/223/7333) will have basil plants ready in March, but you could order the seeds right now and have a potful in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile, get that dead tree outta your front yard. Vic Price, of Vic's Tree Service in McLean, says this is a great time of year to have remedial tree surgery performed, not only because the ground is hard and can take the shock of heavy machinery and falling limbs (not yours, of course -- how much did you eat last month?) but because tree work is scarcer, hence companies will usually be willing to give you a better rate. Price says winter is also the best time to get old stumps drilled out -- "something people usually put off until the last minute" -- and points out that trees cut for firewood now, when the sap has retreated to the roots, will cure more quickly and thoroughly for next winter.
Now that the fashion seasons are purely theoretical, you have a choice between shopping for summer clothes in late winter, when they actually hit the stores, or settling for leftovers and discounters. Instead of acquiring a personal shopper, which can be expensive, check with the fashion advisers at one of the major department stores -- Bloomies, Woodies, Garfinckle's. The clothes may be pricey, but the advice and the selection service is free.
Make this the year you get the garden going. Order your tulip bulbs immediately. The Wayside Gardens catalogue (800/845-1124) offers such beauty that it takes your breath away: graceful glads to be planted just after the last frost, early blooming red-blushed "Betty" magnolias developed by the National Arboretum, "Starry Night" rhododendron, giant spurred Columbine, "Barbara Jackman" clematis. And as Wayside's Mary Jones says, "We run out of a lot of things early." An extra benefit: staffers at the 800 number also provide planting advice.
Indulge yourself in flights of fancy. Capitol Hill consultant Mike McGinn, owner of a genuine 15th-century Irish castle, says now through March is prime foxhunting season. In fact, says McGinn, the hunt at Mallow Castle is the oldest in Ireland, dating back to 1745; but it's "less stuffy . . . and much more frequent" a pastime than hereabouts. They'll hunt three or four days a week at least up to St. Patrick's Day.
If your taste runs more to links than leather, McGinn points out that Mallow is in the heart of golf country, too: "Without traveling more than five miles from the castle, you can golf a different 18-hole championship course every day of the week," McGinn says. Mallow Castle itself, incidentally, rents for $6,500 a week; that includes the servants, of course. Call McGinn at 547-7849.
Just this once, think ahead to the most romantic -- and off-season -- Valentine's Day possible. From February through April, passage on the famed Orient Express (which nowadays runs only from London to Venice) is only $980 a person, down from $1,100 in "high season."
Looking for a new job? After all, 1988 elections won't just turn over the White House staff: A third of the Senate, the entire House and untold PR jobs will be up for grabs. This is a great time to get your resume updated or professionally polished. It's not only psychologically helpful, it gives you credential ammunition for unexpected opportunities. And appointments come easy: Bob Rogers of American Resume Service says, "Businesswise, January's not a real good time for us."
What about your vacation? Most summer resorts are already taking reservations, and besides, looking over their catalogues now will make you feel warmer.
Speaking of warm: If you never got around to having your air conditioning worked on, Dennis Hoffacker of Gaithersburg Air Conditioning and Heating says March and April is prime clime time. Since it's a relatively slack season, Hoffacker says, most contractors are willing to lower labor costs to keep their men busy. Besides, according to Hoffacker, some manufacturers offer "additional incentives" -- translation, bargain prices -- on AC equipment that time of year.
If you have a summer house of your own, now is the time to work on it -- not six months from now, when you're trying to relax in it. Paint the shutters, weatherproof the deck, get the dishwasher fixed. And buy towels: What do you think January white sales are for? (If you don't have a summer home, this may be the time to get started on one. A lot of smaller contractors have time on their hands right now.)
Just for once, don't wait for warm weather to buy sandals. Virginia Watson of Potomac Leather Company in Old Town Alexandria, where custom sandals are made the old-fashioned way (by two foot traceries), says, "People always wait to the last minute, then they come in breathless between June and August and order their sandals." By then, Watson says, the wait is about a month; come in now, and turnover time is about a week. Sandals run about $50-58 a pair.
Holiday cocktail parties are one index to inadequacies, real or perceived. If you've been coming up short in the cultural chatter department, resolve to purchase a season ticket to one of the local concert or theater series. Get a library card; they're free. Subscribe to a real magazine (any that "celebrates people" doesn't count).
You can still improve your social or scholarly standing, either by taking an adult education class at a local university such as Montgomery College or Nova, or on one of the quickie-seminar circuits, First Class or Open U. The former are more into computer programming and remedial poetry; the latter are big on Dr. Feelgood conferences and dressing for success. Of course, if you have a really good "hook" on a common problem -- like getting organized -- offer yourself as an instructor and try paying a bill or two that way.
If you must make only one resolution in 1988, make it this: Get rid of those sweepstakes entries. From now on, either toss Ed McMahon into the trash immediately, or stick it to him and get it over with. Or use him for kindling. Just get him off the kitchen table.