Among the innumerable ritual occasions upon which two or more human beings gather together for the purpose of making absolute fools out of themselves, two achieve heights of silliness matched by no others: Halloween and New Year's Eve. Most years it's a tossup as to which is worse, but this year looks to be no contest: New Year's Eve has nailed it down.
That is because not merely will it be New Year's Eve and New Century's Eve, it will be New Millennium's Eve. For months people have been falling all over themselves to see who can make the gaudiest and most expensive plans for this landmark in the history of our benighted species--apparently every overpriced hotel and restaurant and nightclub from Tucson to Timbuktu is booked to the rafters, and just try getting onto a flight from Anywhere to Anywhere on the afternoon of 12/31/99--but now the Vulgarity Cup has been iced.
The winners, you certainly will not be surprised to learn, are Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who are to vulgarity what the 1998 New York Yankees were to baseball or what Cole Porter was to the Broadway musical: the top. Indeed, speaking of the 1998 New York Yankees, a magnificent example of Clintonian vulgarity was on display last week when the players went to the White House to receive the requisite presidential blessing. They got that and more: La Rodham Clinton in their midst, a Yankee cap atop her head, proclaiming for all to hear, "I've always been a Yankees fan." Never mind that she grew up in Chicago; the woman will soon announce her candidacy for the U.S. Senate representing New York, a state in which she does not live, and is desperately doing whatever she can to make herself seem what she is not: a New Yorker.
But that was merely icing on the cake of Clintonian vulgarity--as was her husband's more or less simultaneous declaration of "victory" in his remote-control, made-for-television war in Kosovo--that had been baked a few hours earlier in the Wall Street Journal. There it was disclosed that "something called the White House Millennium Council, which is overseen by Mrs. Clinton," "has requested a permit on New Year's Eve to reserve the Mall" to stage "a $10-million-plus New Year's celebration" there, complete with "many of the features people have come to expect from the Clintons."
Many but not all. Don't hold your breath waiting to see zaftig White House interns parading across the west front of the Capitol in thongs, or battalions of attorneys and spinmeisters marching in lock step: Even the Clintons have their limits. Instead we are to be treated to the Hollywood side of the first family: "First friend and pop star Quincy Jones, along with George Stevens Jr. of the Kennedy Center, will help with the live musical entertainment. Director Steven Spielberg is shooting a 17-minute film that will be screened for the masses in the final moments before the turn of the century; Bill Clinton will narrate. Terence McAuliffe, best known for his prodigious efforts to raise money for the president's 1996 reelection, is handling the fund-raising."
All of which is to say that New Year's Eve on the Mall will be the most garish American event since . . . well, maybe the Bicentennial, but take your pick, we do them so often and so well. Let's just say this is certain to be the culmination of all our brilliance in that department. The Spielberg film, especially, will be something really special, "expressing" as it will, in the words of a spokesman for the great man, "the emotional highlights of the 20th century." Given that it has been the bloodiest and most contentious century in history, it will be fascinating to see how Spielberg finesses that one, but if anyone can do it, it's this 51-year-old man with the Weltanschauung of a 7-year-old.
The rest of the event "remains shrouded in secrecy," the Journal reported, but you can bet the rent that Barbra will be there, and Willie, and Brother Ray, and whatever Beach Boys are still in active service, and maybe even--if you're really good and eat all your spinach and floss your teeth and make your bed each morning--Billy Joel. In a duet with Barry Manilow. Maybe even in a trio with Neil Diamond. Pretty please: Could we throw in Cher and make it a quartet?
The very thought is enough to get the heart racing at double time. The spleen, too, if you happen to live, as yours truly does, within shouting distance of the Capitol, and to treasure the calm with which the neighborhood ordinarily is blessed. Things were bad enough a few weeks ago when the satraps of NATO invaded the environs, producing (aided and abetted by every police department on the planet) near-terminal gridlock, but imagine if you can a three-day exercise in American excess--three days, the Journal reported, are just how long it will last--presided over by the King and Queen of Crass.
It's more than this boy can bear. I'm shutting down the word processor and going into a two-week pout. See you in July.
Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is email@example.com