New Year's Eve - known to legendary boozer Humphrey Bogart as "amateur night" - is a holiday fraught with potholes and land mines. On this wind-chilled evening of manufactured revelry, people from every walk of life take it upon themselves to have a great time or die trying. This grim determination to usher in the new year at a transcendent, life-altering level is as doomed to failure as any keenly anticipated dinner cruise or senior prom. The barkeep runs out of the good stuff. The throngs are too loud, too grating, too avid. And as the evening drones on and the cheap champagne flows and the bitterness and disappointment mount, the best option is to hightail it to some distant continent where the new year begins in late spring, or not at all.
A pleasant and even memorable New Year's Eve isn't absolutely unattainable, however; I've enjoyed more than a few myself. Once a friend and I packed a hamper with champagne and Hershey bars, made our way up Mt. Tam to a ledge overhanging Blithedale Canyon and at the stroke of midnight were rewarded with a roar of merrymaking from the valley below. At the close of the worst year of my life, staring dimly at the time-delayed revelry of Times Square through a mist of bourbon, I watched with great satisfaction as the big ball dropped to the pavement, muttering to myself "thank God THAT'S over." And for the biggest New Year's in a millennium - the dawn of the 21st century - I set out to consume a martini at each of my favorite watering holes, beginning with the Pied Piper Lounge and ending at an all-night Chinatown dive specializing in rice gruel.
The running theme connecting these disparate celebrations, you might notice, is food and liquor, and there's a culinary corollary to this annual über-celebration: the New Year's Day recovery process. Over the years I've discovered that an absolutely foolproof hangover remedy is a breakfast of fried eggs, broiled ham, hash browns and a double order of sourdough toast - protein for the rebuilding process, starch to absorb the toxins - with several gallons of water to wash it all down. According to experts and - ahem - researchers in the field, dehydration-fighting fluids are, indeed, the number-one hangover curative. But water alone won't save you from the ravages of a morning after. For eons humankind has searched for that magical combination of elements that will end the headache, quell the nausea and relieve the muscle ache in one tidy package. The aforementioned rice gruel is one popular option; others include bananas, hot and sour soup, cheeseburgers, pickle juice, Vegemite and menudo, aka boiled pig intestine (no thank you).
Of course you can avoid the whole mishegoss by hopping the next flight to some calm and distant place; the Punjab's mighty nice this time of year. Best of all, they won't get around to Vaisakhi till April 14.