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| A Trio of Personal Holidays

New Year's Plot Resolutions

For One Writer, Jan. 1 Means Books and Black-Eyed Peas

November 11, 2001|MARTIN BOOE

Are you a Beatles person or a Rolling Stones person? Ford or Chevrolet? Mustard or mayonnaise? It's hard to articulate exactly what these preferences say about a person, but knowing the answers somehow tells you a lot about the individual in question.

When the holidays roll around, the question could be, "Are you a New Year's Eve person or a New Year's Day person?" A pack of wild dingoes couldn't drag Sally Nemeth to a New Year's Eve party, but that doesn't mean she sits in front of the TV all night searching Dick Clark's face for signs of age. "I'd rather stay home and cook, so I do," she says. And Nemeth cooks an awful lot on New Year's Eve, because a load of hungry (and hung over) people will be coming over for "Sally's Annual New Year's Day Bean Feed, Tractor Pull and Book Swap Extravaganza."

"Get lucky in 2002--Partake of the Traditional Southern Miracle Menu!" chimes the invitation for next year. As you may gather, Nemeth is a daughter of the South, which inspired the bean feed portion of the festivities. "Black-eyed peas for good luck, collard greens for money and corn bread just to sop it up," she says.

Following her parents' custom, Nemeth has mounted a New Year's Day fete since graduating from college in 1981. But it was in New York, where she lived from 1987 to 1995, that Nemeth got the book swap idea from her late friend Donald Aschwander, a fellow Alabama native and a music director for the theater. "When you'd go to his house, he always had a pile of books by the door, and he'd say, 'Take one when you go.' " Nemeth recounts. "I'd say, 'No, I couldn't,' and he'd say, 'Well, bring one when you come back!' I thought that was such a wonderful idea that I'd institutionalize it."

And she did. "I tell people to clean out their shelves and bring all the books they're not going to read again," says Nemeth, who continued the New Year's Day rite when she relocated to L.A. in 1995. "Everyone comes in with a sack of books and puts them under the tree." Since Nemeth is a playwright, screenwriter and director (she's currently shooting a documentary on the history of Asian American theater's "chop suey circuit"), many of her friends are literarily inclined, which gives party guests something to talk about while the sports junkies are in another room watching bowl games.

Like water, Nemeth's yearly guest count seems to have found its own level, about 50. Post-celebratory hangovers make for a certain attrition rate among the positive RSVPs, Nemeth says--but then there are the people who call saying sheepishly that they forgot to RSVP, but can they come anyway and bring five friends?

As for the tractor pull . . . well, that's part whimsy and part wishful thinking. "I'm still hoping someone will be dada enough to actually drive up in a tractor one day," Nemeth says.

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