Let's hear it for celebrate nothing day

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The Independent Online

I have found my path to becoming a model citizen of the United States.

I have found my path to becoming a model citizen of the United States. All that is required is a large calendar, or one of those office day-planners, on my kitchen wall and a marker pen. Each Monday, I make a note of whatever good cause is being promoted in the week or month ahead and promise to participate. For example, if it's National Take Your Daughter to Work Week, I will take her - at least for a day.

It's a goodness regime that requires no imagination on my part. There is not a single hour in the life of America that is not dedicated to some public awareness campaign or another. If I wake up and remember that it's Carpenter Ant Awareness Week, I will do my part. Fortunately, the ant week - no joke, it exists - falls at the end of June, so I still have time to figure out what that "awareness" might be. Eating one, perhaps.

But there is a danger I might become overwhelmed. I can only be conscious of so many things at once. Coming up shortly: National Clutter Awareness Week - in other words, tidy up - Geography Awareness Week, Hazardous Materials Awareness Week and Lyme Disease Awareness Week. And what if these calls to action risk cancelling each other out? October, for example, has been christened both National Cookie Month (eat cookies) and Dental Hygiene Awareness Month (don't eat cookies).

The truth is, I am already falling behind. The second half of January was too much of a challenge. In two weeks we've already had to cope with National Folic Acid Awareness Week (happily aimed purely at pregnant women not getting enough of the stuff), National Skier Safety Awareness Week, Rabies Awareness Week and Get Smart About Insurance Week. What is folic acid anyway?

And frankly, some of what they are asking is too much. I was never going to satisfy the organisers of National Vocations Awareness Week, an effort at recruiting new pastors to the Catholic Church. Appropriately, it coincided with Chastity Awareness Week and you can see the problem with that one.

Some of these campaigns inevitably get more attention than others, especially those that generate a little controversy. Most of us only found out about the nookie ban when a big birth-control advocacy group, called NARAL, devised a stunt to ridicule it. It told its millions of members to write to politicians suggesting they provide every US citizen with a free chastity belt, padlock and all. How is America expected to respect a chastity decree, even if only for seven days, without the necessary hardware to enforce it?

A similar flap also surrounded No Name-Calling Week, which also ended on Sunday. Supported by Amnesty International and the Girl Scouts, it was a well-intentioned effort to discourage teasing in school playgrounds. The theory was that, for seven days, no boy in America would point an accusing finger at another and yell "faggot". (Presumably they can say it all they like this week, though.)

Conservatives should have been too busy wrapping up chastity belts and shipping them across the land to even notice No Name-Calling Week. But somehow they found time to smell a liberal plot and instantly accused Amnesty and the Scouts of trying to promote homosexuality in the nation's classrooms. Baffling, I know, but so far I don't think we have a Get Inside the Head of a Far-Right Nutcase Week.

Some things on the January calendar passed me by entirely. I regret I didn't clock until now that all of it was meant to be Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as well as National Get Organised Month. I feel less guilty that I also failed to realise that 21 January was Squirrel Appreciation Day. Gramercy Park, down the block from me, is full of the pesky creatures. Instead of setting the pug on them every morning as I usually do, I could have thrown them a nut or two.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm just about ready for It's OK to be Selfish Week. And it's only the beginning of February.

A good night - and a guten nacht, too

Friends from Washington DC persuaded us to buy tickets for a cabaret night at the Café Carlyle, in the hotel of the same name, best known for hosting evenings with Woody Allen on the jazz clarinet. "It's Ute Lemper," they enthused. "You'll love it." And they were driving five hours to join us.

Sceptical, we turned up and took our seats. I vaguely knew that Ms Lemper had starred in Chicago once on Broadway, but otherwise she was a blank sheet to me. I hardly expected to become captivated by this German chanteuse, with the Dietrich-like presence and an intensity of voice that would have made Carnegie Hall a more appropriate venue. She sang Piaf and Weill, and even Van Morrison.

All that was left was to toast our friends for their wisdom. Except that they had got lost driving out of DC and walked into the café the very moment Ms Lemper was bidding us guten nacht.

Eating my words

Famous last words. You may remember my gushing about the service at Central Park One, a restaurant in the venerable Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue. Now I learn the place is closed.

There is worse. In April, the entire Plaza will be shut down by new owners for a two-year renovation, after which only the exterior will be recognisable. Of the 800 hotel rooms, only about 150 will remain, the others transformed into apartments. And part of the interior will become a departure store. It is true that as a hotel, the Plaza had seen better times. But the restaurant was as good as it gets.