Amy Gargan brought the playbill from a show she saw with a man who is no longer her boyfriend.
Jose Mercado came with a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine, of all things.
Nancy Reed was ready to dispense with hurt feelings and a bad memory of being spurned by a friend.
All three were among those in Times Square on Friday who joined in the first "Good Riddance Day," which organizers of the venue's famous New Year's Eve celebration hope will become an annual rite to help people purge themselves of the old year's baggage and clean the slate for the new year. Its main feature: an industrial-strength paper shredder, set right in the center of Times Square for public use.
New Year's Eve is about "reflecting over the past year … looking forward with a sense of hope," says Tim Tomkins, president of the Times Square Alliance. "We were trying to think of a way to really represent getting rid of the past … and we decided that rather than just throw out the old, why don't we pulverize it?"
With the exception of one woman who tearfully shredded a photo album, with two friends by her side, the event was occasion for good cheer. Participants joked with one another, seemingly more amused than bothered by the bumps they encountered during 2007.
Most Americans reflect the event's spirit of optimism for the new year. Forty-two percent of adults were optimistic that 2008 will be a better year for the world than was 2007, and 59 percent said they feel 2008 will be better for them personally than this past year, according to a nationwide poll by Zogby International conducted for the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment.
While Mr. Tomkins was pondering various ways to celebrate the New Year's sentiment of "out with the old, in with the new," his roommate mentioned a Mexican tradition in which an individual makes a list of bad memories from the year, stuffs the list into a doll, and then burns the doll. The alliance swapped dolls and a bonfire for a shredder, and Good Riddance Day was born.
Participants were invited, on the spot, to make and shred lists of bad memories. Some even brought their own symbols of bad times to grind up and leave behind.
Among them was Ms. Gargan, with her playbill from the musical "Passing Strange" in hand. She'd seen the play with her boyfriend, and it was one of those times when she wondered why she was dating this man. He loved the play, and Gargan hated it.
"I was, like, who could agree that Stew [the play's protagonist] is making good choices in his life? I cannot," she says, still appalled by the character's choices. "[Stew] goes after quote unquote art, alienates everyone in life, lets his mother die while he's not there, can't handle a relationship. But it's all for art [because] that's the most important thing in the world. And I was, like, I think the dying mom needs her son home, you know?"
"A new year, new relationships," says Gargan as she approached the shredder.
Holding the latest issue of Cosmopolitan, Mr. Mercado looked eager to watch the shredder tear it apart. It's not that he has anything against the glamour magazine, but it reminds him of an unhappy event. Two years ago, Mercado, a native Filipino, was in the process of becoming a naturalized US citizen. He'd tucked his immigration papers into a magazine, probably an issue of Cosmo, and someone accidentally tossed it out along with all his official documents.
"When I tried to request the papers from immigration, they declined to give me a copy, and they said [I had] to hire a lawyer. That's expensive," he says. "I'm going to shred that memory, because every time I see magazines, I'm always remembering what happened to me."
For others, it's about laying to rest a grudge. When Nancy Reed, from Clearwater, Fla., passed by the event, she knew just what to shred. She'd acted on a friend's invitation to come to New York and ring in the new year. After making nonrefundable travel arrangements for the seven-day trip, Mrs. Reed, still in Florida, got a voice mail from her friend saying it would be better if Reed stayed in a hotel and the two of them just "did lunch." No explanation.
"I called her back and said, 'Well, I got the dog shampoo that [you] wanted me to pick up and I guess I'll talk to you when you call me back,' and she never called me," recounts Reed, who came to New York anyway and is seeing other friends. She wrote down the tale and shredded it.
Among all the shredded memories, which ranged from failing CPA test scores to an X-ray of a troublesome appendix, math teacher Eileen Lawrence won the $250 prize for the most creative memory to meet the shredder's blades. After a year working for someone whom Mrs. Lawrence says punished children for unclear reasons and shouted at students and staff, she quit and moved to a new school. But to obliterate the memory, she shredded a photo of her former boss.
"I feel cleansed and refreshed," said Lawrence in a phone interview after the event. She plans to take her former co-workers out to dinner with the money.