New Year's Eve should be a night to remember, not a night they'll never let you forget. Easier said than done. Herewith a tour of Eves past, from Parcheesi to polkas to submachine guns on the lawn in Takoma Park.

All's well that ends well, of course. It's 12 o'clock midnight on New Year's Eve: Do your children know where you are? Home is Where the Host Is

The host said to five couples whose company he enjoyed: "Stop over New Year's Eve, we'll have a little party."

Then the host replied to five invitations from couples whose company he did not enjoy (as much): "Sorry, can't make it on New Year's Eve."

On the appointed day he prepared the punch, doled the dip, lit the fire and sat.

Couple A arrived at 8 and stayed till 9.

Couple B at 10, but unable to take off their coats on account of promising the X's they'd stop there, too.

Couple C at 10:15, in time to greet Couple B in the driveway. "You going to stop at the Z's?" "Yeah -- see you there soon."

Couple D about midnight, disappointed to have missed the A's. "Do you know if they're at the Y's? Aren't you coming? Oh, of course -- you've got guests. Well, sorry we have to fly."

Having entertained eight people, two at a time, for a total of one hour and 18 minutes, not counting driveway time or setting up the mailbox again after B backed over it, the host went to bed.

Couple E arrived at 3 a.m., borne on clouds of giggles and pounding on the door with an empty champagne bottle and singing songs to welcome the dawn.

The host played 'possum in his bed.

This year he'll be a guest, instead. Christian Williams Going Great Guns

We were new in town.

Our New Year's Eve started early, about a month early, when five guys walked in the house down the street carrying a submachine gun.

The submachine gun was not to be confused with the cannon, which came later. The only hint we'd had of anything as loud as a cannon had been when the guy in the house across the creek from ours used to fire up a steam calliope and play that oom-pah-pah circus song. This was Takoma Park, so nobody noticed the steam calliope.

The submachine gun made it over the weirdness threshhold, though. People noticed, even though it didn't get fired that night. Rumor had it that it was only leverage in some drug deal that had gone wrong, with our neighbors on the wrong side of both gun and deal.

We were wildly curious, as one is a lot of the time in Takoma Park. My wife even invited two of the submachine gun house guys to a neighborhood meeting at our house. The meeting had nothing to do with the submachine gun, the cannon or the calliope, but it was an excuse to ask those guys what was going on down the street -- for some time they'd also been noted for fistfighting on the front lawn, and similar celebrations, and everybody in the neighborhood had been taking turns calling the police.

The guys set out for our house, the night of the meeting. Who knows why? They were big. They wore leather jackets. They were the kind of guys who always seem to be leaning against something. They missed our house, and walked into the house next door. There was a meeting there, too. They hung around until one of the women asked them what they wanted. They were all women at that meeting. They were all nursing mothers with babies at the breast, in fact, it being a meeting of the La Leche League. The guys were more than welcome to attend, they were told, but they demurred and sprinted out, no doubt noticing that they'd felt more comfortable staring at that submachine gun.

So when New Year's Eve came along, I was prepared. A couple of friends stopped by, we got to drinking tequila, then champagne, the room filled with smoke, just a quiet evening at home. I was so wasted by midnight that I had no idea even what time it was when I saw the flash out the back window, and then heard the explosion, or felt it -- the kind of explosion that ripples curtains, cuts columns of cigarette smoke in half, lifts the plates off the table, LOUD. I was wasted, but Vietnam experience paid off. I was told later that I was yelling "HIT THE DECK" as I headed for the floor, knowing full well that the guys down the street had gotten hold of an 81mm mortar and were getting revenge for all those calls to the police, for all that embarrassment at the La Leche League meeting.

The voice of reason was my wife's, when it came: "It's the cannon," she said.

"I KNOW THAT! GET DOWN! TAKE COVER!"

"No, across the creek."

Across the creek? Good God, we'd been flanked. The next thing you knew there'd be skirmish lines of junkies coming up the back yard, firing short bursts from submachine guns.

"No, it's Chuck, across the creek. The one with the cannon."

I asked if she meant Chuck, the guy with the steam calliope. But it was obvious. Who else would own what turned out to be a Civil War cannon with a three-inch bore, powered by a pound of black powder and a cherry bomb fuse, and aimed -- sans cannonball -- right past my house?

The submachine gun guys are long gone, now. As a matter of fact, a nice young couple bought that house down there. They don't know about the cannon, just like I didn't. Chuck sets it off every year. Maybe I should warn them. Then again, they'll know something's up -- my neighbor Gene and I make a yearly ritual of cranking up a sound system with speakers the size of small refrigerators to play Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," complete with cannons, back at Chuck . . . but that, like every New Year's Eve in Takoma Park, is another story. Henry Allen No Resolutions

Most years I spend New Year's Eve dancing the polka all night with a dozen Polish relatives and drinking the pink champagne my grandmother favors and, finally, sleeping sweetly in the bed of my youth, four-postered and white-canopied, under the cover of crisp sheets and fresh resolutions.

One year I was not so smart.

Last year, I decided, it was time to be adult about New Year's Eve.

Last year, the recently ex'd boyfriend invited himself to dinner and such was the burden of guilt and anxiety, as well as a perverse desire for ritual finality, that I said okay. Last year, the couple whose relationship was crumbling and whose jobs were ending also came to dinner, because, it seems, the only people who want to be around a recently separated couple is a soon-to-be-separated couple. And last year, operating on the theory that everybody has to be somewhere, there was couple No. 3, a mysterious young gentleman of international life style and mysterious income and his English girlfriend.

Everyone ate roast beef. Everyone ate oyster stew. Everyone drank enormous quantities of champagne so dry it could dissolve a tear. Everyone watched the evening dissipate into despair.

Why won't you marry me?, the female half of the crumbling couple wanted to know.

Why don't you love me?, the ex'd wanted to know.

What's wrong with being a pornography distributor?, the mysterious gentleman wanted to know.

There were no answers to any of these questions and by the time the last fretful hour of that last dreary day had ticked itself away, nobody cared. The immediate past was too painful, the immediate future too uncertain.

I thought of the dancing aunts and uncles, I thought of the canopied bed. There was only one consolation.

There's a hell of a hangover to be had from pink champagne. Lynn Darling Spirited Play

We never did much about New Year's Eve. Usually we spent the evening playing Parcheesi with some friends. The most exciting New Year's Eve I can think of was the time when, just as the game reached its climax, one of the players grabbed what he thought was the dice cup, rattled it briskly -- and dashed whiskey and ice cubes all over the board. Michael Kernan The Years of Promise

New Year's Eve in Cincinnati was always as inoffensively dull as the two interstates that edged the town. It was never even awful enough to be interesting. Early on, I remember watching my father blow his bugle, badly, on the front porch steps. Then I moved on to baby sitting (and once I got a quarter tip from the people around the corner), then a particular high school party where the football quarterback kissed me, slowly and expertly, just as my boyfriend walked in. Disappointingly, there wasn't much of a fight. The party plodded along.

By the time I was in college, the night had become an anxious measuring stick against the conquests of my friends, all of us watchful for the engagement ring, the law school acceptance, new lumps on the thighs. One time I came home from school and went, solo, to an array of first apartments. Betsy was in love. Nancy was in city planning. Sally was in medical school. And the parties plodded along.

Finally, I stopped at Steve's. He had never been in the tight high school clique, but then, he had never seemed to want it. He'd once been gawky, but by college he'd become handsome, with dark hair and long dark lashes, as if he'd been keeping a secret from us all. In a way, he was. He had leukemia his first year in college and had spent months in the hospital, a guinea pig absorbing drugs that promised only a chance.

But something worked. That New Year's Eve, Steve was laughing and well. There were maybe a dozen people over at his parents' house, gathered around the stone fireplace like cats, purring. The flames were the only light. The friends talked of schools, jobs, love affairs.

Recently a friend told me Steve died after a long relapse. He had 24 New Year's Eves; I was there on his 22nd. He had seemed quietly euphoric, thinking of his new-found time, the new year ahead. Elisabeth Bumiller Best Little New Year's in Texas

The worst was at the fabled Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, N.J. Twenty bucks a head for a rubber chicken and a bad comedian. Dionne Warwick was the headliner, though I was hoping for Sammy Davis. Dionne was pregnant and never got off her stool. Actually I thought this was living. It was only my second or third New Year's out of the seminary and I didn't have a lot to compare with. I thought I was in Vegas but really I was in greater Camden.

In the seminary ('58 to '65) we would have a holy hour every New Year's Eve. We assembled in chapel at 11, prayed the rosary, stood for hymns, sat for a sermon, bowed our heads at benediction. Outside it was cold and black and still. The softness could seem iridescent. Afterward there were doughnuts and hot chocolate in the refectory, handshakes all around. Then Father Terrence slapped the little silver bell on the prefect's table and everybody went over to bed.

The best was a couple of years ago in Texas. I was playing cowboy again, riding and roping in my little rented Ford Pinto. The day before, my wife and I had bought boots and hats at the Tony Lama outlet in El Paso. Now we were in San Antone. We hit a Lottaburger and a drive-in doughnut joint; cruised the freeways; went roller skating; had dinner in a shopping center (the restaurant didn't revolve, but it was several feet off the ground). About 9 we found our way to a flat-roofed two-acre dance floor, the Gilley's of San Antonio. A sea of bobbing hats and long-necked beer bottles. Saw a couple of fights. Heard somebody say, "Boy, I got a mind to knock a whistling f--t outta you." Couldn't make it to midnight, though. Kissed my wife in the car on the way back to the motel. She was driving, I was nodding. Paul Hendrickson The Bar Closes at 10

A student of barroom philosophy twirled a shot of bourbon between his fingers at a bar one night and said, "Drinking on New Year's Eve for the man who drinks all year 'round is a defensive mechanism. I drink on that night so that I can put up with the amateurs out there."

Tim Costello, who ran his bar on Third Avenue in New York in the days when bartenders wore white shirts, black ties and a white tablecloth around the waist, used to say about New Year's Eve, "If anyone comes into this place wearing a paper hat and waving a rattle, they will promptly be thrown out."

To make sure it couldn't happen, Tim used to close down at 10 o'clock. Joseph P. Mastrangelo The Years' End

They had driven from Philadelphia to Worcester, Mass., the day after Christmas. He was a senior at Holy Cross, about to enter medical school the next year. He was bright and funny and lived in a dingy, two-room apartment above the liquor store. He'll make a good doctor, she thought, stroking the back of his hand and watching the snow fall. He had come back to school to study for exams. She was a junior at a small women's college and had a talent for bad poetry and playing the guitar and falling in love with the wrong men. She cooked spaghetti and when they couldn't find a colander, he used his tennis racket, just like Jack Lemmon in "The Apartment."

They read J.P. Donleavy and listened to "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" on the scratchy stereo.

Like so many of their friends that winter of 1970, theirs was a weekend relationship defined by Friday night beer parties and Sunday afternoon goodbyes. They had never spent a week together before.

"What's wrong?" she asked, watching him tap the open book with a pencil. He was staring out the window. He looked worried.

"Nothing," he said. "It looks like snow."

It was New Year's Eve day, dark and cold with gray clouds hanging over the small town like blasts from a furnace.

"I'm going out for a walk," she said, pulling on a parka. He didn't answer. She walked for a long time and stopped at a frozen pond where children wrapped in mufflers circled the ice on Christmas-present skates. She watched their faces, the clouds of their cold breath curling in the air like smoke signals. I want to remember this day for a long time, she thought.

"How was your walk?" he asked, not looking up from his book.

"I'm leaving."

"Why?"

"Because it's over."

They talked for hours, thrashing out the details. She guessed the truth: as long as he was committed to medicine, he couldn't be committed to her.

"You mean medical school means more to you than I do?"

"Yes," he said. "It does."

He called the bus station. There was a 4 o'clock bus to New York. She packed her small canvas bag and waited while he brushed the snow from the car. They drove to the station in silence. He waited while she climbed up the steps. He didn't wave goodbye.

The bus sliced through the snow-covered highways. She leaned against the window, watching the passing houses with their red and blue lights, the bars with their New Year's Eve patrons spilling out onto icy pavements. She remembered the first time they met. It was New Year's Eve two years earlier. A fraternity party, loud and frenzied, with sweat-covered bodies gyrating to Jimi Hendrix. They wound up together curled in a corner, talking quietly, drinking brandy straight from the bottle. He wasn't sure he wanted to be a doctor then. She drank him under the table. That's when he fell in love with her, he told her later.

The Greyhound growled through the cold night. She was crying quietly. With her finger, she wrote a message on the dirty window. happy new year.

Later, she heard he had graduated in the top of his class. He went on to a noted medical school and became a doctor. He was a good doctor, they said. A very good doctor. Stephanie Mansfield Forging Fortunes

Every New Year's Eve, my mother would manufacture good omens.

Sometime after the black-eyed peas and before the champagne, each of us cast his fortune in molten lead for my mother to interpret. We went in order of ascending age -- I, my brother, my mother and then my father -- the same patient ritual laid down for the Christmas stockings and presents.

We held a slug in an elaborate but battered old spoon over the gas stove until the lead just blossomed and rolled, then dashed it into a pan of cold water. Then she turned and stroked the piece until she could see some resemblance in it, the same as when children read clouds, and made her prediction. A tall boot augured a new riding outfit, a car promised a trip, a purse meant money -- it was always good news. And by the end of the year, when it was time to reforge the charm, we managed to fit the predictions to some established fact. The car was a reminder of a happy vacation, and my outgrown boots had, in the natural order of things, long since been replaced.

Several years ago, I came across the last New Year's ingots we ever forged, from the last New Year's before mother died. With the other now-unrecognizable lumps is her throw -- a perfectly formed rose, her favorite flower. Eve Zibart A New Beginning

In 1949, when we told my parents we were going to be married, my father wouldn't let us count the change in our pockets as assets. Richard was a student at the University of Tennessee and I was a cub reporter on The Knoxville News-Sentinel.

His parents said, "Well, okay," with the attitude that we'd go ahead no matter what. But they did think he should come home for Christmas -- we could be married when he came back to Knoxville for the winter quarter. New Year's Eve was on Saturday, so we thought we could have Sunday off for our honeymoon.

My mother considered forbidding the bans, with good reason. Her birthday is Dec. 18 (she was 80 this year), Richard's is the 20th and my aunt's the 26th. "We can't afford December as it is," she said.

We really didn't worry about the parents. It was city editor Joe Levitt I was afraid of. I'd only been on the newspaper a month, and back then employers expected women to be if not celibate at least careful, and they always presumed that as soon as you married you were instantly pregnant.

So it was with fear and trembling that I went to Mr. Levitt (as I call him to this day) and said, "Could I please, sir, work Wednesday and have Saturday off?"

"Why?" he snarled.

"Because, sir, I'd like to be married Saturday."

"Good reason," he said. "But my wife and I were married between editions."

So we were married in the Episcopal church. Richard almost left me at the altar because the substitute organist didn't play any of the music Richard had selected. But everything else worked out just fine. And if everybody knew we spent our honeymoon in our rented cottage (converted from a garage but not very much) nobody bothered us. For an early morning wedding breakfast, we went down to the all-night Greek campus hangout and had lasagna; nobody knew about pizza then.

The church bells all over town rang and the steam whistle blew.

And every year, the bells ring again for our wedding anniversary. Sarah Booth Conroy Leaving the Ball

On any other night of the year I love a big party. But on New Year's Eve all I want is close friends, good wine, a warm fire and The Ball.

The Ball, of course, is that globe they set atop the Allied Chemical Building in Manhattan and rig to descend in a 10-second countdown to the New Year. I have no desire to be part of the maddening crowd in Times Square, but switching on the tube at 11:45 to watch the crazies go wild as The Ball comes down has become, for me, a New Year's tradition.

But one New Year's Eve, about five years ago, television committed an unpardonable sin. About six of us were gathered around the TV set, drunk and mellow and happy, switching back and forth between "The Tonight Show" and Guy Lombardo (New Year's hasn't been the same since he went to that Big Band in the sky).

At about two minutes to midnight, we settled on one station that had a live broadcast from Times Square. The night was cold and the crowd was hot. People wearing funny hats and even funnier faces were jumping and shouting and waving wildly at the camera.

About 30 seconds to midnight the camera focused on the star of the evening -- The Ball -- poised for descent. At 10 seconds to midnight, it started dropping, and the crowd started chanting 10, 9, 8 . . .

Then the impossible, the unexcusable, happened. Just as the crowd shouted "3" the station cut to a commercial. Unbelievable. At home we were in shock, speechless, for most of the 30-second spot, which was an ad, if memory serves me, for a constipation cure.

By the time they switched back to Times Square, it was all over. The Ball had done its thing, people were hugging and kissing. The New Year came and we missed it. They didn't even show an instant replay.

I was convinced the incident was an omen. That year would be, I feared, my worst, or perhaps my last. The world would end, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a laxative commercial. Carol Krucoff When the Radio Struck 12

As a child I loved New Year's Eve.

My parents always went out and my sister and I had the house to ourselves.

We knew that in what my mother still called "the ice box" were two Hershey bars (plain, no nuts) and two Dixie Cups (I think that's what they were called), half chocolate, half vanilla ice cream with a flat spoon and a lid you peeled the paper off to disclose the picture of a movie star or a cartoon or something you were supposed to save. Those were our New Year's treats. It was as unvariable as New Year's Eve itself.

We lived on Decatur Street, across from the Barnard Elementary School, which we both attended.

It was one of those row houses with the stairs directly opposite the front door.

This was important, because I had to have it exactly timed so that when I heard my father's Ford (with a horn that went ooooga, oooga) pull up, I had to turn off the radio and get upstairs and into my room before they got in. I usually didn't make it, but they usually let me believe that I did.

I was a radio freak.

And because my folks were out later than usual on New Year's Eve, I got to listen to the radio later.

It was one of those round-topped radios and there was always a lot of static.

There was the Red Network and the Blue Network and Arthur Godfrey was the wake-up deejay on WJSV that eventually became WTOP.

But I don't remember Arthur Godfrey on New Year's Eve. I remember things like "Lights Out" and Arch Obeler and "The Odyssey of Runyon Jones" by Norman Corwin.

And "Bands of Renown."

And things happening on Times Square. (I didn't know what Times Square was in those days, much less where.)

I haven't seen a Dixie Cup in years, and chocolate is a no-no.

But let me tell you, in those days New Year's Eve was really exciting.

Maybe it was because it was so long between them then. Sandy Rovner Invitations, Please

We never go out New Year's Eve. We tell ourselves that we choose to stay home. Because all the restaurants jack up their prices and then give you stale food and crummy wine. Because the traffic's such a hassle with all those drunks on the road. Because only the geeks go out on New Year's Eve. But the truth is that we never go out because nobody ever invites us anywhere.

So we stay home, eat a nice dinner, split a bottle of champagne, listen to the top 100 hits of the year countdown on the radio, watch the ball drop in Times Square, and admit how boring we are. We hit bottom in 1980 when we didn't even get to see the ball drop because we drank too much too soon and fell asleep before 11.

I tell you this so you can feel better about your own situation tonight.

And, if any of you are having a party next year, we remain, as always, available.

Happy New Year. Tony Kornheiser