You say you don't remember last night? You say you wish you didn't? Never mind. New Year's Eve can be a Learning Experience on which to draw in future years. Herewith a potpourri of New Year Memories, bitter and sweet, and sometimes just instructive.
On the Brink
I was a pretty grown-up guy by the New Year's Eve of 1957, my 18th year. I was cool enough to buy vodka in the state store in Clarendon and socially ambidextrous, having run with both the hoods and the thespians at Washington-Lee High School.
A friend and I had just designed and built the most sophisticated stereo hi-fi amplifier in North America: ranks of giant English vacuum tubes producing 200 watts per channel with dead-flat response from 20 to 20,000 cps. It regularly blew out speakers and windows, but always with pure clean notes. During lulls in its design and construction we solved the problem of why the negative electron doesn't embrace the positive atomic nucleus, causing the whole universe to collapse into a superdense mass smaller than a breadbox. Years later some guy named Pauli, who published first, won a Nobel for what he called the exclusion principle; we had called it No Room at the Inside.
I was going to be a physicist who pumped iron, or a lineman for the county who wrote poetry on his lunch breaks, or maybe just drift West and write the book that had defeated Kerouac.
That year's party was at the home of Our Gang's leading artiste, whose father sang tenor like an angel and was incredibly tolerant of teen-agers. We drank some and talked a lot about Ayn Rand, who was hot among adolescent intellectuals. I danced mainly with a girl I grew up with, who was more understanding than most about my jitterbugging. She had put on a little weight and seemed somewhat subdued. She left not long after midnight.
Next morning I learned that she had gone home and had a baby. Suddenly I felt very young, and not very anxious to grow up.
The Descent of Mom
Holiday letdown strikes in different forms. It used to plague my mother each New Year's Eve. She would round up all those she knew who, unlike us, lacked the good fortune of having their entire extended family living within 30 miles. A party at our house became a frantic tradition, preceded by a high-pitched frenzy of errand-running and chores. By noon there would be at least one emotional outburst between two or more members of the family that would have to be resolved before we got dressed and put on our party faces.
One New Year's Eve, my mother declared bitterly that she had "nothing to wear," a dilemma so serious we didn't know what to do except to sit downstairs nervously, braced for her descent, waiting to tell her she looked better than any other year.
A waft of fragrance preceded her. As she came into sight, we all stood and oozed our delight. She was smiling and her lipstick looked as shiny as the Christmas balls on our tree. She had curled her thick, black hair and it looked like swirled chocolate frosting. Her rosy cheeks looked as though she'd been sledding all day instead of stuffing mushroom caps with sausage.
We were so awestruck we didn't see her high heel catch on one of the steps, sending her tumbling down the stairs in what seemed like slow motion. I remember my little brother's horror, his mouth dropping open. He knew, as did the rest of us, that our party would not go on. The new year might be canceled altogether. At the bottom she lay motionless, face down on the tile. You could have heard a pine needle drop. My father reached down to pick her up. She wasn't hurt. But there on the floor lay a cosmetic image of her face, her rouge, eye makeup, foundation and lipstick, all in perfect order.
Cristina Del Sesto
Last Tango in New Jersey
Only once in my life was I fool enough to spend New Year's Eve at a place called "The Latin Casino" that was, I swear, done up in bordello reds and happened to be located somewhere in greater Camden. It featured on its bill that fabled evening -- in addition to the indestructible rubber chicken and bullet-hard green peas -- some pathetic used-up Las Vegas comic and some god-awful Motown second-stringer in black silky pajamas who perched centerstage on a stool in a single spotlight as she "sent out" to all of us madcap party heads all the greatest hits I never once in my whole life had ever heard. And all this going on, by the way, as I and my rather stuffy date were sitting ringside wearing our stupid conical paper hats and trying to smoke our pricey filtered cigarettes and drink our absurd little watered-down highballs, not to say trying to keep up a stream of steady, elegant nontalk with the half-dozen other New Year's party fools who had accompanied us to the swamplands of New Jersey to put on those stupid conical hats and puff elegantly on the same overpriced cigarettes and throw down, with studied Bogart abandon, the same cheap cocktails, and of course blow -- at regular and maddening intervals -- those damnable little Japanese noisemakers that, in addition to the noise, feature that snakelike unfurling of a tube of oriental newsprint right in your snout. The noise from those things haunts me yet: sneeeeeeeeep. All night long. At regular intervals. Right in your face.
Hell, I don't even smoke.
Hell, I married the girl.
Well, this was all a long time ago, I think about 1969. I was only four years out of the seminary then and still thought white socks were cool. Now I'm married to someone else, truly cool, and we couldn't have gotten in the Latin Casino last night even if I'd wanted to. It's dead. I remember reading in The New York Times about its demise, one of the tiny little things for which I continue to be grateful to my creator.
Hillary arrived, fresh off the plane from Paris, in time for midnight, dessert and the 12th bottle of champagne. "Happy New Year!" she announced cheerily, setting amid the detritus of dinner a black, melon-sized duplicate of a bomb in a Road Runner cartoon.
She lit the fuse. It sputtered impressively.
"What does it do?" asked one of those around the table.
"I don't know," she said gleefully. "I got it from a man in Paris."
The fuse sputtered on.
Questions poked tentatively through the champagne haze. "Does it explode?" "This is a glass table."
Silence except for the sputter.
The owner of the table plucked the bomb from its setting and moved it to the floor, trailing a wisp of smoke.
The fuse sputtered on. Then it stopped.
"Who's going to pick it up now?" someone said.
"POP!", the bomb replied, exploding in a puff of smoke. Down showered a rain of balloons, confetti, miniature nose glasses, Chaplin mustaches and tiny cardboard champagne glass silhouettes emblazoned "Bonne Anne'e!"
"There now," said Hillary with a dazzling smile.
Snowbound, So to Speak
When I was 15 or 16 my high school boyfriend, the one who was into DeSade, threw a New Year's Eve party; it snowed two feet and we all got to spend the night together legally. But I don't think we dare go into it.
Ironing Out the Old
For as long as I can remember, my best and truest instinct about New Year's Eve has been to stay home and iron. Alone. At midnight, when others clink glasses, kiss strangers and otherwise impersonate happy revelers, I wink into the mirror, repeat my annual resolution, (which, as it is also the title of my novel-in-progress, I cannot divulge) and go straight to bed.
Those who know my fondness for parties and aversion to housework do not understand why, on this night of nights, I prefer spray starch to champagne. Attributing such eccentricity to cosmic angst, one dear man last year insisted I partake of the splendid cuisine and companionship that are the hallmarks of his table. Six hours before the appetizer course, I telephoned my regrets. He read me the riot act, but I held firm, whining repeatedly, "I just can't do it." I spent the next two hours getting flowers delivered to his doorstep -- no mean feat on New Year's Eve. How could I know he hated gladiolas?
The friendship survived, to the point that last month, over a rapturous lunch, he issued a second invitation that included the ominous requirement of a "blood oath that you'll show up." "Thank you, but I'm already booked," I smiled demurely. And I am. In risky contravention of my instinct, I am, at this writing, putting on the glitz and heading to an elegant soiree. But just to be safe, I will press a few shirts before I leave, to ensure that 1988 at least starts with something constructive already accomplished. I only hope that as the clock strikes midnight, I will have remembered to unplug the iron.
Feliz Anåo Nuevo
We met part of the group on the recycled '50s-vintage school bus that rumbled from San Jose to the Pacific port of Quepos. With gestures and taco-box Spanish we explained we were on our way to Playa Manuel Antonio, one of the Costa Rican national parks. Our new friends planned to join their buddies at the same place. The coincidence settled the matter; we'd join them for New Year's Eve.
By the time we crawled out of the army surplus pup tent our friends had invited us to use at their campsite, the sun was high and the picnic table crowded with food. Over coffee we met the dozen other campers. Trading jokes about our awkward Spanish and their rock 'n' roll English, we made short work of campsite chores. Marco, Rudy and Andreas collected a rum and cola kitty and took the bus to Quepos for supplies. By the time the rice and beans were cooked, the picnic table had turned into a bar and someone hung a portable stereo from a palm tree. Sundown brought the first of many toasts to Pan-American friendship.
The rest of that evening that welcomed in 1982 accelerated, as New Year's Eve parties do, through dance and drink and intense conversation. New Year's morning I awoke to find outside our tent a carefully smoothed piece of silver paper from a cigarette box inscribed "Happy New Year! from Rudy." He had decamped before sunrise.
I still have it. It was folded around a wildflower from the nearby jungle.
Rough and Not Ready
When I was growing up in New York City, my girlfriend and I decided to visit Philadelphia one New Year's Eve. I had a sister living there, and we went ostensibly to visit her, though it was really because we wanted to party, which was tough for us since our parents were strict.
We checked in at my sister's place and went to a house party my sister's boyfriend had heard about. It was in a rough section of West Philly, but we thought we were cool, big-time New Yorkers and figured, no problem.
It was a basement party in a row house, with dark lights and cheap wine. Everybody there, women included, looked like Smokin' Joe Frazier, with close-cropped Philly-style haircuts different from the New York styles and totally hip to me.
Everybody was grind-dancing and boogeying and having a good time. When midnight closed in, we all went through the countdown, shouting out, "Four ... three ... two ... one ... " Then suddenly we heard gunshots -- Bang! Bang! Bang! -- and a scream upstairs.
Dead silence in the basement. All those Joe Fraziers didn't move.
Muffled shouts upstairs. Then thumping. We listened in the basement, panicked. It was dark down there, and you had to go upstairs to leave. Somebody said there was a dead man upstairs. We rushed around, laughing, crying. Finally, a bunch of us ran up the stairs, through the first floor and into the street, hauling so fast we didn't see a thing. No blood, no body, just a kitchen, a living room and a bunch of people yelling at one another, probably drunk.
I never did find out what happened at that party. Someone said it was just a novel way of ushering in the new year. Maybe so. I'll never know.
Hog Jowl Howls
Many reasons to worry about our daughters in the year 1988 come to mind: Will they get bonuses from their employers? Will they marry rich men for love? Will they wear hats in 16-below weather?
As if that weren't enough, both have just informed us that they do not intend to eat hog jowl, black-eyed peas and rice today. Now until this year, our parental influence has been strong enough to insist that they have at least token portions, though I have to admit they both said "ugh" and one added "yuck." Last year, I had to cover the whole thing up with jalapenåo relish before they'd eat even a spoonful. But this year, they've refused flat out. Camille has simply said she's eating out New Year's Day -- probably in a Chinese restaurant. At least she'll have rice.
Now where I come from, everybody knows that dire circumstances result from not eating the lucky New Year's repast. What will happen to the daughters? Will they lose their jobs and demand allowances again? Will they bring home men who are trying to find themselves? Will they take up motorcycle riding? Consider the consequences.
The problem is widespread. Claire has pointed out that a great number of her friends, and she suspects some of ours, also do not intend to eat hog jowl, etc. for breakfast, lunch or dinner today.
Think of that! There may be thousands of Washingtonians who do not even know of the required diet. Many do, of course. Albert Gore Jr., being properly brought up south of the Mason-Dixon line, surely knows the really important things to do on New Year's if you want to make it through successfully to the next one. And Claude Pepper could not have gotten as far as he has without paying attention to the verities.
Now that I contemplate the matter, that may be what went wrong for the Reagans last year.
After all, what do they know in California about black-eyed peas?
Sarah Booth Conroy
Ablaze With Love
New Year's 1972 I was home on break from college. My true love Randy was visiting from Phoenix. I was in my robe putting on makeup in my bedroom by the warmth of a small space heater when I smelled marshmallows toasting. Out in the hall my brother was waiting for the bathroom. Randy was inside.
"Who's toasting marshmallows?" I asked my brother.
"I dunno," he said, "but you're on fire."
I looked down and saw he was right.
"HELP! I'm on fire!" I screamed as flames reached my knees.
Randy rushed out of the bathroom and started beating at the flames. This caused the fire to climb to my waist.
My mother came out of her room and screamed "Roll on the rug!"
"It's nylon!" I yelled. "The house will catch fire!"
Finally my 6-foot-5 1/2-inch, 240-pound boyfriend picked me up, flames and all, and carried me into the tub. Under the spray he looked at me and said, "Do you realize this is our first shower together?"
There was the one we spent tossing rings at the toilet in the rented Carmel house (you had to be there, I suppose). There's that old photo of a couple dozen happy campers crowding together for warmth (snapped, as it happened, just before the camper on my right started running a hand up my leg).
There were earlier, hazier, New Year's Eves, featuring euphoric first-time drunks and empty bottles hurled into Yankee snowbanks (we liked the idea that they'd melt out in the spring). There were sober New Year's Eves and New Year's Eves spent watching Disney's Greatest Hits. These weren't as boring as they sound -- they weren't boring at all, actually -- but I'm not getting into the good stuff here.
There was one in particular, combining "Pinocchio" with "Return of the Secaucus 7" and about four too many bottles of Spanish champagne ...
What the hell. You've been there. You can fill in the blanks.