My wife and I will stay home, as usual, this New Year’s Eve. The new year will let itself in quietly while we sleep. This is just how we like it.
In my 20s and early 30s I used to always go to my friend Rich’s house for his annual New Year’s Eve open-house bash. He was an unlikely friend in that he and his wife were middle aged, with adult children just a few years younger than me. One of his sons owned a bar in town that I visited from time to time.
The fellow and I met through the local electronic bulletin-board community. It’s funny to think about it now in this era of high-speed Internet and social media, but in those days of 9,600 baud dial-up modems, BBSes were the way people connected electronically. Rich ran a little BBS called The Last Frontier; it ran on a computer in his basement that was connected to a dedicated single telephone line. He made me a sysop (system operator), which meant I had privileges to manage the BBS software and its user accounts.
BBSers from the area would get together once a week at a bar to drink beer and enjoy each others’ company. We called it the Tuesday Night Drinking Society, TNDS for short, the only rule of which was that we never met on Tuesday. TNDS was a real highlight of my week.
At TNDS one December, Rich pulled me aside. “Say, we’re having an open house New Year’s Eve. We have it every year. We’d love it if you came. We start after supper and wrap up after midnight.”
“I’d love to come!”
“Terrific! Now, here’s the deal. Once you’re invited, you’re always invited. Every year. I won’t mention it again.”
Rich lived about 15 minutes north of my Terre Haute home in a small town called Clinton. When I walked into his home, the whole house reeked of garlic. On the dining table was a large electric skillet filled with a thin sauce. “It’s called bagna càuda,” he said, pronouncing it baughn-ya caugh-da. “It’s a traditional Italian dipping sauce. It’s mostly garlic and anchovies. Here, dip this celery into it. If you’re up for a more intense experience, dip this bread into it.”
It was delicious, of course. I sat at the table with Rich and a bunch of his friends, including a priest who brought a bottle of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur with him and was sharing it around. Time slipped past quickly, and suddenly we were called into the living room to watch the ball drop on TV. It was a lovely evening.
In those days I was a disk jockey on the radio, part time. We part-timers were expected to work extra on holiday weekends so the regular disk jockeys could enjoy a break. I always signed up for the morning show on New Year’s Day. Weekday mornings get the most listeners, and I liked imagining that I was a hot morning show host if only for that one day.
I don’t think I could do it today, but in those bulletproof days of youth it wasn’t hard to roll out of bed after four hours of sleep for a 6 am radio show. It was just part of my New Year’s experience, and I loved it.
After a few years, to follow my career I moved to the big city an hour down the road. I left radio behind but not Rich’s New Year’s party, at least not for a few years. By this time I had married my first wife, and she came along as well. I remember one year it snowed hard on us all the way home. We could see maybe twenty feet in front of us on that lonely two-lane highway.
After our son was born, we couldn’t figure out how to make it to Clinton for New Year’s anymore. But about the same time Rich’s wife, who was always only lukewarm about the annual party anyway, gently let Rich know it was time to let it go.
That was 25 years ago. Since then, I can count the number of times I’ve been out for New Year’s Eve on one hand. That’s OK; I don’t think I’m missing much. But I do remember Rich’s party warmly.
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