This is about the first New Year's Eve I remember as NEW YEAR'S EVE, and no doubt this was a late revelation, say when I was 12 or 13, but I'm just that way -- slow to what matters most. For this is a memory of first buzzes, and in a lifetime of them, that means something. What's lovely (and yes, there was childhood lovely, not that it ever felt that way while actually being a child, of course) is so much of childhood gets wrapped up in this neat little bow that lets loose an arrow that pierces the Sears catalog, André Cold Duck, and Pong, not to mention my neighborhood friend Dennis Puglia, as it was at his house this happened. It was his parents' largesse that plopped the world's first home video game and two glasses of infernal bubbly in our barely teen laps, as if barely teen laps didn't have enough to deal with, suddenly recognizing what they were for and having no way to do anything about it.
But there was this, Cold Duck, the first humble suggestion there was something delightful -- and no doubt miserable -- in bubbles, but what taste does a 13-year-old have. I certainly didn't know what Wikipedia says now of Cold Duck: "The recipe was based on a traditional German custom of mixing all the dregs of unfinished wine bottles with champagne. The wine produced was given the name Kaltes Ende ('cold end' in German), until it was humorously altered to the similar sounding term Kalte Ente meaning 'cold duck.'" For if anyone knows humor, it's the Germans.
So we downed our unbeknownst to us thigh-slappingly named fizzy stuff, knowing only it made us fizzy, too. What grace, not to have to worry about the badness of things, the déclassé-ness, though no doubt we made jokes about André wine and André the Giant (this was the late 1970s), and no doubt felt about as body slammed by one as we might have by the other. We were 13.
And, of course, we tried feats of coordination and skill. That meant something kids these days would consider as old as Lascaux, and as exciting - Pong. The first home versions of it came from the Sears catalog, even, and how cool is that, the poorly printed Christmas wish list for kids for years, at least the ones wise enough to know mom and dad footed Santa's bill at the local mall. That the Sears catalog wasn't just where you could pick out the latest games you'd want, but also where you could sneak peaks at bra ads years before Victoria unveiled her secrets was also a fine fine thing for a growing young man.
In the meantime you could always bat a little televised dot about. Via a dial. Wired to a console, wired to your TV. I mean, we're talking about an era pre-widespread remote controls for television. We were still not quite to the point with the magic cable box, even (and the hope for more illicitly spied boobies on HBO).
Even Pong's marketing looks to be from another era. How simple we were in the 1970s. We could (well the adults could) even vote for Jimmy Carter for president. But I've got far away from two buzzed boys trying to twirl little controllers to keep the pong pinging from side to side. What a thrill that was, yet we had no idea. So much would get past us over the years beyond the little blip: eras of electronics, legions of liquor (at least in my case, or cases and cases, I guess), plus each other. All those years of childhood friendship washed away in difference and lives and a desire by one of us not to be much New Jersey at all, for better or worse. Now I write a column about California wine.
I raise my glass of sweet sweet Cold Duck to a couple of kids, then, anyway. We didn't know how sweet it was.