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When it comes to New Year's Eve fun, is First Night your last choice?

Have no cash for a hotel bash? Think Kootsie's too cutesy?

You're not alone.

When it comes to partying like it's no longer 1999, thousands indeed will pour into downtown Buffalo for the two largest end-of-the-century parties, First Night Buffalo and the long-running Kootsie Ball at the Connecticut Street Armory.

But scores of other Western New Yorkers intend to be far from that madding crowd, ready to do -- in the words of Monty Python -- something completely different to ring in Y2K.

In Niagara County, for example, the Town of Wilson is staging its own mini-First Night.

Townsfolk will don coats, gather outside the Wilson House Restaurant (where many may be enjoying the $50 prime-rib-and-five-hour-open-bar special), dance to music provided by a local DJ and then watch the ball drop, courtesy of a crane from Clark Rigging Co. of Niagara Falls.

"Floyd Clark began it all when he found the ball in a scrap yard a while back," said Wilson House manager Lou Ligammari. "It's about 8 feet in diameter. He made it look like a big apple, put red lights around it and then put the year on it in lights."

A few minutes before midnight, a lottery is held to see which town resident will pull the crane lever and make the ball drop. Not that it always works.

"Last year one of our waitresses won the lottery and then couldn't figure out how to pull the switch, so 1999 took a little while to get here," Ligammari recalled.

In Hamburg, a different kind of ball will drop -- and drop and drop -- at the International Agri-Center at the Erie County Fairgrounds.

"Buckin' In the New Year" offers country-and-western fans a combination of live rodeo and barbecue, featuring bull riding by the Rawhide Rodeo Co. out of Leicester, a chicken-and-ribs barbecue and dancing, all for $45 per person.

And at midnight? A lighted horseshoe drop, of course.

"We think it'll be unique," said organizer Monica Veith.

Also in the unique category is the BYOBW (Bring Your Own Bottled Water) "Y2K Survivalist Party" planned by John and Christine Biloh of Williamsville, whose invitation, in part, reads:

All year long you've been defiant/not Y2K ready and compliant. . . . If you know you'll be a wreck as the millennium ends/come on over and bunker down with friends!

Guests will be greeted with flashlights, fake gas masks and kits containing their own cans of Spam, batteries and water.

It's totally tongue-in-cheek, insists Christine Biloh, who also is setting out more traditional fare such as beer, wine and finger foods.

"But there is that gray area where you wonder, well, what if? So either way, we'll be ready to have fun."

John Biloh, a pilot for the U.S. Postal Service, said: "I'm not a real Armageddonist. I'm not inviting people over to dig trenches and stockpile goods. But I do believe air traffic control will be a mess that night, and that there will be some minor interruptions. So we do have a few canned goods, some water and a few generators on hand. Hey, you gotta be prepared."

In fact, so prepared are the Bilohs that longtime friend and invitee Howard Goldman refuses to worry about possible mass chaos and home-to-home looting.

"If something goes wrong, I'll certainly be with the right people. If there's looting, (John and Christine) will, of course, shoot the people doing it," he said with a laugh. "They're very good hosts."

Perhaps most rare are those planning to do what, for many, might seem utterly unthinkable:

Absolutely nothing.

"Believe me, I'm hearing a lot of this," says James Gillan, a partner at Paragon Advertising and something of a fixture on the downtown party scene.

"I think people burned out real quick on that 'What are you doing for the millennium?' thing earlier in the year," he said. "Now I'm hearing a lot about intimacy, a lot about quality. Not $600 for a one- or two-night stay at a hotel, but $150 for really good champagne and caviar at home."

Gillan and his partners plan a family-only gathering at the agency's suite high above Court Street, offering a panoramic view of the city and fireworks but no noise, cold or jostling crowds.

"I wouldn't be away from my kids that night for anything, which is another reason I'm not going out," he added. But his yearning for cocooning isn't necessarily a married-with-kids thing, he insists.

"The hardest-partying guy I know is 33 and lives right in the heart of San Francisco. And he's going with his girlfriend to her parents' house for New Year's. What does that tell you?"

Friday: Consumers brace for Y2K.

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