Now that I am married with kids and have a job teaching impressionable teenagers, I have largely abandoned my rough and rowdy ways. It's been awhile since I have been up late enough to see the sun. I can't remember the last time that I woke up feeling like troll used my head for an ashtray. Hell, I can't even remember the last time I woke up after 7:30!
Back in my old days, especially when I lived in Michigan, I often found myself alone at diners and bars having conversations with complete strangers. They were my surrogate family, having left my old grad school clan behind to take a job in the Wolverine State, and before I met a couple of great friends there. However, these friends had wives and fiances, which meant many Friday and Saturday nights all by my lonesome. Around this same time I first picked up a Charles Bukowski novel (Factotum, to be exact) and I fell in love with the idea of being a permanent, lifelong bohemian bachelor. I also happened to enter a major Tom Waits phase, so I interpreted my late night conversations with a bartender who looked like Bob Seger's long lost cousin to be a kind of romantic rebellion. That romance included eating twice a week at a place that specialized in coney dogs where I was always sure to hear some funny jokes told at the counter told by weary working class philosophers.
In the midst of my Bukowski-Waits phase, I started to romance my now wife, even though she was out in New Jersey. This meant I no longer searched for love in all of the wrong places that my Rust Belt city had to offer, but that there were plenty of lonely nights to be drowned in whiskey and beer. These nights all came flooding back to me two weeks ago, when I was running some errands, and my wife was nice enough to let me take a detour to a craft beer bar in the area. Lo and behold, there was a range of interesting characters with their feet on the rail and stories to be told. I heard tales of decadent clubs in Newark in the 80s and commiserated over how bad the Devils have sucked this season.
As much fun as it was to remember my old life, it felt good to leave after an hour, and come home to my family. It's easy to romanticize shooting the breeze over a pail of suds with articulate strangers, less so coming home to an empty apartment and the need to pass out lest the pains of solitude intrude. I miss living the low life sometimes, but it can't beat the love of a wonderful woman or the wide-eyed looks I get from my daughters when I walk into the room. When I ever get nostalgic for my rough and rowdy days, I just remind myself what going to bed is like now, and the feelings of dread and loneliness that used to grip my soul.