Those who dream of drinking wine may weep when morning comes.
Here in New York, a good night never ends. We will not let it. Though the hour is late, we are more awake than we have ever been in our lives, we are wild-eyed and grinning and dancing around like fools, and the music is thumping and the lights are flashing and the whole place is pulsating like a massive beating heart, and we do not want to go home, we do not want to go to sleep. Above all, we do not want to miss anything.
It hardly matters that the nightclub finally kicks us out. The lights back on, the music cut, its sudden absence ringing in our ears. The hulking bouncers herding us to the door: “You don’t have to go home,” they call out with those barrel-chested voices, “but you can’t stay here.” Even then, when we’re pushed out into the strange predawn night—a twilight like dusk but darker, cleaner, bluer—even then, we will not let the night end. Indeed, it is at times like these, when anyone in their right mind would say, “It’s four-thirty in the morning, I need to get the fuck to bed,” that I sometimes hear my friend Zoo say, “Yeah, man, so what’s next, man—I’m just getting started. . . .”
So we move things back to a late-night, to an after-party at my apartment, or someone else’s, and there are cold cans of beer there, beautiful girls we hijacked from the last club, blaring music the neighbors must not even be able to comprehend—they must hear it and think it a dream—and though soon enough morning light comes streaming through the curtains, it is still the night because we have not slept.
Here in New York, a good night does not end until you sleep—if you sleep—and even then, in the morning, or the afternoon, when you awake, the taste of it is on your tongue and in your throbbing head. You stink of it—liquor and beer and cigarettes—and you carry that stench, and its accompanying hangover, with you into the following day. But a good night out stays with you in another way, too. Because the next day, there’s this sense that you were on the verge of something, as if you almost got there, the night before, but didn’t. As if you’d fought this epic battle, there in the deep New York night, but that nothing had been clearly won. And you think to yourself that if only the night had continued on just a couple more hours, there would have been something good that would have come of it, something certain and fulfilling and right, a victory of sorts. But the night ended too early, even though it ended too late, and so there remains this sense of something unfinished, of a search not quite complete. You know that there is more out there, you can feel it, all the endless possibilities of future nights, and you go to sleep satisfied that you will never be satisfied, you go to sleep—and then awake—with the wonderful, starving feeling that life is not over yet, and you are young.
And, of course, here in New York, a good night never ends because somehow another one is always just beginning.
A New Night Dawns
Several hours later, my phone rings at work, and it is Zoo. You would think it would be a relief to hear from a good friend, but in this case, it’s not. Part of the problem is that Zoo has a way of calling at the precise time when you least want to hear from him. Like when I am just drifting off into a lovely early-evening, post-work nap, or when I have sunk into my couch to watch a really funny episode of The Simpsons, or the first scene of a good movie. Or like now, when I am at the office, hung over as hell, and do not want to talk to anyone, least of all my cheery good friend:
“What’s up what’s up?” he says. “What’s going on?”
I manage, somehow, to reply in the appropriate manner:
“Nothing, dude, what’s going on with you?”
But I dread these calls, I really do. Because I know what the bastard is going to say next:
“Yeah, so what do you got lined up for this evening?”
And I want to say, Dude, come on, we went out last night, it’s one in the afternoon, my head is soaked thick with scotch and cigarettes, I feel like ass, how could I possibly already have plans for tonight, leave me the fuck alone, let me do my stupid work and drudge through this day so I can just go home and collapse on the couch in front of the TV and just fucking chill. But instead I say:
“Not much, man.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking about stepping out for a bit,” he says. This, you will learn, is an understatement, and Zoo is full of them. Last night we stepped out for a bit, and were up past five in the morning. “What do you think? You up for it?”
And I pause for a second and shake my hurting head slowly and sigh, but there is a grin on my face beneath the pain, and even though I’ve been out two nights in a row and my body is drained almost to transparency and I know that going out again is the last thing in the world I need to do, I say, “I don’t know, dude, maybe, dude, maybe—we’ll see.”
But this is not good enough for Zoo. “Come on, now, dude, it’s Thursday,” he reminds me, and he says it with such conviction you almost consider it a valid point, but the fact of the matter is he would say the same thing if it was Tuesday: “Come on, now, dude, it’s Tuesday.” The thing is, there is no way to argue with Zoo. His logic is circular, flawless, impenetrable. Yes, Zoo, it is indeed Thursday, that I can’t deny. But what about the fact that yesterday was Wednesday, and we were out all night, and what about Tuesday, my man, what about that, I could say, but I don’t. There is simply no way to win. Besides, I don’t want to win. It is an obsession for me, this night. And it is not the alcohol that calls, or the drugs, or even the sex (far too infrequent). No, I am in love with possibility. Tonight, I cannot help but to think, tonight could be the night. Because heading out on the town, you never know what will happen, it could be anything, everything, and whatever it is, it is not this, this whining blue computer screen in front of me, the phones ringing, the halogen lights humming and buzzing and casting that dead light all around the office. Whatever Zoo has planned, it is not this, and though sometimes I feel like killing the bastard when he calls me, somehow all well-rested and chipper and buzzing with plans and possibilities, I know that he means well. And I know that whatever we end up doing, it’ll be something.
Work—or, One of the Reasons I Enjoy the Night Better than the Day
In these early-afternoon hours, when somehow my night has already reluctantly begun, the great nightclubs of New York are slumbering—big and empty and swept clean. In some of them, perhaps, a forbidden shaft of daylight squeezes through one of the frosted front windows, a slant in thick red curtains, and lands on the empty dance floor, sunlit fingers peeking in like dreams to the sleeping beasts. The day is night for these clubs, as it is for the people who frequent them, like me and Zoo.
Back in the day, Zoo could sleep like the dead—long, dreamless hours in which he’d grind his teeth with a dull, crunching, squeaking sound that sent pigeons outside his window fluttering toward the hills. Indeed, back then, when he was home for break from high school or college, it sometimes seemed that the only light Zoo ever saw was that of the dawn after a long night out, and it was this that would send him scurrying like a vampire for cover of shade-drawn darkness.
And me, well, I love the day and all, but I love the nights more, and it’s possible, perhaps, that I have spent more of my life awake at night than during the day. (It is certain I have seen more dawns from staying up than from getting up.) At one in the afternoon, I prefer to be slumbering, or maybe awakening slowly to a coffee or a cold Coke and a smoke, lolling about in soft, lazy sunlight, awaiting the night.
Feeling as I do about this, it is perhaps not surprising that the majority of my days at the office are spent in misery, the seconds like drops of water hanging stubbornly to the lip of a faucet, refusing to fall. Those are the days when I’m not hung over. When I am hung over, strangely enough, the day moves faster. Sure, my brain may be swollen and pressing against the back of my eyes and my tongue may taste of liquor and ash and when I stand up from my desk the room may lurch and tilt, but at least it’s a challenge—I can feel the strain and sweat of concentrating through this pain—at least I’m feeling something. Yes, for all its negative points, at least a hangover gives you something to do. And so I might even say that in some sort of masochistic way, I love the badass, haggard feeling of being hung over but doing your duty anyway. It is the nothing I hate. And the regular days at work, there is only this nothing, and I am just counting the seconds until the day is over and I can go home, and the night can begin.
Because on a good night out there is dancing and celebration, there is drink and laughter, there are good friends and unimaginable women—there are all the things you need to balance that dreary repetition of work and day. But the night is not just antidote, it is not only good because the days are bad. The night is night in and of itself, with or without the drudgery of day, and I can never get enough of it.
The Art of Recovery
Of course, there are undoubtedly those days after when you have had quite enough of it. You would think that with all the goddamn time I’ve spent out at night, I would have figured out by now how to avoid a hangover, but I haven’t, at least not completely. Sure, like everyone else, I have my methods—making sure to eat a good meal before I start drinking, balancing out each shot with a glass of ice water, chowing a five-in-the-morning bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich to soak up the rest of the booze, pounding a bottle of water before bed—but still sometimes the night is so long and filled with consumption that in spite of all one’s countermeasures, a mean hangover is inevitable.
A true hangover can make you question your whole way of life. You look and feel like death, a pale wisp of a person, and quite frankly, death might be preferable. Every atom in your body feels poisoned. Your brain is swollen with alcohol and pressing against your skull, and when you move your head too quickly, the room spins in response. Waves of nausea ease up your spine, you get too hot and then too cold, you wrap yourself in a blanket and shiver and sweat. You are, quite simply, sick. These are the days you spend with your cheek cool against the ceramic toilet, the days when you are too hung over to even go back to sleep, which is the only thing in the world you really want to do.
Days like these, you’re probably not on top of the world mentally, either. After all, if you feel like this now, chances are you were too drunk last night, swaying and spilling your drink and slurring scotch-scented words into the face of some pretty thing, and even if you can’t remember exactly what you did, you’re pretty damn sure you must have done something stupid—you’re too hung over not to have. And so there is a sense of shame or guilt that can accompany this state, a recognition that in the black hole of last night something bad might have happened, and it is at times like these, with your face against the toilet and the great terror of the unremembered pounding through your head, that you might consider such extremes as never going out again, quitting drinking and drugging, getting your life together. Fortunately, by the time you feel truly better—some two days later—such thoughts, along with the pain that spurred them, have faded.
But those days of true incapacitation are the rare ones. Thanks to the preemptive strikes of ice water and food, most of my hangovers nowadays are manageable. After all, a well-timed hangover can be a joyful experience, if you know how to do it right. Waking up late in the Long Island summer after a rough Friday night, rolling leisurely out of bed into the soft, welcoming day. Slipping on shorts and flip-flops and grabbing grilled cheeses and fries and bubbling, cold Cokes at the local diner (and maybe even a side of bacon cheeseburger for good measure). Heading to the beach with your friends, where the water will be blue and cold and will wash half your hangover right away. Emerging from the sea happy as a wet dog to collapse on warm towels on the yellow sand amongst your good friends under the sun. And maybe in those precious moments when you are still cool from the sea and before it gets too hot, you’ll slip off into a lovely little nap. Or maybe, breathing hard from the cold of the water, you’ll dry your hands on your towel and roll up a doobie to pass around—Spanish-style, with a touch of tobacco—and there is nothing like a spliff to turn a nasty hangover into something soft and hazy, to turn nausea into grins. And then there is perhaps a Frisbee tossed around, or a football, and wagers made on beautiful women in bikinis (“I’ll give you fifty bucks if you tackle that girl into the ocean”), and more swims and waves body-surfed with the cool white rush of foam all around you. And then maybe later, when the heat fades, you’ll go play some hoops at the little red schoolhouse in Sagaponack, sweat out the remainder of last night on the eight-foot basket that even you can dunk on—vicious two-on-two trash-talking games to eleven for the Championship of the World—and it’s like being Shaq out there with that short hoop, and there are sky-hooks and finger-rolls and alley-oops and slam-dunks, and a sign on the schoolhouse that says, playground is for children 6–12. And after the game, to cool off, there will be one more swim at dusk, the sun setting and the water turning black, and then back home to flick on the tube, and nap out any remaining heaviness, until you are truly ready for the new night to begin. . . .
Of course, a more inactive recovery can be called for at times, too. A winter weekend in the city, sleeping late with the cold outside, emerging in the afternoon to find your buddy who crashed on the living-room couch sipping coffee and blearily watching some random bass-fishing show. Yes, a hangover is the perfect excuse to waste a wonderful day, to invite over the friends you went out with the night before and order in large greasy meals and watch five movies straight, to pass the pipe around and sink deeper and deeper into the couch until you hardly exist, happily stoned now and the hangover a warm blanket, a welcome reason to stay inside. Hangovers can be fun, after all, especially when shared with friends: a post-mission debriefing, like the day after you’ve gotten down from climbing a mountain, battered but contented to recall your misadventures on the peak. Bullshitting, groaning, sympathizing, bursts of laughter and reminiscence.
But even if the preemptive strikes of water and chow helped and your hangover isn’t too bad, and even if you are with friends and laughing and giggling and carrying on, the day after can still be sad, somehow. In this state, hung over, your body exhausted, endorphins all used up, mind filled with the sweet memories of another night lost, you are fragile, eggshell-thin, and can easily crack. Even a cheesy commercial or the touching end to a bad comedy can bring strange tears to your eyes. Because there is an emptiness that can follow a big event—a sort of day-after blues. You are full of the most immediate kind of nostalgia—a longing for the night before. Because the party is over, and it will never happen again exactly the same. Because there were friends there you hardly see anymore, there were women there you could have loved, there was everything a good night can be . . . but none of it is left in the morning.