Saturday, January 26, 2008

saturday nights

In New York and then in grad school, you'd rarely find me at home on any given evening, and particularly not on the weekends. The only exceptions to this rule were nights when I hosted friends for dinner or when I was so fried from work or life that I needed downtime. Otherwise, I was out.

Starting in 1994, this meant playing pool. I kicked around bars and pool halls from New York to Fayetteville and beyond. I drank a lot. I had loose-knit groups of friends, many of whom I have lost (for better or for worse) to those smoke-filled nights. I smoked my Gauloises--first the caporals made from the stinky black tobacco, and then after they gave me a cough I couldn't shake, the legeres. There were even a few periods when I was so tight on cash that I slipped back to the old Tom Waits character-standard, Old Golds. And always it was back to the bar or the pool hall Sometimes I'd play for money; sometimes I'd play for table time; sometimes for drinks; mostly my friends and I would play to hold a table until someone could unseat us. There were many late nights and early mornings, and in the years I worked second shift in the graphics department at J.P. Morgan, getting off at midnight with a decent chunk of cash in the bank, I saw more early morning meals at downtown diners than your average college student. In that life, you learned to spot cokeheads quickly and hustlers too, and made enough mistakes to say you should've known better. For the first couple of years of grad school in Fayetteville, things were much the same--late nights of too many cigarettes and too much beer and whiskey, and nine-ball games that continued after the bars had closed. The venues were smaller, and there were fewer of them so new challenges got stale quickly. And of course, any pool crowd has a certain percentage of characters straight out of central casting. The only difference was that I made a little more time for my curricular responsibilities, and punctuated the pool nights with nights out with the other writers--some of which had their own ill-fated results. And through all of it, I rarely knew what it was like to spend a whole evening at home.

Fast forward a few years. Slip past a whole panoply of life's roller coasters. And you land here--a Saturday night with a little girl asleep in her pink room, the iTunes on party shuffle, a couple of Yuenglings to take the edge off a long day. It's a good thing, too, because I needed to slow down and catch up with my own life. (There's also a physiological component since my shoulder and back issues necessarily mean I can't spend much time over a pool table.) The things that had been in boxes for years are beginning to feel organized; my portfolio is getting some much-needed attention; the laundry and dishes are regularly clean and put away; goals and hopes and expectations are beginning to make sense rather than appear as products (or victims) of inertia.

Do I miss those days? Those days before I had these constraints and responsibilities? No. Not really. I like being a dad. I like being at home. This life feels richer, more full of potential. And besides I know where to find a pool table when I have the time to play, after I've taken care of everything and everyone else.