Most Monday nights, I work at a celebrity magazine till about 2 or 3 a.m., ensuring the proper spelling and punctuation of stars, starlets and reality TV riffraff. This may contradict the pantsless, anarchic, alcohol-driven ethos that I champion in Gut Instinct, but here’s my dirty little secret: I kind of love my part-time gig.
There’s a comforting rhythm and routine to toiling at the glossy mag. Pages must be shipped to the printer at preordained times, providing the workday’s framework. To me, Britney Spears, Renée Zellweger and Brad Pitt are not personalities but rather 500 or 1,000 words of text that I must make Webster’s perfect. I’m a grammar janitor, and I dig cleaning up the misspelled muck.
Moreover, the late hours are appealing.
They return me to the caffeine-fueled jags of college all-nighters, the last time I stayed awake till 3 a.m. without a bottle in hand. Increasingly, Monday is the only night when I’ll keep my eyes open past 2 a.m. I just turned 32; no longer do I believe that Saturday night doesn’t end until I hear birds chirp and see bright slivers of sunrise.
Fact is, little good happens after 2 a.m. It’s the gateway to a stretch of night when bad decisions become bright ideas, when just one more bump and just one more beer will land you in the promised land of someone’s pants. Call me a fuddy-duddy in a long-term relationship, but the words “last call” send chills slinking down my spine.
That’s why, on a recent Monday, I knew better than to answer my phone at 2:24 a.m. The caller was Cory, my former roommate. Cory and I were once inseparable. We navigated the swervy, boozy seas of bars and after-hours bashes together. These were high times. Cory never came down.
As my twenties ticked closer to 30, I embraced the pleasures of movie nights and sit-down dinner parties. Writing increasingly mattered, and a crushing hangover and quality adjectives became incompatible. You know, adult stuff. I went to bed early. Cory invited that night’s bar friends over to stay up till i woke for work. Our increasingly divergent behavior led to a drastic resolution. “You can never stay here again,” I told him, as cold as an antarctic night. He left my apartment a year and a half ago.
Tonight, he left a voicemail. When I left work at 3:15 and climbed into my car service automobile, I listened to the message. “Hey, Josh,” Cory began, his words so slurred I could smell stale Bud on his breath, “I miss’ my bus. I’m goin’ ta sleep on your patio. I’ll shee you in the morning.”
What bus? Cory now lived in Boston.
As my black Town Car cruised through the equally dark streets, I considered calling him back. Months of interpersonal distance had somewhat softened my anger, like frozen butter gone room temperature. But it was almost 4 a.m. nothing good occurs at 4 a.m. “Stop here,” I told the car driver, pulling in front of my house. I gathered my bags and gasped: There was Cory, rolling out a sleeping bag on my concrete front patio. A thin urine stream zigzagged from the tree to a dark and weedy corner. On the ground sat an empty Bud can, as red as the vein bulging on my forehead. Thoughts of forgiveness burst like bubbles in a champagne flute.
“Hey, Josh,” Cory said, as if he’d bumped into me in the living room. “Jus’ getting’ back from the bar? I got you these.” He shook a bag full of Budweiser tall boys.
“I’m just getting home from work. And I’m tired,” I said icily.
“Tha’ is cool,” he said. “I’ll jus’ sleep here. See you tomorrow.” He lay down, ready for some sack time.
Once, I was a wide-eyed Midwesterner who wrote love letters on a baby-blue Smith-Corona typewriter. Now, I’m a curmudgeon who writes about his journey to gout and AA on a Sriracha-stained Mac. Somewhere twixt the two, a little romanticism, idealism and compassion were lost.
In 10 years’ time, new york has taught me to be a bastard. I tune out pleading panhandlers as if they’re AM-radio static. I cross streets to avoid college students imploring me to pledge to Greenpeace. I elbow aside Chinese grandmothers tidal-waving on to the B train at grand street, preventing me from exiting. But sometimes, I surprise myself by acting like my previous self.
“Come upstairs,” I told Cory, “And sleep in the spare room. You’re not spending the night on the concrete.”
“Really?” he said. “Come on,” I said, holding open the front door and watching him climb the creaky, familiar stairs.