It absolutely was my move to the City That Never Sleeps that sparked my transformation from “average kid who doesn’t love getting up early” to “guy who rarely stirs before noon.”
I wasn’t always like this. When I first got here, I was very taken with the throwaway lifestyle (an affair that I can’t deny is not completely over), partying like a fiend and like there was no tomorrow. My friends and I were ruthless, relentless, sucking up every last gram of debauchery the city and the night had to offer. I met some of the most epically depraved people I have ever known and abused my body to the breaking point. After those nights I would routinely sleep 12 or 14 hours like a log and wake up still feeling tired, spent and often depressed.
We hacked through the jungles of Mexico and Northern California, scaled the snowy peaks of Colombia and Peru, and hung out with that girl Molly who always seems to show up at the bar when you’re not expecting her. Our entire lifestyle revolved around the pursuit of the party, and like so many young people in this savage leviathan of a city, this activity was largely to forget. Forget that we were broke (spending each day’s pay on said carousing did not help) and generally directionless. We had been flung out of an arts education with not a clue which end was up let alone how to be productive, and so we weren’t. Instead, we were taken in.
We had an expression: “You never go full vampire,” which was obviously tongue-in-cheek but had very real dark undertones. We knew as a group that we were teetering on the edge of oblivion. A couple of wrong moves could land us in the hospital or the street. Maybe that’s dramatic, but things do happen, and I was at least aware if not afraid for us.
Of course, eventually the party did end. Thank god. But all that is really just context and is neither here nor there.
All this time later, however, I still identify with the same creatures of the night. Bars are open until 4:00 AM no matter what else you’re doing, and some of the most exciting and interesting things can happen under cover of darkness, with no judging eye of daylight to lay the truth bare.
A good part of the reason for my nocturnal tendencies these days is my job. A hotel lounge, at least in our case, rarely closes and ergo attracts everyone who’s out after the bars close. Our closing server comes in at 10:00 PM. After what we loosely refer to as “dinner service” ends at about 12:00 AM, it becomes about wrangling the drunks and rude, demanding partiers into some semblance of organized table service. The most determined of the evening carousers, those trying to seal the deal—the drug dealers, the ladies of the night, the jet-lagged tourists, and all manner of knaves, adulterers, fast-talking salesmen and droopy-eyed fashionistas—grace me with their presence during that shift.
The first time I worked that shift, I felt very strange. I had never left work as the sun was coming up before, and my reflex was to recoil in disbelief. I was unable to fathom how my clock could ever be reset to normal and was beset with a sinking feeling of loneliness and uselessness at the thought of having to sleep until 4:00 or 5:00 to make up for it. “How do people do this?” I thought.
After doing a few more, I learned. It felt equally strange to be heading to work as the sun was setting, but the second or third time, I had a thought: I was not alone. I thought of all the other people who make their living at night, and I felt a strange bond of solidarity with all of them. The cocktail waitresses, enduring the leers and wandering hands of old, wealthy men; the porters cleaning the filth out of nearly every establishment around, doing the dirtiest jobs for the lowest pay; the prostitutes who sell their bodies (for bank, to be fair) without batting an eye; the men and women working on the subway tracks, invisible to nearly all the commuters they serve.
In spite of all my preconceptions, I was proud to cast my lot with these warriors of the night. It used to be I would hesitate to give my blanket explanation for my backwards lifestyle, but now something about saying, “I work at night,” and having that phrase alone just explain so much for me makes me feel very much like I belong. Years of this will more than likely leave me grizzled and jaded, and I already understand why absolutely nothing surprises people who work these hours.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Originally published at Tough Crowd.
Photo: New York Skyling at Night looking under Brooklyn Bridge, Boston Public Library/Flickr