It’s three in the morning on Highway 30 in what used to be known as Industrial Northwest Portland, and we are watching runners go by in some ridiculous race called “Hood to Coast” that involves teams of competitors running through the night. We’ve been drinking since four in the afternoon the day before, and we stare at these good, sober people in wild disbelief and bemused outrage. We had poured out of a house we called The Diner (because it had once been a diner) an hour earlier in order to get one last round of beers before they stopped selling for the night. Now we’re each holding partly drunk six-packs of Hamm’s and Rainier’s laughing over-loudly as we watch these goofballs go by in a hurry to somewhere they don’t need to be. We begin drifting back to The Diner past warehouses and train cars. We’re screaming and throwing empties at each other. At some point I fall over and my buddy Joe picks me up and puts a fresh beer in my hand. He says, “watch this,” and with the strength of a very strong and very drunk man he pulls a manhole cover out of the road and throws it through a plate-glass window. We roar and run away. A little later I walk next to Jimmy Gallentine smoking Kools not because I like menthols or am even a smoker but because he had offered me one, and I was so full of love for him and the other boys that night that I couldn’t imagine saying no. A year or so later Jimmy moved to San Francisco in hopes of kicking heroin. I wished him the best but had my doubts about the move: you can’t get away from yourself and novelty only distracts the appetites, it doesn’t satisfy them. So when I came home one day and there was a message from Joe asking me to call him back, I knew before I dialed the number what it was all about. The funeral was in Eastern Oregon, on the other side of Mount Hood, where those idiots we saw on the highway had started their stupid race. It was a long drive back and everybody was happy to get to The Commodore Lounge, the place where Jimmy and the rest of us loved to get drunk. It was less than a year later when we met up there again. Such little time had passed that there were people that I hadn’t seen since Jimmy’s funeral. This time we were there after Mike Ford’s funeral. Mike had been drunk when he crashed his bike into a concrete traffic divider on the Morrison Bridge. He had cracked his skull and bled to death just out of sight of the traffic that passed by all night until someone found his body in the morning. We closed down the bar that night, tears turning to laughter. It was only later while I lay in bed watching the ceiling spin that I cried thinking about Mike’s lonely death.
“Good morning and good night/I wake up at twilight/It’s gonna be alright/We don’t even have to try/It’s always a good time,” sings Owl City. Believe me, I understand boozy decadence so it’s not the subject matter that I find alienating in this song. Nor is it that I have repented the sins of my youth and so I find its message about careless partying against my moral code. I can guarantee you that I have learned very little from my mistakes and though I happily admit that God is great, for me Satan will always have his charms. It’s the general attitude of the partying in this song that I don’t get, the happy joining of friends whose only purpose is to have a good time. Is that the way people drink after work? The way young people socialize at bars? Where is the desperation, the shared loneliness, the brackish taste of death that alcohol either puts in your mouth or washes away? Without these things, I have no interest in your good time.