The Observer, Arkansas Times shutterbug extraordinare Brian Chilson and newsroom FNG Benjamin Hardy slunk from our bedchambers over the weekend to hit the late-night bars like Midtown Billiards, Discovery and Electric Cowboy for an upcoming cover story in advance of a City Board vote on whether to shutter the Class B permitted clubs at 2 a.m. instead of 5. Mr. Hardy and The Observer's sometime frienemy David Koon will be making the case that the 5 a.m. clubs are actually a good thing for Little Rock.
Keep an eye out for that next week. While Yours Truly used to be quite the night owl, shutting down some of those same 5 a.m. clubs, we've now entered the Sargasso Sea of Old Fartdom. We're usually sawing sequoia logs by 2 a.m., dead to the species until our eyes fly stubbornly open at dawn. Our body seems to have found its happy place at around six hours of sleep these days. Back when we were Junior's age, 14, we would blissfully sleep a number of hours that would make a housecat say, "Damn, he sleeps a lot," and were content to sleep anywhere. Bed of a speeding truck, mound of leaves, school desk (all too frequently), stretched out on hard concrete, all soft and comfortable as featherbeds to our young and supple bod.
We miss those days. We have become a near-insomniac Princess and the Pea as the years have burned on. Lay a nickel on the box springs and The Observer's shoulder blade can read "In God We Trust" through the sheets and stuffing and pillow-tick. Ditto with any noise louder than a mouse belch. Something in the house goes "plink," and our eyelids roll up like old-timey shades. Light sleeper, like our father before us. And once we're awake, we're awake, end of story, six hours of sleep in the bag or not. It's bitterness and reruns of "The X-Files" for the rest of the night, and the next day feeling like we've been beaten with a rubber truncheon.
But we digress, as we often do. Brian picked The Observer up at 2 a.m. Saturday morning at The Observatory, The Master of the Chateau having been forced to down two cups of coffee and three Aleve just to get our britches on and buttoned, shirt on right side out, and shoes on the right feet. Though we weren't happy about being out at that hour, there was still a loveliness to it, Brian's headlights swimming up Maple Street in the cool, dewy night like a phosphorescent jellyfish.
In the car, both of us commented on the idiocy of being out that late, and commiserated on the things we do for this job. We breathed how we were too old for this shit. And then we launched into stories of how we weren't once. Lost nights, lost bars, spilled beer, American history and the deep dark of our youth. The sleeping city slid past the windows, full of yellow light. We told the stories we could tell. We both thought, but didn't speak, of those we couldn't — no less fondly regarded, but which we wouldn't admit to anyone should we be dangled over the rim of the Grand Canyon by Russian gangsters.
Night, when you're young, is for choices, and we have made them. Some of them we made wrong, there in the velvet pocket of 4 a.m. — or close enough to wrong to make us wonder all these years later. Those are the ones you don't speak of. Those are the stories you'll take to your grave, furrowing a brow and smiling a wistful smile that's bound to make all the damp-eyed kin crowding around your deathbed puzzle over what Great Grandma is thinking.
If midnight is The Witching Hour, then 2 a.m. and beyond are named as well, my friend. Call them: The Hour of Questionable Decisions. The Hour of the Longest Kiss. The Hour of Boldness Born of Desperation. The Hour of the Busted Lip. The Hour of Trading the Morning for One Moment in the Dark. We remembered all those hours that we couldn't speak, the memories we dare not say.
And so, instead, we rode in silence, in a drowsy, wakeful dream of the past, and the city slid by and by the windows on our way to meet Mr. Hardy.