The last time I stayed out until sunrise was part accident and part design. I’d spent the night in the back garden of a dive bar — because it’s officially a City summer, those brief three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day when most people vacate the humidity and the summer rains for their houses in the Hamptons like the sheep they are, and yes, I am saying this because I am jealous that I don’t know somebody with a Hampies timeshare, too — and didn’t notice that it was getting late because the weather never took a chilly nighttime turn. It was 3:37 in the morning before I checked my phone and stared at the time it gave me, and then I begged the bartender to only give me water from there on out, and close the bar at seven, when I could take the subway uptown to my job. I had to work in four hours, and if I were to go home and try to sleep off the last of the vodka giggles, I would have ignored my alarm and woken up in a heap of Subway sandwich wrapping paper at four in the afternoon Like a true champ (read: somebody who really revels in creating cliche moments). I blasted “We Are Young” on my iPod the entire time it took the N to go from Union Square to 57th street, mumbled “venti red eye” to the poor kid who had to work the morning shift at Starbucks, and made it through my shift as a receptionist, bleary eyes and crankiness and all. I drank five venti coffees that day. The barista and I are now dating. (No, we’re not, but he now probably thinks I am a junkie of the worst degree.) When I had to explain to my boss why I’d just walked the length of the complex about five times because I couldn’t remember what it was I had to do, she stared at me incredulously for a moment before saying, “Well, at least you got a good story out of it.”
I’m telling you this not because I think I’m a badass for laughing in the face of sleep, because I wasn’t laughing. I was weeping miserably for my bed the entire time I was at work. Nor am I telling you this because I actually think I was cool for playing out the subsequent bar-to-work commute as it might appear in a badly scripted Lifetime movie. While I walk through most of my life with a narrator who provides a more self-reflecting voiceover than Tobey Maguire will no doubt provide in The Great Gatsby, I knew that if I didn’t listen to music, I’d fall asleep on the train. Honestly, staying out so late at all and forgoing sleep entirely was a really stupid thing to do. Yet no matter how dumb an act it was, the fact that I managed to make it happen is, for our hard-partying society, a typical story of the young adult crowd.
But I hadn’t been doing anything “for the story.” Is that how a true story happens? Inspiration strikes when you’re least looking for it, they say, which is also why they say to have a pen and paper handy at all times to write down ideas. (They say a lot of things, don’t they?) Maybe it’s like how we all nod and understand, even though we might scoff a little at the pretension of it all, when actors say they want to make great work, but when somebody admits to just wanting to be famous, we audibly gag. Whether we end up endorsing it à la Klan Kardashian is another matter entirely, but there’s something so shameless about heading out to that shady party or drinking an entire bottle of scotch or dating that crusty guy with the sole aim of having a good story to tell later.
I think I’m growing too old to be so shameless.
I’m tired of doing things “for the story.”
Yes, I could save those wild and crazy nights for times when I don’t have to work the next day, but I work every day. I work 90 hours a week. Maybe I’m too busy to be doing things for the story, because I’m spending all of my waking time doing things for money, and to make connections, and in the hopes that something, some day, will pay off. Maybe doing things for the story is a luxury, like interning. Most people who interned in college had some other means to their money, which usually meant they had parents who gave them a monthly stipend, or had squirreled away enough money they’d earned at a summer job that actually paid enough, or they didn’t have to pay their own rent. Likewise, people who can still afford to do things for the story are the people who can go to brunch with big sunglasses and wallow in their hangover and the horror stories of waking up to that guy who was so much cuter five shots in. Instead, the only brunches I get to have are the business kind.
At least I get to expense them sometimes.
Because instead of lying in bed until the crack of noon, I’m either at work or running errands or, gasp, getting to the gym on time so that I have the rest of the day to my glorious whims, so that I can feel productive. Because instead of dating all of the douchebags with the Greenwich Village apartments who took me to restaurants where a single dessert cost a week’s worth of groceries, if I date a guy now, I want it to be worth my time, and worth his, too. Because I can no longer live on McDonald’s with the sort of pained smile that comes from knowing that my stomach’s happy now, but oh, my arteries will hate me. Because I see the people doing things for the story of it all, and going to Burning Man and Electric Daisy Carnival and sleeping in and treating Jose Cuervo like it is holy water, and I miss all of the signals of misguided youth that are free from paying student loans and rent and utility bills and overdraft fees from that time I was forced to buy a subway card the day before I got paid. But I’m tired of searching for stories, the ultimate symbol of daredevil youth.
Because I don’t have the time to devote to it anymore. I can no longer recklessly, gloriously, shamelessly fling myself headfirst into an adventure that entails there’s bound to be a good story at the end of it. I live my life because I have to, because nobody else will pay the bills but me, and if I end up with a story incidentally, so be it.