Anyone who knows me well also knows damned well I love to party. Booze, kids, not ingesting piles of cocaine or other more exotic substances. I'm a beer drinker and have been for half my life. It's fun, it's cheap, and you really have to go overboard and party hard for decades for it to really be deadly in and of itself.
All sorts of partying types have all sorts of different reasons for their liking of the booze and the times. For some, it means testosterone-laden sports and male bonding. For others, it means relaxing after a hard day's work. For still others, I guess, it's an escape from the harshness of reality.
For me, it was always the unknown that kept me popping tops. On a good beer-filled party night, it was anyone's guess as to what craziness might happen, and I do mean that in its most literal sense. Some of the shit we did was fucking crazy and there's no other way to describe it. I have seen stuff that would make most average Americans go wide-eyed and turn color. I have done things that should have netted healthy incarceration sentences. I have consumed enough booze on some nights to kill a large animal, easy.
Once the beer started flowing, there was literally no predicting what the night ahead held for us. Might be a fun pool-playing evening in which we met a bunch of new friends (and hopefully a cute girl or two!), it might be a fistfight, it might be some completely nutty adventure into the sticks just because we could. It meant driving too fast in the desert, it meant good ass times with fun people, it meant endless wonders — and it separated us for the boring "normies" who opted for an early bedtime so they wouldn't suffer the next day. We never cared much about suffering the next day.
But now, in my mid-forties, that same unpredictability is downright fucking scary. It could very well mean all the things listed above, but instead of people writing off wacko actions as kids having a good time, it means jail sentences. It means possibly losing your house or job. It means disrupting the family situation, and usually not in a good way. It means hellish hangovers that take days instead of hours to get over. It means sacrificing something so you can have something else.
It just isn't the same.
Today when I wake up bruised and cut and confused, I'm far less proud than I would have been twenty years ago. What used to be badges of honor now turn into walks of shame. What used to be adventures can now represent horrific encounters with the police and, let's face it, two forty-somethings fighting in the parking lot of a bar is just sad. Being last man standing only means being first man hurting in the coming days. What used to be screaming into a mic at karaoke and receiving cheers anyhow is now just the morose picture of a man who never really learned how to do anything worthwhile, so he's still screaming into a mic at karaoke. The men who were my age then used to tell me they hoped I got on track because I'm too smart and have too much potential to squander my life away with a Bud in my hand. Now most people probably just figure I squandered my life away with a Bud in my hand.
And that may well be true. I have more college credits than you can shake a stick at, but no degree; I'm a fiction writer who still pens but has yet to "make it" in the word world. I'm a talented editor who has trouble finding work because I'm up against candidates with degrees. I'm overqualified for most entry-level jobs but I can't get into an upper-level job because, well, I chose to do different things in my youth than plan for actual adulthood.
My point? I don't know. I do know that had I stayed home and hit the books instead of getting hammered and chasing women I'd likely take home a decent paycheck today. Do I care? I'm not sure. I've never had a decent paycheck so I don't yet know what I'm missing. And maybe that's a good thing.
The sheer amount of extreme party nights has dwindled, of course, but they still rear their heads now and again, reminding me that I'm not twenty-five anymore every single time. I'm finding that now, I appreciate unpredictable nights less and less. I'm finding I like knowing where I'm going to sleep. I like keeping to a reasonable schedule so I'm not a fucking wasteoid for days after a bender. I enjoy waking up in my comfy pajamas instead of in my clothes, Leatherman digging into my back and everything in my pockets squished and ruined, boots or shoes still on aching feet, glasses missing at best, but probably busted somewhere in a pile of dirt behind a random bush. But mostly, I like not having to "fix shit" I fucked up while on some beerfest crusade. People I've hurt, things I've broken, shit I've said that I have to apologize for profusely and hope people chalk it up to the booze talking.
Fuck all that.
Will I party still? Oh, you bet. It's too big a part of me to just leave alone. Moderation is key, and that's something I've never learned. I'm getting there. I'm seeing the light. Plus, I'm now fat and out of shape, something I never thought I'd be. That part is fixable, of course, but the point is it never had to occur in the first place.
Beer. It's the most fun and the most terrible. It's time I slowed down — way down. But hell, on this last Saturday night I consumed an embarrassing amount of beers, more than a few shots, and even some moonshine. I went undefeated in arm wrestling and exchanged stories and jokes with really good friends. And that, ladies and germs, is non-refundable and non-replaceable.