The Nights When We Still Howled

Do you remember your early 20’s? Or, maybe you’re in them now. Or, maybe not. Maybe your 20’s were not your glory years or maybe you’ve moved so far away that you forgot what this was like.
Do you remember the nights you went out with your friends? What about the wild nights?
Did you have them?
I did.
I had plenty of them. 

I go back to them and sift through old memories of nostalgia, especially now when the summer is nearly over. I go back to these times when the summer is near the end and soon enough, September rolls around and the summer is gone.
(Just like that!)
I think about the nights on the water and the places we gathered. I think about the songs which seemed to intentionally play at the same time every night. This meant things were about to get going. This meant the night was about to get hot and pick up speed, which it did.

I think about the outdoor bar in a town called Island Park. I think about the bar which we called Paddy’s. I think about the different stations of the bar, which is where we stood every time. This was our little corner of the world. This is where I howled with the boys and where we screamed into the late night hours. 

 I think about the summer nights and the tanned skin of people who took to the beaches, just to make it out that night and show how tanned their skin could be. 
I can remember the fights. I can remember the time a girl thought too much of herself and some fed-up drunk decided to push her from the pier. Then I recall her scream and the loud splash when she fell in the canal. 
It wasn’t right. But then again, sometimes you get what you give.

No one thought this was the right thing to do, a man pushing a woman off the pier. This was at the docks behind Paddy’s where the boats docked. This was the entrance on the water where people came through the back to enjoy the night with the rest of the land lubbers. Of course, no one should ever shove anyone. Let alone a man shove a woman.
But, and I say this only as a witness, there are times when people push the line. There are times when people believe in their own self-entitlement. There are times when people blur the lines of appropriateness with their loudmouth status and cruel bitchiness, which is exactly what happened. And then splash, into the water she went.
I’ll say this, although not very well, I knew this girl. I had seen her bitchiness. I had seen the way she treated people and, somehow, she never assumed her karmic debt would come back like that.

All I could remember thinking was perhaps this night wasn’t the best night for her to wear all white.
I don’t remember seeing her much after this. Then again, all I remember is the wild abandon and total recklessness of the way we were – not caring about what comes next and not caring about the sunrise, which we always saw before going home. 

I can remember being the designated driver. This was always the case. I can remember driving my friends home, drunk as ever, and loud as ever too until the drive started. Then they’d pass out in my car and I’d have to tell them “Wake up! You’re home.”
They’d say “Thanks Benny” and spill out of my car and make their way through their front door (somehow). 

I remember my car getting towed one night, which absolutely sucked. I can remember some of the distant friends who I’d only see on occasion. I can remember the people from the neighborhood who only knew about the old version of me.
I never liked seeing them quite as much. Of course, this is not true for all of them but for some, I never liked seeing them very much at all.

In fact, I can remember a night when I was talking to some random girl who was previously speaking to someone who knew me as a teen.
My guess is she went back to speak to him after I left the venue. Another guess is he told her about my past, which was not something I was looking to advertise. The reason I knew about this was because the girl called me a few days later and asked, “Do you know Jimmy?”
I knew who she was talking about.
She went on to tell me all the stories Jimmy told her.
By the way, only half of this was true. He left out the degrading stuff that no one ever saw like me on the floor alone. He left out the fact that I walked away from a bad life and changed the direction of my thinking.
She asked, “Is this why you said you don’t drink?”

I remember the good times and the bad times and although some of these nights are the best of my young adulthood; I remember thinking about my future. I remember thinking about the bullshit competition between people and wondering if this is a lifelong event, which it is – at least, to some degree. 

There were times after the nights were over and I drove my last friend home. I would head back to where I lived which was in a small basement place in my Aunt’s house. I would drive by my old childhood home.
Sometimes, I would drive south and head to the beach – standing there in the sand, lighting a cigarette in my best outfit, trying hard to pull off my little James Dean approach – to be my own rebel without a cause. or at minimum, to at least be cool
(just for a while).
There is so much that happens in life that inevitably shapes us into who we are and who we’ll become. There are times when somehow, a person from the past will randomly walk by like a complete and total stranger. This is fine to me because whether I was recognized or not – the truth is I recognized them and I said nothing too.

I heard a song last night, which was one of the songs that played at the place called Paddy’s. This is one of the songs which played later in the night; and while I say this, I fully acknowledge that the words, “later in the night” at bars like this means this is when the night is just beginning.
The fun just got started.
The speakers would play the song Brandy from a band called Looking Glass. And next, almost repetitively, the song Brown Eyed Girl would come on – and even though this was not necessarily the genre of music that we’d listen to at the clubs, a song by Neil Diamond came on called Sweet Caroline. This is when people would shout out the lyrics and scream how good times never felt so good (so good, so good!)

And this was a blast. I can tell you that.
I can say that I have memories of times like when Pete met a girl who was not necessarily attractive and not only much taller but much bigger than little Pete himself. I suppose the beer goggles wore off at some point and Pete asked me why I let this happen to him.
I remember laughing with him.
Then again, I can remember thinking to myself, “Who told you that you’re the winner in this one?”

There was a bridge near the bars on the water in Island Park. There were times when the pastel colors of sunrise took over the sky and reflected along the canal.
I can remember the aftermath of the crazy nights. I can remember the feeling of being young and uncaring about what would come next and, somehow, I thought this would be the way life is.
I thought I would know the same people forever and now, quite honestly, I haven’t spoken to anyone from that crowd in more than two decades (and some for some of them it’s been three). 

I saw that guy Jimmy on the street a few weeks back. At least, I think it was him.
He still looks the same, which is pretty good.
And no, I didn’t say anything.
No, I wasn’t like, “Hey Jim, what’s up buddy?”
I didn’t say, “How’re ya doing pal. Remember me?”
I just kept walking the same as he kept walking.
And that was fine. 

It’s not like we were friends. It’s more like we were two young knuckleheads who were geographically positioned in the same place for a certain amount of time.
We played the same games and jockeyed for the same positions a few times.
One time, we competed for the same one night stand, which I sort-of won and was totally unworthy of the fight and anticlimactic because nothing really happened – so, maybe the truth is I lost. 

I think back about the competitions from my young man’s life. I think back about the games I used to play and my attempts at being cool. I’m glad I’m not that person anymore.
Most of that history is faded now. Places like Paddy’s are gone now.
Not to mention that I’m not a person who stays up late at all, let alone could I stay out until the sunrise and somehow function the next day.

Youth . . .
What a crazy time it was.
But the music was good
And the memories; well –
they’re here to last a lifetime. 

So help me, God . . .

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