"I'm going to read you something," my fiancée says, pulling her computer close to her peepers.
"For men going through a midlife crisis, one of the top complaints is the lack of close friends."
"I think I'm about 15 years away from a midlife crisis," I reply. "It's not like I have a hankering to buy a cherry-red Porsche and go clubbing to hit on cocktail waitresses— yet." She rolls her eyes, knowing an emotional dodge when she sees one. "You know what I mean," she says, clicking on an episode of The Biggest Loser.
As always, she's right. Lately, I've felt as unmoored as a dinghy drifting to sea. My misty-eyed state is due to the dispersal of my friends. Nearly 11 years ago, I arrived in New York City armed with colleagues and conspirators. Together, we took Downtown by drunken storm, spending countless nights at Welcome to the Johnson's, Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Blue and Gold—basically, anywhere 10 bucks bought at least three drinks. But those days of happy hours bleeding into bleary-eyed 4 a.m. weeknights are long gone.
Partly this is due to my coming connubial bliss. A key component of going to a party or a club is the possibility of landing in someone else's pants. When you're in a committed relationship, there's no need to have one last drink, possibly allowing you to be suave enough to score a sweetheart. For me, barhopping till the wee hours is a waste, like going deer hunting when your freezer is filled with enough meat to last a lifetime. Yet marriage only partly explains my dwindling barfly days. Simply put, I have fewer friends eager to get schnookered. The last five years has seen a steady departure of my closest and dearest comrades. They've decamped to San Francisco to teach theater, to L.A. to act, to Texas to raise a boy, to Seattle for work.
So imagine my mixed bag of emotions when my friend Aaron revealed his big news. "We're moving to Denver at the end of June," he said. His wife had scored a life-changing teaching job. It was an offer too good to pass up. "That's terrific," I said, sincerely pleased. In this town, days and months disappear with the ease of a film dissolve. Blink and your twenties are gone. Blink again, and you're staring down your forties. Making it in New York City is tough. A bigger challenge is making it out of New York. I was thrilled that Aaron and his wife had an escape pod. I was also bummed beyond belief: I'd be losing my closest biking and drinking buddy. Once or twice a week, since we were college freshmen, Aaron and I have met up for a pint or four. Our routine would soon be wrecked. But there was still time to leave with a bang.
"Let's go to Drop Off Service," I suggested last week. Aaron's eyes lit up like a winning slot machine. That's because the laundromat-turned-Alphabet-City bar has, quite possibly, Downtown's most divine deal. Till 8 nightly, 20-oz. pints of quality craft beer cost $3. We commandeered a corner booth and a couple towering glasses of grassy, malty McNeill's Extra Special Bitter Ale and agreeable Greenport Harbor Ale. After a few quenching gulps, alcohol greased the wheels of conversation. I acknowledged the elephant in the room. "It's not going to be the same without you in New York," I said. "Who's going to listen to me complain?" "There's always the phone," he said. "Not the same." Sharing beers in person creates a conversational intimacy. Slowly getting drunk while talking on the telephone? That's depressing. We cycled back to the topic of departure. For many New Yorkers, the idea of leaving the national capital of culture and commerce is unfathomable. Once you've climbed to the top of this lofty, hectic perch, most towns look downright quaint. Thing is, big-city life takes its toll, hardening you like slow-drying cement. Novelty becomes daily drudgery. In this crushing city of 8 million, drinks and dialogue with friends are crucial to retaining sanity, an outlet to the irritations that New York piles on you like manure.
"Another round?" Aaron asked, gathering up our empty glasses.
"Of course," I said, eager to share another beer and the words it'd bring. "I don't have anywhere to go."