Wringing Out the Night

seatac airport at dawn. photo by y-a-n.

Sunset Bowl was exactly the kind of place you’d want to kick off an all-nighter. It stank of foot-spray and cigarettes, and nobody cared because they were too busy draining beers or hurling projectiles in an effort to topple pins – it was reckless, dirty perfection.

The smells of the alley caused me to momentarily reminisce about my sixth birthday party, which was similarly spent bowling. Back then it was batman cake, legos, awkwardly fitting button-shirts, simplicity and safety.

I had just finished up the winter quarter of my sophomore year in college and in two days would be departing for Seoul, once again making a leap across the Pacific for more language courses, and for the girl with whom I had fallen in love.

Pulled from my reverie, I realized that unlike my childhood birthday, here there were no devices to keep my ball from rolling into the gutter. After it had been pitched, it would roll where it willed, and the night would stretch on.

My plane ticket was solid proof of my commitment, to both a woman and a place. It was something I could keep and hold, unlike the hundreds of emails frozen in digital space and the phone card minutes that trickled away in sweet, anxious conversation.

But before pulling up my roots and packing my things, I had wanted to seize the Seattle night in its entirety, to wring out what I could of this last spring at home.

My two companions in the endeavor were friends I had known since the days of t-ball and cub scouts. My proposal the idea to stay up all night sans alcohol went over without a thought. It was like a question of wanting Chinese food for lunch or a beer from the fridge.

“Hey guys, want to stay up all night on Wednesday?”

“Sure.”

Many high-fives later into the night, I had rolled the best game of my life with a final score of 167. The ball had swayed on the wood like it was listening to Lionel Richie’s “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” and each crashing of the pins had left me with a grin.

The next several hours of the night played out in conversation at a diner where hash-brown grease clung to spoons and the walls were stained with nicotine. We chatted like we had mainlined our coffee instead of sipped it, jumping between topics of religion, girls, and the directions of our lives. The hours flowed like spilled ink.

We pushed towards dawn in a bleary haze, floating from one street to the next. As the clock neared five a.m., we piled into a car and shook ourselves awake with music that raged like Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. We unloaded at a park at the top of Lake Union and tossed a frisbee between ourselves until we reached the crest of a hill and gazed upon downtown.

We watched the city wake up. I watched the light change on the water.

***

This short non-fiction story was part of a recent class assignment, where each student was given the last line of “I watched the light change on the water.” I wrote this about an all-nighter I pulled with a couple friends back in 2005, before departing to Korea for the second time in a year.

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