A number of years ago I visited my sister in Andalusia, Spain. At that time, among many occupations, she’d act as a go-between for British ex-pats who’d moved to Spain for the climate but didn’t speak a word of Spanish. They spent time with each other in small groups in cafés, having no contact with the reality surrounding them. Once she was helping a writer for the BBC buy a property. This woman had a serious drinking problem. She’d wake up, go to the café and drink straight gin, glass after glass. This continued all day, every day. She didn’t try to hide it, she’d accepted it as necessary to her existence. Seeing that she made no attempt to conceal it and finding that she didn’t mind talking about it, I asked her why she drank. She said that when she didn’t drink the world seemed gray, that drinking put the color back into it.
For better or worse, in dealing with others, I’ve always applied what was called on the television series Star Trek, “The Non-Interference Directive.” This Directive was that when visiting foreign planets the crew of the Enterprise wouldn’t interfere in the local customs, no matter how alien they were to their sense of what was right. The exact opposite of the current Woke philosophy.
Once, a friend came to visit me in Paris. He got to town and then went on a bender that lasted up until the night of his departure. I was impressed by his ability to keep going, to just keep standing up. He’d drink for days, not sleeping, disappearing into the night. It began the first night of his arrival. We’d been out for hours, I’d already had about twice my limit, and had to stop. When I walked I felt like the Atlantic Ocean was sloshing around inside my stomach. I had to go home or risk getting sick on the spot. On the other hand, my friend hadn’t slept since he’d left the States about 24 hours before but was in full form. He said he wanted to go dancing, explore the night. We were in Pigalle, filled with sex clubs, whores and shady characters. I saw a street with a bunch of signs that were still lit and said maybe he’d find something down there. He needed no convincing, in a moment he was off. The last I saw was him crossing the street, heading towards a sign that simply said BAR in bright neon letters.
I took a taxi home and went to sleep. I woke up the next day feeling only a bit hungover. The bed I’d made for my friend in the middle room was empty. I thought, well, okay, he did an all-nighter, being in Paris, excited at the change of scenery—why not? Hours passed. I tried to call him, no answer. I wrote emails, no answer. Day turned into night, not a peep. I woke up the next day and his bed was still empty. I thought maybe he ran into the wrong company, maybe he’s in the hospital, maybe… he’s dead. I was bracing myself to call to the police when I got a message on WhatsApp. He wanted me to know all was fine, and did I want to join him for a drink?
I met him in a place near the Seine on the Left Bank. He related his various adventures in the night: a narrow escape from BAR, where they tried to charge him $50 to buy a woman a drink with the promise of a visit to the back room, a lesbian dance club, various all-night cafés, hanging out with African drug dealers. It was picturesque, like a 1950s paperback book cover.
We had a few drinks while we talked and then he decided to come home and sleep. He did, for about four hours. He then got up and did it again. It reminded me of someone preparing for the Olympics. I think that if he hadn’t had needed some sleep he never would’ve stopped. And that’s the way it went for 30 days.
It seemed like someone trying to put off closing time forever, that dreaded moment when the lights go up, the music goes off and whatever thoughts, dreams or fantasies one may have suddenly disappear. Is that the world without color the English lady was referring to and that my friend was searching to escape in the endless night?