The Life as a Loser series will end at No. 200, on March 29, 2004. There are now three left.
I am a very boring person, living a very boring life. This fact is apparent if you hang around me in New York. I get up in the morning, I go to the gym, I go to work, I sit there for 10 hours, and then I go home. Sometimes I vary this routine by having dinner with my girlfriend or having a drink with friends, both of which are inevitably over by 10 p.m., so I can be in bed early enough so I can do the same thing the next morning. I balance my checkbook, I pay my bills (late), and I get way too excited about my fantasy baseball team.
In other words, I'm like every other 28-year-old corporate drone on the planet.
My friends from Illinois don't think my life is like this, and I'm not quick to dissuade them. Whenever I come home, I make a conscious effort to be as dynamic as possible, staying up late, drinking too much, acting like a man who lives by his own rules, marches to his own drummer, sings his own songs. But when I go back to New York, I go right back to the office and stare at a screen, just like everybody else.
When I moved to New York, I had the idea it would be a nonstop playground, a party with fellow dreamers and drifters that lasted all night, every night. But I never party all night in New York anymore. I only do that when I'm out of town, visiting friends, parlaying them with often-fictional stories of my crazy Gotham life. They look at me and wonder if I drink and goof around like this all the time. I do not.
The rest of the world has become college. New York is the real world. This is exactly backwards.
I just spent the weekend in Chicago at a social function with an open bar, which, in all seriousness, might be my favorite place in the whole world, save for maybe a doubleheader at Busch Stadium. I am staying with my friends Mike and Joan, who are getting married in October. They've been dating since we all worked together at the college newspaper. I'll be their best man. It'll be a fun speech.
Joan's apartment is in Lincoln Park, about a three-minute walk from Wrigley Field. A couple of years ago, when I'd had enough of New York and was this close to chucking it all and moving to Chicago, this was the neighborhood where I wanted to live. Young people, drinking and partying and dancing and watching baseball, all the time, putting off adulthood. For my money, Boston is the ultimate Peter Pan city, with every 35-year-old miscreant a stone's throw from a campus pub crawl, but this area of Chicago has the same mindset. Joan lives by herself in an apartment that's larger than mine and my roommate's, and she pays less than each of us pay individually. And she's three minutes from Wrigley Field. The surprise is not that I wanted to move here; the surprise is that I didn't.
And Joan is now moving to the suburbs. Much to the chagrin of Mike's Catholic parents they're moving in together, to a larger, cheaper apartment in Naperville, Illinois, a northern suburb with a lot of Outback Steakhouses, strip malls and stroller parks.
In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers writes about how graduates of the University of Illinois inevitably end up living in Chicago, and then the suburbs: "So few make it out of the state. To most, Chicago was Oz, anything beyond it was China, the moon." The University of Illinois has sort of a 30-year round-trip shuttle bus. You grow up in the Chicago suburbs, you head downstate for four years of college, you come back up to Chicago to live in the city, until you become the oldest guy at the bar or start having baby fever, and then you move to the suburbs and put your children through the exact same thing. In a weird way, it's kind of a well-rounded life; you've pretty much covered all your bases.
We drank a lot this weekend, just like in the old days, but in a way, you could kind of tell Joan and Mike's hearts weren't in it. The bar was too smoky, the music was too loud, the cover was too expensive. They had that look, the one that, once you have it, will never go away. Aren't we a little too old for this?
They're going to move out there, and they're going to stay home most of the time, cook, maybe have a glass of wine when they have other couples over, until they have children, which will change everything so completely that even they will forget who they are.
That's what they'll do because that's what we all do.
An old friend of mine whom I knew in St. Louis has rejected this life. He just hikes across the country, all the time. He has ratty, nappy hair, smokes a lot of pot and sends me emails every few months when he's found a Web café. "Hey, Will, I'm in Montana." "Hey, Will, I'm in Idaho." He makes his living by selling trinkets and taking odd jobs until he can move on to his next stop. He is free, and open, and without responsibility. He has checked out of this loop that the rest of us have locked ourselves into. I know I'm supposed to admire him, to envy his roaming ways. But I don't. I think he's hiding from life. I think he can't hold down a job. I think he's an idiot. I think he's a loser.
Joan and Mike are right, as are my other friends who have gone down the same path. I look at them and see that the people I used to get crazy with in college are gone. Thing is, they look at me, and I'm sure they see the same thing. How couldn't they? It's not like I'm hiking around the world either.
When I'm in Chicago, or home, I can be as reckless as I want, pretending I am trying to stave off the inevitable suburban sprawl, crazy New York guy. When people ask me if I plan on living in the city forever, or if I'll end up marrying and moving to New Jersey or something, I always tell them that's not me, I can't imagine that life. But I am fooling myself. I'm a guy who complains that insurance is too high, rents are too high, kids today don't appreciate how good they have it. I'm the guy who watches the news and laments that the whole goddamned world's going to hell via handbasket. Afraid of becoming a normal adult? Putting off the real world? Screw that. Let us make no mistake: I'm already there.