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I was just walking home from the store, bopping down the street at 11 PM, a time that I grew up believing was a sensible time to be in bed. 1 AM used to be alien terrain, exotic, strange. 2 AM - well, that might as well have been a million o'clock. It was like the furthest frontier. The night might have gone on forever beyond that, for all I knew, ending only when the last human had decided to go to bed before we could all wake up in the daylight again.
Nowadays the small hours of the morning are familiar to me. More than familiar - ordinary, 1 AM no more mysterious than 1 in the afternoon (and probably not as mysterious as 10 AM, a time I haven't seen in many months but that somehow still fails to hold a fascination for me.) Even 4 AM is pedestrian. I call it the "day nights". It's just another part of the day. If you're up long enough, it becomes literally day again, and what once seemed the endless rolling mystery of night is revealed to be nothing more than the day going slack for a while, drooping into in a bucket of dark water, but soon enough pulled taut again. Sunrise doesn't just break the magic spell - it announces that it was, after all, just a spell. Daylight shines even into the darkest recesses of the day nights.
When I was a kid, I snuck out of the house a few times late at night, either by myself or with friends who had stayed over for the express purpose. I once ventured out into the unfathomable territory of 3:30 AM - alien, not as mars, perhaps, but as the arctic. It was a broad frontier. Now, it is no different than a trip to the cellar.
I had the experience once, as an adult. I had decided to catch a nightcap, last call at a nearby bar, at quarter after 1 in the morning. As I walked the few blocks to my watering hole, the neighborhood was quiet and still. Perhaps it was just that, or perhaps it was in conjunction with some inner psychological or chemical fluke, but suddenly, it all came flooding back. It was late night, that foreign land - past the frontier, well into the secret, wild territories of the 1 o'clock hour! Here there be tygers!
And I was on my way out! To a bar, to play with the adults in an adult outpost out in the wilds of 1:15 AM! I was delighted.
That was a rare exception. Once 4 AM became familiar to me, and sunrise mundane, the territory was charted, tame. I know the riverbed from shore to shore. 11 PM isn't the last outpost of the known, it's just 11 o'clock in the afternoon. And hence we have the day nights. There's no beacon, no hidden land or hour out there far in the night, far into times that we don't have a name for yet, which I might stay up later and later and still never find. Tygers don't exist. Dawn always comes.
So, I gotta do something about them day nights, because, you know, the quintessence of romance lies in the beckoning. Once you've conquered the unknown you have familiarity and safety and comfort, and if you believe the world is a terrible place that may be all you need. I am a romantic, because I am, at significant cost to myself at times, an optimist - a cynical, scarred, and unfailing optimist, in that I believe better things may always lay just a couple of steps into the unknown. And really, they don't have to be. I just need the potential to be there.
Note: This little bit of exposition is dedicated to Ray Bradbury, a longtime companion who I have never had the pleasure of meeting.