FROM OCTOBER 11, 2010
An old college friend loves Saturday nights. At least he did when we were in school together. His sort of theme song back then was Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” Many Saturdays, a bunch of us would gather at his single-wide west of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the state university there and party until the wee hours or all night. At some predictable point during each of those evenings, the stereo would be cranked to the max while 90-percent of the “mates” in the room would jump around and dance and sing to the sound of Elton singing, “Saturday…. Saturday…. Saturday….” Often, the jumping and dancing and singing and Elton would be repeated on those nights. Saturdays were huge for my friend. And for the others there.
I mostly sat off to the side somewhere, smiling and silently sipping bourbon or beer. It was quite a sight and experience. Though I was quite the dweeb and didn’t sing or dance along with them, I enjoyed those times.
But Saturdays? While sitting, smiling and sipping somewhere near the front wall of that trailer way out in Orange County, I one night came to the conclusion that Fridays are much better than Saturdays. What does one have after a Saturday night? A Sunday hangover and the promise of an 8 o’clock Monday class. After a hard-party-Friday, one still has all day Saturday to recuperate and the possibility of an Elton appearance later that night. So yes. Fridays are better. This is what I convinced myself to believe.
I still prefer Fridays. The day has meant a lot to me over the years. My very first date was on a Friday night. It was with a young woman who became my “high school sweetheart.” She and I would join the friend who introduced us and his “steady” date at the time at our school’s football games on Friday nights. The crispness of the fall air and the sense of belonging to someone and to some things and the excitement of new love made those young Friday nights what they were.
Fridays and love go together, I think. Much more so than Saturdays and Elton John. A few years after finishing college and finding work in Chattanooga, I was young and alone and pretty much friendless in that town for a good while. I moved there in late summer or early fall. The crispness in the air came much sooner there than in Jacksonville, Florida where I first encountered how special Friday nights and romance can be. On my lonely Friday nights there, I would treat myself to barbecue sandwiches, Tennessee style. I would get my to-go order and go home. I couldn’t eat the pulled pork at the restaurant. Watching all those young and happy Chattanooga couples dine, and smile, and enjoy each other kind of made the swine hard to swallow in public. But at home, even alone, the sweet and tender Q made whatever my Friday nights were at the time. My Friday love, for one long Tennessee year, was a warm and succulent sandwich that wore tomato-based makeup.
Fridays. Friday nights have, to me, always represented safe and comfortable opportunities. But my love of this night involves more than high-school sweethearts, Tennessee barbecue and crisp fall nights. It involves my dad as well.
My dad overcame quite a bit. He had problems. I understand so much more clearly these days what he and my mom went through so many years ago. And my dad made good on some things. When he died in 1992, we were good friends. I love that man. And I forgave him long before he left us.
But the man drank. More “than a barrel full of monkeys,” the man drank. To excess. Six nights a week, every week. For some reason he never drank on Sundays or holidays. That still left about, what – 300 nights a year for a goofy little kid like me to live in fear? The moment after he was due to leave work those 300 evenings, my nights became nothing but dreadful. Most times, he would stay away from home a while, drink, and return home to a wife who was fuming and more than prepared to engage in another losing battle with an unreasonable and belligerent drunk. And the screaming, the cussing, the crying and the frequent violence would last until well past the moments Johnny Carson said his good-nights. Nothing I would do or try to do would make a difference. I begged, I pleaded, and I tried to make him comfortable so he would just fall asleep and bring the more peaceful mornings to us all sooner.
The only things I could count on all those times were fret and dread. And the hollow Ed McMahon laughs I heard from the living room hours before the nights finally ended.
His workday ended at 5:00 pm most every day. My nightmares began at 5:01. Except Fridays. Fridays he worked until 9 o’clock. NINE O’CLOCK. Four extra hours every week for a young dweeb like me to breath and live and enjoy, without the fear and the anticipation of trying to separate battling parents and to calm unreasonable angers. Four more hours each week to just be a kid. Four precious hours without fret and dread.
Four hours that were not alright for fighting.
To my old college bud and all the trailer people back then – I’m sorry I couldn’t celebrate Saturdays the way you guys did. Fridays are just too damned important to me to turn my attention to some other meaningless day.