Welcome to My All-Nighter, Van Winkle's' essay series in which writers reflect on the weird, wild, sad and affecting occasions where, by their own will or not, they went one full night without sleep.
Med thumb ashworth allnighter

The last time I pulled an all-nighter, I spent the better half of it fully clothed in a bathtub at a hotel/casino. During a bachelor party; my bachelor party. 

That might sound worse than it was — or maybe it sounds accurately horrible. It wasn’t great, to be sure, but it certainly could have been more terrible. I could have been someone’s hostage, or been in one of those only-in-the-movies-but-possibly-also-in-Juárez scenarios where you’re covered in ice from head to toe and you’re short a kidney. I love my kidneys. And I hate being cold.

I’m also a light sleeper, which is the main reason I was in the bathtub. Did I mention that I typically sleep with a special orthopedic pillow? Well, I do. It’s a necessity after a NYC taxi accident that left me with a warped spine. Oh, and in order to get a restful night’s sleep I also require a noise machine, a dose of melatonin and a second pillow that I clutch against my chest as I lay on my back like a vampire in traction. (Sorry ladies, I’m taken.)

So why didn’t I have any of these things with me? Besides the fact that most hotels don’t consider sleep machines a standard bathroom amenity, the main reason I lacked any of my nighttime necessities is because I wasn’t planning on sleeping all that much. My wish, in one way or another, was granted.

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It’s hard to know exactly how to establish this scene further, so I’ll add this: I am uncomfortable at strip clubs. I feel a weird obligation to be a misogynist as well as to pay for something that — at least generally speaking — I have received for free no less than three times. And while I realize that the sleeping quirks and the dry tone might make it seem like I don’t know how to have a good time, trust me — I do. I just generally choose not to.

So when it came time for my groomsmen to plan my bachelor party, they had a bit of a challenge. They wanted to afford me all the stereotypical debauchery that comes with a single man’s last hurrah, but also take into consideration that I’m not the type of guy who wants to do a bunch of blow off a stripper’s ass and vibrate through Vegas for 24 hours straight. So instead, we went to Atlantic City, which has half of Sin City’s charm at a quarter of the price.

Everything is blue and we’re in our hotel room doing shots of Fireball. Everything is neon and we’re stumbling down the boardwalk, helping E work things out with Sloan.

And because my groomsmen wanted to spend most of their budget for the weekend showing me a good time, the seven of us decided to share two hotel rooms. After all — this was a bachelor party. We were going to party like bachelors! We were going to stay out all night! We weren’t going to sleep; we were going to book a stretch limo and rage against the dying of the light.

(Note: In this scenario the “light” Dylan Thomas referenced in that great poem from Dangerous Minds is my life as a single man, sacrificed on the altar of marrying the girl of my dreams. Also, due to our aforementioned focus on frugality, the “limo” I’m writing about is actually a charter bus packed with slot machine queens and table-game tourists hoping to beat the house on red and black. And another group of bachelors who — not unlike Dylan Thomas — were still drunk from the raging that had occurred the night before.)

There are seven of us altogether, including my best man Michael, my former roommate Mike who lives in Alabama but who will be meeting us later, and my friend John, who happens to be Mikes’ brother. Almost all of the men here happen to be in serious relationships.

Is it still considered a bachelor party if pretty much none of the guys involved are single?

The bus ride to Atlantic City, likely due to the bourbon I sipped during the entire ride, went by much faster than I’d expected. As a result, it’s at this point that my memory of the weekend starts to become a blend of momentary flashes, inferences from cellphone photos and scenes that somehow made the jump from “that happened on Entourage” to “that happened to me!” Everything is black and I’m playing penny slots. Everything is blue and we’re in our hotel room, smoking a bowl and doing shots of Fireball. Everything is neon and we’re stumbling down the boardwalk, helping E work things out with Sloan. Everything is black again and suddenly we’re in a cab on our way to dinner. As far as I know, no one has asked me if I’m having a good time. 

 I wake to the sound of our waitress, a coke-fueled flutter in her voice, breathily teasing my ear with her lip-gloss and disdain. “You’re the worst bachelor ev-ver.”

We arrive at the venue my best man has selected for our big meal. It’s a speakeasy-style bar and restaurant in the back half of a wine shop. They serve a mean Old Fashioned, have incredible food, a flirtatious wait staff and a table with our name on it — exactly what I wanted. I proceed to show my gratitude for the hard work and research he’s done by passing out in my chair. The dinner appears only in phrases. “He’ll want another drink”; “He loves prosciutto”; “How great would it be if we just left him here?” I hear my friends assuring another bachelor party’s-worth of guys that I’m still alive. More jokes are had at my expense.

Is it still considered an “all-nighter” if you take a nap during dinner?

I wake to the sound of our waitress, a coke-fueled flutter in her voice, breathily teasing my ear with her lip-gloss and disdain. “You’re the worst bachelor ev-ver.”

I nod slowly, unable to disagree. I am terrible at being a bachelor. 

Fortunately I’m hanging out with a group of guys who are willing to sacrifice their own notion of what a bachelor party should be in order for me to have one that suits my taste: one where the guest of honor sits at a table crowded with close friends, classy cocktails and cured meats and shows his gratitude by casually strolling out the side door of the restaurant to discretely vomit in the parking lot. This was actually for the best. Sure, it was a waste of roughly 1.5 liters of bourbon, but I felt energized, mobilized, ready for action.

My first move? Another quick nap at the table.

At this point, Mike, the last of my groomsmen, arrives in from Mobile, Alabama. via a small rental car. I finally wake up and celebrate with more drinks. Then we realize his car is barely big enough for four people. There are seven of us. Two among us determine in the restaurant parking lot that because they’re the tallest, they’ll be more comfortable in the trunk of this Kia Optima. No one suggests calling a cab. We’re bachelors!

 “You’re alive,” they scream, shaking me. “We thought you died!"

Ten miles and two bruised ribs later we’re back at the casino. Our evening of carrying on finds its way to a craps table where I proceed to lose my entire gambling budget for the night on four lousy rolls. My adrenaline dips. A strange woman begins stroking my friend’s beard for luck. I have a few more drinks. We run into the same bachelor party who’d questioned whether or not I had a pulse at the restaurant. “You’re alive,” they scream, shaking me. “We thought you died! What strip club are you going to?

The night continues. I do shots at the bar with the Mikes. I play beer pong with my other friends. We have left behind the Entourage fantasy and instead embrace our inner college sophomores. It starts to become clear to me that almost all of us are men who thrive on the company of women but we’ve all agreed not to text the women we love.

Its now after midnight, which means Saturday’s gambling stipend is officially online. John and I decide to head to the craps table. John’s a great guy to shoot craps with because if he’s winning, everyone’s winning, and if everybody’s losing, you can take comfort in the fact that he is probably losing more than you.

I bet conservatively but with purpose, and when it’s my turn to roll I go on a montage-worthy heater. I’m betting on and hitting hardways, owning the pass line and getting an evil eye from the croupier. I put two kids through college. Five different women kiss my face. So does John. I win back all the money I’d lost and then some. The entire table would have been chanting my name if they’d known what it was. 

After almost an hour of rolling and turning my losses into triple winnings, I crap out. It doesn’t matter. My mind is focused, adrenaline screams through my entire body. It’s 2:30 a.m. and I’m exhilarated. I say something cliché like “I hope this night never ends,” without knowing how wrong I’ll be. 

 We send each other to sleep the same way the Waltons did. Obviously, there’s a lot more profanity.

We meet up with the others and decide to head back to our room where we spend the next hour debating who will have the honor of spooning me. We send each other to sleep the same way the Waltons did. Obviously, there’s a lot more profanity. 

Eventually, the room quiets and my adrenaline subsides. I start to relax, content. Then it starts, a snoring emanating from the mouth of my best man. As he slips into a deep sleep, it takes on a deep, throaty growl one might compare to that of a puma or some other jungle cat. I’m amazed the other two in the room seem unbothered by the sound and then remember they aren’t asleep — they’re passed out. I try to focus on the empty spaces between his breaths, hoping the constancy of that momentary silence will act as its own metronome and help me drift off. It is at this precise moment that another one of my groomsmen begins to join him. There are no longer empty spaces — just one long, continuous noise. 

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This is how I ended up in the bathtub, feet up on the edge, chin mashed against my chest.

It’s a little colder than I expected, and twice as uncomfortable. I can’t even remember the last time I sat in a bathtub, much less tried to lay head to toe in one. But I’m drunk and stubborn, convinced this is a good idea. It’s certainly better than listening the dull drone my two friends have created that — if I really focus — I can hear through the bathroom door.

I close my eyes, tune my senses elsewhere. The white-cold coated-steel sting of the bathtub against my bare back. The rich, floral scent of our complementary Bvlgari bath products. The soft and steady drip of the double sink, dual faucets in disrepair and wasting water one monthly gallon at a time.  

You know that scene in the movie where the guy can’t sleep because the drip drip dripping of the faucet is Telltale-Hearting his brain into a gradual cacophony of introspection and dread? It’s worse with a double sink. Except I didn’t feel guilty of anything. By bachelor party standards we’d kept things pretty tame. We’d forgone all strip clubs, abstained from reputation-soiling exploits. The only time we broke the law was when we crammed ourselves into the Kia.

 This wasn’t my last night of freedom, it was a wake for a part of myself I would no longer need.

So what was I worried about? Why was my mind racing, sorting and filing worst-case-scenarios? Apart from the fact that I was nearly naked in an empty bathtub, why was I shivering 

I can’t say with any real conviction. But — brace yourselves, this is where the introspection begins — a part of me can say with certainty that a different part of me was dying that night, drowning in that empty bathtub.

This wasn’t my last night of freedom, it was a wake for a part of myself I would no longer need. My thoughts drifted to my fiancée, now my wife, bumping lightly over our wedding day then gaining speed, racing past the inevitable move away from New York City, our friends behind us, a new set on the horizon. I don’t know these people, I just know one day I’ll need them. To help me with the babies, then the kids. To convince me I’m not getting older or laugh with me when my body gradually starts proving I am. To buy me a bourbon. To offer me a ride. To drive me to the airport so I can fly home for a funeral or pick me up once I return to tell me in ways my wife cannot that a death is part of the whole show and there’s no way around it, no matter who you are.

These visions ricochet off the realities I live with but rarely dwell on: the loneliness inherent in even the most intimate relationship, the bitterness of any goodbye, the free fall through uncertainty that occurs every time I step out of bed. I wonder if it feels the same when your bed is a bathtub?

 I will, inevitably, find myself in a bathtub again. But God, please, not like this.

As I continue this ill-conceived road trip through the most neglected side streets of my self-indulgent imagination, my closest friends — the men who have ushered me out of adolescence and into adulthood — all fade, either in the rearview of my past life or into the dust fate intends for us all. It’s a grim affair but it’s also a little liberating. I’ve never felt more grown up, despite the fact that I’m sharing a hotel room I didn’t pay for with three other guys 

My groomsmen and I will certainly see each other again, but it won’t be like this. We’ll go out drinking again, but not like this. I will, inevitably, find myself in a bathtub again. But God, please, not like this. There’s an odd joy in the loss, a first tooth ripped away as the bedroom door slams, making way for something stronger and more lasting just under the surface. Says the 33 year old with 20 cavities.

I wonder what that says about my nascent but actual adulthood? Which aspects of it will I allow to rot and which parts will I brush with care and floss twice a day? These are the terrible analogies you chew on at 4:45am. (It should be noted that my toothbrush was in my periphery during the entire ordeal.)

I stand up and stretch. I pull my clothes on and slowly lower myself back into the tub. I pull out my phone and fire up one of four white noise apps, hoping the simulated drone of fake crickets will calm my brain.

The bathroom door creaks open. My best man staggers towards the toilet, hands hugging the wall, equal parts navigation system and stabilizing force. He sits on the toilet then looks around. I slowly draw the shower curtain back, our eyes meeting as I peer over the edge of my makeshift bed. We both smile and nod, our muffled, rolling laughter and hushed gasps for air echoing off the marble floor and walls, our heads shaking in disbelief at all we’ve been through together.

This was my last all-nighter. My next one will likely involve a colicky baby or a vigil by a hospital bed. But, despite my fears and mental deep dives, I know I’m wrong about being alone. My friends will all be there, either as memories or voices on the phone. Or perhaps by my side as we deal with our suddenly separate futures together. It will never be this easy. But it also won’t be that hard.