Liner Notes

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Tom Waits // Nighthawks At The Diner

Released 1975
180G Double LP Black Reissue
Favorite Track: "Eggs and Sausage"

I applied for an apartment on Forrest St. with Tim in the summer of 2001. It was a furnished one-bedroom in the heart of the Old Southwest part of Reno, Nevada. It was also a retirement community, which was not entirely clear to us at the time we applied. I asked the woman whom I handed the application to postpone the credit check for a day so I could turn 18. I had only known Tim "The Duff" for a few months when we decided to move in together, but it was the best decision I ever made. You, intrepid reader that you are, heard correctly. One bedroom. At not a dollar more than $500 a month (not split; $500 total), it was beyond our means to secure the amenities of a door for each of us. The Casson apartments took a chance on two aspiring writers at the start of a long and winding journey. We got the place.

We were both professional pizza slingers, but I had the slightly better pizza job. I agreed to pay a premium for having my own bedroom and Tim slept on a futon in the living room. He got access to the Super Nintendo, but I got a door and had no problem with the arrangement. The year we spent in that apartment amounts to the greatest concentration of good memories I have. 

That summer, Nevada burned. There were wildfires raining debris and ash on the city for what seemed like weeks. I remember my shoes being soaked with bleach and pizza water from scrubbing the floors, my shirt reeking of hot dogs, and my chest full of ash and smoke. Yet every night I walked out with a grin that would make the Joker envious. Because when I left, I went home to my house. My tiny kingdom. My corner of the universe cohabitated by one of the best men to have ever graced the Earth. 

Friday and Saturday nights were a special time at Nim Manor. These were poker nights. We packed a half dozen of the stinkiest boys in Reno into our tiny box to take a $10 buy-in more seriously than cancer. We went all out. We had the fancy clay chips which we annoyed the piss out of each other learning to shuffle. We got a felt table. And perhaps most importantly, we had the Weinhard's bottled root beer. Looking back, not a single human consumed a drop of alcohol on our watch. Did I mention we were squares? We were squares.

Big bet was a red chip. Value? $1. Betting one was dubbed The Red Scare. 

Tim introduced me to his buddy, Alex. He taught us how to play. He kept a ledger with everyone's win/loss percentage. He brought his buddy Jace. I stood at all their weddings and love these men indiscriminately. 

At the time I was riding the punk/hardcore train pretty hard. Most of the records I loved made for a poor poker soundtrack. Enter Tom Motherfucking Waits. My writer friends have adored Tom for half our lives. They've ventured to other countries to see him perform. He was the cornerstone of our poker nights. We listened to his lengthy discography pulled endlessly in black, zippered CD cases. They would swoon between tracks, grimacing at his genius. 

Me? I tolerated it.

To be honest, I didn't much care for it. To be more honest, I thought it sucked. It was boring. I was only interested in bangers. And there were most certainly a scarcity of bangers on Tom Waits records. I endured hundreds of hours of Tom Waits during our poker nights. 

Fast forward a decade. I am less stupid. Okay. I am slightly less stupid. And I love Tom Waits. His lyrics are Americana poetry. I finally hear what they heard. Choosing a favorite Tom Waits record is stupid and I refuse. They are magnificent for different reasons and proof the world doesn't totally have it out for us. But Nighthawks is the one that burrowed into my heart first. It was a the soundtrack of a thousand Rounders quotes. It was the tobacco-stained voice begging me to fall in love in Tim, Jace, and Alex.  It was the root that slipped through the tiny crack in my cement heart and grew a beautiful flower.

I've been playing poker online with old friends and new over the last few weeks and it doesn't make me yearn for how things used to be. It makes me grateful for the friends that have endured over the last two decades. It makes me smile to introduce them to my new friends and watch them instantly get along.  Because, for all my flaws, I pick excellent people to have in my life. And it makes me humbled they didn't dump my ass for being so wildly off-base in my youthful disregard of Tom Waits. Thanks for your grace, Fellas.    

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