There's a strange sense of recent past debauchery overlaid with a pulsing headache, a racing heartbeat undercut with the need to take a cold or extremely hot shower and chug as much coffee as possible. Not everyone can remember exactly what happened the night before, but they're pretty sure they did something. Around the nation, in towns large and small, something is afoot.*
Jessica Chamberpot, 21, looked down at her oatmeal and Diet Coke gloomily as this writer tried to coax her from her self-induced stupor. Her pallor was worrying. "I really should have gotten an egg sandwich," she said. "With bacon. Did you hear that bacon is dying?" When informed that bacon was not actually dying, that bacon as a thing really couldn't die because it wasn't alive in the first place, but also that reports had been drummed up by the bacon industry to get us to pay more for bacon, she excused herself. "I think I might vomit," she said. Later she was seen in the quad (which quad? Any quad!) talking to a cute boy of about her age who looked a bit like that Taylor Lautner character from the Twilight saga and scoffing orange-hued pain pills. It never was determined what, exactly, she did last night. Clearly, it was something.
The signs are everywhere. That coworker who presses the wrong button in the elevator in the morning, even though he's worked right next to you for four years on the 9th floor. He looks at you blearily, half conscious, and you suddenly know. He did something last night. The other coworker, the one with the grim expression, who surrounds herself with no less than three different beverages in the morning: Vitamin Water, coconut water, water-water, and possibly an iced or regular coffee. You don't know what she did last night, either, but she'll tell you by end of day because that one is a talker. Chances are, it will include something she feels bad about, because she's also an especially guilty type who one time stole a stapler from the conference room and went on about it for days until she finally put it back. Anyway, she did something last night. Your mom, your sister, your brother; your divorce lawyer, your babysitter, your green grocer, the fresh-faced woman in your building with the high cheekbones and wide-set eyes who's probably a model, the person you sit next to on the subway who may or may not smell of cigarettes and a faint veneer of Jameson. Those shoes left on your kitchen table. Who do they belong to, even? There's a vague memory, maybe, but it takes into the afternoon to realize they belong to you. These people: They all did something last night.
Roaming and completely unaffiliated sociologist Gulliver Tompkins-Mercer told The Atlantic Wire, after canceling our interview with him thrice due to "a migraine" and "having stayed up all night with a new baby" and "having to watch Louie" that more and more people are doing things at night these days. "With the rise of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter," he explained, "No one wants to be the last to the table to report that they've done something. That would be social annihilation." He leaned forward to confess the following in a hushed whisper: "But sometimes they even lie about what they're doing, or don't do it at all. Is that doing something or not doing something? Researchers are perplexed." He wrung his hands a bit—the nails appeared to have been manicured, with no polish—and then checked his iPhone. "Foursquare check in. I'm the mayor of the Bloomfield cineplex. It's where I was last night. Have you seen The Master?"
Further research may be needed, but having done something, one thing is certain: People are experiencing feelings. These feelings are supported by science. In some cases, says Tompkins-Mercer, particularly when alcohol is involved in the night's dealings, "The brain almost feels as though it has shrunken. The body cries out with thirst and hunger and despair and a fleeting sense of what might have been, what has now been forever destroyed. Often these emotions conflict with the fact that we have no idea what actually was." That, researchers say, is the 'We drank too much" effect, which Cheever wrote of. Or, in the words of 28-year-old Barnes Bully Shannon, a slender man in sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt who'd never heard of this Cheever person, "Sometimes the fun is just, like, way too fun." After pronouncing those words, he covered his eyes in a pair of shiny Ray-Ban sunglasses with the pricetag still clinging to one arm and slouched away, into the bagel store, where he ordered an "everything toasted with cream cheese," ate it, and then went back to bed, crumbs still on his hoodie. Or so we are told.
It's a common theme in popular culture, but it encroaches into our real lives more and more. We did something last night. In the most extreme cases, it can lead to difficulty communicating. Trouble at the workplace. Strains in a relationship. The inability to focus on a task at hand. But not all results are troubling. Take the gleeful bodega owners thrilled at the boost to their bottom lines by your purchase of so many beverages, or the fact that, having done something, some people feel more in control of their own lives. But sometimes doing something at night is so innocent as to be a bit sad, sitting at home in our p.j.s eating takeout and watching old episodes of ABC Family's Greek. In those cases, the guilt over pretending to have done something other than what one actually did the night before can be paralyzing. This can be a slippery slope, Tompkins-Mercer warns us. He advises lying.
He also advises that individuals prone to excess do their somethings at night in moderation, lest it lead to bad ends, like bumping into people on and off the subway, or that grim stare that really means you're trying hard not to puke, pass out, or throttle that person who insists on humming—who hums at 9 a.m. while walking down the street for the love of God!?—right next to you, delivering a tuneless melody that sounds to have come straight from hell. Tompkins-Mercer said, "People have been known to do erratic things when faced with that feeling of desperation following a night of hardcore doing something. The best we can do is to face those feelings, and to moderate our behavior accordingly. But with all these things to do, and ways to talk about what we did, is there any wonder we're doing things?" He chugged coffee while saying this, grinned widely, chucked this writer's chin, and went back to bed, a fact we were alerted to via his Facebook page.
Image via Shutterstock/Anna Omelchenko.