The young man walks fast by himself through the crowd that thins into the night streets; feet are tired from hours of walking; eyes greedy from warm curve of faces, answering flicker of eyes, the set of a head, the lift of a shoulder, the way hands spread and clench; blood tingles with wants; mind is a beehive of hopes buzzing and stinging; muscles ache for the knowledge of jobs, for the roadmaster’s pick and shovel work, the fisherman’s knack with a hook when he hauls on the slithery net from the rail of the lurching trawler, the swing of the bridgeman’s arm as he slings down the whitehot rivet, the engineer’s slow grip wise on the throttle, the dirt farmer’s use of his whole body when, whoaing the mules, he yanks the plow from the furrow. The young man walks by himself searching through the crowd with greedy eyes, greedy ears taut to hear, by himself, alone.
—John Dos Passos, U.S.A.
Does every young man feel that way? The collegiate autumn I lived in Spain I remember many nights spent walking around for hours on end, stopping into a tapas bar in one neighborhood, striking off for a faraway plaza, getting a text from a friend that impelled me to a flamenco joint 3 miles away on the other side of the river, all to maximize the lived experience.
I’ve walked alone at night for so many hours in Paris, Munich and Seville — sober many times, half-drunk others, listening to Velvet Underground on earphones or merely the sounds of the city, going ten nights straight finding little of consequence, stumbling that odd Tuesday at 3 am into the after hours restaurant where a band is playing a last set that turns into a jam session that peaks three times before spilling out into the streets, so that you’re wandering home all hyped up on the night, watching the dark windows that stand between you and the sleeping populace, knowing you’ve stolen a few more moments of life than they’ll get.
It is impossible to live in New York City without lusting after careers you’ll never have, women you’ll never date — not unattainable fantasy jobs and girlfriends, but paths you might’ve taken were there only time to take them all. If only a man could live ten lives, you think to yourself, standing in autumn on an outdoor Brooklyn subway platform, the air just brisk enough to invigorate the lungs, the night a bundle of potential energy as yet unspent.
I haven’t any idea how many women are inclined to solitary all night wanderlust around sundry cities, but even if it is merely 5 percent, I still regard my ability to do that in relative safety and their inability to do the same among the most profound experiential advantages of being male in this world.
And that passage — what a way to start a book! The post title, by the way, is a sentence from Pafko at the Wall.