I’ve got a problem. I like to listen to music before I go to sleep. The problem is, I get involved with whatever’s on and the next thing I know the sun is crawling up over the projects across the street. Usually it’s a local oldies station. There’s one in Massachusetts that plays Adult Oldies but they hit a sing on the playlist and I can predict what’s coming next. I’m not psychic. They do it almost every night. The Hartford station is a little too upbeat for my liking. All the need is Crazy Carl to guide me through the night. An FM station I used to listen to plays Alt Rock. They used to have this woman who was on from midnight to six. She started with some soft rock, not smarmy, but something to calm you down or get you in the mood, depending how your night went. She gradually worked into Wes Montgomery. Then on to Billy Cobham and then into Miles Davis, Coltrane onto dawn. She always seemed as high as you were and there were plenty nights I got home after a night out and an hour or so at Mike’s Tasty Grinder drinking black coffee that could wake the dead. There was good talk over omelets and sausage grinders. Most of the drunks and smokers showed up. Mike opened at eleven and closed at six when he made the rounds of local factories supplying coffee and doughnuts. Mike was an ex-boxer who could take you out if you raised any shit in his place. Mike’s was also the place you made plans to skip work and go fishing. A lot of departments in the local factories were short on day shift if some of the guys wound up at Mike’s. Mike’s was a place you were introduced to in junior high. Kids that skipped out of afternoon classes made it to Mike’s for a sausage grinder that sold for sixty cents. It was incumbent on public school kids to introduce their Catholic school bretheren to sausage fried on a flat top that hadn’t been scraped in months. Mike put up with snide jabs about health inspections and the bribery of inspectors. Kids grew up there. When they graduated high school and didn’t make it into college they worked in local shops and got coffee from Mike’s on the way into work. Holidays brought out the kids that made it into college and they met up with people who were a reminder that they were lucky. Guys on leave from the military made the pilgrimage. They showed up in civvies and short hair. They talked about going to ‘Nam and all the guys  that went before. this was a young man’s world. His father showed up when Mike was open during the day. Oh yeah, did I tell you he’d open up after the morning rounds and stay open until two in the afternoon. Got to catch those kids missing knowledge.

Mike is dead. Some guy tried to make a go of the place but tapped out after a year. Most of the nighthawks are married or dead. The ones who made it worry about kids going out drinking and meet buddies at funerals. They talk about how great it was to sit at Mike’s all night and shoot the shit. I miss the place. Every now and again I drive by where Mike served up his grub. It’s a evangelical Hispanic Church now. I wonder if during the services the aroma of coffee and grease sneak in between songs and sermons. All I’ve got left is radio that almost makes it and insomnia that lurks in the background.