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Better know a commenter: Nighthawk at the Diner

50% Bukowski. 50% Waits. All man.

Nighthawk at the Diner
Nighthawk at the Diner
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

In this installment, we turn to the member of the community with perhaps the most exhilarating ability to turn a phrase, the inimitable Nighthawk at the Diner.

I just want to put this out there to kick things off, but seeing your username in the comments section was actually the reason I started commenting at Royals Review in the first place. So, thanks?

That is fantastic. People should be thanking me. I thought you predated me? Two-way street, OMD. Your warm and gentle embrace helped open my eyes to the subtle charms of Royals Review. At some point we should probably just get a room and propagate our mutual literary, cinema, musical, and sporting pretensions.

You've got me by about a year, though I may have joined up with a different email address and subsequently lost my password prior to my listed date. Moving on the the nitty-gritty, while we're all much more than just being Royals fans, it is the tie that binds us. What brought you to the Royals' front stoop knocking on the door to be let in? Perhaps more importantly, why did you stay?

It began at the end. 1975 ALCS Game 5. I was emotionally scarred by seeing the Chambliss walk-off as a child. I'm a compassionate guy. I saw Freddie Patek weeping in the dugout, and I was smitten. Why did I stay is a question I've struggled with a lot, especially last year. Being a Royals fan has been whisked into my personal essence. A strange and bizarre emulsion. I couldn't separate myself from Royals fandom any more than I could strain out my devotion to Eastern European adult films. I’ve tried. I flirted with Oakland. I crushed on Tampa Bay. But I discovered a Royals fan is who I am. Piercing green eyes. Muscular thighs. Royals fan. Deviant pornography enthusiast. I can’t change any of this, it's part of my DNA. I suspect many at this site are similarly afflicted, which is why I say that the Royals belong to us, not the Glass family.

Standard dating profile questions: Age? Sex? Height? Hair color? Marital status? Kids?

48. Male. 6'2. Brown. I’m fortunate to have the build of a retired offensive lineman. Very happily married. One amazing daughter.

While many choose not to define themselves by their job, what do you do to make ends meet? For how long have you been plying that trade?

I work for the Government. Love the job. 15 years. I get to do a wide variety of work, like loaning rich people's tax money to poor people so they can replace furnaces and air conditioners, repair foundations, put on new roofs, and take care of other non-sexy but essential housing upkeep. For what it’s worth, the default rate on our loans to poor people is lower than it is for our local banks. I also dabble with grant writing for social service programs, get involved in some redevelopment projects, and work with neighborhood associations. My job has all the personal rewards of a non-profit gig with a reasonable salary and benefits package. I feel fortunate to have it. Is the bureaucracy unbelievable? Yeah, I have stories that would turn you white-hot with rage. Do politics get in the way of common sense? All the fucking time. Does Government work? Absolutely. Admittedly, I’m on the inside, but the idea that Government is the problem is silly. The Government fucks up all the time, but from my view, if you piled all the Gov fuck-ups and the Gov fuck-yeahs on the scales of justice, the fuck-yeah side would look like Billy Butler on a teeter-totter with Farmhand.

Where do you live now, and where did you grow up?

I currently live in the Athens of the Plains, aka Lincoln, NE. I grew up in rural Nebraska, which isn’t as bleak as it sounds. A cultural wasteland, but enough emptiness to allow one to pursue all manner of interests without a lot of competition or pressure. Not uncommon for High School students to be on the football team, yearbook staff, in the high school musical, in band, participate in debate, and FFA. You could basically do whatever you wanted. Too small for cliques or much condescending judgment. You could develop more or less unhindered, unfettered, and unhurried.

So you're from small-town middle America. Obviously, you've moved to less quiet environs than your humbler origins, but if I remember correctly the burg from whence you came is rather small by anyone's measure. How do you feel like this has formed who you are? If you had to liken your formative years to a depiction in popular culture, to which what point of reference would you have us draw our attention?

Less than 5,000 peeps in my one stop-light town. Less than a 100 kids in my High School graduating class. If there was a movie that fleshed out the back story for the banjo picking kid with the misshaped head in Deliverance, that would probably be the closest match to my own upbringing. Learning to play the banjo from Uncle Touchy. Noodling for catfish in cut-off jeans along the banks of the mighty Elkhorn River. Helping Grandpa bootleg his 'shine. Leave it to Beaver might be more apropos. It was fairly idyllic. Innocent. Both my parents had blue collar gigs. Very fortunate to have outstanding parents. I lived in the country, so that kind of sucked. No fucking around with my buddies in the 'hood, but I had a motorcyle. And a basketball hoop. And a decent Zenith stereo. One cool thing: only one movie theater. Pretty much everybody went to the movies on Friday nights. Whether that was Gandhi or The Muppet Movie or Gorky Park. That probably influenced my love for movies and my tolerance for all kinds of genres and whatnot.

But the noodling happened, right? Is the theater still around, or has time and indifference let it die a slow, undignified death?

I am a carpet-layer's son. My mother, a fucking saint, is a beautician. Both retired at this point. They owned their own businesses and were--against all odds for rural Nebraska--fairly strident Democrats. Both workaholics. My dad was able to manage an early retirement from successful investing, which he did without any education or financial advisers. Insanely disciplined. Obsessive about monitoring the stock market. He's a complicated guy. When I was a kid, he used to ride me for reading too much.

Despite this natural distaste for sedentary pursuits while the great outdoors or good old-fashioned industriousness were waiting outside, all of my sibs are college grads. It's actually worse than that, I'm the only one without a PhD. My little bro and little sis are both college profs.

My Dad and I do not have a typical Hallmark feel-good father/son relationship, but I have always admired his talent for being good at about anything he wants to do. I think he always felt the swells in our small town kind of dismissed him or sold him short, and that fueled him. He's pretty cynical, not one to defer to money or position. A couple of my favorite quotes from my old man: "No one knows anything," and, after talking to me about a sizable and counter-intuitive stock investment, "Sometimes in life a man has to put his testicles on the line." Both delivered and intended without a trace or irony or humor. Stone tablet from the mountain stuff.

My mom earns her sainthood status just by putting up with this complicated man for the bulk of her life. She is a reader, plays bridge, has a knack for interior decorating, and can give one hell of a perm. Owned her business. Exceedingly kind and generous. All the things a mother should be. They were high school sweethearts and just had their 50th anniversary last year.

Sadly, the noodling is just a fantasy. My old man didn't have time for hunting, fishing, or any of that stereotypical rural sportsman type stuff. He golfed a few years because he thought it might be good for business. But generally speaking, when he was a awake, he was working. I might be the only person from my hometown who has never experienced that glorious Ted Nugent-esque exultation of life that apparently comes from killing deer.

Is the theater still around, or has time and indifference let it die a slow, undignified death?

The Royal Theater was exactly the kind of romanticized old-timey small town movie theater that you would expect. Cool neon marquee. Right on Main Street between the bakery and the hardware store. It died around the same time I became emotionally attached to Freddie Patek in the mid-70s. It was the completely sterile, humorless, quonset hut masquerading as a movie theater on the outskirts of town that brought the vaguely eclectic and contemporary weekly films to town. Both are still there.

Your question is prescient. The cool, old theater has been gelded, marquee removed, and all unique architectural features covered up and papered over. Not even sure what's in there now. It was a shoe store at one point. Shoes for Christ's sake. The "new" theater is still packing them in on weekends. Fun fact: I helped my dad put the carpet in the new place. We were literally finishing up on the aisle carpeting a few hours before they were set to have their grand opening, featuring the aforementioned The Muppet Movie. I remember they were popping popcorn and previewing the film to make sure they could handle the new projector while we were finishing up. What's green and smells like pork?

Kermit's dork? What is your educational background/area of study?

I majored in Psychology with minors in Film Studies, English, and Political Science. I’ve racked up a handful of post-Grad hours in Planning and some towards a Teaching certification. I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated, spent a few years doing AmeriCorps, which set me on a path towards social services/Government lackey.

In an unsurprising development to those who know us both from our internet lives (and collaborations), we share a background in having studied both English literature and film studies. How do you feel like your education in these areas have formed you into your current self?

I used to read pretty obsessively when I was in my 20s and early 30s. I've read everything Hemingway has written. Same for Cormac and Denis Johnson. All of Bukowski's fiction. Most of Steinbeck. I was a reader growing up. I distinctly remember after a ghastly break-up in my 20s, I picked up a copy of For Whom The Bell Tolls while moping around this great used bookstore in The Athens of The Plains (which is blessed with a bevy of decent bookstores for being such a small city). I'm pretty sure I bought it based on nothing more than recognizing the title as part of the canon. I enjoyed it so much I started seeking out classics and being more interested in finding the good stuff. I I think that helped me in a lot of ways. Reading is the poor man's travel.

I kind of stumbled into a film class filling out electives as a student at UNL and was bowled over by a particular professor and the content. The Prof worked with Andy Warhol at The Knitting Factory in the '60s. He was like a missionary spreading the gospel of truth, film, and art in places like Nebraska. He used to say, "It was never about the drugs, it was about the work. Well, it was kind of about the drugs." It was a fantastic class. A synthesis of lit interpretation, art history, and social studies. I've always placed a lot of importance on film, books, and music. Like a lot of areas of interest, you have to go to the margins to find material that is interesting or has some truth to it. Material not totally beholden to the effects of the fucking dollar. For me, it all ties into a larger world view. On the other hand, the older I get the more I realized that people like what they like and who cares.

Your ghastly break-up led you to For Whom The Bell Tolls? I'm sure it was ultimately for the better, but what went wrong? How did you end up righting the ship and meeting Mrs. Nighthawk?

I married relatively late in life, so I was the beneficiary of a handful of longerish relationships before I was snared by Mrs. Nighthawk. The Hemingway jag was in response to the timely death of a particular relationship that was fraught with issues. We couldn't conquer the difficult Lincoln/Omaha long distance romance logistics. I was young and insecure. Her dad was dealing with terminal cancer. We came from radically different backgrounds. She was from a private parochial girls high school in Omaha and her dad was an attorney. You know where I came from. I'm ashamed to admit that I let her bulldoze me into signing a church-backed petition against The Last Temptation of Christ. Jesus, that's embarrassing. A learning experience, but trivial at best. It was like a Spring Training game, just getting me ready for the Majors, a.k.a. Mrs. Nighthawk. I met Mrs. Nighthawk one summer whilst working at the same non-profit. The attraction was immediate, mutual, and highly erotic--the status my marriage maintains to this day. She's an amazing women, wife, mother, and friend. I'm fortunate to have met her.

While your major of Psychology factors into both of those areas, it doesn't have a lot of overlap with political science, arguably the area in which you've ended up working. If you had your way, what would you do for a living?

Author. Maybe journalism. Maybe an architect. Maybe a professor. Stay-at-home dad. Day trader. Horse trainer. Professional gambler. Union organizer. Barfly. THE go-to dude who values baseball memorabilia for Antiques Roadshow.

You did your time in AmeriCorps. Did your public service keep you in the Cornhusker State, or did you leave and come back? What was it like living in voluntary poverty?

My AmeriCorps service was in-state. In a gritty little town of about 25,000. I graduated from college one week, and was working in AmeriCorps the next, so the poverty was seamless. It was a great experience though. Worked in a middle school setting up a conflict resolution program. I remember thinking how bad could things be at a rural middle school? Police were at the building three times my first day. It wasn't like Bunny Colvin in The Wire or anything, but it was rougher than I anticipated. The Assistant Principal had this shtick where he'd bust out this duffel bag of weapons that he'd confiscated over the years, splash em all over the table at meetings. A clattering pile of brass knuckles, switchblades, and billy clubs. Fucking 8th graders.

Hastings? North Platte? What did these prairie punks have to be so angry about?

Grand Island. Poverty. Racism. Algebra.

With the understanding that obviously baseball and the Royals are an area of interest for you, what other hobbies and interests do you have?

I love movies. Good movies preferably. Loved Boyhood and Whiplash, thought Grand Budapest was entertaining as hell. I’ll watch just about any '40s or '50s crime noir flick (Out of the Past and Double Indemnity my faves), or conversely, any 70’s cop movie or goofy sci-fi like Zardoz. I watch TCM pretty consistently. I like to gamble on horse racing. I’ve got a friend who is a DJ on a morning radio show for a hick station in Western Nebraska, he’s had me as guest handicapper for the Kentucky Derby since 1997, I’ve given out 9 winners. My personal fave was Animal Kingdom in 2011. He was a little hard to find, which makes it more gratifying.

I keep a loose handle on the major sports. I dig the soccer. I read, but less and less each year. I dabble with woodworking.

I like to bring it in the kitchen. I demand that my wife and daughter refer to me as "The King of Soups and the Prince of Stews" during soup and stew season.

I’m a big music fan; still try to catch a handful of live shows each year. I’m too old for this nonsense, but I still like loud, abrasive, experimental punk discordant fuzz, or failing that, retro garage 60s freak beat. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and Ex-Cult, and then mellowing it out with Real Estate and The New Pornographers. The Athens of the Plains has a pretty decent college radio station, so I keep my finger on the pulse a little bit. I try to exercise with some regularity, but I’m not doing cross-fit or shopping at GNC for supplements. Two cats (Louise, Kato). One dog (Sheila).

Revisiting the notion of what made Nighthawk into Nighthawk, I think for almost anyone who ventures down the less traveled paths of pop culture and the arts that you have that there was something or someone that turned you onto these things. Who influenced your evolution into, well, you?

I was a typical Bon Jovi and Van Halen loving mook well into my early 20s. It was damn near impossible to discover "college music" from the sticks. No internet. No MTV. No decent radio. We had a cool music store in town, and I mean MUSIC STORE. This place sold sheet music, used band instruments, pianos, and 4 or 5 bins of albums. They were hip enough to carry REM's first album and U2's War back in the day. We'd literally buy stuff based on album covers. For example, Krokus' Head Hunter was irresistible to me at the time. Occasionally someone would have a copy of Creem or a Rolling Stone.

A couple of bands got me on the path towards decency. Public Image Limited. Not even good PIL, the song "Seattle" hooked me for some reason. The Pixies. Loved Surfer Rosa. I remember buying a Neil Young compilation called "The Bridge" that featured Nick Cave covering "Helpless". I've been pretty obsessive about Nick Cave ever since. It's really only a half-step from Cave to Tom Waits. My buddy turned me on to Waits' whole catalog. We wore out a Swordfishtrombones cassette one summer.

I was a sucker for the grunge. More Mudhoney than Nirvana. Tad over Soundgarden. Between one of my best friends, and my brother, we all kind of arrived at more interesting music tastes at the same time. My bro worked at a college radio station and helped introduce me to a broader range of stuff, and classic old stuff. Radio Birdman. Stooges. Television. The Damned. Richard Hell. Gang of Four. Deep cuts Bowie. Later on in college my social circle overlapped with dudes who were in bands, or dicked around with fanzines and the like. Everybody was always on the look out for cool new shit. I also worked a series of menial jobs that allowed me to zone out with headphones and my walkman, so it was prime music sampling time.

What's the best thing you've read in recent memory? Describe it as though you were trying to convince someone else that they should read it.

I’m currently reading North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent. I’m digging it. Written in 1973, it’s a prescient take on the confluence of violence, hypocrisy, bread, circuses, sex, drugs, and star fuckery that is the NFL. Hey someone else, read whatever you want chump, ain’t no accounting for taste.

Anyone who has read a comment you have written or one of our back-and-forths on Boardwalk Empire or Downton Abbey could attest to your way with words. Is your penchant for a deft turn of phrase an innate gift, or was it developed from your studies--informal or otherwise--in literature? What authors make your nether regions tingle?

It's nice of you to say that. But look, this place is lousy with writers. Yourself. Drenon. The original Kevin, Will. Published real fucking books and get paid to do it on the reg guys like LaFlamme. And a couple of other guys. I'm just a wise-ass. I mentioned some of my fave authors up stream. I'd add James Ellroy. Ken Bruen. Bill Kloefkorn. Vonnegut. Jane Smiley. Paul F. Tompkins has a pretty devastating anti-Bukowski rant, but I'm still a big fan. I like to see past the misogynistic alcoholic routine and focus on the blue collar humanity.

I was reading Cave's Bunny Munro and Bukowski's Post Office concurrently a couple years back, and I've never felt worse for being a man. I've never heard of either Ken Bruen or Bill Kloefkorn. For those of us too lazy to Bing those dudes, what do they write?

You might need to power-watch twelve hours of the Oxygen Network to exorcise your soul from that double dose of misogyny.  Bruen writes gritty crime fiction (is there any other brand?), typically based in Galway or Ireland at-large. The Guards and The Killing of the Tinkers are probably his best.  Bill Koefkorn lived a couple of blocks from my house. I used to see him at the track from time to time.  He taught at a local University and was the State Poet Laureate.  I had the good fortune to participate in a couple of informal workshops he conducted, excellent teacher and writer.  Earthy more than academic.  A gift for insight, which I suppose is a prereq for any decent poet.  Approachable.  Gentle.  But ornery too.  He is most well known for his poetry, but later in life he cranked out some excellent memoirs.  If Wendell Barry and Kent Haruf had sex, their butt baby's writing would resemble Bill Kloefkorn's work. Restoring the Burnt Child is money.

As a fan of every word you've committed to a webpage that I've seen, I have to ask have you any grander literary goals? Have you indulged in authorial wanderings?

I've laid down some sweet lines with a Sharpie in truck stops across the country. Other than that, nothing formal. If you have a time machine, I'd consider dialing it back 30 years to take a run at it. I enjoy the shit out of dicking around at Inconsiderate Prick, but I don't have the fire to make a run at the long con.

We all have a long list of stupid shit that we've done. What's the dumbest thing you've done?

I don’t even know you peoples, but I’d still be ashamed to admit my transgressions in a quasi-public circle. Let’s just say much fun was had, time and money wasted, shame was fostered, feelings were hurt, laws were broken, and fluids were spent between the ages of 19-26. All of those still occur to some degree, but at a much more reasonable and discreet pace.

Describe yourself in three sentences or less.

Two nards. A dollop of whimsy. Top with shaved prosciutto.

What Royals Reviewer would you be most interested to meet in person? Why?

I’d love to meet a good dozen and a half of the regulars. OMD, I’ll always have a little hole in my heart for not synching up at a play-off game last year. Same goes for Gatsby. I’d love to meet Crooow someday. Long lost guys like Devil Fingers and Phatt Stairs. I’m a big Drenon fan. MonoDiggity. MitchfreakingMaier. Buddyball. Zimmerman. Clarf. Gopherballs. Hunter S Royal. The Laundry. Phil. LaFLamme. McKinney. Max. KSinDC. Beau. Loose Seal. Creole. Joseph Boys. Rufus. Grossest. Sweeping of the Legs. Farmhand. Warden. Hanish. Your Mom's Bfriend. 1040X. Kcemigre. The rest of the Kevins. I’m forgetting another 15 personas I feel like I kinda sort know. I love this place. Jesus, it might be easier to list the ones I don’t want to meet. In all honesty, the camaraderie, wit, knowledge, and interests around these parts is kind of astounding and reaffirms my belief in the power of social media.