Last man standing

All my rowdy friends have settled down.

"Suedo, Steph's having a birthday party at Lime on Friday, 9 p.m., be there!" reads the message from Lauren G. She's the only person in the world who still calls me Suedo. It's a nickname Lauren gave me back in the sixth grade and has diligently kept alive all these years. I wonder if the daughter she's due to birth in two months will someday call me "Uncle Suedo?" Like many of my friends from Gaither High School in Tampa, Lauren and her younger sister Steph have found significant others and purchased suburban homes in far-off places such as New Tampa and Westchase. It's a trek to any of these locales from my South Tampa apartment. Visits are limited to major house parties when I've been promised a guest room for the night.

Luckily, SoHo remains an occasional destination spot for the gang. I catch up with everybody and get loaded like it's a high-school field party. My behavior has improved over the years, but when buzzed and surrounded by old pals, I sporadically say the kind of dumb, inappropriate shit you would expect from a teenager.

Problem is, I still have the mindset of someone about a decade my junior. Thanks to a career writing about music and nightlife, I've been able to maintain basically the same lifestyle since college. I stay up 'til the early morning hours and rarely rise before 9 a.m. Writing, reading, attending concerts and frequenting bars — yup, that's about all I do. Plus, I'm single and childless, which means I answer to nobody and can remain blissfully self-centered.

Most of my friends, though, are rapidly embracing the responsibilities of adulthood. What I call "the aging process" dominates conversations. During the past year, it seemed about every three weeks someone was throwing a 30th birthday bash, getting married, having a baby — or all three. Since December, three of my buddies have proposed to their girlfriends. Five of these six people were at The Lime on SoHo Friday to celebrate the 25th birthday of Steph, a friend since elementary school.

"First, I handed her a little plastic container, y'know, like the ones they put in cereal boxes and it had a plastic ring in it," explains Frenchy while his fiancée Claudine grins and nods. "Then, I gave her a second plastic container — with the real thing in it."

On cue, Claudine displays her left hand. I compliment the handsome rock and congratulate my friends on their engagement. Frenchy and I have been pals since back when we attended keg parties on Saturday night together and the same dreaded Mormon church services Sunday morning. I wonder if his devout parents expect marriage to return their son to the LDS fold — but smartly remain silent on the subject.

My pal Decker and his fiancée Christine are also seated at our table. He recently proposed to her in Paris. In high school and beyond, Decker and I were known for engaging in wild activities. Christine, another Gaither alumni, has always been a "good girl." Unlike myself, she's a poitive influence on him.

The room Lauren has reserved for us at Lime fills up with about a dozen or so people who attended high school with us or we've known since college. Steph's peeps are here, too, including a cadre of her close girlfriends, who all happen to be gorgeous. I made the mistake of hooking up with one of them — who's thankfully not in attendance tonight — many years ago. She's now a practicing lesbian. Lauren and Steph tease me about it to this day.

Lime offers drinks in booze silos that resemble giant bongs and have a tap at the bottom. I manage to overflow my glass and douse the table. As I scramble to hide the evidence of spilled suds, my buddy Mad Dog's longtime-girlfriend-turned-recent-fiancée, Carey, approaches me.

"Have you heard the news?" she asks enthusiastically.

"No," I lie. Mad Dog couldn't make Steph's party because he had a pro poker tournament to attend, and I haven't spoken with him since the holidays, but word did reach me that he'd proposed to Carey last month. She's of course excited about personally delivering the big news. I act pleasantly surprised.

"And of course you're invited to the wedding," she adds.

That puts three marriages on the horizon. Each couple has dated for years and appears genuinely in love. I'm happy for them — but in a mean, dark, selfish corner of my mind, I'm sad to see everyone settling down, buying homes out in the middle of nowhere and spending most nights curled up in front of their big screens watching Lost.

Lauren, Steph and the rest of the crew retreat to their suburban dwellings before midnight. I manage to get Decker, Christine and her teacher friend Liz to continue drinking with me for a couple more hours. Decker and I are smashed and tell an inappropriate story about hooking up with the same girl one weekend. Christine shoots him a death stare. It looks like those days are over.

The Lime, 915 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-868-LIME.