Sunday, August 28, 2005

#69 - Sleep? Who Needs It?

In the twenty five or so years it has taken me to become one, I've learned that the requirements for being a "responsible adult" appear to include some sort of sleep deprivation.

This is difficult for me because I have no small amount of laziness in my psyche. If, for example, you show me a lawn mower and a yard full of towering grass, weeds, and assorted flotsam and jetsam, then tell me to decide whether to do yard work or read a book, I have no compunction whatsoever in choosing to read a book. Or take a nap. Or read a book and simply look like I'm taking a nap. Meanwhile, the yard continues to grow, Blob-like, until it consumes Steve McQueen.

This laziness goes waaaaaay back to when I was a rather young Woody and gave my parents fits whenever they tried to get me out of bed. My brother took this to an artistic level reserved for Rembrandt, but the legacy is mine. I learned early on how to ignore alarm clocks. The reason for this, of course, was refusing to get to bed anytime before the sun came up in the morning. I just couldn't do it. Not without brute force, anyway. I don't believe my parents ever resorted to lashing me into my bed with ropes or chains, but I'll bet they considered it.

As a teenager it only got worse. My nighttime habits stayed just as slovenly as before, thanks in part to my addiction to late night movies. Or, rather, my Dad's addiction to those movies. He loved them. I wasn't all that impressed with them, but it became a sort of bonding thing with us. We never talked. In fact, NO ONE spoke when Dad was watching a movie. That was the Kiss of Death in our home. But we could enjoy companionable silence with Dad if we shut up and watched.

Somewhere around midnight, Dad would cock one eye in my direction and say, "You have seminary in the morning." For the uninitiated, "seminary" is an opportunity for young people in the LDS church to wake up before the crack of dawn, drive or be driven to the church building, and fall asleep in a class where we were supposed to be learning about the Gospel. At least, that's how I handled it. My wife actually stayed awake through those classes. Those wimps in Utah have it much easier. They get to go to "release-time" seminary, which makes it part of their school day.

Anyway, Dad never pressed the point. He knew that it wouldn't work. I would tough out the movie, then make great noise about going up to bed, then sit up and read for about another hour. When the alarm would begin going off at 5:30, I knew Dad wouldn't be far behind. "Getcher butt outta that bed!" he would snarl. "Mmnmnn," I would mumble in response, then hit the snooze button. The invention of the snooze button on alarm clocks is another reason why the United States lags behind the rest of the world in productivity.

Dad operated on a "three strikes" principle. We got two snarls' worth of time to get out of bed and ready for school. The implied third strike would have meant Dad coming physically in to our rooms, risking his life on our cluttered floors, and yanking us out of our beds. We were always intimidated enough by Dad not to risk the third strike. This did NOT mean we were going to take defeat graciously. You never saw a surlier bunch of teenagers who were not addicted to recreational pharmaceuticals. We'd glower, snarl, crank, and otherwise torment our parents for having the nerve to make us get up and face the world. Dad, who was born responsible (according to his mother) and had gotten cheerfully out of bed before the crack of dawn every day of his mortal existence, would merely smirk at us and threaten to tell us how easy we had it compared to his own youth. This generally shut us up. He never actually used the "walking uphill both ways in the snow" line on us, but we have vivid recollections of dirt roads being called "Idaho superhighways," and other such nonsense.

Learning how to drive did not improve my inherent laziness. Where seminary was concerned, it only made things worse. They could get my sorry fanny out of bed at 0-dark-hundred; they could even make me drive myself to seminary. But they could NOT make me actually attend seminary. I spent the entire last two years of seminary sleeping in my car. Come to think of it, I believe I spent my last two years of high school the same way. Not that I'm proud of this.

Things started to improve when I went on my mission. In the field, you're expected to get up early, do your studying and have your prayers, then hit the "pavement" as soon as local custom allowed. This was one of the keys of success. Ironically, "pavement" in my mission looked suspiciously like "Idaho superhighways" in my Dad's day.

I might very well have lapsed back into my pre-mission laziness forever when I returned, had it not been for money. I needed a job, and employers get into this snit about having their employees show up on time. My first post-mission job was working in the stock room of a local jewelry store chain. I was to be among the first there in the morning so I could vacuum the red carpet in front of the store before it officially opened. I worked in North Hollywood, which was about a 45 minute commute from Simi Valley, and required my getting up before 7:00 every morning. What a wrench! (You veteran commuters are snorting into your caffeinated beverages with bitterness. 7:00! What you wouldn't give to sleep in until 7:00! Just wait.)

My next job, working at a factory where they made metal office furniture, began at 7:00, effectively moving my wake-up call to 6:00. I had discovered personal hygiene by that time, but could still do the whole thing in 15 minutes, thus making it out the door by 6:15. However, because of my laziness genes I had also begun to realize that I needed at least a half hour of wake up time, which meant having the alarm begin to go off (remember the snooze button?) at 5:30. The fact that I was getting into bed around 1:00 AM didn't faze me. I was an adult, I was earning money, and I could do what I darn'd well pleased!

Then I got married.

Snooze buttons are no match for a crazed half-Mexican half-Italian wife who isn't getting enough sleep herself because her deadbeat husband refuses to hear the blankety-blank alarm in the morning. Our bed suddenly seemed to acquire an ejection button. Her foot would get planted in the small of my back and -- ZINGO! -- I would find myself catapulted out onto the cold floor, ready to begin my day.

I had, by this time, acquired a desire to get to bed at a more reasonable hour every night. I was finally beginning to feel the effects of the sleep deprivation that I had so carefully cultivated in my youth, and I actually began to see midnight as late, if you can imagine. Most unfortunately, my first wife, an inveterate talker, saw midnight as the perfect opportunity to discuss the pressing issues of our life together, and expected me to be awake for these sessions. (Note: this is NOT why my marriage to her dissolved. I'm not that shallow!) This wasn't too bad while we still lived less than an hour from my work. But when we moved to another town and I had to commute 70 miles one way every day, sleep began to take on a special significance. Now my alarm was going off at 4:00 in the morning, and my snooze buttons were decreasing. I was probably late far more often than would be strictly prudent, but that sense of "responsibility" was quickly overtaking me.

Jump ahead to a new life. New wife, new kids, old job. I'm back to commuting about 22 miles one way every day, and my alarm is back to 4:30. But my snoozes generally take me to about 5:00. I willingly choose to go into work early every day, because that allows me to come home that much earlier. My wife, bless her heart, has learned how to sleep through most of the snoozes. Because we have kids, we never get to go to bed when we want to, but we nearly always get to bed before midnight every night. I have at least that much going for me now.

These days I can rarely sleep beyond 7:00 in the morning on my off days. Either my bladder or my lower back just won't permit it. This morning I slept in until 9:00. Mom-in-law, who has been visiting with us this weekend, remarked that I slept longer than she was expecting. I replied that I was trying to make up for some of the sleep deprivation that I still have. Her comment back was, "I don't think you can ever make it up."

"I know that," I said. "I just don't think my body knows it."

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