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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Don't Save It on My Account

SLEEP BEING A tenuous pursuit in the best of times, I resent giving up that hour we’ve just been forced to sacrifice to after-work commerce and other post-sundown pursuits. Not that I mind the later-lighted evenings when I’m enjoying them, but I’m not generous-minded enough to justify missing a potential hour of sleep by a benefit that’s several hours away.

And it’s not as if there’s a payoff six months later. I’m usually the guy going around the house resetting the clocks the moment that the time shift occurs, so that extra autumn hour is an extra hour of tortured wakefulness for me.

It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. Two significant sleep (or lack of) stories continue to haunt me.

The first took place in the winter of 1980, as I was adjusting to a new job in Schenectady, NY, as the morning drive-time programmer and announcer for radio station WMHT-FM, which, back in those days, maintained an on-premises staff who therefore could tie in programming with area musical events – unlike today’s canned and condescending voices.

Fresh from college radio, I made the most of my time slot by hosting performers in the studio or at least inviting local performers to sit in as guests, allowing listeners to become familiar with the personalities driving the music scene.

Some of the stranger aspects of my programming – I played Sinatra one morning on Cole Porter’s birthday, for instance – ran me afoul of the station’s Napoleonic general manager, and my disrespectful behavior eventually landed me on probation with a salary cut, which was a good cue for my departure.

Sleep was always a problem with a schedule requiring me to rise at 5 AM. With no car for a commute, I had an apartment within walking distance where I slept on a lumpy, fold-out couch, relying on an insistent alarm to get me to work on time. Many afternoons passed in a daze, and evening entertainment – I was invited to every concert in the area – was always a stay-awake challenge. 

So it was with a horrible panic that I awakened in the gloomy winter dawnlight to see a clock reading 5:53. I’d completely slept through the alarm! My heart jackhammered in my throat as I struggled into my clothes and prepared to call the station to beg the overnight guy to spell me for a few minutes. Something wasn’t quite right . . .

. . . which I realized when I turned the radio on and heard the voice of the afternoon announcer finishing his shift and preparing for the news. It was late afternoon, but it was the time of year when 6 PM’s twilight looked identical to the 6 AM. Needless to say, I couldn’t get back to sleep that night very quickly.

I should have been prepared for that experience by a years-earlier event, and October night in 1977 or so when a heartbreaking revelation involving an ex-girlfriend and soon-to-be-ex best friend sent me on an all-night drive from Connecticut to Chicago, where my parents lived. I was hoping for moral support. I got sucked instead into the same old family problem dynamics.

But the drive there was performed by an adrenalin-riddled crazy man trying to make sense of a bad case of betrayal. I’d pulled an all-nighter before leaving late at night. By dawn I was hurtling across flat, relentless western Pennsylvania, about to cross into Ohio’s similarly stultifying landscape.

Something about the sight of that rising sun sent a wave of exhaustion over me, and I pulled into a rest area and immediately fell asleep in my seat.

And dreamed I was driving. Dreamed that I was driving this very stretch of highway amidst the noise of neighboring 18-wheelers, which had been my aural companions for hours already. And then in the dream I dreamed I’d fallen asleep, but had done so right in my highway lane, my car stopped and one of those diesel behemoths bearing down on me. If I didn’t get my car started and moved immediately I’d be crushed by the impact, and what a stupid way to die . . . !

Before I could begin to get my pulse back to normal – I’m amazed I didn’t have a heart attack – I had to waken from all of those swirling layers of slumber, and I’m not convinced I’ve fully done so yet.

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