for a Night Owl
more minutes, Ma. Translate that into Latin and hand-letter
it onto a scroll beneath a heraldic shield, and I’ve got a
coat of arms. See, I’m just not what you’d call a morning
person. I’ve tried, I really have, but I think biology is
conspiring against me. I’m pretty sure I’m naturally nocturnal.
And battling biology can be a rough assignment. I’d guess
it’s not impossible; I can’t be the only one rigged like this.
But rush-hour traffic, and the infrequency with which I encounter
it, suggests that many of you fellow sufferers are doing a
far better job than I overcoming or recalibrating your Circadian
rhythms. The aversion to those early hours—and the related
affinity for the later ones—is certainly more psychosomatic
than it is hardwired in any biochemical way. To the best of
my knowledge there is no medically recognized allergy to 7
AM, nor any exclusively antemeridinal syndrome which groups
together as symptoms: blurred vision, headache, anxiety and
situational Tourette’s. Furthermore, my scientist friends
tell me that the genes responsible for various behavioral
traits are often probabilistic, rather than deterministic;
so my fatalism re: DNA-based prohibitions of productive early
mornings doesn’t really hold up.
In some cases, clearly, biology can be trumped; misanthropy,
on the other hand, is a scrapper.
See, to me, mornings seem like a common area, the day room
of a psych ward.
There’s all that bustle and noise, and—in the forms of drive-time
radio, bumper stickers and the headlines you have just enough
time to scan—the most miserably depressing or ridiculously
shallow, crassly mean-spirited or stunningly ludicrous points
of view imaginable, all in abundance.
And, the kicker is, it all seems so purposeful. So orchestrated.
So orderly. So unanimous—and, frankly, unanimity spooks me
a little bit.
The standard morning ritual is braying and abrasive and coarse
and—I suspect—ultimately not much more satisfying for others
than for me, but it’s the rule. It’s the way. It’s like the
institution has recognized his motivational abilities and
offered R.P. McMurphy a full-time gig as activities director.
And, now—all the ruckus notwithstanding—everyone’s taking
their medication on time.
Those hours between 6 AM and 9 AM sometimes strike me as a
frightening display of coercion; and the commute like a parade
Of course, on the occasions when I see it, I’m usually still
only half-awake, at most. So, that’s probably more than just
a little over the top.
But by comparison to that mass morning ritual, the late hours—say,
2 AM to 4 AM, or so—seem deeper, more peaceful and contemplative.
They’re open, unclaimed hours, frontier hours. It’s not that
they don’t have their fair share of crazies (if you’re inclined
to spend them in public), but there seems more mobility. They’re
less-trafficked hours, and therefore less policed hours (in
a metaphorical way, I mean). They’re decentralized hours,
as opposed to the top-down daylight structure.
This was made symbolic to me when I was in college in Washington,
D.C. My school was located in the northwest section of the
city, along with the federal government. Come 4 PM, that sector
drained—the pols bugging out for their homes down the road
in Georgetown or in suburban Virginia or Maryland—and the
neighborhood was left almost entirely to the students. The
government went home to make room for our carousing.
When I moved into downtown Albany after that experience, I
noticed the same dynamic reiterated on a smaller scale.
It was a feeling of ownership, not so much of the city—though
there was a cliquish, youthful territoriality, I suppose—but
of one’s place in the city. At night, you were free to cut
your own path, however its patterns might intersect, interrupt
or erase the ghostly trails left behind by commuters and daytimers.
And, of course, there was the appeal for the affectedly disaffected
young adventurer of watching the lifers—the drunks, the drug
users, the prostitutes—in their nocturnal comings and goings.
There is a thrill for the dilettante bohemian at being asked,
“You looking for a date?” that must correspond with . . .
with what? With the early bird’s good parking space? The luxury
of the second English muffin?
I’ve got nothing against morning people. Some of my best friends
are morning people—seriously. It’s just that this scheme,
this vocabulary is new to me.
Yes, new to me. I’m trying to take it on.
It’s a challenge, because I’m not sure I understand the motivations.
I get the pressure; I am, after all, in a sense caving to
it. But I’m too stubborn to cave quietly, and too affected
to conform without some private and self-aggrandizing rationalization.
So, I’ve been asking around, trying to get some insider to
hip me to the aesthetics of 7 AM. On my own, I’ve been studying
it from every angle, holding it up to my nose and blurring
my eyes but I can not see the damn sailboat, yet.
And I need to see the sailboat. Not the tugboat, not the garbage
scow, not the Staten Island Ferry. Arguments from practicality
or productivity—for better or worse—fall on deaf ears, I’m
afraid. I need this to be beautiful, please. I need to see
something in this.
So far, the closest that I’ve come is the recommendation of
a runner friend who pointed out that if you get up early enough
to run before work, you’ve probably got the city to yourself.
There is after all, it was contended, little difference between
4 AM and 5 AM. I did not at the time point out that there
is, however, quite a difference between running and not. Still,
there’s something to that thought that I’m going to investigate.
In just five more minutes. I promise.