Posted on November 10, 2017
I read that Martha Stewart gets by on 4 hours of sleep. Lapses in judgment about stock shenanigans and the frequent berating of her underlings notwithstanding, she does all right on just a few hours of sleep. Nocturnal omissions can also be said of Jay Leno, Tom Ford, Kelly Ripa, and Donald Trump. If there ever were an argument for the benefits of getting a full 8 hours of shut-eye, let the latter individual prove my case.
I’m not sure when my own inability to sleep through the night began. I’ll blame menopause for the first wave of insomnia. Once that ditch was dug, it was quickly filled in with worries about money, children, their children, and nuclear war. Like a rubber mallet to the knee, once a reflex is stimulated in the monkey-mind quadrant of the brain, there’s no relief. Where there was once rest, there is now torment.
As a teenager, I would toss my adolescent bones out of bed on Saturday midmorning and drag myself to the kitchen cozied up in my fluffy powder-blue slippers and Lanz floral nightgown. There at the Formica counter, I would fix myself a satiating breakfast of a Pop Tart or two and a 16-oz glass of whole milk. Finishing my meal, and making sure the toaster was once again unplugged, I would shuffle back to bed for brief and indulgent nap hastened by both a sugar crash with a carb chaser.
Now, and mostly only when I travel across time zones landing in foreign lands and beds with pillows that either feel like cement slabs or foam-covered bowling balls, I require pharmaceutical help. A small dose of something prescribed can get me through the night. The downside is that come morning when clouds part and bluebirds chirp, I languish in a depressed mood over my morning coffee longing for the addition of a Pop Tart.
Recently, a friend offered a bit of THC in the form of a piece of paper to put under my tongue. That made sense because the thought of lighting up a joint in the middle of the night seemed like maybe I had gone rogue. And, enjoying an edible with cannabis tucked in like so many chocolate chips might be difficult to assay or at least to rely on in terms of an accurate dosage.
This gift coincided with spotting of an SF Muni bus whose entire side was plastered with a brightly colored ad reading: Marijuana is Here! Seeing it once was ironic but passing another bus festooned in the same manner a few hours later that same day was as weird as a scene in a Ground Hog Day loop. I would file this experience under, “If you live long enough…”
Long before there ever was a motif identified as a Ground Hog Day loop, I was going to occasional Saturday night parties held in the all too frequently parent-free suburban home of one of my friends. Invitations to soirees such as this increased once the word was out that you had scored some grass and were bringing it along. The misguided kid who brought his own Ripple in a bota bag slung over this shoulder like a Basque shepherd may have thought he figured out the key to popularity but he lost out to his classmate who had a Ziploc bag of seeds and stems…and rolling papers. If I were able to wrestle a joint from some bogarting pal, and I inhaled, I found that my shyness and my insecurities evaporated in that sweet-smelling smoke. I could imagine myself as the life of the party. I doubt I actually was but everyone else was so stoned, who could tell…or care?
Just a few decades later, and through the miracle of science and especially grow lights, the essence of marijuana could now be titrated to the exact nature of the result you wished to procure. So that is why on my nightstand of today, I have little squares of paper with a whisper of THC that can target the sleep-deprived neurons longing for relief. On my nightstand of yesteryear were my pink princess phone, an AM/FM transistor radio and a half-eaten Pop Tart. It’s hard to keep up…
Here’s something else that has been suggested to me to alleviate sleep deprivation: napping. However, I have strong feelings about giving into sloth; napping, be it of the power variety or not, has no appeal to me. My association with naps is a complicated one.
My mother was a napper. She was told by her cardiologist that she had to nap. Compliance was the only option for her as it held the promise of life itself. But, as if to thumb her nose at the viability of such an innocuous prescription, she chose to nap on the living room couch and never in her bedroom. This inconvenient truth was barely tolerated by the other members in our household: me, my dad and our dog, Bonnie. Truth be told, my dad wasn’t around very much during mom’s naptime but Bonnie certainly was. I must have been in school most of the time, as naptime certainly coincided with those afternoon hours. The memories I have of her lying on the pumpkin-colored three-cushion, button-tufted sofa were probably those belonging to the waning hours of the day when I was just home from school. And, always on the weekends.
It was during her naptime where I learned varied and valuable lessons. This was education not possible in the classroom or on the playground but essential training and preparation for my emerging adolescence and eventual adulthood. I am not at all certain that my mother chose to recline in the center of our home as a kind of ruse—we thought she was sleeping but she was more than likely surreptitiously observing us (Bonnie and me). This would be my forever-way of imagining her looking down on me after she died…which she did not too long after this ridiculous form of health care failed her. Failed us. Her head always rested on the end of the sofa farthest from the front door so that she was able to face both the door and the entrance to the kitchen. Both were the portals that a teenager and her dog were likely to pass through at any given moment.
And, as she napped, at least in the spring of 1965, she listened to the radio that was always tuned to Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges as they announced the SF Giants game. Her radio was a Mother’s Day gift from us and found its permanent perch—despite its portability–on the mantel on the opposite side of the room from the squash-hued couch where my mom reclined. The radio was a trifold battery-run elegant and modern device; the radio bits were housed in the middle and the tweedy-upholstered speakers flanked the controls.
AM radio was the means by which the Giants stayed in our hearts and in our house. The cries of “Bye Bye Baby,” were the only times my mom would bolt from her supine-ness and applaud. Like a little girl receiving her favorite ice cream cone at the fair, she was ecstatic. The announcing would subside in volume and excitement, and she would again take to her reclining position just like a balloon losing all its air and floating back down. Lon and Russ were the nearly daily visitors she invited in and their presence kept her company and filled the room with life just as her own was seeping away.
My mother’s naptime was also the first time, but certainly not the last, I discovered the power and the glory of civil disobedience. It was in that very living room, alongside the orangey settee where I first went on strike in a picket line of my own making.
I had my limits and my dignity and both were being stretched beyond endurance. Unfair practices were being lobbed in my direction; demands too unpalatable to rectify in more familiar ways had reached their tipping point. Simply said, I refused to go to 7th-grade Cotillion. This rite that suburban aspirational mothers hoped would teach both their sons and their daughters how to ascend the rickety, unreliable rungs of social mobility was a sham and a degrading experience for those of us whose thick waists and badly cut hair ensured a sure-fired plummet off the ladder of popularity. Nobody ever asked me to dance. I wasn’t going to subject myself to this humiliation again. Did I mention we had to wear gloves? Enough was enough.
Taking a coat hanger and straightening it so that it could be used to stab and secure a piece of paper on which I printed in HUGE BLACK LETTERS: “I WON’T GO. I WON’T DANCE WITH A SCHMO.” That was on one side. The other side was more clunky, I think, in retrospect: “THERE IS NO WAY I WILL DO WHAT YOU SAY.”
I know. Harsh.
I paced while Lon and Russ called the game. Back and forth, in my silent protest, I trod the carpet hoping that my mother’s weak but always sympathetic heart would take pity. She, of working class upbringing. She, a democrat. She, a northerner not from the country club set but from an army-base background. In my tortured and desperate mind, she would surely give in to my demands. Instead, she complimented me on my rectitude and told me that if she didn’t get some rest, the doctor (and my father) would be upset with her. And, therefore, with me too.
It wouldn’t be the first time that guilt proved to be an effective means of altering my behavior.
During one afternoon nap, I was traversing the well-worn route from my bedroom to the kitchen in search of a snack…could have been another Pop Tart for all I know…and my mother’s pillow and rumpled coverlet lay on the couch but there was no trace of her. The ballgame wasn’t playing on the radio, and Bonnie appeared too comfortable to be at all interested in the whereabouts of her usually dozing companion. Alarmed, I walked around the house calling out to my mom and hearing nothing in response. And, then I heard the twinkling of the garden gate’s bells that had been tied to the picket post to alert my napping mother when the mailman came down the path to deliver the mail. There in the inky blue outdoors of the late afternoon skies, my mother stood next to the bells—shaking them as she leaned against the gate. Alarmed, I ran to her watching her literally fade before my eyes. She said that she didn’t have the strength to walk back inside by herself. Nor, it seemed did she have the power to call for help. Could I help her, she whispered. We walked arm in arm, my mother and me, and I helped her assume her familiar position on the couch as I gathered up the coverlet and tucked it around her thin frame.
Even as a young girl, I knew that she knew something that was impossible to say with certainty. She tried, though, and I will be forever grateful for that. As I gathered the folds of the blanket around her she softly said, “It’s not time yet. You still need me.”
By the next summer, it was just Bonnie and me who would listen to the Giants when my dad reminded me that there was a game on. He had moved the radio to the sun porch, and the dog and I would bathe ourselves in shafts of warm light as Lon and Russ announced the game. Their voices seemed to cut through the fog at Candlestick Park as they broadcasted Jesus Alou catching a high fly–dropping out of the soup that was the grey, goopy sky there.
My dad was too preoccupied to even think about enrolling me in another round of Cotillion; my etiquette lessons from then on were to be ones I copied from my betters—or at least from the more popular girls. On the other hand, as the 1960s rolled on, my early training as a protester, did come in handy. I doubt I would have had the social life I did at Cal Berkeley without my flair for making provocative and rhyming anti-war signs. Who do you think came up with: “HELL NO. WE WON’T GO!”
But, napping is something I cannot bring myself to do. Cat naps, power naps, caffeine naps, polyphasic sleeping, shut eye. Not for me. Not even shutting one eye. I try my best to remain vigilant hoping to hear the promise of those twinkly bells on the garden gate.
It’s exhausting to keep watch–I can tell you that.
Eyes wide shut,