What’s so special about 3 a.m.?
Well I'm ridin' along
Singin' the same ol' cowboy song
That's been sung a hundred times before
Ain't got nothin' but my name
And I'm the only man I know I can blame
But I'm livin,’ I'm happy and I'm free
Just listen to the wind blow
Let it blow, let it blow
Sand over my trail
I got my saddle on the ground
And that ol' moon he can still be found
Hidin' in the desert sky
—The Marshall Tucker Band
It’s been happening for some years now. Invariably, I wake up at 3 a.m. ready to take on the world. But you and I both know that ain’t happening—not unless I’m a New Haven dairy farmer. And I’m not, so I can let the brain wheels spin, covering just about every topic I’ve recently downloaded through my eyes, ears and heart and hope I fall back into dreamland, or—I can find something to do. Lately, I’ve been reading Spying on the South, by author Tony Horwitz, or I’ll write for this paper, so I consider myself productive.
This insomnia condition is not new to many when we get up in years, I’m told. My mother used to say “Old people don’t need as much sleep,” and I didn’t question her. But unless I can get back into the rapid eye movement zone for a couple hours, I don’t settle down and I drag the next morning until I’ve had coffee.
The magazine Science Daily says, “About 25 percent of Americans experience acute insomnia each year, but about 75 percent of these individuals recover without developing persistent poor sleep or chronic insomnia, according to a new study.
So I’m in good company and maybe, I don’t want to “recover.”
Gayle Greene, author of Insomniac, has some real problems with the sleep disorder.
"I don't manage this beast," Greene writes. "I live with it. I live around it. I bed down with it every night, gingerly, cautiously, careful not to provoke it. I do my best to placate it, domesticate it, dull its claws, avoid its fangs, knowing that at any moment it can pounce on me and tear me to bits."
Woah. Here’s my take on it.
I think we condition ourselves for this thing, that many view as a disorder of some kind. Touring with a band, as I did for five years, you get sleep when and where you find it. I used to find a quiet place back stage after soundcheck and would stretch out on some road cases for a half an hour or more before a show.
I’ve worked a company’s night shift many times when I had my own contract business overseeing operations for marketing programs. You haven’t lived until you work with 200 Oaxacan Indians in Mexico during the witching hour in some nondescript warehouse, deep in some industrial zone in Mexico. We were packing toys and candy for McDonalds’ American market. There were 25 different versions of Ranchero music coming out of boom boxes as they worked away at tables, sorting and packing. They were small, kind, sweet people, even if it seemed I was the supervisor of a bunch of Oompa Loompas. When 3 o’clock came though, I would hit the wall. It was only my chatter with the natives that kept me going until the sun peeked through the smog the next morning.
Truth be told, I secretly relish this anomaly in my life and I recognize it for what it is—an opportunity to observe life at an hour that most people miss, when I’m King of all I survey. A meteor streaks across the sky, seen only by me. A Luna moth beats its wings against the window softly, tap, tap, tapping and I spy a cat loping quietly up the alley, its shadow stretched long by the streetlight. All this happens in a vacuum of moon dust and cosmic silence.
Aside from the Historic Museum’s clock tower bell tolling the hour, Hermann’s streets are hushed quiet.
Last week, we had close to a full moon and a storm was coming in from the northwest. That’s not a recipe for sleep for those of us that sense such things. I checked the radar on my cell phone, ignoring the fact that it was 2:55 a.m. and decided to stir, which isn’t hard to do in a four room apartment. It was a “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” kind of moon where one could cast a net among the stars behind the encroaching clouds—the sky, lit up magically by pale lunar light.
I lay down on the couch in the dark, positioning my head on the armrest, like it was in the small of a western saddle, just gazing up at that glorious site because it was made just for me. The light changed as cumulonimbus clouds moved determinedly, encroaching over the laughing moon. I recognized the gift of this sight before me. How could man in all his glory entertain to the depth of the reality I was currently experiencing? By sleeping, I would have missed it all.
So if you happen to see a light on in a few homes across town or even out in the country, at an hour when normal people are sleeping, don’t be alarmed. It’s just your neighbors, being the kings and queens of all they survey during those hours when magic can and does happen.