Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Departure

Today has been a reflection - of the events of 9/11 nine years ago and of the subsequent deaths of my parents and my daughter. I reflected that I've always been left handed in a right handed world, always been right brain in a left brain society, always been just a bit out of step with the rest of the world, and always been a night person in a daylight world. The reflection put me in a mellow mood so I looked back over my own life and offer you these thoughts:

“There are only two kinds of people in the world – day people and night people. And they always marry each other.” Will Rogers

Music of the Night resonates for me not only because The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite musicals – seen it more than a dozen times in London, New York, LA, and Las Vegas - but because I’ve always been a night person trapped in a daylight society.

As far back as I can remember I hated getting up in the morning. I hated breakfast. My mother was always very conscientious to make sure her brood of four always got a good breakfast and dinner (which in those days we called supper). Lunch was taken in school. But my body was not set up for breakfast. Everybody always said it was the most important meal of the day but I just couldn’t eat at that early hour.

As I got into high school I stayed out later on weekend nights and slept late. I felt great but my father told me I was a lazy ne-er do well and a slacker for sleeping until noon. My mother told him that a growing boy needs lots of sleep.

My epiphany came the summer before going to college. I’d graduated high school (barely) and my father, who worked for the city, pulled some strings and got me on as night watchmen at the municipal swimming pool. I loved it! Never felt better. Worked all night and slept until noon. Ate a hearty lunch when I awoke and my paper thin body (5’11” 128) began to get some bulk to it. It was a great summer. In college I took late classes and was up late even though the town rolled up its sidewalks at 10. Every summer I found jobs that allowed me to work nights.

Then I graduated and went into the work force. It did not matter how much sleep I had – 8 hours, 10 hours, I was still dead tired in the morning and my mind did not begin to function until after 10 a.m. I suffered through being a night owl in a daytime world for the next 30 years. Early in my career I was unable to find a job in my chosen field so I took a job teaching elementary school in Pocatello, Idaho. The school was near a freeway off ramp and a 24-hour gas station. My meager salary as a teacher was supplemented by pumping gas from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. then taking a shower and heading for school. It is amazing what the body can tolerate when you’re young. On slow nights I took to writing short stories for Romance magazines (5-cents a word; that came out to about $ 300 per story) for extra income.

My salvation was when I moved to Las Vegas and took a second job to support my family – driving taxi from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. On nights I did not work I’d write and discovered I was most productive between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. and most creative between 11-2. I also discovered a completely different world that operated at night. The neon shone brightly at night and the drunks, hookers, tourists, dealers, performers and assorted others who took cabs at night were nearly always generous tippers, happy, and talkative. Whether it was a bartender who got off shift and told stories of his day on the way home, or a showgirl who just ended her late show and headed home in the quiet of the back seat, or the hooker who had been called by a bellman to service a well-to-do guest, the people of the night reeked with intrigue and personality.

The smells were different too. Something about the night air is different from day air. It is rich with aromas that simply do not exist in the daylight. Music wafts from showrooms and lounges and even an occasional street musician plies his trade to glassy-eyed tourists. And no sight is more beautiful than a dawn that signals the night is over as it edges out the neon and it is time to put away the dark beauty and go to sleep.

The years can do unkind things to one’s body, mind, energy level and the like. These days I have the energy to focus on only one task at a time, and creativity that used to come almost on instinct sometimes takes many minutes to organize and implement. I still prefer to create at night, but the nights now end far earlier than the dawn. I do try to keep my mind from totally turning to mush by doing daily crossword puzzles and spending some time each day on my computer. But oh, how I miss the Music of the Night.

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