Sleep renews, revitalizes and rehabilitates. It re-energizes your brain. Gives you a little boost coming out of the gate in the race. A good long sleep erases the cares from the day before and leaves you with a blank chalkboard on which you can scrawl a new happier day. Sleep is truly a wonderful thing. But there’s no time for sleep in New York. Just naps.
On the D train coming back from Brooklyn after a long day’s work, I am snoozing along in rhythm with the bumping of the train on its tracks. No one is upset by this or takes advantage of my slumber to make off with a personal belonging. That’s because this is the sleeping car, and all my fellow passengers are also drowsy or dozing.
Don’t get me wrong. We don’t trust one another. We are clutching our belongings in our sleeping arms. Our backpacks, purses and wallets. If someone tried to make off with them, we’d be up in an instant ready to fight. We are napping lightly. No deep restorative snoring slumbers. Just gentle wary snoozes on the D train with our Third Eye mystically aware of all the weirdos in our vicinity and scanning for trouble at all times. This Third Eye is not spiritual in nature, just suspicious and paranoid and issued at the border of Manhattan on first arrival.
In the barber’s shop, I fall asleep repeatedly. I could wake up with a buzz cut, having joined the U.S. Marine Corps unexpectedly. I don’t, but it’s just through the mercy of my particular barber. She likes hair cut short. But she’s not radical about it. Sometimes I think she goes just a little further than I’d like, but then I also like being able to wait two months between hair cuts.
The early bird gets the worm in New York, but the same early bird is up all night trying to party like there’s no tomorrow. In the middle are the naps. Standing in the elevator in my apartment building, I put my head up against the wall as I pass between floors. This is due to exhaustion. When I see someone else doing the same thing, I want to say something to the lady. “Hey, I am like you. We are one. We pray to the gods of the elevator and must rest our heads for a moment on anything solid.” But I don’t. This is her moment with herself. I respect that.
My dad is a master napper from way back. He is the only person I have ever seen who could sleep standing up. I rest my noggin between floors, but I don’t make it into the REM cycle. My dad was standing in an elevator in Philadelphia once not propped up against anything. We made it to our floor. We were visiting my uncle who lived there at the time. I started to move. Then I noticed he wasn’t. “Hey dad?” His eyes popped open. I was impressed. Maybe he had just driven nonstop from our home in Salisbury, North Carolina to Philadelphia. I have no idea. Who worries about transportation details at the age of ten?
My dad also used to come home during work and take long naps on the couch during Perry Mason or Wild West or whatever re-run was playing on television at the time. He taught economics at the local university, Catawba College. He must have had a few morning classes and then some late afternoon ones. Naps fit in perfectly with his schedule.
I could never work half a day and come home for a nap before going back to work. I’d be a mess. He never used an alarm clock to wake up, though I could swear he was deep in slumber. The loud snoring was a dead give-away. I’d have to crank up the volume on the television to hear whatever was on, but that never seemed to wake him. He slept like Winnie the Pooh just after eating a jar of honey.
If you had asked me what my dad did for a living during those summers when he came home from work and I sat there with him as he lay on the couch, I would have told you he was a professional napper. A slumber artist.
He wasn’t busy trying to make something out of himself in the City that Never Sleeps. He was napping hard in the Town that Time Forgot. Salisbury was and is a town with a charming little train depot and the ten-story Wallace building as the highest point in the city. A town with church bells that ring out loudly on Sunday and a historic district with old southern homes with pretty staircases, columns and porches. If you are doing something in town one day that does not involve going to church on a Sunday, you will hear a church bell ring out and feel guilty about your sinful life.
He chose this spot to put down roots. There was a moment when he might have gone big. An insurance company he worked for in Durham wanted him to go to New York City to work in the corporate office. It was a promotion. He quickly opted for a job teaching economics in Salisbury, population small and rustic. Many a cow pasture was on display in the outskirts of town where we lived and the Future Farmers of America was the largest club by far in my high school.
I don’t blame him a bit. The quality of naps in Salisbury is better overall. No one is sleeping standing up, praying in elevators or softly snoozing on a D train as it rumbles toward home.