Odd Man Out: Mr. Sleepy Head

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in the April 2010 issue.

I was an oddball high school kid for many reasons. Chief among them is that I went to bed every night at 8 o’ clock, sometimes earlier. Even though my older and younger siblings stayed up an hour or two later, I often retired while the sun still sat above the horizon and the best TV programs had yet to come on. Some 30 years later, my deep affection for sleep remains. Yes, I now stay up later than 8 p.m.—but not much. I’m usually asleep by 9:30 on weekdays. On weekends, if I’m not out, I may make it to 10:30. I’ve rarely seen Late Show with David Letterman or Saturday Night Live at their regularly scheduled times. In fact, I’m not sure I ever have. And now thanks to a DVR, I’m not sure I ever will. Even if Jesus himself were scheduled to make a special guest appearance on one of those shows, I’m not sure I could stay awake until then. That’s the kind of hold sleep has on me. Fortunately, I’m not a narcoleptic. I only sleep when I want to. Thing is, I always want to.

In high school my friends didn’t understand my sleeping addiction. For most of them, staying up as late as possible, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings, was a commonly understood teenage right, one earned after being unjustly forced to go to bed early while in elementary school. For these friends, staying up until well past midnight made them feel more adult because it exposed them to more mature things like racier movies on TV, or if out and about, drunks and hooligans stirring up trouble. For me, unless there was a better than 50-50 chance that I could be making out with a cute girl, I couldn’t think of another worthwhile reason to remain awake after 10 p.m.

In college, when staying up and out late was more than an expectation and something closer to law, I continued to doze off early, not concerned in the least about what I was missing. I did, however, worry a bit about what others thought about my early bedtime, which is why I would almost always leave bars, parties, and other gatherings without saying goodbye. My exit strategy was simple: I would step away, ostensibly to go to the restroom or to grab another beer, and then keep walking until I fell forward into my bed. This is how I avoided having to lie when, inevitably, friends and acquaintances asked why I was leaving so darn early since, clearly, all the really good times were still to come. Since “I’m going bed” would have sounded about as lame as “I want to be sure I wrote my name inside all my textbooks” or “Are you kidding me? T.J. Hooker is on,” the vanishing act seemed the best course to take.

Whenever I actually tried to excuse myself for a valid reason, everyone would give me those I-don’t-believe-you looks and start drilling me about what I was really up to. They assumed that I was headed somewhere better and they didn’t want to miss out. Or they figured that I had a rendezvous planned with a secret flame. Even now, I still leave parties and other social events unannounced. My friends have taken to calling me “Houdini” since I just seem to disappear. The nickname makes me laugh because I know that I could fall asleep in a straightjacket. In fact, I nearly have.

For me, sleep isn’t just for beds. Once in high school, while attending a youth group retreat, my buddies made plans to sneak out for Skyline after the adults went to sleep. I told them I would stay back and keep an eye out for any chaperones making the rounds. My pals knew better than to rely on me as a nighttime scout of any sort, so around 1 a.m., they insisted that I make the getaway with them, figuring that my nearly comatose state would provide entertainment. I didn’t disappoint.

They carried me out to the car, where I immediately fell back to sleep, of course. Once we arrived at Skyline, I revived long enough to make it into the chili parlor on my own power then quickly fell asleep at the table while they ate. I also slept on the drive back to the retreat center and remained completely unconscious while they carried me back to my bunk. The next morning, I had to be convinced that I had actually gone along for the ride. I didn’t remember much, until one friend pointed to the crumbs in my hair. Evidently, my pillow at Skyline had been a pile of oyster crackers. A similar episode happened a few months later, but that time I woke up with the word “Vacant” scrawled across my forehead.

Skyline isn’t the only unusual place I’ve fallen asleep. I’ve done so at Reds games. (Granted, this isn’t so unusual, since many fans and even a few players seem to do it.) I almost always fall asleep while getting my hair cut, which, it bears noting, comes with certain risks. First and foremost is the possible loss of an ear due to excessive and uncontrollable head-bobbing. Then there’s the whole issue of hair stylist diplomacy: When you snooze, you can’t tell the stylist to stop cutting before it’s too late. Nor can you explain that by “texture” you did not mean “spikes.”

I have fallen asleep on park benches, in church (also not unusual, I know), and even in the dentist’s chair—with his hands and instruments in my mouth. Now that’s impressive. I have also snoozed on my open laptop and woke up to find the keyboard imprinted on my cheek. I once even fell asleep in a tree. I had gone to Ault Park to enjoy some fresh air and to read, and found a low, broad branch jutting out from some sort of evergreen. It made for a cozy, shady reading spot—and an even better makeshift hammock. Less than 10 pages into the book, I was catching some Zs. Knowing all of this, it won’t surprise you to learn that I fell asleep on one of those miniature demo beds at the Macy’s furniture store while my wife, Angie, looked at dining room tables and armoires…which I probably could have fallen asleep on, too.

Part of the reason that I am able to sleep and nap virtually anywhere is that I have the uncanny ability to doze within seconds of my head resting on the pillow, the oyster crackers, the tree bark, the what-have-you. I never have trouble falling asleep. Angie has told me that I often drift away mid-sentence. I think she suspects that I might sometimes just be trying to disengage from certain conversations. She’s a smart gal, Angie. But honestly, I’m usually down for the count before the count reaches 10.

While I don’t sleepwalk, I do “sleeptalk.” Not long after falling asleep mid-chat, I often start talking again. Thankfully, my wife says that I don’t speak so much as jibber-jabber. That’s a very good thing because the thought of me unwittingly providing an intelligible audio track to my usually whacked-out, richly Freudian dreams is enough to keep me up at night. Well, almost.

I can pretty much sleep through anything, too. Storms, leaky toilets, and erratic air conditioning units rarely wake me up. When we lived on Liberty Hill, I would often take a book and a glass of wine out to our backyard patio hammock. If Angie wasn’t around to wake me up and bring me back to the house, I would spend the night out there, the sounds of the city—the traffic, the gunfire, the Air Care helicopter buzzing to and fro—all but a delightful lullaby for me.

Beyond alarm clocks, about the only other thing that will wake me up is a bomb. Literally. While in New York in March 2008, I was rudely awakened when a bomb exploded across the street from my Times Square hotel at a military recruiting center. I just rolled over and went back to sleep, despite what I assume were plenty of sirens wailing. I would have forgotten all about the episode had it not been all over the news the following morning. I was pleased, of course, to learn that no one was injured but a little disappointed that something other than an alarm clock could wake me. Needless to say, I would make the world’s lousiest night watchman.

You may logically assume that one so in love with sleep as I am must miss many a morning appointment, wear down the raised piece of plastic that is the snooze button, and require buckets of ice water on the head to get out of bed every morning. But the truth is that I never have any problems waking up to an alarm. Even when I have to get up at, say, 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight for a business trip, I typically don’t even hit the snooze button once. It’s not that I wouldn’t mind sleeping in, mind you, it’s just that when I have to get up, I do get up. I can recall oversleeping in any sort of problematic way only once, and that was for a philosophy final in college. In my defense, I was up really late—like, nearly 11 o’clock—studying. And the exam started at 8:30 a.m.

One of the joys of being a sleep fanatic is rolling over and waking up, checking the time, and realizing that I am hours away from actually having to get up. Just knowing that I have two more hours to sleep is akin to an alcoholic learning that the keg has just been refilled and last call postponed. So great is this pleasure that for about a five-day period I deliberately set my alarm for the middle of the night just so I could wake up and appreciate that I still had hours of shut-eye ahead of me. I was so giddy that it took about 45 seconds to fall back asleep. I abandoned this practice when Angie, who doesn’t return to sleep so easily after being startled awake at 2 a.m., threatened to choke me in my sleep with the alarm clock cord.

My wife thinks I’m a little too crazy about slumber. I find that akin to accusing Tiger Woods of caring too much about golf. Or illicit affairs. But I remind Angie that it’s not as if I read books about sleep, try to befriend the staff at sleep labs, or contemplate forming a sleep lovers club or dance troupe. Nor do I talk ad nauseam about my love affair with sleep the way fans of Jersey Shore can’t seem to shut up about “The Situation.” There are some things better than snoozing, even for a sleep jockey like me. Sex comes to mind, of course, as does hiking through gorgeous backcountry in, say, Yellowstone or Yosemite. But as with most of life’s great pleasures, they sure tire you out, don’t they?

Feeling odd and/or left out? Contact the author via his Web site: www.stevekissing.com

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