Saturday, September 8, 2012

Packing It In

My one true talent is falling asleep.  I have no musical ability, no artistic talent, and few out of the ordinary capabilities.  But I can fall asleep on a concrete floor within minutes.  And in a bed, when I say goodnight to The Doc, if she doesn’t answer me quickly, I won’t be awake to hear her answer.

I don’t think I would trade this skill for the ability to play the piano like Van Cliburn.   Hell, even Van Cliburn has to sleep, and I have a CD of him playing the piano.

Tonight, I feel generous and will share the secret with you—why not?  It’s free, and so far, I have shared the method with dozens of people over the years, and not one of them has ever tried using it.  I sincerely doubt that you will, either.

Forty years ago, I was working my way through college as a night watchman at the Shamrock Hilton Hotel in Houston.  It was a great job for a student with few job skills, I could study in solitude and all I was expected to do was stay in a guard shack and keep an eye on the alley.  I did this job so well, that even now, years later, though the hotel is completely gone, that alley is still there and in perfect shape.

One of the problems with working the ‘graveyard shift’ is that your biological clock needs constant rewinding.  It is hard to sleep when the sun is out and everyone else is up and making noise.  (And it is impossible to find a restaurant that will serve you dinner while everyone else is eating breakfast, but that is a different story.)  Worse, when you have a couple of days off, the tendency is to stay up all day and sleep at night like everyone else, thus re-breaking your own sleep cycle.

One of my co-workers was an elderly man who had been working the front desk for decades and seemed to have no problem with this weird sleep cycle.  And when I asked him how he did this, he told me it was a form of self-hypnosis.  At this, I almost stopped listening.  Hypnosis was, and still is, mostly the kind of bullshit that is relegated to infomercials and quacks too stupid to pass the test to be a chiropractor. 

To be polite, I kept listening, and it didn’t take too long before I was interested.  I’m not sure this is even hypnosis; I think it might be nothing more than developing a habit.  What my friend did was simple—when he shut his eyes and tried to go to sleep, he started thinking about his next spring garden.  He would imagine getting the tiller out of the garage, turning the soil, and planting the vegetables.   He would imagine deciding how many rows of corn, where to plant the tomatoes, and how to fertilize his crop.  He would keep this up until he finally drifted off to sleep.

According to my friend, he had no measureable success for weeks, then for months it didn’t work very well, but before long, as soon as he started to mentally work on that garden, he fell asleep.

I was way too young to think about a garden, that sounded like something that would interest some ancient person-say about 30.  While I wasn’t interested in tomatoes, I was interested in traveling.  I longed to travel through South America, Europe, or damn near anywhere but the all-expense paid tour of Southeast Asia my government was planning if I flunked out of school.  And flunking out was a real possibility if I didn’t start getting more sleep some place outside of my freshman English class.  (Though I have to admit, that even today I wonder about some classes at Enema U.  If they don’t want students to fall asleep, why do they let a jackass drone through a lecture?  Sleep is a very objective student evaluation about the quality of teaching.)

So, every time I went to bed, I would plan how to pack a suitcase.  I would imagine that I was about to go to Paris for a month—what should I pack?  How many shirts should I take?  Should I wear my cowboy boots on the plane and pack the tennis shoes?  Mentally, I would carefully stuff that suitcase. 
I didn’t always go to Paris; I mentally packed for trips all over the world.  Sometimes, I was packing for a hunting trip, or a hiking trip through the Grand Canyon.  The destination didn’t matter, and I didn’t think about the destination much, I just mentally made a list of the things I would take and imagined packing the bag.

For a very long time, it didn’t work.  Some nights, I packed that bag several times while I tossed and turned in bed.  I was beginning to think it was an absolutely idiotic idea and probably only kept it up because I was stubborn.  
Then suddenly, it started working.  And it worked very well.  I rarely get that bag anymore.  Hell, most of the time I have mentally placed the suitcase on top of the bed and I’m just opening it up when….Zzzzzzzzzz.  And the alarm clock goes off.

This really pisses my wife, The Doc, off.  First, she has a horrible time going to sleep.  Now The Doc is a great person with the patience of a saint.  There is not a mean bone in her body and she has an alabaster conscience.  By comparison, my conscience was misplaced in the dark and hasn’t yet been located.  (See last week’s blog for an example.)  In spite of this, most nights she has a horrible time falling asleep while I snore blissfully beside her. 

Secondly, as it turns out, there is a side benefit.  It takes The Doc roughly two days to pack for a weekend trip.  Invariably, she ends up packing enough bags so that we resemble an African safari.  Unfortunately I’m the only bearer.  It takes me about 30 minutes to pack my one soft-sided suitcase for a two week trip to Europe.  It usually takes longer to get the cat out of the open suitcase than it does to pack.

The Doc spends half the night before the trip finishing packing.  I fall asleep.

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