The All-Nighter | Ant Farm | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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The All-Nighter 

Wednesday, Aug 14 2002
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Illustration by Hadley Hooper

BED. I HAVE NEVER LIKED GOING TO BED -- IN THE SENSE OF GOING TO sleep. The bed as an article of furniture, as a tool, I of course find multifariously useful; there are all sorts of things you can do on and in one, as John and Yoko so memorably demonstrated, at all times of the day. Sometimes when I check into a hotel, I like to jump up and down on the bed -- really get wild, you know -- which is something I won't do to my bed at home, though it is in its nature to be jumped upon. And read in. And something else I can't remember.

It isn't the bed I hate, then, but bedtime -- that terrible moment when the day is packed up for the night, when toys and books must be put away and the light turned out, the light that generations of scientists slaved to invent and this is how we repay them. It is possibly a congenital predisposition, this quirk of mine: As far back as I can remember it was my ambition, my deepest desire, even more than to throw my voice or to be the third Hardy Boy, to stay up all night, not merely to see the dawn but all that precedes it. This was something beyond and apart from my concomitant desire to watch more television, vast fertile tracts of which lay beyond the cruelly early hour set for my retiring. It was a kind of physical and mental challenge, a daring adventure into the unknown hours, spread out like a dark forbidden zone between myself and daylight. You know the day destroys the night, night divides the day. Break on through to the other side! Break on through to the other side!

EARLY TO BED, EARLY TO RISE, MAKES A MAN healthy, wealthy and wise (Plato, The Republic). I have no money, so maybe there is something in that. But I'm still not going to bed early -- and you can't make me, not you nor Plato nor Ben Franklin nor your whole darn philosophical gang. In the first place, I have a brain that does not start working properly until about 10 p.m., and if I went to bed at a normal hour, I would never get anything done or have a single bright thought. Second, staying up late, even all night, is something I do well and with a certain pride, as you might be good at macramé or water-
skiing. It has not always been easy; it took practice and coffee and years of failing to stay up all night every New Year's Eve, the one day in the year I was allowed to try.

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By my senior year of high school, I had mastered the art. Back then, and for some years after, the all-nighter was almost entirely an expression of freedom: We owned our time. We owned the nighttime. What I did with those wee hours -- watching the Late Show, writing letters, hanging out in the Copper Penny and making a vanilla Coke and English muffin last an impossibly long time (later it was Canter's with a kasha knish) -- was not as important as just being awake and at liberty in a world, or at any rate a hemisphere, of mostly sleeping people. Squares! Bores! Slumberers! Nowadays, however, while it is common to find me up at 2 a.m., leafing through a meaningless magazine or moving stacks of things from this place to that, if I'm still awake at 5:30 a.m., which I am right now, it's because I'm working. I have a paper due. When I see the dawn arrive under such colors, it's with a sense more of dismay than accomplishment. I know I can stay up all night. That's why I don't have to.

Unless I have to.

THERE ARE PEOPLE -- PEOPLE IN THIS VERY house, even -- who can't wait to go to bed, and there are people who resist going to bed. The go-to-bedders of the world also tend, in my limited but I feel confident in saying scientific experience, to be get-out-of-bedders, where the morning is concerned, while the stay-up-laters tend perhaps to overcompensate for their bed-resistance once they're in. If I don't much like going to sleep, I love going back to sleep; the morning seems to me the only time you can actually appreciate sleeping, drifting in and out of awareness, from dream to real world and back again, relishing that just another five minutes -- and the just another another five minutes -- feeling. (At night it's just, you know, turn out the lights and snooze.) If I could find a way to be asleep in the morning without going to sleep at night, that would be the bee's knees.

It doesn't take a Sidney Freud to recognize that the desire to linger beneath the covers with the day in full cry may be taken to indicate a stay-in-the-womb sort of personality, and that what lies behind not wanting to go to bed is the fear of death, which is also the fear of letting go. And there is also the fear of being seen drooling. I am probably afflicted by all these things in some way -- the drool thing for sure -- but I can surrender to the void almost as easily as the next guy. (It is not dying.) It's sleep itself that seems strange to me, its equipment and mechanics and customs -- the fact that everybody does it, and especially the fact that I do it without knowing how I do it. (I don't imagine this is a widespread concern.)

Not that I don't find occasional satisfaction in getting horizontal after a hard day of verticality. I understand the need for sleep, but understanding a thing is not the same as liking it, and it is sad to think, given how little time we get between the more thorough forms of unconsciousness, that something like a third of every life is spent in dull slumber. (To sleep is perchance to dream, and perchance I do, but not so I remember -- certainly not often or well enough to make sleep time fun -- and anyway, dreams are not "real," whatever the psychedelic hippies and head shrinkers say.) Sometimes I think it would be great not to have to sleep at all, thereby effectively extending my practical life span by some 50 percent, or perhaps I'd sleep but only on special occasions. I'd throw a slumber party and . . . sleep at it. Meanwhile, I do my best to snatch back bits of my life from out of the arms of Morpheus -- I'm eight hours ahead of the game this week alone. All right!

Pretty fucking tired, though.

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