After a fun Friday night, I bid some friends a farewell a bit sooner than I would have liked, due to a seven hour wait should I miss my next possible train home from Manhattan, and the need to wake up early and drive myself and three other musicians to a Columbus Day parade on Saturday morning. With some time to kill, I found myself strolling through Penn Station. After debating whether the price of tasting Roy Rogers chicken again was worth the fly infested counter in the furthest recesses of a concealed food court, I opted for the marginally cleaner, more frequented McDonald's on a lower level instead.

I made my way to the tiny seating area where a young couple, an elderly man, and a middle aged black woman dined at three separate tables. The woman was asking the couple what they were doing in New York, and they explained they were newlyweds in town for another wedding. “We came to McDonald's for our honeymoon!” joked the groom to the woman with the blank expression. The old man cleared something loose from his throat as he turned the page of his newspaper. “Have a nice weekend! Nice talking to you!” bade the bride to the woman as they departed, and then there were three.

We ate in silence, my thoughts processing the previous six hours as the alcohol wore off and I made the transition back to reality. “Are you Spanish speaking?” asked the woman in the corner. I looked up. Set back in an alcove, she couldn't see the older man, and was apparently addressing me, though her gaze passed to a point through me and to the left. “No, I'm sorry, I don't.” Silence lingered as she listened to a cell phone without pressing any buttons. The old man left as I started on my second cheeseburger. “Did you study political science in school?” came the next arbitrary inquiry. I thought “I was an art major” might deflect a deeper conversation, as that statement usually gives a false impression of ignorance to the ignorant, but I didn't want to give too much personal information.

“Communism! You need to study Communism!”

“Right...” I said, as another thirty second gaze took place.

“It shouldn't be taught; it shouldn't be written; it shouldn't even be spoken about.” I thought about suggesting she make up her mind, but decided my own silence would allow me time to finish my fries.

After another contemplative pause, she suddenly apologized, “I'm sorry. I know you're trying to enjoy your meal.”

“No, it's all right,” I said, my standard polite conscience-driven nature proof that I was now sober. There weren't many fries left.

“I haven't slept for two days straight.”

My curiosity got the better of me, and I asked, “Oh, how come?” I shouldn't have expected a response other than yet another pause.

“This is my first time in New York,” came the largest deluge of words, “I stayed at a hotel and I slept for two days straight. It was great with the room service and the comfortable furniture, but I got tired of it. It's hard to find the small, quiet places here. It's such a busy, bustling city, but they do exist if you look for them. Have you always lived in New York?”

“In New York, yes, but not the city. I just came out to have a few drinks for a friend's birthday. I live out on the island.” Certain for some reason that she was just a college professor from out of state, in the midst of a sleep deprivation experiment, I shared more information than required.

“What does that mean? When you say, ‘The Island', what is that referring to?” Her approach was academic.

“Uhh, East of here,” I said, pointing at the metallic, windowless walls of the small dining compartment as though she'd see for herself, and I possessed the accuracy of a compass. In hindsight, I believe I was in fact pointing South at the time.

“Long Island?”


Hillary Clinton lives there, doesn't she?”

“No...no, I think they're in Buffalo. That's...upstate.” I said, pointing now to the ceiling. “Well, I'd better get my train. Nice talking to you.” Her gaze remained on the ceiling, hoping for a glimpse of a former First Lady.

A half hour remained until my train arrived, but if I missed it, I would be experiencing some serious and deadly sleep deprivation of my own. I returned a phone call, then walked around a bit more before my track was announced. The ride home allowed ample time for a few micro naps, and I was feeling pretty good when I got home around 2:30. A curious sight greeted me as I pulled in the driveway, and I wondered what the lights streaming from our basement windows could signify. I know my mom's been preparing for a craft fair, working with wreaths, dried flowers, and other creations until odd hours of the morning. Sure enough, she was sitting downstairs in her work area, a twofold stance in which she could be productive while waiting up for me. “Are you bombed?” she asked in a weary voice as I assured her I was not, and had only had 2-3 beers and a shot, many hours earlier. “Did you meet any nice girls?” Sleep deprived or not, her motherly inquisition mode was fully operational.

Driving to the gig the next day, I related various tales to my dad from the evening festivities. At one point, one of the guys asked the bartender to give everyone a shot of water except the guy whose birthday it was. For him, there would be a strong whisky. “You better be careful with all that drinking! Don’t start drinking now!” chided my dad, as though something I do three times a year had made me the active alcoholic my uncle had been in his twenties. My feeling on the subject is that anything in excess is bad, but there's nothing wrong with having fun in moderation, and I have moments of terror when I consider the possibility of spending my life in my room in front of a computer. “if you become a rummy, you’ll lose all your money! And you might hit someone with the car!” By the time I reached my car at the train station, less than a mile from my home, it had been over three hours since I left the bar, I’d eaten, and even slept a little. There wasn’t much point in arguing with him. Granted, a lot of things might happen, and given my relationship with probable improbability, maybe he was right to have such concerns.

Even a geek like me is reckless in the eyes of my parents, especially my dad. He tried a sip of beer once when he was 14, didn't care for it, and hasn't had so much as a glass of wine since. He comes from a generation of admirable will power, depriving himself of vices with apparent ease. I haven't always bested temptation. When I have, it's been hard. I might be certain that I'd done the right thing, but equally certain that it wasn't the easy thing. I think my mom “lived” a little more than my dad when she was younger, and did travel outside of the state, go on vacations, fly in airplanes, and have the occasional glass of wine. She's gone so far as to call my dad “antisocial” whenever he grumbled about going to a wedding, party, or other family gathering. I think beyond his declared sense of right and wrong, he might be a little shy. If get my surface shyness from my dad, the suppressed adventurous side, my norm during childhood, probably comes from my mom. While my dad is in his ‘70s, and she's in her ‘60s, I'll run into generation gap issues with her as well. For example, most people would be shocked that she describes me as a “race car driver” when I get behind the wheel of a car. Most of my friends say I drive like the elderly.

Deprivation is not without merit. Even depriving oneself of a necessity can raise the perceived value and appreciation of said necessity. I was disappointed when the usual buffet of donuts and hot chocolate weren't waiting at the start of Saturday's parade, for the first time in all the years I've played it. If they're back next year, it might be more of a treat. If they aren't back, I might realize, as my dad had with alcohol, that it's nothing I really needed to begin with. And what of the woman in the train station, who was probably just crazy? Giving her the benefit of the doubt, what's gained in the study of sleep deprivation? Does the brain reach a dreamlike state of clarity, free from the distractions of our daily list of trivialities, in which realizations are unlocked? Or maybe things become so jumbled, that scientists determine that yes, yes we do need to sleep. When Sandy Duncan performed a similar experiment on The Hogan Family, hilarity ensued. At least, I think hilarity ensued. After a long week of work, a night of rampant socializing, little sleep, lots of driving, marching in a two mile parade then walking back to the beginning of the parade, perhaps I've deprived myself of too much rest.

But have I proved that a tired brain unlocks discarded knowledge? Sandy Duncan? The Hogan Family? Where the heck did that come from? Maybe there's a fine line between deprivation and depravity...


Blogger Kev said...

"She's gone so far as to call my dad “antisocial” "

Rubi and I have had that conversation many times - I'm the "antisocial" one. I'm definitely not shy - I just prefer to be alone or with Rubi.

10/08/2006 12:52 AM  
Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

one of the...


This is magazine quality writing. In fact, you should submit it to The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly, or some other magazine.

10/08/2006 3:11 AM  
Blogger Lorna said...

Just catching up---I really have to give myself a mental alarm to read you every day. Catching up is overwhelming, and I do agree with the WJ. I've been saying it since you started blogging.

I'm sorry I didn't participate in Cloakfest---doesn't mean I'm not celebrating.

10/08/2006 6:40 AM  
Blogger Curt said...

I actually remember that episode of The Hogan Family. She had to do a TV interview about a non-profit organization she belonged to after having stayed awake for 48 hours or so. She did offer up hilarity, but also had a few moments of astonishing clarity. But I try not to glean scientific knowledge from sitcoms. Sleep deprivation is bad.

10/08/2006 3:40 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow said...

Did you have to mention Sandy Duncan? Now I'm sitting here jonesing for Wheat Thins.

10/08/2006 7:13 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

These are the kind of random occurrences that can only happen in the city, in college...or both.:)

10/08/2006 8:03 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

How awesome is it that Jerry praised a post on sleep deprivation at 3:11 AM?

That rules. :)

10/08/2006 9:22 PM  
Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

As a follow-up to MCF's realization that I posted my comment here at 3AM...

I was actually very sleep deprived after being up for most of the night, so much so, that I had trouble functioning normally the next day. I even lost my temper with my son in public when he really did nothing wrong. It was like I stepped outside of my body and was watching some other person snap at a child for no reason. Afterwards and for the rest of the day - and even now - I feel terrible. I have apologized to him repeatedly, and he says we're cool now, but the whole thing has me utterly depressed. I feel like the worst father and husband in history.

My insomnia has got to stop. It has been a lifelong problem and it is breaking me down more and more each day.

10/08/2006 10:52 PM  

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