April 2nd, 2008


Give It a Rest

"I slept through the whole thing," Karen tells me. "He was talking for about an hour or so and I think I fell asleep after 4 or 5 minutes and woke up at the end when everyone was leaving. I feel like a bad person."

"You're not a bad person, you're overtired."

"Yeah, but it's not like it was some local greenpeace guy who's talking about building a compost heap in his backyard. I slept through the Dalai Lama," she emphasized. "A friend had even gotten me tickets because I was so excited that he was talking at our school and then I sat down and I was just out...I just passed out. I remember waking up at one point where he was pretending to be a lion or something-- he was using his fingers and pretending they were fangs, and everyone was laughing at it like, 'Look, the Dalai Lama's pretending to be a lion!' Or maybe it wasn't a lion," Karen says with uncertainty. "But he was pretending to be something with fangs." Karen holds her two index fingers to her mouth, as if doing an imitation of a walrus. "He was doing this with this fingers," she said. And he was chasing fake gazelles around-- I don't really know what he was doing. And then I fell asleep again."

"It sounds like he really made an impression on you," I tell her. I am thrilled that revered spiritual leaders have the same effect on my sister as that horrible butterfly from the Lunesta commercials."

"I didn't mean to fall asleep!" she said. "But he talks really slowly and sort of quietly. Which is GOOD," she emphasizes, since it sort of goes well with...you know...his job. But which is bad since...you know...I fall asleep really easily. You know..." she says again, trailing off.

And here is the thing. I do know. I know that she didn't mean to fall asleep and probably didn't want to fall asleep any more than I had wanted to fall asleep while standing up in the third row of a Snow Patrol concert.

"Are we having a slow night?" the lead singer asked the audience, grasping the microphone with both hands, "since it seems I've put someone to sleep here in front."

My eyes shot open in that moment between sleep and awake where you're only vaguely cognizant of your surroundings. Where you murmuringly wonder, "Am I at home in my own bed? Am I at my parent's house in the bed I grew up in? Am I on a trip or at a friend's apartment, nestled lovingly into their sofa? I couldn't possibly be standing up in the third row of a Snow Patrol concert, could I? Because that would be ridiculous.

"I'm not asleep," I said, to the singer and my boyfriend at the time and the other several hundred people in Webster Hall or the Bowery Ballroom or whatever ridiculously large venue I had decided to use for a makeshift, Saturday evening, "naptime." I said it groggily, in the "Of course you didn't wake me up" voice you use to answer phone calls you receive at 8AM on a Saturday. While standing next a friend eagerly clutching her Heineken and staring lustfully at the band (the friend who had dragged me to a Snow Patrol concert in the first place), I had managed to fall asleep while standing up, an enviable ten feet from the stage. I would have included more details about the concert-- the singer's attire, the demographic of the crowd, the opening song-- except that I don't remember them because I was sleeping and nothing in the venue made much of an impression on me but the sad lack of pillow-top mattresses.

"That's why I never took you to concerts," my ex sighed. "Remember the time we went to that place in Brooklyn and you fell asleep at the bar by all those pocketbooks?"

"I was resting," I tell him. "I was really tired and just needed to rest so I was resting." Similar to the time I 'rested' at that diner, with my head on a table next to a half-eaten dish of pancakes. Or at that bar when I decided I needed to "rest," and politely placed my knit hat over my face to keep people from coming up and talking to me while I caught up on REM sleep next to the Big Buck Hunter machine.

It is perhaps a trademark of our family that we are not particularly good at forcing ourselves to stay awake. I remember as an eleven year-old being dismissed from Church school only to have the entire class discover my father, politely asleep in the coat closet. He was in a sitting position, his back against the back wall with his legs jutting out, looking like the wicked witch of the east had been killed by a juvenile array of hoodies and snowpants. His eyes popped open as my sister and I gently nudged him in the leg.

"Dad," we said. "You're sleeping on the floor of the church coat closet."

"Yes," he said, affirming our observation. "I got here early to pick you up and I was waiting for--" he looks as his watch "--twenty minutes at least. I guess I konked out." Other girls reached above his head to slide their shiny pink jackets off their hangers.

"Why didn't you wait in the big room?" we asked. "There are chairs."

"I'm not sure," he said. "I was standing by the coat closet since I remember thinking we could just grab your coats and go, but then at some point I must have gotten tired and sat down."

"None of the other kids' dads was asleep on the floor of the coat closet," we pointed out. Our father looked quickly to the left and right of himself.

"You're right," he said, after his quick verification. "None of them is. Just me." He nodded jovially to a girl whose family we were friends with, who pulled her coat awkwardly from above his head. "So are you girls ready to go?" he asked, getting up from the floor with that slight extra grunt that begins in one's mid thirties, when one realizes it is not quite as easy to get up of the floor as it once was.

"We are very ready to go," we told him.

And we drove home to my mother, where we most likely relayed the story of finding my father asleep on the floor, where she most likely gave him a disapproving look since my mother extremely disliked having my father fall asleep at places or times that were not the appropriate places or times to fall asleep.

"What he would do," my very patient by tired mother would relay to us, "Oh, god, I wanted to kill him when he did this. What he would do was hold a house party where he was talking and making people laugh and joking with everyone. Where he was just the life of the party. So I have all these people walking around our house who I'm trying to help entertain. And then a few hours into it everyone would start going, 'Where's Ross? Where did Ross go?" Because at some point he would have decided he had had enough and would just walk to his bed and fall asleep. And you can't DO that," my mother said, either emphasizing or pleading. "You can't just hold a party and then go to bed and leave all of them walking around your house."

"And it was the same with Pam when she was a kid," she went on. "She'd be playing outside on the driveway and all of a sudden it was like, 'where did Pam go, where's Pam?' and it would turn out she had gotten tired and walked into her bedroom to take a nap."

And in fairness to us and our semblance of narcolepsy, each of us lives frantic lives from which we rarely force ourselves to take a break. My father has for years risen at 4:30, only to return home around 7 in the evening, physically exhausted, not able to actually collapse in bed until 10 or 11 at night. My younger sister often works multiple jobs in addition to her schoolwork, her band practices, and her social life. And I, who should not be writing this now when I have to be at work at 6 tomorrow morning, have been averaging 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night.

"I'm so stressed out," Pam says to me. "I'm getting up so early to beat traffic. I work in a school where the kids are nuts," she says. "They are crazy. The other day I actually thought I was going to strangle one of them. And I've finally tried Yoga to try and calm me down, and it actually sort of works."

"That's great," I say, "I'm happy it helps."

"It does," she says. "I don't like the super high energy yoga where you sweat a lot. And I'm not sure I get out of it what you're supposed to get out of it. I like it to relax and it helps me with that, but from my teacher I sort of get that I'm supposed to feel like I'm one with the universe, and I don't. I'm sort of embarrassed that everyone else is feeling something I'm not feeling."

"They're not feeling it either," I told her, suddenly ordaining myself a psychological evaluator of women in New York Sports Club yoga classes. "And being able to relax when you need to will put you in a better state of mind, which is what's more important for you than being one with the universe."

"Ok," she says. "I just felt like everyone else got this spiritual thing from it that I missed."

"Sometimes it's important to have a spiritual experience, but sometimes it's more important to get some rest," I told her. "And Anyone who's ever slept through a speech by the Dalai Lama will back me up on that. I'm almost sure of it."