There is no night anymore. In or around cities, in suburbs and small towns, there is no night. It still gets dark, and the days still get longer or shorter. Lights are everywhere — large, harsh, powerful, all of the time pushing back the dark.
Not much more than a hundred years ago the only things lighted were lighted by fire. Did things burn down more frequently then? A barn burning in the middle of the night on a lonely farm will draw many people. They don’t come to help put out the fire. Once a barn is burning, particularly if the lofts are full of hay, you can only watch it burn. They come because they are drawn by the light, by the great torch of a barn fire. I’m not sure so many people would show up, even in a densely populated city, to watch an equivalent-sized fire. It does not light up the sky with the same drama and rage. There is too much light in a city for a light like that to stand out. There was something about these hours — 3:00 to 4:00 — in the morning that I had forgotten: a romance, a dread, a solitude, an atmosphere, a tone.
For many years I lived as a nocturnal person. I would stay up until the first peeps of dawn. Then I’d sleep until noon or one. I have a friend who still makes fun of me for the time he called at noon and I yelled at him for calling so early. I liked to write; I liked to walk, particularly in New York City; I liked to read. Reading alone at night: perfect. Wallace Stevens has a poem with these lines: “The house was quiet and the world was calm./ The reader became the book; and summer night// Was like the conscious being of the book./ The house was quiet and the world was calm.” I liked that the phone didn’t ring, that there was no traffic; I liked being awake when most others were asleep.
The best time-clock job I ever had was as a night watchman at a small women’s college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I got to work at 6:00, had a free meal in the college cafeteria, walked around the campus and turned on lights, and read a lot in old armchairs in which the buildings-and-grounds day-crew goldbricked. These were set up around the boilers in the basements of classrooms and dormitories. These were especially good places to read in the colder months. I think I made only 75 bucks a week (it was 1971), but I probably got to read three or four books a week on the job. I considered that a serious perk. This job also provided me with another free meal later and all the toilet paper and lightbulbs I needed: I was the night watchman, I had the keys to everything. There was another watchman on the same shift. He was 80 years old. His name was Tom too. I was in my early 20s. They called us Old Tom and Young Tom, in the same sense as you’d call people Frick and Frack or Tweedledum and Tweedledee. It is a blazing miracle that no serious trouble occurred on our shift. We had the keys, and we turned on lights, but we did not own the night.
For most of my life, however, I’ve made my living as a college teacher, an even better racket than the night-watchman deal, and arranged my classes for afternoons or evenings. My nocturnal ways were changed, I think forever, 15 years ago. Fatherhood. The only time to sleep was when the baby slept, and my daughter seemed to sleep little. And she was an early riser. I’ll never forget my pleasure the first time — she was ten — when I got to wake her up. I poked her leg and said the thing I hated to hear when my parents woke me up as a child: “Rise and shine.” A parent’s revenge may be slow but it is sweet.
Now I love mornings, the light parts of which I rarely saw for so many years. I wanted to try to change that circadian clock again, if only for a week or so. We really do carry clocks around in us in the form of a tiny clump of cells known as the suprachiasmatic (nice word in which you hear other words) nucleus, or SCN. This clock is highly sensitive to the daily change from light to dark, with the rising sun setting us up for wakefulness and the dusk setting us up for sleep. We are programmed by circadian rhythms to sleep at night and be awake during the day. I’d try to flip the switch. I wanted to know what was out there in the night. Who might know about the night, the darkness, literal and figurative? The cops. They do their best business at night.
I went out on a 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. (he works a ten-hour shift four days a week) ride-along with a young (26), smart, tough, aggressive cop from the Chula Vista P.D. named Scott Schneider. He’s about 6'3", maybe 200 pounds, and like so many young cops today, ripped. He works out, lifts weights just about every day. It relieves stress and “helps if I have to fight guys.” He wears a bullet-proof vest in the center of which, as added protection, he places a ceramic insert, about the size of a dinner plate, right over his heart. He keeps a small handgun tucked in there and carries a regulation weapon on his hip. He said to me, “Some guys carry a third gun too.” He’s a graduate (a B.A. in English) of San Diego State. He was in his second year on the force. I liked him right away. I always respect cops and usually like them. Even in the ’60s, as a card-carrying hippie and a half-assed radical, I was never comfortable with “the cops are the pigs” bonehead talk. To me that was like making an enemy out of teachers or farmers, say — people who do work that has to be done and done well if we are to survive as a civilization. Plus, cops’ work is dangerous. Every day a cop thinks about the department’s chaplain walking up his sidewalk to ring his doorbell and tell his wife, or father, or mother that something bad has happened. So, if you’re going to badmouth cops, don’t do it around me. I know lots of young men about Scott Schneider’s age. Most of them are graduate students, studying the writing of poetry. I hope Officer Schneider writes about what he learned on these streets.
I asked Schneider what happens out here at 3:00 to 4:00 in the morning. He said, “People get arrested.” And a common thing to get arrested for nowadays is methamphetamine. Since crystal meth can keep people awake for two or three nights in a row, not to mention agitated and paranoid, it’s not uncommon for meth users to cross paths with the cops. He said he hardly ever sees other drugs, rarely cocaine or crack, infrequently heroin. Cops don’t bother with small amounts of marijuana, but if they find it on you while frisking you, and they find nothing else and kick you loose, they make you dump it out on the street — probably more painful to a dedicated pothead than a ticket or even an arrest.
I was wondering if there was a pie chart (I love pie charts!) somewhere that estimated what percentage of people were awake through the night because of controlled-substance consumption, plain old insomnia, jobs, night terrors, other. I think it was in the “other” category that I used to live my nocturnal life.
We cruised around Chula. Schneider has a more or less regular area to cover, which he can leave in an instant if he gets a call. He follows his nose, and his instincts, around. He glanced down a side street and saw a car stopped, lights off, in the road. Why? Drug deal, a hooker? He checked it out and it was a woman he’d busted before, but this time there was no bad business going on. A little later he noticed an old Cadillac pulling in to a convenience store. Two males, one white, one African-American. He waited for them to come out, then followed them to a light, where they failed to come to a full stop before taking a right. He pulled them over. They said they’d driven the several miles from San Diego to Chula to this convenience store to get a Popsicle. Officer Schneider said, “They don’t have any 7-Elevens in San Diego?” He invited the driver, the black man, to step out and asked if he could search him. He consented. There was a local TV clown where I grew up who would pull a huge number of things, including dozens of bananas, from his trick suit. That was his whole act. I thought this guy was auditioning for the part. Schneider held the man’s laced-together fingers behind the man’s back with his right hand and went through the man’s pockets with his left. Onto the trunk of the car went one white lace-topped woman’s sock, a soda can, three or four packs of cigarettes in various stages of depletion and a couple of brands, a pin for a bicycle pump, two or three disposable cigarette lighters, a few pencils, a woman’s long nylon stocking, a candy bar, napkins, change, an empty glassine bag not much bigger than a postage stamp (who makes sandwiches this small?) with slight white powder residue — not enough. Schneider told me later he thought the guy was clean as he searched him: most often, particularly if the officer is getting close, the person being searched squeezes the cop’s hand holding his fingers behind his back. It’s as if squeezing this hand will stop the officer’s other hand from finding the dope or weapon. It’s a kind of involuntary body language, a “tell,” a tactile sign. The cops call the watch pocket of jeans “the bingo pocket” — always a good chance you’ll find a few rocks in there. This guy didn’t squeeze his hand. Officer Schneider had told the white guy to take a seat on the curb. Schneider kind of halfheartedly searched him and then the car. He found a small bag of pot underneath the passenger seat. Schneider had seen the guy ditch it there when he pulled them over. As aforementioned, he dumped the pot on the street. The white guy was just finishing up an ice cream cone. He looked a little sad. Officer Schneider seemed to take no joy in this.
At another stop later, a backup cruiser arrived with two officers in it. In Chula, officers ride alone, but backup units arrive with great alacrity. It took me a few minutes to recognize one of the officers: Steve Fobes, an agent in the Family Protection Unit at the Chula Vista Police Department. I didn’t recognize him right away because he was in uniform and when I hung around with him a bit last year, he always wore plain clothes. He was riding as a “ghost”: an experienced cop who rides along with a new cop. It’s one of the last phases of police training. He doesn’t advise or even speak a word to the young cop he’s going around with — he’s a silent, ghost observer. He then evaluates the young cop’s job. Fobes could talk to me, though, and we did a little. It was almost exactly 3:00 a.m. He mentioned that he’d arrested a guy he was looking for intensely a year ago, a particularly nasty pedophile. He told me then and I quoted him then: “It’s only a matter of time until we get him.” So it should be said here in print: he and his colleagues made good that promise.
We talked on the corner of Broadway and C Street, a clean, well-lighted place. Streetlights are fairly recent — if you don’t count bonfires at crossroads in ancient Athens. It wasn’t until late in the 17th Century, in Paris, that a priest with an eye for a franc obtained a monopoly on lighted watch posts. They were 300 paces apart. You could hire a guard with a lantern to escort you from one to another. The abbé did pretty well for himself, taking a cue from God when He said, “Let there be light.”
About 3:15 a “Code-3 cover” came over the radio and soon we were pushing 125 mph on 5 South. It’s a call that comes maybe once a week and it means “I need help now.” We were the second or third unit there, and Schneider jumped out to help with the arrest. A guy was getting cuffed. It was on the edge of an empty lot next to warehouses. There was light everywhere — from the buildings, streetlights, parking-lot lights, and soon, from a half-dozen cop cars. Yep, people get arrested at 3:00 a.m. You’d be amazed at how little time it takes a whole lot of cops to get to a scene after this kind of call. Schneider was pumped by the ride and the brief struggle. The guy was a parole violator, I believe. There must be many adrenaline-pumping moments in any given day for a cop. Night-shift workers in general have more sleep problems than day-shift workers. Officer Schneider said he had sleep difficulties — insomnia — frequently. Night-shift workers also have more gastrointestinal problems than day-shift workers. They tend to eat poorly. I didn’t ask Officer Schneider if he had stomach problems or ate too much junk food, but if one already has the common night-shift problems and then one’s job also has the potential to get one shot at, a cop on the swing shift might have a tough time of it.
Another part of the 3:00 a.m. contingent would be regular old insomniacs. They’re not usually out on the street, however. The reasons for their sleeplessness? — there are a million stories in the naked city. You know these wakeful only by the light of one window here, one window there, in a cityscape of a million dark windows. I have been a member of this tribe. I used to worry about it sometimes. Which, of course, made it worse. Then somebody told me you’ll fall asleep when you’re tired enough. Turned out to be true. Sometimes you don’t need shrinks, or self-help books, or sleep clinics; sometimes you just need to stay awake until you fall asleep. I’ve always loved Robert Frost’s poem of the sleepless, “Acquainted with the Night.” The first two stanzas go like this: “I have been one acquainted with the night./ I have walked out in rain — and back in rain./ I have outwalked the furthest city light.// I have looked down the saddest city lane./ I have passed by the watchman on his beat/ And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.” It is possible to outwalk the furthest city light — go to the desert, the mountains, the sea — but the lights are everywhere here.
I watched dawn begin to arrive in the parking lot of a Motel 6. Officer Schneider had said, about 4:00 a.m., “Let’s go to the Motel 6 parking lot and throw somebody in jail.” We’d cruised through a few times earlier. He’s found several stolen cars there. He needed to find one more stolen car to reach a certain number and he’d get a pin. A humble reward, but a matter of pride: he wanted one more car. He liked finding stolen cars — the results were tangible and almost immediate: somebody got his car back. He noticed a Toyota with a sorority sticker on it. “What would a sorority girl be doing in a place like this?” He ran the plates. Not this time. He had questioned a guy earlier in the parking lot and the guy had left. Now his jeep was back. The guy was in a room but not registered. Officer Schneider’s nose was telling him: dope deal going on here. A few backups arrived: they knew he was in a room registered to someone else. They tried a “knock and talk”: they didn’t have a warrant or any probable cause to toss the room so they knocked, and when the guy finally came to the door, an officer who had a knack for talking his way into places spoke to the guy. No luck. The guys inside were too savvy, and even though the cops saw a knife and a black metal box, they couldn’t go in. They were getting a little frustrated. It was a standoff. Schneider and the other cops discussed what to do. Traffic was picking up on 5 going both north and south. A eucalyptus tree was rattling in a slight breeze. From the worn-down dirt, among crushed beer cans and cigarette butts, a few very delicate and very yellow little flowers grew. Even a little light grew from the ground. The parking lot’s lights buzzed. This is another thing that happens at this hour of the morning or night: there are harsh knocks on motel-room doors, cops are tired, frustrated. After giving the guy with the jeep a sobriety test — he passed — they sent him on his way. He was a scraggly dude but cool through all this — patient, cooperative, and slightly condescending. He smirked as he got in his jeep. He’d be making his dope deal later. The light went off in the motel room. Scott said, “Let’s go look for stolen cars.” He knew a place where the chances were good.
I always liked Allen Ginsberg’s poem “A Supermarket in California.” He calls it the “neon fruit supermarket” and writes of peaches and penumbras. I never liked much else of his except for Howl and chunks of “Kaddish.” It seemed to me that he was too much into the guru business the last three or four decades of his writing life. Gurus have the answers, are happy to tell you the path. Gurus hold too much light. Guru-ism isn’t good for poets. But I thought it would be fun to find and visit the toniest 24-hour supermarket in San Diego. It shall remain unnamed. Who goes shopping at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and what do they buy? How many different kinds of smoked oysters does the place stock? I’ve always used the Smoked Oyster Index to judge the fussbudget food market. I try not to imagine how oysters get smoked: do they hang them in a smokehouse, individually, like hams? The first thing that struck me about this store was how much booze was for sale. Where I lived for most of my life (New York) you can buy only beer in a supermarket, never wine or distilled spirits. Incredible arrays of wines and beers and the hard stuff. Somebody once told me that booze was about a third of the profit a restaurant makes. Is booze then a third of our regular food budget?
I’ve never seen so much candy in all my life, including about 80 different kinds of Gummi candy. All are particularly useful in the removal of fillings: cola bottles, octopus, D.H. Sharks, Gummi Twin Cherries, Sour Patch Fruit Salad… The possibility of a stroke not withstanding, I am glad I have a salt tooth rather than a sweet tooth. Every olive oil on the planet was there, not to mention 10,000 cows’, goats’, and buffaloes’ worth of cheese. Look up Donald Hall’s wonderful poem “O Cheeses” — it’s a different kind of treat for the mouth as well as a pleasure for the ear. It was about 3:30 a.m. Who was shopping here? Exactly three other people. Two gay men were selecting a large number of oranges, each one more orange as they lifted them to the light to inspect them. A punked-out young woman with a large tattoo in gothic script across her upper back reading UNJOY was buying a six-pack of imported beer. The reference to UNCOLA is certainly conscious, a kind of ironic, albeit permanent, comment on American consumerism. There are lots of reasons to satirize the excesses of capitalism, but usually satire puts the needle to the subject rather than the needle striking the satirist.
But I had no time to ponder this: I was on a mission to fruits and vegetables. The orchard/garden of the world! Sometimes writers write things (especially if they’re not getting paid, as in poetry, for example) as an excuse to use certain words. Just because you like the word’s sound, taste, connotations. For example: graffiti eggplant, red camarillo, sweet lemon (oxymoronic fruit!), red banana, baby pineapple, burro bananas (they carry the red bananas on their backs), malanga. I’m not sure I’d want to eat any of these, but they sure are tasty words! The lettuce section had so many shades of green and mists and coolness I closed my eyes and was compelled to lean over the bins — until I started getting damp. There were yellow peppers bright enough to act as nite-lites. And, my Lord, the carrots so bright in their orange and their wild, green hair, I considered never eating a pork chop again! There was one little green pepper on which I did some research. It is grown exclusively in the magma chamber of a volcano in Mexico. Alas, I didn’t see anyone who looked like Walt Whitman or García Lorca squeezing melons and eyeballing the bag boys as Ginsberg did. The store was blazing bright, brighter than in full daylight. You had to look hard to find a shadow. I wandered up and down the aisles, lonely, eavesdropping on the conversations of stockboys: they were talking about Gameboys. The night manager, who was going to give me a tour (which he wasn’t supposed to do, which is why the store is not named) of the storerooms, the meat locker, and let’s call it the fish locker, had the most bloodshot eyes I’ve ever seen on a man. Night workers average less sleep during the workweek than day-shift workers. All the extra work people do — odd hours, evenings, weekends, round-the-clock — has reduced American sleep time. A hundred years ago people slept, on average, one-fifth more. Which means they dreamed more. They experienced hypnagogia more frequently. Coleridge mentions hypnagogia in his notebooks: “The whispers just as you have fallen or are falling asleep — what are they and whence?” Indeed. Especially “whence?” There was less to do then after dark. There were many fewer lights. You had to spend a lot of time hitching and unhitching horses. That’s fatiguing. This is the night manager’s second job. When we went backstage I saw a wooden pallet piled 15 feet high with cases of diet Coke. The store sells 180 12-packs of diet Coke a day. That’s over 2000 cans of diet Coke a day and not a single calorie! They must weigh eight tons but not a single calorie! It’s a freaking miracle! And it’s just right for washing down Gummi Bears and, oh, 17 kinds of smoked oysters.
What are babies doing at 3:00 a.m.? I know people without babies are thinking that. As I said, mine was often awake. My job at 3:00 a.m. was to get our daughter from her crib in the next room and bring her to my wife, who would nurse her; then, when they both were conked out again, take our daughter back to her crib. I could do it in my sleep. I did. This is part of new fatherhood: you carry the baby sometimes, the rest of the time you carry stuff for the baby that weighs 50 times more than the baby.
I found a sleeping baby. She was a friend’s baby. He easily agreed to let me sit in his baby’s room for a few hours in the middle of the night and “take down my impressions.” His wife thought I was crazy but consented. There was a delay in her consent, however, during which time I believe she had me checked out by the FBI. The baby, Nina, six months old, slept on her back, her arms and legs bent and cocked. She pedaled the air every once in a while — her dreams were telling her she’d be running someday. Her crib was stuffed with stuffies. Outside her bedroom window, which also doubles as her father’s study, a lemon tree scraped against the house. An outside light off the lemons made them shine like Christmas ornaments. I could make out some books on the shelves — some poetry, some biographies of poets. Her father is a poet and a public-school teacher. This means she’s going to grow up poor but deeply loved. She is unconcerned about that now. There was one light on in the room — in her crib, a little green, glowing bead: the baby monitor. She snuffled a little. I leaned over and sniffed her head. I love to sniff a baby’s head. Until recently, I thought that if this was not quite a perversion then at least I was a little weird. And as far as I know there are no 12-step groups for people who are powerless over sniffing babies’ heads. It turns out (this is scientific fact!) a baby’s head and hair contain an endorphin-like drug that adults find pleasurable. That’s right: you get a little buzz from sniffing a baby’s head. I imagine it came to be as a way for a baby to help ensure adult care and love. I predict this: pretty soon we’ll begin seeing ads in the backs of magazines for a men’s hair product that includes these chemicals. Men will do anything to lay their heads on a woman’s heart.
Meanwhile, not much was happening with this baby. She was pretty bald and no new hair sprouted. Her calves were chubby and pink. A few unpleasant looks passed over her face: dreams or gas? I remembered one 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. when my child was feeling poorly and I’d just had all my wisdom teeth pulled. Since neither of us could sleep and both of us were fussy, I took my daughter downstairs and lay on the couch with her on my chest, and pretty soon she was asleep and the pain in my jaw was gone. Thank you, sweet Nina, for helping me remember that. I have this advice for your father: Stop time, stop time right now! So this is another thing that happens at 3:00 a.m.: a baby sleeps, oblivious (as it should be) to the sadness of the world. Far in the distance, I heard a police siren.
What happens if your parakeet has a seizure in the middle of the night? You take him to an all-night pet hospital. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll take beloved Tweety to the hospital where Dr. Barrie Sands works. She’s petite, brown-haired, attractive, and originally from Upstate New York. She’s got the touch not many human doctors seem to have nowadays: she listens to her patients, she’s got what you call a good bedside manner. Her patients can’t talk, of course, but they still need listening to, and sometimes the owners need more care and certainly more assurance than the pet. She told me that once, when she was a young vet, a woman came to her cradling an invisible dog in her arms. The dog was sick and she loved it and wanted the vet to save it. Dr. Sands did. She took the invisible dog from the woman’s arms, laid him on a table, pretended to examine him, declared him 100 percent healthy, handed him gently back to his relieved and grateful owner. No charge. I wanted to kiss Dr. Sands after she told me that story.
She gave me a tour of the ward. There was a big forlorn-looking dog with most of the hair on his back shaved off and a long, stitched incision running along his spine. Vertebrae problems, he was doing well. I have a friend with vertebrae problems — he’s not doing okay. He has so much pain he can barely walk a block without tears coming to his eyes. Dogs and cats get cancer and they get chemo. I neglected to ask if all of their fur falls off. There was a cockatiel back here who had a run-in with a window fan. It ripped a lot of his feathers off, and some new ones — they’re called blood feathers — were growing in. A dog without fur looks bad enough; a bird missing most of its feathers is a very sorry-assed-looking creature. Since this was an emergency ward, I wanted to know, naturally, what kinds of emergencies reptiles have. Fact is, they have few. She did treat a snake once that had been duct-taped to a pole. The owner’s version of a leash or a chain? There was another snake who got into a neighbor’s yard and the neighbor took a hammer to it. Dogs and cats have traumas, emergencies: hit by cars, and, a growing problem, coyotes. They have flat-out heart attacks. She’s seeing a lot of ferrets lately. They were a popular pet for a while. I had a student who brought one to class a few times — it would dash around the room right along the baseboards and then climb up into her lap. It was a nervous creature, but poetry seemed to calm it, or bored it into a stupor. Dr. Sands has done operations on goldfish. She referred to the animals as “patients.” She kept using words — lymphoma, remission, infarction, etc. — that you expect to hear only when talking about human illness, but as I said, animals get cancer, they have heart attacks and bum backs and sore feet. She likened her work to a pediatrician’s: babies and small children can’t say where they hurt or what’s wrong with them either.
We went from bed to bed. Actually from cage to cage — but “cage” does not seem like the right word. There was a tiny shivering Chihuahua suffering from seizures. I’ve never liked little yappy dogs. I was tempted to ask how one can tell these ever-trembling creatures are having a seizure, but that would have been rude to this kind doctor, and I also got the feeling, in a flash, that if I made a wiseacre comment, I’d get bit by a dog the second I walked out on the street. There was a big, dopey-looking mongrel who’d had chest surgery for cancer — he’d lost three ribs, one lung, was hanging in. Somebody loved him. She mentioned the next-of-kin’s — the owner’s — right to refuse euthanasia. People will do just about anything to buy a little more time for a pet.
I spent a few hours at the pet hospital. No new emergencies came in. Dr. Sands said this was unusual. When I walked out to the parking lot at 5:00 a.m. a rabbit hopped across my path. And when I turned on my car lights, illumined was a huge spiderweb strung from a parking barrier. The web hadn’t been there when I arrived. This creature had been busy, and I lingered a few minutes in the running car, lights on, hoping to attract a few moths for his breakfast.
I thought that going to a cemetery at 3:00 a.m. might be a good idea. I scouted a pretty isolated one, access to which seemed easy. I arrived, in a cab, at 3:05 a.m. on an August night. I asked the driver to wait. I told him I had to say good-bye to someone important to me. He was Latino, he understood. I walked into the cemetery about 50 feet, then turned around and came out. Not because I was scared but for two reasons: there wasn’t anything happening here and it was an idiotic and disrespectful idea. Even for prose, even for poetry.
I went to an all-night gym. The night manager wouldn’t let me look around. Everything was so silver and light, the dumbbells gleaming, all in a row. I wondered if it was someone’s job: to polish the dumbbells. That wouldn’t look too impressive on a résumé: dumbbell polisher. An exquisitely coifed woman did crunches on an incline bar. Her hair didn’t move. In the lounge, a good-looking Asian man in his 20s was massaging the neck of a beautiful woman 20 years older. She wore a belly shirt that showed off her washboard abs. They both had a combined body fat of 1 percent. They weren’t wearing workout clothes. I asked the manager if he knew what Mark Twain said when someone asked him about physical exercise. The manager said no. I said Twain said his biceps felt like a shucked oyster in a sock. The manager kicked me out.
I walked to an all-night check-cashing place. I didn’t have a check to cash, the light was blinding, and the manager there too eyed me warily, was uninterested in engaging in conversation. I went into an all-night drugstore across the street. I put on a pair of sunglasses — too much light everywhere. The counterperson seemed bored rather than suspicious. When I walked into places like this with a cop, people were generally more friendly. Why was that?
On another night, one of my last stops was a 24-hour diner. I’d been there several times during the day. It’s a well-known place in Coronado and often the last stop for young servicemen after a night on the town. There were a couple of sailors in their cups eating huge quantities of eggs and potatoes and bacon. I talked to the counterman after they left (half-bagged as they were, they were not in the least rowdy). The counterman owns a boat on which he lives. He travels up and down the coast, and when he runs out of money, he gets a cooking job for a few months, saves some money, quits, and goes back to his boat and his travels. Nice way to live, I thought. His boat was at the marina near the Coronado Bay Bridge. Must be nice to sit on deck at 3:00 a.m. and look at the bridge, the beautiful blue-black (at this time) bridge. I ordered a few scrambled eggs, ate them, and stumbled home, my night shifts over.
The night’s not what it’s cracked up to be. I admit I avoided clubs and bars, places where nightlife happens. As I keep harping on: there’s too much light everywhere. Night is a good time to hose down your sidewalk, and the traffic’s minimal, but there is too much light everywhere. A sociologist named Murry Melbin says that the night was the last frontier, and since the invention of electric lighting, we have colonized the night much in the same way that we colonized the Old West. He also says that time is like space: the more people occupy day and the more crowded it becomes, the more people are pushed into the night. Soon they will be the same, one will blend into the other, and it will be difficult to tell the difference. Or better: maybe each day will be like René Magritte’s famous surrealist painting: a daytime sky over a nighttime street. Or is it a nighttime sky in a daytime street?