I used to be a night owl. Not the sort of geeky guy in The Watchmen, I look terrible in fitted costumes, but the sort of person who likes to be awake at night.
When I was in school I discovered a lot of things. One of those things was reading. One of the others was quiet. Then I discovered that the later you stayed up at night the more reading you could do, and the quieter it became. A love affair was born.
My parents, who saw nothing wrong with getting up at four am were in bed religiously by nine pm. On school nights the same went for me and my brother. But come the weekend, and most especially the holidays that nine pm marker went out the window. I had one of those bed chairs, the things that look like someone scissored off the top of a cheap stuffed chair, and I kept a stack of paperback books beside my bed. Granted this was back when fifteen dollars would buy you three paperbacks and still give you some change for a fountain Coke. Those were the glory days: I was discovering Michael Morcock, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, all the giants of science fiction, and each night found me staying up later and later to read just one more chapter, just one more handful of paragraphs.
I loved those long quiet hours at night. The cat would climb into bed with me, I'd be sitting there with my reading lamp over my shoulder, my big bed chair stuffed up behind my back and a handful of science fiction masterpiece. The house would grow quiet and the world would narrow down to that small pool of yellow light that opened a window into the sun-scorched sands of Arrakis, the sterile white environs of a sentient FTL starship, the paved streets of ancient Melnibone' or of Greentown, Illinois. I'd often read half a book or more at night, steeping myself in the story, losing myself utterly.
Oh, once in a while I'd be distracted out of the world in my hands by the sharp yipping of foxes in the fields hunting mice, or the soft lonely hoot of an owl in the pine trees outside my window but always the world of the printed word called me back, drew me in like the Siren's song calls sailors to their doom. Midnight became not the witching hour but just a marker that the house was cool and quiet. Two and three am would often find me still reading, and the next morning I'd sleep until noon, getting up to have lunch served for breakfast.
My folks were awfully understanding about it. I guess they figured I wasn't drinking, wasn't smoking, wasn't even out of the house (in body anyway) so what was a little sleeping in?
Work intruded soon afterward, but still I found time to stay up late, and evening shifts often meant that I could lie abed long after the sun had come up. Most times it was a requirement, working retail, because I'd be up until midnight or better at work, so getting to bed and staying there was quite the reward, plus it served as time to let aching legs and back recover some spring.
Somewhere in there, though, the status quo shifted. I became a parent, and work changed from evening shifts to day shifts, eight to five, Monday through Friday, and I could no longer stay up late because I had to be up early to get not only myself dressed and fed but a little wiggle worm of a child too, and later school added into the mix. Nine pm became the standard again by the simple expedient of me liking to have eight hours of sleep a night, and having to be up to get a child going meant firm nine pm bedtimes. Books became an expensive hobby, paperbacks up to seven and eight dollars each, hardbounds for twenty five and thirty, and so they were paced out, spread across days, made to last like an old drunk nursing his last beer.
The weekends still found me sleeping in a little, but something else had begun changing in me--a desire to be accomplishing things. I was astounded to find that if you woke up before dawn and got your morning routine out of the way that gave you the entire morning to cut grass or plant a garden of roses or, well, the list was endless. That five hours before noon seemed like an eternity after so many years of thinking that breakfast was always served at eleven am.
Now that I'm a regular balloonist (some would say balloonatic) I find my weekend mornings are also in grave danger of extinction. Weekdays find me getting up at five forty-five so I can start for seven, but weekends find me getting up even EARLIER so I can get showered, dressed, and slip out on the bike to make it to LSUA for a pre-dawn meet with David and the rest of the crew to set up for a flight. Don't get me wrong, I love it, and wouldn't change a thing about it. I mean, in what other sport do you find the drinking starting at nine am, and with champagne to boot?
No, now more than ever it makes sleeping in feel like a luxury beyond measure, a luxury rarely tasted. Once in a while nothing is planned, nothing needs doing, nothing is pressing hard for me to accomplish it and I can sleep in. Mrs. I wakes up early and lets the dogs out and closes the bedroom door. I fall asleep again and wake up late, seven thirty at times, sometimes as staggeringly late as eight am, and it feels so decadent. I feel like an emperor arising from his golden bed, knowing that the household is going on as it should, that the world outside has woken up and gone on working without me being in it.
The guilt usually kicks in around this point, and the Protestant Work Ethic goads it sharply enough to get it moving pretty fast, but I still get to enjoy sleeping in for a few minutes. I know I'll never get to retire, never get to enjoy sleeping through every single morning again but that little taste sure is nice. And who knows? Maybe one day they'll make books cheap again, and I'm sure they still make those bed chair things. I'm sure I can find a lamp, and there's always a cat willing to curl up on my legs, if not a Borzoi, and lord knows they love to sleep.
My fear, however, is that one day I'll start thinking that four am isn't THAT early a time to rise.