Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nap Time

I haven’t lost the knack. The knack of falling asleep on an airplane even before the plane leaves the jetway.

When I flew about 60 times a year, I nearly always slumbered through most of the flights. “Groggy” would be a nice way of describing my up-in-the-air state of mind. But since my retirement I’ve flown just eight times. If my recent experience riding the train into the city was any indicator, my ability to sleep might well be compromised by being out of practice. With a cross-country flight scheduled for last week, I was a little concerned.

Apparently without cause. Two weeks ago I traveled via Atlanta to San Antonio as part of my still revenue-neutral consulting business. Scheduled to leave the gate at LaGuardia at 1 pm, I lost consciousness sometime around 12:45 and didn’t regain my senses for at least an hour. In the past, time delays on the ground often encompassed my total nap time, but not this trip, thankfully. During the four legs of the two-day trip we took off on time each time. I slept at least 50% of the time. I can’t say I was refreshed at the end of each flight, but it sure made the trip go faster. On our trip out to Los Angeles last Sunday I dozed off before takeoff as well.

Napping, on the plane or at home (and even at my desk—more about that later), can be an acquired trait or an inherited ability. I taught Gilda the joys and art of afternoon napping. I, on the other hand, inherited the skill from my father. Some days at his factory in lower Manhattan, he’d open up a folding, plastic chaise lounge and fall asleep to the staccato bursts of Merrow sewing machines stitching up lingerie or casual shirts. After dinner most evenings he’d retire to his bedroom for a one hour nap before enjoying coffee and cake and some TV.

On weekends, after driving from Brooklyn to Long Island to bring us to one of our mother’s sister’s families, he’d vanish for an hour for another nap. There was a time when this behavior was considered rude; in truth, Dad did not fully appreciate our maternal relatives, so the sanctuary of a bedroom was a relief for him in more than just energy regeneration. I’ve come to appreciate that his demanding physical work schedule, coupled with his philanthropic activities, left him tired, especially after driving an hour or more to our aunts’ respective homes. But I’d be hard-pressed to emulate that behavior and get away with it.

In previous blogs I related how I slept on most train rides to and from work, with little concern about missing my stop. I was more worried about bothering my fellow passengers either by snoring or by drooping over into their space. Either situation could be embarrassing, but not as bad as falling asleep at work.

Since I never developed a coffee habit, and the caffeine in cola drinks never gave me a buzz, I found myself nodding off many an afternoon as I peered into my computer screen. I positioned the screen so I faced the inner sanctum of my office. That way passersby could not tell if my eyes were closed or open. Hardly a good defense against falling asleep, but at least one that minimized the risk of embarrassment. My right hand involuntarily jerking on the mouse was the only true alarm that kept me from enjoying 40 winks. If you’re wondering, closing my office door was not a workable strategy. The president of our company liked nothing better than opening any closed door he came upon.

In the last year or two I finally gave in. Two or three times a week, around 3 pm, I opted for a cup of hazelnut java from our corporate Keurig coffee machine, a great value at 25 cents. No reason to spend five to ten times that amount at a coffee bar when I really don’t like the taste. The effect usually was immediate, but short-lived.

I have a “condition.” It seems that any forum wherein I am not an active speaker, I become narcoleptic. Try as I might to concentrate on a presentation, my eyes glaze over and I’m out within a few minutes. I float just above deep REM sleep and just below consciousness. My head bobs. Usually, the soft gurgle of a snore startles me awake, though Gilda often has to elbow me during the rabbi’s sermon at temple. Of course, nearly 20 years ago when I served on our temple’s executive committee and had to sit on the altar during the rabbi’s sermon, I had to really work at staying awake. I self-inflicted deep shark bites, digging my nails sharply into my thighs (editor’s aside—Mark, I hope this fulfills your wish for some temple talk).

I’ve even “napped” when in charge of a meeting. When my magazine would get imposed, I would designate which articles or ads be placed on each page. As my staff would be writing down each two-page spread, it would not be unusual for me to drop into a narcoleptic state. Five or 10 seconds of hallucinatory sleep. I’d be aware it was happening but unable to stave off the experience. They’d finish writing, I’d miraculously wake up, tell them the next spread and fall back to sleep. No way they didn’t see my impersonation of a bobble head doll. They were kind enough never to call me out on it.