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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

Sleeping on the Job

One of my earliest memories after we moved to Pennsylvania in 1954 was looking out the kitchen window and watching Donna Rovinsky, the girl next door, playing wildly in her backyard as my mother forced me into the bedroom to take a nap. That moment left a mark on me deep as the brand on a cow from the hot poker while he is being held down by the ranch crew.

I did not want to go to sleep while everyone else was playing and I thought as hard as any 5-year-old could to resist the fascist attempts by my mother to force me to rest. I remember being in Brooklyn, NY at my grandparents’ apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant. My mother was going out shopping and she told my grandmother to make sure I took a nap. I laid there on my back staring at the ceiling. My grandmother came in with a scowl on her face telling me that I must go to sleep. I told her that I was “sleeping with my eyes open”, but she didn't buy it.

Finally, when I left home at 18 for college, I knew I was far enough outside of her domain that I could stop taking naps. Biggest fucking mistake I ever made! I apologize for the vulgarity, I rarely use that kind of language unless I'm trying to make an important point, and the point here is that my mother was right!

This is probably the only time you will ever hear me say those words about my parents.

While I didn't take naps throughout my college years, I learned the value of 40 winks here and there when I got out into the real world and had to work for a living.

Napping at work became my sleight of hand, my card trick, my way of deceiving the world into thinking that I was a hard-working young man. Don't get me wrong -- I worked my butt off at every job I ever held, and I always finished the task assigned to me, usually in far less time than it took anyone else on my crew.

When I was driving a pickup truck and delivering auto parts throughout northeastern Pennsylvania, my route always took me past a cemetery in Mountain Top. There was always a cool breeze blowing through the long grass, and I would exit my truck and sit down against a tree and nod off for 20 or 30 minutes. Occasionally I did it with my girlfriend. They pretty much knew at work that I was slacking off and would give me a slightly dirty look when I returned at 4:45 PM, but never actually said anything to me because I was so efficient at delivering those carburetors, oil seals, and CherryBomb mufflers.

When I moved into Phyllis’ home in Yonkers NY in 1972, I was a member of the Teamsters Union, working at a color lab as a printer. Each of us had our own private room with a semi-automated giant printer. We would close the door and turn the lights off to load the massive light sensitive roll of color photo paper into the unit so that we could make the little 3 by 5 prints that everyone used to pick up at the drugstore when they dropped off a roll of film for processing. I could fly through my orders in enough time to be able to spend at least 40 minutes reading magazines or books, and the same amount of time lying on the floor sleeping after lunch.

No one was the wiser since they knew that we had to close the door in order to change spools of paper. The giveaway, when my boss would knock on the door, was the sleepy look in my eyes. I never found a way to hide that. He knew but said nothing because I was so efficient at my job. If it hadn't been for me being laid off when we lost our biggest client, I might be there right now waking up from a snooze…

My 2009 Subaru Forester offered me the luxury of fully reclining seats, a feature I have taken advantage of too many times to mention. When I was working in Orange County and had to fight fierce traffic on Hwy 91 on a Friday evening, I had an exit I would take to put me into a cozy parking lot where I could grab 20 minutes or so. Some evenings I would be so exhausted I would just pull off the freeway and let the constant dull, pulsating roar of the traffic lull me into a state of bliss.

By the time I made it to San Diego a couple of years later, I kept one of my pillows on the back seat all the time. My last job before retiring was in an industrial complex with a 500-yard-long parking lot. There was a shady area right at the end. Every day at 11:30 I would amble over, dive in, and pass out while everyone else was at lunch. I returned to my desk just before people returned from eating. I then rose from my computer and went to lunch.

Sweet deal. Even with my 2 ½ hour lunch break every day, I never missed a deadline or a meeting. Personally, I considered it payback for management ignoring my comments about the direction they were taking in their software development. After 25+ years in the field working for literally dozens of firms, I knew a thing or two about a thing or two.

I’m not claiming genius here, but the company went under not long after I retired – precisely because they were way too arrogant about what they thought was a love triangle between themselves, their customers, and Microsoft. Don’t get me started…

After retirement, I pushed napping up a notch to a level that most people cannot comprehend. There are many days when I arise, have a light breakfast, and then go right back to sleep. Some days I will even manage to sneak in another nap before lunch, if you can imagine that.

I am forever in debt to my friend Barry who taught me how to drink a full-strength cup of coffee and then go right to bed. This is an art that few can master. My most creative time is somewhere between 2:00 and 3:30 AM. I prefill the coffee machine so that all that is required is a gentle push of the button to get things moving that early in the morning. I will work on these posts for an hour or so when most people are so deep in sleep that it would take a 4.0 earthquake to shake them up a bit.

After they are written and rewritten and rewritten again, I will feed the cats and nod off -- and no one is the wiser. If you are young and have not yet mastered the art of being able to fade to black for 20 minutes or so, I suggest you start practicing. Science has pretty much determined that this time frame is the most appropriate for being able to revitalize without feeling sleepy. While I may have disrupted my normal sleep cycle permanently at this point in my life, I don't feel the worse for wear.

I begin and end each nap with a prayer, which allows me the privilege of fully living one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

“Pray without ceasing…”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

I can’t think of a better way to spend the day, the night, and everything else in between.

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