The Art of Forty Winks

It is almost impossible to watch TV for more than an hour and not be subjected to a mattress ad. If you watch a little longer you will be exposed to various sleep aid prescriptions all of which carry side effects longer than the commercial itself. Or, open most popular magazines and you will find articles on how to achieve the proper amount of sleep, how to fall asleep quicker and wake up more refreshed.

I have one response for all of these suggestions and products.

Amateurs.

When you have perfected the art of napping the way we were trained in the Casey household, all of the sleep aids and suggestions border on the ridiculous. There are tools the true siesta professional utilizes which the market has ignored. No company has launched a campaign to save the Sunday paper and use it as a heat reflecting napping blanket for the forty winks between Sunday morning breakfast and afternoon porch sitting. None of the big book retailers are marketing their best sellers as a sleep aids with the guarantee that minutes after opening the book you will be treated to a relaxing drug free snooze. Lawn chairs on a porch, cool cement floors, and warm air vents on cold winter afternoons, all have the potential to be marketed as sleep inducers, but it is obvious the big name companies research and development people have not caught on.

Napping, in the Casey house, was considered a right and an obligation. You were required to find your own style and posture. Once you had a routine, no one would argue with a proclamation of, “I will get to that after I take a nap.” If a person with evil intent slithered into the Casey house on any given Sunday morning between breakfast and lunch they would think someone beat them to the punch. They would have witnessed bodies scattered from recliners to rockers, mouths open like fly traps and heads contorted in ways one would never hold in a conscious position; a scent of fried bacon, eggs and coffee would be in the air and sections of the Omaha World Herald covering bodies as if purposely placed to cover the most vital organs of the unconscious victims. The only thing missing from the crime scene would be a chalk outline on the living room floor.

Sunday morning forty winks

Sunday morning forty winks

The fine art of napping followed each of us as we ventured out to find our fame and fortune. It also became a quality anyone wishing to spend time with us, was compelled to accept. This can be a little tenuous when your chosen mate does not come from a sleep valued tradition. Fortunately, each new member of the Casey family soon learned it was easier to join the movement rather than fight it.

The best endorsement of this snoozing habit came from one my professors in the seminary. He was a wise man, blessed by God with insight and understanding. He made a statement one day which gave credibility to every nap, forty winks, catnap, and siesta that has ever been or every will be. He said, “Men…(with a long pause for effect,) sleep is a gift from God to those who have a clear conscience.” With that, the sandman and I became close personal friends and together we have embarked on some truly amazing journeys, not always with the best outcomes, but restful if nothing else.

I am a firm believer in the best place to enjoy one of God’s gifts is in His house. It was from the long theological drenched homilies in the seminary that I first learned to appreciate His gift. Each priest would try to out preach the other with their homilies, droning on and on like a senate filibuster. If you were fortunate enough to be seated at the back of the chapel, it was an easy task to roll your handkerchief into a ball that fit between your chin and chest. This gave your head a great resting place and provided a reverent tilt to your posture that appeared to the faculty seated behind you that you were an open receptor to the message being delivered. The only trick, you needed to be conscious enough when the preaching was finished you stood with the rest of your brothers. There were a few awkward times when brothers who claimed, “all for one” let me sleep a few seconds to long while they stood for the next portion of Mass.

With little shame, I still find sleeping in church one of the best snoozes that can be found. It is usually quiet, comfortable and as long as I don’t snore, I am not a distraction to anyone else. However, this is not without embarrassment for Tina.

One Saturday night Mass, I was enjoying a particularly generous blessing of God’s gift of sleep. It was a long day of work and we arrived for Mass very early for the purpose of winding down and enjoying some quiet meditation.

You can imagine what happened.

Within minutes of me saying my hello prayers to Jesus, I was deep in dreamland. We were in our usual Catholic appointed spot, second row from the front, center aisle, end seats. While napping, the church filled behind us to almost full capacity which is typical for a Saturday night. Deep in my relaxation I had a dream in which someone was poking me on my left arm. I am sure you have experienced a dream when what is happening in your dream, is happening outside your dream state in reality, phone ringing, alarm going off, someone calling you, you get the picture. In my dream state I turned to the person poking me, and, in a very agitated voice I said, “What the hell do you want.” Yes, regrettably I said those very words.

Now, I didn’t just whisper this question to my distracter, and no, I didn’t say it just in dreamland, no, I said it with power and volume, to a little altar server standing in the center aisle tapping me on my shoulder. The phrase echoed back through a quiet church quickly followed by gasps and laughter. Tina, sitting beside me slid under the pew with embarrassment and I am sure at that point considered the practicality of an annulment. The little server, looking at me with saucer size eyes and nervous voice said, “Father wants to know if you will read tonight?” As I wiped the drool from my face, I told him I would be back there in a minute. I turned to Tina and it was a very easy read on her face of “I can’t believe you.”

I took my place on the altar, a little embarrassed, but not ashamed of enjoying a gift.

So, you might think this is the pinnacle of sleep embarrassment but it doesn’t stop there.

On one of my many solo trips to Nebraska, my flight was delayed and plans rerouted because of storms and air traffic. A trip that should only take a few hours to Kansas City, turned into a twenty-four hour adventure. Part of the trip back-tracked me to Philadelphia arriving there around midnight.

Midnight in Philadelphia International is a lonely experience. I walked down the gate ramp under the greenish cast of inconsistent fluorescent lights flickering like a set from a cheap horror movie. As I sauntered up the ramp, my tag-a-long clicking over the tiles I believed the next skycap or maintenance man would be Freddie Kruger in an airport uniform. Conditions at the gate were not much better. The lights were out because it would not be used until 8:00AM for my flight. The only illumination was drifting in from the hallway. A peaceful scene of runway lights and rolling aircraft filled the window of the gate and contrasted against the Friday the 13th movie set I was stuck in.

A Nebraska cowboy spirit kicked in from somewhere. I found a row of seats that would double as a bed, fluffed up my computer bag as a pillow and shoved my wallet where I won’t go into right now, slung my tag-a-long over the other end of the row as a place to prop my feet and pulled my sport coat over me like the bed roll it was becoming. The only thing missing was a campfire with a tin coffee pot hanging over it. Thanks to my years of perfecting the art of sleeping anywhere and in any position, it didn’t take long to drift off.

When I woke up the next morning, the gate was packed. Mothers were pointing at the bum camped out taking up more seats than he should and admonishing their little children to not grow up and be like that man. I calmly wiped dribble from my cheek and sleep from my eyes, double checked my wallet, (without giving up its location,) gathered my gear and made a graceful exit. I thought about bowing but that would have been even more inappropriate at the time.

One last story but there are more in my arsenal.

My primary job for the seminary community was managing the photo lab. I was the official school photographer which meant hours in the darkroom. Back in the days of 35mm film, processing was done first in total darkness, then under a red light until all photos were finished. Total darkness, means absolutely no light, you cannot see your hands in front of your face. To accomplish your tasks, you practiced the movements with the lights on, then switched to darkness when you removed the film from the canister.

One night, after a few beers at the local pub, I realized there were rolls of film which needed processed for printing. I made all of the necessary preparations under the watchful eye of the overhead light. When it was time to move to total blackout, I positioned myself in a chair with the intention of loading several rolls at a time. Murphy’s Law kicked in when the lights went out. With two rolls of film out of their containers, the developing canister hit the floor. At this point, no lights can be turned on. After many frustrating minutes, I finally found the mischievous canister and settled back in the chair.

It must have been the beer or the lateness of the night, either way, I drifted off for a little nap. Nothing unusual there. When I woke up, I had no idea where I was. In total darkness what you see with your eyes closed is the same as your eyes wide open. Well, I must have had more beer than I should because the first panic which swept over me was… “Oh my God, I am blind!” and another question immediately followed… “And where am I?” Thankfully, reality settle in and with my heart thumping in my ears, I completed my task of feeding the film into the developing canister and was never so happy to see the dawning of red light.

There are two more stories, one involving a Philadelphia subway and the other a giant pig on a Nebraska highway. If you would like to hear those stories subscribe and send me your email for a personal version.

Right now, I am seriously thinking of taking a nap and I am sure I have caused a yawn once or twice with all of this talk of sleep.

After all, a good nap is….all part of growing up.

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