Writing about the time change last month, I mentioned the night of a spring forward event in the mid-’80s when I lost track of everything while talking with a group of friends in the old Gallipolis police station, resulting in our parting company just as the rays of early dawn became visible and birds were chirping to signal the start of another day.
No worries because it was a Sunday in late April — the springtime switch in Daylight Savings Time being much later than it is now — and I had the day off to catch up on whatever sleep was lost.
Then being in my late 20s, such antics as being up late had become something I and my body were used to, particularly after high school and the routine it enforced became past history. Of course, decades later I have to say it was very much something you do in youth as you now struggle between the lateness of the hour and the body’s demand that you get some sleep.
After more than a decade of getting packed off to bed at 9 p.m. on school nights except Fridays and Saturdays (and oh, how I hated when “Bonanza” aired on Sunday nights, effectively ending the weekend), my career as a night owl commenced for two reasons. Working evening hours at a grocery store in my senior year and beyond changed my rest pattern, meaning I wasn’t quite ready for bed when I got home, especially after eating the excellent dinner my mother saved for me.
Secondly, as I became a bit more serious about writing and fanciead myself a new Mickey Spillane, the hours past midnight guaranteed time and solitude to practice, even if I was more enthusiastic than polished at what I did. Memories of listening to nocturnal noises outside the windows in my room as I worked out a plot idea remain with me today. But I have to be honest, too: I had become hooked on re-runs of “The Honeymooners” on local TV at 11 p.m. (or later if coverage of the Yankees game ran over) and late night movies as well.
Ideal for college, you say? Yes, although I can only say my one attempt at an all-nighter (preparing for a Botany final that had me worried to death) came to a halt at 4 a.m. when my notes and the text began blurring together. Instead I caught a few hours of sleep and took the exam at 8 a.m. Otherwise, when I did stay up, I spent the time talking with friends in the dormitory, catching Fritz the Nite Owl on WBNS-TV and signing on for at least one spur-of-the-moment trip to Columbus for White Castle Sliders.
During Christmas break as the ’70s drew to a close, an evening out with the gang I knew in high school turned into an all-night affair ending with my taking one of my friends home before I took the trail back to the old homestead. When I got there, I stealthily came in through the back door only to meet my father as he entered the kitchen to make coffee and start his work day, to give you an idea of the hour in which my adventure came to an end.
I muttered something to the effect of “we were out pretty late” (even then I was an ancestor of Captain Obvious) and Dad nodded in understanding. After all, I was 22, lived most of the time in Ohio by then and was old enough to act responsibly (if not intelligently all the time). Finding me upright and sober before I disappeared into my room, Dad brushed it off. He’d had his share of late nights in his early 20s, even if they were in places like North Africa, Italy and eventually Germany.
At some point being up late and beyond progressed from doing something out of the ordinary when I was a kid to near-routine as an adult. In fact, going into the newspaper game I thought it was expected as we followed nighttime incidents such as the Gallia County Courthouse fire in 1981, marathon monthly school board meetings lasting into the small hours, and coverage of high school football when I did so in the early-to-mid ’80s, repeating the experience with college basketball when I handled sports information at the University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College for several years.
But at some point when pushing 40 the old system began rebelling against extending the limit and getting little rest or exercise, and when my heart couldn’t take it anymore the idea of reliving my youth by being bold and up past midnight became a thing of the past. Especially when I initially took medications and for a time fell into a deep slumber at the drop of a hat.
That condition eventually modified and while I might make it until 2 in the morning, I’m ready for the sack when the time comes. The older you get and the wiser you become, the more you listen to yourself and don’t put off doing something when things are awry.
So being up late was a fun thing to do back when you yearned to enjoy the privileges of being an adult (without the responsibilities, of course). You got to see what the house looked like in the middle of the night while watching Chiller Theater, if you were so inclined, or more likely enjoyed some good times in high (and low) places. Are you admitting you’re getting old when you recognize all of that is past now? All I can say is, daylight looks better to me all the time.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.