PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS telling me that the early bird gets the worm, but for as long as I can remember, the satisfaction of sleeping in has far outweighed the promise of any worms that could have come my way. I’m still trying to figure out how to make it to work in the mornings because, as my hard-boiled mechanic father barks so truthfully to me, I am a “profoundly lazy bum.”
Last week I had another episode of a recurring dream in which I am walking around my college campus late in the term and a fellow student yells across the quad at me, “Where have you been all semester? The calculus final is tomorrow.” At that moment my gastric acid burns a bloody hole through my gut as I realize that I have not attended the class in three months. How could this have happened?
When I awoke from my chronic vision, in tense and suspended animation, I realized I was 33 years old, balding and hadn’t had a final exam in 10 years. But I was two hours late to my job as a tech support monkey in the Meatpacking District for the second time that week—and it was only Tuesday. I would have to sprint out of my studio apartment, jump the 14th Street cross-town bus, sneak into the office kitchen, lose my jacket and then reappear with a cup of tea as if I had been there all along.
I’ve had a habitual tardiness problem since kindergarten. I never accepted the terms of that contract I was duped into on my second day of school, when I was woken up at 6:30 in the morning by my mother and I thought, “What do you mean I gotta go back to that place? I took care of the school thing yesterday.”
In second grade, I would often walk into my East Rockaway classroom late enough for my teacher Miss Goldblatt to snarl, “How good of you to fit us into your busy schedule Mr.Yeshaiek.” Peering at me with death-ray eyes, she seemed to take it personally, as if I was up hours ago jogging and reading the paper but I consciously decided,
“You know what? Fuck her!” A few months back, as I was scarfing down free gingerbread samples in the back of the Union Square Trader Joe’s, I was stopped by a suited guy who had attended the same college as me. He became animated as he recalled me from our freshman philosophy class, where he and a few classmates used to sit in the back taking daily bets on what my excuse for tardiness would be when I finally showed up. He almost shit his $500 Wall Street slacks laughing while I nodded in agreement like a schmuck.
But it’s not something I do on purpose, you see. My perpetual tardiness stems from the great difficulty I have in transitioning from sleep to waking. But, besides my sister’s “maybe you’re just a lethargic piece of crap?” diagnosis, I have never been professionally evaluated.
When I was an adolescent, my single mother would get a break once a month as I spent a few nights at my dad’s house in Queens. Early in the morning, he would hold a glass of cold water over the couch I slept on and taunt me as he began to slowly pour. He would be caffeinated and cracking up with laughter, his deafening Middle Eastern-accented voice vibrating the walls as he growled, “This is how my father used to wake me up.” Rage seethed inside me as I thought, “It’s not funny. If you pour, I will destroy you.”
Last month, I caught a promo for a Dateline television special on the tribulations of a family trying to deal with their teenage son who sleeps all the time. In the video, the whole camera crew is in the living room while the reporter pleads with the boy, “Can we ask you a question,Timmy?” But the kid just crawls on the floor pulling his blanket and moaning, “I wanna sleeeep!”The cameras move to close-ups of the poor mother’s frustrated expression. But as I sat watching from my couch I was brought to my feet howling at the television with empathy for the kid. “Just leave him alone, damn you! He’s tired!”
As I lie in bed like a drunken elephant, I sometimes fantasize that I have a singular medical condition that solely affects how difficult it is to wake up. Since I am the only person who suffers from it, no one else knows. In the future, after I am long gone, doctors will discover that I had this terrible affliction and people will sit around and discuss the matter. One sympathizer will say, “Yeah man. He lived with it his whole life and just carried on like the rest of us.” Another will nod his head in deep respect.
“He must’ve been one tough son of a bitch.”