Napping

This first ran in The Syracuse New Times in March of 1978, and was thought by many to be the peak of my early career. I was writing about something I knew and loved.

* * *

“Hey, wanna get high?”

You’ve heard that before. But it always cost you money, and you woke up at the Greyhound Terminal with no socks. But this is the real thing. It’s free, and it won’t give you a sore throat like the 1967 Smoke-a-Banana hoax. No blurred vision and numb ears. No coming-to in City Hall, hugging the Dog License lady and crying for water. That’s all behind you now.

It’s time for a delicious euphoria that’s good for you too. The secret? Take a nap. That’s right. It’s simple, it’s free, and best of all, it’s illicit. There’s no law against it yet, but one could be in the works. Now is the time to take advantage of napping.

It will require courage; there’s a heavy social taboo. (“Don’t get caught napping!”) Even the Bible waves you off, saying, “Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty.” (Proverbs 20:13). And you thought napping was for sissies. No way. Close your eyes before nightfall and you’re an outlaw! I know, I know, you’re saying, “Hey, Mom made me nap when I was a kid and I never got high.” Relax, nothing you ever have to do feels good.

What we’re really talking about is free-style creative napping. Napping with meaning, napping with a vengeance, napping with a friend! And don’t confuse napping with “sleeping” or being “out.” Sleep is good for you; most people do it at night and it’s vital for your health. Passing out is our body’s way of telling you to reconsider your life-style. Napping is an art.

And I hasten to add, no foreign substances are necessary. They only interfere. Alcohol is especially poor for napping because it activates the famous Navajo Alarm Clock, interrupting the nap, or worse, sharply raising the surface humidity in the nap area. A faux pas to be avoided.

Equipment? You probably already have everything you need. No trip to Ski City with your life’s savings will be necessary. Beginners will probably want to begin with The Bed, but The Sofa, The Chair and The Floor have their charms as well. I spoke with one advanced napper who advocated The Aquarium. But by all means, remain indoors, at least until Spring.

Next in line is your nap blanket. Known variously as a sniff-blanket, a newley or “bwanget,” it should be distinct from your routine bedware. The older the better; it could take months to properly break in a new one. Soft wool (not itchy!) and quilts, preferably crafted by grandmothers, are traditional favorites.

Take the phone off the hook. If it howls or beeps, stuff it in a laundry bag.

Remove your shoes, glasses, keys, loose change, or any funny hats you may be wearing.

If you’ve just finished a can of anchovies and washed them down with a big glass of buttermilk, brush your teeth. Waking up in pleasant surroundings is part of the total nap experience, and you want to be pleasant too.

Getting into Bed: Give this a lot of thought. Although novices are advised to work with a net, you may want to dive right in. Pay close attention. If you have a pet, specifically a dog, cat or above average rabbit, they are the best teacher. Note how the dog spins 12 times before dropping; see the cat selecting the most inviting portion of blanket terrain. And observe how the rabbit closes his eyelids and is asleep “as is.” Find a style that fits your personality and practice until you’re “in the groove.”

Covering Up: There are many reasons to cover up. At the heart of successful napping is Comfort. Accordingly, the body temperature must be maintained in the comfort range; this includes the feet, back and elbows, all of which have an uncanny ability to seek out chill air. Deny them!

Tucking the head under the blankets regulates the lighting, and on a particularly sunny day you may experience the famous Persian Tent Effect, but beware of stuffiness. This tension between light and air has never been fully resolved. Another benefit of “the covers” lies in weight and protection. A hefty blanket is very soothing, and every child knows that lightening bolts cannot penetrate warm covers. Knowledge of this truism gives a real sense of security, making it easy to abandon the cares of the waking world.

Drifting Off: This is the good part. Get comfy, exhale, and let go. Relax those muscles. Stop trying to make sense. Babble a little if it helps. Like the noble moo cow, your mind will wander to greener pastures if left untended and unfenced.

People who fail to grasp the essence of napping see this stage as an annoying or frightening obstacle between them and oblivion. Not so! Getting there is half the fun, and for those of you looking forward to visions, stunning insights and euphoria, this is the main course. Dig in. As Heraclitus, certainly a favorite of New Times readers, once said, “When people are awake, they enjoy one world in common, but asleep each roams in a world of his own.” How true.

Advanced Techniques: Team Napping is an exciting break for the experienced solo artist. But choose your partner(s) carefully. Never sleep with something a whole lot bigger than yourself. Unless you’re Tarzan, don’t sleep with an unruly group of jungle animals. Avoid the tuna.

The ideal companion is an domestic animal. I have the great good fortune to share quarters with a dog who can head for the deep faster than Jacques Cousteau. He is a constant inspiration. Beware, however, of dream transference. One morning Clete awoke with the nagging anxiety that he was late for work, and I was exhausted from a scuffle with a vengeful 60-pound squirrel. But these instances are rare.

Sleeping with another person can also be a treat, although the nap may be delayed by some good-natured tomfoolery. Remember what you’re there for, and sooner or later you’ll get to Slumberland.

The Radio Nap is a big favorite. Records end too soon, but a carefully programmed tape of at least 60 minutes can be good. The tape may actually be best as radio stations often cheat and trick the napper. Many times I have drifted off blissfully to a symphony only to be jolted awake 20 minutes later by an operatic tenor who has just struck his thumb with a hammer. It’s a chance you take. Other unwelcome interruptions include the news and Chiefs baseball, and the famous, “This is a test.” Opt, if you can, for instrumental passages. A human voice may be disconcerting, leading you to believe that Art Garfunkel or Linda Ronstadt has entered your bedroom. (Although maybe that’s not such a bad deal.) String music provides a rich dream experience. Classical, light jazz guitar or a lush Stokowski transcription are all delightful.

Surfacing: Do not set the alarm. Leave instructions with a trusted servant if you must, but the best way up is to surface at your own speed. Make groaning noises. Stretch each limb individually. Allow the heart to quicken at a moderate pace. Rise slowly and fetch a small glass of water. Put on a robe and shadow box for a few minutes. A quick shower and a rub-down and you’ll be ready for anything, even another nap. Above all, do not feel guilty. If anyone expresses disdain for the way you spent your afternoon, knock them down with a large loaf of French bread. They’ll hold their tongue in the future.

Remember, any clown can pass out when it gets dark. The napping virtuoso calls his own shots, casts traditional schedules and restrictions to the wind, and drifts away in style. As Henri Amiel said in his familiar Journal Intime, “Sleep is the mystery of life, a wonderful performance of nature.”

Encore!

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