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Al Martinez

'Well, Martinez,' I say to myself, 'you screwed up again.' : Noises in the Night

December 03, 1987|Al Martinez

Sometimes I can't sleep. It has nothing to do with guilt feelings, because I have always been able to sleep soundly through my guilt feelings, even when I'm guilty.

"Well, Martinez," I say to myself, "you screwed up again. Your editor is mad, your wife is irate, your kids are p.o.'d and even the dog stares in contempt as you pass by. It's been a good day."

Then I roll over and drift off smiling and wake up early with my conscience clear.

I don't know what keeps me awake. My mother used to say it was the devil whispering in my ear, but she was what everyone called a Good Catholic and could consequently find the devil swimming in a bowl of mush if she had to.

Neighbors in East Oakland used to point with admiration as she walked up the street and say, "There goes the best devil-finder on 98th Avenue."

Mom would hear them and strut a little and glance quickly up an alley, wherein old Nick no doubt waited for passing virgins, of which there were very few on 98th Avenue. But that's another story.

Sometimes when I can't sleep I lie awake and worry.

I don't worry a lot during the day because I am too busy thinking about the next column to agonize over reality, which is highly therapeutic. I don't see doom and disaster around the corner, I see 850 words for Thursday dancing before my eager eyes.

But when insomnia takes me by the throat, I am suddenly awash in concern over . . . well . . . everything.

Will Charlie and Di make it? Can Jessica Hahn and God find happiness at the Playboy Mansion? Will Reagan understand what's going on at the Gorbachev summit? Will the outlawing of toy guns ruin childhood?

What about hunger, war, child abuse, crime, traffic, rabies, economics, battered wives, lusting priests, contaminated martinis and the perils of genetic engineering?

If I lie there long enough, I can find something to worry about in everything, and when I weary of worry, I begin hearing noises.

Burglars, perhaps an entire battalion of them, rummage about downstairs, planning a systemized assault on my property, selecting the biggest and foulest among them to crush, however brutally, all resistance to their felonious enterprise.

What an ugly and contemptuous way to die.

But there's hope. I believe I have discovered an answer to the anguish that accompanies an inability to sleep. You keep busy.

Last Sunday, for instance, I found myself staring at the ceiling at 3:22:06 a.m., so I decided to get up and Put Things in Order. That is a broad enough mandate to encompass almost any activity one decides to undertake before dawn.

In this case it meant closing drawers.

Only uncapped toothpaste tubes bother me more than unclosed drawers. And not until I began wandering through the house did I realize how many drawers were slightly ajar.

I walked from room to room closing them. Cabinet drawers in the bathroom. Desk drawers in my writing room. Linen drawers in the hall. Clothes drawers, tool drawers, spice drawers, liquor drawers, photo drawers and drawers filled with items that defy classification.

A little push here, a little shove there.

I do not believe that at that moment there was a house anywhere from Chatsworth to Sunland with all of its drawers closed as fully and completely as mine.

I was basking in the glory of a tightly sealed ship when it occurred to me I had completely forgotten the kitchen, silly goose.

I marched myself right in there, found a silverware drawer ajar and tried to close it. The drawer was stuck. Hey, no problem. I'd just open it and . . .

It wouldn't open either.

Well, then, what you do is set your feet and pull at it with all the strength and rage of a thousand men . . . and watch it jerk suddenly free, fly over your shoulder and smash against an open cabinet, spilling shattered glasses and spoons and little salad forks on the floor in one clattering, calamitous heap.

To say this awakened the household would be to say the eruption of Vesuvius only awakened Pompeii. The dog howled, my son shouted, my daughter-in-law screamed, and their baby cried. Only my wife stayed calm.

"What are you doing?" she asked evenly.

"I couldn't sleep," I said.

"Refresh my memory," she said. "Do you usually destroy the kitchen when you can't sleep?"

"I didn't set out to destroy the kitchen. I set out to cure insomnia."

"Next time," she suggested, "try warm milk or even a little sherry, but leave the kitchen alone. Deal?"

"Deal."

We cleaned up the mess, and everyone went back to bed, but naturally they were wide awake.

My wife was irate, the kids were p.o.'d, the baby was fussy, and the dog observed me with open contempt.

No doubt when I went to work about 9 a.m. I would face, for whatever reason, an infuriated editor.

That made me smile. I snuggled down and went right to sleep with the devil whispering in my ear. He was saying, "Way to go, Martinez."

It was nothing.

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