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Finding the Zzzz Spot

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Robert Scheer

Day Tripper: Santa Cruz letter carrier Clint McCormick slips into one of his regular daytime snoozes.

The true confessions of a closeted yet contented napper

By Joan Fischer

In our busy world, which so often judges us by what we accomplish rather than by who we are, I feel like the odd woman out. When a little leisure time comes my way--or when I simply decide to steal it--I usually don't choose to, say, mountain-bike, jog or even aggressively surf the Internet. My secret passion is far less dynamic, pursued flat on my back with the shades drawn, in the privacy of my own home. As you may have guessed, I'm talking about napping.

I say this as a confession, even though I know I'm not alone. We nappers are a gentle folk, painfully aware that our horizontal hobby doesn't play well in an upwardly mobile society. Also, the need to work keeps us from indulging in our favorite pastime as much as we'd like. So we move in a stupor from one double espresso to the next, our eyelids permanently at half-mast, often acting just a tad cranky with those around us.

If you suspect there is a repressed napper in your life, please have pity, for our lot is not easy. Just staying awake is a constant struggle. Even as I write these words, I am valiantly resisting the call of the couch.

As someone who works out of her home, I can give in every now and then. But sometimes there's a rude awakening. One afternoon I answered the phone--I had forgotten to turn off the bell, an essential part of my pre-nap ritual--after I had reached a semiconscious state, foolishly thinking I could shake the grogginess from my voice.

It was one of my editors, very much awake and wondering how an assignment was coming along.

"Were you sleeping?" he asked.

Busted! How horrifying!

I mumbled some lame excuse. I probably said I was "resting my eyes." But my editor wasn't born yesterday.

"I'd sleep if I could," he said reassuringly.

Nappers are born, not made. I was a champion napper even in my youth. In college, a friend used to call me "Dormouse" after the drowsy character in Alice in Wonderland for whom breathing while sleeping and sleeping while breathing were one and the same. Certainly the napping gene is not reflected in my offspring, a phenomenon I have observed with many other sluggish parents as well. Some perverse kind of law seems to ensure us children with the stamina of Energizer Bunnies. I tried every trick in the book to make naps appeal to my son when he started dropping them at an unfairly early age. Nothing worked.

Inside Napping Culture

Like every secret society, nappers have their own culture and rituals. After much prodding, this much I have gathered from the few habitual dozers who were willing to come out to me. Most of us, it seems, turn off our phones. More annoying than a mosquito's buzz is the ring of a distant phone.

As to venue, there is heated disagreement about what's better, a couch or a bed. Some of us feel that people who nap in bed are losers. There's a difference between being someone who checks out of life for a while and being someone whom life has forgotten. Snoozing in bed in broad daylight puts a person in the latter category.

Finally, there is a rich variety of pillow-and-cover habits. Most of us have a favorite blankie, as well as lulling rituals. Some nappers allow "easy listening" music to do the job, while others prefer reliably boring TV shows or books.

But such glimpses into napping culture are hard to come by. What we need is a support group. At first glance, a Nappers Anonymous would seem suitable. Certainly nappers want to hide their identity. But there would have be some major divergences from traditional 12-step programs.

At Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, members don't gather around and reminisce about their wonderful benders. Yet that's exactly what I want us nappers to do: Talk about the good times, about the naps we have managed to take in extremely unlikely or adverse circumstances. Why, I used to occasionally pull a nap while sitting at my desk in a very busy, open office. I'd prop my forehead against my thumb and index finger--a variation on Rodin's Thinker--using the rest of my hand as a visor to hide my closed eyes. I looked like I was concentrating very hard, and no one dared disturb me.

But I can imagine dozing feats that go well beyond these modest accomplishments. Napping on the Boardwalk's Giant Dipper at high noon in the midst of a summer tourist weekend--now that would be something! We nappers could spur each other on to try these things, if only we could get together.

We also need to replace shame with pride. We should tell the world what we're all about. I envision bumper stickers that proclaim "I'd Rather Be Napping" or "Nap Adapt I Do" and T-shirts declaring "Just Say Nap." Our answering-machines also would tell it like it is: "We're napping right now, but if you leave your name and number we'll get back to you soon--yawn."

Most of all, we must recognize napping as a highly political act. While other members of our consumer society plot and toil to get ahead, nappers simply rest. Each day, when we can, we take time out to dream. Our hobby costs nothing, is available to everyone and does not harm the environment. We rise from the couch in better spirits, our nerves soothed and our souls replenished, ready to treat our fellow humans with courtesy and respect.

So let's make this world a napping place! If you're lucky enough to work where there's a nice big napping couch, set aside a furtive 30 minutes to stretch out on it.

My own couch sits not six feet from my desk. It's covered with a soothing paisley fabric and draped with a yellow afghan knitted by my grandmother. As the midday sun warms it and I grow ever more fatigued, its distinctive call becomes nearly deafening, at least to my ears.

Enough! I surrender!

Guess where I'm headed?

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From the March 7-13, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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