Up All Night And Original Thinking

by Kevin Burton

   I’m sitting in the dark, on the couch my mom gave us. I hear the sound of a train in the distance.

   There is romance, poetry in the sound.

   I’m in the Man Cave and it couldn’t be mancavier. Two smallish beacons of light accompany the night without interrupting it; a light from the boom box and the illuminated numbers from the clock on the microwave.

   I can’t read the numbers from where I am sitting, but I don’t need to. In my time, the night time, one time is as good as another. It could be 12:25, or 2:11 or 4:09. 

  No cars are honking, no phones are ringing, I am breathing free and easy.

   Real life disallows these nocturnal musings most of the time. But a Tuesday off from work allows this one. For me, the night time is the right time.  

   It’s the time when my thoughts can amble down a back road, rather than speed walk the hot city pavement.

  When the daylight comes, as it inevitably must, it will be an intrusion.

   What we call the middle of the night, or the wee hours has a name in Spanish. It’s “madrugada.” That is pronounced “MAH-dru-GAH-tha” because that last D trapped between the As takes on the soft TH sound as in these and those.

   I thought I was inventing the Spanish verb “madrugar” meaning to stay up and work or play in the hours after midnight. Actually madrugar was already a word, meaning to get up early. But that is not what I had in mind.

   In the old days, in the former America, the one that inspired dreams rather than trepidation, my madrugada was shared with radio talkers. There was Larry Glick from WBZ in Boston, Jim White from KMOX in St Louis, many others.

   At the top of the hour I could listen to the news and be reasonably sure that if the speaker got something wrong it was an error, not an outright lie. 

   It was a communal chat. I even called in a few times.  Night people were a tribe, when tribes were benign, and I was a night person, still am.

   The original thinkers come out at night. 

One such was Jean Shepherd. For my money he was the greatest of all the Night People. I first heard of him in chapter five of the book “Something In The Air, radio rock and the revolution that shaped a generation” by Marc Fisher.

   Shepherd was an American storyteller, humorist, radio and TV personality, writer, and actor. His heyday was before my time, but I totally relate to him and what he was about, thinking for yourself.

   Here is a bit about Shepherd from a blog by Arthur Lortie of The Herald News of Fall River Massachusetts:

   “Shepherd took his status as an exalted Night Person semi-seriously and railed against the ‘creeping meatball-ism’ of what he called the Day People, those armies of identically dressed cemetery plot salesmen, soap opera housewives and others who would simply believe anything, and everything, they were told by newspapers, the government or other authority figures. In Shepard’s diatribes, the chosen ‘Night People’ were being continually persecuted by the ‘Day People’. It was time to turn the tables, he decided, on THE MAN!”

   “His show quickly became an underground hit among intellectuals and artists, those creative types who did their best work in the wee morning hours. They even developed their own greeting. If someone spotted a person they thought, or hoped, was a Night Person, they would yell ‘Excelsior!’. The proper response of ‘Seltzer Bottle!’ would identify a kindred spirit. This off-the-wall nonsensical conversation was met with dumbfounded stares by the rigid Day folk, who, naturally, simply … did … not … get … it!,” Lortie writes.

   Shepherd and his listeners pulled off the greatest literary hoax of all time. If you don’t want the book, just google “Jean Shepherd, hoax” and you’ll get the story of the fictional book, “I, Libertine.”

   When I read about it on talking book I laughed so hard I woke up my wife, even though I was trying very, very hard not to do so.  Eventually I was howling to the point where she asked “are you crying?” which of course made me convulse even more. 

     Yesterday I found a You Tube piece where he tells the story after the fact and I cracked up all over again. 

   Sweet victory for the night people.

    “I’m talking about people with that wild tossing in the soul that somehow makes them stay up until three o’clock in the morning and brood,” Shepherd explained. “They might get up at seven the next morning and go to work, but that isn’t what their life is about.”

   There you have me, serene, viewing the world by the light of the microwave.

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