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In this winsome celebration of life's lost, forgotten, and underappreciated pleasures, Holland offers dozens of short, witty essays which capture the joys of such sensational and hedonistic pursuits as ice-cold martinis, smoking, yawning and stretching, and "real" tomatoes. Illustrations.
Obviously the best possible time to wake up is in the June of our tenth year, on the first day of summer vacation. Failing that, another good time is in winter, facing east on the only bright morning in a long string of dark ones.
I did it recently, while visiting a country friend. She'd thoughtfully put me to bed in a tiny southeastern room with deep windows, so the bed was at sill level, and I woke up covered all over with the low yellow winter sunlight, as if Zeus had descended in a shower of gold and I would presently give birth to a minor goddess. Never underestimate the power of daylight in December.
In a window is a good place to wake up. For years in the city I lived in a small old rowhouse with low windows and slept at the windowsill, twelve feet straight up from the sidewalk. In the morning I could check the day from my pillow; the state of the sky; whether the people across the street had raised their upstairs blinds yet; whether the pedestrians wore their coats open or buttoned tightly. A window is the world's threshold, or vestibule. Some misguided hearties claim to enjoy waking up outdoors, completely in the world, participants instead of spectators, but this is too much responsibility for me at that hour. Too much sky. The room around us is our cave and protection—our sleep, so to speak—and the window is the world and the day ahead, or the waking state, and we lie there balanced at the transition between them. This is a good and gentle way to reenter the daily life,
Which brings up the subject of how to wake painlessly at the appointed hour. The same country friend, who has virtuously given upeating eggs, keeps chickens around anyway because she likes to hear the roosters crowing. A rooster is the classic and one of the pleasanter ways to be dragged out of sleep, or would be if he were more reliable. Some roosters don't crow until noon, and then keep it up till dinnertime. Most of them, in May and June, carry on hysterically at the first gray of dawn, which is no time for sane folk to be abroad. You can't count on a rooster, and many of us aren't in a position to keep one in the apartment anyway. We have alarm clocks, or clock radios.
Those who are seriously anti-pleasure go for a loud, angry, relentless ringing or buzzing sound to rend the soft rosy fabric of sleep and yank them into the day. This satisfies their masochism and leaves their nerves twitching till noon. A modern variation on this produces a thin electronic whine that can easily be silenced by the sleeper and then, five minutes later, another, more insistent whine. This has the advantage of letting us slip back into sleep—one of life's purer pleasures—over and over, with the disadvantage of being a thoroughly mean and hateful sound. Why not bells, for heaven's sake? Distant church bells, or chimes, or a far-off trumpet solo, or a mockingbird, or a fife-and-drum corps, or even a rooster, reliably prerecorded? Too pleasant, I suppose; inconsistent with the stern realities of the day ahead. Besides, we might just lie there happily listening to them for hours.
We might, if we've prudently supplied ourselves with an attractive warm body in the bed beside us, be inspired by bells and roosters to make love instead of leaping out of bed, and having done so, drift sweetly back to sleep.
The alternative to alarms is the clock radio, set the night before to whichever station we choose to reach into our naked, bemused, and vulnerable inner selves and snatch us forth like a snail winkled from its shell. Set it to the wrong number and heavy-metal rock will blast you across the room at dawn and leave you trembling like a leaf, unable even to pour coffee. On the other hand, a symphony may not do the trick at all. Glance around the concert hall. Many people would actually rather sleep to classical music, even sitting upright, than to silence. I tried the all-news station for a while, but this wasn't quite satisfactory either. A voice, usually a stem and solemn, rather biblical voice, pounced on me, either from on high or from under the bed, bearing inscrutable messages: ". . . thirteen killed and twenty-three injured" or ". . . in the right-hand lane. Traffic is backed up to Swedesford Road in Centerville. . . ." This always snapped me to attention, bewildered: Why is he telling me? Is it my fault? My responsibility? What must I do? Who is he and how did he get into my room?
The only truly pleasurable answer is to sleep until we float gradually, swinging in and out of consciousness, to the surface, and lie there smiling at the ceiling, afloat under weightless goose down in winter, a soft white cotton sheet in summer, until it seems good to get out of bed. This is a joy we should seize whenever possible, making a conscious effort not to think about money or errands or anything at all until we're actually up and at the coffee pot. Some people—I was married to one of them—find this so enjoyable as to be quite viciously decadent, and they spring up at once, checking the clock and berating themselves, and rush to the shower, though they have nothing at all to do until Monday morning.
The rest of us count not getting out of bed as the best part of waking up.
Posted October 7, 2011