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Sleepless in Albany | By Robert Menzimer

The damndest things keep me awake at night. Work, well sure. Job issues keep everyone awake. Imagine the person who okayed the installation of those bolts on the new Bay Bridge. Before that, imagine the person in Ohio, or wherever it was, saying yes to the galvanization of those bolts that led to the tiny fractures that led to the trickles of sea mist in the marine air that led to the bolts cracking that led to the halt in construction of our big new swooping white bay icon. After that, imagine the bolt builder’s lawyer. Everybody in that chain was staring at a clock at 3 a.m.

Sometimes I wake up thinking about the movie I just saw, or the movie I was just dreaming I was in, the one where I was George Clooney, gazing through the candlelight at (fill in your fantasy name here).

Do you remember Sleepless in Seattle? Sure, who could forget? Tom Hanks, everybody’s favorite East Bay boy, and Meg Ryan, before the plastic surgery, starting out connected by a wee-hours call-in radio show, ending up together in an Empire State Building elevator, and, I’m willing to bet, not getting much sleep that night.

Then there’s Insomnia. In this one, Al Pacino plays a cop who walks around with under-eye bags so big he could pack them with clothes and take off for Thailand. But he’s in Alaska, and he’s there at the wrong time of year. He can’t get his eyelids to meet because the sun never dips below the horizon. He can’t even fantasize about being in a neo-noir detective yarn because, with no sunset, there’s no noir. On top of that, he has to contend with a relentlessly energetic local cop played by Hilary Swank, whose primary purpose appears to be ignoring the fact that Al Pacino isn’t getting any sleep!

How about Lost in Translation? In that one, Bill Murray is time-zoned out in Tokyo. When he can’t sleep, he goes down to the hotel bar and runs into people who look like Scarlett Johansson. When I can’t sleep, I go to the bathroom mirror and run into someone who looks like an extra in Night of the Living Dead. That horror would keep anyone awake.

If you have a newborn, there’s little debate about what keeps you awake at night. Your friends—you know, people who can actually leave the house—talk about Bill Murray because they saw him in a movie recently, or ran into him on the fairway at Pebble Beach. You think about him because you’re up at 2 a.m. with the baby, watching old Saturday Night Live re-runs.

When our son Parker was so small I could carry him with one arm (note to Child Protective Services: I hardly ever did that) and he used to raise the roof after midnight, I thought my best bet was to take him to SFO and put him on a plane for Bolivia. (Note to Child Protective Services: We couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Bolivia, and even if we could, I didn’t know anyone down there who could pick Parker up at the airport in La Paz, he didn’t speak Spanish, and he didn’t know how much to pay for a cab ride into town.) Finally one night, I stuffed him into one of those front-loading snugglies and hauled him outside for a walk. As good an idea as any, probably, but we had neighbors trying to sleep 12 feet away, it’s a small town, and they know who I am. To keep as far away from them as possible, I started strolling down the middle of Santa Fe Avenue. Eventually, Parker dropped off. Next night, same story. So, I figured, we had ourselves a routine.

In my sleep-deprived delirium, all of this quickly began to seem normal. The Albany police didn’t necessarily agree. The first officer who drove up probably thought he had stumbled into The Return of the Living Dead, which I don’t think starred Bill Murray and I know didn’t star Scarlett Johansson. “Sir,” he pointed out helpfully. “You’re walking down the middle of the street, and it’s two o’clock in the morning.” I thought about asking why he wasn’t hanging out at Happy Donuts with all the other boys in blue, but, occasionally, even I know what’s good for me.

Turns out the Albany cops are great guys, as I learned, night after night. They’d stop me to say things like, “Hey, Bob, my wife’s aunt in Portland has an idea that she swears will put Parker out pronto.”

A lot of things keep you awake at night: work issues, or the fact that you’re not George Clooney, or Scarlett Johansson. But for me, even after many years, it’s a baby that still tops the list. If you have kids older than 3, you know that eventually you figure out a way to get some shut-eye, and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve standing in the middle of Santa Fe Avenue with the Albany Police Department, watching Orion wheel across the winter sky. Unfortunately for me, I started thinking about all this stuff at 4 this morning and then, of course, I couldn’t get back to sleep.”

Robert Menzimer is executive director of the nonprofit WriterCoach Connection program, which provides writing support for students in East Bay public schools. He’s also a freelance writer, editor, and English and writing tutor. He and his wife live and sleep, when they can, in Albany.


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Photo montage by Andreas Jones.