by JIM KNIPFEL
September 27, 2015
Go Fuck Yourself, Ben Franklin
I honestly no longer recall what my original motivation was, but in junior high I started getting up and getting myself together at around quarter to four every morning. I found it was simply easier to go about my morning routine without any interference and without panicking that I might be late for school. After a few weeks of this, I also discovered it was the best time in the world to do my homework. There was no television blaring in the other room, no traffic on the street outside, no family members bustling about or asking me questions. My brain just seemed to work better before the sun came up. I could concentrate on the work at hand uninterrupted for a couple of hours before anyone else started moving around. And if there was no homework to do, I could always read a book or the morning paper or go downstairs and watch sleazy weirdies on the cable.
Getting up that early every day, of course, also necessitated that I went to bed early the night before. Sometimes absurdly early. I think that worried my parents more than the “getting up before four” part. We’d finish dinner, I’d dry the dishes, then say goodnight and be in bed by seven. It seemed to strike them as just a little unhealthy and weird, that unlike other kids I wasn’t begging to stay up late. Guess I didn’t do a lot of things normal kids did, but it worked for me.
The habit continued through high school and into college. Living in the dorm at Chicago, my roommate and I had an unspoken agreement that I’d be out of the room by five a.m. so he could sleep uninterrupted all day, and he’d be out by seven in the evening so I could have the room all night. Again the idea was to get up, get out, and do my homework before anyone else was awake and bothering me. I also liked being downstairs when they opened the cafeteria at seven, so I could have my damn breakfast in peace.
The sick thing is I stayed on the same absurd schedule even when I wasn’t in school, had no homework, and lived by myself with no one to bother me no matter what the hour. Even more absurd than that, I always wanted to be a night person, to prowl the streets and bars or do my work long after everything had gone dark and still. That’s when things happened and the world became interesting again. Even if things didn’t happen, it just seemed much more romantic that way, but somehow I was never able—except for a stretch there in Madison and Philly—to get my body to cooperate. Though of course the speed helped in Madison and Philly. Later, as the eyesight began its precipitous decline, I was too dependent on what little light I could grab to seriously consider living at night.
After moving to New York and taking a job as a security guard at the Guggenheim I had little choice but to keep the same predawn schedule, as I had to be out of the apartment by six-thirty to catch the train. Even on good days I was looking at a two hour commute up to the museum, and by the time I got home at night I was too tired to do anything else.
When I started working as a receptionist at the New York Press, even though my commute was much shorter, I tried to get out even earlier for the same reason I started getting up at quarter to four in junior high. It was just easier to get into the office and make those basic preparations for the day without anyone else around. Beyond that, the commute was much easier and less murderous if I could make it on an empty train.
A few years later after I’d been given a cushy staff writer job, I found myself boarding the train to head into Manhattan at quarter to six for, yeah, pretty much the same reason. The office could get awfully abrasive and stupid starting at nine, and once the numbskulls started dragging themselves into the office I was no longer allowed to smoke at my desk. A man can cram an awful lot of smoking into two hours if he sets his mind to it.
I guess when you get right down to it I’ve been keeping this same ridiculous schedule as long as I have simply as a way of avoiding contact with people as much as possible.
Twisted thing is, right? Twisted thing is I’m now fifty years old. The eyes are gone so grabbing the light is no longer an issue. Morgan leaves for work about six-thirty to face a long commute of her own. Apart from little errands and chores I've got nothing to do all day except sit at the machine and work. There’s no one around to bother me save for the cats. Other people, schedules, none of it are of any concern. But I STILL get up at quarter to four and go about my business. If I don’t, if I oversleep for even fifteen or twenty minutes, I feel physically and mentally screwed for the rest of the day. Maybe I’m just insane or have developed a touch of OCD over the years.
But here’s the real kicker, which brings us back to the title of this week’s column.
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, does it? Well, I’ve been early to bed and early to rise since I was fourteen years old. I’ve been a little obsessive about it, albeit for my own antisocial reasons. And you know what? I’m NONE of those things! Not even close! So fuck you and your little quips of shoddy wisdom, Poor Richard!.
Christ, maybe it’s time to start taking speed again.
You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:
With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.