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Those in San Diego who stay up past midnight

You want the night staff

Coronado ferry. "Yes, they kiss more, it’s true. But they also tend to go berserk more easily." - Image by Joe Klein
Coronado ferry. "Yes, they kiss more, it’s true. But they also tend to go berserk more easily."

On the toy-town ferry that crosses the bay from San Diego s downtown to Coronado, noctumal romantics have taken to the water. They have come to watch a sunset, to immerse themselves in the melodrama of oncoming night or else to fondle some Juliet who will accept a postprandial Romeo. And they can do all this only first lawless moments of night.

Hoang at the pump station: “I notice that after, say, midnight they go a bit moody."

The first constellations, Auriga and Cassiopeia, begin their slow rotation above a Hanging Garden of childish neons. The deserted nautical boulevards with their curved lines of Imperial palms look like nomadic pathways cut through a desert of glass and concrete. And somewhere behind them, lost in semi-vacant industrial lots that come alive with insects at night, the railway sounds its empty, half-crazy 19th Century horn.

Vertical towers of lights materialize from a night sky already painted the faintly fraudulent lapis lazuli of certain medieval frescos. At dusk, as it begins to disappear, seen from the water, the city finally begins to look like a metropolis. Not an electrically powered one or one bristling with the frenzied entrepots of manufacturing, but a silent, floating one made of sinister paper lanterns. And in the glassy, oily water, its reduplicated lights begin to exaggerate its power.

Emergency Animal Clinic. "Pet owners do get rather broody in those hours."

The Mexican crews who work the boats are the first to admit with superstitious brio the otherness of night. Are the commuters there, after all, for any reason other than that of pure revel in a pagan sunset? Would we not be unsurprised to see them leaping about with masks on their face as the sun god went down and the demonic activities of night got underway? The ferry nightworkers have not yet witnessed such cannibalistic scenes, but if they did they would hardly be surprised.

Hanalei Hotel

One of them explains. “At night people are entirely changed. Believe me, they are. I’ve been watching them for a long time. Yes, they kiss more, it’s true. But they also tend to go berserk more easily. I’ve seen them. Utterly berserk. Would they go berserk if the sun was shining? Would they? No, sir. They would not go berserk. They..." (he pauses a moment for thought — the boat is pulling out into the bay and the passengers are looking each other up and down a little suspiciously ) “...they would be ashamed to go berserk. They would behave themselves."

The labyrinthine cafe called Insomniac in a second floor Fourth Avenue block.

They all shake their heads. In the blue gloom of early night, it is easy to revert to the pagan fear of darkness. The passengers are definitely now looking a little, shall we say, wild eyed. The “ungodly" hours have always been associated with, well, the ungodly, human, or supernatural. The first report on witchcraft in the 11th Century by Gratian claimed that only at night did witches roam the land. He called them noctiluca, they who shine by night. And since night was when witches labored, all those who did likewise were tarred with the same brush.

The Insomniac: pop art, chess tables, and abandoned pianos.

Did God, when setting up the night-and-day scheme of things, inadvertently hit upon one of the sliest of all moral ideas? In daylight, the virtuous sweat, visible to all. But in the hours nocturnal, the footpads, the counterfeiters, the plotters, the sewage workers, and the writers do their vile, unmentionable things. The latter have always been defiant, childishly claiming that night is more cultivated and refined than day. But who believes them? Who is gullible enough to believe for a minute that God made night for heroes and geniuses while leaving day for mere bank clerks, gardeners, and fat-bellied lawyers — bourgeois simpletons and the generally pitiful earners of wages?

King Chiropractic Clinic. "We are open at night because people cannot sleep."

“To stay up all night, you have to be over the age of 30,” Honore de Balzac once said, implying brilliant intellectual heroism. But nowadays our cities are like tombs at night. The nocturnal classes have seemingly dwindled to a handful of rebels, and nothing now awards prestige to that most mysterious and despised of creatures, the nightworker. And from the decks of the nighttime ferry, surrounded on all sides by twinkling, playful lights, it is quite clear that, far from being the refuge of poets and thinkers, night has become not only threatening but frivolous as well.

The strange affinities between sewage workers and writers are best seen in this light. Like Kafka and Flaubert, your sewage worker labors through the night with secret channels and conduits, vigilant between dusk and dawn and in command of a mysterious empire of filth.

The largest sewage station in the city is pump station number two on North Harbor Drive, a stone’s throw from Lindbergh Field. Here, waste effluvia from all over the metropolitan area is collected via a huge underground system of pipes, pumps, and gravity-operated metering stations. From here it is tunneled to the Point Loma treatment works and then into the ocean via the two-mile-long ocean outfall pipe — a marvelous system and one that reminds you that although sewage workers and writers are definitely comrades-in-night, the former are infinitely more indispensable.

Pump station two is directed by the suave and handsome Mr. Hoang, a petite figure in corduroy jacket and long, glistening black ponytail, who has the air of a serene and patient Chinese sage as he flits around the pump house control rooms. Mr. Hoang also has very elaborate theories about things nocturnal. For since the station needs to operate continuously around the clock, he has not hesitated to employ the services of a nightworkers’ schedule consulting firm that has created what he now believes is the optimum timetable for those doomed to work the graveyard.

“It’s very simple," he explains, and not without a certain amount of pedagogic relish. “The human organism evolve over millions of years. During that time, man hunt in the day, sleep at night, get up with dawn, and so forth. So the evolution has create the circadian clock."

He pauses, beams, and adjusts his tie. The circadian clock? “Yes. The circadian clock. The circadian clock is this mechanism in us which make us get up when it light outside and sleep when dark. It took millions of years to make it, so now you can’t undo it. There is an instinct to sleep at night. Therefore, it very unnatural to work at night. Very unnatural. Man hate it because it’s very unnatural. He feel tired, angry, irritated. He not at all himself, see? Well, not surprising after two million year."

Mr. Hoang raises his eyebrows and shrugs. “Two million year a long time."

The mysteries of this internal evolutionary clock named after the famous enchantress of Odysseus are certainly considerable. To a man, the pump station two workers detest the night shift, when there is virtually nothing to do but check the pump gauges every two hours and during which the mind seems, according to them, to go into a kind of deathly trance unrelieved even by boredom. And, Mr. Hoang ardently insists, their behavior has to be carefully watched in case the nefarious circadian clock gets the better of them. After all. didn’t Circe change Odysseus’s men into pigs?

“I notice that after, say, midnight they go a bit moody. They get snappy. You have to be very careful. You see, it’s evolution.” Mr. Hoang’s eyes light up and open wide with a brief but voluptuous mystery. ‘ And they’re not the only ones. Here we’re next to the AWOL base. During the night, because that damn circadian rhythm, they come climbing over the fences. They want to escape, because at night they go completely crazy. Then they come in here, find they in the sewage pump station, and fall asleep in the paint cupboard. Amazing. Truly amazing."

Mr. Hoang shakes his head and wags a finger. “That’s what come when you go against Nature."

The station itself hums away quietly in the night. The great burnished pumps behind the glass partition that separates them from the control room have the slightly menacing presence of brooding nuclear reactors. The control panel spread out along the facing wall — a maze of warning lights, flow indicators, and electrical power meters — displays at a glance the entire epic movement of sewage and water around the metropolis. It is a beautiful sight and one that Mr. Hoang will only too gladly explain with the fervor of the true sewage careerist.

“Sewage is like a map of the city’s social behavior. One hundred and eighty million gallons go through here every day. Between midnight and two in the morning, the flow go right down, because people are going to bed. Between two and six, it’s at its lowest — the dead hours. Then at six, dawn, it pick up again. It rises through the morning and reach a peak at mid-day. the highest point. Then it stays even for the next 12 hours. Now we see 100 gallons a day per person. We’re using 10 million gallons less a year than in 1989, but that's 100 gallons. still. Incredible isn’t it? The water come all the way from the Colorado aqueduct, so you see the problem in California. Water. No water, no sewage pump. No sewage pump..." A look of pure apocalypse crosses his face, and he holds his nose between two fingers.

It is unquestionably a sombre vision. As Mr. Hoang escorted me to the front doors of pump station two. he pointed to a map of the sewage pipes criss-crossing the city like the enigmatic tunnels of some ancient catacomb and reaffirmed his faith in the infallibility of the Colorado aqueduct. And he himself — a nightworker for life?

“Yes, everywhere sewage stations are the same. Night, night, night. I work night all my life, I know. My wife hate it, but she know it's what I’ve got to do. A sewage man is doomed to night. That’s my career. And what’s more, I’m proud to be in sewage. It’s a real career."

The calm intensity of this confession is a sobering fact for the frivolous among us.

Mr. Hoang went back to his station with a spring in his step. Are AWOLs even now scaling his fences? Are rivers of silent and lethal shit passing — figuratively speaking — between his capable hands? And is the circadian clock, that masterpiece of evolution, even now causing his metabolism to slow?

Over the ghostly freeway skirting the harbor. an elliptical-marigold moon had risen, announcing, in its rather sentimental way, that the night was still young. The air smelled faintly suspect. Close to the humming pumps, the nightworkers were, in all probability, counting the slowness of nocturnal time. And Mr. Hoang...Mr. Hoang was probably doing his tai-chi and listening to the minute hand of evolution.

San Diego, having only the merest suggestion of a downtown, is a place that embraces the oppression of night with open arms. Its dark, palm-lined residential avenues resound only with the surreally amplified warbling of mockingbirds and the whirring of cicadas. At midnight, when the coffeehouses shut, only the desolate figures padding silently around the dangerous fringes of Balboa Park or the gaily uniformed packagers in the all-night supermarkets keep the streets from being void. They, and the lonely prostitutes strung out along El Cajon Boulevard and Midway, or the fat white men behind the cash tills of the all-night sex shops. There is not a bearded bard in sight.

High up in the hillside overlooking Mission Valley, however, a bright light of salvation shines night-long among the fruit trees and pines; at least, you might see it that way if you were an animal and you were alone in the night. It is well known that the circadian clock of animals often runs counterclockwise, because they like or need to hunt at night. The dark hours are filled with the reflecting retinas of plump tabbies and scavenging. mice-tormenting Persians — those charming muggers of the urban animal kingdom — and their sadistic nocturnal energy often leads them into collision with cars. Where do they go to lick their wounds at an hour that is to them perfectly normal but to veterinarians is still ungodly? To the 24-hour Emergency Animal Clinic in Mission Valley.

The nightworkers of the clinic are “animal technicians." And the clinic itself might at first glance seem indistinguishable from the human kind. It is only after a few minutes that you begin to notice that the photographs of successfully treated, contented patients on the walls are actually of Doris the gorilla, Mavis the collie, and the odd chameleon. Between the soda machines, leaflets are stacked informing the human visitors of the technical complexities of canine intestinal parasites and the hookworms that cling to the colons of cats. The clinic even provides grief counseling for the homo sapiens bereaved.

The technicians, waiting patiently under the intense strip lighting for the next frenzied call, have come to learn that when people call at night about their pets, delusion often lies just around the corner.

The young woman on duty in reception explains, “I’d say that there are more calls late at night, and one reason is that pet owners do get rather broody in those hours. They begin fantasizing about what they think might be wrong with Fido. Were his ears twitching convulsively? Did his tongue look dry? Has he been looking at me in a strange way all evening? Are thousands of hookworms eating away his insides and I just haven't seen it until now, that is, at two in the morning? People even come in and say, ‘The poor thing, he’s feeling depressed and he’s got a migraine,’ meaning that it’s three in the morning, they're incredibly depressed, and they have a migraine. And if it isn’t that, it’s people going crazy at night with each other, picking up the nearest available object, the cat, say. and hurling it across the room at their girlfriend. Then they come in with the cat bleeding from all orifices and say, ’The poor thing, he fell down the stairs, he’s not used to walking around at night,’ and we have to suppress ourselves. I have no idea why people behave this way at night, but I can tell you that they certainly take it out on their animals."

At that moment another technician enters the room carrying a large cage in the corner of which sits, nightmarish green claws wrapped around the bars, a terrified-looking reptile staring out at the humans. He looks convinced that he is about to be eaten.

Is it a patient?

“Naturally. An iguana. His name’s Perry."

And is he suffering from a migraine?

The second technician replies with no irony at all, “Actually, no. He has rickets."

The iguana opens its mouth and seems to be breathing heavily, as if its circadian clock cannot bear the artificial light. The two technicians stare at him fondly. The poor fellow could do with some savory flies after his course of anti-rickets pellets. But then, at least no enraged boyfriend has swung him by his tail and hurled him head first against the bedroom dresser. He is not yet a victim of nocturnal lunacy.

“Yes, he’s one of the lucky ones. But then perhaps it's less easy to fantasize about a lizard at night."

One look at Perry is enough to disprove this optimistic theory. But the Emergency Animal Clinic is certainly an oasis of healing calm for all comers, one of those rare antidotes to the solitude and anxiety of nights. It is a shame that its restful, balmy atmosphere is reserved for beasts. After all, at night it is the disturbed, circadian humans who are the problem.

However, for scribes, as for animal technicians and the heroes of sewage systems, night is the domain of work. I have always loved nighi. dnlike the latter, though, night for scribblers poses a remote possibility of pleasure. Though also of suicidal depression. For me. these two complementary states come together only at night and in one sacred place: the late-night donut store.

There are hundreds of these Donut Havens and Donut Heavens all over the city, run by immigrants who slave over their ovens into the night and who offer in comparable solace to the nocturnally discomfited scribe. Six blocks from my silent suburban home, Madame Mo — with the robust nomenclature of some painted Shanghai brothel-keeper — bakes 11 types of ring donuts, which are then displayed on tilted, sticky trays in the shop. When everything else has shut down, the 240-pound, spheroid Madame Mo is still breaking into a flushed sweat with her little doughy ringlets and taking under her wing the neighborhood’s miserable. rat-faced writers, who, like errant bums, have nowhere else to go.

Now let the reader beware any close intimacy with nocturnal donut bakers. For months I heard Madame Mo egging on her daughter (who at these unearthly hours was still up and about) to practice the violin. Dreadful neo-primitive shrieks came from behind a sinister curtain of greasy beads, but with no sign of the suffering daughter. Mister Mo, 240 pounds and perfectly spheroid in shape, would sometimes come out and assure me that Miss Mo was one day going to be a great virtuoso. Practice at night makes perfect. Perhaps they thought that because I was in their shop every night of the week, I had formed a romantic longing to meet Miss Mo. And indeed, spurred on by nocturnal fantasies, i had come to think of her as a nightly Muse. Never, however, trust the imagination after twilight. Miss Mo, growing up in a donut shop, was 240 pounds and spheroid. Follow instead. Madame Mo s advice: "Feering depressed. sir? Have a chocorate and remon special donut! Donut make you forget everything!"

Inscrutable Oriental wisdom; but not all nightworkers can simply resort to donuts when night begins to dominate them unpleasantly. Imagine the predicament of night clerks (or as Europeans more enigmatically call them, night porters). The night clerk is, in any case, a mysterious and troubling creature. He usually takes the job in order to pur sue some other interest in his daylight hours, and this gives him a certain untrustworthy, oblique slyness. In the movie The Night Porter. Dirk Bogarde was one in order to disguise his Nazi past. And others no doubt retreat to the secrecy of night for their own reasons.

Opposite the Emergency Animal Clinic in Mission Valley, however, stand some of San Diego's most charismatic Mafia-style hotels dating from the 50s, with their forests of palms and hyper-kitsch swimming pools populated with fiberglass statues. And here the night clerks are not so casual, or at least pretend not to be. In one of them (the anonymity of the night clerk must always be honored), a lobby filled with Chinese vases in glass cases and a walnut grandfather clock with a gold pendulum contains a reception desk where a “senior night auditor" waits on duty. And this night clerk is a professional. A professional night clerk, that is.

“I know what our reputation is, but I can assure you that this is a serious career choice. I’m working my way up the hotel night auditing ladder. A year ago I was working at a hotel in Lemon Grove, a place filled with whores and Compton boys. But I’m aiming at the big time as a night auditor supervisor, and you can’t get there hanging out with the pimps at the National Nine Inns or the E-Z Eights and Motel 6s.

"In those places, strange things happen during the night shift. People blown away in their rooms, you know, hog-tied, a bag over their head, bullet in the back of the head. Or else the lonely suicides. We have a lot of funny people from Las Vegas and L.A.. even here. The strangest thing is the way they spread out their credit cards on the dresser before they die — all neatly spread out, like a fan. You walk in in the morning when they fail to respond to the phone, and you find them sitting there, hog-tied in the chair or spread out on the bed, blood all over the place, and the credit cards spread out on the table. You can’t imagine what has gone through their brains at the last moment. And of course, there’s no trace of a night assassin. I've had relatives ringing me up demanding information. But I have to say to them, ’Those people, they come in and they go out like ghosts.’ That's why they do it at night. No one is going to remember."

So he doesn't know every guest’s face, in the way that we imagine a sneaky night clerk a la Dirk Bogarde would?

He looks slightly affronted. “I wouldn’t say that. I just don’t remember what it is they do."

One of the lobby’s glass doors opens suddenly, and a woman in a tiny skirt strides across the carpet toward the parking lot, where, one is assured, armed guards wait in the undergrowth ready to screen all arrivals. And the woman in the tiny skirt? He can’t quite remember her name. Not, surely, one of the aristocratic call girls who work out of the Mission Valley motels?

“We have the whole world in Mission Valley," he says both lugubriously and proudly. “Look at their cards."

He excavates a pot of lurid business cards standing on the desk. There are the logos of the Prison Industry Authority (an itinerant prison salesman?), the Boyd Group Gaming Resort, Las Vegas, and that same city’s Stardust resort (the frilly cards covered with menacing Italian names), the Stuntman’s Association, the International Hunting Consultants...though one assumes that hit men do not leave cards.

Do all these people pass through in the night, millions of little desperate atoms on their way to conventions, underground bingo palaces, or whores' bedrooms? The only person who sees them in their entirety is the night auditor, who calmly works on the hotel’s accounts through the night. But he is not by nature a teller of stories. Hotels have a secrecy that is peculiar to them and is the source of their dingy charm. And even here, a few yards from the porcelain Chinese dragons, the Maui calendars, and the gold pendulum, a mobster en route to the desert might well be cutting off the forefingers of his victim and stuffing them into a Coke bottle to steal the fingerprints. As he passed the night clerk on his way out, his nails jammed with blood, the former would nod at him, register for a moment the shadowy, orangeskin face and forget.

In general, the modern cities, with the exception of Asian conurbations like Bangkok and L.A., have forgotten how to live beyond the paltry curfew of midnight.

True, the Reeperbahn and Greenwich Village might have their moments, but London, Tokyo, or San Diego? In London, terror of night is so adamant that citizens are not permitted even to drink beyond 11:00 p.m. The result is a metropolis with the dull grace of a tomb.

San Diego, unlike London, however, does have its legal nocturnal nooks outside catatonically deranged nightclubs. The insomniac can at least go out of his home, which is really what he wants to do. He could, for example, if his insomnia were truly vicious, make his way to the Gaslamp and find the labyrinthine cafe called Insomniac in a second floor Fourth Avenue block. Or else, if the numerous connected rooms, with their pop art, chess tables, and abandoned pianos — not to mention the 20 coffees, the intelligence-enhancing “smart drinks” devised by a consulting psychologist, and the windows overlooking the streetlights — are not enough to keep him occupied until 4:00 a.m., he can descend the ladder of gastronomic kitsch to the last rung and drop in at one of the city’s glorious all-night diners. Salubrious Topsy’s on Washington, perhaps, or one of those lugubrious Denny’s that never close and sit with a kind of sinister culinary whorishness by the freeways, waiting to be picked up.

If none of these venues turns out to be a solution for his restlessness, and 7-Elevens and Texaco stations are not his cup of tea, he can always turn with a sigh to a 900 sex number or, more exotic still, to the all-night emergency number of the San Diego Trust & Savings Bank. For here at least he will find someone who understands his needs. And if he has genuinely lost his credit cards to a mugger, the voice on the other end of the line — one of those ineluctable enigmas of night — will sound mystically like someone he already knows.

The all-night trust and savings bank facility, however, is not just a collection of ghostly voices. There is an actual place, tucked away behind the bank’s main offices on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. And once the visitor who has gone there in person under a full moon passes the bulletproof window and surveillance monitored gates, he finds within a serene, empty world of abandoned office desks where three women pass the night with filament microphone sets attached to their heads.

Rarely does the voluptuousness of a voice correspond to anything physical. But such is the case with the beautiful Carmen Talplacido. And it may be that those distressed clients who ring in after hours with hysteria in their voices sense that here is a collusion between impression and reality, for Carmen finds that at night your average distress call tends to assume unexpected dimensions.

“Not,” she insists, “that I ever receive obscene calls or anything like that. It’s rather that each call tends to take at least half an hour instead of ten minutes. People begin to drift a little. Their attention wanders. They get sidetracked into personal things. In other words, they're less objective. Now, I have no idea if anyone likes the sound of my voice — I hope so — but they certainly seem to want to talk. They tell me things they probably shouldn't. But then people feel lonely at night. Lonely and talkative."

The all-night banking center is itself a melancholy and isolated place, and one could imagine it being an insomniac’s paradise. But Carmen and the two others are not insomniacs; they are nightworkers laboring their way through college. And there are, in any case, many kinds of insomniacs. We have not yet considered that considerably less charismatic kind, the involuntary sufferer of sleeplessness.

If San Diego is wary of an orgiastic indulgence in things nocturnal, being Southern California it does have a sense of convenience that embraces the magical and life-giving phrase “24-hour." And even the insomniac tortured not by dreams and anxiety but by a dislocation of the spine has his or her watering holes. They are more secretive than Oriental "massage health spas." but they do look rather the same from the outside.

As you drrve through the desultorily red-light length of University Avenue in the direction of La Mesa, you do not at first notice, among the dark spaces and the occasional red sign for suspect “acupuncture," the gay white neon that announces by the roadside the services of the late-night King Chiropractic Clinic. But once inside the reception area (made exotic by curious diagrams of the human body), you wonder why you have never before availed yourself of this obscure nocturnal treat.

Gabrielle Shoemate, the receptionist, is herself full of the incredible wonders of the noble chiropractic art. “It’s been proven," she says brightly, "that chiropractic, in the right hands, car cure headaches, sinus blockages, whiplash strains, dust allergies, and [she pauses as if searching]...menstrual pains. It's all down to one thing." She nods wisely and looks reassuringly at the bone charts on the walls. “Vertebral subluxions."

At the sound of the words “vertebral subluxions.' there is a stir in one of the back rooms, in some of which can be seen, through half-open doors, some fearsome medical tables bristling with levers, knobs, and leather pads. A doctor emerges in a white coat, swinging from one forefinger a life-size rubber model of the human spine, neatly colored and equipped even with a pair of pelvic bones. It seems that he is about to explain vertebral subluxions. But first, what about the terrible beds, which bear not a little resemblance to the ingenious table upon which Frankenstein's monster was brought to life?

“Ah, the Thomson Tables? Well, we can realign your spine on a Thomson Table merely by adjusting a lever. We have five of them at a cost of about $14,000 each.

Beautiful, aren't they?" He swings the spine back and forth, and the pelvic bones begin to mesmerize like a pendulum.

“But back to vertebral subluxions," he insists. “The misalignment of the spine is at the root of countless, if not most, disorders. We are open at night because people cannot sleep. Why? Because their spines are misaligned. Being misaligned, their spines make them insomniacs, because pain is always a thousand times more evident at night. Imag ine, for example, that your spine looked like this."

He snaps the model rubber vertebrae into a sickening position with a brutal motion of the hand. You begin to feel a little faint. “Well, what do you imagine that feels like, eh? We put you on the Thomson Table. You relax. We turn the levers. Your spine goes back to this." He straightens the rubber things into something resembling the skeletal figures on the walls.

“Now what do you think that feels like?"

It must be borne in mind that these ded icated chiropractitioners are competing against some pretty formidable Japanese masseuses who rarely wear much clothing. They have to be alert to the competition. The “acupuncturist" next door might well impart to you a temporary sense of well-being, but will she cure you of your blocked sinus and your dust allergy? She may apply some indescribable Chinese techniques of acupressure to certain highly volatile parts of your fatigued anatomy, but will her applications actually increase your life-span, let alone improve your sense of hearing? And, to be honest, does she really understand vertebral subluxions?

The realism of doctors is always refreshing. Like the medic in Doctor Zhivago, they look at the corpses of beautiful women and say, “That is how they really are, not how poets see them." And in the same way. they look at the insomniac and say “vertebral subluxions." How much famous creativity allied to frenzied insomnia could have been cured by a good chiropractor. If only one had been on hand for Kafka and Honore de Balzac. One can only imagine, after all, what that miserable Czech’s spine must have looked like.

“The next time you feel sleepless and agitated," the doctor says cheerfully, still swinging the rubber hip bones, “come in and we ll put you on a table. You’ll see. It’ll make the world of difference."

What, however, if through sheer perversity, the insomniac still clings to his or her depressingly antisocial ways? The policemen who work the graveyard shifts in gang territory like National City will swear to you that, as far as they are concerned, the only people on the street after one o'clock are those with evil in their hearts. They will even wager that any individual stopped at that hour will be high on crystal, PCP, or crack. There is no other explanation. As one officer put it, “What am I doing at that hour? I'm not mowing my lawn. I’m not washing the car. I’m asleep. If a person is up, they have a reason to be up. A bad reason. A person nightwalking is a criminal, nine times out of ten. Because he has no reason to be there. No reason at all. What reason could he have?"

It is a sensible and humiliating question. How does the rather poetic insomniac respond when the prowling squad car suddenly beams a high-voltage lamp in his face? That he was out to listen to the mockingbirds? That he, well, just couldn’t sleep and felt like going to church?

As dawn approaches and the birds begin to accelerate into their chorus, another aubade is distinctly audible in the city, in the places where the poor and faithful still cling to the primitive rituals of dawn: church bells. The insomniac would do well to join them. He might do worse than make his way to a place like Linda Vista, where the neighborhood's old Vietnamese couples make their way in blue Mao jackets through deserted streets at first light to the churches like the Holy Family. As a grey glow comes through the stained glass windows and begins to light the Guadelupian Virgin and the American flag behind the altar, tiny hibiscus flowers seem to emerge from the dark hedges round about, and mountains rise up in the distance from nowhere. Night ends far more gradually than it begins, and its tolerant tyranny relaxes its hold with a certain amount of cynical relief. A medieval sky of lapis lazuli materializes over the tops of the Imperial palms and the empty, half-built apartment blocks. The insomniac, faced with understand why, an overwhelming desire to the tedium of the daylit world, suddenly raises sleep has overcome him. his hand to his mouth and yawns. Without his suspecting it and without his being able to understand why; an overwhelming desire to sleep has overcome him.

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Loco Lopez takes brunch over the top

Cheese-wrapped burrito and donut grilled cheese at OB pop-up
Coronado ferry. "Yes, they kiss more, it’s true. But they also tend to go berserk more easily." - Image by Joe Klein
Coronado ferry. "Yes, they kiss more, it’s true. But they also tend to go berserk more easily."

On the toy-town ferry that crosses the bay from San Diego s downtown to Coronado, noctumal romantics have taken to the water. They have come to watch a sunset, to immerse themselves in the melodrama of oncoming night or else to fondle some Juliet who will accept a postprandial Romeo. And they can do all this only first lawless moments of night.

Hoang at the pump station: “I notice that after, say, midnight they go a bit moody."

The first constellations, Auriga and Cassiopeia, begin their slow rotation above a Hanging Garden of childish neons. The deserted nautical boulevards with their curved lines of Imperial palms look like nomadic pathways cut through a desert of glass and concrete. And somewhere behind them, lost in semi-vacant industrial lots that come alive with insects at night, the railway sounds its empty, half-crazy 19th Century horn.

Vertical towers of lights materialize from a night sky already painted the faintly fraudulent lapis lazuli of certain medieval frescos. At dusk, as it begins to disappear, seen from the water, the city finally begins to look like a metropolis. Not an electrically powered one or one bristling with the frenzied entrepots of manufacturing, but a silent, floating one made of sinister paper lanterns. And in the glassy, oily water, its reduplicated lights begin to exaggerate its power.

Emergency Animal Clinic. "Pet owners do get rather broody in those hours."

The Mexican crews who work the boats are the first to admit with superstitious brio the otherness of night. Are the commuters there, after all, for any reason other than that of pure revel in a pagan sunset? Would we not be unsurprised to see them leaping about with masks on their face as the sun god went down and the demonic activities of night got underway? The ferry nightworkers have not yet witnessed such cannibalistic scenes, but if they did they would hardly be surprised.

Hanalei Hotel

One of them explains. “At night people are entirely changed. Believe me, they are. I’ve been watching them for a long time. Yes, they kiss more, it’s true. But they also tend to go berserk more easily. I’ve seen them. Utterly berserk. Would they go berserk if the sun was shining? Would they? No, sir. They would not go berserk. They..." (he pauses a moment for thought — the boat is pulling out into the bay and the passengers are looking each other up and down a little suspiciously ) “...they would be ashamed to go berserk. They would behave themselves."

The labyrinthine cafe called Insomniac in a second floor Fourth Avenue block.

They all shake their heads. In the blue gloom of early night, it is easy to revert to the pagan fear of darkness. The passengers are definitely now looking a little, shall we say, wild eyed. The “ungodly" hours have always been associated with, well, the ungodly, human, or supernatural. The first report on witchcraft in the 11th Century by Gratian claimed that only at night did witches roam the land. He called them noctiluca, they who shine by night. And since night was when witches labored, all those who did likewise were tarred with the same brush.

The Insomniac: pop art, chess tables, and abandoned pianos.

Did God, when setting up the night-and-day scheme of things, inadvertently hit upon one of the sliest of all moral ideas? In daylight, the virtuous sweat, visible to all. But in the hours nocturnal, the footpads, the counterfeiters, the plotters, the sewage workers, and the writers do their vile, unmentionable things. The latter have always been defiant, childishly claiming that night is more cultivated and refined than day. But who believes them? Who is gullible enough to believe for a minute that God made night for heroes and geniuses while leaving day for mere bank clerks, gardeners, and fat-bellied lawyers — bourgeois simpletons and the generally pitiful earners of wages?

King Chiropractic Clinic. "We are open at night because people cannot sleep."

“To stay up all night, you have to be over the age of 30,” Honore de Balzac once said, implying brilliant intellectual heroism. But nowadays our cities are like tombs at night. The nocturnal classes have seemingly dwindled to a handful of rebels, and nothing now awards prestige to that most mysterious and despised of creatures, the nightworker. And from the decks of the nighttime ferry, surrounded on all sides by twinkling, playful lights, it is quite clear that, far from being the refuge of poets and thinkers, night has become not only threatening but frivolous as well.

The strange affinities between sewage workers and writers are best seen in this light. Like Kafka and Flaubert, your sewage worker labors through the night with secret channels and conduits, vigilant between dusk and dawn and in command of a mysterious empire of filth.

The largest sewage station in the city is pump station number two on North Harbor Drive, a stone’s throw from Lindbergh Field. Here, waste effluvia from all over the metropolitan area is collected via a huge underground system of pipes, pumps, and gravity-operated metering stations. From here it is tunneled to the Point Loma treatment works and then into the ocean via the two-mile-long ocean outfall pipe — a marvelous system and one that reminds you that although sewage workers and writers are definitely comrades-in-night, the former are infinitely more indispensable.

Pump station two is directed by the suave and handsome Mr. Hoang, a petite figure in corduroy jacket and long, glistening black ponytail, who has the air of a serene and patient Chinese sage as he flits around the pump house control rooms. Mr. Hoang also has very elaborate theories about things nocturnal. For since the station needs to operate continuously around the clock, he has not hesitated to employ the services of a nightworkers’ schedule consulting firm that has created what he now believes is the optimum timetable for those doomed to work the graveyard.

“It’s very simple," he explains, and not without a certain amount of pedagogic relish. “The human organism evolve over millions of years. During that time, man hunt in the day, sleep at night, get up with dawn, and so forth. So the evolution has create the circadian clock."

He pauses, beams, and adjusts his tie. The circadian clock? “Yes. The circadian clock. The circadian clock is this mechanism in us which make us get up when it light outside and sleep when dark. It took millions of years to make it, so now you can’t undo it. There is an instinct to sleep at night. Therefore, it very unnatural to work at night. Very unnatural. Man hate it because it’s very unnatural. He feel tired, angry, irritated. He not at all himself, see? Well, not surprising after two million year."

Mr. Hoang raises his eyebrows and shrugs. “Two million year a long time."

The mysteries of this internal evolutionary clock named after the famous enchantress of Odysseus are certainly considerable. To a man, the pump station two workers detest the night shift, when there is virtually nothing to do but check the pump gauges every two hours and during which the mind seems, according to them, to go into a kind of deathly trance unrelieved even by boredom. And, Mr. Hoang ardently insists, their behavior has to be carefully watched in case the nefarious circadian clock gets the better of them. After all. didn’t Circe change Odysseus’s men into pigs?

“I notice that after, say, midnight they go a bit moody. They get snappy. You have to be very careful. You see, it’s evolution.” Mr. Hoang’s eyes light up and open wide with a brief but voluptuous mystery. ‘ And they’re not the only ones. Here we’re next to the AWOL base. During the night, because that damn circadian rhythm, they come climbing over the fences. They want to escape, because at night they go completely crazy. Then they come in here, find they in the sewage pump station, and fall asleep in the paint cupboard. Amazing. Truly amazing."

Mr. Hoang shakes his head and wags a finger. “That’s what come when you go against Nature."

The station itself hums away quietly in the night. The great burnished pumps behind the glass partition that separates them from the control room have the slightly menacing presence of brooding nuclear reactors. The control panel spread out along the facing wall — a maze of warning lights, flow indicators, and electrical power meters — displays at a glance the entire epic movement of sewage and water around the metropolis. It is a beautiful sight and one that Mr. Hoang will only too gladly explain with the fervor of the true sewage careerist.

“Sewage is like a map of the city’s social behavior. One hundred and eighty million gallons go through here every day. Between midnight and two in the morning, the flow go right down, because people are going to bed. Between two and six, it’s at its lowest — the dead hours. Then at six, dawn, it pick up again. It rises through the morning and reach a peak at mid-day. the highest point. Then it stays even for the next 12 hours. Now we see 100 gallons a day per person. We’re using 10 million gallons less a year than in 1989, but that's 100 gallons. still. Incredible isn’t it? The water come all the way from the Colorado aqueduct, so you see the problem in California. Water. No water, no sewage pump. No sewage pump..." A look of pure apocalypse crosses his face, and he holds his nose between two fingers.

It is unquestionably a sombre vision. As Mr. Hoang escorted me to the front doors of pump station two. he pointed to a map of the sewage pipes criss-crossing the city like the enigmatic tunnels of some ancient catacomb and reaffirmed his faith in the infallibility of the Colorado aqueduct. And he himself — a nightworker for life?

“Yes, everywhere sewage stations are the same. Night, night, night. I work night all my life, I know. My wife hate it, but she know it's what I’ve got to do. A sewage man is doomed to night. That’s my career. And what’s more, I’m proud to be in sewage. It’s a real career."

The calm intensity of this confession is a sobering fact for the frivolous among us.

Mr. Hoang went back to his station with a spring in his step. Are AWOLs even now scaling his fences? Are rivers of silent and lethal shit passing — figuratively speaking — between his capable hands? And is the circadian clock, that masterpiece of evolution, even now causing his metabolism to slow?

Over the ghostly freeway skirting the harbor. an elliptical-marigold moon had risen, announcing, in its rather sentimental way, that the night was still young. The air smelled faintly suspect. Close to the humming pumps, the nightworkers were, in all probability, counting the slowness of nocturnal time. And Mr. Hoang...Mr. Hoang was probably doing his tai-chi and listening to the minute hand of evolution.

San Diego, having only the merest suggestion of a downtown, is a place that embraces the oppression of night with open arms. Its dark, palm-lined residential avenues resound only with the surreally amplified warbling of mockingbirds and the whirring of cicadas. At midnight, when the coffeehouses shut, only the desolate figures padding silently around the dangerous fringes of Balboa Park or the gaily uniformed packagers in the all-night supermarkets keep the streets from being void. They, and the lonely prostitutes strung out along El Cajon Boulevard and Midway, or the fat white men behind the cash tills of the all-night sex shops. There is not a bearded bard in sight.

High up in the hillside overlooking Mission Valley, however, a bright light of salvation shines night-long among the fruit trees and pines; at least, you might see it that way if you were an animal and you were alone in the night. It is well known that the circadian clock of animals often runs counterclockwise, because they like or need to hunt at night. The dark hours are filled with the reflecting retinas of plump tabbies and scavenging. mice-tormenting Persians — those charming muggers of the urban animal kingdom — and their sadistic nocturnal energy often leads them into collision with cars. Where do they go to lick their wounds at an hour that is to them perfectly normal but to veterinarians is still ungodly? To the 24-hour Emergency Animal Clinic in Mission Valley.

The nightworkers of the clinic are “animal technicians." And the clinic itself might at first glance seem indistinguishable from the human kind. It is only after a few minutes that you begin to notice that the photographs of successfully treated, contented patients on the walls are actually of Doris the gorilla, Mavis the collie, and the odd chameleon. Between the soda machines, leaflets are stacked informing the human visitors of the technical complexities of canine intestinal parasites and the hookworms that cling to the colons of cats. The clinic even provides grief counseling for the homo sapiens bereaved.

The technicians, waiting patiently under the intense strip lighting for the next frenzied call, have come to learn that when people call at night about their pets, delusion often lies just around the corner.

The young woman on duty in reception explains, “I’d say that there are more calls late at night, and one reason is that pet owners do get rather broody in those hours. They begin fantasizing about what they think might be wrong with Fido. Were his ears twitching convulsively? Did his tongue look dry? Has he been looking at me in a strange way all evening? Are thousands of hookworms eating away his insides and I just haven't seen it until now, that is, at two in the morning? People even come in and say, ‘The poor thing, he’s feeling depressed and he’s got a migraine,’ meaning that it’s three in the morning, they're incredibly depressed, and they have a migraine. And if it isn’t that, it’s people going crazy at night with each other, picking up the nearest available object, the cat, say. and hurling it across the room at their girlfriend. Then they come in with the cat bleeding from all orifices and say, ’The poor thing, he fell down the stairs, he’s not used to walking around at night,’ and we have to suppress ourselves. I have no idea why people behave this way at night, but I can tell you that they certainly take it out on their animals."

At that moment another technician enters the room carrying a large cage in the corner of which sits, nightmarish green claws wrapped around the bars, a terrified-looking reptile staring out at the humans. He looks convinced that he is about to be eaten.

Is it a patient?

“Naturally. An iguana. His name’s Perry."

And is he suffering from a migraine?

The second technician replies with no irony at all, “Actually, no. He has rickets."

The iguana opens its mouth and seems to be breathing heavily, as if its circadian clock cannot bear the artificial light. The two technicians stare at him fondly. The poor fellow could do with some savory flies after his course of anti-rickets pellets. But then, at least no enraged boyfriend has swung him by his tail and hurled him head first against the bedroom dresser. He is not yet a victim of nocturnal lunacy.

“Yes, he’s one of the lucky ones. But then perhaps it's less easy to fantasize about a lizard at night."

One look at Perry is enough to disprove this optimistic theory. But the Emergency Animal Clinic is certainly an oasis of healing calm for all comers, one of those rare antidotes to the solitude and anxiety of nights. It is a shame that its restful, balmy atmosphere is reserved for beasts. After all, at night it is the disturbed, circadian humans who are the problem.

However, for scribes, as for animal technicians and the heroes of sewage systems, night is the domain of work. I have always loved nighi. dnlike the latter, though, night for scribblers poses a remote possibility of pleasure. Though also of suicidal depression. For me. these two complementary states come together only at night and in one sacred place: the late-night donut store.

There are hundreds of these Donut Havens and Donut Heavens all over the city, run by immigrants who slave over their ovens into the night and who offer in comparable solace to the nocturnally discomfited scribe. Six blocks from my silent suburban home, Madame Mo — with the robust nomenclature of some painted Shanghai brothel-keeper — bakes 11 types of ring donuts, which are then displayed on tilted, sticky trays in the shop. When everything else has shut down, the 240-pound, spheroid Madame Mo is still breaking into a flushed sweat with her little doughy ringlets and taking under her wing the neighborhood’s miserable. rat-faced writers, who, like errant bums, have nowhere else to go.

Now let the reader beware any close intimacy with nocturnal donut bakers. For months I heard Madame Mo egging on her daughter (who at these unearthly hours was still up and about) to practice the violin. Dreadful neo-primitive shrieks came from behind a sinister curtain of greasy beads, but with no sign of the suffering daughter. Mister Mo, 240 pounds and perfectly spheroid in shape, would sometimes come out and assure me that Miss Mo was one day going to be a great virtuoso. Practice at night makes perfect. Perhaps they thought that because I was in their shop every night of the week, I had formed a romantic longing to meet Miss Mo. And indeed, spurred on by nocturnal fantasies, i had come to think of her as a nightly Muse. Never, however, trust the imagination after twilight. Miss Mo, growing up in a donut shop, was 240 pounds and spheroid. Follow instead. Madame Mo s advice: "Feering depressed. sir? Have a chocorate and remon special donut! Donut make you forget everything!"

Inscrutable Oriental wisdom; but not all nightworkers can simply resort to donuts when night begins to dominate them unpleasantly. Imagine the predicament of night clerks (or as Europeans more enigmatically call them, night porters). The night clerk is, in any case, a mysterious and troubling creature. He usually takes the job in order to pur sue some other interest in his daylight hours, and this gives him a certain untrustworthy, oblique slyness. In the movie The Night Porter. Dirk Bogarde was one in order to disguise his Nazi past. And others no doubt retreat to the secrecy of night for their own reasons.

Opposite the Emergency Animal Clinic in Mission Valley, however, stand some of San Diego's most charismatic Mafia-style hotels dating from the 50s, with their forests of palms and hyper-kitsch swimming pools populated with fiberglass statues. And here the night clerks are not so casual, or at least pretend not to be. In one of them (the anonymity of the night clerk must always be honored), a lobby filled with Chinese vases in glass cases and a walnut grandfather clock with a gold pendulum contains a reception desk where a “senior night auditor" waits on duty. And this night clerk is a professional. A professional night clerk, that is.

“I know what our reputation is, but I can assure you that this is a serious career choice. I’m working my way up the hotel night auditing ladder. A year ago I was working at a hotel in Lemon Grove, a place filled with whores and Compton boys. But I’m aiming at the big time as a night auditor supervisor, and you can’t get there hanging out with the pimps at the National Nine Inns or the E-Z Eights and Motel 6s.

"In those places, strange things happen during the night shift. People blown away in their rooms, you know, hog-tied, a bag over their head, bullet in the back of the head. Or else the lonely suicides. We have a lot of funny people from Las Vegas and L.A.. even here. The strangest thing is the way they spread out their credit cards on the dresser before they die — all neatly spread out, like a fan. You walk in in the morning when they fail to respond to the phone, and you find them sitting there, hog-tied in the chair or spread out on the bed, blood all over the place, and the credit cards spread out on the table. You can’t imagine what has gone through their brains at the last moment. And of course, there’s no trace of a night assassin. I've had relatives ringing me up demanding information. But I have to say to them, ’Those people, they come in and they go out like ghosts.’ That's why they do it at night. No one is going to remember."

So he doesn't know every guest’s face, in the way that we imagine a sneaky night clerk a la Dirk Bogarde would?

He looks slightly affronted. “I wouldn’t say that. I just don’t remember what it is they do."

One of the lobby’s glass doors opens suddenly, and a woman in a tiny skirt strides across the carpet toward the parking lot, where, one is assured, armed guards wait in the undergrowth ready to screen all arrivals. And the woman in the tiny skirt? He can’t quite remember her name. Not, surely, one of the aristocratic call girls who work out of the Mission Valley motels?

“We have the whole world in Mission Valley," he says both lugubriously and proudly. “Look at their cards."

He excavates a pot of lurid business cards standing on the desk. There are the logos of the Prison Industry Authority (an itinerant prison salesman?), the Boyd Group Gaming Resort, Las Vegas, and that same city’s Stardust resort (the frilly cards covered with menacing Italian names), the Stuntman’s Association, the International Hunting Consultants...though one assumes that hit men do not leave cards.

Do all these people pass through in the night, millions of little desperate atoms on their way to conventions, underground bingo palaces, or whores' bedrooms? The only person who sees them in their entirety is the night auditor, who calmly works on the hotel’s accounts through the night. But he is not by nature a teller of stories. Hotels have a secrecy that is peculiar to them and is the source of their dingy charm. And even here, a few yards from the porcelain Chinese dragons, the Maui calendars, and the gold pendulum, a mobster en route to the desert might well be cutting off the forefingers of his victim and stuffing them into a Coke bottle to steal the fingerprints. As he passed the night clerk on his way out, his nails jammed with blood, the former would nod at him, register for a moment the shadowy, orangeskin face and forget.

In general, the modern cities, with the exception of Asian conurbations like Bangkok and L.A., have forgotten how to live beyond the paltry curfew of midnight.

True, the Reeperbahn and Greenwich Village might have their moments, but London, Tokyo, or San Diego? In London, terror of night is so adamant that citizens are not permitted even to drink beyond 11:00 p.m. The result is a metropolis with the dull grace of a tomb.

San Diego, unlike London, however, does have its legal nocturnal nooks outside catatonically deranged nightclubs. The insomniac can at least go out of his home, which is really what he wants to do. He could, for example, if his insomnia were truly vicious, make his way to the Gaslamp and find the labyrinthine cafe called Insomniac in a second floor Fourth Avenue block. Or else, if the numerous connected rooms, with their pop art, chess tables, and abandoned pianos — not to mention the 20 coffees, the intelligence-enhancing “smart drinks” devised by a consulting psychologist, and the windows overlooking the streetlights — are not enough to keep him occupied until 4:00 a.m., he can descend the ladder of gastronomic kitsch to the last rung and drop in at one of the city’s glorious all-night diners. Salubrious Topsy’s on Washington, perhaps, or one of those lugubrious Denny’s that never close and sit with a kind of sinister culinary whorishness by the freeways, waiting to be picked up.

If none of these venues turns out to be a solution for his restlessness, and 7-Elevens and Texaco stations are not his cup of tea, he can always turn with a sigh to a 900 sex number or, more exotic still, to the all-night emergency number of the San Diego Trust & Savings Bank. For here at least he will find someone who understands his needs. And if he has genuinely lost his credit cards to a mugger, the voice on the other end of the line — one of those ineluctable enigmas of night — will sound mystically like someone he already knows.

The all-night trust and savings bank facility, however, is not just a collection of ghostly voices. There is an actual place, tucked away behind the bank’s main offices on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. And once the visitor who has gone there in person under a full moon passes the bulletproof window and surveillance monitored gates, he finds within a serene, empty world of abandoned office desks where three women pass the night with filament microphone sets attached to their heads.

Rarely does the voluptuousness of a voice correspond to anything physical. But such is the case with the beautiful Carmen Talplacido. And it may be that those distressed clients who ring in after hours with hysteria in their voices sense that here is a collusion between impression and reality, for Carmen finds that at night your average distress call tends to assume unexpected dimensions.

“Not,” she insists, “that I ever receive obscene calls or anything like that. It’s rather that each call tends to take at least half an hour instead of ten minutes. People begin to drift a little. Their attention wanders. They get sidetracked into personal things. In other words, they're less objective. Now, I have no idea if anyone likes the sound of my voice — I hope so — but they certainly seem to want to talk. They tell me things they probably shouldn't. But then people feel lonely at night. Lonely and talkative."

The all-night banking center is itself a melancholy and isolated place, and one could imagine it being an insomniac’s paradise. But Carmen and the two others are not insomniacs; they are nightworkers laboring their way through college. And there are, in any case, many kinds of insomniacs. We have not yet considered that considerably less charismatic kind, the involuntary sufferer of sleeplessness.

If San Diego is wary of an orgiastic indulgence in things nocturnal, being Southern California it does have a sense of convenience that embraces the magical and life-giving phrase “24-hour." And even the insomniac tortured not by dreams and anxiety but by a dislocation of the spine has his or her watering holes. They are more secretive than Oriental "massage health spas." but they do look rather the same from the outside.

As you drrve through the desultorily red-light length of University Avenue in the direction of La Mesa, you do not at first notice, among the dark spaces and the occasional red sign for suspect “acupuncture," the gay white neon that announces by the roadside the services of the late-night King Chiropractic Clinic. But once inside the reception area (made exotic by curious diagrams of the human body), you wonder why you have never before availed yourself of this obscure nocturnal treat.

Gabrielle Shoemate, the receptionist, is herself full of the incredible wonders of the noble chiropractic art. “It’s been proven," she says brightly, "that chiropractic, in the right hands, car cure headaches, sinus blockages, whiplash strains, dust allergies, and [she pauses as if searching]...menstrual pains. It's all down to one thing." She nods wisely and looks reassuringly at the bone charts on the walls. “Vertebral subluxions."

At the sound of the words “vertebral subluxions.' there is a stir in one of the back rooms, in some of which can be seen, through half-open doors, some fearsome medical tables bristling with levers, knobs, and leather pads. A doctor emerges in a white coat, swinging from one forefinger a life-size rubber model of the human spine, neatly colored and equipped even with a pair of pelvic bones. It seems that he is about to explain vertebral subluxions. But first, what about the terrible beds, which bear not a little resemblance to the ingenious table upon which Frankenstein's monster was brought to life?

“Ah, the Thomson Tables? Well, we can realign your spine on a Thomson Table merely by adjusting a lever. We have five of them at a cost of about $14,000 each.

Beautiful, aren't they?" He swings the spine back and forth, and the pelvic bones begin to mesmerize like a pendulum.

“But back to vertebral subluxions," he insists. “The misalignment of the spine is at the root of countless, if not most, disorders. We are open at night because people cannot sleep. Why? Because their spines are misaligned. Being misaligned, their spines make them insomniacs, because pain is always a thousand times more evident at night. Imag ine, for example, that your spine looked like this."

He snaps the model rubber vertebrae into a sickening position with a brutal motion of the hand. You begin to feel a little faint. “Well, what do you imagine that feels like, eh? We put you on the Thomson Table. You relax. We turn the levers. Your spine goes back to this." He straightens the rubber things into something resembling the skeletal figures on the walls.

“Now what do you think that feels like?"

It must be borne in mind that these ded icated chiropractitioners are competing against some pretty formidable Japanese masseuses who rarely wear much clothing. They have to be alert to the competition. The “acupuncturist" next door might well impart to you a temporary sense of well-being, but will she cure you of your blocked sinus and your dust allergy? She may apply some indescribable Chinese techniques of acupressure to certain highly volatile parts of your fatigued anatomy, but will her applications actually increase your life-span, let alone improve your sense of hearing? And, to be honest, does she really understand vertebral subluxions?

The realism of doctors is always refreshing. Like the medic in Doctor Zhivago, they look at the corpses of beautiful women and say, “That is how they really are, not how poets see them." And in the same way. they look at the insomniac and say “vertebral subluxions." How much famous creativity allied to frenzied insomnia could have been cured by a good chiropractor. If only one had been on hand for Kafka and Honore de Balzac. One can only imagine, after all, what that miserable Czech’s spine must have looked like.

“The next time you feel sleepless and agitated," the doctor says cheerfully, still swinging the rubber hip bones, “come in and we ll put you on a table. You’ll see. It’ll make the world of difference."

What, however, if through sheer perversity, the insomniac still clings to his or her depressingly antisocial ways? The policemen who work the graveyard shifts in gang territory like National City will swear to you that, as far as they are concerned, the only people on the street after one o'clock are those with evil in their hearts. They will even wager that any individual stopped at that hour will be high on crystal, PCP, or crack. There is no other explanation. As one officer put it, “What am I doing at that hour? I'm not mowing my lawn. I’m not washing the car. I’m asleep. If a person is up, they have a reason to be up. A bad reason. A person nightwalking is a criminal, nine times out of ten. Because he has no reason to be there. No reason at all. What reason could he have?"

It is a sensible and humiliating question. How does the rather poetic insomniac respond when the prowling squad car suddenly beams a high-voltage lamp in his face? That he was out to listen to the mockingbirds? That he, well, just couldn’t sleep and felt like going to church?

As dawn approaches and the birds begin to accelerate into their chorus, another aubade is distinctly audible in the city, in the places where the poor and faithful still cling to the primitive rituals of dawn: church bells. The insomniac would do well to join them. He might do worse than make his way to a place like Linda Vista, where the neighborhood's old Vietnamese couples make their way in blue Mao jackets through deserted streets at first light to the churches like the Holy Family. As a grey glow comes through the stained glass windows and begins to light the Guadelupian Virgin and the American flag behind the altar, tiny hibiscus flowers seem to emerge from the dark hedges round about, and mountains rise up in the distance from nowhere. Night ends far more gradually than it begins, and its tolerant tyranny relaxes its hold with a certain amount of cynical relief. A medieval sky of lapis lazuli materializes over the tops of the Imperial palms and the empty, half-built apartment blocks. The insomniac, faced with understand why, an overwhelming desire to the tedium of the daylit world, suddenly raises sleep has overcome him. his hand to his mouth and yawns. Without his suspecting it and without his being able to understand why; an overwhelming desire to sleep has overcome him.

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