I’ve been a night owl for a long time. Since my teen years, which were largely spent staying up late watching Letterman, Night Stand with Dick Dietrick, Joe Bob Briggs hosting MonsterVision, or my favorite, Rhonda Shear hosting USA Up All Night. Back then I would stay up until the wee hours, long after dark and into the early morning, watching late night comedians, B-movies, and even infomercials – especially if they featured “Forbes Riley in Sexy Business Suit.” Hat tip to that YouTuber for succinctly summing up why many of us watched her pitch stuff we didn’t care about at all. What can I say? We were teenagers.
Basically, I’d watch anything if it meant pushing off sleep. There was something about staying up as a coping mechanism, a way to delay the dawning of a new day, where school or work or other stresses would have to be faced. At night, none of that mattered. And I had the ability to will myself to push those worries out of my head for that amount of time. All that mattered were the good, bad, and ugly horror movies, the last great golden age of late night comedy, Rhonda’s comedic skills and bodacious bod, Forbes Riley’s legs…and none of these things ever stressed me out. They only made me happy. Again, what can I say? I was a teenager.
These days, I don’t stay up nearly that late. I can’t, or else I’m a mess the following day. And working and raising kids is exhausting enough, so I try not to make it worse. At least, I was trying. Then, back in March, the whole world started spinning out of control, and ever since I’ve been staying up progressively later. Still not reaching the wee hours like I did during my salad days, but staying up until midnight at my age is enough to wear me out. Yet I keep doing it. And why am I turning myself into a zombie most mornings just to stay up late vegging out in front of the television? For the same reasons I did back in the 90s: avoidance, avoidance, avoidance.
Now, back then I had very little to avoid. Sure, I was full of Gen X angst, but when I look back on it now, I had it good. I was simply avoiding responsibility. Staying up late meant I was in control of my life. Not my parents, not school, not my unknown future plans. I was in charge, or maybe Rhonda was, but either way I was cool with it.
Today, I’m avoiding the responsibility of trying to manage a life thrown into chaos thanks to the pandemic, civil unrest here in the United States, and the continual daily onslaught of bad news thanks to the Idiot-In-Chief. And don’t forget to throw in the impending and seemingly life or death presidential election, just for some added anxiety. In the last six months, I’ve started working from home, as has my wife. We pulled our twins from preschool when everything really went to hell in March. They’re starting kindergarten next week, fully remote, sitting at the same dining room table as mom and dad, all four of us working and learning together, as families were intended to do! Wait. That’s not right. We’re supposed to go to work, whether that’s in or outside the home, and kids are supposed to be in school! Covid has changed all that, for now. And adjusting to it all is wearing me down, bit by bit, day by day, for six months and counting now.
At night, once everyone else in the house is asleep, I can’t bring myself to shut off the television and zonk out. Instead, I see what’s streaming, or pop in a DVD, and immediately achieve a relaxed state of calm. Letterman, Rhonda, and Forbes might not be on the airwaves anymore, but I can still find them streaming on YouTube or elsewhere. For real, check out Rhonda’s YouTube channel, where she’s archived her Up All Night clips – thank you, Rhonda! My old friend and horror movie mentor Joe Bob Briggs is back on the air, thanks to Shudder, hosting The Last Drive-In. He and Darcy the Mail Girl (Diana Prince) are more than keeping the spirit of MonsterVision alive; they’ve created a whole new tradition for horror movie nerds the world over.
Lately I’ve been seeking relaxation in classic sitcoms and shows from my youth. Nostalgia as comfort food. It’s a Living, Three’s Company, The Nanny, Bewitched, Charlie’s Angels, Buck Rogers, you name it. And just like when I was younger, staying up late watching comfort TV is just the medicine I need to wipe my wind clear of everything I’ve stressed over during the day. It’s only temporary, and by staying up later than I should, I’m ignoring my body’s signals that I’m tired and need rest, and likely making everything harder for myself each day. But I don’t see it that way around 10:30 at night, when I stumble on a classic like The House That Dripped Blood streaming on Amazon Prime. Peter Cushing! Christopher Lee! Ingrid Pitt! Come on, you know how I feel about her. Surely this is worth staying up a little bit later, staving off yet another day of decisions I don’t want to make, right?
Yeah, it is. I might pay for this down the road, if this never-ending new abnormal continues into 2021, and all indicators point to that being likely. But, when your part of a generation that spent much of our youth honing skills like procrastination and avoidance, well, they’re hard habits to break. I’m probably not getting enough sleep, but at least I’m sleeping soundly when I do sleep. For now. Another positive aspect of all this late night watching is that it activates my right-brained creativity. The two times a day when I’m most successful at developing writing ideas are when I go out for a walk and then at night while I’m watching something that stimulates creative and analytical thinking. I can’t give that up. Without it, I’m fifty percent of myself, at best. Hell, Rhonda’s Up All Night clips alone bumps that percentage up at least twenty-five percent.
I gotta be me, right? I don’t know what’s best anymore, but at least I’m still holding on to some sense of normalcy, and a connection to a time in my life when things were far less complicated and easier to manage. For now, I’ll be staying up later than I should, practicing avoidance, with a little help from Rhonda, movies, sitcoms, and whatever else brings me some much-needed late night relief.