Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Caution: Brain Waves Adjusting

Lately at times, I feel as though I returned to the fall of 1972, my last semester at University at Buffalo. This sensation occurs at 3:00 in the morning, when I find myself, hardly five hours in bed, too wide-eyed to fall back asleep. My mind, already revved up, the dial moved to "active" mode, reviews the upcoming 24 hours and attempts to put them in order. If I have a meeting to attend, I review the final preparations and my likely contributions. If there are no leftovers in the refrigerator, I contemplate what the supper menu should be. Or I'll compose a mental list of household chores for the day. 

I also start to wonder if my sleeping pattern is changing, if 4 or 5 hours at night complimented by a "resting my eyes" cat nap or two during the day is the new normal. Out of necessity, this pattern determined my schedule 42 years ago. I carried a full load of 17 credits (4 classes plus a phys ed requirement that I'd neglected to take care of my freshman year), reserved time for reading and studying, worked as a porter (a janitor by any other name) at Gleason's restaurant from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. six nights a week, and attempted, with surprising success, to maintain a social life. As a result, I never slept more than 4 or 5 hours at a time. As the fall progressed, I experienced an oddly energizing combination of spaciness and acuity. My sleep scheduled tended to change from day to day, depending upon my classes and other activities, but my overall schedule needed to be strictly maintained. 

Not helping to make things easier on myself, I chose to live in an apartment nearly 5 miles north of the UB's Main Street campus. And it wasn't until late in the semester -- around Thanksgiving -- when I had access to a car. Price and exigency must have been the deciding factors for living arrangements because location had little to do with it, except for the fact that Gleason's was located less than 2 miles away, pretty much a straight shot south on Niagara Falls Boulevard. 

And how did I get to campus each weekday and other locations on the weekends? 

I had three options. 

1.  I hitchhiked, a regular mode of transportation for me back then. A lot of commuter students traveled Niagara Falls Boulevard on their way to campus, although the heavy traffic at times made it difficult to pull over and stop. 

2. When time was a critical factor, I took the Niagara Transit bus, which dropped me off at the campus doorstep. 

3. I walked the mile or so to the Ridge Lea campus -- home to the computer science department, for one -- and hopped on the free shuttle bus to the main campus. This method of transportation was usually the way I returned to my apartment after attending classes, unless I happened to be lucky enough to run into one or the other of my roommates. (Our morning schedules never meshed.) 

As for getting to and from Gleason's, I biked. (And whose bike it was, I have no idea. It was one that I borrowed from home.) Niagara Falls Boulevard is a major thoroughfare connecting Buffalo and its northern suburbs, so there was still a fair amount of traffic to contend with at 12:30 a.m. I'm sure the bike was equipped with front and rear reflectors but certainly not with the strobe-like flashing lights you see nowadays. Of course, back then we didn't have earbuds to tune out the world. At 5 a.m. on the other hand, I sometimes had the street to myself. Winter must have been late in coming to Buffalo in '72 as I don't recall having to deal with snow. 

It wasn't just an unusual pattern of sleeping that made my final semester at Buffalo unique. Because I had taken off the fall semester of 1971 to extend my stay in California, most of my closest friends were no longer around. They had graduated in May and scattered to a variety of U.S. college campuses to attend graduate school. For me then, it was almost like starting with a clean slate. But serendipity was on my side. Through the mingling that took place at the twice-weekly Folk and Square Dancing class I took for my phys ed requirement, I found a new group of friends with whom to hang out. I couldn't have found a better setting to help me fill this void.

On these days when I seem to be reverting to this fall of '72 fractured sleep pattern, I find myself viewing the world from an unexpectedly fuller perspective, simultaneously muddy and clear. 

Probably just the brain waves adjusting.

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