I am the unchallenged master of sleep. I can sleep at any time of the day no matter where I am.
It started in my childhood. My mother was an alcoholic, my father in prison. Sometimes I had nothing to eat. By age eight, I was out earning money so that I could at least buy a candy bar or a dinner roll if there was no food at home. From then through the end of high school, I always had a job. I delivered newspapers, worked as a pharmacy delivery boy, stocked shelves in a department store. After I got my driver’s license at sixteen, I most often worked in gas stations, pumping gas, greasing cars, and cleaning. Sleep was a luxury I couldn’t always afford.
Then came college. The tuition at UC Berkeley in the 1950s was just short of sixty dollars a semester. I worked twenty hours a week while attending classes. I usually found a job in restaurants. Sometimes I washed dishes; sometimes I waited tables; once in a while I acted as a chef’s helper. I specialized in restaurant work because I got free meals.
I had long since learned how to go without sleep. I had to attend classes, study, and work. I found I could push myself beyond what I thought were my limits. My undergraduate college grades were below average. That met my expectations. High school advisors had warned me that I wasn’t intelligent to go college. But I was determined to do it anyway. I loved learning, and I wanted to escape from poverty.
But the pace of my life took a toll over time. At the end of the last semester of my senior year of college, I collapsed from exhaustion. I was in Cowell Hospital at graduation time, close enough to the amphitheatre that I could hear the graduation ceremony. I graduated a semester late without a ceremony.
That was my first diagnosed bout of exhaustion.