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Scene4 Magazine: Michael Bettencourt
Michael Bettencourt
In The Small Hours

I am my father's son: an organized, diligent, harness-wearer who, unless illness has him gripped by the throat or tragedy has broken down the door, will hie himself off to work because that is what a conscientious person does, personal dislike be damned.

I could say that I make my schedules, but in truth, as is the case with every conscientious drone, the schedules make the person.

But Newton's law about actions and reactions also plays out in the existential, and there come those nights when, either because of a rebellious biological clock or an over-busy mind, I find myself wide awake in the small hours of the morning — that ante-meridian limbo where time seems thinned out and less clutching, where it's possible to float for a while unharnessed from schedules and appointments.

At first I try to "make the best use" of the time, firing up the computer and diving into my current project, or cracking open that book on economics for one more try at understanding some arcane statistics. But luckily this impulse passes — my body, with its own wisdom, rejects turning these hours into an extended work session.  This time is a gift, and "should" and "ought to" will have no pull whatsoever.

I take a walk over to the all-night supermarket, not to buy anything but just to observe who would do their shopping at such an unencumbered hour: the guy off second shift, young adults wheeling home after a party, elderly people shedding sleep as they get older, a few drunks and zomboids, the aisles clogged with stock clerks cramming new product onto the shelves.  At the 24-hour CVS the bored clerks gossip, the store empty, the fluorescent lights and garish banners eye-achingly bright.

Back in my office I take out what I call my "bit book," a journal of random jottings and notions, and start to write, pleasuring in the longhand feel of the pen against the page after a day of keyboard and monitor. Down our main drag the occasional car sizzles by; its doppler fade leaves the air still and resonant, like a drum head.  As I write my sense of "time passing" dissolves — I am in that Zen state where I am doing only one thing with mindfulness, without the fishhooks of a thousand distractions pulling my flesh in all directions.  It's a fleeting, but bracing, sense of wholeness.

I pull out that book of poetry I never seem to make time to read and swaddle myself in the words.  I put on some music and simply sit and listen to it with full ears, not just as background. I write a letter to a friend with a direct voice rather dashing something off as an obligation.  Without "time's wing'd chariot" breathing down on me, simple things incandesce with real pleasure.

But even this interlude must end.  Standing out on our back stoop, I watch the eastern sky soak up the approaching sun's light, and with each change in tint and brightness I can feel the schedules and obligations slowly re-ambush the day.  There's that project that has to be in the mail, that office supplies order that needs to be sent — and coffee in the afternoon when I'd prefer a nap. But until the sun actual takes the sky, while overhead is still just a swath of suggestive tints and the air is still empty of its daily sonic crush, I feel at peace, a sense of proportion repaired. An antidote, a sanity, in the nick of time.

And then the news helicopters come to hang over the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel to report on the traffic clog, their rotors clabbering the air into the curdled workday, and the first New Jersey Transit buses pick up the early-goers like a street cleaner sucks up dead leaves, and everything becomes (trans)muted into the aptly named daily grind.  I check the news for the traffic report and make the cup of coffee that signals the re-triumph of the scheduled and the demanded. And off I go.


©2008 Michael Bettencourt
©2008 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt is a produced and published playwright and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate" and wife, Maria-Beatriz

For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives


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november 2008

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