(Publication date: Nov. 14, 2003)


Sleepless in Albany


Nobody seems to be getting any sleep in the movies these days. It was true in Insomnia,  which got
me to thinking about
Sleepless in Seattle. Then the other night we walked over to Solano Avenue to
catch
Lost in Translation at the Albany Twin.

In this one, Bill Murray’s character is time-zoned-out in Tokyo. When he can’t sleep, he goes down
to the hotel bar and runs into people who look like Scarlett Johansson. When I can’t sleep, I go to
the bathroom mirror and run into people who look like me.

Meantime, when Scarlett Johansson’s character can’t sleep, she goes down to the hotel bar and
runs into somebody who’s…well, Bill Murray. When I can’t sleep, I stumble downstairs by myself
and clean out the cat litter box.

In
Insomnia, Al Pacino plays a cop who walks around with under-eye bags so big he could pack
them with clothes and take off for Thailand. But he’s in Alaska, and he’s there at the wrong time of
year. He can’t get his eyelids to meet because the sun never drops below the horizon. He can’t even
fantasize about being in a neo-noir detective yarn because, with no sunset, there’s no noir. On top
of that, he has to contend with a relentlessly energetic local cop played by Hilary Swank, whose
primary purpose appears to be ignoring the fact that Al Pacino
isn’t getting any sleep!

If you live with other people and you were around when at least one of them was a baby, there was
a time when you weren’t getting any more sleep than Al Pacino. When Parker used to raise the wee-
hour roof as an infant, I thought my best idea was to take him to SFO and put him on a plane for
Bolivia, but that seemed unworkable, since I didn’t know anyone down there who could pick him
up at the airport in La Paz, he didn’t speak Spanish, and he didn’t know how much to pay for a cab
ride into town. Finally one night, I stuffed him into one of those front-loading snugglies and took
him outside for a walk. As good an idea as any, probably, but we had neighbors trying to sleep
twelve feet away. To keep as far away from them as possible, I started strolling down the middle
of Santa Fe Avenue. Eventually, Parker dropped off. Next night, same story.  So, I figured, we had
ourselves a routine.

In my sleep-deprived delirium, all of this quickly began to seem normal. The Albany police didn’t
necessarily agree. The first officer who encountered us probably thought he had stumbled into
Night of the Living Dead, Part Deux. “Sir,” he pointed out helpfully, “you’re walking down the
middle of the street and it’s two o’clock in the morning.” I thought about asking why he wasn’t
hanging out at Happy Donuts with all the other boys in blue, but, occasionally, even I know what’s
good for me. Turns out, the Albany cops are great guys, as I learned, night after night. They’d stop
me to say things like, “Hey Bob, my wife’s aunt in Portland has an idea that she swears will put
Parker out in no time.”

If you have kids older than three, you know that eventually you figure out a way to get some
shuteye, and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve watching Orion wheel across the winter sky
with the Albany police. Unfortunately for me, I started thinking about all this stuff at 4:00 this
morning and then, of course, I couldn’t get back to sleep.


Life Is a Movie