JOHNNY ROBINSON: The Dream Machine

Best I can figure, I’ve been using the same alarm clock since about 1982. The same one, just about every night since then. Huh.

It’s one of those common old “clock radios,” a Sony Dream Machine which, come to think of it, sounds pretty fancy. It has a 5×8-inch footprint and sits about two inches high. The case is constructed of a hard, white plastic that no doubt will last an eternity.

The Dream Machine has a couple of dials to tune the radio and adjust the volume, some buttons to set the time and alarm, and a slide switch to select either a buzzer or the radio as the alarm mode. That’s it.

The music fidelity is low, for sure, and fine tuning to radio stations is not so fine but I don’t mind. It’s set to a random AM station and that’s my wake up call. It’ll either be talking or music when the time comes. The buzz option is not my cup of tea, so I never use that unless I set it that way accidentally.

I keep the radio volume low so that when it goes off I don’t explode out of bed and hurt myself. And I turn it off immediately; I don’t want to disturb Marybeth anymore than the considerable amount that I already do.

I think my old clock has a “snooze” button but I’ve not used it; that’s not my style. I set the alarm to go off exactly when I want to get up, not for an indeterminate “snooze” period. And my morning routine is -or used to be- so tightly scheduled with every minute carefully allotted, the alarm clock helped ensure that I could sleep as long as possible while still allowing me time to do everything I needed/wanted to do prior to full “at work” mode.

When the alarm goes off, boom, I’m awake. Game on, as they say. I jump up and hit the ground running, literally. Ok, “jump” is a bit of an exaggeration but there was a time when that was an accurate description.

Anyway, I pull on my running shorts, slide on my shoes and slip out the door for my trademark two-mile neighborhood wake up jog. I discovered a long time ago that the twenty-minute run helps to psychically position me as best as possible for the coming day. It’s my secret weapon for mental survival.

Since I’ve been using the Dream Machine for 40+ years, we’ve been through a whole lot together. Sheesh, my mind goes spinning into orbit when I think about it. Throughout my entire dental career, marriage, raising a family, having cancer, local adventures. I’ve got to hand it to that old clock having been instrumental in helping me get up and out to face the day in my quest to make a living, raise a family, live life.

Over the years I’ve occasionally monkeyed with the set get-up time. For most of my career the clock went off at 5:30AM. The last ten years of it I got up at 5:20, to have a few more exercise minutes. These days it rouses me at 5:00.

      Why do I still use an alarm clock anyway? After all, I’m happily retired; I don’t have to get up at a certain time. And I definitely don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. No, I don’t have to get up early, it’s true. But I want to get up early. That’s what I do. And the ol’ alarm clock keeps me on track. If I don’t use a clock I’ll probably wake up repeatedly during the night wondering, “Is it time to get up yet? Is it? Huh?” Using the clock soothes my mind, keeps things orderly.

Sleep experts say that one should get up at about the same time everyday; the get up time being more important to well being than a precise bedtime. I’ve found that even if I stay up an hour or two later than my normal bedtime I will tend to wake up at my regular time. You’d think that the body would tend to demand that 7 to 8 hours of sleep, all hinging on the lights-out time. But that has not been my experience. Strange.

Part of my personal weirdness is that I can’t “sleep in,” even if I’d kind of like to. I’m too restless. If I want to get more sleep than usual I go to bed earlier, since sleeping later than my regular waking time doesn’t work.

And naps? Very occasionally I’ll take a nap but more often I’ll promise myself one “later” but seldom actually get around to it.

Negotiating that interface between asleep and awake can be difficult. Put another way, it’s hard to get up sometimes! The bed is so comfy cozy. To make it easier to get out of it I try to stack the deck in my favor, reduce the friction, as much as I can. Before I go to bed I’m careful to plan my initial steps for the following day. You know, lay out my clothes, review my itinerary, conjure up something to be excited about in the new dawn.

I’ve found that that, more than anything, best enables breaking the bond to the bed: having something to do the next morning that puts a smile on my face. What also has worked rather well for me is the time-honored kick-in-the-pants motivation that comes from gotta-make-a-living-feed-my-family.

Sleeping, waking, getting things done – humanity proceeds along those lines. If we’re lucky, “enjoying life” is part of it too. We don’t need watches or alarm clocks to note the passage of time in this precious life; we see it in the daily movement of the sun across the sky, in the change of the seasons. An alarm clock? In the grand scheme of things what does it matter? Ha, not much.

I am grateful, however, for all the years I’ve spent with my Dream Machine. It’s never let me down.

Johnny R. on the Appalachian Trail.

– Johnny Robinson

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