Winter 2011-2012

The Other 3:00

Still no end in sight

George Prochnik

This contribution to Cabinet’s “24 Hours” issue was completed in New York, New York, in 23 hours, 59 minutes.

There’s a time we cannot bear to talk about. We like to stick night in the slot and wax broody at its melancholy and psychoses, discover in ourselves a mild romantic strain of lycanthropy, which compels, as Robert Burton writes, the afflicted spirit to “lie hid most part all day, and go abroad in the night, barking, howling, at graves and deserts.” Or feel anyway drawn to bay and shriek at the starry moon, the moony spouse, the star-moon parents, the moonstar child, our own lunar reflections in the vertical dissecting table of the late-night bathroom mirror. Bound to drug-slug ourselves sodden in the darkness. Or make last-ditch midnight love yet once more into thick-clutched obliviousness. To drown our eyes in screenshot fingernail parings of other lives. Or methodically recap reality in its entirety to the talking tick of some dead relative’s timekeeper. But all that stuff borders fun. Relative to what I’m trying not to get to. Can be play anyway, even when the play is terminal. Nothing maverick chic there is without an intact umbilicus to the nocturnal. I’m trying to stay in the night. Don’t make me leave. Let me remain in the company of all those heavily made-up perversities, lyric griefs, lonely wanderings in which we dream of everything that is not as something that might have been, had it not been for us being something other than what we once believed.

Alright. Stop. Courage. Let me just be frankish. Let me reduce the issue to two points on the clock face that are identical except for their respective pm and am thumbprints: 3 am, 3 pm. Now, I’m not saying that 3 am isn’t often an awful, scary time to be up, or even worse to be up and about. Of course it is—but the glamour! The insomniac, madcap reveler, addicted lover’s wail: I was wide awake on fire at 3 am! And if not the glamour, the awesome self-martyrdom! I was up with my baby, my pet, my ailing loved one at three in the morning! Now… (I swallow, pull trembling fingers back from the clicking skull-teeth of the keys, and return them, shaking harder.) Try coming up with just three redeeming features of 3 pm. Try managing a mere snake-eye roll of frissony things to say about 2 pm. Give me three-and-a-half heartening possibilities for 3:30 pm. Tell me what kind of lunch you ate, then come up with one more thing to say at 1:45 pm. Explain to me exactly what you do at 2:30 pm. Try to justify your life at 3:15 pm. Or 3:51 pm. Tell me there’s something rather than nothing at 2:50 pm. You see what I’m getting at. My contention is simple. The afternoon—mid-afternoon, not late afternoon or early afternoon—is our true zero hour of alienation. 3 am is but a clever doppelganger of the real horror time: 3 pm. 3 pm is 3 am that doesn’t even have a velvet club-rope to queue behind. 3 pm is 3 am without a mask, or even a fillip of mascara. 3 am is 3 pm in drag. 3 pm is 3 am forced to become an accountant.

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