It’s four in the morning, the time of night when fatigue begins to tug on your eyelids. It’s a subtle move, like grasping the string on one of your grandmother’s window shades, slowly pulling it down. The Sand Man is a pro, having performed the eyelid trick millions of times. He’s persistent and sly, and his technique is so carefully polished and gracefully executed that, well, his victims rarely know he’s paid them a visit until it’s too late.
Thinking about your family sleeping in their warm beds, you turn onto a side street trying to find a place to pull over. Five minutes. That’s all you need. Shouldn’t have spent those three hours today playing with the kids when you could’ve been sleeping. Still, that’s the only time you get to see them awake. And, someone had to mow the lawn this afternoon, right? Oh yeah, tomorrow is the day your third-grader wants you to come to her class to speak about police officers. It won’t take long, two or three hours at the most.
Sleep. You need sleep.
Your headlights wash over the back of a deserted alley, prompting feral dogs and cats to scramble out of the dumpster that’s sitting in the far back corner like an old and tired dinosaur. On the greasy pavement next to it are two bald car tires, a portable television with a broken screen, and cardboard box filled with what appears to be used women’s clothing. The knot of animals scattered loaves of four-day-old bread in their haste to escape the human intruder who dared meddle with their nocturnal feeding. A mutt with three legs hobbled behind a rusty air conditioning unit, dragging a long, dirty bag filled with crumbled bagels. Tendrils of steam rise slowly from storm drains; ghostly, sinewy figures melting into the black sky.
The night air is damp with fog, dew, and city sweat that reeks of gasoline and garbage. Mannequins stare out from their tombs of storefront glass, waiting for daylight to take away the flashing neon lights that reflect from their plaster skin. You park at the rear of the alley, stopping next to a stack of flattened cardboard boxes, their labels reflecting someone’s life for the week – chicken, lettuce, disposable diapers, and cheap wine.
Four more hours. If you can only make it for four more hours…
Suddenly, a voice spews from the speaker behind your head, “Shots fired. Respond to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Back up is en route.”
“10-4. I’m 10-8.”
And so it goes. Night after night after night…
It’s believed by some that the graveyard shift (not this blog) got it name from people who accidentally buried their loved ones while they were still alive. Thinking their dearly departed had gone on to their reward, these folks unknowingly fitted an unconscious or comatose, and very much alive, Uncle Bill or Grandma with a new outfit and a spiffy pine box. Then they buried them in the local cemetery where night workers claimed to hear the recently departed screaming for help from their underground resting spots. When the workers dug up the noisy coffins, they sometimes found scrape marks on the casket lids indicating the person inside had tried to claw their way out before finally succumbing to a lack of oxygen.
To remedy the situation, caskets were fitted with long strings that reached from the inside of the buried coffins to a bell situated atop the freshly covered graves. This enabled the “dead” person to ring the bell should he awaken after his burial. Workers could then quickly rescue the living dead.
It’s debatable as to the validity of this tale, but it makes for an interesting story, especially for fictional police officers who have cemeteries to patrol in their precincts.
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Working the midnight shift is a difficult assignment for anyone. In fact, a study conducted by a Lexington, Massachusetts consultancy firm, Circadian Technologies, shows that companies operating a graveyard shift may be losing money, to the tune of $206 billion dollars annually. Why? Because workers are simply not effective when working these late-night hours.
The study also showed a higher divorce rate among midnight shift workers, more gastrointestinal problems, higher stress related disorders, and a higher accident rate. The study also concluded that there’s a much higher turnover rate among night-shift employees.
A Hutchinson Group (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) study reports that women who work the graveyard shift may have a greater risk of breast cancer. The results of this study were first introduced in a 2001 Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Anyway, working the graveyard shift is a tough assignment no matter how you look at it. So, tonight, before you turn in for a good night’s sleep, take a minute to think about all the people across the country who are walking out the door at that same moment to protect us and our property so that we may sleep safely.
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* The article above is a previously published, but updated blog article. I’m away from home this morning, attending a ceremony for fallen officers. This is National Police Memorial Week.