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Burning the midnight oil

As I was heading for an 8 o'clock appointment for my car this morning, I was hoping the mechanics would be guys who do their best work first thing in the morning. After all, we know there are "morning people" and there are "night owls." I didn't want some night owl who had been watching tv until 2 a.m. or out on the town last night working on my car. After all, it's a 2006 model -- practically new.

When we put ourselves and our important possessions into the hands of someone who is expected to have great skill, it would be reassuring to know what time of day or night that expert does his or her best work. That being my belief, if I ever have brain surgery scheduled for 7 a.m., I guarantee you I will have a detective following that surgeon night and day for a week before the scheduled surgery. If the surgeon is a night person, I'll either switch surgeons (a simple matter, I'm sure) or get an evening appointment.

Many students I knew would burn the midnight oil to finish assignments or prepare for important exams. Not me -- my midnight oil doesn't combust. Getting up at 3 or 4 a.m. worked better. I didn't enjoy it, but my machinery preferred the quiet hours before the dawn's early light.

How would you like to get drilled on at 8 a.m. by a night-owl dentist? What we need is some scientific method by which we can be tested to determine our peak performance time of the day. Instead of trying to invent a smart phone that can give you the time in Hong Kong and Vladivostok, the temperature in Reykjavik and hold 10,000 tunes on a single chip, why doesn't somebody devise a reliable "peak performance" test?

Not that night owls can't perform. If you want to hear good jazz, you wouldn't expect to hear it at 8 in the morning would you? You want to hear musicians who don't get out of bed before noon and who sound better when the glasses are clinking, the room is smoky and there are no clocks in sight. But you may want to leave before dawn, because jazz just isn't the same during daylight hours.

Is it possible to live in both worlds? It might be, but don't bet on it. Tiger Woods had a really great day job -- he was the best professional golfer in the world -- won tournaments and trainloads of money all around the world. Then he decided to taste the delights of the night with one bimbo after another. What happened? He stopped winning. The poor guy probably needed food stamps to eat. Now he's trying to concentrate on his day job again.

When you're going nose to nose with a competitor in almost any field, it would be good to not only know your own peak performance time, but the other guy's as well. "High Noon" is a classic western movie registered in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress because of its "cultural and aesthetic significance." In the film, Gary Cooper plays the role of William Kane, a former Marshal who has returned to the New Mexico Territory with his peace loving Quaker bride, played by Grace Kelly, only to find that an outlaw killer, Frank Miller, arrested by Cooper and sentenced to be hanged, had been released on a technicality (yes, there were technicalities, even back in the days of Territory of New Mexico). Outlaw Miller had come back for revenge against the marshal who had brought him to justice. As you might expect, the entire drama boiled to a climax in a gunfight on a dusty main street at -- high noon. Cooper's character, who believed in a good night's sleep with his Quaker bride went face to face with the nasty Miller who believed in smoking, drinking, late hours and bimbos. Now who do you suppose had a peak performance at high noon? You'll never guess how it turned out and I won't tell you because I don't want you to miss seeing this movie classic yourself.

Speaking of marshals and sheriffs, the sheriff of my county, Becker County, from 1935 to 1946 was Magnus Olson. The story is that one dark night at about 3 a.m., Sheriff Olson was called to haul in a belligerent drunk who was indignant at the inconvenience of being arrested. He told the Sheriff "I'll never vote for you again and you'll never get reelected." Sheriff Magnus had a one sentence answer: "The folks who elected me are all home in bed."

If there are any morals at all in this ramble, there could be many. Let me offer a few: never hire a pitcher who can throw curve balls only when the sun is shining; if you're a farmer, think twice about marrying that beautiful sweetheart who loves to dance all night and sleep late; if you want to make a living doing jazz, learn to stay up late, get yourself a saxophone and practice breathing smoke -- and practice, practice, practice; and finally, if you're a straight shooter with a Quaker wife, facing a showdown with a hombre who burns the midnight oil, try to schedule your gunfights for high noon.