Night Owl

I’m in a hotel room, and I should be sleeping, but I can’t. It’s late, and I’m not tired. My nightstand clock tells me it’s 11 P.M. I think I’ll go for a walk.

Now I’m strolling the dark sidewalks, alone. I pass a man who is wearing a hooded sweatshirt, walking the road, pushing a stroller that is filled with tin cans. I hear them rattling.

He grunts a greeting at me.

I wave.

Maybe I will stick very close to my hotel tonight.

I’ve always been a night owl, and this used to rub the adults in my life the wrong way. I come from fundamentalists who don’t believe good things come from nocturnal activities.

As far as they were concerned, night only nurtured evil things like dancing, fighting, carousing mailbox baseball, grand theft auto, and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

But since we’re being honest, I’ll admit that as a boy I watched Johnny Carson almost every night in secret. I would sneak downstairs and ignite our television, keeping the volume barely audible.

Johnny’s monologues were the best. The jokes, the gags, the laughs, the interviews. His studio seemed like such a wonderful place to be, and so different from our world.

Of course, I knew I was taking my eternal salvation into my own hands, watching such devilish TV. In my family the only acceptable forms of entertainment were the Lawrence Welk Show, Billy Graham crusades, or watching a washing machine on spin cycle.

The men I come from were morning people. They woke before sunlight, worked hard, sipped coffee all day, and made hour-long conversations about adjusting carburetors.

They burned trash in fifty-gallon drums, ate liver and onions for their birthdays, and went to bed early.

I never fit in with them because I was a night-person. And night-people were not productive, respectable people. Night-people crept downstairs to the television, turned it on in secret, sat cross-legged on the floor, and:

“Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”

One night, I heard footsteps behind me while watching TV. I turned it off and hid behind the sofa.

It was my father. We locked eyes. He was giving me a stern look. And I knew I would never make it to adulthood.

“What’re you doing?” he said.

I had no answer.

His face broke into a smile. He fuzzed my hair. Then, he sat beside me.

“Well,” he said. “Don’t just sit there, turn on the TV.”

I couldn’t believe it. What was happening? We watched TV together, without saying anything to each other. Johnny was in good form.

On the first commercial break, my father went into the kitchen and returned with a ham sandwich, cut in half, and two glasses of milk. We clinked our glasses together.

“Here’s to Johnny,” my father said. “Cheers.”

What?

I didn’t know my father had heard of Johnny Carson, let alone knew him on a first-name basis.

Before the show was over, he turned to me and rested a paw on my shoulder. He winked.

It’s funny how much one wink can say.

“Don’t stay up too late,” he said in a fatherly voice. “You got school, you know.”

He walked upstairs and disappeared.

That night, I was a full-grown man. At breakfast the next morning, I discovered my voice had dropped an octave, and I had sprouted armpit hair.

Anyway, these are things you think about when you walk the late-night streets, like I’m doing.

A police cruiser passes me. I wave. The sidewalk runs out, so I turn back for the hotel.

The man with the stroller of tin cans is behind me now. He’s following me. I am getting worried.

“Hey man,” he says to me. “Wait up!”

Our Father, who art in Heaven…

He parks his stroller, then jogs toward me. “Dude,” he says, removing his hat. “I saw you walking by, and I was just gonna say…”

I cut him off. I already know where this is going, and he doesn’t need to humiliate himself for my sake. I reach into my wallet to hand him a five.

He holds his hands up.

“No, dude,” he says, “Don’t want your money, I just wanted say, bless you, in the name of the Lord, man. I saw an angel following you, I just thought you’d wanna know, ‘cause I see stuff like that.”

We shake hands, he winks at me. I hear his tin cans rattle while he walks away.

Maybe there’s hope for us night-people after all.

38 comments

  1. Mike Larkin - February 8, 2019 6:40 am

    I did the same thing; sneaked down to watch Johnnie. Caught by my mother who viscously yelled “Get to bed!”

    Reply
  2. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - February 8, 2019 6:45 am

    I do believe that we have an angel assigned to us and that he stays on the right side of us. Your’s was really taking care of you that night. I’m a night owl too.

    Reply
  3. Sandi in FL. - February 8, 2019 7:46 am

    Sean, I loved this story, especially the part about watching Johnny Carson with your daddy late one night, and the angel following you down the sidewalk near your hotel. Yes, I definitely believe in Guardian Angels and think that you surely have one or more looking out for you. Being a nocturnal person myself, I feel that this often runs in families, because my sister is a night person and so was our mother and brother. I even have an 11 year old granddaughter who loves to stay awake late at night. She’s an avid reader, and that’s when she loves to get out her favorite books and read in bed. My mother used to kiddingly say that I have gypsy blood, because gypsies are night people who dance and travel under the light of the silvery moon. That’s okay with me. Usually I can accomplish more between midnight and 4:00 A.M. than I can during the daytime.

    Reply
  4. GaryD - February 8, 2019 10:08 am

    I use to be a night-owl…until old age caught up with me. Now I just lie in bed, wide awake, with insomnia.

    Reply
  5. Connie Havard Ryland - February 8, 2019 11:00 am

    I’m still pretty much a night person, I guess. I listen to the tv or read until I know it’s going to be hard to get up the next day. I miss Johnny Carson. None of this new breed of late night people can touch him. Thank you for the memory.

    Reply
  6. Karen - February 8, 2019 11:09 am

    What a wonderful memory of your father. It seems he may have been strolling with you.

    Reply
  7. Elizabeth Edens - February 8, 2019 11:19 am

    Did he really say that? Wonderful story!!!

    Reply
  8. Leslie in NC - February 8, 2019 11:51 am

    Angels are indeed among us. And I’m with you GaryD…

    Reply
  9. Rogene martin - February 8, 2019 12:30 pm

    Precious memories. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  10. Mary Hinton - February 8, 2019 1:05 pm

    Really loved this one.

    Reply
  11. Steve Winfield - February 8, 2019 1:19 pm

    Wow! Crazy thing to have in common. I watched Johnny in secret with the TV down low from the time I discovered him until I joined the Navy. Couldn’t wait until he said, “The fork in the road!”. Don Rickles, Rodney Dangerfield, The Amazing Kreskin, I knew his repeat guests well. Dad got up at 4 AM so he rarely even stayed up for the 10 o’clock news. Lot’s of memories. Eventually started watching Letterman, too. When Johnny decided to retire I hoped that Letterman would take over. I liked Leno too but I thought Dave deserved the spot. In my mind Johnny was probably the highest paid guy on television, tenfold.

    Completely off the subject but, I got a message saying I’d been selected as a top commenter here. The link would not open & I can’t find any info about that. I love you. Steve.

    Reply
  12. Liz Watkins - February 8, 2019 1:56 pm

    WOW great memories and thoughts! The Angel? Was it Johnny or your Dad?? Maybe both- watching over you❤️

    Reply
  13. Mary Beth Borchardt - February 8, 2019 2:03 pm

    Did you ever think– the man with the cans following you might have been an angel and he just wanted you to know that God has sent him to watch over you?

    Reply
  14. Edna B. - February 8, 2019 2:24 pm

    What a beautiful memory of your dad. I loved watching Johnny Carson too. Ahhh, things change, time marches on. Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  15. Ann - February 8, 2019 2:44 pm

    You Guardian Angel must feel so blessed he got you. I bet he has fun!

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    • s moseley - February 8, 2019 3:26 pm

      Those were the days, Sean. I never missed Carson and still enjoy the reruns. And yes, I believe in visions ’cause I’ve had them through 80+ years.
      And I loved this post of yours since my daughter shared it with me. Thanks!

      Reply
  16. Jack Darnell - February 8, 2019 3:57 pm

    From one night person to another, HOOT! or Whoooooo! I am glad there is hope for us!

    Reply
  17. Julie Wilson - February 8, 2019 4:05 pm

    Oh my!! I belong to the Night Owl club too. Love your real stories and you!!

    Reply
  18. Pam Morgan - February 8, 2019 4:54 pm

    I get some of my most creative ideas in the hours of the night — Some of which I actually get to use. The rest of them get discarded when the light of day glares on them and they are better not disturbed. Mom and Dad would actually let me watch the opening monologue of Johnny when I was a kid … provided I was still awake. And on Friday nights and Saturday nights I always got to stay up as late as I wanted and watch whatever I wanted ’til the TV station signed-off for the night. Remember when they actually signed-off? As for angels … I’ve always believed in them … in fact, whenever I get in the car to drive, I figure a regiment of them are called in for this task alone.

    Reply
  19. Chasity Davis Ritter - February 8, 2019 5:35 pm

    Sean, I do believe an angel follows you and sometimes whispers in your ear. Sometimes knocks your hat off while you’re staring up at the night sky having a conversation mostly for your own ears. All of your life, even the everyday, is an adventure. Thanks so much for taking us along on the ride.
    Peace and love from Oklahoma.

    Reply
  20. Linda Chipman - February 8, 2019 6:36 pm

    I’m a nightowl too. Retired, a widow and that’s my reading time. Love it.

    Reply
  21. Gale Smith - February 9, 2019 12:00 am

    Sean, may you never go faster than your guardian angel can fly. I am an early bird, a night owl, and when I need to be, one who never sleeps. I can do which ever I need to for whatever reason. My grandmother always said I was burning my candle at both ends. We are here for such a little while, I don’t want to spend more than I have to sleeping.

    Reply
  22. Susan Kennedy - February 9, 2019 1:16 am

    I love this! Awesome story. And angels are everywhere!

    Reply
  23. Pawpaw - February 9, 2019 1:39 am

    I was at UF Shands in Gainesville today. It was my weekly injection of poison. I laid there for 2 hours while the stuff flowed into my veins. I would love to know an Angel from the Lord was with me there.. My the Lord bless each and every one of you. Just remember that Jesus taught us compassion, kindness, forgiveness, humility, gentleness and patience.

    Reply
  24. Shelton A. - February 9, 2019 4:31 am

    Angels following you…I buy that. I think you have angels who help you write.

    Reply
  25. Susan - February 9, 2019 4:44 am

    Lifelong night owl here! Just read about a study that says that night owls are more intelligent. I’ll take that! Loved Johnny Carson too. Can you believe we thought he was racy back then? I don’t watch the late night talk shows now…too political and racy for real. I’m sticking with the Golden Girls (since we’re talking about racy 🤣) and hgtv and Sean Dietrich’s posts for my night time reading.
    God bless!

    Reply
  26. Tammy Moody - February 9, 2019 4:48 am

    I too am a night person. I was born at noon, and think everyone’s day should begin then! Look up at the moon tonight. I’ll be looking at it here in IL. Several hundred miles separate us, but when we both look up at the moon, we’re in the same place and time. Bless you Sean. Love to Jamie <3

    Reply
  27. Dedra - February 9, 2019 5:45 am

    God winks too!

    Reply
  28. debbie wilson - February 9, 2019 6:01 am

    From one Night Owl to another! We love all of your books, blogs, podcasts etc… I sent you and Jamie a message under your Facebook Messenger. Hope you will take time to read it!
    Blessings to The Dietrichs!!

    Reply
  29. Roy Parker - February 9, 2019 10:53 pm

    Thanks Sean. I too was a night owl, even at a young age. That was back when we only had 3 channels and they signed off every night, usually before 1 a.m. I watched Johnny Carson nearly every night, and usually paid for it the next morning when I had to get up for school. My parents cut me more slack than I deserved, especially my dad, who was an early to bed, early to riser. Thanks for the memories.

    Reply
  30. Waunette puhl - February 10, 2019 8:42 pm

    Your writtings always make me think of things in my past and I ask myself how can I do better.

    Reply
  31. Robert Chiles - February 11, 2019 12:01 am

    I used to go coon hunting with my dad. Often in the winter. We would get home about 3:00 or 3:30, then go to work and school the next day. Can’t do that now- but I have great memories.

    Reply
  32. Lynda Keenan - February 12, 2019 8:00 am

    I agree with you Sean, I’ve been a night owl my whole life.I’m 67 now. When you tell someone you stay up until 3am and don’t get up til 10, they look at you like you’re a freak. When I worked I stayed up late and was up at 6am to get ready for work. It doesn’t bother me anymore, what people think. I think they’re weird for going to bed at 8pm and getting up at 5am. To each his own. Have a nice night.

    Reply
  33. Lynda Keenan - February 12, 2019 8:13 am

    The time on my comment was 8am. Not right, it’s 1am. I’m never up then, unless on vacation. Love your column and your wit. Keep on entertaining us.

    Reply
  34. Ken Matthews - February 15, 2019 12:14 am

    I’ve done lots of street walking when I was young and your expectation about him wanting money was called for. In some places like Atlanta or NYC you might need to be armed and looking for his gang members coming out from the dumpsters.
    What sweet ending. I have to remind myself to be vigilant but always ready for unexpected goodness. HE walks with us.
    Ken Matthews

    Reply
  35. Nell Thomas - March 9, 2019 7:29 am

    To bad the evil ones are put there to keep us from seeing the Angel’s or keep us from being more angelic.

    Reply
  36. G. Mitchell - March 9, 2019 2:56 pm

    Thanks Sean. As a night owl I could always use a good guardian angel. So glad yours was waking with you that night.

    Reply
  37. Debbie Shiflett - March 9, 2019 3:10 pm

    How can do many of your stories in any given week be your best or my favorite? Just how do you do that? You are an amazing writer Sean. And I’ve read A LOT! Bless you in the name of The Lord!

    Reply

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