Tonight’s Refreshment – JUST CHILL

A 100-gun salvo, the clanging of city bells, and the killing of the fatted calf! Yep, it’s time to celebrate the Night Report’s newest feature, one for which you’ve surely been thirsting.

I’m not going to say I’m a beverage connoisseur, but I’ve been around. I’m promiscuous, nearly indiscriminate in my beverage choices. I’m game for nearly anything, and so it is with that enthusiasm that I present this inaugural beverage review.

Included with each review of the drink itself will be discussion of the can or bottle’s marketing copy.

Tonight’s choice: JUST CHILL

Flavor: Jamaican Citrus

Alleged effect: calm + focus

My typical choice, as a night shift worker, is a strongly-caffeinated beverage. However, recent changes at work have induced a level of anxiety that I’ve noticed are adversely augmented by that caffeine. So, in answer to a wish I didn’t know I’d made, here comes JUST CHILL with its promise to provide both calm and focus. Was it possible? Can a canned beverage with some unknown, copyrighted ingredient called Suntheanine truly reduce the persistent low-level anxiety which seems fundamental to my existence? Could it simultaneously hone my focus on the night’s responsibilities? The $3.95 seemed a small barrier for entry into this exciting experiment.

First taste: how is this Jamaican? It tastes vaguely of citrus. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and the lemongrass flavor is nice. But wait, which ingredient comes from Jamaica? Or is the idea of relaxation and chill simply part of our stereotypes of that country? I checked the can again – nope, no endorsement from Ziggy Marley. The Wailers, too, are noticeably absent.

The can is green, and Jamaica’s flag has green on it. Maybe that’s an association? Plus, I guess it made me think about marijuana, and as we all know, Jamaica = weed, right? This contains no marijuana, by the way. Just L-Theanine, or Suntheanine, the ingredient most responsible for its alleged effects. I checked Wikipedia to learn more about theanine, but I bailed as soon as I saw words like “amino acid,” “glutamate,” and “pharmacological.” I didn’t barely pass chemistry to learn about it now for some half-ass drink review.

As for the effects, I can’t say I experienced a noticeable change in my mood or attentive abilities. Though I did have my shit together long enough to write this review, so I suppose that says something.

Marketing copy: “you’re a smooth operator. you know you’re at your best when you’re calm and focused, not jacked-up and jittery.”

I don’t know about smooth operation of any sort, but it’s hard to disagree with the second sentence.

“JUST CHILL is a calming drink designed to enhance your flow. our blend of functional ingredients, including Suntheanine, has been designed to support your lifestyle of staying calm and confident while you do your thing.”

What is my thing? Do I have a thing? A night job where I talk drunks into acting less like drunks? I should have more things. And toward what am I flowing? Inevitable decline and death? Or am I flowing away from something? My childhood dreams? Family and friends? Do I even have a lifestyle? A life? I’m pretty confident I lack the confidence to make necessary changes. Change itself makes me feel pretty anxious.

Man, this is definitely NOT CHILL. Perhaps I’m just not their target demographic.

That lemongrass leaf extract was nice though.


Score: 2.5 out of 5

I want to make something clear to beverage producers – I can be bought. Promotional opportunities are available, and with even a meager gift, I can easily imagine myself dabbling in biased reviews.

A Gift Guide for the Night Shift Worker

Just in time for the procrastinating Christmas shopper, here’s a list of items essential to anyone working the night shift. I acquired many of these quickly, thanks to the recommendation of my night manager. With twenty years on the same schedule, he was a trusted source. In fact, if anyone working third shift doesn’t already have the first four to six items on the list, it’s probably their first week.

  1. The Dohm Sound MachineDohm Sound MachineAny device producing white noise is beneficial to the day sleeper, but the best is the “The Official Sound Conditioner of the National Sleep Foundation.” Its volume is adjustable and can be rather loud,  but as The New York Times Magazine explains in their own recommendation of the Dohm, “white noise has the curious, counterintuitive effect of making a room louder in order to cultivate a womblike sense of quietude.” Remember all that sleep in the womb? Me neither. That’s because we were sleeping like fetuses, which is even better than sleeping like a baby.
    It’s tough trying to sleep when the rest of the world goes about its business, from construction workers in your apartment complex, to even the most well-meaning roommate or partner. My girlfriend often asks if something she did woke me, and my answer is almost always, “What? Hold on, let me turn off the sound thingy – I can’t hear you.” It also helps her on my nights off, when I’m the one up and making noise. The Dohm is an essential addition to your bedroom, an acoustic blanket atop all the other bedding, swaddling and snuggling your mind.
  2. Earplugs – Even the excellent Dohm can’t drown out a pneumatic drill grinding away outside your window. I don’t have a particular brand to suggest, but when you’re desperate, anything is welcome.
  3. Sleep Mask – This was my first night-shift related purchase. The day before I started, I picked one up at a nearby Walgreens. While I don’t recall the brand, I do have one piece of advice: don’t be cheap about it. You spend a third of your life sleeping, and good sleep is crucial to physical and mental well-being. Don’t buy a flimsy, plastic sleep mask like those provided on an airplane. Invest in a lightweight, comfortable, padded, adjustable mask. Mine feels a bit like velvet and smells of lavender. I know that sounds fancy schmancy, and it should. When it comes to getting restful sleep, pampering will pay dividends.
  4. Blackout Curtains – The bedroom should be a cave. It should be cool, dark, and with conditioned acoustics. I tried to get by without blackout curtains before learning that skin also absorbs sunlight. Simply shielding the eyes is insufficient. Ultraviolet rays penetrate uncovered skin and, short-cutting the scientific explanation, basically tell your body it’s time to wake up. The night shift is inherently unnatural for the human body, so the more one can trick it or create the conditions mimicking normality, the better. Oh, and many of these curtains are designed to minimize noise and extreme temperatures as well.
  5. MelatoninMelatoninThe night shifter labors in defiance of the Earth’s very rotation. Human behavior, before the invention of the light bulb and the development of 24/7 capitalism, paired inextricably with environmental cues. No sun? Very little labor.  Sun coming up? Time to get after it. Fortunately, we also have technology to help our bodies meet the demands of the new 24/7 reality. I have always found it easier to stay up than get to sleep, and that is as true now as it was my first shift. While I sometimes feel a slight sluggishness, not as bad as a hangover, after taking melatonin supplements, I still highly endorse them. I’m sure experiments with a smaller dosage could minimize that problem. Lastly, they don’t work exactly like a sleeping pill, so I recommend taking them nearly an hour before you’d like to sleep.
  6. Coffee – About that whole, “I have always found it easier to stay up than get to sleep” comment above…well, I’m sure that’s due to copious coffee intake. I hesitated to even include this because it’s so obvious. I will specify, however, that I try to drink more cold-brewed coffee due to its reduced acidity. I figure if I continue drinking as much as I do, I’ll take whatever esophageal relief I can get. The Toddy Cold Brew Coffee Maker is my pick if you’re making it at home.
  7. Books – I took the job thinking I would have plenty of time to write. That’s true. Unfortunately, my discipline and motivation rarely match the vast reservoirs of time. In my defense, I have read more this year than the last several years combined. I could yield to the trend of a year-end best-of list, but I’ll briefly say my favorite reads this year were “A Childhood: The Biography of a Place” by Harry Crews, “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” by Michael Pollan, and “Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America” by Jill Leovy. A coworker and I also started a short story club, where we alternate choosing and discussing one per week. Favorite authors have included David Means, Stephen Crane, Joyce Carol Oates, Don Delillo, James Baldwin, and Robert Coover.
  8. HeadlampHeadlamp I owe this idea to my girlfriend. Despite attempts to organize our home so that she would not need to enter the bedroom while I’m sleeping, sometimes there’s no avoiding it. Instead of turning on a light and possibly disturbing me, she purchased a headlamp. Be sure to grab one that also includes a red LED bulb, as it produces a light that is much easier on the eyes. I’ve used it while she was sleeping, and I even used it while cooking and waiting for maintenance to replace the suddenly-burnt out light bulbs in my kitchen. While this is not a true necessity, it can be quite helpful. How many gift guides are composed of necessities, anyway?
  9. Vitamin D pills – There are days when I never see the sun. If I go to bed before the sun rises and not leave until after sunset, I operate completely in the dark. To compensate for the lack of sunlight, vitamin D can actually be a necessity. Via Wikipedia: “Very few foods contain vitamin D; synthesis of vitamin D (specifically cholecalciferol) in the skin is the major natural source of the vitamin. Dermal synthesis of vitamin D from cholesterol is dependent on sun exposure.” Be sure to look for a bottle specifying vitamin D3  (the aforementioned cholecalciferol).
  10. Foghat’s 1976 album, “Night Shift” – The title track is an obvious standout, despite what I would call a lack of understanding in the second verse:

    Feel the fire
    I’m hooked to a live wire
    And I can’t let go
    I got a feeling that I can’t mistake
    Sun rises and I’m still awake

    I’m pretty sure they mixed up the experience of working a night shift with the experience of taking cocaine. But hey, I’m no music critic.

Taking the Job

Another Monday night with Sal and his Adderall. He snorted his in the bathroom; I followed the more traditional route. Whenever I take “a peach,” as he calls them, I know I’ll be handling most of the night’s auditing paperwork. I always agree with the barter, because even after eight months on the night shift, I’ll take whatever help I can get.

I leave him halfway through a synopsis of a movie he recently watched, starring “Pierce Bronson and Liam Nelson,” before he can butcher the title, too. Or forget it altogether.

“No Vacancy” glows neon red above the front door. The epicenter of drug and sex sales in the 80s, the motel now enjoys historical status in one of the many revitalized, gentrified areas of a rapidly-growing city. It sits on a main artery of commerce, surrounded by outrageously expensive antique stores and restaurants serving organic, locally-sourced food.

No Vacancy

Of course, by the time I arrive, most have their lights off, or the servers are putting chairs on tabletops and taking trips to the dumpster, milking the clock for one last smoke break.

Traffic thins. Drunk couples spill from nearby bars and ooze down the sidewalk, and I wait. Even on busy nights, I have plenty of time to patch together, yet again, the sequence of events that led me here.

Did I always dream of growing up to be the motel security guy in charge of telling the drunk guest from 134 not to urinate in the middle of the parking lot at three in the morning? Is taming the giant, inflatable-penis-carrying bachelorette party my ultimate destiny?

I still don’t have any answers, but it’s not for a lack of time to think about them. I was never good about setting goals, and I could never tell you, even as a kid, what I wanted to be when I grew up. Let this be a warning, if you don’t do that sort of thing, you may find yourself wrangling drunks and seeing how people act when they’re just looking for a place to, as a coworker said, “sleep, shit, and screw.”

Before this, I worked a nine-to-five, multi-tasking, fast-paced customer service nightmare of a job at a downtown print shop. After nearly seven years, my fatalism led me to believe I would die hunched over a Xerox. Occasionally, so fed up with the job, I would spend my lunch hour frantically searching Craigslist for openings. So many postings spoke of similar “multi-tasking, faced-paced environments,” that I wondered if any place existed where people single-tasked in a slow-paced environment. If not, the possibility of relief from long stretches of continuous soft rock or sports commentary on the manager-controlled radio station might suffice.

The skills and knowledge acquired with my bachelor’s degree in Electronic Communication had mostly atrophied, and my English minor—while arguably fostered by the periodic writing of mostly-unpublished short stories – were equally useless. There were close calls with other jobs, particularly a writing gig that entailed managing local companies’ social media presences. I would ghostwrite online copy for Facebook, or even engage reviewers on Yelp, assuming the identity of the client’s management. There was also the position of assistant editor at an erotic book publisher. One of their best sellers was about a forbidden romance between gay werewolves. If I was surprised to learn of the large numbers of polyamorous werewolves, I was completely stunned by the rapturous demand for material about their trysts and adventures. Perhaps I just don’t get out enough. Despite a promising future in the world of alternative paranormal romance, I did not put my ear to the erotic, howling wind of lusty lycanthropes.

Fortunately, in a manic Craigslist search, I finally found it: “Perfect Job for Night Owl Writers: Time Alone & Good Wages.”

It was a combination night auditor and night watchman position at a motel. I was surprised at how openly they acknowledged, even championed, the abundant downtime. I forwarded the email to my girlfriend with the message, “Dude, holy shit. Other than the not good pay, this is what I’m talking about.”

She was skeptical, worried mostly about the loss of time we’d have together and whether or not the reduced pay would threaten our already-precarious budget. Good points, both, but I was desperate. I quickly edited my résumé, wrote a cover letter, and followed the post’s instructions to stop by in person after 9 p.m.

Maybe it was the fact I still had a job to go to in the morning, one that paid the bills and had decent insurance. Or, maybe it was how quickly things moved from seeing the ad to sitting in the lobby filling out the application, or that the whole thing seemed like a lark, but I didn’t feel nervous. I’d recently finished a terrible story about lovers on the run from the cops that concluded in a motel, so I figured, at best, this could be a glimpse in to that world. I fell in to an immediate rapport with the two guys in the lobby, joking about the bleakness of Werner Herzog films. A section of the application asked about which books, films, and TV shows I enjoyed, and their lack of frowning disapproval was encouraging. I was asked to speak with the night manager, who was on duty.

Much of the interview, in retrospect, seemed to be a test of how well we could just, well, hang out. He discussed his interest in billiards, neurology, and divulged quite a bit of personal history and how he came to work at the motel. He had nineteen years of employment here, and he loved the amount of time it gave him to research his various interests, read, and simply think. Slow-paced? Check. And as for the tasks? The fundamental job of the night watch was to keep an eye on the property and guests. There were chores such as watering, laundering the pool towels, and fulfilling requests for things like extra pillows, but mostly I would watch and listen.

The final duty was to fill out the night report, documenting anything of interest for the incoming day staff and the owner. This could include unruly guests, maintenance issues I was unable to solve, or vagrants I had to escort from the property. It also served the larger interest of establishing a record of the egregiously awful, of guests who would never again be welcome.

After a week of additional interviews with the owner and day manager, as well as background checks to ensure my trustworthiness with the keys to the place, I was offered the position. My ambitionless inertia at the print shop was taken as a sign of stability, much appreciated at a family-owned motel where multi-year to near-decade tenures are the norm.

The restraint required to not break into song and dance when giving my two weeks was acknowledged in my own mental award ceremony of personal achievements. I was festooned with garlands, champagne-sprayed and hoisted heavenward. My family gutted a fatted calf.

The last few days of the job coincided with the first days of my overnight training. My manager insisted on a gentle transition, sensitive to the circadian chaos to come. My regular nine-to-five was about to become 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

During my first trainings, I read the archived night reports. Most, fortunately, were brief: “The night was quiet. No problems to report.” Others, particularly one from a week prior, were lengthy and even mentioned summoning the police to the property. If made into a word tree, the words “loud” and “drunk” would be its thick trunk, with twisting branches of “smoking,” “talking,” and “arguing.” A pretty unpleasant tree.

I was told these cases, especially ones requiring the police, were rare and that I should just focus on establishing my new sleep schedule. Eight months later, and the idea of any firmly established sleep schedule, of some simple adjustment, has been replaced by the reality of struggling to manage shuteye in an inherently unnatural lifestyle.

I feel a slight twitching in my forehead. It reminds me of the Adderall, reminds me I need to check the audit paperwork, and to try and focus on numbers while Sal spits word after word, a scattered brain at 2X speed, on into the night.

Oct 12 2015 – Night Report – Josh – 9pm to 5am

A peaceful, quiet night. No problems.