Call me later

Certain recent converts may display compassion when attempting to convert the rest of us to their new path. Consider the ardent jogger who formerly defined exercise as getting up to switch channels on the TV and now would have you trot two miles with him on your lunch hour; he may leave you in peace if you reply, ''Honest, Bob, I'd really love to, but . . . um, I have to brush my teeth.''

There is another reformer, however, who cannot comprehend why everybody is not as he is, or refrain from pestering you to conform. Consider that archetype found in many a home and office, the early riser.

Since he learned to scale the bars of his crib, the early riser has been bounding out of bed well ahead of daybreak - from choice rather than necessity! More incredible still, he has a limitless capacity for blithely ignoring the well-known scientific fact that until the sun is at least 30 degrees above the eastern horizon, some of us simply do not bound anywhere.

Sometime during the Dark Ages (i.e., before tractors had headlamps and hay had to be made while the sun shone), a group of early risers apparently convened (in a breakfast political caucus, more than likely, while late risers innocently slumbered) and decreed the work day would correspond to the hours of daylight. From that day to this we late risers have been paying for their legislative chicanery with an accumulation of alarm clocks.

Today's early-rising proselytizers, not satisfied with having the world run by their timetable, conduct a ceaseless campaign to persuade the rest of us that this arrangement is as it should be. When you stagger half awake into their presence at 10 in the morning, they have no compunction about rushing up with a cheerful grin and exclaiming, ''Rise and shine!'' When one is addressing the sun , that command may be appropriate, but no matter when I rise you may depend on a lapse of at least four hours before I even start to glimmer.

Another favorite campaign slogan, always uttered, it seems to me, with effusive zeal, is: ''Gosh, I've done a day's work already.'' Truly commendable, but why, then, do they not go on home and let me get started with mine? Some still intone the time-honored litany: ''The early bird gets the worm!'' If I were a robin, this information might have appeal. I am not a robin. I am a night owl.

Many early risers are fond of quoting Benjamin Franklin's early-to-bed, early-to-rise formula for attaining health, wealth, and wisdom but become quite indignant if I dare suggest their patron saint may have been a shade wacky. Nevertheless, I cannot see that kite-flying is the wisest (or healthiest) diversion for a rainy day. If you ask me, such behavior is a direct consequence of too much early rising.

In my college days, an early riser of Ben's eccentric stamp often rapped at my dormitory door before 6 a.m. to announce the latest inspiration visited upon him an hour earlier while he was shaving. He was especially proud of one proposal - positioning in orbit, like communications satellites, a chain of giant mirrors capable of reflecting sufficient sunlight to turn night into day. From New York, Boston, and San Francisco alone, he claimed, the savings in electricity no longer required for streetlights would pay for the project. I might get to sleep sooner at night had I not heard some years later he took a job with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Not all early risers, of course, are such odd chaps, but most do cherish peculiar assumptions which they never take time to question. Many seem to think it entirely natural, for instance, to make an appointment with you for a 7 a.m. breakfast, yet everyone knows breakfast was meant to be served around 10:15. Let me suggest a more convenient rendezvous - say, in the shank of the evening for a midnight snack, at which hour I'm coming into my own - and I am regarded as if I had run down the street yelling, ''Howdy, everybody; I'm Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.''

While I am willing to grant that the world is waiting for the sunrise, it sometimes irks me that early risers assume - ergo - I await their bright advice. Uninvited, as if solving all the world's problems, they pronounce: ''You know what you should do? You should get yourself an alarm clock.'' Now, if I were capable of awakening early, would I need an alarm clock?

I already have four alarm clocks. Through the buzzing, ringing, clanging, and beeping of any one - or all four in cacophonous concert - I snooze sublimely. For a time I had a clock radio, which, when turned full volume, did eventually wake me up one time. The radio blared on. I slept soundly. My next-door neighbor was awakened. He came over and, pounding on my bedroom window, shouted, ''Turn that thing off!'' This roundabout procedure worked (once) but proved unacceptable. My neighbor was a night owl, too.

When subtle persuasion fails, as invariably it does in my unconverted case, the early riser may try to saddle you with remorse. Right in the midst of pleasant conversation comes: ''My goodness, I wish you could have seen that sunrise this morning. It was glorious.'' Sunrises, I agree, are glorious. To appreciate them fully, however, I contend you first must watch the sun set, then stay up chatting with a friend or reading a book all night. Otherwise, they have the misfortune to occur first thing in the morning.

Has the world grown too small for diversity? We night owls do not demand that early risers stay up with us; must we get up with them? I do find uncharitable the implication that I am un-American simply because when asked ''Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light'' I truthfully must reply, ''Hardly ever.''

Generally speaking, though, most early risers (if you can encounter them from about half-past lunch onward) are really decent folk - like the friends who gave me a mug that sits on my desk proclaiming: ''It sure makes the day long when you get to work on time.'' No matter what hour we arise, we all could do with more of that sort of thing - understanding and tolerance. This type we should emulate.

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