Nothing offers a needed shift in perspective quite like staying up far past what should be bedtime.

I realized this point recently as I walked home at 4:30 a.m.

Regrettably, my excuse for strolling along the streets at that hour was not a rip-roaring party. On the contrary, I had been burning the post-midnight oil on a writing project with a deadline - a deadline requiring me to push past the 11th hour and avail myself of the dead of night to use equipment at one of those photocopying centers open 24 hours a day.

I used to routinely work into the wee hours writing news stories about seemingly endless city council meetings. But in more recent times I had returned to a more typical schedule and I had grown less accustomed to being up and about when all but a few lights are out.

I found myself oddly exhilarated, and not just because of the coffee I had drunk at 11 p.m. As I sauntered across the sidewalk, shrouded in mist and misty thoughts, I realized I was encountering the world at a time seldom glimpsed by most of us. This is the world at a time when usually we are either sound asleep, or wishing we were - a world far more familiar to police and pastry chefs working the aptly named "graveyard shift."

I wondered about the origin of this exhilaration, this zeal powerful enough to punch through my addled, sleepy mind to smack me on the lips and make me smile. Somehow I knew this uplifting mood sprang from more than adrenaline in response to thoughts about who ... or what ... else might be crazy enough to roam at this hour.

Of the reasons I needed to work so late was because earlier in the evening I could not resist a chance to catch the last showing of a movie. In terms of this poor time management I had made my own bed, so to speak, and now I had to sleep in it - or long to sleep in it. But I could not resist a chance to see Charlie Chaplin on the big screen in a restored version of "Modern Times." The film includes that great episode in which the tramp has secured a job as a night watchman in a store, strapping on roller skates in the toy department to frolic with the adventuresome street urchin played by Paulette Goddard.

But even with my Chaplinesque good humor rolled aside, part of my mood stemmed from those of us born to enjoy the flip-side of day, the night owls as opposed to the early birds, who can still recall times as a child when staying up late, in and of itself, was special.

I still get a bit grumpy if I need to go to bed early so I can, for example, be awake for work the next morning. Perhaps that feeling also hearkens to childhood, the Sunday night before school resumes rather than the Friday or Saturday night tapping into the weekend, when we could stay up later and get up later and take our time getting dressed and eat cereal and watch cartoons.

On summer vacations from school, too, I could stay up later. Eventually I would sometimes join my older brother to watch late night television, taking in those scary movies - the "Creature Feature." We would watch those Hammer Films with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, or Vincent Price in another tale by Edgar Allen Poe, or old episodes of "The Twilight Zone" or "Night Gallery" with Rod Serling, or even "Night Stalker" with Darren McGavin.

Hokey as "Night Stalker" would seem today - a reporter chasing down tips inevitably involving the supernatural - such programs at such times fed my imagination to no end. Ghost stories are best told at night.

Striding along my fog-laden path, the air crisp and silent, I marveled again at the shadows in real life. I recalled how some of my favorite places and some of the most beautiful vistas in this part of the world - including the tantalizing mouth of the Columbia River, the edgy glory of Haystack Rock and the muted sweep of the Necanicum as it spills into the Pacific - are best seen in the subdued tones before dawn, awash with the mystery they contain.

No, I decided, I was not delirious from sleep deprivation, nor had my mental gears failed after burning too much midnight oil. Fueled by such thoughts, taking stock of my little stint as a nightstalker, I would restore myself with rest and run smoothly again - just like Chaplin on rollerskates.

Brad Bolchunos contemplated titling his musings "Bedtime for Bolchuno," but he realized he is more "Gonzo" than "Bonzo," even if he might best be described as whacko.

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