The Graveyard Shift: Feral Dogs, Mannequins, and Lula Mae

It’s four in the morning and fatigue tugs on your eyelids. It’s a subtle move, like grasping the string on one of your grandmother’s window shades, slowly pulling it down. The move is so gracefully executed by the Sand Man you hardly notice it.

Thinking about your family asleep in a warm bed, you turn onto a side street trying to find a place to pull over. Five minutes. That’s all you need. Shouldn’t have spent those three hours today playing with the kids when you could’ve been sleeping. Still, that’s the only time you get to see them awake. What can you do? And, someone had to mow the lawn this afternoon, right? Oh yeah, tomorrow is the day you’re supposed to talk about police officers to your third-grader’s class. It won’t take long, two or three hours at the most.

Sleep. You need sleep.

Your headlights wash over the back of the alley as feral dogs and cats scramble out of the dumpster that sits like an old and tired dinosaur behind Lula Mae’s Bakery. The knot of animals scatter loaves of two-day-old bread in their haste to escape the human intruder who dared meddle with their nocturnal feeding. A mutt with three legs hobbles behind a rusty air conditioning unit, dragging a long, dirty bag filled with crumbled bagels. Tendrils of steam rise slowly from storm drains; ghostly, sinewy figures melting into the black sky.

The night air is damp with fog, dew, and city sweat that reeks of gasoline and garbage. Mannequins stare at you from tombs of storefront glass, waiting for daylight to take away the flashing neon lights that reflect from their plaster-like skin. You park at the rear of the alley, stopping next to a stack of flattened cardboard boxes, their labels reflecting someone’s life for the week—chicken, lettuce, disposable diapers, and cheap wine.

Four more hours. If you could only make it for four more hours…

Suddenly, a voice spews from the speaker behind your head, “Shots fired. Respond to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Back up is en route.”

“10-4. I’m 10-8.”

And so it goes. And goes, and goes…

It’s believed by some that the graveyard shift (not this blog) got its name from people who accidentally buried their loved ones while they were still alive. Thinking their dearly departed had gone on to their reward, these folks unknowingly fitted an unconscious or comatose Uncle Bill or Grandma with a new outfit and a spiffy pine box. Then they buried them in the local cemetery where night workers claimed to hear the dead screaming for help from below the ground. When they dug up the coffins, they sometimes found scrape marks on the casket lids indicating the person inside had tried to claw their way out before finally succumbing to a lack of oxygen.

To remedy the situation, caskets were fitted with a bell and a long string that reached to the inside of the buried coffin. This enabled the “dead” person to ring the bell should he awaken after his burial. Workers could then quickly rescue the living dead.

It’s debatable as to the validity of this tale, but it makes for an interesting story, especially for police officers who have cemeteries to patrol in their precincts.

Working the midnight shift is difficult for anyone. In fact, a study conducted by a Lexington, Massachusetts consultancy firm, Circadian Technologies, shows that companies operating a graveyard shift may be losing money, to the tune of $206 billion dollars annually. Why? Because workers are simply not effective when working these late-night hours.

The study also showed a higher divorce rate among midnight shift workers, more gastrointestinal problems, higher stress related disorders, and a higher accident rate. The study also concluded that there’s a much higher turnover rate among night-shift employees.

A Hutchinson Group (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) study reports that women who work the graveyard shift may have a greater risk of breast cancer. The results of this study were first introduced in a 2001 Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Anyway, working the graveyard shift is a tough assignment no matter how you look at it. So, tonight, when the clock strikes twelve, please take a moment to think about all the people across the country who are out there working hard to protect us and our property so that we may sleep safely.

5 thoughts on “The Graveyard Shift: Feral Dogs, Mannequins, and Lula Mae

  • Holly McClure

    I worked night nurse shift a few times and it’s killer. You made me remember a family story passed down about a great grandfather who was a priest in the NC mountains. [Episcopal, not the celibate kind]A guy on horseback came to ask him to come with him for a funeral a days ride away. When they got there, the family informed him they already buried Uncle Joe before it got unpleasant in the hot summer weather. The poor old thing was sweating like a mule.

  • Pat Brown

    I just read a report that said the same thing. It also noted that we are diurnal and our natural cycle is dawn to sunset. The lack of the right kind of light is a part of the problem.

    Apparently, a light was developed that had that range of light and people under it did better in terms of concentration. Interesting topic.

  • Chief Scott Silverii, Ph.D.

    Awesome article and your “sleepy” description at the beginning almost had me nodding. Night shift is really very difficult personally and professionally, BUT, someone has to do it. Professionals working the late shift take on a culture unique to all of policing and yes, please think of them at midnight, or at 10:30 as you nod off.
    Thanks again

  • Teresa Reasor

    Loved the blog. Some of my writer friends say Night Shift is their most productive time. Not this gal. I have to have my 7 hours then get up early and get to it. I just can’t stay awake or concentrate from 12-.

    Excellent description at the beginning of the blog and loved the city sweat.
    Teresa R.

  • Gunther

    Working the night shift or the midnight shift at an Air Force base can be very hard too especially when you are working alone and the head NCO won’t give you an extra hand to help you let alone put a NCO on the shift and then he is always doing Monday quarterback comments about your work and the decisions you had to make because there was no experience airman or NCO to pass on their experience.

    The only thing about the night shift work was that it allows you to attend classes at a college during the daylight hours which you can not get at night. It also helps you adjust to working at night when you have to take night time classes.

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