In Italy they say, “Non c’è due senza tre.” Which means, roughly, stuff happens in threes.
The expression comes to me tonight. I’m lying in bed with my wife in Mariposa, California, where we’ve come to visit our son and his wife. Behind the barn where they make cider, above which they have a comfortable one-bedroom apartment, there is a big backyard. In this big backyard, at all times of day, a bunch of deer. Also in this big backyard, a 26 foot camper, in which my wife and I are trying to sleep. Above this big backyard, a big sky totally free of light pollution. I’m urban, with memories of the rural sky I lived beneath when I was a kid. Since we got here, I’ve reminded myself a few times: go out there at night and look at the stars. Tonight is special. We’re waiting for the eclipse of a super blood moon. Well, I’m waiting. It’s a long wait. The eclipse will begin around 2:45 a.m. and will be at maximum at 4:15 a.m. I want to see it. My wife wants to sleep.
Senza tre. I’m reminded of my Sophocles, the riddle: What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night? Not that Sophocles had house trailers in mind, but I do. When I was a kid, I slept some summer nights in a house trailer with my parents. Decades later, as a parent, I slept more summer nights in my parents’ trailer with my wife and kids. Now, more decades later, I’m sleeping these summer nights with my wife in our son’s trailer. We’re not walking on three just yet, but, let’s face it, we’re inclining in that direction.
Staying awake all night is out of the question, so I set the alarm on my phone. I’ve never given that alarm–the noise, I mean–much thought. To alarm me, my iPhone plays a musical number, I think it’s called “By the Seaside,” a musical statement so cheesy you get out of bed as fast as possible to silence it. Tonight, my phone sitting right beside my bed, this alarm sounds at 3:30 a.m. It’s awful. I wake up, look at the display with unfocused eyes, and tap it.
“Sorry,” I say.
“You getting up?”
“Not yet. The full eclipse is closer to four. I’ll be awake.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
Ten minutes later I’ve fallen back asleep. And the alarm sounds, again. At the seaside! Loud, cheesy. Annoying. I look at the display with unfocused eyes, and tap it.
“Sorry,” I say. “I hit snooze by accident.”
“You getting up now?”
“Lemme see.” I climb out of bed, go to the window above the kitchen sink, and look outside. The eclipse is happening. It doesn’t look red. This is not my first lunar eclipse. Years ago I watched one during the day, while I ate my lunch at a Burger King in Durham, North Carolina. I’ve seen a few more eclipses since then. This one’s special. I look out the window and wonder: Where’s the blood? I get back in bed.
“I’m going to wait a little longer.”
Non c’è due senza tre. I’m awake when the damn alarm goes off a third time.
“Please,” she says, “at least shut that thing off.”
Fully awake now I think about alarms I would prefer. Maybe I could search my musical catalog for something more pleasing. When my phone rings it plays a few bars from “Walk Like An Egyptian,” a ring tone I made, after using the chorus from “I Had the Time of My Life” for a while. For an alarm I now think, why not the chorus from the Beatles’ “It Won’t Be Long”? I imagine the two of us lying in bed, waking up to that song.
Me: “Come on, let’s sing along.”
Me, singing: “It won’t be long / yeah…”
Her, groaning: “Shut it.”
Me: “You take the second yeah. ‘It won’t be long yeah, yeah / yeah, yeah / yeah, yeah.‘ I’ll take the first yeah, you take the second.”
“My God you’re annoying,” she would say, which would defeat the purpose. We’d want an alarm that doesn’t annoy. An alarm that lifts us up.
I’m really awake now. The eclipse awaits. She says, “Now that you woke me up three times, I really think you should go outside.”
“Please, just go.”
I pull on pants, slip into shoes, and, feeling all Galileo, step outside.
When the ancients tried to make sense of an eclipse, they thought the sun and moon were being devoured–by demons (Romans), by wolves (Vikings), dragons (Chinese), frogs (Vietnamese). Indeed, when you think about it, a partial eclipse looks like a partially eaten cookie. A moon being devoured by children. “In many cultures,” writes Roger Culver, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Colorado State University, “it was believed that such creatures could be driven off by creating as much loud noise as possible: yelling, ringing bells, and banging pots and pans.” An iPhone alarm playing “At the Seaside” might have done the trick.
The eclipse is happening, the moon almost completely in shadow. And it is red. Or reddish. It’s not blood; it’s rose. And wow, the stars. At the edge of the barn, one of the dogs wakes up, a dog named Rooster. The kids have dogs for company. Also to keep coyotes and mountain lions away from the chickens. And, I certainly hope, away from me. Really, are there still mountain lions? I’m glad of it, but only in a theoretical way. Rooster barks a few more times, hearing my feet crunching on the gravel drive. Fearing he’ll wake up the kids upstairs in their apartment (they might think I’m a mountain lion), I decide to give up my scientific inquiry for the night.
“Well?” my wife says.
“It was red,” I say. “It was cool.”
It was worth it.
“You coming back to bed?” she says.
For the third time tonight.