By Greg Clark, June 24, 1944
“You look,” said Jimmie Frise, “a little down this morning.”
“I am,” I confessed. “It’s my snore.”
“Ah, your family is evicting you?”
“No,” I said. “More humiliating than that. I was visiting my brother’s cottage and there was a family party and they carried me out and left me on the rocks all night.”
“Didn’t they even offer you a tent?” asked Jim.
“Offer me?” I explained bitterly. “They carried me out in my sleep. And when I woke up in the morning, there I was out on the rocks and all of them sitting sneering at me on the veranda.”
“You didn’t wake up?”
“How could I?” I demanded, “I was busy sleeping.”
“You must sleep well,” opined Jim.
“I do sleep well. I sleep the sleep of the just. When I go to sleep, I go to sleep with gusto. I have been timed by interested people who have clocked me from the time I lay down to the time I emitted my first experimental snore, and it has been as little as 37 seconds.”
“Merciful me,” ejaculated Jimmie.
“When I sleep,” I explained, “I go deep. I am none of these skittery sleepers who play about the surface of sleep like swimmers disporting themselves in the water. No, I go to sleep the way the bear hibernates. I plunge at once far down, down deep into the shadowy depths of slumber. No dreams can find me. There I hide, in sombre and lovely caverns of sleep until I am through sleeping. Nothing can wake me. And when I am through sleeping I wake up just like that. Wide awake. Fully rested. The way Nature intended us to sleep and to wake.”
“But you snore, hey?” asked Jim.
“Yes, I snore. I am sorry to snore, but here you are. They tell me I have one of the most dreadful snores ever heard.”
“Mine’s pretty bad,” said Jim.
“Mine, I declared, “is not a snore. It is 15 or 20 kinds of snores. Many a time my wife has got up and come all the way down to the back of the house where I sleep to turn on the light and look to see who else I have got in bed with me because she swore I was doing two snores at the same time.”
“That’s bad all right,” admitted Jim. “But have you got resonance? I have resonance. They say I often make the window panes rattle with mine. My family often comes in and wedges little bits of paper in the windows to prevent them rattling.”
“Jim,” I said impatiently, “maybe you have a pretty bad average snore. But I want to tell you about something that is likely going to cause me trouble, maybe tragedy. You can’t have your friends carrying you out on to the rocks the way they did with me and not suffer sooner or later. I have often wondered why my friends never ask me twice on fishing trips and week-end parties. But now I know it is my snore. And what medicine or soap can you use for snores?”
“Try sleeping on your other side,” suggested Jim.
“Jim, I have tried, with the help of all my family, all my friends and enemies, to sleep on both sides, my back, my stomach, but it makes no difference. I have even used those big safety pins – you know the kind – to pin myself down on one side. But when I woke in the morning, somebody had unpinned me and propped me on the other side with large books behind me so I couldn’t move. But all to no avail.”
It’s Deeper Than Adenoids
“Perhaps surgery would help,” said Jim. “Maybe your adenoids need trimming.”
“My snore,” I stated with pride, “is deeper than adenoids. I have what you call an abdominal or diaphragmatic snore. I snore from my pelvis, like opera singers. I’ll tell you what they tell me. They tell me I lie down and in about one-half to one minute emit my first soft little snore. It is just a murmur, taken on the inward breath. In about 10 or 15 snores, these little murmurs have risen to a sound like a car going up hill in low gear. Terrible, roaring, ripping sounds which conclude the first movement, so to speak, in a final snort like a salesman ripping a sheet of linen.”
“Ah,” said Jim, “I have heard you do that. It has actually wakened me.”
“That terrible rip,” I went on, “does not strangle me to death, unfortunately, as all my friends hope; but it inaugurates the second series. That wild snort seems to shake loose some new equipment in my wind-pipes and I start thereupon snoring not only on the in-breath but on the out-breath too. By now I am going good. I snore in the key of F on the in-stroke and in the key of B on the out-stroke. At the same time, while I am making these dreadful sounds through my nose, I am also saying ‘pooh’ on each out-breath with my mouth. It goes Aaaaaaash – Snaaarrrchh – Pooh! Like that.”
“Personally,” said Jim, “I am sorry I have always slept so soundly on any trips I’ve been with you that I missed all this. All I can say is I have been wakened by a kind of tearing sound you make.”
“Oh, I’ve heard you snore,” I pointed out. “Not at night, of course, but when I have come in from fishing in the afternoon and found you asleep on the cot. Yours is just a nice, low, buzzing sound, very soothing in fact.”
“Look here,” said Jim testily, “you can’t compare a common little afternoon snore with a two o’clock in the morning job. I want to inform you, my boy, that I’ve been sitting here listening to you bragging and I’ve just been amused, that’s all. Just amused. I have a snore that has resonance. It is none of these little bewildered snores that doesn’t know which way to turn, It’s a snore like a bugle. One clear call for me. One time down on Lake Scugog, all the shipping was tied up one whole night off shore because my snore was mistaken for the fog horn.”
“Oh, Jimmie,” I scoffed.
“I know the kind of snorer you are,” said Jim. “One of those nervous snorers who can’t make up his mind. You try this and you try that. You are an experimental snorer. You never seem satisfied for more than about 15 snores. Then you’ve got to change your tune. You sort of seem always feeling your way through the night, as if you couldn’t figure out which direction to take. But me: I lie right down to business. I hit my pitch and go to it. And I go to it as straight as an arrow. My snores ring through the night, one after the other, like projectiles fired from a gun. I never alter, never change. I just lie there with my mouth open, my nose pointed like a long range gun straight in the air and I let her go. Baritone, rich, tonal, true, unvarying. That’s snoring.”
“Jimmie,” I said, after a pause, “we’ve been friends a long time, but I can’t have you talking this way about my snores. Why, you’ve never even heard them.”
“Neither have you,” sneered Jim.
“Then,” I sneered back, “why beat about the bush? Why not let us demonstrate to one another? We’ll take a night off, and I’ll sit up while you snore. Then after, say, one hour, I’ll wake you up and you sit and listen to me. Then you’ll know what you are talking about. I want you to realize that I am losing my friends, my family is acting queerly, there are places I long to go where I am never invited; in short, my life is in danger of being blighted, by my snore.”
“Neighbors,” said Jim coolly, “have moved away from next door to us, all because, in the summer, they could not stand my trombone solo.”
“One time,” I countered, “the railroad had to attach an extra sleeping car to a train at Orillia all because the other occupants of berths in the car I was in couldn’t stand me. So rather than insult a customer, the railway simply put on a new coach, shifted them all into it, and left me to myself.”
“Huh,” said Jim. “That’s nothing. In my bedroom, we have to change the electric light bulbs once a week. That’s all on account of the vibration. That’s resonance.”
“Jim,” I repeated “let’s get down to facts. You’ve touched me on a tender spot. My snore is one of the larger facts of my life. I challenge you to a snoring match. You can take the first hour or the second, just whichever you wish. And if you can look me in the face again after hearing me snore, then I’ll give in. But I warn you. You will probably send for a doctor. You’ll think I am having some sort of a seizure.”
“Huh, huh, huh,” said Jim.
So we arranged the matter by telling our families that we were called out of town on a big story and we rented a room at a well-known Toronto hotel and staged our snoring match. We tossed for first bout, and I won. Jim, coldly smiling, sat himself comfortably in the easy chair with which all hotels are provided, and set his watch beside him on the little table. I arranged myself comfortably on the bed, and loosened my collar and tie.
“After it is over,” I said drowsily, because I do not get in a horizontal position without at once hearing the sweet call of Morpheus, “we’ll slip out and have a snack at a restaurant handy, just to celebrate. Boy, I’ve got you.”
“Hop to it, son,” replied Jim skeptically.
“Loveliest of All”
I do not recall falling asleep. It is hard to describe the sensation of falling asleep, as it is hard to describe the taste of celery. Yet both are beautiful. It is, to me, like going away. It is like suddenly being free. All the silly world, in a swift instant, seems to dissolve and grow vague and dim. My waking mind seems to struggle, like a swimmer, against being drowned in the lovely soft depths. But suddenly, it surrenders. I think I always slip away with a smile. If I do not, I know I wish I did. For of all the lovely feelings of which this life is capable, the ineffable gentleness of sleep, the freedom, the tenderness seem to me the loveliest of all.
I had my clothes on when I fell asleep, so as to be ready to sit up for my turn checking Jim. I was to sleep one hour and then Jim would sleep one hour. He had the best of it, because the later the night the richer the snore.
It was broad daylight when I woke. I woke, as usual, wide awake, like a swimmer coming up from a dive. The sun was streaming into the room. There, slouched in his chair, sagged Jimmie, his mouth open, his hands clasped comfortable before him, his long legs stretched out.
And from his organs, oral and nasal, there arose a gentle sound, a sound like a sawmill in the far distance on a drowsy summer afternoon. It wasn’t a snore at all. It was just a saint rasp of wind across his teeth.
I leaped out of bed. I shook him violently.
“Who, wha, whuh,” he gasped, struggling to his feet.
“So?” I sneered, “My handsome timer! You couldn’t even take it for an hour.”
“Wh,” said Jim, stretching and yawning. “Huh, whuh, waaaaw!”
“What did it sound like?” I demanded, “Don’t try to kid me that it put you to sleep. My snore is guaranteed to keep whole carloads awake. What did you do? Suffer four hours and finally fall asleep in sheer exhaustion?”
“Boy, said Jim, “I don’t recollect hearing you snore even once. I felt a little drowsy. And seeing you asleep there, I just closed my eyes for a minute–“
So we put on our coats and vests and went to breakfast.
“Honest,” said Jim, over his coffee cup, “I didn’t hear you make a sound. That is, except a few sort of preliminary little buzzes, as if you were feeling for the right note.”
“Jim, you must be as sudden a sleeper as I and a deep one, too, or I would have waked you.”
“There ought to be some way we could solve this,” said Jim. “Isn’t there some kind of a phonograph that both records records and plays them?”
“There’s an idea,” I agreed. “Yet if you can’t stay awake long enough to listen to me for a minute, how could you stay awake long enough to operate a phonograph?”
“Just having the phonograph to attend to,” said Jim, “would keep me awake. The only time I fall asleep is when I have nothing to do.”
So Jim telephoned one of his Russian pool friends who is in the music business and he found he could borrow one of these two-way phonographs with the greatest of pleasure.
“I’ll be glad to have these records,” said I, “just for my children and my grandchildren. Stories are likely to survive about my snore and I want proof to exist.”
“I can see your grandchildren,” said Jim “assembled around the phonograph, long after you are gone, having a reunion. He was a great old guy, they will say. Did you ever hear of his snore? They don’t have snores like this nowadays.”
“I think I’ll leave half a dozen records,” I thought, “to be handed down from generation to generation. I will make a speech. Then I’ll sing them a song, an old war son like ‘Keep Your Head Down, Ally-man.’ Then another record will be of me talking to our dog, Dolly, when she won’t eat her supper. And then this one of my snore. They would have, a century from now, a fine record of their old great-grandfather and it would be a lesson to them.”
“Tonight’s the night,” said Jim.
And in the same hotel room, we had the gramophone delivered. We bought 10 blank records, planning to make five records of each of us, and the best one to be selected, and then we would select a mutually agreeable committee of judges to choose the winner.
“It’s only eight o’clock,” said Jim. “Is it too early to put on the race?”
“I’m ready, any time, any place,” I retorted.
So I took first place again, and we rigged up the gramophone, saw how it worked; Jim took his place in the chair to operate the machine. It ran very quietly, just a soft purring sound.
“Let her go,” said Jim.
So I let her go. I shut my eyes. I felt myself slipping, sliding, drifting. I was away.
I was to perform five records, which counting time changing the machine, we figured might be an hour and a half.
Machine Stood Silent
It was, however, again broad daylight when I woke. The sun again was streaming in the window. The busy sounds of a hotel were already rising around us. And there, in his chair, was Jimmie again, slouched back, emitting the same soft purring sound as formerly. And there stood the machine, silent, beside him.
“Jim,” I snarled.
“Uh, whuh, waaaw,” said Jim, pulling himself back to life.
He saw me glaring at him from the bed. He leaped up and looked bewilderingly at the machine, at the daylight window.
“Well, merciful me,” he said, scratching his head, “It must have been your soft snores and this purring thing!”
“Play the record, anyway,” I said, “and see how much you’ve got.”
I sat up. Jim readjusted the gramophone.
“I had it started,” he said. “I know I got some of it.”
The gramophone began. It purred. Faintly, a soft snore sounded, I smiled proudly, Jim listened with a superior grin. The snores grew. They began coming out of that gramophone with a sound like Paul Robeson’s voice.
“What about that, boy?” I yelled at Jim. Jim’s face was not so amused now.
The sounds increased, the loudspeaker the gramophone began to crackle and sputter.
“Wait for the big rip,” I called, loudly to Jim above the program.
The big rip came. Then, suddenly, a new sound broke into the symphony. Across my strangled music came a slow, steady, long drawn sound like a hound baying. Then it rose in quality and power until it sounded like a trumpet calling the cavalry to charge. The combined sound of the first performance and of the second was almost more than the phonograph could take. Its machinery crackled and blasted. But Jim and I were sitting there, looking at each other with proud and horrified gaze when suddenly still another sound broke into the record. It was a strange voice.
“Throw the buzzards out,” said this deep bass voice.
“Oh, we couldn’t do that, sir,” said another higher voice, right out of the gramophone “The customer is always right in the hotel business, you know.”
“Shut the transom,” came the bass voice above the tumult of the shores, “and close their window.”
“Yes, sir, yes, sir,” said the higher voice anxiously.
We heard a couple of loud bangs.
“Throw the quilts over their ruddy heads,” said the bass voice.
“I’ll change your room, sir,” said the other voice.
Then we heard a door shut.
The strangled sound and the high long-drawn trombone notes went loudly and clear on, until, with a sudden cluck, the record ended and the machine stopped.
“Jim,” I said, stepping forward, and holding out my hand.
“My dear fellow,” said Jim, proudly, shaking my hand.
It was a draw.
Editor’s Notes: This story is probably accurate. Greg has been noted in his biography as a champion snorer. As noted, his wife discovered early in their marriage that she would have to sleep in another room. He also had the advantage of being deaf in one ear because of his injury in World War One. He could then rest his good ear in the pillow, blocking out all sound, and sleep anywhere. This is recounted in some of his later solo stories, especially when he was a war correspondent around the time this story was written.
Russian Pool is a type of billiards game. Jim was known as an avid billiards player.
I could not find the song he mentioned, but it might be “Keep Your Head Down, Fritzie Boy”.
Paul Robeson was a well known singer and actor with a deep baritone voice.