TAKE A DEEP breath. You're about to be assaulted by yet another oppressed minority: the world of the night worker, like me.
The Labor Department has put together figures showing that day workers in America outnumber night workers by 7 to 1. To get past the numbers quickly, something like 49,382,000 people, or 84 percent of the work force, work days, versus 6,892,000 of us, or 11 percent, who work evenings and nights. (The other 2,700,000, or 5 percent, work what Labor calls "other" shifts -- those which are longer than 12 hours or shorter than six hours.)
None of these figures includes farmers, who, if things haven't changed all that much since I was a boy, generally work around the clock anyway, except when they are in Washington driving tractors around the Mall, which is essentially day work.
So there are almost 7 million of us, a substantial minority, who work while the city sleeps or plays around, whichever. We are journalists, cops, nurses, factory workers, cooks, waiters, musicians and actors, cleaning people, bakers and coal miners (who might as well work nights anyway, for all the sunshine they see on the job).
Our ranks do not include enough bankers, lawyers, retail clerks, bureaucrats, dentists and, Lord knows, too few doctors, excluding interns, to count.
The figures I would like to see from some government bureau are night workers and their suicide rate, divorces, alcoholism and drug abuse, philandering, satyrism and impotence, loneliness and depression and the general feeling of being left out. America's decisions are made between 9 and 5.
There are advantages, of course, to night work: Most nightsiders receive a small salary differential; they drive to work and back against the rush-hour traffic. Auto repair shops, supermarkets, department stores and government offices, including traffic courts, are open for business while the night worker is enjoying his leisure time. The golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools are generally uncrowded. While the clerks and bankers mob Hechinger's on Saturday afternoon, the nightsider can drift in and out, buying his asphalt tile at his pleasure.
Huntley and Brinkley and Walter Cronkite are names only to nightside people. What do they do? How can they match "The Gong Show," which we watch every afternoon?
I missed the whole Vietnam war, that prime time media event, but never missed a segment of "Hollywood Squares."
The Kennedy Center opened years ago, and may be closed now, for all I know.
The world crled when Mary Tyler Moore said goodbye. To us she had never said hello. "All in the Family" wasn't in ours.
THAT, OF COURSE, is minor. Now on to major grievances. At 8 Saturday morning, your neighbor fires up his Toro, although he knows that you have been in bed only a few hours. He knows that because he expects you to make a mini-patrol of the block on your way home at 3 a.m. to make sure no thieves' trucks are backed up to his door.
And I spoke about driving to work against the rush hour. This is dandy, except that you must drive to work. No public transportation. Metro employes abandon their fine new trains (which I am helping to buy) before they turn into pumpkins at midnight, and they wouldn't dream of working weekends or holidays. Buses, of course, have always been keyed to the daytime worker, and run, slowly, essentially nowhere, after 1 a.m.
So we drive. And we arrive downtown sometime between 2:20 p.m. and 5:20 p.m., and we find on-street parking to be severely restricted because it is the Sunshine People's rush hour: 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Restricted, that is, to the point of threatened towaway. So it's into a parking garage, and you have to be sure you're into one that stays open after 11 p.m.
Just a couple of other things. The Happy Hour, that convivial time when saloonkeepers cut their prices to lure the homeward-bound day worker, falls precisely at the time the nightsider is going to work, which means he is excluded from sundown cheer, unless he wants to take a chance on a big red X in his personnel file.
Lunch? The nightside's lunch is the dayside's dinner, and prices go up accordingly, up 100 percent in some cases. The sandwich shop is closed, and the luncheon steak vanishes from the menu -- to be replaced by the petite filet mignon.
But all of this will not matter, now that we are organizing. We are awake and thinking, while you are asleep. Our voices will be heard, stirring your slumber. Our slogan is bold: