The Sleep Trilogy – 3

Or, How I Nearly Killed Myself Sleeping.

Throughout my life I’ve had a strange relationship with sleep. I like it but it seems I’ve been very busy during my supposed down time. But then I’ve also fallen asleep at odd times. Like in a sound proof room while auditioning a sax player; at a job interview after the guy stepped out; at school where, just outside the window, they were building the new school and it was blasting day. I fell off my chair for that one.

I’ve thrashed and talked and not slept. I’ve slept in the finest beds and the backs of vans rolling down the road. I fell asleep while waiting for my match to be called at a tennis tournament. They found me minutes before I would have defaulted. I’ve slept with women who’ve given me shit for snoring. In return I’ve given them their choice of ear protection.

I was in a military hospital. When you’re a kid being in a military hospital is a life changing experience. And not just because you’re so fucked up you have to be in a hospital. I saw all kinds of wounds from all kinds of guys (sorry women, it was a mens only ward). I talked to men who were going to have face to face conversations with loved one to tell them life would never be the same again. I’ve taken that with me. Shit goes wrong in life as it has in mine but whenever it does I think back to those guys and the things I saw and the conversations we had and say,

“Someone is always worse off.”

I know because I’ve seen it.

No matter how fucked up their lives all these men were great to me. There was a funny demarcation line about going into the military. Injured officers would sing the praises of a life in the military. Push the fact that my father was an officer. I didn’t miss the fact that none of those guys had weeping wounds and owned all their body parts. The grunts sang a different tune. They’d get together and plot on ways to keep me out of the service. One offered, in the spirit of brotherly love, to cut off my toe. One of the nicest things anyone’s ever offered me.

I was in for a while so I got to see how things worked. The overworked staff was efficient and caring. Most of them had rotated out of battle zones to this pretty damn cushy assignment. A ward full of fucked up men with fucked up lives. The after photo of what they’d pick off the battlefield.

I was sleeping one night with the sounds of pain and rustling around me. When I told friends after I got out about the almost constant moaning at night they asked me if it was creepy. They all thought it was quite odd when I said no, it was comforting. Because that’s the way I knew they were still alive.

I wake up one morning and look around. I saw something I’d never seen before. The entire ward was empty of patients. Some of the beds had been moved out. It was odd to have that silence. That was creepy. I sat up and a corpsman saw me. He’s walking up to me laughing.

He tells me everyone was evacuated because of the fire. I figure he’s joking. Trying to get me going. I figured it was some military thing and he was busting my balls.

“Don’t believe me?” He said. “Look out the window.” He pointed out the window behind me.

The entire facade of the building was scorched. It looked as if there were two floors effected. I looked down and there were still a couple of fire trucks finishing up. I looked back at the corpsman and he can see I’m wondering why they didn’t move me.

“Everyone was up. Even Quiet Paul. The noise was so loud it woke up people off the base. Everyone in the hospital was awake. But you just laid there.” I’m staring at him still wondering why they didn’t move me. I wondered if some of the brass heard what the grunts were telling me so ordered me to remain as kindling. “We just figured anyone who could sleep through all the noise and fire and smoke was dead. We’d take care of you in the morning.”

Yeah, I’ve heard that before.

The Sleep Trilogy – 2

Or, How I Nearly Killed Myself Sleeping.

Throughout my life I’ve had a strange relationship with sleep. I like it but it seems I’ve been very busy during my supposed down time. But then I’ve also fallen asleep at odd times. Like in a sound proof room while auditioning a sax player; at a job interview after the guy stepped out; at school where, just outside the window, they were building the new school and it was blasting day. I fell off my chair for that one.

I’ve thrashed and talked and not slept. I’ve slept in the finest beds and the backs of vans rolling down the road. I fell asleep while waiting for my match to be called at a tennis tournament. They found me minutes before I would have defaulted. I’ve slept with women who’ve given me shit for snoring. In return I’ve given them their choice of ear protection.

But when I do sleep I do it hard. I mean no amount of noise could wake me up. My mother standing over me screaming didn’t work. Car crashes outside, arguments inside, I’d get them in the news tomorrow. I’ve always thought it was funny when people have asked if I can hear myself snoring. How stupid is that? I mean, I’m sleeping I didn’t hear the cops surrounding the house because the house arrest bracelet of the idiot upstairs went off. Cop cars were all over the street but they didn’t stay long. Turns out the bracelet went off when the paramedics took him out due to a drug overdose.

As with any heavy sleeper who moves around I’ve fallen out of bed. That usually wakes me up so before anyone can run into see what the noise is I’m already back under the covers as if nothing at all has happened. But that’s not always the case.

For a period of time I had to sleep in bunk beds. No, I wasn’t in prison. The house was small, a cousin lived with us, so, bunk beds. Things were okay on the top bunk. Sure, if someone turned the overhead light on it was like looking into the sun but you learn to adjust. Roll with the punches.

I’m sleeping and it’s a normal night. I’m still until I start moving and then I’m still again. I roll over and back again. The next time it’s a larger arc and maybe a bit to close to the side of the bed but no. I’m back on my back and all is right in the world.

Until I rolled to far and fell off the top bunk.

It just so happened at the time my mother walked by to watch this. I landed with a thunk directly on my head. Concussion number seven or eight, I can never remember, I’ve always considered it. My mother comes over and looks at me.

“Chris.” She says then repeats. She leans down and I’m not moving. She can’t tell if I’m breathing. Probably because I wasn’t snoring. She tried to rouse me a few times before doing what mothers around the world would do. She went to bed.

When she told me this story the next morning (where I woke up on the floor) I posed the question about the possibility that I could have died in the fall. She said,

“If that was true I figured you’d keep until morning. Why ruin everyone’s sleep? Ambulances, police, the entire neighborhood would have woken up. Better to take care of it in the morning.”

Compassion. I know where I get mine.

I know. . .

. . .I’d be a great juggler.

But I just don’t have the balls.

The Sleep Trilogy – 1

Or, How I Nearly Killed Myself Sleeping.

Throughout my life I’ve had a strange relationship with sleep. I like it but it seems I’ve been very busy during my supposed down time. But then I’ve also fallen asleep at odd times. Like in a sound proof room while auditioning a sax player; at a job interview after the guy stepped out; at school where, just outside the window, they were building the new school and it was blasting day. I fell off my chair for that one.

I’ve thrashed and talked and not slept. I’ve slept in the finest beds and the backs of vans rolling down the road. I fell asleep while waiting for my match to be called at a tennis tournament. They found me minutes before I would have defaulted. I’ve slept with women who’ve given me shit for snoring. In return I’ve given them their choice of ear protection.

But something I did for years was most troubling. Not to me, because I was sleeping, but mainly to my mother. It got so bad they tried to tuck me into bed like a pork sausage. I’d just squirm out and go on my nocturnal rampages. Being asleep everything you’re going to read after this is from the words of others. But I was given too much evidence to ignore any of it.

There are tales of me walking up to the TV, changing channels then sitting down. Seeing that there were adults there being there alone was odd behavior. But for me to turn the channel, trust me, that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t sleepwalking. I’m told sometimes I would sit there quietly but then other times I’d be carrying on a conversation. My sister once punched me in the face to make me stop annoying here but even that didn’t wake me. I know it happened because I had a new bruise on my head when I woke the next day.

I’d stand in the doorway and not say anything. Thinking about that that’s some creepy ass, kid in a horror movie kinda shit. I’d make short visits but then other times I’d be told to go to bed. Never once did I refuse that request. Showing, at least to me, I was a polite walker of the dead.

They were always afraid to wake me because they’d heard if you wake a sleepwalker they’d die or go into a coma or go into seizures or never fall asleep again. But as my sister rightfully pointed out, if a punch in the face wasn’t going to wake me a gentle shake had no shot.

The times it was most frightening (for others. Remember, for me it was just my chance to get some extra shit done in my day) is when I’d try to escape. That’s how they’d put it, escape. Like this was a supermax and I was making a break for it. I just had some shit to do and it happened to be outside.

My mother once followed me as I walked down the stairs of our second floor apartment, down all the stairs, outside and walked to where we played baseball. She said I stood in the middle, took a whopping cut and ran, as she said, in circles. Then I picked up a rock and went home. The next morning she showed me the rock so even I thought this was weird.

It was a while after that they started using deadbolts on the doors. I know, ‘a while’. I guess they didn’t mind a little escaping from me. But they would barricade the door with simple items that, for whatever reason, I could never penetrate. Fuck you supermax! You won’t hold me forever!

When we did get deadbolts it was again made perfectly clear by my sister that it would be totally all my fault if we all died in a fire. Which is true, I guess. But, beside the fact that I was the only one in the house who didn’t smoke, it’s also true my sister would never put the deadbolt into place so she was planning for her survival. And my potential wander off into death. Fair trade from her standpoint I can see.

I was told the most frightening time (which, looking back again, being awake when this shit was happening could all potentially be considered frightening. I’m not sure if I was a parent of a sleepwalker I’d be able to stay up to stop the little bastard) was when I got up happily, as always (I may have been a psycho but I was a happy one), and went to the knife drawer.

My mother, sitting at the table talking to someone (I was sleeping so cut me some slack on the details) when she saw me open the drawer, take out the knife, close the drawer (very considerate if I do say so myself) and start walking away.

“Chris, what are you doing.”

“Nothing.” Proving even when your kid is sleeping that’s the go to answer.

“What do you have in your hand?”

“A knife.”

“Why?”

“I have to cut something.”

“What are you cutting?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Put the knife away.”

“After I cut something.”

“No, right now and go back to bed.”

“Okay.”

She says I started to go to bed still holding the knife. Instead of engaging in my witty verbiage this time she walked up and took the knife from me. For years she’d bring that up because she said she was never sure exactly what I said. If it was ‘something’ or ‘someone’. I could never give her the correct answer, of course, but, thinking back, my sister was a pretty big dick.

I don’t know when I stopped. I lived on my own for a number of years so there’s no telling if I kept it up because I never went to bed fine and woke up with wolverine jerky and pelts surrounding my bed. I’ve lived with other people and none of them have ever said they awoke to find me standing over them with a knife.

But, no matter what, sleep and I are close but wary of one another.

You know. . .

. . .you’re in a Podunk town when the tallest structure is a Ferris wheel.

Lesson Learned

Years ago I had a couple of roommates. Nice guys. Got along with them. But one of them had a troubling habit. He worked an early shift so got home around 3PM. What would happen is he would sit in front of the TV, eat then go to bed. I know that doesn’t sound like a big problem, pretty much a perfect roommate you think. And it’s true, I barely saw him and when I would it was always pleasant.

But his habit was troubling. At first we just took care of it. He worked a ton of hours, it’s the least we could do. But then pissed off took over. So we mentioned it to him and he said he’d do better but that never happened. So I started doing things. Little things but, trust me, annoying things. I’d siphon gas out of his car, hide a shoe, I put the batteries on the remote in backwards. All kinds of little annoying things but I have to say that last one was my most enjoyable. Because I got to sit next to him while he pounded on the remote, pressed it like he was squishing a bug, slap it, he must have opened it a dozen times. All the while I sat there saying,

“Maybe the batteries are dead.” He knew they couldn’t be. I waited until he put in new batteries to do this.

“Maybe the remote is broken.” By the way he was slapping it he could have dislodged something.

“Why don’t you just walk to the TV and turn it on?” He wouldn’t do that, as he said, as a matter of principle. Funny how often the word principle gets mixed up with lazy.

“Maybe the batteries are in backwards.” This one I did to end his distress. And because seeing an innocent remote tortured made me almost call Sarah McLachlan.

So he opened the remote, looked at it, took both batteries out and put them back in. I figured he’d open it discover that the batteries were in backwards, swear at me then we’d both be able to get on with our lives. But nope. He just swapped them around and went back to remote bashing. I wished him luck and went on my way. When I got back many hours later I picked up the remote and opened it. The batteries were still in backwards. I laughed while putting them in the proper way envisioning him sullenly eating dinner while staring at a blank TV. That was almost torture enough for the piss poor habit he had.

Almost.

When he’d eat his dinner in the living room in front of a usually working TV when he was done he’d put the plate under the table so he could put his feet there with no worries. And that wasn’t even the bad habit. The bad habit is he’d leave the dishes under the table. One, two, one may not even notice it. Six, nine, you have no choice but to notice it. All my pranks, talks, notes, once grabbing him and sticking his head under the table to see what others did had no effect. Oh sure, the physically putting his face in a dish had an effect for a while but soon he was back to his old habit.

So I had to find a way to make this go away. The other roommate had been his friend for years so wanted nothing to do with the actual event but he sure liked hearing about it. For that he was a pussy. So I had no alternative but to sign him up for free samples of feminine hygiene products and many woman related mailing lists. When he moved I made sure to update his address so he’d keep getting them for years to come.

One day the offending roommate was at work so I sprang in to action. First I pulled down the sheets of his perfectly made bed. For as sloppy he was in the common areas his room was hotel neat. Then I went back to get some dishes. And place one on every inch of his bed and under his pillows. Then I remade the bed (not as neatly but I had two weeks of dishes under there) and went about my day.

When he came in from work he went right into his routine. Kitchen for plate, empty out whatever food he’d purchased, leave the bag on the counter then wanders off into the living room. He walks past me sitting at the computer working. We exchange pleasantries and chat easily. He tells me he’s going to eat while his food is hot so I tell him to get right on that and go back to writing.

I hear the sounds of eating and the TV. After an hour or so I hear the TV shut off. Sounds of movement followed by him walking down the hall. He stops at my desk and we chat for a couple of minutes. When he’s done he bids me adieu and heads off to his room. A few minutes later I hear,

“What the fuck!”

Followed by my laughing myself into a stomach ache.

Naked and with food stuck to his body my roommate storms to where I’m sitting and asks a question I’ve heard so many times,

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“The dishes were piling up, I figured you didn’t see them so made sure you’d see them.”

He’s looking at me and doesn’t know what to do. I know the desire to hit me crossed his mind but that was fleeting at best. So he stood there, still naked with food falling off him, and tried to think of what to say. So he told me what happened.

You see, because he didn’t think he’d come home to a bed full of plates, he didn’t bother to check as he pulled down his blanket, sheets and tumbled into bed. If he thought that vision would cause me to rethink my sick and depraved behavior he was wrong. It only made me laugh harder and harder as I explained to him that, as sick and depraved as he finds me, I’m not the one standing there naked with pieces of veal cutlet sliding down my thigh.

I got up and walked up to him. I patted him on the shoulder and said,

“Don’t leave dishes out.” I started to walk away then stopped and turned to face him. “Because you know I have other ideas.”

He never even left a dish in the sink after that.

Being Alone

I was sitting alone in a den making some notes in a notebook. I often have a notebook out jotting down observations, snippets of conversation, story ideas. I can do it in a roomful of people but, if I can, I like to do it away from them. I’ve received some weird looks after whipping out a notebook. People have come up to me and startled me by asking what I’m doing. I mean, even in this phone notes and tablet typing a notebook isn’t that weird. Is it?

I know what the person really wants. They want to know if I’m writing about them. It seems paranoid but it’s true. And they never believe me when I say,

“Don’t worry, it’s not about you.”

Maybe that’s not the best line to use to assuage a paranoiac but it is the truth. Not once has the person approaching me been the subject of my notes. Just the other day I’m sitting in a bar with my pad on the bar writing. I’d write for a bit, look off at the TV or around the bar. I’m not paying attention to anyone or thing. I’m just thinking. But I can see this one guy is very interested in what I’m doing. He leaned over to a friend and whispered to him. The friend looked over to check out my mysterious activity. It didn’t take long for the friend to get up and come over. I guess some paranoids have protection.

“Hey.” I nod at him closing my notebook. Not because I’m afraid he’ll read it (my handwriting makes that an impossibility) but it’s a weird protection thing. I’m not done with it so it’s not for consumption. That may be it’s own level of weird but I don’t come to your job and peek over your shoulder. “What are you writing?”

“Greeting cards.” The guy looks at me as if I’m daft. But, once again, it is the truth.

“Greeting cards?”

“Yeah, you know, birthday, anniversary, get well cards.”

“I know what greeting cards are.” He says obviously perturbed that I question his lack of celebration gifting. He looks at me oddly. I know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking about birthday cards he’s given to his mother. Then he’s looking at me and can’t wrap his head around the fact that they could come from me. They couldn’t but it’s blowing his mind.

“I write comedy greeting cards. Not the frilly type.” He breathes a sigh of relief. I have righted his world.

“Oh, oh, I see.” He thinks for a second. Again, I’ve done this long enough to know what’s coming next. “Is there, ah good money in that?” Told you.

“Not bad. Depends on the company.” He stands and nods at me. I know from having this exact conversation countless times over the years we are at the close of conversation.

“Oh, oh, good good. Ah, good luck.” He wanders off and gives his friend this information. His friend isn’t convinced but at least he has his answer.

But now, because I’m sitting alone, I don’t have this issue. Or should I say yet. I’m calmly making notations when three golf type people walk into the den and sit on the couch. They’re loud in dress and manner and I know the potential for writing is over. They’re talking about golf as one of them grabs the remote and puts on the golf channel. I was not consulted about this change. But that’s a golfer for you. They can’t believe everyone doesn’t golf.

They sit there discussing birdies and chips and nibblets and scratch and all I can think is, “Are they talking about cooking?” It’s a world I have seen but one I know nothing about. The only thing I know about golf is one day I was working at a tennis magazine and a call got transferred to my desk. I picked up the phone and the gentleman on the other line said,

“Hi, it’s Chi Chi Rodriguez. Is Skip there?”

I tried my best to control myself but all I could think of was this scene in WKRP In Cincinnati:

For the entire conversation you cannot imagine the self-control it took not to call him Chi Chi. I transferred him to the right guy, am still chuckling about the event all these years later and that’s all I know about golf.

I’m listening to these men talk and I think I could enjoy it but these guys are just too damn serious about it. Are they playing this game for fun or are they trying to cause one of those strokes they’re always talking about?

Then it hits a weird level of pretension. One of the men jumped up from the couch and said, “I’m going to get us more drinks. What would you like?” One of the guys gives it some thought then, to him, a brilliant ideas forges in his head.

“I’ll have an Arnold Palmer.” You would have thought this guy won the Nobel Prize for putting the way the other two reacted. They all decide that’s a capital idea and the guy turns to exit the room. He stops for a moment and asks if I need anything.

“Oh, sure thanks.”

“What would you like?”

“A Chris Zell.”

“A Chris Zell?”

“Never heard of it. What is it?”

“It’s a Heineken with a Prozac dropped in. If I’m going to have to listen to all this golf talk I’d better be in the mood for it.”