Can't sleep, clown will eat me.

Can't sleep, clown will eat me.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been having trouble sleeping.  This is nothing new, I’ve had periodic insomnia for years .  If you’re one of those people who have no problems falling sleeping (and I hate you),  you maybe unaware that one of the more fun aspects of it is  your mind running completely off the rails, making leaps and bounds in logic and constantly segueing between self-doubt and fear.  I think it has something to do with lying in the dark, like when you were a kid and heard monsters in the closet.  Only now, they’re in your head.  Anyway, last night I decided to keep a notepad by the bed and record exactly what I was thinking and feeling, keeping note of the ever slipping time.  Today, I transcribed it.  Enjoy:

12:15 AM: I’m probably dying of something.  Cancer, it’s probably cancer.  I smoked for over five years, so it’s probably lung cancer.  I think I have to cough.  I’ll probably cough up blood. [A half-hearted attempt to cough that sounds like a dog panting].  I probably have Lupus.  If I get really sick and have to spend days in the hospital getting treatment, do I still get paid?

12:30 AM: I wonder who would come to my funeral. [Insert long rambling narcissistic imagining of my own funeral/wake that I will save you from having to read.]

1:25 AM: God, I hate my job…God, I’m such an ass for taking my job for granted.  I know so many people who’ve been laid off.  Though, they all seem so much happier than me.  Oh man, if I got laid off, I’d be so happy.  I’d collect unemployment and write all day.  Maybe I could even move back in with my parents, that’d be sweet.  I wouldn’t have to pay rent, or buy groceries, and they have a Wii and premium cable.

1:57 AM: I distinctly remember when I was eight or nine and I was sitting at the kitchen table, writing out my English homework.  I looked up and asked my mother if I’d correctly spelled “friend.” To which she replied “I before E, except after C or when it sounds like A, as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh.’

2:10 AM: I wish was more like Dr. House/James Bond/Spider-man at least when they have purpose.  I mean it’s pretty simple—as along you save the day you can pretty much do what you want. Cure patients that no one else can, you get to be an ass.  Fight villains bent on world domination, you get to be a man whore.  Fight cartoonish super villains, you get to be awesome.  Maybe I just need a marketable skill that I can argue saves the day?

2:40 AM: When I was a kid I thought my life would be filled with opportunities to say melodramatic phrases from TV and movies, like “We’ll probably never meet again.” Grown up, I’m a little heartbroken that I’ll never get to say “That’s just crazy enough to work.”

3:30 AM: Words that feature I after E without C and don’t sound like A: Weird, their, being, either, feisty, foreign, albeit, forfeit atheist, and reimburse.

3:42 AM: Words that feature I before E after C: Ancient, science, conscience, efficient, omniscient, concierge, prescient, society, efficient, and sufficient.

4:00 AM: My mom was wrong?

4:17 AM: What am I doing with my life? I should have accomplished something noteworthy by now…I really want a cigarette.

[This is about where I briefly fall asleep and have my most reoccurring nightmare that’s basically a zombie movie.]

4:28 AM:I wake up screaming “Get away from me, Zombies!”

5:00 AM: If I travel back in time and kill my father before I was born, then I would cease to exist.  But if I cease to exist, then I wouldn’t travel back in time and my father wouldn’t die and thus I would be born and then still kill my father and thus not exist. And so on, and so on.  I’m pretty sure that this could destroy the universe, but I would need a time machine to be sure.

5:30-6:30 AM: I go over the plot of the new Star Trek movie which I saw the night before and concentrate on how awesome it was.

6:45 AM: If there was a real Star Fleet Academy, I’d totally join.

7:00 AM: [Alarm goes off.]  I hate my life.


An artist's rendering of what I may have looked like then.

I remember when I first spent any real time away from home. It was just a week at a Cub Scout camp during the summer I was eight-years-old. I had felt the thrill of sleepovers at the homes of friends for a couple years by then and my parents and I believed that I was ready for an extended time away. Years later, my memory of the experience is cloudy. Like trying to remember a dream, only the sharp plot points stick out. I remember the hot dustiness of the place, earning something called “the polar bear badge” which required a jump into the frigid lake every morning and swimming around the dock, and I remember that it was the first time that I ever felt homesick.

“You wanted to go,” my mother says during a recent phone conversation and then corrects herself: “you were ambivalent about going—sometimes you wanted to go and sometimes you were afraid of going.” I remember the sensations: impending excitement followed by dread and then excitement again and back and forth. My mother was guiding me through my own foggy memories. “We got a phone call, probably about Tuesday,” she says. “And they said that somebody else had left, one of the other kids had left and that had caused you some anxiety.” Yes! I remember that. He was my tent-mate, my swimming and hiking buddy. We were told to keep tabs on one another, to make sure that we were both safe. It was the backbone of summer camp life—the buddy system. And my buddy was so homesick he left. “You were homesick,” says my mother, “but they thought you could make it through to the end of the week.” Yes, that was right. But I don’t remember any phone call home. “They wouldn’t let us talk to you,” she says. “They just wanted us to know.”

I remember the melancholy striking me while I lay in the dark waiting to fall asleep. “I think you really only had trouble at night,” my mom says. “You know you were so busy during the day that you didn’t think about it.” What’s odd is that I wasn’t homesick for an actual home. As an army brat, I’d lived in five other houses by that point in my life. So I knew that I didn’t miss the physical place, but rather the comfort and stability of being there. That’s what “home” was.

Years later, I would spend one week every year at Boy Scout camp and with each stay the homesickness was less and less. I was older then and felt the burning need for independence. I even spent one whole summer away as a counselor and comforted the teary eyed kids who just wanted to go home. Eventually, I went away to college. Those first few weeks of late August felt strangely familiar. “It feels like we’re at summer camp,” we said to one another. And it did, but then over time things became settled and one day I woke up and went about my morning routine before my 9AM Spanish class when I realized that it didn’t feel like camp anymore. It didn’t feel like a different place. I felt at home. Since then, I never lived with my parents again. Sure, I visited for a couple weeks over the holidays and a week or two before I took off for wherever I would spend the summer break. But from then on, I was at home wherever I was.

Reflecting now on those nights spent quietly crying in my cot, I realize that being away wasn’t what upset me the most. I missed my parents, but I knew that I would see them again. I think I knew that first week away and on my own was the beginning of me growing up. And I think that being “homesick” was nostalgia for being a child and wanting to stay one. Today, as an adult living on my own, I find myself often laying in bed at night and thinking of my responsibilities, my dreams, and my memories. And on occasion, I feel just a flash of that homesickness from that one summer week when I was eight-years-old.

So yesterday, I was involved in a conversation which led to the other person reciting a rather long winded explanation of the biological purpose for the padding on dogs’ feet (don’t ask me how we got to it, it just sort of happened). To which I responded in my usual sarcastic tone, “Gee, thanks Mr. Wizard.” It wasn’t a particularly good burn (in fact the person I was talking to was a woman and even pointed out that “shouldn’t it be Mrs. Wizard?”) but it cracked open something inside me.

It was a perfect Proustian moment. You know, when you see or smell something that reminds brings up a flood of memories. Suddenly, I was eight-years-old, sitting on the floor in front of the television with a bowl of cereal in my lap, watching “Mr. Wizard’s World” just before school.

If you’re  unfamiliar with it, the concept of show was simple—Don Herbert, that’s Mr. Wizard, would demonstrate basic scientific principles through cool experiments that you could do at home, very often with a young assistant ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing next to him. And although not too a lot of episodes were produced (all of them in the early 1980’s), Nickelodeon ran them ad nauseam for years afterwards. Here’s a promo to help you get an idea:

And as I was running the show through my head, I came to the realization that it was a bit inappropriate. To make the show seem, I assume, more personal or prove that the kids really could do the experiments on their own—it was set in what appears to be Mr. Wizard’s house. He would show Little Bobby, in his basement lab without any other adult supervision, how to light a match directly under a balloon without popping it. I try to imagine what my father would say if I’d come home one day and told him that a nice old man who lived down the block was showing me “science experiments” in his basement—I’m pretty sure that there would be an eyebrow or two raised, followed by a call to the police.

Now, I’m not saying that Mr. Wizard was a pedophile, by all accounts he was just a nice guy who liked teaching science to kids, but his method does seem odd. It’s probably why his successors, Beakman’s World and Bill Nye the Science Guy, did their shows in elaborate studios. You also have to wonder about the precedent that the show set in the minds of its viewers: how many children got into windowless vans because they actually wanted to learn how to get a hardboiled egg into a bottle without touching either one?

Maybe I’m just imagining it. It seems that we’re automatically suspicious of all males, specifically their sexual intentions, now. Maybe a by-product of an over-sexed culture is that we believe all men think about is sex, that even the nicest guy has the ulterior motive of “getting laid.” It’s a shame that we can’t give people the benefit of a doubt, but of course it’s in that doubt that real pedophiles hide. Maybe it’s a good thing that I we’re suspicious of men like Mr. Wizard—it keeps us vigilant for real child molesters. Now, that Mr. Rogers was a strange one too. What kind of grown man keeps a whole room filled with puppets and a train set that goes through the wall?