I searched for an explanation for my persistent insomnia on a quiet street off a residential neighborhood in a nondescript building on a Tuesday night. I pulled into the parking lot behind a sleep clinic and shut the engine. Only one other car in the lot: an old American-built, the size of a city block. It was me and one other person spending the night. Not a good sign. Another insomniac, I hoped. Only one way to find out. I grabbed my overnight sack and walked around to the front of the building and peered through the glass to an alcove and tried the door. It was locked. I rang the bell.
I was ready to ring it again when I heard footsteps clomping down the hall. The alcove door opened, revealing a man wearing thick black shoes and blue slacks and a white lab coat and a sad sack face. He clomped through the lobby and unlocked the front door and stepped back. Bald, wiry, he sported a five o-clock shadow and a tan, with a white birthmark curving from the side of his nose to the corner of his mouth. A crescent moon. Fitting, I thought, for a man watching over the sleepless all night.
I wasn’t keen on the watching part. I wanted a female technician to be standing there, but it was me and him; Johnny something, according to his name tag and his introduction. He closed the door and locked it with a click and led me down a hallway to a room at the end, a small, windowless room with dark apricot walls and a silver spread on the bed made from fabric you see in old science fiction flicks, and pillowcases the color of fresh bruises. Above the bed someone had mounted a microphone, and on the opposite wall, a neat display of wires on hooks. Someone went to a lot of trouble hanging all those wires.
“That’s a lotta wires,” Johnny said with a slight nasal tone, handing me a clipboard of papers to fill out. He chomped on cinnamon gum. “A lotta wires. And lotsa paste. Lotsa, lotsa paste.” He indicated a jar of it on a rolling cart that had slim drawers filled with medical stuff…gauze, tape, scissors, God knows what, all neatly arranged like the wires. “Get into your sleep clothes,” he said, wasting no time, “and we’ll be ready to rock and roll.”
I wasn’t keen on that part, either…the rocking and rolling. When he left the room, the door clicking softly behind him, the faint smell of cologne lingering behind, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed a friend. “It occurs to me that nobody knows where I am,” I said, eyeing the hooks full of wires. I gave him the address and disconnected. Then I filled out the forms, pausing over the first one.
I imagined being electrocuted by the wires, breaking out in hives from the paste.
I finished the papers and pulled my T-shirt over my head and noticed the camera mounted above the television. Was the Good Humor Man watching me now? I looked around for a blind spot, pressed myself against the wall under the TV and finished changing. Then I poked my head out to the hallway. Johnny was in the next room sorting through supplies, wearing white latex gloves.
“I’m ready to…uh…rock and roll,” I said.
He stood up and left off the eye contact and followed me back into the room. He rolled a chair next to the bed and asked me to sit.
“It’s a lotta wires,” he warned again. He lifted each one gently with two fingers as he described their exact placement. “And lotsa paste. Lotsa, lotsa paste.” He released the first wire from the hook.
“By morning,” he said, “you’ll be squirming to get out of these.”
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