Su Lum: Slumming
November 23, 2010
Over the years I’ve gotten into the habit of falling asleep listening to books on tape (now books on CD). Since I live alone, I can drift off during the carnage of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or the mounting suspense of Stephen King’s “Duma Key” with no one around to be bothered by it except the dachshunds, who don’t seem to care. The volume is pretty loud because my hearing aids, which screech into the pillows, have to be removed. If I wake up at 5 a.m., I turn on NPR and dream of increasingly depressing world, national and local news.
When my family members came for overnights, I tried MP3 players and iPods with bad results. The little plugs fell out of my ears and the more substantial headphones cut into my skull and also fell off and lay screaming on the bed, triggering a needle-in-the-haystack search for the device and the even more challenging search for the Off position.
For the cruise my friend Hilary and I took a couple of weeks ago, I brought along my Kindle and found myself wishing that it had a button to light up the screen. Our beds had reading lights, which were private enough but not bright enough, and the only other options blazed the entire cabin.
So it was that, for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t get to sleep. It wasn’t that I wasn’t tired, it was just that I was addicted to falling asleep to the sound of someone reading aloud to me and I was jones-ing for a fix.
I first realized the scope of the problem when Hilary and I, both exhausted the first afternoon at sea, pulled the drapes and turned out the lights so our cabin was as dark as a hotel room in Las Vegas.
I was always freezing and Hilary was always hot, so I had piled her extra blankets on my bed and had pulled out all the folded sheets at the end of the bed to keep them from trapping my feet. The bed was strangely made up, with sheets between each of the blankets (probably for sanitation), so they slid around as well as weighing me down.
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Within seconds my eyes were wide open. I got a cramp in my leg and had to get out of bed and stamp around to get rid of it, taking most of the sheets and blankets with me. “Get a grip on yourself,” I said to myself. “Without a lie-down you’re going to be dead meat by evening.” I yanked up the heavy blankets and got a cramp in my chest.
When I got back in bed again, emergency measures were called for. I remembered an old kids’ alphabet game that goes like this: “A my name is Alice, my husband’s name is Abe; we come from Arizona and we like APPLES. B my name is Betty, my husband’s name is Bart; we come from the Bahamas and we like BANANAS.” And on and on until you get hung up on the Qs and Xs and Zs and then start over trying to make no repeats.
This mental exercise worked for a couple of days but, needless to say, soon wore thin.
“A my name is Alexandria,” I would moan aloud as I turned out the light. I tried variations, such as naming the drinks the couple liked (“and we like QUININE water”) and the names of flowers (“and we like ZINNIAS” from Zelda and Zed). Ho hum.
Bored with the game, I tried remembering the names of the 50 states. With no Google or reference books, I didn’t even attempt the state capitals, but I recalled from my childhood that once you got through the Ms you were half done and that there were an equal number of M and N states. What I forgot was that this was when there were 48 states, not 50 of them, and to make it work you have to tack on Alaska and Hawaii at the end. Without enough fingers or mental agility, I couldn’t keep track of the numbers anyway.
I’d finally get to sleep and then nature would call in the middle of the night, and the covers and sheets were either in a great wad on the bed or had fallen onto the floor (cramp, cramp as I hauled them back up) and of course I would, being awake, have to go out on the balcony and check on my moon and my stars and my ocean.
Back to bed and, “A my name is Agatha, my husband’s name is Al, we come from Arizona and we like AVOCADOS.” By the time I got to the Cs I was usually out.