"I Don't Sleep" re-examined

Jon Secada in Grease.

Last week I entered my sixth month of writing the I Don't Sleep column for Wichita City Paper. Could this possibly represent the only undertaking that I've managed consistently for a comparable length of time? I don't like to say. I will say that my fear of running out of material for a weekly column has, in these six months, been eclipsed by the fear that I'll never shut up, and that even though I originally pitched this column to my editors as being something that would run around a thousand words a week, the truth is that I've never written fewer than fifteen hundred and that my most ungainly effort peaked at 3,200. "Logorrhea" is, I think, a word that describes it.

And still I've had to leave things out! Among the medications prescribed by my psychiatrist is one that leaves me with the occasional preoccupation for thoroughness; and, because of that, we're going to revisit some past topics for the sake of deleted and at least obliquely related material now. I'm the decider it turns out.


1. Two weeks ago I wrote that Chrissie Hynde once addressed me in a personal correspondence as a "cunt." One reader emailed me that this surprised her — not, I think, because of how Ms. Hynde addressed me but because she had addressed me at all. To this reader I will now reveal that I also once met Jon Secada. It happened at a party in New York that I was attending with several friends, one of whom was a label mate of Mr. Secada's. I had been drinking, and although I didn't then know who this celebrity was, the buzz that started up when he entered the room caused me to find out right away. (In case you don't know either, Mr. Secada is, I think, a former member of Gloria Estefan's Miami Sound Machine who went on to a momentarily successful solo career and who was appearing at that time in a Broadway production of Grease.) I reiterate that I had been drinking, and because of this I asked my musician friend to point Mr. Secada out.

To my friend's horror, I then approached Jon Secada. As my friend gripped my arm at the elbow and directed an empty, frightened grin at his label mate, I explained to Mr. Secada that I was his biggest fan. Mr. Secada thanked me. I then told him, untruthfully, that I had read where he in turn was a big fan of Bruce Lee's. Mr. Secada nodded puzzledly; "Yeah," he kind of said. Just that day, I told him, I had found a Bruce Lee pinky ring on St. Mark's Place, and seeing Mr. Secada, and knowing what a Bruce Lee fan he was, I felt compelled to come over and show it to him. I held my hand up and Mr. Secada looked at the ring. "That's great," he said weakly.

"It's adjustable," I told him.

"That's great," he said again.

"You're great," I said.

"You're great," Jon Secada said.

2. On another occasion I exchanged a few words with Elvis Costello, although it would be wrong to say that I "talked" to him. Beginning with his debut LP, which was released when I was fifteen, Elvis Costello was like a god to me; when he walked into the small Kansas City bar where I had gone after his concert six or seven years later, the mere sight of him caused me to finish all the drinks before me on the table without regard to their rightful ownership and then wish alternately to approach him and to run from the premises, much as the residents of Skull Island must have felt when confronted with the sight of Kong. Because I never would have forgiven myself if I hadn't spoken to him while in his presence, I eventually stopped at Elvis Costello's table on my way to the men's room — in reality I had no need for the men's room — and jabbered out sounds while pointing my face at him. Mr. Costello interrupted my scat-like enunciation of unrelated syllables to ask my name, and I told him that it was Jake — "like 'Big Jake,'" I said. It still makes me want to die in agony to recall that I then spelled "Euker" for him.

3. Two weeks ago I also wrote that Huey Lewis once stayed at a hotel where I worked. Neil Young once stayed at the same hotel; as he and his group checked in, Mr. Young stood leaning against the lobby wall, only facing it, so that it was his face he was leaning on. For the purposes of the guest register, Mr. Young gave "Bernard Shaky" as his pseudonym.

The Other White Meat

4. Last October I wrote about the Halloween-like atmosphere of horror that prevailed in my home twelve months a year when I was a child. Unused in that story was an anecdote in which my older sister Valerie used the word "whore" within my hearing when I was only five or six years old. I had already learned by this age that I could generally force my older siblings into defining for me mysterious words they had used by walking into the park across the street and yelling them at the top of my voice, so my sister hurried to provide an explanation when asked: it was "something very scary," she said.

What kind of new monster was this? I knew all about vampires, Martians, gigantic insects, werewolves, mummies, the atomically mutated, ghosts, witches, zombies, and, thanks to a drive-in movie that my Aunt Evey took me to, homicidal maniacs who dressed as Santa Claus. But what about this new thing, this whore? I imagined that I could kind of picture it: since my sister had been talking about a woman known to me when she invoked the new monster, I fixed on the woman's frizzy hair, with its likeness to the bride of Frankenstein's, as a defining trait. The next day at recess several girls in my first grade class were instructed to behave as though they were whores — we ran from them — but the bottom really dropped out from under Valerie's ruse when I ran across my mother getting ready to go out later that evening.

It's worth noting before I go on that my mother and I have gotten past what happened next; she'll ask for my comment on an outfit or on her overall appearance now without having cause to fear my appraisal. But that evening, finding her applying a final cloud of hairspray to her 1960s hairdo, and seeing a link between the anxious way she patted her hair and my brand-new vocabulary word, I let it rip with conviction.

"You look like a whore."

5. In a related anecdote, I once surprised my fifth grade teacher by telling her to "go get a pap smear." As in the above story, I could see that I had said something terribly wrong the moment I had spoken — this teacher was maybe even more horrified than my mother had been, and my mother once upbraided me for saying "Judas priest," if that gives you an idea — but when I was able to produce from the trash the pamphlet I had picked up on the playground in which I had uncomprehendingly read the funny-sounding words, my punishment was commuted.

6. Although — and now we're way off topic — I'm here reminded of a friend who, while speaking to a man who was rapidly putting on weight, once inadvertently referred to the city of Boca Raton as "Orca Raton." And of the time that I accidentally addressed a friend of mine as "Drug," rather than "Pete," to his face, as in, "Hello, Drug." A gay man I know once said, "Hello, Dinner," to an attractive straight man he knew named Darren, and another man I know introduced his ex-girlfriend Pam to his fraternity brothers as "Pork."

2006 Confidential

7. Around the turn of the year I wrote a column about idiotic blunders committed by people I know in 2006, and in that story I used the pseudonym Pete for an acquaintance who went too long without sleep and began to imagine that he was seeing children in the trees around his home. Omitted from that story was an episode in which this friend carried on a conversation with a water meter in a public park during daylight hours.

8. Omitted too from that story, finally, was the tale of a call I placed to my friend Amy's cell phone last year. In all the years I've known her, Amy has answered her cell phone once or twice that I know of. It thus did not surprise me when, after looking through scraps of paper for her number, I got the generic, electronically-generated greeting for her voice mail rather than Amy herself; I asked that she call me in the unlikely event that she get my message, but then, instead of hanging up, I listened to the options that were offered after I spoke. Here I was thrilled to learn that pressing 9 would give me more options and, as I had hoped, among these I was offered the option of marking the message "confidential."

I did, then made use of the feature with which I could re-record my original message. After several minutes work, I had it just as I wanted it: when Amy called her voice mail, the electronic woman would say, "The following message has been marked confidential"; next, Amy would get my voice urgently whispering, "It's Jake. I have to go to the bathroom right away! I'm not sure how long I can wait, so please, please call." I pressed pound to send the message and was still cackling when Amy's number rang back on my phone.

"Hello?" I answered gleefully.

"Yeah," a strange man said, "someone just called me from this number."

Why does everything have to be so much work? "He must have dialed wrong," I told the guy, deflecting blame reflexively on an imaginary third party. "He may have left you a message, too."