Nobody prepares you for the idea that you are not going to sleep all that well when you’re older, but eventually you find out it’s true. For years, elderly people tried to warn you that this would happen, and you never took them seriously.
After all, you were a young man. You had nothing to worry about. You slept so hard that all you ever wanted to do was sleep. Even when your mother came bursting into your room shouting, “I made spicy chicken casserole just the way you like it!”
And believe me, you would climb Mount Vesuvius for your mother’s spicy chicken casserole. Even so. You kept sleeping because you were a greasy little brat with a lightning fast metabolism and no joint pain.
When I was a young buck, I could sleep like nobody’s business. It was one of my many unusual talents—like swallowing my tongue, playing a Strauss waltz on my armpit, or commonly referring to myself as a “young buck.”
I stayed up as late as I wanted, eating a steady diet of battery-acid-like food. And whenever I got pooped, I would just curl up and go to sleep somewhere, even if I happened to be in a place where it was kosher to sleep. Such as Jerry’s Cue Club Pool Hall.
The next morning, I’d wake up feeling refreshed and ready to eat more acidic food.
On Friday nights I used to stay up late because a local channel played Sci-Fi movie reruns from the 1950s. These were B-movies with leading male actors who used enough Brylcreem to mortar a two-story brick home. Their leading ladies were overly dramatic and often had unnaturally small waists that, anatomically speaking, looked like they didn’t contain a pancreas or spleen.
These movies were the highlight of the week. I would stay up all night watching films like:
“Them!” A 1954 black-and-white gem starring James Arness (Marshal Dillon from “Gunsmoke”) chasing giant ants across New Mexico. These killer ants were going around ruining railyards, cities, armies, and Methodist picnics.
And “The Blob,” (1958) which followed the lives of two teenagers (Steve and Jane) who defended their hometown against an alien form of gelatinous goop (the Blob) which rolled down Mainstreet, engulfing everything, killing innocent women and children (like my aunt’s congealed salad).
One of my personal favorite movies was “The Monster from Green Hell,” (1957) starring Jim Davis and Barbara Tuner. This masterpiece is about enormous wasps from outer space that are insusceptible to gunfire, dynamite, and military strikes.
The movie ends in an epic battle when a wasp the size of an Ikea gets swept away in a volcanic lava flow. It’s never made clear where the wasps originated, but I would bet good money they came from the eve of my uncle’s garage.
I watched these movies after everyone was asleep. Most of the time I would be eating something acidic like leftover spicy chicken casserole, or potted meat on Saltine crackers with spray cheese—don’t criticize it until you’ve tried it.
Occasionally, I would eat SPAM. But I should mention here: A few years ago, I pronounced my love of SPAM in this column and the same week I received an anonymous Amazon shipment of twenty-four cans of SPAM. Let me state clearly, in case anyone is wondering: I also like hundred-dollar bills.
So after these movies finished, I would go to sleep with a stomach full of processed meat-like paste and aerosol cheese and sleep like a log. Acid reflux? Give me a break.
But when you become an adult, something changes. You don’t sleep the way you used to. You lie in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering if your AC is actually on because you don’t hear the compressor. And above all, you wish you wouldn’t have eaten jalapenos at dinner.
So you crawl out of bed and check the thermostat. You go to the refrigerator and stare at leftovers. You’re a little hungry, but like I said, you’re an adult. If you even touch your wife’s leftover spicy chicken casserole you will not sleep until you turn sixty-five.
So you sit on the sofa and turn on the television. You flip channels. The volume is low. You stop flipping. You smile.
On the screen is a giant blob, oozing down a mainstreet, killing everything in its path. People are screaming, fires break out, guns firing.
And this is ironic.
Because when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be a grown man. I was tired of being a child. But it’s funny, because I didn’t see how wonderful it all was. Not really.
I think what I miss most about those childhood days was the cheerfulness I always seemed to have. Kids are happy for no apparent reason. They can become giddy over anything. Baseball. Fishing. A five-dollar bill. Spray cheese. You name it.
But somewhere along the way you discover that the adult version of happiness is different. It’s quieter. Sometimes it’s harder to find. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible. Sometimes you have to fake it.
But when you do find the real thing, even if it only lasts a few hours, or minutes, you realize what a precious gift it is.
I would keep writing, but I think I’m finally sleepy enough to go to bed. Say a prayer for me.
Because I just ate an entire pan of leftover spicy chicken casserole.