Monday, March 28, 2016

Their just desserts

Today, I settle all family business. I steel my expression as I lace up my boots, the pair I wear only for certain work. I draw a long breath and close my home’s door behind me. The sun has risen; I’d better hurry. One last thought runs through my head: to cancel my plans and go back to bed. But I shake my head. I’ve a job. It’s what any red-blooded American would do.

My little Toyota wouldn’t do for my plans today, so I’ve rented a van. I needed one with a brand-new suspension and special racks in the rear, so I couldn’t get it from the likes of U-Haul. You can’t shake this kind of ammunition around much, you see. And maybe I’m overdoing it, but I specified a temperature-controlled vehicle. One wrong turn, after all, and someone would have a lot of cleanup.

Part of why I need to start off at dawn is to encounter certain people before they set out for the day—yes, it’s justice for the cheaters. My first stop is a roofer, right in town, whom we’d almost hired to clean algae off our roof with a spray cleaner that, it turned out, we could buy at Home Depot ourselves. To demonstrate, he’d sprayed some on a shingle and said we’d see the difference by morning. We didn’t. I get him as he’s loading his truck for the day, and the look on his face says he remembers me. He won’t forget this day.

Two others come next. One is a tile man we needed for a relatively mundane regrout and caulk job in the bathroom. The other, a chimney guy we needed for a cleaning and a chimney cap. Both had looked at their respective jobs at hand and said the same thing: “Ohhhhhhh, boooooyyyyy”—contractor-speak for “My kid is in college.” But I time my stops well and take both unawares, five miles apart, before their crews show up. There’s no mistaking what I have for them today, and next time they’ll know better. If there is a next time.

My next stop, naturally is the office. None of the security guards would ever suspect why I’m here today, on what’s supposed to be my day off. One even holds the door for me; I’m carrying a lot of weight, after all. Out of their sight, I don the full-face ski mask. I’m in luck, for my targets are all together in their usual conference room. The element of surprise, a few well-aimed shots and I’m done. One almost reaches the phone but doesn't make it. The stains might never come out.

A half-hour later I’m in Manhattan, where the first of the few remaining Presidential candidates is speaking. I can’t possibly get close; besides the crowd, there are Secret Service agents everywhere. Which is why I brought along my, um, “absentee ballot,” one you can’t get just anywhere. It’s a modern form of a medieval catapult, spring-loaded the same way but with a variable scope—and an effective half-mile range. I position the weapon slowly, precisely, and hit home on the first shot; I’ve seen American Sniper, after all. The crowd goes wild.

Ah, you’ve guessed that I’m merely indulging in one of my little fantasies, and I appreciate your patience. Have no fear, my feet are firmly planted in reality. After all, how could I possibly make, carry and deliver so many cream pies?

Monday, March 14, 2016

To sleep, perchance to scream

The very notion of a sleep clinic suggests a peaceful sanctuary, a sound-proofed facility with temperature and humidity control, a comfy bed, and absolutely no distractions—not even from the various professionals who would somehow, from behind the scenes, monitor my sleep. You might think of it as a hotel with the additional amenity of a sleep spa.

In your dreams.

As I recalled in my second visit to the sleep clinic, the only way to tell that I’m not sleeping properly is for someone to hook various electrical wires up to me. The attached machine records how I breathe, how often I wake up, roll over, play dead—oh sorry, that’s doggie obedience school—and collects other data.

Anyone who read about my previous overnight at the local sleep clinic would know I expected the worst. The same sleep center, last time around, seemed infested with Asian beetles. More orange than red, they’re as cute as the ladybugs they resemble but with a couple of minor differences: They’re larger, swarm by the thousands and prefer to raise their offspring indoors. Oh, and they bite—which did wonders for my anticipation of blissful sleep. At my last sleep study, I could hear their little feet on the lampshades and the acoustical tile of the ceiling. I didn’t see a single one this time. But just in case they planned to show up after lights out, I brought earplugs.

But of course, the noise wasn’t the greatest distraction. Neither were the two wide straps wrapped tightly around my torso. No, it was those wires, about twenty in all. Two pairs, attached to each leg, were barely noticeable. The rest? They led to my head, face and the vicinity, with electrical leads covered with a gob of conductive paste, which solidifies when pressed. Little pieces of bandage covered every gob so that I looked like I had been wearing an oversized deep-sea-diver helmet…with a ferret trapped inside.

All in all, there were enough wires tangled around my head that I resembled a male Medusa. I knew that if I had to use the bathroom, all I needed was to call out the technician’s name; hearing me on the intercom, he’d come to temporarily unplug the device to which the wires were connected. What I didn’t know was whether glancing at the mirror even once, in the bathroom, would turn me to stone.

Among other updates to the sleep center since my last visit was the mode of observation. My room last time had a window with two technicians behind, staring at me all night for my comfort. How times change. Now there’s an infrared camera that watches my every move—as if I could move given the attached imbroglio of wires. Since today’s remote cameras typically relay high-definition video to a smartphone or computer, I fully expect the video to emerge amid my 2024 run for President. “He uplinks to his Alpha Centurian masters at night!” my opponent will charge.

I was plainly too wired to sleep, so I thought I’d pretend I really were at a hotel. Three other patients—er, guests—were here tonight also, and the technician asked if I wanted water or fruit juice. (What, no cabernet?) So there was sort of room service. But the next morning, I found no complimentary breakfast. And while the bathroom had a towel or two, I found no little shampoos, soaps or moisturizers. Just wait till I hit TripAdvisor.

No matter what results I get, I already know my prognosis will be good. With two sleep-clinic visits under my belt, I know just how to go to sleep—and stay asleep till the morning. I merely have to remind myself how comfortable I feel when I’m not bound tightly in straps and wires, barely able to turn over, like at the sleep clinic. I’ll be afraid to open my eyes till dawn.