Sleepless in Suburbia

Though I have always been a sound sleeper, I am frequently up at 4 a.m. This is around the time that my husband, Ed, having woken up at 3, will generally crawl back into bed. Ed goes downstairs to watch TV so that his tossing and turning doesn’t wake me up. This is very considerate, except that when he returns, he likes to chat about what he’s been watching. The other night, Ed had been watching an infomercial for something called
the Steam Shark. I have a distinct memory of surfacing from the depths of sleep directly into the sentence “You can steam-clean around the base of the toilet.”

Last night it was “Honey, Bo Schembechler died.”

Schembechler, Ed explained to my inert self, was a beloved University of Michigan football coach. There is little difference between talking to me about college football when I’m asleep and talking to me about it when I’m awake. Eyelid position, basically, is the difference. Ed kept going: “He was the voice of the Wolverines.”

I was partly awake at this point, and for some reason, the sentence struck me as the funniest thing I’d heard in a very long time. Different rules apply between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m., I find. Things that would ordinarily not even qualify as mildly amusing will often, at 3 a.m., strike the ear as high comedy.

Worries are similarly warped.

I recently spent the hour from 4 to 5 a.m. worrying about the placement of two shrubs we had planted in our yard that day. Ed came in from downstairs, and I unloaded my fears about the overly close positioning of the shrubbery. I made him promise that first thing the next day, we would dig one up and move it, lest they crowd each other’s roots. In the morning, we went out to look at the plants. If anything, they looked a little lonesome there at 17 inches apart, just as the label had recommended. I am now known far and wide as the Nervous Gardener.

Anyway, once the laughter sets in, we’re both up. The topic of wolverines led to savage animals in general, and from there to a game called African Veldt. We frequently make up mindless games to wile away the time until the sandman agrees to take over the proceedings again.

“First person to run out of animals is the loser,” I said. Ed pointed out that since I had been to Africa, the game was rigged in my favor. He made me name three animals for every one of his.

“Fine. Leopard, zebra, elephant.”

“Lion,” said Ed with great confidence.

“Warthog, wildebeest, springbok.”

A long time went by. The shrubbery roots were closing in upon each other. Finally, and with great hesitancy, Ed said, “Giraffe?”

“Eland, gnu, ostrich.”

“You can’t do birds.”

“Birds are animals.”

“Okay, ant,” said Ed, and then he rolled over. He took his bottom pillow and put it on top of his head. This is known as the Ed sandwich: pillow, Ed’s head, pillow. He does this because he can’t sleep if there’s noise in the room. There isn’t now, but there will be. I make noises while I sleep, and Ed has had many hours to devote to cataloging them. Common varietals include the Click, the Tommy gun and the Darth Vader.

Light is also a problem for my husband. There can be no light in the bedroom, not even the light from the digital clock, which is hidden away on the bottom shelf of Ed’s nightstand, broadcasting the time to toddlers and gnomes. The room across the hall must also be dark. We can’t just close our bedroom door to block the light from that room, because this will make the bedroom too stuffy for Ed to sleep. That room must also have its curtains drawn. If he could, Ed would draw the curtains on the windows of our neighbors across the driveway, and on down the street, all the way to the horizon.

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