August 20, 2008
Let me begin by saying that YES, I am aware that what I’m about to say sounds crazy. And not just any kind of crazy. We’re talking Stephen King nuthouse crazy—a room with padded walls and a warden named Large Marge who goes about 6’6” and 250 and hasn’t smiled since the Reagan administration, partly because her moustache gets in the way and partly because that tick of hers prevents any form of facial expression. Nevertheless, here goes: I am being attacked by the Pillow People.
Let me explain. About two years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Kenya (motto: “Angelina Jolie slept here!”). We prepared for the trip in the standard way one prepares for a trip to a country where the insects are the size of racehorses and outnumber people 200:1.
1. Getting several dozen immunizations, all of which, despite the doctor’s promise of “this won’t hurt a bit,” hurt like hell.
2. Buying various industrial-strength bug sprays (the kinds that have skulls on the labels and names like “Zap It!” and “Kill ‘Em Suckers!”).
3. Familiarizing ourselves with African culture through intense cultural research (read: we drank Kenyan coffee and watched “Out of Africa,” which incidentally is the LONGEST movie of all time).
Also, because the flight to Kenya takes about two days—or three viewings of “Out of Africa”—the doctor thought it’d be a good idea to prescribe the sleeping pill Ambien. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials. A peaceful, soothing piano melody plays as we see a woman enjoying the most peaceful, soothing sleep of her life. We know this to be the case because an announcer, in his most peaceful, soothing voice, tells us that Ambien will give you the best darn night’s sleep you’ve ever had—granted you don’t experience any of the common side effects such as grogginess, allergic reactions, and the sudden desire to operate heavy machinery. Oh, and let’s not forget hallucinations.
Knowing this, I had second thoughts when the doctor pulled out his prescription pad. Personally, I thought it’d be easier to sleep by packing a portable DVD player and watching “Out of Africa.” But once I weighed those side effects (nausea, abdominal cramping, dizziness caused by slow-moving plot), I knew I’d be better off with the pill. And just like that, I invited the Pillow People into my world.
We’re sitting on the plane, en route to Kenya. With a stomach full of undercooked turkey strips, I pop my first Ambien. I konked out thirty minutes later (I know this because that’s how long it took the flight attendant to clean up the mess in the aisle, courtesy of the infant in 12E whose parents, no doubt, will have second thoughts the next time someone suggests they bring their baby on a transcontinental flight). So I slept. And then suddenly, according to my wife, I screamed and threw my pillow on the ground.
HER: “What’s wrong?”
Scared out of my mind, I couldn’t respond. She tried again.
HER: “What is it?”
ME: “THE PILLOWWWWW!”
HER: “What are you talking about?”
ME: “IT’S TRYING TO EAT ME!”
My wife laughed, said I was having a bad dream, and told me to go back to sleep. Terrified of the man-eating pillow, I stayed awake the rest of the flight.
INCIDENT TWO: A YEAR LATER
After working non-stop for months, I was putting the finishing touches on a screenplay. When I finally finished around one in the morning, I was too revved up to sleep. Enter Ambien. I was just about to drift off when I heard something: whispering. My eyes popped open and scanned the room. There they were, on top of the dresser: two throw pillows…TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER. I couldn’t make out the whispers but it was clear they were plotting something. I don’t know, maybe they were angry at me for ripping the tag off the mattress a few months back. Whatever the case, they were pissed. And out to get me.
INCIDENT THREE: LAST WEEK
You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson by now. But it was late, I was overtired, and with a big presentation the next day, I really needed a good night’s sleep. So I took an Ambien and experienced the most dramatic hallucination yet. First, the shoes on the floor turned into alligators. Then, the air conditioning vent morphed into a giant mouth and tried to eat me. And, of course, the pillows.
* The whispering was louder.
* The sounds more menacing.
* And the pillows were growing at an alarming rate, like Popeye’s biceps after a can of spinach or the construction of a new Starbucks franchise.
My wife stopped me just as I was jumping out of bed to grab the nearest scissors. So, long story short, I’m finished with Ambien. And the next time I’m tossing and turning and in dire need of something powerful to send me into a deep sleep, I know what I’ll do. Screw the side effects, I’m watching “Out of Africa.”