The Miracle Raisins

Ah, the joys of being an insomniac. One of the less charming of life's little foibles, this nasty condition often strikes without warning, without cause, and without regard for your 8 AM class the next morning. When you're still lying awake in your bed as the first shafts of painful sunlight make their way through your window shade, you can almost hear your brain mocking you. "Yeah, I should be sleeping right now, but I'm not. I'm not going to, either. What are you going to do about it?"

Insomnia and I have had an interesting long-term relationship. I can still remember the time I was in first grade and couldn't sleep - when my sleeplessness-induced dementia told me the best thing to do about this situation was to sneak downstairs, assemble a ramshackle snack food consisting of saltines, marshmallow fluff, chocolate syrup and raisins, and settle down in front of the television to watch "Jason and the Argonauts." I learned two valuable lessons that night - one, never to mix marshmallow fluff and raisins and two, watching stupid things on television is a great way to pass time when you can't sleep.

Today, when fanciful new-age meditation, dull steam-age textbooks and the green champagne that is NyQuil all fail to work, at least we insomniacs can find comfort in the cold blue glow of late night television - where bad shows go to cough up their last radiated wheezes. If you're lucky, you might get to catch a glimpse of an old dating show rerun, or perhaps one of the myriad B-grade shows set in some kind of fantasy ancient civilization - without the restricting chains of historical fact, decent acting or sensible clothes. But of course, the highest form of any brand of televised late night entertainment is the infomercial.

Whereas commercials shown during regular programming hours are usually the signal to start the event known as the 300-meter freestyle "can I go to the bathroom, make myself dinner and outline that essay on Nietzsche before 'ER' comes back on?" race, infomercials have the opposite effect, actually drawing people to the television. Advertising executives know more about us than we like to think they do, so I figure they've got to realize that the only people watching TV at 4 in the morning are we insomniacs - and they know what we want to see.

When we can't sleep, we hate other people. Who wouldn't? There they all lie, sleeping snugly in their comfortable beds while we're sitting on a couch staring at the television. After our jealous rage has suitably subsided, we turn toward our only companion the TV set and yell, "Television! Show me some idiots, that I might laugh at them to feel better about myself!" And lo, the television complies and offers us up a rich bounty, indeed.

Strange comfort that it is, but knowing there are people out there who have it worse than you do is guaranteed to fill the insomniac's head with visions of sugarplums. Sure, you might not be able to sleep right now, but that woman has to pretend to be interested in a vegetable juicer, that other woman thinks she's a sassy Jamaican psychic, and that guy just strapped on a belt that sends rapid electric shocks through his abdomen - a virtual shooting gallery for our petty verbal barbs. Of course this, like all fun things, loses its appeal as we grow and mature into responsible adults. Adults don't make fun of people they see on TV. Adults don't wrap themselves in emotion-deflecting irony. Adults have better things to do than sit up late at night making jokes for their own amusement. What adults do is call these infomercial numbers and order free information packets for their friends.

It starts small, with embarrassing medical pamphlets about sexually transmitted diseases featuring attractive couples frolicking in golden, syphilitic wheat fields. This then gradually progresses into ordering free quasi-religious tomes from the well-meaning but unbelievably gullible folks at Power For Living. A friend just informed me that certain telephone psychics actually call you back if you call their 1-800 numbers. I know by the end of the week I'll be sneaking into someone's house and dialing up before announcing to the pseudo-savant on the other end in a tense voice, "I have to go now, but I am in serious need of guidance. Money is no object. Please call at dinner time."

These late night shenanigans are fun, indeed, but sometimes I just wish that British guy in the bow tie would tell me how I can buy a way to get to sleep like normal people. Or miracle raisins - ones that I can eat with marshmallow fluff without getting sick.