Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Night to Die For

"Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known... then went crazy as a loon."

Lisa Simpson

There are truths in cartoons.

Insomnia appears to be a running theme in my life. On Friday morning, I've turned my head in early for sleeping duties at 1:00 am - and it had become a chore, believe me - but I stayed at sleep's shore till it was 5:00 am before I slipped into somnolence from the sheer tiredness from attempting to pass out. 5:00 am, mind you, was the time I initially set my alarm clock to so I could wake up and do a spot of reading for my end-of-posting exam for the Department of Psychiatry - but a committee in my brain decided in my stead that I needed that meagre last two-hour nap more than I needed to put my nose to the grindstone, so that's what I begrudgingly did. That's not the first time I went for an exam I didn't study for anyway.

This would be an entirely unremarkable event to bring up if it wasn't for the fact that I was expected to embark on a non-stop, all-night-long six-hour drive up north to Butterworth (from Malacca) at the end of that day. I attempted to catch some ZZZ's in the evening - y'know, so I'd be fresh and not destroy myself in a flaming wreck on the North-South Highway - but try as I could, sleep proved to be an impossible proposition. I'll never understand how something I can do so effortlessly while sitting upright and surrounded by a hundred medical students while someone blabber non-stop using a freaking microphone up front can prove to be so unachievable when I am lying supine on a bed in a darkened room. I tried packing to tire myself out but that didn't work. I tried reading some but the book I had was so engrossing that I became even more roused than before. Note to self: try that with Tolstoy's War and Peace next time, a book as impenetrable as it is cubic.

"Fine, be that way," I snapped at no thing in particular and got up in a grump, finding that I have developed a headache - the heavy kind I usually get when I'm deprived of REM sleep. Having nothing better to do I can do, I took a trip to the local Tesco to see if there's anything I'd like to get for my long and lonely ride at midnight. I picked up four bottles of Hoegaarden witbier because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Beer for the Road
A good idea at the time.

Don't ask me to explain my buying impulses. I once bought a rabbit rag doll wearing a white bridesmaid's dress at a gift store for myself while my girlfriend looked on in utter and complete bewilderment. I named it Imelda, by the way.

So, after another couple of hours contemplating the ceiling and getting re-acquainted with the back of my eyelids, I took off into the night at 11:30 pm. Remember that at this point, I was operating solely on that two hours I managed to scrape together that morning. If we're not counting that, I had actually been sleepless for two whole days.

A perceptive person might ask me: Why are you making such a lengthy car journey in the dead of the night without a companion? No one talks like that, of course. The questions I get are usually worded along the lines of "Are you insane?" and "Don't you want to live anymore?" Anyway, the actual reason is that I am something of a nocturnal creature and I just feel far more alert after sundown. Aside from being too bright, daylight is also too hot for me and my car's treacherous air conditioner. And after a radiator pipe burst a month ago, I'm a bit leery of traversing any substantial distance in my jalopy. Because I know next to nothing about the inner workings of an automobile, I can happily assume that the nighttime cold will keep the engine cool and reduce its likelihood of overheating. If a mechanic listens to me talk about cars, he'll probably feel the same way I feel when I hear laypeople talk about health and medicine.

Now, I have done this before (and nearly killed myself doing it - but that's a story for another time). The biggest challenge about it is staying awake, a skill which I recently showed great promise at. The ironic thing is; it's also easier to slip into sleep when one is sitting upright in a metal carriage while barreling down an expressway at more than 100 km/h than it is to accomplish the same thing lying supine. On a freaking bed. In a freaking darkened room. The key is to be able to entertain oneself for six whole hours.

Speaking of entertainment, my car's USB-fed MP3 player is on the fritz; shutting down randomly whenever I accelerate, decelerate, go up an incline, roll down a decline or cruise on a level stretch of road at a constant speed. In other words, it's only reliably operational when my car is standing completely still. The frustration is enough to make a guy want to go for a beer or four. The only warning sign I receive before the music gets cut is the headlights - they go unnaturally bright. So long as they stay that way, the MP3 player won't play. Sometimes, probably just to annoy me, my car makes a high-pitched squeal when I accelerate. I was told it's the timing belt. It belts out time. Or something.

You probably can't tell but I really enjoy singing along to the stereo, and my car is the only place I can warble to my heart's content and not be hauled off by officers of the law for disturbing the peace and indecent exposure of my naked voice. I had my portable Sony MP3 player with me but I've long since learned that singing with in-ears headphones on makes me sound like I have a bad cold and turns my skull into a reverb chamber - which makes it that much harder to buy into my delusions that I can actually carry a tune.

If you have seen me in real life, you might have spotted me walking alone with my headphones on; smiling, laughing or even tearing up on the rare occasion all by myself. I am not insane, the voices in my head reassures me. I am an avid listener of podcasts and recently, I have started tuning in to The Tobolowsky Files. They are basically 40-minute-long recordings of true stories about life, love and the entertainment industry written and told by C-list character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. Movie fans will know him mainly as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day and Sammy Jankis ("Remember Sammy Jankis") in Memento. To TV enthusiasts, he's Bob Bishop (the guy with the Midas touch) in Heroes and Sandy Ryerson (paedophilic former director of the Glee club) in Glee. As much as I enjoy the output of his day job, I think he makes a far greater writer and storyteller. The tales he tells are sometimes funny, frequently touching but are always engaging, charming and inspirational in the most unironical sense of the word. After listening to just two episodes, The Tobolowsky Files had became my favourite podcast. In preparation, I had downloaded about a dozen episodes I haven't yet heard into my MP3 player to listen to on my drive to Butterworth. Available free-of-charge, they are better than most things playing at the cinema and better than all things playing on Malaysian radio stations.

Before reaching KL, I liberated a chilly bottle of beer from the cardboard four-pack. Unlike Tuborg, which had those novel ring pull hybrid caps, Hoegaarden still uses the traditional metal pop caps. I tried using my teeth to pry it open but nearly broke a premolar trying. I thought of attempting that trick someone once showed me of opening it with just my fingers but decided that I was not nearly retarded enough to try steering the car with my left knee. Also, if I must die in a vehicular fireball of twisted metal, I prefer to do it with alcohol inside me instead of outside. Fortunately, I had a Swiss Army knife on my person and I marvelled idly at the thought of an army that has both a bottle opener and a corkscrew as part of their standard issues.

By the time I got to the very desolate, narrow and mountainous stretch of the North-South between Ipoh and Butterworth, I had came to the realisation that earbuds are pretty uncomfortable things to wear for 4 straight hours. I removed them and an awkward kind of silence pervades, broken at times only by the banshee wail of the engine. My passenger seats were disturbingly empty. In the completely unlighted parts of the drive, my rear-view mirror showed me a pool of solid blackness uninterrupted by the headlights of other motorists. It was unsettling to say the least. Lucky for me, a byproduct of my being an atheist is a comforting disbelief in the existence of ghosts, demons and spirits. I cockily told them so. Out loud.

Next, I tried crooning along to my car's glitchy stereo, thinking that if my atheistic superpower wasn't enough to chase away the spooks, my terrible singing would. I had one song on repeat, determined to learn it by heart by the time I arrive. It's Sorry I Stole Your Gurl by the powerpop band, The Friday Night Boys and it's crazy catchy. It's just incidental that the song also happened to be about another recurring theme in my life.

"Oh, oh
I'm sorry if I stole your girl"

Like a warped version of musical chairs, the speakers would stop playing unpredictably (headlights flaring bright) and I would find myself singing to no music, forcing me to face the reality that I'm as tone deaf as a swan. Have you ever heard a swan call? They honk, bugle and hiss. Musical birds they are not.

"Oh, oh
I'm sorry if she likes me more than
She ever liked you,
She never liked you"

Ouch, zing and buuurn. This is totally my newest favourite song.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry,
I'm sorry if I stole your girl"

At about 4:30 am, I had enough of singing and killed the music, and a gloomy quiet descended into the car once more. The monotony of darkness was starting to work its voodoo on my weary brain and I had begun falling into microsleeps at the wheel. Even the tablet of pseudoephedrine I popped at the beginning leg of the journey could stave off the drowse no longer. Erring on the side of caution, I pulled over at the next truck stop for a wizz and a half-hour snooze. There, I had a dream I cannot recollect.

I arrived in Butterworth at about half past five in the morning. At the bottom of an apartment building, I dialled a number I dial almost every single day of the week, spoke a single line and waited. A couple of minutes trickled by and my long distance girlfriend appeared wearing a set of pyjamas I frequently told her were ugly; a critique which she happily ignores like most of the other things I say.

"Your pyjamas are still hideous," I whispered. She hugged me and made the whole journey worth it.

Now available in Butterworth,
k0k s3n w4i


février said...

yay you're in penang! say hi to feebs for me. :D

this is the most bearable romantic post i can read and sounds so much more sincere than all the others. because all the others are so mushy the only people who truly recognise their worth are you two.

when are you gonna zip up ALL pictures and send em to me? :3

Zzzyun said...

i know how that feels.....the waiting and the joy; the leaving and the pain. sigh.

May Lee said...

gah so romantic. have an awesome time!

p/s: drinking and driving? D:

c3rs3i said...

Take extra care - Guilt would gnaw at me like gangrene if anything were to happen to my other half in their bid to see me.

From what I've read in your more recent posts, I like how you write and am therefore considering going through your past entries starting from the first available one until either my curiosity is satisfied or the opportunity cost of the time I spend trolling your blog becomes significant.
Any objections/doubts/fears/caveats, now would be a good time to raise them. =)

février said...

NIKHIL WILL BE LEAVING ME SOON. T____T anyway so coincidental, i watched half of groundhog day last night when i went downstairs to watch tv while eating. i've never seen groundhog day before. thought it was merely an okay movie.

also i listened to that friday night boys song and i like the tune i don't like the singing.

Glo-w~* said...

I sleep too easily -_-" i've somehow trained myself to fall asleep once my head touches the pillow, regardless whether or not i was sleepy to begin with. once i was sending an SMS at 5 pm on my bed. nxt thing i know it was 2 am and i didn't send the sms yet. where as Ben is a VERY light sleeper. I think most doctors are.

k0k s3n w4i said...

beve: this isn't really a romantic post. i can send them to you when i return to malacca next week. how do i send such a massive file to you anyway? groundhog day is a classic. i recommend listening to stephen tobolowsky's story about working on the set of the movie before watching it. i feel like rewatching it myself. and why is your blog totally neglected?

Zzzyun: your boyfriend just left? that how long distance relationship works, i guess. it's either bear it or tear it.

May Lee: i only had one beer. that can hardly make a blip on my blood alcohol level. plus, it took the edge off the stress of driving that far :)

c3rs3i: my writing? i'm still negotiating my way 'round the rules of grammar, haha. and if you're serious about plumbing the depths of my archive, prepare to be astonished by how immaturely, nonsensically and awfully i used to write not too long ago. and thank you, by the way :)

Glo-w~*: i think having the ability to sleep lightly is something of a necessary skill for medical personnels - but my episodes of insomnia are usually anxiety related or are caused by the barrage of thoughts i sometimes have to endure over some socioreligiopolitical issue that bugs me. i envy you :(

Jen said...

I suppose you make up for saying such meanie things to Phoebs with posts like this :P

P.S. You're a terrible influence! What is this drinking and driving nonsense?? Tsk tsk.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Jen: mean things? i'm just trying to prove that honesty works in a relationship :P drinking and driving is perfectly okay if your blood alcohol level stays legit!

Phoebs said...

she's askin me for car servicin fees again T_T i don't know what to do :(

février said...

kill her

Phoebs said...