Monthly Archives: January 2009

Liam TXTS REINA HARDESTY

This is a true story about Reina Hardesty, a 13-year old girl who sent 14,538 TEXT MESSAGES in a month.  It inspired me to write an imagined text message conversation between me and Reina.

~ReInA~:  @ mall

Liam:  What?

~ReInA~: hey were r u?

Liam:  At home as always.  You?

~ReInA~: lolz @ mall

Liam:  Oh.  I think I read about you on the news today.

~ReInA~: lolz oopz

Liam:  Were those all to me?

~ReInA~: Duno

Liam:  I’m impressed.  Clearly I have an adversary.

~ReInA~:  wt

Liam:  You’re not making any sense.

~ReInA~: f

Liam: oh ok.  I see you were trying to type wtf

~ReInA~:  h

Liam:  Never mind.  I never thought I’d say this and mean it, but don’t text me anymore.

~ReInA~:  y?

Liam:  Because you have a problem.  You’re just texting letters at this point.  Maybe try saying something  that has some imp

Liam (page 2):  act.

~ReInA~:  Oh.  I see the error of my wayz.

~ReInA~:  *ways

Sleep Study: Part II. The Month Before Admission

This is a continuation of the detailed recollection of the sleep study I participated in for $5,000.  If you want to read it from the beginning, start here.

The month before going into the sleep study was almost more difficult than the sleep study itself.  I had to wear the awful actiwatch, which was ugly and uncomfortable.  I was only allowed to take it off when I was in the shower, even while sleeping.  The watch monitored my movement, and Jane told me that if I was ever sitting still that I had to jiggle my wrist, so that the watch wouldn’t think I was sleeping.   I was worried that after the study I would have developed a tick where I would jiggle my wrist every time I read a book, but that hasn’t happened.

Calling into Jane’s voice mail was a trial as well.  It was surprisingly easy to remember to do it, but it always felt silly.  Particularly if I was spending the night with someone; having to wake up and before I can even brush my teeth, place a call to some woman in Boston was always jarring.

The worst part about the watch, however, was that it somehow seemed to call out to random people.  My boss, my dental hygienist, a stranger in a cafe, all of these people felt it appropriate to ask me about the strange box-watchy thing on my wrist.  It was difficult to explain it all to my boss, as I hadn’t yet given my 2 weeks notice.

This was one of the most frustrating aspects of the sleep study: Jane could not tell me I was definitely accepted into the study until only a few days before I was admitted. So it took some courage to give my 2 weeks notice.

My dental hygienist was the worst.  She lost it when I told her what I was doing.  She insisted on repeating over and over again about how crazy it was, how she thought I was going to go crazy and how she thought she wasn’t crazy enough to even consider doing something like that.  All I could do was lie there, mouth open, and try to focus on the puppy poster on the ceiling rather than listen to her.

I also had to be sure to keep my sleep under 7 hours.  I do usually sleep about 6.5 hours, or so I thought.  I knew that if I had too many sleep log entries that were longer than 7 hours I would be disqualified.  I have a suspicion that my sleep patterns were more varied than I thought, as I found myself often struggling to stay awake at night so that I could sleep in a little in the morning.

After two weeks of keeping the sleep log, I faxed it back to Jane in Boston.  Later that day she called me and assigned me my average “sleep and wake” time.  First I was given 7:30am as a wake time and 1:20am as a sleep time.  A week after they readjusted it to 7:27am and 1:19am.  This was not fun.  If I went to bed at 1:19am and it took me 2 hours to fall asleep, then I would still have to wake up when my alarm went off at 7:27.

Lastly, one week before I was admitted, I made another trip to Boston.  First I met with the two project leaders, both MDs who interviewed me and made sure I really, actually wanted to do this.  They explained that because it is such a long and expensive process (over $1million to study just me) they wanted to make sure that I was going to allow them to gather the data they needed.  I put on my personality I got while working at the admission office at my college.  There’s nothing like giving 100+ campus tours to perfect one’s ability to act enthusiastic about something that you only partially want.

That night I spent in a sleep laboratory in beautiful Medford, MA.  This was a place where typically people with sleep apnea or particularly annoying snoring go to get treatment.  The doctors, almost exclusively young women with short hair for some reason, seemed confused about why I was there.  I explained the study to about 8 different people over the course of my time there.  They even showed me a video on sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.

The room that I slept in was like a very nice hotel that had been shrunken down to the minimum required floor space.  The bed was large and luxurious, but the walls were claustrophobic.  There was a small TV in the corner, and even a boring pastel painting of a bicycle by sand dunes like you might see in any Red Roof Inn.  It would have still been a pleasant night except that it was the first time I ever tried to sleep with electrodes all over my body.  Far from the last, however.  They also had something called a “nose probe” in me all night, which was worse than the anal probe yet to come.

The next day they served me apple juice and offered me coffee, which I sadly had to turn down.  I stumbled around Medford for a while, trying to find my way back to Boston.  I ended up walking about a mile in the wrong direction, but I did find a deliciously greasy little diner called Kelly’s.  I recommend it, especially if you have spent the night at a sleep lab.  I met with a psychiatrist, Dr. Gomez I’ll call him for these purposes, who spent an hour with me going over the psychological duress I might go through and assessing whether or not he thought I was capable of not going ape wild.  He talked to me about the darkness of the room during “sleep periods”, boredom and loneliness.  Apparently he decided I was particularly good at being bored, lonely and in the dark because I got the call 2 days before I had to show up in Boston that I was clear to come.

Packing for the experience was an arduous experience.  I ended up filling 2 giant suitcases. One was filled with books, DVDs, CDs, art supplies, toys and pictures.  The other had just clothing, and enough space to fit in things my friends were loaning me.  My last day of freedom was gray and rainy, and I spent most of it lugging my suitcase from one friend’s apartment to another, collecting anything I thought I might need.  I also ate chicken wings for the first time in a year and a half, because why not?  After that slightly sickening meal, I hopped in a cab to meet up with Jane at her office and head to the hospital.

Coming Up Next:  Let The Sleep Study Begin

Itinerary

This section of blogs will be a way for you to follow me on my sojourn across America and into Peru.  Currently I’m frantically trying to fit all of my life into a backpack as well as get vaccinated for free.  So I can’t tell you much yet, but I can show you my itinerary:

January 20th:  Watch Obama beat the snot out of George Bush!  Yay!

January 21st:  Leave Maine for Boston

January 23rd-24th:  Leave Boston and travel by train for 2 days to Santa Fe, via Chicago.

January 25th – 29th:  RITA and the newest Mexico there is.

January 30th and 31st:  LA

February 1st, 1:00AM:   Fly from LA to San Salvador, then San Salvador to Lima

February 1st:  SPEND THE NIGHT IN THE LIMA AIRPORT???

February 2nd:  Fly from Lima to Cuzco, where I will be picked up by the organization I’m working with.  Yes!

Stay tuned for more updates!

SLEEP STUDY: Part I. The Tedious Lead Up

NOTE:  If you already know all about the weeks leading up to the sleep study and don’t want to read about it, then I suggest you skip down and read the bulleted points below.  They’re easy to find, they’re bulleted.

I heard about the study through everyone’s favorite website to buy lawnmower parts, find employment, and get anonymous ass, craigslist.com.  If you ever browsed craigslist searching for a job better than the job that owns the computer from which you are searching, then you’ve probably come across the sketchy advertisements posted by Brigham & Women’s hospital.

Their titles range the loud and awkward  “HOW LIGHT AFFECTS YOUR ZZZ’s!” to the straightforward “PARTICIPATE IN A 28 DAY SLEEP STUDY FOR CASH”.  I was drawn to the first one.

I had read about these studies on craigslist for a few years, since I had a friend participate in one when I was a senior in High School.  My friend went into the study, and I promptly lost touch with him.  But I had heard that he had come out somewhat “off” from the experience.  I didn’t take it too seriously until, four years later as a senior in college, I had regressed enough emotionally financially  to consider the study as a viable option.  The night I decided finally to participate, I was drinking a mixture of hibiscus tea and vodka out of a latte cup while mopping the floor of a cafe where I worked.  My co-worker closing with me happened to have a second job at the sleep study, and when I told him I was considering it offhandedly, he looked at me and said, “Liam, you of all people should do the study.”  What I found out after I had completed the study that what he meant was “Liam, you of all people are crazy enough to enjoy the study.”

A few days later I called the number on the advertisement and began the quietly freakish relationship with the woman who was my “recruiter”, who I will called Jane for safety’s sake.  Jane existed only as a soft spoken, hesitant voice on the other end of a phone for a long time.  She first conducted an interview with me, what she called a “Phone Screen”, to see if I would pass.  She asked me questions about family history, how much I drink or smoke, and weather or not I had ever heard voices in my head.  I passed the screening, almost failing once for telling her that I drank about 4 cups of coffee a day (due to my employment?).  “I can stop!  I can quit!  I promise!”  I actually groveled to Jane like that.

Then I spent a wild last few months in college, and met someone who I thought I had fallen in love with.  The day I was supposed to go into the hospital to finally meet Jane and take the next step towards entrance, I woke up to a beautiful June morning, with a cute and intelligent boy in my bed and the birds chirping outside.  I walked to the hospital and told Jane I couldn’t go in when the weather was so nice.

Fast forward 6 months.  It’s October and I’m living at my parents house in Portland, Maine, which is a city where intelligent gay men go to die.  One day, out of the blue, my telephone rings and who should it be but Jane, asking me if I’m interested in participating in the sleep study, now that the good weather had ended.  Well yes, Jane.  Yes I would.

Since I had already passed the screening (barely), the next steps advanced pretty quickly.  I made an initial trip to Boston, to meet Jane and do a few weird things.  First I was given a mountain of forms to read, describing the study in as much detail as was legally required.  Other forms I had to fill out, mostly on my sleep habits, asking me how long I thought it took me to fall asleep or how many times I woke up in the night.  Over the course of the study, I had to answer questions like that constantly, and I’ve found that the answers are more slippery than one thinks.   I also had one really strange 536 question long psych evaluation that was very sneaky.  It would ask you a series normal statements and then slip in one scary one:

T or F:  I enjoy reading mechanics magazines.

T or F:  I had a good relationship with my father as a child.

T or F:  Sometimes I fear that someone else is controlling the things I do and say.
I also filled out a form asking me what types of foods I like.  When she handed me this form, Jane said, “I would fill in as many things as you think you can stomach.  It can get repetitive.”  I checked off things like macaroni and cheese, pudding, broccoli and baked scrod (which was a huge mistake).  After I had finished up a total of about 1.5 hours of paperwork, Jane sat me down and gave me a long briefing on the specifics of the sleep study.  Mostly she was reading from the sheets I had just read, and this happened several more times along the way from separate people.  Basically, they really wanted me to know exactly what I was getting myself into.  Here’s what I was told:

  • You are the subject.
  • Before the study the subject will wear an “actiwatch”, which is basically a ugly black box that monitors how much light you encounter each day, and also how much you sleep.  Here’s a picture. Picture coming.

  • The subject will also record his sleep patterns for the entire month before he enters the study, and turn in the form to the recruiter the day before the study.  The subject will also call the recruiter and leave a voice mail every night before bed and every morning when he wakes up.
  • One week before the study the subject will also agree to follow an assigned sleep pattern, with required bed times and wake up times.
  • The subject will abstain from all caffeine (including chocolate), street drugs, alcohol, over the counter drugs, prescription drugs, and (I kid you not) poppy seeds for the duration of the study.
  • On the day of the study the subject will come to the 9th floor of Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston and enter a place called Pod 9-B.
  • Pod  9-B will be the room where the subject spends the next 28 days.
  • The Subject will be required to perform simple tasks throughout the day.
  • The subject’s brainwave and heart patterns will be monitored at all times with electrodes and an EKG, unless the subject is in the shower.
  • Pod 9-B is to be a “time-cue-free zone”, which is exactly what it sounds like.  There are no windows, no clocks and I wasn’t allowed to bring in anything that would indicate time.

I want to pause, here, and reflect on exactly how many things in life indicate time.  First, electronics.  Think about all of the electronics that are important to you, ipod, cell phone, laptop, magic bullet.  Almost all of them have clocks on them.  Furthermore, think about all the things you have at your fingertips that give away time.  Live television, newspapers, magazines.  Even my body was a perpetrator, with its hunger and sleep cycles.  Which meant:

  • The subject will eat and sleep at specific times.  Which is a less scary way of saying that you will eat and sleep when you are told to.  Even if you aren’t tired or hungry.
  • The subject will not be allowed any live contact with people outside the study.  The subject is allowed to write letters to family, as well as receive e-mails and letters.  However, all letters will be held back for a few days as to skew time, and the emails will have all time cues cut out with a pair of scissors by none other than Jane herself.
  • Upon completion of the study, the subject will be given $5,000 dollars compensation.
  • At any time, the subject is allowed to leave the study, and the staff members are not allowed to try and persuade him to stay.  If the subject drops out early, he will be awarded the money that he has earned.  However, 2,000 of the big bucks are a completion bonus, which means even if you only quit one day early, you still wouldn’t get a large chunk of the finishing prize.

Now, a lot of people are turned off by the idea of having to go to sleep when the lights go out, like a parrot.  But most people I’ve talked to, when I tell them this much, say that they could do it.  But there is a clincher that usually gets people:

  • Once in Pod 9-B, the subject will be required to wear at an anal thermometer, which is a flexible, mostly unobtrusive way of checking someone’s core body temperature.  And I’ll say this several times, they weren’t lying.  It was mostly unobtrusive.

My thought was, I’ve had gay sex.  A thermometer is nothing.

Once I told Jane that I understood all the things she had told me, she whisked me away to a hospital room where they drew three vials of my blood for drug testing, and then Jane gave me an EKG, which was weird because she was in civilian clothing.  After that, a rather mean doctor gave me a free physical, and did almost all of the worst things that typically happen during men’s physicals.

Then Jane fitted the actiwatch on my wrist and told me to call her if I had any questions.

Coming up next:  SLEEP STUDY:  Part II.  The Month Before Incarceration Admission

SLEEP STUDY INTRO: What’s this business?

This is a detailed account of one of the most bizzare things I’ve ever done to get money, which, according to the thesis of this blog, is essentially killing two birds with one stone liberating two birds from the same cage.  28 days of my life for $5,000.

Advice in summary, if you’re too sleepy to read it:  Thanks Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I WIN!  Do the sleep study.

Forecast (Short-Short Story)

Forecast
Jackson has put an axe halfway through his father’s skull.
He doesn’t know that there are four identical cracks in the four identical propane tanks under the sink downstairs. He is going to light a match in four minutes, once he goes downstairs.  But for now he’s going to sit at the foot of his father’s bed and stare into the mirror.  Jackson’s father’s dead body watches the TV that has been muted. The weatherman silently forecasts a blizzard.
There is nothing very unreal about those four cracks in the propane tanks.  The cracks were not put there intentionally, and it is merely a coincidence that Jackson’s father purchased the four tanks the day before his death.  It is also coincidental that those four tanks all slipped by inspection with those cracks in them.  It is not coincidence, however, that they will explode when they explode.  That is meant to happen, because it is Jackson’s time to die.  Do not ask why he is meant to die tonight of all nights, there is no way to know.  But no one dies before they are meant to.

The propane tank inspector’s name was Ellen Hillford.  She has been an inspector of propane tanks in Oley Valley, Pennsylvania since she graduated from high school.  She has never missed a tank until six weeks ago, when her best friend Lita announced that she was going to get married.  Lita was also an inspector of propane tanks.  She shared her workspace with Ellen Hillford, but she was not as good at the job.  Lita had missed seventeen separate instances of unsafe propane tanks, allowing them to glide by on the belt into the station adjacent to their office.  None of those seventeen propane tanks ended in death, though one did cause a flare that singed off the eyebrows of a retired veteran in Blue Springs, Florida.
Lita flickered her fingers in front of Ellen, causing the small golden ring to glimmer in the florescent light of the propane tank inspection office.  Both women were shrieking while keeping their eyes on the propane tanks that rolled in. They tipped the tanks, shrieked about the ring, rolled the tanks, turned them on their ends, saw every inch.  Lita was able to keep her eyes on her work while she chatted about the proposal in the employee parking lot.   “I’m really in love with him,” she said.  And that comment made Ellen’s eyes blur, and she lost herself in the words.  Ellen was secretly in love with Lita.  She was so afraid of being in love with Lita that she wasn’t even aware that what she felt for Lita was love.
It was this love for Lita, this one faltering, that made Ellen miss the four identical cracks in the four identical propane tanks that were then loaded onto a truck and driven to White Plains, NY, where Jackson’s father picked them up at The Home Depot.  He also visited the woodworking section of the hardware store and bought an axe that was later buried in his head by Jackson, his only son.  It was Jackson’s father’s time to die.

Jackson walks down the brown carpeted-stairway toward the kitchen.  Hanging on the wall that runs alongside the stairs are portraits of Jackson in front of dark blue backgrounds.  They date back to when he was in elementary school.  The portraits watch as Jackson descends the stairs covered in splatters of blood.  Jackson is hungry so he strikes a blue-tipped match on the edge of the stove to light the gas.  He has a stuffed up nose, always has, so he can’t smell the bitter scent of propane gas.
Everything that was Jackson’s house was pushed out from the kitchen in an orange and black orb.  Jackson flew up into a million pieces, as did his father, who was already dead anyway.  The axe, surprisingly, was dislodged from Jackson’s father’s head in one piece, and it went sailing out into the air, end over end, just as the first snowflakes began to fall.

My First Post

Hello to you.  You must be one of my first readers, or just went too far in the archives and now you’ve reached the end.   Or you’re a time traveler, in which case I hope you’re excited for the inauguration of Barack Obama in just a few days.  Most people were.

Coming up soon will be some posts about the sleep study as well as some thoughts about preparing to go on an exciting and slightly scary solo journey to South America.