Tooth and Claw
my pocket and shook out a cigarette, just to watch Cuttler’s face go into isolation. I made as if to stick the cigarette between my lips, but then thought better of it and tucked it behind my ear. “No way,” I said. “You want me to go twelve days, I’ll go twelve days. Fourteen, fifteen, whatever you want. Jesus, I don’t sleep anyway.” And then I was in the booth with Tony, ad-libbing, doing routines, cueing up records and going to commercials I’d heard so many times I could have reprised them in my sleep—if I ever slept, that is.
    I N THE MID - SIXTIES , Dr. Allan Rechtschaffen of the University of Chicago devised an experiment in sleep deprivation, using rats as his subject animals. He wired their rodent brains to an EEG machine and every time their brain waves showed them drifting off he ducked them in cold water. The rats didn’t like this. They were in a lab, with plenty to eat and drink, a nice equitable temperature, no predators, no danger, nothing amiss but for the small inconvenience of the wires glued to the patches shaved into their skulls, but whenever they started dreaming they got wet. Normally, a rat will sleep thirteen hours a day on average, midway on the mammalian scale between the dolphin (at seven) and the bat (at twenty). These rats didn’t sleep at all. A week went by. Though they ate twice as much as normal, they began to lose weight. Their fur thinned, their energy diminished. The first died after thirteen days. Within three weeks all of them were gone.
    I mention it here because I want to emphasize that I went into all this with my eyes wide open. I was informed. I knew that the Chinese Communists had used sleep deprivation as a torture device and that the physiological and psychological effects of continual wakefulness can be debilitating, if not fatal. Like the rats, sleep-deprived people tend to eat more, and like the rats, to lose weight nonetheless. Their immune systems become compromised. Body temperatures drop. Disorientation occurs. Hallucinations are common. Beyond that, it was anybody’s guess what would happen, though the fate ofthe rats was a pretty fair indication as far as I was concerned. And yet still, when Cuttler and Nguyen Tranh, the station’s owner and manager, came up with the idea of a marathon—a “Wake-A-Thon,” Tony was calling it—to boost ratings and coincidentally raise money for the National Narcolepsy Association, I was the first to volunteer. Why not?, was what I was thinking. At least it would be something different.
    Thus, Dr. Laurie. If I was going to challenge the world record for continuous hours without sleep, I would need to be coached and monitored, and before I stepped into that glass booth at the intersection of Chapala and Oak in downtown San Roque at the conclusion of today’s edition of “The Gooner & Boomer Morning-Drive Show” I would have built up my sleep account, replete with overdraft protection, to ease me on my way. Call it nerves, butterflies, anticipatory anxiety—whatever it was, I’d never slept worse in my life than during the past week, and my sleep account was bankrupt. Even before the last puerile sexual-innuendo-laden half-witted joke of the show was out of my mouth, I could picture myself out cold in the glass booth five minutes into the marathon, derisive faces pressed up against the transparent walls, all the bright liquid hopes and aspirations of what was once a career unstoppered and leaching off into the pipes. I cued up the new Weezer single and backed out of the booth.
    There was a photographer from the local paper leaning up against the shoulder-greased wall in the corridor, the telltale traces of doughnut confection caught in the corners of his mouth. He glanced up at me with dead eyes, tugged at the camera strap as if it had grown into his flesh. “You ready for this, man?” Tony crowed, slipping out of the booth like a knife pulled from a corpse, and he threw an arm round my shoulder, grinning for

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