I think I had been napping when the voice on the phone offered to pay me to join a UCLA Sleep Study. There might be some marginal inconvenience, but the fee would help me cover my rent without selling another testicle.
Over four nights, I showed up at a low-key annex to the UCLA Medical Center. As soon as I was shown to my room, a friendly RN inserted a spigot that would tap the blood in my arm whenever it struck someone’s fancy.
The hospital room lacked some of the amenities I came to rely on in my apartment, things like the cold air blast that rose miraculously from the carport into my bedroom. And the bed wasn’t king-sized but it was electrically adjustable.
A grad student attached electrodes and wiring to my head, face, chest, arms, fingers, and legs. This had to be the last remaining piece of equipment North of the Santa Monica Freeway that hadn’t gone wireless. On the plus side, with the tangle of cords, I was now qualified to perform in a puppet show.
Using the bathroom would require towing wires and monitors through the sleep ward. So the nurses recommended peeing into a plastic urinal jug. Was I put off? Sure. But I remembered reading how beer and plastic containers were Sean Penn’s constant companions in the years before he hooked up with Robin Wright. How bad could it be?
Falling asleep with wiring stuck to my face was the real challenge, but eventually I managed to drift off. And my bedside Sean Penn memorial piss jug worked like a charm. “I’d like to thank the Academy and my polyethylene urinal.”
The next morning, a nurse smiled, scored some more of my blood, and gave me permission to go home as long as I returned by Nine PM.
The second night, the blood draw was a tad painful but the wiring didn’t trouble me at all. I slept like a narcoleptic. By this time, I got pretty cocky about using the polyethylene jug. Only one problem came up after my 2:45 AM bladder emptying. When I laid back against my pillow, the mattress evinced a dampness in a temperature range somewhere between 98 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit. My Spicoli-like penile accuracy had betrayed me.
Falling back to sleep at freakin’ 2:45 am on a urine-soaked mattress was not gonna be an option. And since the moisture from the bed had also osmosed into my sweatshirt, I was fully discombobulated. I hadn’t peed on myself since my undergrad days.
I rang for a nurse, but they’d all left for the night. I’d have to get out of this mess without tech support. So I tried to wriggle out of my urinated-upon sweatshirt. No problem with my unwired right arm. But the sweatshirt got only as far as my forehead before the thick electronic linguini said, “Fuck you. You’re ‘The Urinator.’”
I was at the shore of the idiot’s Rubicon. I couldn’t detach from the wiring without ripping hair out of my skull in an orderly pattern of squares. So I grabbed the little boom box to which the wires were attached and went for help. The monitor pulled the wires and my head at an unfashionable angle but it allowed me to escape the moist evidence of my shame and cruise the quiet halls of the Sleep Center. If anybody asked me what I knew about stray bodily fluids, I planned to deny ownership.
There I was, the weave of wires causing my head to list 30 degrees starboard, searching for someone in scrubs to help me find a dry place to sleep. Dragging my monitor, my head and piss-infused sweatshirt, I happened upon a minyan of Asian technicians staring at waveforms on a bank of computer monitors. I asked if I had arrived at The Matrix.
Only one of the men, sensing an intruder or a sweatshirt drenched in pee, turned around. I explained my trouble. He said something to me in Mandarin which I translated as, “So what do you want me to do about it, white boy?”
No one from Security, not a single cyborg goon showed up to put me out of my misery. Fortunately, a linen closet full of fluffy white towels beckoned. More than a few of them could be fashioned into a thick terrycloth layer, an improvised mattress above my wet mattress, perfect insulation from the possibility of my own urine causing me to electrocute myself.
Next morning, when the Nurse woke me to steal my blood, we had our “Twilight Dawn” moment, minus the inappropriate touching. She wasn’t particularly bothered to hear me apologize about what happened to my bedding. “Honey, you think this is the first time I’ve seen a patient couldn’t hold his water?”
The remaining two nights of the Sleep experiment went off without any hitches or other house-breaking issues.
Apparently, the sleep rangers do not hold grudges. They’ve approached me about participating in other studies. I’ve begun taking steps to turn this into a six figure per annum enterprise. As long as it doesn’t involve bladder control or guiding camera equipment through orifices, how bad could it be?