Dave sits in the last booth of the Rendezvous Restaurant at 1:30 in the morning with two giddy fellow Lowellians, and he orders the first of three pepper and onion pizzas which they will share to soak up the too-many-to-count scotches, beers, and black Russians they have downed sans cesse for the past five hours. To the accompaniment of pinball machine clangs from behind and top-decibel profanity emanating from the booth in front, he explains his daily, or rather, nightly alcoholic binges.
Yes, tonight is an early night, if you go by the clock. But Dave ("Gino" to his friends) points out that his debauchery this day began early as well, with an entryway party thrown by the House English tutor. It was, in fact, a particularly intemperate evening, as his former roommate explained the following day, since Dave had not only one more hour than usual to indulge, but also had the inviting free drinks at the party. Then, after leaving the party, he filled his nightly $5 quota of drinks at the Casablanca. This $5 generally goes toward the drinks he puts away between 10 and 3 at night, but that's without taking any free liquor into consideration. Tonight Dave has gone all out.
The drinking partners that Dave says he mooches if the bill exceeds the allotted five bucks, change all the time. Sometimes he accompanies a gang of guys, less frequently a gang of women, sometimes an individual. Sometimes he joins his friends at the Delphic Club (where drinks are cheaper because Club members mix their own), but most often he makes the rounds each week between 33 Dunster Street ("33 D"), Casa Blanca ("Casa B."), The Idler, Ha'Penny, and Cronin's. Apparently not a man of habit, he alternates his drinks--along with drinking partners and locale--mostly between beer and scotch. And then, "for those occasions when I feel scholarly," Dave says, tipping his head back, raising his eyebrows, and adopting the airs and accent of the ever-so-refined gentleman, "I drink sherry."
Dave claims he gets enough sleep, even with the early morning classes he wakes up for--and never with a hangover. No surprise, actually, since Dave has carried on this nightly routine ever since he was a freshman three years ago. Alcohol has, you might say, become a big part of Dave's life, with his job bartending at the Faculty Club during the day, his carousing around town weekday nights, and his indulgence on weekends at the club.
His next door neighbor, who lives through a fire door, affirms this notion. "You might say that Gino is the major cause of alcoholism on campus. And his roommates are living proof of it." He grins, self satisfied. "Ninety-five proof."
"I'm not a chronic insomniac, just a sometimes insomniac," Joe claims, but if you had witnessed his marathon bout with sleepless nights, you might begin to wonder just where he draws the distinction. It all began with the none-too-uncommon catalyst: second semester freshman year, the last hourlies before exam period, a semester already marred by negligence and procrastination, and four really rough courses. Then to add wood to the fire we've got the snoring roommate on the upper bunk. Sure, amidst anxiety-ridden times and uncontrollable circumstances, we are all afflicted with the inability to fall asleep for awhile. Or even, on rate occasions, for an entire night. But for two full weeks?
"I couldn't help it," Joe explains now, two years hence, his sleeping habits being more irregular, but slightly healthier. "I had things on my mind. Like not being satisfied with what I did the day before, and thinking I wouldn't be able to accomplish everything I had to do the next day." Most insomniacs echo Joe's sentiments. Under such stress, it's suprising that any insomniacs can sleep at all during the school year, with the constant problems and pressures the school year imposes. Some say they've solved the anxiety problem by taking advantage of the summer months to relax, sleep and store up the energy they'll need to tap come September.
Actually, Joe just thinks it was for two weeks that he stayed awake. His proctor in Weld South told him it was possible to go to sleep dream you're not sleeping, so that when you wake up, it seems like you've been fully conscious the whole time. Re-evaluating his opening statistic after learning this, Joe realized "I was never really sure whether I was sleeping or not." Anyhow, the uncertainty was reason enough to drive him into University Health Services for sleeping pills, which brought on the long-awaited blissful slumber.
Joe says now that he still can't understand just why it happened. Nor can three incredulous roommates, one of whom said he'd never seen anything like it in his life. "He could hardly speak, his eyes were sunk and hollow, he lost his mental faculties," recounted Joe's once and present roommate. But as all painful experiences tend to end, Joe says he has emerged from the devastating stretch with a lesson well-learned, and a good attitude toward exams.
"I was so bent on clearing out my mind when I went to sleep, I stopped thinking about my exams. I said 'To hell with it!' and did poorly in everything. You feel like you can't survive if you can't sleep. It's no sense getting worked up over anything that much."
Tender is the night
Stand in Dunster courtyard some weekday night at about five in the morning. It's a spiritual experience. You can almost feel the exact moment when the night changes gears and the morning is ushered in, the early morning mist seems to be magically suspended a foot off the ground, the rowdies, the late-night wonks, the perennial socialites have surrendered to fatigue and gone to bed. Listen and look closer. Strains of a cut from Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" hit you. Follow them to their source, where, on the fourth floor of "C" entry loom two shadows illuminated by the last drops of the midnight oil.
By this hour, Donald has usually dozed off, but Janet, who says she became an insomniac at the outset of their relationship the first week of school this year, reads on while sipping the last few drops of her shot of tequila. Janet concedes that studying in this atmosphere is a bit distracting, but "I can do it and I want to, anyway." If she didn't seize the opportunity to be with her boyfriend at these late hours, she says, she would never see him. Between the hours of 9 in the morning and dinner, Donald busies himself with his Gov courses, and she with her Psych.
Janet's case of insomnia is something new ("possibly physical, possibly emotional," she thinks), but her late night hours have been part of her way of life ever since high school. She used to fall asleep doing homework on the kitchen table at five in the morning. In those days, she didn't begin work until 2 a.m. because there were other important matters to attend to before starting homework. She also had her mother, a chronic insomniac, to keep her company when she worked until sunrise.