New York in Bed


For a long time I would go to bed early. Sometimes, the candle barely out, my eyes closed so quickly that I did not have time to tell myself: I’m quoting Proust. That’s because I had taken Ambien, which is like a magician in a long black cloak with a violet silk lining, because Ambien can make a person disappear right in her own bed. Take one and in so many minutes, you will cease to exist. For a long time, I got so excited at the thought of taking an Ambien that I started taking it earlier and earlier at night. Once, I took one at 6:45.

But then when I tried to stop, I could not sleep without one. I would lie awake in my bed from Ikea, the foldout kind with the big wheels that they sold in 2001. As soon as I am really rich, I’m going to get one from Ligne Roset or Modernica. Or maybe I’ll just go to a different expensive hotel room every night.

As I tried to shake the Ambien habit, I would lie there in my Soho apartment near the bistros where the waiters get the customers from New Jersey really drunk and everybody’s outside smoking and telling each other they are going to be best friends for the rest of their lives. So I would hear that, and then a neighbor, who is usually out of town but when he comes home he sometimes turns up the music screaming at three in the morning, which one night almost gave Joe across the hall a heart attack. Joe’s 86 and he’s lived there since 1944. Then on the slightest of windy nights, the wind chimes hanging outside people’s windows clang like monsters, and they sound like they’re in some bad gift shop in New Hope. My dream is someone will lean out a window and pour molten wax on top of the chimes or rig up some extra-extendable wire cutters and snap the ringers on the bell ones or at least throw wet, heavy towels on top of the whole bunch. Years ago, when I asked one woman nicely, Do you think maybe, maybe it would be possible just to take a few inside, she said, “I’m just going to make a chart for all the chimes and I’ll track each one over a month and just see how noisy they are . . . ”

The chimes get me so upset, I have to change the subject.

Two-thirds of Americans have sleep problems, reports the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Its 2002 “Sleep in America” poll showed that 58 percent of adults in the U.S. experience insomnia symptoms a few nights a week or more. According to the book Desperately Seeking Snoozin’, people who slept less than six hours a night had a 70 percent higher mortality rate than those who slept seven or eight.

What about New Yorkers in bed? Do they have more trouble sleeping after their long days of hunting prey? “There’s not much of a difference regionally,” says an NSF spokesperson. People in the South may snore more. According to the 2001 poll, 45 percent snored compared to 37 percent in the Northeast. The West snored the least, 28 percent. In the 2002 report, which deals with 9-11, the NSF found that “people in New York didn’t sleep any differently than people in the rest of the country.”

Most of New York is so public that one doesn’t really think of the man with the hot dog truck in bed, nor of the taxi driver, the bank robber, the guy at Tower, the terrorist, the manager at Bergdorf, all those people on Page Six, Richard Meier, Beyoncé, Harold Bloom—just the whole lot of them. What does Harold Bloom dream about? Geniuses?

I have become so fascinated with my dream life. It is far more interesting than waking life and you don’t have to sit at a computer. The dreams just happen. Like surprise movies. Of course some are upsetting, like the starving-dog ones, which I won’t tell you about because you’ll get too sad and you’ll cry. Lately I’ve had a lot of dreams with apartment themes. One, I was in an Upper West Side apartment and it was really big, but it had this plastic wood all over the place, like in a budget motel. Another, I was in an artist’s cooperative in New Orleans and I thought, Why didn’t I ever think of living here before? An old boyfriend, who died young—he was a wonderful photographer—was sitting behind a desk in this alcove. He said, I thought you’d like it. In the next scene, he was going into a subway, wearing a suit and a tie, which he never did. He waved and said, Don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right. You’re going to do great.

During the Ambien days, I didn’t remember as many dreams, which was a drawback. That may be because, according to Dr. Neil B. Kavey, who runs the New York–Presbyterian Hospital’s Sleep Disorder Center at Columbia University, Ambien gives one a less interrupted sleep. Some people remember more dreams if they have brief awakenings in the night.

During the kick-the-Ambien-habit days, I would either be up until four or I would sleep a bit and wake up at four, which, by the way, is not only the time of noir, when the dance halls and the chop suey joints have closed and people are moving toward doom, but it is the hour of the wolf. In the Bergman movie of the same name, Max Von Sydow tells Liv Ullmann (they are always up all night), “It is the hour when most people die . . . when most children are born. Now is when nightmares come to us.”

I do often feel like I’m alone in a graveyard, nestled in one of the open coffins not yet lowered into the earth, as I lie there thinking whether I should get the Canon LiDE 30 scanner or the 50. And if so, should I buy it at Tekserve or the new Apple store, and how will I install the software? And also, will I end up at an aging center with a small, sad income, sitting with the girls in the dining room over a piece of fish while the one man at the table, with his knees all bandaged, rolls out of his chair?

I asked Dr. Kavey about the hour of the wolf. He said, “Whaaat? I don’t know, but four in the morning is when the body temperature changes, warms up, gets ready for the day.” I was going to ask him if anyone had turned into a werewolf in the sleep clinic. But I didn’t. Instead, we chatted a bit about sleepwalking. He said about 1 percent of adults do it: “How is it for someone to go to sleep in blue pajamas and wake up in red pajamas?” Later, I thought, studying sleep is so poetic, much more so than studying hemorrhoids.

Anyway, these days, I have kicked the Ambien habit. It only took about two weeks. Now I’m practically like Vishnu, floating on the Milky Ocean, dreaming the universe into existence. Tonight I am so dozy. Wait, I’m starting to dream. I’m dreaming New York is tired. It lies down. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building are right there in each other’s arms. The moon is looking down upon them.