One man’s sleepless struggle

Please, I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist. This could all be just a trick of my imagination, but the very fact that I can doubt myself proves I am probably telling the truth. Only madmen and television evangelists never doubt. They know everything. I only know enough to say, this could be the end of the world as we know it.

It all began two nights ago when, at 2 a.m., I received a phone call, a fax, which, when I pushed the right button, alerted me to an exceptional value on an unheard-of stock. An hour later, I received a second phone tip, this time for some oil stock priced so low the company would make a profit only finding sand.

I took the phone off the hook, but I couldn’t sleep. What if the offers were legitimate? What if a secret admirer was presenting me with the opportunity of a lifetime?

The next night, I put the receiver back, telling myself a sick friend might need my help or an old flame might call to confess she had been wrong. The phone rang at 2, 2:25 and 3:10. I answered again, again and again. Look, I know better than to believe some Nigerian widow would share her slain husband’s $20,000,000 with a stranger, but these were real stock offers, bargains that made Wal-Mart prices look like Saks Fifth Avenue. Even if the stocks were worthless, you could never deny they sold at a great price.

Too agitated to sleep, I wondered why the caller hadn’t waited till 8:45? The stock market opened at 9. Calling so early might make me think his/her message was only phone spam. Did he/she really think I was so desperate that I would clutch this worldly insight to my chest and fantasize decadent wealth from late night through early morn?

That’s when it hit me. The call had nothing to do with stocks or bargain prices. It was far more sinister than that. Ever since Sept. 11, we have been warned: The world is forever on orange alert. I was a witness. The terrorists weren’t just close; they had infiltrated our phone system.

Normally, a lack of sleep affects my mental agility, but this time I knew I was on to something. Order returned to my life as it had not since second grade. Everything now made perfect sense. Why blow up a bridge or a building when by simply denying all Americans a good night’s sleep, the financial stability of our country would come screeching to a halt. Groggy citizens make poor decisions. The sleep-deprived will tear each other apart. Within weeks, the Dow Jones would dip below sea level. Then the simple promise of a lullaby would have us all gratefully bowing towards Mecca.

Morning dawned and I could not shake the image from my mind. We are all asleep even if we think we are awake. In fact, as I struggled to find matching socks, I wondered if I was still underestimating the terrorists’ power. Think about it. The phone company must be just the beginning. How many times have you called a government office only to be put on hold for hours at a time or forced to listen to a menu of options that has no connection to the question you need to ask. At a doctor’s office, you can sit in the waiting room for so long your fellow patients become neighbors and your seat is assigned a street number.

This induced inefficiency is the new weapon of mass destruction.

We Americans are not idiots. We would never stand for such abuse if someone hadn’t dulled our minds. How else do you explain the 2004 election, when solid citizens decided that sexual orientation was more important than the national economy? Why else would the country not shake with laughter every time Bush calls himself a compassionate conservative?

If only it stopped there. Today the terrorist-induced stupor has the majority of us believing that a tax break for the rich will solve the problems of the poor, and a war based on lies is worth dying for. It’s patriotic to buy in excess; education has been reduced to a listing of facts; profit equals morality; celebrities pass as heroes; gratification is confused with fulfillment; “freedom” justifies murder; and the destruction of our wilderness appears a sad but necessary evil.

And the real cunning behind this terrorist takeover: The naïve might conclude that we have brought it on ourselves, that we have become the enemy we long to eliminate.

Oh, you may call me a sleepy-head if you like. I’m too tired to argue. I will just say I am not going to take this lying down. Or rather, yes, I will; except tonight when I go to bed, I will first take the phone off the hook. Then tomorrow, when someone asks if I think the terrorists are behind the recent surge in gas prices, I will look at his big SUV and say, “It’s a good question. Why don’t we sleep on it?”

Hank Fincken is an Indianapolis performer and playwright.