“I Will Not Sleep, Until I Find a Cure for Insomnia”

Those are the words of Dr. Gershwin Fassbender, Director of the SIA (Slumber Institute of America). Like most of the employees at the Slumber Institute, Dr. Fassbender is woke. In fact maybe a little too woke and that’s what accounts for the insomnia.


The Problem: Nocturnal Adrenalizing

When cartoon figures suffer from insomnia it’s funny. But when it’s you, well that’s another story.

We will survey the career of Dr. Fassbender in due course, but first let us examine the disorder of insomnia. Insomnia is a pervasive national calamity responsible for grievous errors in judgment including leaving a tip at McDonald’s, watching Hee Haw or sending money to a Nigerian prince. Chronic insomnia dumbs us down, jitters us up and can leave us in a state of trivial speculation whereby one wonders if the employees at Yahoo! drink Yoo-hoo. I do. Do you?


The vicious circle of sleeplessness presents its ironic geometry when you lie awake all night worried that you won’t fall asleep. This self-fulfilling prophecy of not getting to sleep keeps you up at night, so during the day you shuffle about somnambulistically. And if we’ve learned anything from somnambulism (sleep-walking) is that it’s very hard to pronounce and even harder to spell.


The need for regular, replenishing sleep is a metabolic requirement providing normative homeostasis to an otherwise unregulated body. Despite what Big Pharma might have you think, there is no substitute for restorative, deep REM sleep. Big Pharma offers nothing but Ambien. Little Pharma has come up short on the matter and Medium Pharma has just stayed home on the Pharm. Let me illustrate this disconnect in another way; Ambien is to sleep as drinking ocean water is to thirst – it may solve your problem in the short run, but there’s hell to pay in the long run. And hell, I’m told, extends credit to no one.  


Who Doesn’t Need a Reset?

Whereas computers get realigned, renovated and recharged when they’re shut down and restarted, so too do humans who feel properly rebooted and restored after 7 or so hours of refreshing, nutritious sleep. The problem with low-energy insomniacs is that their operating system is always in Safe Mode – very slow, unproductively deliberative and possessing limited capabilities. Observing a sleep-deprived person zombie-on, is like watching a dog walk on its hind legs; it is not done well and one wonders why it is done at all.       


We know that worrying begets insomnia, but there are other sources of this circadian disruption. Our demanding mental pleasure centers require not only placation, but Play Stations. For example, our super-enabled, technologically advanced society presents inglorious demands on our limited attention, especially if one is susceptible to the seductive call of mental gratification. This is glaringly evident now that humans have evolved a new appendage this century (the iPhone). Chillaxing has become a rarity. Rather we stimulate our brains’ pleasure centers through mindless interfacing with various “platforms” while consuming empty calorie “content” so we can plan our next digital discharge and in doing so we over-identify with our thoughts and this only contributes to insomnia and run-on sentences.


The SIA has identified a host of causative factors underlying insomnia and they are presented below:

    1. Your parents tell you that you were the reason they got divorced
    2. You find yourself unaccountably attracted to Caitlyn Jenner
    3. You still can’t accept that TV’s Hee Haw was canceled (Deep South only)
    4. You once woke up with a horse’s head in your bed
    5. You insist on calling a corn maze, a maize maze
    6. You once woke up with a horse’s ass in your bed and it turned out to be you
    7. You jump in the shower…with the water off and your clothes on
    8. You were once beaten up by Richard Simmons
    9. You can’t talk to a woman without asking about her “sit bones.”


Hope of Deliverance – Dr. Gershwin Fassbender and the Founding of the SIA

Gershwin Epiglottis Fassbender was born in the savory little hamlet of Loch Sheldrake, NY – a hamlet so savory it was often served with a side of eggs. Like most of us he slid into this world a small, pink baby with a side of placenta. His upbringing was normal enough: he loved Hogan’s Heroes, the Beatles and enjoyed a steady diet of lesser known nut milks (pistachio, pine nuts and peanuts). And even though a peanut is a legume and not a nut, young Gershwin wondered who was nuttier, these milks or his mercurial mother “Cassie.”


Cassie Fassbender (born Cassandra Teleprompter) always had a soft spot in her heart for little Gershwin. A spot so dangerously soft it ballooned into an aneurysm and led to her premature death at the age of 39. Cassie (or Mama Cass as he called her) doted on the boy and stimulated his spirituality by encouraging him to “be here now.” But at the tender age of 8 he could only muster enough self-awareness to “be here later.” In time he developed the ability to “be there soon” and as he matured he was able to pinpoint his presence to “be here now” – at least now and then he could. To be here, or not to be here, that was the question.   


Cassie’s early death was a traumatizing event, but the love and care he received from his clued-in father, Calumet Fassbender, provided the boy a healthy environment to develop himself, pursue his interests and give him the courage to try other, more mainstream nut milks. 


However fortifying his upbringing and nut milk consumption may have been, Gershwin suffered the fidgety scourge of sleeplessness and sympathized with the bottomless despair associated with the affliction. He vowed to do something about this unbidden malady. The genesis of his insomnia can be traced to his childhood, when an insistent curiosity caused the 10-year-old boy to aspire to witness the sunrise. He felt there was something mystical about beholding the Earth transforming herself from night into day. In time he would draw strength in seeing her draw back her nighttime curtains and reveal her sunnier side for the day ahead. 


He longed to be a spectator to the secrets of this transformative magic trick. Prior to seeing his first sunrise, day and night were a simple calculus – he’d go to bed when it was dark and awoke when it was light. This miraculous toggle of night into day seemed to occur in an impenetrable dimension that was cloaked in inky mystery.


At the age of 10 in the summer of 1971 “Gershy” decided to stay up all night so he could see the sun rise. He made several valiant attempts, but always fell well short of the goal by succumbing to drowsiness in the wee, small hours of the morning. His dogged persistence (as opposed to feline tenacity) was finally rewarded very late one exceptional night when the nocturnal tumblers aligned and he was able to open his Pandora’s Box of insomnia.   


The wakeful process began benignly enough. In Gershwin’s inner sanctum (his bedroom) he pored over the meaningless yet riveting statistics in his favorite baseball book while listening on the radio to a West Coast Yankee vs Angels game which began at 11 pm and ran till about 2 am.


He followed this stepping stone to the next glorious delaying tactic. While the rest of the house was fast asleep, Gershwin stealthily sneaked out of his saferoom haven and tippy-toed into the murky stillness of the kitchen where he made a late night snack of a plain Hostess doughnut heated to an otherworldly crispness in the Dutch oven sitting atop the stove. Every telltale sound of his snack preparation echoed down the hallway where his parents and siblings slept, unaware of his nocturnal mischief. This was no time for a 10-year-old boy to be up, clattering about in the kitchen like an outlaw bunny escaped from its cage.


He felt alive, feral and hungry. He was operating well out of his comfort zone and he liked it. It was 3 am and Gershwin Fassbender ruled the shadowy underworld of his kitchen, closet and bedroom like Hades. Casting aside all shackles of convention, the ravenous boy took the perfectly crisped doughnut, dipped it into a tall glass of ice cold milk and listened lustily while the toasty donut released its surrendering sizzling sound during its repeated insertions into the frigid milk. At this point his so-called “nut milks” were a thing of the past. From here on in he’d be a cow’s milk guy.


His belly happy and his spirit loosed, he returned to his amusement park/bedroom and continued mentally running amok in joyous distraction. He counted and then hid all his money ($41) under the bathtub which was accessed through a hidden plumber’s panel in the back of his closet. In this unknown secret space he kept all those charmed amulets close to his heart: his coin collection, some puppy love mash notes from darling classmate Dawn DeFuria and a couple of .22 caliber bullets he’d been given by a Loch Sheldrakian person of interest. This was so cool; being clothed in nocturnal rime, surrounded by all his enchanting possessions.


Gershwin was truly living in the moment – he was here now. Not then, but now (even though it was then then). Space and time were dilating and discontinuous. Simply put he was having so much fun he lost track of time and place. Then he heard birds chirping. Birds aren’t supposed to chirp at night, he remembered. They sleep. And when he glanced out his bedroom window into what would normally be his jet black backyard he was overcome with emotion. There it was, etched against a blue-gray sky; the eerie and unmistakable outline of the Macri’s house – his neighbors to the east. There was no mistaking its significance.


This dull radiance backlighting the house could only be heralding one thing – that the sun was beginning to rise. He had consciously crossed over. He’d made the difficult yet worthy journey. It was a Hard Day’s Night. Gershwin was right there at ground zero, beholding the ancient splendor of night transmogriphying into day. He’d done it. He made it through the night to apprehend the gentle, magical point of inflection where night ended and day began. Powerful stuff to a boy who reveled in uncanny experiences. And the beauty part was that this was a pleasurable and repetitive event available to him every night. Was that necessarily a good thing?


Unfortunately sunrise-obsessed young master Fassbender overplayed his nocturnal hedonistic hand. His interest in this transubstantiation (or as Dire Straits might phrase it “turnin’ all the nighttime into the day”) became a fixed habit, and not in a healthy way like brushing your teeth or exercising. His occasional desire to see the sunrise morphed into a regular occurrence. Eventually it became an ingrained routine, kinda like NBC’s Must See TV once was. If Gershwin didn’t see the sunrise, he felt he was missing out on something monumental.


The Education of Gershwin Fassbender

Gershwin Fassbender attended an HWCU (Historically White College or University) where he felt he could blend in better. His undergraduate work was completed at Swathmore, His graduate work at Swathless and he received his doctorate from Pennsylvania’s Transylvania University where appropriately many of the classes were held at night.  


As his prominence and reputation has grown, Dr. Fassbender has been awarded a host of honorary degrees including two degrees from Kelvin University who issued him 1° in Celsius and 1° in Fahrenheit.


Little Known Fassbenderian Facts

Dr. Fassbender can speedily contort pipe cleaners into recognizable shapes. He’s a very Fassbender. He’s also been accused of doing things “bass ak-wards.” For example in his sleep studies there is no “cool side of the pillow.” He heats all of the Institutes pillows to a uniform 90°. I guess he just loves a pillow in uniform. In 1998 Dr. Fassbender was involved in a fender bender with a gender bender in the Tenderloin region of San Francisco. They swapped insurance info, but that’s all they swapped.  

At his 50th birthday party in 2011, Dr. Fassbender mused, “Sometimes I just feel like a platform full of user content. I thought I was content and then I realized I was just content. I guess syllabic accenting counts for a lot.”


Enter INSA

As the years passed and Gershwin’s insomnia became more embedded he turned to INSA (Insomniacs Not So Anonymous) for help. Counter to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), INSA is a support group that feels no shame in being publicly outed for their sleeplessness. The fact that they usually met at 2 in the morning didn’t help their cause much, but it was the one time they were all available. INSA was a healthy and safe space to look a fellow insomniac in their bloodshot eyes and state with unvarnished honesty, “My name is Gershwin Fassbender and I’m an insomniac.”


Each afflicted insomniac heals in their own way, based on the underlying cause. In Gershwin’s case step 1 was publicly admitting his insomnia. Step 2 was recognizing that although he felt rapturous when witnessing a sunrise, he had to realize that this singular event was part of an ongoing circular process and not unique to his locality. It began to dawn on him (how fitting) that the sun is always rising somewhere and it only seems to be localized from the observer’s limited perspective. I’m convinced there is a great truth here. By employing this same line of reasoning, you begin to understand that just because it’s 5 pm somewhere, it doesn’t necessarily give you license to get an early start on cocktail hour.


INSA was inspirational to Gershwin and instrumental in his founding of the SIA (Slumber Institute of America). He began the SIA with just a few Army surplus cots, some throw pillows and a Mission Statement that read: We shall never take insomnia lying down.

As he overcame his insomnia, he vowed to help others out of their dead zone of wakeful misery. (You’ll note the 3 Stephen King novels mentioned in that last sentence.)   



The Inevitable Politicization of Insomnia

Don’t sleep on the Slumber Institute of America. They are a very forward-looking organization. In fact they’ve formed a political party – the Slumber Party. It doesn’t appeal to many demographic groups. However, the Slumber Party has proven very popular with teenage girls. The Slumber Party is a very laid back group that spends most of its time popping popcorn and screening Romcoms – especially Sleepless in Seattle.


Despite the Slumber Party’s PR campaign, Bible thumpers say insomnia is a choice. They believe that God made every one of us perfectly capable of lying in a bed (or perhaps in a manger) to sleep the sleep of angels. On the opposing side of the pillow, scientifically-oriented people maintain that people are born insomniacs and that no amount of beseeching God can “pray the awake away.” They ask, “Why would anyone choose to be an insomniac? What is there to gain?”


There are good people engaged in earnest discussions on both sides of the insomnia argument, but only if you consider just the scientific people as being both sides of the argument. Whatever insomnia’s origin, Dr. Fassbender has become a godsend to this restless community. In fact the SIA’s gift shop sells dreamcatchers with an image of the good doctor’s face woven inside the magical amulet.


A Brief History of Insomnia

Insomnia has been with us since cavemen first began worrying about cannibalism. Insomnia has other origins too. It can be caused by hearing your wife, at the zenith of human passion, scream out the name of your dentist – “Oh, Dr. Notowitz! Don’t stop drilling me.”


Insomnia often takes the form of being up all night – and not up in a good Viagra way, but up in a zombie, punch-drunk way. Insomnia literally makes people restless. No one knows where the future of insomnia lies, but it’s probably in a bed, tossing and turning.


Sometimes insomnia is inexplicable. Let’s say it’s a normal evening and you’re going through your usual bedtime rituals: you brush your teeth, floss your fanny crack and put on that special soft T-shirt you bought at Dollywood. You fall into a deep slumber and then pow, you awaken at 2:22 a.m. feeling like you were just running at 71 mph, but only because in the dream you were being chased by a cheetah doing 70. It would take a polo mallet to the occipital lobe to get you back asleep. Why do bodies do this. What’s the genetic advantage of nocturnal excitability? Sleeping can be a delicate and arbitrary thing. For example, studies show that sound sleepers suffer insomnia only when they know they have to awaken early the next morning for a ridiculously early flight.


SIA to the Rescue

The SIA offers the deliverance of rejuvenating, restorative rest to those sleep-deprived, hollow-eyed souls who look in the mirror and see a jittery, metabolically-disturbed figment of their former selves. The SIA has developed coping strategies on a range of sleep disorders including:

Waking Leg, Sleeping Foot: An Asian affliction. It’s when your foot falls asleep during the day – and now it’s going to be up all night.

Binge Watching: The key to remedying binge watching is to steer the victim to shows that had only one season of just a few shows, such as Barstow SVU or Gary Lewis and the Playboys Tribute Band Extravaganza. Stay away from Bonanza with its 14 seasons and 431 shows. The Cartwright clan has proven lethal at just the 48 show threshold.  

SOD: Sunrise Obsessive Disorder – The irrational fear that the sun will not rise and the world will be plunged into eternal darkness unless you, and you alone, assure it rises by witnessing it every morning having sat vigil all night to propitiate it’s quite predictable rise. This is a debilitating, psychotic and herculean labor all rolled into one tidy disorder. The SIA meticulously counsels the afflicted that it’s the age old gravitational interplay of Kepler’s Laws of Motion rather than anything you’re doing that causes the sun to rise in the morning. Flat Earthers have a more difficult time overcoming their fear of eternal darkness.  

SIA Case Histories:

Graffiti Act Out: The case of Sheena Banksy (cousin of the artist Banksy). Her minders at the SIA note that every morning she leaves a cryptic message, scrawled in lipstick, on her bathroom mirror: Am being good! Ambien better! Further analysis revealed she had dingleberries so old they’d become elderberries.

Late Onset Insomnia: The case of 34-year-old Josh Howard who accidentally saw his grandmother naked and he hasn’t been able to sleep more than 20 consecutive minutes for 2 years.

No REM for the Weary: The band REM suffered collective insomnia, whose syndrome became known as no REM for REM.



In one of those Faustian Bargains endemic to non-profits, the SIA spends 10% of its operating budget soliciting donations which comprise 40% of its revenue. It’s a winning formula. Most of the SIA’s benefactors are “easy touches” as they’re so sleep-deprived they give almost anything for a little relief. The SIA’s endowment is relatively large and in good shape – similar to the endowment of Dolly Parton. But unlike Dolly Parton, the SIA has no worries about that “man-stealing woman” Jolene, Jolene, Jolene!.


Other contributors to the institute are: Sealy Mattress Inc., the Pharmaceutical Advisory Board and the marijuana industry’s new beverage start-up – the Cannabis Can of Bliss Sleep Juice. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the SIA admits, “There is definitely a conflict of interest.” By coming clean the SIA doesn’t have to feel dirty.


The remaining 60% of their revenue comes from patient payments for services. This includes counseling sessions and the problematic overnight stays, which are difficult to charge for because if the patients never actually fall asleep (which they rarely do), they can’t be charged for any overnights.


Goodnight Moon: Off to Sleep We Go

All good things must come to an end and so too must this story. Not that it’s a good thing, but it is coming to an end. I’d keep writing but I’m tired. Dr. Fassbender agrees. He has come to the conclusion that the most effective method of combatting insomnia is to, “Read Hardiman’s piece on the topic of insomnia. If that doesn’t put you to sleep, nothing will.”


As for me each morning I ask myself: Am being the best I can be? Or, Ambien – the best I can be. In any event I encourage you insomniacs to come to the SIA. They’ve got your number – your sleep number.

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