Editors note: Today’s column is purely an imaginative work of satire and invention.
Fascinatingly enough, archaeologists recently unearthed the first sleep mask in recorded history – 2,400-years old and originally belonging to a Thracian monarch.
First, though, I’ll have to figure out where Thrace is located. Bulgaria, stoopid! Silly me, I always get Thrace confused with “in a thrice.”
Now scientists speculate this ancient sleep mask find might indicate the existence of myriad slumber-deprivation issues afflicting early societies centuries ago, particularly among the ruling class: “While alertness, and even hyper-alertness, may have been an evolutionary bonanza back in caveman days to protect against rampant mastodon attacks and the like, its very preservation and persistence into post-modern times has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry designed to target a pandemic of mass sleeplessness of such vast proportions now nearly everyone’s on one sedative or another.”
Hey, no wonder the Thracians couldn’t, or can’t, sleep. Despite the region harvesting everything from corn, rice, grapes, oysters, to eels with a chief cash crop of Turkish tobacco, Thrace reportedly was looked down upon by its snootier neighbors. “The Thracians were considered by the Greeks to be a primitive people,” says the Classical Literature Companion, “and until classical times they lived in villages; urban civilization was developed only under the Romans.”
Nevertheless, and somewhat paradoxically, the culture of the Thracians, according to Britannica, “was noted for its poetry and music, and their soldiers were known as superior fighters.” Poets, musicians, soldiers – whatta country. Heck, that’s a mix guaranteed to give anyone insomnia, let alone the king.
Whole wars have probably been fought because of some world leader or other operating under a sleep-deficit – can you imagine Hitler counting sheep? I can’t.
If you ask me, sleep masks have not been sufficiently scrutinized throughout history. Like many things, especially shrinking candy bars, sleep masks seem skimpier and skimpier these days. What do we really know about them? Airlines formerly dispensed them as a matter of routine to passengers on overnight “red-eye” flights, but lately even first-class fliers would probably kill for one. Just try burying your head in one of those fake-fabric airline blankets – you’re well on your way to massive strangulation by synthetic fiber.
Once even I wore my own sleep mask. But no bland basic black or plain utilitarian blue for me. Mine was exotic spotted leopard sateen, worthy of a kittenish Hollywood starlet. Please allow me my indulgences. I’ve had insomnia intermittently since adolescence. And yet, nothing seems more soporific for me than a darkened room – or a boring date. Listening to one of those unfortunate fellows drone on and on will definitely make me snooze.
Finally, as I neared serious adulthood, I dispensed with using a sleep mask altogether and switched to holistic alternatives. Never once did I consider taking actual sleeping pills – no pharmaceuticals pass through these lips of mine.
Instead, I prefer the mild, natural, harmless homeopathic remedy Calms Forte, or even just simple calcium, rather than other reputed herbal sedatives I’d tried, including too-subtle tincture of lettuce or the groggy overkill of valerian.
Meanwhile, my friend “Harry from Hampshire,” not his real name, was the first guy I ever encountered who used a sleep mask, even in a totally dark room. Most men seem reluctant to broadcast their difficult relationship with Morpheus, instead trying to tough it out. Not “Harry.” Sleep was like a maddeningly beautiful woman he’d chase and chase, only to have her scorn him again and again.
To get to sleep, even short bursts of drowsiness interrupted by excruciating periods of heightened wakefulness, “Harry” consumed scads of useless elixirs, nostrums, prescriptions, powders, potions, medicaments, even the dreadful over-the-counter allergy product Benadryl, which made his legs twitch nocturnally. Basically, he tried nearly everything except the guaranteed stupor-producing effect of a sledgehammer applied directly to the forehead.
He longed for oblivion that much.
Discovered on a recent summer weekend, the 2,400-year-old sleep mask, dating back to the fourth century B.C., was found in a tomb along with a portrait of a bearded man, a silver rhytonor drinking vessel, pottery and funerary gifts.
Although some scientists believe the lowly blindfold begat its more sophisticated sleep mask sibling, anthropologists suspect it’s a creation in its own right, derived from facial representations of rulers, deities and dignitaries.
The Thracian sleep-mask, for instance, captures a bygone sovereign’s frown for all eternity. Then why not sleep more and frown less? Because as the late, and sometimes very late, conceptual artist Annson Kenney once so sapiently proclaimed, “Eternity’s a long, long gig.”
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