The night I started seeing sparks in my bed — and more stories from the edge of sleep
By John KellyColumnistToday at 3:11 p.m. EST
When I first started making the sparks fly in bed, I was confused. What exactly was happening? I thought about telling My Lovely Wife that I was making the sparks fly in bed, but she was asleep and I didn’t want to wake her up. So I kept it to myself.
This happened a few weeks ago. I’d woken up around 4 a.m. As I shifted myself into a new position, I saw pinpricks of light dancing on the sheets around me. It looked as if the dark bed was suddenly alive with bioluminescent plankton.
Was I dreaming?
I gathered the blanket and comforter and pulled them tighter. There it was again. For a brief instant it was as if I was looking at lightning from above, like an airplane window-seat passenger flying over a raging thunderstorm: Flash! Crackle! Flash!
Then I noticed that it only happened when the cuff of my flannel pajamas rubbed along the cotton sheets. It wasn’t magic. It was static electricity.
In all my 59 years of sleeping, I’d never noticed that before. It was pretty cool, actually: nocturnal alchemy. Like alchemy, it was hit or miss. Since then, I haven’t been able to reliably conjure the flashes of light. It seems to depend on some combination of which pajamas I’m wearing, which sheets are on the bed, the humidity of the bedroom and how much I charge the system by tossing and turning.
I’m eager for my next magical nighttime light show.
The magic pajamas are from Lands’ End. They’re red plaid, 100 percent cotton. My Lovely Wife got them for me — and for our daughters. Ruth likes to buy the whole family matching PJs for Christmas. She doesn’t demand that we all wear them on Christmas Eve, but it is strongly suggested.
I’m especially partial to the pair she bought five or six years ago, when we celebrated the holidays at Ruth’s sister’s house in Evanston, Ill. They’re from Hanna Andersson and have green and white horizontal stripes, with red cuffs at the wrists and ankles. Anyone who wears them instantly resembles a Dr. Seuss character.
When my band played in New York City in November, this was the pair I brought with me. To save money, we spent the night in the apartment of a friend of the guitar player, Andy. I shared a room with the bass player, Chuck, who, the morning after our gig, was startled to see me standing in my striped Dr. Seuss pajamas.
I felt this required an explanation. “Ruth likes to buy us all matching Christmas pajamas,” I stammered. “Hanna Andersson mainly sells clothes for kids, but it also sells pajamas for grown-ups. Ruth likes us all to wear them on Christmas.”
Chuck looked at me and asked, “Do you need me to call adult protective services?”
Last month, I wrote about how some experts say you shouldn’t make your bed in the morning. Exposing the sheets to light helps kill dust mites who live there. Several readers pointed me toward the comments of Adm. William H. McRaven, a hardcore bed-maker who outlined his viewpoint in his 2017 book, “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life … And Maybe the World.”
Tyler Abell had an interesting counterpoint, courtesy of his late wife, Bess Clements Abell, who served as social secretary in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration and was chief of staff to second lady Joan Mondale. The story is told in “Washington’s Iron Butterfly: Bess Clements Abell, An Oral History,” by Donald A. Ritchie and Terry L. Birdwhistell, published this month by the University Press of Kentucky.
Growing up, Bess was steeped in politics. Her father was Earle Clements, Kentucky congressman, senator and governor. In 1976, she started her job as Joan Mondale’s chief of staff, traveling with her during Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign.
On the morning of the first day, Bess walked to Joan Mondale’s hotel room to make sure she was up and ready. When Mondale opened the door, she saw that the bed was neatly made.
It was too early for the hotel maid, so Bess asked, “Why is your bed made?”
“Oh,” Mondale said, “I always make my bed, first thing. Always have.”
Bess entered the room and immediately started unmaking the bed. She warned: “On the campaign trail you better leave the bed unmade or rumors will start that you are sleeping down the hall.”
Wrote Tyler: “Rumors, rumors. Tell Admiral McRaven there’s another good reason to leave the bed unmade.”