Sunrise Alarm | Leah Gallant | The Hypocrite Reader

Leah Gallant

Sunrise Alarm


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Amazon review by Leah Gallant. One star. Review title: The clock works. Reviewed in the United States on January 15, 2021. Verified Purchase.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the differences between these clocks on Amazon and I can’t, so if you’re shopping around, let me save you some time. It doesn’t matter which one you buy. All off-brand sunrise alarms are nearly identical and equally despicable. They cost $27 - $50, they claim the same solar and acoustic functions, and, according to my research, they’re all manufactured in Shenzhen, China, by companies like “Shenzhen City Anson E-Commerce Co., Ltd” and “Shenzhen Wanyou Cloud Electronic Commerce Co., Ltd,” which also owns the intriguingly vowel-starved company “YQYWYQY.”

This is the second sunrise alarm I’ve bought from Amazon. I returned the first one (“TITIROBA Wake-Up Light, Sunrise Simulation Alarm Clock, Sleep Aid Colored Bedside Light with FM Radio Dual Alarm Adjustable Lightness for Kids and Adults Bedroom”) because it didn’t work. When the alarm was supposed to go off, it peeped and let out a blink of light, then changed its mind and went dark again.

I had my doubts about this kind of clock -- for one, the claim that the clock works because our circadian rhythm syncs up with daylight and darkness seems somewhat circumspect. But then I looked at the product photos with their succulents and people meditating and macrame backdrops. That’s what I want, I thought without realizing that was what I was thinking, a sunrise alarm and the zenned out yet productive life it will bring me, as my mouse slithered over to the fatal button that is “Add to Cart.” And I decided to try it because the other reviews were pretty positive. Yes, I know that by relying on these reviews and providing them for free we’re contributing to Jeff Bezos’ profit margins, which I can only try to counteract by hyperlinking to this article that details how warehouse workers risk dehydration so that bathroom breaks don’t cut into their fulfillment rate:

A few days later, the package was on my front porch. I unboxed it (no video, sorry), plugged it in, and started hitting buttons. The buttons are annoying but most things are. When you turn it on the whole object becomes a face of light, like a headlight ripped from a car. The disc starts off glowing a deep red that over the course of thirty minutes or so progresses up through all the ambers and goldenrods until it hits a high key of white. You can set a simulated nature noise to go off at that point -- Birdsong 1, Rainfall 5, or the more familiar Beep 6.

The only difference between the first one, which I returned, and this one (“Wake Up Light Alarm Clock, Sunrise/Sunset Simulation Alarm Clock with Dual Alarms, Snooze Function, 7 Colors Atmosphere Lamp, FM Radio & 7 Natural Sound, USB Charger for Kids Adults Bedroom Home Office”) was that where the first had a curved base growing out of the clock like the foot of a snail, this one is a perfect disc that came with two little pegs to stick in the back. Both have this depressing plastic fake wood backing, but the pegs version is even sadder, because it seems like they’d like for it to look trendy, whereas the snail-foot base of the former clock had something honest about it, like they had just given up on aesthetics altogether.

So: did the clock work?

Before I get into that, I should explain: I can’t wake up. I don’t understand how.

I never grew out of it, and I never adjusted. I’ve missed classes, work shifts, graduations, ethnographic film screenings, talks by contemporary ceramicists, acrobatic performances on silk sashes, trains, planes, cars, quizzes, beautiful vistas of fog on the lake. Whenever and wherever I eventually arrive, I am not only late but psychically flayed.

Occasionally I consult the internet, which suggests terms like “sleep architecture” and “sleep hygiene,” “sleep inertia,” “sleep drunkenness,” and “the sleep of the dead.” I read these things, and I feel seen. I poke around and diagnose myself with all sorts of things, idiopathic hypersomnia, Narcolepsy Type 1. “Sleep is usually described as ‘deep,’ and arousal from sleep is usually difficult, often requiring multiple alarm clocks and morning rituals to ensure that patients arise for school or work,” the internet says. Or: “They sleep through two or three alarms, as well as the attempts of family members to get them out of bed. They are commonly irritable, even combative, when roused before they are ready. Many of them say they are not fully alert until noon.”

“Commonly irritable, even combative” just about sums it up. But don’t forget shame. Shame about “their” constant tardiness, no matter how sloshily “they” run with their backpack to the train station, no matter the double digits of alarms set, no matter the internal pep talks and dressing-downs they give themselves. Shame that raises questions like: was a certain authoritarian high school teacher, Ms. Fuchs, who patrolled the entrance to the morning assemblies with a clipboard full of attendance sheets like a magazine full of bullets, waiting to snipe stragglers like me, was she RIGHT -- that I’ll never be able to participate in the exclusive domain of awake and on-time people that is society?

Take a look at your arm. Imagine that inside of it, everything is made of a material that snags -- industrial-strength velcro pads, rolls of hook and eye clasps, thorny thickets; fuzzy and soupy stuff, stews with glue as their base element, tunnels of velvet, beds filled with quicksand, beds filled with oatmeal, beds filled with burrs and blackberry bushes. That crucial moment when the alarm sounds, the moment when its listener could either rise from her bed or succumb to the siren call of that raven-haired seductress, the snooze button, is a moment of animal intensity that cannot be reasoned with. It cannot be convinced that a splash of cold water or a cup of coffee will make it better, because those are very far away, as far as a bald man swinging his Shenzhen light.

I did have a reason for thinking my sleep problems could be solved by light. For just one brief period, I experienced the suprahuman ability so many of you possess to wake up at 7 or 8 and in one fluid motion rise into the day. During a ten-day stretch this past summer, two things were happening at once: for reasons not worth going into here, I started sleeping in another part of my former apartment, a room in the front with a big window that gave a full dose of sunlight and an unobstructed view of the East; and, for reasons also not worth going into here (although it seems unlikely my ex-roommate would be reading my Amazon reviews), I was being displaced from that very apartment through the failsafe method of being screamed at by two twins at once. One of them had been my roommate and had enlisted the other one to move in and stage a coup. Whether the source of my newfound ability to wake up and participate in this thing “the morning” was due to sunlight or fear of my impending extinction at the hands of these noirish unstable villainesses, I cannot say; but, unwilling to relive a simulation of the latter, I hedged my bets on the power of a simulation dawn. That room I slept in got so full of sunlight, I woke up and thought I was on fire.

Filled with longing for those easy awakenings, I fiddled with the little buttons to set the alarm and went to sleep.

At 9am exactly, I detected a hushed glow attempting to permeate my industrial-strength slumber. This glow did indeed grow brighter and brighter, so that by 9:30am it had reached full intensity. The four second track of recorded birdsong sounded once, then began to go off continuously.

Nevertheless, she persisted. The light in my face had the effect of rendering my sleep more threadbare, and significantly less enjoyable, yet no less potent. Instead of waking up, I had long, anxious dreams backlit by a little false sun.

I dozed on.

Damn, there was so much driving in this dream. I was supposed to go to my mom’s friend’s house in Maine to watch her dogs. My mom was just pulling out of the driveway. I was watching the car edge backwards out of the driveway from the second floor window when I remembered something. I gave her a call. “How am I supposed to get to Maine when I don’t know how to drive?” I asked. Due to dream logic, this meant that I would get to Maine by driving my mom’s car very slowly and illegally, a cross between grandma driving and video game driving, while my mom and her friend sat silently in the back seat, fuming. I was not a very good driver, because I just treated it like a bigger, faster version of walking or biking. At every intersection, I pulled all the way up onto the crosswalk, looked left and right, then systematically ran each red. I drove up onto sidewalks to avoid potholes, then cut overland across the traffic islands.

That was what I got for a false sunrise: an equally false commute. I think I was dream-driving for an hour. If I hadn’t woken up eventually, perhaps I could have gone on simulating a normal societal day, putting in a solid four hours at my cubicle, then breaking for a floating and fractured lunch, working another four hours at my desk as a “visionary content marketing executive,” then driving back overland, over the curbs and up the streams and train tracks all the way home, where I would promptly zap a microwave dinner into oblivion and fall asleep, only to wake up, the following morning, with the hot glow of the Titiroba and the refreshing glitchy naturalness of Birdsong 2, to start it all again, in whatever state of simulated productivity it was that Ms. Fuchs wanted for me.

So, the clock. The clock works, but I don’t.

I laze around, and the Beforetimes comes to me in flashes. The last party I went to before the pandemic started. A Revelations-themed costume party in an old shack, at an artist colony on Lake Michigan, where whatever I painted looked like the landscape I was in, even though I wasn’t painting it. The groundskeeper spinning the darker hits of disco from the eaves. Snow and the shock of a demure person’s massive chest tattoo. And someone wearing a long, white terry cloth bathrobe, open at the waist. I thought she was supposed to be dressed as Harvey Weinstein, a great candidate to get tossed in a lake of blood, whose signature about-to-assault-you-in-his-hotel-room look was the open bathrobe. But she was actually dressed as someone who missed the armageddon because she was in the shower.

That’s what I’m afraid of, that’s the point I’m trying to get to. When the Glorious Vaccinetimes begin, I’ll miss huge chunks of them because I still can't get out of bed in the morning.

I’ll be lying here, glued to the futon, just as I am now, feeling the supreme stillness of my limbs. And the armageddon will be beginning, people will come pouring down the superhighways from their Colorado Zoom towns, they’ll be peeling off their masks and galavanting through the streets, so buck naked that even their faces will be buck naked, their nostrils lewdly exposed to the adjacent air, their mouths open and huffing out aerosolized droplets in a manner so lascivious that parents will clasp their hands over the eyes of innocent children.

The world will open like a tap of hot water, gushing live bodies in Lycra and Spandex into its night clubs and dive bars. And people will be rubbing their hands on foreign doorknobs and taking long licks of escalator handle, and everything will be made of fireworks and tinsel, the theater marquees will flicker and blink on with an audible electric buzz, as in an ad, and the whole world will be iridescent with chorus lines and oil slicks, pools of margaritas and KY-Jelly.

I bought this thing because it’s a $27 orange disc of hope that the future exists, and I'll be in it, awake.

Fortitude, willpower, fear of losing one’s job, they say that’s all there is to waking up.

The damn thing won’t stop chirping.

I lie here and fantasize about the ability to get out of bed on the first ring.

I rise before dawn and walk to the park near my parents’ house. I’m about to feel so fulfilled, I imagine, I’m about to become so productive. I walk through the darkness down our street, turn right, cross that intersection with the new butter-yellow condos where there was once a smudgy parking lot. But the fantasy wobbles before I can get to the park where I planned to imagine jogging around the soccer field as the sun rises. They tore down the hole-in-the-wall hardware store that was across the street and put up another barricade of new condos. Incredibly ugly, these plastic-like buildings, I don’t know whose time period they belong to, whose vision of an alright world. Everywhere I go I see architects who make terrible buildings, politicians who make terrible policies, and I wish they had stayed amateur a little longer, rather than rushing to fruition. I wish it could all stay unformed for a moment. It’s not that I can’t get out of bed because I’m depressed, it’s because I’m a dogged and impractical utopian, I’m putting off the immediate future in the hopes that it will take a better shape.

Or maybe I need more light. Maybe I buy sunrise alarm after sunrise alarm. I add them to my cart, I check them out. One circadian cycle passes, then another, and they appear on my doorstep. I shove the books off my shelves and fill them with sunrise alarms. The wall looks like a work by Penelope Umbrico, a photographer who combs Flickr for nearly-identical photos of natural phenomena -- lone birds flying against pink skies, full moons behind tufts of cloud, suns setting in mass-produced sunsets -- and prints them in huge grids, monumental swathes of user-uploaded photos that take up entire walls. Taken altogether like this, at first it seems like a thing of material beauty, a surround sound of all that is primal and sacred, my wall of sweatshop suns; and then I see it for what it really is, a thing of material grossness, the wrong texture in the wrong amount, like Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered teacup.

I hit the snooze button, I hit all the snooze buttons.

I lie here and these mixed metaphors keep coming to me of just how it is the world will open: it will open like a time-lapse video of a sunflower blossoming, it will open like a mouth for a dentist’s drill. The world will open like a stone slab in a wall of rock, its weight shuddering as the path into the mountain tomb yawns open before your huddled pod.

The world will open like well-oiled hinges on a music box, the ballerinas on springs will pop up, and the music will begin, a shuddering, off-key Fur Elise, to play from some unseen engine.

The world will open like a prank tin of nuts, the kind where you unscrew the top and a coiled snake springs out at you.

The tin has a secret compartment with some beads at the bottom, so that when the lid is closed, if you shake it, it sounds like there are nuts in there.

But no, there’s just a snake in the nut tin. That’s how the world is going to open.

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