Don’t tell me what I’m about to write is asinine, I already know.
I like to fall asleep with YouTube on. Sometimes, a Monday Night Football game from 1978. Or a baseball game from the same era.
But on more ambitious nights, I like to learn while I doze. You’ve heard of lifelong learning? This is night-long learning.
I’ll cue up a three-hour walking tour of the Civil War battlefield at Antietam. Or a William F. Buckley “Firing Line” debate with New York Mayor Ed Koch. Or a Noam Chomsky lecture on anything: Goddamn, can that man talk—if he wasn’t a linguist by training, they’d make him a linguist by volume!
But I think I’ve found the perfect nighttime listening: The Watergate hearings.
More specifically, John Dean’s testimony. The first part on YouTube is six hours of Dean reading a statement about how Watergate happened, how he got involved in the cover-up, how he tried to protect the president and when he gave up. I remember a pal reading Moby Dick and telling me with astonishment that he had to get through 700 pages before ever seeing a whale. Similarly, a viewer of this testimony must listen for hours—and will certainly fall asleep—before hearing Dean refer to a cancer, or any other ailment, on the presidency.
Meetings and memorandums, one after the other, beginning in 1971 and lasting deep into 1973. Subsequent parts are hours-long, too; this amounts to something like 20 hours of testimony!
You can listen for a year, falling asleep hearing about the hiring of Gordon Liddy, waking up listening to Nixon’s wish that Dean keep Ehrlichman and Haldeman out of the loop. And you doze endlessly to much, much more obscure questions and answers about Watergate players you never heard of. And that’s all before the Enemies List ever begins. You can’t say Byzantine without saying zzzzzzzzz!
Half-consciously, you’ll marvel at the seriousness and fairness and good humor of Dean’s congressional inquisitors, and the bipartisan groping for the truth. Subconsciously, you’ll wish Senator Baker or Senator Ervin would ask Dean how he feels about his culpability in all this (or that Dean would just blurt it out, as even his obvious physical and temperamental progenitor C3PO would, at some point).
And even though your spouse will surely leave you for a saner sleeper, you’ll still take comfort in knowing that some other bastard was once in much more trouble than you will ever be, more publicly than you’ll ever be—and handling it pretty fucking calmly.
And you’ll sleep.