Jeff Andresen Website Pic (Staff)

I do not sleep well.  Actually, that is not entirely correct.  When I sleep, my sleeping ability ranks right up there with the average sleeper.  It’s the frequent times when the average sleeper is sleeping but I am not that my ability to sleep could be judged as inadequate.

Typically, I stop sleeping because an “extremely important message” causes my subconscious mind to override my sheep counting.  Usually this “extremely important message” is delivered by a commanding voice that sounds an awful lot like James Earl Jones in The Lion King.  Mr. Jones will say something like, “Wake up, Skippy, you don’t wanna miss this.” or “Hey, did you remember to feed the turtle?”

I do not know about the average sleeper, but when James Earl Jones tells me I should wake up, I do. And that’s when the problem starts.  It’s not abnormal for me to spend a minimum of three hours trying to figure out what Mr. Jones thinks I shouldn’t miss.  If I spend any time at all dwelling on a feeding schedule for a turtle that I do not own, the night is basically shot.

While I am a fan of Mr. Jones’ work, in this instance his performance had become a bit predictable and stale.  My frustration caused me to turn my attention to TV commercials that promote pharmaceutical sleep aid products and their respective list of side effects.

Usually I avoid commercials.  In my opinion, commercials are the perfect time to explore what might be lodged under my large toenail or raise my voice at the neighbor kid who is helping himself to my cheese puffs.  Pharmaceutical commercials are another thing altogether.  I avoid pharmaceutical commercials like I avoid holiday fruit cake and small children with visible nasal drip.

Now, I’m not completely naïve to the world of marketing. I realize that there is probably some “Jiminy Cricket” advertising executive who wrings his hands in the middle of a creative design meeting and insists that a sleep aid’s side effects must be mentioned so that the average consumer is warned about what forty winks is really going to cost him.  On these occasions, I seriously doubt that the rest of the creative team slaps Jiminy on the back and says, “Of course we can feature your part first…we can always float our butterfly at the end of the commercial.”  No…I suspect their conversation sounds more like this: “Listen here Jim – our butterfly is gonna take up 56 seconds. That means you’ve got four seconds – so make it quick and keep it down.”

Now that I think about it, pharmaceutical advertisers should really consider substituting the phrase “side effect” with something less threatening…like “sidekick.”  I may be onto something, so please stick with me on this one. Isn’t a butterfly with a sidekick a lot more appealing than a butterfly followed by a hyperventilating voice listing a bunch of ways you could die (or at best, suffer) from simply taking a sleep aid?

“Sidekick” conjures up images of Batman and Robin, The Lone Ranger and Tonto…or my cousin and his friend Tim, who always wore a stocking cap and ate a lot of licorice.  Whenever I saw Tim, I always saw the licorice eater. That’s the way it is with Sidekicks. Sidekicks are harmless. Sidekicks hang out in the lobby. They sit on your couch and pet your cat – unless of course they are wearing a mask and tight pants. In that case they are probably foiling the dastardly villain of the day.

“Side effects” on the other hand, are scary. Side effects immediately bring to mind a list of consequences that are potentially worse than the original symptoms. Believe me, I would rather put up with irritable bowels if the side effects from the medication include nausea, gingivitis and the overwhelming desire to watch re-runs of the Lawrence Welk show. However, I could probably get my head around popping some pill for restless leg syndrome if its “sidekick” is a case of severe dry mouth who is sitting on my couch petting my cat. I would also feel an added sense of relief when the narrator announces that “only two out of 2 million subjects studied in a laboratory in Toledo actually encountered the dry mouth sidekick.” If that’s really the case, then I say “sign me up” and I will make a mental note to avoid Toledo. I am convinced: a cleverly packaged sleep aid with a little sidekick that “may occasionally cause violent nightmares” would do quite well on the open market.

I tried to explain this “sidekick substitution theory” to my wife, but to my chagrin her only response was, “That’s nice, Dear. The Johnsons are coming over tomorrow night, and you need to remember to actively communicate with Mr. Johnson this time.”

Any dose of Mr. Johnson has side effects. When I bring up Nascar, he wants to talk about his stock portfolio.  If I mention the World Series, it’s his cue to give me tips on the latest mutual funds. In my opinion, the only difference between having dinner with Mr. Johnson and having dinner with E.F. Hutton is that I am not planning to listen.

I was so distressed at the thought of having to spend the evening with Mr. Johnson that I decided to share his side effects with my wife.  But every time I started to speak, she went on about the lovely casserole she was going to prepare.  Her enthusiasm for the casserole consumed our entire conversation, leaving me only a few seconds to highlight my extensive list.  Exasperated and out of breath, I attempted to quickly describe every financial faux pas that I could foresee Mr. Johnson pontificating on.  My wife stared back at me in silent horror, and in that moment I realized that side effects truly are scary.  The list of adverse reactions associated with Mr. Johnson had thrown me into a tizzy. I steadied myself just in time to hear her say, “Just think of his financial advice as his little sidekick, Dear – and don’t let him near the cat.”