It's a good bet that not too many high school football players wake up in the middle of the night humming the theme song from "Oliver!" Or decide that 4 a.m. is a fine time to compose a poem on sociopolitical change.
But Dan Geiss is different, albeit in a wonderfully wacky way. The Capistrano Valley running back lives life as if it were some Saturday morning cartoon show. But with one exception: the Dan Show doesn't start until very late at night.
See, Geiss, a junior, has had insomnia since his freshman year. He considers a good night's sleep to be four hours of uninterrupted shut-eye. His doctor tells him to relax. His parents tell him he'll grow out of it. The brother with whom he shares a room just snores the night away.
Geiss--the county's sixth-leading rusher this season with 1,209 yards--says he'd love to be able to rack up the Zzzs like everyone else, but the late-night living doesn't bother him that much. Just watch yourself, though. If you're around Geiss during the day when he gets that sleepy look in his eyes--quick--toss him a pillow, throw him a sheet. He dozes on the spot.
Geiss blames his sleepless nights on his imagination, something of a mental meteor storm. ("I think I think too much," he says). Thoughts crash in his brain like bumper cars. Images turn inside out. A phrase he overheard a week ago replays like a skipping record.
Tell Geiss to count sheep at night and the next thing you know his mind is racing from Little Bo Peep to $199 car seat covers to roast lamb with mint jelly on a sterling silver platter. The other night, he tried picturing himself relaxing among palm trees, thinking it would lull him to sleep. Suddenly, he saw a jungle. Then a river. Then wild animals. And crazy noises . . .
He stopped himself before a full-scale panic attack. Lately, he has had riffs from Black Sabbath songs dancing on his brain waves. A few weeks ago, it was songs from the musical "Singing In The Rain." (When you're up late, Geiss says, you tend to develop a taste for late-night movies.) Sometimes it's poetry. Or politics. Sometimes it's homework or football. Sometimes, the simple thought of thinking will keep him thinking for hours.
You're reading this and saying: Warm milk? A hot shower? A big book on income tax preparation? Surely there must be something out there to put the poor kid to sleep. Maybe he could seal his eyelids shut with duct tape. Maybe he could call the telephone time lady and have her whisper boring little nothings in his ear.
Nah, Geiss says, he wouldn't be into it. His mother offered him some herbal concoction--called "Quietude"--that he has yet to try. Same with Sleepytime tea. Chamomile, rosebuds and tilia flowers? What 17-year-old boy would drink a brew like that? Especially when the box it comes in features a cute nightgown-clad bear dozing off in a rocking chair.
Now this isn't to say Geiss is some regulation Rambo Boy, not at all. Once a week, he vacuums the house of a pal down the street. Her name is Margaret; she's in her 70s. Last spring, just for fun, Geiss became Mushroom Head, Man of Amazing Hair. He shaved the sides of his exceptionally shaggy brown hair so all that remained was wild stalks of curls on top. His mother, a hair stylist, officially named it the Palm Tree 'Do.
Pam Geiss says her son keeps the family continually entertained--like it or not. But his creativity and spunk, she says, are welcome signs. In elementary school, Geiss was a pint-size tough, often ending up in the principal's office and getting kicked off the school bus. When experts finally discovered Geiss had a slight learning disability, Geiss was able to get the help needed to boost his grades and self-esteem.
A B-plus student, Geiss credits football for showing him the way. His attitude and work ethic are tremendous, his coaches say. His humility is tops on the team. But he needs to believe what everybody tells him--that he's a talented high school running back who can hit and spin with the best.
The first week of this season, Geiss lost touch with his self-confidence, even quit the sport for about four hours. The next week, he rushed for 287 yards against Edison and has been smiling since.
At 7:30 tonight, Capistrano Valley plays host to Redlands in a first-round game of the Southern Section Division I playoffs. Geiss says he's excited about the challenge. Redlands' defense no doubt feels the same way. The Terriers want to stop that quick and shifty running back, that elusive No. 28.
Maybe they should start by singing him a lullaby.
Barbie Ludovise's column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Ludovise by writing her at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626 or by calling (714) 966-5847.