a Little Dream
when I thought I needed it most, my brain up and left me.
In my free time—the hours I dedicate almost exclusively to
reading or daydreaming—I would retreat to my imagination only
to find that it had retreated before me. I turned to it for
fancy and found only fretfulness. It’s quite a feat to banish
my almost virtuosic gifts for self-deceit in the form of intellectual
escapism, but paradoxically it had been effected by the most
pedestrian events. I won’t bore you with the details; just
gather up a grim selection from your own private rogues gallery—your
bureaucratic bêtes noires, 9-to-5 nemeses, domestic devils,
all your imperfectly secreted skeletons—then spark up the
solipsism, shove your head up your ass and cue the Wagner.
You’re performing a megalomaniac’s Götterdämmerung.
Everyday troubles had stranded my books on the shelves, left
them straining at the edges of their roosts like young wives
on seaward balconies awaiting the return of shipboard grooms.
And mundane crises had impoverished my dreams, pillaged them
of symbol and mystery and rendered them blatant. I didn’t
have the focus or energy to read, and my dreams became stale.
That last was perhaps the most worrisome.
I had always counted myself lucky that I had never suffered
through the standard running-getting-nowhere or the naked-and-late-to-test
themes that are said to be common fabric of nightmares. In
fact, with one notable—and likely chemically induced—exception,
I didn’t suffer through nightmares at all. My dreams were
odd, sometimes ugly, but always in a compelling way. I dreamed
not in naked test, but Naked Lunch—or so I told myself.
I was never particularly knowledgeable about any of the established
schools of dream interpretation, though I found the one-train-fits-every-tunnel
approach of the Freudians unpromising and the Jungian notions
of collective unconscious to lack sufficient emphasis on the
wonderful unknowable deepness of me, me, me. But at some point,
a friend mentioned the theory that dreams were the organism’s
means of solving its problems in a symbolic language. While
you slept, your brain composed poems of you; if you could
decipher the dreams, you could learn truths—poetic truths—about
yourself. Now, that was right up my street.
So, I began recording my dreams in a journal. I don’t know
that I ever learned anything revelatory about myself, but
there were some charming student-film images: I still vividly
recall the one in which I’m trying to convince the driver
of a traffic-stalled bus full of senior citizens that I’m
on the wrong bus, when suddenly the cars around us burst their
seams, transforming into a dense, glittering and seemingly
endless school of opalescent fish that swarm over and around
the bus. In the dream, it felt as if I was being bathed, scoured
with vital light. My desperation at my failure to convince
the driver was eliminated—as was the bus, the traffic jam
and the very concept of motion bound by anything other than
The dream in which Cher and Eddie Murphy and I go to hell,
where we must negotiate a series of tests and obstacles all
under the watchful eyes of demons in human form wearing motorcycle
leathers and helmets with opaque shields, however, was just
But these recent dreams . . .
In one, some real-life acquaintances and I go to a rural liquor
store on our way to an award ceremony at a small-town private
college. It’s a formal affair, and after dinner we retire
to a windowed room in a library and watch the well-dressed
attendees strolling around the grounds. Our conversation goes
something like this:
you look really sharp tonight. I’ve never seen you in a tux
I don’t often wear one.”
you own that, or did you rent it?”
Man, if I hadn’t already been asleep . . .
Thing is, my brain was doing me solid. My waking hours were
so consumed with pettiness and drudgery that my unconscious
kindly kicked in with the favor I had so aggressively been
soliciting: It gave me a fucking break. It tripped its own
release valve; it shoved the fictitious villains roaming my
lobes—those ghouls of compressed and gnomic meaning—into convenient
escape pods and shot ’em into the chilly distances of space.
They went unwillingly, muttering curses and promises of grisly
revenge, but they went.
I began to regard my newly dishwater dreams indulgently, like
vaguely imbecilic children. And I approached chores of my
waking life with that same bland indulgence. So what if my
dreams were now more James Burrows than William Burroughs?
What did it matter if I dreamt in network? So my gray matter
was more suburban than subversive? What of it? I’d pay my
bills, and renew my license on time, and I’d grocery shop,
and I’d read Getting to Yes, and quit my job as a Ninja,
and I’d go to law school, maybe, and Chandler and Ross and
I would go play ball (Racquetball? Basketball? Foosball?)
and the Nova Mob would have to fend for themselves . . .
Just the other night, though, I dreamed that I was crossing
a rain-soaked field at night, toward a barn where I was to
meet a woman. I didn’t know who the woman was, but in the
dream it was a compulsion. The field was thick with turtles
of various sizes, from pet-store cute to Galapagos monumental,
and the exterior of the barn was covered in slugs and snails.
I found the barn empty at first, and stood leaning against
a beam angled severely from the dark above into the floor.
Suddenly the barn filled with wheezy howls and high-pitched
yips. Frightened, I scuttled up the beam hand-over-hand as
the floor below me filled with foxes and feral dogs, who gathered
in a circle with their heads raised to me. At once, they quieted
and sat staring up at me, expectantly.
So, we meet again.