Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dream Theater: Zombies in San Francisco

Photo by LaughingSquid.com
J______ and I were living in San Francisco when the city was suddenly hit with a case of zombies. They weren't so thick we couldn't go places, but we had to be careful whenever we left the apartment, even if it was just to go across the street. 

We escaped a couple of close calls, and then we finally got cornered. J_____ fought back and started swearing at the zombies and taunting them as they closed in… 

That's when we discovered zombies could be reasoned with, and they could control their behavior. We discussed it later, and J_____ said, "It must be a lot like quitting smoking or dieting."

And so we learned to live in a world with zombies. 

They looked pretty normal, even though they were obviously undead. They could speak, and hold a job, and live a more or less ordinary life. Most of the time they behaved themselves, but every once in a while one would lose its willpower and go on a rampage. You always heard about that in the news.

They had to put up with a lot of prejudice. There were special bars and restaurants where zombies could congregate. And whenever they did, they would screech and howl, speaking a secret zombie language that could be heard from a long way away, but that no one else could understand.

J_____ and I took a ski lift tour of San Francisco. We looked at the city from high above. All the buildings, even the houses, were outlined with white lights. It was a beautiful sight, even though I knew it masked a terrible reality.

Original dream date: May 20, 2004.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Dream Theater: The White House

Photo CharlotteDack.com
I was living in an all-white house. Not just the walls and ceiling and floors, but all the furniture, too, and everything in it. 

It was all so new and spotless. I was almost afraid of it. What if I dirtied it somehow or put a mark on something? What would I do then? How would I ever keep it up?

Surely there were housekeepers, I thought, who knew how to take care of things like this. Professionals that specialized in this sort of thing. I'd have to find them, somehow, and make friends with them, and have them over on a regular basis.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dream Theater: The Environmental Illness Activist

Photo by Reshelter.org

My good friend B_____ contacted me about a woman he knew named N_____. He told me she suffered from environmental disease—chemicals were making her sick—and was interested in buying a typewriter.  He also mentioned that she was interested in writing her autobiography and in search of a ghost writer. 

I was capable of helping N_____ with both of these things. 

A meeting was arranged and I met N_____ at her condo. It was unusually sparse inside due to her condition, decorated with only a few items made of natural fibers and materials. There was a safe room somewhere in the back, but I wasn't invited to see it.

N_____ herself appeared to be quite healthy, even vigorous, and she soon took charge of the conversation. She told me all about the typewriter she was hoping to find, the book she planned to write with someone’s help, the activism she was involved in on behalf of environmental illness and all the travel it required. 

We seemed to hit it off and I left the meeting feeling as though I’d just lucked into something big. 

Several days later I saw N_____ again completely by chance. But she didn’t seem to recognize me, even when I reintroduced myself and reminded her of our meeting. 

Fortunately my friend B_____ was there. He suggested we go for a walk. While we did he explained that the deal was off—the typewriter as well as the autobiography. 

Marcia’s health had taken a turn for the worse. Soon she’d be leaving for a clinic in Malaysia, and treatments of an indefinite length. Everything else had to be put on hold indefinitely.

I had to wonder if her flare-up had anything to do with meeting me.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Dream Theater: A Gift for Mom

Photo by Apiln.co.uk

Christmas was coming and I still needed to get a gift for my mom. It had to be something special, because she'd been gone for over twenty years. But money was tight.

I went to Younkers, where their motto was "Satisfaction Always." It had always been her favorite store when she was alive.

But when I got there, the Younkers I remembered was gone. The store had fallen on hard times. Entire sections stood empty. Some hadn't been used in years. Piles of dead leaves gathered in the corners.

I kept shopping anyway, hoping for something that would be just right. Then I found a gray long-sleeve t-shirt that came with a special bleach pen you could use to write on it. I'd personalize the t-shirt for her. She'd love it.

I went home and spread the shirt out on a table and started to write. "Merry Christmas to the best mom," I started. "Not just the best mom in town, or the state of Iowa, or even the United States, but the best mom in the whole world." 

The pen was hard to handle. The writing didn't turn out as neatly as I'd hoped. The bleach soaked into the fabric, making everything impossible to read. Soon, where my message was supposed to be, there was only an ugly bleached square. 

I couldn't give this to her. I wondered what to do. Then I remembered the Younkers motto. "Satisfaction Always."

I'd take the shirt and pen back to the store. I'd complain that the pen hadn't worked the way it was supposed to. I'd get my money back, and I'd buy something for her somewhere else.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Dream Theater: My Facebook Friend

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg and I were friends. Good friends. So good that I was part of his entourage. Sometimes I was his entourage.

I followed him during the day as he went about his business at Facebook. I spent evenings at home with him and his wife. 

I knew he was having a hard time lately, what with these Congressional hearings and all. I did my best to be extra supportive. I told him he did a great job. I said this would all blow over eventually. I promised everything would be okay.

But the truth was, I didn't even like Mark Zuckerberg. I felt that he'd embarrassed himself in front of the Senate's Commerce and Judiciary Committees. I knew everyone was laughing at him behind his back. I believed he was a hypocrite. I even thought he looked old.

Gone was the young and idealistic Mark Zuckerberg. Gone was the prickly but still visionary titan of The Social Network. In their place was this Mark Zuckerberg: rich beyond belief but empty inside, so corrupt and craven you could see it just by looking at him.

But I kept my mouth shut. Being Mark Zuckerberg's friend was a pretty cushy job. I didn't know where I'd find another as good. 

Every day, I worried that he'd somehow find out what I really thought, how I really felt. Because he owned Facebook. He knew almost everything there was to know about me. 

Sooner or later, his algorithms would alert him to who and what I really was. It was only a matter of time. And then what would I do?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dream Theater: What I Did, and What It Did to Me

Photo by Petrified Collection/Getty Images
I had sex, to begin with. Wild, abandoned, fuck-you-like-an-animal sex. With T_____ and some other guy. Right here at home. In almost every room of the house. 

The neighbors and their son and all his teenage friends saw it. Apparently the blinds had been left open just enough for them to watch the whole thing. Soon J_____ knew about it too, then his mom, and then his entire family.  

He broke up with me immediately. No questions or discussion, even though I pleaded with him to reconsider, to wait for at least a few days, to give me another chance because it had only been a one-time thing. I promised I'd never, ever do it again.

The truth was, I wasn't even sure how it could have happened, how I'd made such a foolish and irresponsible mistake. And then, on top of it, to be found out by nearly everyone else. It just seemed unbelievable. Yet everywhere I went there were knowing looks, smirks of disapproval and scorn.

I ran away. It seemed to be the only choice. I got in my car and drove. First to Iowa City, but the news arrived before I did, then all the way to my high school in Knoxville. Even there, people knew what I'd done. They'd seen it just as surely as the people next door.

All the students and even some of the teachers hassled me about it. They called me names and pushed me away. Moving from one classroom to the next was the worst. The hallways were packed so tightly I could barely move. 

How would I make it through the rest of the school day? At least it was a Friday, I thought. That would give me the weekend to lay low and figure out what to do, some way to make things right. 

Then I realized that leaving early might be the best thing. I fought against the crowd to get myself turned around and headed toward the office so I could let them know. 

I was almost there when I remembered I was an adult. I wasn't in high school any more, I didn't need to be there, I didn't have to tell anyone that I was going.

Outside the building I found a beautiful spring day of blue and green. The school was on top of a very high hill. At the end of a long staircase, with many landings and wrought iron gates across each one, I could see the street, and freedom. 

I ran down the stairs, only to discover that the first gate was locked. I hauled myself over it, and then the next and the next and the next, not caring if I fell or got hurt. I just wanted to get away. 

A cop waited at the bottom. I didn't say anything to him. I just kept walking. I was so relieved to finally be out of there, and promised myself that somehow I'd figure a way out of all this mess. 

Then there were two cops. The first grabbed the back of my shirt. The second stepped in front of me and asked, "Where do you think you're going?"

Monday, April 9, 2018

Dream Theater: The Runway Show

Photo: 3DExport.com
I was in New York City, "living my best life" by waiting tables and pursuing a career in male modeling.

And somehow I'd managed to book a job with The Gap, doing runway work for their new spring/summer collection.

On the day of the show I found myself in a large room filled with at least two dozen handsome and fit men. Looking around, it was obvious that I was both the oldest and the heaviest person there.

The director of the show--yet another good-looking guy, with a man bun and an imperious air--told us all to line up by age and weight. Once we did, he explained how things were going to work.

"Those at the end of the line will model the swimwear," he said. Then he smiled. "I know that might make some of you turn green."

Each of us received our clothes for the show. At least mine were board shorts and not tiny trunks. Still, I wasn't comfortable. I couldn't figure out what concept they were going for. Why have the oldest and least fit of us model the swimwear? I wondered if this might be some kind of elaborate joke, a way to end the show with a big laugh. Or a ploy to gain more media coverage with what would surely be described as a "brave choice."

We went to individual dressing rooms, and while everyone else was changing I snuck out. I didn't say anything to anyone. I just left the building with my head down, hoping no one would recognize me. I went to an ice-skating show instead, relieved to be somewhere cold, where all of us had to be fully dressed. 

Dream date: 04/08/2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

Dream Theater: Everyone Is Angry With Me


I don't know what I did. But everyone was angry with me about something. It didn't seem to be about anything in particular. It seemed to be about everything in general.

J_____ wouldn't speak to me. For days we'd been locked in one of those silent fights. No matter what I said or did, it was all met with a stony wall.

My mother was furious with me, too. We were making lunch together and she was banging things around in the kitchen, slamming cabinet doors, refusing to look me in the eye, turning her back to me, with her lips pinched shut in that way I remember from childhood.

Even strangers seemed to be holding a grudge. A woman I'd never met before, who'd organized a group of bike commuters at the office, didn't want me to be part of it. After asking why several times she finally admitted that she'd heard some bad things about me. She didn't think I would be a good fit for the group, and suggested I just try to enjoy riding my bike to work alone. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dream Theater: We Move to New York City

Photo Olivier Zahm
After spending our entire adult lives in Chicago, we decided to leave it all behind and move to New York City. 

Or you did. I went along with it, because what other choice did I have? 

We sold the house, we sold everything, and found ourselves in a shabby studio apartment. We had no privacy, no room to move, no space to write. Nothing but an old double bed and a sink at the foot of it and a cramped and dirty bathroom. 

I knew--or at least I hoped--that we'd eventually be able to find and afford something bigger, but for now we were stuck. Still, I missed our home in Chicago. Every day I wondered why you'd wanted to do this, and why I agreed to it. 

Of course, M_____ lived in our apartment building, too, and she was just as mean-spirited and dramatic as ever. One afternoon she invited me over, and because I had no job and nothing to do and nowhere else to go, I reluctantly agreed. 

Her apartment was enormous, with high ceilings and the kind of ornate woodwork you just don't see any more. It was so much larger than ours it was difficult to believe they could exist together in the same building. 

M_____ was nice at first. She always is. But soon enough her claws and fangs came out. She made snide comments and belittled me, you, us, laughing as she did. 

She'd planned an afternoon out, a trip to a casino outside the city that turned out to be a rough truck-stop type of place where I didn't feel safe. 

M_____ disappeared. I wandered around, trying to find my way out of there and finally did, stepping into a cloudy day. I didn't know how I was going to get back to the city, and the closest thing I had to a home. 

But at least I was in the country, for now. At least I had some space and time to myself, and I decided to stay there for a while. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dream Theater: JLo Before She Was JLo




Someone had discovered Jennifer Lopez's earliest known appearance, as a dancer in a music video, back when she was still very young. 

This was an important enough event that screenings had been scheduled, all across the country. I found myself at one, joining a crowd that had come to see one of America's biggest stars, long before she'd started to shine. 

I found a seat, in a large theater filled to capacity. The lights dimmed, and the music video began to play. 

At first it was just a jumble of sound motion on a street in LA. I didn't know the song, had never heard of the singer. I'd certainly never seen the video before. And there were so many dancers, all moving so fast, it was impossible to pick out Jennifer from among them.

Then, for just a few brief seconds, she appeared, filling the left side of the screen and then disappearing as she performed a turn. Those of us who recognized her gasped. Some applauded, thrilled to have spotted her. 

The video stopped, and reversed. Jennifer Lopez spun in the opposite direction, returning into that sea of dancers. Then, frame by frame, she emerged once again. 

Even in still frames, she was moving so fast that she was only a blurred figure among many. But gradually she drew closer, turning slowly. With each frame she came into sharper focus until finally, there she was, captured in front of us.

The video lingered on this single frame. She was so young. So unlike the Jennifer Lopez we know today. Hollywood had changed her so much, was continuing to change her still.

She was heavier, to begin with. The familiar angles of her face were hidden beneath a layer of softness dotted with acne. Her nose was large and broad. A roll of fat filled the space between her cropped t-shirt and the waist of her too-tight jeans.

Seeing Jennifer Lopez this way, so young, so imperfect, so unlike the polished image we all knew, it seemed almost obscene. The video ended, the audience left the theater, our curiosity satisfied, our illusions shattered.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Dream Theater: My Entry in The Next Big Thing Contest

Photo from NewJerseyStage.com
I've entered something called The Next Big Thing Contest. My entry is a story that, strangely enough, includes me, another man, and two women. 

We're traveling through the Middle East, in a country that's not entirely friendly to Americans. One night we're at a party being held in an abandoned grocery store, and are forced to leave when the police arrive. They've come because someone has complained that men and women have been seen dancing together.

We hop in a cab, but I immediately get a bad feeling about our driver. Sure enough, it turns out that he's part of the opposition, and he has a plan to take us to a farm far outside the city where several of his cohorts are waiting. 

Before we can leave the city limits, though, our cab is attacked by a group of rioters in the street. Someone throws one of those old-fashioned fire extinguishers--the big silver kind--at us. It barely misses the other guy, and all four of us crouch down in the cab, trying to hide ourselves as much as possible.

We don't get out at our hotel--that would just tip everyone off as to where we're staying. So instead we get out several blocks away and sneak back to the hotel, dodging crowds, fires and gun fights. 

We hide in our room until morning, while violence continues erupting just outside our window. When morning comes, we'll begin what we all know will be a long journey to safety.

Then I'm in New York City, for the Next Big Thing Awards. The ceremony is taking place in a museum, which is having an exhibition of famous discotheques throughout history. Several of them have been recreated, right down to the restrooms, which we're encouraged to use. I find myself in one based on ancient Roman baths, and I urinate into an elaborate fountain.

I comment that Chicago should have one of these, so that people would know they'd had a good time when they visited. 

A fabulous drag queen nearby overhears my comment and finds it hysterical. "Good morning, bitch!" she says. I reply, "See you tomorrow!"

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dream Theater: A California Frank Lloyd Wright

Photo by Crosby Doe
One of California's last great Frank Lloyd Wright homes was being transferred from the family who'd owned it their entire lives into the hands of conservators who would take care of it going forward.

I'd become friends with the family: a father and mother, now old; a son and daughter, now grown. I was spending my days and nights with them at the house, going through all the furnishings and housewares, everything they'd accumulated over the course of their lives, right down to the decades-old cocktail dresses and suits and ties in the closets, helping them decide what would stay and what would go.

I'd never been inside a home so elegant or complex, so filled with small passages and hidden spaces. Every day it seemed that I discovered something new. It was easy to get lost in it. I could understand why it was so difficult for them to leave.

These were our final days in the house and I was free to take almost anything I wanted. Everything in it was original, though not all of it was in good shape.

On one of our last afternoons together we sat in a sun-filled room, laughing about the things they'd hung on to all those years. Who would want their children's old cribs, upholstered in vinyl? The wooden bench of no importance with its chipped paint? All those overgrown houseplants? There was still so much to do but no more time to think about it.

We grew quiet and somehow all came to the same wordless decision: We'd leave the house as-is, the windows open, the doors unlocked, and allow nature to take its course.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dream Theater: Front Row At the Big Meeting

I'm sitting in the front row at one of those big company meetings. The kind where they announce departmental reorganizations and promotions like they're the results of a months-long contest we've all been competing in.

Our new president stands directly in front of me. She has a short haircut, and wears a sweater vest and tie. This seems like an odd choice, but she makes it work. It looks good on her.

She addresses the crowd in that jokey, clubby tone of voice that's supposed to put us all at ease but also makes it clear exactly who's in and who's out and what's what.

I look up at her as she speaks, and I know I better keep the proper expression on my face at all times. An expression that says this is exciting news. That I'm completely on board with our new leadership team and eager to work with them. That I have no thoughts about what's happening other than complete and total agreement.

Some people have left their old positions, even though they still work for the company. They've been moved to another building, like old office furniture sent into storage.

In their place, a number of new executives have joined the company. Our new president announces their names. As they stand up from their seats and wave I see that they're all wearing sweater vests and ties, too.

That's when I look down and realize that I'm not wearing a sweater vest and tie.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dream Theater: The Strange City

Image copyright 2016 Marvel
I was walking in the downtown section of a strange city, lost in a maze of unfamiliar streets. They seemed to only be a block or two long, and most of them led to dead ends.

Night was falling, and as I tried to figure my way out I kept finding myself at the mouth of dark alleys. Each time I asked myself, Do I dare go down that way? Something dangerous is surely waiting for me.

Somehow I found my way to a platform that I could climb up, in order to get a better sense of my surroundings. Below me, on the other side, was a park, with many people in it. I tried shouting down to them, to let them know I was lost and needed help. But they were too far away and couldn't hear me. There was no way of getting to them unless I jumped, and the distance between where I was and the ground was enough that I knew it was likely to hurt me.

I kept shouting and waving, hoping someone down there would see me. But it was dark, and I was too far away.

Introducing "Dream Theater"

Friends, I'm going to try something new here.

I don't need to tell you that the past year or so has been rough for a lot of us. As a result, many of my posts--at least, the few posts I've made--have been politically oriented.

At the time, this seemed appropriate. Politics were (and still are) pretty scary. But human beings can get used to a lot of things. What was shocking in 2017 has become commonplace in 2018.

Plus, I'm tired of politics. On the news, all over my Facebook feed, and in practically every conversation I find myself. That's just too much.

That doesn't mean I don't want to see us marching in the streets to protest corruption, injustice and the sorry state of our world. Or not voting. I especially don't want to see anyone throwing their hands in the air and saying their vote doesn't matter. It does.

But I need something new and different. And maybe you do, too.

So here's my idea: I'm going to start posting my dreams.

Now I know a lot of people say there's nothing more boring than listening to someone else's dream. I get that. That's why I'm going to do everything I can to make sure mine are interesting and tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. I've been writing them down for over two years now, and I think I've gotten pretty good at that.

I'm also doing this because I believe there are powerful creative forces lurking in our subconscious, and if a writer (like me, and maybe you) starts listening to them, a sort of virtuous circle begins to turn. The subconscious realizes you're paying attention, and rewards you with even more stuff dredged up from the brainy depths. (For more on this concept, see 8 Writing Tips from Jeff VanderMeer, specifically numbers 2 and 3.)

Dreams have provided me with potent images, interesting story ideas and helpful answers to writing problems. They've also given me opportunities to practice taking the little bits and pieces of what's inside my head and translating them into words that others might want to read. That's good experience for any writer in my book.

I hope they might do the same for you--or even inspire you to start paying more attention to your own personal midnight movies.

So that's the plan. I'll still do the occasional movie review or bit on an interesting/weird news story, and maybe even a politically oriented post or two.

But dreams. Yeah. A lot more of those. And a lot more often, too.