Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Dream Theater: A Night at the Trumps'


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How I was invited to dinner and a sleepover at one of the Trump estates is a mystery. 

But there I was, greeting them at the front door of a '70s-era split-level, decorated in blue and green and gold filigree, badly in need of an update and some TLC.

It would just be Donald and Melania and me that night.  Ivanka and Jared couldn't join us. Donald, Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle were busy with work of their own. As were Eric and Lara. Barron was in his room. 

That modest split-level turned out to be a deception. It actually stood guard in front of a surprisingly large estate, with a number of cabins tucked into thick woods, connected by a winding path. 

The accommodations were fine. Far from luxurious (the decor here smacked of the eighties' worst) but  comfortable enough for one night. I did notice that the Trumps had used all available storage for their own purposes. The bedroom closet was crammed with Donald's and the kids' old winter coats and vests; their cast-off shirts and sweaters filled the chest of drawers nearby. Naturally, they were only the best brands.

It occurred to me that if I found something I liked and it fit, I could take it with no one being the wiser.

A knock at the door interrupted me. It was Donald, stopping by to ask if everything was okay. Without being asked, he came right in and sat down, and I sat across from him. This was the first time I'd actually seen him up close. I couldn't help but notice a line around his face, one that might have indicated the presence of a mask, and behind that a thick clear fluid, like some kind of adhesive, quickly and sloppily applied.

I told Donald Trump everything was fine and that I looked forward to dinner with him and Melania. I complimented him on the estate, its size and style. I had the distinct impression he somehow knew I was not a Trump supporter and did not wish him well.

He started talking, about what I can't even remember. Because his mouth was leaking more of that clear liquid. It was spilling out, dropping of it hanging from strings and ropes of the stuff, pooling on the table in front of him. If he noticed, he didn't give any indication.

That's when I knew I wouldn't be staying the night, or for dinner, or any longer at all. I grabbed my phone, excused myself, and left the cabin. 

The cell phone reception was terrible. Sometimes I could get a bar, sometimes not.

And somehow I had to get out of there without anyone noticing.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Dream Theater: Out of My League

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I was dating someone younger, better-looking and richer than me. He was even friends with Taylor Swift.

We'd been an item for many months. Long enough for me to meet all of his friends and feel like I'd become part of the group. And long enough for something in the relationship to change.

The change was simple: the ardor between us had cooled. Put more simply: the sex wasn't as good or as frequent as it had been at the beginning.

Thanksgiving and the holidays were fast approaching, a time when we would be meeting each others' families and exchanging gifts with deeper meanings than mere material possessions. 

We planned a party, and all his friends were there. Even Taylor Swift. I mingled and spoke with everyone, drinking and laughing, fully aware that I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to secure my place with these people, in the hope that it would also secure my relationship with this young, good-looking and wealthy man.

At one point he found me in the crowd, and led me to a quiet room somewhere inside an enormous house. He said that from here on out we were going to be "just friends." Our love affair was over. It had been over for some time. It would not return.

I wandered back out into the party, dazed and a little drunk. All his friends looked at me with somber and pitying looks. One of them said that everyone had entered their contact information on a Google spreadsheet, so that I could keep in touch with them.

"You mean, everyone knew this was going to happen?" I asked.

Yes, they said. And this was my going-away party.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Dream Theater: The Costume Party

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Covid-19 was finally over. The world was in the mood to celebrate. So my college friend, Mark M_____, threw a summer costume party. 

I hadn't seen Mark in over 20 years, and felt lucky to be invited. He lived in a large apartment, in a house on top of a hill. I arrived early, to help him get things ready.

It was obvious he'd lived there for a long time. Every room was filled with antiques and vintage objects--Pyrex bowls and serving ware, old cans and boxes of soup and cereal, framed posters and prints, DVDs and CDs, LPs and 45s. 

But instead of helping I was making a terrible mess. Every time I reached for something in a cabinet or on a shelf I'd knock something else over. 

Guests began arriving. Bridget K_____ wore something truly remarkable. She was dressed as Cindy Sherman, the photographer who takes self-portraits as a variety of characters. It was such a clever, fascinating idea. Her makeup and clothes were so well done. What amazed me most is that her costume changed, morphing from one iconic look to another every time I looked away. 

More guests showed up. I saw people I hadn't even thought of in a long time. The music grew louder. We danced until Mark's apartment began swaying like a boat riding waves. Walls cracked. Windows broke. And understandably, Mark was upset about the damage. 

I ran out the back and into the alley, where police were waiting. Someone had been shot, they said, somewhere nearby. They asked if I knew of any clubs or gangs in the area, and didn't believe me when I told them no. I barely got away from them.

By that point the sun was rising. It was going to be one of those brilliant Chicago summer days. And I had to be at work.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Dream Theater: The Titanic Mall

Photo from
Photo from

My family was on vacation, driving home from wherever we'd been. Just my mother, my sister and me. 

We stopped along the Jersey coast. A sign for the Titanic Mall had caught our eye and we decided to visit. 

After parking the car we climbed a long and worn exterior stairway that ended in a single steel door. Inside we found a cramped hallway extending before us, partially flooded but still crowded with customers. We walked to the edge of the water, thinking it strange that there were more tiny restaurants and cafes than stores. 

My mother and sister were already tired so we sat down at a table. They weren't interested in seeing more so I decided to explore on my own. 

The stores were small and strange, poorly stocked and peopled with workers in early 20th-century costumes who didn't seem interested in selling anything or even answering questions. The elevators were odd as well. Only one person was allowed at a time, and they stopped barely long enough to let their passengers on and off. 

I pushed the button for the floor below and walked out into an underwater wonderland. The area was vast, covered by an enormous expanse of glass. Above it, ocean waves swelled and crashed while "My Heart Will Go On" played over and over from unseen speakers. 

This was the attraction, and I texted my mother and sister to tell them so. But there was no signal underwater, despite how close we were to the shore. I went back to the elevators, and as I waited to board one I saw something terrifying through the glass doors. The car was filled with water, and inside a man struggled to free himself before he drowned. 

Somehow I understood this wasn't real, but only a special effect, a projection. Just part of the fun and excitement of visiting the Titanic Mall.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Dream Theater: Mary Tyler Moore Works in HR

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On the 29th floor of a skyscraper, in a city that wasn't Chicago, I'd started a new job. And Mary Tyler Moore worked there in the Human Resources department.

I'd been a fan since her eponymous show and was in awe of her. After her success on television, it was hard to believe that she'd ended up in this no-name company. But fortunes change so quickly in entertainment and there she was, sitting behind a desk piled high with papers and forms, smiling her famous Mary Tyler Moore smile.

Of course she was popular with all my coworkers, and it was clear she had her favorites. I wanted desperately to be among them.

So I began making excuses to drop by HR. To clear up a minor matter in person that could have been resolved by email. To ask a question about something I should have known. To find excuses just to say hello.

I knew I was trying to ingratiate myself with her. And I could tell Mary knew it, too. Yet she never let her irritation show. Not much, at least.

One Friday afternoon, after just such a visit, I went to the restroom before returning to my desk. Before I could finish, Mary walked in.

She walked past me as I stood at the sink without saying a word, went into the last stall, and closed the door behind her. 

This wasn't an interaction I intended or even wanted. It was too personal, too intrusive, too embarrassing for both her and me. My attempts to get to know her had taken me to a place beyond politeness and propriety. I'd gone one step too far.

Now, Mary Tyler Moore was going to the bathroom just a few feet away. And I could tell, based on the sounds coming from the stall, that she was impatiently waiting for me to leave.

I left the restroom, my face burning. I got into the elevator, praying that no one else had seen. I went down to lobby and walked out of the building into the cold dark afternoon of a Friday in winter, without my coat or bag.

How could I return to work on Monday, I wondered, and face her the next time we met? Maybe, I thought, it would be best if I didn't go back at all.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Dream Theater: Breathing and Not Breathing

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I couldn't breathe.

Or rather, I could breathe, but it wasn't doing me any good. The air had grown too thin, my lungs too small. 

I gulped at the air, like a thirsty man eager to drink, and still couldn't catch my breath. 

Is this what drowning is like? That moment when you finally give up the struggle and take in that first defeated inhalation of water?

Calm down, I thought. Slow and steady, I told myself. Maybe, if you can just stop thinking about it, the feeling will pass. It has to. 

I woke, gasping as though I had surfaced from the bottom of deep, dark lake. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Dream Theater: The Office Party

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There'd been a terrible falling out with M_____ and G_____, and I hadn't spoken to them in months. But they lured me back with an email, saying they wanted to see me. 

So I went to their office, only to discover they were throwing a party. Their company had grown so much. Even R_____ J_____, a high school classmate, was working for them now as a private investigator. 

Leaving right away wasn't an option, so I played it cool. It was impossible to avoid R_____ J_____ so I said to him, “I know we had a pretty heated argument on Facebook back in 2016, but now I can’t remember exactly what it was about.” We both laughed because he couldn’t remember either. 

After making the rounds I decided to go home. This was harder than it should have been, though, because I'd collected all this stuff. Extra clothes and receipts, packs of cigarettes and lighters, and keys to two or more cars that belonged to someone else. I couldn't take it with me or leave it behind.

I decided to stay the night, and slept on a sofa in the hall. The next morning I woke up as M_____ was arriving for work. I smiled sheepishly, because he knew I hadn't planned to stay that long.

But now I had to leave. I’d started college again, in Iowa City, with a full schedule of classes, including one on calculus. Math had always been my weakness. Why had I signed up for something so difficult? 

Over the next few weeks I skipped every calculus class. The deadline to drop it was today. The problem was, I still didn’t know my way around campus. Nothing was how I remembered it. The guidebook in my backpack turned out to be more of a brochure, filled with games and puzzles rather than anything useful. 

I stared at it, and eventually figured out the Math department was across the river. When I arrived all the buildings there were just old houses, without signs to tell one from the other. 

I'd have to search for the main office, wandering in and out of houses and rooms, interrupting classes, embarrassing myself as I asked for directions. Everyone would know, and they'd think to themselves, "There's someone who couldn't cut it."

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Dream Theater: My Hollywood Career

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Photo from The Heritage Foundation.

My acting career was finally taking off. I'd landed an important supporting role on a TV series. Everything was changing.

I was meeting the rest of the cast and crew, in an office filled with neon lights and oversized video screens. Afterward, one of my co-stars took me aside and whispered some upsetting news.

"If you don't lose weight and get in shape quick, they'll write you off the show," he said.

Later that night, still unhappy about what I'd been told, I found myself at a Hollywood party. A large gold tray appeared, carrying bottles of pills. The guests passed it around, laying down twenties and hundreds in order to take whatever they pleased. This must be how they do it, I thought to myself.

I needed some advice. I went to M_____ and G_____'s house. It was different than the house they have now. Older, and more full of stuff. J_____, their daughter was there. She was several years older than she is now, and didn't seem very interested in seeing me any more.

Everything was changing. Everything had changed. Everything but me, it seemed.