“That which is dreamed can never be lost, can never be undreamed.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Wake
I can rarely remember my dreams. There is little doubt that this is often due to my dreams being mostly dull, boring, repetitions of paltry daily frustrations. However, I do seem to have these recurring dreams, often bordering on nightmares, that can span years – or even decades – of time. Even these repetitive visions are hard for me to remember, but I sometimes have memories – memories of dreams or recalled dreams of thoughts about events.
One set of actions that happened in the dream world is the memory that I bought a couple of relatively inexpensive, used cars and then forgot about them, leaving them… somewhere. I mean I bought one car, needing it and being in financial distress – but finding something affordable… then driving it around for a few days but not being able to remember where it was parked. Then, a period of time later I did the same thing again with a different car. I remember what the second one looked like – a dark blue boxy asian sedan – not a thing of beauty but it ran surprisingly well.
Today I was out running errands and I thought of my two cars that I had paid for years ago and had abandoned, somewhere. I actually thought to myself, “I need to concentrate and figure out where at least one of those cars are, ride my bike over to it, and drive it home.” That was nuts… and, of course, it only took me a split second to realize it was nuts – that I never had bought and lost one, let alone two cars. So I went on with my errands relieved that I didn’t have to mess with these automobiles.
On the other hand, I was a little disappointed, I really liked that second car – it looked bad but ran really well – even if it didn’t exist.
I used to never remember my dreams… and when I did they were gray, ordinary, and frustrating. Lately, they have been vivid and memorable, if more than a bit disjointed. Maybe as the dreams of my waking life are slowly extinguished… the sleeping ones come alive.
Last night, among other things, I dreamed that I shot someone…half on purpose (my tiny revolver had a hair-trigger). The bullet went through his neck, but he survived. He was pissed, though.
That’s all I can think of right now – I have to go to sleep – we’re a car short and I have to ride my bike to work – and that means I have to get up before dawn so I can leave as the sun comes up. Otherwise it’s already too hot.
In the meantime – here’s something I wrote in December, 1998.
I’m writing another entry sitting in the van, waiting in a parking lot. This time it’s a long way from home. I have a focus group at eight thirty, on the tenth floor of a big office building, at Park Central on the northern arc of Dallas’ LBJ freeway loop. I have better things to do with my time than sit here, but they’ll pay me a hundred dollars, cash. Allowing an hour to get here, it only took twenty minutes, so I found this lot in a commercial strip right off Central Expressway. About a half hour to kill before I drive back to the building, that’s how long the batteries in this old Dell can hold out.
I had wanted to go exercise after work and there is a club located between there and here. I forgot my damn shoes again, can’t very well work out in steel-toed safety boots, so I stayed in my office a couple hours late. Time is becoming so precious, it drove me nuts. Nowhere to go, no money, nothing much to do (I was so sick of work, it was tough to get anything extra accomplished). So I sat and did some light computer stuff and watched the hands turn.
At least the van is a good place to type. The middle bench seat is roomy enough for me to hold the laptop on my lap, there is enough stray light from the parking lot to illuminate the keys without washing out the screen. Also, the van isn’t stalling. I was about to give up yesterday, when I put another fresh tank of fuel in her, and presto- no more problems. My guess is that the recent cold snap condensed water into the gas tank, it took a refill to work itself out.
Across the street from here is a big hospital. This is where both Nick and Lee were born. It seems like I’ve been there a hundred times, for childbirth classes, medical emergencies, routine checkups. We don’t have the HMO anymore, so we don’t come back here now. One reason I dropped it was because I was concerned about the drive from Mesquite, it scared me to think of Candy driving over here in the awful traffic with a sick kid strapped in beside her.
The traffic is scary. The intersection of LBJ and Central may be the busiest in the Metroplex, maybe the country. Lines of white, lines of red. Going either seventy or stopped. I constantly look at these thousands and thousands of cars speeding past and wonder where all these people are going. What are their dreams? Are they happy? Do they really want to go where their car is pointing? Why are they in such a hurry to get there?
Honk! Honk! Honk! The car alarm on a big sedan is going off. A woman gets out. Is it her car? Is she confused by the alarm and can’t shut it off? Or is she stealing the thing? I don’t care. It stops, she gets back in. Nobody calls the police. There the car goes.
Behind this strip, this line of office supplies, fast food Chinese, medical equipment, and podiatrist, is the dark slash of a creek. I know that linear wilderness better than I know the wild street; the White Rock bicycle trail runs back there. It starts five miles to the south at the lake and winds along the creek embankment, using the floodplain to cut through these civilized islands unseen and undisturbed. The day was dry and warm, I wish I had my bike and was able to get some late season fresh air back there today. Or I wish I had a nice light and could run the trail now. Swooshing along in the dark, heart pumping, legs pumping.
I think I’d better wrap this up, save the file and get going. I’m not sure exactly where to park (there is a maze of garages around the office complex) and I don’t want to be late. They won’t give me my money.
Thanks for listening to me ramble, thanks for helping me kill a few minutes away from home, thanks for the memories and the city at night.
“That which is dreamed can never be lost, can never be undreamed.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Wake
The Dream Screen
All his life, Sam could never remember his dreams – he would wake up with a vague feeling of frustration and discontent, but whatever was causing it would fade so fast he could never get his mind around it. For the last month, however, he had been having the same… or rather similar… dreams and they haunted him all day long. The dreams were especially bothering him because in the dream he was lying in his own bed, just like he was in real life. That made the line between dream and reality blurred and Sam was afraid that he would lose track on which side he was on.
When he was a child his parents had insisted he sleep on his back, arms at his sides, under a smoothly made sheet and comforter. They would pop into his room several times a night and if he had turned on his side or mussed his covers, they would wake him, berate him, and make him set everything back as it was.
“If you are to be organized and follow the rules while you are awake, you must follow them while you are asleep,” they would tell him.
And the training worked. For a half-century he slept on his back, with his arms at his sides, without tossing or turning.
But now, in his dream, he was on his side, with one hand extended holding a wireless track ball. In front of his face, glowing in the dark, was a screen – a tablet of some sort – with the internet on it. He couldn’t see what was holding the tablet up, but it stayed steady, almost filling his field of vision. He could use the trackball and its buttons to move around the internet, but he didn’t seem to be able to decide what to watch – his hands did if for him.
He told his grief counselor about the dreams.
“Is it disturbing to you?”
“Not during the dream itself. It bothers me when I wake up.”
“I don’t like not being under control. And now, I’ve been waking up in the same position, with my arm out, cradling an unseen object.”
“Why does that bother you.”
“It is so unorganized.”
His grief counselor was a doctor and he gave Sam a prescription to take before bed. Sam was certain that it was some sort of a placebo, but he took it anyway. It didn’t help.
When his counselor asked him what appeared on the screen, Sam obscured the reality and gave a deceitful answer.
In truth, the screen was showing, forcing him to choose, a very specific set of scenes. The screen was replaying moments from his life, some short, some longer. Some of these scenes were events in his past that he thought about often, but most were episodes that he didn’t consciously remember, until the dream screen showed them to him, and he they would arise from the depths of his memory, suddenly clear as day.
He remembered all these scenes after he woke. Even the ones he had previously forgotten, became a big part of his life, anew.
Sam finally decided to open up to his counselor. “Are these disturbing scenes, fearsome events, that you have subdued in your memory?” his grief counselor asked.
“No, quite the opposite. They are the little golden moments of my life. The happiest times. Most are not any big deal – as a matter of fact, when they happened I usually didn’t even understand their importance. It wasn’t until later, or even until the dream-screen brings them back, that I realize how happy and meaningful they are.”
“Well, Sam,” his grief counselor said, “I think your subconscious is simply bringing back the best memories of your past to give you some relief from the awful terror of the present. Maybe it is reminding you that things were better once, and maybe, they can be again.”
Sam nodded his head. He was being polite – he knew the grief counselor was wrong.
As time went by, Sam became used to the dreams. He bought an expensive pillow designed for people that slept on their sides so he would be less sore when he woke up. Sam began to sleep longer and longer until his day was made up of sleeping with only a quick meal and other necessities that he rushed through in order to lay back down and enter the world of his dream-screen as quickly as he could.
Sam was amazed at how many wonderful, tiny things had happened during his life. He knew that his supply had ended, however, there would be no new ones. Eventually, the scenes began to repeat. He realized he was watching something the dream screen had showed him before.
The second… and third… times through the memories were not as happy, they somehow faded with each showing. That was when Sam realized that his time was growing short.
“Love, my territory of kisses and volcanoes.”
― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets
I don’t usually watch these television daredevil stunt/event shows – specials where some amazing or death-defying feat is hyped to the moon and sent into your living room complete with breathless commentary and dramatic music.I don’t have anything against such antics and don’t blame folks for watching but I… I have a life. I simply can’t spare the time for the hype, padding, and endless commercial breaks.
When I lived in Managua in the early 1970’s it was tough to get to the vent of the Masaya volcano. It is not a tall, symmetrical, picturesque classical volcano (like the nearby Momotombo) – but rather a low, complex jumble of craters, mounds, calderas, and cooled lava. Actually, the active vent is called Santiago – one of several openings in the Masaya complex. We would have to make arrangements for a four wheel drive vehicle so we could cross the miles of extremely rough fresh hardened lava that surrounded the vent. It was black as pitch and sharp as broken glass. Most of the times we went up there the road would be washed out and the last couple miles had to cross on foot.
It was worth it, though. The Santiago vent was amazingly deep, with a bright red pool of molten lava at the bottom. Every few minutes there would be a crescendo in the roar coming from the vent and incandescent lava bombs would come shooting out, arcing and cooling to fall, black and solid, against the bottom of the crater. The sulfur dioxide infused steam streaming out of the vent was choking and nasty – adding another level of frightening deadly threat. At night, the entire top of the mountain would be bathed in flaming light, the crimson glow of molten rock that much brighter.
Some of my brightest memories of my high school days – almost a half century ago – are of me and my friends clambering around and exploring the rugged toxic moonscape around the active volcano.
Now, the top of the volcano is a national park and they have an improved road to the top. It’s a popular tourist destination. You should go there sometime.
Watching this crazy man walk across the vast space brings back so many memories.
A few years ago, my sister took a bunch of carousels of slides that we had taken over decades and all over the world and had them digitized onto DVDs. I dug through all those old photos (the only problem is they were all jumbled up together) and found a few of the Masaya volcano. I never had a telephoto lens and the fog was always thick so I don’t have a picture of the red lava, but it’s nice to help remember.
The photos aren’t of great quality – but I took them in 1973 or so – almost fifty years ago. That is really hard for me to wrap my head around.
The crater of Masaya Volcano taken from the rim of the active crater. It is a lot larger than this photo suggests. The molten lava is hidden in the inner crater – if you look closely you can see a bit of red. Looking at this scene on television tonight – it looks like that inner crater has expanded significantly in the decades since I took this photo.
A blurry photo (taken from a moving vehicle) of the low Masaya volcano complex taken from the highway several miles away. It shows the rugged lava plain that had to be crossed to get there.
Scrambling around on the top of Masaya volcano in the early 1970s.
Some friends of mine standing on the rim of the crater at Masaya volcano, Nicaragua.
Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.
Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.
Scrambling down a steep pile of volcanic ash, Masaya, Nicaragua
“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas
Now, here is is, the first day of a spanking new year. And I have these goals for 2018 – I’ve worked hard on these… and the main three are:
Read 100 books
Write 50 Short Stories
Ride 3000 miles on my bike.
Since this is only the beginning, I didn’t want to get behind right at the start. So I cheated on the reading a hundred books – and jumped the gun by starting two weeks early. I’m up to six so far… which is good. I’ve already written one short story – so I’m OK there.
But I am stuck in a beach house with no bicycle and freezing cold… incredible wind… what we used to call a blue norther. I had planned on a little flexibility on my goal – knowing that I get sick over the winter and need other means to keep up with my goal.
At home, I have two exercise bikes – so I decided that riding one of those is worth ten miles for each hour riding. That way I can keep up if I’m forced inside.
At the beach house I thought about it and decided that, in a pinch, I can walk to make up the goal. Only in emergency situations, like now – the first day. After some thought and internet research, I decided on a three mile walk, at a brisk pace, would equal ten miles of riding. I walk at about three miles per hour, so that’s about an hour – which corresponds with riding or stationary. Also, that’s in addition to whatever I walk on a normal basis – the usual strutting around doesn’t count.
So at the end of the day, I layered on as much as I could (the temperature was below freezing and the wind was… really strong. I walked out to the beach and watched the kids fire off the last of their fireworks, then headed out down the beach. There is a little creek that emerges from the dunes and blocks off the rest of the beach from where we were and I knew that to that creek and back would get me to the three miles I needed.
I started out into the wind, pulling my hood closed so I was looking out a tiny circle at the water on the right and the dunes on the left. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light. It was very cold. But I started walking.
And it put me into the thought of all the other times over my life that I had walked on the beach, especially at night. From Panama to Nicaragua, to South Padre Island over spring break (That was a long drive from Lawrence, Kansas) to this very beach over the years with my kids growing larger and larger.
There is a rhythm of walking on the beach, in the wet sand between the surf and the loose part (in Texas it is generally allowed to drive on the beach, so, especially at night, you want to stay close to the surf), as the time and the miles go by all those old memories become telescoped in to the present day, the experience of being and moving along a border between two worlds.
It was a lot easier to walk back with the wind behind me. So now I have the equivalent of ten miles of bike riding on the first day of January. Still on track – so good, so far.
Hey, look at all these bike racks. We didn’t have those when I was in school. We only had a couple of the old ladder-style. I kept my 1974 Raleigh Supercourse (Reynolds 451 tubing, Brooks saddle stock) in my room. One night someone, obviously an organized and professional criminal crew, came by and stole all the bikes out front in one sweep.
When I graduated and found my first job, I rented the top floor of this old building. I had my own entrance, the one you see on Google, and stairs went right up from there to my door. It was a nice place to live – an old halfway house for alcoholics, it had two bathrooms including a great old iron clawfoot tub in one.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
—-Arthur C. Clarke
I’m not sure what… but something today brought back a very old memory – and I’ve been thinking about it.
I’m guessing I was about eight or so, and that would make it 1965. I liked to watch the game show Concentration – Hugh Downs would have been the host. I especially liked the end of the puzzle, when the contestants had to guess the Rebus.
I have never been good at those things, and I think I enjoyed the frustration and release when a contestant was able to get it right.
At any rate, the moment I remember so vividly was when the contestant won a grand prize of some sort. With great blurry grainy black and white hoopla they wheeled it out to present it to the woman.
It was a videotape recorder/camera/playback combination. It was the size of two standup refrigerators. The camera (though demonstratively smaller than the studio units used on the show) was the size of a suitcase and seemed to weigh over a hundred pounds.
It seemed to take forever, but they managed to set the machine up and take a short segment of very bad quality recording of the woman that won the prize. She was standing there, shifting from foot to foot, and looking very uneasy – with that fake early-1960’s smile plastered on her face. The giant tape reels spun at a dizzying pace and after a bit more fiddling (this was live TV – they must have been brave to try and pull this off) the little black and white (I assume it was black and white – I surely wasn’t watching it in color) piece of the big-haired woman came up on the impossibly tiny Cathode Ray Tube almost lost in the maze of complex equipment.
Everyone cheered and the cat food commercial came on and that was that.
To this day, almost a half-century later, I remember how excited I was. Imagine! The ability to put your own moving images onto magnetic tape!
Then, equally strongly, I remember the internal backlash as I wondered what use something so large, unwieldy, and of such terrible quality would actually be. Where would that poor woman store the thing? It must have drawn an incredible amount of power (those huge cabinets concealed banks and banks of glowing vacuum tubes, no doubt).
My eight year old self felt the falling disappointment in technology.
Now, of course, I carry a card-sized device in my pocket which, among many other things, can take a high quality color motion capture with perfect sound, transmit it from my hand, and broadcast it all over the world where anybody that cares to (if anybody cares to) can watch it to their heart’s content.
Not only was that sort of technology unavailable in 1965, it was unimaginable. I know that was fifty years ago, but it doesn’t seem that long to me. Hell, Hugh Downs, the host of the show, is still alive. I’m sure he has a smartphone.
When our kids were little we had a little popup tent camping trailer. It was pretty cool – we would keep it loaded with all the stuff we would need for the weekend. All we would have to do is buy some food and head out to one of the wide selection of Texas State Parks within a few hours drive of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. It was worth it even for a single night – we could go to a soccer game on Saturday morning and be in the woods for Saturday night. It was a good thing… until the trailer was stolen from in back of our house… but that’s another story.
One of the places we would go was Tyler State Park – outside of the eponymous East Texas City. It was a large park – held a lot of people in a whole series of camping areas around a resplendent sylvan lake. When we drove to and from we would pass a Bar-B-Q restaurant off the exit from Interstate 20. It always looked delicious and the associated smoke smelled even more so. But in keeping with the whole camping thing we never visited.
That was many years ago but I remember it.
On our last trip to New Orleans (for Lee’s Tulane Graduation) we left early in the morning, but not too early. We would be going past Tyler right at lunch time – and I decided to finally try out Bodacious Bar-B-Q.
There are four major types of Bar-B-Que – Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina, and Texas. Bodacious is, of course, Texas. Texas BBQ is actually a dry, slow cook – with most sauce added after.
The food was great, of course. The place was exactly like you would expect – a little dusty, a little cluttered, a lot of local workers on their lunch hour.
I am now to the point where everything brings back memories… not even a single memory but a chain of them… separated by great space and greater time – yet linked by a single thing, the inside of my head.
Something as simple as a wooden canoe lying on a grassy bank:
I found a small dugout wooden canoe upside down in a tropical lake, abandoned and rotting in a bank of watery weeds along the shore. I came up under it with a scuba tank on my back, the bubbles catching in its concave interior and I, looking at the long oblong shape against the sun, wondered what it was. There was nobody in miles so I took it for my own.
The wood was soft and I could scrape out the rotten part with a hunting knife. The bow was broken but I fixed it with a piece of plywood and some marine glue. I found some half empty used cans of bilious old paint in a garage closet so I painted it black and gray. I cut a plastic Clorox bottle into a bailer and I was good to go.
I learned to paddle there on that humid lake. Learned to fish from a canoe, learned to navigate in the darkness, saw creatures I never thought existed in fresh water – they had followed ships in through the Gatun locks and most were slowly dying from the lack of salt.
Then I learned to maneuver a rented dented aluminum canoe through the spring flash flowing Ozark rivers on college weekends – the rocky adrenaline thrill of white water and the relaxing lazy languid sluggishness of deep dark green. I learned that a foot of water can be dangerous when it is moving fast under a fallen tree. Also, be careful when you stop in the middle of a ten mile stretch of isolated river for a quick refreshing swim on a gravel bank… don’t leave your car keys behind.
I paddled into the netherworld of Spanish Moss and Bald Cyprus in East Texas Caddo lake. A place out of time where you can find an abandoned church in a place where God has forgotten. I learned to always check the flow of the water before setting out. You are never as strong as you think you are – sometimes it is hard to get back.
Paddling on a lake with two little kids in the boat I learned that you not only have to check the flow of the water, but the strength of the wind. A damned up prairie lake can throw air fast enough to grab the bow and turn it the way you don’t want to go.
There is the sound of small waves banging against aluminum. The feeling of an ill-fitting life jacket while you are trying to work the paddle. The smell of old fish bait. The heat of the sun on the back of your neck. The sight of the little vortexes that spin off your paddle, the little drops of water when you swing it to the other side. There is the ache in your shoulders at the end of a long day and the anticipation when rounding a curve in the river.
Most of all the rhythm of boat, paddle, and water when you get moving across a lake. When it’s all working together and you feel sorry for the folks roaring by spewing oil out of their big outboards (though you do look jealously at that nice little sailboat).
When I first moved to Dallas, in 1981, my first job was downtown. I remember the quiet thrill of riding the bus into the forest of skyscrapers every morning – it was an exciting time. I felt that something was really happening – I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was something (I still don’t know what it was, and am pretty sure it wasn’t anything after all).
For a year or so my office was in the Kirby Building on Main Street. The interesting thing about that is a year earlier I had visited Dallas and had seen the Kirby Building from the Adolphus Hotel and wondered to myself, “What would it be like to work in a building like that?” It was a complete coincidence that I found myself toiling away in that very same space only a year later. The Kirby was a grand old place, much too ornate for a whippersnapper like myself and after awhile we moved to less expensive digs.
One thing I remember about the Kirby is that it had old fashioned carpets (they might have been wool) and on dry winter days you had to walk around with a key in your hand to touch the heavy brass doorknob and ground yourself or the static spark would leap out like Lilliputian lightning and shock the crap out of your fingertips whenever you would open a door. An odd thing to remember after all that time, but you don’t forget that much pain easily.
In the decades since, the Kirby Building has been converted into condominiums. I don’t know if they put in new carpet – I suppose they would have to. I hope it is conductive and non-static.
We moved across downtown to another venerable old edifice, this one not so ornate. It was the Cotton Exchange Building. It was like working in a time warp – they had a cotton trading floor and a restaurant on the ground floor that had not changed a bit since the fifties. We were afraid to eat the salad dressing.
I loved working there. These were the salad days in Dallas and I could watch the high rise buildings going up all around. They sprouted like giant glass asparagus from every available scrap of space. I loved to note the various construction techniques and architectural details – mostly how they made the shape such that they had the maximum number of corner offices. It was a cool place.
But all good things must pass and the Cotton Exchange building was too old and not profitable enough. To prepare for demolition they stripped a modern tacky exterior off and found a classic deco building underneath. There was some talk of preservation, but it was too little, too late.
They imploded the building. I thought about going down there to watch the old lady collapse under the thumb of the dynamite – but it was too early in the morning and I told myself I preferred to remember it as it was. For decades the lot sat vacant and I wondered why they had blown it up.
Now, finally, there is construction. Across the street the First Baptist Church is undergoing a massive renovation and the place of the old Cotton Exchange is being used… as a parking garage. I walked by a while back and took a couple of pictures.
I’m a little disappointed that the beloved old Cotton Exchange has been reduced to a spot for a garage… but I guess at least it is something. People have to park somewhere.