25. Sweet Jesus Man of the Year / Who am I to disagree?

Eurhythmics—Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Charles is dreaming.

He’s at a festival held at some kind of historic train station. Very rustic. He’s there apparently with his family: father, mother, siblings, Karen and their son, and neighbor friends of the family. The train station is a small rustic affair, a small-town whistle-stop. The tracks are long gone. The front part of the old station office is a gift shop.

He finds himself walking along a path in the open rough terrain around the station with an old friend of the family, Ron.

Ron proposes that they run all the way back to the station since they’re probably late. Charles agrees but looks down to find he is in shorts and socks—no shoes. He decides to run anyway but watches the ground intensely. They run up and down shallow gullies, among broken glass and sharp stones. Charles finds running in stocking feet comfortable, pleasant even. He feels like his feet are not even touching the ground but gliding above it.

They arrive back at the train station. After some confused conversation with his parents, Charles wanders to the front of the gift shop. He looks out across the former tracks to the platform on the other side. He glimpses a familiar figure but can’t quite make her out. He pushes through the crowd in the shop and out the door to get a better look. He’s afraid to stare, but he thinks it might be Edie. He tries to wander nonchalantly down the platform, glancing from time to time across the gap at the woman.

She’s with a group of men, just hanging out and watching the crowd. The men are all about Charles’s age, with worn jeans and hippie clothes. By the time Charles reaches the end of the platform, he’s pretty sure it’s her. When he turns to walk back, he thinks he hears her call his name. But when he turns toward her, she’s talking and laughing with the men.

Charles decides to cross the ex-train-track gully and talk to her.

He crosses over and approaches Edie. She is lovelier than she ever was with him: She’s no longer rail thin; her hair is longer, and she actually seems to have improved with age. The biggest thing that impresses Charles is her calm—she was always a pretty uptight person, but now, she’s almost serene in interacting with the men. She’s wearing very fashionable casual clothes that suit her figure nicely.

Charles steps up and says hello. She turns and gives him a big calm smile. “I thought that was you over there. We’ve been watching you.”

“And I’ve been trying to figure out if it was you over here. How are you doing? You look great.” This is the truth. She looks much more desirable now than she ever did when they were together.

They kiss on the lips, and Charles immediately regrets it because his wife is back in the gift shop. He jerks a glance back across the gap but can’t see her. He puts his arm around her in a friendly way and they talk over old times while walking back down the platform. He finds out very little about her current life. Charles glances over at the shop and sees his wife and son browsing a rack of clothing in the front. He figures he’d better get back. Edie says she’ll walk with him because she needs to go to work. He pecks her on the cheek, opting for the safer kiss.

They walk back across the gap. As they enter the gift shop, Charles is scouting for his wife, nervous that they’d been seen with their arms around each other. Edie grabs a trash bag. Charles looks at her and she’s now wearing a maintenance uniform with an ad for a cafe on the back in masking tape.

It is evident that she is supporting herself with odd jobs and living the bohemian life. Charles is vaguely jealous of the freedom of such a life, the life he used to know back in Denver when they both were poor. She moves through the shop picking up trash and says goodbye over her shoulder. Charles finds his wife and son and they are about to leave when he suddenly finds himself deep under water. He frantically swims for the surface but before he gets there, he awakens.

Charles quickly sits up in bed and looks out the window thinking about the dream. After what seems like a very long time, he checks the clock. It’s only six o’clock; he can sleep another hour.

He turns over and tries to sleep, but the image of his former love obsesses his thoughts and he finds it hard to drift back off. Finally, he dozes for about 15 minutes before his alarm goes off.

Charles is puzzled about the meaning of the dream: Why was he in stocking feet? Why was he worried about broken glass? And why did his old flame, whom he has not dreamed or really even thought much about in years, show up once again in a dream?

Then he remembers: He’d had another hang-up call several weeks ago, the first in many years. That’s probably why I dreamed of her now, he thinks. But that was months ago. Charles feels that Edie represents his abandoned past: the hippie years, the years as a young poet reading his pieces in coffeehouses and cafes and anywhere they wouldn’t laugh. Still, it bothers him as he does his morning exercises, which take him longer than usual as he catches himself several times just lying on the floor thinking of the dream.

If she were really like that, calm and lovely, I would have never left her, he asserts to himself. The lure of the past is quite strong, the what-ifs and the might-have-beens.

Rousing from his funk, Charles showers and then goes over to Chip’s house. He knocks on the door. Trixie leans out a kitchen window and yells, “He’s out back. Killing ants.”

Charles goes around back, over the coarse thick-bladed lawn, and finds Chip pouring bleach down a fire ant mound. “Hey, Chuck. What’s up?”

“Not much. Just wondered if you wanted to shoot the shit and maybe help me out with the book.”

“You bet, little buddy. Just let me kill off these vermin. Shit!” One of the ants had crawled halfway up Chip’s giant calf and bit him. “Sonofabitch! Christ on a crutch, that hurts!” Chip swats away the insect and hops on one leg. He pours the rest of the gallon of bleach on the mound and limps into the house, with Charles following behind.

“Honey? I got bit again. Where’s the calamine?” Trixie yells back, “Out in the garage, where it always is. Don’t you get any of those ants in my house!” Chip and Charles go into the garage. Enclosed garages aren’t common in South Florida, but Chip, an avid furniture maker, was lucky that his parsonage had one. There was no room for a car in the garage, however, because the floor was occupied by two table saws, a band saw, a lathe, and other large power tools, as well as chairs, tables, and bureaus in various stages of completion.

Chip rustles up a bucket that he squirts dish liquid into and fills partway with water before stepping in and scrubbing his leg with a soft brush. “Hand me that calamine, wouldya?” Chip scans the messy workbench and finally spies the bottle, which he hands to Chip. Chip dries his calf with a filthy towel and slathers on the lotion.

“Looks like I’ll live,” he says sardonically. “Let’s go into my study and chat.” The pair goes back around front. Chip’s house has two front doors: one leading to the main part of the house, and one that opens into his study, which adjoins the garage. This was so that congregants and Chip’s counseling clients could discreetly visit Chip without disturbing the family.

The two enter and Chip gestures toward the client chair and throws his bulk into a worn beige nailhead wingback chair. Between them is a low coffee table and behind Chip is his incredibly cluttered desk, featuring an old iMac and a 40-inch television. Chip kicks off his flip-flops and absently starts scratching his ant bite.

“Don’t scratch! You’ll make it worse,” Charles says.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Chip says. “I know. So, what’s on your mind?”

“Well, I had a very detailed dream last night.”

“At least you can sleep,” Chip says. He’s an incurable insomniac, sometimes sleeping only a couple of hours a night.

I don’t know how he can have such energy with so little sleep, Charles thinks. “Well, yes, but anyway, it was about Edie and, like I said, it was extremely vivid. She was different. Calmer. Not so schitzy. I’m kinda wondering what it might have meant.”

“Well, I’m no shrink, but people tell me dreams all the time, so lay it on me.” Chip has heard his share of weird dreams in his pastoral counseling business. Sometimes his clients’ dreams are the reason he can’t sleep. Chip slouches to his right and scratches his butt as Charles proceeds to describe the dream.

When Charles finishes, Chip says, “Well what do you think it means?”

“Don’t give me that counselor crap, Chip! I want to hear your thoughts.”

“Dude, don’t be difficult. Tell me your ideas and then I’ll give you mine.”

“All right, clod for brains. I think it means maybe I made a bad choice when I married Karen?”

“What about the dream gives you that idea?”

“Well, you know, crossing the tracks to pursue Edie, not to mention that Karen and I ended in divorce. I dunno.”

“OK, we can postulate that anyone who divorces has made a poor choice of mate. Do you think your marriage was all bad?”

“Not at all. I got a son out of it, not that I ever see him anymore. And we were happy for a while. If it weren’t for that damn Munch, perhaps she wouldn’t have gone gay and we’d still be together.”

“I don’t think people ‘go gay,’ Charles.”

“I do. It’s a choice.”

“Yeah, after all those nasty columns you wrote in the World, I got that impression.” Chip thought that the vehemence and hatred Charles expressed in those columns were so totally out of character for his rather meek, liberal friend. Perhaps Charles was still really tormented by the breakup of his marriage and the marriage of Karen and Munch.

Charles thinks for a while. He finally decides to share his theory of dreams with his friend.

“I think all dreams are true.”

“God, I hope not, or I’m destined to have the ground open up and swallow me!” He moans, grimaces and pretends to claw the air above him.

Charles smiles. “Hopefully, that won’t happen in this universe, but perhaps another. I think when we sleep, we pass from our universe through many others. Our conscious­ness tries to make sense of the various transitions, which explains some of the weirdness of dreams. I’m always dreaming about trying to find my way through innumerable rooms that keep changing, doors in become doors out. You must have had similar dreams. Sometimes you can fly, sometimes you’re running in glue—you’re in a universe with different physical laws. And sometimes you meet doppelgängers of people you know in this Universe, who behave in odd ways. But it’s all true. It’s all your experience, just in different times and places.”

Chip nods and says, “OK. Could be.”

Charles continues, “Often movies about dreams claim that if you die in a dream, you die in real life, like Inception for example. I think that’s definitely possible, but that some survival instinct either shunts us to a more hospitable universe/time or returns us to this Universe and wakes us up before that happens. When we dream it, we actually do it, whether it be murdering someone or making love to them. As I’ve mentioned before, the biggest frustration for me on that point is never coming in a dream. I don’t know why you can’t come across universes. Perhaps there’s some small bit of reserve in our psyches that prevents pan-universal ecstasy.”

“Um, that’s a weird theory you have there, Astral Traveler Boy. But I could enthusiastically support a Universal Come. Where do I go to surrender?” Chip jokes. “I remember that Sigourney Weaver dream you told me about, you perverted slug. Of course, there’s no way to prove your theory, although it makes about as much sense as other theories. Take, for example, the idea that you’re working out real-world problems in your dreams. Freud thought dreams expressed repressed longing that we can’t express in the real world, especially in a social setting. Everything is dicks and pussies. Hold on. I’ll get us some beers.” Chip gets up and heads to the kitchen, returning with an IPA for him and a stout for Charles. Charles is pleasantly surprised at the beer. Chip knows he hates lager and must have bought the stout in case Charles came by.

Chip continues, “Freud did say, however, ‘Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.’ And I certainly don’t know why you are repressing the desire to try to find your way through interminable office buildings.”

“Exactly. While the repression theory could be true, I think dreams are more about telling you what you really think. Jung’s theory is more like that. He thought that dreams let us reflect on our waking selves and process problems and conflicts.”

“Yeah, so that’s another theory: Dreams are metaphors,” Chip says and takes a big gulp of beer and a little dribbles down his chin, landing on his black Lou Reed T-shirt. Heedless of the dribble, Chip doesn’t wipe his chin.

Chip says, “Then there’s the activation-synthesis theory that dreams are just random nerves firing in our brain and these impulses that drag out bits of memory. Our mind tries to make sense of them by assembling them into a narrative once we awake. And I’ve found that I only remember dreams that occur just before I awake, although I must have been dreaming several times during the night.”

“As I’ve told you before, I’ve had déjà vu moments my whole life,” Charles says, “Often I wake up with this weird feeling. I can’t really explain it. I don’t immediately think, ‘Aha! I will have prescient moments today’ but it’s a weird feeling of déjà vu mixed with some other kind of disorientation.”

“Don’t drink so much before bed, my stout lad, and you’ll be all right,” Chip jokes.

“Funny, shithead. I’m serious. This really happens to me. Things happen that I clearly remember having dreamed about, and usually, I only recognize the situations after they happen. But on several occasions, I’ve been able to predict what is about to happen. In fact, back in college, one of these dreams, or déjà viewers, as I call them, actually helped me solve a this-universe problem.”

“Bullshit.”

“I shit you not. It was long ago in the distant past, back when computers filled huge air-conditioned rooms and programs were written on punch cards.”

Chip snorts, “Spare me the purple prose, Springsteen!” Chip always hated the logorrhea of early Springsteen songs.

Charles, annoyed at the interruption, continues, “Anyway, I would submit the program, then it would run hours later. I’d have to trek back to the computer center, check the output, rekey a few cards and submit it again. Well, one night—it was probably about 1 am—I fed my card deck into the card reader, and the stupid thing stopped halfway through. That generally meant a bent card, so I looked at the next card that was to be fed, and it was pristine. Nonetheless, I went and remade it. Tried again. Same deal. I repeated this several times and even got the computer operator to come out of his glass cage to give me a hand.

“Then, all of a sudden it hit me: I had dreamt about this very problem the night be­fore—not unusual; I invariably dream of boring things like that. In my dream, it was not the next card to feed that was the problem, it was the card that followed. The computer operator was sitting looking at the card that wouldn’t feed, holding it up to the light like that hanging chad guy from the 2000 election, and I said, ‘Wait, I know’ and plucked the next card from the hopper and showed it to him. The card had a minuscule bend at the top left. The operator looked at me like I was crazy. ‘How’d you know that?’ he said. ‘I dreamt it last night,’ I said and went off to rekey the card. The deck sailed through without problems. That operator always looked at me strangely whenever we encountered one another again after that.”

“Well,” said Chip, “that’s hardly earth-shattering prescience.”

“I know. Most of my prescient dreams are similarly humdrum. I’ll give you another example. When I was a junior in high school, I broke up with my girlfriend, or rather she broke up with me. A year later, I woke up convinced that she was coming to the house to see me. My mom was having an open house for her sorority to attract entering freshmen. I’ll bet she’s coming to that, I thought. So, after the thing started, I went out to the front porch to sit and wait for her, and, sure enough, after about 15 minutes, she shows up. ‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ I told her, which really freaked her out. I told her I knew she’d come to the open house, but she had no idea what I was talking about. She had come basically to tweak me, telling me she’d recently lost her virginity on a beach in Miami. Come to think of it, that one wasn’t totally useless. I got to freak out my old GF. But most prescient dreams and feelings are. I keep trying to dream the lottery numbers, but so far no dice.”

“No shit, Captain Obvious! You’d hardly be sitting here if you had. But remember your friends when you do, best buddy!”

“I think prescient dreams are caused by visiting a universe in the dream that is a bit accelerated timewise than ours, but nonetheless on a very similar time path.”

“Well, I got to say, this theory is not as crazy as your Snagology idea, Captain Uni­verse.”

“Oh, but it fits in well with Snagology.”

Chip snorts. “I can’t wait to see you bend this pretzel, Logic Boy.”

“Hear me out. Snagology is the belief that there are pan-Universal reality show viewers who get a perverse kick out of me running into physical and virtual snags. Perhaps when I dream, either these same Viewerverse denizens or maybe the night shift, flip the channels on me to see how well they can confuse me. Or perhaps it’s the maintenance crew, setting me up for the snags of the coming day.”

“Your egomania is beginning to worry me, my friend. Why is it all about you?”

“Good question. The reason I think it’s all about me is because I don’t have objective proof that anyone else exists. Plain and simple. You, my dearest friend, could be a hologram on the Holodeck as far as I know. Or perhaps everybody else on Earth has their own show, their own Snagological Viewerverse. But that doesn’t matter. The only experience I can know, and feel, is my own, so that’s why Snagology is centered on me.”

“OK, you keep on talking about this Snagology religion like it’s a thing.”

“It is. I just put up a website at Snagology.com with my, er, manifesto? Ninety-five theses? What kind of document do you use to start a religion?”

Chip is taken aback. His crazy friend seems to be serious about founding Snagology. What part should I play in this craziness, Chip wondered. Would it be right or more importantly, would it be kind to help Charles in his demented state? “Uh, Charles. Are you pulling my leg? Because if you are, I’ll give you such a smack!”

“I’m as serious as a midget in a nudist colony. I’m as serious as dick cancer. What makes you think I’m not serious?”

“I dunno. After all your railing against religion, it seems counterintuitive that you’d want to start one.”

“If you can’t lick ‘em, lick ‘em. So, you going to help me or what?”

“What. You’re on your own, Slick. I’ve got a religion I am fairly comfortable with. You want to pursue this madness, good luck to you.”

“You want to hear my manifesto?” “Dear, God, no,” Chip says.

“OK, here it is:

I assert that I am the only being in this Universe and the star of a pan-Universal reality show designed to entertain extra-Universal beings who place snags into my life for their amusement.

I challenge all people to prove me wrong and to demonstrate that they too are players for the benefit of the Viewerverse.

I hereby found a religion whose name will be Snagology and which is dedicated to proving or disproving my above theorem and/or collaborate on ways to keep the Viewerverse interested in perpetually renewing my, and/or my compatriots’— if such exist—tenure on this stage

To become a Snagology acolyte, contribute $60 for the first year (PayPal accepted).”

“Oh, that’s just so wrong. So wrong. What’s come over you?” Chip is aghast that Charles has taken this delusion this far.

“I’ve woken up, is all. I’m woke. I can see clearly, now. The scales have fallen from my eyes.”

“Now you’re comparing yourself to Saul? That takes the fuckin’ cake. If you are putting me on, I will murdelize you!” Chip is beside himself with worry at Charles’s unhingedness.

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