It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Earl's Novel - Chapter VI (Part II)

(Editor's note: Earl Fando is currently writing a novel as part of the insane National Novel Writing Month Contest. As of this post, he has managed 26,000 words, and a surely permanent cramp in both hands and his bum.)

There’s nothing quite so strange as suddenly realising you’re in the middle of a dream. Dreams are usually fitful, mystifying, vividly real, nut-bar imaginings of the lower reaches of the subconscious and quite likely the lower reaches of the most recent beer bottle that you’ve drained. I usually dream quite vividly, and quite weirdly, after a pint. I usually wake up from these incredibly disturbing dreams wishing I had another pint to wash them away with. I can only imagine sometimes that if I were a heavy drinker I’d wind up writing long tracts of deranged gibberish, like the Unabomber or Ted Rall.

The worst dreams are the ones where you dream yourself doing things that you would never ever do in real life, even if you’d drank twenty pints, which is about 19 more than I can ever manage. Oh, I don’t mean something like winding up in a public place nude somehow. While those dreams are quite uncomfortable, I can imagine exactly how I might wind up in such a predicament (the 20 pints would be a contributing factor). No, I mean things like winding up in a public place nude somehow with the Gandhi family checking out your “package” or French-kissing a salamander whilst teaching a roomful of nuns - those sorts of things.

Anyway, usually one accepts dreams as real in the way that come to us and that whatever is happening is simply the way things are at the moment. We become immersed in that shadowy but convincing reality. We believe the howlings and rantings of our inner minds, no matter how deranged, peculiar, and uncharacteristic they are. However, there are times when our active conscious mind breaks through this clinging veil. We see suddenly as though we were awake and apart from the dream, yet we are still somehow in it. Most of all, we see just how plainly absurd the dream is and would be to anyone else, yet we can not awake.

It’s precisely at darkly epiphinal moments like these that we utter things like, “Oh, crap!”

In my case the exclamation was in response to the realisation that a hastily conceived and just as hastily dismissed plot idea of mine had actually found its way into a rather permanent, if generally inaccessible portion of my brain. I deeply suspected that, should I ever have a debilitating aneurysm in my skull, the exact brain cell responsible would be that one.

Even more distressing are when you can’t wake up during such dreams. You know it’s a dream, the flag has gone up, the alarm sounded, the big, lighted ball has dropped to the bottom of Times Square, and you expect that at any moment you’ll wake up in your bed, relieved and gratified that the measuring tape the Mahatma had pulled out of his dhoti and handed to Indira (who, strangely enough, was not related to Mohandas) would never reach you. Except that you don’t wake up. You’re left there complaining about Indira’s cold hands and explaining to the nuns that you thought the salamander had stopped breathing and you were trying to resuscitate it and, by the way, would they mind turning to page 186 of The Handyman’s Guide to Funny E-Mail.

This was one of those dreams. The young man had just announced he was The Nuclear Samurai and had changed history. I knew the back story instantly. He had travelled back in time to the era of Tokugawa and not only sealed the Daimyo’s conquest of Japan but also of China, Korea, Russia, and pretty much everything south of Elk’s Beard, Nunavut, Canada. Human history had been changed completely. The United States didn’t exist in the way we thought of it, but had instead been developed from the west, eventually overrunning the non-nuclear Spanish and English colonies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The cuisine had changed; the humble frankfurter had been replaced with a kind of unfrankfurterish sausage rolled with rice, which tasted more or less like uncooked fish anyway. The national sport of what would have become the United States was judo, only with an American football and cheerleaders. Britain was now in the Japanese Commonwealth. Knighthood had been replaced with samurai lordships and to top it all off, the entire world was slightly radioactive.

It was a bit of a shock, to say the least, even though I knew for certain it was a dream. Yet, the geishas who were now filing up the stairs in line, and who were somehow on fire, just like the young man, all sang happily as they served Kentucky Fried Sushi to one another.

Then the young man turned back to me and shouted one more thing to me.

“Yangtze!!!”

This properly woke me up. My wife was sitting across the room from me in our dark leather easy chair using the laptop computer. I suspected she was writing something herself, so I lay there quietly, until I was fairly certain she was at a good pausing point. After a few moments, she looked up at me.

“That must’ve been some dream,” she observed.

“Was it that obvious?”

“Well, apart from all the shouting, you did roll over repeatedly for about three minutes.”

I surmised to myself that it was during the part when I was going up the stairs. The strange thing about many dreams is that you have absolutely no sense of time. Just before I lay down on the couch, I had glanced at the clock and noticed that it was only 3:30 p.m. Now it was nearly 6 p.m. and my wife and daughter had surely been home for at least two hours. Yet, the time it had taken me to run up the altered-future-Japanese Nathan’s Geisha House and Sushi Dog Emporium hadn’t been but about ten minutes in my dream. Clearly I must have been completely blacked out for over an hour before anything even kicked in.

The other thing about dreams that I hate is when I do things during them, things in the actual real world, that I not only can’t remember doing in the real world, but that I can’t even remember doing in the dream. I didn’t remember rolling over again and again. I was going up that odd stairwell.

My wife likes to tell the story of how, one evening during the first few months of our marriage, I shouted out in my sleep, “Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!” then suddenly sat upright, extended my right hand out in front of me, with my outstretched palm turned away from me, and said, “Forward!”

To this day I don’t remember a bit of it. She says that I told her I had been dreaming about flying, but my flying dreams are all rather pedestrian in nature. Whereas some people go soaring about like Superman, I simply rise off the ground like an old balloon with weak helium on a breezeless day. “Forward!” surely must have been an exaggeration on my part.

“I think I was climbing a stairwell,” I finally replied to my wife, who was patiently watching me as my brain circumnavigated the basics of my dream life.

“It must have been very circular,” she commented.

“It was,” I concluded, quietly.

I paused a moment. Should I tell her what happened at the Phoenix Corporation? Should I mention that one of my former co-worker’s homes had suddenly gone up in flames? Should I bring up the two, mysterious spongers at the restaurant? I didn’t want to worry her, but at the same time, I didn’t want her to be unaware if there were any kind of danger. It certainly seemed as though danger was more than a remote possibility. Of course, other than the flash of a gun, there hadn’t been any real threat or even excitement, just tension slowly gnawing a fist-sized hole in my stomach.

“You’ll never guess what I did today,” I started.

“Went to the Phoenix Corporation, drove by a burned out home and met two suspicious Chinese gentlemen at the Chinese buffet restaurant,” she calmly responded.

For a moment there I wasn’t sure if I was still dreaming or not. I made a mental check of my nervous system. Eyes still blinking? Check. Shoulders still tense? Check. Stomach still mostly full from late lunch? Check. Groin still over sensitive? Check. Feet still itchy? Double-check.

Fairly certain that my wife has no telepathic abilities, I started to ask her just what the source of her amazing divination was, but before I could get word one out, she answered my question.

“A Mr. Wang called,” she said. “Stew did too, but he mostly talked about golf. They both left messages on the machine.”

I dragged myself off of the couch and wandered over to the answer phone. Sure enough there were two new messages on it, on top of all the messages that our daughter has left us over the years on visits to the grandparents or after she figured out how to use the cell phones. My favourite of these is the one that goes, “Hi Mom and Dad, it’s me, (pause) your daughter!”

Later messages became more elaborate. Frequently, songs or jokes were the central message. Listening to them is sort of the equivalent of watching your child slowly turn into a vaudeville player before your eyes. I fully expected we’d receive a message from her sometime in the next twelve months in which she was accompanied by a small theatre orchestra, a chorus, and a seltzer bottle spray through the handset.

She also likes to make clandestine calls to us while at her grandparents. These calls were usually a few hours after supper and relatively short. One could generally tell that my wife’s parents were unaware of the calls because of the conspiratorially quiet tone our daughter used, unlike her usual stage voice. They often went like this:

[Quietly] “Hi Dad, is Mom there?”

“Yes, she is. How are you doing? Are you having fun there?”

[Quietly] “Yeah! I love you!”

“We love you too! Do your grandparents know you’re calling long distance?”

[Quietly] “Well, I’ve got to go! Bye!!”

I hit the play button and quickly skipped to the new messages.

The first one was clearly Mr. Wang. The smooth voice with just a hint of Chinese in it was a dead giveaway.

“Mr. Fando, I’m calling just in case you forgot about my request from earlier today. I should think that after finding no one at the Phoenix Corporation, and seeing the results of that dreadful fire, that you would realise that there are some very strange things going on and that we might be of some assistance to you.”

He laughed the soft laugh again. He was quite good at it. I wondered to myself whether he practised it when he was alone; just to keep it in tip top shape for conversations like these.

“Please call me if you change your mind. I very much hope you will,” he continued. “Also, I must apologise for leaving you with the bill today. I’m afraid that was a practical joke on the part of my associate Mr. Dong. He does have a rather odd sense of humour. He told me to say hello to you for him, and that he will be happy to reimburse you when we next meet. Goodbye.”

“How decent of Mr. Dong,” I thought. I then realised that Mr. Wang said “when” and not “if” we would meet again. That couldn’t be good.

Stew’s message was a bit longer.

“Hey, this is Stew. I would have called sooner, but I played with Lukas this afternoon and you know how he plays. It’s a wonder that he can hit anything wearing that gigantic Stetson with all the medals and feathers. We spend half the day looking for his tee shots. Anyway, I shot an 85. I hit a really good approach on the second hole at the Country Club, right to four feet. The wind was crossing hard from the south, so I had to fade it back to the pin over a trap. Luckily the greens weren’t too firm and it settled nicely below the hole. The only birdie of the day, I’m afraid.”

I’ve often thought that if Stew ever gave up writing, he could have a lovely career as a golf presenter. He could practically do the job in his sleep. If I tried it that way, I’d just respond to every drive with, “Forward!”

“The greens were fairly slow, so the reads were pretty tough,” he continued. ‘Your machine is telling me I’m almost out of time so I’ll tell you more, later. Oh, yeah, how’d the trip to Phoenix go?”

My wife looked at me. My daughter had come into the room while I was playing Stew’s message as well and was also looking at me. They were both giving me looks of quiet concern, looks that signified confusion and uncertainty.

“What this all about?” my wife asked.

“Yeah and how did you get to Phoenix, Arizona and back so soon?” my daughter inquired.

At least I could answer the second question.

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