Not to be confused with self-abuse.
A bit of background: my undergrad degree is in chemistry. So when I found myself in a college freshman intro chemistry class, I could be forgiven, don’t you think, for skipping the reading assignment? Oh, I had skimmed it, enough that things looked vaguely familiar. I figured I would pick up what I needed to know during the lecture.
The prof, somehow figuring out that I had a BS in chemistry, announced that I would be teaching today’s class.
“Oh, that’s okay, you go right ahead,” said I.
“No, no, I insist,” said the prof.
From my seat in the auditorium, I began working through the course reading page by page. One of the other students raised her hand and politely suggested I get up in front of the blackboard to give a more conventional lecture, since my current plan was (and I quote) boring. I obliged, and began to wipe the board clean. Except it wasn’t a blackboard at all, it was a dry-erase board, and the last lecturer had written all over it with the wrong (i.e. unerasable) pen.
The classroom was mostly filled with sympathetic and patient souls, but there were just enough unruly students to turn the whole thing into chaos. The background chatter would not stop no matter how much I begged. And to make matters worse, there was a widescreen TV next to the dry-erase board, and it was on, and it was blaring. I did not have the remote. I asked that whoever had the remote should turn it off. When that didn’t work, I tried to turn it off at the source, but every time I pushed the on/off button, the genius with the remote turned it back on again.
When finally I had their attention (and the TV was silent), I turned the page on the textbook. What, I wondered, would I be obliged to explain? Hopefully not the Nernst equation or the Henderson Hasselbalch equation. I haven’t looked at those in years. Hopefully something easy, like the concept of a mole.
But no. The next page had twelve full-color images of the monthly birth stones, and rings made from those birth stones. One of the students asked me, “Um, what is the relevance of this to our class?” and I was stumped. So I said, “These stones, see — they’re all matter!” Brilliant.
I think I woke up before the students had finished sharpening their pointed sticks.
You’re at work and all of a sudden your smart phone starts screaming at you. Screaming. Loud, brash noise, static amped to 11, and your fingers are racing around the damn thing trying to figure out what’s wrong. Is it a low battery? No. Has your son installed some sort of demonic app? No. Ring tone from hell? No.
Is it, most unfortunately, the new Geiger counter app you recently purchased? Apparently so.
And now as you race away from where you were, the counter starts to calm down: dull roar, insistent mutter, and finally a sedate click, click, click-click, click; and you’re wondering exactly how long you stood in that spot where the counts were so stratospheric your smart phone’s speakers nearly melted, and whether you’re now merely sterile, or will you die of cancer within the year, or will your colon melt over the next 36 hours?
The doctor’s no good. He’s misread your chart, which is evident from the first words out of his mouth, “Sorry to tell you this, but the cancer has come back.” Kind of hard to do when you haven’t had cancer in the first place. Employee Health ain’t much better. You didn’t work in an area known for its radiation levels (except of course you DID) so you were never given a badge.
Your boss is smarmy and well practiced in denial. He’s been doing it to the press all afternoon, and now it’s your turn, and before you get a chance to rip out his throat, you effing wake up.
As I’ve said many times, my subconscious is out to get me.
Ugh, I’m exhausted. But I have less than 48 hours of call left, which is a good thing, and thus far none of the problems have been insurmountable.
Last night, I had a typically annoying student’s dream. Some sort of project was due, and it counted for 60% of my grade. I would have to turn in a cardboard packing box of data, the crunched numbers, conclusions, answers to questions. I thought the whole thing was stupid and I had procrastinated on it like crazy, and now, with minutes to go before class, I realized I hadn’t done anything.
Like I say, the typical student’s dream. The interesting part is that after waking up with a sense of intense relief (my own real-life problems are not nearly as frustrating), I went back to sleep and re-entered the same dream.
This time, I had realized that we all had the same data, and I was able to write a quick program (me? program? It’s a dream!) to crunch all the data. I had also realized that the project was due at the end of class, so I had an hour or so to put things all together. I was going to do this after all. Trouble was, I had to turn in the box of data and I couldn’t find it. Student dream panic all over again.
Wake up, go back to sleep. Now I’ve found my data and I’ve turned in my project in the nick of time . . . but I’ve neglected all my other classes, which have assignments due tomorrow.
I’ll bet that was as tedious to read as it was to experience. I’d like to know what exactly my subconscious is trying to work through. And why it’s so uncivil as to not throw me the occasional bone.
Yeah, another dream. Sorry. No one ever comments on these posts, which proves that dreams are only of interest to the dreamer.
I’m walking with my father (still very much alive) in my grandparents’ neighborhood, and we’re trying to decide whether to call first or just drop in. I remember their number: AT2-9395 (right, Sis?) but we decide to drop in anyway. And there they are, and I give them each a hug and kiss, even my malevolent grandmother.
They have a boarder . . . a plump Jewish guy in his early 20s. He starts arguing with me about the need for Jews to marry one another and give birth to lots of little Jews, and I’m offended and start explaining the concept of hybrid vigor to him.
Okay, another dream.
As usual, my whole waking life has been compartmentalized, zipped up, locked away. The fact that the princess looks suspiciously like my audiologist from Santa Rosa, or that the friend who offers to loan me his corduroy jacket happens to be my best friend/partner from residency — none of that matters. This is a Doug I do not know, a first or second year med student too concerned with some late-arriving textbooks from Amazon to obsess over a date with royalty.
It’s more than a mere date. We’re engaged. The marriage is imminent. I’ve survived the rehearsal dinner, which oddly enough preceded the wedding by more than a few days, and now I’m to participate in another dinner, attended by the Queen-to-be (I will be — what do you call it — her consort?) and her top advisers. It’s a different sort of rehearsal dinner wherein my intellect may well be on stage; it will culminate in an exchange of wooden rings polished smooth by generations of blue-blooded newlyweds, followed by yet another rehearsal, my first bedding of the princess, conducted prior to the exchange of vows I suppose to ensure survival of the bloodline.
Only problem is, I’ve been too focused on the events of the day (my classes, perhaps a test or two, my missing books from Amazon) to pay much heed to the evening, and as the hour approaches I find I’m dressed in sneakers, shorts, and an old tee-shirt. No way Ill have time to make it home and change into a suit, and I know that on the grand scale of unforgivability, no-showing this dinner will rank much worse than down-dressing. Not by much, perhaps. But I really have no other option, I have to be there. Now.
I pass my friend on the way to the dinner and he sees I’m in a panic. There’s a quick exchange of information, but he doesn’t have a suit squirreled away in his car. He does have a corduroy jacket, an old rough thing good for keeping a body warm but not high-ranking on the style spectrum. A hair better than my tee-shirt. But the effect of the heavy jacket with my Bermuda shorts is ridiculous, so I go to my doom with the clothes on my back.
She’s on the steps with her entourage and she’s the picture of elegance, looking every bit like a woman who would lead or at least provide a remarkably attractive figurehead for a nation. She didn’t dress down for this dinner. And to her credit, she seems far less bothered by my appearance than I am. “I can go run and change into a suit,” I tell her, knowing well that I can’t do that without delaying dinner for the better part of an hour, but she smiles and says, “Oh, no, I like your furry legs!” and that’s that.
Maybe that’s my place in this whole affair. The royal line is too inbred and they need some new blood. Swarthy Jewish blood with short hairy legs.
As if to confirm this suspicion, the first course is an appetizer of chopped liver. Meanwhile, one of the princess’s advisers is arguing with another adviser about some common-wisdom advice on nutrition and dieting. They turn to me, the medical student, to settle the dispute, and I’m in a sudden cold sweat: Don’t you know they teach us nothing about nutrition in med school? But I bluster my way through an explanation, sure I’m failing this test — I’m a font of stammers and incomplete sentences and self-contradictions. I’m a bag of rough edges. All the while, my betrothed beams at me.
Waking up, I realize that my stylelessness and lack of Windsor polish is precisely what she wants in a consort.
I didn’t get to sleep until after 5 AM* and when I did, I had one of those terror-full end of the world dreams. At one point I recall looking in the bathroom mirror, wondering if I was dreaming, but it wasn’t the insightful “Is this a dream?” question that always yanks me from the dream, it was the “Is this a dream?” question you ask when things are going to hell and you wish half-heartedly that it would be a dream.
That we were living in my grandparents’ old house on Atlantic should have been a clue. Or the pet bear, but we’ll get back to him in a moment.
I was in the living room, looking out upon a darkening sky. There was a storm coming from that direction but it was like no other storm: horizontal rain, the droplets hitting the window like pebbles. As I watched I realized these were indeed pebbles, and the pebbles grew larger, had traces of light as if they were tiny comets. The sky had turned black. I realized the window wouldn’t last so I hurried Karen and the pets** into the kitchen (at the back of the house) and told her, “Good thing I bought a 2.5 gallon water jug yesterday, but I’m afraid there isn’t much to eat.”
Whereupon our pet bear, big and shambling like an overgrown dog, looked at the cats and Karen and me and said, “What are you talking about? There’s plenty to eat.”***
I blame Discovery Channel, or Animal Planet, or whatever Karen was watching yesterday. There was a bit on a trained bear that had bit out its trainer’s throat, killing him, and another bit speculating about different end of the world scenarios, such as the meteor that’s going to almost miss us in 2028.
The scary thing about the dream was not knowing what had happened. I went on the computer and was surprised to find power still working, the internet still functioning, but there was no news. And so we passed the time, waiting with our cats and talking bear, while I was torn between waiting for the inevitable and venturing back into the living room. To watch.
Like the Cowboy Junkies sing, I just want to see what kills me.
*Insomnia from hell, despite giving up all caffeine and chocolate, doing cardio for a hour yesterday afternoon, and taking my usual meds.
**Sorry, Jake, but my subconscious spared you from this end of the world fantasy.
***I pointed out that by the time he’d finished off Karen and me and the cats that the rest of the population would be dead or, at any rate, inedible. He appeared non-plussed. My logic had defeated him.
This happens to me regularly: I’ll dream of neglected pets. Call it unresolved guilt; I still wonder whether I could have or should have done more for the pets I’ve owned who have died on my watch. Snakes don’t handle big moves, nor do frogs. Lizards and frogs often have narrow climate requirements.
In these dreams, I’ll find cages with forgotten pets in a back room I don’t often check. Last night, I was trying to clean a cage in which I had added way too many species. There were poison dart frogs and anoles, a Chinese water dragon, a dumpy frog. While I was cleaning the cage, the lizards kept trying to make a break for it. The water dragon leapt out, I grabbed his back (taking care not to grab the notoriously detachable lizard tail) and some of the skin came off in my hands. In horror I examined my lizard, who was in obvious pain, trying to decide whether to suture the wound, dress it, or give it up and euthanize. I dressed it.
Toward the end of the dream, I noticed two snakes poking their heads out of the cage’s substrate: a red-tailed boa and an emerald tree boa (which we’ve never owned). Long forgotten pets who had somehow survived, possibly by munching on our other pets.
In real life we take care of our animals, of course, but in these dreams I am often guilty of unthinkable callousness: I have left cages without food or water for weeks or even months, only to discover that my pets have grown, reproduced, thrived without my help. No connection with reality, in other words. In the real world, some pets fail no matter how much effort I put out (like my two water turtles, purchased last year, who refused to eat anything I put before them).
We have always kept pets. The morality of keeping pets has always interested and troubled me. Once a pet is in the pet store, he’s already a captive. Am I doing a favor by buying him, knowing I stand a better chance to do right by him than the little kid with a passing whim? Or does my purchase merely provide positive reinforcement to an industry that continues to capture/breed and imprison wild animals?
The logical endpoint of that line of thought would leave me a vegan, of course. And that ain’t gonna happen unless I can figure out how to fix a vegetarian meal that doesn’t bore the hell out of me and everyone else in this household.
The best dreams take place in the hour before waking. Or perhaps it only seems that way, since those are the dreams I remember.
I’m walking a trail when a big cat steps out and blocks my path. The cat is large like a tiger, fully capable of taking me out, so there’s really no point in running. She’s midnight black, sleek, glossy.
She paces forward. Without much caution I reach out, stroke her neck. She plops down onto her haunches and I get down on my knees to keep stroking her. She purrs like an Italian sports car. (Yes, I know the big cats don’t purr.) I lie down beside her and rest my head on her neck or shoulder, close enough to hear the purring, and we doze like that for what seems like a long time.
Then we both get up and she licks my hands, arms, face with that great sandpapery tongue. Tiring of that, she stalks off, leaving me to my trail.
Regarding the Times Square bombing attempt, mark my words, this will turn out to be a white supremacist or some other addled person from the Caucasian right. Supposedly the Pakistani Taliban are taking credit, but I doubt the veracity of that claim (particularly since they have a history of making false claims). The attempt had an unusual degree of amateurishness — for example, the perp had removed the VIN from the dash, but not from other parts of the vehicle, and descriptions of the explosive suggest a kluge job.
Law enforcement officials offered a more detailed description of the makeup of the failed car bomb found in Times Square on Saturday night, and said they were reviewing surveillance footage that showed a white man who appeared to be in his 40s walking away from the area as he looked over his shoulder and removed a layer of clothing.
Raymond W. Kelly, the New York City police commissioner, said on Sunday that the materials found in the Nissan Pathfinder — gasoline, propane, firecrackers and simple alarm clocks — also included eight bags of a granular substance, later determined to be nonexplosive grade of fertilizer, inside a 55-inch-tall metal gun locker.
Here we are at the beach: one of those quiet, nearly deserted coves south of Gold Beach which can be bitter cold when the wind is up, or Edenic on a sunny morning. It’s morning, the sun is up, and there are many of us. From the parking area we hiked down a steep, dry gully to get to a shore tracked by dogs and gulls. Damp sand made virginal by the receding tide, snaking line of cream-white shell fragments, smooth stones sparkling and popping a million tiny voices as the ocean sucks another wave back down. A rumble, a crash from the wrong direction, and the gully is no more. We’re trapped in the cove.
And I have surgical cases at 8 AM at my little hospital in Gold Beach.
We go our various ways. I climb one of the nearby bluffs that ring the cove and find a trail leading back to a concrete parking structure that has no business on the Southern Oregon coast. There it is, my in-laws’ old brown Camry. As soon as I get in and start the engine, the Camry turns into a go-kart, only it’s still a Toyota, so of course the accelerator sticks and I have a devil of a time not crashing on this suddenly crowded San Francisco avenue. And now it’s LA County Hospital where I have those 8 AM cases, and not only do I not have the time to make my start, I can’t seem to remember the OR’s phone number. Can’t even tell them I’m going to be late.
It goes on and on like that. There’s a part where I’m inching along at two or three or four miles an hour, part of a parade sandwiched between a clown car and a bronze centipede that roils along like a dragon on Chinese New Year; there’s another part where I tell myself if I can only find the freeway, I’ll be fine, but when I stop and ask directions from a guy on the street, he yammers gibberish at me, and all his friends laugh. It goes on and on.
And I’m thinking now that I should have stayed in that cove. Maybe that’s how you defeat a student’s dream.