dream sequence – part 82

As is the case with most of my dreams, this one consisted of fragments, but a familiar time and place provided me with a context from which I could weave some sort of dream narrative. Otherwise, the usual disclaimers apply: virtually none of the events depicted really happened.

An exception to this disclaimer is the time and place. It’s Spring, 1991, and I’ve just started a new job. As this job requires a security clearance, I have to wait out the process in places other than my assigned location. I spent three weeks in training, and then three more at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I assisted another Systems Administrator. Mostly we just hung out in a cramped office. For the first week, we also went out to lunch together, but I was broke and subsequently ate on campus, where I could eat for free as a member of the technical staff.

My lunches were a tour of the dormitory cafeterias that dotted the sprawling campus. The food was a step above basic, but I appreciated the hour-long break. I sat by myself, trying to be invisible. I marveled that, at 31, I seemed so much older than the students who swarmed around me. They ignored me entirely, as if I truly was invisible.

During the work day, I mostly interacted with other technical staff, people my own age or older. Students rarely came to data center except for tutoring with professors and their assistants. This intensified with my last week there, which turned out to be finals week.

One teen-aged girl caught my attention. She wandered the hallway instead of walking directly to one of the offices.

“May I help you?” I asked somewhat sincerely.

“I doubt it,” she replied.

Eventually I found out that she was a freshman on the verge of flunking out. She had submitted a programming project that would essentially determine her future at MIT. She was hoping to gather some intelligence about her project ahead of getting a final grade.

Finally a graduate assistant spoke to her in impatient whispers. She wasn’t happy.

She walked up to me and announced “I have a security flaw,” and started to walk away.

“What if I could help you with that?” I offered, not having a clue about what or how.

She seemed intrigued, but unconvinced. I told her everything I knew about cyber security, which took only a minute or two. She gave me a quick hug and then left.

The following day she stopped by the office with a backpack and a suitcase.

“I’m off to California,” she said.

“What about your project?”

“What about it?”

“Have you addressed the security flaw?”

“I think he’s bluffing,” she surmised. “I’m pretty sure he has a crush on me.”

Then she walked away, wheeling her luggage behind her.

At the risk of being a pest, I followed her, speculating about what I thought the flaw could be and how to fix it. It was a wild guess on my part, but she seemed to be buying into the idea.

Against my better judgment, I drove her to the bus station while I continued to expound upon my theory. She wasn’t listening. I stopped talking. We sat down in the waiting area and stared at the buses coming and going.

Abruptly, she turned to me and hugged me tight. “I know I can’t stay, but I don’t want to go.”

She sobbed. I didn’t know what to say.

The bus driver walked up to us.

“One ticket to Los Angeles?” she asked in the form of a question. Both of us stood up.

The bus driver gave me a good long look.

“First stop, Springfield.”

I followed along in my car. It was about an hour and a half drive. The bus pulled into a service station, where all of the passengers disembarked except one. A minute or two later, the bus driver stepped off and closed the door behind her. She didn’t seem surprised to see me.

“Asleep?” I asked her.

“On the phone,” she replied.

I sat inside the waiting area and sipped an overbrewed coffee. After about twenty minutes, the bus driver emerged from behind a door marked “Staff Only.”

“The next stop is Schenectady. It’s about an hour and a half away.”

I sighed.

“I should probably go back.”

An hour and a half later, the bus pulled into the Schenectady service station, and I followed close behind. Once again, all of the passengers got out except one, followed by the bus driver a few minutes later.

“Asleep,” she said.

I sighed.

“Does she have a name?”

“Probably, but I don’t know it.”

The bus driver clutched a bottle of water and stared at her bus.

“The next stop is Syracuse. It’s about two hours.”

The scene repeated itself, except that I had to refill my car with gas in Syracuse.

“When do we knock off for the night?” I asked the driver.

“This bus goes all the way to LA non-stop. I get relieved in Chicago, and then pick up the same route from there the following day. That’s when I knock off for the night.”

“So you drive all the way through to Chicago?”

“Yup.”

“Lots of coffee?”

“No, that wrecks your body after awhile. I used to try to fight off highway hypnosis. Now I use it to my advantage. It helps me to focus.”

“I should probably go back,” I said. Again.

“If you leave now, you could get back to Cambridge before midnight. If not, the next stop is Rochester.”

I looked at my watch. I wore one back then.

“How far to Rochester?”

“About an hour and a half.”

“I’ll make that my point of no return,” I said unconvincingly.

“See you then.”

Nearly 400 miles later, a familiar pattern took place. The one passenger I was following didn’t leave the bus. The bus driver used the rest room, purchased a bottled water and walked over to where I was sitting.

“I know,” I said to her. “It’s a fool’s journey.”

“It always is,” she replied.

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Twenty words.

Hours after the snow was supposed to end, I put on my boots. “A dusting,” I said to no one.

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Thirty-seven words

The longest day. I was hoping the flight would be delayed just long enough for any trace of light to be gone, but no such luck. First an amber horizon, then the unmistakable end of the tether.

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Happy Birthday!

Turning 61 a few months ago was fairly anticlimactic, given both the unremarkable age (although it is a prime number) and the fact that it took place in the middle of a pandemic. I received a small handful of birthday cards and unsolicited email and snail mail from people trying to sell me things, but that was about it.

One month to the day after my birthday, I received an email from a non-profit group whose mission was to match willing bone marrow donors with patients in need. I had volunteered for this opportunity during a blood drive years ago, and having known people in need of bone marrow transplants, I thought it was the least I could do.

As it turned out, 61 was a magic age as far as the registry was concerned. It meant that I could no longer be considered as a bone marrow donor for reasons they labored to explain nicely but could be summed up: “Transplant doctors want younger donors.” There was a table listing maximum acceptable donor ages in different countries, and I had the consolation of knowing, for example, that Australia would have dropped me from their roles at age 40.

As further solace, I was encouraged to donate to the non-profit registry.

happy birthday!
removed from the potential
donor list

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dream sequence – part 81

It was our first getaway since the pandemic began, and only our second venture off Cape. The intent was to meet up with an old friend, her husband, and daughter for a relaxing weekend at a seaside resort. Embracing the new normal – or at least acknowledging it – we wore masks and didn’t hug or shake hands.

To our surprise, another mutual friend had made the trip, along with her husband and children. Mary and I looked at each other, but otherwise tried to hide our concern.

Then, another family we didn’t recognize came through the door. They clearly knew our friends, and quickly made themselves at home. The father thrust his baby at me in an apparent gesture of instant friendship. The baby cried immediately.

Our dog Tito, always nervous around new people, was quite agitated, so Mary took him outside. A minute or two later, I followed, realizing that we might have to rethink this whole weekend. I couldn’t find Mary in the yard immediately surrounding the house, so I thought she might have taken a walk nearby.

The neighborhood wasn’t nearly as upscale as we thought it would be. Very few homes appeared to belong to permanent residents, giving the community more of a transient vibe than we had expected.

The boardwalk and pier had seen better days. The arcade was sprawling and noisy, but only sparsely attended. A large food court and seating area was nearly empty.

I crossed a bridge from the boardwalk to a residential area on the other side of a narrow canal. Many houses were boarded up or abandoned, with some evidence of squatters past and present. A man came out of one of the houses wearing a mask and some freshly splattered white paint. Surprised to see me, he began muttering to himself, although it occurred to me that he may have been trying to talk to me. I didn’t stay around long enough to find out.

Retracing my steps, I passed a convenience store with an upstairs balcony. Leaning out was a man in a carnival barker’s uniform, shouting some unintelligible nonsense at me. I picked up my pace and crossed the bridge over to the boardwalk.

A small band of musicians began playing for the dubious entertainment of a virtually non-existent crowd. Their song lyrics were intended to parody old classics. For example, to the tune of “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” they sang “Has Anybody Seen My Drink?” I kept walking, but woke up before reaching my destination.

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dream sequence – part 80

I was attending a conference at a hotel in a large city, along with several of my former co-workers. I sought out one developer with whom I had been friendly and sat next to her for several sessions before taking the elevator to a rooftop garden to grab a cocktail and chat. Before we reached the bar, she caught sight of another former colleague, at which point I evidently became invisible. I didn’t see her again.

At that point I had had enough of the conference, but was gripped with hunger on account of having skipped breakfast and lunch. I went looking for the hotel restaurant with the hope of grabbing something to eat before heading home.

A woman I didn’t recognize walked up to me with a pair of ping pong paddles and asked, with great enthusiasm, “Care to play?” Not putting up a strong enough objection, I found myself in a game that lasted much longer than I had anticipated.

For one, she was very good, slamming and curving the ball with great accuracy. In the dream, I was able to return everything she served, winning the first game. This seemed to infuriate her, but apparently this was only the first of many games, scored in the same way as a tennis match with games, sets and matches.

It got very competitive, and drew a crowd. Behind us, kitchen staff prepared Sicilian-style pizzas, temporarily distracting some of the growing audience. Perhaps, I thought, I could have some of that pizza as soon as I finished this epic ping pong match.

Sadly, I woke up before that happened, still quite hungry.

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dream sequence – part 79

My father had died in April, but there were still some loose ends to tie up. My youngest brother had already done the lion’s share of the work, settling the estate, selling the house and arranging for my mother’s care. There was yet one surprise awaiting at the bottom of a box of paperwork.

My parents owned a vacation home in Lake Luzerne, NY from 1973 to 1996. It became our summer getaway for many years, and once my brothers and I grew up, it became their mountain retreat. My father retired from the police department in 1992, selling my childhood home in Farmingdale, NY and then splitting their time between Lake Luzerne and a condo in Naples, FL. At some point, the time and effort it took to maintain both houses became too much, so they sold the house in Lake Luzerne and upgraded from the condo to a proper house in Naples.

Every word of the preceding two paragraphs is 100% true. What follows is entirely an invention of my subconscious, but given the context of my father’s recent passing, as well as the location in Lake Luzerne, it felt real.

The surprise my brother found in a box of paperwork back in California was a lease for a two-room apartment in Lake Luzerne. The lease was current through the end of 2020, and there was a key in a sealed envelope, with “#7” written in my father’s unmistakable print. The lease had a provision for early termination, forfeiting the security deposit. We decided that terminating the lease was the right thing to do. Unfortunately it included the formality of a landlord walk-through in the presence of the tenant. Given that I lived on the East Coast, I was nominated to make the trip.

I arrived in town on a Thursday night with the intention of meeting with the landlord the following afternoon. I spent Friday morning wandering around the town, amazed by how little had changed since my last visit in the mid-90s. The apartment building was an  old 2-story house that had been hastily divided into 10 modestly equipped apartments to accommodate workers at a nearby paper mill that closed decades ago. There were 5 identical 2-room apartments on each floor, each with a bedroom, half bath and small kitchenette. The 5 rooms shared a shower at the end of the hallway.

Envelope in hand, I located apartment #7 quickly enough. Not too surprisingly, the key required a little bit of persuasion to work, but after a few seconds I opened the door and stepped into the kitchen.

To say the room was spartan would be generous. The only cooking surface was a hotplate, supplemented by a microwave and toaster oven. The mini-fridge belonged in a college dorm and not an apartment, and the kitchen sink predated “mid-century modern”. The cabinets were made of plywood hastily painted white. In them were a few cups and plates. Likewise the drawers had a few utensils, but very little in the way of pots or pans.

When I opened the refrigerator, I noted a clear glass bowl with a black bean and vegetable salad that seemed fresh, neatly covered in plastic wrap. There was also a carton of milk and a few containers of yogurt.

I was startled by a greeting at the door, which I hadn’t closed behind me.

“Hey there! Are you moving in?”

It was a neat looking man in his 30s or 40s.

“Are you the landlord?” I asked.

“No,” he said with slight embarrassment, “I’m Curt. I live down the hallway.”

I guess I had expected any occupant of these dated apartments to be disheveled and down on his or her luck, an uncharitable misjudgment on my part.

“I’m sorry for the confusion. I have an appointment with the landlord this afternoon. Apparently this apartment was being leased by my father, and, well… he’s recently deceased…”

“Oh, my,” Curt said, “I’m very sorry to hear that.”

After about a minute of awkward silence, another man appeared at the door wearing only a towel. He had just stepped out of the shower and seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see him.

It was becoming clear that some sort of informal use of the apartment was going on, and while I had every right to an explanation, there had been no damage done, and the space had been kept clean and neat. If anything, the unsanctioned occupant or occupants had been doing my father, and therefore me, a huge favor.

“You know,” I said, “I think I might go back into town and come back at 1 to meet with the landlord.”

The men offered no objection, nor any sort of explanation. They politely followed me into the hallway as I locked the door behind us and walked out of the building.

Seconds later, I woke up, leaving me to speculate about the strange circumstances of an event that never happened.

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57 words

on_the_air

At first I thought I was merely being flattered; after all, I’ve been told that I have a “radio voice” before. Then, the request became serious, almost dire.

“We need you to read this on the air, with a tone that is dispassionate, and yet sincere.”

“Can I see the text first?”

The phone line went dead.

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52 words

The weed dealer was losing patience with me, as were the customers waiting in line behind me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “This is my first time making… this kind of purchase.”
He smiled.
“In that case, here’s something I guarantee will make you happy.”
I smiled, as if that’s what I wanted.

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dream sequence – part 78

border_crossing_20200719

For reasons never made clear within the context of the dream, we were trying to cross into Canada from New York by car. After the obligatory “Bonjour”, the border agent looked briefly at my passport and handed it back to me. By contrast, he looked at yours for several minutes, typing furiously at his computer while we frowned at one another. When he picked up his phone and called someone, we were well beyond worried. He coolly handed me back our passports.

“Please drive up to the building on the right”, he said, pointing to an institutional beige building that apparently served as an office. Two agents were already waiting for us and gestured for us to park in a specific location. One agent had a tablet, never taking his eyes from it.

Madame”, the officer said matter-of-factly, “there is an issue with your passport.”

“What kind of issue?” I asked. The officer was not amused that I had inserted myself into the conversation.

“We were not given any further details, only that Madame will not be able to cross into Canada at this time.”

Naturally we were outraged, exclaiming that there must be some mistake, that we were entitled to know what anomaly there might be, and that we should be permitted to address whatever concerns they might have so that we could be on our way. They were having none of it.

Monsieur may proceed, Madame may not. That is all.”

You looked at me. I turned to the officer. “Well, we either proceed together or not at all.”

“As you wish,” the officer said. He pointed to an exit ramp and said, “This is the way back to U.S. Have a nice day.”

I let out a deep sigh.

“You’re mad at me,” you said after several minutes on the road.

“I’m not mad at you,” I replied.

You didn’t believe me.

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