He had that dream again, that odd, willowy, portentous dream. The one that had been slowly unfurling in real time for almost ten years.
1955. UCLA. Those same 3 roomies in that house now more familiar than mine. So odd. We got the milk delivery in glass bottles like a few dreams ago. It was delicious. The explanation in the dream for a few month gap was I was away on break and the whole thing welcomed me back whole. 8 years and the thing in real time has not even been more than a few days “there”. We had sandwiches and read the paper with that ice cold damn milk. Can almost taste it.
He is 40. He never went to UCLA. He is not aware of any real longing, pangs or nostalgia for college. He is not exactly content in his life but far from morose, that paralysis of days of depression that was him as a teen, the insect in amber now in those old yearbook photos and bad poems. He has his hair for the most part, he has a job, he has a loving wife, he has an amazing cat who loves him more than anyone knew animals could, he has a reliable car, he has loving friends and family and he has a dream hungry for him in some impossible past.
The dream is so absolute, in every stupid detail. I brush my teeth twice a day there. I buy toilet paper when it is my turn. I go to classes and do homework. I shower there. The oddest one is that when the dream has its day end I dream there in a bed to “awaken” weeks later in the real world to a day beginning in that unreal past. The me dreams a lot about some meadow and a sign never quite yet into focus. Not clear what it says. The dream me awakens hungry always. This of al of it makes the most sense.
He is heading to work now. The dream has left a slight cloudy residue somewhere on the edge of this, a mildew of sorts. He is stuck in traffic behind someone texting with head down almost in a full bow inside a Range Rover. The sky is bright. The sun is beaming warm even at 7 am. The car beside him has a guy blasting some podcast about the future of Augmented Reality and the full internet being integrated at all times into a day. The car on the other side of him has a family all on phones or watching a film on little televisions in the back of their aging semi rusted van. He has the tiniest residue of 1955 stuck to all this along with a bit of eye booger crust he is yet to wipe away.
I remember the end of middle school and failing so greatly and it being as small as ants amongst it all. I was so lost and depressed. I had the shiny high I.Q that was a dirty rock around my neck more times than not. I had a teacher come in stunned at my getting a low C in her class. She came in like someone emerging from a shipwreck or crash, those dead eye of being stunned. She muttered something about seeing my I.Q and how less than an A was a bold insult. I just nodded. Tuned it all out. She would never know how much I wanted to vanish, to be fog, to be smog blown clear by a dull afternoon sea breeze. She would never know I studied in the library how the biggest underachievers are guess who? Kids like me burdened with high I.Q scores and the rest. Some crack under pressure. Some never find a damn niche. Others burn out and rebel. I was well on my way to all of these things. I failed so bad that the smarty pants program that brought NASA to give us pictures in 5th grade kicked me right on out. So now I dream of some other life in 1955. Go figure.
He lurches forward a bit in the traffic. The taste of almost half speed limit is both delicious and brief. His car is ten years old but the mileage is low. His friend died a few weeks ago on the same day he got word he got something into a decent art show again. His college diplomas were both lost in his parents’ garage years back when he had to move back to find a job. He jokes about this at parties but really placed them in the oil by his dad’s old paint cans and batteries to die, a murder of the fancy signatures and seals to make them just that tiny finite bit go away.
He has a master’s degree and unless asked tells no one this. When asked what he does he will reply “stuff” and sheepishly grin. He has done things in a few fields but it is like quantifying gnats across a field , fluid, incomplete, stuff..stuff..stuff. He hits the brakes and again blasts beside him the talk of future, shiny, big data, of AR and mixed reality like some chrome cold savior. He flinches a bit to this and tries to recall the latest bit of that odd dream.
Damn. It is evaporating in my recall now like always. Now just a list of things remains: converse shoes, a table with all of our feet resting on it, the simple fridge and sink, a backfire, the clink of glass, the clear still visceral taste of sandwich. The roomies there feel like friends, they really do. It is so weird. I can feel the bond until I wake up. I can almost feel those shoes on my feet as all the rest bleeds away. Why 1955? Why this dream? I had the long series of dreams the summer between middle and high school but it only lasted a week and repeated. I was in phys ed class and we had to walk and run barefoot over broken glass, needles, razor blades and rusted old trophies and picture frames while in the dream’s periphery was an orange rectangle aglow as though on fire. The last night some part of me could not take it anymore and got lucid, shouted “this is most likely not real and I am quite tired of it!” and ran to that glowing rectangle. The dream evaporated and I was a on a huge ship full of amazing buffets of food and wall mounted televisions playing all my favorite shows and video games. After a long time wandering in it I saw on its edge..yep….a black rectangle, a door to that other dream, it had always been there. At least I escaped that place.
The traffic glimmers as the sun breaks free from a small thick mid level cloud, the breath of long dead thunderstorms the day before out over Arizona rolling into Los Angeles as little mounds like hills of vapor from the air when those storms collapsed somewhere out over the eastern deserts. The little cloud almost looks like it wants to rain but it is benign, water fall impotent, a kind of crumbling little dollar store lamp of moisture from what once brought lightning and flash floods a day and two hundred miles before. It is almost beautiful this shimmer of light on so much glass and metal held almost at standstill. Almost.
They scattered his ashes and we were not invited. Family only. Ten years and all those conversations and meals and shared stories and could not even be there when for a few seconds he became a cloud. Damn. He was older by a few decades but it did not matter once you started chatting him up. He went to college when it was free. He went to college dances and had yearbooks and jazz bands and an innocence about it all that none of us could touch. You could listen to him, imagine it in great detail but it was almost another universe in its details. His pranks sometimes were in limericks or in Latin. Amazing. I don’t even know when he was thrown from an urn. I guess I never will. I was never told anything but the day he died. He had plans to travel. He had dinner plans with my wife and I. He had errands to run. Vapor all now. The traffic is strangely shimmering now but it still is mucking up my day. There is a weird beauty right now in how the light suddenly almost transforms everything…but another late clock in and I am surely fired.
John Foonton is sitting in traffic like he has a few thousand times now. He has hit the same pocket of traffic that tends to hit at the interchange of the 101 becoming the 135 and breaking a section off to the 5. He is listing to the radio station that still stubbornly plays the old rock songs he has long tired of, the fierce repetition making every drum , voice and guitar as rote as this drive, as this pause and interchange, as the everything that at times feels more and more like a mayo smear where once was a rainbow of possibilities in a day and in places, a sort of anti prism breaking range into a dull soul leeching singularity.
The guy listening to the damn talk on glimmering future is now still oddly beside him again but drowned out by antiseptic 70’s rock into so many fragments of words amidst gibberish. John once wrote theory about future after grad school and a few of his theoretical papers got some traction in the weird world of academia while he worked at odd jobs.
John for a few years wrote of the gleaming possible, clipped by not yet existing, the empirical held just enough at bay. He predicted smart phones, siri, geo tagging searches, fast streaming films and texting. He even spoke at a fancy university once on the works he had written. There was a fine spread of desserts afterward and his name tag shined in the light as he ate that fine night many years ago.
John will re-enter and re-invigorate that dream again soon, almost touch some immersive space, not present or future, gleaming with technology but of past. He will eat sandwiches and drink milk. He will be welcomed as time and space are polite enough to wait patiently for him not speed ahead as life does. He will swim real time in a place of potential as much as of erasure. Nothing will shimmer, not even the glass bottles. He may even dream there.
He will never know that his older friend was at UCLA in 1955 and also drank milk and ate sandwiches with friends as this conversation they simply never had but that is not what the dream is skinned with nor what will envelop him with an open space and simplicity. It is not of technology or any kind of magic, just the simple antidote one will never know they need until the snake has bitten and the venom is in.
For now he sits and waits in traffic, tunes out impossibly worded announcements of joyous future sure to rain out into a present, the geysers of verbiage and promise to breathe out a death gasp of things simply being, of objects, of traffic, of information and being shielded away from each other be it in urns in death, cars in traffic or in gadgets and routine where once was possibility glittering above the unsweetened oatmeal of days and their beginning and end.
He predicted the present. It was shimmering then.