Cruising altitude, NNW, UA4180: ORF to ORD (TOL)
There’s that feeling again: Okay, I’m on this plane with the rest of my team. The ticket agent cleared me. Gate security cleared me. I open my journal and reexamine the glossy slip of paper, the boarding pass with my name on it. My name. Mine. No one else tried to sit in my seat. And yet, there’s that old familiar feeling that at any moment the flight attendant is going to march down the narrow aisle, stop at my seat and loudly declare that I’m on the wrong flight.
As if. As if two other people not now or ever involved in my mental mania were also on the wrong flight. As if all the people who had a hand in getting me into this seat were part of some immensely complicated, ‘Hey, let’s fuck with this guy’ campaign.
“I’m sorry, sir, you’re going to have to get off the plane.” According to the ancient traditions of the phobia, it would be entirely useless to argue with her. What remains is how I’m supposed to successfully deplane.
“Well, that’s not my problem but you need to go now,” she’ll say, having reached up to the overhead compartment where my bags are stored and shoved them unceremoniously into my arms.
“Is there a back door? I kinda, uh, I don’t want to depressurize the cabin…?”
“Did I mention a fifth door on this aircraft during the safety brief? Were you even paying attention?”
After that, I guess we’d just stare at each other until a solution presented itself, as I never worked out the details beyond that moment. I don’t know where this strange phobia comes from and obviously it’s never once come true, but I’ve been flying since I was eight and I know it’s always been there. Just think, thirty-five years of flying. If I’d been counting sky miles the entire time I’d probably have earned the keys to the Space Shuttle by now.
Half in and half out of the Other World: The secret origins of 9 p.m. rely solely upon an isopropyl rebreather and a Visual Basic backbone… A good spy is at all times pregnant with a redundant copy of himself. In the event of System Failure, the copy will burst forth and complete the mission… Keep your jaw clean, inside and out. Let thy teeth be strong, let thy tongue be clean, let thy mouth be smooth. Forging a [CLASSIFIED] relationship with another human being is a process of wet tendrils not unlike snakes in a Vaseline pit; the squirming, the tightening and flexing, moist tentacles seeking calculated need, deep purchase, and long term life insurance. It is the future sound of slow legs kicking toward pleasure beneath satin sheets, the distant echoes of betrayal and the ghosts of ancient moans focused as present tension of the finger on the trigger, poised. Memories in the wine cellar hold the soft earth boiling, the musty smell of mold and uncertainty. Get to the bottom of everything and swim up from there; lost knowledge sinks quickly and is devoured by bottom feeders; the weight of young love letters, the solemnity of early promises. Monitor all facial expression like radio signals, sitting in a darkened room with stacks of dead cigarettes and empty coffee urns, fiddling with a large, burnished dial, the buzz of the occasional “hit” traveling up the cloth cord and crackling through the worn leather headset.
–awake. Exit plane (with everyone else), gather the bags, acquire the rental.
41 32’ 47” N, 83 36’4” W – Candlewood Suites, Middle of Nowhere
(Google maps: “Uh, actually it’s called Perrysburg. It’s near Toledo, Ohio.”)
Early morning thunder and lightning detonates outside my window. The sky revealed in flashes of intense white light is an electric blue streaked with God’s angry tears. God is crying because he hates Ohio just as much as I do and he’s getting zero return on his investment. He’d probably like to tear it down and start over, maybe run some long-term experiments in green planning or fence off the whole state and grow a massive crop of medical marijuana, but he can’t. Ohio’s bought and paid for. People chose to live here. Did you know that 24 of our Nation’s astronauts hailed from Ohio? What did they know about Ohio that made them want to flee the Earth? It’s a valid question.
So I’m barely awake and attempting to capture both context and meaning of a dream I had less than half an hour ago. It began with me waking up in a strange bed, one located in a rough approximation of my childhood home: 790 Siebert Street, early 1970s, Columbus, Ohio, many years before the place turned into a shithole, according to Google maps.
(Google maps: We never said that. It was probably a nice place to grow up. Things change.)
So I awoke within the dream to an all-caps text message: COME NOW. The message was already several hours old.
Shit. I sat up with a start. Apparently I’d been expecting this message but now I was late for whatever ‘NOW’ I’d been waiting for. I looked around. There’d been a wild party in this dream home, and apparently I’d fallen asleep in the center of it. There were broken dishes piled on a nearby table, various slumbering bodies and assorted articles of clothing strewn across the furniture. Additional (classification: conscious) strangers were milling in and out through the open door. I recognized nothing, and no one. Maybe the people who frequent this dream state are using my childhood home as a flophouse. Whatever, I can’t help that. I prefer to deal with things I can actually control.
I swung my feet to the floor and rubbed my face, looking down over my hands at the blue tiles. Blue tiles…? I’m in the living room; this should be shitty beige carpeting. Apparently the party damage extended as far as the removal or upgrade of key design elements of the dream house while I slept. (Was I sleeping in two worlds? If that’s the case, when was I awake in this one? Was it all in the past?) Some of the tiles were stained, and some were missing but I could see ants scurrying across the glossy surface. Ants are supposed to form highways, straight lines. Anyone who knows anything knows that. These ants were marching in identical clockwise circles. The house was obviously fucked, but I had no time to fix it. I was late for the NOW.
I headed outside and raced across the street. The next block over was built on a slight hill, and atop this hill sat a long row of dark and empty row houses; sagging and peeling, choked by weeds and masked by random quilts of ragged plywood. Each time I wake up in this dream neighborhood the sky looks stranger and redder, like something out of an early Star Trek episode. Piles of ancient newspapers and unpaid utility bills were piled high in front of each door. I didn’t care about that. I was looking closely at each address, searching for a telltale sign. In the way that only makes sense in a dream, I knew that the gate was always fluid, always moving. After a few moments of hesitation, I spotted the mark. I charged up the front steps of the second houses and rang the doorbell twice before darting back down the steps and following an overgrown path along the left side of the house and knocking three times on the small wooden gate before the doorbell timer ran down. The gate swung open.
“You’re late,” (someone) told me.
“I know,” I began. I didn’t need reminding. “But —
“He doesn’t like being kept waiting,” (someone) insisted, stepping aside to let me enter.
I looked around. Instead of a narrow, weed choked patch I was standing in an immense cobblestone courtyard surrounded by high timber walls complete with machicolations, a covered parapet walk, gas lamps, wooden benches, a small garden, a fountain and a wide walkway that descended into a great darkness beneath the house. None of it was visible from the street, and certainly not from Google maps.
(Google maps: That’s because you’re dreaming and possibly crazy. We deal in cold, hard, satellite fact. See? Pictures!)
The faces of the houses were just decoration on the walls. This secret structure occupied the entire city block. It didn’t matter that Carla Fourman, the first girl I ever had a crush on, used to live in what was apparently the false entrance of this structure. This was his house now, all of it. I have to wonder if the corner convenience store not three blocks from here where I played my first game of Pac-Man wasn’t a façade as well. Guess it didn’t matter.
“So did he read it?” I turned and asked (someone).
“Yes, but you know what he’s like. Everything is instantaneous, spur of the moment. You’re too late. You missed your window.”
As we spoke, a group of men in brown robes exited the darkness beneath Carla Fourman’s house, speaking quietly amongst themselves and carrying disproportionately large yellow construction cranes slung over their shoulders. Again, in typical dream language, I was led to understand they were going fishing in a nearby pond.
(Google maps: Again, in plain English, you’re dreaming. The nearest body of water, the Scioto River, is thirteen blocks west of where you’re standing. So probably not.)
One of the men looked up from under his hood, his face largely constructed of beard and blue eyes: Warren Fucking Ellis.
I awoke to thunder and reality when I opened my eyes — failing once again to recognize the room, but I definitely heard rain.
Disclosure: I self-published my first sci-fi novel in 2010 and was excited to learn soon after that Warren had posted something about it on Whitechapel.com. (I’m not going to link to the post, it was a long time ago; I guess my dream schedulers are all tied up in land rights issues and nightmare bureaucracy.) Point is, the man who wrote Transmetropolitan was interested in reading something I’d written. Holy shit! I was floored by the news. (Well, did he read it? Did he like it?) Those are good questions. Did he shit out the pieces and force-feed it to a wayward bill collector? That’s another possibility. The answer is D: I don’t know, and probably never will. That lone post board comment would be the last I’d ever hear on the subject. Communications and inquiries via Twitter and email went unreturned. I’m going to assume he wasn’t interested. Them’s the breaks.
Sales of KnoWare Man are non-existent; I’ve started mailing signed copies to artists whose work I admire: DJ Shadow, Sage Francis, Henry Rollins, Clutch, Nick Cave and Aesop Rock so far, because I listened to their albums while I wrote it. I’ve heard nothing back from any of them. I guess I didn’t really expect to, but I like the idea that something I wrote might be on any one of their bookshelves. I recently learned that a copy of KnoWare Man is being circulated around a women’s correctional facility in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At least I know someone’s enjoying it.
To be continued…