One. I’m in a hotel. It feels European, expensive and old. I’m wandering the rooms of a massive hotel suite in my full dress uniform. Ribbons, medals, the works. I can feel the fabric and hear the rustle of the material. I’m sipping what I assume is whiskey from a highball glass and looking out the windows over and over, waiting for someone to come back. I know who it is, but I’m afraid to admit it for fear of them not returning. My (long-deceased) parents are watching television in an adjoining suite, lying together on the bed, just staring at the screen. Each time I open the door they glance up briefly before returning their gaze to the screen. I close the door again and wait and pace some more.
Two. I have the ability to vanquish people into space. All I have to do is look at them and will them away and the next time they’re alone in a room they vanish, reappearing suddenly in the Earth’s upper atmosphere where they are burned up on re-entry like fragile comets. No one else knows about this and I’m terrified. Each time I get angry, someone vanishes. Looters in a riot vanish. The community blames the local police department. The jails are firebombed. Angry citizens stage raids on jails to rescue the people they believe are being held inside. Law enforcement reacts. Innocents are gunned down. Missing posters are everywhere and doctored photos abound. Outrage is palpable. This is the highest number of missing people ever recorded. The religious right think the Rapture has begun. They lock arms as the news cameras focus on the sight of them praying fervently at the tops of their lungs. They burn mosques and planned parenthood facilities in an effort to be noticed by God, hoping to be taken next, wanting only to be nearer, to be Right at long last. This makes me even angrier; as a result even more people disappear. I fight to keep my emotions in check but the power has corrupted me. It’s not until amateur astronomers begin logging the unusually high number of unscheduled meteor showers that anyone becomes aware, until high resolution cameras capture the first images of human beings plummeting toward the earth, arms churning, faces frozen in masks of terror and silent screams. Even then, no one accepts this as the truth. The conspiracy theories worsen, the violence rages out of control and my anger sends still more people into space. The population drops exponentially until I am afraid to open my eyes, hiding in the dark behind locked doors, concentrating on thoughts of reams of blank typing paper, page after page of crisp white cascading to the floor. I was never so happy to wake up.
Three. There is a mountain and a family who has dwelled in and on it for generations. They occupied dozens of interconnected caves, some haunted by their own ancestors. There were skeletal remains placed casually along the passageways, dioramas honoring or capturing the traits of the dead:“Great Uncle Talmadge was such a ham! He’d have just loved this.” There were 30s era gift shops with carefully hand-painted signs advertising postcards, empty snow globes and yellowed dolls, shelves of lonely items layered in dust, expired goods meant to be a viable source of income. I saw crates of stolen military hardware, parked Jeeps with flat tires, tarped howitzers and stacks of rifles. I seem to recall that they were mining for gold.
The airport is empty again. People can be seen eating bagels and popcorn, gazing intently into the pages of a Crichton novel or thumbing through their personalized gateway of all worldly knowledge. They charge their devices and stretch and yawn, sipping coffee and waiting. The lounge is cold. If I let my eyes go out of focus I see only shoes and bags, coffee cups and bowed heads. I see wires and feet and coats. I hear the sound of a chip bag being crumpled. These are the signs of human civilization at 0845 eastern standard time. Later, when the lounge clears again, different people will assume these roles, spending the portioned eights of their day as they see fit, as they must: Eight hours to sleep, eight hours to live, eight hours to work. I’m waiting too. I am no different.
Remember that we are born without consent. We are taught to live in response to what we’re told in accordance with what we think we know, backed up by what our senses tell us. We may live in a way that reflects a spiritual belief. We may live for the sake of living. We may live life resenting our own existence, unable to put the feeling of deep betrayal into words, given our limited vocabulary. Still, we’re here. We leave an impression on others whether we mean to or not, and maybe we’re remembered for the good we’ve done when we pass on. Ripples of immortality move silently outward on a still pond as a large bird flies overhead soaked in moonlight. And then it’s gone.
Earlier this year, I was flying south toward Houston with the glint of the morning sun bouncing off the wing and Rush blaring in my headphones, shadows of clouds smothering the brown earth and plastic deltas, glinting green highway markers winking in the light. Just as soon as I was up, I was coming down, the shadow of landing gear smeared across the tarmac and the migrating herd of high-speed machines racing along the twisting highways below. “Welcome to wherever, the local time is about what you expect it to be.” Sometimes I catch sight of myself at other departure lounges boarding other planes. I exchange a knowing smile with myself; we hoist our identical travel mugs and part ways.
10NOV2016 – A cafe somewhere, listening to Frank Zappa and drinking my coffee. Looking around, I’m reminded that we are the aliens here. It’s not little green men with somniferous eyes and a penchant for probes that we need to be alarmed by. Hell, no. It’s us. We are all the strange species we will ever bother to fathom.
My legs are killing me. I ran a mile and a half yesterday, did 100 squats, managed 50 pushups, ran another mile and a half and then did a burpee each time Sting sang that famous chorus to Roxanne (“…put on the red light!”) and then I threw up, but I finished the workout. Not bad for 45.
This all seems eerily like the sort of thing one is supposed to type into a laptop while sitting in a coffee house in 2016, doesn’t it? Like no matter what you do, you can’t escape what’s expected of you.
(Sorry. Me. Expected of me.)
I can see again. A cataract surgery on my left eye in 2014 left me with one amazing bionic eye and what felt like dried coffee smeared across my right retina. The doctor advised me to wait a bit before the second operation, to make sure everything went well, but I had the second operation and it was like having a veil removed. It is now possible for me to acknowledge the right side of the world around me. Night driving is a pleasure again. No more acid trails, no more guessing. “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster…” The good news is that with this second artificial lens I have a whole new suite of goodies at my disposal. Thermal, UV and millimeter wave radar, for starts. I can see who’s been naughty and nice. I can observe ants fucking at a distance of thirty yards. I can patch into CCTV networks around the city. I am perfecting my “Steve Austin squint.” Now I just need a red tracksuit and some guy named Oscar to take orders from.
It occurs to me that I’ve been writing in notebooks since the summer of 1990. The first dream I bothered to capture was one where I was the richest man in the world. I owned newspapers and radio stations and businesses and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock was my financial advisor. My second journal was pure Goth embarrassment, but I’ll keep it just the same. They’re all just piles of words. I didn’t kill anyone. There is no true shame here. Trees are the ultimate confidant.
If I’d known better then, I’d have done things different. But I didn’t. Now I’m here.
Just sort it out the best you can. Know what you can change, and what you can’t. This is this, and that is that. Stay awake and be aware of as many moments as you can. You can only get your arms around three, maybe four at a time before you forget what you’re holding onto in the first place. After that, you tell yourself that change is important so you give away an older moment to accept a newer one but somewhere down the line you’ve swapped them all out and lost track of who you were along the way. Last month’s calendar is obsolete on the first of this month and what you carry in your pockets is just a record of your perception. A ticket stub. A bill paid. A text message. It’s fantastic to think that these things ever happened.
Remember to relax. You’ve done more in the past 20 years than most folks accomplish in a lifetime. You’re living an adventure that can only be seen with the right kind of eyes. You’ve got the skills to pay the bills. Maintain your sense of self, your professionalism, your perspective and your sense of order. You’ll be okay. Keep your nose to the wind and your head on a swivel. Keep a tight hold on what they taught you: “Honor. Respect. Devotion to duty.” Nothing bad can come from adherence to a core set of values or a strong sense of self. Potential. Possibility. Preservation. Patience.
The secret is being able to change plans in an instant; to be okay with one weird idea but ready to latch onto the next in the following moment.
This is not the end.
There is more to come. Be ready.