Fever dreams

A strange, dreamlike day, this.

I awoke from vivid dreams of being back in college, in the company of a girl I never knew: straight black hair, dark and distant eyes, aloof and openly hostile and strangely compelling — a mix of Aliera from Jane Yolen’s Foiled and something else entirely. She kept insisting that I had to “zap the bat,” whatever that meant; her respect for me depended on it. I had to “zap the bat, zap the bat.” And perhaps I even knew what she meant. Then we went out to dinner, and the restaurant of her choice turned out to be a cafeteria serving ham-and-jelly sandwiches.

Awake, I daydreamed about Barbara Gowdy’s novel The White Bone, which I’ve just finished, and obsessed over the pain and anguish of its great-hearted elephant characters. Then I thought about animal morality again, and animal consciousness, and looked at videos of chimps and elephants mourning their dead. We spend too much effort, I thought, ascribing intention and emotion to the wrong things — to the weather, to volcanoes and earthquakes, to God — and not enough effort in recognizing minds where they do exist: in the animals we live with, the ones we gape at in their enclosures, the ones we see pixelated onscreen. We are surrounded by their dreams.

Then, tonight, a lovely dinner with my wife, at a French restaurant called Robin des Bois whose decor absolutely astonished me: a junkyard of odds and ends, seemingly thrown thoughtlessly together, perfectly unintelligible and yet making perfect sense. A giant bottle in the entryway. An enormous, low-hanging crystal chandelier. Beyond that, a chipped statue of the Madonna and Child. Behind it, a pair of kitschy plastic swordfish hanging on the walls. An old Coca-Cola sign. The enormous face of Jimi Hendrix in the bathroom, watching you pee, while a sticker slapped casually on the mirror demanded “No Smokin’.” The music was a mishmash of old Kinks and ’80s New Wave and some recent, jittery stuff that neither of us recognized. The menu covers featured paintings of women in Bettie Page pinup poses. My wife had a ginger martini and I had a Pomigo (Stoli Orange, pomegranate juice, and lime), which added a dreamlike haze to the dream.

(The excellent food, at least, felt real. Much better than ham-and-jelly sandwiches, and with much better company.)

Walking home, slightly drunk, holding hands, focusing on the single bright star in the cursedly light-polluted New York sky. No, not a star, not twinkling, but a planet, shining steadily: Venus, the Evening Star. At a street corner we stopped for a family biking past, Mom and Dad and Big Brother on separate bikes, and a little toddler strapped into his seat behind Mom’s, saying: “Mom, you said there were no bad people in New York, and you lied!” But said, somehow, without reproach or condemnation; with the matter-of-factness of an ethnographer making notes on the strange people around him and the strange things they say.

On this strange day of dreams and half-dreams, in this strange and dreamlike city.

(Image credit: Dreaming in Technicolor)


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