If you ask me what makes the world spin around, I’ll tell you it ain’t love or money or even oil from the Middle East. I swear to God, it’s irony — sheer good old-fashioned, unadulterated irony. Sometimes I get the impression the thing has jumped on my back, attached itself like a leech and hung on like the hot Georgia sun in the Dog Days of summer. Irony seems to stalk me wherever I go. Of course, I’m getting a little ahead of myself…
Man, I wish I could take credit for that look on her face! I’d like to say it was because of something I’d said that was righteously clever. I can’t though. But, I swear, the look on her was all quirky and bizarre and priceless at the same time. What I’d said — “Clarice, I don’t dream” –wasn’t funny or even pithy. But once I’d said it, once I’d answered her question, her face gets all twisted and contorted as if she’s morphed into Aunt Bee, then walked in on teen-age Opie abusing himself. I guess, my answer to her question about my dreams was the last thing she was expecting.
To be sure, there are some things that have gotten easier as I have gotten older, but coping with the Southern summer heat ain’t one of them. The electronic sign on the side of the bank building in Little Five Points reads 95º. The humidity, up from the Gulf of Mexico, makes it feel like a miserable hundred and three. I’m in Virginia-Highlands and I’ve ducked inside Manuel’s to get a respite from the June heat. Manuel’s is one of the more famous watering holes in Atlanta and hopefully the cool and ‘conditioned’ air inside –and maybe a long-necked Corona –will help me fend off the heat’s fervor. Ironically though, after only a few minutes inside, instead of escaping the heat, I find myself in the middle of an unforseen conversation —taking heat.
“…Wh-wh-wh-why of course you dream, Billy.” Clarice says this as if to reassure me that she’s right even though my mind is thoroughly made up about the thing.
“Haven’t in years,” I tell her.
“But everybody dreams. Everybody. If you don’t dream at night, after awhile, they say, you’ll hallucinate during the day.”
“Hallucinations, hunh? Never heard that one but I guess it could explain some of the bizarre stuff we all see goin’ on during the day. Like Congress, Gaza, Putin, and ISIS. Maybe the world ain’t as nuts as it seems. Maybe we’re all just hallucinating. You know, maybe Lily Tomlin was right when she said “reality is just a collective hunch.” Then I wink at the faded portrait of Manuel looking down on us, ten feet above us from the building’s north interior wall.
“Cut it out,” says Clarice. “Be serious. You know better. You shouldn’t try to gaslight me. You dream at night just like everybody else, just as sure as we’re sittin’ here. Lately, I been dreamng lucky numbers. Like last night, I dreamed ‘327’ and it hit this morning on the Cash 3. Four hundred dollahs. Thas why I’m in here celebrating.”
“I use to dream. I just don’t any more.”
“Sure you do. You just don’t remember them after you wake up.”
“Clarice, I’m real sure that I don’t, so can we please change the subject? How’s your Momma’nem,”I ask her in that way that perhaps only another Southerner can understand.
Truth is, I’ve caught myself day-dreaming about things like winning the Powerball, getting around Amen Corner at Augusta National in one under (par), circumnavigating the globe in a single-handler, catching big stripers on Chesapeake Bay, even climbing Mt. Everest. Bucket List stuff. Sometimes, during rush hour, I dream about one of those big fancy military helicopters swooping down and whisking me up and away from city’s nightmarish traffic. But, at night during REM sleep, when dreams are supposed to come, when you’ve really got the time available to goof-off: Nothing. Nada. Nyet!
You’d have to have known Clarice back in the day to fully appreciate the cosmic — and comic — madness of that encounter in Manuel’s. Running into Clarice — in a tavern — was about as insane a scene as seeing a former pacifist preaching war or a one-time nun leaving the convent to become a hooker.
Clarice is the same age as me and lived four houses down the street the whole time we attended Rembrandt High. She and her family were ‘church people’. Holy Rollers. And teetotalers! I’d have bet anything that the Murchisons were against the repeal of Prohibition. But over the hour or so that we ironically ran into each other at Manuel’s, Clarice Murchison (not her real name) ironically knocks back five St. Pauli Girls!
Another reason I’m convinced it’s irony that makes the world spin is that exactly three weeks after I’m having the conversation about dreams with Clarice, I’m sitting in the same place having the same conversation –almost word for word–with David Evans.
David is a friend and fellow contributor to The Dew, who resides in West Virgina. David’s in town attending a seminar on Woodworking. This is his first time in Atlanta and we decided to meet at Manuel’s, where we are joined by our mutual friend, Jeff Cochran.
Over beer, crab cakes and the next few hours, our conversation courses over considerable territory: how much we each enjoyed words, enjoyed writing and enjoyed each others “work”. We talk about the unvarnished history of Atlanta, (no one alive knows more about this than Jeff), the World Cup, solutions to a few of the world’s problems and even the meaning of the word “fustilarian”. We discuss nothing earth shaking, just the kind of stuff men of a certain age talk about among themselves. (The topic of ‘women’ largely goes unspoken as men of a certain age know the secret of getting to be a certain age is to have ‘surrendered’ long ago to the reality that men just ain’t in charge.)
Before the end of the night, the subject ironically (and maybe inevitability) gets around to dreams…
“David, it’s like I told Clarice, I don’t dream.”
“Somebody from the old neighborhood. I run into her, for the first time in a dog’s age a few weeks back in this very place. She sat right where you’re sittin’ and tries to give me a hard time about the fact that I didn’t dream at night. She insisted–just insisted– that I did dream…like she knew more about me than I knew about myself.”
“Wh-wh-wh-why of course you dream, Will,” says David.
“David, I don’t.
“’Course you do.”
“You’re not going to pull ‘a Clarice’ on me are you? I swear, I haven’t dreamed at night for a really long time. Years.”
“Everybody dreams. Everybody. They used to say that if you don’t dream at night, you’d…”
“…hallucinate during the day,” we both finish the sentence. “But I. Don’t. Dream.”
“Will, you do. You just don’t remember them…you know…th-th-the dreams after you wake up.”
“Can we change the subject? You’re sounding more and more like Clarice.”
“Listen, Jody and I are takin’ a class on the meaning of dreams back home. I can solve your problem. All you have to do to is this: when you wake up in the morning, just lay there for a few minutes. Keep your eyes closed, relax and concentrate. The stuff you dreamed about will come floodin’ in. Guarantee.”
“Come on, there’s gotta be more to it.” I say to him.
“Seriously, that’s all there is to it.”
“You mean I don’t have to sleep hanging upside down. Or drink a Polar Bear milk and spinach smoothie before bedtime. Or maybe get more molybdenum in my diet?”
“You know, molybdenum, one of the elements on the Periodic Table.”
“Er, uh….no, you idiot. All you have to do is…”
“You know, most of the time when people are trying to achieve some kinda nirvana, some altered state, other people will invariably suggest they do all kinds of wierd- ass stuff. Like eating something exotic like fig chips or drinking a Polar Bear milk and spinach smoothie before bedtime. ”
“No, you don’t need to drink any damn polar bear milk, Will. And you won’t need a blender. You know you have a weird brain. Trevor Irvin is right about you?”
“Well, that’s a relief. I was thinking that maybe I was going to have to go and find a polar bear, chase him down, fight him and then milk him. Quite frankly, I don’t think I’m up to it anymore. Maybe when was a younger man.”
“Good grief, Cantrell. You don’t have to do anything strange or unusual. When you wake up, remember to relax, concentrate a bit and just kinda go with the flow.
Hours later, well after me, David and Jeff adjourn and head our separate ways into the summer night, I write myself a reminder. In big letters, on a Post-It Note yellow sticky:
STAY STILL. STAY CALM. GO WITH THE FLOW
I then slap the sticky note to the bedpost so it will be the first thing I see in the morning.
That next morning, I can’t remember a thing about what happened during the night. I knew there was more to it than David said. I knew it.
And there was no progress that second morning. Or the third.
For four successive mornings nothing happens.
But priming your dreams, it turns out, is like learning to catch fish when you’re a small kid. As my Uncle Copernicus used to say when we used to fish for crappie on Lake Allatoona and I was struggling to get a bite, “Billy-boy, you gotta learn to hold your mouth right.” So on the morning of the day I’d vowed to myself to e-mail ol’ Dave and tell him he was full of it on the dreams thing, I wake up EXHAUSTED! Laying there, it dawns on me the reason for my tired state is that last night I dreamed I’d climbed Mt. Everest!
LORD LOVE A DUCK! David’s trick works. It works again the next morning and the next and the next after that. Every night the trick works. Apparently I’ve learned how to ‘hold my mouth right’ when it comes to dreaming at night. As another of my uncles (Ralph) from New Jersey says, suddenly I’m dreaming “…like a bastad!” I’m dreaming stuff I’d only…er, well….dreamed about. Bucket List stuff: catching big bonefish, coaching a team to the NBA Finals (I know little about basketball by the way), speaking before a Joint Session of Congress, singing with The Temptations, being an onstage hit at The Improv. The dreams are vivid and in what we used to call Cinemascope and Technicolor. I swear, a few of them have a musical score!
Weeks after David’s tip, I’ve discovered why people sleep late. For a good, solid month, I have been completely destroying that whole meme about seniors rising early in the morning. After perfecting David’s trick –”Dreams Viagra” I’ve dubbed it — I settle into a routine: waking up, staying relaxed, recalling my dream from last night, writing it down then going back to sleep for an encore –and then sleeping until the crack of noon. I’ve become a complete sleep/dreams derelict. Dreams Viagra was working like …well… a dream.
And then, as always, a spoiler comes along and threatens my new belief system.
The spoiler comes in the form of new reports and scientific studies regarding what NOW constitutes a good night’s sleep. According to a large group of scientists, eight hours, the amount of sleep we’ve been told for ages was the right amount of shut-eye is now TOO MUCH sleep.
In a recent Wall St. Journal article entitled Why Seven Hours of Sleep Might Be Better Than Eight, the author, Sumathi Reddy quotes a number of sleep scientists: “Getting too much sleep is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity, and higher rates of death.”
Ms. Reddy’s article is not the only deliverer of bad news. For a week or more, all over the morning TV shows, there are scads of TV news people reporting the same thing (although I swear, several of them looked as if they could have used another 40 winks).
The other thing was that this seven hour sleep business is just the latest in a number of modern day reversals of what we’ve always known to be true. You’ll remember when we’re told, back in the Eighties, that bottled water was the best thing for you to drink. Then it wasn’t. Alfalfa sprouts once were deemed a super food, then we learned sprouts might also kill you. Most grocers don’t carry them now. For years, the proper way to prepare raw chicken was to rinse it under a torrent of water. Last year we learn drowning raw chicken under water actually spreads Salmonella.
Now they want me to sleep less …which means dream less.
Ironically, before I discover ‘Dreams Viagra’, it didn’t bother me that I didn’t dream at night. But now that I have learned how to dream again, I’m just ignoring what science is saying about sleeping only seven hours. I appreciate the scientific effort. I do. But I just threw the seven hour sleep info out just as if it were day old garbage.
Ironically, one of the things that gets easier with age, along with holding your mouth right,is deciding when news —or something new under the sun —-makes sense and when it doesn’t.
And when enough is enough.