Rout of the Rebel Angels, by William Blake

A Dog Starv'd

A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
      -- William Blake,
     "Auguries of Innocence"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Don't Look Back in Anger

Interpreting dreams is a tricky business. It seems obvious that dreams have something to do with something in our minds, even if you believe that they can originate elsewhere and be transmitted to us. When we encounter in our dreams familiar faces, settings, "plot points," even whole words, phrases, and conversations -- well, the temptation to make something interpretable from it all can nearly overwhelm us.

For now, I'm not going to offer an interpretation of the dream from which I awoke this morning. But I wanted to get the details "out there," so to speak, before I forgot them. I'll set the narration off in indented text, to distinguish it from any commentary I may happen to add afterwards.

In the dream, Mrs. FLJerseyBoy and I lived in a big old rambling farmhouse in the country. (Actually, we live in a big old rambling contemporary house in the suburbs.) In the back yard, we had a big clapboard-sided garage or shed or barn, the second floor of which we were renting to a young couple and their kids.

These tenants weren't related to us, and while now I'm curious who they were, I can't remember their faces, let alone their names.

With our blessing, this young couple was planning to host a gathering of their family, reunion-style, in our back yard. Mrs. FLJB and I pitched in and mowed the (large) back lawn, edged the sidewalks and drive, and probably helped prepare the food. The meal was served on a row of those metal folding picnic tables -- the kind that look something like this:

The adults were arrayed along both sides of the row of tables. But what I remember most isn't the adults, but the kids -- not just our tenants', but the kids of their various relatives.

All these kids (about 15 or 20 of them) were little kids, probably less than 10 years old each. Squirts, in a word. They were running around the way little kids do at an outdoors family function, laughing and screaming and just having a great time. The remarkable thing, to me, was that they were all running around and screaming and having a great time... around my father.

Now, Dad died of cancer in June, 1988, at age 64. Of course, I can't help thinking of him from time to time. But I haven't dreamt of him in a loooong time. And what's especially notable about him in this morning's dream was that he was, yes, nearly 20 years older than when he died -- and that he'd either not gotten cancer, or gotten over it, because he was in good health, ruddy-cheeked and actually rather stout.

I never would have called Dad "stout" in real life. Here's how he looked in the 1940s, when he was in the service. It's pretty much how he looked when he died, almost 50 years later, except that his face was more creased, his hair gray, and his body shrunken, of course, from the illness:

But again, in this dream, he was, well, not fat exactly, but getting there. Fat, and ridiculously happy. His arms were raised up over his head, and kids were swirling all around him, and he was laughing and having a great time with them, dancing (it's the right word, though I seldom saw him dance for real) by turning in a circle. Like a maypole, almost, but without the streamers.

Some of you may remember a short film starring John Belushi, by Tom Schiller of the original Saturday Night Live crew, called "Don't Look Back in Anger." In the black-and-white film, Belushi plays the part of himself projected decades into the future, as a white-haired, shabbily dressed 90-year-old man; he's in a cemetery, visiting the graves of all his fellow SNL cast members (Ackroyd, Chase, et al.) and telling us little details about their lives. They've all (in the film) died years before Belushi himself. "Why?" he asks, and then answers, with a sly grin, "Because I'm a dancer!" The film ends with him dancing joyously on the graves of his co-stars. (Ironically, of course, Belushi was the first to die -- a long time before any of the rest of them.)

If you remember that film and remember the way it ended, that's sort of how Dad's dance looked in my dream. (The film is online, as far as I can tell, only at the NBC site, having been removed from YouTube etc. But the version omits the dance at the end, surely the result of some stupid legalistic copyright-protection decision according to which the network assumes you will be induced to pay for the whole thing, as long as you also agree to pay for everything else in the "Best of Belushi" collection.) But overlay it with the end of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," when Dreyfuss's character is boarding the Mother Ship while the little ET's swirl all around him, and you come even closer:

Beyond the dancing image, the other striking thing about the dream -- and Dad in it -- was that everyone seemed to know and take for granted that he'd gotten progressively deaf over the years, eventually to the point where he couldn't hear anything at all.

Eh, that's not so surprising in itself. (One of my sisters and I are both hearing-impaired.) What was surprising was the conversation I had about it, in the dream, with an aunt.

It seems that someone had been discussing some kind of home repair, specifically a repair involving electrical work. "Your father is so funny," Aunt T said to me. "You remember how your cat's ears used to twitch whenever somebody said her name or mentioned the word 'fish'? Your dad is the same way whenever somebody mentions electricians or says the word 'electricity' or 'electrical.' Maybe he's not so deaf after all!"

And that was pretty much where I woke up.

Now, there are some points of reference to real life here. Mrs. FLJB and I are indeed considering having some electrical work done. The other night, we were watching an "I Love Lucy" re-run in which a couple of little boys use Lucy as a maypole. And we did indeed have a cat whose ears used to twitch that way when you said her name, although not the word "fish." (She wasn't deaf, but she was notorious for pretending to ignore people as beneath her attention.) And finally, while he was never formally "an electrician," Dad did work as a maintenance mechanic for various companies and in various factories almost his whole life, and could have easily become an electrician if he'd wanted to. He knew all that stuff.

Otherwise, I don't know what the dream is saying. I can't think of any particular reason Dad would be "visiting" me now, and he didn't say anything to me in the dream anyhow. He was, in fact, pretty much oblivious to everything and everyone but the little kids. I'm not going to try to torture meaning out of it, but if I think of something I'll update this post later.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home