Most dreams happen during REM sleep, right? Sometime around 4 or 5 am? The ones you tend to remember and write about the next day are the ones that wake you up at this, the hour of the wolf. Within the last two weeks I’ve had two…I might as well call them nightmares. But they were’t nightmares as much as disturbing short films with hateful predatory characters coming in for the kill, and both were about bad stuff that I’ve done coming back to bite me in the ass. Both were so unpleasant that I had to get up and shower and start working in order to flush them out of my head.
The first was a Telluride dream starring a youngish Robert Redford (i.e., how he looked around the time of Electric Horseman), a younger Roger Ebert (talking, heavier, eating and drinking) and, for some inexplicable reason, Richard Attenborough as he looked in the ’60s. Someone had thrown together a Redford career-tribute reel, and yet it wasn’t clips but new surreal footage in which his Hubbell Gardner from The Way We Were had a brief conversation with Jeremiah Johnson, and Bill McKay of The Candidate gave a smile and a pat on the back to Turner from Three Days of the Condor. And then the Horse Whisperer guy stepped in and nodded and waved to the other guys, and so it went. All together and hugging like the people on the beach at the end of The Tree of Life, everyone relaxed and alpha in a kind of Octopussy’s Garden-type way.
And the real Redford was sitting there in this mountain-air, Rocky Mountain environment, watching the tribute with the rest of us. Ebert was sitting at a kind of picnic table with at least two pretty women, and Attenborough was sitting across from Ebert and joking and giggling the whole time, and the vibe was very smooth and soothing — everyone in this Shangrila-like place, far from the madding crowd, etc. And I was saying to myself stuff like “this is awfully nice” and “I’m pretty happy here.”
And then I started to hear from people who were pointing accusatory fingers about stuff that I’d done in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s but had long since forgotten about — things that I had to answer for. People I’d treated inconsiderately, deadlines I hadn’t met, bills I hadn’t paid, things I’d lost through selfishness or carelessness. No felonious crimes, mind, but they sounded pretty bad when you added them all up. I was guilty and had to pay. It took me about 10 or 15 minutes after I woke up to either re-suppress these demons or come to the gradual realization that I hadn’t really been such a bad guy in the past.
Two and half hours ago I woke up from nightmare #2, which was about about working in some kind of corporate environment in a typical bullshit glass-and-steel building — i.e., the kind of place that was gloriously blown up at the end of Fight Club. And it was basically about my not being very popular with younger co-workers and being accused of not doing stuff that I’d been asked to do and having alcohol on my breath (and in actuality I never touch the stuff, even wine, until the work is entirely done and it’s 9 pm or later) and being plotted against and ganged up on, and eventually being canned. One of the guys who was bitching and against me looked an awful lot like Jeff Sneider (i.e., “TheInsneider”). It was an atmosphere of pure ugliness, pure venality.
The dream reminded me that in most urban business-y work environments, about 40% of everyone’s time and energy goes into gossip and back-biting and the forming of cabals and occasional feverish plottings against this or that person (“Let’s get that guy!), and that maybe 35% goes into creative solution-finding or problem-solving or honest hard work and real-deal accomplishment, and that the other 25% is about lunch and coffee breaks and goofing off. Hell is other people. Hell is living with the daily fear of being fired. Hell is friendly-but-chilly guys like Jack Kelly, who was my bureau chief at People. I’ve been a stressed but relatively happy soul since I began working on my own as a columnist in 1994 (for the L.A. Times Syndicate) and particularly as an online guy, beginning in ’98.