The rain finally returned to Western Washington after the longest dry spell I can recall. Previous worst in my memory went past forty days and forty nights that lasted into deer season, resulting in dry “popcorn” woods that made stalking a joke. This drought — and by Evergreen State standards, it was a drought — started earlier. So the woods should be quiet Opening Day, coming up. I don’t get out much anymore, but still mark the calendar by hunting seasons. And all my life I’ve been a pluviophile, though I didn’t learn the lovely term until my seventh decade. Vampires may detest bright sun more than I do, but only by a percentage.
When I woke to rain, I made a fresh pot of coffee, came to sit by the open window to hear it patter, and scanned old computer files for rain stories. The title below distracted me. (I am easily distracted.)
Can You Dream Yourself to Death?
I am on a college campus in a dorm room with about a half dozen other guys. We are taking turns showering in a small bathroom and dressing and packing. I have a lot more to pack than the others: shirts, jackets, four pairs of shoes and boots, odd things I have no idea why I brought here. Like a small teak box, with Asian figures carved in bas-relief all over it, that my stepfather brought home from New Guinea at the end of World War Two. My luggage won’t hold everything, and I use two ratty old pasteboard boxes.
The others come and go: an intellectual-looking Jewish guy, strangely familiar from some other life. A black guy built like a light-middleweight, no excess flesh; strong shoulders with those rounded boxers’ knots of muscle above each shoulder socket; buzz-cut like a Marine. No one else stands out.
I think I have failed to pack two belts, but know they don’t have enough holes punched because I’ve lost considerable belly fat. Then realize I already have a belt on, dangling in the loops, and cinch it up. Why the hell did I bring so much stuff for just a week here? The waffle-stomper hiking boots and buffalo-hide chukkas, size 14, take up so much damn room. A dense wool fatigue sweater in speckled gray takes up a whole backpack. I shove all the luggage against a bed.
Two waitresses from the student union come in, drinking from long-neck beer bottles, to flirt with the boxer. Other guys carry stuff out and come back for more. He still is shirtless, and one waitress says see, I told you he was hot. They giggle and simper. The boxer says to me, side-of-mouth, like a con: Hell — two of them, two of us. Too bad you’re so damn old.
Don’t be ageist, I say.
What the fuck is that?
Never mind, you’re right I am old — and I’m in love anyway.
The fuck that have to do with anything?
He carries his stuff out and the girls ask if I want a beer. No thanks, I’m driving. One of them asks if I’ve heard the rumor the whole campus is being sold to plow under for condos. I have, in fact. We get in a convoluted conversation about property values and zoning laws and how decrepit some of the college buildings are. I have to get going, but it’s not polite to just walk out. Finally they go off to see where the boxer went. I don’t like leaving all my stuff in an unlocked room, but no way I can carry it all. I will go get my Barracuda and pull it up outside to load.
White ’64 Barracuda. When did I paint my bronze car white? Never mind that, where the hell is it? The long parking lot stretching down the hill outside the dorm is empty. No cars at all. Shit, now I remember: I parked on the far side of the campus, coming in last night. Each lot is one-way, and this is the down-hill side. I didn’t drive to the top and around last night because I stopped for drinks at the student union. Drank a lot. Wandered back to the room without thinking about the car. Careless. It’s a damn long way over there, and I’m tired.
For some reason I decide to jog down the down-hill lot, cross at the bottom, and get my car. I start out, moving easily. Kind of surprised I can; seems like I used to be all crippled-up. Old. Fat. Maybe the weight-loss helped. Feeling pretty good, weather mild, moving fluidly — and then the lot dead-ends against tennis courts, interlocking; swimming pools, detached classrooms. People everywhere. Don’t remember this, but okay I’ll just cut across…
I come to a vast empty swimming pool blocking the way, where young boys are roughhousing. Only water anywhere is a drinking fountain they break off to go use. For God’s sake, are those kids over there masturbating? Looks like they’re lined up to see who can shoot the farthest. Stomach-turning. I cross the pool and find a door beside the water fountain that leads to a stair-less spiral up-ramp. Have to pull myself up by the handrail. Almost miss a lurking guy with a knife. He starts climbing behind me. Mugger? I keep an eye on him, and he backs off.
Once outside I jog through descending bits of lawn between buildings and hedges and then some tall trees, and finally emerge on a street. A row of small cottages. Not the campus. What the hell? I walk down the street. A woman in a bikini is sunning on a chaise lounge beside one cottage. “You lost, cutie?” Yeah, I say, I seem to have lost a whole college campus. She laughs and points. “You came too far. It’s right behind that small hill.” Far as I can see on all sides are these cutesy cottages. Past the hill I can dimly make out the corner of a large building. My eyes are not what they were. But that must be the college.
But no. When I get there, it is a cluster of commercial and government buildings, including a large firehouse. The bays of the firehouse are open and empty; no trucks. I grew up playing in my grandfather’s firehouse, so I think nothing of jogging through it. Those buildings behind must be the campus. Damn, this is the hugest firehouse I ever saw. Must be three blocks front to back. Firemen and medics turn to watch me pass, then some block my way and challenge me. Makes me irritable. They demand my vital statistics. More irritating. A very tall medic says no way are you six-two, and demands I step under a height-measuring stick. I’ll be damned — you are, he says. You smoke a pipe? I’m used to this: my aromatic tobacco clings to me. Weight? I say 310, 320, I’m not sure, lost a lot of weight lately.
Lost a lot of weight to get to 320? he says, incredulous. I’m really tired of this guy. How old, he asks. Then, no way you’re 75! And a smoker? Running like that? No way! He takes my BP. It’s up. Of course it is, I say — I been running a couple miles. He yells out for a doctor. Now there’s a couple doctors, and more medics, and they want to draw blood and examine me. Somehow I extricate myself, jog out of the firehouse. Where the hell is that campus?
Past all the buildings, I finally see the up-driveway where I left the Barracuda last night. Parked at the very top of the hill, of course, close to the student union as I could park last night. Shit. I am tired, and chilled from sweat drying as the firemen and medics screwed around. Breathing hard. Gonna have to stop running and trudge. Left leg aching now from old injuries. Where the hell is my cane? What was I thinking, doing all that running? I am old, God damn it. I just want to go home.
Though I have no clear picture where home is right now. And I have to pee. Amazed I got this far without having to. My car is so far up that damned hill. Maybe I can make it into bushes beside the driveway before I wet myself…
And I wake up in my recliner with the 02 pumping up my nose, joints stiff and aching, feeling dehydrated. Throw off covers and struggle to get up. It takes three tries. Before I make it the ten lurching steps to the bathroom, I’m dribbling in my sweat pants. Just to rub it in that I haven’t been capable of running in twenty damn years. I drink cold tea and pour a cup of Costa Rican free-trade coffee. Stuff my corncob with Carey’s Classic Black Aromatic. Pull up a word-processing document to waste a few minutes of the life I have left recording this nonsense. I’ve called myself a writer for six decades. Writing is about all I still can do.
I wonder, not for the first time, if final physical death is actually a transition. If whatever serves for self-awareness becomes unmoored from this reality, and this body, and drifts timelessly into all those strange alternate universes that surface from the subconscious in dreams.