I dreamed I was trying to help a friend celebrate a birthday or anniversary by treating him and his family to dinner at what I took to be a low or middle grade family restaurant, judging from the kids running around amongst the tables. However, I failed to pick up on the smooth-talking waitress’s description of a certain champagne (they have champagne?) as “exquisite” and “very well thought of” and proceeded to order a bottle. When the check came, it totaled nine thousand dollars, of which seven thousand was for the champagne. I began a desperate negotiation with the waitress, which ended with my friend producing his credit card with an “I’ve got this,” and I woke up screaming.
I dreamed I was playing what I thought was a video game but which turned out to be a real-life intercontinental remote control, piloting a super-fast speedboat as it coursed down a river in Europe, while watching on my living-room TV. The object was to beat the clock and to avoid obstacles, especially canoes and kayaks. For the most part, my “game” was going well, as my speedboat only occasionally veered too close to the unpowered craft, swamping them and spilling their passengers into the drink.
The remote system was preposterous: a Playstation 2 controller for steering, which I had to operate entirely with my left hand; and a sphygmomanometer bulb for my right hand, to control speed. The turning point of the game came between rounds, when I set the controller down for a moment and accidently pressed a button that selected an alternate subject vehicle without changing the video feed. When I resumed play, I was still watching my speedboat on the Danube but actually driving an 18-wheeler on the New Jersey Turnpike. Without understanding what had happened, I grew desperate at the controls, looking on in panicked impotence as my river-skimming meteor careened into clusters of kayaks and canoes, launching them skyward in cartwheeling comets of cedar, fiberglass, aluminum, paddles, and people.
God knows what havoc I wreaked on the New Jersey Turnpike.
I’m in a state of the art movie theater. The screen is three stories high. The patrons sit in swivel chairs, like Captain Kirk’s, on several broad tiers, each rising above the one in front. Confusingly for me, every chair has a little screen mounted on its right arm, for watching the movie or (presumably) something else.
Also, why should it be a swivel chair? Does it mean that I’m supposed to face a different direction?
I pivot about 120⁰ to the left, away from the big screen, until I am facing the aisle and the door in the left rear corner. Now I can see if my friends are coming. While I wait for them, I can also watch the movie on the little arm-mounted screen.
Here is a description of a dream I had in the early 90s in Taiwan. It is the most intricate dream I have ever experienced and can be broken down into four phases:
Phase I. I am around six years old and am standing in a desolate, Middle Eastern landscape, devoid of any man-made structure, that feels like the “Holy Land.” Nearby is a small pond, and two bearded and robed young men are fishing in it. They are fussing in a primitive way, and I am rather put off by them; looking closely, however, I see that their fishing tackle consists of long blades of grass, with neither hooks nor bait, which they are swishing through the water.
Although no one speaks, the knowledge comes echoing over the hills that God is approaching. I notice a figure emerging through waves of pulsating heat, walking down an incline toward me, as I continue to stand near the pond with the two grass-fishing men. At the wordless realization “It’s Her,” I see that God is a Native American woman, apparently in her mid-twenties. She comes to stand slightly upslope from the pond, and I follow her eyes as she regards the two fishermen: They have both landed healthy-looking, silver-skinned fish, which seem willingly to have threaded themselves through the jaw on the hookless, baitless blades of grass. The men pull their catches out of the water and begin wrapping the blades of grass around their necks, with the fish held in place at the backs of their necks, above their shoulder blades. They tie the grass around their throats, climb the few paces uphill to where God is standing, and fall to their knees before Her in devotion. I fixate on the fish: They are baking in the sun on the backs of the men’s necks, curling their tails upward as they die.
God senses my distress. Turning Her attention to me, she calms me telepathically:
“You must not feel bad for the fish, nor must you think ill of these men for their ritual. They are simple, but their hearts are pure.”
She smiles. “If this ritual is upsetting to you, you do not have to follow it. You do not have to do anything that upsets you.”
She opens Her arms and hugs me to her bare chest, stroking my shoulders, neck, and the back of my head.
I enjoy perhaps five seconds of bliss in Her embrace, but then I hear a clamor to my left, like the clanging of pots and pans. I turn in that direction, and when I do so, I become part of a changed scene; I never see the pond, the fishermen, nor God again.
Phase II. I am in the same Middle Eastern barrenness, but temples and altars now dot the slope. My age is now about fifteen or sixteen.
A portly man is shuffling up to the altar nearest me. He is dressed in a khaki military uniform and seems to be a British soldier of intermediate rank, perhaps a sergeant. He is in a fretful haste and his mess kit and canteen bang together, producing the racket that had seized my attention.
I intuit that the British army is being evicted from the Holy Land and that the sergeant wants to “grab a quick prayer” before leaving. Kneeling at the altar, he begins to pray, but his vexation remains throughout, so that he is praying and cursing at the same time.
A different sort of noise, like the clattering of dishes, rolls in from the right, and I turn in that direction.
Phase III. The landscape is unchanged, but I am now twenty.
I am looking at the Last Supper, as seen in the painting by da Vinci, except that dinner is alfresco. I advance toward the central seat, where Jesus is supposed to be, and find that he is Mark Twain. The disciples to the left and right are behaving like a pack of unruly children, elbowing each other and knocking over their drinks; and Mr. Twain wears an expression of the most grudging indulgence, brimming with sarcasm, rolling his eyes as if to say, “You’d better have mercy on these clowns, Father, because I just want to strangle them.”
I sit opposite Mr. Twain, and we begin sharing the same dish, passing the plate back and forth, helping ourselves to a little at a time. After a few rounds of this exchange, Mr. Twain scrapes off the last morsel and returns the empty plate to me. He produces another supernaturally ironic smile.
An electronic beeping from my right distracts me, and I turn to look.
Phase IV. I am twenty-four (the age at which I had the dream) and in Taiwan (where I lived when I dreamt it).
I am in a cavernous big-box warehouse store. Merchandise-laden shelves tower heavenward, reaching almost to the bare rafters, eclipsing the light. I’m standing in the checkout line, along the conveyor belt, just behind my American roommate, waiting for him to complete his purchases. However, he begins hitting on the cashier, a Taiwanese girl barely twenty. She is unresponsive and unamused. She reaches under the counter, pressing a button, at which the whole scene becomes an image on a TV screen, a video recording now serving as evidence at my roommate’s trial for sexual harassment. The End.
My interpretation: Each phase of the dream seems to correspond to a moment in world history and in the development of religion. Phase I is the Primitive phase, showing the hopeful moment when a religion of ritual evolves into a religion of love. Phase II is the British or imperialist phase, in which religion has been corrupted by power, significantly an unsustainable power. Phase III is the American phase, based on a parody of a painting, populated by quarrelsome chosen ones, and devoted to the worship of Irony, which proves an unfulfilling dish. Finally, Phase IV depicts the post-historical age in which we live: materialist, litigious, godless, and loveless.