The most favorite advice I ever received from my parents was this: Question Everything. Don't allow your perceptions to be ruled by what other people say they believe. Don't take anything for granted, and don't let others tell you how to think.
Naturally, with such advice sprinkled on the fertile ground of a child's mind, it was internalized deeply, and has gotten me into trouble and/or set me apart all my life. Grade school teachers don't want to be questioned about their spurious facts, schoolyard bullies don't want you to think for yourself. Bullies don't even want you to say anything for yourself, and especially say words and sentences they don't understand. Or be asked their motivation. Or contradict their decisions on rules of games played in the street after school. Or question their hiring practices in the workplace when you are able to finally grow up.
It would have been nice if, along with the above advice, my parents had helped me internalize 'Know When to Keep the Mouth Shut', but at least I have the consolation of knowing my thoughts and adventures have been my own, and not some mandate of a tyrant or an advertising plan.
Except, of course, of course, for the Adam thing, and while I hate to think about what it was/is in me that allowed that to happen to myself or more charitably, how I was taken unawares -- but no, wait, I'm doing it again. I wasn't completely to blame for a failed marriage, true, but I did allow it to happen. Deep down inside, I knew he was a bad idea from the first moment I saw him.
We had a long weekend off in the spring of 1980, so three of us from the office of Houston's Accounting piled in Dogboy Martinelli's custom painted, obsessively refurbished Mustang (his name was really Jim, and he didn't know we always called him Dogboy. Well, he always chewed gum with his mouth open and was always grinning out the window of his car as he drove along) and took off on a long drive to our Mecca of the South: San Diego. At that age, we didn't care that two whole days would be taken up by driving; we would have three in S.D. and we'd been saving our -- say it with a big smile -- dollahs for months for just such a trip. With a little luck, the March weather would have blown the marine layer of fog off the beaches, and we would bask in the sun, reeking of suntan lotion during the afternoon, zoom back to the cheap cheap cheap motel for showers, and then get back down by the beaches for a little lucky nightlife. My office buddy Joan Maris was hoping for some kickass Mexican marijuana, Dogboy was sniffing for random excessive sex, and I had decided it might be a good season to go looking for romance in the sweet salt air.
Another reason we called him Dogboy was because he always wanted petted. He was such a jerk. But he had a reliable car, he didn't care if we pitched in for the gas or not, and he got us there. In return, at the very least, he would be seen by all his friends to be going to San Diego with two good-looking young women for what he would probably tell them was a weekend of fulfilling our most ardent desires.
San Diego was one of my favorite places in California. I loved the white stucco houses with red tile roofs, and palm trees, and loads of hot pink and red bougainvillea climbing over fences and trellises. There was almost always a little mistiness to the air that softened the lines and smells of everything, unlike San Francisco, where it was either clear as a knife edge or blanketed with heaps or spots of thick, cold fog. San Diego was more alluring, a proud daughter of hidalgos peeking haughtily but coyly over her cool shoulder and the edge of her lace mantilla. We had plans of going down to the snooty Hotel Del Coronado and hanging around, to pretend that we were staying there. Joan and I did, anyway. My main concern was that Joan would find her pot, and when we got to the hotel lobby she'd be so stoned that she'd just sit around saying,"Oh, wow," and staring fish-like at the rich leather luggage being dragged around by red-uniformed, eager-to-serve Mexican men following white men in three-piece wool suits and women in gobs and gobs of gold jewelry and pale dresses cut in a classic sundress style.
You wouldn't see any polyester or cutoff jeans here. Every woman would have her hair properly 'done' or if going to the pool or beach, at least she would have every hair in place. Up in La Jolla you would see Marines palling about with aging hippies, skinny young girls in funky shoes daringly trying to chat up young Mexican men, but here there was only space for those ever so special and important people who knew what Having Money was all about.
In the meantime, we didn't go to the Coronado in the evening (that would be just too scary, as we had no 'proper' evening clothes), but instead went to a restaurant/bar on Mission Avenue, the street just up from the beaches. The boxy-built Deep Harbor Bar and Grill looked packed on both floors, windows opened to the air, and sounded safely noisy, meaning that one could squeeze in and mingle without being singled out for freaks or foreigners. Music was blaring from a jukebox with a hell of a speaker, sometimes country music, sometimes rock, and then the crowd was roaring with indignation and laughter when Neil Sedaka began complaining that "breakin' up is hard to doooooo". We agreed to meet back at Dogboy's car at midnight for further instructions, and then wound our way through the tables outside and the tables inside, and the pack of young people drinking beers and colored drinks and crunching fried seafoods off paper scoop plates.
Next to the bar, playing a noisy and to me incomprehensible game of dice that involved slamming a wooden cup on the bar with enough force to split splinters off the surface, was a group of your basic cowboy afficionados who probably had never smelled a horse in their lives. Joan elbowed me brutally and said, "Look at these fiiiine items! Come on, let's sidle up to the ol' ranch hands and see if we can get our first drinks free."
"No way, madam, not my type. Look at them. They're idiots, you can tell just by looking at them, and there are so many empty bottles on the bar with them that they're probably inflammable." I was more interested in a sweet young thing who'd walked past, his rich wavy brunette hair down to his waist, hmm, what would be the chance of him not having a date here? I stood on tiptoe, trying to see past the shoulder to shoulder crowd. Had he gone upstairs to the second story? Our turn at the bar. "Budweiser for me, please," I told the bartender.
She was thin and harassed-looking, with stringy blonde hair and overdone eye makeup. "What's for you, hon," she said rather than asked Joan.
"Seven and seven," Joan said, "Hon."
The bartender curled her lip just the teeniest bit. "Coming right up." She turned and started collecting glass and bottle and pouring and I saw her duck her head so that her hair fell across her profile. She was saying something to another barkeep. The second one looked up at us, and got a cold look in her eyes before she pretended to be arranging pretzels in a little basket on the bar.
I glanced at Joan and saw her eyelids drop and her eyes concentrate on the 'keeps. Oh, shit. Not when we're so far out of our own town. Time for a distraction. I turned to the Cowboy Crew and waved, smiling brightly. "Hi, guys! Done puttin' up the fences for today?" Two of them slid off barstools like rattlesnakes off rocks and a third turned and started for us like his nose was on a string stretched tight between us. Shit, shit, shit. "Joan!" I hissed, eyes bugging at her.
She glanced over her shoulder to see the wowboys headed our way, snapped her head back at the dawdling barkeeps, back at the ranchers, back at the 'keeps. To fight or to frolic? "Keep an eye on them so they don't spit in our drinks," she said and then gave up the battle of dirty looks in favor of the assortment of western garb. Shit again. How was I going to sneak off to find my long-haired sweet honey now? The blonde barkeeper put our drinks on the bar, wiped her hands on her apron/towel, and took my ten, watching Joan all the time. She gave me my change and I tipped her a dollar, smiled, and vowed to tip her a dollar for every round.
I took a sip of my beer and prepared to discourage idiot conversation. A beery, deeply tanned man in a red silk shirt and leather vest (and let's don't forget the black gunfighter's hat) was about a foot away from me, way too deep within my comfort zone of personal space. I prefer my cowboys to give me at least three feet, more if I think they might fall on me, as this one just might. But I was backed up against the bar, couldn't get any more distance between us. "Want to dance?" he said, wobbling his eyebrows. God, he was drunk as hell. Reeking, one could say. Or smell. But hey, that could work.
"No," I said, trying to sound go-to-the-movies sultry, "Let's find a quiet place away from the music and talk about Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, I'm an English teacher. Come on, I'll read to you, I brought my collection with me." I patted my purse dangling from my arm.
He reeled back a bit with a confused expression on his face, tapped the corner of his hat with the fingers of his right hand, and said "Ma'am." He was just too cool, dismissing a potentially deadly boring time with a polite cowboy goodbye. Except he knocked his hat askew sideways when he tapped the brim, making him look drunker and dumber than ever. He turned his tall back on me, giving me the cover I needed to duck through a group of oddies all in black and head for the hall that led to the stairs to the upper storey. I heh-heh-heh'd to myself. Works every time.
The hallway went on past where I was headed for the stairwell, and held the super highway to the restrooms as well. I was about 10 feet from the stairwell to the left when a man came out of the restroom door another couple yards down the hall. Another one of the cowboys, this one in a white hat, and cowboy boots, and blue jeans with a big oval silver buckle. And no shirt under a black leather motorcycle jacket. He looked at me indifferently as we passed, me about to go up the stairs, him heading out of the hall to his round-up buddies. He had blonde eyebrows, short hair, and blue eyes. No moustache. No beard. No pimples. Strong but not jutting jaw. Little hair on his chest, and he was zipping up the jacket partway over a tight, well-muscled belly. I stopped with one foot on the second step, and slowly turned around, thinking, oh, well, that was worth a second look. Oh, God help me, he had stopped and turned around to look at me with curiosity in his eyes and the hint of a friendly smile on his mouth. He took a step back around toward me, extended a huge, strong hand (with clean fingernails and blue-veined wrist and the black leather cuff setting off his golden tan to perfection) and said, in a voice like honey dripping off a hot rock, "Hi. My name is Adam."
The Christmastime season had come, and my husband and I had decided to visit our friends in spite of the cold weather and our creaky old middle-sixties bones. There was a light gray overcast, with a few bluish clouds mottling the dim sky, which meant that we would not have snow again for a while, though it might come on to rain a little later. Our sled was drawn by a shaggy mare whose breath drifted back in clouds as she trotted along, her black mane collecting the moisture and becoming frosted with white as it froze. Her left side still had some stable mud caked on the ends of her brown hair, and her white socks looked yellowed against the snow. Pressed against his side under the heavy sheepskin blanket to keep warm, I was telling my spouse about the house our friends had built, a surprise gift from him to her. "From how she tells me about this place in her letters, it must be the smallest house she's ever seen," I said, "just three rooms!"
The woods through which the snow covered road wound were bare of leaves, and only a sparse population of small, feathery white pine had begun to sprout where the squirrels had planted their seeds, forgetting to eat them, or not having had the chance to eat them due to having been eaten themselves by fox or hawk.
The road bore to the left, and there was their little house, in its own clearing, with the snow trampled down around beneath the eaves. A small window peeked out on the right-hand side (the south side, so as to maximize the limited light), and the outer walls were faced by hundreds of bundles of twigs, grey and seasoned-looking. Beneath the twigs there was a stucco-like surface. The roof was steep, and wood-shingled.
Rather than look haphazard or primitive, it was so even, and so well put together, that we were not surprised after being greeted by our friends and invited inside, to see a work of art rather than a simple interior. Inside, the man had decorated the walls for his wife all in white and pastelled white. The plaster was sculpted in swirls, and snowflakes, and columns, with the faintest gradation between a snow white and ivory, a snow white and rosy white, a snow white and a white tinged with apricot. Decorated now for the Christmas season, some of the walls had rich drapes of white frothy laced fabrics, grand creamy woven panels, and white and silver ornaments.
In one corner of the small front room, a dais stood, covered with an ivory linen cloth, and a little green tree as dense and fragrant as a young arborvitae, with white and silver ornaments on it as well. Beside the tree stood huge, intricate statues of a horse, a camel, and several deer, carved out of enormous slabs of chocolate, light and dark. The colors of winter, the scents of holiday, the gifts of love that are Christmas.
What does a dream like that mean? When I have ever talked about my dreams, that's the first thing my conversation partner wants to know. What does it mean? What are you supposed to do? What does it foretell? How do you interpret this dream?
God help us, if you could just have a dream like that one, of strange places and friendship and beauty and love and holiday, what the hell more could you want?
The very best thing I have ever read about dreams was a short article called "Dream Theory in Malaya" by a person named Kilton Stewart. Although his tales of the Malaysian tribe of Senoi (who allegedly controlled and mined their dreams each night for the health and benefit of their community) were in time considered to be a hopeful fantasy, and the recounting of their practices not founded in any valid research, some of the fundamentals of dreaming Mr. Stewart set forth in his article were so close to what I had found to be true that I was solidly impressed as well as bolstered in my enjoyment and interest in my own dreams.
Oh, you want to know what the fundamentals are. Okay, I think there are three: the first is the awareness and acceptance that every single thing you see in your dream is you. You hold within your subconscious symbols that are unique to you. You see a child in your dreams? The child is you, perhaps a You that is vulnerable. The one who sees the child is you, a You who wants to observe. The teddy bear under the child's arm is You, a symbol for you of comfort, perhaps. Dream images don't come from angels, or demons, or boogie mens under the bed. (Or if they were, Someone All-Powerful and Ever-Living would probably let you know for certain.)
Second, you can control aspects of your dreams. Monsters and ghosts and evil baddies can be defeated, or even ignored, or maybe -- how's this -- laughed at. They are all your own symbols, after all. Once you realize that you can control the dreams, you will. Then 'being chased' dreams can become better than any video game, as you dodge and lay traps for your pursuer; unreal dream landscapes can be explored and remembered.
Third, dreams are wonderful. Take an exotic trip and never leave the comfort of your own bed. Have an adventure and come back unscathed. Go and have fun every night, and it doesn't cost a cent.
Every time I see an ad in a magazine for Dream Interpretation -- call this number 900-Bzz-Bzzz To Learn the Meaning of Your Dreams -- I get pissed. Every jerkweed book that purports to list the "definitive" meaning of dream symbols ought to be put in the same bin for books by lunatic destructive pinhead authors as the books that say that sex is dirty and will lead to hair on the palms or that not having sex will lead to a stifling of the evolution of one's spirit toward Heaven. Or the garbage that says God is going to punish everyone who likes wine, or everyone who won't go door to door annoying people, or every misfortunate who picks the wrong religion, or everyone who screwed up their lives early on and no matter how much they want to change...
Take a deep breath, calm down a bit. God, I hate it when people are badgered to think a certain way or indoctrinated to fear what is natural and happy. And most shame on those who teach other people to do that to others!
I'm sure you can tell, yes, dreaming has been important to me. I love it, and look forward to plunging into those strange inventions every night. Sometimes I have bad dreams that I can't seem to get a grip on, but that just makes me more determined the next night to wrest control and change the sensations to good ones. Those times that I struggle night after night with dreams that are uneasy or sad or scary usually mirror the days in which I can't help myself and in which I know I will find no consolation. Eventually, listening to the clues from the dreams, and comparing them to the trials of the day, I come to know a solution for dream or daylight, and the feeling is like standing on a high cliff and opening my hands to let dandelion seeds free to blow away on the wind.