Surrealist Dreamscape #2

I’m in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas with two women there who are friends of friends, regularly involved in my social setting. I know their names, although I don’t know which one is which. I ask the blonde one if she would like to go have ice cream at the club. She agrees, and we get on our bikes and head up a very steep hill, talking, having a good time as we pedal.

An older couple tries to pass me on the hill and I inadvertently knock the woman off of her bike. I dismount and run back down the hill to make sure she’s okay. The fall has knocked her blouse off, although I don’t realize this until I am right beside her. She assumes I am running back to peek, and is trying to cover up and wave me off at the same time. I am mortified, apologize, get back on my bike and start peddling up the hill again, my date (whose name I still don’t know) riding to my right.

The older woman passes me on the left, making disparaging remarks as she does. The hill gets steeper and steeper, and I’m standing in my pedals trying to keep up with her, now trying not to look up her skirt as she stands up and pumps her pedals ahead of me as well, seeing as how she already thought I was a letch. She crests the hill and is gone from view. I realize that I am not able to climb anymore and, feeling somewhat embarrassed, I dismount and walk my bike the rest of the way up the hill. I know that the club is right at the crest on the left hand side.

I reach the crest, and the club is not there! I suddenly realize that I have climbed the wrong side of the ridge: the club is on the other side. I turn to tell my date my mistake and she is not there. She has, obviously, climbed the right road and is no doubt sitting at the club waiting for me, wondering where I went. I know that the only way to get to the club is to ride all the way down the bottom of the hill in front of me, then turn left and ride up the other side of the ridge, where I will find the club.

I hop on my bike and cruise down the hill. The road suddenly disgorges into the hallways of my sixth grade elementary school. It is a disaster: filthy walls, kids running around the halls, trying to get out of the school. I leave with them, and see rocky scree that leads down a hill to my apartment. At the bottom of the rockslide is a dormer window; this is how I enter my apartment, dropping about ten feet to the floor.

I am trying to find a phone number, or a name, or some way to contact my date and tell her where I am. I find my address book, and then realize that I can’t get back up out the dormer window. I stack up boxes, papers, books, and finally get up to the level where I can climb out of the apartment and up the scree, but there’s a neighbor kid sitting there, and he wants to show me the elaborate device he has rigged outside my window that will change the view of what I see there.

I try to be polite, but tell him I really don’t have time to play and will look at it later. He is insistent, and the scenes he programs outside my window begin to get disturbing and dangerous looking. I let him say his piece and finally he agrees to let me leave the apartment.

But then I realize that I have dropped the address book. I try to reach down with a rope to pull it up to me, but instead the rope hooks a refrigerator in the other corner of the room, and as I tug to free it, my tower of books and boxes falls, as does the refrigerator. When I stand again and look to the window, the neighbor boy’s father is climbing down to see me. He used to live in this apartment, and remarks how much I’ve changed it, moving the ventilation fan from the window we used to enter to the other window, behind when the refrigerator had stood. He still has a key to the apartment and lets me out the front door, so I don’t have to climb the window again.

Since I’m not used to leaving by that portal, I’m all disoriented and now don’t know how to get back up to the club. This side of the apartment is very urban and crowded. I walk over to a swarming community swimming pool and ask a man how to get to the club. He asks me which one I want. I tell him I’m not sure, but describe the location. “Ah!” he says, “You want the Red Club.” He hands me a red golf ball. I walk away from him and toss the ball away. It bounces high and hits someone in the pool in the head. I quickly walk up the hill so nobody knows it was me that threw the ball.

I come to a major city crossing, and a young cross guard speaks French to an older gentleman in the center of the intersection. I realize that I have friends in this neighborhood, and that they’re the friends who know the two women whose names I don’t know, one of whom is still waiting me at the club. I let myself into their house, but they’re not home. I turn on their computer to check for addresses and phone numbers, but it has an operating system I’ve never seen before and I can’t find what I need to find. I remember that they had a storage room in the basement where they kept papers, so I go downstairs, but the door the room is blocked with toys and games.

I begin to clear a path to the door, when I hear people coming in upstairs. I rush up to see them, and they are as I remembered them, children, even though I am an adult. I ask my friend the name of the blonde: he tells me “Sherry” and gives me her phone number. Finally! I ask if I can use his phone to call her and explain the situation. He points to a phone sitting by the computer.

As I reach to dial, the phone rings. I pick it up and a female voice says:

“Mark is dead. They’re sending his body.”

“What?” I say. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t live here.”

“Can I speak to your mother, then,” the female voice asks.

“I’m 45 years old,” I reply, “Not a child. I can take the message, but you need to give me the background.”

She laughs. Through the receiver I hear a child crying and saying “Mommy, you shouldn’t be laughing about this.” I hear the mother explaining the situation to the child.

I hang up the phone.

I dial Sherry’s number.

The phone rings.

And rings.

No one answers.

Geese and Orion

I have raw, primal reactions to two common stimuli at this time of year: hearing the sound of geese flying southward overhead and seeing Orion hunting in the Zodiacal plane in the crisp, clear autumn nights. I think these sights and sounds must resonate in our collective unconscious from centuries when shorter days and falling temperatures didn’t just mean higher fuel oil bills or extra lap blankets, but instead meant that the most perilous time of the year was nigh, and many of a community’s weaker members wouldn’t live to see the return of sunlight and warmth. Any time I hear the geese fly over, I involuntarily stop in my tracks and look up. Any time my eyes are drawn to the night sky (a common occurrence, given my space nerdery) and light upon Orion’s belt, they stay there, taking an active effort of will to look away. Those sounds and sights evoke awe, which I think of as wonder leavened with fear. I wrote a poem about these sorts of feelings a few years ago. I doesn’t explicitly mention geese or Orion, but it does try to evoke the sense of awe the season inspires in me. When I wrote it, I kept feeling like I should end it, then kept tacking on extra stanzas, much in the way that we cling to the last leaves on the trees, the last warm days, the last pleasant evenings, lingering before the darkness falls and the snow is upon us.


Let’s take a long deep breath
and ponder the pasture
and our place in it:
we’ve got the harvest in,
the orchards are pruned and
all our wood’s been split;
the leaves have long since gone,
the frost’s on the pumpkins
and it’s cold at night.
In less than four short weeks
we’ll stand here again and
see a sea of white.
We’ve stored the grain inside,
stacked hay in the stalls and
put our tools away.
The growing season’s done,
the colors have faded
into brown and grey.
It doesn’t seem that long
since last we all stood here
at this time of year.
We’ll hunker down inside
for five months or so and
try to fight the fear
that winter brings to us:
the cold and the darkness
and the sickness too.
We’ll count the days for months
and pray for the spring, that’s
all that we can do.
These bittersweet fall months
are fraught with emotion
in these farming fields:
we’re glad the harvest’s done,
we’re proud of our work and
happy with our yields,
but now we hibernate
like beasts in the forest
(less the gift of sleep).
We take one last long look
and walk from the fields, and
many of us weep.

(Copyright 2004, J. Eric Smith)

Surrealist Dreamscape #1

My wife and I are living in my uncle’s townhouse in Rockville, Maryland, and always have been. Our daughter is away for the evening, so we have the night to ourselves. Decadent plans are made, when I realize that a long-ago ex-girlfriend named Barbara has left a baby hanging on the wall of our bedroom, in a little baby sleeping bag, so that only his head is peeking out. He is wearing sunglasses, and I realize he has been hanging there all day.

Annoyed at having to change my plans, I go downstairs to try to contact Barbara, and discover that my wife’s parents are down there in the living room watching TV. “Oh great,” I think, “something else I have to deal with now.” Then it occurs to me: my wife’s parents are actually both dead. I realize that the first floor of the house is in re-runs, so I don’t have to deal with it at all. All I have to deal with is the new season, which is going on up on the second floor. I go back upstairs.Â

There is now an airport terminal up there. I walk down the skyway, which leads to an urban green space. Lots of very hippy-esque sorts of people are there, having picnics and doing noodle dances and the like. I know that Barbara is somewhere down at the other end of the greenway, so I head off to find her. But the ground gets squishy and damp, and I notice that all the hippies are now up on a paved trail, above me to my left.

I remember that the head of the trail is back in the airport terminal. I don’t want to backtrack, so I am pleased when I notice a low spot in the trail, on which someone has conveniently stacked up a bunch of wicker chairs to make it possible to climb up to the trail.

I begin to climb, but it is longer and harder than it looked from the bottom. The chairs begin to jumble and fall, and I feel myself weakening as every time I get close to the trail, I fall back half the distance I’ve just climbed and have to do it again.

Eventually, I manage to throw my arms up, get hold of some stones on the trail, and haul myself up. The stack of chairs crumbles behind me, as the hippies glare at me for destroying their shortcut. I don’t care. I walk on. I know where Barbara’s apartment is: at the top of the cylindrical water tower that I see ahead of me on the trail.

I climb up the interior platforms of the water tower, reach the apartment, and find that she is not home. It is afternoon now, and it occurs to me that she is probably at work. Of course. That’s why she left her baby hanging in our room. As I go to climb back down out of the water tower, John Lydon of the Sex Pistols is climbing up. We greet each warmly, and I tell him that Barbara’s not home, but if he hangs out at her place I will be back soon and we can catch up.

At the bottom of the tower, I find Barbara’s sister. She has a car, and agrees to take me to Barbara’s work. We drive off. I haven’t seen her for years. She’s looking good. I think maybe I ought to cop a feel. I do. She reminds me that we both are married. Oh yeah. Sorry.

Soon after, we arrive at an art gallery in an old ramshackle warehouse. The curator tells us that there are some special “adult only” works of art in the room ahead to the right, but that we are probably too smart to appreciate them. I go off on my own to find them, but can’t. There are lots of little wooden stalls and cubicles, each of which seems to be set up for a different artist, although most of the artists seem to have either sold or removed all their work already. I peek into one stall that is partially obscured and the large wooden door falls off its tracks, nearly hitting me.

There is a shopping mall beyond the stall. I see two employees dressed in Burger King-style uniforms opening and closing the bathroom doors and sniffing the air. They tell me they are trying to decide if they’ve done a good cleaning job by whether they can smell the bathrooms from the outside. I tell them it all smells good and looks clean. One of them says “No, it’s dirty in here. It’s clean outside.”

There is an archway leading outside to the city nearby. I stand in the threshold of the archway and mock them, stepping outside and saying “clean,” then stepping back inside and saying “dirty,” several times. They are not amused.

My house is up ahead. When I get there, my wife is not there. I look around for her, only to find a commercial printing contractor waiting for me in her bathroom. He has a box for me and wants to review my order. He removes  two pairs of blue, nearly see-through plastic pants and tells me that he had to order them from England to get what I wanted.

He points out that because they are from England, the back pocket is on the left side instead of the right side, and asks if that’s okay.

I tell him, “Sure, that’s fine.”

But inside, I am wondering whether see through plastic blue pants were a good idea at all.

I wonder why I ordered them.


My father was a life-long airplane aficionado. He didn’t care much for jets, but he loved World War II vintage aviation, and was always happy as a clam to ponder pictures, movies or stories featuring the classic combat airplanes of the late propeller era. As a very, very young child, I fell asleep at night looking at models he built hanging on threads from the ceiling of my bedroom. When he died, we buried him with a Marine Corps Corsair model, and my nephew now has in his own room the impressive collection of vintage aviation models my father amassed in his later life.

I inherited my Dad’s fondness for flying machines, and was tickled today to read the story about a P-38 Lightning being uncovered by tides off the coast of Wales. The Lightning was always a favorite plane of his and mine. He built a model of it when I was little, and it was one of the planes I watched spinning above me in the breeze of open windows as I fell asleep each night, perchance to dream. I’m not as much of a propeller snob as my father was, and am fond of some great jet airplanes, but I certainly cling to his fascination with the great fighting machines of the ’30s and ’40s as well. Most space nerds are probably plane nerds at heart as well. I certainly am.

So in honor of the re-emergence of the lost P-38 and my own late father, and given my previously mentioned list-making tendencies, I post my all-time favorite airplanes for your geeking pleasure:

1. SR-71 Blackbird

2. P-38 Lightning

3. Fokker Dr. I

4. RF-4C Phantom II

5. JU-87D Stuka

6. JA-37 Viggen

7. P-51 Mustang

8. MK9 Spitfire

9. F4U Corsair

10. J-35 Draken

Plays and Tunes and Planets and Craps (Not that Kind)

We went over to Katelin’s school last night for her fall theatre performance. They offered a series of nine short (mostly) comedic plays loosely connected under the theme of “Missed Connections.” Katelin and her room-mate did a great job with a rapid-fire conversational piece called “The Blueberry Hill Accord,” in which two long-time friends attempt to end their relationship, before realizing that it would be easier and safer to maintain the status quo than to upset their karmic apple carts. It was a lovely production, with some really exceptional acting by many of the students.

I’m having another forage through this month’s downloads from eMusic, with a little bit of new mixed in with a little bit of old. On the former front, I’m enjoying Shriekback‘s Glory Bumps and Ween‘s La Cucaracha. The Shriekback record is their strongest one since Big Night Music, and it’s filled with all the same sorts of glanky, gunky, subterranean synths and sonics, supported Barry Andrews’ big, deep voice to lovely effect. Andrews’ long-ago XTC band-mate Andy Partridge provides guitars on this album, and it’s nice to hear them working together again. Ween’s album is their first studio disc in some five years, and it’s got some brilliant, immediately appealing high points, but also some of the worst bits they’ve ever recorded. They are brilliant song-stylists, and can work in just about genre or idiom they choose, but some genres (jam band white-boy reggae or Jimmy Buffett-flavored tropical party music, for instance) are just so bad that even parodies of them are painful. I think their best records have been the ones with less style-frapping than this one offers, but with some selected fast forwarding and track skipping, this is still a worthy listen. My new-(ish, to me) band listening includes 2006’s Nux Vomica by The Veils, and the very recent All Hour Cymbals by Yeasayer. The Veils are fronted by Barry Andrews’ son, Finn Andrews, who possesses one of those fascinating, seldom-heard voices that’s weird and off-putting at first, then becomes magical. He deploys it a collection of bracing, elaborately arranged tunes that ring and resonate like something out of Nick Cave’s Tender Prey era. Yeasayer are an interesting young group from Brooklyn who describe their music as “Middle Eastern-Psych-Pop-Snap-Gospel.” I’ll buy that.

On a space front, I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to rise early and look to the East and then up, where you can get a spectacular view of Venus, Saturn and Mars, all lined up between about 30 degrees and 100 degrees of the eastern horizon, at least where I am. Also, Comet Holmes is visible in Perseus in the evening; consult Heavens Above and input your location to figure out exactly where to look. When the air is bright and clear and cold and crisp as it often is at this time of year, you can get some amazing views of the great above and beyond.

Finally, re: The Craps (not that kind) . . . we’re going gambling this weekend with a gift certificate Marcia won in a silent auction some months ago. Watch for her rolling the bones at a craps table near you, if you’re into that sort of thing, or good at it. As she is.

Go Navy, Beat Irish!

Saturday night, I was in Cooperstown at the Otesaga Hotel, where Marcia was co-chairing a legal conference. They had a cocktail hour all lined up for before dinner, but I played hooky for most of it and hung out in the little TV bar instead, watching Navy beat Notre Dame in football for the first time in my entire lifetime, which is measured in the four-decade plus range. While beating Army every year is essential to all Navy alums, and beating Air Force is advisable and enjoyable, there’s no precedent for most of us as to how we’re supposed to feel when the current crop of Midshipmen beat the current crop of Fighting Irish, since the last time it happened, Roger Staubach was Navy’s quarterback. It still felt pretty darned good Saturday night, though, when Navy stopped Notre Dame’s two-point conversion in the third overtime to secure the win. There was one other Navy alum in the bar as I whooped it up in the aftermath, and a couple of Notre Dame folks. I didn’t gloat, per se, but over conversation later I did explain that while, yes, I don’t like Army, but I certainly respect them as a fellow service academy . . . I just don’t like Notre Dame, period. They’re reaping what they sowed by running off Tyrone Willingham before he had a chance to make his mark, and if Charlie Weis has a job in South Bend next year, it’s going to be tough to understand why, given the administration’s impatience with his predecessor.