2020 Year Enders, Arts & Culture

12 Flavors of Fear, Isolation and ?!?!? From the 2020 Tunnel

Portland ME curious music hero shares his dreams (and other things) w/ us all.


Avoiding public bathrooms at all costs in the early days of Covid, I pulled off the highway to stop and relieve myself in a patch of woods behind a shopping plaza. Whilst doing so, I noticed there was a dildo on the forest floor in a spot of sun shining through the trees. Holding my own penis in the forest while staring a grotesque exaggeration of one on the ground.

There was a blanket hung over the doorless doorway between the living room and the kitchen. Depicted on the blanket, in gray and white, was a beautiful winter scene in the forest. You could see a house, covered in snow and lit up from within and, in the foreground, was a massive snowy owl. I commented on the owl and then started to imitate it, imagining what might say if it could speak, what it’d seen happening in that house (all manner of unsavory things), how it felt about being on a blanket, et c. Initially, she found this amusing, but as I persisted with it, she abruptly looked annoyed, got up off the couch and dashed out of the room. She returned a minute later, wielding a pair of scissors, and wordlessly started cutting up the blanket. I tried to persuade her to stop but it was no use. She cut into the blanket toward the owl then, crudely and slowly, cut around the shape of the owl. It took maybe five minutes for her to cut it out completely. Once finished, she came toward me with the liberated owl and with no expression on her face proceeded to smack me across the face with it.

The next day she texted me a picture of the owl, reattached to the blanket with many, many safety pins.

I was sitting around staring off into space when the power went out. I live in the country and this is something that occasionally happens, maybe 10-20 times a year. The wind blows, an old tree branch falls and takes out a wire. A car takes out a telephone pole, whatever. It happens. I’m pretty used to it.

This time, however, the power blinking off revealed to me how on edge I’d apparently been. My more-spooked-than-I-realized-brain scrambled to try and irrationally tie it in as some consequence of the Coronavirus, things shutting down, society crumbling, et c. Some riotous mob on a rampage demanding hand sanitizer or toilet paper and burning down the power station in the chaos? Nobody at the electrical company has a cough so everyone went home? Something. It didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t rational, but there it was.

These notions bounced around in my head while I searched in the total darkness for a flashlight, gently feeling around on the shelves in my bathroom for the right shape and texture.

At the moment the power blinked back on, maybe 45 seconds after it’d gone off, I happened to be looking right into the bathroom mirror. My first, very hard to explain split second thought was that I was looking at my kid self and that he looked terrified. I felt bad for him. As my eyes adjusted to the light the me in the mirror began to age rapidly. Once he was done and fully in the present with me, we laughed.

On a trail at dusk, I heard a family coming my way so I did my usual Covid era evasion, put on my mask and stepped several feet off the trail, to wait for them to pass. A little boy loudly stormed way ahead of his family, ran right by me without noticing me, screaming/singing excitedly the whole way. His parents, one pushing a stroller, lagged well behind, moving at a glacial pace.

After a few moments the parents slowly made their way toward me, saw me standing there off the trail with my camera, we said hi to each other, then decided they should turn around. They called out to the boy, who you could still hear screaming/singing off in the distance telling him to turn around and come back because they were going home. He screamed in protest. The parents started turning around and walking back in the direction they’d come, this time moving at a much brisker pace. They kept calling out to the boy, and once he heard their voices starting to fade in the distance, he started crying and running as fast as he could back toward them. “Wait, wait, wait!” he called out, but his parents shouted back that they were going home, you shouldn’t have run so far ahead, et c. They were playfully taunting him and he was clearly terrified.

This reminded me of something that happened to me when I was a similar age. While being babysat by an aunt, leaving an apartment building through what felt like a mostly unlit labyrinth of hallways in disrepair and flight of stairs that creaked loudly and wobbled a little too much, she stormed ahead of me, way ahead, seemingly annoyed that my little legs couldn’t maintain her pace. I called out “wait, wait!!” which seemed to agitate her and, I swore, only made her go faster, which only made me cry harder. For whatever reason this memory really stuck and I recreate variations on that unlit hallway, and/or the feeling of getting left behind like that in dreams all the time.

The kid kept running and crying until he noticed me watching him off the trail in the woods. He immediately stopped crying and looked stunned. At first I was going to soften my voice and try to say something comforting to him, feeling like I’d accidentally wound up in one of my own dreams and that in some way I was sort of looking at myself (the kid even kind of looked like kid me, very bright blonde hair, pudgy), but then I remembered how much I resented adults who softened their voice and tried to comfort me as a kid. Especially if I didn’t know them. It’s going to be alright?? How the hell do you know that?? Do you even know what’s happening right now??? Who are you??? I always found being talked to like I was a kid so patronizing and insulting that it took me years to let go of it and realize that not everyone who’s really nice is full of shit.

Anyway, now me and then me were staring at each other for what was probably only a couple of seconds but felt like a full minute. Finally I noticed his bright green jacket (a choice now me and then me could have made) and instead of saying something soothing, I simply said “hey, cool jacket.” This I said through my (cool) green face mask. This broke the spell and he continued back down the path towards his parents, now at a slower pace and no longer crying, audibly at least.

“Hey, Pinky” a maskless middle aged dude in a pick-up truck nonchalantly said out a rolled down window as I walked by wearing a hot pink face mask.

I waved and, mirroring his tone, said “Hey, Pick-Up”.

“Hey, Ricky! You got a smoke?! No? Yeah, d’you quit cuz you might catch all that hair on fire?!? Hahahaha! Look at you, what the hell happened? You stop takin’ care of yourself? You need me to cut that shit? No? Listen bud, I’m gettin’ married in Monument Square on Valentine’s Day. Yep, same lady! I’m 62 and it ain’t workin’ like it used to but I recently discovered there are other ways, bud, there are OTHER …. FUCKING ….. WAYS! Hahahahahaha!”
All this was said to me by a friendly fella who walked with me to my car, clearly thinking I was someone else. He was holding a very beat up shovel that was entirely teal and looked like it’d seen decades worth of action. He had another friend with him who didn’t say a word.

There were roughly 70 kids in face masks twirling in a midsummer’s field behind a grocery store. Adults looked on from a distance, standing by their cars. At the edge of the field was a table with a pen and a fluttering stack of paper that had a rock on it acting as a paperweight, subverting the breeze.

Aisle 8, one of two frozen foods aisles in a local grocery store, for the better part of a year now has featured a number of beautiful high whining refrigerator fans that nobody seems willing or able to lubricate back into relative silence. As such, if you pass through when the right ones happen to be on, you’re treated to a rather gorgeous assortment of tones that subtly slide in and out of audibility, easing from one pitch to another as the fans turn on, speed up or slow down, the normal low hums and whirrings of the fans in normal operation and the high (but not loud) whining of the ones that are beginning to struggle. Some of them have three speeds and thus three pitches so when it kicks on it creates a sort of vague recurring melody as it goes through its process.
All of this, of course, is mixing with whatever melancholy grocery store pop hit happens to be playing through the house system, sending the already quiet music to the brink of discernability and thus melding with the tones in strange and beautiful ways.

I’ve many times now taken the opportunity to walk very, very slowly down the aisle, listening intently to the mix of whatever songs happen to be playing (“Hold me Now”, “Take A Bow”, “Heaven is a Place on Earth”, that one that asks “what if I were Romeo in black jeans?”) mingling and eventually being overwhelmed by the cooler’s tones. Since I’m only there just before the store closes (to avoid people for Covid reasons), the lights in the coolers, which are turned off when no one is around, kick on one by one as I slowly approach and trip their sensors, making me feel a bit glamorous.

Stories from friends had been floating around about maskless people actually giving people wearing masks a hard time, so I wasn’t too surprised when a maskless woman walked up to me in the Auto Zone parking lot and said “you people and your fucking masks are driving me crazy! YOU drive me crazy!”

In this instant, laid out before me in my minds eye were an array of quick retorts, scoffs, mini-lectures, mockery, dull anger, and so on, but, ah, maybe my favorite thing about getting older is having a better (but never perfect) sense of when any of those kinds of responses could possibly help a situation. No progress to be made here, so I put the figurative gun back in the holster and just offered a blank stare.

I quietly got in my car and as I started it I realized I was half consciously singing that Britney Spears song “(You Drive Me) Crazy”, which I’m fairly sure I haven’t thought about in 20 years. This sent me into a whorl of thinking obsessively about 1999/2000, the passage of time, aging, all while needlessly idling in the Auto Zone parking lot.

When she came back out with whatever she’d bought, I was still sitting there idling, blasting “(You Drive Me) Crazy” (via the magic of my phone, YouTube, and the holy aux).

She didn’t even look at me. The song was better than I remembered.

I had just gotten done recording video and audio for one of the earlier “Tuba (with a microphone in it)” pieces and I was in an unusually good mood, very excited to get home to sync the audio and the video, sensing that it was going to come out well. As I was driving I saw a rabbit racing across the road. Despite seeing their footprints occasionally in the winter, I hadn’t actually seen a rabbit in the wilds of Maine since I was a kid. I dared for half a second to think of this as auspicious until the rabbit abruptly doubled back across the road and before I could react, found itself directly under my front passenger side wheel.

I had a dream that I was on the set of a “60’s art film” helping out with the production. A man and a woman were standing in a room that was filled with water up to their shins. You could see the floor through the water, checkered with black and white tiles. The man and the woman started doing a dance routine that involved both of them holding metal folding chairs. They would reach down, scoop up some water in their cupped hands, and throw the water at the folding chair the other was holding to hear the subtle, brief resonance of the chair sort of ringing as something hit it. They alternated doing this back and forth. Eventually they started spitting milk at each other’s folding chairs, causing the chair to ring a little louder than before. At this point the floor shifted from being a nice checked floor to being the worn, beleaguered floor of my parent’s real life kitchen. While all of this was going on, I was standing next to the camera person while they were filming.

The proceedings were interrupted when someone came in to tell me that my mother had collapsed. I look down and there she is on the floor in front of me. I bend over her and start calling her name but get no response. A female cop, one that looks a bit like Merideth Monk appears behind me and repeats the same phrase in the same voice twice, almost as though it were a recording on a loop. From here the dream gets fuzzy, but I did know that my mother was ultimately alright. The last thing I recalled has at some point i overhear someone (an EMT?) say that what happened to my mother is the same thing that happened to June Carter Cash.

That night, in waking life, I pull off the road into a public park so I can make a phone call. I’m not there more than 20 seconds when a cop car appears. A cop comes to my window, a female one that, yeah, looks a little bit like Merideth Monk, I roll down my window and explain myself and she coldly says “you can’t be in the park after dark”, I say okay again, and, in the same exact voice, almost as though it were a recording on a loop, she once again says “you can’t be in the park after dark”. I apologize again and tell her I’ll be on my way. She says nothing more.

About a month and a half later, also in waking life, I was chatting with my mother in her kitchen late one night, she started getting shaky, asked me to get her a drink, and as I went to do so she collapsed onto that beleaguered kitchen floor I mentioned before. She’s diabetic and had a sudden blood sugar low which, for the first time ever, resulted in her fainting. As she was coming to, she asked me to get her two things. She still wanted that drink, specifically a glass of milk (to help her get her blood sugar back up) and a metal folding chair (to help her get herself back up.) She leaned against the front of the folding chair and asked for the glass of milk. I handed it to her and she spilled a bit of it onto the folding chair, creating the exact kind of ring that had been depicted in my dream a month and a half before.

I dunno.

Hours before my mother collapsed I’d done a livestream performance from my apartment. In the performance, I was using vocabulary flash cards, pulling them at random and sort of improvising with and against them, using them as a sort of score. I kept pulling the word “drink” out of the stack and it was, thus, the single word that put the most wind in my performative sails for that set. I decided the performance would conclude with a single word on screen and drawing from the stack at random one last time, there, of course, was the word “drink” again.

When my mother collapsed I actually thought she was dead for about a minute and a half. As mentioned above, the last thing she’d asked me before falling was to get her a drink. In the lifetime lived in that minute and a half it occured to me that what I thought might be my mother’s final word and the final word of my performance were one in the same.

12.31.20: Last dream of the year

I’m at a family reunion, the setting for which is a room that someone must have rented and absolutely no one in my family could possibly afford. It’s a massive function room at some sort of resort or possibly on a cruise ship. It’s hard to know because the scene keeps changing constantly. My relatives ages keep shifting as well, between the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, 10’s and present day versions of themselves, leaping from childhood to middle age and back in a single moment. Sometimes I see more than one version of a family member at the same time. The room is continually changing shape, every corner of the room seems to be from a different time. At times it seems as though I’m seeing photographs of family members getting spliced in with the shifting scenes. The time shifts and scene jumps increase in speed, and as they do, I notice my family members appear more flushed in the cheeks. Their faces becoming pinker and redder, and some of their faces are also gradually becoming pudgier and are starting to droop away from their skulls in a very unnatural looking way. Eventually I realize no one in my family can see me, no one is looking at or acknowledging me, and I’m not sure that they’re aware of each other either.

Eventually, from across the room, I see a friend from the present. She’s smiling and staring directly at me through the crowd. Relieved that she sees me (“I’m real”) and confused as to why she’d be there, I make my way over toward her. She’s wearing a massive brightly colored sweater that’s way too big for her and seems to have a life of its own, constantly shifting in size (while always being massive) and color (while always being bright). I ask her if she knows what’s going on and she gestures to her left where, a few feet away, her partner is drawing something on a record sleeve sized square. I look to him and he smiles and turns his drawing toward me. It’s an impossibly elaborate map and/or chart and/or graph. There are dates, the names of all of my relatives, and seemingly thousands of different shades of pink and red. At the top in a large 80’s font in black letters is the caption “THE PINKS AND REDS OF THE REUNION”, a detailed documentation of the average shade of blush and flush in my relatives cheeks each year since the early 80’s.

Suddenly I’m holding a book and I know I must run. Time is suddenly short. The room still shifting around me (save for my two friends, who remain consistent), I break for the nearest exit. Once outside, I realize wherever we are, it’s definitely not America, feeling more like Europe, maybe somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea. The architecture is too old. I make my way down some very wide stairs that were once painted red, but have crumbled with time to reveal the stone beneath. Other than a sort of strip of garden that surrounds the room where the reunion is, everything else is a staircase, almost as though the reunion were at the top of an old temple. There’s water coming from all directions, making its way up the stairs, in a few minutes it will envelope everything if I don’t do something. I go down to the water’s edge, it’s already most of the way up the stairs. At this moment I remember I’m holding that book. I look at it long enough to see that it’s black and has no text on the cover. Then I gently lower it into the water and let it go, watching it slowly sink down out of sight. This stop the water from rising any further. At this moment I notice that I’m bare foot, so I sit down on the stairs and put my feet in the water and think “this is one of my new favorite places.”

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