Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Vivid Dream, OR, Bleak in Nighttown

It was a typical multiplex cinema: a circular auditorium, with people standing in the center of the floor, facing outwards, intently watching one of half-a-dozen screens high on the surrounding walls, upon which various movies were showing. Seats were arranged in circular rows extending inward, so that those who preferred to sit could view the film showing on the wall opposite, which was confusing, and caused many patrons to be constantly on the move, attempting to find a seat which had a view of the proper movie. Most people preferred to stand, however, as this gave them free range of motion, and most of the seats were either taken or in serious dispute.

To further complicate matters, between the screens were marquees announcing all of the movies playing in this auditorium, all of the movies playing in the adjacent ones, many of the movies that were Coming, with times, dates, names, and so on. It was all too much, and I determined to leave, although it was far from clear whether I had seen the movie I had come to see, or only a part of it, or merely a coming attractions featurette, or another movie altogether, or nothing at all. This is why I can't stand dream cinemas: you never know where you are, what you're seeing, what's real and what isn't, and why you bothered in the first place. At least they leave the lights on so that you can, eventually, find your way to an exit.

Besides, I had an appointment, as I abruptly recalled, skipping gracefully across Boylston Street. I had gotten an invitation, it seemed, to meet up for a sort of reunion with people I'd worked with in the 1970s. I'd been told the location of the restaurant where we'd meet -- because, I'd been advised, it would cost only "six dollars each" (yeah, whatever), but I was uncertain as to the exact name of the place (I seem to have been rather muddled altogether on this day.) I entered the front door and found myself in a mall with several floors -- and dozens of restaurants. I had asked my wife to meet me, in case this reunion should become tedious or uncomfortable (which seemed likely), so that I'd have an excuse to leave. But that wasn't for a while, so I decided to check what restaurants I could.

As I was proceeding down a ramp to check the lower floor, fighting against crowds of people entering (had the cinema let out?), I passed David, who failed to recognize, or at least to acknowledge, me (perhaps it was my fine tailored suit, a vast improvement to what I generally wear in dreams.) Perhaps I was mistaken, and after he had whisked by me, I called out questioningly, "David?" Despite the fact that in any ordinary crowd this would cause a dozen people to turn, that is not what happened in the dream mall. David stopped, turned, did a vaudevillian double-take to much comic effect, and said, "Bleak!"

We simultaneously explained in that awkward way of chance meetings that we were each on the way somewhere else while we exchanged pleasantries. "What are you doing in Boston?" I asked, honestly puzzled, because he'd lived in New Jersey for years and years, and surely I would have heard something if he'd been visiting this area. "Oh," he responded mildly, "I've been living in Kenmore Square for quite a while." It seemed to me his attitude was a bit patronizing but, yes, now that I thought about it, it seemed I dimly recollected being told once something about this, but had never heard anything further, so had dismissed it as flawed or mistaken information. Then I asked the (usually socially fatal) question, "What are you doing?" The crowds were pushing, and he was beginning to move off, but I heard him say, amid a flurry of extraneous noise, the clear and distinct phrase "disco shop." He did not say "disc shop," which would have made a certain sort of sense, nor did he say "disco club," which would have made another, though very odd, sort of sense; he had definitely said "disco shop." He was fast disappearing into the seething crowd, while making noises about his doing very well in the business, and so on and so forth. I was nodding and making standardized remarks about giving him a call, getting together soon, etc., but I soon was swept away.

All of the restaurants in this damned mall were dark, confusing, and heavily populated by the sorts of people who very much looked like they might have gathered for a reunion. I knew that I was looking for someplace cheap (around six dollars), but none of these spots looked especially upscale; indeed, most looked a bit sordid and dirty. But a cheerful fellow pushed up to me, and I vaguely recognized him. He helpfully advised me that I was in the wrong place; with that, he gathered a few friends about, whom I likewise failed to recognize, though they seemed to know me, and began leading us to the right restaurant -- which in the event proved just as tacky as any others I'd passed through.

There were many people gathered about, exchanging hearty politenesses and sipping drinks. But I knew almost no one. There was a strong Japanese contingent, representing the company that had bought the firm out sometime in the 70s, after my time. There was a healthy gathering of folk from "the home office" in New York. But few seemed to know much or particularly care about the Boston office, which had been a rather minor offshoot to begin with, and had closed with barely a whimper after a few years.

A few people who were evidently veterans of the Boston branch were huddled together and hailed me with a marked enthusiasm when I approached them. I smiled politely, listening to them trade inquiries and telegraphic summaries of their lives. Then came the moment I'd dreaded. Someone turned to me, then the others did, too, and a loud voice cut through the chatter: "So, Bleak. What have you been up to?"