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Bar Bet

for William Blake, in heaven, and Tina, in Bolinas. Or vice versa.

Dreamed 4/30/1982 by Chris Wayan

I'm driving north from the City. A woman's hitching and I stop for her. She's reluctant to get in, since another hitcher, a man, is riding in back atop a pile of junk. But the front seat is empty. She hesitates.

I say "How far you going?"

"Up two cities, then west a mile on the county road."

"But that's exactly where I'm going; about a mile in, I turn off onto a long dirt driveway. I'll be gone for half an hour or so, then I come back out and go on west and north. I'll pick you up again if you haven't got another ride by then." On hearing this, she hops in. Soon she relaxes and we're chattering away.

We soon reach the coast and drive north on Highway One. Round a point, and a lagoon spreads before us. A road winds along its shore, often covered like avalanche-tunnels in the mountains; houses fringe it. Sandspit crosses the bay mouth; Highway One follows it. Fences, piers, harbor. Despite what I said, we agree to head this way, not the wiggly way around the lagoon. Behind us is a secret walled section of the lagoon. Private estate you can glimpse through the trees and a wall-gap for the water. I remember that place, but can't recall when I was in. We begin our quest for God by stealing a raft.

Reach the water--A sea-wall on the sand bar. Not built for cars. We must walk here or boat throught the lagoon... or go back around the long way. The two hitchers and I are now firmly bonded as a team. We decide to boat across the gap. Take a raft, quite innocently, not thinking of theft. The owners run over: two beefy Mexican American guys. They want to sell their boat, not prosecute. It's an inflatable zodiac with an outboard motor. They want much more than we have though, which is about $1500 when we pool our cash. But we argue them down and buy it on credit!

I can move the boat somehow, without starting the engine or even touching the controls. Acts as if the motor's on and being steered, but silent. A new power!

So we drift silently across the lagoon toward an on-the-water saloon and community center. The Lagoon Saloon? The proprietor rows out toward us and says we have to join the fun. A contest that no one passing by escapes? Rowdy customers on the porch cheer--but with a dangerous edge. I fear they may beat us or rob us if we don't compete, so I give in and tie up to the Saloon. We wade in through the saloon doors, up to the bar. The room's flooded nearly waist-deep, though the porch was dry.

The challenge is an initiation rite, into their community. You have to swim underwater from the bar to the door. Rival swimmers can do anything to hinder each other bare-handed, with no penalty for injuries or drownings. I'm relieved though. I'm experienced underwater, know I can go a long way. Female hitcher bets on me--the $1500 we owe for our raft! Now I HAVE to win! The locals readily cover the bet; they're backing one of their own, a local teen ready for this rite of passage. GO!

Suddenly there's no water! I have to swim through air. I have very fast reactions and got a slight head start. There's a bottleneck about six feet ahead. If I can get through before the kid reaches it, I'll clearly win. He's bigger and stronger than me, so he can probably hold the narrows against me if I don't arrive first. Can I? Seems like I'm winning, but unclear. I race past the narrows and toward the goal. Can't see to reach out and touch the door, though. Lift my PHYSICAL arm, not my dream-arm, feel disappointed as I find I'm lifting it in bed, but do it anyway, unsure if it counts. Can't even see my dream arm now, will it lift to follow this arm, grab and swing the door open, making me the winner? I don't know. I'm fully awake now, swimming in sweat as if it's a terrible nightmare! Which it wasn't. Yet... I recall that last night too I woke sweating and scared after FAILING to cross a scary basement full of giant crabs. I asked for a rematch and I got it. And this time I crossed the whole thing. I wonder if I could this time because I wasn't alone: not just two people rooting on me, but counting on me. I'll be brave for others, if not for me...

Fall back asleep and find I'm on the bar porch. I made it through the doors! They're pounding me on the back. I won! Was so sure I'd lost it at the last moment.

Female hitcher comes up and says "I knew you could do it. I put all our winnings down on the second bet."

I feel uneasy. "The second bet?"

"Yeah. The BIG bet."

"How... how big?"

"We lose it all... or we get one million dollars."

"That's... that's a big bar bet. What exactly do we have to do?"

"Just find God."


So we sail south through the lagoon, toward the cape with the mysterious mansion. We become an impromptu flagship, as rafts of bar patrons follow us. As we near the cape, spot five chunky ships off the coast, and hordes of small whales spouting. From the look of those ships, I worry they may be illegal whalers!

We land on the cape tip. I climb up to a little gate-house. Knock but no one opens. The door is locked. I climb in through an open window. Spare, rather drab olive room. Feels military. But clean at least. I listen for that TV background music that'd mean I'm about to be jumped, but nothing. Explore the house. Paintings on the wall. One is MINE! My godmother drawn as a tumbling harlequin. A Gestalt Portrait, with several superimposed faces, of the subject's inner personas. With pictures like these, I feel safer--whoever lives here is someone I'll probably like.

At the back of the house, a sunny room. The opposite door, the back door, is open: I look through it to see what's ahead on this stage of our Quest. A golf course, the mansion... But I can't see to the horizon: the door is low and the frame blocks the distance. I hope and expect the next step on the horizon to be... the Emerald City.

I let the others in. They say "it looks abandoned." I say "No. I heard faint kids' voices. The adults, I think, are down on the shore, dealing with those illegal whalers--or they're in on the crime and they're butchering. But either way, their kids are up here and we'll run into some." We arrange ourselves into columns: three old wise people in front, the rest of us clinging tight to each other behind them. I had a vision of Lenin's funeral, being carried through packed crowds... the only areas that stand out are EMPTY ones. So to be more impressive, we keep a gap between our leading trio and the mass of us.

And forward we go! Whoosh! Like a train, our united energy drives us in a roaring snaking column across the golf course and into the other realm. White light flares round us, like a shockwave. A vast hall. On and on across its floor, faster now--a spirit bus... striving for the invisible end of the Hall, where we see a vast crowd of the blessed dead, thronging around God. But we can't reach it like this, the Hall expands to infinity. We're carrying things we'll have to divest, before we can reach God. As we face this, we slow and re-enter standard time. Find ourselves far down the coast, near some new and unknown islands. We land to rest in a cove.

From the cliffs above us leap chunky lizards. They spread wings and dive at us. I fire at them with a small laster. Immune, it seems. Now bigger winged lions launch and wheel. They call the lizards off like pets, in sweet women's voices, then swoop and pounce on us. Sphinxes! But they were just scaring us, playing with us--irresistable for cats. They have lioness-bodies, great eagle-wings, and beautiful women's faces flushed with a predatory flirtation--sexy but alarming.

They ask to join our quest! And despite our fear, we finally agree to risk it.

a sphinx on a crag points the way.
We never regret it. Their energy and zest earns them leader roles--they double the engine-power pulling our spirit train. Despite their ugly pets. (Funny, I never think of them as dragons--clunky chunky things. But they are what they are and happy to be it, these ugly magical flyers.) We become young, barbaric, draped in jewels. Frazetta figures, on a quest for God. I find the Frank Frazetta outfits so tacky, I'd rather go naked on our quest for God.

But then we've changed, too, while we zoomed through the tunnel of white light. A lot peeled off: possessions, clothes... and age. Our bodies are young now, idealized, nearly naked, draped in... no, not white gauze robes. Gold disco chains, sword-and-sorcery thongs and jewels and glitter. Some of us find the outfits so embarrassing we pull off the G strings... I'd rather go naked than draw attention to myself with this Frazetta stuff!

I wonder if these costumes really show insecurity about sex and our bodies. Or our worries we're not worthy of the Quest. Like you have to be Conan the Barbarian and fight your way through to God!

We climb the cliffs and explore the islands. Green sheepy downs, little villages... The people here are naked, we guessed right about that, but they still condescend to us. Nakedness is not enough. Tell us "You must divest far more to go any closer to God."

So, creatures in our group begin to try asceticism. Some of the talking birds who love to spraypaint colors on their feathers, changing the patterns the way we change clothes, strip all their paint off. Animals pull out their fur and wander the hills like lost sausages. Humans with tattoos painfully strip them off and graft the wounds with innocent skin.

And yet we're uncertain. Does God require souls to be utterly naked and blank all the time? Polished empty mirrors reflecting his face? Isn't that a bit vain? We're trying to please these local shepherds now, we're becoming a flock of sheep! Lost confidence in our own judgment, deferring to these native of isles closer to God than ours.

Blessed Isles, halfway on our quest for God--looking suspciously like Mont St. Michel.
In the streets of the Blessed Isles, we stand out like dancers. The locals are rather dumpy stumpy creatures, but unashamed. It shows they're honest before God. Well, but we LIKE having lithe, fit bodies. And the sphinxes need to be slender and strong, or they couldn't fly. I'm getting less apologetic about our Frazetta look. Even a bit defiant. They call our native continent "That gloomy place." They say souls get sent there to wrestle with dreariness and depression.

And the days pass like years, while we dither and cleanse and refit our expedition. Or are they years passing like days?

And my annoyance grows. I gather our leaders and say "I think these saints are snotty. Our problems with body image and sex are no closer to solution. Or else they're already solved and we don't know it. That happened to me back in the bar, you know. I opened the door on this quest and didn't even know I'd won. I think... it's time to go."

The islanders are skeptical and expect us back. People don't progress at white-light speed! You live your life where you are and get reborn a bit closer to God in the next life...

Suddenly something clicks. This feels like C.S. Lewis--some island off Narnia, maybe. I've been too polite to grill them, but now I ask the locals their exact conception of God... Not a lion, nor a crucified man, but the flavor is distinctly Christian. No WONDER we've felt insecure, being pagans and worse. We're stuck in a Christian universe! As if their views were all. We need to open the door and move onward.

We line up and form our Soul Train. We'll head deeper into the sea, but explore with a bit more skepticism. Maybe that unattainable clown on the throne is God. And maybe... it's someone's ego.

The God we're after made bars, and bar bets, and kooky artists, and Frazetta bikinis, and bad disco... and sphinxes. And sphinxes!

Did He who made the lamb make Thee?

We zoom into white light.

We fly on, past the known world, on our quest for God.

Well. Such an attitude! And what a parody of CS Lewis's "Voyage of the Dawn Treader"!

The nameless lagoon with the nameless saloon is Bolinas, California, even more radical than SF and Berkeley, so hard-core they yank out the road signs from Highway 1, to keep the Americans from visiting. I wonder if I can move there? Sounds like I'll heal faster if I do.

The dream has a warning--I'm in danger of stopping, when I climb out of illness to health--when I catch up at last with others who feel comfortable in the world, with their bodies, with their souls. Like kicking back when you've worked your way up from poverty to the middle class. But I'm not them--they started there. They didn't struggle up from abuse and fear. They may BE closer to God. But I want to BECOME closer to God--steadily--and God'll probably get revised too. I want to keep exploring and get stronger.

Not sit on my blessed island like a sheep.

LISTS AND LINKS: a dream sequel: the Problem of Pain - quests - bars - money - bets - dream beings - sphinxes - dragons - gods - shamanic dreams - religious dreams - other worlds - suburbia - Blake - C.S. Lewis - life-paths - anarchy not hierarchy

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