FOOD CAME BETWEEN US
Dreamed 1993/4/25 by Chris Wayan
I'm sick again, low energy and aching joints and general awful feeling. I'm angry at my own dreams. Haven't been getting answers. Maybe I should try my Tarot deck, the one I drew for myself when I first got sick. But no, fifteen years ago I was desperate for oracular help from anyone--doctors or cards. Now I'm a trained dreamworker, and I know the answer's inside me. So I formally incubate a healing dream: write "I want a dream of a doctor who will tell me clearly, in unsymbolic language, what's physically wrong here. Name the disease, if any. And what to do about it."
I wake to find I'm working at Stanford again, coming home to a vague mixture of every house on the Peninsula I ever lived in. Brief mysterious phone messages keep coming in for my old housemate Arnold. I grit my teeth, turn down the volume, ignore the incoming calls. I'm tired of referring them to his new number--NEW? He hasn't lived here for years! He's got his own number, why doesn't he tell his friends?
Each message plays twice. At last I get it: Arnold's somehow playing back the messages aloud off my machine--which has no such feature! Maybe I'll even get billed for some of these calls. I don't trust Arnold. He was likeable and innocent and relaxed. He made me feel so unreasonable for objecting to things. Things like his cocaine dealing. Now his messages are playing in my ears all day...
My old friend Greta drops by. She's a gentle melancholy monkey with a hip flask of Southern Comfort and a cigarette, her eyes floating in the fluid space of her thick glasses like water drops in oil. I'm hungry for advice from her about my illness.
"We've been talking only about you this time. What about me?" she says. This time? It's been years since we met, years of her sitting and sipping in the same old apartment, a hermit too fragile to stand it out in the world. She's trying to convince herself that I'll even it out, spend time on her problems... when I don't know if I can stand to see her again... just drifting along, drunk. At last, she breaks down into slow tears. I touch her head timidly--her gray hair has gotten so brittle! She thrashes her whole body in rage and glares at me. Whatever it is she needs, it's not sympathy.
We get up and pack for the expedition, not speaking to each other. Truce. Have to. We can't get out of it. We're the Navy Expedition's only possible guides through the wilderness of Land's End. That part of San Francisco has never been mapped, and we're the only two who ever came back alive. Now that Letterman Hospital and the Presidio are being turned over from the military to the Park Service, the land must be surveyed. There are rumors of toxic waste.
So here we are, hiking north from Golden Gate Park through the high misty valleys of the Outer Richmond. It's uncharacteristically sunny today, no fog at all. Though I'm not sure what today means: atop the sea cliffs, where the Avenues should stretch for miles, are only fluorescent yellow mustard fields and wind-jagged Monterey pines. Are we before the founding of the City or after... some disaster?
The Commander is a bit of a problem. He wants to see our notes and maps, and... well, he's a scientific materialist. All this San Francisco mysticism is a bunch of civilian hooey to him. And we mapped our trip through here in dream-journals and a set of Tarot cards! No, he's not going to like us consulting those. Maybe we better rely on our memories for now. He's angry at our hesitation. But we're his only guides, he has to stay polite.
I track a vague memory across the fields to the cliffs of Sutro Heights. Yes! Below, the ancient Medical Complex steps down the cliffs to the tiny beach facing Seal Rocks. It's a semicircular concrete mass like a huge Dali clock half buried in the cliffs. It's silent except for the waves' thump and shush. Not a car anywhere.
I climb down and walk in the gaping front doors. Even the hospital smell is gone. Sea winds blow through the creaking doors and gulls nest on the windowsills. The halls are bare. I pass endless rooms... and then see something as I pass one door. One bed. Not a hospital bed. My bed.
This is strange. I'd better bring it back as evidence. Into the room, grab the bed--really a glorified futon, just a foam rubber pad on a light piece of plywood with wooden chocks nailed on for legs. I start sliding it down the halls of the empty med complex. The curving empty wheel-rim corridor echoes the hiss of the bed on the smooth bare floor. It's easy to push. I go fast, looking for a spoke leading to the central hall, to rendezvous with Greta and the others as she agreed. They're there. They've found one table.
They're conducting a religious ritual: the Navy Breakfast. The Powdered Eggs have been cooked to the correct rubbery consistency, the Naval Orange Juice has been poured, the Shingle has been sliced according to regulation (no Shit, just bright yellow margarine) and the Hash Browns have been heaped.
It's all perfect: not a single item I can eat.
The Commander turns to me. "The breakfast..." Oh God. "You carry it. And you three, carry the bed."
"Yes SIR!" I say, relieved. I don't have to eat it! Now maybe I'll have the energy to sketch after all! I brought a big pad all this way, not for the buildings or the land directly, but for the landscapes this trip creates in my dreams. I've really missed drawing. All those Navy rituals took so much out of me. I'm glad the territory is going civilian.
The sketching possibilities distract me and I start to dawdle. The rest of them get ahead. I turn off onto a pier or breakwater slanting out towards Seal Rock. The Cliff House, that famous tourist trap, is built on the pier; to go out to the end, you have to go through their store. A jungle of souvenirs. Huge worm-eaten pilings are hanging from the walls with price tags: "On sale now for only $29". "But..." complains a woman from Georgia, "They're cleaned up. What's the point of buyin' a piling if they take off all the barnacles and mussels? That's what gives it character..."
"You're right." I say. "I can't believe they'd go to the trouble just to spoil them." But they do. They hang all over the walls: dark severe columns, clean pilings stripped of the jagged masses of sea life that interest people so. What jerks to ruin their own wares! Then I realize... my last art sale was the same price, $29, for a color dream-story I worked hard to clean up and polish. I'm guilty too--making my work professional, accessible--boring. It's the sea-gnarls that give them character.
I walk on through the ware wars. Out the back door and onto the breakwater. Not many folks out here. The Cliff House has a function, I see now. Like a coral or sponge, it's a filter-feeder. Only the serious make it through all those shouting detours.
This is a nice place to paint: shallow water, very clear, jammed with a feverish near-tropical encrustation of rainbows: the checkers and featherpatterned scales of gooseneck barnacles, iridescent purple and pine-dark seaweed, magenta and white polyps, jade-green anemones, blue-veined jellyfish like heartbeat hubcaps, and red-orange stars crawling over it all. And white sand and spring-green sea-grass, and those look like... parrotfish? A Hawaiian rainbow of fish pour by, a lurid flow. The richest and weirdest ecosystem I've ever seen on the California coast. A woman sitting on the breakwater says "Do you like it? I designed it."
I'm impressed. She explains how she shaped the breakwater to maximize the fertility of the whole point. It sure worked. She gets a kind of royalty: the right to harvest food here. Otherwise, it was reserved to supply the mess hall when this was Navy land. Now it's completely protected except for her own modest needs. She has nori and other sea vegetables growing in rows, but they were lost in the roar of color; I didn't even notice. She could harvest ten times as much and leave no scar: life on life on life. A brilliant piece of work. And not smooth. Not accessible. Tangled!
I think met her, years ago. She was fishing for sole then, off Marin, and lived in her boat on the end of the long pier--out at the eighth tidal node. She was so solitary no one knew her name. She was just "the fisherwoman of the 8th node". She never came in to shore, though she was lonely: she thought she was ugly and getting old. In fact life on the water had left her healthy, strong, and quite beautiful--except that the sun and salt were roughening her skin. So I recommended Vitamin A and E. I think it worked! Years have passed, but she looks younger. And happier. The sea's not shaping her now; she's shaping it, beautifully.
The designer is thin and small, with a quick quirky narrow-chinned face like a fox, usually tilted. She looks as fragile as a fox too, perched on these massive cement blocks. Funny to think she built it all!
I lie on her rocks and stare and stare at the splendor flowing under the wrinkled slurping glass. There's a small brown boy down by the water, perhaps eight or ten. "That's my son." she tells me. He skitters like a little wild animal, like his mother, but has a completely different face: wide-set eyes, dark skin... I'd guess he's part African American and part... where have I seen those features? INCA! He's got a Quechua face. I get my nerve up and ask about his father.
"My husband can't be here right now; he's in Peru--" AHA! I was right! "--with..." she pauses and squirms sexily on the rock and I feel guilty for even thinking about her the way I suddenly am... and then I hear her lascivious flames in her voice as she dreamily says "with... CHOCOLATE... PUDDING." She's actually rocking her hips a little.
"You like desserts." I say inanely. I like chocolate but...
"Nohhhh!" she giggles. "Chocolate Pudding is our girlfriend's nickname, because she's Black and Inca. She's sohhhh cute. I love Chocolate Pudding." She explains they have a stable, triangular marriage. "Jealousy? Not a drop!" Her eyes light up as she talks about her two lovers. I'm envious--I've never felt like that about anyone--let alone two.
"Uh... sure," I say.
"Sure" says the designer.
"Naw" says her son. "I wanna fish."
"Okay" says his mom, and we walk up toward Sutro Heights. My friend picks up a garbage can lid along the way. "It'll help to disguise me." he says. Huh? Not all Cabinet members are garbage. Some of the other folks walking up this path are certainly real Secretaries of this or that, and they look okay. It's a new administration, and a young President, and ex-hippies like me have to get used to the idea that the government isn't always our enemy now.
A path forks off to the right, up to the ruins of Sutro Mansion on the cliffs above the Med Complex and Tourist Trap and Life Pier. Two stone walls loom, the path slips between. I sense a power here: a time-portal, maybe. They have that subtle shimmer. But portals of the past or future? We step through...
A Round Table sits on the green. Clinton's cabinet! We sit. We've joined. Not very good security, I must say. Or VERY good: they know we mean no harm. More than that: the Designer at least would grace any cabinet.
The President is out here to conduct hearings on the Northwest old-growth forests. A tightening of the laws, or a total ban? And base closures here in San Francisco, of course, that's a big local concern. The President gets antsy, says "Let's walk." And so we stroll the green rolling lawns behind the cliffs, all the way to Geary, debating how to design a sustainable peacetime economy here.
Then a Secret Service agent says "Sniper fire! Take cover!"
Clinton says "Again?" and rolls her eyes and we follow her into a trench or cable-car slot in the middle of the street.
"Again?" I ask her.
"Yeah, it happens all the time." says Chelsea. "There's this older guy, maybe connected to the Mob, we're not sure. He's always sniping at me because he can't stand someone like me taking over. I'm a kid, I'm a girl, I'm dumb, I'm ugly."
"But you're not!" I blurt. "Dumb or ugly I mean." I blush, realizing I just told the President she's cute. I'm shy about things like that. She watches me blush without teasing me.
"All we have to do is wait till the Secret Service catches him. One of these times he'll either hit me or get caught. Or both."
"Well, it does make me take breaks. I'm a workaholic like my dad," she admits calmly. "Hey, as long as we're stuck in a rut, we might as well have lunch."
So President Chelsea pulls a lot of paper-wrapped sandwiches out of a lunch pail and we picnic there in this trench in the middle of the street with the Secret Service all around. Despite the crack of an occasional bullet in the distance as the agents chase the Sniper, Chelsea's cheery calm spreads to me--I see why she got elected! I enjoy my sandwich, and I enjoy snuggling up in a cablecar slot with the foxy Designer of the Breakwater. President Chelsea makes me feel brash and I look the Designer in the eye... and kiss her. She kisses back. Mmmmmm. Then I notice a bite of sandwich in... well, one of our mouths, they're all sort of tangled up... but I'm momentarily grossed out by the idea, the half-chewed food squished between two tongues... then the whole thing seems funny. Food keeps getting between us! Navy breakfasts, Chocolate Pudding, and now this. She starts laughing like a kid in between sloppy food kisses, and so do I.
Around the fifth gunshot, second sandwich, and seventeenth kiss, I decide that on the whole I like the Chelsea administration.
AND WHEN I WOKE
Well. I asked for a diagnosis. Let me just open the envelope... And the winning disease is... Internal Assassination! Hmmm, it says here it's a miracle I'm even alive, with that guy inside trying to kill me for letting my femme side run my life, and being competent, and having too much fun, and all...
Yep, that's some physical cause, there.
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