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I CAN'T JOIN THE TRIBE

Dreamed 1997/8/12 by Chris Wayan

I'm on a tourist pier in San Francisco. A bright day, but silver haze blurs the distance. Can see the Bay Bridge but not the Golden Gate.

The whole bay seems wrong, scrambled. The Bay Bridge has too many spans and doesn't seem to end; finally I realize the columns and dome of the Exploratorium are right behind the center of one span giving the illusion of an extra tower somehow. By counting spans, I reach Yerba Buena, and expecting it, I distinguish it from the Oakland hills. A second Bay Bridge is half done, angling out north of the old span toward Treasure Island and on toward Albany. It has no towers--all suspended over miles of water by horizontal cables from onshore hills. Mt Diablo has crept in on little cat feet, and looms above Oakland now; Caldecott Tunnel pierces its north flank like the nostril of a sleeping beast. You'd think the trucks up its nose would wake it, but there are none. No traffic at all.

That's one nice thing about the collapse of civilization.

My guide, a Native American man, leads me across the bridge, biking at first and then on foot as we reach the wilderness at the eastern end. The road shrinks to a path running through the valley between craggy Alameda Island to the south and the Emery Hills, all spring-green and feathery as tropical cloud-forests. Not a house in view: folks all moved inland where it's drier, after the climate changed.

The path is slippery from deep layers of wet leaves. I feel allergic here--odd, given so much dew to damp the pollen down. Tolerable though, and it gets no worse.

Abruptly the path ends at a drop-off. A cliff in fact, but thick plants hide the whole face, as green as the lesser slopes. I warn my companion but he shrugs and goes right to the edge, despite the slippery footing. And disappears! A narrow path down the face. It turns inward, into the cliff, becomes a spiral tunnel with leaf-choked windows for light at each turn of the screw.

I feel excited but uneasy. I'm about to meet the Tribe at last.

It's quite a cave-complex. Just the edge of the ruins of the ancient town, stretching east from the cliff-foot as far as I can see. They've cleared many hectares of jungle--I don't know why, I thought the the tribe was still quite small. Seems I was wrong! Wait in a narrow room; my guide says "There's one man you need to meet" and climbs out the window to get him. I pace and look at the walls: papered with pictures and newspaper clippings, all the same column width. Strange. Pull off some bits of tape on a bare wall. Stains from tape in strips down the wall. Think "his landlady will be mad when she sees how he's stained the wall" then recall that all the landladies of the world are long dead and their children are struggling to rebuild out of rubble. Too busy to fuss over a stain or two.

My guide comes back with a man who takes one long look at me and says "He's full of trouble and distortion still." My guide accepts this without question and says "Sorry, you can't meet the tribe." They think I'm unfit for their company! I feel outraged. How can they rebuild civilization if they reject people like me, willing to work! They need everyone they can get, to fend off their enemies!

Apparently they do worry about some kinds of stains.

I run out through the ruined streets, looking for life. But now I'm paranoid--fear every motion means looters and rat-gangs. Nerves spark at every noise. See a flicker behind a dusty window. Smash through it in a desperate counterattack, to find... a room full of tribespeople, mostly kids. A schoolroom! They just look at me soberly. One says "Yep, he was right. Too angry." I run out and down the street. And attack AGAIN at the first sign of motion. Smash into a room where half dozen adults were conferring. This time a man tells me patiently "You can't keep doing this, rooms with intact windows are at a premium." And I realize they were right to reject me. I'm still looking for enemies, seeing danger everywhere, lashing out... of course I can't join the tribe. I'm insane.

Maybe, in the madhouse of the old world, stained as a Rorschach with hatreds so layered there wasn't a clear spot for contrast, my paranoia was nothing special. But here in the ruins, with so little left unstained, unbroken... stains do matter.

NOTES IN THE MORNING



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