But it could be worse. And it was.
Go back with me in time some 40 years ago (cue Twilight Zone theme) to a time when my most frequently recurring dream was a doozy: an all-night nightmare that featured a combination of nuclear war and the Rapture occurring simultaneously in my grandparents back yard as I looked out the window of my childhood bedroom in protracted horror, knowing there was nothing I could do to change the outcome of what was happening.
Considering that I came of age in a severely fundamentalist church during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that hybrid of dream-time destructions is not surprising. But eventually, I would write my first novel, a fantasy (or as one reviewer described it, “Southern-fried Gothic magical realism”) in which a good-ol’-boy from Walker County worked to defeat the forces of pure Evil and prevent the Apocalypse from happening in his grandparents’ back yard. The book’s title is “The Shining Shining Path,” and from the day it was published I never had that recurring nightmare again.
Instead, all my nightmares switched from the apocalyptic variety to being about work. Whatever job I had at the time, I would dream of some worst-case scenario arising in which one or more of my assigned projects either were full of errors, were past deadline, cost a jillion dollars more than was budgeted, or all of the above. There was clearly Hades to pay, and the payment was sure to be taken out of my backside at any moment. Then, I would wake up.
This nightly torture went on for about 18 years. Then, for no apparent reason, it stopped.
These days I still dream about work, but I dream about OTHER people’s work. Or else, imaginary jobs, jobs nobody has ever worked, except maybe in some parallel universe. And though these new work dreams are mostly grim, with things going haywire and myself on the hot seat for it, there’s a difference: somehow I seem to know, at some level, “This is not really my job.” As a result, I can treat the scenario as a sort of dinner theater of the dream world, in which I’m fortunate to play a role, and my only task is to make my response to the events as realistic and entertaining as possible.
Some nights this is more of a struggle than others.
A few evenings ago I dreamed I was a long-haul truck driver — not here in the U.S., but in some distant country whose language (it sounded vaguely Russian) I didn’t speak, where the sun never shined, and whose highways were in an eternal twilight of fierce dust storms that were exactly the sepia color of old photographs. I soon figured out that all the other 18-wheelers drove on the left side of the road, so I did likewise. But just when I got comfortable doing so, a truck came barreling at me on my side of the road, the driver honking and pointing at a little sign on the roadside showing that this section of highway was right-lane instead.
In the unending dust storm, these lane-change signs were impossible to see until I was right on top of them, and I decided that my life hinged on squinting and paying full attention, every second of the way.
Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, I had to stop for fuel and a bathroom break. This country’s equivalent of truck-stops were unspeakably cramped, smelly and loud. The other truck drivers all looked like Bluto from “Popeye” and kept trying to get me to fight.
At this point I awoke to the real world, took advantage of a real bathroom break and quickly went back to sleep — only to find myself in a brand-new dreamscape. I was wearing an expensive business suit, and was in the banquet room of some very ritzy hotel.
The other guests at the banquet were either beautiful young Japanese women in traditional kimono garb and hairstyles or crusty old American businessmen puffing on cigars.
I gradually realized that my job was to continually explain to the businessmen that these Geisha ladies were part of a cultural exchange and, as a result, were to be engaged in polite conversation only, not to be offered alcoholic beverages and/or hit upon. Fortunately, the businessmen I spoke with seemed to take this news in good spirits. So to speak.
Eventually I woke up, and two thoughts occurred to me:
(1) What a weird dream.
(2) Hey, it beats working.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.