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Pat Kewley has published humor and nonfiction in Slate, Salon, Paste, McSweeney's, and Cage Match. He is the author of "Notable Failures In Buffalo History”, “Day of the Dicks”, and “How to Explore the North Pole.”

1 story by Pat Kewley


In the spring of 2015, looking to improve my always-precarious mental & emotional state, I thought I might get some therapeutic value out of keeping a dream journal. I never put much stock in dream interpretation, but it seemed worth a shot. After all, I can barely keep a handle on what's going on inside my head while I'm awake -- who even KNEW what kind of mischief was happening at night, when I wasn't around to keep an eye on it? I thought that by keeping some sort of record of the nocturnal ramblings of my subconscious, I might possibly gain some insight into the inscrutable workings of my lumpy, misshapen brain. 

Every time I had a dream I would jot it down as soon as I woke up, reflect on it throughout the day, and write down my thoughts later that night.  It lasted about a month before I decided to pull the plug. This is what happened:


Long dream about going down a long escalator. I'm in a tall office building, on my way home after a long day, but instead of elevators they just have one big long escalator. It's a long, boring ride. When I get to the bottom, I look out the front doors and see that it's started raining hard outside, and I remember that my coat and umbrella are back upstairs, so I groan, turn around, and get on the "up" escalator. I wake up before I get to the top, annoyed and bored, wondering why I never have any dreams about flying or having sex with celebrities. What a dumb dream.  



Standard falling dream. Fell off some kind of tower or lighthouse or something. Just wobbled and lost my balance, didn’t jump or anything. Forget why I was up there. The ground rushing forward is a very vivid and upsetting image, but not, like, panicky, life-flashing-before-my-eyes, “I’m gonna die”- level scary or anything. More of that kind of feeling like, “damn—this is exactly the OPPOSITE of what I was hoping would happen.”  I feel like, however I end up dying, there’s like a 75% chance that my last thought will probably be some variation of that. 


People always talk about how in falling dreams you always wake up before you hit the ground. Not me – I always HIT. It’s never violent or scary or anything, I just kind of hit the ground and stay there for a minute, with a general feeling of “well, what now?”    



Somehow there are fish in the walls. Like the walls are filled with water, and there are schools of tropical fish swimming around in between the studs. I don't know how I know this, but I do, and it's clear that this is a situation that needs dealing with. When the dream starts, I'm sitting there staring at the wall trying to figure out what to do, imagining the fish swimming on the other side, and mulling the problem over, like "Well, THIS is a real pickle we've got on our hands, huh?” 


I consider and discard a few different ideas about how to get the fish out. Nothing really seems viable. After a while I decide that it doesn’t really seem to be causing any actual problems, so maybe the best thing to do is to just leave it.  Sometimes live and let live is the best policy, I always say, you know? When I wake up and think back on it, I berate myself for being lazy and not doing anything. Just the electrical problems alone that fish in the walls would cause make my blood run cold. Is there a lesson in this dumb dream? Must learn to be less complacent, boldly take action, seize opportunities. People love guys like that. Not lazy fish guys. I imagine bringing a girl there after a date. "You have such a cool apartment, Pat!" she says. "I always knew you were a cool, intelligent guy who is really on top of things in all areas of his life. Look at these good, solid, fish-free walls!" she says, smacking a wall with her palm. Then disappointment washes across her face as she hears a muffled gurgling and fluttering of fins in response. Yes, can’t just live with the fish in the walls of one's life. Gotta stand up to those fish, show 'em who’s boss. 


Later, on even further consideration, I think I’m still going about it all wrong. Fish in the walls: that would be the landlord’s problem. It would make the most sense to go on a rent strike, or just move. So what’s the lesson then? Dreams are so confusing.  



Worst nightmare of them all -- dream about being at work. I get there, go up the elevator, go to my desk, and work silently for a long time. After a while, I hear the guy in the cube near me that slurps his coffee really loudly begin to start slurping his coffee really loudly. “Godammit,” I think. “Not today. I can’t handle the strong sipper today.” It stops for a second, and then continues, even louder. How can he not know he’s doing that? How? I start fumbling to put on my headphones, scrolling through my music for the loudest, harshest noise music I can find to drown him out with, moving in a panicked rush to try and press play before he sips again. “Not another sip,” I’m thinking, “My nerves can’t take another sip.” It’s like with every sip, he slurps away my very soul.


 I wake up distraught. This is fucking bullshit. I hate this fucking dream journal. Is this really the best my subconscious can do? I bust my ass to feed you full of art, knowledge, and experiences all goddamn day long, and THIS is how you repay me? Given access to the infinite dreamscape, unbound from the limitations of time, space, and consciousness itself, do I ride dinosaurs into glorious battle, soar above fantastic vistas at the speed of thought, or enjoy long, soul-nourishing visits from departed friends or loved ones? Or even have sex with even one goddamn celebrity? A few blessed moments of simple fantasy to relieve the suffocating desperation of daily life? No. But the strong sipper? Oh don't worry -- my subconscious will make sure I don't miss a MOMENT with him. Fuck you, mind. You’re officially on my shitlist.


I’m lying there in bed, so mad at my dumb brain. I wonder if there are any drugs that can make you NOT dream. I make a mental note to look it up when I get to work later that morning. Oh right, I think to myself then. WORK. The place I just was at -- in my fucking DREAMS.  “Jesus Christ,” I think as I pull myself up out of bed. “Do I hate fucking dreams.” 



Now we are talking friends… Now we are fucking TALKING. Brain, I am sorry I ever doubted you.


For some reason, me and former heavyweight champ Sonny Liston are best friends. I’m not sure why, but it just feels right and totally normal, like we’ve been buds forever. Sonny is super comfortable with me and clearly thinks I’m a cool guy. And me? I’m hanging out with Sonny Liston – you KNOW I’m good. 


We're cruising around the city together in a huge Cadillac. I'm driving and Sonny is riding, the windows are down, it's a bright summer day, and we're cranking tunes super-loud. We're just cutting up, telling jokes, making each other laugh, hollering rude stuff at people we pass, and just havin a great time. Sonny is wearing a cool hat and throwing fireworks out the window. I might have been wearing a cool hat too. I bet I was.


As we tool around aimlessly, we start to get louder and rowdier – it could be that we’re drinking, I don’t remember, but we could also just be riling each other up because that's the way great friends are sometimes when they're havin a blast together.  Until eventually, we're driving across some huge bridge, and we impulsively decide to just ram the car through the guardrail and over the side. As I recall, we didn’t really talk about it, but the feeling is just kind of like, "Hey, why not? We’re badasses and we do whatever we want. We can have fun doing anything." We plunge down toward the water laughing and hollering and die Thelma & Louise style, a couple of cool-ass dudes goin out on a high note, just havin a grand old time. 


I wake up all smiles. What a great dream. It puts me in such a good mood that I bounce out of bed and walk around feeling good all day long. The following evening when I get home from work, I look up Sonny Liston on Wikipedia because I don't know anything about him, and immediately feel a friendly bond with him now, based on our nonexistent relationship. I come across a video clip of a fight between him and Muhammad Ali in the 60s where he put some kind of acid or chemical or something on his gloves, and punched Ali in the eyes a bunch, and actually made Ali blind for a few rounds. It was supposed to give Sonny Liston an edge so he could finish Ali off, but it just made Ali madder, and when his sight came back after a round or two, Ali just went wildman crazy on him and beat Sonny Liston up twice as hard. Wild stuff. But that's my pal Sonny -- you never know WHAT that guy is going to pull next! 


That night I think, this is a good point to stop doing the dream journal. It seems counterproductive to do extra work to remember boring dreams that just make me angry anyway, and it seems like anything that’s worth remembering, I’ll just remember anyway. I thought this project would grant me interesting insights into the hidden world of my own mind, but maybe it’s better to let that world stay hidden, and just wait for old Sonny Liston show up when he’s good and ready. 

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