The mind is a terrible thing. To waste. I mean, it CAN be a terrible thing. In that you don’t really have control of all the things which are going to capture your attention. It’s 6 in the morning and I’ve had a rough night. Not THAT rough. Not REALLY rough. I mean, I didn’t get beat up by a gang of druglords or chased by a rogue cop out of my own house, after breaking in. But KIND of a rough night. You would think that sleeping in your own comfy bed, the room at a perfect temperature, would create the kind of setting which would let you mimick a Sleep-Eze or TemperPedic commercial. Gentle flowing breezes (oops, we forgot to live at the seaside) wafting through the room like that “wish I were at Aunt Sarah’s” smell of meat and onions you get at apartment building foyers. (Editor’s note: it’s pronounced Foy-YAY, not Foy-ur.) No, for some reason I wasn’t that lucky last night. Dinner was a really lovely evening at the nearby Country Club, a gorgeous “can’t really see how nice it is from the street” clubhouse situated on the apex of undulating greens and fairways, a view that is hard to believe is only 9 minutes from the White House. Friends recently joined and invited us for dinner which we immediately accepted. We’ve lived within a half mile of the place for 25 years but have never been though the front door. The backside dining tables and bar face a beautiful approach to the 18th green, one which novice golfers must find rather unnerving as the whole crowd of those present for dinner watch you make your approach shot (and politely applaud if it’s worthy) and putt out. I’m sure it steels you for your chance at the Open, should that ever occur. But I think I probably ate a little too richly: a beautiful blackened steak, baked potato, and the part which I should have seen coming, the Brownie Sundae. It was the kind of dinner which, in retrospect I ought to have eaten half of everything. Just cut the steak in half, and show the tiniest bit of self discipline. Eat half, leave the rest. The potato: eat half. The Brownie Sundae... well, maybe eat 3/5ths and then leave the rest. But I was too caught up in catching up (we hadn’t seen them in a while) and there I was, at midnight, ready for bed, but kind of ‘full.’
I’m sure there is some biblical inference about gluttony which would warn off those smart enough to take note. But it wasn’t as if I was Henry VIIIth with a dozen turkey legs, eating them down to the bone, drinking ale out of the Stanley Cup, and and tossing the carci bones into a giant heap at the end of the table. So I ate a little too much. It was more like one of those “Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball” Alka Seltzer ads from the 1960s, the ones where the poor actor has to eat 25 meatballs before the director is happy with a ‘take’ he can use. The guy has eaten so many meatballs along the way that he needs to take an Alka Seltzer to restore his happy demeanor. I know we’re getting close to TMI here, but stay with me. It’s not really about the meatballs. It’s about what they do to your head. I woke about 3 am to the sound of thunder, and spritzes of lightning outside the window. Those rumbles can be hard to sleep through if you are otherwise inclined to light sleep. With one eye open, I flipped through the TV channels trying to find something which would slowly sooth me back to sleep and became aware, yet again, that while Verizon feels a need to begin charging me ten bucks a month more in October for the Fios Service (they’re right, this IS big, the bill that is) there is really very little there for enrichment. Informercials (why do I always believe those products would be so great?), a speech by a Mormon church elder about why girls should dress modestly, movie after movie with plots so bad you just can’t, even at 3 a.m., suspend your disbelief. Finally after an hour or so, I drifted off, and – product of modern culture that I am – ended up right in the middle of a dream about Activia. I don’t actually know Jamie Lee Curtis, though she is a good friend of a pal of mine, who describes her as genuinely as nice as she seems on camera, but we ended up having a long conversation about the yogurt, and why it helps you to be regular. I have nothing against Regularity, in fact, I’m a strong, unilateral supporter of the concept. But I couldn’t seem to escape the world of Activia in that dream. We talked about whether or not you should get the new “now with Fiber” version or not. I mean, really, where the hell do these images come from. Clearly, the best stories in the world are the ones locked in those little dream rooms in your head.
With a bundle full of free samples in hand, the dream then carried on into very familiar, yet extremely painful territory. I guess this is something akin to that recurrent nightmare about missing a Term Paper or Final Exam, which in my case have plagued me on and off for forty years. Dear Dr. Fred Sondermann, my Poli Sci adviser, a man who could, literally, type on two typewriters at once, was not the kind of respected grand intellect you loved asking for a deadline reprieve on a paper simply because pledge hazing at the Kappa Sig house had taken precedence over researching and writing. But every month or so, there I am, sweating, feeling like an intellectual cheat, standing meekly in front of Dr. Sondermann, asking for a 3 day extension to finish my paper. It’s never a pretty sight, and I can still see the look of disappointment on his face that I, a student he clearly liked, would have to ask for such an unseemly favor. But that was nothing compared to the next one, and this, really, is why I had to finally get up in the middle of the frickin’ night, and just start writing. I’m hoping that by writing this it serves as some kind of exorcismic cleansing. Because I am seriously tired of the scenario.
In an episode of “Leave it to Beaver,” I remember that even Beaver Cleaver could recite the famous opening lines of Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
It was comforting to know that the Beaver was not a complete dolt, and that the appreciation of history was something which imbued the Cleaver household. I never learned the whole of the poem, but in my own way, had an experience which burned that opening stanza into my soul. During the years of the Bicentennial ( 1975-76) there were hundreds of events created to celebrate the founding of the Republic, from the Tall Ships in NY Harbour to the Today Show doing live broadcasts from every state in the Union over that year, to highlight the diversity of our great country. On April 17th, President Ford flew to Boston, where he spoke of the founders ( I think it was Faneuil Hall), a trip which was designed to highlight the “Shot heard round the world” at Concord Bridge, the Minute Men, Revere’s ride, and that whole amazing couple of days which kicked the Revolution off. We, the White House Press, overnighted in the Copley Plaza hotel, then as now one of the bigger Boston Hotels. Yet for all its size, the Copley was still a hotel in the 1970s: that is to say, No Automatic Wakeup, No Prepaying with Credit Cards: you simply hoped that the Front Desk swamped though they might be with requests, would actually get around to calling your room at 7am to wake you up, so you could grab your things, and run downstairs, stand in line for ten minutes, pay for the room, then carry on with the White House Press group for the rest of the trip. As it happened, I never got a wake up call. And when I finally did wake up, it was one of those moments when the dread of realizing you have screwed up fills your body instantly with warm bile, rendering you nearly useless. But once I saw I’d overslept, I threw all my stuff together, raced downstairs and straight into the Press bus. I still owe the hotel eighty bucks for that night. (Editor’s note: they’ll never get it!) But sitting on the bus as we drove to the nascent site of the American Revolution, I felt pretty stupid. It’s not unlike the kind of stupid you feel when you leave gear behind after a shoot. Everyone has done it. I think I do it more than most. It’s that precursor feeling, the one that says “wow, this gear feels really light!” that gets you. The reason it feels so light is that you left the bag with the big zoom back in a) the bus b) the plane c) the hotel. You get the idea. And yet instead of getting easier to conquer, I find that keeping track of things, while it might work like a Sudoku or crossword to keep your mind fresh and snappy, also becomes more burdensome as you keep changing gear, or bring out a lens you haven’t used in years for a special shot of some kind. The point is, there is a moment of dread when you realize you have screwed up big time.
In last night’s dream, I went from Activia to a White House style trip, where, for some reason, rather than just joining everyone else in the press bus outside, I had gone to a Message desk to pick up a message which, fittingly, was only a message about missing the bus. (I never said they made sense, I only said I was a victim!) Having retrieved the messages which in their own self-fulfilling way kept me FROM the bus, I looked out a 3rd floor window only to see the tail end of a motorcade pulling away. We must have been in a Spanish speaking country, because when I threw myself onto a large, square pillar, and slid down the 40 feet to get to ground level, the only people there were from the Colombian Embassy. And there, in my dreams, I struggled in Spanish to describe my situation (“I missed the bus. Where is the event? How can I get there? Where did I leave my Cameras? Why don’t you care, even a little? Please don’t just walk away.”) There was nothing redemptive about my conversation with the Embassy staff. It was a moment of absolute and pure nocturnal omission. Frustration in dreams is perhaps a rather universal human trait. And of course the ones which frustrate the most are the ones which are based on something real in life. How many times have I left a bag behind? How many times did I miss a motorcade (the last time was October at a McCain event in Ohio.) Yet the dreams never seem to be based on the times when a smart staffer puts you in a car, and drives you to the airport (so you don’t miss the plane), or makes sure you get your camera bag just before the door of the plane closes. No, that would be too easy. I know we have what is considered a charmed life. Let’s face it, photography, while Rocket Science in its own way, isn’t as demanding or brutal as doing heavy construction or making steel. Yet there are those moments when you once again become a prisoner to your past. And there is no amount of sweettalking in any language which will let you escape, back to a world of sublime slumber and truly restful sleep. When you see it coming, as I did early this morning, the only thing to do is face it directly. Hop out of bed, start writing, and hope that at some point in the fourth graf, the Activia kicks in. We’re just sayin’... David