Category Archives: Dreams

Anyone else ever have nightmares about the old Cooper River Bridge?

I did, when I was a toddler. Or at least, when I was a pre-schooler.

Now when I say “nightmare,” I don’t mean the kind that makes you wake up screaming in a sweat. When I was a kid, that kind of dream was usually about a witch inspired by the one in “The Wizard of Oz” — only scarier. I’ll tell you about one of those another time.

But the bridge dreams were creepy, and unsettling, and undermined my basic confidence, as a child, in living in a world governed by sensible laws such as gravity.

And I had a bit of a flashback when I saw this Tweet today, from a photog at the Post & Courier:

Notice how narrow it was? Notice how it kept rising in a way that could be really disturbing to a little kid riding in a car driven by an otherwise trustworthy adult?

It kept rising, and rising, leaving the Earth far behind, abandoned…

Anyway, I would have these dreams in which I’d be riding in a car climbing up like that, rising and rising and rising, and then… it wasn’t a bridge anymore. No girders, no solid pavement. It had become a ribbon, no more than an inch wide, and so thin and flexible that it waved about in the thin air as it rose higher and higher…

And that was it. The dream would then fade away (possibly due to imagined oxygen deprivation). Or maybe I would wake up — I don’t remember now. Just not the same way as with the witch dreams. In any case, whether I was awake or asleep at the end, the dream had transported my mind to a very weird place.

I last lived in Charleston when I was about 2. I think these dreams were a couple of years later, and I wasn’t sure where they came from. But I connected them in my mind with “that bridge” my mother would occasionally mention, talking about the great lengths she would go to to avoid having to cross it when we lived down there. And I would think, “that’s the bridge in the dream…

I wasn’t sure, though. Not until sometime after we moved back to South Carolina in 1987, and one day I had to drive down to Charleston, and for whatever reason had to cross the Cooper, and… it sort of blew my mind. Suddenly, in the strength of my 30s, I was back in that childhood dream, only it was real life. And it felt sort of like the bridge was going to dematerialize under me — because that’s what that bridge did.

I only crossed it a couple of times after that, until the Arthur Ravenel went into operation in 2005.

That one’s nothing. It’s so wide, you don’t even realize you’re up in the air. Acrophobia or no, I can drive back and forth on that one as much as you like.

And I’m glad the old one’s gone…

I think this was my first post-COVID dream…

I think the setting was supposed to be the old State newspaper building, but wildly different on the inside…

Well, we know I have long COVID, which consists of some post-COVID physical symptoms.

But I think I just had my first post-COVID dream. (Actually, this was Thursday night, but I’m just getting around to posting it.) So I thought I’d better set it down for the sake of medical science.

I have work dreams, or perhaps I should call them stress dreams, all the time. In terms of the way they feel, they’re related to the cliché dreams that everyone who has been to college has — it’s the end of the semester and you have to go take an exam, only you’ve never been to the class, and you’re afraid to ask anyone where it is, because then they’ll know you haven’t been to the class, etc.

At least, that’s the way those dreams work with me. And with me, looking back on my college career, they’re not that different from reality. But they’re stressful.

And the work dream I had last night was like that, but it had a new, post-COVID wrinkle. By the way, I should mention that these dreams are almost never related to any work I’ve done in the last few years. They’re drawn from the intense situations I encountered daily in the decades of my newspaper career — sometimes from the early days in the newsroom, and occasionally from my time later on the editorial board.

This fit in that genre, but with a twist that is very much pandemic-related. It’s not that I’d had COVID in the dream, it’s that my work habits were what so many of us have experienced the last couple of years. And it’s not that — as in the college dreams — I didn’t know where the office was. I knew the place well, but I just hadn’t been there in a really long time. And things had changed radically.

(In this sense, it’s a little like my current life. We shut down the ADCO office when the pandemic started — in mid-March 2020. Sometime later, we shut it down for good. But in the last few months, my colleagues opened a new office. Nobody goes there as often as they went to the old one. I don’t go there at all. Except for two meetings and one case where I went and took a picture of a client, I haven’t encountered any work that can’t be done in my home office. Anyway, those circumstances seem  to have imposed themselves on this otherwise standard newspaper dream.)

It started with a phone call. Someone called me from the office — an office I hadn’t been to on a long time. He wanted to discuss a backup editorial (a short item that ran below the lede editorial, back when such things existed) he was writing for the Sunday page. He wanted some sort of guidance on it. I found this call disconcerting on a number of levels. First, it was ridiculous that he seemed to think he needed urgent help at this time, because it was a Monday afternoon — normally we wouldn’t even have identified a topic for such an edit at that point. Secondly, the call cut off before we could get the matter settled, and I couldn’t seem to reconnect with him.

But the worst part was that I had no idea who this guy was. And I was aware that there were a number of such people at the office now — new associate editors and editorial writers I had never met, but whom I was supposed to be supervising. It dawned on me that this was probably an unacceptable situation. I decided I should probably start going in to the office and sort all this out. I didn’t want to, but it seemed the responsible thing to do. At the very least, I needed to find out who this one guy was, so I could address his question.

I needed to go there and find Cindi Scoppe, who was the only person I knew who still worked there. (Of course, in real life, even though she was the last member of my team to get laid off, at this point she hasn’t been there either, for several years.)

I went there, and I eventually found her. She was outside a door to the editorial department. I peered in through a window in the door, and saw a place I’ve never seen before. A confusing, chaotic place, crowded with old desks jammed together, and strangers wandering among them. I had hoped to infer somehow which of them had called me, but I couldn’t. Nor could Cindi. She knew these people — she named some of them to me — but had no idea which had called me. I was going to have to get past that door somehow — it was locked — and engage these people in conversation until I sorted out which was the right one, and answered his question.

Eventually, I got in, and engaged with some of these strangers. My first problem is that I had no idea where to put down my laptop, because I couldn’t figure out where my office was. I finally realized that none of these people had offices (we all did back in my newspaper days) so maybe I just had a desk among all the others. I found this disconcerting, and was already missing working at home, but worse, I couldn’t sort out which was mine, so I couldn’t put down the things I was carrying.

And of course, I couldn’t ask anyone. Cindi had wandered off, and I couldn’t say anything to these strangers that indicated that I didn’t know where my workplace was, and I had no idea who any of them were.

Anyway, you get the idea. Like in the classic college dream.

The weird thing is, in real life, I’ve experienced no such difficulty working from home. I talk to people and I write things. With very rare exceptions, of it is easily accomplished using the phone, or perhaps Zoom on my iPad, and my PC — all right here in my office.

But in the dream, it seems I had thought everything was working fine before the dream started, and the main point of everything that was happening was that I was finally realizing what should have been obvious.

This doesn’t worry me, because I have these work/stress dreams all the time. I’m just setting this one down as the first in which the stress seems to have been driven by things we’ve experienced during the pandemic — in this case, by my favorite part of the “new normal,” the part where I don’t have to go to an office outside my home any more.

Anyone else have any such dreams?

Anybody having intense stress dreams lately?

This is dream expert Sigmund Freud, whom you may recall from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure"

This is dream expert Sigmund Freud, whom you may recall from “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

I ask because someone told me that a lot of people were having these during the pandemic. Apparently, this is a thing. Although the explanations I’ve seen don’t really work for me. I know a lot of people have been stressed by quarantining and all, but as I’ve said, I haven’t.

I was told about this when I mentioned some super-weird ones I had back after my stroke. They weren’t so much stress dreams as obsessive dreams. I found myself in different universes in which it was necessary that certain things be done a certain, specific way or else, I don’t know — the universe in question would stop operating properly.

I figured I was having them due to a change in medication. I described one or two of them to one of my kids, and was told lots of people were having stressful dreams that were being chalked up to the coronavirus.

I’m not going to describe any of them to you because they’re so weird, just explaining one would be too much trouble.

I’m just asking whether y’all are having any. If so and you want to share, and what you share is interesting, maybe I’ll try to share one, too.

If I can remember. I’ve actually sort of stopped having the unique obsessive ones — the ones that were a new experience. Lately I have had a stressful dream or two, but of the ordinary sort — the kind that are closely related to the common “it’s the last day of the semester and you’ve supposed to take an exam but you’ve never been to the class and are afraid to ask where it is” dream that everyone who’s been to college has. (For me, those particular dreams are not really symbolic, but sort of based on literal experience.)

Anyway, share if you feel like it. I’m curious…

I got elected to Congress last night. Is that a good dream, or a nightmare?

Our watch party on the night of Nov. 6, 2018. That one came out differently.

Our watch party on the night of Nov. 6, 2018. That one came out differently.

One time ago a crazy dream came to me
I dreamt I was walkin’ in World War Three
I went to the doctor the very next day
To see what kinda words he could say
He said it was a bad dream
I wouldn’t worry ’bout it none, though
Them old dreams are only in your head…

— Bob Dylan, “Talkin’ World War III Blues

I’m not sure where this dream last night started, but I know where it ended up.

Very close to the end, I found that I had just been elected to Congress. It was election night and results were still coming in, but my race had been called, and I’d won, and I was wandering about in a crowd of people at some sort of watch party — not my own, because people seemed just as interested in the races that were still up in the air as in mine. So I was generally being ignored by the crowd, which was fine, because I had a lot of thinking to do.

Mostly, what I was thinking was, How did this happen? and What happens now?

You ever see “The Candidate?” Not the recent Spanish-language series on Netflix, but the movie from 1972. In case you haven’t, here’s a SPOILER ALERT: Robert Redford plays the son of a former governor who is an environmental activist, but has no interest in electoral politics. A political operative played by Peter Boyle talks him into running for the U.S. Senate, promising him that he can say anything he wants, because he’s going to lose anyway. But then Redford, learning he is going to lose by a landslide, agrees to moderate his message somewhat, to avoid complete humiliation. In the end, he wins. He stands stunned in the middle of a crowd, and pulls Peter Boyle aside to ask, “What do we do now?” Boyle conveniently opens a door to let the excited crowd in, and affects not to have heard the question.

My dream was kind of like that ending, only maybe more so. I didn’t remember how I’d gotten there, even how I came to have my name on a ballot, and I was really stunned to have won. I didn’t have any particular interest in being a member of Congress, and I was feeling a sense of dread as to how this would affect my life. Evidently, it had not occurred to me previously to wonder about these things.

And there was no Peter Boyle to ask. But I kept running into random people. One of them was Lindsey Graham, who congratulated me warmly — he seemed quite sincere about it — which really made me wonder: Had I run as a Republican? What had been my platform?

I had no idea, and the situation was sort of like that college nightmare where it’s exam time and you don’t know where the class is located, and it’s WAY too late to ask anybody that.

I was lost and bewildered. I think the doc would say it was a bad dream…

Below is the ending of “The Candidate.” Don’t watch if you haven’t seen it before:

The life of a gentleman is (or was) the life for me…


To live any other way would be… insupportable…

Kay Packett, who has been known to comment here in the past, confessed on Facebook that “I want to live in an English novel, where, when anything goes wrong, someone immediately makes tea. I don’t even like tea.”

I responded immediately:

I’ll drink anything you like, as long as I’m a country gentleman with a competent man of business to deal with the running of the estate. I’ll be happy to serve as an MP as long I don’t have to think too hard, just vote the High Tory line. Will I have a membership at White’s, for when I’m in Town? If so, I’m in… Yeah, I’ve thought this out…

And I have thought it out; that’s the pathetic part. All that stuff was right there at my fingertips when the question arose.

And just so you don’t think I want to be a leech on society, I would also be happy to serve as a post captain in the Royal Navy during the same period (Regency era), commanding a frigate, with plenty of independent cruises and therefore opportunities for prize money…


Valentine’s Day has to get better from this point on…


Last night, I gave platelets, and the morning after I often feel a tad out of it — not quite the thing, you know?

And then the alarm woke me when I was deep, deep into a stress dream — one of those where you’re trying to get a big, complicated (in fact, truly impossible in this case) thing done, and worrying over how to do it, and because you were awakened in the wrong part of the cycle, you have trouble shaking the worried feeling, like part of your brain still believes that you have to solve this problem

OK, maybe you don’t do that, but I do.

When my wife got up, I told her a little about it, and she sort of chuckled at the sillier aspects, which helped put it in perspective a bit, but I still hadn’t shaken the feeling of needing to deal with it when I headed downtown to have breakfast, thinking coffee ought to sort me out…

Well into my second cup, something came to me. Moments later, I Tweeted this:

And I’d been so on top of this! I’d bought those potted tulips on Saturday, way earlier than I usually think about Valentine’s Day.

The day has to get better from this point on, right?

Let me tell you about my Hillary Clinton dream last night…

This might be the suit she was wearing in the dream. Only more disheveled...

This might be the suit she was wearing in the dream. Only more disheveled…

I haven’t done one of my special “what’s wrong with Brad?” dream-journal posts in years now, so this seems like as good a time as any to dust off the category.

Let me share with you the Hillary Clinton dream I had last night.

It was… typically weird. And confusing…

I was walking down the street in some town that I think was someplace where I used to live and work, perhaps a variation on Jackson, Tennessee. I crossed a street, stepped up and started walking along a sidewalk. The sidewalk was covered, like in a western movie or a situation where there’s living quarters over a shop and the upstairs projects out over the sidewalk.

Anyway, immediately someone is walking my way on the sidewalk, and it’s Hillary Clinton. And she’s not looking good. Her hair is disheveled as though she had just been in a high wind. Her light blue pantsuit is rumpled as though she had slept in it. She looks horribly exhausted, even dazed. She’s staring straight ahead and sort of staggering, and isn’t looking at me.

We’re about to pass each other, and I feel like the civil thing is to say something, but I can’t decide how to address her. I’m not going to say “Hey, Hillary.” I consider, “Hello, Madame Secretary,” but I’m considering, “Sen. Clinton.”

I can’t decide, and she’s right alongside me, so I make myself say something, and it comes out as “Hey… uh…”

She continues staring ahead, but after a second she acknowledges me with a grunt that is if anything less articulate than what I had said. It sounds sort of like “Hmmph!”

So… brilliant interview, right? But I don’t want to chase after her and try to have a real conversation, because it looks like she’s having a bad enough day already. So I continue on, and enter a place that seems to be a sort of restaurant and bar. The proprietress walks up and greets me, and… it’s Hillary Clinton.

Except, for whatever reason, I don’t realize that’s who it is until later. She looks exactly like herself, except she looks younger, fitter, more energetic. Her hair is longer and she has it held back with a band, like in this picture.

This Hillary is, unlike the other, having a good day. She has a prosperous business; things are going well and she’s brimming with confidence. We seem to know each other. We start to chat, and I immediately tell her who I just ran into. And I describe how the Hillary I had run into didn’t look good; she seemed all worn out.

Hillary Two starts to walk away from me to deal with a customer or something, but says to me as she’s leaving, “I’m not at all surprised.”

I say, “What do you mean? Do you say that because of her recent bout with pneumonia?”

The woman looks back and with a sarcastic smirk says “Yeah, right — that’s what I meant,” in a way that communicates she meant something else entirely, and I should know what that was.

I turn and leave, thinking I’ve just picked up on a hell of a good news story — for some reason, the two exchanges seem fraught with meaning — and I’d better head back to the paper and write it. (Along the way, I fret about whether all that was on the record, and I decide it was.) I’m not sure what paper that was, but as I walk into the newsroom and pass the conference room where the editor’s meeting is being held, I see Bobby Hitt is presiding (which would place it at The State between 1988 and 1990). Only I’m not in the meeting, which tells me I’m a writer and not an editor, which is a bit odd. (In my 35-year newspaper career, I was only a reporter for a little over two years, very early on. The rest of the time I was an editor.)

I’m looking for a place to start writing — I need to produce a budget line ASAP (it should have been in before the editors’ meeting, but I know this will be a welcome late addition to the budget) — and all I see near me is manual typewriters of a vintage that places them decades before this picture of the first newsroom I worked in. Like something Ring Lardner would have typed on. I notice, though, that elsewhere there are terminals of the sort we used in the mainframe days of the ’80s and early ’90s, so I head toward one of those, wondering if I can remember my login from way back then. As I do, I pass by a TV that’s playing an old movie about newspapers, and in it a crochety old character actor is saying that computers will be the death of newspapers, just mark his words…

As I go looking for an unoccupied terminal, I run into an editor whom I decide should be briefed on the story. So I start telling it to him, and when I get to the part about the restaurant proprietress, I’m thinking this is someone everybody at the paper knows, but I’m blanking on her name. I’m saying, “You know, that woman who runs that place that I know you know, oh, what’s her name…?”

At that moment, I suddenly realize that she was Hillary Clinton, too. Hits me like a ton of bricks, and stops me cold as I wonder how I could not have realized that. And I’m wondering what this new wrinkle does to my story.

And the dream kind of ends there.

If you can find any meaning in it, congratulations…

Today finally IS ‘a great day in South Carolina,’ as we witness a host of miracles in the State House, of all places

the group

Today, the state of South Carolina leaped out into uncharted territory, launching itself from the 19th century right over the troubled 20th, and into the 21st. And it wasn’t even kicking and screaming.

It is, without a doubt, a miracle that today, Gov. Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag to come off the State House grounds ASAP.

That is HUGE. That alone would have me walking around the State House (as I was just moments ago) saying, “What state am I in? Really, help me: Where am I?”

Today truly IS “a great day in South Carolina.”

NOTHING like this has ever happened in the 28 years that I’ve covered politics and government in South Carolina. Nothing even close to it. What happened today broke all of the rules of what does and does not happen in South Carolina.

Today, the state’s political leadership got together and said, “Hey, let’s just stop all the usual b.s.” Just like THAT (imagine me snapping my fingers)!

But I didn’t witness just one miracle today beneath the dome, with a storm raging outside and thunder crashing. Really, it’s impossible to count how many I saw. I’ll use a biblical accounting method and say seventy times seven. Or more than the stars in the sky…

Let’s just count a few:

  • Nikki Haley, elected as the darling of the Tea Party, standing there and saying “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds,” and saying that if the Legislature doesn’t do it while it’s already here in town (through a proviso, or somehow amending the sine die resolution), she’s going to call them right back to deal with it. And meaning it. Wow. God bless her.
  • Joe Riley, freighted with grief as mayor of a Holy City in mourning, standing there right with her and not having to say a thing because Nikki Haley is saying what needs to be said. So that second march won’t be necessary, Mr. Mayor.
  • Mariangeles Borghini, Emile DeFelice and Tom Hall, the regular folks who pulled together the impromptu, haphazard rally Saturday, standing there witnessing it. Afterwards, I had to go over to Ms. Borghini, a recent immigrant from Argentina, and say, “You know, you don’t normally get what you ask for this fast in South Carolina.” But… maybe you do, now. Who knows? Everything we all knew about SC politics just went out the window. And you know that second rally they’re planning on the flag for July 4th? It just turned into a celebration, instead of another small step on a long, sweaty road.
  • Jim Clyburn standing at her right hand, in total agreement with her on the most divisive issue that I’ve dealt with in my decades in South Carolina.
  • Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, who within the last few days was mouthing the usual stuff about how we had to understand that for some folks it’s about heritage, standing there on her other side. Mark Sanford, who was saying the same stuff a couple of days back, standing behind them.
  • Sen. John Courson, long the Confederate flag’s best friend in the Senate (except when Glenn McConnell was around), standing there with all of them. (Mind you, John has always been the most reasonable voice of that caucus, but he’s still the guy with multiple Confederate flags in his office, and is sort of the embodiment — the sincere embodiment — of the “honor the war dead” argument that has kept the flag up.)
  • South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore and Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison — one white, the other black, sort of like their parties — standing literally shoulder-to-shoulder and grinning without reservation, in complete agreement with each other on the issue that has most surely divided them since we turned into a two-party state, since long, long before either of these young men even knew what Democrats and Republicans were. Moore, who was mouthing the usual “it’s not the time” stuff a couple of days ago, now saying, “We can’t change our past, but we can heal our future.” And Harrison, who can usually be counted on for the usual “if it’s Republican, it’s bad” stuff, telling me “I have nothing but respect for Gov. Haley. She’s doing the right thing, and she’s doing it for the right reasons.”
  • Mind you, Haley and Sanford and Graham and Scott and Courson and Matt Moore all represent the Republican Party that essentially came to power on the issue of keeping the flag up. The GOP took over the House after the 1994 election. The party got an unprecedented turnout in its primary that year in part by, in the national year of the Angry White Male, putting a mock “referendum” question on the primary ballot asking whether the flag should stay up. One of the very first things the party caucus pushed through after assuming control of the House was legislation that put the flying of the flag into law, so that no governor or anyone else but the Legislature could ever take it down. (You might say, why bring that up at such a wonderful moment. Here’s why: To let you know how big a miracle this is.)
  • Democrats and Republicans who have spent the day working sincerely together in multiple meetings today, not to posture and get the other side to vote against something so it can be used in the next election or to raise money, but to solve an issue that cuts right through the heart of South Carolina, and defines the differences between them. I asked House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford whether he has EVER been in such extraordinary meetings as he has been in today, with leaders of both parties determined to reach agreement on such a heavy, politically impossible issue and put it behind us for good. For a second, he almost reverted to the usual, starting to say, not while this governor has been in office… But I said, no, I mean EVER. And he said, no. He has never experienced anything like this on any issue.
  • Drivers going past the flag on Gervais and not just honking their horns in celebration at the flag coming down, but playing monotonal tunes on their horns, a regular symphony of honking. Such giddiness is as unprecedented as all the rest of us. It’s almost like our local version of the Berlin Wall coming down.
  • J.T. McLawhorn, president of the Columbia Urban League, telling me, “Things can change in a moment.” Meaning ANYTHING, no matter how intractable, no matter how long-lived. In South Carolina, the most change-resistant state in the union.
  • The way the sentiment that it was too soon to talk about such a hairy political issue, when we haven’t buried the first victim of the Charleston massacre, had just evaporated. Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, told me that Clem Pinckney “himself would say, ‘Do not lose this moment.'” This was, as the governor had said, the way to “honor the nine blessed souls that are now in heaven.”
  • The way the entire world was there to see it and hear it. And yeah, I’m sure that’s one huge reason we’re seeing this happen so quickly — was best to come out and say this now, while the world was watching, so that everyone would know of the miracle that had happened in South Carolina. But it was still something to see. I estimate this media crowd was about twice the size of the one that witnessed Mark Sanford’s public confession upon his return from Argentina six years ago this month.
  • To hear the booming voices of people spontaneously crying out, “Thank you, governor!” as she left the podium. (Presumably, those were the non-media types, and there were a lot of them on hand.) And no, I don’t think that was planned. It sounded heartfelt to me. Just like the applause that interrupted the governor, and which she had to wait for the end of, after she spoke the fateful words, “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.”
  • The way nobody was hedging, or qualifying, or talking about half-measures. In the state that normally doesn’t change, and when it does it does so in the tiniest, hesitating, gradualistic baby steps, the governor was like, Let’s just go ahead and take it down, and lawmakers of both parties were like, Yeah, let’s, and the rest of us were like Keanu Reeves, going whoaaaa

How did we get here, and so fast? I don’t think we can explain it in earthly terms. A friend who gave me a ride back to the office after the miracle said she felt like maybe, just maybe, it started when those family members stood in that courtroom the other day, looked at the (alleged) brutal killer of their precious loved ones, and forgave him. I nodded. Maybe so. Maybe that was the beginning of some sort of chain reaction of grace, which led to this.

I don’t know.

Yeah, a lot has to happen before this thing is done. But I think it’s going to happen. I asked James Smith whether he thought, based on his interactions with those involved, the consensus to act was solid. He nodded: “Rock solid,” he said. I believe him.

So why can’t a hallucination be an actual message?



First, a confession…

Sometimes in Mass, my mind wanders. This is not entirely my fault. I love St. Peter’s and its architecture, but the acoustics have always been terrible. Everything said from the altar or the pulpit bounces around in the dome above it, so that the last thing a speaker said is competing with what he or she is saying after that. This is particularly bad for me with my Meniere’s problem, because it causes me to have particular trouble separating speech clearly from background noise. Add to that the fact that the Mass I attend is in Spanish, and while my pronunciation is good, my understanding isn’t what it was 50 years ago when I lived in Ecuador. Even when I can hear it clearly, I have to work hard to catch enough words to get the drift.

Put all that together, and I have a lot of trouble following what is being said. So my mind wanders. Frequently. And when it wanders, I often think of religious-themed posts for the blog. But then, by the time the Mass is over, and I go home and have lunch and, if I have my druthers, have a nice Sunday afternoon nap, I’ve forgotten about it. So Sunday posts remain rare.

But here’s the one that was going through my head in Mass yesterday…

The night before, I watched on Netflix an episode of “House,” from Season 5, titled “Unfaithful.”

It opens with a weary, dissolute-seeming young priest (Greene’s “whiskey priest” in The Power and the Glory seems to be a literary antecedent) who has just taken off his collar and is trying to relax in his dingy cell, located in the charity that he runs for the homeless, by knocking back a whiskey or three.

A few moments before, a homeless man had knocked, seeking a warm coat, which the priest gave him. Now, someone is insistently knocking again. Reluctantly, grimly, he drags himself to the door, opens it, and before him is a bloody Christ, with fresh stigmata, scourge wounds all over, and the crown of thorns.

The priest says, “That’s not funny, freak.” The figure before him answers, “No one is laughing, Daniel.” The priest looks down and sees that the figure’s nail-pierced feet are hovering several inches from the ground.

This, to say the least, freaks him out.

The priest immediately turns himself in to the hospital where House works — because, of course, he was hallucinating. He leaps to that conclusion because, after being hounded from parish to parish by a false sexual abuse charge leveled at him by a young man several parishes back, the priest has no faith left.

So to him, as to the atheist House, the only explanation for such an incident is that there is something wrong with his brain. It’s a symptom, not a message from God — a diagnosis with which the writers of the show clearly agree. And we viewers, being moderns, are meant to assume this is the case.

The next day, thinking about this in Mass, it occurred to me that there’s something wrong with the logic underlying the show’s premise. To follow me, I ask my unbelieving readers to suspend their disbelief for a moment. Stipulate — just for the sake of this discussion — that there is a God and that He does try to tell us things from time to time.

So, if we accept that… why would the incident being a hallucination mean that it wasn’t an actual message from God? Mind you, I can’t tell you what the message in this case would be, beyond shocking the priest out of his faith slump.

But what about a hallucination makes it an invalid form of perception, within the context of faith? Think about this: The Bible is filled with instances of people receiving divine messages through dreams, from the original Joseph of the many-colored coat to Joseph of Nazareth. No one says, “It can’t be a real message because it was just a dream.”

And what is a hallucination except a waking dream?

We mortals have a wide variety of methods of communication. We can speak to people face-to-face, or tell them what we’re thinking with sign language. There’s writing, smoke signals, Morse code, email, videochat, texting — some of which are more “virtual” than others, but all seen as genuine communication. And let’s not forget movies with special effects — do such effects mean that they can’t communicate a serious message? (Not that CGI-rich films tend to be heavy on ideas, but they can be, just as any other film can.)

The hallucination, or the sleeping version, seems to be a favorite mode of communication of the Almighty.

And you don’t have to be a believer to find meaning in dreams, to see them as powerful communicators of important ideas. Ask a Freudian. Absent God, it could be your superego is trying to tell you something.

We empirical moderns like to think that something isn’t real if it can’t be independently confirmed — which seems rather narrow and limited of us. If someone else looking out his window at the moment the priest was having his waking dream did not see the crucified figure hovering there, then the priest didn’t, either. Except that he did. And if anyone could make him see something that his neighbor didn’t  — encoding the message for him alone to see, which is not a radical concept — an all-powerful God who knows everything about how every individual is made would be the one. Again, you have to believe in God to follow this, but if you do, why would you think the Deity couldn’t do that?

A photograph taken at the time wouldn’t show the Jesus figure. There would be no drops of blood on the sidewalk. But then, there was no physical evidence of Moses’ burning bush experience, either. The scripture specifically notes that although it was burning, the bush was not consumed.

So while you might not believe, if you do believe, why is this priest’s vision automatically less legit than that of Moses, or the dream in which Joseph was urged to go ahead and marry Mary?

There are some belief systems that are all about hallucination, even about deliberately inducing them — I think of shamans who treat peyote as a sacrament.

Have you ever read any of Carlos Castaneda’s books? They’re all about achieving greater enlightenment by inducing hallucinations, and actually entering into those hallucinations and taking action within them. The Separate Reality is as legitimate, within the context of that system of thought, as one that concrete thinkers see as the only reality.

So, given all that, what’s the justification for seeing a hallucination as just a hallucination, and therefore automatically devoid of meaning? That seems a very shallow, and at the least unimaginative, explanation.

Anyway, that’s what I got to thinking about during Mass when I was supposed to be paying attention…

Another ‘Walking Dead’ kind of day in the Southland


I had already made the comparison between the recent weather-related apocalypse in Atlanta and “Walking Dead,” but I had somehow missed this post providing photographic evidence.

Whoa. It even includes “survivors” shuffling through the wreckage, in images very like those from everyone’s fave zombie TV show. Check it out. The main visual difference is that in the real-life shots, everything is icy, while it seems like it’s always sweltering summer on “Walking Dead.”

And today, I look out around me, and except for the presence of shuffling undead, this could indeed be the end of all we knew. My iPad just chimed to tell me that “Nearly 52,000 SCE&G customers [are] without power.”

Right now, I’m listening to Nikki Haley’s live briefing. She says T-Rav’s Daddy’s bridge is closed again…

Days such as this remind me of a dream I used to have, decades ago. All you Freudians, prepare to take notes…

I would dream that I was in a house that was seemingly miles from any road or sign of life, with deep, deep snow covering everything. Nothing but whiteness could be seen, for miles and miles of softly undulating, hilly landscape. There were no tracks in the snow. Most of all, there was no sound whatsoever. I was seeing all this not so much from inside the house, as I was seeing the completely snow-bound house set in an all-white background.

The memorable thing about the dream, the thing I wanted to go back to after I awoke, was the utter peacefulness of it. There was nothing to do, and nothing to worry about. Worry and stress was a thing of other times and other places. There was just the snow, and the quiet.

All the Freudians are now going “death wish!” But keep in mind this was in the context of me being a newspaperman. I had to go to work no matter what the weather, and go to great trouble to generate boring weather stories. Sitting tight in a warm house looking at the pretty snow was just not a part of my life.

I think maybe the dream just had to do with wanting a day off like other people. Even though I always scorned those wimps who stayed at home because it was a bit slippery outside, on some level I think I envied them. A perfectly pedestrian impulse. Although I’ll admit there was something mystical, something unearthly, about the peacefulness of that dream.

But I digress…



Dreaming of being unable to sleep, in Munich…

I’m still a bit dopey this morning, even after coffee. I had one of those weird things where you wake up a couple of hours early, and then you lie awake for a long time, and then you wake up thinking you haven’t had any rest, but you realize that toward the end, you were dreaming about not being able to sleep….

OK, maybe you don’t do that, but I do.

What interests me, though is that after the usual pattern, I shifted to a dream that had factual details that fit together, something that dreams don’t often do.

It all started when I woke up at about 4:40 and thought I’d check to make sure my phone was set to wake me up at 6:30 — and couldn’t find my phone. This was real life, although it seemed dreamlike. I searched the house, upstairs and down, a couple of times — thoroughly waking myself — before the “find my iPhone” app on my iPad found it, in a really odd place (in a box, buried under other stuff).

So I set it, put it on the charger, and went back to bed. And lay on one side. Then the other. Then back on the first one. This went on a LONG time. Then I was walking about in the wee hours, unable to sleep, in my grandparents’ house (now my uncle’s house) in Bennettsville. My whole family was there, and I was trying not to wake them.

Then, again, with my family, I was in Europe. It was our last day there, and I was wondering when our flight home was. Turns out we had time to sightsee most of the day. I realized we were in Munich (I’ve never been to the continent, much less to Munich). My older son wanted to go to the 1972 Olympic stadium, and plant a flag (don’t know what sort of flag, but perhaps having something to do with the Olympics) at the highest point of the structure, and photograph it with the city spread out below. (I realized, after I woke up, that that idea had come from the last level of “Call of Duty: World at War,” which both my son and I have played, in which Red Army soldiers plant their flag atop the Reichstag in Berlin.) I said OK, we could do that.

But after that, I wanted to take mass transit to a place associated with the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. I realized there probably wasn’t much to see there, but I wanted to see it anyway. (It seems I don’t have very positive associations in my mind when I think, “Munich.”)

These things didn’t happen in the dream; we just planned them.

I thought it odd that both of those sightseeing ideas actually had a logical connection to Munich. Usually, dreams are more mixed-up than that. Aren’t they?

When you awake, will you really?

When you awake, you will remember everything;
You will be hanging on a string, from your…
When you believe, You will relieve the only soul
That you were born with to grow old and never know.
— The Band

Had one of those dreams yesterday where you wake up, but you’re still in the dream. I hadn’t had one of those for years. This one was amazingly vivid. I wonder whether the cold medicine I had taken had anything to do with it.

The remarkable thing about it was that I managed to get into such a deep sleep in my recliner in the middle of the day. That seldom happens.

I had stayed home from Mass because of my coughing. I’d finally caught the cold the grandchildren had been passing around the last couple of weeks. My wife went to Mass, and planned to go to Trader Joe’s after. So I tilted back in the chair only slightly (if I went back too far, I started coughing), and went way, way down into sleep.

Normally, in a nap, I’d halfway wake up multiple times. I thought that’s what I was doing. But when I opened my eyes and saw my hands lying one atop the other on my belly, I tried to move them and couldn’t. It was very frustrating, and a little scary. After this happened once or twice, I got to hoping my wife would come soon and wake me up. I knew I was napping in the chair, and that she had gone to church and to shop.

I heard her open the front door, only she didn’t come into the room I was in. I looked at my hands, realized I still couldn’t move them, and tried to call out to her to tell her about it, but I couldn’t make more than a muffled, strangled sort of sound that couldn’t possibly be heard in the next room.

Then I heard my wife come in the front door, and the process repeated. Finally, either this time or a third one, she came into the room, somehow realized my difficulty and helped me move my hand. Then I was able to get up. I was so relieved. Then she told me that she needed to have a meeting with someone named Ann who was coming to the house. She said it like I’d know who “Ann” was. I had no idea, but I didn’t want to admit that. I just said I’d leave the room to them, and went into the kitchen. Only it was no kitchen I’d ever been in before. I peered into the fridge, and there was nothing in it but those cups of pre-made Jello you can buy in the supermarket, in a wide variety of colors. The colors really stood out against the brightly-lit whiteness of the inside of the fridge.

Then I heard my wife come in the front door, and I opened my eyes. She didn’t come straight into the room where I was. Looking at my hands yet again, I decided to try to move them. It worked. I was amazed. But I was still really dopey. I’d pick up my hand, put it back down, and again doubt that I could pick it back up, but when I tried I succeeded. But now that I could move, I had no interest in doing so. At some point in this, I said “hey,” and my wife came in, and I told her about my dream, and she said she’d had dreams like that, too.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, I was awake enough to feel like getting up, so I did. It was for real this time.

The wild thing about this was that my hands and the room around me, in the dream, looked exactly as they did when I finally woke up. The sound of my wife coming in the door, in the dream, was exactly as it was when she finally did.

My cold’s some better today, and I came in to the office. Beats lying around the house. Dreams such as that one are tiring.

Take it from me, based on personal experience: Time travel’s just not worth the hassle

I had a time-travel dream last night.

This is a first for me, which is sort of odd, given what a popular theme that is in movies. I’ve had dreams before in which I encounter people such as my grandparents who’ve been gone 40 years and more, but never a dream in which I was conscious of the fact that I, a denizen of the 21st century, was in another time.

What confirmed it this time was the price of gasoline: In the dream, it was 26 cents a gallon. Which means I landed somewhere between 1949 and 1959. I had a sense that it was within my lifetime, and a time I would have remembered, so we’re talking toward the last two or three years of that period. And no, I don’t remember what I was driving, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a DeLorean. It was probably something that didn’t look out of place.

That’s really all I can remember of the dream, but I recall a number of details about this gas station stop. I don’t specifically remember the attendants surrounding my vehicle to pump the gas, check the oil, clean the windshield, etc. I just remember staring at that pump price, and marveling at it.

Of course, it was the old-style pump, and the gauge had the old digital-yet-analog numbers — white on a black background — that physically clicked over to tote up the price as you pumped. The pumps looked kind of like the ones in this picture — the kind with rounded corners, like an old refrigerator, or a car from the early ’50s — only brand-new. The enamel paint on them was shiny white. I don’t recall the brand.

As it happened, my tank was almost full, to the point that I just needed slightly more than a gallon. My total was 35 cents. I felt this great disappointment that I hadn’t had an empty tank, so I could have the pleasure of filling it up for less than five bucks. I wondered whether I could spare the time to drive around a few hours and come back, just to experience that, before having to be wherever I had to be.

But then I realized I had a bigger problem than frivolous disappointment. I had no way of paying the 35 cents.

Out of habit, I was holding a debit card in my hand. I suddenly realized that not only was it useless — no way to swipe it — but I couldn’t let anybody see it, or it would raise questions I couldn’t answer: What’s this strip like recording tape on the back? What’s this shiny square that looks like a mirror, with the shifting image in it?…

I slipped the card into my pants pocket, and even before I started to feel around for change, I realized that even if I had some, none of it would pass a close look — or even the briefest glance, or touch, for that matter. Post-1964 “silver” coins are a different color from coins before that date, and feel different in the hand. They would look like what they are — cheap imitations of real silver. Never mind what would happen if somebody looked at the date, or if it were one of those quarters with the 50-states theme on the back: What’re you tryin’ to pull, Future-Boy?…

Without looking, I knew there was close to zero chance that I’d find a coin that would pass muster. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a pre-1964 quarter outside of a numismatist’s blue book? You still run across dimes and nickels that old, but they’re rare as hen’s teeth.

And don’t even think about trying to pass modern paper money. The shape, the color, the size of the presidents…

I started wondering whether the station manager would take barter (in which case, what did I have to trade that wouldn’t be suspicious?), or trust me for it while I tried to go scrounge the tiny amount I owed him, somehow. It was a tight spot.

And you know what? I’m not sure what I could have done to avoid this problem. I suppose I could have bought the coins from a collector before leaving the present, which would have totally ruined the joy of buying cheap gas, since the coins would have cost me many times their face value.

It’s all just a huge hassle. So take my advice, based on bitter experience: Forget about time travel. Just stay here in good ol’ 2012. Going back’s just not worth the trouble.

How much would be enough? (A billion, or would $10 million do you?)

This Tweet earlier today got me to thinking:

WIS News 10

@wis10WIS News 10

Sunday dinner interrupted by $100,000 lottery win

This fits firmly into the category of what I think of as lame non-news. I mean, who cares, really? I remember thinking it was pretty cool back in the 60s that time that my grandmother won $300 and they put her picture in the Marlboro Herald Advocate, but the main appeal of the item resulted from the facts that 1) It was my grandmother; 2) The prize was in the form of cash, and they had formed the bills into a sort of lei and hung them around her neck, and 3) I was a kid, and that seemed like a lot of money. Back then, you could get a comic book and a soda and some candy for a quarter, and maybe even have change.

And yes, I think it would be cool if I or someone in my family won a hundred Gs, free and clear. I’d like it. But as news for other people? I don’t see it. Because I put myself in the position of the person winning the 100k, and think, what would I do with it? I could do ONE, but not more, of the following:

Pay off our mortgage. It’s down to below that amount, and that would be helpful. I couldn’t really change my lifestyle or anything, and I’d have to keep working at least as hard as I do now, but it would be nice to have that off my plate.

Take a year off from working. Fine, but I just sort of did that, and it wasn’t fun. And you know that when the year was over, you’d have to go back to work. And you’d find that after a year of not working, you’d have trouble getting back into the kind of work you want to do at your previous rate of pay. Believe me, I’ve been there. Not worth it. And yes, you could live for more than a year on 100k, but I would not be tempted to quit working, for any period of time, for less. Anything less, and I’d just add it to the rest of the income I manage to pull in, and keep plugging.

Go to England or somewhere again, and buy a bunch of toys such as accessories for my new iPhone. Which, let’s face it, Mamanem’s not going to let me do if someone interrupts Sunday dinner to give us $100k.

All pretty cool stuff, but not dramatically life-changing. It wouldn’t have enough effect on ME and MY life for other people to find it interesting. So… I’m not interested in the effect on someone else’s life. Certainly not Tweet-me-the-headline interest.

Which raises the question: How much WOULD be enough? How much money would I have to get to think it newsworthy? For that matter, forget newsworthy. I’d just as soon other people didn’t know I had all that money. How much is my fantasy amount that would make me achieve my lifelong goal of never, ever thinking about money again? (Because I really, truly hate thinking about it, on any level.)

I used to have a figure in mind. As I wrote in a column several years ago, “Buddy, can you spare half a billion? And be quick about it?” As I wrote, I had this fantasy in mind in which I saved Bill Gates’ life somehow or other, and he offered to halve his kingdom, and I told him nah, that half a billion would do. Or a round billion, if he didn’t have change.

But that was back in 2006, when my newspaper was up for sale, and I had a particular use for the money in mind. I wanted to buy the paper from the ruins of Knight Ridder. I had a detailed plan for what I wanted to do with it. I had this idea that buying the paper, since it was one of the few really profitable papers KR had, could cost me as much as $400 million. That was probably WAY too much to pay even then, but the paper had been bought by KR in the mid-80s for $300 million, and I didn’t want to be chintzy.

I would have used the rest for capital improvements, and perhaps to allow me to run the company at a loss for a few years while I searched for the right business model. And that’s the thing. The demand for news, particularly political news, is as great as ever (and we’re talking the written word, here). The problem is that the business model has collapsed. I figure a few hundred million extra would allow for almost unlimited experimentation with financial models. And we — and the readers — could have a lot of fun in the meantime. (By the way, some people were displeased by that column at the time. Sort of surprising it took them three more years to can me, huh?)

Now… I don’t know. If I had unlimited funds — or what would do for unlimited funds — would I buy The State? Things have changed. It’s no longer about trying to save “my newspaper.” I’m not sure whether the value of the brand would be worth what I’d have to pay for it. I wonder whether I should just start something from scratch (that might be the best way to start a new business model, assuming I could figure out what sort to go with). I’m pretty sure I could get it for a LOT less than I was guessing in 06. Back then, I bought McClatchy at $39. Today, it’s $3.33. (Yeah, I know. I’m a financial genius.) How that affects individual newspapers’ value I don’t know. Even assuming they were willing to sell.

And there’s always the possibility of traveling the globe and hanging with my grandchildren. I could grow tomatoes, and chase the kids around in the garden… but no, I’ve still got stuff I want to say. And South Carolina NEEDS some good journalism, just as it always did. Dick Harpootlian was mentioning that today. He was mentioning it in a partisan context, but he was on point.

A certain amount of money could pay for some good journalism. AND achieve my lifelong goal of never having to think about money again.

So how much would that be? I tend to look at it in powers of 10:

  • $100k — I’ve already explained why that won’t do.
  • $1 million — Much better, but one could neither buy a newspaper of any size nor launch a new operation nor permanently retire on that, even if one were as cheap as Mark Sanford. An awkward amount (not that I’d turn it down, mind you; I’d find something to do with it).
  • $10 million — Now we’re talking. THIS a guy could retire on, and not feel the need to work to make more. And you might be able to launch an experimental publication of some sort. But you’d have to bet it all, and if the first business model you tried failed, that would be it, and you’d be broke. Or so I’m thinking.
  • $100 million — This would most likely provide it all — buy a business, revamp it, try a lot of stuff, and never worry about money again. Grow a lot of tomatoes when you felt like it. But you’d have to be careful you don’t blow it all, still. You want to leave something to the kids. I mean, as long as we’re fantasizing here, why don’t we go a bit further…
  • $1 billion — Done deal. Do it all, make a lot of mistakes along the way, and still be able to install a diving board in your cash vault, like Scrooge McDuck. So for me, this is the ultimate fantasy amount. TWO billion would also be nice — maybe I could get one of those miniature giraffes — but let’s not get greedy.

So, it looks like I’ll be working for a while.

There you have it. A twist on the “Office Space” question of “What would you do if you had a million dollars?”

What’s your answer? How much would it take for you to feel like you had it all?

The Midlands Subway System

Taking off on the subject of this recent post, I thought I’d hark back to a column I wrote in 1998, way before this blog was ever thought of. In it, I set forth my vision of what it might be like if the Midlands had the mass transit amenities of New York or Washington or even Atlanta:

    Imagine: Say it’s a few years from now, and you live in Lexington and work in Columbia. You drive the mile or so to the station and leave your car in a parking lot. You take your seat and ride the old Southern line that parallels Highway 1 into the city. Call it the A line.
    Despite all the stops, you get downtown in less time than it takes to drive, while getting ahead on work or (better yet) reading the paper. You change trains at the Vista Center station near the new arena and conference center.
    Say you work where I do, near Williams-Brice Stadium (and why wouldn’t you; this is my dream, after all). You take the C line down one of the very tracks that used to frustrate you in your driving days (if you can’t beat the trains, join them). You get off within a block of work.
    A few hours later, when you have a lunch appointment in Five Points, you take a quick ride back up to Vista Center, then through the underground stretch beneath the State House complex and the USC campus on the eastern reach of the A line.
    Need to shop after work? Take the C all the way out to Columbiana, or the D along Two-Notch to Columbia Mall. (Where does the B line go? Out toward Lake Murray, which means it runs between 378 and the Saluda River, right by my house.)

Now that there’s so much more growth out to the northeast I suppose we could extend the D farther out. The C would be longer, too. And the A might need a spur that would run out Garners Ferry. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yeah, I was dreaming then and I’m dreaming now — like the guy in that movie "Singles," who kept talking about his mass transit dream (in Seattle, I think it was), and anyone he told it to would say, "Yeah, but I love my car."

But it’s a nice dream. Here’s the rest of that column, by the way — but I already gave you the relevant part.

Why don’t candidates ask us for more than our votes?

    “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win….”
       — John F. Kennedy, 1962

WHAT WOULD we do if one among the horde of candidates seeking to become president of the United States in 2009 challenged us as a nation to do something hard?
    Most Americans alive today can’t remember a president or would-be president doing anything remotely like that. The ones we’re used to are all about what they’re going to do for us, not what we should do for our country. Republicans want to cut our taxes; Democrats want to give us more programs and, to hear them all talk, at no cost to us.
    But I believe that if the cause were worthwhile and the proposal made sense, we’d rise to it. Maybe not all of us, but there’s a critical mass out here who would follow someone courageous enough to ask us to do our part.
    I, for one, am sick of being treated, by people who seek my vote, as some sort of “gimme-gimme” baby, lacking in any sense of responsibility for the world around me. Those of us who are grownups are used to accepting, in our personal lives, challenges that are by no means easy to meet — going to work day after day, paying our bills, raising children. Why would we not understand a president who said, “Here’s a challenge that concerns us all, and here’s what each of us needs to do to rise to it”?
    Young people among us want to pitch in and accomplish difficult things a lot more than we give them credit for. Part of Barack Obama’s appeal among the young is his call to service, his challenge to build a better nation. But unless I’ve missed it, he has not asked us, as a nation, to do anything hard.
    Don’t misunderstand me, as did a colleague who wrote:

    The feeling I get… is that you’re so frustrated that you just want the government to demand SOME SORT OF SACRIFICE, on something, anything. Whether it’s needed or not. Doesn’t really matter what.

    Well, yes and no. Sure, there’s a part of me that just wants to be asked for a change to do something, if only for the novelty: Buy bonds, save scrap metal, whatever.
    But there’s more to it than that. The truth is, our country faces a lot of challenges that demand something or other from all of us, but political “leaders” have a pathological fear of pointing it out to us.
    Back when JFK challenged us to go to the moon because it was hard, we did it — even though there was no practical reason why we needed to do so. Sure, it gave us the creeps to think of “going to sleep by the light of a communist moon,” but it was a symbolic competition, with only marginal applications to the true, deadly competition of the arms race. We couldn’t stand not to be No. 1.
    But today we have very real, very practical challenges that have tangible consequences if we fail to meet them.
    Take just one of them: our dependence on foreign oil.
    Sen. Joe Biden had a great speech a while back about how President Bush missed the golden opportunity to ask us, on Sept. 12, 2001, to do whatever it took to free us from this devil’s bargain whereby we are funding people who want to destroy us and all that we cherish. And yet, his own energy proposals are a tepid combination of expanding alternative fuels (good news to the farmer) and improving fuel efficiency (let’s put the onus on Detroit).
    A broad spectrum of thinkers who are not running for office — from Tom Friedman to Robert Samuelson to Charles Krauthammer — say we must jack up the price of gasoline with a tax increase, to cut demand and fund the search for alternatives. It makes sense. But the next candidate with the guts to ask us to pay more at the pump will be the first.
    My friend Samuel Tenenbaum is on a quixotic quest to build support for restoration of the 55-mph speed limit. It would be hard (for me, anyway), but the benefits are undeniable. It would conserve fuel dramatically, starving petrodictators from Hugo Chavez to Vladimir Putin to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It would save thousands of lives now lost to speed on our highways.
    Samuel pitches his idea to every candidate he can corner. They smile and move away from him as quickly as possible.
    But you know, when I wrote a column a while back proposing the creation of an Energy Party — that would among other things demand that we jack up the gas tax by $2 a gallon (to fund an Apollo-style project on alternatives), institute Samuel’s 55-mph limit, ban SUVs for anyone without a proven “life-or-death need to drive one” and build nuclear power plants as fast as we can — I got a surprising number of positive responses. I think that was less because my respondents thought those were all good ideas. I think they just liked the idea of being asked to do something for a change.
    Energy independence is just the start. Add to it the urgent needs to stop global warming, win the war on terror, make health care affordable while at the same time avoiding the coming entitlements train wreck, and you’ve got a list of things that require a lot more audience involvement — and yes, sacrifice — than our current candidates have been willing to ask us for.
    And while you may not feel the same, I’m dying to be asked. Not because it would be easy, and not even because it would be hard, but because these hard things actually need doing.

Out with the UnParty, in with ENERGY!

Nobody’s proposing a comprehensive energy plan, so I guess we’ll have to do it ourselves.

I’ve had this idea percolating lately that I wanted to develop fully before tossing it out. Maybe do a column on it first, roll it out on a Sunday with lots of fanfare. But hey, the situation calls for action, not hoopla.

So here’s the idea (we’ll refine is as we go along):

Reinvent the Unparty as the Energy Party. Not the Green Party — it’s not just about the environment — but a serious energy party. Go all the way, get real, make like we actually know there’s a war going on. Do the stuff that neither the GOP nor the Dems would ever do:

  • Jack up CAFE standards.
  • Put about a $2 per gallon tax on gasoline.
  • Spend the tax proceeds on a Manhattan project on clean, alternative energy (hydrogen, bio, wind, whatever), and on public transportation (especially light rail).
  • Reduce speed limits everywhere to no more than 55 mph. (This must be credited to Samuel Tenenbaum, who bent my ear about it yet again this morning, and apparently does the same to every presidential wannabe who calls his house looking for him or Inez).
  • ENFORCE the damn’ speed limits. If states say they can’t, give them the resources out of the gas tax money.
  • Build nuclear power plants as fast as we can (safely, of course).
  • Either ban SUVs for everyone who can’t demonstrate a life-or-death need to drive one, or tax them at 100 percent of the sales price and throw THAT into the win-the-war kitty.
  • If we go the tax route on SUVs (rather than banning), launch a huge propaganda campaign along the lines of "Loose Lips Sink Ships" (for instance, "Hummers are Osama’s Panzer Corps"). Make wasting fuel the next smoking or DUI — absolutely socially unacceptable.
  • Because it will be a few years before we can be completely free of petrol, drill the ever-lovin’ slush out of the ANWR, explore for oil off Myrtle Beach, and build refinery capacity — all for a limited time of 20 years. Put the limit in the Constitution.

You get the idea. Respect no one’s sacred cows, left or right; go all-out to win the war and, in the long run, save the Earth. Pretty soon, tyrants from Tehran to Moscow to Caracas will be tumbling down without our saying so much as "boo" to them, and global warming will slow within our lifetimes.

THEN, once we’ve done all that, we can start insisting upon some common sense on entitlements, and health care. Change the name to the Pragmatic Party then. Whatever works, whatever is practical, whatever solves our problems — no matter whose ox gets gored. Leave the ideologues in the dust, while we solve the problems.

How’s that sound? Can any of y’all get behind that?

Last night’s dream

Summon Joseph to my presence…

Joseph, let’s see how you do with this one. I had a dream last night. Well, actually, this morning, I suppose, since I was able to remember it when I woke. I remembered it quite clearly then, but it’s been several hours — affairs of state and such, you know. Pyramids to be built. Anyway, I’ll tell you what I still remember, and see if you can make sense of it.

I dreamed that I lived in a place called "South Carolina." Hard to describe what it was like; nothing like Egypt in any case. I realize context is important, suffice to say that within the dream at least I understood the context and the stakes of what was happening. I can do little better than that.

I was not myself. I was, if you can believe this, a scribe. Hah! Go ahead; you are permitted to laugh. Not an ordinary scribe, of course, but a sort of chief scribe. That’s what made the thing I did so odd. It seems that South Carolina was in the final weeks ("weeks" — see there; I’ve picked up an expression from your people) of a power struggle to see who would rule that strange land. These struggles occurred so frequently that they had a special word for it in their language: "Election."

Anyway, the present ruler was named "Sanford," and he had held power for only four cycles of the Nile. His position was secure, and yet it was hard to explain why. The lords of his own faction, the "republicans," held him in contempt, although few dared to oppose him openly. This seemed to be a function of their religion. They worshiped a god named "Reagan," and held elephants to be sacred. Any republican who opposed another in the marketplace was excommunicated, and earned the ever-lasting disapproval of Reagan.

He was opposed by a high priest of an jackass-worshiping cult called the "democrats." He was called "Tommy." This Tommy claimed to be motivated by a fire in his belly, yet somehow he had been unable to capitalize on the fact that Sanford had brought no blessings upon the land, and built no pyramids. The augerers said that Tommy still trailed by double-digits, whatever that meant.

I was very concerned, because my own auguries had told me that the land would be visited with plagues if Sanford ruled for another four cycles. I decided to seize power myself, as uncharacteristic as that might be for a scribe. From here on, I will try to describe it in the terms and concepts of that land and time, without pausing to explain. Here is what happened:

… I was walking along, thinking upon how to launch a last minute, independent, write-in campaign successfully — something one would only try to do in a dream, unless one is Bill Barnet. As I said, I was walking, and realized I was crossing a parking lot, and I was passing through a sparse crowd standing and looking at some spectacle to my left.

    A sort of makeshift stage had been constructed on a flatbed trailer, with speakers on the sides and a microphone on a stand front and center. At the microphone — actually, holding the mike in his hand as he moved about — was a wizened man in an Uncle Sam costume. But this Uncle Sam wasn’t an object of patriotic pride. Rather, he was deliberately done up to be an ugly and contemptible figure. His movements, his tone, his expressions and everything he said were designed to inspire loathing in onlookers. It was clear, somehow, that he didn’t symbolize America in this characterization. Instead, he was supposed to be the personification of "government," and his intent was to get the audience to despise what he represented as much as he and his unseen masters despised it themselves. He was determined to persuade us that every man was an island, and that the idea of banding together to solve the problems that had plagued us in common for generations was foolishness.

    I became increasingly angry at the way he was sullying not only America (at least indirectly, by using that costume), but the system of republican government that our forebears had striven and died for. I resolved that it was time to stop him before he succeeded in his aim of sowing despair in every heart there. So I mounted the stage, and took the microphone away from him. It was easy. I just grabbed it, and saw no more than a brief look of pure malice on the creature’s face as I turned away from him toward the people in the parking lot. I suppose he slithered away; I didn’t give him another thought.

    I realized that my calculations about how and whether to enter the race for governor were behind me; I had just launched my campaign spontaneously, which as crazy as it was, felt more right than I would have thought. I raised the microphone to my face and turned to the people. As I opened my mouth to speak, I didn’t know what I would say, but I knew that the words would come to me.

    But the people were no longer standing on a parking lot in the unblocked sun, and I was no longer on a flatbed trailer. I was on a broad, wraparound, covered front porch of the kind you see on houses built in South Carolina a century or so ago. The people were on a tree-shaded lawn, and I could see them easily over the tops of the neatly-trimmed azaleas planted around the porch. They had drinks in their hands, and I had the sense that they were sated with barbecue, and in the mood to listen on this pleasant late afternoon.

    So I spoke, without pausing to think. I said things no politician in South Carolina had said before — true things, about the way things really are, and about the way they should be, and how it was that WE had the power in our hands to close the gap, if we would only set aside the stupid things that separated us and pulled together. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I suppose in retrospect that the crowd was of the sort that could afford to give to a campaign, the kind you see at high-rolling barbecues. I hadn’t set up the event, but was taking advantage of the opportunity to get my message out. It was well received.

    I talked, and the crowd started changing, but I paid it no mind and kept talking. Gradually, I became aware that my listeners were now all black, and more interactive than the passive yuppie types that I had started with. It wasn’t just me on the porch speaking OUT to an audience. The audience was around me, and with me, and we were delivering the speech together somehow. I realized that my words were rhyming. This alarmed me for a second, as I thought the folks around me would think I was mocking them by acting out a stereotype, pretending to channel Jesse Jackson or some such. But I wasn’t doing that — I had started rhyming naturally, because the thoughts I was  expressing were that poetic and harmonious; there was nothing prosaic about them. I also worried briefly that I wouldn’t be able to keep speaking the truth and making it rhyme. But I needn’t have worried. The words kept coming, without missing a beat, and the truth sounded truer than ever this way.

    So I began to sing. And everyone began to sing with me, nobody missing a word or a beat, even though not a word was preplanned. We sang out truth, We sang out justice, We sang out the love between our brothers and our sisters, just like in the song. Only those weren’t the words, and that wasn’t the tune.

    And then it was time to go forth and DO. So, singing and laughing together, pressed so close that it was hard to tell where one of us ended and the other began, we moved toward the porch steps. And we tripped on each other and tumbled down the steps, but we laughed because everyone was all right and it didn’t matter. And we kept singing the truth, and clapping, and moving together, and in that way we went forth…

    … complete change of scene. I’m in a rambling house, loosely filled with people scattered about in each room. It’s my house, although it’s no house I’ve ever lived in in real life. The people are members of my family, and friends, and young-adult friends of my children. The initial excitement of the campaign is over. People are lethargic, passive, standing and sitting about in room after room in little conversational groups, talking about nothing in particular in low voices. The scene, now that I think about it, is visually a lot like the scene in "The Godfather" when Michael comes home after his father is shot, and everybody is sitting about in a state of uncertainty. Only maybe not quite as anxious.

    This won’t do, I realize. There’s no time for coasting like this. I start hectoring people like a drill sergeant and herding them together to where I can speak to them all. I berate them for losing heart and forgetting their mission, for forgetting that we CAN win, but only if we act like we know it. I issue orders. I tell them all that this isn’t enough people, and certainly not enough activity, to get the job done. I tell every one of them to call ten friends, and tell each of THEM to call ten friends, and get them all busy — stuffing envelopes, knocking on doors, preparing signs, working up voter lists, doing phone banks. People come and go, and the house becomes more crowded and  more hectic, but in a purposeful way that unmistakeably denotes progress. I get on the mobile phone to top strategists and fund-raisers from both the Republican and Democratic camps, people who I know are sick of the lousy choices their own parties present, people who are tired of the way things are, and who have the skills that a campaign needs.

    The Unparty begins to actually take shape, and start acting like it knows it can win.

    … time passes, still within the context of the few days left in the campaign, and numbers change. I get reports that Moore has dropped to below 20 percent of likely voters. Sanford still has the plurality, with something close to 40. The number of undecideds is dwindling. There are inklings that Moore may throw in the towel, and his supporters certainly wouldn’t go for Sanford. They’d either vote for me, or stay home. I am within reach. But I know that Moore doesn’t really want to quit, and he probably resents me, because he had felt he was in striking distance before I jumped in. As I walk through the bustling campaign HQ with the aides who had just brought me this news, on our way to an impromptu strategy meeting at which we will decide what to do in light of it, it occurs to me that Moore won’t just drop out. He’ll want something, I think. Two more things occur to me — first, that these people around me who have worked so hard to get to this point will want me to give him what he wants in order to cinch victory; second, that I really, really don’t want to. I want to keep speaking truth; I don’t want to compromise anything, even if that gets me to the place where I can start acting upon that truth.

    I realize — even in dreams, it seems I am engaged in punditry — that the choice before me is to be like Moore or like Sanford. Moore would seek a deal to get something done. Sanford would decline to concede, and get nothing done. Neither approach had done South Carolina much good. There had to be another way, a better way. If there was any point in my running, it was to find that way. In a moment, we’d be in the meeting room, the door would close, and my most trusted supporters would turn to me to hear what I wanted to do. What would I say?

    At that point, the dream ended.

So, Joseph, what do you make of that? Interpret it in a way that I can make practical use of it, and I’ll let you keep your head. Oh, lighten up! Don’t look at me that way — it was a joke, sort of. Just tell me what you make of my dream…