Three A.M.

Awake at three in the morning. It’s a contradiction of human existence, I guess.

I’m awake right now because I was having a weird dream. In the dream, Mel Brooks asks what if Buddha had been a nice Jewish boy from Queens?

Siddhartha the Buddha, or as his mother called him, Siddhartha the Bum.

She says to him, Sid, Sid, why don’t you get a job? Your brother Marty has a nice job on Wall Street and what are you doing? Sitting under a tree eating plums!

I woke up laughing.

I tried to go back to sleep but Mrs. Gautama kept talking.

Why don’t you get a job, she says, and he says, Ma, I’ve got a job. I’m a teacher.

She says, that’s not a real job, you know why I know it’s not a real job? If you had a real job, you could afford to go to the Hamptons for the summer instead of sitting under a pear tree eating plums. That’s no vacation from a real job!

He says, Ma, why would I sit under a pear tree eating plums? It was a fig tree and I was eating figs….

I don’t care if they were Avogadros! she interrupts. You could eat any number of Avogadros and I wouldn’t care.

Then she starts in on him about grandkids. When are you going to get married? If you were married, you would have to get a real job and get me some grandkids? Your brother Marty, he can’t because he’s got that thing, his Exeter is too narrow.

His urethra, Ma.

His ureter, he’s not going to have kids but you could get married…. Are you gay? You can tell me…. If you have some nice boy you’d rather marry you can bring him by…. What’s his name? Steve?

Ma, I’m not gay, Sid says.

Maybe you and Steve could adopt? Marty can’t adopt because his wife has that conviction from when she was a prison guard.

Imogene Coca was playing Ma, Sid Caesar (who else) as Sid, with Howie Morris as Marty and Terry Jones as Mrs. Finkelstein nextdoorsikeh.

At which point, I got up again and wrote this all down. 🙂

Real Estate

Another story based on a dream I had.

Real Estate

The old man eating lunch in the park didn’t seem to be interested in his sandwich. Sitting on the grass nearby, a taller, younger man in dirty clothes watched. The old man sighed for about the fortieth time then stood and carried his uneaten sandwich toward the trash can, frowning.

“If you’re not going to eat that, can I have it?” asked the young man.

The old man stopped and turned to look. “It’s salami and tomatoes on Italian,” he said.

The young man could not stop the visible rush of saliva to his mouth. “Sounds great.” He stood up, wiping one hand across his face.

The old man nodded and held out the meal, still mostly wrapped in the deli papers. “I’m Thomas, I’ve seen you here before.”

The younger man took the food from his hands, his face intent on the prize. “I’m Chris. And yeah, I uh, sort of live here.”

Thomas walked slowly back toward the bench. “Sit, eat,” he said nodding toward the other end as he sat down.

Chris sat, smiling briefly toward Thomas before he began eating. He treated the partially wrapped sandwich with care and almost reverence as he extracted a cut third of it from the papers.

Thomas watched him eat and his own face changed. By the time Chris had finished the first third with a bit of tomato dripping from his chin, Thomas smiled. “Glad to see you like that,” he said. “There’s a couple of napkins.”

Chris nodded, wiping away the ruby red remnants from his stubbly chin. “It’s good. And I’m not just saying that ’cause I hadn’t eaten since yesterday, the guys at Two Fat Italian Heroes know how to make a sandwich.”

Thomas smiled but it seemed to pain him. “They do,” he said. “I wish they were better at making the rent.”

“Huh,” said Chris. “How do you mean?”

“I’m the property manager for this block of shops.” He gestured toward one side of the park. “I collect the rents and turn them over to the owners. I take care of problems like roofs and sewers and dealing with police and building inspectors. But Leo and Gio are late with the rent, two months in a row. And short both times, besides. I have to tell the owner.”

Chris chewed his way through the second section of the sandwich and neither of them said anything for a while. Finally, Chris said, “You don’t want to do that.”

Thomas shook his head. “I don’t. But it’s my job. If they are short three times, they go on a list. From being on the list to getting evicted if you don’t make up everything you missed, takes about six months.”

Chris nodded. He looked at the last third of the sandwich, about four inches long and nearly as wide. Salami, provolone, tomatoes and onions with a light coating of olive oil and vinegar filled the bread to overflowing. “You want the last piece?” he asked Thomas.

Thomas looked at the remainder of the sandwich. He hadn’t wanted it at all but now that he had said something to someone, he felt a bit of hunger. It was his lunch after all and he had forced Leo and Gio to accept payment for it by leaving the money on the counter. “Maybe half?” he said, his mouth watering.

Chris carefully tore the sandwich in two and offered his choice of halves to Thomas and they both ate with obvious enjoyment.

“Good sandwich,” said Chris when they had finished and used the napkins to clean their hands and faces. “Thanks,” he added as he threw the trash into the can.

“They do make good sandwiches but hardly anyone is willing to pay eleven dollars for a foot-long hero anymore when there’s a chain sandwich shop on almost every block,” said Thomas.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “They have a nice corner location though, they ought to be able to grow a clientele if they can get through a year or so. You think?”

Thomas nodded. “Probably.”

“But if they go under in six months, the storefront is likely to be empty for a year or so?”

Thomas nodded again.

“That can’t be good for anybody on the block. Not good for the owners or you either.”

“No,” said Thomas. The small part of the sandwich he had eaten sat like a lump in his stomach.

Chris belched. “Pardon. So, what if you went to everyone on the block and asked them if they could help the sandwich guys out with rent for a while. And put it like a package deal to your bosses, reduced rent for a year while Leo and Gio get on their feet?”

Thomas gulped. “That just might work,” he said. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Too close to the problem, maybe?” suggested Chris. “It’s worth a try, anyway.”

Thomas started away, his face showing his optimism in the new solution.

“Hey,” said Chris. “You got any work for me? Run errands? Sweep up? Haul away the trash in the alley? Anything?”

Thomas blinked. “I’m not doing so good on the thinking things through bit today. Yeah, I probably do have some things for you to do.” He smiled at his new friend.

Chris smiled back. “I knew it couldn’t hurt to ask,” he said.

Dustman

Sometimes I dream about doing something I would really like to do. The following was from a dream I had about working on a daily adventure strip called “Dustman”. It was set in New York City, a place I’ve never lived but like all Americans, I have a substitute familiarity with. The artist had a skritchy but cinematic style, as if Will Eisner had been inked by Jules Feiffer. My job was to work on plot and dialog.

Below is more or less the outline of the story we told in the opening arc of the strip. I really wish I were working on this project.

Dustman

Leon Martenson is a rookie detective assigned to investigate the tales of a vigilante operating in Lower Manhattan. Stories among street people are circulating about a mysterious man who lives on rooftops and patrols streets and alleys to protect the homeless, prostitutes, children and ordinary working people from thieves and extortionists.

One street patrolman tells of having confronted a guy he thought was the vigilante after having seen him break up a purse snatching by somehow creating clouds of dust to separate the victim and assailant.

“Who are you?” the cop had demanded, seeing someone watching the scene from the roof of a five-story block of storefronts and offices.

“I’m nobody, I’m nothing,” the mysterious watcher replied. “I’m just the wind, I’m smoke, I’m dust and leaves in the wind. I’m dust, man.” And then he had disappeared.

The patrolman had run up to the roof as quickly as he could after calling for backups but no one could find the “witness” the cops started calling “Dustman.”

Martenson’s partner, veteran Detective Arlyn Washburn, refuses to have anything to do with the investigation. He’s convinced that Dustman is just an urban legend and that the incidences reported by people are lies, hoaxes, hallucinations, mistaken identities and perhaps even copycats using the Dustman legend to get back at their enemies or just make headlines.

A young woman named Bonnie Lincoln who writes a news blog called “Below Manhattan,” about life in NYC, also is doubtful that Dustman really exists but she and Leon are intrigued and interested with each other.

Sightings of Dustman have ranged from the Bowery to Morningside Heights but more frequently witnesses place him south of Midtown, often in or near Soho and the West Village. In an age of cellphone and security cameras, numerous, more or less crappy, photos exist. Two of the clearest show a figure that could be Dustman looking down from the top of a building.

Bonnie and Leon use their various sources to collect evidence about Dustman’s methods and existence. Bonnie fills her blogs with anecdotes about Dustman saving this or that person from a mugging or other robbery. Leon looks for more tangible proof.

He has fragments of balloons once full of dust and used as weapons by Dustman. “How does he get them to burst when he throws them?” he asked the police lab but no one had a good answer.

From various photos, the police artist creates a composite image showing a tall man wearing a khaki raincoat, blue jeans or slacks, sneakers and either a brown wool cap or a battered looking grey Stetson. From the testimony, he could be an olive-skinned white man, or a light-skinned black man. The patrolman who spoke with him thinks he was white but isn’t too sure.

Martenson, with Lincoln’s help, leaves messages with people offering to meet with Dustman and suggesting times and places where the detective or reporter will wait for a meeting. But after two weeks, Dustman has not shown up.

While Leon and Bonnie are finally having a romantic interlude that started out as another discussion of Dustman, Washburn calls his partner to tell him, “We’ve found your guy.”

The body in the alley in the Meatpacking District did fit the description of Dustman in most particulars but no one had ever described the mystery man as having a pencil-thin mustache. Still, the police tentatively close the file. But two weeks later, the word on the street is that someone wants to meet with Martenson.

Leon goes to the meeting spot, feeling guilty that he hasn’t told Bonnie, Near a statue in one of the little pocket-size fenced parks in Soho, an hour after dusk, someone speaks from the shadows.

“I’m not dead,” says a dry-as-dust voice. “While your people think I am, I’m going to take a little vacation. I’ll be back.”

“How do I know it’s really you, really Dustman?” asks Leon.

“When I’m gone, look behind the statue.” And then the voice answers no more questions. Dustman has disappeared.

The detective looks behind the statue and finds three balloons half-full of dust and covered in a thin layer of clear ice.

Bullwinkle Saves the World… Again?

My story machine works overtime. Last night I dreamed a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

It starred Jack Black as Eddie Valiant Jr. working for the LAPD and partnered with Bullwinkle J. Moose on the Toontown Division. It was an intense and complicated story with visits to Toontowns in Japan, Europe and South America. They were dealing with the illegal traffic in a drug called “SPIT” for “Sudden Partial Integrated Toonification”. When taken by a human, SPIT turns the intoxicated person into a Toon for several hours with Toon resilience and lack of responsibility. Very dangerous stuff but hilarious effects.

Of course, Jack Black takes the SPIT at one point and turns into Kung Fu Panda but since it is in the middle of a fight with the bad guys, this works fine.

There’s a touching little scene with Boris Badenov who, since he is completely innocent in this, was Bullwinkle’s prime suspect. Boris is all hearbroken because Natasha has left him. Mike Myers is in this part doing something.

All thru the story, Jack Black and Bullwinkle take turns being straight man for each other. Rocky shows up for a bit part, too. Rocky is worried that the bad guys will turn out to be toons like Judge Doom last time.

Bullwinkle gets very philosophically goofy about the Unbearable Toonness of Being a Toon and Jack Black sneaks another dose of SPIT to have an interlude with a sexy cartoon firefox. This ends up in another fight of course and the SPIT wear off as Kung Fu Panda is making an impossible leap from one building to the other.

Bullwinkle makes a lugubrious “my partner” speech over Jack Black’s bleeding body but Black turns out not to be dead and they go on to solve the case. Which unfortunately, I woke up before I found out who did it but I think it was Google.

Catman Druthers

I have whole other careers in my sleep. Last night I dreamed about working on a comic strip called Catman Druthers.

The main character, a humanoid cat named Catman, worked as a software engineer for a waste management company. Exciting, huh? His wife, Kitty, ran a daycare.

They lived in the suburbs of a metropolis filled with anthropomorphic animals and just to be confusing, they kept pets. The Druthers’ dog, Flora, chased the mailman, energy-efficiently since the postal worker was also a squirrel.

They had another pet, Manbird, a parrot with a human head, who sat on a perch in the office or kitchen and made wry comments on stuff.

The particular strip I was working on in the dream showed Catman sitting in the floor watching the dog eat as Kitty walks in.

“Watcha doing, hon?” Kitty asks.

“Trying to teach the dog to be more finicky,” says Catman.

The second panel is a close up of the dog scarfing down something and wagging her tail. The word balloons of Kitty and Catman fill the top of the panel.

“How’s it going?” asks Kitty.

“Not too good,” says Catman. “She still eats anything I put down.”

Last panel is a discouraged-looking Catman saying, “That’s a bowl of gravel.”

The Fashionista

Odd dreams.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

With global peace but a stagnant world economy, sixteen great families came to dominate policy all over the world. To prevent armed conflicts, they agreed that they would compete for who would have the chair of the New World Order based on popular sentiment and the decisions of a culture committee. In effect, this amounted to fashion wars.

Our story opens as one of the sixteen families chosen scion is preparing to do fashion combat at the season opening soirée. Being a dumpy little guy, he chooses to go with a very tailored jacket worn over a high-collared shirt without a tie. White jacket, blue pants, red shirt. His hair in a little Elvis pompadour, he looks retro, spiffy and daring. He chooses his name for the evening, Arden(t). Spelled just like that, with parentheses.

He knows he has the evening’s competition locked up, the old chairholder is sticking with his Rastifarian vampire chic persona, Killdivah, and everyone is tired of bloodsucking ska.

Meanwhile, the eight minor families (the politics of this are as complex as the bloodlines of Renaissance nobility) who also can compete in the fashion arena have chosen a gladiator. A young woman in a short, glittery, diamond white disco gown and a Sassoon bob is going to drive a 1993 Toyota Corolla right onto the dance floor! It will be sensational at least and get the judges’ attention.

She’s chosen her name for the evening, ShimmerTM. Because, you know, everyone loves dessert and a nice shiny floor.

Of course, I woke up laughing just then.

Freespace – Chapter IV – Enter the Bogies

A hundred fifty thousand years ago, humanity exploded across the galaxy like a bad case of acne. Other races, ones that had been mature enough to have developed and used spaceflight for millennia, did not know what to do about the brash young species that seemed intent on claiming every available bit of astral territory, habitable by their kind or not.

Conflict raged, worlds died and with them some of the old races. Humanity, as a whole, did not care, despite the lachrymations of a few sentimental individuals. The Third Galactic Empire, ruled by humans, sprang into existence and flourished for a time. And then, like the two earlier empires, also ruled by young and reckless races in their day, it faded away.

Because Empires on a Galactic scale are just stupid. Aren’t they?

Five hundred years ago, Bogies exploded across the galaxy like a lethal venereal rash. No one knew where they came from or where or when they had developed their fast, efficient space drives and their powerful weapons. What everyone does know is that the Bogies seem intent on exterminating every other form of intelligent life that they encounter. They are less interested in galactic empire and more intent on galactic genocide.

The remnants of the Last Galactic Empire, a few human-dominated planets near the end of the 2nd Spiral Arm, are the only powerful coalition that might stand against the Bogies. And they have their own internal problems – The Freespace Revolution has been growing for decades and now threatens to destroy the Last Empire from inside before the Bogies can do it from outside.

Liberty or survival seem to be the choices the last humans have to make….

Shave the World

The Story MachineTM was working overtime last night.

This one was about a billionaire genius philanthropist utopianist who was also a bit of a goofball. Let’s call him George because in the dream he was played by George Clooney. Okay, it was a dream.

George invented things, cellphone-sized 3D TV (JCoaPS! this is real now!) for instance. He made a lot of money. He gave himself superpowers. He built a utopian city and he ran his companies like a benevolent dictator.

This was all very visual, colorful and intense and told from the viewpoint of the sister of a young boy who was also a genius inventor and idolized George. Call the boy Tony and the young woman Bree.

Tony invents something that attracts George’s attention and George showers the kid with money and gifts and even power, giving him his own company to run. George even hires other children and has a whole company devoted to employing disabled children because Tony said something about his best friend, who’s in a wheelchair, having even better ideas.

George also seems to fall in love with Bree and she with him. Bree thinks he’s funny, handsome, charming and way too much of a control freak. He scares her and her feelings for him scare her even more.

In one scene, she complains that her sweater has picked up lint while walking through one of his offices and why does anyone need to wear a sweater when the office is so warm. George has everyone in the office take off their sweaters. They all do, making joke complaints about it but humoring the boss.

One of them observes that George is so PC that he never mentions anyone’s gender and that he’s so smart he can do this without sounding stilted or phony. But when he’s talking about Bree, his speech is filled with she and her. The office workers and some of the disabled children laugh about George’s foibles and go back to whatever they do in their high-tech individualized cubicles that would never be called cubicles by George.

George and Bree have a fight about his micromanagement and controlling attitude and Bree takes Tony away on a visit to their parents.

George gets drunk. He decides that he doesn’t have enough empathy to understand women. In the last scene in the dream before I woke up, he’s disguised himself as a woman and is using his superpowers to sweep and clean up the set of a movie one of his companies is making. He moves in superspeed blurs from one little job to another.

“Bree thinksh I’m crazy,” he says to himself. “She thinks I’m trying to shave the world. It can’t be done, it’s just too damn hairy.” He stops and glares at the dirty floor where someone drove a muddy vehicle across the set. “How do women put up with high heelsh and shmiling all the time? I don’t know what hurtsh more, my feet or my mouth.”

Then he stares off into the distance, genius inspiration has obviously struck. “Shay, you know, you probably could shave the world if your razor had enough blades.”

This is why I wake up laughing so often.

The Ugly Truth

I had a dream last night and I remember much of it this morning. Like a lot of my dreams, it had a title and seemed to have been constructed by the Writing MachineTM I keep in my head. This one was called, The Ugly Truth.

It was both a movie and a card game, a la Steve Jackson’s Munchkin; dreams can be like that. And like Munchkin, there were several different versions. The Ugly Truth about Life, The Ugly Truth about Marriage, The Ugly Truth about High School, The Ugly Truth about Cats and Dogs, The Ugly Truth about Politics and The Super Ugly Truth which was an expansion set that could be added to one of the others.

So this dream was The Super Ugly Truth about High School. We all know that one.

It was a game and a story at the same time. In the story, a group of friends and acquaintances in high school battle with the usual zits, proms, swots and finks while also dealing with super powers and the occasional monster. And also in the story, the kids were playing the card game. Very meta.

The deck is shuffled in a hand of The Ugly Truth and each player is dealt a number of cards, five or six, I think. There are personality cards in the deck and there’s a list of precedence for them, whoever has got the highest precedent personality card in their hand goes first, playing the card and becoming that personality for the hand until replaced. That player draws a replacement card and play begins.

On your turn, if you have any Ugly cards in your hand, you play those first and they take effect. For instance the Massive Zit on your Forehead card prevents you from scoring until it is replaced. You have to have a Beauty or Brawn card to replace an Ugly one, Brains cards can’t do it but Brains cards let you play Ugly cards in front of someone else. Details of how this worked were not clear in the dream.

The Super Ugly Truth added superpowers to this. One Super Ugly card was Bulk Out – you go on a super-eating binge and devour the snack bar, lose two turns.

Oh, the art on the cards was by Brad Guigar of Evil, Inc.

I wonder if this is an actual commercial idea. I know there would probably be a novelty market for the Super Ugly Truth about Politics every four years, what with cards for RepUglycans and DeMonstercrats, but could it ever become a perennial like Munchkin?

Probably not because the Ugly Truth about the game is that nobody wins.

Konk!

The odd shell looked as if it might have washed ashore on some alien ocean. At first, Jodie Millbrae thought it might be a conch shell, but it was larger than any conch he had ever seen and differently colored, a tawny yellow with blue-black rosettes outside that faded to ivory pink inside with moss green spots.

The whole shell, more than a foot long with a sharply pointed spire, weighed several pounds Jodie realized after picking it up. It occurred to him that it might have an inhabitant and he cautiously peered into the creamy opening.

“Take me to your leader,” said the cartoonish-looking head that peered back at him from the shadowy inside.

“You mean my dad?” asked Jodie.

“Is your father Dr. Jonas Millbrae, the renowned cosmologist?” asked the head in the conch, coming out just a bit farther where Jodie could see it better. It looked like Jiminy Cricket wearing glasses and sounded like Woody Allen, complete to New York accent.

Jodie nodded. “Yes, he is. He’s really smart.”

“We know,” agreed the head. “We’ve come all the way from the Spiral Galaxy Next Door to consult with him.”

“You’re Andromedans?” shrieked Jodie in delight.

“You could say that,” agreed the head of the alien delegation.

Jodie tucked the ungainly object under his arm like the world’s ugliest football and ran to find his father.

Dr. Millbrae had dozed off on the sand and been buried under an enormous sand castle by his daughter, Miranda. The castle had eleven turrets, seven portcullises and a moat that Miranda had filled with seawater and as many unwary beach denizens that she could indenture, inveigle, and as last resort, indemnify into taking up residence.

Miranda had named the castle, calling it, “The Structure of Western Thought, Solid but Ephemeral,” and thought it entirely appropriate that she had used her father for its foundation.

Coming up from the rocky part of the shore, Jodie could not see his father’s head and neck protruding across the drawbridge on the back side of Miranda’s recondite, rococo, re-creation.

With the alien-inhabited conch still under his arm Jodie asked his sister, “Have you seen Dad?”

“Not for a while,” said Miranda, telling the truth in her own deceptive way.

Jodie danced from one foot to the other. “Somebody wants to talk to him about something important.”

“Uh huh,” said Miranda in that voice she used when Jodie said he wanted to watch Sponge Bob Squarepants and she had already changed the channel. “Well, they can just wait. He’s busy doing something important already.”

“I’m back here,” said Dr. Millbrae waking up. “What is it, Jodie?”

Jodie ran around the wing of the castle that represented the interesting failures and fallacies of natural theology. He held out the conch at the end of his pudgy arms and announced, “The Andromedans want to ask you something.”

“Hello, Pocillovy,” Dr. Millbrae’s head protruding across the sandy drawbridge over the moat greeted the cartoon insect head. “You’ve come a long way. What’s your question?”

An immature elasmobranch in the briny ditch perked up; it wasn’t often a baby dogshark got the chance to listen in on such a momentous conversation.

“Dr. Millbrae,” said the crickety head in its New York voice. “We’ve calculated the sum of all the radiation released in the universe since the big bang and it appears to be concentrated in a particular part of the spectrum visible to humans as blue-green light. This surprises us and we thought to ask you for confirmation of our findings.”

Dr. Millbrae’s head looked thoughtful. “You want to know if the universe is really turquoise?”

“Exactly,” said the Andromedan.

“It’s not any shade of aqua or cyan,” said Dr. Millbrae. “It’s beige.” And he closed his eyes and went back to sleep, still serving as the foundation for his daughter’s representation of “The Structure of Western Thought, Solid and Ephemeral.”