My apologies and acknowledgment goes out to the late Philip K. Dick for paraphrasing his book title.
Lately I’ve been having some weird dreams, and while I normally don’t have much retention for these things, my dreams of the past few weeks have been different. I’ve been remembering a few of them in remarkable detail because my real life has been bleeding into my dream life. When I wake up, I sometimes wonder if something really happened or if I dreamt it, and for a few minutes each morning, I have to sort things out and put them back where they belong. I’m not sure if I like that, but it is entertaining.
One recent dream that has me wildly entertained might have taken root from an unexpected change of direction on a vacation almost twenty years ago, which could explain why George Clooney was part of the dream:
It was the spring of 1995, and we had decided to go on a family vacation to Washington, DC to do what people do when they go to Washington, DC on vacation. Due to the nature of my work at the time, we could only take off for long weekends as opposed to weeklong trips, and this brevity required precise planning. Mrs. G. would begin setting up our short trips months in advance and her vacation planning skills could put a travel agent to shame. She had our carefully orchestrated DC itinerary all laid out, beginning with our stay at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, named for Pierre Charles L’Enfant.
Mr. L’Enfant was born in 1754, and he was the civil engineer who decided that a grid pattern would be a nice way to lay out the new capital city of the new United States, instead of some sort of willy-nilly system whereby people just bumped into one another diagonally. And so it was that he set out, under the command of none other than George Washington, to make an organized city out of seventy square miles of not much of anything.
L’Enfant’s name isn’t brought up often when people talk about the folks who built this country, and in truth, he died in abject poverty in 1825 and was unceremoniously buried in a farm field in Maryland. Somewhere around the early 1900s, they dug him up and carted him to a nicer location in Arlington National Cemetery where his grave now overlooks the city he designed. A rather nice hotel was eventually named after him, where the housekeepers placed gigantic chocolate chip cookies on the pillows at night. What more could a civil engineer ask for?
Once we checked into our hotel, Mrs. G. and I, along with a ten-year old Miss G. armed ourselves with fanny packs full of maps, dog-eared tour books and fruit roll-ups and set off on foot to see the sights. This was before all of this information could be pulled up in a smartphone and way before fanny packs were banished from civilized society.
After a long day of touring, we decided to head back to the hotel and call it a night, but there was one thing above all else that was almost eerily apparent on our walk back: The streets of Washington were empty, and by “empty” I mean Twilight Zone deserted. It was so still that I would not have been at all surprised if tumbleweeds started chasing one another down the barren streets. Like many modern working cities, Washington emptied out on weekends and on this particular weekend, even more so. This was Memorial Day weekend and wherever it was that the movers and shakers of the free world went on such weekends, they had burned rubber out of the District of Columbia to get there.
So the three of us meandered alone from the Smithsonian Museums over L’Enfant’s perfect squares and back to our hotel. It was when we got to the National Mall that music broke the silence, and not just any music but John Denver music. We strayed from the grid and cut across the grass, using the gradually increasing volume of the music as our guide. We ended up behind a large stage that faced the steps of the Capital Building.
This was six years before 9-11, but even by the standards of the day, the security was pretty lax. Here we were, three curious and fanny packed people from Upstate New York, and we just wandered in the back door, untouched and unquestioned by anyone. There were some security guards and a few people moving about with clipboards and walkie-talkies, and right there, right there in front of us and just kind of standing there, was George Clooney.
Yeah, that George Clooney.
ER was in its first season and Clooney played a character named Dr. Doug Ross. He wasn’t that well known yet but since Mrs. G. and I watched the show, we recognized him.
“Go stand next to him.” I said to my wife, “I’ll take your picture.”
He was just milling around behind the stage and was probably finished with what he came to do. He actually looked bored, as if he would have welcomed the chance to talk with someone. My wife wouldn’t go; embarrassed perhaps by her outrigger fanny pack and neither would my daughter, who had no idea who he was.
He seemed like a nice enough guy and he posed with the few people who asked as cameras were passed around and snapshots were taken. I took a couple of pictures of him, said something like “Hey, I enjoy your work,” and then we moved on. I’m tall, but in spite of this, he seemed small to me. Wait—small was a bad choice of words. Compact is more like it and in real life, quite average looking. He really wasn’t a guy who would attract anybody’s attention in a crowd other than being a newly minted TV doctor or the guy who played the handyman on The Facts of Life.
We walked past him, totally ignoring the directional protocol for entering the venue and then walked right past John Denver as he was exiting the stage. I can’t remember saying anything, but we both chin-nodded towards each other the way guys do. It was only a few years later when he would die in a horrible plane crash at the age of fifty-three, his career waning a bit by then but with plenty of life still ahead of him. Or so it would seem.
We looked up towards the stage at Ossie Davis, who was reading something about the history of our country in his rich baritone voice. It was pretty awesome. We made our way through the sparse crowd and took a seat on the steps of the Capital Building of the United States of America and watched a few more performers and speakers. PBS was broadcasting the show live, but I hadn’t watched PBS since Miss G. outgrew Sesame Street. When we saw a camera, we waved, but we had a long day already and were getting tired, so we went back to the hotel. As we were leaving, Joe Mantegna was on the stage.
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” Herman Melville.
In my recent dream, I was in Alaska with my family and we once again ran into George Clooney. Of course. Why not? We chatted a bit; he asked what I had been up to for the past twenty years (Nothin’. Stuff.) and I took some pictures of him with my daughter and posted them on Facebook. As with most dreams, it disintegrated into an addlepated jumble of this and that. The last thing I remember, I was standing in front of a ravine, trying to center the moon in between two mountains for the perfect photograph. George was helping me compose the shot, holding up his hands in the shape of a picture frame, as directors sometimes do.
There was nothing overtly preposterous happening. There were no flying monkeys or angry, talking apple trees and since I had bumped into Mr. Clooney once in my life already, I suppose it could happen twice, but something about the absurdity of the dream jarred me awake.
This was around 3:30 in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep until 4:30, and only then in fits and twitches. I kept trying to figure it out. What did it all mean? I finally got up in the dark and started writing this.
I haven’t a clue what it meant, but we have been to Alaska and we did see George Clooney once and somehow those latent events must have triggered these thoughts while I slept, but in this particular dream, I knew it was a dream. This wasn’t like the dream I had when my wife was looking out the bedroom window and tried to get me to come look at a deer in our backyard. That seemed absolutely real while George Clooney in Alaska for some reason, did not.
Anyway, I doubt I have any bit parts in any of George Clooney’s dreams since the fibers of his life reach a bit farther than those of mine. No hard feelings though, George. You seemed like a decent fellow in 1995 and you were polite to my family and me so good luck with that film thing of yours. I hope it works out for you.