Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dreams of Animals

When I was a teenager, my father told me about a dream he had had. The memory stands out, in no small part, because it’s the only time I recall my father telling me about a dream. It stands out, too, because the dream was about me.

In that dream, there was a bird in the window. I forget the particulars but maybe it was nesting there, or fluttering in some state of suspension, half inside, half out. In my visualization of the scene, it happened in my childhood bedroom with the perpetually dusty windowsill, over the stringy yellow carpet we never vacuumed.

There was a bird, my father said, and while he was considering how to get rid of it, I came at it. I slammed a pillow against the bird, its chest, its head, and sent it plummeting to its death in the yard twenty feet below.

My mother intervened in the story, perhaps trying to make sense of it in an honest interpretation, perhaps scrambling to spin it. “Your dad thinks of you as a warrior.”

The dream must have rattled my father. To not only speak of it, to carry on and recount his own feelings from that scene. “I felt bad for the bird.”

I understood him. That though I remained a gangly, quiet, largely unassertive kid, the world was coming for me. We had started our not-yet-legal driving lessons in vacant sections of the shopping mall parking lot, and he had seen me grow frustrated at his instruction and lay my foot a little heavier on the gas to take a turn more sharply than I ought to. A new obsession with basketball had lent me a habit of dribbling an old Nerf soccer ball around my room. I was growing up and my father--or at least his subconscious--recognized my potential for calamity and disaster, less out of design than poor judgment and poorer communication, entwined in a body that was evolving from boy to man, enabled by the onset of meaningful responsibilities in my life.

My father didn’t see me as a warrior. He saw me as rash and blunt and awkward enough to murder an innocent bird before he could enact a more prudent and humane course of action.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that it was only a few nights later when I dreamed of another animal intruding on our home. This time it was a foot-long lizard--bizarrely out of place in our upstate New York habitat--and for some reason, in this dream, I was convinced it was an insect, and I needed to squash it. I folded my hands together, interlocking fingers and came down on the creature’s back. Sometime between devising my plan and making contact, I recognized how foolish it was. That this was not, in fact, a bug, and that I was not coming down with enough force to meaningfully hurt, much less kill a creature of this size. I pressed down and like my non-dreamt rubber alligator of similar proportions, the creature deflated in the middle, beneath my weight, puffing out gently at each end where the air had diffused. The lizard turned on me, though, not with alarming speed or aggression, perhaps because in this dream space I was not equipped to combat it. The lizard’s mouth latched onto my neck, toothless, and began to suck at me. I couldn’t pull him off and became aware that the creature was sucking away my life, and I would die on that kitchen floor without assistance.

My mother and father were there and cognizant of what was happening. They chastised me for attacking the lizard in the first place. It was unclear if they’d help me.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Kelly’s Burned Down

I remember my twenty-first birthday. It wasn’t the first time I had drunk. But it was the first time I drank at Kelly’s.

Kelly’s had a reputation. There was no mistaking it as a dive--in Geneseo, a small college town without any legitimately nice or hip bars to speak of, Kelly’s Saloon was the lowest of the low. Walls littered with Sharpie writing. Dim lighting. Rows upon rows of bottom-shelf liquor.

Freshman year, my eighteenth birthday had fallen on the first day of classes, one of the loneliest experiences of my undergrad years for having made exactly zero new friends, in an era before Facebook birthday reminders and a week before my RA was equipped to start posting happy birthday banners outside anyone’s room.

Senior year, we celebrated.

We started at Kelly’s. I recall five or six of us lining the bar. The traditional insistence that I not buy my own drinks on that occasion. Asking for a rum and coke watching the heavily tattooed bartender pour rum up to the top line of the glass, then filling in the difference with a dash of Coca Cola from the tap.

One drink in and my face had turned bright red, my head had gone light. I was staggering.


Ten years after graduation, I got word of the fire.

There was an electrical fire on Main Street. Kelly’s had burned down.

I saw it on Facebook, posted by an old friend, then dutifully shared the news article with a caption approximating a Wilhelm scream of “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Word spread, different news articles, different outlets, the same sparse facts. No conspiracy. Little in the way of human interest stories. Just word of the fire.

Then the jokes, circling around incredulity that the bar, notoriously soaked in alcohol hadn’t exploded.

The sentimentality came afterward as we realized what we had lost. I hadn’t set foot in Kelly’s for at least five years, but the bar remained an especially poignant point of nostalgia for the knowledge that it hadn’t changed and it never would. It was the kind of bar that probably should have been improved upon, cleaned up, renovated, decades earlier that had resisted even cosmetic adjustment, and circled around to grow all the more charming for always remaining the same dank hole in the wall.

When I began to write this post, I tried to research if there were a Kelly that the bar had been named after. Maybe it’s a generic Irish name for a generic Irish pub that peddled green souvenir t-shirts with white shamrocks printed at their center. Maybe it was the original owner’s last name. Maybe it bespeaks the name of a woman someone once loved. I imagine a story of unrequited love, or the proverbial one who got away, or a woman who, herself, died in some fire or plane crash or other random happenstance not unlike the destruction of the bar itself, and a forelorn lover who drowned all sensation of love in beer after beer, whiskey after whiskey.

I found nothing.

But therein lies another piece of the charm of a place like Kelly’s. A refusal to succumb to such romanticism, a place that lived in the here and now of pouring stiff drinks for the embittered, the lushes, the celebratory. The townies. The college kids who had just turned 21, or who were making the most of their fake IDs.

In the mode of the day--disasters and recovery narratives, the next news that broke about Kelly’s centered on word that the business would come back. Timelines. Fundraising efforts.

I hope it’s all true. Sort of.

But then there remains that selfish part of me that knows Kelly’s will never be the same, and thus never be mine again.

Just the same, in an exposure of my own sentimentality and idealism, I exchanged texts with an old college friends in the days to follow. Vowing that when Kelly’s returned, so would we. Believing that everything burnt might one day rise from the ashes.