I had this dream the other night in which a bearded fellow from the Taliban, carrying an automatic rifle, his shoulder-held missile propped against the bare white wall behind him, was shaking hands with a skinhead, all shiny bald with a blue swastika in the middle of his wide, white forehead. The skinhead wore black leather. The leader of the Taliban seemed draped in the wet fur of a sheep, or was it my old cocker spaniel’s hide I had conjured? Anyway, the two of them had their heads together, rather like whispering high-school girls leaning against the bathroom sinks, a certain lawless scent perfuming the air. They were absorbed in a drama that meant bad news for a party of the third part, perhaps a friend, a teacher, a hapless male, a mother fooled, a father swindled. In my dream, I thought I heard the skinhead giggle. Of course, I know that in reality those defenders of the Volk don’t so much laugh as snarl. Fundamentalists don’t giggle, having left those childish sounds behind, along with favorite blankets and comforting thumbs. But this was a dream.
Then from above one of the bathroom doors I could see a head; it belonged to Jerry Falwell, who held this purple Teletubby up to the ceiling and then threw it down at my feet. It smashed. The kinky Twinkie thing bled purple blood across the floor. Also it cried for its life partner. Irritated, the Taliban fellow stamped on it and all was silent.
I heard a flushing sound and saw a door swing open, revealing a big-boned man with white shirt and black pants and an Uzi over his shoulder. The yarmulke on his head appeared to be a steel plate. Beneath the plate I knew his brains were protected from hair follicles, from soothing breezes, from other people’s claims to the orchard. He took a kosher candy bar from his pocket and offered it to the skinhead. “See,” he said over his shoulder to me, “I am for peace and brotherhood and making contact with your enemies. You misunderstand me,” he said. “I have been maligned. Rabin lacked spirituality.” The man from the Taliban stroked his beard. “We, too,” he said, “have God on our side.” I knew that since he did not approve of educating girls he would have no pity for me because I impoverished myself paying Brearley tuitions. My heart skipped beats in fear he would discover my presence. It did occur to me, even deep in the dream, REM sleep level as low as you can go, that I did not belong in the men’s bathroom and really ought to leave. If Queen Noor could not even attend her husband’s funeral, should I be in the bathroom with these guys?
I pretended to be the cleaning woman and, using the end of my skirt, some soap from the soap faucet, some paper towel that appeared in my hand, wiped at the floor, crawling and kneeling as I went. They ignored me. Henry Hyde swung open the door. “Howdy, fellows,” he said. He went over to a urinal and I heard this sound of water over a cliff, like a howling Niagara or Stanley falls in the spring, a crashing gushing sound. It went on and on. “I got a big bladder, boys, I can outpiss the Mississippi,” he said. “Mine bigger,” said the guy from the Taliban. “Big as the Caspian Sea.” There was a strange sound, a kind of gargle from the skinhead, who went right over to the urinal and another whoosh was heard, whooshing and whooshing. I went on wiping the floor. This is not a good dream, I said to myself. Moving backward, I bumped into a pair of legs. I turned around. There was Pat Robertson. He handed me some toilet paper. “Put it around the rim,” he said, “you can catch diseases from the seat.” Thank you, I mumbled. In dreams, my mother appears disguised as Pat, or is Pat disguised as my mother?
Some nights, I think everything I believe in is about to go down the toilet.
Of course, bad dreams arrive for many reasons-indigestion, too much wine, a guilty conscience, a brain addled with confusions, burning with old lusts and new transgressions that have nothing to do with the forces of evil that come to me courtesy of CNN. In fact, it seems likely that the terrible plagues of politics have been more influenced by the innermost disgraces of the human spirit than the other way around. Was Hitler the dreamer or the dreamed? Was he a spontaneous malignancy or was he the carcinogen that produced the tumor?
Are the poppy runners in Afghanistan and Colombia the seducers or the seduced?
If we think in terms of supply and demand, which group is which? Is the religious righteousness of the ultra-Orthodox, the fundamentalism of Iran, the intolerance of the Hindu right, a cause or an effect? They cause mayhem, yes, but they are an effect, a byproduct of the frail human need for certainty. In my worst nightmares, I miss trains, I can’t find the right bus. I must go someplace, but I have no way to get there. In my worst nightmares, I am in a store and I am lost and the escalators are running up and down and I don’t know where to go. In some nightmares, I see my skin dissolve into white bone and in others I know that gas is escaping the stove and that I cannot turn it off or find the door to the apartment or the way to pull my dress over my head. It amazes me the terrors contained within the single skull.
What evolutionary purpose could the bad dream serve? Is it a warning? Is it a message from the gods? Bad dreams make us weary, cause us to cast a cautious eye on the day. Are these dreams perhaps a sign of our incapacity to reason even when we are awake?
And am I so innocent in my liberal West Side cave? Do I not also rejoice when my enemies are vanquished? Do I not also compete with my teeth, devour with my mouth and think dark thoughts without justification or provocation? I do believe in pervasive sin, why else would we have bad dreams? So now that the impeachment has been aborted though its remains are not yet quite disposed of, now that Christopher Hitchens has proved that journalists can be bad eggs and Linda Tripp has shown that a new hairdo is no cure for bad ethics and Bill Clinton’s itch has illustrated once and for all that Americans can tell their elbows from their noses, I think it may be safe to go back to bed and get a good night’s sleep. We all could use a few sweet dreams.