Sunday, April 15, 2012

Of Lost Mushrooms, 3 Lionesses, and a Monkey (Retrodreamland 2001/2002)

I awaken from a boring dream, finding myself on a forested hill. The trees are evenly spaced, with tall, light brown, bare trunks; the leafy canopy is far out of reach, imposing a sense of smallness upon me. I think to myself how strange it is to see a purely deciduous forest like this. Or maybe these are coniferous trees? Knowledge like that is useless here. I stand, head tilted back, pondering the nature of leaves. These do not seem particularly thick, as I can clearly observe the blue sky above them, yet there is no evidence of sun shining through even though I know it is day. My gaze follows the non-existent rays of the sun to the ground, where bare clumps of pale dirt peek through green grass. I turn and slowly run up the hill, following others towards what looks like a cabin.

Yes, it seems that our destination was a cabin in the woods, situated at the apex of the hill. I arrive to find Foxtrot, Lemon, and some others waiting. I guess there's a party to be had, since we rarely get together for other reasons; that's fine with me, since I haven't had much fun lately. Not to mention my weakness against peer pressure.

We pile into the cabin and start by consuming some mushrooms, which I assume are of the magical variety. This is great fun (I think) and some excitement ensues, although it fails to register in my memory. Something to do with an oven, and the ceiling? The ceiling, which from the inside seems much too large for the cabin, is covered with interesting trinkets: mossy green pots and pans, and a greenish moose head. Strange. Perhaps I shouldn't have eaten these shrooms? Oh well. You can't change the past. Well, not usually, anyways.

When the daze of this chaotic trip begins to fade, I find myself in the family van. My sister Erin is driving, and Christian and Lemon are in the back. I, being my sisters brother, am sitting in the front. We're driving down a curvy dirt road. The foresty hill is on our right, and another sparse forest is on our left. No space separates the road and the trees, as if the forest threatens to smother the road. I suddenly realize (and I acknowledge how stupid this sounds) that I am having an out of body experience, and my perspective is floating beside the vehicle. Looking around, I determine that we are heading west, towards a point where the road ends and an overgrown path leads back to the cabin on the forest hill.

Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure why Christian is in the car. Was he at the party? He doesn't do drugs. I'm also not sure why we are heading back. Maybe I forgot something important?

Before we reach the end of the road, our way is blocked by three lionesses. Aroused from their sleep, they stare hungrily at us, tongues reaching out to lick lips. The van lurches to a halt, and without saying a word, Erin slowly does a U-turn and we drive away.

We zoom over the crest of a hill, but I happen to look behind and glimpse an old man and woman walking the road, their fat bodies awkwardly contained within grey and white shorts and t-shirts. Their grey hair sticks to their sweaty heads, and the taller moustached man rubs perspiration from his spectacles. We crest the hill and they disappear from my view (which has unfortunately returned to my body). I fear that the oblivious oldies will be easy prey for the three carnivorous predators, so I quickly devise a plan. Lemon, Christian, and I will run to their rescue, and Erin will wait in the van, ready for out getaway as soon as we return. Simple enough.

It all goes wrong. My comrades fling open the door and run over the hill, but I am frozen. I don't know whether it is fear or cowardice (there's a difference, you know). Whatever the reason, it is overwhelmed by a foreboding sense of doom deep my guts as I watch my two friends run towards their peril while I wait safely behind. Anxiety clutches my chest. They make it to the old couple just in time to join their demise as the feline trio descends upon them all. Wide-eyed, I tell Erin to leave, and she obeys me, leaving them to fend for themselves. We make our way down the road in silence, van doors wide open, the sounds of the trees whooshing by. Oh well. You can't change the past. If we turn around now, we'll be late for the cat training class at the community center. We wouldn't want to be late.

The road emerges from the choking forest, and we arrive at a cheerful looking building. We park the van, we go inside. We hang our coats on pegs and neatly leave our shoes in the small square entry room, before continuing into a larger main room with a long table in the center. Everything inside is wood except for some paintings and other decorations hanging on pegs along the wall.

We mingle with the many people already here, and I notice Lemon is among them. I desperately want to ask him how he got here before we did, what happened back with the lionesses, and where Christian is, but I feel too ashamed and decide not to bring it up and expose my cowardice. Everyone takes a seat along the long table and pulls out their personal bag of catfood. I have large sized, half-empty bag of rank smelling dry kitty kibbles. The lessons begin, but my mind wanders from boring lectures on cathood, into the realms of my own secret past...

In the vast expanses of my untold and unremembered histories, my thoughts settle upon an old acquaintance of mine. I reminisce about our unhappy final encounter; more unhappy for him than me. My acquaintance was a small monkey, like Curious George with a bad temper. It was so long ago, the details mostly forgotten, yet one I remember clearly: I beat this monkey on the head. With a stick. Repeatedly.

My trip down memory lane is cut short with the realization that the lecture is over and everyone is leaving. When I get to the coat room, I realize that I have forgotten my sack of catfood. I groggily return to the long room, finding the half-empty bag still laying at my spot on the table. As I approach to reclaim it, I am struck by the fact that the room appears to have become much smaller. I shrug and continue forwards, opting to get my item and get the heck out of this boring place...

But things never go as easily as expected. I reach for my bag, and out jumps the monkey! You know, the one who I beat in the head multiple times? The one who has recovered, the one who has a score to settle? And... the one who now has the Ebola virus? Bulging purple fingers tipped with crusty Ebola virus claws lash out at my arm, missing by an inch as I jump back. The monkey starts climbing and jumping along the walls, circling me like Spiderman. He jumps at me suddenly, biting at my leg! Fortunately, his small jaws and pointy teeth are unable to penetrate my thick black pants, although I notice his mouth foam soaks right through. He backs off, once again circling me. Somehow I feel confident; he can't get me through my pants! And I'm right, he doesn't get through my pants. Instead, he goes for my bare arm, biting deeply. I wish I could go back and change our past. Oh well. Now the score is settled, and now I have his Ebola virus. "Damn", I think to myself as my vision closes in, "I'll get that Ebola monkey if it's the last thing I do!" Then, total darkness.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

China Life

Upon a dusty, worn out mattress in a dark and run-down apartment in the slums of Hong Kong, I lay awake in a room I share with my Asian companion, silently contemplating my life in the dead of night. Why did I come here? More so an escape than a vacation; the rusty spring bed digging into my shoulder blade clearly attests to this. To live simply, one person among the horde, all struggling for those meager resources that maintain our struggle for meager resources. A life with nothing to lose, a life without an abstract and unattainable happiness, a life without confusion.

I test cough. The Asian I share a room with shifts and sniffs, indicating wakefulness. We quietly creep from creaky beds and sneak through doorless corridors, as we have so many other nights past, to spy on the curious contents of those other rooms. Our intentions are innocent: simply to absorb the sight of those sleeping souls, to become the keepers of memories that would otherwise never find a mind.

The stale, dusty air muffles our steps as we round a corner, first revealing just heads like half-assed spies before fully exposing our bodies to the entrance. Two fat black people sit upon a mattress on the floor; a mother and son, packing worthless looking possessions into well-used cardboard boxes. They are moving to the newly vacated room down the hall. Their morbid obesity suggests a long night long of shambling, dragging  boxes and mattress, and taking ample breaks to catch their shallow wheezing breaths. We offer our aid in their struggle, and receive gruff grunts of acceptance that hide their thankfulness from us, and the sorry status of their existence from themselves. We each grab boxes and are out of the room in the time it takes them to begin the arduous task of standing.

We travel down the dark hallway, decorated with peeling wallpaper and long abandoned webs, and catch a glimpse of a fluffy humanoid peeking around the corner of a side passage before disappearing. As we pass by the corridor, I look down and see the backside of an old bearded lady with long messy blond hair and a faded pink cotton dress quickly shuffling away, holding a little fluffy dog who stares back at me with haunted eyes portraying a clear message: how did I end up in this state of being?

We find the vacant room down the next corridor, set the boxes down, and head back for more. Upon our return, the monsters have managed to stand and pick up some boxes. They eagerly pass them over before shooing me away back down the hall. Going alone, I take a wrong turn and find myself in a room with the old lady. She is holding a pair of electric clippers, and frizzy blond hair is strewn about all over her soiled mattress. Both her dog and herself have received hasty amateur haircuts, strips of long hair punctuating the sheared surfaces of their skin. She looks up with an eager, toothless smile as if begging for acceptance. The now mostly bald dog shows me those same eyes as before. I apologize and explain that I must have taken the wrong turn and, holding back a sneeze, flee the eerie scene to finish my task...

When morning comes, I emerge from the dank building I call home, into a muddy city square lit by lanterns strung about like drying laundry, and the dim light of dawn. My family is on a vacation to visit me today, so I head off towards the train to find them.

I find myself on the train, dismal grey and full of uncolored passengers. Everyone is standing, facing no particular direction. I can hear their murmuring voices but see no moving lips. The outside scene of abandoned wooden structures and a drizzling rainy grey sky moves by slowly, framed by busted up metal train window frames ineffectively patched up with Scotch tape. I move to the back of the car where a metal door leads to the next one, pry it open, cautiously look behind me, and walk through.

I'm in the space between cars. Worn looking wooden planks extend from the doors on either side, meeting together in the middle with a creaky metal hinge. A loose tube of tough looking fabric surrounds the space between, possibly to save someone from being run over should they fall off of the precarious bridge spanning the gap, though I'm unsure its effectiveness would be proven should I fall. I begin crossing the rickety planks, shaking with the clattering movement of the train. Nearing the halfway point, I hear the metal door behind me slide open, and a stream of loud and angry sounding Chinese gibberish. Wide-eyed, I slowly and carefully twist my head around deliver to this man and his conductors uniform a deadpan gaze. He motions me to go one way or the other. Danger of crossing the gap forgotten, I hurry to the next car.

I step through the sliding door onto a semi-open car. Humans mill about the rectangular space like farm animals, loosely crafted wooden fencing preventing them from falling off the sides. The top is open to the sky, which is a cheerful cerulean spotted with clouds, and through the gaps in the fence I glimpse vast green fields and occasional trees passing by. I see my family at the far side of the train and feel an unexpectedly warm joy accompanying this knowledge of their presence. They beckon me to join them with a friendly wave, before pulling back a large plank in the fence and ducking through the opening. As I hastily make my way through the crowd, the plank bangs shut behind them. I pry it open for myself and slide through.

On the other side I find myself in a cavernous underground space, with a stream of sewage water that bisects a polluted earthen floor. The small groups of raggedy people huddling around oil drum fireplaces and inside dilapidated tents seem to pay no attention to me. I see my family has crossed to the other side, where they are already disappearing up a staircase into the unknown. I move to cross, but stumble; the tip of my sneaker soaks with the concentrated piss flowing in the stream, and my bare hands press into the oily earth as I stop my fall. I close my eyes and take a breath to collect myself before standing.

I get to my feet and feel struck, like a glass of moonshine chugged. I'm dazed and wasted, and struggle to get my bearings. I can barely make out the staircase I want to go to, but stumble to the left. I stop and try to turn, but frustratingly move again in the same direction, towards the dark passageway where the sewage runs.

Each step forwards is a failed feat of will as I continue away from my destination. I look up and see clearly; I'm in a cylindrical brick tunnel, the floor packed flat with garbage. At the end of the tunnel is a cubic space where two shady men are making an exchange. In unison, they look my way. One must be a ninja, because his arm flashes out almost instantly, releasing towards me a round metal compact disc-like shuriken. As it speeds towards my throat, I desperately grab the closest thing I see: a discarded pair of metal scissors. I defend against the first projectile in the nick of time, only to be assailed by a seemingly endless barrage of discs. Repeated deflections feed my confidence, and I begin pressing forward towards the attacker. As I span the gap, however, the disorientating daze redescends upon me. I struggle to keep my eyes open and focused, my scissors barely finding their way to clink against each attack. Time practically grinds to a halt, and it seems to take 10 minutes before I finally arrive at the end of the corridor.

A blur of movement; my scissor's edges rest against the ninja's neck, and the other man's gun finds its way to my temple. There is a long moment of uncertainty, but finally a mutual acknowledgement. Our weapon arms drop, the men complete their exchange: a small baggie of white powder for a handful of rusty coins.