Saturday, November 26, 2005

Atlantic Boulevard

This afternoon, Jake and I had a slightly disappointing time tidepooling. Not much but snails, hermit crabs, and a few sad-looking anemones. This was only slightly disappointing since the sea was beautiful and, hey, on the North Coast, any sunny day after Halloween is pure gravy. On the drive home, I exercised a father's prerogative, attempting to inculcate similar values in my son. In other words, I played Soft Cell's Sex Dwarf for him, stopping periodically to make sure he understood every delicious line of the lyrics. Then I told him about the time in med school that Karen and I used a snip from the song, I would like you on a long black lead/You can bring me all the things I need, for our answering machine, figuring, "Hey, who calls us?" Our parents, our friends . . . either way, good joke, right? No. The first person to leave a message was my medical statistics prof. "Um . . . sounds like a fun party. I'm calling to let you know the time of the final has changed . . . " Yeah, whatever. Oh, how I hated medical statistics. But that's not what I wanted to talk about.
I woke up this morning realizing I'd dreamt not once, but repeatedly, of my grandparents' house on Atlantic Boulevard. Carl Jung, who believed a house in a dream symbolized the mind, would have gone nuts for these dreams. My grandparents teensy one-story had been transformed into something labyrinthine, with hidden rooms, an attic, a basement, and a sub-basement. The rooms were cluttered with boxes, dusty books, my grandmother's tchotchkes, dysfunctional kitchenettes which would never be used, misplaced twin beds, and more tchotchkes. In short, exactly what my grandparents would have done with the place if they'd had four stories to work with. In real life, the house was a postage stamp, maybe 1200 square feet, if that. Stucco-sided, with Spanish architecture, it would have had an Old World feel even if my grandparents hadn't invaded it and filled it with their Old World detritus. I remember cupboards and drawers and cabinets full of things, tons of things, things I couldn't touch, things my grandmother didn't even want me to look at. Nowadays, she'd be a Lladro junkie. Back then, as far as I could see, she just collected junk. The front door opened onto a livingroom which was dark during the brightest days of summer. They had an ancient schmatte-bedecked sofa and an easy chair with knitted armrests designed to make it look like a giant pink poodle. No one sat in the chair. My grandfather sat in a worn down chair over by the tchotchke cabinet, and my grandmother rarely sat. She was always in the kitchen. God only knows what she was doing there -- the woman couldn't cook. Beyond the living room was the dining room, where we had our knock-down drag-out Seders every year. If Eliyahu ever came near this Seder, he'd keep on going. Way too much tsuris in there. Which didn't stop my uncle from eating the food and drinking the wine set out for Eliyahu. And why should good food* go to waste? The kitchen lay beyond the dining room. They had a cozy breakfast nook with built-in benches that overlooked my grandfather's beloved garden. My grandfather, a baker, would sit me down on the bench, and my grandmother would feed me slices of my grandfather's rye bread spread with margarine (yum), and give me watered-down no-name Cola to drink (not so yum). To the right of the dining room were the bathroom, my grandparents' bedroom (where my great-grandfather's portrait scowled down like a constipated and joyless Tevye), my uncle's bedroom (where he spent most every evening of his adult life, and where he died), and a mysterious room I Could Not Enter called the pantry. This was a junk room, which puzzled me, because it seemed to me all the rooms in my grandparents' house qualified as junk rooms. I think they were conducting a scientific experiment in there to see how many decades canned food could be kept before it crawled away on four legs. The house had no attic, even though my grandfather claimed it did and promised to some day show me his pet monkey that he kept there (I get the shpiel art from him). He also claimed he'd been born with horns, and would defy me to deny the scars on his shiny bald head (I get that from him, too). So why should there be an attic in my dreams? And a basement. And a sub-basement. I think it's because I handed my muse an ultimatum. I'm tired of writing schlock, I told her. Cough up something good for a change. So she went to the bank, the reservoir, the archive, and she dug down deep. This morning, I wrote about three thousand words, and they were good ones, too. I think a lot of my plot threads are ready to tie themselves up into neat and orderly knots, and at last I have a worthwhile (if rather silly looking) villain. In short, the NaNo is a wee bit less crappy today. I'm thinking it might even turn into something. D. *The attentive reader will note an apparent contradiction. But the contradiction is illusory. To my uncle, all food was good food.


Anonymous wbbs-dcr said...

I’ve had dreams with basements that lead to sub-basements as well. Sometimes the basement (or the sub-basement) will lead to an entirely different part of the house that I somehow (in the dream that is) knew existed but had never seen before. And, those basement areas lead to their own outdoors, different from the outdoors you get to from the upstairs.

I did a story based on one such dream (linked above). I’m not sure if you’ve seen it or not–probably not your taste regardless.

Typically, though–and perhaps the case even with my above-linked story–my best stories do not come from dreams. Odd that my best stories do come in the wee hours of the morning when I should be asleep, but that dreams from when I am asleep don’t work out as successfully.

11/26/2005 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger Demented M said...

Wow, very interesting. Nice that the subconscious came through for you--mine flakes out sometimes.

Glad to see you're getting some good words in.


11/27/2005 05:23:00 AM  
Blogger Mary Stella said...

If this post is any indication, there's no way the NaNo is schlock. Love the memories and the correct spelling of tchotkes, which I may now have butchered. I always have to look it up.

11/27/2005 06:25:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Hey, Dan, that's a really nice short story. I enjoyed it.

Thanks, y'all.

11/27/2005 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Doug, that was beautiful. Interesting to find out that a nice Jewish boy and a church girl from Hicktown, Oklahoma had the exact same grandparents with the exact same house. Thanks for the story.

11/27/2005 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Hicktown, eh? Is that anywhere near Clinton?

thanks, Robyn ;o)

11/27/2005 12:40:00 PM  

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