A few days ago, upon waking, I tried to speak to my father. Or, I should say, my father tried to speak to me. My father, who, by the way, is long since dead, stood there with a long pencil-shaped contraption sticking out of his mouth. It was an obvious technological attempt to help him communicate. My father very seldom talked. He was a taciturn farmer, except that in his case it wasn’t a romantic ideal but a fact; he was just shy. Maybe to find a way around talking, he had, as a young man, taken a creative writing course by correspondence. Thus the mechanical pencil. I still have a small cardboard box full of his manuscripts that he had sent off to publications in various distant cities. All were rejected. They weren`t very good.
During this last week, I`ve been thinking about the sources of my own shyness. A particularly violent event when I was a baby was the most obvious cause, but also of course my father was a role model for me, as well as a source of inherited instinct. Which is partly where shyness comes from. Or so I’ve read. Anyway, I’ve always wished my dad had offered a bit of advice on living occasionally. And even the tiniest bit of praise would have gone a very long way. But no, he would either just work outside or sit on his couch reading his Braille version of Science Journal. And I would look at him there occasionally.
Not blind now, though. He was looking straight at me, earnestly. And talking. But his voice was different. It was tinney, mechanical. Ah! They had installed a device that allowed him to talk. And he talked on. Two long paragraphs of it while looking me in the eyes. I could not only hear but see the paragraphs in front of me. I was so enthusiastic that I broke into the first paragraph and said, “Hey, Dad, that really works well!!”, and he just carried on. He actually was asking me a favour. He needed to talk to that guy I knew some time ago who did this and that and who could maybe help him with something. I was pretty skeptical of ever finding the guy again but gave Dad a positive answer, wanting him to keep going on like that.
Dad didn’t come around this morning. Instead, Linda and I went on an escorted tour of a very large building. It was more or less a warehouse, but partly used for exchange as well, the way people get one thing and leave another. A lady was showing us around, cheerfully describing this and that, whatever we would come to. I noticed a long, fairly wide corridor going off to the side. Its floor was packed all the way down it’s length with huge boxes and crates. The lady said, “Oh that’s just storage." I thought, how would anybody get to one of those boxes of stuff way back in there if they needed it; they would have to pull out all the others first. You couldn’t even squeeze between them.
The lady and Linda went on ahead because I noticed a couple people behind us near the entrance to the corridor and went back to talk to them. The guy was tall and slim, clean-shaven with a sly smile and wearing a jaunty swashbuckler’s hat set at an angle. He moved constantly, with his funky wife at his side, while he explained the situation to me. I can’t write it down word-for-word here because it’s hard enough to remember what you see in a dream, to say nothing of all the chit-chat I’ve been getting lately. But in essence he said with florid arms that he was building a car, a fantastic car. These boxes and crates were filled with the parts. Some were yet to be filled. He couldn’t put the car together till all the parts came in. They come from all over. They’re free. You just have to wait. “It’s the ex und hopp mentality”, he said. (I don’t know whether he emphasized that phrase on purpose when he said it, or I emphasized it in my mind when I heard it, but in any case I didn’t recall having ever heard it before, don’t know any German at all, except the word Volkswagen, and decided to memorize it so I could look it up when I woke.)
Anyway, he went on talking and smiling and moving about with his arms in the air. He said that until all the parts are in, he and his wife are living down the corridor at the very end. I thought, no, that’s not possible. He looked at me with the biggest smile yet. He walked over to one of the first large boxes, bent down, and now I could see it was sitting on the end of a board. He put his fingers under the board and lifted it up, quite easily, the large box that was on it slanting down forward toward the floor, along with the box in front of it. Obviously they were empty. His wife squeezed in front of him, bent down and pushed the board up from there, lifting both boxes. They walked forwards. The board and the first box dropped back and rested on the floor behind them. Then I could see a third box lifting and the second one dropping, and so on till they had disappeared down the corridor. Cute trick, I thought. And that was that.
I can tell you a couple of pertinent things about dream symbols. Houses and vehicles quite often represent the dreamer’s self. A house has various rooms that are handy when referring to different characteristics, and it has doors and windows to the outside. A car is really a small house that can go somewhere. If you’re sitting in the passenger seat while it’s moving, you don’t have any control over your life. If you’re steering, you do. With limits, of course. It might be dark out. Or the controls might not work; you might be drunk; somebody might be chasing you. And so on. You might buy a new car and throw out the old one. Or maybe you’ve always been walking. Just any car would be good. You could buy your new car ready to go, or, if you’re suddenly very fussy, having made some big decisions about the life you’ve been living, you might build it yourself from scratch. If your decisions have been only about what you don’t want, you might collect parts slowly, one at a time, depending on how you like each piece that shows up. None of them will come from the factory. They’ll all come from people who have lived with them, molded them, given them some of their own life. And then tossed them as they’ve moved on. Here today, gone tomorrow. Ex und hopp. (Culled, I guess, from a roomful of phrases I long ago read and tossed.)
I’ve only driven the one old beater all my life. And kept my eyes glued to that patch of road right ahead. But now I’m looking around. Can’t wait to start putting it all together.
Look. Here inside this box. Paper. And mechanical pencils. For writing essays.
See the previous essay: My dreams are full of people now.