November 8, 1982
I am a man of many moods. I am passionate about certain aspects of my life; my job, good books, movies, drinking, which I do well, and, neither here nor there about everything else. I suppose you could call me indifferent or unconcerned about other people and things. The opposite is true. I do care about people—strangers even—when I see an injustice being done, but I learned a long time ago to keep it all inside, unless I can right then and there do something about it.
I have my 9-5 job at the print shop, a few blocks from my apartment in Lynbrook on Long Island. The best part of that of course is that I save on gas, and I’m also a few blocks from the train station. I go into the city a lot. Anyway, I love my job. It is detailed work and I can get lost in it. I like my boss, which is a good thing. I’m friendly with the people I work with, yet I don’t hang out with them after work. I go to the Corner Bar for a few beers, which is where I find my pals, Joey, Kenny and the owner and bartender, Anthony. It’s a small place and the beer on tap is cheap. The crowd isn’t bad; no bikers or degenerates; mostly blue collar workers, a few Vietnam War vets, and an even smaller number of WWII vets. Occasionally you will find a woman or two connected at the hip to a guy or two, but rarely a woman alone. It’s my favorite bar. I can sit and contemplate for hours and no outside forces can bother me. Only my thoughts are allowed to come with me into this haven of solitude, and if they get out of hand, I will attack them with a double shot of vodka. There are other bars and clubs I go to occasionally, but for a different reason. I was not looking for that type of companionship tonight. I sat at my usual stool near the juke box facing the door; making sure I was able to see every face coming in.
Joey Pike was already at the bar having a beer when I got there. He’s a plump old man with a hearing aid. He’s bald, with a bit salt and pepper hair lining the top of each ear. He is one of the few WWII vets. He was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He met his wife during the war when he was stationed in England. They got married soon after the war and moved to Brooklyn, where Joey grew up. Joey talks a lot about his war days. He was very proud to fight alongside his British allies. He talked a lot about the people there. At first there was a little animosity from the English because it took so long for the US to enter the war, and it took the attack on Pearl Harbor to make it happen. But in time Joey felt only friendship and appreciation from them. He had many stories to tell about England; a country he came to love. In every story Joey tells I sense a secret passageway into his past, and if I listen intently, I will find myself living the past with him. I'm not even aware that I've gone on this journey until his tale ends; that's when he leaves for the night, tipping his tweed herringbone cap and saying ‘cheerio’, a phrase he latched onto from his days in England.
Kenny came in soon after me. We call him Professor. He’s about twenty-nine and has spent most of his life in school studying this and that. ‘My goal in life,’ he repeats over and over like we haven’t heard it before, ‘is to learn as much as I can in the short amount of time I’ve got left on this planet.’ I asked him once what he intended to do with all that knowledge, ‘wouldn’t it be better to specialize in one subject so you can master it?’ and he would argue, ‘no, no, no; you can never learn too much!’
I turned to greet him, slapping him on the back as he sat down on the stool between me and Joey. “Hey professor, what’s doing.”
“All’s good,” he said, “how about you guys.”
“Good.” I said, and quickly added “I’m buying the first round—Anthony a seltzer and lime for the professor.”
Kenny’s drink was already made. Anthony knew exactly when he’d be walking in the door. You could set your clock by him. He walked in every weekday night at ten after five, always right after me, and had the same drink, seltzer and lime.
Kenny gulped down his drink quickly and handed the glass back to Anthony. “I’ll have another please.”
I laughed and said, “Careful there, professor, or I’ll be taking your keys.”
The joke was that Kenny never drank alcohol. I asked him once about that, too, and he told me it was because he didn’t want anything dulling his senses. I respected that, but couldn’t fathom not having that beer after work. But Kenny was always good for a laugh, and he knew how to laugh at himself. He knew he was eccentric and made the most of it. He loved the Corner Bar. He said interacting with his fellow humans is a privilege, and that each person he meets and talks with and gets to know is a new thread in the fabric of his life. For me interacting with my fellow humans was done sparingly. I added no threads to the fabric of my life if I could avoid it.
After Joey left for home, I turned to Kenny and Anthony, “I have to tell you guys about this dream I had last night. It was really out there.”
“Was it a nightmare?” said Anthony.
“No, not really. Just strange. I had a dream that I was on a beach sitting by myself. Nobody was around.”
“What beach?” said Kenny.
“Does it matter?” said Anthony, “let him continue”.
“I don’t know what beach. There was sand and an ocean and I was alone.”
“No girls! No bikinis!” said Anthony.
“No. I remember I felt like I had been walking a long time but didn’t know where I was going. I felt tired, but very relaxed. I had a sensation of awareness, almost as if I was looking into my future and seeing my past at the same time. I felt like nothing could bother me. I walked closer to the water and sat down. The water was very choppy and I wanted to watch the waves as they hit the shore. Then there was a boat coming toward the shore with a man in it. And here’s the strange thing…” I stopped there to take a swig of beer, then continued, “…he had two faces.”
“OK,” said Anthony, “that’s weird!”
“Very interesting,” said Kenny, “continue”.
“Yeah, he had two faces. Next thing he was out of the boat and walking toward me, but when he got closer he had only one face. Then he was right there in front of me introducing himself. ‘I am Martin,’ he said to me.
“Do you know any Martin’s?” said Kenny.
“Well, that is a strange dream,” Anthony said, shaking his head.
“I’m not done yet.” I said.
“There’s more?” said Anthony.
“Yeah, I remember him saying it had been a few days since someone came to the shore. He said his home was across the water and pointed to an island that all of a sudden appeared in the distance. He told me he missed his mother. Then he asked me, ‘did you love your mother?’
“That’s strange—want another beer?” said Anthony.
“Yeah, I’ll have one.” I replied.
“What about you professor, another seltzer and lime?”
“No, I’m good,” said Kenny, staring at me all the while, “go on with your dream.”
“As I said, he asked me, did I love my mother. So, I answered, yes, I do. Then he said, ‘tell me about her’ and I couldn’t remember my mother’s name or what she looked like. It was a blank. And I asked him why I couldn’t remember my mother, and he didn’t answer me. Then he turned around and walked away. Next thing I remember is I’m standing in front of a tipi drinking a cup of coffee with bunch of American Indian chiefs all smiling at me. That’s when I woke up.”
“Interesting,” said Kenny, shaking his head. “Very significant were those two faces.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“In ancient Roman religion there was a God, Janus...”
“Oh, that’s right!” I interrupted Kenny before he could elaborate. I had suddenly remembered something I had read years ago about the God Janus. “He had two faces…one looking to the future and one to the past.”
“Yes,” Kenny replied, “to the ancient Romans it is said that Janus was the God of all beginnings and transitions.”
“Interesting—well, who knows what the hell it all means. I’m interested to see if I dream again tonight.”
“When I have an interesting dream,” said Anthony, “…if I wake up and I remember it, I write it down, and then I think about what happened the day before to try and make sense of it.”
Kenny looked like he was deep in thought, this was usually when he started quoting smart people, and he postulated, “Like Jung said, ‘Dreams are the guiding words of the soul. Why should I henceforth not love my dreams and not make their riddling images into objects of my daily consideration?’ …great quote.”
*****After I left the bar, I stopped at the deli and got a hero and a six pack for my dinner and went home. My apartment is small, but comfortable; a small bedroom and living room combo with a bathroom. I also have a hot plate and a small refrigerator. It is on the top floor of my landlord’s house. I keep to myself and don’t see them unless I am dropping off my rent check. They are a little weird so I keep my distance.
I thought more about my dream and the man with two faces. I’ve had dreams before, but this was different. Usually I can’t remember my dreams after I wake up, but this one lingered in my thoughts; mostly the man with two faces and not remembering what my mother looked like.
I shook off the dream and put on the TV. I sat in bed and ate half of a rather large hero sandwich, washing it down with the 3 beers I had stacked, side by side, on the night table next to the photo of me and my dad sitting in a boat holding fishing poles. The other 3 beers were in the fridge. I must have been tired. I fell asleep and woke up to the voice of Henny Youngman—‘take my wife, please’— on Late Night with David Letterman. As I got up to turn off the TV, I heard a scratching noise outside. I looked out the window and saw a small dog scrounging in my landlord’s garbage can. I had seen this dog before. I slowly opened my window and called to him, ‘hey fella’. I think the sound of the window opening scared him and he ran off. He must be a stray, I thought. If I had been outside at the time I would have checked to see if he had a collar on. If not, I would have picked him up and brought him in. I looked at the clock on my night table. It was after 1:00 am. I set the alarm for 6 and went back to bed.
I woke up with a major headache the next morning. I looked at my alarm clock and it was 10:30. “What the fuck!” I said, and jumped out of bed and grabbed the phone and called my boss.
“Pete, I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner. My alarm didn’t go off.” In that brief instant I decided I didn’t feel like going to work. “Pete, I’m not feeling well. Would you mind if I didn’t come in today?”
“Not to worry,” he replied, “It’s not a busy day. Feel better.”
I knew all my work was caught up and everything was ready for the press. Pete was lenient with all of his employees. There were only a few who took advantage of his good nature, but they were younger, and even with them Pete was easy going. Don’t get me wrong, he was no push over, but these kids usually fell into line after a while.
I made myself a small pot of coffee and sat watching TV for a little while. My headache wasn’t as bad, but it was still there, so I took two aspirin and went back to bed. I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until half past four when the phone rang. It was my mother checking in. Odd that mothers know when you’re not feeling well. She didn’t want anything specific. She talked about her office moving to a new location, and I realized it had been some time since I went for a visit. The dream I had the other night was still bothering me.
“I was going to call you later,” I said.
“…About anything in particular?”
“No, not really, I just haven’t talked to you in a while.”
“Oh. How is your job?”
“It’s good. I actually took a sick day today.”
“Are you sick, or is it a mental health day?” she chuckled slightly, and I had never known my mom to chuckle.
“No; it’s just a bad headache. I think it was something I ate.”
“Well, feel better sweetheart. Come to visit me anytime you like.”
We ended our call.
My mother usually doesn’t call me. I call her. You see, mom is always busy. She never just says she is busy, which I would appreciate more for the honesty, but she will have that hurried tone in her voice conveying the message that I should just ‘spit it out’. It's not rudeness. She's never rude—only busy. So, she'll make the kissing sound over the phone, and with a weary sigh say goodbye, and promise to meet for dinner soon.
I wish my father were still alive. I was never afraid to approach him with anything. He had an open door and an open mind. As far as he was concerned, if I had thought it, it was worth a discussion; if I had heard it on the streets, it needed an explanation; and, if I had done it and it was wrong, it needed an ear my voice could penetrate and a mind my short-sightedness could duel with. I had the benefit of my father’s wisdom—not for telling me what was wrong or right, but for allowing me, with his guidance, to draw my own conclusions. We would have talked out this dream and laughed about it.
When my father died, I was sixteen years old. Henceforth, I was the son of my mother only; the son of a successful business woman who had little time for me. Aside from today’s call, they are few and far between. I suppose I could call her more often than I do, but I don’t. I know she worries about me, but not once has she pried into my personal life the way all good mothers do. The thought occurred to me that it would improve my relationship with her if I found a girlfriend. She may take an interest in that—if I should suddenly produce a possible spouse. I would be interested to witness her reaction. I thought I might try it soon. I’d have to meet someone first. Tonight was as good a night as any. So, I took a shower, got dressed and headed to a bar a few towns away where I knew there would be a mixed crowd, hoping I’d have a lucky night and meet a nice woman to fall in love with and get married. No such luck. The night ended as it usually did for me in these types of bars; pretty girls that were hooked up already, and really pretty girls I was too afraid to approach. Besides, there were too many people in this bar and I started to feel paranoid. If Kenny or Anthony were with me it may have been different, but I was alone just drinking at the bar.
I worked all the next day without interruption and I was glad for the distraction. I apologized to my boss again for being out the day before. I look back over my ten years at this job and can see that I am shown some favoritism. Why is because I’m fast and accurate and always there—except for yesterday.
At five o’clock I went for a few beers at the Corner Bar. I had only meant to stay about half an hour and then go get some dinner, but I decided to order a hamburger and some fries and settle in for a few hours, which turned into five by the time I finally left. The cold night sobered me up quickly as I walked the three blocks to my apartment. There was no activity on my street, with the exception of that small dog again. I wondered where he came from. Who owned him? Why was he out so late, in the dark. That bothered me. If you’re going to have a dog, take care of it. By the time I reached the gate of the house, the dog ran off. I shook my head and whispered to myself, “Damn! I wanted to check his collar.” When I got up to my rooms I needed another beer and some TV to fall asleep.
I had another dream that night. I was back on that beach. A man was introducing me to a woman with red hair and a woman with black hair. I had a sensation that I was a boy of thirteen, and felt I anxious. The two women I had met were now bullies pushing me off my bicycle. Then a man showed up and put his arm around my shoulder and told me not to cry. We went into a cabin nearby and he told me to get some sleep. I remember trying to get comfortable and the cot was too short for my body. Next thing I heard was my alarm clock. It was Wednesday. I got up, showered and shaved, and went to work.