My mother has invited me for dinner. I know the purpose is to marry me off to one of the daughters of friends who have come. I’m late, so everyone has eaten and my dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes without gravy have been set aside in a glass bowl in the kitchen. One of the women has been in a car accident recently and so she is swollen and unable to walk. She keeps her forearms hidden beneath the table so I suspect she has severe bruising and perhaps a compound fracture. I get up to fetch my dinner and go into the kitchen where I run into another young woman. This one tells me about the problems she has with her English major. I suggest that she look up a criticism technique called close reading. I have been separated from Lynn for some days, so when I sit down again, I pull out my cell phone and call her. When she doesn’t answer, we all go looking for her. We find her walking on the slope of a large drainage channel. She doesn’t talk to me but to one of the women and she starts talking about how important her work with the homeless is and how I need to realize just how poor they are. I am telling someone that she is turning into a girlfriend I had in the past when the alarm rings and I wake up.
I have a crowd of relatives and friends at my house of dreams. They are in every room. I walk into the kitchen and discover that someone has tried to bake a cherry pie in the microwave and the tin pan has melted through the bottom of the oven. I conclude that my friend Mary is responsible, so I go looking for her. Another visitor confesses to the blunder. I catch him as he is trying to go out the door. As I prepare to get him to buy a new oven for me, he slips out and rushes to an airplane that will take him to Europe.
The crowns in my mouth are falling off, leaving stubby posts where teeth once stood along the gum line. (Which is what they actually look like underneath all that porcelain and gold.). Then top — just the top — of one of the molars comes off. I pull it out of my mouth to find that it is silver that has been welded onto the tooth. How are they going to fix this, I wonder.
I am sorting through some things when my bare calf is bitten — or rather mouthed — by a red, white and blue ball. The ball has no mouth of its own — rather there is a head wrapped up inside of it and it is the head that is trying to bite me through the thick, leather walls of the ball. Lynn tells me to give it to her and she will take care of it, so I do. I put up some latex gloves and pick up some stuff that is littered on the floor such as torn up shreds of paper and dog droppings.
A black man keeps preventing me from taking sugar or salt from a bowl by pulling on a string he has around my right arm. When I ask why, he says he is protecting it from other people. When he gets up from the table, I follow him. “Tell me about McCarthyism,” I ask. He gets me a convoluted answer in which he insists that McCarthy was a Canadian who fought in the war and then became a great American senator. For his wrong answer, I tie him up and carry him off to a place where there are other black people. To get there, I have to walk against a crowd which is going to see the Fourth of July fireworks. There is only one white woman walking the same way. Everyone else ignores us as I take my prisoner to other black people who will sit in judgement.
While I make an announcement about the support group, the members begin to meet with some new people. I finish my work just in time to see the newcomers get up before the end of the meeting and go to an outer area to eat pancakes with blueberry syrup. I feel hurt. The leader of the newcomers listens to me as I explain that they need to stay for the whole meeting. He says they don’t want to follow my rule, so I suggest that they could start their own group. The leader — who looks like a young Stephen Jobs in a blue suit — likes the idea and proposes they hold their meeting on the same night. I try to convince him that this won’t work, but he just keeps shaking his head.
A pair of maids are helping me clear out my brother’s bedroom in the old house. One of them keeps knocking pictures from the wall. I tell her that it is all right and help her cut away the broken frames and stack them neatly. She produces an old movie poster from a Chinese film framed in cardboard. “I remember seeing that,” I said. Then after a moment’s thought “You can throw it away.” I go outside onto the back porch. They’ve done a terrible job of sweeping it — there’s lots of dirt. I walk on it in muddy shoes which infuriates my mother and father. Mom screams at me and blames the entire mess on me, so I tell her that I will sweep it. While I clean up the maids’ mess, I hear my parents arguing in the house. I finish sweeping and take the broom to the garage. I hear Dad say that he has a solution for the family’s finances just as the door opens and a large car rolls into the garage. An Asian man gets out. He tells me that he knows me and explains that he is renting the space. I hear the family coming out, so I tell him I can’t talk. They come out in a ragged line with my father at the front. My brother tells my brother that he has been to a casino in Las Vegas. “Which one?” my mother asks. He names one that I have never heard of. “That’s not a good one,” she says. “They have small cash payouts.” I take my place at the end of the line. Many members of my family are eating dinner, including many little brothers I never had. I cringe at the thought of my father hitting me because I didn’t get the patio swept to his satisfaction. He is putting a sausage on his plate and complaining about the job I did. I want to tell him to show me the right way, but I am scared.
The teacher is standing in the center of the room holding up a flip chart. The subject is mathematics. She has divided the test into two kinds: one for those who like math and one for those who hate it. The second part features an algebra problem in which we are to figure out how many deer (or ducks) and how many does (or ducklings) are featured in the problem. I wrack my brain looking for a trick answer, but force myself to awake. When I go to sleep again, the problem is still there and I keep waking up and falling back to sleep to find that the problem is still there, begging for me to answer it.
I am on a cruise with my brother. There seems to be a writing conference going on. We meet someone we both knew in Boy Scouts. My brother comments that the range of people on the cruise seems narrow and the friend agrees. I find that I am sitting in the chair that one of the instructors is using to teach a class in film. He makes sure that every item in the scene is where it should be and asks me to focus the frame while he puts the last touches on it. Just don’t press the shutter he says. I wait in his seat — a little proud that he asked me to fulfill this function for him, until he is ready and can start. I step back when he is and then a man with a ragged beard and round glasses from the port asks me to help him find some film in the shop. The instructor has a reputation as a bigot, so I take the man behind a wall where he won’t be seen. We find all kinds of film and recording tape, but no Portra which is what I suggest and what he wants. Someone sees that the man is Middle Eastern and goes to tell the instructor. “You need to get out of here,” I say to the man. He runs. When the informants return, another person in the shop derides them. “You don’t even know if he was a Muslim or a Christian,” he says. “What business do you have harassing him?” Another man calls out that he was a “zohmay”. Before I can find out what that is, I wake up.
An alien made of mint jelly becomes my companion. I have it teach the Toastmasters to dance, then take it to the Opera House. I reach the top of the stairs. And either they won’t let me in or I decide that I didn’t want to go in after all. So I go down another set of stairs, but they get narrower and narrower as I go until I am standing on them with just my heels. A surge of fear wakes me.
A scandal erupts. During a Super Bowl, a fan sneaks onto the field wearing the uniform of his team and catches the ball for a winning touchdown. Now several weeks later, the opposing team wants the result repealed because the winners had an extra and illegal man on the field. The winners, of course, don’t want the final score changed and say that they can’t do anything if someone gets onto the field without their knowledge. They point out that he is now a member of the team despite the fact that he is short for a football player.
My mother demonstrates how to feed an angry cat a treat by stuffing it through the ear. I get on the phone to talk to an old friend and while he is going on and on, he lets it slip that my brother-in-law found him a job at Stanford. When I ask about this, there is only silence on the line and bright unfocused colors in the room.