Friday, August 23, 2013

A Midsummer's Horrific Dream

A waking dream that I’ve probably also had while asleep at some point or, if not, that I probably will.

I stand on the banks of the river Styx, which I recognize immediately from the poetry which, for once, proves factually and not just metaphorically accurate. The water of the river is so black that it’s almost not even water at all, but the darkness of space, the void between the stars. There is no motion in that river. It is the end of everything.

I wait for a long time there. That’s fine, its not like I am in a hurry at the moment. It gives me time to think, time I never really gave myself before getting here. On the banks of the river Styx, there are no distractions. All you have is yourself and you know, looking at the infinite blackness of the river, that you might not even have that for very long.

Along comes the boatman, right on cue, looking as grim and gloomy as I expected. He is wearing his long black robe with the quintessential cowl that completely hides his (I imagine) hellish face. I am terrified, exactly as I was told that I would be. It’s rare to meet somebody who entirely lives up to their reputation.

Charon extends his hand with the bored ease of somebody who has done this a billion times.

“Um...” I try to speak, but I’m too afraid.

“Well? You gonna just stand there forever, dude?” He asks, tsking impatiently. “I gotta schedule to keep, ya know. Fuck, bro. It’s my ass handed to me if I’m late, Hades is not a chill dude.”

“Huh?” I ask. A wise and fair question.

“Hades! He’s my boss, and not the good kind. SO micromanaging!” Charon sighs again and pulls back his hood.

Far from the skeletal face I had envisioned, he turns out to be a rather attractive, clean shaven blond with freckles and gelled hair. Around his neck, under the robe, I can now see the popped collar of a polo shirt. Charon, ferryman of the eternal river Styx, is a fratboy.

“Anyway, dude, I’m not waiting forever. Pay up now or you can take the next boat. You won’t like that one.”

“I’m scared,” I admit, “Where will you take me?”

“Well, I’m not supposed to tell. It’s like some kind of metaphor about the mystery of death and all that. But, what the hell? If it gets your butt in gear... So I have you down for delivery to Elysium. Nice, right?”

“Is it?”

“Dude, it’s like totally sweet! That’s where I would spend my weekends, if I ever had a weekend, and I never will cuz of the way Hades rides my ass like I’m his little bitch. But there’s like, a bunch of naked dudes writing poetry and wrestling all day and eating pomengrantes and shit and, like I don’t know, rubbing olive oil on each other. I mean, if you aren’t into that I can just leave you here, no problem.”

“No, no, that sounds fine!” I squeak, relieved, “To be honest, I thought death was going to be a lot scarier than that.”

“Well, yeah, most people do. Not like Hades wants everybody in some kind of big rush to get here, ya know? Anyway, just hand over the coins for your fare and we’ll jet.”

“I don’t have the coins,” I say hurriedly, “We don’t bury people with them anymore.”

He eyes me suspiciously. “Do you even speak Latin, bro?”

Ashamed, I shake my head.


I shake my head again.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Have you even read The Aeniad?”

“For a class, I did!”

He stares at me.

“Well, most of it,” I admit.

He keeps staring.

“In English...” I mumble, staring at my feet.

He rolls his eyes. “Dude, no offense. There must have been some mistake. I thought you were somebody else. Oh, here comes my guy.”

A gorgeous man walks up to the shore, wearing a nice red cardigan and handsome spectacles. He’s tall and quite muscular and walks with absolute confidence. He grins a devastatingly charismatic grin, pulls two shiny coins from his pocket, and says, “Dulce et decorum est,” in a deep, masculine voice with what is clearly a posh British accent.

“Dude, about time! I almost took this loser instead of you,” says Charon, “Get in, Elysium awaits.”

“Ah, sounds awesome, bro,” says the British guy, as he climbs into the boat, “Will there be olive oil and Latin poetry and lacrosse?”

“You know it, my man!” They do a fist bump and then Charon starts to push the boat away from the shore.

“I’m excited as I was at my first year of Oxford,” says the Brit, already stripping off his clothes in preparation for the fields of bliss, “Thank goodness for Magdalene college. A classical education really is the only one worth having!”

“Wait,” I shout at the retreating boat, “What about me?”

“The next boat is for you, bro!” Charon calls over his shoulder, “You’ll fit right in, don’t worry.”

I sit and wait in the quiet, the fields of Elysium now closed to me forever. And then I see it, the next boat, which has taken the shape of a Carnival cruise liner, and I know the fate that is before me. I am damned to the Purgatory of the Philistines, where I shall spend eternity surrounded by fat Americans sipping from Big Gulps and watching enormous TV screens that play only reality television and Larry the Cable Guy. Reaching in my pocket, I find to my horror that I have been carrying the fare for this journey all along: a Big Mac, dripping with cheese.

The boat moves very slowly, so I have a long time to wait and consider my fate. There’s a waiting room full of people working frantically on their brilliant novels and ground-breaking academic papers and not paying any attention to me. I sit, not wishing to disturb the quiet of the room, but somehow I knock against a lamp anyway, creating a sound wave that sends every disapproving eye in my direction.  

And that’s the final straw. I stand back up and give everyone in the room the middle finger. “Suck my dick, assholes!” I shout, weeping. Then I run to the bank of the river and throw myself in just to see what happens. The first thing that happens is I die. I have no idea what happens after that.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Open Letter to Russell Tovey

Dear Russell Tovey,

Ok, we need to talk. I think you know why. While it's always nice of you to drop by for a cameo in one of my dreams, I think showing up in every single one of them last night was a little excessive. True, I went to bed feeling quite sick from a migraine and woke up feeling much better, so I suppose you could argue your presence had a salutary effect on my health, but still it's a little creepy, RT. It's like you're obsessed with me or something.

I mean when I was on that random cruise for some reason in the first dream, it was a pleasant surprise to see you. And when you pulled me aside to tell me that story about your father dying (is that even true, Russell??) I totally didn't even see that you were just trying to get me to drop my guard so you could swoop in with that perfect little kiss. Smooth, Tovey, real smooth. And you had to know when you showed up later on selling chocolate bars for a kid's fundraiser (and what's up with that, you are a grown man, RT) that I would have no choice but to buy the whole box, frittering away my imaginary dream money. I feel kind of manipulated!

So here's the deal. I'm super flattered by the attention, but I gave up celebrity crushes in high school, man! Ask Ewan McGregor and he'll tell you all about it. And in the years since then I've been weening myself off of unrequited love in general. So this really can't continue. Either put your money where your mouth is and come hang out with me in the real world like a mature adult, or stay out of my dreams and stop trying to torment me. If you do back off for a bit, I promise to get around to watching that TV show you are in now even though it sounds kind of lame apart from the fact that you are in it. Also, I will still root for you if by some miracle you get picked to be the 12th Doctor.

But we gotta keep this relationship professional, at least until we actually meet. And no, that one time in real life when I was standing 20 feet away from you at the National Theatre in London during a backstage tour doesn't count. You were busy hanging out with the other History Boys and I could hardly have interrupted to introduce myself! And since I can't make it over to London any time soon, you'll have to come here which I hardly think will be too inconvenient for you and is certainly more rational than infiltrating my dreams from half a world away.

I know you'll see reason. Thanks, and much love and respect,


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Overdue Mother's Day Story

It's Mother's Day and once again I find myself in the position of the selfish son who can't think of anything to get mom to show her how much she means to me. True, the whole idea of commercial holidays still irritates me. How is a bunch of over-priced flowers supposed to really show appreciation to somebody to whom I owe literally everything that I am and everything that I have? It's too much. Usually I can't even wrap my head around it so I don't do much of anything. And in another month I'll go through the same experience with Father's Day. And then the rest of the year will go by with me not calling home as much as I should.

These people deserve so much more than a day. I work with teenagers now, and watching them interact with their parents has been horrific. Not just because of the bad attitude, the backtalk, the disdain, and the overwhelming amount of ingratitude on display, but because in their behavior I cannot help but remember myself at their age behaving in exactly the same way. I am ashamed by many of the memories of disrespect and disregard towards Mom and Dad that have come flooding back in recent months. I try not to be too hard on myself. I think maybe we all were like that as teenagers, even my parents themselves. That our parents keep loving us anyway is one of life's most profound miracles.

There's a story from the Bible that makes me cry every time I think about it. Every. Single. Time. It may be one of the most beautiful things ever produced by mankind. It is the story of a young man who figuratively spits in his fathers face and turns away from him. When the world turns out to be a rougher place than he imagined, breaking him down, he is forced to go back home in shame. What happens next is a miracle, but the kind of miracle that happens every single day in every single family:"
"And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." 
I'd like to tell a brief story about the lowest, darkest part of my life. Many know that my missionary work in the Philippines ended prematurely due to confusing medical circumstances beyond my control. The ironic twist in that story was that I was sent home at precisely the moment when I had finally and totally accepted my life there. What is less well-known is that after some time at home recovering, I was reassigned to finish my two years in an area near San Diego, a radically different environment than the one I had adjusted to. Despite my many misgivings and apprehension, I went, believing that a task would not be given to me that I could not handle. I was only twenty years old.

One week in this new environment broke me utterly. Each day was a drawn-out torture of one panic attack after another, and I did not sleep one peaceful moment at night. When it became clear that this was not normal and was not going to pass, the decision was quickly made to send me back home. Now, on top of the fear and anxiety that wracked me day and night, I had to contend with the realization that I betrayed everything my family had taught me, everything I had believed in. I could not bear the thought of staying in California one single moment longer, but I also could not bear the thought of going home a failure and telling everybody that I couldn't hack it, that I was too afraid.

I had believed my faith would see me through any trial, and I was wrong. And I was so utterly ashamed of myself that I wanted to shrivel up and disappear. This would not be the last time I felt this way, but this time was the most intense and the most painful. I don't know how I would have survived the burning shame of it all if it had not been for the absolute miracle that happened next.

When she heard the news, my mother did not hesitate for a moment. She jumped on a plane and came straight to California to get me. When she walked in the room, all I could do was apologize again and again through my tears, unable to even look at her. But she took me in her arms and I knew she loved me no matter what. No matter what. And then she all but carried me, a broken boy who had hit rock bottom, back home where my father did the same, where they killed the fatted calf and dressed me in the best robe.

Even as a child I had always felt close to my mother, but that experience changed everything between us, at least in my mind. It has lingered in the back of my head as the prime of example of everything I owe her, everything she has meant to me. I'm terrible at showing it. I don't even know where to begin letting her know how much her support and compassion in that terrible moment means to me. I've come a long way since that broken twenty year old boy, and what few triumphs I've savored and tough decisions I've survived are due to the strength their love has given me. Time and time again I've been forced nervously to put their unconditional love to the test, and they have never failed me.

As an adult, I know my parents aren't perfect and that they never were. I know they made mistakes and fell short, and still do, but to me that makes the things they did right all the more amazing. Like every other parent in the world, they were just two people doing their best for a child they loved more than anything. And while I don't particularly think much of myself, I can't look in the mirror and think anything other than that they did a pretty darn good job.

Happy Mother's Day, mom. You are everything to me, and I'm sorry I didn't get you flowers.