Sunday, November 23, 2014

That's Not My Church, Either

I’ve had a few friends say that watching Cosmos this summer was “like going to church.” That hasn't been my experience. It’s a good show – a really good show – but at the end of an episode, I feel informed, and a little smarter about my place in the universe…but not filled with any transcendent wonder. It feels like school, on those days when school felt like a good place to be.

My church moments are usually live theater – or live music. In theater, it’s often when some connection is made that I haven’t seen before. The end of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, the first time I saw it… that was a church moment for me. Pig Iron Theater Company’s Dig or Fly, a fusing of the stories of Amelia Earhart, archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, and Daedalus and Icarus, was another. Even a production of Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon I saw years ago at Philadelphia Theater Company, a play that reveals itself to be a scorpion halfway through, did the job. And Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia — I saw a production at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia — astonished me. Its staging and subject matter threw the doors of experience open wide. Film can do this, too...but it doesn't hit with the force of something live on stage before me.

Music, I never know where or when it’s going to happen. The first one I remember was watching The Moody Blues, and hearing Justin Hayward sing “Question.” Even from way back on the floor of the Spectrum, I knew that was a special moment. I’ve felt a light drizzle begin as the Who started to sing “Reign O’er Me” at Veterans Stadium, and I’ve seen David Wilcox, undaunted by a storm, scrap his set list and sing song after song about rain, until the set turned a corner into sunshine…about five minutes before the weather did. Hearing Bet Williams unspool “Lost in Provo” at the North Star Bar, or dancing as Neo Pseudo pulsed and jammed their way through “Follow the Drinking Gourd” some Thursday night at Café Mexicana in Manayunk, those moments were church. I was outside myself.

There’s the ecstasy. That’s where I find rapture.

Cosmos is an unusually engaging science program. It offers historical perspective and scientific insight, and presents some fascinating intellectual exercises. But as art, it hasn’t yet moved me. Not the way church should.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Another Creepy Dream

So, here’s a dream - or a series of dreams -- from the other night, when I still had a little cold medicine in my system. Took a DayQuil at 4 or 5, dropped off to sleep around 10, and...

Kathy and I were heading south, for a quick trip to see my family. We stopped the car somewhere on route 1, realizing we’d left our toothbrushes at home. I stopped to get gas, while Kathy took her bike from the rack and rode back to the house to get them. Meanwhile, while my car was gassing up, some people came out of the little building next to the pumps and offered me a chance to sit down and have some Turkey dinner. They were really nice, but obviously faking it. I knew they were sharks, con artists, all of them. One man asked me what kind of maps I had in the car. I told him we had a New Jersey map, and a national map. He said, “We’ll get you a new national map,” in a way that made me think he expected the borders to soon be redrawn, or that there have always been secret borders I wasn’t privy to.

I had a little turkey with them, being careful to pay only in cash for everything. Kathy returned, and we were about to leave, when one of the women of the group stopped me by the driver’s side door and started poking me with her forefinger in the shoulders, right under the shoulder blades. She looked like she was being playful about it, but I kept my hand on my wallet just the same. Didn’t trust them one bit. And as we looked more serious about moving on, I could see a large group of people in the distance, running toward us.

I woke up.

I looked at the clock, checked the alarm. Headed to the toilet and gave it a late-night watering. Then climbed back into bed, and drifted off to sleep.

Kathy and I were back on another road trip, but this time we didn’t get farther than Metuchen when we pulled over. Kathy lit out again (I guess; she wasn’t in the rest of the dream), but I waited for her in a house, talking and having a drink with David Sedaris. We were just casually chatting the the front room of these too-friendly strangers, when I passed him a note: “Do you trust these people?” He wrote back quickly, “Not even a little.”

We made noises that we had to leave, and our hosts, all smiles, implored us to stay for just a little while longer, relax, take a load off. Grinning, with calculating eyes. I took a look outside the house’s screen door, and there, at the intersection at the end of the block, was a crowd of people, slowly milling about, their eyes on the house. I said, “David, we’ve got to go,” and we left the house, our hosts protesting behind us.

As soon as we stepped of the porch, the crowd at the corner broke into a run. I was running for my car, swarmed by these people, their faces angry or in masks, some of them carrying clubs. I had the feeling of being overwhelmed, swept away by a tide of muscle and wood.

I woke again. It was maybe an hour later. I looked out my window, but there was no one in the street. I got up and walked down the hall, looked out that window, too. No one.
I refilled the water in the humidifier in my CPAP system in the dark, and climbed back into bed. As I was drifting off, I saw a tall figure in a witch’s mask emerge from the closet, and I startled awake again.

Nothing more happened that night.