Written on 4-23-2020
Last night I had a nightmare. It didn’t start out as a nightmare. It started out quite beautifully. I was working with a friend at a restaurant he was about to open. It was a beautiful restaurant, built in a lovely old Victorian house with a spectacular patio garden. Lanterns were strung up between the trees, casting a beautiful glow. I was responsible for setting up the tables and chairs, and I had worked out a comical slapstick routine to entertain the customers waiting in line as I did this. It was a “poetry café,” but very upscale with wonderful food and wine. There was a stage for readings, and a bookstore featuring obscure books of poetry. We were having a wonderful time. The chef produced a spectacular meal, and the owner, myself, and a group of close friends sat at a large table eating and chatting and enjoying ourselves as customers slowly began wandering in until the tables were quite full. Exotic jazz from Africa and the Caribbean played through the loudspeakers. A few of the guests were reciting poetry to one another at the various tables. I was dining on huge platters of Chinese style dry-cooked green beans (a favorite delicacy). Suddenly, my friend decided to pour me a glass of wine, forgetting that I am a recovering alcoholic. He poured and my glass overflowed and it spilled on the table, onto my food, and into my lap. I was irritated. Another friend turned to me and said, “He’s trying to hint to you that you are hogging the green beans.” I think, “Some hint!” And suddenly the whole scene changes in tone.
In a second I realize with horror that we have forgotten all about social distancing. We are seated close to one another at the table, talking away, and I am suddenly fearful that we will all sicken and die. All the customers, too, take on the look of walking corpses. It is as if a guest wearing the Mask of the Red Death had suddenly walked in on us. I turn with great anxiety to the chef and tell him, “We must stop this! Right away! Everybody will get sick. The police will come and arrest us all and we’ll die in jail.” He laughs at me and responds in a phony comic French accent like Inspector Clouseau (which I do not find funny): “But it is too absurd. Civilized people must have good food and company. I refuse to capitulate to the gendarme. It is to laugh! We shall have wine! We shall have civilization!”
At that moment a police car drives into the garden, knocking over tables and forcing customers to jump aside. A bunch of cops (they are like Keystone cops) leap out of the car (too many, like a clown car) and begin arresting everybody. I cringe in terror behind a tree.
That’s when I wake up, heart pounding, but with an enormous sense of relief, thinking, “I am alone, after all. I haven’t blown it.”
The relief is, at best, ambivalent.