A further note on Walmart and profound unfunniness ~

I made a Walmart trip tonight. The store is deserted at about 10 p.m., so I’ve been going pretty late. When I checked out, the clerk spun the bag carousel around a couple of times to make sure we had everything loaded in my cart. He had it going pretty fast, and suddenly I had a vision of all the Walmart workers in this totally deserted store at 3 a.m. running up and down, spinning all the bag carousels.

Naturally, I asked the clerk, a middle-aged, not-very-happy-looking man, if they ever did that. He sort of grimaced, and I said, “I gather that would be frowned upon.” He said, “You’d be fired in about a minute.” And then, in a toneless, stoic voice, he said some immortal words: “There is no fun at Walmart.”

So now, writing this, I am envisioning a musical titled “There Is No Fun at Walmart,” and it would include a number where Walmart workers, feeling a momentary, illusory sense of liberation, would go waltzing down the checkout lines spinning the bag carousels and singing a song celebrating freedom.

This could be a thing. It really could be done, by someone who knows how to write a musical—a previously anonymous, toiling-in-the-trenches Chinese or Guatemalan composer, say—and you could pay your actors minimum wage so that you could sell tickets at low, low prices, and it could be a hit.

Maybe you could even do it in such a way that Walmart couldn’t sue you for millions.

But I doubt it.

___________________

*On further reflection, the number itself would be called “There Is No Fun at Walmart/Carousel Bagatelle.” The musical, for purposes of satire and a better title, would be called “Thank You for Shopping at Walmart!” The first number would, of course, be “The Greeter’s Song,” or possibly “The Greeter’s Lament.” You see, I’m actually thinking about this.

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Brake lathe ~

Brake Lathe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently put together a small book of photographs I took some years ago at Gator Automotive’s old facility in Carbondale. The book was for co-owner Karen G., one of my best friends. This photo of a brake lathe couldn’t be sharpened enough, so I applied a watercolor filter and liked the effect. Every once in a while I can save a photo that way (usually it doesn’t work). The next few posts will be Gator photographs.

Please stand by ~

To Higher-Ups:

The Technical Team has noted serious technical difficulties with Blog entitled “Vapor and Flow,” with no forward (or backward) movement observed since mid-January. Blog is currently parked in the Driver’s front yard, where it seems to be accumulating trash. Driver has not yet had it put up on blocks, but Technical Team is on alert.

Team suspects a problem with the fuel injection system, though without hands-on investigation it is impossible to tell whether the gasoline tank might simply be empty. Team had noted some juddering of the steering wheel, accompanied by slightly erratic driving, in December and early January, indicating the need for immediate tire rotation and rebalancing. In addition, tires should be checked for wear. Driver has done none of this.

Driver herself, rather than repairing the Blog or addressing various ethical quandaries in her life at the moment, has become obsessed with the dog urine stains in her carpeting and the possibility of replacing the carpeting with something that can simply be hosed down. She daily repeats a monologue that always begins the same way (“I can’t stand this! What am I going to DO?”) and ends the same way (“But how would they move the piano?”). Technical Team estimates that said piano, a tall, ancient upright, weighs slightly more than a Volkswagen Beetle, flower holder included. Unlike a Beetle, the piano would probably not float, although Team finds this an intriguing question and would very much like to be notified of the results of any experiments along these lines. LOL.

Excuse us, that was unprofessional on our part. To continue, Driver also appears obsessed with a new personal best in Scrabble: her highest-ever non-bingo word score (GAZEBO, 84 points). While interesting numerically, this is judged by Team to be a rather trivial achievement in the grand scheme of things and recommends that Driver should just Get Over It.

Excuse us, please ignore editorial comment. Finally, Technical Team notes that on multiple occasions recently Driver has stated that she “dodged a bullet” because the voice student portion of a recent music recital was cancelled. This comment has been flagged for further analysis, but Team can only assume that someone slated to attend said recital was prepared to use firearms in the event of Driver singing. Team has insufficient information to gauge (pun! LOL) the appropriateness of the posited firearm use.

Excuse us again; Technical Team is fatigued and too easily amused. Team judges that Driver is currently earning A’s in Reading and Scrabble (quantity only), D’s in Physical Therapy and Caregiving, and F’s in Voice Lessons (lack of practice), Problem Resolution (dithering), Diet Remediation (inaction), Photography (inaction), and Blog Repair (inaction and negligence). Given this poor functioning, Driver’s hair looks better than might be expected, although Team is not well trained in assessing such matters.

In conclusion, Technical Team advises continued close monitoring of Blog and Driver, with future updates as necessary.

—Submitted February 23, 2014, ungodly hour of the morning
(Technical Team wishes to note that it has worked overtime on this report and would like to be duly compensated. Thank you.)

Steve ~

Note: This is a very long post, but for me it is a necessary tribute and a necessary corollary to an earlier post. A handful of Facebook friends will have read parts of this essay on the FB memorial page I set up for Steve.

In my post Into the Confessional I talked about the death of my second husband from alcoholism and my responsibility for his death. But “alcoholic” carries such profoundly negative connotations that it obscures the person who suffers from the disease. I would hate for anyone to think “Steve = alcoholic.” He was smart, funny, creative, nice—and a true original who had more peccadillos than an armadillo (one of our favorite animals). I’ve never known anyone like him.

Steve was the type of person who always stopped for road-crossing turtles and moved them where they were going, no matter how much peril this entailed for our own car. He loved animals, all animals. In his last few years he became a vegetarian, a choice that perplexed his parents and took them about three years to accept. He had a multi-volume animal encyclopedia that he often browsed through, and he’d frequently show me a picture of something like a naked mole rat or a fennec and insist, “I need one!” I liked the animals he showed me too, but I had to tell him no, which made him pout.

Steve, age 32

Steve, age 32

In the early 1980s Steve co-managed a used-record store in St. Louis and then one here in Carbondale. He was an expert on rock, jazz, and avant-garde classical music in particular. As a young man, he worked for a time as a janitor; with a St. Louis friend, he recorded three albums under the name The Janitors. He came to believe that Bach’s cantatas were the most sublime music ever written, but he also loved the Beatles with almost equal passion.

Most people seemed to recognize right away that Steve was a good-hearted person. Here was one act of generosity: Once when he was at the vet’s with our dog Sammy, a young client discovered she had no money to pay her bill. Steve offered to cover the charges. Our vet didn’t let him, but she often speaks of that gesture. On the other hand, Steve was capable of crimes against humanity, or at least music browsers. He was fond of telling me about the time at the St. Louis record store when he played Yoko Ono’s screechiest LP at top volume for 12 hours straight. Apparently not too many people browsed the bins on that day. It’s a wonder the store stayed in business, but it did well with Steve in charge.

Taken together, these two anecdotes epitomize the fact that Steve was a paradox. He was kind to people, yet he generally didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought about his actions. Nor did he mind making people feel uncomfortable or even driving them temporarily insane. In music, he had a tremendous capacity for loudness, dissonance, and the avant-garde. In his personal life, it was just the opposite. The modern world was too “noisy” for him—too many aggravations, impediments, hassles, and impositions for him to easily endure. He frequently said that he was born a few centuries too late.

He could never have been married to a normal, talkative, high-energy person. Whenever I became somewhat animated or enthusiastic in conversation, he accused me of “fizzing and popping.” I’m not sure if I ever pointed out that many of his LPs consisted largely of fizzing and popping, but he knew there were certain ones that he could play at top volume only when I was out of the house. These LPs stressed me out, but Steve enjoyed them and I think they helped him cope with stress.

Steve also used The Weather Channel as a calming agent—this in the days before the endless sensationalistic series it now favors. Often The Weather Channel was on at our house for hours, yet neither of us ever seemed to know the forecast. One morning we blearily watched the “Local on the 8s,” then looked at each other and said in unison, “Did you catch that?”

Steve was not materialistic. He bought used books and used records and little else. Eventually he did start amassing a CD collection, which burgeoned when he began an endeavor to Acquire Every Bach Cantata Ever Recorded (more than 200 are extant). He meticulously kept track of this project on sheets of graph paper. After his death I kept the papers, but let most of the CDs go. The sheer number—more than 80—was just too overwhelming to deal with in the midst of the hundreds of other CDs, LPs, and tapes he owned.

Steve liked the fact that he was born on the same date that Shakespeare was (probably) born. April 23 also is World Book Day, which seems appropriate. Steve loved books. He used to buy arcane, ratty old paperbacks—nonfiction, usually on history, philosophy, or art—for a quarter or so at the library book sales. If he spent more than a quarter, you knew it was something that he really wanted. Kurt Vonnegut was the major exception to this thriftiness. Steve would spring for a hardback when a new Vonnegut book came out, if I hadn’t already given it to him for a present.

Steve, age 48

Steve, age 48

Some other people and things that Steve liked: Bertrand Russell, Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Star Trek, Nick Drake, Eric Dolphy, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Jan Garbarek, Glenn Gould, chopped garlic slathered on thin-crust pizza, Sriracha Rooster hot sauce, desert boots (remember those?), black T-shirts, Asian paintings, African sculpture and masks, found objects used as art objects (I’ve kept a small green sewer lid he found before we were married), “Barney Miller,” “The Andy Griffith Show” (and its theme song, which he recorded onto a tape loop), Woody Allen, independent and foreign films, really bad movies (he called these “Liberty” movies, after the decrepit Liberty Theater in a nearby town, which showed mostly really bad movies for a dollar admission), “High Plains Drifter,” Sophia Loren, Heath Bar Blizzards, pocket watches instead of wristwatches, minimalism in almost every area of life, porches, trees (he couldn’t bear to see a tree cut down), and National Geographic, especially the maps they sometimes included.

A born nature lover, Steve had his happiest times during high school and college when he and his friend Perry hiked all over southeast Missouri and southern Illinois. Certainly Steve and I had our best days during vacation trips. I loved showing him places that were close to my heart from family vacations, but even better was traveling where neither of us had been before—like Craters of the Moon National Park, in Idaho, or New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Scenic Highway in the fall. Steve’s favorite states were Maine and New Mexico, along with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The remoteness was part of their appeal, I think. Had we ever made it to Alaska, I’m not sure I would have gotten him back to southern Illinois.

Fully half of Steve’s utterances to me came from other sources. Many of his favorite expressions were used by a subset of guys his age who were smart, deeply weird, and lovers of Monty Python and early Saturday Night Live. Some expressions were Steve’s own, and some I never have found sources for. Whenever I’m talking with someone, Steve-isms constantly fly out of my mouth, as if I’m channeling him. Here are just a few of the things that I heard a lot:

  • “Well, I can go to bed now, I learned something today.”
  • “I wasn’t expecting a sort of Spanish Inquisition!”
  • “Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!”
  • “Evil, wicked, mean, and nasty.”
  • “42” (said to me with infuriating frequency whenever I asked him a question; Google it if necessary)
  • “Make up your feeble mind.”
  • “My hovercraft is full of eels.”
  • “The wrong side of town” (i.e., anything across the railroad tracks from our house, since that meant he could be caught by a train when running an errand there)
  • “Brrrr cold rays!” (when it was cold outside)
  • “I win!” (the sum total, start to finish, of Steve’s favorite game was simply to say “I win!”)

One original expression of Steve’s that I found hilarious was the time he referred to dog food as “proto-poop.” (Perhaps you had to be there.) Another time our neighborhood association was discussing the party noise coming from a rental house and Steve said to a friend of ours, “Maybe we could burn a boogie deck on their front lawn.” That still makes me laugh.

A quotation often directed at me was “Are you talking Pig Latin? What do all of those words mean?” (from the Dilbert cartoon in which Dogbert is answering the phone at a call center). Any number of circumstances could trigger that one. A saying that I came up with myself (to the best of my knowledge) was “I don’t have to talk to you and I don’t have to not talk to you.” Steve adopted this one immediately and later attempted to claim authorship of it. He was also very much into saying that he was going to copyright the word “the” so that he’d be rich and wouldn’t have to work anymore.

I miss all of this nonsense tremendously. Steve kept his private thoughts just that—private—so to a large extent these and a hundred other like expressions WERE Steve for me.

Academically, Steve was a psychology and philosophy double-major, and he was a special fan of Greek philosophy. This nearly crippled our marriage. One of the most exasperating things about Steve was that I couldn’t get him to discuss problems or to work through fights. Such “conversations” quickly derailed, with Steve heading one way, making intense, incomprehensible statements about Plato, while I headed another, usually trying to persuade him that he needed to take more initiative about things.

Steve’s tragedy was that he didn’t know what to do with his life. He could have been almost anything he wanted to be. Instead, as a master’s student, he racked up what probably still stands as the highest number of incompletes in the history of SIU’s philosophy department. So he worked as a secretary (a high-stress job, as anyone who’s ever been a secretary knows). When he hyperventilated on the way home from work one day, I suggested that he take a year off work and paint, which is what he really liked to do.

He knew a great deal about art, and though few people saw his work, he was an excellent painter of abstract compositions. So he quit work, painted a great deal, and eventually submitted some slides to a top Chicago gallery. Unfortunately, this was equivalent to a writer shooting for publication in The New Yorker right off the bat. He was rejected, but the gallery owner wrote him a note saying that he found the paintings interesting and to let him know if Steve was going to be showing his work in the Chicago area.

This outcome was kind of like winning second prize in the lottery: not what you’d hoped for, but pretty damn good. I knew this from my days of sending out poetry manuscripts to little journals (not The New Yorker), and I told Steve he had netted quite a compliment. But Steve never sent slides to a gallery again. When I began entering photographs in juried art shows in the region, I encouraged him to do the same. You need to build up a résumé to approach major galleries, I told him. No dice. Rejection, I think, just felt too risky to Steve, and it was easy for him to get his back up—especially when he knew his work was good.

And it was good. I still have two big Hollinger boxes full of Steve’s paintings (his medium was undiluted watercolor on paper). His parents took what I call the Rorschach approach to abstract art. Confronted with one of Steve’s paintings, they complimented it but would try their hardest to find something in it that resembled a real-world scene or object. In her mid-70s, Steve’s mom took a watercolor class and quickly showed a lot of talent at representational painting. So a few years after Steve and his dad died (both in 2008), I hauled the Hollinger boxes down to her and let her choose any paintings she wanted to keep. She may not like abstract art very much, but on some level she gets it. Damned if she didn’t pick some of the very best ones.

Steve, age 49

Steve, age 49

A much better cook than I was, Steve made great omelets and an excellent chunky marinara sauce with green peppers, mushrooms, and onions. But some things eluded him. He made several attempts at homemade pizza, but the crust never came out right. One Christmas his parents gave him a bread machine, which led to a couple of near-disasters, which led to the giving-away of the bread machine. And as many times as he tried, his homemade hummus never tasted like the kind in restaurants. But most of what he made was delicious.

Steve was less attentive to his appearance than just about anyone I’ve ever met. When his parents expressed their disapproval (“Why don’t you take some pride in how you look?”), he reminded them of what the Bible had to say about pride. (He was an atheist, but couldn’t bring himself to tell his Southern Baptist parents.) Steve felt he was unattractive—I never could convince him otherwise—and I think he just trained himself not to care. In the profile picture I posted on his Facebook memorial page (see above), his beard is neatly trimmed, but in the early years of our marriage it was long, skimpy, and scraggly, so that he looked a bit like an underfed Scots-Amish farmer.

The profile picture also shows Steve’s beloved hemp hat. He found these hats at the Neighborhood Co-op, and I bought one too. He loved this hat so much, he would have slept in it if he could have. He wore his winter and summer, outdoors and indoors, day and night, virtually 24/7, for years, until the sweat stains made it look as if he’d spit tobacco juice over the whole thing. Then holes developed where the brim attached. Finally even I couldn’t stand it, and I gave him my own hat, which I seldom used (too warm). He wore it sometimes but frequently reverted back to the Hat From Hell. The hat made Steve instantly recognizable on campus and in Carbondale generally.

On the rare occasions nowadays when I see a tall, thin guy wearing a similar kind of hat, my heart stops momentarily. I’m thinking it always will.

It takes a village ~

I don’t know about raising children, since I haven’t had any. My family was so insular, I don’t think I had a village growing up, unless you count my teachers and my pediatrician.

But I do know this: It takes a village to sustain a late-middle-aged, debilitated, single homeowner who’s clueless about fixing things. My village comprises a great many support people, by whom I mean people that I pay to help me keep my life in order.

All of us lucky enough to live above the poverty line have some people, of course. We have doctors and dentists. Some of us have shrinks and even more of us have therapists. Most of us have car mechanics and hairdressers or barbers.

Oh, for the simple life. The other day someone knocked on the door. It turned out to be My Realtor, bearing a beautiful large poinsettia. She sold my last house and helped me buy this one. Neither transaction was big enough to warrant the poinsettia, but I’m guessing realtors in this town are having a tough time as university enrollment keeps going down. I’d long ago decided that if I ever sell this house I plan to use her again. So, astonishingly, I have a realtor.

I also have a housekeeper. Probably hundreds of people around here have housekeepers, but most of them work or are over 70. I’m just weak. So when I have to refer to this person in conversation, you’d think I had a chicken bone stuck in my throat. How it comes up in conversation when I find myself in so few conversational situations is a mystery, yet it does. Often I find myself referring to T. as “the woman who cleans my house for a couple of hours every other week,” which is an awfully long ride on the merry-go-round. Yet to call her My Housekeeper sounds so…possessive. So elitist. So needy.

That’s not all. There’s also My Lawn Guy (who doubles as My Gutter-Cleaning Guy), My Tree Guy, My Garage Door Guy, My Handyman, My Electrician, and My Piano Tuner. The last three would have no idea that I consider them in this vein, since it’s been two or three years since I called any of them. But I intend to use them again, so there you go. I recently acquired My Carpet Cleaner (a man, not a machine) and My Snow-Shoveling Duo (a young man and woman much friendlier than the tough-looking guys in scruffy pickups who usually drive in from the country to shovel driveways after a snowfall).

Then there’s My Roofer. He has probably repressed the memory of me and my last house, which developed a series of bizarre leakage and mold problems that required patches, eventual re-roofing, a ridge vent, and a specially designed series of vents around the chimney. (I will write about this house someday when I’m sure I can hang on to my emotional equilibrium. I’ve referred to it elsewhere in this blog as the house that hated me.)

When I was working, I had My Massage Therapist (who was also my friend and a former co-worker). For well over a decade he kept me able to work despite painful tendinitis in my wrists and elbows. Eventually he talked me into acquiring My Rolfer, who also helped a great deal. But My Massage Therapist abandoned me to head the local community college’s massage therapy program, and after I quit work I could no longer afford My Rolfer. For three weeks last year I had My Personal Trainer, until I realized that he was going to kill me. Not on purpose, but still. It turned out that I was already too debilitated for My Personal Trainer’s lowest level of assistance. So far I’ve avoided needing My Caregiver, but I figure that’s next unless I can be my own personal trainer.

I have no need for an accountant, but I like My Lawyer, although I don’t like her law firm’s fees very much. Soon I may gain My Financial Consultant, whom I hope I won’t have to consult very often. Once would be enough, really. I can’t see the fabled one percent through a telescope from where I sit, but because I had to retire early and because my sister is disabled, I need to be fiscally prudent.

I even have people for after I die: My Funeral Home. Last summer I was getting things in order so that my death would cause my sister as little burden as possible. I’ve been terrified of death since I was a little girl, so when I decided to move on this, I did it fast. Within the space of an hour, I realized that I needed a “pre-needs” contract, called the funeral home, found that I could meet with them immediately to set up a contract, did just that, and returned. It may have been the fastest pre-needs transaction in the funeral director’s experience.

It was one of those days when I’m always on the verge of tears, and on such days I usually behave strangely. More strangely than usual, that is. I kept stressing that I needed a contract immediately. The assistant, a skinny, prematurely wrinkled woman with jet-black hair and several layers of makeup (practice?), summoned the funeral director, to whom I again stressed the urgency of the situation. They seemed surprised that someone so young wanted a contract. I knew I just wanted (pardon the language) a bare-bones agreement, no service, no urn. A fast reader, I blazed through the cremation contract, had them make a couple of changes, thrust a check at them, gave them my prewritten obit, and made sure my sister wouldn’t have to do anything.

As the assistant guided me through the labyrinth of rooms to the front door, the tears started in earnest. She asked if I was all right. For some reason I cannot train myself to simply answer this question with “Yes” or “I’m fine.” I seem to have a sort of hyper-honesty genetic mutation that results in some unfortunate, peculiar, or embarrassing answers. “I’m not well,” I said stiffly, and made a break for my car, undoubtedly leaving the woman convinced that I had a terminal illness and that they’d be firing up the furnace any day.

So I’m pretty well covered. I feel bad that I’m so incompetent and that my village is so big. On the other hand, it is pleasingly amiable and few of its members get called upon very often. I comfort myself with the thought that there’s an entire ritzy support tier that I’ll never have to have, nor could I afford. I don’t have a gardener (or a garden), a pool guy (or a pool), or a horse boarder (or a horse). I don’t have a chauffeur, an interior decorator, a party planner, a social secretary, or a chef (I need one). Although my friends may regret it when they see how I’m dressed, I don’t have, god forbid, a personal shopper.

And I don’t have, I’m happy to say, a ghostwriter. For better or worse, where this blog is concerned it’s just me on the loose taking a walk outside my village.

Working forever for free, or Why I’m so tired, part 2 ~

Talking about dreams is a chancy enterprise. Armchair dream analysts are a dime a dozen. I’ve always had lots of repeating dream motifs, like tornado dreams (relatively common, I’ve found), sliding-off-the-top-of-the-Gateway-Arch dreams (this motif from my childhood seems to be an original), and so forth. But who wants to unwittingly reveal something embarrassing, like the fact that they have the “teeth dream” motif? (Oddly, to my knowledge I’ve never experienced this. When I read what all the variants supposedly mean—see http://www.dreamdictionary.org/common/teeth-dreams—I’m surprised I don’t have this dream running like a tape loop in my head every night.)

So I figure it’s always dangerous to write about dreams. But people tell me to take more chances in life. And I do have a problem.

I worked as a writer, graphic designer, and webmaster for a research university. Since my early retirement in 2009, I have dreamed about work in some manner every night. Let me put that the way someone half my age would: Every. Single. Night.

One nightmare that, thankfully, doesn’t recur too often, and that long preceded my retirement, is the one in which the printer delivers a seriously flawed publication. In most cases I start paging through a sample copy and realize that I don’t recognize any of the material. Sometimes the material actually changes as I peruse it, becoming more and more unfamiliar and bizarre.

Given the inevitable problems with printers, this nightmare is pretty rational. In real life, I was once looking at a sample copy of our research magazine only to find that the ink had largely washed off one of the spreads. Another time I was paging through a copy delivered to my home, flipped by an illustration of a fish, and then a few pages later flipped by an illustration of the same fish. Wait. What? WHAT?! Indeed, the copy had one missing signature and one repeated signature. Because the campus’s mailing center got its shipment from Central Receiving before my office got ours, and because they had been exceptionally efficient, hundreds of copies had been mailed out before I had seen one. I spent a sleepless night not knowing if EVERY SINGLE COPY was screwed up. (Sleuthing later revealed that perhaps only a couple of hundred copies were, but those included copies delivered to legislators’ offices.)

If I had this dream every night I’d surely be in a mental institution by now. Fortunately, I only have it on occasion.

But back to retirement. Initially, for two years or so, I had dreams in which getting to my office was a labyrinthine exercise. Older readers will probably remember the overturned-ship disaster movie “The Poseidon Adventure,” where the floors became the ceilings and survivors had to negotiate upside-down staircases and improvised passageways. A great many of the dreams were like that.

Or I would find the office only to see that it was completely renovated in a confusing way. Or that my office had been moved to a bizarre place. Or that we had hired new people working in a far-off corridor whom I never saw and whose names I never learned. Each one of these motifs, plus a few others, made dozens of nightly appearances.

But the one that’s troubling my sleep the most over the past year or two is this: I’ve continued to work voluntarily, without pay, and I can’t stop because the research magazine is not quite done. It’s almost done—just a few more design editing changes to make—but I can’t get in touch with the designer. (In my job I did a multitude of publications and websites, most of which I designed myself. But in my dreams the reason for staying at work is always the research magazine, which took pride of place in real life and required collaboration with an honest-to-god, truly good designer.)

Until recently in these dreams I had worked voluntarily for a year or so, something that even my boss didn’t seem to recall. Lately—alarmingly—the time has increased to two years or even more. Sometimes my dream self wonders in a panic how I’m supposed to make a living when I’m not getting paid. Sometimes I wonder if I should lobby for a way to get paid retroactively, but I know this is impossible. Sometimes I remember that I can walk out the door any time I want without repercussions, because I’m not employed. But I always come back.

Clearly I feel I’ve lost my identity without my job. Clearly I feel I’m still needed. In fact, the publications portfolio I’d built up over the course of 20 years was largely dismantled after I left, and the research magazine is no more—ripe grounds for a sense of futility. You’d think that, since I understand what the dream means, it would stop. But no. Last night I had been working voluntarily for almost three years.

How long am I going to be slaving away when I’m supposed to be sleeping? I’ve done it for two years already. I’m 55; let’s suppose I make it to 60. Must I endure this dream 1,800 more times? Will it eventually reduce in frequency, like the others have? And if so, will something even more nightmarish come to the fore?

I can hear the advice most people would give: I should get myself to a shrink as soon as possible and exorcise this demon.

It would have to be pro bono, though. After all, I haven’t gotten paid for quite some time.