“It’s a dream…you can do anything you want in here.” -Tommy Ray Glatman

I was having a strange dream that I was on an airplane flying back to SFO from the east coast. I’ve had dreams before where I was on a plane so that wasn’t what made it strange. Rather, it was that in this dream, I was asleep and dreaming that I was somewhere else.

Fortunately, I was awake in that dream within a dream. It would have too weird otherwise, especially if this went on and on with no end in sight, turning my psyche into Russian dolls of states of consciousness. Two levels deep was about all I could handle.

In this second dream, I was hiding under a bunk in some kind of wooden structure. I figured I was in the tropics because I could hear jungle sounds outside the window. I think they were birds, but I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that they had the familiar sound of jungle-wildlife sound effects you hear in movies.

I had not been awake for long. Thankfully, there was no memory of what I might have been dreaming. I must’ve drifted off while hiding, but wasn’t sure what I had been hiding from. There was something out there, that much I knew, and whatever it was wished to do me harm.

Perhaps I’d been hiding long enough and the danger was gone. The jungle sounds were reassuring because whatever the menace was, I sensed it was human.

I crawled out from under the bunk and exited the building. Outside, the ground was littered with dead bodies. There were hundreds of them. There was no bloodshed, no signs of violence at all. It looked like they all just lay down and died. Many held plastic cups in their lifeless hands.

I realized then that I was in Jonestown, and from the looks of things, I had just missed the party. I followed a wooden walkway toward the main tent in the middle of the compound. I knew that Jim Jones would be there, a bullet in his head delivered by one of his faithful. I found myself wanting to see him like that as if his death would somehow bring closure to all this.

I stared down at the dead bodies as I walked along the path. Some of them were old, some young, and some were mere children. I know that a child’s death is supposed to be more tragic, but they were all the same to me. I felt a little sorry for them, but glad I had been spared their fate.

There was one exception.  A young woman I thought I recognized lay in a bare patch of dirt next to the walkway. Perhaps I knew her from somewhere, but she also looked somewhat like the female lead from Brazil with a bit of the adult Christina Crawford from Mommie Dearest thrown in. Most people don’t matter much to me, but friends and movie stars do. I felt genuinely sad.

I heard human voices. I wasn’t sure where they were coming from. I suspected they were part of Jones’ inner circle, wrapping up loose ends before they drank the poison punch themselves. Being still alive, I qualified as a loose end.

Escape was out of the question. It might have been possible in the waking world, but dreams have their own rules, their own certainties. If I made a run for it, I would run right into them. If I stayed put, I they would find me eventually.

All was hopeless though I did have enough time to have sex with this dead woman. I’ve never had much interest in diddling a corpse, asleep or awake, but I felt it was the proper thing to do. After all, I was in a cult so by definition my rights had been taken away from me. Soon even the right to continue living would be gone. Before that happened, I deserved a little me time.

But what about her rights? I’m not a monster so I knew I should at consider them before I hiked up the hem of her peasant dress and started going to town.

Could a dead person consent? If you bought into the notion that consent was something that needed to be confirmed and not implied as is the case with field-sobriety tests, the answer was no. On the other hand, the cup in her loosened grasp was strong evidence that she consented to dying and consent of that magnitude would surely have some overflow.

She was also hot. It was froth-around-the-mouth hot, but hot nonetheless. I still had to say something to make my case though. Not to her, of course. She was not listening. Even to me, it would be a hard go. I knew whatever I said would not hold up to scrutiny so I decided to sidestep the issue and rely on levity instead.

“Ain’t nothing as willing as a girl who’s been punched,” I said.

As soon as the words left my mouth, the most amazing thing happened. I was not in a nightmare. The dream had somehow been transformed into a sexy-time story.

Words formed above me. I could not read the words because you don’t actually read in dreams, but I knew what the words were and I also knew that they were the title of the story in this dream. They were: “Kool Laid.”

My eyes opened and I was once again on the airplane. I was glad to be away from Jonestown, but also a little ashamed of myself. Not for my rapey necrophilia. We are all psychopaths in our own subconscious. No, the problem was with the story title. I knew that Jones’ followers drank Flavor Aid. Couldn’t I come up with anything both amusing and with a factually accurate reference?

No matter, maybe this dream would be more relaxing. Air travel is boring, but there’s no stress to speak of once you’ve made your flight. I figured I’d enjoy an in-flight move and a few in-flight cocktails. Pay for them with my dream credit card and wouldn’t owe a thing once I woke up. What could go wrong?

“Allahu akbar,” said the man with box cutter guarding the door to the cockpit.

Oh hell no.

I looked around the cabin. There weren’t many other passengers, maybe 40 or so. A couple of people lay dead on the floor. Many others sat in their seats petrified with fear or praying to some god who appeared not to give a shit. A few were hunkered down and called loved ones on their flip phones. I overheard “Twin Towers” and “Pentagon” in their conversations. Yep, I was on Flight 93.

There were a few guys huddled around a drink cart. They beckoned me to join them, but I wanted no part of it. I knew what they were planning and I also knew how it would play out.

I turned and headed toward the rear of the aircraft. Though the same fate awaited everyone on board, those farthest back would have it happen to them last. Relocating would not buy me a lot of extra time, only a fraction of a second. It might not even be a noticeable difference, but I didn’t care. I wanted as much lifespan as I could take, no matter how small.

A flight attendant was in the back seat, her knees pulled up to her chest. I recognized her immediately. She was the same woman who caught my eye in Jonestown. I preferred this version of her. This uniform was more flattering than that peasant dress. She was also more attractive here because she was not dead.

Maybe this one would be up for sex. Consent was still not something to be assumed, but at least a living human being was capable of giving it. Unfortunately, she did not appear to be in the mood. Her eyes stared blankly ahead. Her lips silently mouthed words I could not decipher. Poor dear, all this hijacking and terror must have traumatized her.

Maybe some dick would get her mind right. Or not. There was probably no harm in suggesting it and certainly no lasting harm because very soon, this airplane was going to do an impression of a lawn dart in the middle of Pennsylvania and kill us all.

There was no point in being suave about it either because there never is. You can polish your approach all you want and it won’t change her mind. She’ll dig you or she won’t. That’s something the incel dipshits will never understand. They cannot grasp that her choice of partner only needs to make sense to her and sometimes not even that.

That said, I found myself more interested in the proposition than in the sex itself. She had veto power over my actions, but not my words and the ones that came into my head were perfect. They riffed on a phrase uttered by a drink-cart hero, transmitted through a cellphone, and used to both galvanize a nation and inspire Neil Young to write the worst song of his entire career.

“Let’s roll…in the hay,” I said.

Just like Jonestown, words appeared above my head. “Nine E-Lovin’,” was the title of this dream’s story and as was the case before, the title ended the dream.

I woke up thankful I was lying in my own bed. Something seemed off though. The bedroom seemed smaller than it should. Also, the house isn’t usually on fire.

I leapt out of bed and ran out the door. Looking around, it wasn’t just my place that was on fire. The other mobile homes were ablaze as well. Apparently, I was living in a trailer park now. Why couldn’t I dream about being some place nice?

At least it wasn’t one of those dreams where I show up to work naked. I wasn’t wearing much because I didn’t have time to dress, but at least my naughty bits were shielded from public view by my Old Glory boxer shorts. Flag burning usually doesn’t bother me, but it was a different matter when it was an article of clothing I wore. I headed toward the street to put more distance between myself and the flames. That didn’t work because everything around me was on fire.

A pickup truck came barreling down the road toward me. It screeched to a halt beside me and the door swung open.

“Get in,” called a woman’s voice. It was that woman. She was in a park ranger’s uniform now and neither dead nor incapacitated by fear. I liked this incarnation of her most of all, mostly because she was intent on saving my flag-clad ass. I climbed into the truck and off we went.

“Didn’t you get the evacuation notice?” she said.

“I must’ve been asleep.”

“You’re lucky to be alive. I’m taking you down to a shelter down in Oroville. They’ll have a bed and some clothes for you.”

There was a wall of fire rising up on both sides of the road. My rescuer stomped the gas pedal and we raced forward, trying to outrun the flames that threatened to consume us.

We did not make it far. All four tires blew out from the heat and we were dead in our tracks. With flames in all directions, there was no chance we could make it out on foot.

“Fuck,” the woman said, slamming her fist on the dashboard.

She may had just run out of options, but I had not.

“I can think of something else that would be hot,” I said.

From past experience, I thought that cheesy come on would have been my ticket out of there. Instead, all it got me was a confused look from the woman in the driver’s seat.

“Care for some hunka hunka burnin’ love?” I said, upping my game.

“What the hell are you talking about?” she said.

“Hang on, give me a sec. I’ll have an awesome line for you.”

“And how is that supposed to help us?”

“It isn’t us that I’m concerned about,” I said and followed up with “Thanks for the ride and speaking of rides, wanna be my pony I call Wildfire?”

That did the trick. The words “Paradise Lust” appeared above us and I felt myself being spirited away. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to the woman, but I somehow knew I would be seeing her again.

Chinga Las Vegas

From the air, the landscape surrounding Las Vegas looks a lot like Mars. To be more exact, it looks a lot like what I can remember from the 1980 TV-miniseries adaption of The Martian Chronicles, which also had Rock Hudson and a disco soundtrack. These two elements were of course missing from the southern Nevada terrain, but a similar desolation was there.

Becca and I were flying Frontier, an airline on the cutting edge of the industry’s trend of reducing amenities. The seats felt like they were acquired secondhand from hospital waiting rooms. They did not recline, which was bad in itself, but the FAA-mandated spiel about returning them to their upright positions added insult to injury.

We decided to take a shuttle from the airport to our hotel downtown. On our last trip in 2015, we took a taxi and got a driver who treated us to a circuitous route that put 10 extra bucks on the meter. This time we knew better.

Or so we thought. The vehicle and driver were both fine. The problem was the other passengers. There were a lot of them and they were all going to get dropped off before we were.

If you want to get downtown in a reasonable amount of time, you get on the freeway and avoid the Strip entirely. Of course, that doesn’t work if you have to take people to a bunch of destinations on the Strip beforehand. For close to an hour, the bus weaved its way through a warren of connected parking garages and the snarled traffic on and around the Strip.

To make matters worse, one passenger kept bothering the driver, asking him to recommend a good bar (he said he didn’t drink) and restaurant (he mumbled something noncommittal). She then turned to her friend and talked about how she was here to celebrate her 30th and wanted to make it a weekend to remember. Her friend no doubt knew all this, which probably explains why the words were delivered at a sufficient volume so everyone else in the van knew about it as well. I didn’t care about her birthday plans, but I was curious how she managed to last three decades without being murdered for the common good.

Becca and I had broken a promise to each other by even being here. After our 2015 trip, we mutually concluded “fuck this place” and vowed not to return for at least five years. Not returning for the rest of our lives was also an option.

We found ourselves having a good reason to break that promise. Our dear friend had gotten engaged to a wonderful guy and the two decided to get hitched at the Elvis chapel in Vegas. Since our high opinion of the couple outweighed our disdain for the city where the wedding would take place, we decided to attend.

Being there for a reason made the place a little more tolerable and we were able to relax and enjoy ourselves to some degree. Sure, the streets and casinos were packed with douchebags who spoke in monosyllables and reeked of Axe Body Spray, but we were on a mission to help our friends celebrate the beginning of their life together.

We were also there to get drunk. Neither Becca nor I have any interest in gambling, but we do like to drink. Las Vegas has an endless supply of booze if you’re willing to pay inflated prices in bars that have piss-elegant ambience and are staffed with silicone cyborgs.

After some back-and-forth messaging and miscommunication, we met up with our friends at one of the bars in the Golden Nugget for a little socializing before the wedding the next day. They had family and friends in tow. The bride was pleased we could all be there though a little embarrassed as if she felt unworthy of all the attention. At first, I thought she was drunk. Then I remembered that this was just how she is. I was tempted to say, “You deserve every good thing that comes your way. Now shut the fuck up and drink.” It was probably a good thing I didn’t, what with her mom standing right next to her and all.

After stopping by a dinner buffet for decent chocolate cake and mediocre everything else, we called it an evening. Becca and I walked back to our hotel, the El Cortez.

“I wonder what a tez is,” I said to her. “And why it is an alternative to elk.”

“Bitch,” she said.

I woke up the next morning hung over and dehydrated.  Vegas tap water doesn’t taste great, but I should have forced myself to drink some regardless. More sleep would do me good and had plenty of time after breakfast to work in a nap before the wedding. Becca was not yet awake. I grabbed my phone from the bedside table to see if the world was as awful as the last time I checked.

It was worse. Eleven people had been killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The photograph of the suspect showed a man with uninquisitive eyes and John Wayne Gacy-esque pudge. Like a lot of anti-Semites, he probably sucked at life and took comfort in scapegoating others for his own shortcomings. Most of his ilk are content to be misinformed and unpleasant. The more virulent engage in acts of vandalism. He felt the need to do murder.

It was the kind of act that most of us should and do condemn, but the effect is not the same across the board. It is one thing to deplore brutality and quite another to deplore it and worry that you could be next.

I’m a gentile so anti-Semitic violence is not something that poses a personal threat. The closest thing to one occurred in Cape Town back in 1999. Like this weekend, I was there for a wedding. The bride had recently converted to Judaism and I attended a ceremony to welcome her into the community a few days prior to the wedding itself. After it was over, a bunch of us gathered outside to shoot the shit before getting on with the rest of our day. PAGAD was up to its nasty tricks at the time so someone came out and asked us to socialize inside because a synagogue had been firebombed a week before. Since none of us wanted to get hit in the head with a Molotov, we readily complied.

I’ve told that story to a lot of people over the years for the same reason I told people about the British soldier in the troop carrier in Belfast pointing a machine gun at me. It’s world-traveler bravado of the best kind because in neither case was any bravery required. The danger was as hypothetical as it was temporary.

There was a near-zero chance anyone would be firebombing the wedding that afternoon. An Elvis chapel is not exactly an inviting target for hate criminals. I’m sure most bigots like Elvis. If any shit went down, it would be more akin to what happened at that country-music festival a year ago where the murderer did it just to be an asshole.

Becca was awake at this point and we both needed food. Since we planned on going back to bed after breakfast, showering could wait. We left our room and walked down the stairs into the casino, each of us with the kind of hair one sees in DUI mugshots.

Las Vegas is not a morning town. On Fremont Street, pedestrians were sparse and moving real slow. A few vomit splashes dotted the sidewalk. Without the neon, the hotel facades were comically ugly. It was a sad carnival.

We entered a Denny’s and were seated in a booth looking on a side street. It is not usually a place I want to eat unless it is and then it’s perfect. Vegas Denny’s is extra perfect because it has a full bar. We each ordered the “Lumberjack Slam” and a couple of Bloody Marys. The menu dutifully informed me that we would be consuming upwards of 1500 calories. I walked out of there feeling like my heart was full of sand.

On the way back, we stopped at Walgreens and picked up some bottled water to rehydrate and energy drinks for later on. We crawled back into bed and before going to sleep, I checked to see if there was any further news on the Pittsburgh murders. I learned that the shooter, shot multiple times by police, was expected to pull through. The medical team apparently went that extra mile to make sure he lived. Personally, I would have poured Pop Rocks into his wounds.

We woke up in early afternoon, feeling much better than we had that morning. There was plenty of time to shower and put on clothes that did not smell like last night. We ventured out and took a Lyft to the Aria, the hotel on the strip where our friends were staying.

There was a reason we stayed downtown instead of on the Strip this time around. All of Vegas is tacky as hell, but at least downtown is an amusing kind of tacky, like a pole dancer who is missing a limb. The Aria is far too upmarket to provide that kind of fun. It’s a glass-and-steel citadel that would make an excellent movie for where the privileged live in a dystopian sci-fi. After downing an $18 scotch and soda, we met up with our friends and piled into a limo that took us to the wedding. We listened to an all-Elvis radio station on the way there.

The chapel and the wedding itself were both lovely. This is no mean feat. There is an inherent silliness to having an Elvis impersonator administering the service, but you have to remember that what is felt between the people getting married is important and not to be trivialized. The people running the show were obviously aware of this so it all struck the right tone. You didn’t care that the Elvis looked more like Tony Robbins than the king of rock and roll. He had the voice and moves down pat from the moment he chauffered the bride and groom right into the chapel in a pink Cadillac.

It is worth noting that the Caddy’s vanity plate had “Elvis” and the number two after it, fitting for a man who died on the toilet.

After the wedding, we all went back to the Aria for the wedding dinner. Becca and I did not know too many of the other guests, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. It was great to see the newlyweds having the time of their lives, being so happy and perfect for each other.

We later took a stab at more drinking downtown, which was a mistake. It was the Saturday before Halloween and the mass of revelers looked intent on swallowing us whole. We begged off and fled back to the El Cortez.

The next morning, Becca and I had breakfast at White Castle. It was 7:20 in the morning and the breakfast menu was available, but we weren’t interested. We wanted those little hamburgers and split a bag of ten.

Our flight out of here was a few hours away. We were glad we came, but we were also glad to leave. I thought about the Vegas of yesteryear, of the Rat Pack glory days and the freak show described so well by Hunter S. Thompson. Both those Vegases were gone now. Gone too was the Vegas that the 80s frat-boy version of myself visited and enjoyed from the comfort of being up my own ass.

After graduation while I was flat broke and living in Santa Barbara, I drew a little comic called “Chinga Las Vegas.” It featured Drake Weber, my alter ego at the time, who looked like a crudely drawn Steve Dallas of Bloom County. Drake got into a lot of mischief and somehow ended up directing animal porn. The comic wasn’t very good. Maybe someone today can create a better one. Not me though. I’m done with this town.