"...and the part where Keith was painting on the wall was a memory. I had spent the whole day with him in New York. In the morning, we went to a paint store to pick up supplies. He had ordered huge plastic tarps and some kind of special plastic paint for working on them. We went back to his place for lunch, then went over to the gallery--Tony Shafraziís. He had closed the place for the day because Keith was going to paint these tarps for his next show."
"There were two ladders. I sat on one, taking pictures. Keith used the other one. During the course of the day, Andy Warhol and all these scene people came to visit, one after the other. Then, we were just alone there. It was the single most amazing art experience I ever had, just watching him paint."
Dawn is stretching canvases in her studio. Iím standing in the doorway, watching. Iíve been talking about last nightís dream since I woke up. She has been listening but Iím thinking she is about to change the subject.
"You know, Art. I think we should get a dog."
"Thatís okay with me," I say. "When Gabe was here last August, they had this young male keeshond at the Humane Society. We mentioned we had stopped in there, remember?"
"Um hmm. Heís gone by now though. They donít keep them around very long. You want to take a ride over there? Iím getting a sore arm from this stapler."
During the drive across town to the Ďpoundí, I use the opportunity to go on about last nightís dream.
"You really are into this now," she says. "Does this mean youíre going to start working on the project again?"
"It seems like it. Yeah, I guess." I have a hard time admitting this, even to Dawn.
"Iím going to change it though, I know that, for sure."
"What do you mean?"
"Keithís dead... itís not really a collaboration anymore, is it?"
"You could just write a book."
"It will be a book, but probably more like a dream thing--an allegory or something like that."
"Well, would that be the project or something else?"
"ĎThe projectí to me, is about keeping true to what we believed--about life and art and everything"
"You say you donít believe anything. How is that going to work?"
"Look, this is it okay? Both Keith and I thought the same thing--whatever a person believes, thatís whatís real for that person. Like what you believe is what you experience."
Our arrival at the Humane Society is heralded by the sound of yelping and gnashing of canine teeth. It emanates from the building like smoke from a wind-blown fire--big billowing growls, sparking barks, explosive sounds that could wreck a house.
Hard to believe this bunch of beasts is getting "humane" treatment. A bowl of water, a dish of whatever, and a cage--for most of them, this is Death Row.
"Hey, check it out, another keeshond!"
Dawn goes out to the office of the S.P.C.A. while I relate to the imprisoned canine soul standing still before me.
"Hey, boy. Whatís up?"
This one isnít acting like the rest of the furry prisoners here. They are barking furiously, creating a din of such proportions that all but the most hardened dog lovers retreat to the kitten section, just to alleviate ear pain.
The keeshond just stares me down. His long gray, black-and-white coat is thick. There are so many hairs there, they stick out like a static electricity experiment.
The other dogs are not giving up. Itís understandable. Theyíre presumably screaming something like, "If you donít take me home NOW, theyíre going to execute me in the morning!"
This dog looks incredibly majestic and pathetic at the same time. He hasnít stopped staring at me since we encountered him. Iím already hooked. Iím sure heíll haunt my dreams and Iíll come back at midnight, banging on the door to rescue him.
Dawn comes back with a piece of yellow paper.
"Deja vu!" she says. "This is the same one that was here before, in August. Heís been back here twice, in fact."
"Does it say why?" I ask, wondering how anyone could reject the forlorn look on the handsome face in the cage.
"His name is Hamlet. Um... heís not housebroken and he was once returned for chewing something." Dawn reads from the official canine rapsheet.
"Theyíre not born housebroken, you know." Iím making excuses for him already. "And what did he chew? Some rare dinosaur bone?"
"The lady at the desk said they donít get registered keeshonds too often. When he came here the first time, they had his papers. But now, they canít locate them."
"So?" I say. "Our Mexican workers didnít need no steenkiní papers."
Soon, weíre out the door with... "Hamlet."
"What a cool name," says Dawn.
We left feeling like a new family, looking forward to long walks in the woods, rolling in the snow, and....
"Hey, lets take him out to Carsonia lake and show him how to catch a Frisbee."
Dawnís idea carries the day. We soon discover that keeshonds have about as much interest as cats do in playing Frisbee. So, we chuck Hamletís new day-glo green dog toy back and forth anyway, while he lies nearby, content, it seems, to just be out of that cage.
An aroma of evergreens wafts through the clearing as the flying thing soars skyward through the slight mid-day warmth of the December sun. Iíve been thinking of the same topic all day but in deference to Dawn, I wait until she brings it up herself. As soon as she does, the conversation alternates between pitches. We are carried along by both pursuits until we are lost in the rhythm of our thoughts and the dreamy floating motion of the Frisbee.
"What about your grandfather and the mushroom farm? What does that have to do with Keith?" She asks a tough question but makes an easy toss.
"They were my heroes, okay? Now they are both dead. They were so totally different, at least on the surface. But ten years ago, there were lots of times when I spoke to them both on the same day. Out of all the millions, billions of possibilities in life, these two people were talking to me. So like, inside my head, they were so close... I donít know."
The Frisbee lands at Hamletís feet. He looks at me like heís annoyed I dropped it.
"And whatís inside your head is whatís real to you?" She tosses this off like she tosses the spinning disc--offhandedly. Sometimes I wonder how she can pay attention to things, yet seem so casual about it all.
My fingers are getting cold. Iím starting to miss more than I catch. But the rhythm of this talking, thinking, tossing makes me want to keep it up.
"They were both men who were totally self-realized. They made their own worlds--right in the middle of the Ďreal world.í Worlds that you could inhabit, worlds that, in some way, changed life even as they were living it."
"And so you think the differences between them were just superficial?"
"Yeah. If we could see things as they really are... it would all look different somehow."
"Like in dreams, when two things that are totally opposite are right there at the same time?"
"Right. Hey, Iím getting chilly. Letís take Hamlet home," I say as I drop one more easy toss.
As it turned out, Hamlet was just about the only really good thing to happen all winter. The snows were relentless, repetitive, frequent--like white nightmares. Our corner of the township wasnít near enough a major roadway to merit very regular upkeep. By early February, the crystalline accumulation had topped the level of the least used cars in the neighborhood. If folks didnít need them they just let them sit, forsaking the endless shoveling it took to keep them roadworthy. The others--the commuting workhorses, the old stand-bys, the four-wheel drives--were cleared out by necessity twice weekly. Each one had its own roofless igloo, chiseled from firm snowbanks.
Contrary to tradition, the harsh weather did not bring neighbors together. Residents having call to vacate their frozen walled-in parking spaces, for daily commutes or market runs, shoved furniture into the bumper-sized entranceways or hired out-of-school kids to stand guard until their return. The local press ran several lurid accounts of trespassers whoíd been shot for parking in someone elseís slot.
Starting from the top of the house, the skylight cracked under the immense weight of the snow. The shingles on the roof lifted up like cardboard caps on frozen glass milk bottles from days when dairy was delivered. The shingles, pushed up by ice and snow, proved no more effective than those flimsy paper circles.
My plan to spend more time in my studio was abandoned in January. On warm days, the melt crept under every crevice, ending up indoors in a succession of strategically placed buckets, jars, and pie plates. Each drip seemed to possess a will of its own, determined to foil or overflow my battery of containers. By the first week of February, the train room was drenched.
Little Niagaras exited inexorably downward. Our waterbed had water on it as well as in it. Waterbeds resist repositioning, so I rigged up some tarps to catch drips and direct them toward the corners of the room where soup bowls waited like birdbaths in Capistrano. On those days when frustration turned to absurdity we went to bed wearing our wetsuits.
The nights were long and cold. We dreamed and dreamed. We both dreamed of Keith. I dreamed also about the farm, my grandfather, the world as art, the world as dirt. Dawnís dreams were troubling her. They troubled me as well.
She became less willing to discuss her dreams with me. I could tell she had ceased making regular entries in her diary. It remained untouched beneath a pile of books, under her bed, or on the shelf. She would wake up screaming or uttering muffled drawn-out moans.
In an attempt to reach out to her, I was moved to reveal more of my own dream demons. I indicated I was experiencing my own nightmares. My vivid accounts of surreal scenes of rape, torture, and mutilation neither put Dawn at ease nor did they diminish the distance between us.
Further attempts to reach her worked no better. I mentioned that although I still had my share of demons, I was also experiencing a greater degree of lucidity. I found I could apply myself more effectively--using techniques Dawn had suggested--and transform my inner processions of murderers, molesters, and monstrosities into comprehensible manageable experiences and get on with exploring my dreamworld.
Instead of fortifying Dawn, as her example had done for me, my own confidence seemed to increase her despair. More than once, she indicated she felt she was ďlosing it. Regrettably, one morning I asked her,"Losing what?"
"...my mind, Art"Ē she responded, looking me straight in the eye.
I was so overwhelmed with feeling for Dawn at that moment, it was like seeing her... her flaxen hair, like sunlight, limning the broad curves of her shoulders; her liquid eyes, centered by rings of slate-blue encircling dark apertures toward unfathomable worlds within her; her inner infinities; the elusive eternity of her dreams; the erotic maternal mounds of her breasts and her sex; the soft glow of her skin reddening her tanned torso; the lithe perfection and gracefulness of her swimmerís body... like falling in love with her for the first time.
We just stood gazing, for a moment, into each other. In that instant, I sensed her vulnerability. The fragility, the preciousness of her life... It had never really occurred to me before--I could lose her.
I felt instinctively protective, loving. I moved toward her and held her close to me.
"Youíre not going to lose your mind, baby. I know youíre struggling. Youíll get through it. You put your whole self into things you care about. Thatís why weíre together. Thatís what weíre doing here--and we survive. Always. I love you, Dawn--now and forever, OK?"
Her spine relaxes as she pulls me closer. I can feel the saddle of her hips--two points of hardness--cradling my loins, nudging me, gathering me in, drawing me toward her innerness. My sex hardens in response. We slip toward the bed embracing, reclining, at rest for a moment, breathing each other in, becoming one.
She slides out of her robe. "Look... a cardinal at the feeder." She says it and I understand as never before her why she changes subjects, why she interjects, jumps from one thought to another. Itís the pregnant moments that are unbearable for her--shifts of emotion, changes of heart. When her inner world is in motion she reaches out into space, holds on to whatís there, and then settles herself, reassured that life is real and she is inside it.
And I flow with her... closer now... inside of her as she is in life... becoming her. And she is me. Our rhythms weld us flesh to flesh, breath to breath, being as one, here, inside of life, inside of death.
"Itís okay, Art, Iíll never lose touch with you. I know that. I love you. Thanks for reminding me... and holding me."
She seems better, but she trembles, like sheís sobbing. I peer over my shoulder. She is smiling, looking down at Hamlet. Heís in his "Penthouse Pet" pose--on his back, hind legs spread, front paws by his chest, mouth ajar, tongue out--begging for attention.
Dawn coos, "Poor Hamlet"Ē
"He doesnít worry about losing it,." I say. "He never had it."
The snow and ice stayed on the roof all winter. That meant Iíd be up there all spring. Knowing Iíd soon be roofing in my spare time, I started boating in February.
The snow was still three-feet thick on the frozen ground when Manny, my Native-American friend, and I took our first kayak trip of the year on the Schuylkill. Manny is so big, he barely fit into extra-large neoprene waders--the closest thing to a wetsuit we could think of to keep him warm in case he plunged into the 35-degree water. On shore, Dawn and I each held up a side of the big bodysuit while Manny shimmied himself into it. With his jet-black hair reaching down to the middle of his back, he looked like a medicine man from outer space.
The sunlit snow padding the riverbanks makes the water run silver-white. Between clouds, patches of clear sky send sea-blue streaks toward our hulls. We grin about how beautiful it is and how crazy we are, then we slide into our boats and paddle off into it.
Dawn stays on shore snapping photos, staying dry, and waving us on downriver. Hamlet is in his element--rolling in it. We know spring is on its way and weíre not about to miss a minute.
From then on, Dawn and I went out most weekends, accompanied by our canine companion. We were a fixture on the river. We claimed an island early in the spring, right after the level of the lowering flood revealed its uppermost terrain. Underwater for a part of every year, it rises up each spring. We named it "The Turtle" and never reveal its location.
From hilltop to shoreline, March winds quickly dried out our amphibious paradise. Among the smooth pebbles forming its pointillist surface, we found buckets of water-worn shards of antique glass. Deep blue, green, purple and smoky remnants of bottles. Some of the widely scattered fragments had bits of words: "EXCEL...", "...alm", "Oil o...".
We also unearthed pieces of earth-toned pottery and jasper arrowheads, dusty, dark, and harder to discern than the glint of glass. Rarely, perhaps once in a few days, weíd find an old marble, rolled lumpy by the riverís endless flow. The marbles were beautiful bits of a bygone world, fragments of some childhood dream, washed up and deposited like gems in the rough underbrush.
Setting up camp on Turtle Isle was a re-discovery of the natural world--an unspoiled wild place, a peaceful separate reality, a dreamworld.
A few weekends on the island were all it took to bring some cycles to an end and for some new ones to begin. Most significantly, we both were struck by the change in our dreams. Our first dreams on the island were, upon comparison, uncannily similar. We had both dreamed of Keithís earliest symbols... a radiant child, flying saucers, barking dogs, humanoid figures engaged in ecsatatic frenzy.
Arriving back home, we began a systematic study of his symbolism, from the beginning. We traced the evolution of the hieroglyphic images until we had constructed several plausible cosmologies. I had spoken often to Keith about reading his pictures in this manner. I published articles about their significance and their elucidation was a major impetus for what we came to call our ďproject.Ē
Now, years after Keithís death, Dawn and I were using his images to ďincubateĒ lucid dreams. His artwork served as seed material for dreams in which we could interact with the creatures and animated objects he had created.
The difference between our homebound dreams and those we were having on the island impelled us to consider a move. Away from home, my dreams flowed lucid and effortless. At home, the nightmares persisted. Dawn had come, even earlier, to the same conclusion. Our house would always remind her of her marriage. It held too many painful memories for her to want to continue living there.
The roof was coming along, but Iíd disassembled the soaked artscapes, most of the moist machinery, every damp engine. Fans ran. Things were drying out. But I was in no hurry to reassemble my miniature doppleganger universe without considering the options. As life-altering decisions go, it was not as excruciating as most. When I heard from a friend that his house was available, we put in a bid. Our home was on the market by April first....
The Holland Tunnel--old tollbooths in rows, tilted like bad teeth, dirty green railings, piss-yellow tile walls. We descend the final hill. The big hole, A sewer of rough traffic, is down there. I dig into my pocket, ready to fork over cash. I pass the bent trailer truck that seconds earlier was airborne, ten feet over New Jersey.
A taxi veered into its path, moving for the fast lane. A black-and-blue pick-up with Florida plates swerved into the shrinking gap left vacant by the cab. Already turning hard, the truck driver had nowhere to turn. His rig careened sideways, missing the pick-up. Then it took off. After a moment, it hit the concrete divider between lanes and hung up.
By then, the culprit cab was just another blur rushing through the shadowed vault, aimed at the ugly city. The driver of the pick-up turned, looked, shook his head, and shifted down into the tunnel. I slowed to a crawl, then stopped. Behind me, a thousand others did the same.
After climbing out through a half-open window, the truck driver, dazed, paced a circular path--counter-clockwise, as if to unwind from the terrible spin that had just deposited him and his mangled rig backwards between the two booths.
He stood there and, with the rest of us, watched the truck as it bobbed, slid down, and settled with a crunch, blocking four lanes. When I passed the wreck, its wheels were still turning.
Tunneling now--the innards of the big shaft are like a public toilet: stained yellow tile walls, dark with dirt and smoke. The rank air reeks of gas, tires, and sulphur. No one smiles here. Why should we? Weíre scared. Weíre going to Hell.
Itís the nightmare city--nameless avenues, streets without number, home of the homeless, where nowhere is. Thatís where I am.
Donít show it. Grip the wheel. Grit your teeth. Step on it. Get there.
The streets are black streaks, eluding me before I can target them. Even those in my line of sight are past me before I can plan my approach. On corners, the green pole-top name strips are dirty, helter-skelter, absent, bent, useless. The only names that matter here are big names, brand names, famous names, names in lights, names in letters bigger than men. Not a thing matters here but money and fame. Money and fame are also nothing. So nothing at all matters here.
Why do I return? I donít know what year it is, or even what decade. Is it 1956? Am I here with Francesco, in his dull green truck? Are we here with the whitest mushrooms, the best, to get the best price? Is it 1966? Am I running away from home, for the first time, or the second, or the third? Will I sleep on roofs or in the park? Is it 1976? Am I here for my work? Am I here because I live here? Is it 1986? Or have I died? 1996? Is this the place of my fate or my fear?
I know I am dreaming, but I donít care. Iím here to find Keith. Iím not giving up.
I am at his door--the studio on Broadway--the place where I wept, three times in two years. Two years after he died, I still cried. I let myself in. As the elevator door closes, I see him. I know heís avoiding me. I know what I must do.
Run! Down the steps! I see him as he jumps on his bike. I run. I jump. I fly after him. I am with him as he rides.
"What do you want?" he says.
"You asked me a question, Keith. I want to give you an answer."
"...about the project, man," I say.
"What about the project, man?"
As he says this, I wake up--not to the Ďreal world,í where I know I lie in my bed. I awaken into another room of dreams. I turn from the window and catch sight of the mirror, which does not reflect my image. Nor does it reflect his, but I know he is here, behind me. I spin toward him. He stops smiling and waits, silent, for my answer.
"How the fuck am I supposed to collaborate with a corpse?Ē I scream it at him. ďI told you you would die. So now what? What can I do with a dead man?"
I wait for tears to fill his eyes. I know they will come. For two years, I did not recall what I had said to him, when he came into my dreams. I know now. He came many times. He always asked me the same question: ďWhat about the project?Ē
For two years I did not remember. For two years, I would weep at the thought of him, or the mention of his name. I know now what I did not know. I know it is he--not I--who cries. And I know the reason. I know what I say to him. I have said it in my dreams for all these months. And I know also what happens next. I wait for his tears and they flow down like rain. He is overcome by the knowledge of his death....