He woke up disturbed because in his dream he couldn’t find his keys, his pocketknives, or his wallet. He needed them right away because he had an appointment and he was going to miss it if he didn’t find his stuff, which I had moved, hidden in a secret place. Time was slipping away from him and the consequences of missing his appointment were overwhelming. In a panic, he finally found his stuff stashed in an air register in the floor, under the grate, inside the metal box, and he knew it was me who put it there and he was angry. Then he woke up. It was real to him. He said I was giving him nightmares.
Really? I asked.
Maybe not, he said. It’s like the secret lives of cats. We’re never going to know.
I could read a lot into this but let me start with Perry Mason. We don’t have internet service up here on the hill and when we can’t handle real time television, we watch vintage programs. The past amuses us. Ancient TV is loaded with simplistic gender tropes and obvious racism that make for interesting comparisons with today’s world. Things are definitely better now than they were then. The plots are fantastic reductions of good and evil, the characters are paper dolls, the costumes are enviable, and justice is a foregone conclusion. It’s a reminder of the chauvinistic origins of our milieu, humorous in its blind spots, our tranquilizer of choice.
So, the night before his dream we watched “The Case of the Grinning Gorilla,” a perfectly terrible Perry Mason episode with scenes of a chimpanzee hiding jewelry and other valuables in a giant Grecian vase, and a man in a gorilla suit playing games with coins and a cigarette lighter from Perry’s pocket. The mystery of the lost stuff was solved when Perry turned the vase upside down to reveal the cache of missing treasure. It was the last thing we watched on TV before turning in for the night. So, I blame Perry for my cohabitant’s bad dream.
However, I do have a pattern of behavior in this regard that could be connected in his mind by wisps of brain chemistry. I remember an incident from this past summer when he went away on a fishing trip for the weekend, and I deconstructed his aggregation possessions. It was a dream of my own. I cleaned the garage.
His boat was gone, leaving a gaping hole in what is usually a very tight space, and I was in a mood to be busy out of the hot sun. The shady panorama of a vast cool cement floor was an invitation to alter my reality. I ate a big chunk of chocolate cannabis and set myself free to reimagine the domain that had been his alone for 17 years. It was an art project to sculpt a home for my garden tools, my bags of soil amendments and my wheelbarrows. After all, I’d been living here for more than a year. It was time to stake out my turf.
Exhilarating it was. I was motivated beyond just a light cleaning to bend the time/space continuum, empty shelves and boxes, sort objects into keeper piles and trash bags, pick through his vast collection of fishing gear and have my way with it. Mind you, I wasn’t dissembling an encyclopedic arrangement. The garage had always looked like a tornado blew through. My style is just a different kind of weather.
You might wonder how I could do a thorough reorganization without knowledge of the many things he stores in his man cave. In my experience this is exactly the sort of doubt that prevents people from making genuine change in their lives. Why do I need knowledge when I have the internet? I mean, what does anyone really need to know about anything when you can get just-in-time information from software? If I need some piece of knowhow that isn’t already resident in my faculties, I’ll ask social media. Let’s not over complicate things. The answer is always out there. Just pick the one you want.
In the interest of completing my mission before he returned from his fishing trip, I decided to go with my own ignorance as a guiding light. Knowledge of fishing simply wasn’t necessary. I have eyes in my head. A monkey can sort shapes and colors and so can I. How complicated could it be? Also, if I made a mistake, who would ever know? He has so much fishing gear piled up on itself, surely, he wouldn’t miss a thing or two if I misplaced it.
Like a cyber ninja I twirled through hooks and weights and reels and little plastic fish that would make such cool earrings, sorting through his bait like so much jewelry at a flea market. Plunked each item into a plastic box he must have acquired for just this purpose, stacked the boxes of bits out of sight on a shelf, crammed a plastic crate full of rubber worms and chucked spools of fishing line into a wire basket. And there was so much more.
It took many hours to complete my task and honestly, when it was finished, I felt the way Van Gogh must have felt when he finished The Starry Night. It was a work of art. Perfectly balanced, in harmony with itself, a radiant visual scheme reflecting the natural order of things, a universal truth, an orderly garage. It’s not the first time I’ve reorganized his stuff, but this was my masterwork. I got shin splints from stomping around on the cement for two days. But it was worth it. I was at peace with myself. Also, proud.
When he saw it, he blinked for a minute. I think he had trouble focusing his eyes on all the empty space. The only thing he said was, Where’s my shrimp gel? No shouts of bravo! No ovation. No confetti. It was too much for him to grasp all at once. I need my shrimp gel, he repeated, obviously in shock. I didn’t know how to respond. Couldn’t remember seeing anything labeled shrimp gel. This wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for. I don’t clean to torture him; I clean to stop him from torturing me. This is the tightrope we walk together. Opposites in love. The Case of the Grinning Girlfriend. Now after his nightmare I see he’s still haunted by the memory of his missing stuff. If only Perry were here to help him find it.