I like to watch the trains. Some of them are express trains and some of them are slow trains and I've heard that one used to go all the way to Oregon, but that it doesn't anymore. I guess they didn't have enough passengers. Yesterday a passenger standing at the station in Redwood City told me that they lay new tracks at night. He says there used to be Amtrak trains that would go through these parts at three in the morning. I asked him if he'd ever been out here at three in the morning and he said no, but a conductor told him all about it one time. I told him that in China, sometimes the subway trains stop in the middle of a tunnel and all the lights flicker out. You're just standing there in the dark beneath hundreds of feet of rock and piping and asphalt, clutching a little waxy plastic loop hanging from the ceiling. Then, after a few seconds, the light flickers on again and the train begins to move. But, at that moment when the lights first gutter out, I always got a floaty kind of feeling and I look out the window like I expect to see birds and clouds and a bright blue sky go shooting past. But it never does; it's black as black can be.
The trains remind me of sleep. It's the grinding of the track. I do that. In my teeth, I grind my sleep. No. I misspeak myself. In my sleep, I grind my teeth. Sometimes, I wake up and my jaw hurts and I don't know why. Then I think back and remember that in my sleep, I grind my teeth. I think it's from stress. Stress is a killer.
I once had a dream where I got on board a train just like we're about to do now.
Hey, are you nervous? Because you seem sort of nervous. OK.
Anyway, I got on and the conductor was checking everybody's ticket and I didn't have mine. It was really terrifying, which doesn't make sense, because I always have my ticket, even though they're so expensive. Did you know that in Beijing, a subway ticket only costs 15 cents? You can go anywhere you want in the whole city for 15 cents. Not like here with the zones and everything. It's almost as expensive as driving. If you had a car. That's my problem. I don't have a car and here I am living in California. I might as well be blind. Buses only come once every hour or two, so if you miss one you're in big trouble. No, not you - I just meant in general. Are you ok? Anyway. In that dream of mine, the conductor was checking tickets and I didn't have mine.
Right, but before he gets me, he gets to some other guy first. This guy was sitting at the front of the train with his feet up on the seat facing him, which you're not supposed to do. The train conductor comes along and asks for his ticket and what do you know, he doesn't have his ticket either. So the conductor took his hand and the two men walked away down the aisle together. They looked kind of like a bride and groom, with the groom being the conductor on account of his being tall and in a uniform. You ever notice that you never see a short fat conductor? They're all tall and skinny. They walked together down the aisle and the conductor slid the door of the car open and then they walked out. And I knew - just knew - in the way you can be dead certain of something in a dream - that that guy was in real trouble.
It's funny because I've dreamed that guy before. He isn't real, or at least, I don't think he's real. He's just a dream person. But I dream him a lot. He's the guy who always gets killed in my nightmares. If something bad is about to happen to me in a dream it happens to him first. It's like I get to see just how bad my death is going to be when it's my turn. I never die in my dreams, though. Just him.
Like, in one dream, I dreamed that my entire house, the walls, ceilings, everything had turned into a rare kind of Amazonian jungle plant. The leaves of this thing (which really does exist, I'm telling you. You can check it on Google.) naturally produce a fine skein of glass covering both sides. Accidentally touching or brushing up against the plant causes the glass to shatter into a million microscopic shards. They're so tiny, they'll slip right into the pores of your skin and slice you up from the inside. It's a natural defense.
In the dream, I was lying in bed in a dark room filled with stacks of books and little saucepans all over the floor. Immediately I knew what was going on and saw that the house had changed into this giant death trap and understood that I was in terrible danger and couldn't touch anything at all. The whole place felt muggy and steamy and claustrophobic. The walls and ceiling perspired great fat globs of water that dribbled into the saucepans on the floor. Then, just as I'm trying to figure out how to get out of the house, my dream guy walks in. He stumbles over a stack of books and smacks into the wall beside him. Instantly, what looks like a giant puff of sparkling mist explodes from the wall with a sound that's like the noise you get opening a can of soda pop.
First, the guy scratches his arms and face furiously. Then he turns to me and tries to say something, but no sound comes. His skin gets redder and redder like some terrible sunburn until blood just wells up out of his skin from every pore. It gushes out like he's a giant sponge slowly being squeezed by some great invisible hand. Finally he gurgles and collapses into a wet pile of quivering viscera. Man, what a rough way to go. I mean, what could be worse, right? No, this isn't Castro. That's the next stop.
Anyway, I sometimes wonder if maybe there's some guy out there who's always dying in his dreams and right before he does he sees me. Boy, I bet that guy would really hate me. Every time he fell asleep, I bet he'd be thinking, "man, sure hope I don't see that jerk again, otherwise, I'm a goner." I bet we probably wouldn't know each other even if we met on the street. After all, I don't always look like myself in my dreams. Sometimes I'm younger, like the way I looked in high school. Sometimes I even dream I'm a woman! Not that I'm queer or anything mind you. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Hey, this is Castro. Isn't this your stop? Wow - look at all those cops.
Anyway, I mean, like - what if I've already met this guy? What if we see each other everyd - hey! Hey!
Where's my ticket?