OUR VAGABOND DREAMS

Our night time dreams are like late TV movies. We can enjoy the fantasies and happy adventures before returning to our humdrum world in the morning, but too often these out-of-control productions are bewildering, depressing or horrifying.

On the other hand, we’re in complete control of our daydreams as the producers, directors, screen writers and leading actors. We’re also in charge of casting.

Think twice before putting a restraining leash on your daydreams. Some of the greatest inventions and artistic accomplishments are the products of daydreamers who saw what their present world needed to make the future world better.

On another level, daydreams can be the mental martinis that help one survive unpleasant episodes like crushingly boring business meetings , the scoldings of bosses and the lectures of traffic policemen.

Some psychologists claim each of us spends almost half our waking hours away from the real world, floating outside our mental escape hatches like space walking astronauts. It’s easy to recognize your fellow Cloud 9 visitors by their blank stares, faint smiles and occasional chuckles.

Everyone’s mind wanders. When Saint Francis of Assisi admitted to a young friar that he had difficulty concentrating on his prayers, the friar boasted he didn’t have that problem. The good saint said, “If you can recite the Lord’s Prayer entirely without thinking of anything else, I’ll give you that little donkey of mine that you’ve always admired.”

The friar agreed and began, “Our Father who art in heaven…..” Then he paused, turned to Francis and asked, “Do I get the saddle also?”

In the same vein, a male liars club membership test included a meditation session during which the candidate had to stand in the corner of a quiet room, staring at the wall for a half hour and not think of Marilyn Monroe in a bathing suit. (Keep reading you guys!). There were two repeated reminders of the rule during the half hour. If the candidate later swore he’d never once thought of “what’s-her-name”, he was accepted as a member.

A FAIRYTALE FOR DUMMIES

Once upon a time about a kilo years ago Old King Cyber summoned his Royal Server, Count Algo Rithm and said he wanted to post the text of a new proclamation throughout his domain.

“It’s a very important message dealing with debugging infested sites ,” he said. “And I don’t want it to get misdirected or fall apart as it’s delivered from portal to portal.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” said the Count. “I’ll see that it’s delivered in a secure mode and virtually carved in stone. It will be a safe hard copy.”

“Good, and I’d like Sir Google, our best messenger, to be the server.”

“Not possible, Sire. Sir Google is down with something.”

“Google is down? Is it a virus?”

“Not to worry, Sire. It isn’t fatal. He fell ill after your last feast. Dr. Geek says it’s just a case of too many cookies. He’ll have Sir Google’s system restored in a few days.”

“Then how about Google’s squire Yahoo?”

“Alas, Sire, Squire Yahoo was hacked by that rogue knight Sir Malware. His mail was fatally penetrated. We can only pray that brave Yahoo is now happily dwelling on a heavenly cloud.”

“I intend to deal with that wily Sir Malware who’s been swindling the peasants for years and what was his cruel boast about stealing from the poor farmers?

“He called it ‘serfing’, Sire, ‘serfing the domain’.”

So then we’re down to Sir Twitter, ” the King sighed.

“I regret to report Sir Twitter is also unavailable, Your Majesty, having crashed into the castle’s firewall while jousting yesterday.

“So Google is down, Yahoo has been hacked and Twitter has crashed. I’ll have to do my own messaging, Count. Have my chariot brought out.”

“Take care, Sire. It’s a virtual jumgle out there. It will be a very hard drive.”

A HAIRY EXPERIENCE

My beard and I have grown old and gray together. We’ve been very close for decades and gone through a lot. Oh, the stories we could tell!

Our first days were quite rough. There was a difficult gestation period and a traumatic birth. I’d stopped shaving for three days and was disappointed at the lack of comments from family and friends. Then the visible growth began and the stubble brought on the trouble.

Way back then when a guy started to grow a beard he might as well have hung a sign around his neck: “Please tell me your personal opinion of my new whiskers without any regard for the traditional rules of courtesy.”

I worked in a large office but just mixed with my immediate coworkers and a few friends. Only rarely would one of them notice my new shoes, fedora or even my loud Father’s Day tie. At least they never made any remarks about them.

When my new beard began to emerge I became a popular website that was getting frequent hits, most of them painful. “So that’s not some kind of joke. You’re really going to let it grow?” someone would ask.

There were others who didn’t like my emerging beard but were too polite to say so. However, they just couldn’t keep their eyes off my fuzzy chin when we were talking shop. Once there were four gawking engineers around the conference table with me. This was way before the Pandemic, but I was thinking of faking a bad cold and wearing a surgical mask.

The head of the steno pool, a middle-aged lady of Mediterranean heritage, was the least diplomatic. “What an awful looking beard that is,” she smirked. “You should shave it off as soon as possible.”

That one really hurt, so I counter-punched. “I’m sorry you don’t like my new facial hair, Ma’am” I said. “I’ve always admired yours, especially that cute little black patch beneath your nose. Why do you keep removing it?”

A young fellow from accounting shared an elevator car with me one day. “Do you want me to tell you what I think of your new beard?” he suddenly asked.

“Yes, I’d be interested in your opinion,” I replied. “And then I’ll tell you what I think of your hippie haircut and that odd-colored suit you’re wearing.” He scurried off at the next floor.

I wasn’t sure about my new beard either. I thought it made me look kind of sinister, like Jack the Ripper, a vicious character in a scary movie. Staring into the mirror one morning I asked the hairy guy in the reflection, “Shall I shave this off?” And he replied, “Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin.”

THE REAL DIRT

Every October I look forward to having my ugly weed-infested backyard lawn hidden beneath a blanket of brilliant autumn leaves and in the spring I hate to watch the last snowdrifts melt to reveal the tattered remains of what was once a respectable stretch of greenery.

Years ago that lawn would have reminded a golfer of a decent fairway. Now it’s more like the rough, and in some spots, resembles the bunker’s sand trap.

Professional lawncare companies were eager to take on the recovery job along with their large monthly fees, but when I complained later about my unimproved wasteland, they recommended I buy what would amount to a new backyard, or at least the top six inches thereof.

Wanting an unbiased opinion, I sent two soil samples to a government agency for analysis, labelling them “upper” and “lower” since I live on a hill. Two weeks later I received a curious reply: “Dear Mr. Newman: This soil evaluation center is very busy this time of year and we do not appreciate your prank. We sometimes recommend misdemeanor charges in extremely disruptive cases like this which result in the waste of analyses time and taxpayers’ money.

“However, your samples have aroused quite a bit of controversey among our staff members. If you will come clean promptly and reveal the actual sources of your two samples, we will not press charges.

“Apparently you are a well-traveled and, unfortunately, a mischevious person. Opinions here on the source of your so-called ‘Upper’ soil sample range from the Sahara to the Mojave Deserts. The Sahara proponents cite evidence of dromedary camel droppings whereas the Mojave group insist those are merely bighorn sheep deposits. One staffer swears there is an Australian Gibson Desert involvement because of unmistakeable Red kangeroo clues.

“Your ‘Lower’ soil sample has created the more difficult controversy with a time-consuming debate between the Everglades Group and the Okefenokee Swampers. I won’t detail the conflicting claims of fauna evidence but you must have been quite fearless to collect samples in one of these feeding grounds of alligators, water moccasins and panthers.

“So far there have been no injuries here, only heated debates, but I beg you to reveal the actual sources of your samples so we can return to our assigned mission. Sincerely, F.X. McHumus, Supervisor.”

I replied immediately with a copy of the lawn company’s depressing report and apologized for causing a misunderstanding. Unless a traveling circus caravan passed through my property one night, I wrote, I cannot explain the evidence of exotic animals and asked that they just drop my case.

I am now considering other options. I like the idea of a brilliant green Astroturf cover and I might pay the extra price for white end zone lines.

ON THE ROAD WITH BOB AND RAY

Back in the pre-superhighway days a New Jersey commute from Morris to Hudson County was a grueling experience. Most mornings I arrived at work feeling I’d already suffered through a day’s worth of angst.

Driving home in the evening would have been equally painful if it weren’t for my buddies, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, who entertained me on my car radio with their zany skits and hilarious commercials for imaginary products. They were great angst-easers for homebound drivers back then with their large cast of whimsical characters, all played by the two master comics.

In the middle of one enormous westbound jam in Orange, we inched along as frustrated drivers honked and shouted profanely out of their windows. Conditions were worsening. Some cars were overheating or running out of gas.

All the while I was getting weird looks from angry drivers as I sat in my old Chevy laughing raucously as Bob and Ray enthusiastically read their fake commercial for the Monongahela Metal Foundry, “Makers of extra shiny steel ingots with the housewife in mind.” Then there was “The Croftweiler Industrial Cartel, makers of all sorts of stuff,” and “Einbeinder Flypaper, the brand you’ve gradually grown to trust over three generations.” (Younger readers will have to Google ‘flypaper’.)

I remember Bob and Ray’s airing of a ficticious children’s Christmas party in their studio. At one point during the inevitable loud chaos, Ray admitted to Bob that he had lost touch with reality. (So was I, driving under the influence of their humor.) In the midst of the turmoil, a boy (Bob) asked Ray, “Please, Sir, what’s the difference between a martini and a Gibson?”

Ray scolded the boy. “Sonny, why are you asking that kind of question at a children’s Christmas party?” But the boy insisted. “Okay,” Ray gave in, “A martini has an olive and a Gibson has an onion. Now go find Santa, for goodness sake! ” The boy thanked him and shouted to his friends at the party, “Hey guys, I just checked, these are martinis we’re drinking !”

Bob and Ray were experts at spoofing popular radio and TV shows and ads back then. There was “Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate” and “Mr. Science” sponsored by the “Philanthropic Council to Make Things Nicer.” Mr. Science’s lab demos always ended in unexpected loud explosions.”

Florida real estate sales were big then as Bob and Ray promoted the imaginary lots at “Sun-Drenched Acres” which were “almost ready for new residents, lacking only running water, telephone lines and means of access.” Prospective buyers were promised the opportunity to shoot alligators from their back porches and, after seasonal rainfalls, convenient fishing from their attics.”

One evening, after I’d arrived home, my wife asked, ” Why did you spend ten minutes in the driveway after you pulled in?”

“I had to hear the end of award-seeking reporter Wally Ballou’s very first remote traffic report,” I said.

“Do Bob and Ray have a helicopter now?”

“No, they can’t afford one. Wally is reporting from a hot air balloon. His coverage area varies with the prevailing winds. Today, he reported a very bad tie up in downtown Beemerville.”

“Where is Beemerville?”

“Wally’s not sure, exactly.”


In the middle of an enormous westbound jam in Orange, N.J.

GATEKEEPERS

We have to get past a lot of gatekeepers these days. Most are necessary, but they do make our lives more complicated. We once enjoyed easy access to places that are now off limits to anyone not meeting strict entrance requirements.

I used to go out on the Newark Airport tarmac to wave goodbye to a friend boarding an Eastern Airlines twin prop plane. Now I wave goodbye as he waits in line to be Xrayed, metal-detected and unshod. If he’s packed a penknife he’ll have some explaining to do.

When I was a kid, the entrance requirement at amusement parks, circuses and movie houses was the presentation of a purchased ticket, but there were exceptions for those of us able to climb fences, crawl under tent flaps and outmaneuver ushers.

Once, not having the required 35 cents for a James Cagney prison break movie, I entered the theater through a faulty emergency exit door. As I slinked along the inner wall in the dark desperately looking for a seat to slip into, I noticed James Cagney, up on the screen, was slinking along an outer Sing Sing wall, desperately avoiding sweeping searchlights and machine gun bullets. I’m sure it was just my kid’s imagination, but I thought then that Cagney was looking down at me and whispering, “Good luck kid”. We both made it. He escaped a bum rap and the electric chair and I saved 35 cents.

Little kids are still given some latitude for sneaking past gatekeepers, but when we grow up we shy away from these adventures. An adult, caught in the act, would be publically humiliated and his chances for a political career would be ruined, or maybe not if he pleads guilty to a “mistake” instead of trespassing.

Now and then my old spark gets rekindled. One day long ago at the Tavern on the Green in Manhattan, my wife and I were corralled behind a velvet rope with a herd of hungry tourists waiting for the noon opening when a waiter trotted up to the nearby maitre de and reported, “Pierre, the dining room is almost ready.”

A minute later, I caught his eye and said, “Hello Pierre, another busy day for you old friend,” He looked at me quizzicaly, trying to place my face and wondering if I was someone important. (I wasn’t and I’m not.)

“Oh, hello,” he said. “So good to see you again. (This was my first visit to the Tavern.) Let me show you to a table.” He lowered the velvet rope for me and my wife and escorted us into the dining room while the rest of the herd muttered resentfully in the corral. As we departed with Pierre I heard one woman whisper, “I think I saw those two on the Letterman Show this week.”

FRIENDS OF THE FAMILY

Two out of three American households include at least one adopted dog or cat. There are plenty to go around, 77 million dogs and 58 million cats according to the latest survey. And that’s not to mention gerbils, ferrets, hamsters and various other mammals plus birds, fish and reptiles. I believe though, if we begin to rank our pets according to popularity, we’ll find we have reigning cats and dogs.

Why do we take in these unemployed, non-paying, high maintenance boarders? It could be an altruistic urge for some to help another needy earthling, but there are also benefits for the hosts. Stroking a pet can lower the blood pressure of the stroker as well as the strokee and taking a dog for his daily walks can burn fatty calories and tone up muscles, a completely beneficial result provided, of course, that yours is not an overactive dog and there are no squirrel pursuits involving sprints and fence-climbing.

Some henpecked husbands keep pets so they won’t be the lowest form of animal life in their home. That doesn’t work with cats who will never admit to being lower on the animal kingdom scale than a mere human.

Another possible motive for having a pet is the opportunity for communication that’s free of controversy and rebuttal, not the kind of humiliating debates that Ziggy of the comics always loses to members of his menagerie.

You can tell your worries to a dachsund or your multi-gendered beagle/bull/whatever and, if you happen to be scratching his or her belly at the time, you’ll get complete attention and sympathy, without a contradictory bark or growl as you recite your plans for rescuing the country from ruin or guaranteeing the World Series chances of the Mets or Yanks. It all sounds plausible and workable for Fido or Tabby. Just keep scratching.

I once had a large aquarium next to my desk. I fed the fish daily without fail and we got along fine. Eventually I realized whenever I typed my newspaper column, six or seven fish swam over to watch and seemed to be reading my copy. If I recited a line out loud, I imagined they were reacting and I began rating their approval based on their bubble output. Finally, I had to resettle the fish and get rid of the aquarium. I was on my way to becoming either unbalanced or the Seahorse Whisperer.

BUDGET-BUSTING BLOWOUTS

Which party now causes the most angst in this country? Is it the Democratic or Republican Party? What about the Communist Party? No, it’s the kid’s birthday party.

What used to be a simple funfest in a livingroom or backyard has become an expensive production requiring professional managers and the rental of bowling alleys, waterslide parks and , who knows, maybe even Yankee Stadium when the team is on the road.

Clowns, magicians, jugglers and balloon twisters are the typical jolly staff members. Liveguards and medics are on hand for the more athletic extravaganzas. The simplest 10-kid celebration with only a few tame games, cupcakes, temporary tattoos and a time limit can cost Dad a a week’s pay. And what about that time limit? Do the party boy and his guests get tossed out into the parking lot when the Chief Clown shouts “Time!” into his bejeweled bullhorn?

In the old days, Mom just baked a cake and provided enough candy and ice cream for the average young guest to get an upset stomach.

I remember one party in my youth when we played the old favorite “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. One at a time we were given a paper tail with a thumbtack, blindfolded, spun around, and sent off to attach the tail to a donkey picture on the wall. The closest hit to the donkey’s rump brought on a prize, maybe a shiny kazoo or a kewpie doll. The losers got to laugh at the widespread array of donkey tails tacked to the walls and furniture. I remember four-year old Henry had to be rescued that day when he almost had a tail tacked to his rompers.

Later, Dad was the DJ, running the Victrola for the “Musical Chairs” game where eight kids marched to a Bing Crosby song around seven chairs. When Dad lifted the needle, they rushed to be seated leaving one marcher stranded or maybe sitting on someone’s lap. If it was a girl on a boy’s lap, it was even more fun.

When it got down to two marchers and one chair, it could get rough, especially with two boys. There was, after all, a neato kazoo at stake.

I was “it” for the “Blind Man’s Bluff” game. Blindfolded and spun around again, but without a tail or thumbtack, I had to roam the room, shout “Freeze!” to stop everyone in their tracks, grab an arm and, hopefully, I.D. the captive who would be the next Blind Bluffer if I was right.

Little Henry wasn’t an available target. He’d had enough and was hiding under the sofa, poor kid. By the time he was ten, Henry was an expert Pin the Tail on the Donkey player and a virtuoso on the kazoo.

DREAM CENTRAL

Almost all 7 billion of us earthlings dream from time to time. I think it’s actually all of us, but some are too shy to talk about their dreams or perhaps they feel unnecesssarily guilty about them.

Some dreams are so embarrassing we hesitate to discuss them even with our closest friends. And, after all, listening to the long narrative of a weird dream or nightmare can be crushingly boring anyway. However, if we’re attentive and think about the recited details, we might begin to understand the complex workings of the dream world. I’ve started doing that now and I’m getting a strange notion about what’s going on.

There might be a Dream Control Center someplace, a mysterious phantasy headquarters, producing these episodes and even assigning casts. That dream you had last night might not have been your own private show. It might have been an Interhead production of Dream Central.

About the casting. We’re not usually alone during these phantasies. Sometimes we have a co-star or two and often the scenes are full of extras. For instance, there’s the student crowd you have to push through when you’re running to your old high school home room, expecting you’ll fail the biology final if you can’t get to the text book for a quick review. Do some of those kids look just as worried as you? Could at least one of them be having the same dream and also be turning and tossing on his or her bed hundreds of miles away?

You could use Facebook to test this theory. If you dream some night you’re with a group of strangers helplessly lost in downtown Manhattan (One of my regular dream plots), mention that in a Facebook post and describe a few of your fellow wanderers and see who responds. Don’t get upset if it’s a psychiatrist.

On a more personal level, you might dream of a friend that you encountered carousing with a pretty girl on Dream Street in Greenwich Village while singing a vulgar song. You could mention this to him in a diplomatic way the next day and, if he doesn’t laugh it off, but gets very angry, you’ll have a definite clue and the bloody nose will be worth it.

THE YUK FACTOR

A chemical company claims it has created the world’s worst tasting concoction. Their non-toxic mixture, they say, is guaranteed to discourage horses from chewing on their wooden stalls.

While their vile brew may be effective in keeping Dobbin from devouring his living room, that’s a very audacious boast about it having the most uninviting flavor on the planet.

First of all, how many stables have they rendered inedible and how many horses have they interviewed? Also, some scientific outfit must have, by now, invented a way to measure the degree of untastiness of food products and medicines. We all have our own personally nominated candidates for this shameful championship, the one we believe has achieved the highest Yuk Factor.

Mine would be Milk of Magnesia which I first gagged on at the age of five when there were no mint or cherry flavored versions. I got it neat, undiluted and without a chaser. I didn’t feel that unwell at the time, but my mother decided I needed medication. “This will make you feel better,” she said. “It’s Milk of Magnesia.”

I was a great fan of milk back then so I fell for it and opened wide as the big spoon approached. “Aaaagh!” If this is milk, I thought, it must have come from a very sick cow or maybe even a dead one, and who would name a cow Magnesia anyway? I noticed that the ugly blue bottle had a warning: “Keep out of reach of children” and I understood the logic. The first chance I got I tossed it into the trash can.

Mom used the get-it-over-quick dosing method. Today there are more scientific approaches. One website explains most of our taste buds are in the front and sides of our tongues, so foul-tasting medicines should be introduced toward the rear of the tongue, but forward of the gagging line. Holding the subject’s nose helps since 80 percent of our “taste” is actually smell. Also, clamping the nose encourages the victim to keep his mouth open if he wants to continue breathing.

“There’s no accounting for taste” is an accurate statement. There are people who are nauseated by a single sip of sour milk who, on the other hand, are entusiastic eaters of bleu cheese, sour pickles, sour cream and saurkraut. Then there’s the “If it tastes bad it must be good for us” school of thought also known as the “Broccoli Principle” I don’t agree. Any food that makes us queasy or unhappy cannot be beneficial.

My second-place nominee for the Yuk Factor Award is liver. Over the years I’ve given liver a dozen chances and was repulsed each time. A liver lover will say, “Oh, you probably didn’t have it prepared properly. It has to be gently sauteed.” But the results are always yukable. It continues to taste like an organ removed from a very sick cow named Magnesia.