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Perchance To Dream

Ah, bed. Clean, crisp sheets, a good book, and the prospect of eight restorative hours freestyling the Lethe. As a person who has spent roughly 5,000 nights on hard prison cots, another couple of thousand wide awake and burning brain and muscle tissue like I had warehouses full of it, at least 750 in places not only not conducive to but decidedly antithetical to a good night's sleep, and one or two in other dimensions, I truly appreciate the simple domestic joy of a clean, comfortable, well-appointed bed.

Bed is the placid, serene pool of regeneration and rebirth, the manufactory of dreams, and the point of rendering wherein all the dizzying turmoil and rat-fuck derangement of the day becomes combed and planed down to manageability. When your waking hours habitually extend well beyond the standard 16 and you typically occupy them hurtling pell-mell toward perdition, you can build up a pretty good head of despair by the time nite-nite rolls around.

I, fortunately, have an effective enough system of mind-cleansing that I can hit the pillow in a state of near-suicidal despond and wake up as cheerful as a pup, wondering what all the fuss was about. That's probably why I've never seriously considered that (self-termination) option, because I know that all I need is 10 or 12 revivifying hours of the dreamless and I'm back in midseason form, pert as pepper and ready for further punishment.

One notable exception: waking up at Wildwood after my first post-bank-job sleep and thinking, Phew, it was just a dream, realizing it wasn't, and then wishing the earth would open up and mercifully swallow me. That little escapade was beyond the reach of Morpheus' healing but in the main I'm a new man after a good snooze.

Of course, the aforementioned instances of ill-chosen and inhospitable spots in which I've woken presents a whole new set of problems.

Like the time I woke up naked under a tarp in the back of a pickup truck speeding down the highway, which culminated in me at gunpoint, on the side of the road, trying frantically to explain my friends' sadistic sense of humor. Many groups of party-inclined young people engage in prankish punishment rituals for their members who pass out, like marking up their faces or shaving their eyebrows or duct-taping them to furniture… But the crowd I ran with took an extremely dim view of anyone weak enough to succumb publicly to the crippling amounts of alcohol we ingested. You could be flung from a bridge into the Colorado River, tattooed with the word "pussy," tied up and urinated on (all happened) or, as above, stripped and tossed into the back of a random pickup truck owned by an armed and angry redneck. He did eventually calm down and give me a ride home, advising me I oughtta go kick the asses of the sumbitches that done that to me. "Nope, I passed out, brung it on myself," I said.

Then there was the time I woke up on the floor behind the counter of the skate-rental area of a closed and dark skating rink. What I was doing there is one of those mysteries that is lost to time, like Stonehenge or the Ghost Panther of Egg Take Station. The relevant question was how, trapped inside a locked and presumably alarmed rollodrome, would I then proceed? If you answered "lace up a pair of size 10s, climb out a window and roll on home," give yourself full points. As it turns out, there's something quite agreeably exhilarating about skating down the centerline of a deserted city street in the wee hours, `neath a clear sky and tapestry of twinkling stars.

The key to maintaining equipoise and not allowing these dissociative episodes to discombobulate you overmuch is to simply accept your whereabouts as the inevitable result of your freewheeling lifestyle, determine your physical coordinates, and aim yourself toward whatever you're calling home.

Apologies, medical attention, criminal charges, or any other necessities or consequences of the night will manifest accordingly and be dealt with in due time—no point worrying about them when your primary concern is and should be immediate decampment from the dislocale.

Like the time I awoke to find myself buried alive. After a few moments of frantic pounding on the coffin lid I realized the futility of panic and dug out my cellphone, hoping against hope that AT&T's purportedly super-strong signal could penetrate six feet of earth, but right then a dog came snuffling into my space, wondering what all the fuss was about, and I realized I was under a bed. I rolled out from underneath, found a light switch, and surprise! I was in my own bedroom! Why was I under the bed? I didn't know then and I don't care to speculate now. The important thing is, I kept a cool head and was able to extricate myself with the assistance of the rescue dog.

There was one incident, however, quite beyond the effective radius of my characteristic aplomb, which unsettled me to the extent of nearly instigating a top-to-toe lifestyle overhaul. It ultimately failed to maintain the necessary traction to effect any significant change, but it was a near thing for a week or so. (Quick disclaimer: fans of the Seinfeld television program may notice some similarities between the following absolutely true account and an episode of that show, which are purely coincidental.

It all began one clear, crisp, still autumn night in Fort Bragg. I was walking the streets with no particular purpose in mind, feeling slightly lycanthropic under a radiant hunter's moon and listening to dark songs of loss and despair. I crisscrossed the empty streets aimlessly, watching cats go about their serious nighttime affairs, eyes glittering maliciously as they crouched in foliage and under porches. I was headed south on Franklin when I saw a dark human figure a couple of blocks ahead at the corner of Chestnut. He/she was still, and appeared to be looking in my direction. Of indeterminate sex or age, I nonetheless surmised that someone standing on the street corner at 3:00 am was likely of an inclination sympathetic to me and my mission, and perhaps even waiting there for me. I was right, of course — when I got within range I saw it was a woman marginally known to me and a paid-up member of Tweaker Nation — and she without the slightest preamble or pussyfoot asked me whether I possessed anything on which to get high. Desperation, I thought. Someone's getting lucky tonight.

"Happens I do," I said. "Got someplace to go?"

She led me to an apartment on Walnut Street where we sat down and rolled a couple bowls of the finest. I was sitting there flipping channels on the TV at a rate barely discernible to human perception when she said she had something to do in the other room. I returned an expansive wave of the hand which as much as said she was free to explore any rooms she liked and I'd be fine watching 0.003 seconds of all of Comcast's early-morning slate, and that's the last thing I remember before waking up to what was hands down the most bizarre and unsettling return to consciousness in all my storied experience.

As previously outlined, I have evolved an admirable sangfroid in coping with arising to unfamiliar surroundings. "Expect the unexpected" has been deeply encoded into my operating system, and this ability to cope has stood me well in my adventuresome and surprise-filled life, but goddamnit, when you wake up feeling like an axe has split your head and open your eyes to find yourself being dragged by the ankles through the iceplant at the Mendocino Headlands toward the ocean by a sobbing, cursing harridan, I don't think I should be blamed for losing my shit.

I wrenched free of her grasp and pulled myself painfully to a sitting position.

"What in the FUCK is going on here?" I screamed. The exertion induced a blinding, searing pain in my head and I laid back down holding my melon "AaaahooooaaaaaasonofaBITCH," I howled.

"Oh, thank God. Oh, fuck. Oh, shit. Oh jesus. Oh man oh man oh man. Oh fuck yeah, you're alive."

"Of course I'm fucking alive, why wouldn't I be alive? What in the hell is the matter with you?"

"Oh man, oh shit, I thought you were dead!"

"Why would I be dead? What happened?"

"Because I hit you in the head with a blender."

As we made the drive back to Fort Bragg and Coast Hospital, the particulars of the situation were brought to light. Not exactly the standard-bearer for mental health in the first place, this woman's fragile hold on sanity had been attenuated to a critical point by days without sleep and lots of the 'ol zippety-doo-dah, and my contribution was enough to push her over the edge, paranoia-wise.

While I was innocently absorbing single frames of infomercials and B movies, she was in the bedroom contriving a scenario in her addled, frenzied mind wherein I was a crazed rapist-killer. Believing her life and virtue in jeopardy, she grabbed the nearest heavy object, a blender base from the kitchen counter, and clouted me in the bean with it, knocking me senseless. When I didn't wake up for a few minutes and after throwing water on me she went ahead and pronounced me dead (without bothering to check for vital signs) and dragged me out to her car, thence to the Headlands to allow Mother Pacific to conduct the funerary arrangements.

"You couldn't call 911? Check my pulse?" I asked her.

"I'm sorry, I panicked," she said.

Oh well. Understandable, if not excusable.

After several hours at the hospital undergoing concussion protocols, I was released back into the wild with a splitting headache, a fistful of A-plus pain medication, and a little bit of post-traumatic swooning whenever I remembered how close I'd come to experiencing a far ruder awakening than the one I had. As you know, the waters of the Headlands are not like unto a glassy millpond; they are the keep of an angry Neptune in full froth and would no doubt have drownt and dasht me in mere moments.

After episodes of misadventure I like to try and distill the experience into a cautionary lesson and create a pithy, easily recalled epigram on which to later refer in similar circumstances to forestall avoidable unpleasantness. The question here was, when exactly did things go wrong? Should it be, Keep Werewolf Expeditions Solo? Don't Go Home With Strangers? In Unfamiliar Surroundings, Don't Let Your Guard Down? That last sounds like just the ticket.

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