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The dream
Short story

February 23, 2005

Just to know that if a man wanted to, he could walk into a video store and walk out with a dream. Not even a dream to get all excited about, but something to walk home carrying as casually as if it were a loaf of bread. Somehow that made it even more magnificent, as though it had already gone straight inside him, skipping any outward effects. He wouldn't have a smile but he'd have a purpose, and a big one at that, if you stopped and thought about it. He'd be taking all this stuff with a city and streets and people and everything inside them and squeezing it down into something manageable, love, let's say, or death.

I used to come through Seattle on a Saturday afternoon and the sky would be gray but Broadway would be beautiful because of the way everything in it went with a gray sky, and I would be wondering what to do about the whole thing. There was no one thing to match a heart, it seemed. And I'd think about somebody going to rent a movie, coming out of one of the brick apartment buildings with their jacket and maybe a hat, and walking among the people to a place where the whole thing would be made clean, where the story would be made clear. There would be some parameters given to the whole thing, externally in terms of an afternoon, and internally in terms of whatever the story was about. It was always sunny in the movie somehow, whether or not there was a sun. I'd see him walking home with the video and I'd see how bright the day was, along with being gray.

But it was enough for me to see him, because if it was really that close, then the truth was that it was even closer. He'd be walking, him and his dream, and I'd be thinking of how I was walking with mine just as much. I was walking with mine even though it wasn't something I could hold in my hand. I didn't know how long or short it was or what its mood was like or anything about it. But it was enough to know that if I wanted to, I could walk into a place and pick the mood it would have for a couple of hours. If it was that easy, then imagine what I could do if I put a little effort into it.

It was a confusing thing though because putting a little effort into it didn't necessarily make the whole thing more eventful. I didn't know it at the time, but it was an all-or-nothing thing to go without the dream that you could hold in your hand. It looked like it was made of opportunity on a street like Broadway, and it was, but it was made of that same opportunity on a dark night in a quiet room. If it was a dream that was always there, then it was going to always be something to go without too. He was walking home with the movie to watch it, after all. I liked the walking with it more than the watching, the way he was telling all the world that he was a man with a dream.

He and I were after the same thing, only I didn't have something to show for it, not out in the street anyway. At home I had tried to write some stories, and they had been enough to make me not need anything else out in the street, but still somehow I wanted to have something outward the way he did. The dream was the kind of thing that was so big that you felt like if you could walk down the street and people could see it, it might take some of its burden off you and spread it around a little bit. The idea was that it was something to share, after all. He was sharing by participating in the dream the way that everybody acknowledged was the way to participate in it. I was dreaming of moving to San Francisco and not having a T.V. I didn't know what it was going to look like, but I felt like I had enough access to the dream without it. And I knew I had enough access because I didn't have anything against him. He could be walking with whatever movie he wanted to be walking with. The one that I was after was not available for rent.

As much as I liked how the day turned bright when I saw him, I was interested in how a day could turn bright for a young man walking down the street holding nothing in his hand. I wanted to see if it could turn bright from what wasn't needed and what wasn't there. What wasn't there in my hand wasn't absent from the scene. It was there in the way that the one place I knew that didn't have what I was looking for was the video store. I used to forget that that was even an option, until I saw the fellow with the video. And then there was a thrill in seeing him because one possibility was that it meant that life was so full that a man could afford to put it off for a couple of hours and watch somebody else's.

There was nothing about life itself though that made it seem like something to put off. It seemed like it wasn't going to wait at all. That thrill was a false one because the thrill had to be in what a man did. It had to be in a quiet room at night. That was where the fellow with the movie was going too. The street was a wonderful place to see him and everybody else, but it was best when it led to that room.

I ended up doing that, having a street like that that led to a room like that, and I had it as my own because it was in a new city. I did it for years, and on one of those evenings, I might have thought of a young man walking home carrying a video, and I would think of the movie I had seen that day, and how it had been too much to go see another one at night. I was sure the one that he was carrying was good, it probably had some of the same things the day had had for me, but it was the one I could afford to put off. I could afford to put it off for so long that I could forget about it. I could forget about it and then remember it a long time later, and I would feel good about whatever I had done instead of watch it, even if I didn't know exactly what that was. And everybody I knew didn't know what to make of me. They wondered what was taking up the space in a young man that the movie was supposed to take up, and I could understand their wondering because it was nothing that they could see.

I was glad I'd found it though. I was glad I'd found it and I was glad it didn't look like anything walking down the street. I didn't want it to look any different walking down the street, even though I was doing something different at night. I wanted everybody to know that I was participating in the same dream too, even if I happened to have a different way of going about it. I didn't want anybody to think that I was outside of anything by not participating in the televised dream, because where I felt like I was going each night was inside. When I saw everybody the next day, I felt sure that I had been going inside, and I couldn't say exactly what I'd found there, but I was sure that that was the direction.

And now something happens to me when I am at somebody's house and the suggestion is made to watch a movie they've rented. It's something that goes back to the fellow on Broadway and the way that I had nothing but love for him even though I knew that his approach wasn't going to be mine. I know it's the kind of thing that may not seem like it qualifies as an approach, but my feeling back there on the street was that what a man did with his heart was everything, even if it was just for a couple of hours. It isn't an occasion to get up and leave, but it is something to go into knowingly, to know that something is being put aside when the movie comes on, and it's not something that's ever put aside for good, but getting it back afterwards is going to take a lot of humility. I felt like putting that humility to better use, and getting to know the humility of never walking home with a movie in my hand, going without that certainty of a night because I was trying to find some other certainty, the certainty of a life. And that gave more certainty to a night than I ever would have guessed.

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