38. Back in Town

Alan flew home overnight from the coast. The surly cab driver who had picked him up at Kennedy Airport made a u-turn to drop him at his building. It was still dark. An unfamiliar overnight doorman stood sleepily to let him in. Alan dropped his bags in the lobby and wrenched the mail out of the overstuffed box. A simple thing, the mail, but it welcomed him and when some bills slipped on to the floor it didn’t matter. He was glad to pick them up. He was on the ground, in his own building. He’d made it home.

When he got upstairs he changed and went through the bills and letters in the front hall, but before he slept he needed breakfast. He had become accustomed to the orange juice served each morning at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and he had to have some this morning. Of course, he knew that bottled juice would be inferior, but he grabbed his wallet anyway and headed down the elevator and back outside to walk the three blocks to the market. The sun was still low.

An occasional taxi heading downtown hardly disturbed the neighborhood repose. He passed one guy arranging suitcases in the trunk of a double-parked car and an elderly lady waiting for her feeble gray poodle to go.

He felt hung over either from the flight or from spending a whole week in Lotus Land, as they called it, or from the drinks—probably not a good idea—that he’d had to help him sleep. It was Friday. He had the day to recuperate and then he would take the train to the country.

He crossed Lexington at the red Don’t Walk sign, no traffic in sight. He loved doing that. The city felt like a different place at this hour, a place he wasn’t normally permitted to see, like walking into an empty theater between shows. The unfamiliar long shadows and the shouts of sunlight here and there altered what seemed unalterable: the dingy commercial block below Third looked less grim and neglected. Or maybe the blue sky somehow upstaged the dirty signs, torn awnings, and rusted gates.

Maybe he was just glad to see a little dirt after the surreal perfection of the west coast.

Was the market open at this hour? He tried the door and to his relief it gave way, and he slid inside where it was cool and smelled like carrot greens, bologna, and old coffee grounds.

With his small bundle, he walked back to the apartment. Bread, milk, marg, OJ, apples, a potato, and a steak. Provisions. He felt renewed, replanted.

img_1468His mind returned to the matters he had been contemplating on the plane east (with the aid of gin and tonic water).

He had had a disturbing dream that first day in Hollywood. Not like him to nod off at a casting session, but no one said much about it, and he made up for his lapse twice over in managing an excellent shoot: good talent, a no-bull-shit director, and Mel, who, however annoying, went along with his decisions and managed to charm the studio people to do the same.

The colorful quiet New York street struck him now as rather like a film set: a series of brownstone entranceways, a flower pot on each, a dog walker rounding the corner. His mind relaxed, giving way to the imagery, and his thoughts snuck warily out of bounds back to that morning. He had tried to forget that morning, especially the dream. But he had wandered through some parts of it again and again.

The dream had seemed so real, like he had seen the future, or experienced a parallel life. Wasn’t that a theory of Einstein’s? Where had he heard that? It embarrassed him to think this way; pop psychology was not his thing.

He went over what he could remember of the dream, which wasn’t much. He had feverishly been trying to save an advertising campaign, all the while being tricked. The whole thing was a ruse, like he was a rat in a cage madly stepping on a lever, on and on, not knowing that the reward will never come. The effort he had made in the dream was all for nothing, and worse, he had been duped somehow. Wally, his friend, had betrayed him. Wally a turncoat with himself ending up expendable, tossed aside, inconsequential.

Had it been his fault somehow? He couldn’t remember, and he also couldn’t figure out the point. The lesson. Weren’t dreams supposed to have lessons? His efforts had been pointless, was it all pointless? That’s what he had begun to wonder. The whole advertising business, the business he worked on every day. What was the point of it? For him, Alan. He used to love it, ad-making, but not anymore, not the advertising business. Christ, stop making such a big deal, he thought. I like my job. I’m just worn out from all the phony Hollywood bullshit.

Claire Whitman had been in the dream too. At one point she had impossibly walked in the door of Mel’s casting session. Then they were by the hotel pool and she (all wet and so sexy, her indifference to him declaring his inadequacy) dared him to push himself, to take a risk. Was it something specific, he couldn’t recall, but something big—that’s what it seemed like. Had he lost his edge? Is that what she’d said?

Maybe he should change jobs, hell, maybe careers. That had occurred to him on the plane. A frightening idea. Was that what the dream was telling him?

He had sat on the plane and made lists of what he loved and hated about the job at Dunaway, of agencies and companies he knew, or would ever consider working for. A dream made him do all that! Ridiculous. But he had felt better afterward.

Claire had certainly done a number on him. In the dream, it was as if she knew him from years ago and saw through him now. He had felt a little bit that way on their date two weeks before the business trip. She had intrigued him with her freedom, her edge, and her smarts. Their easy word-play—how they clicked—had actually scared him a little. Of course, she also made his intestines go into knots—he flushed ten degrees hotter at the thought of her even now, or maybe it was the sun on his back walking up this hill.

In the elevator, it struck him that his wife, Liddie, had not appeared in the dream, had seemed to have no place. That was big. Bigger than anything else.

As he turned the key to their apartment, he knew he would have to face that someday, his failed marriage, but he wasn’t ready yet, it was only August.

© Lisa Anderson 2016

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