Dreaming on Public Buses
I have been lately dreaming of becoming a different person, and of dying. I have been dreaming of the phrase “shuffle off this mortal coil,” which I first heard at about age 14, when I added William Shakespeare to my list of obsessions, a list that previously included NWA, the television show M*A*S*H, Spike Lee’s movie She’s Gotta Have It, and Hydrox cookies.
That year I won an acting competition in Los Angeles — my first time ever getting paid for artistic work. I did some random monologue from a contemporary comedy, the name of which I will never remember. The runner up performed the monologue in which this phrase appears. I assume he didn’t win because no director or casting agent ever wants to see an amateur perform To Be Or Not To Be from Hamlet. But it was my first time ever seeing it and I sat in the wings of the Beverly theatre watching this random guy who I would never see again say the most riveting words I’d ever heard spoken. On the long bus ride home from the theatre to the hot stucco apartment in Van Nuys I shared with my mom, clutching a $500 check and a card from a Beverly Hills television agent in an envelope, I nodded off into sleep among the piss and fumes and etched graffiti, the engine sputtering and sweating under my seat, the fruit stands and families and nodding heroin addicts rolling by outside the cloudy window. I drifted into sleep and dreamt about what might be beyond this mortal coil.
That was thirty years ago. I have been lately dreaming of a small group of people. I don’t know who any of them are. In one moment we are gathered in a haphazard circle at a farm in Iceland. An animal has learned to do human gestures of love and we have come to see it. A cow that plays the violin, a hippopotamus that writes poetry. We laugh gently, clap quietly, nod approvingly. In another we are in a subterranean area, the cragged rocks of the cave walls lined with thin strips of neon. A famous author is finally acknowledging my work. In waking life it has not escaped my notice that even though we publish in the same circles, she has never liked or retweeted anything I’ve made. I admire her work. Later I re-unite with my love in a parking garage somewhere in a suburb of Bejing. The dust and silt and smoke from construction and fires traps us in a cloud. My love is wearing a mask. I am not. “Daaaaaaaamn” she playfully says to me about my uncovered face. I laugh. I know I’m going to die. My love always makes me laugh.
I have been lately dreaming of losing weight, of winning a National Book Award, of living on an island, of taking my children to the US Open. I have been dreaming of revolution, of secession, of freedom. I have been dreaming of land off the grid, of chopping wood until my body is so sore that the only energy I have left is the energy it takes roast a cauliflower, make a black bean soup, and fuck my love until we fall together head first into a deathly slumber under the moon, while the coyotes and crickets howl and whistle through the night. I have been dreaming of Brooklyn, of beautiful Black people dancing in the streets, wearing on our bodies the most outrageous and resplendent forms of artistry we can find, biking together in groups, music loud, arguing over chess games, closing twitter, forgetting about the president, together adhering to that unspoken but most vital spiritual accord: “fuck these people, ain’t nobody thinking about them.”
I have been dreaming about what it means to shuffle off this mortal coil, and I don’t know everything that is beyond this. I don’t know it in the exact same way that I don’t know where the end of the universe is. I just know that out there is a forever of nothingness that contains also everything. But what I do know, a little more each day, is that just on the other side of the door between life and beyond life, maybe even laid across the threshold of it like a welcome mat between realms, there are dreams. And I have been dreaming. Of you and me, of us and them, of a nothingness that contains everything. I have been dreaming on public buses, it seems, for the entirety of my life. Sometimes I think it is the only thing that keeps me here.