The alligator dream; a nighttime expression of work-related angst

I’m not a nightmare-haver. I’m not an ecstatic flying-with-dolphins dream haver. Most of the time I have dreams, they’re usually angst of some sort. I’ll have a dream where I’m back in college and miss the deadline for dropping classes and have to catch up in some class I never intended to take. Or endless long beurocratic lines somewhere, each of which proves incorrect. Or realizing I have left for a meeting or class, so I’m going to be 10 minutes late no matter what I do. Nothing terrifying, just not pleasant. I even went through a period where I dreamed I was awake all night. I’d wake up exhausted, and it took me a while to catch on.

For a while, my angst dreams went away. My friend Keith Golden, a bassist and a hell of a guy, cured them for me unintentionally. He’s that cool. I was having a normal angst dream, it was a college-age party at someone’s dank house. I didn’t know anyone. (This would have been enough of an angst dream for me, but my subconscious had other plans.) I would walk up with a red plastic cup of college-party-beer and stand with a group of people who were talking and laughing, and when there was a break in the conversation, I’d introduce myself or make a joke. Each and every time, the entire group would look at me like I’d shit my pants or something and walk away in disgust. (This isn’t entirely dissimilar to how my daily life works some of the time, but I digress.) I finally gave up and just sat on a sofa in a corner and nursed my warm college-party-beer in the red plastic cup. (Red on the outside, white on the inside, and ribbed for your college-party-beer-gripping pleasure.)

At the opposite side of the couch, a cute girl plopped down and sighed. She had her own red plastic cup of beverage. Without looking at her, and against my better instincts, I made some kind of comment about the party. To my surprise, she acknowledged my dark assessment about the crowd, and we struck up a pleasant conversation. Nothing deep, nothing sexy, just entirely pleasant after a night of complete alienation. After a little while, she said, “What did you say your name was?” I said, Robert, Robert Muller. She said, “Ohhh, you’re a friend of Keith Golden’s, right?! He says you’re a hell of a guy!” In all seriousness, I replied Yes, yes I am. And with her mention of Keith Golden, the party’s sinister atmosphere totally changed. The room, which was formerly “crowded” was now “vital,” the “oppressive” lighting became “groovy” or something (I was going to say romantic, but there wasn’t anything romantic going on), and the sinister activities of the individual chatting cliques suddenly gave the room a nice comfortable feeling since nobody was alone and everybody was involved with something. It was fun. And it was probably how real life works; a party isn’t fun until you have fun at it, then it feels different.

I didn’t have angst dreams again for probably 3 years, and they’ve never come back full force. Yes, Keith Golden is that cool.

It’s been a pretty bad week of work, and my daytime explorations of the darker regions of my mind have triggered some dreams again. I forget them usually, but the one last night woke me up and I remembered it. It was brief.

My job was at a zoo. I was outside in sunny weather standing in front of a really inviting looking pool, the kind you see in Florida real estate ads with fountains and steps and a funny kidney shape. Big, wide steps, too. But it housed a really big alligator, and the alligator was grumpy and fast. So my job was to keep people from swimming in the big inviting pool on a hot day. They seemed to know it was an alligator pen of some sort (that’s how I know it was an alligator and not a croc, I overheard people), but their toddlers and preschoolers just wouldn’t stay away from the water. I was mostly successful in yanking kids off the first step as they started to walk into the pool. After several successful saves in a row, a guy dressed like Steve Irwin – khaki shirt, khaki shorts – walks up and stands next to me. He’s apparently also a zoo employee. He shouts like a circus caller, and with his British accent, he invites people to step right up for a nice swim. For some reason, it doesn’t occur to me to stop him from doing that, after all, we all have a job to do, right? As a result of his encouragement, people are more aggressive about getting into the pool, and I find myself forcibly shoving the alligator back down with my alligator-shoving stick and frantically snatching kids with water wings just barely out of his gaping maw. I don’t bring swim toys to the zoo when I bring my daughter, but it made sense at the time. The pace of people speeds up and each rescue gets more demanding, and I finally can’t outpace them. As the alligator is finally about to snap some kid in half, I wake up, freezing and heart racing.

I’m on top of my covers, and dogs have stragetically snuck onto the bed and pinned them down for maximum dog comfort and minimum access by me. If I had been completely awake, I’d have kicked the dogs off the bed, but I was carefully avoiding anything that would have made me fully wake up. I was pretty cold, and my brilliant way of getting back to sleep and trying to stay warm was to roll onto the floor with my pillow and sleep the rest of the night totally uncovered. I found sleep quickly, eventually woke up even colder than before and just before I should start working. I fought the dogs off the bed so I could cover up and warm up for 4 minutes before I had to get up and work.

No more angst dreams for the night, but this was an unexpected deviation of my not-a-nightmare-but-not-fun dreams. Strange as it may sound, I’m curious where this will lead and I look forward to more.