05.03.2006the island resort (a dream)
wherein I dream about going to work on a tropical resort. This was a long dream, so it is broken down into parts, the first being below:
I dream that I have taken a summer job working as a waiter or bartender on some kind of island resort. The dream logic is that I am going to (finally) indulge myself in a clichéd whim, that I am going to do it before I get too proverbially old. I've never driven cross-country. I never moved to Japan to teach English, never applied to film school. The one time I gave everything up for love I, in point of fact, hedged a bunch of bets, trading in an old life as a writer for a new one managing internet companies. What I am (dream) thinking is that I have really earned a fucking summer playing in the sun.
The resort is run Club Med/Fantasy Island style: guests fly in against the backdrop of a pinkish sunset, guests are greeted and garlanded with orchids, guests happily give control of their lives over to attentive staff for a week or two, to pleasure machines and instrumentalities that hum away constantly and invisibly. Guests fly off. Me, I'm here to be staff, so I fly off from Los Angeles in a mildly decrepit charter jet that touches down hard at a strictly functional, single-runway. (How many hours later? Is this island in the Pacific or Atlantic?) My only greeter is a punishing, noontime sun, and I think to myself that I have overshot something and landed behind a curtain, a backstage to a place where the actual dreams are being made.
There are at least a hundred other summer employees flying in with me and no sooner has the plane stopped taxing than we join a slow moving queue that starts right there in the plane's aisle. The queue snakes out of the cabin door, down the simple stairs that have been wheeled up to the plane, and across the weed and grass-cracked tarmac for hundred and hundreds of yards, all of us shuffling towards a bunker-like building that sits in the distance behind shimmering heat haze. There is no sign of anything suggesting a high-end resort, but the bunker sits directly against tall, thick line of trees. I imagine the resort lying in splendor behind those trees, in the cooling shadow of low, lush green mountains that huddle at the horizon.
Once the queue has moved enough for me to get a good look at the airport I see that there are dozens of other planes on the tarmac, each slowly spilling their own cargo of summer staff. I have two immediate realizations: almost everyone here is white, with a smattering of black and brown and Asian faces, and almost everyone on the tarmac is just a few years out of college, the even mix of men and women all looking a good ten-to-fifteen-to-FUCK-twenty years younger than me. Many seem have come to work here in pre-established groups, some of which seem large enough to have been split between several planes. People break off from the lines and rejoin them as needed, chattering excitedly and high-fiving and hugging, progress towards the bunker at times slowed by these reunions to a hot, near crawl. The traffic flows only one way, and after each plane has been emptied of passengers and refueled it backs away from the throng, roaring off into the sky. I think to myself that it should bother me just a little how everyone arrives here and no one leaves, but then this doesn't feel like that kind of dream to me, like a horror movie or nightmare. I think to myself that, anyway, it's the beginning of the season. What kind of idiot leaves paradise this early, before anything has started to bloom?
Hours pass stop-motion style, the sun changing angle overhead. I'm not frightened by the strange lack of context or meaningful activity on the tarmac, but I am confused. I wonder whether the resort is in some financial distress or if it is just poorly run. There seems to be too much milling about, and the bunker seems too small to hold or process everyone. Despite the large number of new arrivals there doesn't seem to be any HR or orientation staff. I don't feel hungry or thirsty but can imagine both, wonder if anyone will pass out from the heat and the sun, where the bathrooms are.
I am three-quarters of the way to the bunker before I see my first resort official. Up until then it's only been pilots and bored flight attendants and fuel technicians sweating in the sun (we were all told to bring single carry-ons, so there are no baggage handlers), but now a small, perky white woman is moving methodically up the line, a clipboard and neat stack of manila envelopes in her hands. She spends just a few moments with each person, nodding at them and handing them an envelope, sparing a few extra words here and there. When she get to me she flashes what feels like a particularly friendly smile.
You must be Gary, she says. Welcome.
Before I can wonder how she know I am me, she hands me an envelope with my first name written on it in a school-marmish cursive, keeps plowing up the line behind me. I open the envelope and find the application I had mailed into the resort's management company, but closer inspection reveals that the "Gary" recorded here isn't me. The last name, address and SSN are all wrong, as is (most glaringly) my date of birth. According to this I am 49, a middle-aged male looking to while away a few months in the sun with children half his age, or maybe to marry a wealthy, vacationing dowager.
I drop out of the line to bring the mix-up to the staffer's attention. She frowns at me, rifling through her stack of envelopes. When she finally finds the right envelope I tell her no harm done; at least I know that I'm not the oldest person here. She makes an uncomfortable stab at a laugh that leaves me tight with embarrassment. I may not be the oldest person here, but in her mind I was clearly enough of an outlier to be grouped with him. I peer up and down the line for this other, older Gary, hoping not for solidarity but for a chance to disavow him, but endless rows of 22 and 23 year-olds smile back at me. Their rote enthusiasm and youth, their effortlessly exercised bodies strike me as implicit indictments. I feel fat and old. I wonder if I have made a mistake coming here.
By this point the multiple queues snaking away from individual planes are converging, picking up speed in jerky fits and starts as groups of friends (found or newly made?) organize and re-organize themselves in search of advantages that seem social rather than positional. I feel like I am the only person on the tarmac actually trying to get to the bunker. For a brief spell the queue's endless shuffle leaves me standing next to a young woman of vaguely Middle Eastern / Mediterranean extraction, and she quickly morphs into an ex-neighbor from my waking life. She will turn out to be the only person in the dream I actually know, and even at that early stage she seems a strange choice for special guest star. All I can say for sure about the actual, undreamt of girl is that I remember her as unremarkable. She'd road-tripped into LA from a tiny Midwestern town with a group of friends and ended up happily waving good-bye at them as they drove home, her planned, week-long visit turning into a six month stay on the ratty couch of a warren-like, transient-filled loft. She worked odd jobs and partied before eventually disappearing back into the heartland, and I remember her mostly from awkward elevator rides in the early morning or late evening, both of us silently meditating on disappointment or hope as was appropriate to the hour.
As in waking life, we have very little to say to one another in the dream. A hug and a few awkward expressions of surprise at having run into each other "like this" exhausts our entire universe of possible exchange, and during the queue's next spasm of expansion and contraction she starts drifting towards another part of the line. There is a moment or two during which I could safely, plausibly stop her, perhaps suggesting that we reconnect on the other side of the bunker, but I let her disappear, worried that she'll take my overture as a come on. The part of me that knows this is a dream thinks to itself that if I had actually wanted dream-fuck her (wanted in any particular way, as opposed to just ambiently or categorically) I should have found a way to be more "on" conversationally, but to what end? I don't want to talk to her, I'm just worried that I won't know anyone else here or make any new friends, that I'll go all summer with no one to talk to. Also, it's not that kind of dream.
My fear of being alone is not so acute that I am moved to interact with anyone else on line, and I don't leave my place to join any newly accreted crews, so my movement towards the bunker becomes relatively swift and unimpeded. My accelerating forward progress starts to strike me as an index of my likeability; I feel like a limp rag-doll sinking to the bottom of a toy chest over constricting cycles of under-use, newer toys below me being fished out for play and then re-stocked above me. As bodies peel off from the queue I wonder if there are people who will spend the entire summer like this, making friends at the airport and cycling through the line, never getting where they set out to go. I notice for the first time that more planes are landing, disgorging new arrivals. There must be thousands of us on the tarmac, and now and then some intrepid soul will wander to the front and ask this or that question about what is happening. I answer the questions I can, which turn out to be almost all of them, what with all the hours I've been waiting. I'm surprised by how much information I've stored, think back to how confused I was when I first landed. Everything seems so obvious to me now - the etiquette of cutting, the manila envelopes, the pattern-making dance of affinity and disinterest, all that movement and waiting and choice graphed on a single, curving line. I know a million things that the people behind me don't know and even if it's only by dint of just standing and persisting, even if the information is pointless and gifted to those who do no more than wait, I know it all all the same. The knowing means I'm almost there.
Something changes in the dream just then, though, shifts invisibly under my feet as if I'm some kind of cartoon character striding across a map, left foot on one color, right foot on another. Just as quickly as it arrived my mild confidence that I know where I am it goes all to hell. It's because of the bunker, because of how close to it I've gotten. The bunker reminds me that the things I need to know all lie ahead of me and not behind. The only real information I have about what's coming is a literal value concerning the queue itself, a variable that declines by one or two or five every time people peel off or enter the bunker. Ninety nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven, ninety, eighty, seventy-seven, seventy - As the number of people in front of me enters a range that can be mapped to a plausible human life-span, I start mentally subtracting my own, current age, creating a second, nestled set of numbers (62, 61, 60, 53, 43, 40, 33) whose decline I track with an inverted, mounting anxiety. When that second, nestled value jumps down to a value less than my age my mind goes blank, gets filled by a cold, mute, voiding terror. Although I'm still walking towards the bunker I feel frozen in place, my legs heavy and under-responsive. A reset button has been pressed somewhere inside me and I find I can no longer say exactly where I am or what I have come here to do.
And then I'm next, standing in front of a pair of sliding glass doors that lead into the bunker. In the dream I have trouble recognizing the doors or the bunker for what they are, have to force myself to think through how I got there in step-after-step increments. I replay how I got on a plane in LA, how I came here of my own volition, but the specific why's leading up to the flight have gone all hazy. The doors themselves are immaterial, difficult to pin down as objects. They suddenly suggest portals and magicks and teleports, spooky black boxes that somehow work across great distances and perhaps dimensions. The glass/not-glass is tinted and I can't see through it, but I can tell without touching that the surface will be very cool, a line of demarcation distinguishing highly differentiated zones of temperature, air-pressure and moisture.
A man sits high on tennis-official like chair next to the sliding doors. The angle of the sun and the brim of his hat prevent me form discerning his race or age, but I know he is smiling down at me.
Welcome to the resort, he says.
Something about this jogs my memory. It strikes me a something you would say to a guest, but as far as I can remember I have come here to work. Perhaps I am in the wrong place, standing on the wrong line?
I look over my shoulder at the tarmac one last time before going into the bunker. If I was awake I'd gasp. There must be millions of them.
[to be continued]