Just A Teaser
What’s this keeping you from? some guy says, everyone packed
too tightly into the orange plastic chairs to be less than conversational,
amiable, intimate. As if proximity were the definition of physical
love, like lovers were any two people who could smell each other,
the public transportation system one big orgy. So many lovers, so
little time, Harold thinks, not looking up but feeling the man at
his elbow, sensing a blue blur, maybe a polyester suit.
I just meant, where do you work? Just a little friendly small talk,
we might have a long wait. It’s the same voice, a little cautious
now, a little apologetic, offered like a handshake. We’re
in this together, a voice like that might say.
I’m a janitor at Wayland Middle School, Harold says into
his book. But polite, civil. They are here to be civilians, after
all, right? An hour bus ride, a transfer at the downtown hub, and
then ten blocks to the courthouse to perform his civic duty, to
be cramped and waiting. Hell, it might even be a civil trial--they
have juries too, right?
The blue bulk of a man and his icy aftershave lean forward to read
Harold’s name tag. Hoover? he says, a friendly chuckle. Like
the vacuum cleaner?
No. But like the president, actually. My grandpa’s brother.
My great uncle.
No shit? The voice is a cusser this time. Nothing wrong with that.
None at all, Harold says.
Well damn, son! And then a pause. There is always a pause right
there, right before the voice says: Isn’t he the one that
got stuck in the bathtub?
No, that was Taft.
Hmmm... The silent scratching of a chin, maybe some facial hair.
Well what did Hoover do then?
J. Edgar Hoover, Harold says as he snaps his book shut and looks
the blue blur square in his brown eyes, was the first president
ever to wear a dress.
The Interpretation Of Dreams
Anyone, such as a scientific investigator, who pays attention
to his dreams over a period of time will have more dreams than usual—which
no doubt means that he remembers his dreams with greater ease and
frequency. --Sigmund Freud
Whitman leans his head against the arm of the couch and shuts his
eyes tightly. When he opens them again it’s as if the lights
have suddenly intensified, like he’s draped in the gaze of
God, blinded by it. These weekly visits seem daily; they leave his
skull swollen and throbbing. Who would have ever guessed that the
offices would look so much like the movies—the doctor hidden
behind a broad desk, the patient strung out on a vinyl couch with
his feet propped up like he’s fainted. Relax, relax—this
is what he’s supposed to do. But who could relax in a place
“Have you been having the dream again?” asks the doctor.
Whitman hasn’t been listening. “What dream?”
“You know very well what dream,” the doctor says, his
voice calming but disembodied, lost somewhere in the luminous gulf
that fills the room. Whitman does know exactly what dream—it’s
all they ever talk about at these sessions, and frankly he’s
tired of it. What is he paying? Forty dollars an hour to repeat
the same story over and over again? It seems to Whitman that the
doctor just likes hearing it, the way he leans forward with his
elbows on the desk and mutters incomprehensibly into his fists,
stopping periodically to jot a note onto the legal pad in front
of him—as if the details ever change.
The dream always starts in Whitman’s bathroom, a predawn
moonlit quiet settled over the apartment, as if he’s gotten
up to pee and decided to make an early start of the day. His shaving
kit is out and waiting, and he runs the water warm, whistling a
bit of a tune he can never remember later. Everything is normal,
except the hour, until he bends over to splash his face. It is only
then, the hot slap of fingers on his cheeks like some kind of switch,
that he realizes he’s 14 and doesn’t need to shave at
He stands up to examine himself in the mirror, and suddenly, behind
him, just inches over his shoulder, is Bill Murray, the comedian.
His lips are poised there as if he’s about to whisper a secret
into Whitman’s ear, but he never does.
The two stare at each other.
An unseen audience, or maybe just a laugh track, chuckles in the
This only seems mildly unusual to the dream-child Whitman. What’s
more pressing, however, is that he knows, somehow, that he and Bill
Murray share a birthday—September 21, 1950—and yet Whitman
is 14 and the comedian is something like 50. He toys with the impossibility
of this like a yo-yo, repeatedly pulling closer to an understanding,
and then having it slip away.
Whitman dresses for school, but already it’s past noon. He’s
missed all of his classes, but isn’t late for baseball practice,
so he rides his bike to the park. The whole time Bill Murray is
hovering over his right shoulder like a full-sized cartoon angel,
waiting to tell him something important. Whenever Whitman turns
his head or catches the reflection of Bill behind him in a store
window the audience laughs. The degree of humor seems to vary. Sometimes
Bill shifts his head to one side comically, like a dog, and they
The team is taking batting practice, and soon it’s Whitman’s
turn to hit. He walks to the plate and Bill follows close behind,
symmetric as a shadow.
“I have to hit now, Mr. Murray,” Whitman says.
They look at each other. Bill cocks his head. The audience chuckles.
“Really, sir, if I swing I’ll hit you.” Bill
cocks his head to the other side and puts his hands behind his back.
The audience is hysterical.
The two continue arguing one-way for several minutes, never face
to face, necks craning to see each other in a series of ticks and
spasms. At one point Whitman stands in the batter’s box and
threatens to swing anyway, but his conscience won’t let him
lift the bat from his shoulder. His frustration grows until it’s
unbearable, until the audience is a thunderclap all around him,
and he wakes up back in his room, just minutes after he’d
He has this dream almost every night and can never sleep; it’s
why he needs therapy.
“Well?” the doctor is saying, growing impatient. Whitman
hasn’t said anything. He’s still on the couch, and he
squints into the blinding light, trying to make out the voice’s
source. He hears a watch ticking, a hum that might be a radiator,
a dry cough somewhere far off. Time passes, seconds or maybe minutes.
“CUT! CUT!” the doctor finally growls from above him,
more than just impatient. The lights dim to a tolerable setting
as if on command, and the doctor materializes from behind his long
The doctor is Bill Murray.
“Jesus Christ, guy,” Bill Murray says, chewing on a
pipe like the ghost Sigmund Freud. “You have four goddamn
lines to remember.”
Copyright © 2004 Timothy Green. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Top of Page