Once I found myself in the mall, I knew I was dreaming.
Now, like ghosts and Bigfoot, dreams are camera-shy, and melt into the background once you notice them. The trick is to shrug and say, OK, now I wonder what’s next. It never works, but it makes you feel like you tried, anyway. Your obligations to the dream are fulfilled and you can wake up with a clean conscience.
But this time, it did work, and it paid off in a visit with James Lileks. It just didn’t work very well. I can’t remember if I went to Minnesota, or if he decided to do a pictorial of Jersey Malls for the Institute of Official Cheer. I also can’t remember what he sounded like. (I’m not much good in a dream, am I?) But he was good company. I’m guessing that, because it was a dream, it all came off as natural – where else would James Lileks be but at a Jersey mall in January? – and so I didn’t stammer and gawk like a sophomore at a sci-fi convention. We shook hands. He had polite suggestions about a story I’d written. (Nice to know that I finally do finish the dratted thing.) His daughter, the famed Gnat, was properly adorable.
I do remember quite clearly that I suggested a diner, and we all went. He showed me the proofs for his new book over lunch. It was great, of course. I immediately decided to buy it when it was done. (Now that’s marketing – infiltrate the dreams of potential customers and shake their hands. Mwuhuahahaha!) One of the bits in the book was a conversation with God; someone asked Him a series of questions, and He replied exclusively in numbered lists for His own inscrutable purpose. One reply stood out. Darned if I remember the question, but God didn’t start with I, II, III, but with VIII, IX, X. And that was it.
“What happened to one through seven? Did they leave out a page?”
“No. God left out one through seven, for His own inscrutable purpose. You find out why later on.”
“Oh. That’s cool.”
“Actually, it was my idea,” Gnat chimed in. “Mortality can’t fully comprehend Infinite Being, so any physical manifestation of God is reductive by definition.”
“So, God must obscure Himself to be understood at all,” I replied.
“Not exactly,” she said, thoughtfully stirring her mac and cheese. “The limitation is ours. We have to screen out a lot of what He says in order not to be overwhelmed. Silence isn’t Him not answering, it’s us being unable to listen, but we can still hear enough to convince us of His goodness. That’s why you can read the same page of the Bible 20 times, and then on the 21st time you see something new.”
“Oh, and did you notice this?” James asked. He flipped over a few pages and pressed a little speaker icon, and the book promptly spoke.
“Man. Isn’t that expensive?”
“Hideously so. We can’t do it on every page, but it’s good for emphasis.”
“And is that really Charlton Heston as the voice of God?”
“How did you manage that?”
“It was nothing,” he said. “The Mac stuff is all integrated. I downloaded the sound file from the email attachment, opened it in iTunes, and linked it to the text the way you put a hyperlink into a web page. All very intuitive. Then you use this special paper – it has microfilament woven directly into the page; essentially it’s an extraordinarily thin memory card. The printer codes the sound file directly into the fibers. Two clicks and you’re done.”
“Neat,” I said, “but actually, I meant, how did you get Charlton Heston…”
He shrugged and said, “Hewitt owed me a favor. I got him to pull some strings.”
“And if I took the page and scanned it, would I be able to download the sound file?”
Well, duh. “Mike – this is MAC we’re talking.”
“Daddy? Can we go back to the mall and get a My Little Pony?”
Even as Gnat asked, we were interrupted by a guy talking about how fat New Jerseyans are getting. It turned out to be a real guy on the radio, in real life, waking me up. He was a professor at the Rutgers Department of Exercise Science and Sports Management.
I didn’t much care for the tone of his comments – apparently we’re just sacks of meat looking for a comfy sofa with which to merge. We circle for good parking at the foodstore “like vultures, just so they can go in and buy snacks.” I don’t know, maybe it was cold and raining and we only had a few minutes to rush in and get something for a dinner party. Maybe we were meeting someone later at the diner, for lunch. Maybe the gummint can step in and mandate that all non-handicapped parking be at least 100 yards from the front door, “for the children.”
Before this nonsense woke me up, I hope we all had flan. I love the flan at the Omega. One thing I do know is that on the way back to Minnesota, Gnat got her Pony.