A Working Dream

The other night, I had an odd dream.  I was at a restaurant.  While I couldn’t identify which restaurant it was, I somehow knew that it was my friend’s restaurant and he or she was short-staffed so I offered to help.  In what felt like a several-hour shift, I ran around taking orders, serving food, and clearing tables – although since I have no prior experience working in a restaurant I kept making mistakes that caused trouble that exceeded the amount of help I provided.

If I’m not mistaken, the dream was near the end of my night’s sleep.  When I awoke, I was exhausted as if I had been working all night long.  Weird, huh?

The Meaning of Dreams

Normally not one to have elaborate dreams, this morning I awoke from an intense, emotionally-gripping one. 

The setting was my maternal grandparents’ house in suburban Kansas City.  Many different family members were there along with a few friends.  We were getting ready for a party and in order to make enough space for guests, I disassembled my grandparents’ bedroom furniture and moved it to another room.  The guests, strangely, were for the most part young Thais who were looking for jobs, as if at some sort of career center.  While at the party they were preparing resumes, practicing interviewing skills, etc.

When it came time for everyone to go home, I scrambled to get things cleaned up and organized.  The bedroom furniture had not yet been correctly reassembled and there were loads of dishes soaking in the sink.  My grandparents returned and my grandfather was very upset, fuming that things had been disturbed and I had not fulfilled my promise to put everything back in order.  My grandmother was calmer, yet I sensed that she was unhappy with the mess in her kitchen.

Suddenly I was outside the house, in their large front yard with huge old trees.  The yard had become a cemetery, though, and I was struggling to get back inside and finish my duties before a group of oddly Victorian mourners approached.

That was the dream.

I would generally describe myself as a person who faces life with equanimity.  Many times, friends and acquaintances have remarked about the “calm under pressure” with which I handle the challenges that life presents.  Whether managing an oversold film festival event or helping someone through the rigors of relationships, I consider myself a steady rock to which people can cling.

But beneath this veneer of calm detachment, I wonder if I’m not deeply afraid of letting those about whom I care, down.  Two themes about which I think this dream may have spoken:

The first is my relationship with my grandparents, vis-a-vis my coming out.  When I came out to my family more than 18 years ago, my grandfather was particularly disapproving and there was, for several years, a rift between us.  He was never mean, but I come from a very religious family and he and my grandmother are the root of our faith, so he saw the issue in the context of “I love you because you’re my grandson, but the Bible tells us that you are also a sinner.” 

(Let’s not get caught up in the religious back-and-forth of believers versus non-believers for the purposes of this post…)

My grandmother was more accepting of the situation and over time, thanks to I don’t know what conversations between them and also my parents, my grandfather’s view moderated.  In 2004, when Tawn and I held our commitment ceremony, both my grandparents were there.  And while they were not able to drive up to Iowa for our recent marriage, due to the discomfort of a long overnight road trip at their age, they were a part of the reception and a mention of our “civil ceremony” even made it into my grandfather’s weekly email missive to extended family members.

When I invited my grandparents to the wedding, I couched the invitation in terms of, “I don’t know if this is something you would be comfortable with, but it would mean a lot to us for you to attend.”  While often preferring to avoid the confrontational issues rather than addressing them, my grandfather acknowledged that his thinking on the topic had “evolved” (his word) over time.

I think it is safe to say that with regards to the first theme in the dream, there is still an unresolved question in my mind of letting my family down, wondering whether I am not the person they expected me to be, even though they have been and become a very wonderful source of support in my life.

A second, related theme emerges from the dream: Recently, a number of friends have shared their troubles.  From relationship problems to medical ones, from aging parents to one friend being infected with HIV by a psychopathic partner in the partner’s desperate attempt to force them to stay together, I have received more stories in the past week than I have in a long time.

For each of these people, I want to provide the very best support I can.  I want to be a good friend.  I want to be there in whatever way I can when they need me. 

And I’m worried that I may not be able to.

I know what you’re going to say.  There isn’t enough time in this life for us to help everyone or to fix everything.  We need to have the serenity to accept the things we can’t change, the strength to change the things we can, and the wisdom to tell them apart.  That’s the Serenity Prayer familiar to those in A.A. and other support groups and undoubtedly applicable to each of our lives.

Yes, I know that.  And generally that’s what I believe.  But if my dreams this morning were any indication, maybe I don’t believe it fully.

Action Adventure Dream

Normally, I sleep without dreams, at least none that I remember.  But last night I had a rather intense dream that seemed to last a long while.  Perhaps because I’ve been thinking about my primary school days recently, combined with the question of adding and deleting people on Facebook, the dream took an odd form.

Set in an action/adventure genre along the lines of James Bond or various Hong Kong cop and mafia movies, in my dream I was (as an adult) working in some half-finished abandoned office building.  Several bad guys, all of whom had been bullies in my primary school, were after me, trying to kill me.  I had to fight back using nothing more than my gun, my fists and my wits.

I woke up before anything substantial happened, like stepping out of the cinema mid-film and not returning. 

Thinking more about it, I think the dream was partly influenced by the fact that I chose not to add a few suggested friends on Facebook who were people I don’t have pleasant memories of.  One in particular used to tease me in junior high school because my jeans were a bit short – I was growing taller quite fast – making fun of my “floods”, as he called them.

Yeah, not going to add him to my Facebook friends list.


United Dreams

Last night I had a vivid dream that seemed to last a long time.  I dreamed that I had the oppotunity to work as a flight attendant for United Airlines for a single flight.  None of the other flight attendants knew that I wasn’t really a flight attendant and I’m not sure how I managed to get permission to work the flight.

Before boarding started, I couldn’t find my tie, so I had to borrow one from another flight attendant.  The first borrowed tie turned out to be a scarf and I kept trying to tie it into a double Windsor knot, but to no avail.  Then I borrowed an actual tie from another flight attendant and it worked better.

The flight was on a 747 and we were working a trans-Pacific route.  But then, when we landed, people started getting out of their seats moments after we pulled off the runway.  I was walking through the cabin shouting, “No, no – we’re not there yet!  Please sit down!”

Once we arrived at the gate, the plane had somehow become a DC-9 and I was able to lower the rear air-stair (in the tail section of the plane) so passengers could disembark that direction.

Very odd, huh?

I suppose there is an obvious backstory I should share: I grew up as an airline brat.  My father worked for United his whole career and I started flying when I was just a month old. 

As a child, I was fascinated with airplanes.  I had all sorts of interesting toys: a demo oxygen mask, safety cards, paper ticket jackets, etc.  I’d play for hours: first using the sofa as a check-in counter, assigning tickets and checking luggage.  Then I’d arrange chairs in two rows and play flight attendant.  I even had a wine bottle box into which I stacked empty soda and beer cans – that was my beverage cart.  I’d do the safety demo, serve food, etc.

My fascination with airplanes continued as I grew up.  At the end of high school I started interviewing with United.  I wanted to work as a customer service agent, preferably at San Jose Airport, which was just a few miles from my home.  I interviewed with the station manager but never heard back. 

Following up with the Human Resources representative a few weeks later, it turned out that the station manager had been fired and had never turned the results of my interview back to HR.  She offered me a part-time position at San Francisco Airport working in Cabin Services – the group that cleans the planes between flights.

During the summer of 1988 I worked at SFO four hours a day on a rotating schedule, four days one, one day off.  It was not exciting work – and I was working with a pretty rough group of people – but I enjoyed being on and around the airplanes. 

At the end of the summer, though, a few weeks before I had to join the union, I decided to quit the job.  It didn’t pay enough to cover the costs of gasoline, so I decided to stick with my nearly full-time job working at the movie theatre instead.

Had I landed the original job working as a customer service agent at SJC, I have no doubt I would have left the movie theatre instead.  By the time all the layoffs occurred in 2002 (after 9/11) I would probably have had enough seniority to have survived them.  Of course, with much less pay.

Looking back, it was probably good that I didn’t end up staying in the airline industry.  It is a tough industry in which to work.  But as someone who is extremely good with customer service – I’ve often been commended for my grace and calm under pressure – I think I would have been excellent at it.  And being an industry that I am still passionate about, I think it would have been a career I would have really enjoyed.