My friend and fellow Hard Crackers editor Chris Alexander is largely responsible for this one. Chris is a medical technologist in the emergency room of a busy downtown hospital in Detroit. He performs CT scans (what they used to call CAT Scans, which are just big X-Ray machines). If you’ve ever been wheeled into the ER and the doc, after stopping the bleeding (or not), says, “We need to look at this,” Chris is the guy who operates the scanners that do the looking. Now with COVID 19 rampant again in Detroit, he is working almost non-stop. The emergency wards are full of people who can’t breath. The staff members are all near breaking point. Over a week and half period, Chris worked 105 hours. It’s a deep crisis.
Chris says he is so exhausted that he is starting to suffer from stress-induced anger and have crazy dreams. He wrote this in an email earlier today:
“The other part, is what I said, the dreams. I keep having this recurring dream where I’ve been stabbed in the chest multiple times. Somehow I get to a bus and am taking the bus to the hospital, all casual like, (really, stabbed. but casual). The bus driver keeps telling me, “Oh, we got a detour, the roads out, the bridge is out, something’s out…” and I’m on this bus and I feel like I’m losing lung capacity and I start sinking down in the seat gasping for air. By the time we get to the hospital the RN’s got me, but tells me I’m gonna have to wait ‘cos there’s no room in the hospital. And then I wake up coughing, really. Then I go back to sleep and the dream picks up where it left off. Makes me not want to go back to sleep. Yikes!”
I just spoke to Chris tonight on the phone. He was on a short break at the hospital. I tried to cheer him up a little. My father Merlin (Mogs) was the only person I remember who regularly had the same two recurring dreams. So I told Chris the following.
My family grew up in Durban South Africa, on the Indian Ocean. Mogs and my mother Leah were both born and came of age in Cardiff, Wales. Mogs was hospitalized in Durban during World War II after contracting rheumatic fever in the North African desert as a soldier in the British army. It took him a long time to recuperate. Soon after the war ended, Leah hopped the Union Castle mail boat from Southampton to Durban and they got spliced. That’s how we became South Africans, my two older sisters and me.
Family outings included Sunday beach excursions and here comes the recurring dream part. Mogs and Leah stood out like sore thumbs on the Durban beach. There were all of these tanned white South Africans with flippers, goggles, snorkels, surfboards, fancy beach towels, speedos and bikinis on these segregated beaches. And then there were Mogs and Leah, with their long pants rolled up to their knees, kerchiefs over their heads, pasty white legs, bad feet, and turning crimson in the sun. They never went into the water because neither of them knew how to swim. The rainy streets of Cardiff were far away.
Part of this ritual involved Mogs renting a beach umbrella and two deckchairs. These items were old, with salt-eaten and rusted metal hinges and frayed torn canvas with faded rainbow-colored stripes from the Titanic era of recreational ocean furniture. Mogs dreaded these moments because he had to unfold these stiff items that were stockpiled in a stacked heap. All self-respecting white South African families had their own beach equipment, except us. We were the only renters. Mogs would regularly bruise his knuckles and get his fingers caught between stubborn bits of rotten splintery hardwood and ornery iron clasps. He would leave the beach a bloody disheveled mess, like the fighter on a fixed boxing ticket who got hit so often he was too punch drunk to fall down in the second round and went the whole distance instead. The sand was baking hot and that would only add to the whole woeful episode, especially since he had forgotten to put his socks and shoes back on. Then the car wouldn’t start because it had been sitting in the sun for too long. And his kids would be bawling in the backseat because we could swim and had been stung by an infestation of bluebottle jellyfish.
Mogs began to have loud nightmares about these experiences. We could hear him yelping with lots of “Oohs!” and “Ows!” in the wee small hours. He called it the “Recurring Deck Chair Dream.”
Mogs was a huge fan of horse racing, more precisely gambling on horse racing. Together with his sidekick at work, Gangh the Indian photographer, they would bet all sorts of permutations for the weekly Saturday track meeting in Durban. Place Accumulators, Jackpots, Doubles, Duplas, Exactas, Trifectas, all were possible super winners. I can categorically state that the Mogs and Gangh punting ship never sailed majestically into port. As I grew older, Mogs used to take me along and on Saturday afternoon we would drive out to Gangh’s house in Verulam, an Indian township where Mohandas Gandhi once set up shop, to listen to the racing results on Gangh’s Sony transistor radio, his pride and joy. A bottle of Booth’s Gin would sit next to the radio. Verulam tap water provided the mixer. I picked up two vices for the price of one. Torn losing tickets would be strewn in the ashtray. Make that three vices.
Because of Mogs’s fixation with a huge windfall on the ponies, he began to have his second recurring dream. Like Chris, he was on a public bus. He shared a row of seats with the lone other passenger who was toting a heavy bag. His fellow rider would ring the bell to get off at the next stop. He would disembark and leave the bag behind. It was filled with wads of cash. Mogs was alone on the bus with a king’s ransom. And then he would wake up. This became known in our family circle as the “Recurring Big Payday That Never Happened Dream.”
Both of the Mogs recurring dreams were based on some kind of reality, as is the Chris one. It doesn’t take a Sigmund Freud to figure out that part. But I found humor in the Mogs hallucinations. So I shared these with my pal Chris, who seems to be living out a real bad dream daily. It’s not often that nightmares about old South Africa are trumped by the horror here. The scary thing is that it is likely to get a lot worse, especially in Detroit, but also in Durban. Perhaps there is a dream world with buses that will arrive on time with healthy passengers, where the hospitals are places of curing and healing, where the picked outsider beats the favorite at the post, and where the beach is for everybody to enjoy. I’d like to go there.