"Beta be cucks."
--Ernest Hemingway, helping put the laundry into a washing machine buried in front of my childhood home, during a torrential rainstorm.

I'm driving a late-20s Model T to a destination where I'm to pick up things I've ordered online. These include a cello for a friend, though, as I explain on Skype to my sister, it's for a friend of a friend, someone I've never actually met. She wonders why I'm picking up his cello. I shrug it off; it came in at the same time as a bunch of my stuff. My dream offers no explanation for why things must be picked up in a ransacked mansion a day's drive away. Or why the mansion contains a functional PC.

The return trip takes me back through a strange small town where I'd received a quietly hostile reaction. I'm informed by a mysterious and furtive woman that the town opposes real education, teachers often end up in jail, and nothing that contradicts town hall's messages can be considered true, even when town hall lies blatantly which, I'm informed, they do constantly. She wants me to take her teenage daughter and her daughter's best friend with me "to the city." They deserve a chance to be educated and live their lives. Along with them comes their teacher, an overweight, erudite man who insists I take something from his box of banned books as payment. I refuse, initially, but, as he insists, I take a copy of something entitled English Literature from Robin Hood to Merridew. Apparently, someone stole my copy years ago. This one is fine, leather-bound. The teacher explains that as a teacher and one of the few non-white people in town (he's African-American), he has come under particular scrutiny. The leader indirectly encourages the town's White Supremacists, while publicly denying any connection to them. Mom insists she's not going with the girls, can't leave just yet, but then joins us on the outskirts of town and we head merrily down the highway.

Don't ask how I end up curbside at my childhood home doing laundry in the rain with Ernest Hemingway.


***


That was the dream. Here's the waking life:

For the last two years, when I've run into her, I've been promising the organizer and M.C. of a monthly Poetry Slam that I'll go sometime. It's held Friday night at a local venue that I can walk to in about twenty minutes.

My wife's been ill, has made significant strides towards recovery, and with things to do Saturday, she spent Friday evening sleeping. Clouds hung heavy in the sky, but I had a sense the weather forecast was right for once, and the rain would hold off until morning. So on a whim I walked to the Slam, stopping only briefly for lights, traffic, and the white cat that wanted to say howdy.

The venue was packed when I arrived, and far more people for the Slam than the band in the other room. Pretty much the crowd I'd expected filled tables and chairs and the bar. I looked for people I knew and came up empty. The last time I was involved in this sort of thing was another century. I bought an overpriced Strongbow and spied one table in the far corner, occupied by a kid of maybe eighteen or nineteen. Of course, everyone between fifteen and twenty-five kind of look the same age by this point, but my guess would prove correct.

"Anyone sitting here?"

He extends his hand. "I'm saving a couple of seats but I guess that one's free."

His friends joined a moment later; he introduced me as "a random civilian," but we exchanged names. The new guy had acne; the girl would be reading that night. "Performing," she corrected me. She was nervous, and also annoyed her coworker hadn't shown and wasn't responding to texts. They nevertheless guarded the table's remaining chair the remainder of the night, hoping for the wayward coworker.

The first guy had graduated the year before; the other two were high school seniors.

I noticed a very heavy but erudite-seeming man at the next table. He seemed to be holding court to a disparate group and, while he didn't read that night, I suspect he's a person of note in local Poetry Slam circles.

The Mistress of Ceremonies was in fine form, and several people were obvious regulars, judging by the choral responses they called out at certain times-- when, for example, the judge announced that a performer had gone over the limit. The Spoken Word? Videogames, sexual assault, and lots of identity stuff: bisexual, asexual, Cuban-in-exile, Queer Black Muslim Feminist. One woman read what appeared to be disparate jottings from a notebook. Another included a list of slang terms for masturbation. The high school girl from my table did well with a poem about love and heartbreak. You could be forgiven for imagining classic bad teenage poetry, but it felt unexpectedly fresh and she gave a more than credible performance. Performance seems key at these things, and identity and topic. Carefully-timed swearing goes over well.

I asked the one guy at the table about the film Freaks, because he quoted the "one of us! One of us!" chant in our conversation at break. He hadn't seen it, had never even heard of it. He knew the chant, but not he source. However, he immediately looked it up on his cellphone and said he would be watching it that weekend.

I left ahead of the crowd, before the final round.

The rain held off until I got home, but flowed into my dreams.