### earlier : thursday 0400 : later

"I only get my
rocks off
when I'm
dreaming."
-mick

The parenthesis slams shut like a car door, shaking your frame like waking from a falling dream. If you don't meet her, pick her up by five, the whole deal's off. Your eyelids flutter at the licks from the guitar. Rolling Stones on the car radio, and you look at the clock. Is it really Thursday morning? How many hours has it been since you slept? That's not the right question: it's an elementary math problem, multiples of twenty four, of seven, numerology, astrology, miles per gallon, thrust-to-weight ratios... all too simple. This is the algebra of sleep, and there are variables you have not considered. The Chinese philospher pointed out the futility of trying to determine whether one is in a waking dream. The right question is not binary, but open-ended: how deep in these parentheses have you nested yourself? Not "how long since I slept" or "how long have I been awake", but "how many dreams must I wake from before dawn?")

Too much time has passed. Your right hand is still on the key, your left hand high on top of the steering wheel. Headlights splash out over the otherwise empty parking lot. Shaking your head to clear out the cobwebs, you remember being here before, dreaming the dream where you can't start the car, can't get on the road, even though you're late. You know that if you turn up the car radio, it'll help keep you awake, and your right hand, which has finally gotten the message to let go of the ignition, is reaching for the dial when you notice it's already on. And loud. Fourteen thousand times a second, the speaker moves; magnetism pushes the impulse through. There's only one thing to do: drive. Drive fast, far. You're already 10 minutes behind. Shimmer over bridges like the river was a dream. Make for the interstate.)

So you ran faster, but it caught you here. Every time you blink, your heart skips a beat, not knowing what's going to be on the other side of the millisecond of darkness. This whole week has been darkness, hiding in silent basements during the days, driving, working, staying awake during the nights, and all the while, the music. This early, the highway should be empty, but then it is the city. People with too little sleep, rushing to avoid the rush, still drunk with sleep--a weakness you almost can't remember--and you step too hard on the brakes again, almost decorating the rear of a Ford Glacier (Behemoth Godzilla Super-Size God Bless America Edition) with your faster, smaller, and altogether more dangerous car. The idiot behind you doesn't see your brakelights, and you wince, certain your car is going to be the too-thin slice of Japanese polymer in an American steel SUV sandwich.)

The blinking reflex exists to protect the eyes from injuries that can occur unpredictably during the timespans in which the rest of your body cannot react.)

Air floods your chest, your eyes snap open again, and blueredblueredblue flickers in your rear-view. Was there an accident back there? Were you in it? Are you driving fast enough to make up the time you've lost? How did you get all the way down to exit 17? Why is the police officer's car not fading into the distance with the wreck? No time to stop now. Squint--don't blink, don't invite another dream--grin, and floor it.

She was going to meet you, talk you down, maybe help shake the cops (not many friends will do that; fewer business associates). She was going to answer her phone. Nobody picks up. You drive past the meet, and without looking down thumb the cell-phone's buttons again: a prayer wheel with ten positions, a ten-bead rosary. Automatic Redial. Thoughts arrive like butterflies: keep driving, and don't fall asleep. It becomes simultaneously more difficult and more important to trust one's senses when sleep-deprived.)

Third left turn on red in a row, and the cops aren't anywhere to be seen. Down past Canal Street there's not supposed to be a carnival. Not supposed to be a wrecked ice cream truck with children in oversized business suits spilling out into the orange puddles of street light on the playground like clowns from a Volkswagen. Your hands know the way, steering the car through a maze of streets with names written in hieroglyphics you don't understand.)

Are your eyelids getting heavy? Are they even open? The full moon sinks lower--dawn is coming. If you can keep your eyes open a little longer, you'll be fine. Now that you've shaken the clowns... the cops, now that you've shaken the cops, you can go back to meet her. Maybe she's still waiting for you. You blink, and you hear your eyelashes click together like the safety on a rifle, like a shutter on a camera, like the second hand snapping into place against a bundle of dynamite. She always sleeps with her gun when you're gone.)

When you show up, the place is deserted. The lights are on, but nobody's home. Wrong address? You check the paper in your pocket and reaize you can't read it. A thought tickles the back of your mind, and you reach for the light switch. You flick it up, down, up... the lights don't go out. On the wall across the room, redblueredbluered flashes through the window, and you realize two deep truths. You are still asleep, and the cops are still after you. Is either of these also a fact in an objective reality? Does it matter? The jerrycan of gasoline in the corner smiles at you as you hear thumping feet on the stairs. The match sings when you strike it, and sprinting through the back yard to your idling car--which you parked out front but which is here now--you see your shadow stretch out before you in oranges and blacks. You run from the fire while the city sleeps.)

Every time you look at your watch now it reads a different time.) The car turns off of I-95 and you're on Philadelphia's South Street.) Two left turns later, you're in the French Quarter of New Orleans.) Exit signs are as likely to be in German as English. Where the hell is Ausfahrt, anyway?) Cops ignore you, chase you, beat you. Buildings burn, cars crash into you with disturbing regularity... things fall apart, the center does not hold.) The constant is: get home, pick her up by five. She'll drive and you can get some sleep. In realizing the dimension of the dreams you're in, strategic waking to escape trouble has become as useful as falling asleep into another layer of confusion.) Nothing can stop you now.)

Makes no ++sense now.
Lights with.

`     ?     `
Sometimes piano backwards Alley with music on in and other prepositions besides;; STOP transmission not clear STOP;;
`                                       `
blinking reflex less than adequate. If there are no mistakes then what are typos? Freud does not use his backspace key// building burning guns going off. Freud never met her. ..I think there's a car accident therefore there is..

Alarm alarm alarm alarm))))

The parenthesis slams shut like a car door, shaking your frame like waking from a falling dream. If you don't meet her, pick her up by six, the whole deal's off. Your eyelids flutter at the music from the car stereo. The car's running, but still parked. There are worse times to fall asleep at the wheel.

And for those of you who don't like sorting through pipelinks:
1. Rolling Stones - Rocks Off
2. Lucy Kaplanski, Richard Shindell, and Dar Williams - Shades of Gray
3. Soul Coughing - 16 Horses
4. Tori Amos - Precious Things
6. Smashing Pumpkins - Rocket
7. Thomas Newman - Plastic Bag Theme from American Beauty
8. Poe - Walk the Walk
9. "Mark Knopfler" - Automatic Redial
10. Pearl Jam - Even Flow
11. Tin Hat Trio - O.N.E.O.
12. JHU Mental Notes - Goodnight Moon
13. MC 900 foot Jesus - While the City Sleeps
14. Nine Inch Nails - Piggy
15. Kronos Quartet - Full Tense, from Requiem for a Dream
16. Barenaked Ladies - Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel

I always had to be up for ROTC at 0400 on Thursdays in college. Some of this is music I listened to then, some is music I wish I'd had then. All of it fits the panicked mood of driving groggily at 80+ miles per hour on barely-familiar roads, with your entire future on the line if you miss too many formations.

)