Nigh Cafe - Vincent Van Gogh
by Kevin McGowin
Several ways to go about it, he says. Dreaming, that is. You're asleep and your mind pitches something at you that doesn't make any sense. You remember a word or a phrase or an image and that's it, and the whole thing's supposed to mean something. About you or your momma or your daddy or what it is you're really afraid of, as if you didn't know already.
Then there's fake dreams, he points out. He takes a swig of George Killian's and says, some dreams, they're fake. Like the dreams I used to tell that smug motherfucker who treated me for depression back in '89. I always lied. Those kinds of dreams. Or (he takes out his pipe) those "art" dreams. The most bullshitty of all. Strindberg or Bergman or Alban Berg or Schoneberg or Shakespeare or something. You make up a dream; you turn it into art. Or the "I Am the Walrus" dreams. You're high, you're drunk, you're both. You need help. You quit and have DTs. Then you hallucinate.
--Ron is now packing his pipe. We've been through this before. I'm bored with him, and he with me, but we both want to get high and he's got the dope so I have to hear him out. Sometimes it takes a while.
He goes on. But dreams always have something to do with sleep or something, don't they? he asks. (I don't have time to grace hin with my knowledge of Meister Eckhardt or Lady Julian or Saint John of the Cross or exhaustion therapy). Sleep? He says.
--He lights the bowl. It smells horrible, let me tell you.
Sleep, continues Ron while holding in a big toke, is a learned response. I never sleep. Don't have time for that shit. I'm sick of it.
--Ron is serious, I think. I haven't, to my knowledge, ever seen him sleep or even mention it. This is a first. A moment to savor. I take the pipe. The pot's really bad.
This pot's some real limp shit, says Ron. Good thing we have plenty of beer. No, sleep is for the birds and you can fly that shit south for the winter. You can dump that crap in the East Indies, for all the flips I care to give. Man, I dream awake. No, not this (he waves a dismissive arm over the littered coffee table), not just sitting here catching a bad buzz for the zillionth time with your ass. I mean I get up and it's Saturday morning and I'm cutting the grass and I start to dream. I'm awake but I'm dreaming, see? No bad weed, no swell-assed mystic anchorite shit, I mean, I'm really there! I am! says Ron. I can tell that any interruption now might well be taken as poor etiquette, but I interject,
What about! Ron pretends to be put out but he's really not. It's part of his act, if you can call it an act, and I hold that you can. At least I can, and do.
About the circus! Ron continues. Taking me away to the big top. Out of Raleigh North Carolina and away to tame the lions, fly the trapeze. To screw the bearded lady! The midgets, the ringmaster! And then, about the time I'm about done cutting half the yard, I become the ringmaster. I'm running the show. I'm directing the production.
--I can tell Ron's feeling his oats a bit, now. But it's always dangerous to wake a man in a dream, they say.
The RING MASTER! says Ron. He sits back and opens a Killian. He assumes his professorial attitude. You see, Ron has a Ph.D. And I don't. --Karl Walenda, says Ron. He takes a big gulp of beer. --In 1977, in Hong Kong, Karl Wallenda, the last of the great Flying Wallenda Family, fell off a tightrope stretched between two skyscrapers and I saw it happen. He sounded like a watermelon when he hit the ground. The film crew was kind enough not to show it. But I saw it. Always said he should've quit in '63 when that shit went down, but do you know he was back out there the very next night? He looks at me to let this fact sink in. --No shit, says Ron, two of his siblings died and one was in the hospital and one was paralyzed for life, and then in less time than it'll take for us to sober up from this beer he was out there at it again! Again! repeated Ron. And if I were the Ringmaster, I would have killed him for it and saved Hong Kong the trouble. I mean, once you're past your prime, that's it. Like the greatest of them all, Joe Grimaldi, the English clown, the real original Bozo! The quintessential RING MASTER! I see him too, sometimes... even Garrick, that asshole of an impresario/actor/manager/playwright/critic, loved Grimaldi. Grimaldi died that way too, except it was Finland, not Hong Kong. That's back when I was Grimaldi, but also the audience too. Because the audience is really just one individual, says Ron. Just one, and back then it was me.
And I was living in Finland but it looked like Monaco and I was riding shotgun when I got broadsided and died. And godDAMN, the impact! No pain, though, not really. And everybody, including myself mourned Grimaldi, the most beautiful ringmastering platinum blonde this side of Selma, boy.
--And y'know (says Ron), if I had it to do all over again, I would. Play Hamlet in drag in London and talk to the dead like Robert-Houdin, like Dr. Dee, like Kepler. Like Tycho Brahe. Once I called him a faggot and we got in a duel and I chopped off his nose. This was when I was a ringmaster in Denmark... Ron sighs. He looks at his watch.
Eight hundred-seventy-nine words, he says. I just said eight hundred seventy-nine words, by my count, and you said the rest. And you just sat there and listened. Like you were dreaming, says Ron. I boring you? Hell, I got things to do. Call me. E-mail. Fax. Fly.
--And Ron goes out the screen door slowly and silently singing "The Daring Young Man...the daring young man on the flying..." and he's gone. Voice and all, into the darkness. And I'm sure he's alright to drive-- he looks the spitting image of Billy Sunday, driving down my driveway into the night. And somewhere there's a world out there where his world revolves in a sleepless frenzy, with or without him, I think; and somewhere in here I can't, or don't want to believe it. And I have a bed with a clock and a house. And I would be tired-- I really would. I would be tired, but there's just so much to do in a day, and it's almost morning.