This is one of my Top Three, All-Time Favorite Dreams, along with Hydrox and The Organ Man. I had it many years ago, not long after George Harrison died, and I just found it written out on a floppy disk in a box, and had to share it here. You’ll like it, and you’ll like the other two as well.
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A few weeks ago, I mailed off a tape of myself playing a George Harrison song. It was my own arrangement of “Taxman”, which morphed into “Piggies”, then back into “Taxman,” with a quote of the “Something” guitar lick at the end. Very well done, I thought. I had seen an ad in the back of one of those musician magazines saying they were looking for versions of George Harrison songs to put on a memorial CD, since George had just died a week or two before. The ad in the back of the magazine promised that I could win some prize.
A couple of weeks later, I got a call from a Russian guy (I’ll call him the Man, for reasons that will soon become obvious) who was a judge in the magazine’s contest. He spoke in thickly accented but grammatically perfect English. He said he had heard my tape, and that he liked my blending of the songs. I thanked him, and he asked if we could meet sometime soon. I agreed, and a week or so later we met in a little café, a converted house with canary yellow walls and hunter green wall-to-wall carpeting. We walked through to the tiny back room, which was dimly lit by what appeared to be candlelight, although I saw no candles. He appeared to be in his early to mid-forties, with salt-and-pepper hair parted on one side. I asked his name, and he replied, “I can’t tell you that.” I was puzzled. He then pulled out a small pile of papers, one of which was the opened, emptied envelope—my envelope—in which I had mailed my George Harrison tape. He got it, I thought. People actually DO get these things. He rifled through the stack, freeing a white postcard with red block-style letters that proclaimed boldly, “THIS IS NOT ILLEGAL”, and handed it to me. The other side was blank. It appeared to be a regular postcard. He said nothing.
What does this have to do with George Harrison? the Genius behind all of my great interior monologues asked himself.
Suddenly, I remembered a spam e-mail message with the ‘This is not illegal’ heading that I had seen a thousand times before, but had always deleted. Wishing that I’d read it at least once, I recognized this meeting for what it was. This Man just used the tapes as a ruse to meet people and lure them into whatever scam he had going. I decided to get as much information as I could about this guy.
He seemed to sense my apprehension, but proceeded to explain the next part of the process to me anyway. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a cheap-looking Russian Walkman, which he handed to me. It was still in its plastic retail packaging, complete with price tag, which valued this pathetic item at twenty-nine ninety-five. “You buy this now, keep it for three days. . .” He trailed off inexplicably. And then what, I thought, mail it back to you? What a stupid plan. A silent moment or two passed between us. I looked at the cheap package in my hand, set it back on the table, and then looked at my opened and emptied envelope sitting on the nearby table.
“Why can’t I know your name?” I asked him. He ignored the question and started to repack his briefcase. I thanked him, shook his hand and got up to leave. As I walked from the dark back room into the restaurant, it seemed to take an inordinately long amount of time. I looked at the yellow walls, the dark green carpet, and the people in the cafe. In the time since the Man and I had arrived, the empty restaurant had become completely full of people who seemed to be waiting for their chance to talk to the Man. Every one of the two- or four-seat tables was filled with a very strange subset of humanity. Each couple (for it appeared that they were all young families) had the look of the Lower Class about them. With precious few exceptions, their hair was unwashed and greasy, and they had that particular, inimitable smell. Some were wearing dirty old flannel shirts that didn’t match their pants very well, and some were dressed up for the occasion, wearing what appeared to be hand-me-down polyester suits from the mid-1970’s. It was as if this group of people had both accepted their lot in life and were actively trying to improve it at the same time, albeit in a strange and desperate way, a bit like an Amway convention in Purgatory. A man with metal-framed glasses and an enormous mole on his forehead glanced in my direction as I left, but I kept moving and finally escaped the place’s pull.
I looked around and wondered which of my two cars I had driven. As it turned out, I had driven my ancient copper-colored Celica coupe, and it was sitting near the curb. As I walked toward it, the thought occurred to me that I should get the license plate number of the Man’s car, a very expensive-looking black Saab hatchback. It was still parked around the corner, behind the restaurant. There was a recycling box nearby, so I grabbed two empty plastic orange juice bottles that had been floating around in the Celica’s passenger seat for a couple of weeks, a pen, and a small piece of paper from the glove compartment. I carried the bottles, but stuffed the pen and paper into my pocket. I closed the door of the Celica and walked across the lawn toward the Man and the Saab. The driver’s door was open, and the Man was standing behind the car with the hatch open, loading a small cardboard box of something I couldn’t quite make out. He must have come out the back door of the restaurant, I thought, in order for him to be here already. He saw me but made no attempt at conversation, just looked away again and continued whatever he was doing with the package.
There was another Russian guy, slightly younger than the Man, who appeared to be the Man’s friend. He was standing between us on the lawn next to the driveway, rigging up a device to monitor telephone conversations. My interior Genius said to himself, What is it with these guys? They must really be professionals.
The Friend was connecting a large black wire that ran across the lawn from a pole across the street on which I was parked to his own box, which was at the edge of the restaurant’s driveway. The wire was hanging about a foot off the ground, obstructing the lawn, so I said to the Friend, “Can I get through? I just want to throw away my recycling.” I had to get to the Man’s car. This was becoming too strange. Someone had to be told about this whole business. The Friend pointed toward the street and said, in a similarly thick accent, “Go around that way. I’ll lift the wire. It’s too low here.” He pulled the wire taut, slack, and taut again, raising it about three feet above the ground, to show me his intention. He held it in place, and I walked in the direction he had pointed, ducking down to make it under the wire. Just as I was underneath it, he let it go slack, and I felt it drape across my back. It had a mild electric charge of some sort. I fell to the ground in panic. The first Man had joined his Friend and lowered another wire, which also fell down on me. I felt myself go numb, but not too numb, and thought that maybe if I just didn’t move, they would raise the wires and walk over, in which case I could get up and run. I forced myself to stay in that prostrate position. I heard them mumbling to each other quietly, wondering about the extent of the damage to me, and what they should do about it. They started to walk toward me, but the wire stayed on my back.
I was worried now. I had gone very numb all over, and could no longer move. There would be no one to tell the authorities what I had seen. These men would get away with whatever bizarre scheme they were planning. The George Harrison song contest was a ruse! The Walkman sale was a ruse! It was a ruse within a ruse! Who knew how big this thing could be! I had to get up, but I didn’t have the energy. They were closing in now.
As I awoke, in the same position I had been lying in the street in my dream, paralyzed with what I thought was electricity but turned out to be simple fear, I realized that I was OK. I took a deep breath and started to relax, when my answering machine suddenly clicked on. The message started recording, and it sounded like a cell phone connection that was very noisy and full of static. I remembered the phone-monitoring device the men had been assembling in my dream. I was expecting a Russian-accented voice, but no one spoke. They’re onto me, I thought. They know. . .