by erroll robinson (the intern)
My doctor tells me that the only way I’ll be able to kick the night terrors is if I keep a dream journal. I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing, but I’m willing to give anything a try to settle my mind at night. So here’s my dream from last night.
A friend of mine told me they want to have a wombat for a pet.
I told him that’s the stupidest idea I ever heard. A wombat? You know, those tiny furry guys that look like Yeltsin got sown into a koala bear in a canceled Kevin Smith script?
That’s stupid, I told him. Then you know what he said?
He said, “No listen to me, hear me out. Listen -- a wombat’s got these big buck teeth. I’m talkin’, teeth that stretch out like miles of asphalt in the desert.”
“Bullshit,” I said. “See, I was googling pictures of wombats while he was talking so I could do the side by side of wombat and Yeltsin. “Those teeth are tiny. They’re like chicklets. You want a pet with teeny tic-tac teeth?”
“You gotta listen man,” he was getting frustrated. “Wombat teeth never stop growing.”
I must’ve given him a blank stare cause he kept explaining himself.
“They never stop growing. So I can, like, harvest a bit of the teeth, y’know, once a week.”
“…Harvest the teeth?”
“Yeah, like, find the perforated line on them and then—“ he acted out a karate chop motion.
“The perforated line? Like on those paid postage mailers that used to come inside Highlights for Kids?”
“Yeah every wombat tooth has that perforated line, that’s how they know where to break off the teeth.”
“Why do you want wombat teeth?”
“You’re not listening. I’m gonna feed the wombat a liquid diet. That way the teeth keep growing!”
He stood up at the bar as if to signal it was time to leave. I left my backside planted on the ripped leather stool and gulped back my beer.
“If the teeth keep on growing,” he said, “I can harvest them once a week and sell them to Skipper Louie.”
“Who the hell is Skipper Louie?”
“Skipper Louie -- I owe him some money from a bad deal. But it’s all good. He says I can pay him back if I have wombat teeth.”
“What does he want the wombat teeth for?”
“Have you heard a single word I said?”
His nostrils opened up wide and red like scabs that had been picked.
“Wombats have endless teeth. Endless. Like bubble tape. You remember bubble tape? You bite some off and then it keeps coming and coming out? It’s like that—but for wombat teeth. I can let the teeth grow—give the wombat some breast milk each day so the calcium fortifies its teeth—and then once they’re 6-and-a-half inches long, I’ll give it the ol’ uppercut and have a solid 5 inches of wombat teeth to give to Skipper Louie.”
“What’s Skipper Louie gonna do with the teeth when he gets them?”
“He’s got a special mortar and pestle where he grinds up the teeth and mixes the dust into his tea.”
“Skipper Louie drinks tea?”
“To drink his wombat dust? Oh yes.”
“So how many times will you have to do this before you’re even with Skipper Louie?”
“Well… the going rate for wombat dust is $175 an ounce; it’s really special stuff. So, if I can chop up the teeth once a week I’ll be straight in four years or so.”
I ask the bartender to run some numbers. She hands me a receipt.
“You owe Skipper Louie 36 thousand dollars?”
“Shhh, shhh.” He brought his hand down to my shoulder and whispered, “I don’t want him to hear us talking.”
“Is he here?” I scanned the room.
“No, but he’s got listeners everywhere. And I don’t want him to know I’m considering using a middle-aged wombat”
“I found a guy -- he lives in Australia. Or maybe Austria? He says he can ship me his wombat via DHL. He’ll even poke some holes in the box so the thing can breathe on the flight. “
“Why is he getting rid of a wombat?”
“It was his wife’s,” he said. “But she doesn’t like it anymore.”
“Cause she’s dead.”
“How did you lose 36 thousand dollars in the first place?”
“It was a work party. We booked a boat for a sunset cruise. The DJ started playing a song I really, really liked, so I hopped up to sing along on the microphone. But I hopped up too fast so I got lightheaded and I accidentally bum rushed the captain overboard”
“You accidentally knocked the captain into the water?”
“Bum-rushed him. He flew by so fast, you should’ve seen it.” He smiled but it faded fast. Regret filled his eyes. “When they fished him out of the water he was missing his prosthetic leg. Dive team couldn’t find it neither.”
“So you owe Skipper Louie a new leg?”
“Yeah. Which is bullshit if you think about it cause ship captains used to always be missing a leg.”
“So you’re gonna pay this guy back by flying in a wombat from Australia—maybe Austria—cutting its teeth once a week, grinding those teeth into powder, and letting him drink it up?”
“Finally, you’re listening.”
“When is the wombat arriving?”
“He’s here,” my friend said.
“Oh really, where is…” I couldn’t speak any further. My tongue got choppy. Any sound I tried to make came out like a squeal.
I looked up. My friend was towering over me, and his eyes were a mixture of savage rage and delight. The bar was gone. It was a jail cell, silver wires uniformly draped around my body. I looked down at my furry hands, and tried to squeak out a cry for help. My mouth wouldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe.
Finally I brought my hands up to my jaw to try to force it open. I didn’t feel lips, I felt two long, sharp calcified teeth protruding from my gums. And looking back up, there he stood with the razor blade, ready to scrape these stupid teeth out of my mouth.
End dream journal one.
Ana convinced me to try a new Greek restaurant for lunch yesterday.
Now, I don’t really have an adventurous palate by nature, but I do get tired of the whole brown bag sandwich and sitting in my car for an hour thing.
Plus, I’d spent the last four hours devising a better sorting method for our office filing cabinets.
See, we’ve got maybe a hundred pounds of paperwork that’s shoved beneath, within, or on top of these filing cabinets. These six rusting, monolithic, cream-colored cabinets.
My manager told me that getting them cleaned up and organized would be my “capstone” project for the Fall 2023 Internship program.
Based on the labels, some of this stuff is supposed to be top-secret materials from past GigaKnot projects. But it’s here, out in the open, like a can of rotting old albacore. And I have to share a room with this mess!
The folks at the top? For all they know, I could be Julian Assanging my way into the spotlight with these documents. But with my luck it’s probably just hall passes and corporate receipts for toilet paper.
Needless to say, I took Ana up on lunch.
We walked a few blocks up to the Greek joint. The autumn air was fresh, and it felt good to be away from work. On the way over, Ana told me this new place -- “Nick’s” -- used to be called “Dom’s.”
“Meatball subs… pasta,” she told me. “You know, spaghetti and meatballs in a bread bowl, that sort of thing.”
Ana was happy the place went under -- carbs made her feel bloated.
But here’s where the trouble began.
The gruff, unibrowed cashier behind the counter pressured me into ordering before I had a full scan of the menu.
Panicked, I ordered the house Special.
“Special!” he snarled to the line cooks. Less than a minute after handing over my pocketful of crumpled dollars, I was served a hot basket of mess. I’m still not sure exactly what it was, but a strong odor of feta turned my stomach.
I had to save face, so I spooned a few bites into my mouth, each swallow greeted with an Oh Hell No feeling from my gut.
I probably suffered six bites before I gave up.
“I’ll bring it home for dinner tonight,” I told Ana, knowing I’d chuck it in the dumpster behind the A&P before it ever touched my fridge.
Back at the office, the afternoon rolled on. But then I got itchy. I felt sweat stains bleeding through the armpits of my button-up. Maybe the A/C broke?
I loosened my collar and looked around. Everybody else looked fine.
So I got up and walked to the vending machine. A cold cola sounded good.
“All out of Fanta,” Jimmy yelled as I walked by.
His desk was only four feet from the vending machine, and he used the extra foot traffic from his peers to pitch jokes for his amateur stand-up comedy sets. There’s an open mic every Tuesday at Gordon’s on Seventh, from six to eight.
“That’s fine, I wanted a Coke anyways,” I hollered back to him.
“OK, Jimmy.” I dropped a couple quarters into the machine and grabbed my drink. The can was cold against my forehead. Relief, but fleeting.
“It would be grape if they restocked the machine more often. But I guess that’s just a Fanta-sy. I am soda-pendent on this machine for my afternoon pick-me-up. But if it was up to me, I’d re-orange the drinks in each row…”
My ears rang, tuning Jimmy out. Was I fainting?
No, still standing.
I mustered my strength and swept up the hall to the bathroom. I passed Ana along the way and forced my grimace into a smile.
“You all good?” She asked. “You look a little green.”
“Green’s my favorite color!” I blurted as I slammed the bathroom door. I locked it behind me and cut off the light. Collapsing on the floor, I pulled my knees to my chest and closed my eyes.
This is where it ends for me, huh? A sweaty pile of flesh curled like a fetus in the womb of a downtown business park. I’m almost certain I saw a one-man show about this on YouTube.
But then, something appeared.
My eyes were closed, but I saw it.
It was like looking into a kaleidoscope -- shattered pieces of glass and color all around me, streaming down like waterfalls of light.
I stood up and reached for it. My hand disappeared into the room, then my arms and my whole body. I was one with the light, and it ate me whole.
It was a revelation -- what I had been searching for. The answers to all my problems -- a cure for my legume allergy; a way to find tidier roommates; an excuse to get my mom to stop calling me every Friday night at seven P.M. because she knows I’m going to be alone.
And there, at the center of it all, was a golden, glowing box. It was twice as tall as it was wide.
I moved closer to it. The box had handles on it -- five of them -- and each one appeared to open a drawer full of mysteries.
I inched closer, drawn like fly to zapper, knowing that if I could just open one of the drawers, I'd have my solution for the paperwork mess in the next room over. Lifting my weightless arm, I reached for the top-most handle and pulled.
I yanked my arm, heaving my elbow toward my side.
No no no -- it has to open! I used two hands next, then put my foot against the bottom for leverage. I fought to pry the thing open with every muscle in my body.
I pulled and pulled and pulled.
Just when I’d nearly given up, I looked at my feet, where a small silver key lay.
I picked it up and jammed it in the lock of the top drawer. Twisting -- it’s a fit! I once again put both hands on the drawer and heaved. The drawer yielded and --
I opened my eyes.
Jumping to my feet, I reached for the light switch. A bath of fluorescent light poured down and revealed the sticky floor where my soda can had leaked.
A knock on the door.
Someone called out -- “Hey buddy, you OK in there?” It was Jimmy.
“Uh, yeah, all good here.”
I smelled terrible, sweat from the small of my back having soaked through my shirt.
“You sure? I can call in the doctor…”
“No it’s fine really.”
I hobbled to the sink and splashed some water on my face. I can’t believe how close I got to solving my biggest headache. But here I am instead -- napping in the bathroom at work.
I walked back to my desk as slinkily as possible.
Within minutes, another faceless gremlin from accounting dropped off a fresh stack of paper next to one of the cabinets.
I need to get back to the kaleidoscope. I need answers.
I’m going to order Nick’s “Special” every day for lunch and suffer the half hour of retching on the bathroom floor until I finally see what’s inside the glowing cabinet of my dreams.
End dream journal two.