The city I visit in my dreams has a car-free center with many narrow, winding alleys that morph into covered passageways. It combines features from every city or large town I’ve ever spent more than a week in, so picture a combination of Osaka; Kyoto; Taipei; Tegucigalpa; Ithaca, New York; Austin, Texas; and State College, Pennsylvania. In many dreams, it’s just a set for the usual play of mundane anxieties: losing my backpack, for example, or suddenly discovering I don’t have enough money to pay for a meal I’ve just eaten. But in some dreams it’s also a landscape of longing, and not in the sense that I wake up and wish I were still dreaming. Rather, within the dream itself, I am often searching for a place I found once, a long time ago, and have never been able to find again. I suppose that’s a kind of anxiety, too, isn’t it?
Don’t get the wrong idea when I tell you that the place in question is a bar. I’ve seldom enjoyed hanging out in bars: they’re almost always too noisy, too crowded, and too expensive for my paltry income compared with just buying a case of beer and drinking it at home, and they tend to be filled with loud music I don’t like (I don’t care for most classic rock). I much prefer coffee shops and diners where one can sit at the counter and have normal, non-pick-up-oriented conversations with the waitresses and the other patrons. I can’t tell you why I feel such longing for this bar in my dreams. It almost seems as if that’s part of what I’m searching for: some explanation for my attraction, or the memory of attraction.
All I can really tell you about the place is that it was very small, moderately well-lit, and decorated in orange and red, with maybe some green thrown in. There were no tables, just a bar on three sides of the room. The bar was made out of metal, I think, and the stools were free-standing draftsmen’s stools. It was basically a place where one ducked in for a quick drink on a cold evening, I guess. What made it seem so convivial? I remember it as virtually deserted, with just one bartender present, and no other customers. (Perhaps it closed subsequently for lack of business?) I believe I found it by accident while looking for another place where I was supposed to meet some friends. I don’t remember how long I stayed: maybe a few moments, maybe the entire evening. What’s time in a dream, anyhow?
Unless it wasn’t a dream. I visited a lot of strange little places in Japan and Taiwan twenty years ago, so I’m not absolutely sure it’s a figment of my imagination. The inexplicable longing I feel to visit it again, even now that I’m awake, is every bit as strong as the nostalgia I feel for things that I know were real. But the bar’s reality or lack thereof is almost beside the point, because I suspect that I was barely awake for most of the things that provoke nostalgia in me now. What is nostalgia, after all, but a manifestation of the desire to be fully present without the discipline to achieve it in the here-and-now?
Members Only, said the sign on the door. The room was filled with severed penises.
Some of my anxiety dreams are so ridiculous, I wake up laughing.