Setting up the booth was a lot of hard work, lifting and unpacking boxes, and putting displays together. Then I was busy helping customers. For some reason we also had a table of heavy metal T-shirts, and these two teenage boys gravitated straight to it. The taller boy put his arm around the younger and, pointing, said, “I’d like THAT shirt, for my boyfriend, here.”
It was hard to tell if they really were gay, or just joking around, so it put me on edge. The shirt they wanted was something with a screaming skull, and they wanted it in XXL. I had to crawl under the table to look through the boxes of shirts for the right size. I couldn’t find it, so then I had to go to a back room area of our booth and go through a whole bunch of backstock boxes. We kept all the backstock under the tables, especially the T-shirts and caps, because apparently those are most frequently stolen. As soon as I started getting boxes out and going through them, this asshole guy tried to steal a baseball cap, and I yanked it right off his head and told him to beat it.
That dream ended, and the next began with Anthony and me getting into Julie’s Lexus.
Someone had professionally printed Julie’s job title and the words “GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE” onto the head rests of every seat in her car. She was very proud of this, but it gave me a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. She drove Anthony and me to a dangerous hillbilly area of the Inland Empire, to a little restaurant that made Asian sandwiches with French fries stuffed in them. It was all pretty ghetto, and when we were sitting down eating we really started noticing how scary the other diners were. Scraggly beards, dirty clothes, and they were totally leering at us.
When we decided it was time to get the hell out of there, we discovered that Julie’s car was gone, so we found an abandoned old truck and appropriated it. The problem with the truck was that instead of a regular gas tank, it had this awkward exterior trunk in the trunk bed. The trunk was filled with moonshine whiskey, and connected to the engine via a long hose. I drove the truck, trying to navigate us out of the Inland Empire backwoods, but the roads were confusing and poorly maintained. Mostly just dirt and gravel, one-lane affairs like in the old days. Whenever we drove past people, they were scary hillbillies looking for trouble and violence. One time we barreled down a narrow tree-lined road just as some hillbillies were shooting at each other ahead. I swerved down a side road to avoid getting caught in the middle of it.
The truck ran out of moonshine, but luckily we found a gas station and a freeway onramp. The truck didn’t run as well on actual gasoline as it did on bootleg whiskey, but we got on the freeway and raced toward home.
Somewhere on the freeway, the Inland Empire dream dissolved into an apocalyptic scenario in which I knew that a gigantic flood was due any minute. I was by myself, in what looked like a big city park with lots of tall trees and hills. It seemed important to climb as high as I possibly could, that if I could just get high up enough I would be above the flood level and might survive. I picked the tallest tree I could find with lots of easy-to-climb lower branches, and scurried high up into its branches. I made it to the very top.
At first I thought I’d made it to safety, but then I got a sinking feeling and felt a shadow gathering over me. I looked up and saw that the wave of the flood extended impossibly high into the sky, much higher than my treetop perch.
I thought if I could just hold on through the breaking of the wave, maybe the water would course down around me and still leave me high and dry when the wave moved on. But as the flood crashed down onto my tree, the trunk and all its branches splintered like matchsticks.
I drowned/woke up.