There's a dream he doesn't tell anyone about because it's silly and it's just a dream. Then he decides to tell Kevin because it's not something he could ever share with a woman
. Nothing sexual. It's that he can't have conversations about the nature of time and space
with women. Eventually they want to talk about relationships or books and their eyes start wandering to people walking by and the next thing you know they're outside planting herbs. Canning fruit for a long cold winter almanacs
predict perfectly but no computer model ever synthesizes.
Whatever force allows women to predict weather through groundhogs and woodchucks can't be beat by all the teraflops NOAA has at its disposal. Women are not made of the same thing that makes him dream of wormholes and eleven-dimensional superstrings that in the submicroscopic realm are like light shining through the perforations in spacetime itself. And the light on the other side is God or whatever you want to call the force that creates. The force that "brings forth". That's what happened to him. Brian was not born. He was brought forth.
What's the sense, anyway? How many people have sat in the mahogany-hued light of a neighborhood bar and pondered life's meaning over a couple shots of amber colored alcohol? Maybe all of them. You can't avoid puberty if you live long enough, and sooner or later you wind up in a bar wondering what life is about and the answer is it's all about how drinking makes you wonder about it.
Outside it's sleeting. New Jersey Christmastime. No fluffy Bing Crosby snowfall for Middletown in December. From the sky comes almost frozen, attention-deficit rain that changed its snowstorm plans on the way down. Instead of White Christmas they're getting a layer of miscreant adolescent ice that encases their cars and makes a trip to the mailbox a quest that necessitates crampons. It's a season that cries out for something crooned by troubled souls. A duet between Karen Carpenter and Kurt Cobain. Lyrics by Virginia Woolf.
He says it to Kevin -- what's it about -- and Kevin thinks it's cliche'. Passes him off with a hand wave and signal to Glenn to refill their glasses. In Briody's Glenn doesn't refill, he gives you a new glass every time so that eventually you're sitting behind enough glassware to stock the Sears housewares department. It's how Glenn can keep count after you've lost the ability.
Kevin taps the glass again to get the Glenn's attention and Brian goes on because he's sure the K-man hasn't got it.
"What I mean is, look - time is huge. I mean, fucking huge. And you carve out this little infinitesimal piece of it, and take this tiny grain-of-sand planet and throw it into so much space the light beams from the big bang haven't even reached the other side yet. And then you're sitting here for this less than an eye blink living your life. You have all this joy and pain and then you die. I mean, what's the point? If we weren't here it wouldn't make any difference. You know?"
"You want another Macallan? I really think you should try the Springbank. You haven't lived until you've tried the Campbelltown. Live a little."
"You're not listening," he tells Kevin, then decides it doesn't matter. "There are stars forming in the Triangulum and nothing we do here changes that. We couldn't stop it or start it or change their color."
Kevin tells Glenn to make the drinks double, and Glenn goes heavy on the pour. Winks at Kevin. Says, "But I won't be held responsible when he gets worse."
He figures they think he's going for the classic entertainment value of a staid conversation in a bar at midnight, but Brian's trying to communicate. Maybe he should have gone out with a woman instead of Kevin. By now he'd be halfway to getting laid. Instead, he's halfway to wishing he'd stayed home and watched Bonanza reruns. All those Cartwrights: dead. Well, they were actors but they're dead anyway.
Two hundred years from now, will anyone remember "Bonanza"? He says it out loud.
"No," Kevin says. "Did it ever occur to you how boring it is to be an existentialist? If life is meaningless, have a drink. Be happy. That's all you got, brother." He lifts his glass, and Brian does the same. Through the ice the distorted light from the red and blue Budweiser sign seems like a message from another universe. Maybe someone was trying to contact him from parallel dimension and they did it by imposing tiny irregularities in the timing of flashing lights on Christmas trees. He downs half the scotch in a gulp. If we're drinking, be a good drunk. That's Existentialism.
"No, that's Buddhism," Kevin says. Across the mirror behind the bar there's a green garland of fake pine entwined with twinkling lights. The blinking could contain an encoded message from the dead Bonanza dimension and Brian wonders if this is how epileptics are driven to seizures. It's uncontrolled reverie. Washes over you like the seventh wave at Sandy Hook and the next thing you know you're tumbling, unable to get your feet under you. Maybe you could get lost in a daydream and never come back. Could that be what death was?
"I had a dream last night," Brian says, getting to the crux of why he didn't answer Laurie's call and chose to spend a Jesuit night with Kevin instead of bobbing and weaving past Laurie's innuendo while she preened and threw back her shoulders and leaned over so he could follow his gaze into her cleavage after a few drinks. Instead, self-imposed celibacy. Get drunk, talk God, get into a fight. Those damn Jesuits purified the essence of what it meant to be male without women. They got into discussions. They got trashed. They got executed because they scared the reigning powers.
Tonight he was into that. Terrify the powers-that-be. If he wound up as dead as Lorne Greene, so be it. Wouldn't matter a hundred years from now, anyway.
"Is that what you think?" Kevin says. "That spending time with your old pal is no different than hanging with the fucking clergy?"
Brian hadn't realized his thoughts had been coming out. Had Kevin been reading his mind? Or had he been mumbling?
"I had a dream," Brian says.
"Yeah. For the last hour you had a dream. You and Martin King. How'd you like that Springbank, by the way? We're talking twenty-five a shot, so don't like it too much. Glenn'll give us a break though. Won't ya, buddy? For the home team?"
Glenn cashes out the last night owl and pours two more. The guy puts on his parka and hat and after he's gone Kevin suggests Glenn join them.
Glenn says, "Don't mind if I do. Puts a tumbler on the bar, finishes off the Springbank and tells them these three are on him. He leans on the bar, they clink glasses and Merry Christmas each other a drink.
"Ever think it would turn out like this?" Brian says, grasping at his train of thought like the rope tied to a mountain climber who's gone over the edge. It's gone. There'll be hell to pay. Someone's just died or maybe they just lost a rope. Hard to say.
Kevin says, "What? That'd we'd graduate high school and go on to be drunken derelicts mooching drinks off the star quarterback of the Jersey Shore Conference? Yes. Absolutely. It's what I wished for as a kid."
"I thought I'd be a rock star," Glenn says. "But then I realized a career in beverage distribution would be more rewarding."
"What about you?" Kevin says. "It's the time of the evening to rehash old loves and unfulfilled dreams. As an official failed priest I offer you my condolences on a miserable life -- Merry Christmas. The mystery of creation is that it all sucks. This is actually Hell, my boys. The good news is it doesn't get worse than this."
"So, really. The story. What ever happened with that? It doesn't go beyond the three of us," Glenn says to Kevin.
"The inside story? They're all latent perverts."
Brian elbows him. "And you are an actual pervert. So, you're saying a club of God-fearing pervert wannabes wouldn't have you."
Kevin gets misty-eyed as is wont to happen when three friends get drunk together. "Truth? Truth. What is truth?"
"A biblical quote," Brian says, remembering the rock opera. Christ to Pilate. Whoever wrote it was brilliant, and the man who said it, even more so. If anything, Jesus was brilliant. "Damn, Jesus. Some serious sonofabitch."
"To Jesus Christ, happy birthday," Glenn says, finishing his drink. He saunters to the front door and locks it. Turns off the outside lights, then goes back to the bar and opens a bottle he pulled from a drawer. "Was saving this. Dunno what for. Must have been for you sorry fucks." Pulls out three more glasses and pours two fingers into each one. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Brian and Kevin say, toasting him and themselves.
"Tell me your dream," Kevin says to Brian.
"First the story of you breaking with the Jesuits."
Kevin sucks in a breath as if hit by a blast of cold air. Takes a drink. Wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and then his eyes. "They're good men," he says. "They honestly believe what they do. They walk their walk. They're soldiers."
And now a tear rolls from his eye.
"Aww, Kevvie," Glenn says. "Nuff said."
"...and I'm not," Kevin says.
Brian puts his hand between his friend's shoulder blades because it's what he feels like doing. He pats his shoulder, touches his cheek thinking at first it was a little too much affection, and then, what the fuck. Hugs the guy. Kisses him on the forehead.
"You're a good man, Kevin. Been a good friend to me and Glenn. Solid. Always there."
"Stupid, eh?" Kevin says, wiping tears from his eyes with a cocktail napkin. "What a fucking jerk I am. So cliche', getting drunk and bawling."
Brian and Glenn exchange a glance that says that anything was okay just then. Maybe it was good, a little emotional purging. They'd feel stupid in the morning. For a few days it would be like they'd slept together. They wouldn't look each other in the eye until they'd each had the chance to let it die out, reraise the shields. Go back to life as normal. Wandering through New Jersey, completely insulated, trying not to stare at the tiny pebbles pushing from underneath a woman's top when she takes off her jacket -- thank God Glenn kept it a little cool. Trying to make conversation interesting they'd repeated for the thousandth time.
Yes, I grew up here. Yes, I once worked for NASA. Rockets. Space shuttle. Never was an astronaut. It was different then. Before you were born, probably. My apartment is right over there.
Wondering if she'll be different when she's undressed, and they're all different. And all the same.
So am I, Brian thinks. I am the same and I'm not.
"What about you?" Kevin asks Glenn.
"Happy right where I am," he says. "What else do I need? Business keeps itself going. I got you bastards to brighten my Christmas with your morose bullshit. Coffee time, yet? I'm calling you guys cabs."
Brian waves off the coffee.
"The dream," Kevin says. "I showed you mine."
Brian says, "I'm exactly what I wanted to be. Problem is, when you're a kid and decide you want to be a rocket scientist you don't realize what a crummy job it is."
"The rest of us did," Glenn says.
"You shouldn't pick your life's work until you've tried a bunch of things, is what I'm trying to say," Brian says.
"So we're all a bunch of miserable fucks," Kevin says. "Onto the dream before Glenn kicks us out on our asses in the snow."
"The dream, yes." Brian says, launching himself into pontification. Gather the thoughts flittering around like bees. Herding cats. Herding mosquitoes. Herding sharks. If they were women he'd start decorating his ideas. He'd start trying to figure out how groundhogs predicted the weather.
But they're guys so he'll bemoan Dan Blocker's death out loud, expect sympathy, and say what comes into his head.
"You've got men, and you've got women," Brian says. And they tell him he's brilliant. Glenn pours a little more from his private stash.
He continues. "You've got up and down. Positive and negative poles of magnets. Positive and negative terminals of batteries. Venus and Mars. Heaven and earth. Fire and water."
"Cristal and Thunderbird," says Glenn.
"Hall and Oates," says Kevin, and then he and Glenn bank a few more shots off Brian.
"You mean Budweiser versus Sierra Nevada."
"Boy George and Morrissey"
Glenn says, "Kev, did anyone ever tell you the eighties were not only dead and gone but that everybody who survived is pretty goddamned happy about it?"
Kevin ignores him. Says to Brian, "Brilliant thesis. You're going for a patent on this one I hope. It's the new Baby on Board sign."
"Case in point," says Glenn, wiping down the bar with a wet dishrag.
Brian says, "Why are we so different? Why make things in pairs of opposites? Well, because when everything is the same, everything disappears. Take outer space. Lots of emptiness in all directions. Emptiness doesn't mean anything. The only things with meaning in space are the stars and planets and black holes, because they're different. Hot burning stars, dense matter in the middle of cold nothingness. You can't experience a homogeneous universe."
"But you can experience a homosexual universe," Kevin says. "And let me tell you, it can really suck."
Brian hugs him again. "If I was gay, I'd marry you," he says. Then to Glenn, "You didn't hear that."
"I'd marry him anyway. But Gracey won't let me," he says. Smiled with teeth.
Gets one out of Kevin who reminds them they don't live in a world that wants to see him married. Kevin says, "When they were handing out lives nobody else wanted to be me so I'm the slob who wound up getting the job."
"Well, that's the point. Your theory of the universe being one of endless miserable suction," Brian says. "I think you're probably wrong. Because what hit me in my dream is that, get the logic of it, we're so tiny. We're here for such a short time. Look at us from a star's point of view. During the lifetime of a star the earth forms from rock, dinosaurs rise and go extinct. The human race rises and falls. And it's all gone by the time you're old enough to drive."
"You're losing me, big boy. And it's getting late." Glenn picks up the phone, Kevin nods, and Glenn calls for a cab.
Kevin says, "Oh, I get it. Look at it from Ben Afleck's point of view. You can't act but you're pretty. Your whole life comes and goes in a bubble of a false sense of talent and nobody tells you you suck because they like looking at you and so the fact you act like you're in the high school talent show is meaningless. And you die believing you're good and eventually, a hundred years from now, the French name a bridge after you. You mean something like that, right?"
"What I'm saying is it's all for us," Brian says, and he lets the two of them sit in the silence of the idea for a few seconds before he says, "Imagine the big wooden roller coaster at Great America. It takes years to design and build. And you ride it, for what? Ninety seconds at most? The thing is there for years in someone's mind. Gets built over the course of years. You ride it for a minute, and leave. And it goes on for years and years after you leave. The whole thing is about the experience."
"So you're saying life is a roller coaster you ride and puke?" Kevin says. "I can buy that."
"No, what I'm saying is it's this. Right here. All of it was built for us to be here together. For this one brief experience. There can't be any other reason. It doesn't make sense, otherwise."
"That is one fucked up dream," Glenn says. The yellow light of the sign mounted on the roof of a car moves into view through the bar's front window. Glenn says, "Eventually in this dream Jennifer Aniston gives you a blow job, right?"
Brian sighs. Now he feels misty eyed and he slides off his barstool. Grabs his coat and hat from the rack and pulls out his wallet. Glenn holds up a palm like Brian knew he would. Got to remember to buy a gift for him. Knows he'll forget.
He puts his wallet back. Kevin follows him toward the door, and Glenn turns off the lights behind the bar. "I'll clean up in the morning," he says, unlocking the door for them.
The three guys hug each other in pairs, each taking slightly longer than would have been appropriate in a crowded room. Brian and Glenn pat each other on the back the way guys have to after a hug to let each other know it's not serious. Nothing serious. Just life.
"The whole cast of Friends, actually," Brian says, as he opens the door. "One by one."
"Now that's a dream," Glenn says. "You need a shrink to tell you what that means."
"I'll be sure to find one tomorrow."
Glenn turns off the lights and locks the door behind them. They venture forward into the cold dark night trailing tiny white puffs of breath vapor.