Sometimes you have one of those dreams that is exceptionally vivid, filled with color and imagery and even elaborate dialogue. This was one of those dreams. Henry Stern is a former Parks Commissioner of the City of New York, who now publishes an e-mail newsletter on the wheeling and dealing and corruption in New York civic government. I met him at my cousin’s wedding a few weeks ago, and even though I’m a school teacher from Connecticut, he wanted me to be on his e-mail list. So I am. Twice a week, I get his screed, which is usually quite interesting.
This morning I weigh 252 pounds.
Oh, and the dream. Warning , it’s a weird one. And long.
The three of us were standing on a street in Manhattan, me, and Henry Stern, and someone else, it never became clear who. I’m not really sure where in New York we are, either, except that we’re on a residential street rather than an avenue. Henry Stern was looking up at some crumbling stonework on a townhouse. He was saying something about how the city ought to do something more to preserve the quality and character of its neighborhoods, and do a better job of preserving the spaces between the streets, use them for parks and gardens and such, instead of vacant, ugly lots for parking cars and buses. I pointed out to him that there wasn’t as much space inside each block once you took care of the actual space for buildings at the edges.
In response, he ducked through a broken chain-link gate into the alleyway. A set of steps, crazy and convoluted as Escher or Moria led us into the center of this block of Manhattan. Here we stepped into a space that was part-parking lot, part-outdoor classroom, and part baseball diamond, right where we stood. A vast distance separated us from the opposite side of the middle of the block, as if the whole width of Central Park now separated us from the backs of the townhouses on the next street over.
“See?” said Henry. “Lots of space.”
“Yes, I see,” I said, standing amazed a moment.
There were three trucks for a bread company on the left of me, parked cabs-out so that their rears faced into the bakery on the avenue over that way. All were white, and had the logo of the bread company on the side, a wild thing of stars and streamers and spirals that obeyed the rules of the golden ratio.
In front of me and to my slight right was a triangle of ground given over to some sort of school of yoga or martial arts, and a lesson was going on, to which I shall return in a moment. It was apparently quartered in the townhouse we had viewed from the street, but the nice weather had brought everyone outside into the back, where it was sunny. Ironically, it was snowing on the street, though this hadn’t caught my attention at the time.
Beyond the grounds of this school was the back of another school, P.S. something or other – I could see the first two letters but not the number of the school high on its wall. Their part of the back lot was given over to a baseball diamond, and a game was in play. They were in the fifth inning, and the score was six to two. Bright clean uniforms, the slap of a ball in a catcher’s mitt, the call of the umpire, and then on the next pitch, the crack of a bat, cries of “I got it!”
Henry climbed onto a half-rusted stationary bicycle near the chain-link fence separating us from the baseball game, and with a nod of his head directed my attention to the “school” in front of us. A variety of men, young and old, but all shirtless and in excellent physical condition, sat on the steps of the porch of the townhouse, or stood in a wide semicircle, observing the lesson, so I turned and watched the demonstration.
This was four men’s muscular backs – two side-by-side, with matching full-back tattoos of erotic sculptures from the Hindu temple illustrating the Kama Sutra, and two unadorned backs to my left. These four backs gyrated and writhed, and the two tattooed backs seemed to bring their tattoos to life, the men’s cocks going in and out of the women they were fucking. The tattoos were executed in color, rather than in the grays of cold stone, but complementary to one another, so they could be observed in this way.
It took me a moment to realize that the four men who were moving their backs so, had also unbuttoned their pants, and these were hanging loosely around their ankles, revealing muscular thighs and calves. And once this realization dawned, it took another moment to realize that all four men were fucking women, upright and against the walls before them. These four men were giving a lesson in how to pleasure your partner, apparently. Indeed, the women were moaning in pleasure and obvious happiness, but who they were did not become clear, then or ever.
With a shuddering sigh, all four copulations ended suddenly and explosively together, and there was a smattering of light applause. The men drew up their pants and went into the school.
One of the other students was suddenly in front of me, poking me in the belly. “You’re pudgy, old man.”
I grabbed for his wrist. He pulled it away, but when he went to poke me again, I grabbed it.
“Pudgy and slow,” he said, trying to twist free. He failed, though, and this time tried to trip me with his feet. I picked him bodily off the ground, and then pushed him down to it. Then I sat on him. He gave a little ‘oof’ of anger, and struggled a moment to get free, but I kept on him, riding him, not letting him escape. When he tried to seize me with his hands, I placed two fingers hard against his throat, and pushed. “Be still,” I said. He was. Breathing hard, he lay there, eyes wide, his sweaty chest staining my khakis. I was not pleased.
One of his friends came.
“You can’t keep him down and fight me,” he said. So I did. My free hand lashed out, caught his ankle, and pulled him off balance until he tumbled and fell to the concrete on his back, breathing hard, the wind knocked from him.
The other students were watching us now. I could not fight them all. “In my country,” I said loudly, “we do not insult guests or visitors until their intentions are known, and their ill intent made plain. Nor do we attack them.” I indicated the two I had felled, the one beneath me and the one beside me. “Who speaks for these two?”
No one spoke. “Henry,” I said, “what about them?”
Henry shrugged, saying nothing, still bicycling to nowhere.
“Well?” I asked again. “Can they speak for themselves?” I looked down at the boy under me. He was a boy as I saw clearly now. “If I let you up, will we be friends?”
The boy nodded. I stood up, and offered him my hand. He shook it, and scampered out of reach, behind one of the older students. The other took a longer time to get up. Though he did not quite limp away, he was the more hurt of the two from his fall.
“The warrior knows when he is fighting other warriors, and not merely ruffians,” said the teacher of this school, coming toward me. He was indistinct, but I could sense his authority, and he spoke not only to me but also to his school. “And our guest is also correct about the virtues of hospitality.”
I inclined my head to him, and he to me in the same degree. I think we shook hands then, but I do not remember.
“You seem to be a teacher,” he said. “You had lessons for them both. But there is a quality of a warrior about you, too.” He was quite puzzled by his inability to see me clearly; I saw it in his face. So I explained it to him, revealing myself more fully.
“I’ve studied some martial arts, and I taught them for a while too. I even coach fencing. Mostly, though, I teach ninth graders,” I said.
“Ah.” The sensei’s sound carried depths of understanding as if I had offered him sonar images. “A teacher… and a warrior.”