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Scraps of Space: Thoughts that rattle in your brain

Blast San Francisco Bureau

I dreamed in Portuguese last night. It was just like real life. I spoke in short, broken sentences, I understood only fragments of what other people said, and I constantly had to correct words that came out first in Spanish, which I also speak poorly.

Two scenes from the dream still stood out in my memory when I woke up. In the first, a group of pleasant Brazilians and I were holed up in a funky old hotel perched above an intersection of five roads. It was a rural area with some kind of 1950s, pre-high -tech feel to it. The Brazilians seemed to know where we were, but I had only a vague sense that I had arrived on one of the roads coming in from the left. We seemed to be waiting for something, but probably nothing important.

The second scene was urban and modern, but pretty deserted, like the first. The Brazilians were younger. They were running around making a lot of noise in the basement lobby of some high-rise building. I kept circling up and down the stairs to street leve l, apparently waiting for someone to arrive. A car showed up. I recognized the driver as the parent of one of the kids downstairs. Pleased that I had made the connection, I told her I'd go get her daughter, which I did. Wow. We were speaking Portuguese and everything seemed to go okay.

Somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious, even when I'm not asleep, I find that my mind constantly visits fragmentary spaces like these. I'm grading papers or reading a book, for example, mostly thinking about the ideas on the page, but some o ther part of my brain is off multi-tasking, running through an inventory of spaces that have accumulated over the years. Sometimes it's a long lane out to a farmhouse surrounded by fallow fields. Near the house the lane curves to the right to avoid a clump of trees and then ends in a gravel lot with a garage and a barn in front and a small white house to the left. A wire fence surrounds the yard around the house. The grass in the yard is green. Lots of trees. It 's cool and inviting compare d to the desolate gravel lot and the endless flat farmland. I never go in the house.

Sometimes it's the hard road that cut through the little Illinois town where I lived when I was a child, the hard road that came from Mt. Pulaski and went on to Warrensburg. It was made of concrete while all the other streets in town were asphalt. It was the only road in town with curbs. I know every yard and every piece of broken sidewalk that lined that hard road from one edge of town to the other because I rode my bicycle from house to house every day for two years delivering the afternoon newspaper. Little pieces of that route play into my mind randomly now, 35 years later, like the spot where I crossed the road to Haskells' house, cutting behind the big hedge that shielded th em from the road, following the driveway to the attached garage, and opening the aluminum screen door to toss in the paper without ever getting off my bike.

I never ride the whole route in these imaginary wandering. Rather the fragment that comes to mind plays itself over and over like a looped tape, trying to divert me from my current activity, trapping my present in my past. What determines which item from this catalog of obscure places will play at any given time? Perhaps some idea or emotion from the conscious realm becomes a keyword that searches through my collection of experiences looking for a match. And perhaps the matches are as tenuous as those from a World Wide Web search that generates tens of thousands of possibilities. The one that comes up first plays until I notice it. I say, "Hello, you're back again. I know exactly where you're from, even if I don't know why you're here." I go back to the business at hand. The scrap of space goes back where it came from, as mysteriously as a dream that flees in the night.