Testifying in Johnstown

There used to be a tacit understanding that it was risky to publish the contents of one’s dreams. The thinking was, I guess, that since dreams are such an intimate key to a person’s psyche, it is dangerous to broadcast them to the whole world. Because, uh, my psychic enemies might find an opening into my head and wreak havoc? Something like that, I suppose. In any event, I think this tacit understanding was a creature of psychoanalysis, and no one takes psychoanalysis seriously anymore except cultural studies types. And I think I can take ’em.

I had a dream a couple of nights ago that was so deliciously bizarre and entertaining, so unconnected to anything important going on in my life, that I had to share it. To anticipate the most obvious question in advance: Yes, I really had this dream. I promise.

My travels had taken me to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I am not entirely sure why, but that is where I found myself. The centerpiece of town was a large municipal swimming pool. By “large” I mean that it was less a traditional swimming pool than something like an entire high school campus that had been flooded and now existed half-submerged under blue, shimmering, treated swimming pool water. I examined the periphery of the pool for some time but did not get in. Apparently I cannot swim in dreams either.

The scene changed to a Goodwill store. Ostensibly it was still in Johnstown but there was nothing about it that betrayed the slightest local color. What I do recall was that the place was very large and packed with unusually good merchandise. I recall thinking that I should have to get several items for my son while I was there. It seemed like an opportune place to find things for him. There seemed to be a lot of toddler-size clothes there in good shape.

As I browsed I came to realize that the store had a larger number of books than was typical for a Goodwill store. And the books were unusually good. I found a book there I had felt the lack of for some years– the second volume of Jaroslav Pelikan’s multivolume history of Christian dogma. I took the book off the shelf, examined it, and began to secret it away in the bag I was carrying so as to shoplift it. It was only fair, I reasoned; after all, I had donated the book to this Goodwill years ago. I was just taking back what was mine.

As I was in the middle of lifting my own book, though, the manager of the Goodwill, a heavyset man in his fifties, walked up to a table in the middle of the store covered in odds and ends. From the table he picked up a worn Bible in a leather cover and, brandishing it like an evangelist, he began to testify. This conduct was sufficiently unusual that it inspired me to think better of shoplifting the book. I put it back on the shelf as the manager began to proclaim something like the following:

“Brothers and Sisters, you have been taken in for too long by false standards of beauty! Beauty, brothers and sisters, does not come from the clothes you wear or the makeup you put on your face! True beauty comes from within, and the Lord sees it. See yourself and one another as the Lord sees you, with eyes that see within, and you will live rightly,” &c&c.

I say “something like” this because I can’t quite remember exactly what he said, both his specific words or the precise point he was trying to make. I only remember two things: by the time he really got going he had turned into the CFO of the company I work for; and I found something about what he was saying deeply objectionable. I felt an odd rising feeling in the pit of my stomach that told me that I was getting ready to state my disagreement with his proclamation and do so at the top of my voice. Which I did.

I can’t for the life of me remember what I shouted at the manager. But it got his attention. He shot back, “Jesus was not beautiful! Socrates was not beautiful! At least not outwardly! But they had inner beauty!” This got me going even more. The last thing I remember shouting was “SOCRATES WAS NOT BEAUTIFUL! AT ALL! SOCRATES WAS UGLY ALL THE WAY DOWN!!!”

And then I woke up.

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