Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Lucid: Chapter Six

Several days later, Connor found himself once again sitting with Gallagher at the same dreary midtown bar.  It had been Connor’s idea to meet.  His talk with Jocelyn had upset him more than he cared to admit and he was in search of a sympathetic ear.
“I can’t stay long,” said Gallagher straight off.  “I’m just taking a break before I go back to the office.  I’m going to be putting in a lot of O.T. this week on the evening shift.”
“That’s what’s wrong with law firms,” observed Connor.  “You’ve got to have so many billable hours on your time sheet that you end up not having any life.”
“I don’t need a life,” Gallagher joked.  “Instead, I can live vicariously through you.  You’ve got all these stories to tell of secret medical experiments.”
“There’s nothing at all secret about this project.”  Connor took another sip of the seltzer water sitting on the bar in front of him.  “It’s just a university experiment.”
“That’s what they’re telling you all right, but how do you know it’s true?  You don’t.  There could be much more going on in all this than you realize.  The more successful these researchers are at keeping you in the dark, the easier it is for them to control you.”
“You always did have an overactive imagination.”
“Everyone else in this country is paranoid.  Why should I be any different?”
“You’ve got me there.”
“Why are you drinking that bubbly water anyway?” Gallagher asked.  “I know you never touch the hard stuff, but there’s no reason you can’t at least have a beer, is there?”  He finished off his own Guinness and signaled for another to the bartender, the same balding middle aged man who’d been there before.  Instead of watching television, Igor was now occupied polishing over and over with his white apron the same already spotless glass stein. 
“I’m just keeping myself clean.  They take blood samples every now and then, and I don’t want to screw anything up for myself.”
Gallagher gave a short laugh.  “Have it your way.”
Connor looked down at the shot of Bushmills his friend had ordered.  “Are you sure you should be drinking so much yourself when you’ve got to go back to the office?”
“It’s different there in the evening.  Not as many people around to keep track of what I’m up to.  I sit by myself redacting a huge pile of documents.  All I have to do is place pieces of white tape over names and phrases our attorneys don’t want the opposition to see and then make copies.  There’s no way I could work at anything that boring without at least a few drinks to keep me going.”
“Whatever.  It’s not really any of my business anyway.”  Connor glanced up at the television on the wall where a Mexican soccer match was currently playing out.
“No, it’s not.  Now why don’t you get off my case and tell me instead what’s been happening in your dream life.”
“That’s the problem.  Nothing’s been happening.  It’s been almost a week that I’ve been going to the lab, and so far I haven’t had a single dream, lucid or otherwise.”
“It’s not your fault, man.  You can’t dream on order.  You’ve got to be patient.”
“Yes, I know.  That’s what the professor says too.  He’s cool about it, but somehow I feel I’m letting him down.”
“Are there any good looking women there?  Maybe if you got it on with some foxy nurse, you’d start having wet dreams and your problem would be solved.”
“Gallagher, do you ever think about anything but getting laid? I’m not going through all this just to find a date.”
“I’d think a lot more highly of you if you were.  What you’re up to now is all just nonsense.  You’ve got to pull yourself together and start doing something real.”
“I’m going to stick with it a while longer.  I haven’t anything to lose, have I?”
“What’s happening with the job search?”
“Nothing at all there either.  I spent three hours this afternoon waiting for an interview for an administrative assistant job.  When I finally got in the door, the personnel director told me he’d already picked someone for the position but had wanted more resumes on file in case the guy didn’t pan out.”
“Damn, that’s cold.  No wonder you want to stick with this experiment so bad.  It’s the only place you don’t have to worry about being kicked out the door.”
“You don’t have to rub it in,” Connor said.  “And speaking of being kicked out the door,” he added self-consciously, “I saw Jocelyn yesterday.”
An uncomfortable expression passed fleetingly across Gallagher’s face.  “What’d you want to do that for?  Haven’t you got enough problems without hanging with the woman who set you up and sent you down?”
“It’s not like I was trying to get back together with her.  I only went over to her place because I wanted to have it out with her and have her tell me to my face why she pulled such a dirty trick.  I thought I deserved at least that much.”
“And what’d she say?” Gallagher jeered him.  “Did she give you any reason?  I bet not.  She probably tried to pin the blame on you.”
“She told me shit happens.”  Connor shook his head in wonderment.  “Can you believe that was the best she had to offer?”
“Maybe she told you that because she doesn’t have any more idea than you do why she did what she did.  It’s fucked up all right, but people do crazy things all the time without knowing why.  It’s just the way the world works.”
“Maybe so, but it wasn’t much to give me for all I went through.   She could have come up with something better than that, don’t you think?”
Gallagher put his hand roughly on Connor’s shoulder and shook him hard.  “Just let it go, man, and stay away from her from now on.”
Connor turned to look at his friend.  “It’s funny, but that’s the same advice she gave me about you.”
Gallagher’s face flushed.  “Say again.”
“She told me I’d be better off staying away from you.”  Connor’s expression grew inquisitive.  “Why do you think she’d say that, Richie?  Does she know something about you I don’t?”
Gallagher knocked back his drink in a single gulp and angrily slammed the glass down on the bar.  “The bitch never liked me to begin with, that’s all.”
Connor shrugged.  “As I remember it, Jocelyn was always friendly enough to you when you used to stop by.  She’d sit on the couch and drink and joke with us all night long.  She never said anything negative about you back then.”
“How can you listen to anything that woman says after the way she stabbed you in the back?  She just wants to go on hurting you and making your life miserable.  First she put you in jail and now that you’re out she doesn’t even want you hanging with old friends.”
“I guess you’re right,” Connor allowed.  “It doesn’t make any difference anyway.  I already made up my mind never to see her again.”
“Now you’re talking,” said Gallagher.  He slapped his friend on the back.  “Let me pick up for the drinks, man.  I’ve got to get back to the office.  My job awaits.”
“So give the cash to Igor and let’s get out of this godforsaken place.  It gives me the creeps just being here.”

Monday, October 29, 2018

Photos from the Javits Center


I went on Thursday to the Photo Expo at the Javits Center.  I already have pretty much all the gear I need and only wanted to take a quick look at the new mirrorless cameras on display.  There were two in particular I wanted to see - Nikon's Z7 and Panasonic's Lumix G9 - and will mention those briefly in future posts.  In the meantime, I'm posting a few random shots I took while wandering about the auditorium. 


The man shown above was trying out some form of VR headset.  It must have given him quite a ride judging by his enthusiastic reaction.


I assume the figure above was a model waiting to pose.  I doubt many photographers own such colorful clothes as this man's suit.

All photos taken on a Nikon Df with a 50mm f1.4 lens.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Lucid: Chapter Five

It was most likely the conversation he’d had with Gallagher that had finally given Connor the courage to seek out his ex at her new home on the Upper East Side.  Otherwise, he might very well have given the idea up as a bad job and stayed put in his room in Brooklyn where he spent most of his time alone reading.
It was only by chance that Connor had gotten hold of Jocelyn’s address in the first place.   Her incompetent lawyer had forgotten to remove it from the final divorce papers he’d forwarded to Connor months before.  The mistake had come as no surprise.  Even though the divorce had been uncontested, the attorney had bungled so badly he’d had to file the initial complaint twice before the court clerk finally accepted it.  Though at the time Connor had received his copy of the judgment in the mail he’d had no intention of seeing his ex-wife again, he’d made a note of the number and street just the same.
There would have been no point in calling ahead even if Connor had had Jocelyn’s cell number.  He hadn’t the least doubt she’d have hung up the phone in his face.  Better to wait on the sidewalk outside her building, a featureless high rise on York Avenue. 
As he leaned against a lamppost a few feet from the building’s entrance, Connor experienced the same paranoia he knew all ex-cons feel when out on the street.  He was sure every patrol car he saw pass by was slowing ever so slightly so that the uniform behind the wheel could better check him out.  Or perhaps the building’s doorman had already called the police to report a suspicious character loitering about the premises. 
An hour had passed before Jocelyn at last appeared at the end of the block.  Although he hadn’t seen her in over a year, Connor recognized her at once.  She’d put on a few pounds, he noted, and had had her hair dyed a brassy shade of red.  Still, there was no mistaking the woman to whom he’d been married for almost five years, the same woman who’d come up with the idea for the perfect burglary and then convinced him to attempt it. 
Jocelyn stopped cold when she saw Connor awaiting her approach.  For a moment, he thought she would turn and run.
“What are you doing here?” Jocelyn demanded.  She didn’t try to hide her anger.
“I’m not here to make a scene if that’s what you’re worried about.  I’m cool.  I just wanted to talk.”
Jocelyn moved to brush past him.  “I don’t have anything to say to you.  So why don’t you just leave now?  Or do I have to call for help?”
Connor blocked her path and made no move to budge.  He regarded her steadily as he tried to come to terms with his own emotions.  He’d tried to imagine what he’d feel when he finally saw her again.  Would he be so filled with fury and hatred that he’d no longer be able to control himself?  Or would he tearfully beg her to come back to him?  To his surprise, he found that he was almost totally indifferent now that the moment had arrived.  All that remained of his hurt and pain was a mild desire to know why he’d had to go through so much for this one woman’s sake.
“Did you hear what I said?”  Jocelyn fairly hissed the words in his ear.
“Are you sure you want to make a scene in front of your new home?” Connor asked.  “Do you want your neighbors to find out you were once married to a criminal?”
The threat worked.
Jocelyn looked about her to see if any of her neighbors might indeed be nearby and listening.  Once she had satisfied herself that they were alone, she turned back to Connor.  “You might as well come up.  We can talk in private if you promise not to start any trouble.”
The two rode the elevator together in silence, each keeping as far distant from the other as was possible in the confined space.
Jocelyn’s small apartment had a familiar appearance.  Connor had wondered occasionally what had become of the furnishings from the one-bedroom he had once shared with her on 21st Street.  Now he knew.
Jocelyn followed his look.  “It’s not as though you were going to be able to use this stuff in prison.  I needed it to get on with my own life.”
“Sure,” said Connor.  “I wasn’t going to ask for any of it back.  There’s no room for it anyway in the share I’ve got now.”
“I’m glad it works out for you.” Jocelyn stared coldly past him as she said this.  She took a seat on the same recliner where Connor had long ago sprawled with beer in hand while watching Sunday afternoon football on TV.  The memory seemed unreal to him now, something that had once happened to someone else.
Jocelyn had been studying him while he stood uncertainly in the middle of the room.  “You look different than you used to,” she finally pronounced.
“How so?”
“I’m not positive.  But something seems to have gone out of you.  None of the fight and passion is there any longer.  It’s all been emptied out.”
“Prison will do that to you.  You learn to just accept things the way they are and count the days till you’re out.  There’s no point in being angry if there’s nothing you can do about it.  And there’s nothing you can do about anything when you’re inside.”  Connor looked at the sofa.  “Is it all right if I sit down?”
Jocelyn shook her head.  “You’re not going to be staying long enough to get comfortable.  As soon as you’ve finished explaining to me why you’re here in the first place, you can get the hell out.  I don’t want you anywhere around me.”
“Fair enough.”
“So why are you stalking me?  Did you think we were going to get back together and be a loving couple again?  Well, you can forget that idea.  I’m so over you, Michael.  All I want now is a fresh start and a new life.”
Connor gave a bitter laugh.  “That’s what I go around saying too.”
“There’s no one stopping you.  Certainly not me.”
Connor decided he didn’t care what Jocelyn thought about him being there.  He sat down on the sofa and stared directly at her.  “Listen,” he said, “I didn’t come here to try to patch things up.  We both know it’s too late for that.”
“So what is it you want then?”
“I want you to tell me why all this had to happen.  We were getting by all right.  There were no big problems.  We weren’t in debt.  Then out of the blue you come up with this brainstorm that I should burglarize the neighborhood hardware store.”  His voice rose a notch.  “A fucking hardware store.  How the hell could you come up with an idea like that?”
“How the hell could you go along with it?  Don’t try to put all the blame on me.”
Connor sat back on the sofa.  “I must have been out of my mind to have ever listened to you.  I didn’t know the first thing about pulling a job like that.”
“Obviously not.”  Jocelyn didn’t try to hide the sarcasm.
“And I’d never done anything crooked before that.  Shit, I’d never even had a traffic ticket.  That’s one reason the judge went so easy on me.  He sentenced me to less than a year, and I was out in six months.”
“So what are you complaining about?  You only lost a few months, and now you’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you.”
“A lot of good that does me.  You know as well as I do that I’m never going to be able to land a decent job now that I’ve got a record.  I’ll be lucky to get a minimum wage gig as a dishwasher.”
Jocelyn stomped her foot.  “Spare me the tears, Michael.  You were old enough to make your own decisions and accept the consequences.  As I remember it, you thought too that it was an easy way to pick up a little extra cash.  I never twisted your arm.”
“The hell you didn’t.  You stayed on top of me night and day until I finally agreed.  Never gave me a minute’s peace.”
Jocelyn abruptly stood up.  “I get it now.  You came here to lay a guilt trip on me, to tell me how I ruined your life.  Fine.  I’m filled with remorse and will henceforth hang my head in shame.  Satisfied?  Are you ready to leave now?”
Connor stayed seated.  “The least you could have done was to have waited until I was released to divorce me.  That was the final straw.  Once I’d seen the papers, I knew I had nothing left to hope for when I got out, nothing to keep me going.”
“Stop crying in your beer, won’t you?  It’s all water under the bridge.”
“That’s funny,” said Connor.  “I saw Gallagher the other day and he used the exact same expression.  Everyone must think I’m nothing now but a big crybaby.”
That registered.  Jocelyn looked at him sharply.  “What the hell were you doing hanging out with Gallager?  You should stay away from that guy.  He’s nothing but trouble.”
“Are you kidding me?  He’s the only friend I’ve got left.  Everyone else treats me like poison.  Gallagher at least will sit there and listen while I vent.”
“You and I had other friends.  Remember the Harrisons?  Betty works at an employment agency in midtown.  She might be able to find you something.”
“I’m not going anywhere hat in hand just to get the cold shoulder.  Look at the warm welcome I got here.  Our old friends aren’t going to treat me any differently.  God knows what you told them about me anyway.”
“I never told anyone anything.   I was too embarrassed to mention your name.”
“Yeah, I bet you were.  You just wanted to forget I ever existed, didn’t you?”
Jocelyn’s face turned bright red.  “Michael, it’s time for you to leave.”
“I’m not done yet.”
“Oh, yes you are.  You don’t want me calling 911 and telling them I’ve got my ex-con ex-husband here trying to start an argument.  One phone call and you’ll be spending the night back in jail.”
Connor looked at her and saw she was serious.  He rose slowly from the sofa and stood for a moment facing her.  “I’m going.  I just wanted to know why you did all this.  I hope there was a good reason.  Otherwise, you fucked up my whole life for nothing.”
Jocelyn glared at him.  “How the hell should I know why things turned out the way they did?  Who knows why anything in life turns out the way it does?  Shit happens, and that’s all there is to it.”
Connor didn’t say anything else, just turned and walked to the door and let himself out.  From behind him he heard Jocelyn sobbing hoarsely. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Turtle in the Sun


It was a bit warmer on Friday and perhaps that's why the turtle decided to sun himself on the side of the Central Park lake.  I don't know what will happen to the turtles when the really cold weather arrives and the lake freezes over.  I've read that they hibernate, but do they do so in the cold water itself?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Shadows in the Night


The silhouetted figures pass by us in the night.  Those whom we might recognize in the daylight hours remain strangers after dark.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Lucid: Chapter Four

“Thanks for getting here on time” said Elicott.  He glanced at his watch, an inexpensive Rolex replica, as he extended his hand automatically to Connor.  “I appreciate your punctuality.”
“It wasn’t any problem at all,” said Connor.  “I don’t have that much keeping me busy lately.”  As he gripped the doctor’s hand as firmly as he could, he ruefully thought to himself what an understatement that was.
The two were in the university’s basement laboratory where the subjects were to sleep.  A number of upright folding screens had been set up; they divided the large room into a dozen or so cubicles.  Each small space was crowded with a bed, an upright metal chair and a stand on which stood an impressive looking electronic monitoring device roughly the size of a household microwave.  Only a few of the cubicles were empty; in the others, participants in the experiment – male and female, ethnically mixed and of a variety of ages – were preparing for bed.  All of them, Connor noticed, wore regulation white hospital gowns.  A few had brought paperbacks and magazines with them to pass the time until the lights were turned off at ten o’clock.  No one chatted on cell phones or conversed with anyone else.  Aside from the hum of the air conditioners, the room was completely silent.  There was a definite air of expectation about the place.
“Let’s just run through the stats first, shall we?” suggested Elicott.  He switched on the tablet he held in his hands.  He handled it gingerly as though he were not that used to working with electronic devices.  “Before we begin, I want to make sure I have everything correct for our records.  The university is very fussy when it comes to such things.”
“And you’re not?” Connor joked in an undertone.
“What did you just say?” Elicott looked up from his tablet.
“I said, ‘Fine with me.’”  As he spoke, Connor briefly stepped behind an upright screen to change into his gown.
“We’ve got you down as Michael Connor, a U.S. citizen currently residing in Brooklyn.  You’re age 42, 6 foot 2 inches tall and weigh 187.”
Connor reemerged from behind the screen.  “I try to keep myself in shape.”
“You’ve reported your health as excellent,” continued the professor, “are not currently under a physician’s care for any physical or mental condition and are not taking any prescription or over the counter medications.”
“That’s all correct,” agreed Connor.  “Also, I don’t smoke, drink heavily or use any illegal drugs.”
“Good.  That’s a prerequisite, of course.  For the length of the experiment, you’re not allowed to partake of any substance that would affect your sleep or dream patterns.”
“You’d already mentioned that and I’m ok with it.  I like to live a clean life anyway.”
“Good to hear.  It might not seem that big a deal now; but in another quarter century when you’re entering old age and growing frail, you’ll be grateful for having made that decision.  It will help you live longer.”
Connor ignored the homily.  He’d heard too much preaching while in prison to pay it any mind.  “Is there anything else you need to know?”
“No, that’s it.  We can start whenever you’re ready.”
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” 
The professor put down the tablet and moved to the monitoring device.  He turned on the power and twisted a few dials on the front of the machine.  A spool of paper marked with wavy lines started to unfurl from its top.
“I’m guessing that’s the polysomnogram you were telling me about.”
“Yes,” said the professor.  “It will begin taking readings as soon as we’ve connected the discs to your skull.”  He pointed to a mass of tangled wiring that extended from the machine’s back.
“Those are the discs that carry the electric charge?” Connor regarded them askance.
“It’s only a few volts, nothing that will keep you awake.”  Elicott’s voice was deliberately reassuring.  It was obvious he remembered the fear of electricity the other had expressed in his office the week before.  He obligingly pulled one wire free and offered the disc at its end to Connor to touch.
Connor put his fingertip on the metal but could feel nothing other than a vibration so slight he might just as well have imagined it.  “Is the machine turned on?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, and that’s as powerful as the current will get.  As I already explained to you, there’s nothing to be concerned about.”
Connor nodded and sat on the edge of the bed while the professor, after first having put a touch of gel on the center of each disc, attached them one after the other to various points on Connor’s skull.  The entire procedure took less than five minutes.  “Any discomfort?” Elicott asked when he had finished.
“No.  I feel perfectly fine.”  It was true, Connor thought.
“There’s no reason you shouldn’t.  This is really all that’s involved.  You can just lie here on the bed until it’s time to turn off the lights.  We have some magazines if you’d like to read.”
“I’m good.  I’ll just rest if that’s all right with you.”
At that moment, a short bespectacled man popped his head around the edge of the screen.  He moved his hands about erratically as he spoke.  “Will you be ready for me soon?” he asked the professor.
“Yes, in just a moment, Mr. Smith.  Or is it Smithson?”
“It’s actually Smithers,” the man sniffed impatiently.  “It seems to me you could at least get our names correct.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Elicott apologized politely while at the same time turning his head so that only Connor could see as he arched his eyebrows in mock dismay.  “I’ll be with you shortly.”
“I certainly hope so,” said Smithers peremptorily as he turned on his heel and left the cubicle.
“Nervous fellow,” remarked the professor as he once again turned his attention toward Connor.  “Do you have any questions before I go?”
“Are there any special instructions to follow before I fall asleep?”
“No, none at all.  Just make yourself comfortable as you normally would when you go to bed at home.  I would avoid going over in your mind any disturbing experiences that might keep you awake.  Just relax and think pleasant thoughts.”
“Got it.”
“I’ll leave you then and see you again in the morning.  There’s a buzzer on the side of the bed if you have any problems during the night and need to summon assistance.  We have a nurse stationed at the front desk who can help in any such event.”
Connor looked where Elicott had indicated and saw a device resembling a doorbell wired to the bed frame.  “I don’t think I’ll have to call her.”
“No one has yet, but most of our subjects find it reassuring to know she’s there.”  With that, Elicott smiled once more and then made his way out of the room as he went to check on the program’s other subjects.
Connor put his hands behind his head and lay his head on the pillow.  He let his mind wander and was surprised when the lights were extinguished and the room fell into darkness at how quickly the time had passed.  Almost before he knew it, he had fallen asleep.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Adox HR 50


The venerable German firm Adox, the oldest manufacturer of petrochemical products in existence, has announced the release of a new film, HR-50.  According to the company's website, the film "is based on an emulsion commonly available for technical purposes, featuring an ultrafine grain and superpanchromatical sensitization."  The major change in moving the film from technical to consumer use appears to be an increase in the film's ISO.  The reference to "superpanchromatical sensitization" implies that the film is sensitive to all visible light wavelengths.  Although Adox recommends processing the film with its own dedicated developer, it should also be amenable to other manufacturers' developers as well.  Interestingly, Adox claims "HR-50 can be used as an Infrared film" through the use of filters.

There was no word on price or availability date.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Silhouetted Figures


The great thing about photographing people at night is that they are no more than shadowy silhouettes when shrouded in darkness.  They are veiled with an anonymity they could not hope to possess during the daylight hours.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Lucid: Chapter Three

Gallagher was black Irish; he had a swarthy complexion and jet dark hair he kept combed back in a 50’s pompadour.  His wiry frame surged forward surely and even aggressively as he moved, and yet there was always something furtive in his manner.  “The whole idea sounds totally crazy,” he said now after Connor had described to him in detail the meeting he’d had that morning with Elicott.  “I don’t know why you’d want to get involved in something so screwed up in the first place.  You’re flat broke and have nothing solid lined up.  You don’t even have any interviews scheduled, at least none that you’ve told me about.  Don’t you think you’d do better to be out looking for a real job instead of wasting your time on this pseudoscientific nonsense?”
“They’re going to be paying me,” replied Connor.  “That’s one thing.  The money isn’t very good, I’ll give you that much, but it will at least help me make the rent until something better comes along.” 
The two friends were drinking Guinness at a bar called the Rose of Shannon on East 41st Street.  When it had opened, decades before, it had been a genuine Irish pub filled with hard drinking construction workers from Galway and Killarney, but over the years it had lost its identity.  These days it was nothing more than another generic midtown watering hole that served preheated tacos and lasagna to a white collar crowd during lunch hour.  The only reason Connor could see that Gallagher wanted to meet there was the convenience it offered.  Not only was the rundown establishment – it had a “C” rating from the Health Department pasted on its front window – located close to the Madison Avenue law offices where Gallagher was employed as a paralegal, but it also had a reasonably priced happy hour that continued until well into the evening hours.  Not that that amenity helped bring in much business.  At half past six, the two had the place to themselves. 
Connor, who had been staring idly at a drooping string of cardboard shamrocks hung over the bar, finished his second Guinness and turned his head toward Gallagher.  “I don’t know why you’d want to refer to legitimate research as ‘nonsense.’”
“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about.  I’ve heard all about this lucid dreaming.  There’s at least one article a month on it in the Sunday supplement.  It’s just the latest fad.  Last year it was crystals, and this year it’s controlling your dreams.  There’s no more scientific basis to it than there is to astrology.”  He gave his companion a pitying look.  “Face it.  There’s no difference between this and the ‘new age’ shit you were into in college.”
“It wasn’t on the curriculum as far as I can remember,” Connor snapped back.
“Stop jerking my chain.  I remember what it was like when we were undergraduates.  While the rest of us were smuggling kegs of beer into the dorm, you’d either be practicing Tibetan meditation or else telling fortunes with the I Ching.  You were always a dreamer.  You haven’t got a practical bone in your body.”
“Actually, I consulted The Book of Changes before I went to the interview this morning.”  Connor was all at once effusive.  “The hexagram that came up was the first, ‘the Creative,’ with no changing lines.  That’s as favorable an answer as anyone can expect when asking the oracle about a course of action he’s considering.”
“See what I mean?  That sort of crap is exactly what I’m talking about.”
“And what’s wrong with pursuing my interests even if they don’t fill my pockets with gold?  Is it so terrible of me to want more out of life than just getting rich?”
“Being out of work is what.  If you spent more time trying to find a job you wouldn’t be where you are now.  And before you ask, down and out is where you are now.”
“You don’t get it,” said Connor.  “I’m hoping that taking part in the project might actually help me find a job somewhere down the line.”
Gallagher made no attempt to hide his impatience.  “Great.  So you’re going to dream yourself into a good job.  Now I’ve heard it all.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.  Stop being such an ass.”
“If one of us sitting here is an ass, it’s not me.”
Connor twisted slowly about on his stool and gave Gallagher a searching look.  It was as though he were seeing his friend for the first time and not liking at all what he found.  “What’s come over you lately?” he asked softly.  “You and I used to be close.  We were best friend for years.  Remember?  Lately, though, you start riding me without any cause and get all over my case no matter what I say or do.”  He paused long enough to think back over the last several times he’d met with Gallagher.  “You’ve been like this ever since I got out.  Is it because I’ve been inside that you’ve changed toward me so much?  Is that it?  Maybe you don’t feel comfortable hanging with an ex-con.  I can understand that.  Just say the word and I’ll be gone.”
“Hey, you’ve got it wrong, my man.”  Gallagher was immediately defensive.  “I’m just worried about you, that’s all.  If I’m giving you some tough love it’s only because I hate seeing you on the skids and want to do what I can to help.”  There was an edge of rebuke in his voice.  “I’m sorry if you’re not able to see it that way.  If you ask me, you’re getting way too sensitive in your old age.  You should be more appreciative when the people around you take the time to give you some solid advice.”
Connor wasn’t having any of it.  All the anger and resentment that had been building for weeks inside him came spilling out.  “I don’t need any encouragement from anyone.  I go out every single day looking for work, and you know that’s the truth.  I’ve emailed more resumes than I can count and put on a suit and gone to every single interview I’ve been able to drum up.  And you know what I’ve gotten for all my efforts?  Nada, that’s what.  No one even calls me back a second time.  Most just push me out the door the first chance they get.  They tell me I’m ‘overqualified,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean, and let it go at that.  They’d spend more time talking with a terrorist than they do with me.”
“So what do you think the problem is?”  Gallagher took another sip of his Guinness.  “Is it because they know you’ve got a record?”
“No.  It never reaches the point where they’d do a background check.  That would only come after a second interview.  I’d have to consent to it beforehand, I think.  And they wouldn’t bother checking anyway unless they were getting ready to make an offer.”
“So what gives then?”
“Oh, it’s not any kind of conspiracy.”  Connor shook his head sadly.  “I’ve just got the wrong background for today’s job market.  I think the biggest problem is that I was a liberal arts major.  No one’s looking for that kind of degree any longer.  Everyone wants to hire techies who can write code, or else some fool who’s got a business degree in accounting.  How intelligent or reliable I am doesn’t count for shit these days.”
“I can understand that.  That’s why when I was in college I only signed up for courses that looked good on my resume and then made sure to find something secure as soon as I graduated.  Otherwise I’d be standing out there on the street right beside you.”
“And it doesn’t help that I’m in my forties,” Connor went on.  “As far as potential employers are concerned, I’m already over the hill.  Not that they’ll ever say it.  They’re too smart to risk getting sued for age discrimination.  That doesn’t mean I can’t see it in their eyes, though, the whole time they’re talking to me.”
“Don’t get paranoid.  It’s just that there are too many people looking for not enough jobs.  Everyone says the recession is over, but I certainly don’t see any recovery coming down the road.  People are desperate.”
Connor shrugged.  “The world’s changed.”
Gallagher finished his Guinness, knocked back a shot of Bushmills, and went back to where the conversation had begun.  “But what got you interested in this sleep project to begin with?  It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“I told you…”
“Yeah, I know what you told me.  I’m not deaf.  It’s just that there’s got to be more to it than what you’re letting on.  What’s the real attraction that’s pulling you in?”
“Nothing, except maybe that taking part in a project like this will give me a break from what’s going on in the real world.  If nothing else, it’ll help me get away from my problems, at least for a few hours.  That’s something anyway.”
“Pretending your problems aren’t there isn’t going to solve them.  You’re just looking to escape reality.”
“Is it really such a bad thing to want to get away for a while?”
“It is if you starve,” Gallagher replied.
“Thanks.  That makes me feel so much better.”
“Stop taking everything I say so seriously, will you?”  Gallagher laughed out loud.  “Well, one good thing about this gig is that if worst comes to worst and your roommates throw you out for not paying your rent, you can at least be sure of a place to sleep.  You won’t have to worry you’ll end up in some homeless shelter with a bunch of crackheads.”
“Anything has got to be an improvement over where I am now.  Three roommates sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Bed-Stuy is as bad as it gets.  It’s not some upscale condo either.  Everyone talks about how the neighborhood is improving, but there are mice and roaches crawling all over the place.”
“What you should really do is to stop crying in your beer and find yourself a good looking girlfriend you can shack up with.  That would solve a lot of your problems right there.”  Gallagher’s expression quickly dissolved into a leer.  “With a little luck, she’d have a pretty sister you could introduce me to.”
“Oh, please.”  Connor groaned.  “The last thing I need right now is another relationship.  I’ve had enough to do with women to last me a lifetime.”
Gallagher was insistent.  “You shouldn’t be so negative, my man.  If you had someone there for you, you wouldn’t feel so alone.  It’s good to have another person to share your problems with.  Someone besides me, I mean.”
“Bullshit.  It’s bad enough having you sitting here telling me how low I’ve fallen.  It would be a hell of a lot worse if I were living with some woman who had high expectations for me; then I’d have to listen to her night and day giving me grief because I was still out of work.  No, thank you.  I don’t need that at all.”
“Being alone all the time isn’t healthy for you.”  Gallagher delivered this last piece of advice in a solemn tone.  “You’ll end up a misanthrope.  Mark my words.”
“Hell.  You know I just got divorced.  That job I pulled and got sent away for was all Jocelyn’s idea in the first place.  If it hadn’t been for her pushing me I’d never have tried it.  And then, after I’d been caught and convicted, the bitch decided she didn’t want to wait around while I finished my sentence.  She had the papers served on me while I was still inside.  Do you have any idea what a punch in the gut that was?  I still can’t figure why she did me dirt that way.  It doesn’t make sense.  I keep wondering if she didn’t have some other guy on the side all along.  That’s the only thing that would explain it.”
“What did I just tell you about getting paranoid?”  Gallagher had stopped smiling.  “Weren’t you listening to a word I said?”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard you.  But I’ve got to tell you, it’s going to be a long time before I can get over what Jocelyn did and bring myself to trust another woman.”  Connor looked pointedly at his companion.  “Or anyone else, for that matter.”
“Oh, you are just full of faith in the human race, aren’t you?  Well, whatever you say, man.  I’ll tell you, though, I’m not in the mood to listen to any more of your self-pity right now.”  Gallagher finished off his Guinness in a hurry and stood up.  He beckoned to the bartender, a heavyset bald man who had spent the past half hour watching the news on the overhead TV.  “Hey, Igor, are you awake over there?  I guess you think if you stand there long enough another customer is bound to walk in sooner or later.”
“How did you know my name was Igor?” asked the man in a heavy Slavic accent.  He moved slowly toward the pair while giving them both a dirty look.
“Ha.  I must have heard it once in a dream.”  Gallagher laughed uproariously at his own joke.  “That’s got to be it.”
“That’s not very funny,” said the barman.  He definitely didn’t appear amused.
“Lay off him,” said Connor to Gallagher.  “He’s not bothering anyone.”
Igor regarded Gallagher suspiciously.  “You guys all finished?”  Without waiting for a reply he took their glasses and placed them in the sink behind him.
Gallagher tossed a twenty on the bar.  “My treat,” he said to Connor.  Then he added, “Maybe you’re right.  Maybe this crazy project is what you need after all.”
Connor looked at his friend sharply.  “You certainly changed your mind in a hurry.”
“Anything to get you off your ass and back into the real world.  It’s getting me depressed sitting here listening to you.  You need some kind of break in your life, that’s all I know.”