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.”

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