I’ve been in Dayton five days, but it feels like much longer, and I have at least another five to go. My world here has mostly lain on a triangle path of my hotel room, the dusty and ill-kept seventh floor office where I have been performing regular open-case brain duplication, and the limited dining options in downtown. Time in the real world flows in hours and minutes, but in my world, its only measures are the teardown, the meditative waiting for the audible “beep-beep” of a successful dupe, and the packaging of the precious electronic payload into cardboard boxes, protected only by styrofoam and tape.
I had walked about a mile and a half out of the decaying downtown core to a moving truck rental shop in order to purchase the boxes the first day. The only store in-city that sold boxes charged triple what the moving place did, and seeing that my fixed bid contract meant that every penny saved went directly into my pocket after I got reimbursed, the walk was worth it.
A walking tour of a rust belt city well past its prime should be part of every business school curriculum and required for every entrepreneur before they deposit their first check from investors in order to wring the hubris from them. There are excellent reminders of the impermanence of our working endeavors everywhere.
Empty streets of downtown with previously prime, vacant retail space whose blank windows reflect the emptiness of so many who pass before them. All patiently offer a name and a phone number to the next dreamer who peers past the despair and sees an oasis of activity in a desert of doldrums.
Shuttered brick factories, rusty gates chained, weeds exploding from every crack in the pavement, signage of some long gone sub-sub-contractor to a former global conglomerate weathered to indecipherability. Once vital commercial organs are now cancerous blots in the geography of commerce, decaying until removal.
Duck into the grocers for some snacks and see the sad, poor collection of produce and vegetables, and the overweight of carbohydrates to protein. You can sense the resignation of those for whom shopping there is a regular part of their lives and then you’ll see, one, two, three, four people in a row in line pay with food stamps.
Feel the gloomy vibrations from mixed-use blocks where graffiti- and gang-branded corner shops abut tidy but pale yards strewn with children’s toys. See where fire did not purify but stain. Hope is now far, far away in another country and where they dream of their own future domestic glories. If only they could both step back and see the ouroboros that links them, they might find a new pole star to follow, for the current one leads them to the same but individually expressed ruins – crumbling apparatus and Christo-like-wrapped blights.
Though my circadian rhythms are off-tempo due to the varying periods of my surgeries, when I do rest, it has been uneasy, as the feel of this place has depressed me and conformed me to the same undirected and uninspired gait of the locals. At times, when I open my eyes after rest, I am confused, unsure if it is pre-dawn or post-sundown. There is only the “beep-beep” and screech of tape to mark the passages, and they have no use for the sun.
This time, I awake in my hotel room, grope about for the light switch to the lamp on the nightstand next to me, and brush something small off onto the floor. I swing my legs to sit on the side of the bed. The light blazes and I cannot see for a bit, but as I blink dust and crust from my eyes, they eventually focus on something round between my feet.
There, laying on the carpet between my feet, is a white button.
Puzzled, I lean to pick it up, but my hand hovers over the disc. Maybe it is the sleep depravation or an echo of a bad dream previously long-forgotten, but a sudden queasiness settles in me the more I think of picking it up. Sitting back up, I stare at it while naked and trying to understand why I feel this way.
Then I start wondering where the hell it came from in the first place.
Clearly a shirt button, I perform a quick mental catalog search of the shirts I brought with me and come up blank. Everything I have with me is t-shirts or zippered pull-overs. I try and remember if it was there when I went to bed.
I have no recollection of it, but it would have been easy to miss. I give a mental shrug and ascribe it to a previous guest, with housekeeping finding it under the bed or couch and placing it on the nightstand for me, thinking it was mine. I lean over and snatch it from the floor, and on the way up, my mouth fills with a metallic tang and then starts to water. My stomach lurches, and I can feel the bile raising in my gorge.
As a child, I once went to a Mariners baseball game with my mother at the Kingdome, and inning after inning, munched down King Dogs like it was a perverted rally streak superstition. The team probably lost, but as I was scrambling out of bed towards the sink in the bathroom, the memory of the morning after that game vividly came back to me.
I am dreaming, and I am beginning to drown.
Lost or abandoned in the middle of an unnamed ocean on a clear night, the waves buffet me around as if the very breath of an angry Poseidon are behind each one. Walls of water that leap and crash – one moment I am leagues underwater – merge and split – the next fired through froth and sailing through the air – grind and tear – my limbs are tattered rags – and I am forced to gulp deep draughts of briny juice. Coughing and spitting out the salty remainder from illions of drops of rain that fell and dissolved the stone over which it fell for almost two trillion days, a pirate galleon crests the nearest wave, black raider banner flapping the breeze, demiculverins bristling and smoking, it zips athwart me and then the cannons begin to blaze.
I see the balls pass before I hear the powder-bursts, large melon-sized baseballs that soundlessly punch holes in the seething waves all around me, and then I hear the off-rhythm, bass staccato claps echo off the surrounding water and then vibrate my chest, and I expel more thimbles of my swallow into the sea.
“HOME RUN!!!” Comes the cry from the parrot-bedecked pirate captain as he and his crew wave their caps in wild salute as they zoom past, excepting one man who heaves a bucket-full of sausages over the side and towards me to float there like pork sea cucumbers, three straining at the wheel, and two pulling at the tiller, which guides them straight up and over the nearest looming El Capitan wave with mizzenmasts bending, wet canvas straining the riggings, and then disappear out of sight, leaving me with only a snapshot memory of their crenelated stern-castle and a terrible thirst as I went under for the last time.
I run to the bathroom, and while gripping the countertop and retching into the sink, I am confused, wondering how picking up a button I have never seen before caused me to recall an unpleasant morning once spent as a child cleaning my bed of vomited hot dogs. I rinse out my mouth and realize I feel fine now – hungry even. Truly confused, I let it go for now and shower.
Emerging from the bathroom, I spot the button on the floor, dropped in my haste. Gingerly skirting around it, I dress and spy through the curtains that another day is arriving and see that if I hustle, I can get to work before the crazy receptionist. Before I even shut my door on the way out, I am already thinking about how many computer brains I can duplicate prior to lunch.
In the elevator on on the way up to my dusty hole, I ascribe my earlier sickness to overwork, and vow to take some time off when I can afford to.