It was Dave Pence’s 60th birthday this weekend and several of his extended family and friends gathered at a resort on Gull Lake to celebrate. I knew some of the people in attendance, so my energy Saturday evening was divided between 1) delightful home movies made by Dave’s parents when he was very young and 2) trying to remember all those new names. The cocktail hour and dinner began at 5:30, so four hours later I was exhausted. It was a busy day. By 10:30 I was ready for a good night’s sleep. Fat chance.
Some time after 3 o’clock—when I got up to use the toilet—there was a vivid dream still fresh in my mind when the rising sun woke me. I thought it worth passing along.
The night was still, the clouds dark, and the full moon was the only source of illumination.
City streets were dark and silent. No one was about; the streets devoid of cars. It was as though someone had draped a power pall over the tops of houses and trees, draining energy from everything mechanical and sapping our animal strength.
Milton and I had been tasked to go door-to-door, checking on people’s welfare and inspecting power meters in doubly dark basements and utility rooms. We were the only ones out. Some doors remained unanswered, the residents either home and hiding or away at other homes, seeking safety in numbers greater than two or three.
I knocked at one house while Milton went to the next, both of them dark and silent. An elderly woman in a threadbare housecoat opened her door a careful crack and invited me in to inspect her meters. (I don’t know that we spoke.) Threading our way through darkened rooms, she opened a door that led up to her basement. Yes, up. Dreams exist in their own reality; we accept everything in them without question or hesitation. Up is down; in is out. I can fly. No problem. So up I went.
Plain wood steps took us past the exposed framework of wood walls; studs pierced with more than enough holes for old fashioned electrical wiring that drooped and followed the stairs like hand-holds—though I didn’t dare for fear of pulling them free of their moorings.
But though it was even darker in this windowless pasage than it had been outside, I saw may way from a soft glow that eminated from the house itself. The old woman, silent but reassuring, moved ahead of me, knowing the way by heart. And though she did not herself glow, it was as if the house knew her and warmed to her passing. Her very presence seemed to excite its molecules and their vibration lit our way.
I wondered if she were not a Douglas Adams character, my own encounter with the Ruler of the Universe. In the “Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy” series, Adams’ characters make a brief side trip to an innocuous planet, there to meet our Creator and guide, an elderly man living in a shack with his cat, totally unaware of his role. Asked bluntly if he ruled the Universe, while they dripped on his doorstap a from torrential downpout outside, he replied:
“I try not to,” he said. “Are you wet?”
Zaphod looked at him in astonishment. “Wet?” he cried. “Doesn’t it look as if we’re wet?”
“That’s how it looks to me,” said the man, “but how you feel about it might be an altogether different matter. If you find warmth makes you dry, you’d better come in.”
That conversation came to mind while the old woman guided me to her electrical panel—where I would do something but I knew not what. Could she be the Ruler of the Universe and I had happened on her home by pure chance? I almost thought to ask. But just as I might have, I saw my situation for what it had become: She was my litmus test. My acceptance of her simple being was the test of my humanity by the Universal Ruler, perhaps the very one imagined by Douglas Adams.
Just as we reached the top of the stairs and were about to enter the basement, morning light woke me and I sat down to write these recollections. The dream was so vivid that, given the chance to return to sleep, I’m sure it would have continued and satisfied my curiosity—especially what the hell had happened to Milton.