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Friday, August 10, 2007

Dreams and Numbers

It’s another dreary overcast afternoon in my dream. The air is that chill of winter that nags at you; it's not yet decided whether to chill just to one’s skin or to the bone. The environment is familiar - urban/suburban melded into an eclectic landscape that my subconscious has patched together from all the places where I’ve lived.

Sometimes my dreams bring me back to the town outside New York City where I grew up, and my teenage room comes back to me in dramatic detail. Sometimes I’m in the classroom teaching, as I do each day for a living during ten months of my waking hours, but it’s not the high school where I work; instead, it’s an amalgam of that place and my own high school, and the narrative can’t quite place me as either the teacher or the student, so I’m both, and I’m lousy at both, too.

Yet in this dream I retreat to an interior somewhere, and a woman dressed only in a football jersey comes up to me, approaching with the look of desire that takes me off guard. Thank goodness, it’s my wife.

I’m on my back and she begins undressing me. Her uniform is familiar - in this sense the dreamer in my dreams knows what I like; he knows his audience enough to know what works. It's a Jets uniform. When I dream of football games - not necessarily those I recognize, some I do - the dreamer in my dreams is always careful to make sure the details of the uniform translated accurately. The game doesn’t always have to be at the old stadium where I first went to see Joe Namath play some thirty years ago. Sometimes it’s an overcrowded suburb’s football yards just alongside the main road. But usually all my favorite players of the past are there, no matter what the setting, and their uniforms of kelly (if it’s the mid-70‘s) or forest green (from the 80’s) are rendered accurately. As my wife grabs hold of me, I notice the shiny reflection of the light’s glare against the rubbery white numbers “2” and “3.” She smiles.

****

I wake. I usually wake before it’s over. It must be something I trained myself to do growing up Catholic. I was a late bloomer in some respects. Late to lose my virginity, late to let go of adolescent ways of reacting to sex. Now that I’m in my late 30’s, I see now that many things are unlikely to change. The anti-depressants I take certainly make my libido an aged benchwarmer to the formerly irrepressible rookie star it once was. All such pleasures of the flesh have come under reappraisal lately - sexual antics, drunkenness, chain-smoking, painfully earnest, yet remarkably forgettable conversations about sports heroes and the like - all are characteristics of the old regime. And not just because I’m married now, but because that’s the way it must be, for the sake of my own sanity and self-preservation. Maybe you’ve crossed into this rite of passage yourself, wondering why you survived it for as long as you did considering how often you drank and drove around without a single consequence.

But some things will never change, and it may be that my football team, my most magnificent obsession of all, is simply next on the execution list. It seems impossible to imagine, for nothing in my life as superseded the magnitude of being a New York Jets fan.

In waking life, I bring my wife coffee. She looks at me.

"What?" she asks.

“Nothing,” I say.

“OK,” she says, sitting up, taking a sip.

She waits. After all, I have to say it before it leaves my memory. “It’s just that I had a dream about you and I having sex.”

Another sip. “Oh that’s nice,” she says. If not in real life, then certainly in the murky one. “Did we enjoy ourselves?”

“Yes.”

More time elapses. The radio goes on. The college station plays insufferable and gentle folk music for the purpose of making its hung-over listeners more likely to contribute at pledge time. “It was interesting,” I said. “You were wearing….a…”

She nods. She guesses it without so much as a flinch. “A Jets jersey.”

“God, yes,” I say. I can’t say I’m entirely surprised that she’s not surprised. “How did you know?” I feign amazement at her powers of observation. “Did you hear me say something in my sleep?”

No, she shakes her head, staring straight ahead. “I just know you. That’s all.”

Of course she does. “Whose uniform was it?” my wife asks after a few more moments. “Was it Joe Namath’s?” she asks.

I shake my head. This will surprise her, at least. “No. Shafer Suggs. Number 23.”

“Who?”

“Number 23,” I repeat. “Shafer Suggs.”

She sips. “Who's he?” she asks.

I nod, acknowledging Suggs’ relative obscurity. “He’s a defensive back from the late 70’s,” I say, matter-of-factly. “Seventy-five to ‘79. Then he went to the Falcons, I think. He played alongside Burgess Owens, who eventually went to the the Raiders.”

She is unimpressed with my mind’s Encyclopedia of Nonsense. The facts are usually all she wants. Unlike me, she has no place in her heart for nostalgia. She entertains the obscurity of the dream for a moment and then smiles at her own association.

“That’s the Patriots’ stadium,” she said. "Isn't it?"

She means Schaefer Stadium, not "Shafer" or "Shafer Suggs Stadium" either. It got renamed Sullivan Stadium. It used to be easier to identify teams’ stadium names when they weren’t ephemerally named for corporate sponsors. She grew up in New England. “I went there with Jim the Jock, and we saw a game there against the Jets.”

Jim the Jock. It turns out she was the kind of girl who wore her boyfriend’s football jacket. I clarify for her, though she won’t respond.

“The final score of that game of that 1981 game of which you speak,” I say, “was a blowout."

Turns out that in this sense, she is nostalgic after all. I, on the other hand sound like Rain Man. “Jets won the game. The final was 31-7.”

“He was nice,” she said. “He let me wear his jacket. It was so damn cold.”

I shake my head and mutter over the coffee again. “Shafer Suggs,” I say. “I’ll be damned.” I see him in my mind’s eye as he appears in the 1979 Jets Yearbook, which I promise myself I am not just now going to get up and look at just in order to verify that it appears exactly as I just now imagined it.

“What does it mean?” she asks hopefully. “The dream. Are you thinking about my date with Jim the Jock at Schaefer Stadium?”

No. “Have you been thinking about it?” I ask with a vaguely accusatory tone. I am insanely jealous by nature, as I am, after all, insane.

“Not until just now.”

“Good,” I say.

“Oh stop it.”

I shake my head. “No,” I said. “I wish I could say it was something significant.”

“Are you thinking about binge drinking?” she asks. She means Schaefer Beer. A fine diuretic as beers go. Schaefer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one?” When you're getting wicked cocked, more like. Her mind is like a steel trap when it comes to ad jingles. This she recalls.

If the Mitchell and Ness vintage sportswear company put out a #23 Shafer Suggs jersey, they’d just be showing off. And I think that’s what my subconscious was trying to do - yank out an obscure name from the unfathomably deep structures of my Jets memory bank just to make sure I knew that it was on top of its shit. It went with the one thing that I feel only I can know with consistent, complete and total accuracy - obscure Jets players forgotten by time.

Let's see... Carl Barzilauskas. Wayne Mulligan. Kurt Sohn. Jazz Jackson. How could anyone forget a name that begins with a musical genre? And Carl Barzilauskas? What was his number again?

77. Of course.