Dearest Rachel –
Last night’s dream (and it was definitely last night’s – I woke up in the recliner at one in the morning with this running through my head, and somehow managed to keep most of the storyline despite getting what you would consider a full night’s sleep thereafter) is one that, among most people I know, would make the least sense to me. You grew up in a town where, apart from the students, who would change faces from year to year and semester to semester, everyone knew everyone, and what businesses were in operation tended to stay as such from generation to generation. Even your parents – who, being academics, should have always been those most in favor of progress of any sort – tended to rail against any sort of change, be it a highway connecting Macomb to the outside world or a major corporation wanting to build a factory on the outskirts of town; and speaking of those outskirts, never get them started on the effects of Walmart and Kmart as so forth on the small businesses on the town square.
Similarly, my dad was – probably by nature of his background as a salesman (which I can’t relate to) – a solid believer in the relationship between a businessman and his customers. Treat someone right, he insisted, and deliver a good product, and they’ll come back time and again. To be sure, it’s generally sound business advice, especially compared to doing the opposite, but I’ve never been one to make friends with the people who are trying to sell me stuff. Even when I’m looking for something I want, I’d just as soon find it, get it, and get out – you and I referred to this as ‘surgical strike’ shopping, and I dare say this is common masculine practice when dealing with retail. Indeed, it’s becoming the predominant means of shopping when the younger generations are forced to actually go out to buy something, rather than looking for it online. Business relationships are not something modern customers are seeking these days.
Indeed, the entirety of capitalism has little room for sentiment. In our lifetimes (and especially in the past few years) we’ve seen places, both big and small, collapse after existing (and even dominating their markets) for a century or so. The business world is a cutthroat, Darwinian, battlefield, where only the strong survive, and there doesn’t seem to be a place for friendship within it when you’re constantly trying to stave off the next disaster. Sure, a good market has room for plenty of competition, and the leaders may have occasion to be magnanimous to others in the field from time to time, but by and large, your attention is dedicated to survival, not friendship.
Meanwhile, the modern customer (as I mentioned before) seems unwilling to make a habit of patronizing a place on a regular basis and developing a relationship with the proprietor. The world is available to us; who needs to rely on the corner store (which is a league beyond your parents’ complaint – if they thought Walmart was killing the town square, imagine what they would have thought if they ever bothered to learn about the internet)? We’re always looking for new experiences; most of us no longer want to settle for ‘the usual’ day in and day out.
Or maybe this is just me.
Introduction aside, my dream was about a local restauranteur – at least, I think he was local. Kind of along the lines of Gus at the Greek place barely a mile from my folks’ place only a couple of years ago that had been in business since I was a kid. Guess he just decided to hang it up after fifty or so years. Only, this fellow was of Asian extraction; I want to say Chinese, since it would seem that sort of cuisine has been around here longer than most (I’ve been able to watch as all the other ethnicities have taken root and gained their own footholds in the area, but I remember a time when any of them would have been considering almost frighteningly exotic), but I’m not able to say so with complete certainty.
What I can say is that he had been in business for a long time. Ridiculously long. The strip mall in which his place was situated was essentially built around it, as he was unwilling to sell his business or change his facade. But it was more than that; he claimed that his little restaurant had been in business for literal centuries. Which, to be fair, would probably not be altogether uncommon in his homeland, for a business to have been in operation for so long (although this seems more a Japanese trait, as China has had to deal with both invasions and insurrections throughout its history that would be, shall we say, less than conducive for maintaining an ongoing concern). But in middle America? Seriously? And yet, he spoke in reminiscent terms about dealing with old customers; groups such as the Pottawatomie and Illini, as well as smaller ones such as the Oconomowoc and Muquonoco (I recall asking him “How do you spell that last one?” to which he replied “Oh, I never bothered to try,” which seems reasonable).
Sure, the fellow seemed wizened enough to be a century old – and his place certainly had an indescribably antique feel to it – but referring to the native tribes as former customers? It’s the sort of logic that only works in dreams.
There was more to it all than that; somehow, we (and no, I don’t know who all ‘we’ were – I just know I couldn’t have done it alone) were involved in a cloak-and-dagger plot to try and rescue his daughter and grandson, who had been kidnapped by… someone from the old country, be it the government (which was 150 years away from existence when he last set foot over there, if his stories were to be believed) or some organized criminal gang (which, again, would seem improbable in the light of day, given his long disassociation with his native land – maybe they were sourcing his meat and produce, and he was behind on payments?). It was a rollicking tale, I suppose, but when you wake up and try to make sense of it all, it does tend to fall apart rather quickly.
Still, it’s the sort of thing that would amuse you to wake up to, so I might as well fill you in on it, and hope you enjoyed it. I know, you’d want to know more about how we foiled the bad guys and all that, but that’s the problem with dreams and the retelling of them – you tend to lose the plot along the way, and the how gets so weird that it no longer makes sense by the time you get there. And yeah, I got so wrapped up in the inconsistencies that the real action bits tend to get overshadowed. Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, since it’s all a matter of imagination, you can feel free to picture your own chase scenes, complete with crashes and explosions (and maybe a Dorian Gray type picture in the basement of the restaurant, to give the whole thing a touch of psychological horror) to round it out. Enjoy!
Until next time, keep an eye on me, honey, and wish me luck; I’m going to need it.