Saturday, December 31, 2005

Foreign Photographer

I’m staying at a cheap motel in a northern state (like Minnesota, but not Wisconsin). I’m attending some sort of convention; can’t remember exactly what it’s about. My older sister is staying here too, along with some high school friends. The old gang from Young People’s Theatre is here. I don’t remember specifically which YTP friends check in, but I remember that Fritz was there.

The building is a 1960s one-story affair, with a long central hallway carpeted in worn stripes of tans, dull pinks, orange and beige. It’s lit by bare bulbs that feel a little stark and shabby. The walls are a dark institutional beige. I’m painting a picture of the place here that sounds bleaker than it really was... it isn’t a bad motel, just a little tired and threadbare.

Fritz and I check in. He chooses a room on the right side of the hall, about three-quarters of the way down from the end... I choose a room on the left side, about halfway down. I remember talking with my sister while checking in, but she doesn’t appear later in the dream - except I remember now that she checked in to the last room on the right. Each room has two entrance doors... one in the long hallway and another entrance from outside.

Instead of entering my room from the hall side, I go outside and enter from that door. I walk along the outside of the motel. It’s late afternoon and its been raining - but it’s clearing now. It’s chilly outside, but not cold. The exterior walls are beige, maybe stucco, and each room has a single bay window facing a narrow sidewalk and the parking lot. The motel sits on a small burm. Beyond it, the land drops away to a little town situated in a winter forest.

When I unlock my room and enter, I discover that a package has been delivered... a brown corrugated cardboard box about a foot square, addressed to me. I open it; shredded newspaper packing material falls out in scattered clumps all over the carpet. I don’t remember what’s in the package, just the packing material falling out. I think, “Damn, I should clean this up,” so I open the hallway entrance door to look for someone from housekeeping.

The door to the room opposite mine is open and three maids are making it up. I explain what’s happened and ask them for a vacuum cleaner. One of them smiles and says, “Oh no, sir, that’s our job! We’ll take care of it.” They clean up the newspaper, start fluffing pillows, tidying things. They produce a bottle of wine from somewhere and we start talking; just chitchat about this and that. They want to know where I’m from and why I’m visiting. I tell them that my Dad is buried near here and I’ll probably check in with my family from time to time to visit him. “Mostly for special occasions, like the Fourth of July,” I say.

I leave the three maids in my room and go to the motel bar. It’s a classic bar in that 60s style. Dark, cheap paneling, red pleather seats in fake early American motif, worn wood-grain formica tabletops, low ceiling (maybe even with sparkles sprayed into it, I tell a friend after waking up). Those red bubbly glass table candles everywhere. It’s quiet, just about a dozen people talking quietly, old 70s soft rock playing from a juke box next to the bar. All bass and treble, like those old jukeboxes sound. No midrange.

The bar runs along the left side of the room in a backwards L shape, jutting out at the bottom of the L. Beyond that, there’s an aluminum sliding door, the only window. It’s sunset now; a low sun hangs in the window, below heavy, breaking, blue gray clouds. Pretty ochre light streams in, throwing most of the room into silhouette.

A foreign photographer is sitting at the L in the bar, facing the window. He’s set up his gear... high-end tripod, expensive camera case, light meters, small fill lights and related pro tools - all servicing a cheap ‘point-and-shoot’ digital camera. I remember thinking it’s weird that he has all this good gear but the camera is cheesy... “No matter,” I remember thinking, “you can get some great stuff out of cameras like that if you know what you’re doing.”

I take a seat next to him.

I know he’s foreign from his accent and color. Maybe he’s Mediterranean. He speaks with an accent I can’t identify, but which sounds Italian... or maybe French or Greek. Maybe middle-eastern, maybe Slavic. Anyway, he’s not a local.

He’s setting up this terrific tabletop shot on the bar; a model of a temple (?). It’s like a model of an architectural plan, explains Fritz, who’s been here for a while. There’s a pyramid at the center, about 8 inches tall, surrounded by little ornate statues and columns, arches and other vaguely baroque elements - with details of text and hieroglyphics engraved throughout. I can see it clearly as I type this, but it’s hard to describe. When I related the dream to a friend after I woke up, I realized that it might be what was in the package back in my motel room... but I don’t remember unpacking it or bringing it to the bar.

Anyway, it’s a complicated shot. The foreign photographer is having some trouble juggling everything he needs in order to shoot it. The lighting is perfect right now, but it won’t last long... the sunset through the window, the red bar candles several patrons helped him arrange to get the back fill light just right, the smoke and mirrors behind every good photograph.

He has a long glass tube, about the diameter of a chopstick, maybe two feet long. At the end of the glass tube is a small mirror - like a dental mirror - and he’s trying to aim its reflected light onto the left face of the pyramid. He’s using a jagged little rock under the glass tube like a fulcrum to get the height and angle of the reflected light just right. The rock is mostly rusty brown and copper colored, with veins of quartz crystals and fool’s gold running through it.

Like I said, he’s having trouble juggling all this stuff, so I offer to help by holding the glass tube to angle the light. He says OK.

I fiddle with the glass tube and fulcrum rock for a few minutes until finding a position that nicely lights the left face of the pyramid... to reveal a fiery image of the buddha. This surprises everyone and we all think it’ll be a pretty good snapshot.

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Bonus dream scene:

I don’t remember exactly where this fits in to the dream timeline, but here we go. The motel had a gym and I used to be a member - but my membership had expired. I had been sneaking in to work out without having my membership card checked. I could no longer afford the membership fee. Generally, nobody checked my card, because they all knew me and assumed I was paid in full. But this time, the cashier needed to see my membership card. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but this card has expired.”

“Damn. OK. How much do I owe you?”

“I’ll check. Wait here a moment.”

She came back and handed me some money. About eight dollars and some change.

“Here we are,” she smiled. “That should just about cover it.”

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