StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

The Serial Killer in the Green Hanging-File Folder (Last Night’s Dream)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 29, 2008

Last night (or, early this morning, if you want to split hairs), I had a nightmare. There was an office off to the side of a hospital hallway, which looked like the one in the hospital where Briony worked in the movie Atonement. The bottom drawer in the gray metal office desk was open. It had green hanging-file folders in it.

I somehow knew that a serial killer was hiding in one of those hanging-file folders. I further knew that he waited for people to enter the office and then, once they’d close the door behind themselves, he’d jump out of the hanging-file folder, wielding a letter opener. Out of the drawer, he’d instantly grow to full height, maybe six feet tall. Then, he’d use that letter opener to slash his victims to death.

In the dream, I alone could see him poking the letter opener’s blade out of the green hanging-file folder. Nobody seemed to listen when I warned them that a serial killer was in there, so they got killed.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

In the next part of the dream, I was at a reception at The Art Institute of Chicago. My sister Colleen was there with my niece Elizabeth (her daughter) and my nephew Patrick (my brother Kerry’s son). Elizabeth is a recalcitrant 13-year-old, but, in the dream, she was just about to graduate from high school.

I already knew that my nephew Patrick – an 11-year-old squash player who lives in the Bay Area – has been dead set on going to Yale from the time he was eight years old. (No one knows why. No one in my family or in my sister-in-law’s family has ever gone to Yale or any other Ivy League school.)

I asked Elizabeth where she planned on going to college. I hoped she’d say something refreshing like, “I want to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.” Instead, she replied, “I’m joining the Marines.” I did a double-take. Sure enough, she still had a straight face. Elizabeth looked away. Normally, my sister would be loath to support such a decision on the part of one of her children, especially during wartime. But, in the dream, Colleen put her arm around Elizabeth and proudly assented, “Yes, she’s going to join the Marines before she goes to college.”

I woke up from the dream wondering if I should join the Marines. There are a few hitches, of course. Number one, I’m gay. I’ve published article after article citing my sexual orientation. I couldn’t be more open about it if I threw a circuit party in the middle of a Teamster’s meeting. Secondly, I’m morally and mortally opposed to this war. Third, I’m 34 years old. Fourth, if it was a choice between the military and hara kari – well, guess which one I’d pick (hint: the latter). Still, I wondered if the Marines might help me to later become more capable of plugging myself into the round hole of a mainstream profession. Then again, my Dad was a marine sergeant and he wasn’t able to straighten me out and, boy, did he work at it. (High five to my younger self.)

But, then, what is/was there to straighten out? I was a dreamy artist, a Romantic, that’s all. Even when I tried fitting in, my attempts were about as successful as those of someone trying to play an 8-Track tape in a CD player. I wasn’t on drugs (which means that I can’t put out daredevil memoirs like David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs and James Frey), I just wanted a more creative, a less regimented, by-rote existence. In the movie Deconstructing Harry, a therapist asks Harry Block (Woody Allen) why his alma mater threw him out. He says:

“Because I was not interested in [school]. I wanted to be a writer. All I cared about was writing. I did not care about the real world. I cared only about the world of fiction. And, plus, I tried to give the dean’s wife an enema so they didn’t take kindly to that.”

My life has run somewhat along the same lines.

But I have another nephew named David, who is my sister Colleen’s other teenager. He has just graduated from high school and will be going to college at, I believe, DePaul University. Since the tenth grade, David has wanted to be a history teacher at his high school in Palatine, Illinois. David hasn’t striven to be the next Thom Yorke or Kanye West or, let’s throw in a “now” writer, Junot Diaz. He doesn’t want to throw a sack over his shoulder and head out to New York or Europe to lead an artist’s life. No, he wants to grow up to be a high-school history teacher in the suburb where he grew up. David has set himself an attainable goal that has all the trappings of stability. Some might yawn, but I cannot help but admire the wisdom in his choice. If only my heart had such simple yearnings! Alas, it doesn’t. I’m too much like Harry Block.

Julius tells me I’m bourgeois when I say things like that. He’s right. I am. I was raised in an environment where you go straight from a Big Ten school to a job in a bank or an accounting firm. If you want to dream big, then work your way through law school or maybe get your MBA at night. It might seem drab and colorless, but at least it’s stable. But, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that quiet desperation is the way to go, I keep having dreams like the one about the serial killer in the green hanging-file folder.

Here I must remind myself of some wise words by former tearaway and venerated Buddhist teacher, Susan Piver:

“One’s own mind is the only reliable guide. The place to start is with who you already are and what you are experiencing right now. No doctrine. No ideal to emulate. I had never heard anyone say that before. On the Buddhist path particular qualifications, beliefs, or vows are not necessary. Strength and independence of mind are the qualities that are required. Maybe my inabilities to toe the line, fit in, succeed in conventional life were not such bad things after all. They were just me, and on this path, ‘just me’ is the path. You start with who you are, and the goal is self-discovery.”