Lightning Strike

Article About a Dream I Had the Other Night
Image by Rae Buleri

This article isn’t clickbait. It’s about the meaning of life and if God is real and all kinds of other cool stuff.

Just wanted you to know.

Like sand through the hourglass, so are the clickbaits of our lives. Maybe you’re reading this at work, sitting on the toilet, lid down. Thank you.

Or maybe you’re constantly refreshing this article, getting those clicks in, so my editor isn’t bludgeoned in some obscure dungeon. Maybe you’re just trying to save their life. They sends thanks as well.

My friend the freelance journalist says they are able to get their prestigious long-form digital exposés ran online because sixteen chimpanzees live in a small zoo behind his condo, the chimps sit all day in front of a computer bank, as they click on links to his articles, bananas fall down a chute. Endless clicks, endless bananas, everybody happy.

Usually I write fiction.

This could be said to be my first article.

They offered one cent for a poem, but it was ten cents for a short story, then exponentially higher for a personal essay, then exponentially higher for a topical opinion piece, then exponentially higher for an even more topical piece on pop culture/media.

I thought, well what media is more topical than a dream I had the other night?

In the dream I was with friends at an Italian restaurant. All doing well. One guy had grown a beard and the other was suddenly clean-shaven and the next friend now wore wonderful silk shirts. Colorful and loud. The final friend had picked up the new habit of carrying a live hand grenade.

He passed it around the table for us to hold. A cast iron pineapple. Black. Very nice.

Our cleanshaven friend bounced his hand up and down, considering the weight of death in his palm.

Our friend in the silk shirt did the same.

Our bearded friend said he wouldn’t touch it.

“Nothing will happen.”

“Get it away from me.” He shook his head and laughed. “That’s not real.”

“Which is it? You’re scared of it or it doesn’t exist?”

“Maybe both.”

The friend who’d brought the grenade said, “Just don’t pull the pin, and you’ll be fine.”

“Another way to get it to explode is stick it in the oven at three hundred and fifty degrees for thirty-nine minutes, same as an upside down cake.”

The waiter came over and I hid the grenade in my lap. Two of the friends ordered spaghetti and meatballs and dirty martinis, and I got the same.

Hello if you are just tuning in, this article is also about how since I turned thirty-eight I always order gin martinis at restaurants with my friends in dreams.

I’ve gotten rid of my cellphone in my dreams.

All I used to do was stare at my phone all dream long. But one night I just could’t take it anymore and I threw the cellphone down a storm drain just around the corner from this very same Italian restaurant.

I’m so much better now in dreams.

The friend in the silk shirt ordered lasagna and a Negroni and our most daring friend ordered eggplant parmesan and a Negroni.

A small child caught my eye and I suddenly felt bad we had a bomb in this restaurant.

I whispered, “There’s an itty biddy baby right there.”

My friend snapped his grenade out of my hand and slipped it back in his jacket. I kept eyeing him, avoiding the stare of the baby. My friend seemed so depressed. The child seemed so happy. Like I said, I felt bad. I wondered if my friend would explode himself tonight.

We finished our meals and ordered another round and then the waiter pushed us for desert.

His mother had made the tartufo.

The melon was in season—he kept pushing. Lime honeydew cilantro gelato, he pushed, he pushed.

Everybody was feeling stressed. Looking at each other. And looking at our friend with the hand grenade who was sweating. My friend in the silk shirt stood up on his chair. Said we were far too full. Far too full.  The waiter retreated. The child clapped. We paid the bill and fled across the avenue.

This article is about walking down Second Avenue in a dream with my friends as a new September night falls Septemberly.

Sometimes the bar on 4th had Dutch jazz upstairs.

I looked back. My hand grenade friend was straggling behind, hands in his pockets. He wore blackframed glasses now. The end of the world was effecting his eyesight. I remembered he was a private detective. I slowed my steps and positioned my shoulder to his. We trailed a few paces back, just out of ear shot.

“Hey, so how long you been carrying that grenade?”

“Ah, I don’t know. You’re not mad at me are you?”

“Not at all.”

I gave him a little side hug.

“Where’d you get it?”

“I got it for a case but then didn’t have to use it.”

A case. Of course.

This article is about how in this dream, my friend the private detective was very sad, even though his office was at the bottom of a steep hill. Clients loved it. Very easy to get to. Just let go and roll down. Leaving his office was harder. Gravity against you.

“I see you’re worried about me but I’ll be fine.” He gave the most unconvincing smile. “No, I won’t.”

We walked along in silence. The streets were empty, were erasing behind us.

“I stopped taking cases. But clients keep coming by and asking for help. They remember my glory days. I can’t help them anymore. This one hasn’t seen their son in six years and this other one thinks their wife is cheating on them and this one wants to know where their father is. But I turn them all away. I’m no good anymore.”

“Don’t talk like this. You’re the best private detective I know.”

“You know others?”

“Sure I do.” I put my hand on his shoulder.

“I’ve quit. Had to. Lost my confidence. All of it.”

“Tell me.”

“This beautiful client came through my door. I mean they are all beautiful. But this one was the most beautiful. And she had on the blackest dress of all and kept smoking cigarette after cigarette, through a black veil—she’d cut a hole in the veil herself. Her husband had just died. Murder, as always. She wanted me to figure out who, of course, but even more challenging, why. The why was critical in this case. And the police couldn’t help her. Way out of their jurisdiction. I said my fee, plus daily expenses, she offered double. Whenever this happens, you can always count on pain.”

“But you took the painful case.”

“Up to this point, I’d never said no to a case. Such a hot shot. I dug for clues but hit a wall immediately. The husband had been struck by lightning. Lightning. Seven witnesses saw. Standing on the beach one moment, perfectly alive, and the next, zapped with three million volts. I gave up. I told the client no one could answer why her husband had been smitten. The killer was obvious.”

He took my hand and stopped walking. “I think you know who I’m talking about.”

“I don’t.”

“God. He was murdered by God.”

I reached my free hand into his jacket pocket and rolled the grenade into the storm drain. This was my go-to-move in a dream when a problem popped up. We began to speedwalk away, looking back over our shoulders at the storm drain. We bumped into our other friends from behind and almost knocked them over. But no explosion.

Still we were laughing and looking back and my cleanshaven friend said, “What’s happened? You’re giggling like school girls.”

I wasn’t sure if they already knew the business with the Almighty, and I didn’t know if any of them had heard anything about the black-veiled woman, the double fee, the lightning strike, but what I did know was that whenever your friend carrying explosives starts mentioning God, you have to remove the explosives immediately.


“Yeah what?”

My friend had his hands in his jacket again, but now the dejected look was gone. There was light in his eyes and I knew he would live a long and healthy life. I thought he was about to carry us all in the bar, seated on his shoulders but he said, “Well fellas, this has been so much fun. But I’ve got to head home.”

We protested. He had to come inside and have at least one more drink but he was walking backwards and blowing us kisses, “Next time.”

He climbed into a dissolving taxi.

This article is about how the rest of us went up the marble steps and the bouncer looked at our IDs and said it was true, there was a quartet from Rotterdam on the cramped stage reinterpreting Jelly Roll Morton.

The waitress brought us more martinis.

Our bearded friend said, “I just don’t like the idea of him being alone. What with the hand grenade and all. Did you guys find that weird?”

“He doesn’t have it anymore. I rolled it into the sewer.”

“Good move, dude.”

“Thank God.”

“Speaking of God …”

“Yeah we—”

“We all know.”

“He’s been so sad since that.”

“Can I ask what happened?”

“Nothing happened. That case was beyond his scope. He knew who did it but could never figure why.”

“Mysterious ways and all that. How could anybody hope to understand.”

“That’s the problem. The next guy did. And easily. So, he failed and the wife hires this, how do I say it, a better private eye and you know, it’s like, well—good luck.”

“His rival.”

“His rival figured out the why in just ten minutes. The rival interrogated God that very afternoon. Gets The Lord talking. And God tells him everything. I mean everything. Not just about the man who was struck by lightning. But about the meaning of life and …”

“What’s the meaning of life?”

My friend in the loud silk shirt just shrugged.

“How did the rival break into Heaven?”

“He’s the best in the business. But don’t repeat that.”

“Why was the man struck dead with the lighting bolt?”

“Nobody knows. It’s just between the rival and the wife and God now and they’ll take it to their graves.”

I was pretty drunk in the dream, the blur blurred.

People have grown more paranoid lately. You may have noticed. And guilty. And full of shame. They’ve fallen down the stairs of their own life and lay broken at the bottom and can faintly see up the stairs to the doorway. They hope someone will come help them back up. But nobody ever comes. And if you are reading this today and feel that way, just know, you’re not alone.

I caught myself thinking about the dream, while in the dream, drunkenly.

I understood how low a person would feel if they came to realize what they thought was impossible was not impossible at all, just something personally impossible. There’s always some rival doing much better. But if you catch this rival on the street in the dream and spin them around to see their face right before you knock their teeth in, the same old thing happens—it’s you. If this has happened to you or someone you know please sound off in the comments below and don’t forget to smash that subscribe button.

And I knew I’d dreamed about the hand grenade because yesterday, in real life, a package came in the mail, what I thought was a bomb.

I wanted to explain this all to my friends in the dream but I couldn’t start explaining reality to them, they had no point of reference.

But you can sympathize, dear reader. You’re flesh and blood and you walk between both worlds. You’re better than a dream. You’re real.

You know what I’m saying?

You ever get some mail, out of the blue, after not ordering anything, and you don’t recognize the return address, or maybe there’s no return address at all—you ever look at the box in the mailroom, sitting there on the shelf with your apartment number on it, you ever think, shit, I wonder if that’s got a human head in it.

This kid I knew back when I was younger, once sent his girlfriend a pig’s heart in the mail when they broke up. He was a butcher in those days.

I carried my package upstairs and set it on the kitchen table and looked at it for a while. Taped up pretty severe. Nothing leaking out. No ticking. Stickers all over that said FRAGILE and TOP and BOTTOM.

Just the other day a stranger from the internet asked for my home address because they wanted to send me something. Was this the something? I hadn’t given them my address. Now I wondered if they’d gotten the address some other way. I’d blamed my wife, said she was worried random people would show up in the middle of the night and slit our throats while we slept. Which she was actually nervous about. Everybody in the world probably worries that. Well whatever.

If it was a bomb or a head or a heart I’d find out.

I got a knife and hacked open the box. Inside I found tufts of brown paper, the same that wrapped the box, and beyond that I saw bubble wrap and something vaguely bomb-shaped.

When I say bomb-shaped, I mean, it was just like in Super Mario Brothers.

This article is about how the lovable walking mechanical bombs with eyes and feet in Super Mario are called Bob-omb.

Except whatever was in this package wasn’t black, it was white. Maybe just a human skull. Not as bad as a severed human head with all the teeth and flesh and all that. But, hey, even worse, it could still be a pale bomb.

Without disturbing the bubblewrap I saw around the top of the object.

The words, “GOOD LUCK” were wrapped in blue lettering where the rope fuse(?) would have stuck out.

“I think someone mailed us a bomb.”

She got up from her desk in the other room and walked over. “You’re crazy. Let me see.”

She looked into the box.

“What’d we do to deserve a bombing?”

“I can’t remember. Could be a few reasons.”

“If it’s a bomb, where’s the fuse.”

“I thought the same thing. You’re right.” I pulled it out of the box and she backed up real quick, her hand shielding her face. We saw it was a small ceramic object about the size of a softball.

A vase.

I rotated it in my hand.

Underneath “GOOD LUCK” was painted a blue hawk swooping down. To the left of the hawk was a blue snake, to the left of the snake was a blue frog, the frog’s tongue was extended way out, so you rotated the vase and saw the tongue was about to catch a blue fly. But just to the left of that you could see the wings of the hawk.

My friend Ashleigh had sent an early birthday present to me. This lovely vase. <3

And I also know why I dreamed of a lightning strike. This summer, just a block down from my usual beach, a young lifeguard, prime of his life, was killed by a lightning strike. Sunny day. Pop up storm.  

I went back to my job two days later and my coworkers were talking about it. Some had even gone to the candlelight vigil. Their main point of discussion, besides how tragic, was that the life guard stand had been made of aluminum.

Our boss, the conspiracy theorist, looked up from his phone. “Don’t believe the narrative.”

“What narrative.”

“Ask questions.”

“About what?”

He hasn’t always been like this. He used to read the newspaper. We’d help him with the crossword puzzles. But then the internet got to him.

“All I’m saying, think for yourself. Do your own research.” Lowering his eyes, he muttered, “It wasn’t made of  metal. ”

Last year I had a dream I was on my phone reading Hollywood gossip. It started out at ten pm with a news release that my favorite starlet would be in a reboot of one of the best dreams I ever had. They were filming it now and it also starred two big actors who usually only did bingeworthy prestige dream TV. Sometime around dawn in my dream I was still staring at my phone reading a profile of the director of the reboot of my dream, having gotten no real dreams in.

When I was a kid, my dreams used to be pleasant hallucinations exploring deep personal itches of the psyche but increasingly, I just read dream Wikipedia or Top Ten Reasons Why This Dream Sucks, just a bunch of links down the rapid eye movement rabbit hole. This One Weird Trick Will Make This a Wet Dream.

When I was in my early-twenties, I used to have dreams I was avoiding my furniture warehouse day job by reading door stop Russian novels in the bathroom, lid down. Eight hours of snowy carriage rides and characters asking each other the meaning of life, asking, is there a God? Then I got a cellphone and my dreams became eight hours of playing Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, Candy Crush. A few years later the lucid dreams changed to four-hundred-and-eighty YouTube videos, all a minute long, random instructionals, obscure unboxings, rants, pranks, bloopers, clips from dreams I used to dream when I was happy.

I’d do anything to get back to the hallucinogenic dreams where my psyche had the world on trial, or at the very least, back to the dreams when I had just been reading the good books asking the big questions.

I went and saw a therapist.

They had me block certain forms of entertainment on the phone, certain apps.

But what remained in my dreams were the clickbait articles. Even heavily medicated you couldn’t get rid of the clickbait articles.

The Dutch jazz band went on a break. I spilled my entire drink on myself. My cleanshaven friend went to stand up and fell over laughing and continued to fall, we all fell, together, down the steps that led to the street. Everything retracting and the crack of thunder and my eyes opening a slit to see my aquamarine bedroom.

Daytime. Morning. More thunder. I awoke and it was raining cats and dogs, or turtles and snakes, or birds and worms. Raining elephants and mice, or spiders and flies, or lions and zebras—raining like tigers and pigs.

My wife had gone to work. The Good Luck vase was on the table with a cilantro sprig sticking out.

The sound of the rain and thunder was so intense I thought I had better get out of the apartment and go out in it to get away from it, like a band climbing out of a stereo speaker to get out of their own annoying song.

I put my clothes on and went to the street and stood under the awning of the building and watched the cars in the downpour slide along the boulevard.

Someone ran full sprint past, umbrellaless. They were so drenched I couldn’t tell if I knew them.

A moment later someone else ran past, no umbrella but also screaming.

It’s raining pigs and tigers, I thought.

That’s what it was.

A few weeks now I’d been waiting on a job to come my way. There had been a few offers but I’d refused them all. Nothing, I thought, I should do right now.

More thunder. But no release. On and on I kept waiting for a flash of lightning but none came and soon the raindrops ceased as if a great valve had been shut and the flood to wash earth away had been postponed.

I held my hand out from under the edge of the awning and the last raindrops filled the cup of my hand. I rubbed the rainwater on my face.

This article is about that too.

It’s a journalistic expose on how the sky then got so terribly blue and the last raindrops were not raindrops, but water falling from air conditioner window box to air conditioner window box, all hung above me in a vertical row, ten stories up, right on down. Plop, patter, plop.

A taxi pulled in front of the convalescent home across the street. I thought for a moment it was my depressed private eye friend from the dream who had hurried away blowing us kisses, that he’d quit dreams, and was coming to the real world.

Somebody else stepped out of the taxi, of course—a slim man in fine business clothes—and they looked at me and wondered why I had waved but they didn’t wave back. I saw faces in the windows looking down. Old faces, gray and stern and hopeful the visitor was for them. But the stranger walked up the block and I wondered why they would have even been let off there if they still had walking to do. The taxi drove on.

I’m not a religious man. But it could have been God driving the taxi. Or it could have been God getting out of the taxi. Or any of the faces looking down from the window could have been the face of God.

This article is about that too I guess.

What I would do, I decided, was I would go for a long walk, tire myself out, and then I would lay down that afternoon for a nap and I would dream again. In the dream I would go and find the rival of my friend, the private detective, and I would demand this rival tell me if they had really interrogated God. I didn’t care what they’d learned. I thought it was pointless. Everybody knows why we get struck by lighting in a dream. For being an asshole. I just wanted the rival to tell me if God was real. If they were lying to the client, that was fine, but if this rival was so good, so skilled, that they were able to interrogate God … well I wanted to see, to learn, to visit, to ask the big questions myself. If the rival refused to take me directly to Them I would pull the hand grenade out of my jacket pocket and I would pull the pin and still be holding down the lever and if the rival still didn’t comply—well.

But anyway, I couldn’t sleep.

The nap didn’t take.

She came home with takeout, the marvelous new place on the corner again, squid ink malfane, burrata and heirloom tomato, tiramisu. And that night when we went to bed, I accidentally dreamed something else. Something else entirely. Entirely inconsequential, not even worth mentioning.

More Reads

An Interview with Janice Lee

Yvonne Conza

An Interview with Brendan Lorber

Edwin Torres

An Interview with Colm Tóibín

Alec Niedenthal