2.39 The Dream Machine

Eddie Falkner had his fifteen minutes of fame almost twenty years ago. A well-liked stuntman, Eddie was someone known in the industry as 'the behind-the-scenes Jackie Chan'. He could take a tremendous amount of physical pain, but now was slowly moving towards retirement. His fifteen minutes consisted of a martial arts movie called Revenge with Nunchuks, where he starred as a hairy bare-chested ninja out, well, for revenge where his weapon of choice was, er, nunchuks. I mention Eddie because of a curious dream that had been haunting me for weeks. I was in a wide quarry surrounded by rocks of all sizes. Eddie Falkner stood on a giant boulder, shirtless, his towering hairy shadow blocking out the hot sun. He said nothing but I intuited that I had to move all the rocks from one side of the quarry to the other. So I did. He held nunchuks but never used them. Usually around rock number ten, I woke up.

Moving the rocks was understandable, from a metaphorical point of view. The confusing part was Eddie Falkner. I don’t want to discredit his cinematic achievements, but besides Nunchuks, his output as a leading man consisted of little more than a few lame attempts at establishing catch phrases. Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steven Seagal, he was not. After his failed attempt at displaying acting chops, Eddie returned behind the scenes, focusing on car crashes, fights where his face remained unseen and falls from great heights.

Across the street from my condo was a small plaza. One of the stores was called The Sheep Factory. The website boasted a high percentage of success with sleep deficiencies, including: psychophysiological insomnia, delayed sleep phase syndrome, hypnotic-dependent sleep disorder, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, stimulant-dependent sleep disorder, idiopathic hypersomnia, jet lag, natural short sleeper, paradoxical insomnia, sleep terrors, sleep walking and REM sleep-behavior disorder.

After researching more about these disorders, I could easily self-diagnose three to six potential problems I was suffering from in addition to the dream. The three most prominent ones:

Insomnia: includes any combination of difficulty with falling asleep, staying asleep, intermittent wakefulness and early-morning awakening. Common factors: physical illness, depression, anxiety, stress, poor sleeping environment, caffeine and daytime napping.

Hypersomnias: disorders of excessive sleepiness. Includes: idiopathic hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness that occurs without an identifiable cause, in other words the doctor would say, “We don’t know,” hence the name idio-pathic), obstructive sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorder.

Parasonmnias: abnormal behaviours during sleep and are fairly common in children. Includes: sleep terrors, sleep walking and REM sleep-behaviour disorder, which is a type of psychosis in which a person ‘acts out’ dreams so violently that they may injure the person sleeping with them.

The last one especially frightened me.

My consultation at the Sheep Factory was held by a young doctor. Too young, in my opinion. He could have starred in Doogie Howser, MD. If you’re a dream doctor, maybe there is a way to fast track through school. Doogie explained the process. I would have electrodes monitoring my brainwaves attached to my head and face while I stayed the night at the clinic. I explained that it was my reoccurring dream causing me the trouble. Doogie paused, closed the door to the examination room.

“Along with the statistical information,” he said, “your dream could be downloaded into our state of the art Dream Machine.”

Dream Machine. This was what it was actually called. He also used the word ‘experimental’. A flash of Eddie crossed through my mind and I immediately agreed to the treatment.

A pretty nurse that couldn’t have been much older than Doogie led me to a private room. She sat me down on the bed next to a primitive-looking machine that wouldn’t look out of place as a prop in a 1960s science fiction movie. The nurse was gentle and after she finished applying the electrodes, she gently guided me on to my back. I closed my eyes and had the worst sleep yet. The next morning, the doctor seemed happy with the process and I booked an appointment to come back in one week for the results.

After seven nights of restless sleep and moving rocks under the supervision of Eddie Falkner, it was time to return for my results.

When I approached the building, all signage had been removed. Cupping my hands against the glass and looking in revealed an empty space. The Sheep Factory had vanished. Along with it, Eddie Falkner and the rest of my dream.

There was a sign with a phone number for a real estate agent on the front of the building. The agent knew nothing about The Sheep Factory. I scanned the Internet looking for any sign of the sleep disorder clinic, but the website had been removed, the address up for sale.

I was checking the newspapers when I came across an advertisement for a convention happening on the weekend. Gathering at a hotel downtown were people dedicated to all things involving martial arts. The theme for this year’s convention celebrated Hollywood ninjas and several movie stars would be in attendance to sign autographs and take pictures. I scanned the attendees, and sure enough, Eddie Falkner would be featured on Sunday morning.

I find conventions interesting from an anthropological perspective. It seems everything has a convention nowadays. Not too far from Toronto is the Collingwood Elvis Festival, one of the largest conventions in the world devoted to Elvis Presley. The theme of the 2010 festival was ‘Welcome Home Elvis’, a salute to the 50-year anniversary of Elvis’ return from the army. Featured was a special one-night only competition, Crowning of the King, featuring Collingwood professional grand champion impersonators in a head-to-head concert presentation.

There is the Little People of America (LPA) National Conference that includes numerous seminars and workshops about employment, education, disability rights, medical issues, clothing and adaptive products. According to their website: “In 1957, the well-known actor Billy Barty made a national public appeal for all little people in America to join him for a gathering in Reno, Nevada. Mr. Barty and 20 other little people joined together and the LAP was formed!” LAP is a national non-profit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families. LPA has more than 6000 members across the United States and the world.

There would be no Elvis impersonators or little people at the martial arts conference. Well, let's not completely rule that out - I, for one, would be excited to see an Elvis impersonator or a little person dressed up as a ninja. I arrived early Sunday morning with trepidation, not knowing what to expect. People walked around in ninja costumes and I wondered if the swords in their sheaths were real. I walked through the maze of booths showcasing ninja invisibility sprays, throwing stars and custom made outfits. At the back of the large convention room, I found Eddie sitting alone with a stack of still photographs of him from Revenge with Nunchuks.

Eddie’s career as a stuntman obviously took a toll on his body and he was looking old. Hairer, if that was possible. He wore a white golf shirt, jeans and dock shoes. He caught my eye and his face lit up as he thought I was a potential autograph-seeker. I couldn’t turn away now, so I approached the table.

Revenge with Nunchucks fan?” He asked.

“Um, yeah,” I replied.

Eddie grabbed a photograph off the top of the pile, asked my name and signed it. He wanted ten dollars for the picture. I held out the bill but didn’t hand it over.

“Look, I actually came here to speak with you,” I began. “You see, I’ve been having this dream-”

“Eddie Falkner!” Screamed a young blonde woman. She shoved me out of the way and knocked over a coffee cup on to Eddie’s golf shirt. After apologies and Eddie convincing her everything was all right, he signed a photograph, she took some pictures and we were left alone again.

Eddie grumbled that he had sold only two autographs. He packed up and asked me to help him carry the boxes of photographs to his hotel room. In the elevator, I tried to bring up my dream, but Eddie kept going on about how Chuck Norris had a line up out the door and he didn’t even ever play a ninja in a movie. In the hotel room, Eddie told me to put the box down next to a stack of other boxes, which I assumed all contained more of the same pictures for him to sign. Eddie went into the washroom and when he returned, he took off his coffee-stained shirt, revealing a mane of untamed chest hair. Flashes of the rock quarry spun through my mind.

“Look at this,” Eddie said. From his bag, he pulled out a pair of nunchuks. “These are the actual nunchuks from the movie. Figured I would show them to a real fan. Hey, could you do me a favour? I’m checking out soon, could you move those boxes of photographs next to the door.”

I don’t know why I did it. Perhaps it was because I recalled all the people he assassinated in the movie. Yes, it was a movie, but due to the low number of autographs Eddie sold, I wondered about how close he was to snapping and hurting the person who was in immediate proximity. He might turn on me, pretend I was every person who didn’t want an autograph.

As Eddie stood in front of the window holding his nunchuks, the sun was setting, but he blocked it out. I picked up the first box, moved it over beside the door. Picked up the second box, stacked it on the first. When I got to the tenth and final box, I realized that sometimes, a dream is just a dream and has no deeper meaning. That night, I slept better than I had in weeks.