These Terrible Dreams That Shake Us Nightly

Zdzistaw Belinski

These Terrible Dreams That Shake Us Nightly

                                                                                                Macbeth (3.2.18-28)

In the wee hours this morning, I suffered through one of my post-retirement nightmares, a reprise of I’ve Never Been to Class and the Final Exam Is Tomorrow.  However, in this morning’s remake, I’ve transitioned from slack-ass student to unconscientious teacher.

In the dream, I’ve returned to class after a holiday with no lesson plans, no homework assignments, with nothing but empty words, my in-class bantering the equivalent of padding an essay with strings of superfluous phrases that take up space but denote next to nothing.

I hate dreams like this!

Well, I’ve decided rather than squandering thousands of dollars in therapy paying for advice from a virtual stranger who probably hasn’t read Ulysses – not to mention Jung and Freud – I’ll prepare lesson plans for phantom dream classes in the hope that I can short circuit my old-fashioned neurosis by being prepared.

Although I only taught history for four semesters in the last two years of my career, I really enjoyed whupping up assignments for the one-foot-out-of-the-door seniors who signed up for that elective, America in the Sixties.[1]

So, my first vaporous assignment is for a history class.

[Confession: Yes, MAGAs, you’re correct: many teachers (but not all) strive to indoctrinate students, which the following assignment certainly attempts to do].[2]

Assignment: Undoubtedly, in the last fifty years, the two most popular Presidents within the Republican Party were Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.

Although they shared certain characteristics (species, gender, race, celebrity, divorces, party affiliation, fetishization of the Second Amendment), they also differed in several significant ways (in geopolitical attitudes vis a vis Russia, in their views of free trade vs tariffs, in their demeanors, in their adherence to Constitutional traditions).

In a well-developed essay devoid of superfluous phrases that take up space but denote next to nothing, compare Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, exploring both similarities and differences. Make sure to address three of the above areas of difference.

In your conclusion, speculate on societal dynamics that explain such a radical shift in Republican ideological viewpoints. Aspects to consider: Fox News, declines in literacy, the prevalence of social media, socio-economic disparities . . .

It’s trickier for an English class because in my nightmare, it’s inevitably my British Lit survey that I’ve not prepared for, which begins with the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and ends with Seamus Heaney.

It’s spring and we haven’t gotten past Chaucer!!!

I’m doomed! There’s no way to prepare. Cue Lady Macbeth’s scream in the Trevor Nunn BBC production.

[1] I suspect that course might be the root of my incompetent teacher nightmares because I felt as if I were shortchanging the students given my lack of knowledge, my ignorance of Chicago style research methodology, and my dearth of experience in organizing and implementing a history course.

[2] E.g., when I taught Old Testament in the 7th grade, I ended the unit by having students write a “character sketch ” of Yahweh. Almost every essay was negative: Yahweh was insecure, a “jealous God,” a belligerent Asshole who drowned innocent puppy dogs and kitty cats because His own Creation sucked. Not to mention, that his chosen one to regenerate the earth, ark-builder Noah, got shit-faced post-deluge and passed out naked in his tent, which freaked out his sons. Couldn’t Yahweh have found a Jimmy Carter equivalent instead? Isn’t he supposed to be omniscient?

Dysfunction, So-Called Strong Men, and American Idiocy

Be thankful (if you’re not reading this from Russia)[1] that the cosmic crap throw of innumerable permutations of space/time has landed you in a nation that doesn’t ambush males lounging in neighborhood saloons, drag their startled selves to recruitment centers, and in less than a week, transport their untrained asses to the killing fields of the front lines as cannon fodder in an idiotic war instigated by a short-of-stature Napoleon wanna-be.[2]

Russian conscripts saying goodbye

It would be nice if my fellow Americans (especially elected Republican representatives and senators) would take the long view and recognize so-called strong men (i.e., authoritarian rulers) short circuit collaboration, gum up the machine of government with ego, and therefore create dysfunctional nations, because, just saying, not only are two heads better than one, but a few hundred heads are even better than two.[3]  

It’s not as if the Trump administration functioned as a well-oiled drama free machine, as if the Donald possesses a vision that extends beyond his next iPhone notification. Oh sure, if Trump were president, he would have magically insulated the U.S. from the universal phenomenon of global inflation. [Cue the Lovin’ Spoonful]: Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in the heresy of evangelicals; do you believe the rantings of a damaged girdle-sporting narcissist who wears more make-up than Mae West in her Myra Breckinridge days?

Trump without make-up

Alas, power trumps decency. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and the rest of them will keep their cowardly lips sealed. Look what happened to Liz Cheney.  There is – no offense Jesus – short term profit in the forfeiture of one’s soul.

Double alas, propaganda can be effective, especially when targeting the under-educated,[4] so I’m expecting that even despite the January 6 Committee’s powerful case that Donald Trump and his minions attempted to sabotage via coup the peaceful transfer of power in the United States of America, that Donald Trump (aided and abetted by state legislatures) will be elected as POTUS in 2024.

We, to quote one of my TTC students from 1978, “done gone cruzy.”

George Bellows: Dancing at the Insane Asylum

[1] So far this year, the blog has 24 hits from Russia, so it’s possible.

[2] Diagram that goddamn sentence grammar technicians.

[3] Cf: the US Constitution

[4] C.f.:

An Appreciation of David Bowie’s “China Girl”

Before I begin this paean on the exquisite pop/rock masterpiece “China Girl,” I thought I’d mention that some consider Bowie’s 1983 hit racist because he portrays a diminutive Asian female in stereotypical ways, and, [throat clearing], the sexualization of Asian females has been a Western European/North American thing for centuries.[1]

Take Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, for example, in which the narrator Fowler and his antagonist Pyle clash over the possession of Phoung, a Vietnamese husband-hunter who doesn’t even rate a name in Good Reads’ summary. There she’s merely “Fowler’s beautiful Vietnamese mistress.”

Anyway, Bowie considered “China Girl” a “very simple, very direct statement against racism.”

For an opposing view, here’s a link to “An Asian’s Take on ‘China Girl'”:

Anyway, whether it’s racist or antiracist[2], the song itself, its dynamic progression from the bubbly pop of the first verse through the escalation of the narrator’s increasing angst, is masterful as it gradually morphs from a Jackson-5-like pop tune into an echo chamber of Weimer Republic decadence. Throughout, Bowie’s phrasing is pliant as he adjusts his voice to the narrator’s successive moods as he transitions from the sunshine of verse one to “visions of Swastikas” in verse four.

The song begins with a riff that Jonathan Kim (the author of the linked article) describes as a “little plunky Asian-style riff” that “is the musical equivalent of someone saying “Ching chong ching.”

On the other hand, it’s catchy, cheerful sounding and segues into the first verse where the narrator’s calm baritone contemplates his Chinese lover.

I couldn’t escape this feeling with my China girl
I feel a wreck without my little China girl
I hear her heart beating, loud as thunder
Saw these stars crashing

In the second verse, the mood darkens slightly, but Bowie’s voice remains relatively upbeat.

I’m a mess without my little China girl
Wake up in the morning, where’s my little China girl?
I hear her heart is beating, loud as thunder
I saw these stars crashing down

After the chorus, in the third, stanza, a sense of anxiety shadows the vocal as the tempo increases. Also, Bowie renders a sort of rock-a-billy hiccup with the line “I could pretend that nothing really meant too much.”  A hiccuppy muffled semi-sob sort of.

I’m feeling tragic like I’m Marlon Brando
When I look at my China girl
And I could pretend that nothing really meant too much
When I look at my China girl

What follows is an instrumental interlude in which the thumping of bass and drums replaces the tinkle-tinkle lightness of the verse two verses, which then leads to what I called above “a Weimer decadence.”

I stumble into town
Just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head
Plans for everyone
It’s in the white of my eyes

My little China girl
You shouldn’t mess with me
I’ll ruin everything you are
You know
I’ll give you television
I’ll give you eyes of blue
I’ll give you a man who wants to rule the world

The narrator sees himself as a negative influence, as a potential dictator perhaps, a man with some sort of dark mission, but when he gets into one of these moods, his Chinese lover soothes him, tells him to “shut his mouth.”

And when I get excited
My little China girl says
“Oh, baby, just you shut your mouth”
She says, “Ssh”
She says “Ssh”
She says
She says

A 25-second guitar solo replaces “ssh” as the direct object, and then the verse is repeated two more times before we come full circle and return from the realm of rock to bubbling pop as the playful Chinese riff returns, the bass stepping aside, out of the way.

Supposedly, Bowie adapted an earlier Iggy Pop version, and gives him co-writing a credit.

Obviously, I really admire the song, think it transcends the typical arc of a pop song yet remains, as they used to say on Bandstand, “danceable.”

[1] I struggled with what noun to use to describe the chronic Western sexualization of Asian females. I tried “predilection” and then “propensity” and finally “tradition” before opting for “thing,” the weakest of words that can describe anything from belly button lint to the resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes, though, you have to choose sound over sense.

[2] After all, as my bosom buddy Hamlet sez: “There’s nothing neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

from Old Wes’s Almanack

Disencumbered with Old Nonsense, the Old Doggere[a]list Turns the Page

Let yesterday go,
Ralph Waldo says sagely.
Forget about the squandered dough
and your dead dog Saisy.

Ray Charles was right,
“They ain’t nothing you can do,”
so enjoy today’s ephemeral light
and whip up a pot of oyster stew.


Rambling, Riffling, Reminiscing

Coole Park, County Galway, Ireland

This is the first day of autumn weather wise, the turning of yet another page in the annals of my accumulated seasons, dating all the way back to 1952 when I was born just two weeks shy of the winter solecist.

Autumn was my mother’s favorite season, my late wife Judy’s favorite season, and my beloved Caroline’s favorite season. However, I always associated autumn with the beginning of school, which for me was always a sad occasion.[1] Despite the scorching heat, the subcontinental humidity, I always hated for to summer end.

Back when I attended elementary school, male teachers were as rare as white non-segregationists.[2] Rummaging through the cob-webbed bric-a-brac filled attic of my ever-dimming memory, I’m trying to come up with my first male teacher’s name.

A line of white-haired ghosts files past – Miss Marion, Mrs. Wiggins, Mrs. Jordon, Mrs. Montz, Mrs. Stall, Miss McCue, Mrs. Altman. Nope, no males in elementary school; even the principal Mrs. Muckenfuss was female.

In junior high, we had male PE teachers and a male principal whom I once saw knock two students’ heads together Three Stooges style, an act that today would no doubt land him before a judge.

Ah, those were the days. It was from him I received my first paddling, three sharp thwacks upon the tiny target my thirteen-year-old butt. I had Coach Blanton for PE, one of my mother’s good friends from high school, but I can’t think of a junior high academic male teacher.

As it turns out, I can’t remember all my teachers’ names, in fact, only a handful. There was Miss Shirley, a seventh grade Spanish teacher. I think I remember Mrs. Euler taught science, Mrs. Morgan English, Mrs. Meyers Algebra, and Mrs. Waltrip seventh grade math. I can’t for the life of me remember who taught me history, my favorite subject back then. And, oh yeah, Reid Charpia was another male PE teacher I had.

Okay, let’s try high school. One of my homeroom teachers was male, but I didn’t have him in class.

Eureka! It’s finally come to me finally. Captain House was my first male teacher, a WWII navy veteran, a colorful character who led this cheer at pep rallies:

Give ’em the ax,

Give ’em the ax,

Give ’em the ax.

Which side?

Which side?

Which side?

The cutting side!

The cutting side!

The cutting side.

Indeed, Captain House was the inspiration for a cheer I tried to install in Porter-Gaud’s collection of cheers, one I adapted from Alston High School, the African American high school in the “separate-but-equal” days.

Whup ’em, Cyclones, whup ’em.

Whup ’em, Cyclones, whup ’em.

Whup ’em, Cyclones, whup ’em, Cyclones, whup ’em, Cyclones,

Whup ’em!

I reckoned the primitive guttural chant would be a more effective motivator than the sing-songy cheers Porter-Gaud employed.

Victory, Victory, is our cry:


Will we win it?

You doggone right.

Porter-Gaud, Porter-Gaud, fight, fight, fight!

The irony is that I-and-I, a hater of school, ended up a teacher, did 34 years, as the ex-cons say. But now that’s over, I can fully embrace the pleasures of autumn, the crisp air, the turning of the leaves, college football, the MLB playoffs, etc. as I shuffle off towards my eventual exit.

The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

Upon the brimming water among the stones

Are nine-and-fifty swans.


The nineteenth autumn has come upon me

Since I first made my count;

I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount

And scatter wheeling in great broken rings

Upon their clamorous wings.


I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.


Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold

Companionable streams or climb the air;

Their hearts have not grown old;

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.


But now they drift on the still water,

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day

To find they have flown away?

WB Yeats

[1] I did enjoy buying back-to-school supplies, book bags and spiral notebooks. I can almost still smell the army surplus backpacks that Mama bought. However, all too soon those notebooks would be filled with my chicken scratch scrawl and the backpack with cheese cracker crumbs.

[2] How’s that for a jarring transition?