My youngest daughter is running inside, breathless with excitement.
“Daddy, Daddy, the man from Rooms To Burn is here!”
I look out the window. Sure enough, a big white bobtail with colorful, happy letters is parked backwards in my driveway. A sort of French-looking guy (no moustache, just kind of short and stocky with a big nose) is standing on the doorstep. He’s dressed like a 1950’s Maytag repairman, complete with the tie and goofy hat. His face shows no emotion. He’s holding a clipboard, folding over a couple of dog-eared pages while he scans for the relevant information.
For some reason I’m almost giddy. I hand him my mortgage papers, which are damp with sweat from my palms.
He looks up from under bushy eyebrows. “Everything ready?” He sounds like the deadpan voice-over guy in the Mitsubishi radio ads.
“Oh, yes, we’re ready!” I sound like a sitcom dad. “Hurry, kids! Only take what you can carry!” My family begins filing out, juggling tote bags and armloads of toys and laundry.
The man pokes the clipboard at me. “Sign here.”
I hastily scribble my signature, momentarily irritated that I can’t read the fine print without my reading glasses, but quickly return to the happy-as-a-clam giddiness that seems to have possessed me.
“This certifies that we can’t be held liable for anything,” he grunts, then folds another sheet over and hands the clipboard back to me. “And this is from your insurance company, certifying that they aren’t liable for anything either.” I scratch my name again, almost drooling with excitement.
He tucks the clipboard under his arm, caps the pen, and sticks it in his pocket. It was my pen. Two goons in heavy coveralls are lowering the truck’s lift.
“If you have no further questions, sir, we’ll get on with it. Is everyone out?”
I check for stragglers. The kids, all five of them, are sitting patiently in the minivan with big smiles pasted on their faces. My wife is out last, lugging two pet carriers full of rabbits.
“All clear!” I gush. “Thank you so much!” I pump his hand until he looks annoyed, and then race-walk to the car, waving my arms like a geek. The Maytag man cocks his head toward the door. The men in coveralls, with breathing equipment and flame-throwers, quickly lumber into the house. I roll down the windows so the kids can hear the first whoosh. We watch the blinds ignite in the bedrooms.
As we back out of the driveway, flames blast through the roof of the house.
“Daddy,” my oldest daughter pipes up. “Can we go to Six Flags now?”
“Sure, sweetie! And awaaayyy we go-o-o-o-o-o-o!”
“GAAAAAAH!” I’m upright in bed, sweat-soaked, gasping for breath.
“You okay?” My wife has been nudging me for the past minute.
“Yeah,” I pant. “I just dreamed another column.”
“You’re scaring me,” she mumbles, and rolls back over to sleep.
I don’t know what I’ve done to offend my brain, but every night it gets its revenge by thoroughly confusing me, perhaps mistakenly believing that I’m not confused enough during the day. Researchers with too much time on their hands have theorized that our dreams are instructive. I would love for that to be true. My dreams are just plain weird, weird enough to send the most seasoned shrink to the therapist’s lounge for a double.
Then again, maybe my brain is trying to tell me something. Psychologists believe they can explain common anxiety dreams. I can picture my brain as Dr. Freud—glasses and funny beard and all (hey, work with me, okay?), saying “you haff alvays vanted to be naked in za elevator. Zat’s normal.” Umm, yeah, I’ll buy that. But the Maytag guy burning my house down and I’m thrilled with it? I’m sorry, brain, but you’re messing with my head! My brain pauses for a moment, stroking its goatee with its pencil. I squirm uncomfortably on the couch.
“Go on,” it says.
Go on? Whaddaya mean?
“You maybe are not happy mit your house, ja?”
Now I’m really irritated. Okay, so we don’t like the house, and we’d love to afford to go to Six Flags, and I’d really love to see all five kids sitting patiently in the minivan with big smiles on their faces instead of fighting over who has to sit on the barf stain and who gets a window seat. But come on, brain, make some sense here!
At this point my brain sighs, closes its notebook, checks its pocket watch and smiles.
“Ve vill talk again tomorrow.”
The next night I dream that my brain charges me two hundred bucks. Now it makes sense.