Security Dreams

I probably shouldn’t do class-related readings on the NSA and information security right before going to bed. The past two nights have been a combination of first-week anxieties and stuff related to Bruce Schneier’s Data and Goliath and Frank Pasquale’s The Black Box Society, the latter of which is one of the books I assigned for Digital Technology and Culture (DTC) 356, Electronic Research and the Rhetoric of Information, plus some weird house- and family-related stuff.

In Monday night’s dream, I’m wandering in an abandoned, crumbling neighborhood in late afternoon, the facades of houses caved in, burned and abandoned cars lining the streets, a smoky haze in the sky like what’s been visiting Pullman, dimming the sun. I go into one of the houses and it’s filled with irregular but oddly assembled debris: broken planks and splintered dimensional lumber strapped and lashed together in parallel bundles, marked with reflective tape and spray paint, cairns of broken concrete, some cairns with all smaller pieces, some with larger, tiny sculptures of twisted metal that are half swooping elegance and half bits of wire trash, uniformly sized sprays of broken glass, piles of flattened cardboard, and there are spray-painted arrows on the doors and cupboards leading down to a basement with a broken-down outside wall and a rough debris-filled track up a hill.

I follow the track, the hill bare earth and boulders with a steep cliff leading up to trees on both sides and a curving crest steeply above me to my front. Someone is with me. I cannot see whom. The track disappears into rocks and dry, hard brown pebble-flecked dirt. There’s noise from the crest. I reach the crest, an abrupt drop-off of gray rock concaving away a hundred feet to patches of trees at the left and right, and the noise sounds like a furious rushing wind coming every five seconds, coming closer. In front of me, the concavity drops steeply into a bowl with walls of splintered gray shale, and steam at the bottom. The five-second wind, the rushing sound, is furious, bending the trees as it approaches me, and I see that it’s a vaporous mix gushing from the mouths of rusted iron pipes spaced around the crater’s rim.

I turn and scramble quickly back down the way I came. Halfway down, gazing at me from a niche at the base of the cliff wall, there is a leopard that’s not a leopard in that dream way. It moves, flickers, billows toward me. I hurry down and away. Further down, another niche, a person in a hat who is sometimes not a person, whose face I cannot see, who also flows and flickers, following closer. I get back to the house, the shattered wall, the ruined basement, and there are others around me, moving all in one direction upward to a large room on the main floor of the house.

—Where are we going, I ask.
—Sabbath, they say.

The room is filled with similar debris: strapped-together broken dimensional lumber, mortar-crusted broken bricks, fraying VGA and power cables, young childrens’ board books with their glossy covers and thick cardboard pages, only these books are all half-taped-over with masking tape and duct tape and electrical tape, written on in grease pencil. There’s an tiered elevated platform, like for a chorus, at one side of the room, and there are people sitting on it on metal folding chairs, and I cannot see their faces either, and it’s then that I realize I’m dreaming, and my companion is with me, and I realize that it’s Lauralea. I turn to her, though her face is turned down, away from me, so that I cannot see her eyes, only the tip of her nose, and the corner of her mouth.

—I’m dreaming, I tell her. —I need you to go in the other room and wake me up.
I see the corner of her mouth turn up in a smile, but she will still not look at me. —Not gonna happen, she says.

In Tuesday night’s dream, I’m speaking as a part of a roundtable with members of the WSU English Department, hosted by West Point. The room has an ugly carpet and 1970s orange and brown chairs like the old WSU Bundy Conference Room, and walls in a shade of yellow like the West Point English Conference Room, with two flags at the front and AV equipment directed at the participants, who include Osama bin Laden, Muammar Qadafi, my father, who is making a complicated technical point about the history of British imperialism in the Middle East, and Todd Butler and Nancy Bell, who are growing increasingly impatient with the roundtable format.

Bin Laden is under house arrest and serving as a babysitter and tutor for my niece Freyja, who he clearly adores and is running around the conference room. I try to make a point about the informational parallels between the TSL SYN/SYN-ACK/ACK protocol and the military salute, but Qadafi interrupts me, gesticulating with both arms to respond to my father’s argument, and spills his tea on bin Laden. Bin Laden gets up and goes to the restroom to clean up, and when he returns he picks Freyja up and asks her to show him the spaceship she made with his Legos.

The cameras continue to roll.

The title of this post is borrowed from Richard Bausch’s short story “Police Dreams.” These dreams felt like a weird inversion of Bausch’s story.

Security Dreams
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