Saturday, February 4, 2023

My Chinese Balloon Nightmare


I had a dream last night that was so bizarre and disturbing I had to write it down so I could try to figure out what it meant before I forgot it. 

Congress had held a contest, inviting people to submit slogans to unify the American people. My elderly mother, Ruby (who died eight years ago), and I were attending the event on the grounds of the Washington Monument at which the winning slogan was to be announced. (Ruby loved coming up with slogans and name suggestions for new products and was always sure her entry would win.) Mom had submitted her slogan. I had struggled to think of a decent one myself. (“We The People?" Trite and expected — millions of people would submit that. “Aspire Higher?” No, that was the theme of a Jell-O contest I worked on in the 1980s and would almost certainly become the butt of jokes because half the people in this country are high anyway. “Come Together?” An ugly Beatles song -- they were English so that right there would have disqualified it -- and it would also be ridiculed because it implied a nation in the throes of simultaneous orgasms. I came up with slogans for a living and often have dreams about being charged with creating them for clients. Those dreams become nightmares when I’m unable to think of anything that meets my standards and I panic, knowing I’m still under the client’s deadline.) I hadn't sent in an entry.

I was in the first row, directly in front of a generic curly-haired Congresswoman who was facing the crowd from the dias above me. (I don’t know her name but this same woman seems to be front and center at every Congressional hearing. Maybe she’s a clerk, not a Congresswoman.) Ruby was also in the first row, four or five chairs away, with a smug look of anticipation on her face, She was confident her slogan was going to win.

I overheard GC (Generic Congresswoman) tell a colleague that the winning theme had to be submitted by a minority. That pissed me off. I felt the winner should be the person who submitted the best theme. Insisting the winner had to tick the right box or boxes flew in the face of the contest’s purpose. Rather than emphasizing our togetherness, it further divided us and I told her so. 


GC leaned over the dias and handed me a piece of paper on which someone had written “Square Deal” and whispered, “Can you believe the slogan that old lady submitted?” indicating my mom.

“‘Square Deal’” was the name of one of FDR’s programs,” I replied, realizing why mom had submitted it —  Ruby worshipped FDR. (I looked up “Square Deal” this morning and it was, indeed, a Roosevelt program, but not an FDR initiative. FDR’s “deal” was the “New Deal.” Square Deal was the name of Theodore Roosevelt’s three-pronged domestic program covering conservation, control of corporations and consumer protection. So I learned something new. Or, rather, learned something I had learned long ago in American History class but forgotten.) 

“It’s stupid,” GC said dismissively.  

“I agree it doesn't meet the objective but she’s my mother and 102 years old which makes her a minority,” I replied angrily, but GC wasn’t listening. Like everyone else in the crowd she was looking up to the sky where a gigantic Chinese weather balloon, equipped with a lighted billboard like the Goodyear blimp that flies over the Super Bowl, was hovering while flashing the winning slogan: “We Are The Stars in the Sky.” Everyone in the crowd was smiling and nodding their heads, agreeing it was the perfect theme.

“Wait one minute!” I said. “That’s the lyric from the chorus of a Chris De Burgh song, ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard,’ from an album I owned 40 years ago.” (I always thought that chorus would make a great jingle for my airline client except the song was about a young couple who got married, lived long lives, died, and were buried side by side in the churchyard and no song equating death with an airline would have ever been appropriate.)  “That doesn’t make any sense!” I yelled. “At all!” But nobody could hear my protest — the crowd was applauding.

Then I woke up, realizing I had to hurry if I didn’t want to miss bridge class.

What the hell was my dream about?

Wanting to make sure my mother’s feelings weren’t hurt?  Worrying I’ve lost my ability to do what I did for a living? Being concerned that inept politicians think idiotic slogans will do anything to fix what’s broken with this country? Fretting that a good idea is no longer as important as the type of person who submits it? Being incredulous that a giant balloon is floating across my country while we act like nothing is wrong?  Have I gone completely nuts?

Probably all of the above. And then some.