A Surreal Youth by Mark Davenport

A Surreal Youth[1]

Mark Davenport

Among our childhood memories of significant experiences, all of which appear equally clear and distinct, there are some scenes that turn out, when checked…to have been falsified. It is not that they have been freely invented; they are incorrect insofar as they transfer an event to a place where it did not happen.
Sigmund Freud, “Screen Memories”


Cher was in town the night I was born. My mother was getting ready for the concert when her contractions started. She called her Wiccan sisters and told them of my imminence. They rushed over: some flew; others teleported; and one sister rode her bike. They escorted my mother into the woods, clasped hands, and made a rhombus. While my mother lay left of center in their humanoid parallelogram, the sisters sang “The Song That Never Ends” until I emerged. Sister Tabitha came forth to receive me. She gnawed through the umbilical cord, daubed me with Prego meat sauce, and then laid me beside a tambourine. Then, Sister Agatha set fire to the afterbirth with her flamethrower while the other sisters washed and dried my mother. After her cleansing, my mother fell into a deep sleep, and she missed out on Cher stopping by and leading us all in a rendition of her hit song “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.”[2]

Watching Water Boil

Because I was a very boring child, I was often in charge of watching the pot of water boil on the stove. My mother—or one of the sisters or whoever was watching me at the time—often put me in my high chair in front of the stove and then left—sometimes for days. The bubbles and steam mesmerized me. When word spread about the boring child fascinated by the boiling water, people started paying my mother to borrow me. I watched their boiling pots of water while they left their houses. My mother raked in $40,000 in one year alone. When the Guinness Book of World Records learned of this boring story, they decided to test me. They constructed an eight-foot deep pot with a circumference of four feet. They lit a single flame under the massive pot, stood back, and sent person after person to record me watching and waiting for the water to evaporate. Years went by. The record keepers raised their own families, became grandparents, even great-grandparents, and inevitably died as I continued to watch for the first visible sign of evaporation. After the first three centuries passed, Time magazine finally named me The Most Boring Person To Have Ever Existed. I became a tourist attraction. Super Bowl winners announced that, instead of going to Disney World, they would come see me. People have tried to get me to kiss their babies, men and women have flashed their genitals at me, and I have survived 219 assassination attempts. I have yet to be successfully distracted. I have yet to blink.[3]

Shape Shifting

By the time I finished elementary school, I finally mastered shape shifting. At first, my shape shifting took the form of inanimate objects: rocks, a bag of concrete mix, and the lifeless form of Mitt Romney. When graduation rolled around, I mastered one of the trickier subjects to mutate into: Nicholas Cage. And this was appropriate, for, when I was five, the school commissioned a portrait of me sitting astride an ugly brown horse. The knowledge and existence of this portrait was unacceptable. I had the aspiration to run for class president, and I couldn’t have my opponent and his aides digging up this horrendous picture and ruining my reputation. So, knowing that the portrait would be locked in the safe in the basement, I morphed into Nicholas Cage and snuck into the school one afternoon during the summer, figuring nobody would be there. However, in the hallway leading to the basement stood my geometry teacher discussing Euclid with my ancient philosophy professor. Playing it safe, I glided past them down the corridor, through the door, and down the steps. I was gliding down the last set of steps when the fat security guard came into view and ordered me to stop. However, I wasn’t to be deterred. I jumped, kicked his rotund stomach, and watched as he exploded. Unfortunately, he managed to set off the alarm before his eruption, and I had to hurry before more security came. Luckily for me, the safe was unlocked, and I managed to flee unscathed with the portrait.[4]

 Driving Lessons with Robert De Niro

Learning to drive can be stressful. Learning to drive in an overpopulated metropolis even more so. Because my mother could teleport, she never learned how to drive a vehicle. Fortunately, our family friend, Robert De Niro, helped me out. Unfortunately, his way of teaching me how to drive involved merging onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike[5] at rush hour. As I turned onto the entrance ramp off Plymouth, you can imagine how many bullets I was sweating. As we neared the top of the ramp, I only saw metal-upon-metal for miles. Bob said, “Now, you just gotta go for it. These fuckers won’t get over for anybody, not even the President. So, if you hear metal grinding on metal, don’t worry about it. They may be lazy, but they don’t wanna get in a wreck.” Lucky for me, I managed to slide perfectly in between two cars. Robert decided to treat me to ice cream. He got Rocky Road; I got plain old boring vanilla.[6]

Hall & Oates & Hardee’s

I’m a night owl who likes to jam out to classic rock and pop songs. Some nights I let my short clone out of the closet I keep him in, and we pretend to be a Darryl Hall and John Oates cover band.[7] We tend to jam out in wide-open fields at 2 a.m.; sometimes we scare away the cows and sheep, and other times they rock along beside us. Occasionally we’ll play on the roofs of skyscrapers. After a session in the city one night, I’m walking leisurely down the street—my clone deciding to get some waffles from Waffle House before he gets back in his closet—when a former crush pulls up beside me in a red Corvette. While brushing her long golden locks behind her head, she says she wants to hang out and catch up. My libido percolates.[8]

When I jump in, she speeds off to her apartment—a convenient one hundred yards away. The sun peeks over the horizon as she unlocks the door and winks at me. She turns on the floor lamp beside the couch, we sit, and I make sure the space between us is minimal.[9] I’m not exactly paying attention to what she’s saying, but I know I’m about to make a move. Suddenly, a voice from the darkened kitchen yells, “What the hell is going on?” It’s her boyfriend.[10] She calmly explains I’m a long-lost friend, as if oblivious to the slow advances I’ve been making on the couch. I play it innocently, lying that we used to be real close. He doesn’t believe us, but he asks me to join him for breakfast at Hardee’s. While I chow down on some biscuits and gravy, he confesses that he thinks she’s cheating on him. I’m getting bored as he whines about how she’s constantly getting hit on. I send out a telepathic distress signal to my clone, and he pulls up outside in a beat up Ford Fiesta. He has managed to finagle one of the Waffle House servers[11] into doing a line of cocaine with him. I ask him to pistol whip the guy I’m with,[12] and he obliges. I take the guy’s wallet, rob the Hardee’s, and drive away as my clone and the server get hot and heavy in the backseat.[13]

 Jumping Off the Golden Gate Bridge

On my eighteenth birthday, I realize I have never flown a kite before. As soon as I finish reciting my yearly prayer to Neptune, and after I eat a slice of cake, I hop aboard a Greyhound bus to San Francisco where a box kite awaits me on the Golden Gate Bridge. After a two minute cross-country trip, I’m out of the bus and running toward the box kite. But what grabs my attention, instead, is a line of people up ahead jumping off the bridge. There’s a guy directing them, signaling when to jump. Instead of flying the kite, I get in line. The person in front of me is singing “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” and, when it gets to be his turn, he sets himself on fire and then hops off, screaming all the way down. I tiptoe to the edge, but before I look over, I’m pushed from behind. Everything goes black, and I can’t hear. Then I feel this heavy, crushing pressure on my chest, and I surface, gasping for air. I see this tunnel underneath the bridge and, next to the entrance, is what looks like a Nerf football bobbing up and down through the waves. I swim to it, and I’m slow at getting there. The current pushes the ball into the tunnel, and, by the time I reach the entrance, I can’t see anything in there. It’s all black, but I decide to go in anyway. I don’t know how long I’m swimming, but I keep going until I feel something soft brush against one of my forearms. I stop and grab it. Of course, I can’t see what it is exactly, but it feels spongy and oblong. I turn around and vaguely make out the tunnel entrance. I throw it as hard as I can and hope it’s somewhere near the entrance where I can see it when I get back. As I finally return to the bay, I see the current has dragged the object back out into the sun. As I swim closer, I notice that the ball has black hair floating around it. When I reach it and turn it over in my hands, I finally see that it isn’t a ball at all but my head. My eyes and mouth are painted on it; I’m missing my nose and ear. However, this doesn’t frighten me. Instead I begin to play with it. I toss it up, hit it as if it were volleyball, and then swim after it. This continues until I finally exhaust myself and drown.[14]

 Being a Grandfather

After sixty years of driving a Greyhound bus across the United States, I decide to retire to the woods. I sit in a rocking chair on the porch of my wood cabin. It’s a cool summer evening in the country; a slight breeze blows through the valley as the sun slowly sets behind the mountains. I read the newspaper and glance up occasionally to watch my tall, blonde-haired daughter playing with her own two blonde-haired daughters next to the hay field. My granddaughters scamper around as their mother chases them. They scream and squeal when caught in their mother’s embrace. I hear footsteps coming through the screen door from inside. My wife is bringing drinks.

When the screen door creaks open, I close and fold my newspaper and glance over at my wife. I see nothing but blankness[15].

Left Behind

When the boiling drum of water experiment fails, the scientists decide to do another experiment. They put a hologram simulating the creation and development of the modern-day universe in front of me. I have approximately fourteen billion years of universe to watch. In the room I am in, they set up a hundred cameras, all focused on me, with none pointed at the simulation. I think this is weird, but they say nothing.

After they finish and leave, one guy pauses and says, “It was nice meeting you. Goodbye.” The researchers usually don’t make such frivolous statements, and, as I turn to question him, the door closes and the lights dim. The hologram shoots forth a bright red light before dimming to a dull red. I sit and watch, just like I have always done and always will do.

Around the fortieth year, the hologram malfunctions and disappears. I sit in silence, wondering how soon they will come in to fix it. When nobody shows, I ask the room, the cameras, and myself. I continue waiting until I decide to venture outside the room. I find a handwritten note that states, “We, the human race, have left for other worlds. You were a source of great entertainment and jokes for thousands of years. But we couldn’t have your dullness infecting life on our new planet. Sorry, bud, but at least you were an inspiration to us all, to not be so boring all the time.” They didn’t sign the note.

Confronted with the fact that I am the last human on Earth, and that I have not dealt with emotions before, I do what I have always done: sit, and stare, at nothing.


[1] : Or, an Exploration Through Dreams.

[2] I was seventeen days overdue back in 1988. My mother’s contractions started a bit before my father got off from work. He asked if there was enough time for him to shower before they left for the hospital—which is an hour’s drive away. (This is something I would probably ask too. I wouldn’t want to look dirty while or when my child came.) Because sonograms were relatively new and the insurance only paid for one, my parents didn’t exactly know my sex. The nurses claimed I was a girl because I had a fast heartbeat on the monitors, but my mother knew something was different because she carried me higher than my two older sisters. Had I been born a girl, I would have been named Natalie Snow. There are times when I wonder what I would be like had I been a girl. I can’t imagine I would have been pretty. Probably tomboyish. And I can’t say I would have been attracted to men. Dicks are weird. They’re loose, limp, and just flop around. And when they’re erect, it’s like they expect something. Like a treat. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy who’s played around with his dick so much that he’s already tired of it. Anyway, I was born a boy. During the process, I broke my mother’s coccyx and my clavicle on the way out.

[3] I have horrible eyesight, so me watching a boiling pot as an infant isn’t so farfetched. When my mother used to push me in the stroller around the countryside, she would often point at a certain animal and tell me to look. I shook my head in every direction searching for the animal. The only thing allaying my mother’s fear that I was retarded was that I properly matched the animal with its sound (cow does go moo, right?). I was three when I got my first pair of glasses, but, even then, I don’t think I saw clearly because I loathed lights shining in my eyes and I kicked the ophthalmologist under the table when he did. When I was five, I still cried at the slightest bit of morning sunshine because my eyes couldn’t adjust easily and the bright light hurt them. Even when it’s cloudy, I still squint a little.

[4] I often have dreams in which I am other people. The most recent was Idris Elba, the British actor. (Google him if you don’t know him. He is quite handsome, and one of the few men I will admit to having a man-crush on—the others being Fred Armisen (for his sketch comedy show Portlandia), Rafael Nadal (Spanish tennis player), and Jared Leto (as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.) I’m not exactly sure why I dream I am other people. I like to think my brain likes telling stories so much that it just comes up with fun ones when I sleep.) When I was Elba, I was running for my life from two sentient cars along the bricked streets of Huntington. After endless blocks of running, one of the cars (a blue Ford Escape) passes me, turns, and then drives at me head-on. I jump right into the windshield, break it, and then take control of the car. What happens next is bizarre and leads to an X-rated event, so I’ll stop it there.

[5] I have not driven on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, yet.

[6] Because I actually do lead a boring life, I believe I have these vivid dreams to make up for my banality. The only exciting things I’ve done: skydiving; and a failed threesome when a woman and her boyfriend were on ecstasy and I was the only sober, clear minded one.

[7] My sisters are seventeen and thirteen years older than me, respectively. They didn’t have to go through our parents’ divorce like I did as they were already out of the house. I was a very sensitive kid—still am, really—and I often wished I had a younger sibling to survive the fights and abuse. This would lead to fantasies where I was one in a group of quadruplets, and we formed a band. One was skinny; one was muscular; one was normal/average-sized; and then I was the fat one. My brothers were always more popular than me, and each had the traits that I seemed to lack—confidence, integrity, dignity, and they were great orators. When I was a teenager and AOL Instant Messenger was popular, I described my nonexistent brothers to a coworker over chat. (She was only a year younger than me, and we worked at the only grocery store in the county as cashiers.) She assured me that I was fine the way I was, and that was the first time I felt that someone really, actually cared about me. It wouldn’t occur to me until my freshman year in college that I should have asked her out.

[8] I have no interest in cars, so I have no idea why a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in an expensive car arouses me.

[9] There are only two things that make me an assertive male: (1) anything involving my personal space/belongings; and (2) sex—which I guess could be filed under personal space since I allow someone into close physical proximity.

[10] A short, stocky janitor at Target plays this role. I used to work the 4 a.m. shift at the Target in Barboursville, West Virginia, where I helped unload the supply truck and then stocked the shelves. The cleaning crew usually arrived at 5 or 6 every morning. I had little interaction with the guy, but it’s definitely not uncommon for random people with whom I’ve had little to no conversation to just show up in my dreams.

[11] I would type waitress, but I think that is a politically incorrect statement now? And sexist?

[12] This is referenced in another dream that happens weeks later where I am standing in the checkout line at Walmart purchasing a porcupine. The guy in front of me asks why I’m buying a porcupine. I say it’s a present for the guy I pistol-whipped and then explain why I pistol-whipped him.

A good majority of my dreams involve stores because I have worked mainly in retail. Target takes the cake. Even though I’ve worked there the least amount of time in my short employment history, Target fuels my nightmares. My most recent Target dream involves my graduate seminar class on Gender and Sexuality in American Horror Films moving to an empty space in a mall. While we are discussing King Kong (1933), my former coworkers and bosses from the Barboursville, WV, Target start coming in with merchandise and announce that they plan on splitting the space with our class. So, while we’re trying to have class, they’re setting up shop, which eventually expands to an entire Target store. Essentially, they have relocated. Now I have to share my academic life with my former work life. My subconscious really knows how to stress me out.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I dislike Target in general. It’s just that I really, truly dislike the Target I worked at. I avoid that Target. I prefer other Targets, where I imagine that everything is much nicer and not filled with the general grumpiness and dolor of early morning workers and grunt labor. I get that retail work isn’t pleasant, and it’s one of those necessary burdens, but damn if it isn’t disheartening, though.

[13] The only violent thing I’ve done in my life was to shoot and kill a squirrel, and I immediately felt bad about it. I had shot it in its gut and one of its kidneys was hanging out. A year later during Thanksgiving week, I was out hunting with my father (grand ol’ rural father-son traditions) when I spotted a doe meandering up the hill searching for food. I sat at the fork of a tree that jutted out in three directions, conveniently leaving enough space for hunters to sit and survey the hillside. This deer caused me serious anxiety. That year was the first year my father and I communicated over two-way handheld radios. Right before the deer showed up, my father informed me that he would be making his way towards me shortly. For my father during hunting season, ‘shortly’ can mean anytime from five to fifty minutes. So, not wanting my father to come upon this sight where his son is simply staring at what could be his first felled deer, I picked up some rocks from around the base of the tree and began chucking them in the doe’s direction. This only resulted in the deer pausing her search to lift up her head, search for the commotion, then search for the cause of the commotion, and then, after finally finding the cause of the commotion, to just stare at the large orange blob staring back at her. In our fixed gaze, one could easily find the underlying panic in both our eyes. I waited for her to move; she waited for me to move. I started waving my arms and jumping around, eventually doing jumping jacks. She didn’t move. I kicked the leaves, picked up sticks and threw them in her direction. But the damned doe didn’t budge. I groaned. I had to bust out the .223 Winchester rifle. I shouldered the gun, aimed fifty feet above the doe, and fired. Finally, she ran. Up the hill. Giving me a chance to shoot at her again. I watched her interminable climb up the hill, horrified that my father could show up any second to watch me watch the deer. I got ready to fire again, to make it look like I was actually trying. Luckily, I didn’t have to. As she crested the hill, I collapsed into the forked tree—an uncomfortable experience. My father believed me when I said I missed it. Though I still imagine to this day that he knows the actual truth.

[14] I haven’t been to San Francisco yet, but I have died several times in my dreams. I’ve had the usual falling dreams, but I don’t wake up before I hit bottom (I can’t imagine I’m the only one who hasn’t woken up from that type of dream though.) I’ve been stabbed, and I’ve had my throat slit. But the one that really stands out is when I was shot directly in the heart because I could actually feel the burning sensation as I slowly woke up. I’d like to think it was just heartburn.

I also have dreams about the re-death of family members. For instance, after my grandfather was diagnosed with acute leukemia in December 2013, he died less than thirty hours later. I had a dream recently in which my grandfather knew he was dying and had a conversation with the funeral home director, saying that when he was ‘ready to go’ he would call the funeral home, let it ring twice, and then hang up. That was the signal for the director to go pick him up at his house, which he would leave unlocked for him. It wasn’t too much later that I almost remarked to my mother over the phone about how uncanny it was that Granddad knew when he was going to die. BUT, that did not happen, of course, and I was able to dismiss that thought before it slipped out of my mouth. I know the real reason behind that dream: I don’t want to remember my grandfather dying suddenly and unexpectedly. I want him to have left this world on his own terms. I want him to have had a better death.

[15] I’ve had dreams where I’m a father and grandfather, but in these dreams, my wife/lover/partner is always absent. I suppose one could argue that my subconscious is trying to tell me something, but I don’t know what that argument is. Where the hell did the kids come from? Unless dream-me has managed to successfully adopt, I just don’t see real-life-me getting anywhere with adoption. When my sister suggested I watch after her son and daughter, I was immediately fraught with dread and anxiety. When my nephew was four, I let him run amok in Saks Fifth Avenue while I trailed after him. When my niece was a baby, I held her at arms length in the swimming pool, afraid that she would soil her swimming diaper and contaminate the pool. Now that they’re older, they’re easier to be around. But if I could hardly stand my siblings’ children, how could I stand something I helped create?

Depression runs rampant on my father’s side of the family, and it specifically affects men. I have yet to learn of any women diagnosed with it—even my sisters are unaffected by it. One of my cousins committed suicide when he was twenty-seven. My dad’s father—who died five years before I was born—was an alcoholic and ran away weeks at a time from his family, never telling anybody where he went. My father was diagnosed in his late 30s and given medication. But he quit after a week because the pills just made him more depressed (which is true, at first, and it does depend on the dosage, but eventually an equilibrium is reached). I was 20 when I finally crawled out from underneath my dorm room’s desk and scurried over to the Counseling Center on campus for help. I remember how my body tried adjusting to the dosage, how I only got one hour of sleep the first night. I ended up going to my 9 o’clock Physical Geography lab and bullshitted all the answers because I could barely comprehend the questions through the fuzziness. Is this why I dream about daughters only? So they don’t have to inherit my depression?

In the BBC show, The Fall, Gillian Anderson’s character is asked by her boss—after she’s rebuffed his sexual advances—“Why are women spiritually and emotionally so much stronger than men?” Anderson’s character answers, “Because the basic human form is female. Maleness is a kind of birth defect.” Initially, all human fetuses are female. Around the eighth week of gestation, the presence of the Y chromosome kicks in (not always, of course) and male sex organs develop. Granted, the DNA is already genetically encoded, and the Y and/or X chromosome shouldn’t matter, supposedly. But because the men in my family have depression, and the women don’t, I need some type of theory to make sense of it. Perhaps Beyoncé was right. Girls do run the world. And the negative space where my wife should be is my subconscious suggesting the end of the Davenport lineage. At least on my end.


© Alex George


Mark Davenport aka Alex GeorgeMark Davenport is the pen name of Alex George. Alex currently lives in Huntington, West Virginia. He has a B.A. and an M.A. in English from Marshall University. This is his first publication.