Dream of: 29 March 2000 "Muy Alto"

Dozens of drably clothed prisoners mingled in the courtyard of a large prison in Mexico. As I sat on a concrete bench and watched the prisoners mingle, one of them walked up to me and handed me a cigarette. I held the cigarette in my hand for a few minutes, unsure what to do with it, aware that cigarettes were forbidden here. Finally I handed it to a prisoner standing next to me, a black-haired fellow (about 30 years old) who looked exactly like the actor Robert Downey, Jr.

The Downey look-alike clearly intended to keep the cigarette and smoke it later in his cell. With foreboding I watched as he tried to hide the cigarette in his thick black hair. Sensing that it would not be wise for me to stay next to him, that I might be linked to him since I had handed him the cigarette, I stood up and walked away from him, making my way across the courtyard.

Suddenly, another figure began moving in my direction across the courtyard. I immediately recognized him: the warden. A stocky swarthy man (about 50 years old), he matter-of-factly walked up to me and stopped in front of me. In his hand was a long black whip. His intentions were immediately clear: he was going to give the Downey character a whipping, to punish Downey for having the cigarette.

But first, the warden focused his attention on me, directing me to take off his shirt. Obediently, with total deference, I began unbuttoning the warden's shirt. Only as my hands fumbled with the buttons on his shirt, did I realize how tall the warden was. I humbly looked up at his face, two or three feet above mine, and said, "Usted es muy alto."

He didn't reply, and seemed uninterested in me. All his attention was directed at the Downey character, who was on the other side of the courtyard. As I pulled the shirt from the warden's arms, over his wrists, leaving his hairy chest bare, I knew what would follow. The director would uncurl his extremely long whip, and let it fly towards Downey's unprotected back. The whipping would be a bit unusual. The whip was designed not to slash across the victim's back like a normal whip, but to just snap against the back with the very tip of the whip, with a powerful, almost electric-shock impact, more painful than a normal whipping.

My work completed, I didn't want to stay and watch the torture. Sensing that the warden had no further need of me, I quietly began making my exit from the courtyard.

As I exited, I was joined another prisoner, a man (about 60 years old) whom I knew as Mr. Johnson. He also knew me, and he seemed concerned about me. He directed me to a small side court, empty except for something which looked like a cage set up in the middle. The cage was about as tall as a man, with walls like a room. It was about four foot square, with a shelf in the middle dividing the cage into a top and a bottom section.

Inside the cage were seated several men, some on the top shelf, some on the ground. Mr. Johnson climbed onto the top shelf and squeezed in with the men there. He then pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and began smoking. Slowly I realized that these men in the cage had special smoking privileges, and that out here in the cage, they were allowed to smoke.

The whole scene seemed so macabre, I was glad I was not a prisoner here, that I was simply visiting. However, I did wonder what I was doing here. At least, I thought to myself, I was interested in what I was seeing, especially Mr. Johnson. I would like to see more of him. In fact, I thought, I would like to start dreaming about him on a regular basis. I knew people read my dreams, and I thought Mr. Johnson (if he appeared regularly) would become an interesting character in my dreams. If I concentrated on him, I was sure I could dream about him regularly.

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