Six Minute Snoozes

Sheila Grace Stuewe

     
   

       Sunlight streams in, and I cover my face with Mountain Spring-scented sheets. It’s Saturday, but I never fail to set my alarm. I lie in bed tucked in a loose fetal position, and hit the snooze button five, maybe six times. Wall Street is closed. No forty-six mile drive to my 7:30-to-5:30 job. Unless an emergency arises, I won’t have to interpret my clients’ results, answer stockholder questions or analyze economic trends.
       I glide back into a dream, landing in Colorado, a thousand miles away from my home in Houston, sitting in the second row of Red Rocks Amphitheater waiting for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers to take the stage. Pink, blue and purple fill the sky as the sun lowers over the Rockies and I slip deeper into slumber. Record producers Jimmy Iovine and George Drakoulias plow down the aisle toward the two empty spaces next to me. I can’t believe my luck.
       Drakoulias plops down; his leg brushes my knee. Hugo Boss aftershave wafts through the air. Both of us are too big for our allocated twenty-four inches. His shoulder eases into mine. The wind lifts his curly brown hair, laced with white strands. They tickle my cheek. He turns to me, smiles. Well sort of. He’s disappointed I’m not in my twenties, not wearing a halter top and hip-hugging jeans.
       He knows. I know. He’s a record producer.
       I know. He knows. I’m a nobody.
       Still, there’s a connection: music.  I need music to get me through my mid-life rut. No polished black Corvette or Botox, only good old rock and roll on my car stereo, at concerts, vibrating through my core. 
       My dream speeds forward to the final bow. Iovine, phone pressed to his ear, heads toward the exit. Drakoulias grabs my hand and leads me down a crowded corridor. I have to run to keep up with him. He tells me he had to promise his parents he would study business at New York University, as a back up plan to music. After signing L.L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys, he didn’t need to pursue an MBA.
       When we reach the stage, I lean up against a pole where he tells me to wait. Above me Orion’s Belt shines. I make a wish that he’ll return. A few minutes later, Drakoulias taps me on the shoulder and says, “Tom, this is Shelly Stevens.” I don’t care that he doesn’t get my name right.
       When Tom reaches to shake my hand, my radio alarm blares Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  Damn it – the dream was getting good.  I open my eyes and reach between the telephone and my empty water glass. I slam the snooze button, hoping to return to Colorado. I can’t. The spell is broken.
       I’ve thought about turning off my alarm on Fridays and setting it again on Sunday evenings. But I live for those six-minute snoozes, those moments of twilight sleep, when music steers my dreams. My subconscious transports me from dissecting financial variances to a world in which I’ve met Tom Petty, and I’m friends with The Heartbreakers, especially Ron Blair, the bassist. There, I don’t sit at a desk in front of a computer screen; instead I lean on Ron’s shoulder and ask him to play “Refugee.” His face reddens, his gaze slides toward the floor, yet he still picks up his Fender Bassman and plays for me.
       A few snoozes later, I stand next to James Taylor on the Carnegie Hall stage, lifting my voice in harmony, staying on key. He nods as I join in. My harmonies sound compelling, much better than in real life. I support James, his melody, his words, one following the other in perfect sequence – describing the magic of North Carolina’s red clay. James winks when the song finishes. He introduces me. James Taylor knows my name.  The audience applauds as the alarm rings. I’m glad I got to take a bow. I wish I knew what came next or if I will ever make it back to Carnegie Hall. I hope I do, but even in my dreams, as when I’m awake, I don’t always get what I want.
       With work, cooking dinner, dusting, taking out the garbage and trying to pay bills, it seems I don’t have time to read a novel or to listen to an album from start to finish.  I need my six-minute snoozes to explore my rock and roll fantasies and forget that projections show Social Security will be unable to pay full benefits beyond 2033, two years after my retirement age.  In my dreams, I quit my job, convinced I can find another. I dance past midnight. I wake up, my hair flowing and my mascara still clinging to my lashes.

       While I wait for the coffee to brew, I sit at my kitchen table looking out at the backyard. Weeds infiltrate the flowerbed, but the geraniums I planted in early spring bloom, red, pink and white. Only a prolonged frost can kill those flowering stalks. For over twenty years, I’ve sat at this table and balanced my checkbook, always sending payments before they’re due. My “just in case fund” reached eighteen months of expenses five years ago. Still, I save money by eating Lean Cuisine frozen entrees Monday through Friday at my desk, staring at my computer screen, watching stock prices soar and falter. 
       In order to preempt a call from my boss, pointing out a missed client request, I turn on my company-issued metal-grey laptop computer. I’m required to take it home each evening to insure 24/7 service. This morning there are no emails to answer, no crises, no press releases to write or calls to make. Yahoo tugs at me, shouting that the economy shows signs of improvement and tornadoes tear off roofs in Arkansas. Off to the side in its own little box, I see gentle hands saving birds coated in Gulf of Mexico crude. Absorbing more aftershocks of the credit crisis, stocks will begin trading again on Monday – first Japan, then Europe, then New York. I will be back at my office forty-six miles away, calculating percentage gains and losses, happy I have health insurance and a job, even though I had to take a ten percent pay cut due to a reduction in the company’s revenue stream.
This morning I click away from the gyrations in the financial markets and connect with my new friend, www.ticketmaster.com. T-Master, to me, is male, about thirty-six years old, played lead guitar in a garage band in high school, sports curly black hair and Eddie Vedder-blue eyes, and speaks like a 1970s WXRT FM-radio disc jockey.  In the left-hand corner of the page, he writes “Welcome Sheila.”
       He knows it’s me.
       I should have taken a shower and put on eyeliner.
       Today, he asks in his straightforward fashion, “Why stay in this weekend?” I want to answer – the kitchen floor needs scrubbing, the laundry is piling up, and I have to mend the crotch tear on my black gabardine pants, the ones I wear on Tuesdays with my fuchsia silk blouse, the tunic that flows when I walk and covers my drooping sides.
        He won’t accept housework as an excuse. He doesn’t care that I don’t have a date. His question never changes. It blares on the screen. How does he know that I don’t want to take out the garbage, weed the garden and watch Desperate Housewives? Somehow he understands what I need to escape, and live music takes me down a path filled with happily-ever-afters, fast cars, walks in the rain, and holding hands.
        T-Master sends me emails at least once a week. About a year ago, I filled out an online form, checking off the musicians I longed to see. I marked singer songwriters ranging from Lyle Lovett to Carole King, and classic rockers spanning southern roots ala Lynyrd Skynyrd to the bad boys of Boston – Aerosmith. T-Master always seems to remember them, not like most men. He’s the only one who knows that I adore Emmy Lou Harris. He sent me an email about her upcoming concert. How thoughtful. 
       Earlier this month, he reminded me that tickets for Melissa Etheridge were going on sale. I didn’t buy any. I forgot to lock in the time on my Outlook calendar. No meeting reminder popped up on my screen saying – “buy tickets” – as I spoke to a portfolio manager detailing how the lack of liquidity in the debt markets stalled drilling activity in the Permian Basin.
        Now I’ll miss seeing Ms. Etheridge’s fingers press the strings lining the long neck of her Ovation 12-string guitar, moving from one chord to the next, etching indelible combinations – charcoal black, purple and pink watercolors, red and orange oils – swirling through the air, not landing on a canvas, but touching my ear, my soul. She might have transported me to a place where the economy isn’t afflicted with ten percent unemployment. There the music would steer me away from my bank account and the green and red arrows on my computer screen. I could forget everything but the rhythms, the rhymes – I’d dance, smiling, my arms waving in the air – free.   
       At least I didn’t let the $200 price tag keep me away from Van Morrison. I saw him last weekend, thanks to T-Master. Morrison stunned the crowd playing “Brown Eyed Girl,” the song that established his solo career. It’s rumored that he had wanted to stop singing it decades ago, believing he had written at least three hundred better songs. He had, yet that simple tune laced with waterfalls and tall grass takes me back to a time when making love in the back seat of a 1979 Chevy didn’t seem risky. Now I would probably throw out my back and be arrested for indecent exposure.
       Slow down, I wanted to yell as Morrison sang. Instead I stayed silent, and he accelerated the tempo. He didn’t play an extra chorus or expand it with a guitar solo. As soon as he crooned the last “la te da,” he jumped up from the piano and strapped on his white guitar, determined to move on. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to linger in the song’s green grass. Some woman with a high-pitched voice a few rows back yelled out, “Van, you’re my boyfriend.” Maybe Morrison visits her in her dreams. He hasn’t appeared in mine—not yet. I hope he shows up outside my window around midnight, singing “Gloria,” his fingers playing those indelible three chords. 
       At the concert, two men about my age sat on my left. The one next to me pressed his shoulder into mine. It should have felt welcome, but I could smell his garlic breath even when I turned my head away as far as it would go. I wished I had a Clorets to offer him. He’s prepared himself for the show, lining   three twenty-ounce beers in front of him. Morrison doesn’t allow alcohol sales when he’s on stage. He wants to keep people in their seats, watching him, listening, longing.
If only I had the kind of power to make my clients listen. Power to know my words, my analysis, my recommendations count. Power to know that if I take a risk, such as quitting my job, it will pay off.
       Sometimes during my weekend six-minute snoozes, I stand in front of the microphone. A hushed-pink spotlight shines down on me as I sing the melody. Tom Petty sings harmony, the Heartbreakers are my band. People pay to hear me. Men still look. Outside of my dream world, I listen to financial talk radio.
        That has to change.

       An email pops up from T-Master: “You saw the show, now share your thoughts.” I want to double click on that link and write – It was a marvelous night for a “Moondance.”  Too trite. Probably eight hundred people have already used one of his famous songs to begin their critiques.  Where has my originality gone? It doesn’t take much creativity to log the mortgage payment into my checkbook, dust the floorboards, or write a press release analyzing financial data and calculating percentage gains. I wish that choosing cleaning products at the grocery store hadn’t become a weekend highlight.
       I click the “X” at the top of my screen, power down my laptop and brush my hair. Before applying mascara, I reach for my eye shadow. It’s been at least a year since I’ve worn eye shadow. With a tissue, I rub off the dust filming the plastic cover. I paint my lids soft beige, adding a deep brown hue in the crease. I look over my shoulder as I turn off the light. I like what I see smiling back at me.
       At the grocery store, I head down the cleaning products aisle. Van Halen’s Jump pounds from the speakers. I start to dance, weaving from side to side, sliding on my leather soles. Jumping on the grocery cart’s handlebar, my feet inches from the ground, I fly down the aisle past the Tidy Bowl. Afraid my cart might tip, I plant myself back on the ground and lift up and down two thirty-six-ounce bottles of Windex, that light blue liquid that makes hard surfaces shine. 
       As I’m doing the bump with the Tide with Bleach Alternative, a man in his fifties turns the corner.  His jeans fit a bit too tight, and his moustache must have taken hours to trim. I smile at him, not a tempting smile, rather an acknowledgement that he exists. He turns toward the dishwashing detergent and reveals his bald spot – about an inch in circumference. He picks up a large bottle of Cascade, not looking at the price, and exits the row, staring at the top shelf, avoiding my eyes.
        Not moving, not dancing, not hearing the music–I stand in the aisle and wonder. When I’m fifty, will men still look? Will I stop worrying about having enough money to retire? Or will I allow myself to live for the moment, worry less about the future. I yearn to chase happiness, swallow small bites of make-believe, gulp the laughter, feel music spur through my veins and up my spine, erupting from my skin spawning goose bumps.
       I need music to transport me from the unending news stream creeping across the bottom of my television and computer screens. I want to go to places I have dreamt about like the Cavern Club in Liverpool or the Beacon Theater in New York. It’s time for me to wake up and start traveling.  Tom Petty commands the stage at fifty-nine and James Taylor sparked a sing-a-long at sixty-two. Why can’t I board a plane to get to those front row seats at a concert? I yearn to feel the outer rim of the band’s spotlight on my face.
       So, I resume my dance, move my shoulders up and down, my head bobbing. I grab a twelve-roll pack of Northern toilet tissue, press it to my chest and spin around. I don’t care that another man sees me. This guy returns my smile. He has nice teeth and thick white hair. I bet he contributes to his pension plan.
       In the parking lot, I spot him before he gets on his Harley. “I noticed you in the store,” he says.
       I try playing it cool. I shrug my shoulders, tilt my head and say, “Nice bike.”

       I should have asked him to go for coffee. Instead, I get in my four-door Camry with cloth seats and pull out of the parking lot, turning on the radio. The Beatles sing “A Hard Day’s Night,” and I peer in my rear-view mirror, don my new black sunglasses; crows’ feet hidden, I look sleek and ten years younger. I remember Paul McCartney‘s email. He sends me one whenever he announces a new concert date. He gave me the presale password for his upcoming concert in San Francisco.  I make a mental note: clear work from Outlook calendar and add ticket sale info. T-Master will be waiting.

     
        return to nonfiction
 

Sheila Grace Stuewe grew up in Chicago, earned an MBA in Nashville and has been trying to find a home ever since. After decades of manipulating numbers, she came to her senses and earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her essay “Residual Value” was published in Artful Dodge. That essay won an AWP Intro Journals Prize for Nonfiction in 2010. In July 2012, her essay “Long Time Gone” appeared in the online literary journal Hippocampus Magazine. Currently, Sheila is writing a collection of essays with the working title My Midlife Crisis Concert Series, where she explores moments that rocked her life. Someday she hopes to tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.