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A Christmas Dream

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I had my first lucid dream about Gus last night, more than three weeks after his death on Dec. 1. He was in the street in front of my house, leashless, sniffing everything in sight. We didn’t have eye contact. I remember thinking, How amazing! Gus was dead, and now he’s back!

I know people who would explain this by claiming that the real Gus visited me in my dream state, that he was reassuring me everything was okay. They believe in the existence of the soul after death, and that the soul can travel between various dimensions. Gus, these people would say, still loves me so much that he’s now ready to visit me from time to time. The three weeks between his death and last night, they would say, were spent acclimating to his new environment. As Gus himself wrote me on Dec. 3, “I’m still learning my way around here.”

And hadn’t Gus also made a solemn promise? I’ll show up. You’ll know.”

Then there’s the school of thought that says, No, that wasn’t the real Gus. It was your sleeping brain, fabricating the illusion of Gus, dreaming. Dreams aren’t real. Face it, Gus is gone, never to return. You might have beautiful memories of him, you might have beautiful dreams, but they’re not real.

Personally, I don’t know which of these beliefs is true. Maybe neither is; maybe there’s another possibility. The fact is, nobody really knows anything about what happens to the “personality” or “soul” of the person (or the dog) after death. Sure, lots of people claim to know. But they don’t. They want to believe so much that they make themselves believe, and then they surround themselves with like-minded individuals who reinforce their beliefs. But just because a group of people believes something doesn’t make it true. There are plenty of Republicans who think Trump won the election in a landslide. We call that kind of thinking “delusional,” and we shake our heads in sorrow, because there’s no way to prove to those people that they’re living in LaLaLand.

It occurred to me how interesting it is that my vision of a “resurrected” Gus happened on Christmas Day. The holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus is, of course, not Christmas but Easter. Still, was my dream a Christmas “gift”? It made me very happy, even in my sleep. If it was a gift, who gave it to me? If I gave it to myself—if I conjured it—why did I wait for three weeks?

I used to believe in things like the survival of the soul and reincarnation when I was younger. I’d taken a lot of drugs, naturally, and these beliefs, based on vague notions of Eastern philosophies, like Hinduism and Buddhism, sprinkled with American Transcendentalism and Theosophy, were very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. I experienced things that were inexplicable, other than by soul-survival and spiritual communication with the dead. With the coming of the 1980s and the Reagan years, however, that side of myself shrank, replaced by an intensely objective, scientific-materialistic outlook that remains to this day.

But the older I get, the more I know how much I don’t know. Life is so weird that anything is possible. I’m re-reading Susskind’s book on the megaverse, or what he calls The Landscape: a perhaps infinite series of universes so vast that anything you can think of exists somewhere. That’s what quantum theory has brought us to, with all its uncertainty and chaos. Little wonder “people of faith,” as they’re called, cling to their simple credos. Religion explains everything while science merely raises more questions than it can answer. It can be discomfiting for a person who desires firm explanations and cannot tolerate uncertainty.

And yet, I choose to stick with science. There’s no reason why the universe should be explicable, especially through a simplistic Biblical account. A person may wish for life to be explained by simple processes, like the existence of a God who created everything and rules over the universe and hears our prayers. But that person, in principle, has no right to expect his explanation is correct. He certainly has no right to expect others to believe in the same thing, and he is seriously out of order if he expects the laws of his country to be based on his religious beliefs. That’s always been my gripe with extremist Christians in America. I see no difference between them and the Shia regime in Iran, except that the Iranian mullahs have complete power while the Christian preachers here do not. At least, not yet.

Well, so much for Christmas morning musing. My dream about Gus was like a billiard ball that caused my thoughts to ricochet all over the place. It’s going to be a quiet day here in the Heimoff household. Rain is expected by this afternoon, and I don’t expect to see anyone or talk with anyone all day. Is that sad on Christmas day? If it is, then there are a lot of sad people in America. I wish anyone who reads this Merry Christmas!


How did you get into wine?

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I was up over the weekend in beautiful Seattle for my grand-nephew, Joey’s, bar mitzvah, a large and decidedly inter-ethnic affair: in my extended family we have, not only Jews, but Filipinos, Central Americans, African-Americans, Syrians and folks from just about every country in Europe—a veritable United Nations of humanity.

Not everyone knows everybody else; in fact, we were joking that the only person who knew everyone was our hostess, the mother of the bar mitzvah boy, who did the invites; but I think even for her, some of the names were familiar only from paper. So, as you might expect, there were lots and lots of introductions, and the usual ice-breaking topics like “Where are you from?” and “How are you related to Joey?”

There were doctors, and engineers, and builders, and gas station owners, and administrative types of all kinds, and so forth (one in-law I met breeds hunting dogs in Kansas). Usually, when you learn of most of these occupations, you might nod in acknowledgment and make a few politely perfunctory remarks (“Oh, a doctor? What kind?”) and then, having satisfied that most elementary form of getting-to-know-you, move onto the next topic. But wine writing (if that’s the proper description of what I do, and I’m not so sure it is) seems to elicit more curiosity than most other fields of endeavor. The common reaction is an arch of the eyebrows accompanied by a widening of the eyes, meant to convey an impression of surprise, curiosity and, perhaps, a bit of incredulity that anyone, especially in this rather ordinary family, could possibly make a living from something so exotic.

People understand, I suppose, that America has a rather large wine industry, and that somebody has got to work in it; but judging from the reaction I get, most of them have never actually met such an individual (which always makes me feel rather like an alien). There may follow questions like “Whom do you work for?” or “Exactly what is it that you do?” and of course I’m perfectly happy to go into as much or as little detail as seems warranted under the circumstances (I can usually tell if my stories start to bore people). But the biggest question of all—the one everybody asks, as invariably as the sun rises in the east—is: “How did you get into wine?”

I have my standard answer for that, too, which involves the tale of my cousin and me in the Safeway wine aisle, back in late 1978; but I won’t repeat that now. It’s actually odd for that particular question—“How did you get into wine?”—to arise so often. I mean, very few people ask, for example, “How did you get into insurance?” or whatever (although the trainer of hunting dogs told me he does get asked a lot about that, which I believe, because I also asked him). I think most people just don’t care all that much how most folks “got into” their jobs.

But wine seems obviously different. I have my theories as to why, but I confess they’re only that—conjectures—and I have no proof that I’m right. Wine conjures up in most people’s minds something romantic, mysterious, glamorous, and, as I said, exotic, but it’s also slightly risqué, perhaps even dissolute. It’s not just that it’s alcohol; it’s wine, not “just” beer or spirits. Although wine is in everybody’s life, even people who don’t drink (after all, we all pass the wine aisle in the supermarket, and the floor stacks, and we see Kathie Lee and Hoda getting pleasantly blitzed on morning T.V., and you can’t pick up a lifestyle magazine without something about wine), wine retains, for all its ubiquity, a tantalizingly “other” feeling that separates it from the “real” or workaday world. (Whether that’s good or not is another story.) Therefore, someone who works in the wine world shares that aura of otherworldliness.

I guess people think that folks like me spend our days drinking fabulous vintages in idyllic places, while barefoot servants come and go, speaking, not of Michaelangelo, but “More caviar? Lobster mousse? Champagne?,” as we engage in amusing chit-chat with glamorous, beautiful people. That’s sheer nonsense. (If you want to know the reality, send me, as Click and Clack say, a hundred dollar bill, and I’ll write the answer on the back.) But wine always has been as much about fantasy as about anything else; and if the fantasy ever disappears, so will much of the ambience surrounding wine.  I do not always disabuse people entirely of their misconceptions; neither do I entirely enlighten them.

Anyhow, it’s great to be home in Oakland. Back to work tomorrow: lots of interesting assignments. Gus is glad to be back in his own bed, and so am I.

SleepyGus


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