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RECURRING DREAMS 

Since childhood I’ve been haunted by three recurring dreams: the clown, the flying dream, and the shadow man.

THE CLOWN

I know, I know.  

Coulrophobia is is such a cliché.  

But this one’s a bonafide nightmare.  

I’m a small child in a white void, lying on my back, pretending to be asleep. With my forearm draped across semi-closed eyes, I sneak a peek at the only other occupant of this ghostly expanse: a faux-jovial, bald circus clown with a floppy ruffled collar and a cone-shaped hat.

The colors of his clothes and make-up are washed out and faded, almost grey. He reminds me a little of Krinkles, the creepy Post Cereal huckster from Saturday morning cartoons. 

Krinkles, the creepy Post Cereal clown

The clown stands nearby but faces away, cradling a bright blue, plush velvet sofa pillow in his arms. He seems oblivious to my presence as he pantomimes what appears to be a fake television commercial. Silently mouthing his sales pitch into an imaginary camera, the clown gesticulates dramatically toward the pillow as if it’s a wonderful new product.

Suddenly the clown stops smiling and becomes very still. His face loses all expression as he slowly turns in my direction. I sense that he now knows I’m here, awake and watching.

We lock eyes. A terrifying chill runs up my spine. At that precise moment, I awaken, my heart racing. 

I can't rationally explain the terror of this nightmare. What's so scary about seeing and being seen? But to this day, nothing frightens me so much as making eye contact with a clown. 

I endured these nightmares nearly every evening until my teen years when, inexplicably, they ceased. Decades later my mother Lela would mention having taken me, as a toddler, to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, but I have no memory of that experience. I do remember, however, the framed portrait of a grinning clown that she painted in oils and hung on the wall of my bedroom. 

I never much cared for that picture, especially after the nightmares began. 

THE FLYING DREAM

Curiously, my favorite recurring dream -- the flying dream -- centers around the same blue pillow. 

In this one I walk over to the sofa, pick up the pillow and take it outside.

Somehow I understand that this pillow is a talisman, imbued with magical powers.

I clutch the pillow to my chest and begin kicking my legs furiously, like a dog paddling in a pool. Gradually my body begins to levitate a few inches above the ground.

My neighbors watch in amazement. The higher I rise, the easier flying becomes, and the less I need to kick. Eventually I am able to float effortlessly in the sky, still clinging to the precious pillow as I sail above the clouds, over the town and all the tiny buildings and people below.  
 

Why does the same blue pillow appear in both the clown nightmare and the wonderful flying dream?
 

I'm so deliriously happy that I feel my heart will burst from pure joy. I fly for miles, free and fearless, knowing that I’ll remain perfectly safe as long as I don’t let go of the magic pillow. I only awaken when I realize that I'm dreaming.

Although this wondrous nocturnal fantasy began around the same time as the awful clown dream, it returned more frequently and continued far longer, well into my adult years. I’ve flown over the Great Smoky Mountains, the Sonoran Desert and the Golden Gate Bridge. But was I dreaming or astral projecting?  

It’s been a few years since my last night flight, and I miss it.

I swear, if I ever see that pillow again, awake or dreaming, I’m just gonna grab it and give it a go.  

THE SHADOW MAN

I hesitate to call this mysterious figure either dream nor nightmare. He always seem to visit during the hypnagogic twilight state between sleep and wakefulness. 

It’s always the same story: I rouse in the wee hours with the uncanny sense of being watched. I open my eyes and peer around the room into the darkness. 

I'm not alone. There, in the corner, is the Shadow Man, a dark figure in silhouette with no discernible features except for a wide, flat-brimmed hat. He faces me, yet he has no face.  
 

Is the Shadow Man watching me, or watching over me?
 

I’ve seen him many times in my own bedroom, while visiting friends, even in hotels on the road. He follows me in my travels, appearing only at night. He never moves or utters a word. If I speak to him, he doesn’t answer. If I rub my eyes or turn on the light, he vanishes.  

Apparently my experience is not unique. The internet is overflowing with accounts of shadow people sightings all over the world. This is cold comfort for me, however, since it answers none of my questions.

Who is the Shadow Man? Is he real or an hallucination? What does he want? Does he intend harm or protection? Is he watching me, or watching over me? I may never know. 

His most recent visitation was five years ago, when my dog Scout was only a few months old. I awoke to find the puppy shivering at the foot of my bed, staring into the corner, her eyes like saucers. Even before I looked, I knew he was there.

“I’ll be damned,” I thought. “She sees him, too.”

LULLABY 

the smell of the rain 
the sound of the train 
my dog by the fire 
home again
 

As a boy in rural Tennessee, Billy Matheny slept in an attic bedroom, the slanted ceiling only a few inches above his bed. The Matheny house had a tin roof that sang when it rained, and the sound of raindrops would serenade young Billy to sleep. So Billy treasured the rain. And when he grew up, he passed that treasure along to his own son like a beloved family heirloom. 

The rainstorms in Georgia were magnificent.  

At the first thunderclap, Daddy Bill would throw open all the doors and windows of our little apartment, so we could enjoy the breeze and wait for the rain. If I close my eyes, I can still see him, puffing his pipe in that wingback chair, his legs crossed casually, unlaced hushpuppies hanging off the ends of his narrow naked feet.  

Sometimes there would be soft music playing on the turntable -- James Taylor perhaps, or Miles Davis -- but usually we would just sit and listen to the rain as it came down out of the clouds, into the pines, and onto the red clay just outside our open door.  

I remember hearing the peaceful, percussive patter of raindrops on the kudzu, accompanied by the low rumble of distant thunder. The aroma of Daddy Bill’s cherry blend tobacco. The fresh scent of damp earth. A sensory symphony of sounds and smells. 

As the storm grew more intense, Daddy Bill would cheer the crescendo, appreciating nature’s performance.

Then he’d look over at me with twinkly eyes and say, “Welp, it’s really coming down out there, Little Bub. Let’s go for a walk.” 

And just like that we would venture out into the storm, splashing along the sidewalk together. No umbrellas. No slickers or galoshes. Just the two of us, man and boy, in our street clothes, soaking wet and laughing. The neighbors must have thought we were out of our minds.

Dad and I moved from Georgia to Arizona in the summer of 1977, just in time for monsoon season.

The Arizona heat was exactly as advertised -- damn near unbearable -- but those dramatic summer storms were something else. They cleansed the land, revitalized flora and fauna, and replenished our spirits. 

We knew that rain-walking would be a bad idea in the Sonoran Desert around Tucson. The topography is flat, vegetation is sparse and low to the ground, and lightning routinely strikes anything vertical.

No matter. We were thrilled to appreciate the monsoons from the safety of our screened-in patio -- an exhilarating, fully immersive experience.

The rain would pour down all at once in a heavy torrent, punctuated by brilliant flashes of crackling electricity that filled the sky, turning the saguaro cacti into stark silhouettes. The river beds filled up and overflowed their banks, flooding the roadways. Sheets of rainwater pelted our windows relentlessly. Peals of thunder rattled the adobe walls.

It was glorious. 
 

Over the years, no matter where I happened to live or travel, the rain has remained a loyal friend.

At Interlochen I would sit on the dock and watch raindrops dance on the surface of Green Lake. In San Francisco, where I lived for 20 years, it wasn't uncommon for the entire month of January to be wet. Even in Boston’s Back Bay, where winter weather vexed my college years, thunder showers were a rare gift. I would sit at the Trident Bookstore Cafe, writing letters, drinking coffee and daydreaming as stormy skies benevolently baptized the red bricks of Newbury Street. 

Rainy weather has been my welcome companion on the road, throughout the Americas, and around the world. Whether gentle or tumultuous, her arrival always feels like a personal message of support from the universe, assuring me that everything is going to be just fine.

Here in Washington State, where I now live with my girlfriend Sassy and our dog Scout, I have fully embraced my birthright as an avowed pluviophile! We receive about 73 inches of rainfall annually -- nearly twice the national average -- yet folks here seldom carry an umbrella. In the Pacific Northwest, rain is simply a fact of life. 

Now when I go storm-strolling with Scout, the neighbors don’t even bat an eye. They just wave to us as we splash along happily from puddle to puddle.  

Last month, we lost my father to Parkinson’s Disease. I miss him terribly, but I also feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything he was and will remain, in memory. Among his many life lessons, Daddy Bill taught me to love the rain.  

Shortly before he died, I received a surprise early birthday gift from Sass: my very own tin Rain Roof, professionally installed, affixed to the awning over my bedroom window.

Such a thoughtful gift. What a tribute! What a solace!

No one knows what the future may bring, but at least for tonight, all will be well.

Tonight the rain will come, and she will sing us a lullaby.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Sassy's Spicy Hoppin' John! 

Sassy's Spicy HOPPIN' JOHN is almost ready!

Here at the Maricopa Cabana, Hoppin' John is one of the ways we celebrate the beginning of a New Year. Traditionally served with cornbread and greens (collard greens, mustard greens, chard, kale or cabbage), the main ingredients in this delicious winter dish are black-eyed peas, rice, chopped onion, country bacon (ham hock or fatback), green peppers and spices. Sassy always adds a little Arizona Gunslinger for an extra kick. Enjoy Hoppin' John on New Year's Day for good luck and prosperity throughout the year.

Be sure to eat your fill: the peas represent coins, the greens are cash, and the cornbread, gold!

FOREVER FREE 

 

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln issued on January 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. The document declares that all those held as slaves within any state, or part of a state, in rebellion "shall be then, thenceforward and forever free."

SASSY'S HOPPIN JOHN For New Year's Day 



Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 50 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1/3 pound bacon
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound dried black-eyed peas, about 2 cups
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 heaping teaspoon Cajun seasoning
Salt
2 cups long-grain rice
Scallions or green onions for garnish

METHOD

1 Cut bacon into small pieces and cook it slowly in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Once the bacon is crispy, increase the heat to medium-high and add the celery, onion, and green pepper and sauté until they begin to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, stir well and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

2 Add the black-eyed peas, bay leaf, thyme and Cajun seasoning and cover with 4 cups of water. Cook for 30 minutes to an hour, or longer if needed, until the peas are tender (not mushy).

3 While the black-eyed peas are cooking, cook the rice separately according to package instructions.

4 When the peas are tender, strain out the remaining cooking water. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Taste the peas for salt and add more if needed. 

Serve the dish either by placing a ladle-full of black-eyed peas over steamed rice, or by mixing the two together in a large bowl. Garnish with chopped green onions. Serve with collard greens, kale, beet or turnip greens.

THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER 



On this day in 1940, one of my favorite authors, Carson McCullers (from Columbus, Georgia) published her first novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

The Heart is often cited as one of the great masterworks of the Southern Gothic genre for its exploration of spiritually isolated outcasts in the American South. McCullers' primary message, however, is a universal one. As expressed by Tennessee Williams, "Carson's major theme is the huge importance and nearly insoluble problems of human love."

The misfits who populate McCullers' novels (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe) are so compellingly real that I often think about them as if they are actual people I know personally today, rather than fictional characters I became acquainted with over 30 years ago.

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading McCullers, I recommend her wholeheartedly.

DIY MARDI GRAS KING CAKE 



INGREDIENTS
  • 1 can of cinnamon rolls, with icing
  • 3/4 cup of sugar, separated into 3 parts of 1/4 each food coloring
  • plastic baby (available at most party stores)

DIRECTIONS:

  • Separate the cinnamon rolls and roll them out by hand so that they look like hot dogs. Then attached them by pinching the ends together  into one long roll and shape into an oval by closing the ends together with another pinch. Place on a cookie sheet. Cook as directed.
  • While it is cooking, use food coloring to dye sugar. Make one part purple using blue and red, one part green, and one part gold using yellow.
  • When the cake is finished cooking, ice the top with the white icing.  Then sprinkle the different colors of sugars alternating as you go around the oval. Place the baby inside the cake after it cools. Enjoy!!

CORN PONE 



Whooo, I've been craving CORN PONE all day!

For my yankee friends, corn pone is one of the most beloved comfort foods in all of southern cuisine: a thick cornbread that's been cooked over a fire in a cast iron skillet.

There are many ways to enjoy corn pone. Some folks like to bake it in the oven and serve it with a bowl of beans or hearty stew. Others like to mash up warm chunks of the stuff into a cold glass of buttermilk, then devour the entire mixture, dessert-style, with a long spoon.

As for me, I like corn pone best when it's been fried in butter until the edges are as brown and crunchy as hushpuppies.

Readers of Mark Twain (not to mention friends of my Dad) are no doubt already familiar with "corn pone humor," the southern gentleman's ready penchant for pulling your leg, making silly, off-color jokes and telling the tallest and most ridiculous of tales.

As you might have guessed, people can be corn pones, too. Southerners affectionately tease unsophisticated country folks for acting "like a corn pone."

More often than not, the designation is intended not as an insult, but as a term of endearment for the best kind of friends — the ones back home who never put on airs, like you for who you are, and get along easily with just about anybody.

CONGRATULATIONS, MISS NELLE ! 




I first read Harper Lee's southern gothic story To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 12, at the Brookstone School in Columbus, Georgia.

I was too young to fully appreciate the novel's themes, but its compelling characters made a deep and lasting impression, ultimately becoming part of my personal mythology.

I've always aspired to be like ATTICUS FINCH:  a beloved, respected, tireless crusader and a morally upright community leader.

Atticus is educated, honest and articulate, yet free of racial and class prejudice. He does not hold himself to be superior to his neighbors. In fact, he hides his extraordinary skills (for example, he's an expert marksman) until they're necessary. Atticus is the intersection of supreme intellectual confidence and absolute social humility.

As it turns out, I'm no Atticus Finch.

I'm more like BOO RADLEY: a pale, reclusive, misunderstood shut-in.

I keep to myself, emerging for the occasional creative, caring or heroic act. These go, for the most part, unseen, unsung and unpunished.

And I'm more like the MOCKINGBIRD: I don't do much but make music for folks to enjoy...(and that's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird).

Congratulations, Ms. Lee, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of your masterpiece -- and thank you.

THE SOUTHERN STROLL ~ DM on the South 



Despite deeply entrenched racial and class tensions, the south is a beautiful, soulful place. People smile at you and look you in the eye. Neighbors know one another.

Growing up in the south has given me a deep appreciation of human warmth and kindness; of southern hospitality. If you come to my show, I'm the host and you're my guest. It's my job to make you feel welcome and comfortable so we can enjoy each other's company.

The south also gave me a love of the blues and spirituals, and ingrained in me a relaxed pace -- the southern stroll. I imagine you can hear these influences in my music.

~Dmitri Matheny