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Dancing at a funeral

Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Monday I post a new column.

I once had a dream that I was at a funeral, and my job was to encourage people to dance. The bereaved walked up to me and said, “Well, everyone’s had a good look at him by now. I suppose it’s time to get the dance floor going.”

It was my responsibility to usher people into the section of the church with the lighted floor and disco ball, but this wasn’t an easy task. First, people didn’t feel like dancing. Second, the bereaved was standing near the coffin sobbing, so people didn’t really believe me when I said it was his suggestion.

I eventually got everyone into the room, but it ended up much like a junior high school snowflake dance, where everyone stands to the side and constantly checks their watch to see how much longer they have to put up with this crap. I tried to help by demonstrating “the sprinkler” and various other “moves” I’d seen on reruns of Soul Train, but it just made things more awkward.

I can’t quite remember when I woke up, but it was somewhere around the time the bereaved overcame his grief and angrily demanded to know why no one was dancing. He then accused me of hating dead people. After a dream that strange, you’d think my first thought upon waking would have been something like, “That was weird.” But my actual first thought was, “No one danced because that funeral was a sausage party.”

Which was true.

Most dreams don’t have any particular purpose behind them, but this one was pretty clear to me. It was the horrible combination of two of my biggest phobias: My crippling fear of dancing, and my hatred of hanging around people who are depressed or crying. Funerals, nursing homes, Dashboard Confessional concerts: I avoid these places like David Duchovny avoids scripts without naked chicks in them.

The last time I went dancing was probably two years ago. After the annual Christmas party at work, a few girls from the office dragged me to a dance club. This is an activity I would only agree to if I were so plastered that I didn’t understand the suggestion in the first place. “Club? I love club sandwiches! Let’s go!”

Halfway through said dancing, the liquor began to wear off and I realized I had spent the past few hours on the dance floor shuffling back and forth in the same spot like an idiot. I also realized, from the looks of the people around me, that being drunk and clear of inhibitions clearly didn’t improve the quality of my dancing/shuffling at all. It just made me temporarily unaware that I was a stiff white guy from Minnesota.

I often have nightmares about dancing. I also have lots of nightmares about cats eating me after I’m dead – a strange childhood phobia I got from that scene in “Batman Returns” where cats chew on Michelle Pfeiffer’s fingers as she lies unconscious on the ground – so it’s clear that our subconscious is more interested in torturing us than helping us. I have no interest in confronting my fear of dancing, any more than I have interest in purposely passing out near a pack of feral cats to prove to myself that they won’t eat my face.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not afraid of cats. I think they’re cute, and I enjoy petting them. I just refuse to own one because I think it will eat me as I sleep. Don’t blame me; blame Tim Burton. It’s his fault.

I’ve long wished someone would come up with a way to block out dreams so I won’t remember them. In high school, I took a psychology class where we were supposed to analyze our dreams. Many of us said we hardly ever remembered our dreams, so the teacher taught us an interesting trick. She said every night before falling asleep, we should repeat the phrase “I will remember my dreams” 20 times out loud, and it would teach our subconscious to remember what we dreamt. Believe it or not, it usually worked.

I’ve tried doing the opposite, repeating “I won’t remember my dreams” 20 times each night, but that’s a lot of work just to avoid dreaming about cats, or dancing, or being eaten by cats while dancing. Also, I don’t want to block out those really cool dreams I sometimes have where Zoe Saldana and I are married and both own race cars.

I don’t even like race cars. What the hell, subconscious. Even my good dreams are stupid.

Regardless, I’m interested to see where my fear of dancing brings me next. Perhaps a dream where I have cancer and the only cure is for me to dance the disease out? Or a dream where my dancing solves crimes? Maybe a dream where Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski cripples my legs with a baseball bat, but is unable to finish me off because he’s eaten alive by cats.

I don’t care. All I know is any dream that ends with me not being able to dance anymore would quickly become my favorite dream of all-time.

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