by Robin Wyatt Dunn
Being the account of one gentleman’s adventures in the Big Sleep
One should begin with introductions. I have none, as I prefer to remain anonymous. These pages are recommendations, should you ever come to Big Sleep. It is a hell of a city, in more ways than one. I imagine old time traveling Baedeker fans moving through these tempestuous avenues . . .
Baedeker, you know, was the most popular travelguide in the 19th Century. It was not a Lonely Planet back then. It was so very close by. Everyone a new neighbor. Or so I imagine.
Those Baedeker guides existed in a special time in Europe, when the growing middle class and the lowering of trade and travel restrictions between nations generated a huge burst in travel and novelty seekers of all kinds. That those innocent people should have brought their prejudices and hostilities with them, we should not judge too harshly. We are not free from that sin ourselves.
It was only a travel guide, after all. Who you bring with you is ultimately up to you.
The Koreans were early arrivals here, although how they came is something of a mystery. There are no direct gates from Asia to the Big Sleep. If they know, they’re not telling. Perhaps, like so many, they were simply stowaways and men and women of ill luck who found themselves here and have worked on surviving.
Of particular interest is the juggling tribe, so called, although “cult” would probably be closer to the truth. They will let anyone in the door, for a hefty fee. The problem is leaving again.
Their main “juggling palace” is just off of the north road, under an old pizza stand. Blue curtains shroud the door, and there is usually a guard standing there. At first I found it remarkable that they could pay a guard since they generate almost no income (I learned later when examining their books), but then I realized he is their slave. They have many, and juggling is their main trade. They will juggle children, for a fee. I did not see any juggling of children, but it is certainly a strange atmosphere, like a strip club sans strippers, just jugglers in their red, blue and white sequins, tossing bowling pins into the air, under the faintest of music.
Koreatown is the quietest district in the Big Sleep, and I find it very restful.
It’s a wonderful thing, the sea, isn’t it? A special kind of feeling. I imagine, with most seasides, the feeling is generated by the tide itself, the lull and the fade of it, which in turn can be said to be a kind of love affair with Earth’s moon, and gravity, swaying about us.
Here in the Big Sleep there is no moon, so the sea is tideless. However, it does move. Creeping tendrils of water you will find anywhere along it, shimmering in the darkness. I have walked along Seaside on many a moonless night. If you see some of the Vietnamese fishermen, ask them for a fish and they will give it to you. Some of them will even cook it for you on the sand for a few coins. They are very friendly people. The Vietnamese Clan that came to reside here are communists, I’m told, though perhaps they are recovering communists, as they seem to have no aversion to money.
One of the old fishers I asked why he had come to the Big Sleep and he would not answer, of course, but he did tell me this:
“I saw many men out in this sea. They swim deep. You go far out enough, you’ll go in the water too, and swim with them.”
I learned later he refers to the mermen myth so prevalent in the Big Sleep, although many consider it unlucky to speak of them. If you see a business with a webbed foot outside of it, you can ask within for a meal and they will give it you without charge if you claim to be a merman. To impress a lady friend of mine I did just that one afternoon and regretted it instantly, not because it did not impress the lady, which it did, and not because the food was bad, it was delicious, but because the proprietors made such a solemn affair of it I had to laugh, and they did not appreciate my laughter. I understood that I had interfered with their religion, and resolved not to do it again.
One of my more racist acquaintances once asked me why there were not more Anglo people here in the city. I pointed out that Anglos, on Earth, are a decided minority population, and that we were as well represented here as anywhere else. This did not, however, satisfy him, and I believe he was referring more to the Asian character of the Big Sleep than to anything else. I say “Asian character” but please consider that only a stand in for something I don’t honestly know how to describe. I have been to Japan and China and Korea and Vietnam and this city has none of their character. Nor, truth be told, is it an American character either, which many describe simply as “fusion” character. I would call the Big Sleep a city of opposites. Like a house on the edge of a cliff that is sure it will not fall off. And I believe they are right, they will not fall off, but I don’t understand where their surety comes from.
Worth noting for first time visitors is to be aware of what some commentators have called an oppressive government. I tend to agree with those who say all governments are ultimately equal in oppressiveness, but the Big Sleep does have its particular and onerous habits when it comes to managing its residents’ affairs.
They are residents, you see, and not citizens, because in fact the Big Sleep is not really a city, and it is certainly not a nation. People live here and it is their right to do it, and as in any jurisdiction a form of taxation is expected. Here taxes are not extracted in the form of money, but labor.
I have been on many work details, and I came to enjoy them immensely. If you are on a short visit, I recommend volunteering for aqueduct duty, as it is by far the easiest and most enjoyable work. The officials will be impressed if you volunteer early, and this will easily leave you the rest of your time to spend as you please.
The aqueducts of Big Sleep carry electricity from out of the city center to its neighbors. The electricity is generated by the people themselves; as more have come to live here, Big Sleep began to generate an excess of it, and so are in a trade arrangement of modest surplus with Call Line and Flatland to the north and south.
One of my most memorable work details was in the Hills, an arid region covered in acacia (wear thick shirts!) and inhabited by a kind of dingo, who are very friendly, but have been known to bite when excited, so I recommend feeding them by throwing food some distance away, refraining from touching them.
For every photo you may have seen of these beasts kissing their masters there is another one of some poor bastard with his face eaten off.
The work detail I was on was singing.
Singing to the spirits. Some of the best work I’ve ever done.
Africans too live here in appreciable numbers, and their drums can be heard at quite a distance at night. I ventured into Mongo my second week in Big Sleep, and it was there I met some of the nicest people I’ve met here.
Unlike the rest of Big Sleep, Mongo is sentimental about their homeland, Earth, and Africa, and they do maintain relations with that world. Special phones have been set up at intersections which are activated when signals are strongest, and the people of Mongo elect representatives to stand by these phones to talk to Earth when the channels are open.
Some claim the communication channels are not at all like you might think—not diplomatic dialogue, exchange of news and such—but rather a sort of inverse divine intervention, that the people’s speaking here in Big Sleep cause all manner of phenomena on Earth, earthquakes, or tidal waves, even death.
I don’t believe any of this but the phone operators themselves are remarkable, some of the most brightly colored people you will see here, in honor of their African traditions. They have great pride in their jobs and stand like sentinels against all the uncertainties of life here.
Some Notes About Business
The word is old fashioned but permit me to advise against “carpetbagging” here in Big Sleep. It is true that nearly all sectors of the economy here are depressed, chiefly because of the people themselves, who usually arrive here after having suffered some form of trauma. For this reason, there is no kind of equivalent to the “American Dream” or some such, and behavior that would be praised as “go-getter” in many nations of Earth will here be treated with derision.
There is some merit to regarding Big Sleep as a colony: we are on the edges of things here, and like colonies in Earth history, there were indigenous inhabitants here who in some cases we humans have displaced. But we do not send back resources to Earth or some other master, and we are also not some kind of “moral outpost” like the pilgrims who insist that a new way of life must be made viable here.
Really the easiest way to understand the Big Sleep is through its name itself.
That being said, as I’ve already noted elsewhere, trade does happen here and if you do believe you have some product the people here would benefit from, please do bring it, but don’t expect to make a profit. You will be repaid in other ways.
I remember one young man, he was absolutely obsessed with clock radios, and he had devised one such clock radio that was able to receive FM radio signals from Earth in the evenings here in Big Sleep. The people, of course, found it interesting, but they did not respond well to his aggressive sales tactics. Much of his stock was later burned in the street.
Other writers more gifted than I have compared Big Sleep to a kind of religious colony, but again, I must insist that such terms fail to capture the spirit of this place. We are not converting anyone, and there are as many belief systems here as in any major metropolis.
I myself am content with regarding Big Sleep as a complete mystery, much as sleep itself.
Much more than business, marriage is a reason to travel to Big Sleep, one much more likely to meet you with some success, provided you know a few things in advance.
Of course, we have had, like any so-called “exotic” locale, to deal with any number of perverts and predators who do show up on occasion, convinced that our people are somehow the ideal victims for their perversion. Yet another testament to the character of the people of this place is that nearly all of such people have been kindly sent packing, with no more needing to be said about them.
This section is one of the two reasons I am writing this travelogue anonymously. Not because I believe it might shock people back on Earth, or indeed, here in Big Sleep, I don’t care about that. Still, it may be there is still some danger associated with disclosing the details of this section and so I must be cautious.
What, after all, is marriage?
Yes, it is a mystery like sleep, but unlike sleep, it seems to be the kind of mystery which we can’t just leave alone and accept. It is a mystery that, by its nature, we have to continue poking at. (Ho ho ho.) Truly I mean the phrase in all honesty. Even people who forswear marriage entirely as a barbaric patriarchal custom (and I don’t disagree, not at all!) have to admit that the essential custom of mating, and choosing one’s mates, companions of one’s bed and co-inheritors of the future of the races of life, remains indisputably the central interest of all living things.
So yes, do come here to fall in love, do come to Big Sleep to find a wife, or husband, or other partner or partners. Many have.
But a note of caution: marriage here is understood differently than on Earth.
In disclosing these parts of my city-that-is-not-a-city, I will by necessity violate the taboos, and I am all right with that. Writers must do this regularly. If I pretended no fear at all, that would be a lie. All superstition comes from some plane of reality, after all.
Big Sleep takes sleep as its central interest. And this carries over into the city-that-is-not-quite-a-city’s understanding of marriage.
Where, after all, do we go when we sleep? We don’t know. Big Sleep doesn’t know either. But we have observed phenomena here which inform our understanding of both sleep and marriage.
I will endeavor to describe.
What, after all, are we doing when we sleep? Resting, of course. As we know, it is a kind of preparation for death, in some fashion, letting these cells and capillaries and organs take a break, and meditate on the void.
So, it might be fair to call Big Sleep’s understanding of marriage as a kind of “restfulness,” even though that is not the right word either. Don’t take it to imply that we are all sleepwalkers or somnolents: we have as many passionate fights and arguments and custody disputes and divorces and remarriages and adulteries as any human city. No, our restfulness is, again for lack of a better word, a kind of religious feeling, one born of our unique place here on the edges, and moderated by our trade relationships with our neighbors to the north and south.
I’m being vague and must apologize again. I will simply describe the central custom of marriage here so you can understand it.
After marriage, of whatever kind, the newlyweds are obliged to march into the hills where they are visited by the spirits. All are visited by them. And all are driven mad by them. Do not be afraid, for if you are a lucky newlywed here in Big Sleep, you are as blessed as those on Earth, and the holiness and love of your union is only increased by our customs of sharing this experience with the other powers who inhabit this region.
All the madness is temporary. Usually lasting between 24 hours and a week. However it is only fair to note that there are cases of permanent schizoid breaks, who have had to be hospitalized, or returned to Earth, much to the grief of the families involved.
But isn’t marriage, always and anyway, a risk?
I myself will never leave here; I have sworn it. So let me describe instead what I find most charming about the leavetaking ceremonies I have been blessed to participate in here in Big Sleep.
I mentioned the singing; I am a reasonable second tenor and I have sung in a number of leavetaking delegations.
It is difficult to get to Big Sleep, as you know (please see the Appendix for possible travel routes) and so we know that our visitors may never return. Much as New Orleans makes a point of welcoming new arrivals with their wonderful music, we make a point of saying goodbye.
I have seen one virgin dance in particular, for a young bachelor who was lucky enough to take his bride with him back to Earth, that stays in my memory vividly to this day.
What irony that the male mind should be so torn between the beauties of women, and this is part of the delight in that leavetaking, to see his face covered in tears by the displays of the beautiful young women, women he would never see again, to share in the happiness of him and his bride but also our happiness in the strangeness of leavetaking itself: that we are glad for you to be gone, and that we know we are losing something forever.
There have been other leavetakings of equal splendor, and not all of them large affairs, sometimes just a phonecall, or a note, and sometimes we have arranged small art projects at the train station for our guests. It’s the thought that counts, after all.
It is one of the strangenesses of writing travel guides that we, their authors, somewhat regret the act: if we are successful, the place we love will be changed by new visitors. So it is a strange kind of document, more history, really, than advice: here is the place that was. Please visit, so that it may never be again.
But I know that is the old colonial in me, after all, seeking resolution or restraint from the demands of time, and it is more sane and sensible to remember that yes, you can’t step in the same river twice, but the damned river is still there, and others might like to see it too if only they could be informed on where to buy a sandwich in the vicinity.
I welcome you in advance to our sandwich shops and bubbles of life, here on the edge of reality.
In my exile, it is good to know that I am useful.
13th March 2016 C.E.
Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in California, in Los Angeles, his own Big Sleep.
(Painting: “Catalina Island” by Granville Redmond.)