Last night I had a dream that I attended a dinner party and late serial killer/cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer was there as one of the guests. He was wearing a sort of regular outfit and looked/acted more or less fairly nondescript…you know, except for the fact that he was late serial killer/cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer.
Nobody made a fuss over this or really acknowledged it at all. Did they even know it was him? I silently scrutinized the rest of the guests as I made small talk, the delicious smell of roasting meat wafting gently in the air. Finally, Jeff (as he likes to be to be referred-to; “Jeffrey” is what his dad calls him), perhaps recognizing my tense attitude, came up to me and explained with an affable, somewhat embarrassed expression:
“Yes…I’m that guy—Jeffrey Dahmer. The guy who ‘ate people.’ You probably know me from TV.”
And so now he was making small talk with me, and I was caught between feeling really uncomfortable and sort of getting sucked in at just how normal he seemed…it was a lot to take in. “I’m talking to the Jeffrey Dahmer,” I thought to myself in wonder, “that guy from TV!”
As we made our way to the table for supper, he motioned to his face; specifically his eyes.
“Contacts,” he said. “I ditched the glasses some time ago. People know me mostly with the glasses; those terrible huge frames that took up half my face. It was all the fashion in like…the early 1980s!” He laughed. “Anyway, that’s probably why you had trouble recognizing me right away. It’s the glasses. They throw people.”
We were then all seated around this long table that was covered with a flimsy Thanksgiving-themed paper decoration that didn’t lie on the surface quite flat. In contrast, the dishes were really substantial and heavy, with well-made silverware. I was thinking to myself, “you’d think they’d just invest in a linen tablecloth.” And then I thought to myself, “hey, I’m having dinner with Jeffrey Dahmer!”
Jeffrey smiled at me as the hostess came out with a large covered polished silver serving tray, like one you might have seen in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
“I know what you’re thinking,” he offered, as if actually reading my thoughts, “you’re thinking: that’s the guy who ate people.” He cast his gaze downward penitently. “I get it. Don’t feel awkward about it. It’s a part of my past I’m really trying to live down.” He looked back up to me with those piercing blue spectacle-less eyes. “I feel really bad about that whole thing, I really do. If I could go back in time and change things, I would.”
As if responding to the incredible pressure of the giant metal serving tray being placed upon the center of the table, splitting its flimsy Thanksgiving-themed covering, the scene suddenly switched to a Japanese restaurant; nothing too fancy, but sort of a place you might find amongst the head shops and souvenir stands in the bohemian area of any major city.
And I was sitting across from Jeffrey Dahmer.
“Zagat gave this place a good review,” he explained, about to reach across the two-person tabletop to hold my hand but sort of rethinking the motion and casually retreating. “They have this dish here…” He started to blush and laughed behind the back of his hand. “They’re famous for this certain dish…I don’t know if I can say it…I’m trying not to be gross…”
“No, it won’t be gross,” I insisted with an affable smile on my face, mentally flipping though a grainy stack of crime-scene Polaroids easily acquired on the Internet. “What is it? What do they serve?”
Jeffrey kept laughing behind his hand, totally red in the face, but tried to compose himself. He cleared his throat loudly.
“They’re supposed to have…some sort of bull’s ‘you-know-what’ here.” He made a cupped gesture with his right hand as if weighing something. “As a sort of tempura.”
“Wow,” I said, as a young Asian waitress in a black-and-white plaid buttoned shirt with a chunky red plastic floral necklace placed two square white plates under us. “Didn’t you use to make like signet rings with testicles or something?” Now I was getting a bit cheeky; the massive straining elephant in the middle of this room was fairly insistent on it.
I mean, what was he going to do to me? In the middle of a Japanese restaurant in the bohemian section of any large city?
To my surprise, he was neither insulted or amused by my comment; but, rather, took it completely seriously, without emotion either way.
He lifted a finger in correction. He had huge hands; not particularly muscular or strong, but just really long, as if his fingers had an extra bone or two.
“No, you’re thinking of Ed Gein. He did stuff like that.” The waitress placed a bundle of utensils bound within a white paper napkin on our plates. “My methodology was more…ritual based.” Jeffrey carefully ripped off the crimson paper band that was secured around the napkin and slid the knife and fork out. He shook his head with this sort of “whatta ya gonna do?” look and rolled his eyes. “I guess I had my own cosmology or something.”
“I read you were pretty obsessed with a movie…Exorcist III?”
His face brightened up at the name of the film, as if I had suddenly hit upon a topic which held great fondness for him and regarding which he had much to say. Sort of like an eight-year-old boy with his dinosaurs.
“Have you seen it?”
“Uh…I saw part of it. On cable a while ago. To be honest, I was kind of bored with it.”
“Oh no,” he replied with a mock-concerned look on his face. The paper napkin was now tucked into the neck of his blue denim shirt. “You didn’t see the whole thing? You missed some of the best scenes!”
“Yeah…I know the first one is really acclaimed, but the second was just a total waste of my time.”
“Oh, but the third one was the best of the series!” He then stopped and thought about something for a second. “There was a fourth one, though, right?”
The waitress came back with an oblong white serving dish covered in what looked like some sort of sauce-covered barbecue.
“There were two, actually.” The smell of the meat was strong and not unpleasant…these big jutting pieces of bone wrapped in succulent strips. Best of all: no tempura animal testicles in sight. “Paul Schrader—he wrote Taxi Driver, did a bunch of really great stuff in the 1970s—had made the first one, Exorcist: The Beginning. But the studio was unhappy with it, thought it was too ‘cerebral.’ So they had director Renny Harlin massively retool it as more of a gory mainstream horror movie.”
I made a hesitant move with my fork to take one of the appetizers, then looked up at my companion to gauge if that was OK. I didn’t want to seem like a pig. He was cool and made a “help yourself” motion with his hands.
“The studio then ended up releasing both versions on DVD,” I continued, “which I saw.”
“Which did you like better?”
“Schrader’s, of course,” I answered, spearing one of the meat thingamabobs with my fork and dragging it to my plate. “It’s a real shame they had to fuck with it so much. It really disheartened Schrader, too; the whole process. I mean, obviously.”
Jeffrey nodded and smiled, sticking one of the appetizers with the end of his knife.
“You’re a funny person, you know that?”
“What do you mean?”
“You watch both ‘Exorcist 4’s,’ but skip over number three.”
“Well, I didn’t skip over ‘3’ entirely. I saw part of it.”
“But that’s almost worse than never seeing it at all…” He held the bone wrapped with meat down with his fork and stripped a little piece off with his knife. “You’ve got one over than me, though…I can’t watch the fourth one here at all.”
As he said that last line, my eyes started to roam over the restaurant like a swimmer’s limbs ranging across rapidly fluctuating patterns in the water; quickly, hungrily scanning my environment, noting as many fleeting details as I could. Then I turned to him with a tight grin, not wishing to alarm.
“Jeff, may I ask you a sort of personal question? I don’t mean to freak you out, or anything.”
“Sure. I think we’ve both been pretty honest, here. Shoot.”
“Am I…am I in the land of the dead right now?”
“You mean like limbo or something?”
“Yeah. I think I’m dreaming right now, is what it is. But not like a normal ‘fuck my life’ dream full of anxieties, or like a sex dream, or like an idealized childhood memories type of dream. Know what I mean?”
He drank from a very tall, narrow glass of water—almost like from a test tube—and cleared his throat. He then sort of slumped back in his chair, his face written with regret; head downward and resting into his cleft chin.
“I’m just really lonely here,” he said to some some spot on the table, or perhaps past the table and on the floor. “I thought things could be normal, for once.” He pulled the paper napkin off his shirt collar with his unusually long hand and bunched it into a ball.
Then I woke up.