The Seal Hotel
Forty-five years ago, my laboratory's research concerned a process in which bacterial genes change from being heterozygous to being homozygous. The process, called "mitotic crossing over," works something like classic crossing-over in higher status organisms like fruit flies, molds, and the royal families of Europe. The conversion from heterozygous to homozygous is no doubt viewed with deep suspicion in Vladimir Putin's Russia, but it is altogether normal and commonplace. In any case, this rather obscure genetic phenomenon entered my dreams the other night.
I was on a large Japanese airplane, flying (very slowly) to Japan. A stewardess came through and explained, in broken English, that when we arrived, passengers would not be permitted to deplane until we got all our genes made properly homozygous. She directed me to go down to the airplane laboratory to have my genes homozygosed. "What time should I go down to the lab?" I asked her. "3:30," she said. "And what time will the operation be finished," I inquired further. "At 2:30," she replied.
With that, I gave up on getting any sensible information from the stewardess, and set out for the laboratory myself. The airplane was huge, the size of a cruise ship, and I wandered through endless decks and corridors to find the right place. Once I found it, I observed a technician handling a gigantic syringe and needle, the sort of thing typically used to give injections to horses. Or to elephants. So that is how they make us homozygous, I said to myself, backing out the door as quietly as possible.
Our dreams, psychoanalysts assure us, are coded messages from the subconscious. But what message was my subconscious sending me in the Japanese airplane dream? Let's see: according to Freud, water, houses, and anything made of wood are all subconscious symbols for the feminine principle; and a hat or a coat or any appliance symbolizes the male genitalia. But what does the the word "homozygous" stand for in Freudian code? And why was the giant airplane in my dream Japanese?
Wait a minute, I may understand the latter. Many years ago, I sold my old Swedish station wagon, and began a love affair with Japanese cars. I could not resist them because they are connected with the long-lost Japanese branch of my family, east European Jews who had emigrated from the shtetl directly to the district in Tokyo known as the Ginzberg. One uncle went into the Japanese film industry and developed the science fiction monster known as Megilla. Another started selling hardware from a pushcart, then invented the rotary engine of the Matzo RX-7 sportscar, and eventually manufactured the Mitsubishi Galant, which bears our family name. After driving one of his Galants for years, I moved up to a Nissan Altima, and then down to a Nissan Versa. This adorable little car, which I drive today, figured in still another recent dream, one even more mysterious than the airborne Japanese homozygosis laboratory.
A big crowd of people and I are packed into my little Nissan Versa, like clowns in a circus car. We are driving on a rough gravel road, along the edge of the sea at the base of steep cliffs. The road gets rougher and rougher, especially after I turn the wheel over to my Swedish academic colleague Charles C. (who hasn't driven a car in forty years). After a while, he actually turns the car out into the sea: the rocky road sinks gradually below sea level, and, before long we are skimming along the water like a boat.
Finally, we arrive at our destination, an old sea-side hotel. It is stately but rather decrepit, and it is staffed entirely by seals. An old, grey, bewhiskered seal is at the reception desk, and seals lurch about the place carrying bags as porters, drinks as waiters. Parallel to this journey (or perhaps afterward at the seal hotel), I am attending a public lecture. The subject is the chemical treatment of mental illness, for which the speaker advises the use of nitroglycerine. "Why do they use nitroglycerine?" I say to nobody in particular. "If your head goes a little funny," one of the seal waiters immediately replies, "just blow it up."This seems a perfectly appropriate message for my subconscious to send to me, although I am a little uncertain whether what it wants is a shot of nitroglycerine or a little vacation by the sea. The sea, of course, is a classic Freudian symbol for mother (if not for mine then perhaps for Freud's). The seals presumably stand for the rest of the family and the old hotel is a symbol for birth. On this psychoanalytic scheme, the Nissan Versa represents my (or possibly Freud's) repressed desire to sleep with mother, kill father, and get a score below par 80 in miniature golf.
So, it all makes perfect Freudian sense now although I will have to delve a little further into The Interpretation of Dreams to work out a few remaining loose ends. Such as who all those other people were in my Nissan Versa.
Perhaps new clues will be forthcoming tonight.--- Jon Gallant