A man like me is not destined for power. The world has survival instincts, just like an animal, and it knows better than to let that happen. But all men desire power to some extent, and I am no exception. Since it can't (and shouldn't) happen in reality, there is only one avenue left for people like me to execute their twisted power fantasies: dreams. Dreams are the perfect consequence-free outlet for man's darker nature, with the only problem being the inability to control their path. So I'm going to review five products that promise you mastery over your dreams, and then use them all in a totally impartial and professional field test. I do this solely in the pursuit of using the subconscious to free mankind from our own cloistering morality, and also because my PlayStation broke and I'm looking for a lazier version of video games. First up, the products:
The first stage in mastering your dreams is getting to them. But the one thing all dream manipulation tools seem to have in common is that they insist you not be blackout drunk on old mouthwash if you want to use them. That seems like a Catch-22, doesn't it? How the hell are you supposed to sleep without warm and snugly blackouts? What reason is there to get up in the morning, if not to sort through the impending regrets that have queued up behind you? Well, apparently there are these things called "white noise machines" that propose to "relax," or "trick" your brain into believing it's awash in arms of the ol' Spearmint Mistress.
The best one I've found is "Lightning Bug," an app for Android that promises full customization of the experience. And it delivers: You control the frequency, volume, number and order of all the settings. Amongst such tamer options as rainstorms, waves, crickets and traffic, you can find basically any other conceivable sound loop: sirens, jungle noises, trains -- one of the default selections is the throbbing gong from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You know, just in case the only way you can relax is with the promise of imminent anal probes from beyond the stars.
The second stage to controlling your dreams is the ability to access them, even on the go. What use is your undisputed iron-fisted rule over the Kingdom of Gnomes if you can only access it at night, in your own bed? Well, that may no longer be the case! Odds are you've fallen asleep on public transportation once or twice. And who can blame you? The soft jostling motion of the subway, the flickering lights, the murmur of the crowd, the gentle, reassuring wafts of urine and newsprint - it's like mother's own embrace. But what if the train is too crowded to get comfortable, or you just want to rest while maintaining the smallest amount of body contact between yourself and the speeding filth-tube? Why, friend, the Vertical Bed's got your back! Literally!
It's a collapsible sleep system that fits in a briefcase, complete with opaque sunglasses, noise-canceling headphones, self-supporting umbrella, and cushioned leg and back braces that hook into metal grating to hold you upright while you sleep! That's right: Finally you can nap and mock cerebral palsy ...simultaneously! Why, just throw a trench coat over your back to hide those supports, and you can go completely incognito. You could die on that train, right there in public, and nobody would notice you for days! And when they do -- holy shit, they'll never be done with therapy!
Now, to the meat of the issue: Tools that purportedly help you control your dreams. This is the NovaDreamer, glowingly described as "probably the most reputable" by respected professors of dreamology (or whatever). The mask works by monitoring your eye movements when you enter REM sleep -- the dreaming stage -- and then flashing a series of lights against your closed eyelids, thus signaling the sleeper that dream-time has commenced.
The way you register those lights in your dream may vary: A vast field of mystical hovering orbs might suddenly appear, or maybe your "dreamscape just lights up inexplicably," or it could even be something as pedestrian "as an ambulance with flashing red lights." Basically, if something around you is flashing, that means you're dreaming; so it's totally cool to put your dick on that ice sculpture now. Doubts are for the weak of heart, friend, and we all know that swan is asking for it with that sultry, slutty neck and those wings spread out for everybody to see.
So we've seen how "science" promises to master your dreams, but what do third world magical scams have to say about the matter? Their answer is the Haunted Dream Ring, a special enchanted piece of jewelry that you can buy on eBay... for about thirty dollars. Dang, you know the bottom's really dropped out of the supernatural market when magic costs less than a tank of gas.
The seller promises that these rings were all "FULL MOON cast for years" by her magical grandmother, and you can check the page for the rest of that back-story. It is a thrilling tale that, by my limited understanding of half-English, seems to revolve around a dotcom worker abandoning her life to heed the call of her dead grandmother, who wants her to hunt for magical jewelry in a cold European mountain range while being stalked by ghostly wolves that may or may not be a metaphor for a mysterious disease. The important part: These rings promise complete mastery over your dreams by simply touching them. And that's why mystical bullshit always wins, science: It's just so much less work.
If there's one thing years of watching terrible movies (and this head injury that prevents me distinguishing fantasy and reality) have taught me, it's that you can't start manipulating dreams without some bastard coming at you for it. I plan to come prepared for the Dream Assassins, so I'm taking a cue from two prisoners in Germany, who MacGyvered up a functional shotgun out of their beds and other bedroom items. If it is possible to take a physical weapon into the dreamtime, I figure it's probably a shotgun built out of bedposts. And, hey, worst-case scenario: It doesn't work, and you're still the undisputed boss of bedtime.
The Field Test:
I got some odd looks when I stumbled onto my local public transport system and began deploying the vertical bed from its Hitman-esque briefcase. Luckily, when I slipped the NovaDreamer mask over my eyes, those looks stopped - because I stopped seeing them, and that's how the world works. I reached my left hand down to unmute my phone, already playing the white noise app. My own custom mix consists of "jungle sounds," "fire trucks," "trains," and "thunder" - because I live an adventurous life, and I consider a flaming train hurtling through the dark and stormy jungles of Belize to be relaxing, by comparison. Some people can't fall asleep without a fan on; I can't drift off until I hear monkeys burning. To each their own.
"No, there's - there's not even the implication that they're burning. I've got work in the morning, god damn it!"
My right hand thumbed the Haunted Dream Ring (one of the things that really sold me on it was the assurance that I did "not have to wear it on the finger," so let's just say that I wasn't, and leave it at that). Before I gave myself up fully to the unconscious, I patted the reassuring bulk of my bedpost-shotgun, which I have named Nocturnal Emission. I smiled, already imagining the gnomes fleeing before the ominous, flashing steel of her barrels. "Omar comin'!" one would yell, before slamming shut his mushroom door and barring the windows. Does he actually think that's going to stop me? That's downright insulting. I make his home the first stop, just to show the other gnomes I mean business. And show them I do. I mean, I really make an example out of this fuckin' guy and his sad little gnome fami-
A sudden stop jarred me awake and out of my conquest of the cowardly Gnomish. Dammit, it was working! I normally only dream about myself and B-List celebrities committing minor crimes or fleeing disasters, and this was a real, honest-to-god power trip being abused inside my head. It was bliss! I slipped the NovaDreamer off and examined it, but found it inert. Although the literature does say that finding an unresponsive mask is sometimes a sign that you're dreaming, I was not confident enough in the wares of the little Chinese man who sells me my back-alley electronics to take that sign as gospel.
I still remember the uPhone. Burn me once, Backalley Wong, burn me once ...
The train appeared to be stopped, the overhead lights dimmed to their emergency levels. Nervous muttering bubbled up from my fellow passengers. I unhooked the Vertical Bed from the grate beneath me, and hobbled, clanking, down the aisle to try and get a better look. A dull orange glow ebbed from the tunnel ahead, and I could see the flash of distant sirens. A fire? Wasn't that in one of my Lightning Bug settings? It could just be coincidence, but wait -- I was on a train, and there were fire-trucks? That's two of my selections together. But then where were the jungle sounds? Sure, there was a dude in the aisle seat with tribal earrings and two monkeys perched on his shoulders -- but this is Portland; that's just Doug.
He's a barista. Fucking everybody is a barista.
"What up, Doug?" I nodded to his monkeys, Id and Ego. Id returned the gesture, but Ego pretended he didn't see me. Smug little bastard.
The lights flickered. Lights were a sign, I remembered -- a sign from the mask, which was unresponsive. Another sign! I took stock of the train, looking for anything out of the ordinary, just to be absolutely certain that I was truly in the dreamworld before I started exerting my sexual will over literally every object in sight.
There was nothing unusual. I mean, sure, there was a guy with most of a lizard face, two militant lesbians on a tandem bike shaped like a dragon, and a dog in a business suit, but again: Portland.
Then I saw him. Bill Paxton.
Looking exactly how he always does.
Bill Paxton was on the train. I was trapped in a stalled-out, possibly burning commuter car, and there was a B-list celebrity caught in the disaster with me. That was it: The last sign. I hobbled confidently up to him, and nudged him in the ribs.
"I fuckin' know you, fuckslick?" His eyes were wild, the leading edge of panic just beginning to intersect with him.
"Ha! See, now I know this isn't real. You don't talk like that. I made that up in a column: You swear because it's a side-effect of your genius swing."
"No, I'm just a motherfucker," Paxton answered, stepping back a little bit.
"What's wrong? The fire? Don't stress it! I don't want to get lewd here, but let's just say I've got a little something in my pants that controls the world. I won't spell it out."
He looked, if anything, more apprehensive.
"It's a haunted dream cock-ring," I assured him.
Let's just all pretend I ordered a really big size.
He turned to flee, but only ran headlong into the man behind him. The stranger was unsettled as well; sweat collected on his ruddy face like condensation.
"Watch where you're going, buddy!"
Bill Paxton shrunk away timidly from the man, but I rattled up between them, and placed a hand on Pax's flinching shoulder.
"Don't worry, Bill! I'm telling you, I got this shit. For real: I'll light this guy on fire later, if it makes you feel any better."
"W-what?" The stranger jumped at the word "fire," it was obviously heavy on his mind.
"Nothing personal," I held my hand up before him, "up top."
"I'm not gonna high five you! You just threatened to burn me!"
"Wow, hey, for a guy who supposedly doesn't wanna be on fire you sure are stingy with the high fives."
His palm flashed up and impacted mine, but I could tell there was no joy in it. I shook my head at him sadly, and he bolted for the rear of the train.
"What do you want from me, assblaster?" Paxton's voice shook when he spoke. Though the smoke had yet to enter the car, you could see it billowing just beyond the windows, like a roiling storm. You could almost hear thunder.
"I don't know, man," I answered him, "the last time I had one of these dreams it was me and Scott Baio, and we had superpowerful legs that we couldn't control. Eventually we had to chop them off each other to stop the jumping. I'm not sure what we're supposed to do here."
Obviously, I went first.
"Shit, I've got to get off this train," he said, mostly to himself.
"Hey yeah, you're probably right! Good job, Pax!" I held up my hand for him, and his own answered soundly and immediately, with the ease of a long-held muscle memory. There was enthusiasm in that five, I could tell, chased by just a touch of mirth. Class act, that Paxton.
I searchingly slapped about my legs, reached inside my coat, and laid one hand on Nocturnal Emission. The other rubbed my dream ring, just in case.
"I'll get us outta here, K-Pax," I swung the barrel up out of the trench coat, and a bolt of fear ran through the passengers. They surged away, clearing a bubble around us.
I blew out the nearest window. In that contained space, I could feel the shockwave as a physical force. And then the smoke was pouring into the car. People were screaming, but it sounded small and diminished through the ringing in my ears. Such tiny voices, like little gnomes. Ha! We've come full circle. I pushed back through the crowd, grabbed the stranger who'd hassled Paxton, and dragged him forward with me, toward the shattered window.
Bill Paxton was shouting monosyllabic protests: "Stop! Man! Fuck! Why?"
"Chill, homey. I'm just making an example out of this little guy, otherwise the other gnomes will know I'm weak and I'll never fully control this kingdom."
"Yes, hail me! Hail me, and together we shall have the world!"
The man kicked a few times as I shoved him through the jagged opening and into the black churning miasma beyond, but it was way less struggle than you'd have thought.
"See? The fight's going out of them already!"
Most of the passengers had given in to smoke inhalation when the rescuers finally pried open the doors. I tried to get off a shot at them, but my gun jammed. For a weapon built out of bed frames and match-heads, Nocturnal Emission sure didn't have much staying power. I opted for that old standard, the Hasty Dropkick, but the Vertical Bed's buttcushion and metal leg-braces limited my run-up, and I ended up doing a strange little hopping dance, then just kind of toppling over at the firemen's feet.
All in all, I would recommend every single one of these products whole-heartedly. It was easily the best dream I have ever had. Hell, it was so convincing that I still kind of smell smoke, and if I didn't know better, I'd swear my bedroom looks remarkably like a burn ward.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook or you could attack him for his blatant size-ist agenda with all of your tiny, adorable little sense of injustice.