THIS DREAM WAS AN ODD ONE:
I was in Atlantic City, at Caesars, late at night. I knew it was either the second or third leg of the Triple Crown earlier that day, which I hadn't imagined would result in a huge crowd, but it had. Even in the early morning, the casino and front desk were seething with well-dressed couples and groups.
It actually looked more like the sort of crowd that shows up for a big boxing match at the MGM Grand in Vegas: expensive suits on the men and even pricier but far skimpier outfits on the women; happy clusters of drunk LA gamblers weaving along, laughing at some in-joke; or VIPs trailing entourages or following burly private security goons. I'd no idea the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes could generate such a turnout at an AC casino. They do have race books, but they're nowhere near as plush as the full-scale sportsbooks on the Vegas Strip. My guess was that — as with Funny Cide or Smarty Jones — one horse had crushed the first two races and had been poised to win the whole damn thing. And judging from the happy crowd, he had sealed the deal.
I would've been at Caesars for the poker, not the ponies, but I got the feeling that I hadn't played yet. I must've headed down to AC on a hunch, based on the potential for a massive influx of fish due to the race. I'd brought my usual backpack of gear: a couple of books, gum, toothbrush and paste, contact-lens drops, some healthful snacks, journal and pens, spare potables, and a fresh T-shirt. (These trips tend to be daylong affairs.) I was heading toward the front desk to ask, perhaps vainly, if they had any rooms for the night . . . if not there, then at a sister Harrah's property.
I asked a female clerk that very question, sliding my Harrah's card across the desk. She frowned in concentration and skepticism, saying, "I don't know, this weekend. . . " while she typed. I watched people cross the marble lobby floor (which the real Caesars AC may or may not have; I don't recall) toward a hundred different destinatons, until I heard the clerk say, "Okay, I found you a room, you're all set!" She returned my Harrah's card on top of a printed register sheet, along with a pen.
Somehow, my Harrah's account had been linked, in the manner of Amazon's 1-Click option, to a credit card, and I was booked in before I had the chance to decide whether I wanted it or not. What the hell, I figured, it'll just be tougher to get a place to sleep later. I signed the form and accepted a door card. It was then that I recalled that I hadn't packed a new set of contacts or, uncharacteristically, my glasses. I figured I would have to make do by rehydrating with eye drops.
Unlike a lot of dreams in which I am in a large, multilevel building, I didn't spend hours wandering through Caesars's endless bowels. I have indeed had such a casino-based no-escape dream, in 1995 shortly after my first-ever trip to a gambling palace, in which I hiked through just about every public and staff-only section of some AC casino before escaping to the Boardwalk. Then a midget stole my jackpot check after the one and only Felix screwed up countersigning it three times. This time, though I headed directly to my room, high up in the property judging by the view from the window.
The room still needed to be cleaned up from the last guest: unmade bed, brimming trashcans, glasses and bottles on the dresser, and so forth. I figured I could always call down to expedite the makeup process. First I wanted to see the view. In this version of Caesars, a wing of the hotel extended onto the pier that, in the real world, stretches out from the property over the beach and Atlantic, and now supports a New Jersey branch of the Vegas Forum Shops. My room faced north, and from this high room I had a commanding nighttime view of the hotel-casinos glittering up the Boardwalk.
I then began to notice that the hotel room fittings really didn't look like the stock, mass-purchased furniture you usually find in these places. The king-size bed was topped (or, in this case, strewn) with the sort of comforter and sheets you might have at home, not the usual bulletproof bed cover purchased 20 years ago and maybe laundered annually. The furniture was more unique in design, too.
When I walked past the bathroom into the rest of the suite, I easily could have been entering someone's den. It was definitely more like someone's home, rather than a hotel room. The furniture looked about 30 years old and seemed to have been chosen by someone with tastes formed considerably before that. The feeling that I was in the home of a person my parents' age was underscored by the collectibles arrayed on wooden racks on the northern wall. (Which, like all the walls in this room, was wood paneled, not wallpapered.) Scores of small glass and porcelain figurines, knickknacks, and souvenirs occupied the entire wall on dark-wood shelving, all free of dust.
It was while scrutinizing this startling, noncontextual collection that I woke up. For explaining that last twist, I got nothin'.