Ivan sat in bed, contemplating his options. A series of bad decisions had led him here. Apparently, Ivan realized, having big plans of getting work done on a Sunday night and actually getting work done on a Sunday night were two very different things. And now he had several options: stay up later and work on his device, stay up later and do work for his banking job, wake up early and do a combination of the two, or sleep now and sleep later and not get anything done. Ivan went with the last option, rationalizing to himself that he could get it all done the next day during work, as long as business was slow. And business was always slow.
Ivan worked at an independent bank. A real for-the-people operation. It prided itself on not giving out predatory loans and taking risks. The bank was not doing well. It has no name-recognition, and people would rather stuff their money right into fat cats’ pockets than trust a bank with no name-recognition. Who the hell had heard of a bank called Abernathy’s Treasure Chest? It was a clever name, a play on Thomas Abernathy, the famous 18th century English pirate who was rumored to have died trying to find a lost treasure chest. But who the hell had heard of Thomas Abernathy?
The next day, Ivan got no work done. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, it was that he couldn’t. Every time he faced his computer he wanted to throw up. Why was he wasting his time at a bank? I need to be working on my device, Ivan thought. With a sigh, he turned from his computer and pulled out the crossword puzzle he had been carrying around with him for the past few days. It was in that crossword puzzle that he saw it. He saw the answer to the “cute little side project” (as his coworkers liked to call it) that he had been working on for four years.
Ivan could not wait to get home. At work Greg Winters from accounting had ridiculed him for being excited about a science project. The 15 minute subway ride felt hours long. When he finally got to West 4th Street he shot out of the subway car and power walked to his apartment.
“Hiya, Ivan! How’s it going?” said Aaron, his door man.
“Another day another dollar, eh?”
“Hey listen, whaddya think of this new polish we’re using on the door? Look any shinier to you?”
“It’s glistening,” Ivan said and hurried past Aaron before he could ask any other questions.
He had done it. During a particularly dull day he had found the answer to a problem he had been working on for four years. He had spelled it out. Eight letters, going vertically down, starting with C.
Once inside his apartment Ivan sat at his desk and set to work. Chloride! All this time, how could he have not known. It was right in front of him. Chloride was the key. He got a beaker from the drawer and inserted in the tablespoon of chloride he had picked up from the lab after work. Ivan gingerly poured it into the opening in the device all too aware that if his hand was one millimeter too far to the left or if chloride was not the answer he would be set back years.
Yes! It was working! He had done it. The name Ivan Kominsky would go down in history. His family in Romania would be proud to know they had not saved all their money to send him to New York for nothing.
He picked up his device and placed it on his head, attaching the wires to his temples. He hummed and thought of the first person that came to his mind - his boss, Harold Marton. With any luck Ivan would soon be inside his boss’s dream.
White. It was all white. Every now and then there was a flash of dark blue, but maybe it from his eyelids when he blinked. White and hazy.
Ivan turned, it was coming from his right. No, his left. No, it was circling around him. Coming closer. From the white haze emerged Mr. Marton, running, in a nightgown. “Eeeeeee!” The sound was coming from Mr. Marton. Ivan stared at his boss’s mouth, only it was closed. Mr. Marton stopped in front of him. The sound stopped. It seemed the screeching had been coming from his feet. A thought popped into Ivan’s head, were the feet and the mouth so different? Ivan’s head hurt. He spoke, “Mr. Marton, I am going to be late to work tomorrow, and you will not notice.” Ivan realized the words seemed to be streaming from his elbows. Or perhaps it was his belly button. Mr. Marton tilted his head back and opened his mouth. “Eeeee!” said his feet.
Ivan woke up.
The next morning Ivan looked out the window of the subway car at the dark graffitied walls. How will Mr. Marton react to my lateness? If all had gone well last night he should have no problem with Ivan being late from now on. Ivan glanced at his watch. Five minutes. He was going to start with just being 5 minutes late.
Ivan now stood, straddling the gap between the elevator and the eighth floor. His palms were sweaty and he was sure large unsightly pit stains were on their way. If this hadn’t worked, he could be in serious trouble. Mr. Marton did not play around when it came to punctuality. I should never have done this, Ivan thought. What would Bubbe and Zadye think if they learned I just threw my job away for yet another science project?
Ivan thought back to when he was a little boy, always doing science experiments. His father encouraged them, but his mother never wanted him to be spending his time running tests on bugs. His Bubbe and Zadye always said to their daughter, “Oy, Chava! That son of yours is a schlub!” And after his mother asked them to stop calling her by her childhood name (She was Hannah now) she made him stop so Bubbe and Zayde wouldn’t complain to her anymore.
Only Ivan didn’t stop. When his family went to shul he would fake a stomachache and claim he couldn’t get out of bed. Once he was sure his family had left, he would leap out, get the treasure chest his Bubbe got him for his 4th birthday down from the back of the top shelf in his closet, open up his materials, and set to work.
I should have just gone to shul with them, Ivan now thought. I should have never gotten into science. I just want to be a banker for the rest of my life. He squeezed his eyes, and counted to 3. I take it back. I take it back. I don’t want to go down in history.
“Ivan, are you alright?”
Ivan opened his eyes and realized he must have looked rather silly standing there. His boss was looking at him.
“Yeah, just didn’t sleep very well last night,” Ivan mumbled. “I’m a little out of it.”
“That makes one of us!” said Mr. Marton, smiling. “I slept so deeply I woke up feeling excited to come to work! Imagine that! Now, I’m glad you’re on time because we have a lot to do today. Do you have those files I asked for?”
Ivan felt his insides flip over.
Sitting at his desk Ivan thought the situation over. He used the breathing and counting exercises the flight attendant on the plane from Bucharest to New York had taught him so he would stop hyperventilating and disturbing the other passengers.
1..2..3… Inhale. I just invented a way to enter people’s dreams… 3...2...1… Exhale. I could use this...1...2…3…Inhale. I could take over the world.... 3...2...1… Exhale. No, I won’t do that, I’ll use it to help people...1..2..3... Inhale. I should get a patent on this as soon as possible….3..2..1.. Exhale. No, I can’t tell anyone….1..2..3… Inhale. I have power dictator’s could only dream of...3..2..1… Exhale.
Ivan decided it was best to play it safe, not let anyone know about his breakthrough. Turning on his computer he went to his email. Huh. That’s odd, Ivan thought. An email from an anonymous sender? With no sender, subject line, nor signature, it said:
Come to 881 West Stanley Ave. 13th floor.
Tonight. Alone. 6 pm. Don’t be late.
Ivan plugged “881 W. Stanley Ave” into Google. It was the headquarters of McOranges, the huge Fortune 500 fast food company.
“Whatcha doin?” Ivan looked up to see Greg Winters from accounting hovering above his desk. Before Ivan could think of a response Greg had pushed him aside and was reading the email.
“Whoa man,” said Greg. “You gotta go.”
“It’s probably some practical joke, I have better things to do tonight,” said Ivan, thinking maybe he should enter Greg’s dreams next and tell him to stay out of his business.
“Whaddya think they mean by ‘we know.’ That’s a bit cryptic,” said Greg, scratching his leg with his foot.
Ivan wanted to take that foot and shove it somewhere. “The whole thing is cryptic,” he said trying not to roll his eyes. “It’s probably one of the guys from marketing.”
“Sounds like an adventure to me, you’re gonna miss out! Anyway, what else is more important than a little adventure? It’s not like you got a girl to take out tonight or anything,” laughed Greg.
“You don’t know that.”
“Yeah, right.” Greg poked Ivan’s side, laughed tauntingly, and walked away.
It was probably him, thought Ivan.
Ivan took the bus home. He didn’t know what made him do it. Or rather he told himself he didn’t know what made him do it. He took the bus home because the bus route went past McOranges headquarters. I’m not going to do it. It would be stupid. It’s probably a practical joke. Ivan realized he had been mumbling this to himself when the woman in the pantsuit next to him gave him a dirty look and changed her seat.
The note had said, “We know.” What could that mean? They couldn’t possibly know about his dream device, could they?
“West Stanley Avenue,” called out the bus driver. Ivan didn’t move a muscle. Then he did. He found himself pulling the cord for the stop, getting out, and walking up to 881. This is stupid, he thought. And yet, his feet still carried him to the front door and his hand opened it. Maybe it had been Greg’s comment about having a girl, maybe it had been that Ivan had been waiting for a moment like this since he had to hide his science experiments from his family, but something made him walk inside.
He took the elevator to the 13th floor and stepped out. Looking around he found himself to be in a fancy office waiting room. The walls were gray, except one which was all windows. It was filled with natural sunlight and there were plush chairs that looked more comfortable than some beds. A receptionist was sitting at a desk looking down. Ivan walked up to her. She had a fashionable blazer and straight shoulder length hair, a jet black color that couldn’t have been natural. Before he could say anything she looked up and said, “Follow me please.” Ivan was ready to leave right then and there, but this woman had a magnetic force, he found himself following her to a conference room. He walked in and she left. The door closed behind him.
The room was similar to the waiting room, with comfortable looking chairs, only in this room three of the walls were entirely windows, giving a stunning view of the city. There were four men in business suits sitting at one end of the table. “Have a seat,” said the man second to the left with the bald spot on his head. What could he do? Ivan obeyed. The chairs were not as comfortable as they looked.
“Ivan Kominsky,” said the same man. He seemed to be in charge. “Let me introduce myself. I am Mr. Jobes, these are my associates. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kominsky.”
“A pleasure,” said Ivan.
Mr. Jobes grinned in a way that made him look like a lion about to kill a gazelle. “Let’s cut to the chase. We know about your dream device. Don’t worry about how, we are here to propose a deal. We want to bring you in on McOranges new advertising campaign.”
Ivan swallowed. “Why me?” He asked. Why not just buy it from me?”
“We all know that you built the device so only your DNA would activate it. We’d like to offer you a large commission for every 5 people, I mean customers, you tell about the potential of our fast food restaurants.”
Ivan understood what they meant. They wanted him to go into people’s dreams and tell them to buy McOranges food.
Mr. Jobes grinned again, wrote something on a slip of paper, and pushed it across the table to Ivan. Ivan looked at the paper and thought of his family in Romania. There were so many more Jews in New York, they would be much happier here. He could bring them here! They could live together in the land of the free. Ivan looked up and nodded.
Back at his apartment that night, Ivan put on the headgear for the dream device. He thought of his door man, Aaron, who had given him a friendly smile when he came in. Five people per commission. His first commission would be enough to bring his whole family to New York. He thought of Aaron, and plugged into his dream.
This time Ivan found himself in a green space that did not change when he blinked. There was less haze, more awareness. Aaron was sitting in a rocking chair a few yards in front of Ivan, smiling at him. Ivan walked up to him, “You want to buy McOranges food. Eating at McOranges is the best thing you can do.” Aaron just smiled and rocked.
Ivan woke up.
Ivan was waiting by baggage claim. He would see his family for the first time in five years in a few minutes. Ivan paced back and forth. They hadn’t exactly left things off at a good spot when he left Romania for New York. His family had saved up for years to be able to send one person to New York, and it was between Ivan and his younger brother Jacov. Jacov applied to Abernathy’s Treasure Chest; Ivan applied to Bank of Commerce. Jacov got in; Ivan did not. The day before Jacov was supposed to leave for New York, Ivan had cut the wire on his brothers bike that operated the break. Jacov crashed, snapped his leg, and got a concussion. Ivan went to New York in his place. Now he wondered if Jacov would snap his leg when he saw him.
“Ivan!” a voice cried to his left. “Ivan! Over here!” It was his father, waving his arms at him.
Ivan needn’t have worried. His whole family surrounded him, pulling him into a big hug. Bubbe was fussing over his hair “Oy, what is this? You need a hair cut! I’ll do it for you when we get home.”
“Leave the boy alone, he’s a grown man, he can do what he wants with his hair,” said Zayde.
“A grown man would know when he needs a haircut! This is not the haircut of a grown man!” replied Bubbe.
His mother and sister Rachel cried and kissed him and his brother hugged him. “It’s good to see you,” said Jacov smiling.
Back at his apartment sitting around the table his mother turned to him, “So nu? What’s this job you have that made so much money you were able to bring us here all at once?”
“Yes! We’ve all been dying to know,” chimed Rachel.
Ivan hesitated. Then he told them about working on his dream device, finding chloride in the crossword puzzle, entering Mr. Marton’s dream, the note, and his deal with McOranges.
His family was silent for a long time. Finally his mother spoke, “So are you going to brainwash us next?”
“What? No, of course not.”
“But you would do it to these innocent people?” said Zayde.
“It’s not like I’m doing something bad to them, I’m just advertising.”
“In their dreams! Without their consent!” cried Rachel.
“I can’t believe you guys are reacting like this. I’m not brainwashing them. I’m making money! I brought you guys here!”
“This is just like Ceaușescu!” said Bubbe. “It’s a dictatorship! McOranges is the dictator! This is not good for the Jews!”
“Bubbe, listen to yourself,” said Ivan. “This is America, we are free here! It’s different from Romania, and definitely different from communism, this is a democracy. I know you and Zayde lived through Ceaușescu, but this is America, you don’t need to worry about that here. It’s called a free market economy and I’m just working for the free market. Jacov, you know what I mean.”
Jacov, who had been silent the whole time wouldn’t meet Ivan’s eyes.
Ivan walked to work now. Since everyone he knew had begun eating McOranges, people had gained a lot of weight. Ivan didn’t want that to happen to him so he walked to work. Not that he actually ate McOranges, he would never. He saw what it did to people. After he entered their dreams and told them to they would eat the stuff for every meal. They would gorge themselves. Then they would throw up and gorge themselves again. It was becoming the most important thing to people.
That day, Ivan was on his way to quit his job at Abernathy’s Treasure Chest. He was making so much money doing dream advertising for McOranges that there was no reason for him to work at a bank anymore. Mr. Marton would be upset, he knew, but that couldn’t be helped.
He walked into the office and knocked on Mr. Marton’s door. “Come in,” came the voice from inside. Mr. Marton was sitting behind his desk. Ivan flashed back to his meeting with McOranges. A nagging thought popped up You’re not doing the right thing. Ivan pushed the thought out of his mind. “Mr. Marton,” he began. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“There’s something I need to tell you first, Ivan,” Mr. Marton interrupted. “This is a bit uncomfortable for me. I was in McOranges the other day, buying a gift card for my daughter. I had them email me the receipt. When they did, they accidently emailed me something else as well. It was an exchange between someone by the name of Mr. Jobes and one of his coworkers.”
Ivan swallowed hard.
“Ivan, I know everything,” continued Mr. Marton. “I know about the dream device. In fact, I know more than you do. And there’s something I need to tell you, something you don’t know. McOranges has been using you, and not just for your labor. This is hard for me to say.” Mr. Marton glanced out the window, and then continued, “It seems they have been pulling the strings your whole life. Since you were born, they were making sure your life went they way it did. They were the reason you were able to skip shul. They were the reason your family was lucky enough to be able to save up money to send you to New York. They are the reason why ‘chloride’ appeared in that crossword puzzle.”
Ivan was speechless. He tried to open his mouth but no words came out. He wondered if maybe his feet were screeching.
“You see, Ivan. McOranges knew how to build the dream device long ago. They just needed your DNA to activate it. So they made sure you invented the dream device, and gave you help along the way. They needed you to think you were acting on your own free will.
“What do I do?” said Ivan.
Ivan ran. Only he didn’t run away. He ran past sick people, throwing up people. He rain past their vomit. He ran past the lines outside McOranges restaurants. He ran to 881 W. Stanley Avenue. He got to the 13th floor and walked past the fashionable receptionist to the room where he first got into this mess. He opened the door.
His brother, Jacov, was sitting at the table where Ivan had sat a few months earlier. Across from Jacov were the four men.
“Ivan,” started Mr. Jobes.
Ivan slowly raised his index finger, pointing at him.
“I see you have done some research. Ivan please, let’s not start this. We can all benefit from your new knowledge. You see, we have developed a way to let another person operate the dream device. We get to continue the operation and you get to feel good about yourself for quitting”
“How?” Ivan asked.
“A person similar in DNA.”
Ivan looked at his brother.