THE TRUE BUT OFTEN APOCRYPHAL STORY OF THE METAMORPHOSIS OF THOMAS VELLUM’S BEARD, PART II:4

II:4 How will this end? Will our narrative, based on our understanding of TV, merge at some point with the real TV? Are we running alongside of him in a parallel circumstance? Do we have a bird’s eye view of him or are we in his mind’s eye? In either case, who is
TV and who are we? So much in our lives depends on invention. So much of our invention depends on our grasp of the past and our luck and our willingness to take chances.
Like flies drawn to the smell of sugar, we’ve returned to the Fifth Avenue home of Raymond Smith. The front door opens directly onto a large expanse that is both foyer and living room. The foyer walls are a subtle grey. A proscenium-like entrance framed in a classical manner popular in the 20s, has large glass French doors folded back to the walls. Beyond, the living room is immaculate white with thirteen foot ceilings. At the far opposite wall, there is an array of large windows, bordered with heavy full-length curtains. On one side of the room there is a large empty fireplace with an elaborate marble mantle. Hanging above it is a painting by an up-and-coming young painter. On the other side of the room an enormous flat television screen set in the wall captures our attention with its rapid sequence of colorful images. In a corner of the room a grand piano. Elsewhere comfortable sofas and arm chairs draped in white linen as well as coffee tables and armoires in white with gold inlay, supporting antique lamps of Delft Origin. Doors lead off to other rooms.
The television is tuned to the latest developments. We are at war. But Raymond, on seeing his prize client wrapped in a wet madras jacket marching into his living room; followed by shivering Cass, dressed in spring attire and whose illness of years past had precipitated her husband’s sudden fury of creativity; followed by his newest client, Judy Crucible, in purple fur, her shoulders hunched, holding onto a Gorilla flecked with melting snow is, if not exactly ebullient, happy at all the possibilities presented here.
Raymond Well, this is quite an unexpected visit, Thom. I was expecting Judy, though not exactly under these circumstances. Where’s Adolf?
Judy Back at the venue.
Cass She walked out on him, so we gave her a lift.
Raymond Cass, you look wonderful. Exactly what we need on such a night. How’s Clio?
Cass Keeping out of trouble, I hope. And the girls?
Raymond Don’t get me started. But look at Thom! What have you done? You look as young as you did the day we first met. Are you using a special cream, vitamins? Are you having injections? Who’s your dermatologist? He’s a magician!
Cass Dr. V as in Vanity. Nice beard, Raymond.
Raymond Thank you. I needn’t tell you the source of inspiration. We’re calling it the Vellumesque.
Cass There’s no end to Thom’s usefulness.
TV Raymond, you must turn a few of your houses into shelters for the homeless. They’ve no where to go.
Raymond Yes, it’s dreadful.
Cass You can call them Vellumtels.
Raymond If there’s a way I can help the unfortunate. . .
Cass I’m sure there’s a tax advantage.
Raymond But you haven’t introduced me to your hairy friend.
TV Anthony Morales, we go way back..
Judy He’s a real Homo erectus. . .
Raymond Your name rings a bell.
Cass You have picked up a few tidbits along the way, haven’t you?
Judy The dog and I were always digging up old bones in the backyard. . .
Raymond You know, Thomas, you never cease to surprise me.
Judy which helped me understand the anatomy of mammals.
Cass I’m sure that’s come in handy.
Chorus Ladies and gentlemen, once again, your President.
Raymond Well, Anthony, your suit seems to have kept you warm, even if it’s faux.
Chorus Shhh, everyone!
President The liberation of Refugium is going along at unprecedented speed. The Secretary of War will have more to say as we forge ahead in our pursuit of economic freedom for all. There are those who say we have invaded an impoverished nation of homeless people because of the oil said to be found there. This is not so. I expect the ladies and gentlemen of the press to take responsibility for the information they disseminate since it is your duty to assure the public on matters of truth. It is the right of every American to trust and believe what they read and see on our news broadcasts without worrying that the masters of deception have slipped another lie into the main stream. It is the duty of the news corps to stand on the side of Liberty. Fortunately, there is oil and at this moment our economists are studying the feasibility of using this resource to help finance the rebuilding of Refugium as well as pay the costs for this unfortunate war brought upon us by the surge in homelessness. Rest assured, our economists are Ivy League men and women, among the highest in their class. Many graduated with honors.
Chorus Hurrah for the red, white and blue! It’s time we all put aside our differences, our partisan views. It’s time to join hands and fight the good war together.
Raymond Here, let me get you all something warm to wear. Cass you’re shivering.
Chorus I’d like to hold her hand.
Cass Think of it, a curfew!
Chorus Whose hand, Cass’s?
Judy How about a drink?

Cass Love one!
Chorus No, Judy’s. With those nails she doesn’t need utensils.
Raymond Help yourselves, near the kitchen, bar’s to the left. Cass, try this on.
Chorus She looks forbidding to me. Those nails, those daggers in her lower lip.
Cass No thanks.
Chorus She can cut my lip on her talons anytime. It looks as if she and Cass are trying to avoid each other. . . Do you think Judy’s been drinking. . ? No, she’s staggering because of those tiptoe heels. . . But it looks like she untied the laces at the hem of her vinyl dress. That must make it easier for her to walk. . . Yeah, but not much. . ! Cass can’t stop shaking with the cold. . . Her jacket’s too thin.
TV Raymond, what about this poster?
Chorus Everyone, the gorilla is lifting his hairy head off. . . Now we’ll discover the identity of the Barbie man. . . There it goes. . . Please, a round of applause for the big guy. His eyes are dark and his swarthy face wet with perspiration. . . Would you say he’s handsome. . ? Adorable.
Anthony That’s better.
Judy My, my, now I know why Blotter worries about you. You’re wife’s a lucky woman.
Chorus She’s reaching out with those formidable finger nails to stroke his head.
Anthony Take it. Now what about that drink?
Chorus Do you think they’d make a nice couple?
Judy Stolichnaya, neat.
Anthony Cass?
Judy I love your head of hair.
Cass Lemon and soda.
Chorus Yes, but he’s married, isn’t he?
Cass Who, Homo erectus ?
Chorus Yeah. . . but wouldn’t that be a new twist, you know, take the moral rectitude right out of this story. . ? If they were playing strip poker, wouldn’t she have to take her coat off next. . ? You’d like that, wouldn’t you. . ? Hey, I didn’t criticize your amorous glances at the Barbie man. . . Anyway she’d have to have the losing hand and she seems to have everything in hand.
Judy Homo erectus supposedly came before Homo sapiens. But I don’t think sapience caught up yet. Do you?
Cass Well I can agree with you there!
Chorus It would be the talk of the town. . . What’s Cass laughing about. . ? Who cares what people say? When Judy moves her head, her antennas wiggle, how sexy is that. . ! Sexy? It’s funny. But I have to hand it to her, being on her feet all this time in those heels. I can’t believe her stamina.
Judy So Raymond, what happened to my radio blitz?
Chorus She’s a natural comic. Look at the way she’s making eyes at Morales’s ape
head. . . Some might not think it so funny, the way she’s French kissing in its mouth. . . Get a grip, it’s Beauty and the Beast. You have to admit Raymond sure knows how to pick ‘em.
Raymond Judy, haven’t you heard, we’re at war.
Chorus When is she going to take that coat off?
TV About this poster.
Chorus You’re perverted. And I thought Blotter discovered her?
Raymond No greater publicity, Judy, than a war.
Chorus Yeah, he’s the one who actually discovered her. But I think it was the other way around, she saw he was of means and made the play.
TV Raymond, what about this poster!
Chorus Well, it’s a shame. This was to be Judy’s night. . . Yeah, but all TV cares about is his poster!
Anthony Ladies, your drinks.
Chorus Yeah! Sometimes these celebrities can’t see beyond their noses.
Judy Thanks.
Cass Thanks.
Chorus What do you mean, sometimes, more like all the time!
Raymond Cass, please take my coat, it hurts me to see you so cold.
Chorus If Cass would only sit down for a moment. She continues her visual pursuit of all the objects in the room. . . Yeah, she’s making me dizzy watching her.
Cass I recall having seen this jacket before. Another Vellumesque.
Chorus If she doesn’t want the coat, she should just say so. Don’t you agree. . ? Yeah, the way she walks past Raymond, holding her head high in the air. . . Yes, it’s very unbecoming for literature’s first lady. . . Yeah, and see the way she’s looking at everything in the room, appraising every article. . . Yes, do you think she’s jealous. . ? Probably, but wow, look at Judy, she’s so cool, a real Salome. . . Well, that’s what I meant by forbidding, that touch of Beardsley with the heavy metal hanging from her face and the way she swings that ape head by its hair. . . Yeah, she’s walking around with it like it’s a handbag on a spring day.
Judy I want to try it on.
Anthony You don’t want to do that – I sweat a lot inside it.
Judy So? But my jewelry has to come off first.
Chorus Take your coat off first!
Judy What did you say?
Anthony I didn’t say anything.
Judy I thought I heard you asking me to take my coat off. I’ll only do that if we can trade fur coats.
Anthony I didn’t say anything.
Chorus You are a pervert. . . What of it. . ! Yes, well, it’s too bad her radio debut was canceled. . . Yeah, it hasn’t been a good night for her though some of that is her own fault. . . Yes, like walking out on the opera. . . Is Anthony giving her the once over or what? You tell me. . ! You aren’t jealous, are you. . ? Don’t get catty with me, you know me better than that. I think you’re the jealous one here, too bad he’s a pervert. . ? No, you’re the pervert!
Cass Thom, do you realize we could live like this?
Chorus See, what did I tell you. For anyone just tuning in, Cass is having a fit. After all the years of deprivation despite TV’s enormous earnings, she too wants some of the good things in life. . . We don’t blame her. . . Yeah, if anyone is to blame, it’s TV.
Raymond Cass, exactly what I’m always telling him.
Chorus Oh, listen, I’ve just got word, our ratings have just skyrocketed. Folks are tuning in, they want something to sizzle between Judy and Anthony. . . What are you talking about, they want to see Judy, they want to see what she looks like underneath her purple fur. . . No, it’s romance they want. . . OK, folks, call in and tell us if you think.
Cass So Raymond, where are Ramona and the girls, how are they?
TV What about this poster?
Raymond Sorry to say, success isn’t always what it appears to be.
Chorus Yes, how true. . . Yeah, the tragedy of success.
Judy What about my radio début?
TV What about my poster?
Chorus The phones are ringing. Madeline from Arkansas, wants to know if Tony is older than Judy. You want to take a stab at that. . ? I would say Judy’s in her mid forties, but looks nothing like her age. . , Yeah I’d say she looks late
thirties. . . And Anthony must be in his early fifties. Would you
agree. . ? Yeah, mid-fifties. . . So far the majority of our viewers want to see Judy and Anthony in each other’s arms. . . Come on folks, admit it, what you really want to see is what makes Judy, the queen of fetish. . . Well, for now it seems the renown TV and the queen of fetish are having starfits over publicity failures.
Raymond Cass, I’m a miserable bachelor now. The girls are in college. Ramona never fails to inform me of the latest rise in tuition or the latest needs in their wardrobes.
Cass Yeah, Clio too, always wardrobe building, like her mother.
Chorus Such sarcasm! And in the face of this poor man’s sorrow. It’s just too real. . . Yeah, but imagine this. Cass dumps TV, hitches up with Raymond, gets everything she ever wanted. . . Yes, and Anthony goes off with Judy, they were made for each other. . ! I didn’t have that in mind, but it works. . . Yes, and that leaves our incomparable TV, once again struck by adversity, returning to his homeless cadre. . . Yeah, where he begins a new book. . . But that would make Judy, the housebreaker and Anthony, the family man, social outlaws. . . So? We like bad boys and girls, now and then, don’t we. . ? Yes, but. . . Yes, but nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, Judy Crucible, femme fatale, whose meteoric rise has left us breathless, has just taken off her faux fur and thrown it over the white chair near the fireplace. In doing so, she stumbled and almost lost her balance, but with skill regained it without releasing the furry crown of Anthony’s head – I think she called his hard head homo erectus, if I’m not mistaken. . ! Well!
Judy Am I getting too old for this?
Chorus You may be older than today’s starlets but in those additional years you make up for you lost youth in experience! I just love they way the corset strings from your hobble skirt trail over the contours of your buttocks. . . Come on, just say it, why hold your tongue now, over the contours of her ass. . . I’ll go further over the contours of her bare ass. . ! We warn our younger viewers to follow the Motions Picture Association guidelines to assure your innocence. . . Kids, don’t let Samantha’s chilly mood dampen your fun, the queen of fetish has nothing underneath. . ! Please, control yourself, we’re on the air. . ! Yeah, but look at her! I’ve been waiting all night for this. . . I understand, Harry, I’m the first to admit, she has a remarkable hour glass figure. But I can’t imagine wearing such a constricting dress. . . I can. . ! I’m flattered but she looks like she’s trying to work the laces in back loose. I like the way she uses her long nails like knitting needles. . . Who can concentrate with those thingies dangling from her nipples. . . You must behave. Perhaps Cass and I are embarrassed and angry. . . OK, OK, here comes Anthony to her rescue.
Judy Work from the center loops, thanks. Much better, yeah, it’s been a long day.
Cass Well, I see you still have your motherly shape.
Raymond Judy, let me find you something more comfortable to wear. . . Cass?
Cass We need to leave. I’m not even sure why I’m here.
Raymond You can’t leave now, Cass, with the curfew. Let me go look in my daughters’ closets, I’ll find something. . .
Chorus Raymond has just left the room.
Cass Thom, is this your version of La Dolce Vida?
Chorus For those of us too young to know, a quick web search tells us that Cass is referring to the 1960 film by Federico Fellini.
Cass Being a mother doesn’t explain why you missed out on women’s liberation.
Judy It depends on what you mean by liberation.
Chorus Cass moves off from the indifferent Judy, her restless pacing taking her to the piano. Judy falls back on the white arm chair one hand resting on the arm of the chair, the other setting the hairy head down on the floor. . . Yeah, and don’t forget to mention the Tree of Good and Evil, rooted in the garden between her legs. . . Please! Cass has stopped in front of Anthony, who is sitting at the piano.
Cass So you’re Tom’s oldest friend. He often speaks of you. You’re like family.
Anthony Cassandra, I wish we could have met under more normal circumstances.
Cass Don’t make me laugh.
Chorus As she continues her restless pacing, TV stands pensively still by the fireplace, his bag in his hand. . . He won’t part with it. . . He’s perusing a tattered magazine which he took out of his bag. . . Yeah and furtively watching Judy with side glances. . . But look, he’s approaching her now. Will our own TV make a play, in front of Cass. . ? Judy has dug her orange nails into her thick red dread and is lightly stroking the top of her breast as if dusting the engravings on her overturned porcelain bowls. . .
TV I just realized where I’ve seen you before.
Judy You told me you saw me at Nadir.
TV No, earlier than that.
Judy How about the woodpile.
TV Well, that’s close, yes, the woodpile, you were certainly with us there, but even earlier than that – I mean your image.
Judy They were taken a few years ago after I met Blotter. We only started distribution recently. As you can see I’m not the same girl I was then.
TV I don’t mean the pictures.
Judy Then I’m mystified.
TV In India people call you Mariamman, in the Near East, possibly Crete, you were the tamer of snakes, Astarte.
Judy My tongue gave me away.
TV You know I didn’t see your split tongue mentioned during my earlier readings but just now I found it described in my magazine.
Judy You’re losing me.
TV Worshipers of Mariamman cut their tongues to bond with her. You’re much more famous than you think, with credentials thousands of years old.
Judy Well, I knew I was older than the other women at Nadir but I never imagined I was that old.
TV This has nothing to do with how old you are. You’re an embodiment of a spirit that pervades throughout human evolution.
Chorus Raymond’s back with a jersey, a bathrobe and a large sweater.
Raymond I couldn’t help but hear that, Thom. I think Judy’s the embodiment of someone I saw dancing on top of a piano at the Condor in San Francisco. Try these, Judy. Cass, this sweater should fit you.
Anthony You mean Carol Doda.
Judy I never heard of her.
Raymond In 1964 her topless act helped usher in the 60’s. She was wearing a Rudi Guernich bathing suit. Now she runs a lingerie store in San Francisco, but she still sings.
Cass The boys are reminiscing.
Chorus Judy shrugs her shoulders as she drops down on top of her purple fur, crossing her legs. She bends over and releases her feet, strap by strap, shoelace by shoelace from the glossy dog head ankle boots. . . Her nails add to her reach and allow her a means of slipping in under each lace to loosen them.
Judy 1964, I was ten. I’ll take that as a complement. . . But I’d rather be the snake tamer.
Raymond Judy, you might be more comfortable if you changed in Sasha’s old room, instead of here. It’s more private.
Judy If you insist.
Chorus Why did he stop her, she was just beginning to unzipper her dress?
Judy It took me thirty years to catch up to your friend, Doda. . .
TV Time means nothing to you.
Judy That’s what you think. Now if you don’t mind can I have my bag?
TV It was under your chair.
Judy Did you look through my stuff?
TV No, but I wanted to.
Judy At least your honest.
Cass Oh honesty’s a vice with him!
Chorus How disappointing, Judy’s left the room. . . Cass has taken off her jacket and is putting on the lavender sweater. . . I admit she looks cute. . . Wait, hold on, something is coming in, another broadcast from the Black and Blue room in the White House, what a night. . . ‘Ladies and gentlemen, your President.’
Anthony The wind’s picking up. It’s become a blizzard.
TV About my poster.
President Hours ago at the onset of Project Buy A Home I authorized the newly formed Department of Homeland Protection to begin rounding up the homeless. . .
TV “to ensure the safety of all decent homeowners and their children and their pets and their gardens. . .”
President to ensure the safety of all decent homeowners and their children and their pets and their gardens. When law enforcement broke up the New York headquarters of ARCH, we uncovered an extensive worldwide network which led us to act quickly to suppress the scourge of homelessness around the world. We began in Refugium, but we aren’t satisfied. We want, as good homeowners, to reclaim these lives lost to this deadly epidemic. So we have spearheaded a program that is now helping the homeless return to our society as good consumers. We have been taking them to undisclosed bases around the globe where. . .
TV “our experts have been helping them to rethink their life goals. . .” I wrote that, you’ll find the President’s speech in M.
Chorus Shhhh!
President our experts have been helping them to rethink their life goals. There, as you may already know, they are experiencing the good things in life. The project is going well. Despite what you might be hearing from unscrupulous sources, these new students of life have come to appreciate the benefits of good food, good entertainment and, most of all, a roof over their heads. But there is a price for these gifts, and they are taking it willingly. Let me welcome newly converted Joseph Flok, Joseph.
Chorus Hurray for the red, white and blue. . . Ah, Judy’s back, wearing Raymond’s bathrobe. . ! Don’t get so excited. . . Well, at least I can concentrate now.
Joseph Flok I am thirty-four years old. I was a drug addict. I lived from hand to mouth. Although I graduated from college I couldn’t read above the fifth grade level. So my life fell apart. Under the ARCH(sic) I came under the influence of evil people. But thanks to Project Buy A Home I am back on my feet. I am
receiving proper medication and have a job.
President Thank you, Joseph. Let’s hear it for Joseph Flock, now of Homesdale, USA. . .
Chorus Hurray for the red, white and blue.
President Like others, Joseph now has a job in our military services. . ,
Joseph Flok Proud to serve, Sir!
President Yes, thank you, Joseph. . .
Joseph Flok You can call me, Joe, Sir!
President Thank you, Joe, yes, and as I was saying. . .
Chief of Staff . . . now has a job in our military services. . ,
Chorus Judy has removed a mirror from her plastic bag and placed it on the mantle above the fire place. Cass has come up behind her and is watching.
Cass For someone so style conscious, why don’t you carry a purse? For you’re accessories.
Chorus Judy looks at her through her long eye lashes, sighs, then digs into her plastic bag and retrieves a special needle nose pliers from the bag. She uses the pliers to clamp onto the dermal anchor in her skin, so she can unscrew her antennae. . . She’s quite dexterous considering the lengthy orange nails.
Judy When I left home, my ex-husband’s home, I stuffed my few things into a plastic bag. I was in a hurry. I was afraid I would never leave and I had to leave. Now I carry everything in plastic bags. I guess I’m still not sure when I’ll need a quick exit.
Cass Like tonight.
Judy Yeah, like the tonight.
Chorus Judy, do you mind telling your fans how long your nails are?
Judy Three inches. They’ve been six and just as pointed. I really dug them. Remi was working on my Tree tapestry, then. Since I was lying on my back most of the time and couldn’t do much else, I indulged myself and let them grow. He liked them too.
Chorus You seem to use them like precision tools? Do they ever get in the way?
Judy Like anything else you adjust. I did. I treat them no differently than any other body part. With the six inch nails I had difficulty washing my hair, but found teasing my hair easier. Doing simple tasks like this was more difficult with six inches than three. Fastening my bra was really hard. Of course I discovered I didn’t need a bra after augmentation. Where I was willing to learn how to speak again with my split tongue, I thought six inch nails had to go. On the other hand as a fetish queen, I miss them now and then and might let them grow again. I don’t know. I’d grow my toe nails, only my love of ballet heels comes first. And four inch toe nails and ballet heels don’t mix. One advantage of six inch nails was I often cooked without utensils. Turning over pork or lamb chops was easy with those nails. And stir frying was a snap, using all four nails like a spatula. For frittatas or quiches I used my index nail to see if the batter was cooked through, instead of a tooth pick or knife. I can do the same with three inches but now I feel the high heat. Typing on a computer keyboard is more precise with my three inch pointed nails than it was with my fat old finger tips. I learned to be just as precise with six inch nails, but sometimes my hands cramped because my hands were so far from the keyboard. Same when practicing piano. But forget texting!
Chorus They look lethal.
Judy Yeah, that’s what I like about them.
President Ah yes, which offers our indigent the dignity they have always desired. Besides learning new skills, they also will have a chance to invest in 401Ks managed by experts in our financial institutions, which I proudly add, are the backbone of our nation. . .
Chorus For those just tuning in, Judy’s has just released her last giant nose ring. They’re dangling from her ears.
President Down the road, Joe, when you retire at seventy from the military, you’ll have quite a nest egg for you and the little lady to live comfortably ever after. And because of new sophisticated lending instruments, when you and the others return to our great country, you will be able to buy your own home without any money down. . .
Chorus Her fingers seem to move across her face like the independent armatures of a spider, her pinky nail supporting a chain while the other fingers maneuver the pliers. The finger nails from the other hand disengage the chains, one by one, each nail swinging a chain out of the way of the pliers, leaving the threaded dermal anchors in her cheeks in place. Except for the chains holding the nose hoops which she has disconnected from the tragus ring, it looks like she’s leaving the other chains dangling from the ears. . . I have to admit her dexterity and accuracy are marvelous. And she certainly enjoys her work. . . Which proves that women can dress like Judy without loosing the physical freedom to achieve high mechanical skills. . . You’re going too far.
President In the days to come, newly formed units of the Homeless Battalion will be arriving in Refugium. They will begin helping in the reconstruction of the country insuring that freedom and democracy take root. And who is better able to provide the inspiration to turn over a new leaf than our own fully inoculated homeless ambassadors of good will.
TV Who is Flok?
Chorus Shhh.
TV There’s no evidence of his existence in my latest reading of M.
Chorus Really! Shhh! And why are you whispering. . ? I’m not whispering, just wanted you to notice how frantic TV is paging through that ratty magazine. It’s a scream.
President Our nation-wide net is picking up everyone living outside supermarkets and recycling centers, inside public restrooms and railway stations and on park benches.
Chorus Ladies and gentlemen, Judy’s dismantling her ear fins. . . Judy, your nails swing out like miniature cranes working over an erector set.
President As I’ve indicated all of them, like Joe, will receive humanitarian treatment at our Epidemic Control Centers around the world before entering the elite Homeless Battalion. We are moving ahead with grace from Above. Thank you very much.
Chorus Wow, what a speech!
Anthony What bullshit!
Cass I second that!
Chorus There will always be the ‘do-nothings’ who complain. . ! Watch her nimble fingers, each has a mind of its own, each nail feeling its way around Judy’s ear fins, two of them miraculously removing the little black balls, while others pull out the long silver posts, the fin intact and palming the fin like a card shark. . . We think the President’s speech inspires us to do our part, wouldn’t you say. . ? What? Yes, the President fosters confidence at home while offering fair treatment for unfortunates. It reminds me of the old welfare-to-work programs, a brilliant inducement for indigents to reject the revolutionary ARCH. . . But Harry, still no mention of Eddie Ammonia. . ? Who cares about Ammonia. . . You’re watching Judy’s fingers removing ornaments, which I admit reminds me of Odette and her maidens twirling across the ice in Swan Lake. . . No, it’s more a fan dance to me, only instead of fans she swings around those wicked nails across her lips as she removes her upright talons.
Judy I’ve got something less prominent.
Cass Is that what you’re trying to do, become less prominent? Good luck!
Chorus You’re absolutely right, Samantha. The consensus here is that the President has purposely relegated Ammonia to a foot note, a common bandito. Eddie might as well be living in a squirrel hole for all he can do now. . . Thank you, Harry. And now to the Hill where the representatives of both parties in a show of bipartisan effort just gave a statement saying they are proud to be a part of this world-wide effort that will not only provide jobs and investment opportunities for Americans at home, but also for those across the seas. Senator Notion?
Notion Yes, Samantha.
Chorus What did you think of the President’s statement?
Notion Well, as the President put it the other day, using the lifeboat analogy, if you save yourself first, you can better save others later. . .
Chorus Excuse me, Senator. . . Harry, what is it. . ? In this time of war I’d like the Senator to watch this act of disarmament. If only war could be this easy. Just zoom in on Judy. Closer, there! Can you see it? Her snake tongue has wrapped around the last lip talon and holds it, while her thumb and index nails remove the curved labret with red ball. Incredible versatility, wouldn’t you say, Senator!
Notion Yes, well as we say in the south, the young lady has both the beauty and ability to please all. I’d even go so far to say the young lady is disarming!
Chorus Senator, I apologize for the interruption. Please go on.
Notion Nothing to apologize for, Samantha, I find the young lady, well. . .
Chorus About the life raft and saving yourself first before you think of others.
Notion Yes, of course. . .Now that’s a unique concept in helping the Third World poor as well as our own poor in acquiring a piece of the American dream. And we can still cut taxes!
Chorus Thank you, Senator. Now back to our show. . . Senator! Did I. . . What are you doing, Harry?
Notion Yes?
Chorus Senator, we know you like a little fun now and then; if you’d like to meet the young. . .
Notion If the young lady has a need to meet a representative of the people, I’d be up for that.
Chorus I’m sure you would be. Her name is Judy Crucible. Keep an eye on her.
Notion That won’t be hard to do.
Chorus Just now her army of finger nails have removed an ear tunnel and are busy working on the other. If the viewers can come closer they can see the large elongated hole in her ear lobe. For those just tuning in, we are watching body artist, Judy Crucible remove her array of piercings. She carefully places each piece in a plastic carry bag, her preferred method of transporting her accessories.
TV Will you tell me about this poster, goddamn it?
Chorus Really, TV! At a time like this, with a war in progress and Judy de-accessorizing. We’ve always looked up to you, so why are you behaving like this?
Cass Did you really start when you were twelve?
Judy You mean like Laoula. Are you kidding, I was totally withdrawn, an entirely different creature then. I would never have done something that would have drawn attention to myself. I told you I was already at Nadir when I discovered my body.
TV “As once the winged energy of delight carried you over childhood’s dark abysses, now beyond your own life build the great arch of unimagined bridges.”
Judy More like “To work with Things in the indescribable relationship is not too hard for us; the pattern grows more intricate and subtle and being swept along is not enough!”
Chorus They’re reciting Shakespeare.
Raymond I hadn’t seen this poetic side of your relationship. . . Ah you mean that poster!
Chorus As TV unfurls the tattered sheet, the thumb and forefinger on Judy’s hands – the other three nails lie folded over her palm, remove the terminal chains on one of her eyebrow spirals. The fingers and nails of the other hand hold the spiral still. Now, the thumb and forefinger, oddly bowed, slowly roll the eyebrow spiral out, the last three digits suddenly standing upright like soldiers at attention. . . On the tattered sheet in Vellum’s hands is a picture of a wanted man with a long beard. Obviously, the terrorist Edward Ammonia.
Raymond We’ve posted them all over the city. It was the least we could do for Homeland Protection. And they paid well for our graphics.
Chorus It’s really quite funny. TV looks dumbfounded. It must be another unexpected twist for him. Look, even Anthony has come over to look at the poster.
Anthony Is this the guy everyone is talking about? Until tonight I’d never heard of him. What’s he done?
Chorus The authorities offered him the best that life can give. . .
Raymond Providing he settled down, bought a house, married, you know, the whole catastrophe.
Chorus He refused!
Judy Can you blame him?
Chorus She’s nearly naked. . . Please, she’s wearing Raymond’s paisley robe, let’s not get carried away.
Judy I feel naked.
Chorus See. . ! But Judy, you still have your wild array of colored braids and the silver ring studs dot your cheeks.
Judy You can also see my face is pitted because of my derms.
Chorus You told your father you had acne.
Judy No, that was Laoula.
Chorus Who cares! All you great artists begin to show the scars of your creative minds. Your scars are the symbols of your strict dedication to your body art.
Judy Yes, that’s true.
TV What are you talking about? That’s my face on the poster!
Chorus That’s our old TV. . ! Yes, always in the middle of things, even if he isn’t really there.
Raymond Ammonia, TV, why quibble over small details?
TV Details? Since when is stealing someone’s identity a detail?
Chorus What a real hoot. Just what we needed at a time like this, a good laugh. . ! Yeah, with the national emergency and all. Anyway, no one’s paying attention to him, with Judy inserting her silver labret with black ball into her lower lip. . . Yes, the black ball looks good against your purple lipstick, Judy. . . The other slips in just as easily.
Judy Much better.
Raymond Homeland Protection had their reasons for the poster’s deployment.
Cass That’s Thom with a beard.
Raymond Cass, to be honest, as far as I was concerned, distribution was my way of finding Thom.
Cass Why?
Raymond Wherever Ammonia is, I knew TV would be near.
TV I don’t know where Eddie is. Last time I saw him he was standing on the corner of 110th and Broadway panhandling.
Raymond I just had my hunch. And I was right, you’re here! But. . . you might say matters were taken out of my hands when you became a member of ARCH.
TV There’s no membership, unless being hungry or cold. . .
Raymond Sources at the highest level say you were a card-carrying member. Ladies, excuse my French, but that’s deep shit, Thom. With homeless marauders and a war going on. . .
Cass Marauders?
Judy Marauders?
Anthony Cadres, cells and marauders. A great noise is sweeping the land. Even ASS has been lost in the ruckus.
Raymond Thom, I know you were a member of ARCH, but I was surprised, if not shocked, to learn you had joined ASS.
Chorus Exploration and adventure must be part of an artist’s life. But ASS? To be a card-carrying member, an insider? How revolting!
Anthony What do you closet voyeurs know about ASS?
Chorus Look whose talking, the stalker!
Anthony Talk about stalkers, only you call it freedom of the press.
Chorus Are you both anarchists. . ? Yeah, like big Eddie.
Anthony In that ASS doesn’t have structure, yes.
Chorus Chairman Tony, excuse us. . . this is coming in now. . . Hours ago the State Department issued this warning to the government of Sybaris: Desist from aiding terrorists bent on destroying our way of life or risk retribution. The question on everybody’s mind is whether the communal government of Sybaris assisted in the escape of Ammonia. The leader of Sybaris, Barrio Barbudos, speaking for three and half hour, before a large gathering of Sybarites, accused the United States of political irony.
Barbudos The only homeless on the island of Sybaris are the men and women kept in captivity on the land the United States stole from us a century ago during our war of liberation against Spain. These captives, they tell us, are called terrorists.
TV Raymond, that suit you’re wearing. . ?
Raymond It’s your style, Thom! After seeing you that day I went to Virtual Wear and found your salesman.
TV He told me.
Raymond Thom, you’ve never understood your power; you’ve always doubted yourself.
TV I don’t understand myself.
Judy Until Nadir I didn’t either.
Anthony Few of us admit it.
Raymond Exactly! That is why I’m TV’s agent. And yours too, Judy. Why even Sari Sermon contacted me when she learned I was your agent. A wonderful woman, very shy. She’s on a road to success, thanks to you. I just signed her on as one of my clients.
Cass I thought you were a literary agent.
Raymond Cass, everything is connected!
Judy Blotter believes that too.
Raymond Everything. There’s very little difference between a fashion designer and a painter. Creativity connects everyone. He taught me that. TV, the ultimate performance artist cum investigator of cultural sub-text, or should we say hyper-text. And think of all the lucrative spin-offs, the toys and ties? And now, if we can pull it off, the paraphernalia from the war, the camouflage pants and coats, and from the homeless revolution, machine worn dungarees with holes and chemically scented sweat shirts that smell of body odor and other knick-knacks. And wait until you see our new line of dolls.
TV You’re not saying anything new, Raymond. These universal connections go way back.
Cass As far back as the woodpile.
Chorus Tell us about the woodpile.
Raymond Is that a new club downtown?
Judy With my vanity in hyper-drive, I need to be discovered, verified, the face of change.
Raymond And you will be Judy! I’ll have to check out The Woodpile.
Judy Maybe my life would have turned out differently if I’d had my debut there.
Anthony Until tonight the issues were clear. ASS vs. SS. There was no ARCH. Now that’s all changed. I don’t get it.
Cass Thom has the whole story about ARCH in my Metropolis. He knows all the people involved. But there are lots of groups. Our daughter belongs to SATS.
Chorus Shhhh, everyone, the Vice-President is about to issue a reply to Barrio Barbudos.
VP It’s sweet and simple. The victims of Sybaris are not those in Camp Bentham but the population beyond Bentham’s fence. Again and again the oppressed have abandoned their own tyrannical leaders, braving the open seas in small boats to reach our great free country. End of story. Period.
Anthony All of this is in Metropolis?
Cass TV wrote it.
TV Raymond, have you ever questioned yourself?
Raymond I’m a simple man, Thom.
TV Ok, and this new piano? Are you taking piano lessons now?
Chorus Judy has returned to her chair. She takes up Morales’ furry head and raises it above her own, like a queen about to anoint herself with a crown. With an almost sanctimonious expression she lowers it over her own. . . I miss her already.
Raymond Judy, Anthony’s mask doesn’t become you.
Judy I like it under here.
Chorus Judy has found shelter under big Tony’s hairy head. . .
TV Formerly she was Doris from Long Island.
Raymond Doris? Is there someone else I need to know?
TV Where did you find her?
Raymond You found her.
TV That night?
Raymond Precisely.
Chorus This just in: Barrio Barbudos, the bearded president of Sybaris in response to the Vice-President.
Barbudos It is true we lack the funds to accommodate everyone. If a man wants more than his neighbor, he will remain unhappy. If he wants to possess the wealth of Croesus, he will be unhappy. But our unhappy Sybarite should consider this. This dream our rich northern brother advertises cannot be had by all. Many people in the north, including those who left in search of individual riches, remain unfavored by destiny, remain poor, and without homes. Ah yes, they are free! Free to crave the very excesses they can’t afford. And now their freedom is short. They are being rounded up like pigs and brought back to our own land, but not as free men but as prisoners of war.’
Raymond Thom, trust yourself.
Chorus I’ve never heard such a lie, as if those rounded up weren’t renegades of Barbudos out to destroy us. . ! Judy’s demonstrating her comic ability. Only, why can’t she open her bathrobe too. . . Oh. . ! Just a little.
TV I never went to college.
Raymond We can remedy that.
TV So what about this story?
Raymond Don’t you love it?
TV So you wrote it!
Raymond I can’t write!
Chorus Raymond can barely contain his enthusiasm.
Raymond We have a staff of ghost writers, none of them of note, none of them of your stature. They were chosen, not for their creative powers but for their means of subjecting their skills to the will of a single mind, yours.
Chorus At this moment we should all ask ourselves if this is plagiarism or if indeed the spirit of a great artist has entered into the national consciousness and literally has become the mind of the people. . . But TV wasn’t informed of this. . . True, but all TV’s works are, in a sense, the manifestation of our mind. . . Yes, that’s
true. . . The films are on DVDs, each film based on a book, the scripts themselves written by TV. The books come in hardcover and paperback, and recently in digital formats. . . As well as on CDs recited by famous movie stars. . . Each and everyone is a classic. . ! And all of them are available in stores everywhere including supermarkets and drugstores as well as on the internet. . . So ask your local vendors if there are any left or surf the web.
Raymond In a nutshell, your work was fed into a computer. You look surprised? It was you who initially realized the vast potential of the computer. You pioneered the use of a computer to fabricate your great series, the history of the world as seen through TV.
Chorus We should add that he went on to modify his own computer so that he could double its energy, magnify its receptivity in the global network. . . even accomplish, and here we pause for effect. . . time travel. . ! In short, why would such a digital wizard be surprised by the developments in the computer industry which he heralded?
Raymond Thom, when the first AI regales us with Homeric tales, it will be your voice.
Chorus For the few of you who are still working analog, AI stands for Artificial Intelligence.
Anthony Ok, fine, but why is ARCH ascending and ASS descending.
Judy Morales, are you into the zodiac?
TV Your ghost writers, with or without the computer, couldn’t have written this story.
Raymond What have you done to your magazine?
Cass My magazine.
TV You know why? Because every time I read the story, it changes just like the poster.
Chorus Is this mind bending or what. . ? You can say that again. . . No one knows what to say. . . TV is standing in the center of the room, his big plastic bag in one hand, his tattered copy of Metropolis in the other. . . Can the viewers see him? He’s like Perseus bearing his raised sword with one hand, the head of Medusa in the other. . . Are you comparing the plastic bag to the head of Medusa. . ? It’s a symbol and his rolled up poster is his sword. . . Raymond is grinning like the Cheshire cat. . . TV has made another impression. Even poor Cass is struck with awe.
Raymond Brilliant. I never would have thought of that. Only you, Thom! You say the story changes every time the reader reads it. Brilliant. This will require digital smart paper – if there is such a thing – and I have just the man to implement it. He will be here any minute.
TV My inspirations came from an angel, not from some man-made device. The device was just a receiver. Don’t you understand!
Chorus Poor Cass. She shakes her head in despair. . . As if she and her family are reliving the tragedy of her illness, her long recovery and of what that tragedy did to ignite TV’s creative fires. . . Yes, her body mended but The House of Vellum never really recovered from that surge of energy that eventually became the TV stories. . . Poor woman, we feel her pain. . . Yes, and Raymond, who also has suffered loss, why they’re made for each other.
Raymond But Thom, you’ve also claimed your inspiration came from another time, from the future. You said you had little to do with the content. So! Once again you’ve created and once again you’ve had little to do with content. What’s the difference?
TV The difference? My daughter inspired me then! This time you had me followed!
Anthony It seems as if the world outside has stopped. Just a wall of white.
Chorus Everyone, pay attention, we are on the air with another report from the Black and Blue Room in the White House. . . Yes, his whereabouts in the US are unknown, and it could have ramifications among the Homeless Brigades in the war. . .
Cass Who are they talking about now?
Judy Eddie Ammonia, who else?
Chorus If EA puts out an all points bulletin, his believers could desert the Homeless Corps. Think of what that would do, a lawless army, fully armed and fully trained by our military! Our consumer crusade would fizzle like flat pop. Without impressed troops to continue the fighting, Project Buy A Home is dead.
Anthony Who’s talking?
Cass A Pundit.
Judy Another graduate from Boston’s Hampered University.
Chorus In certain circles we hear the cry, ‘Bring Back The Draft.’ Elsewhere it’s ‘Remember Billy Bud. . !’Absolutely, Samantha. Let’s take our scenario a step further. Imagine Ammonia leading his troops, all trained at the taxpayer’s expense, against the homeland. Imagine, the hordes raiding the bastions of our society – Remember, nothing’s sacred here. Imagine, the housing industry, real estate and banking interests, destroyed. Imagine, the suburbs burning like Atlanta after Sherman’s march, the malls sacked and pillaged, lying in ruins. . . Too horrid for words. Now here is General Reason of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thank god!
Reason A homeless person is not like you or I. . .
Cass “Me,” not “I.”
Judy Once an English teacher always an English teacher.
Reason He doesn’t need a home. He doesn’t need the warmth and coziness of the hearth, the warm food and the glass of wine, he can live like a rat on almost anything.
Judy Are you happily married, Morales?
Anthony You’ll have to come over and meet the family and see for yourself.
Judy I’m sure your wife and I have a lot in common.
Anthony Maybe not a lot. Your efforts have taken you in one direction and Deme’s in another. But that doesn’t mean there’s no common ground.
Chorus Yeah, they seem to be getting on fabulously.
Judy Like wanting the same thing.
Chorus He’s laughing.
Anthony That would be a problem – for all of us.
Judy So there’s hope.
Anthony No. There’s no hope, Judy. . . even though I find you attractive.
Judy I knew you’d say that. That’s why I like you. And being able to chose for myself who I find attractive is a first step in my finding happiness.
Anthony We can’t have total happiness. Finding you attractive and knowing we can only be friends means I miss a piece of this happiness.
Judy You mean by being faithful to your wife, you make her happy.
Anthony Because I love her, not hurting her makes me happy.
Judy I saw the way my husband looked at women. Even though he pretended to himself that he wasn’t interested, I knew his interest was pronounced. The night I went out with my office friends, I realized how jealous he was. It made me wonder if I was as plain as I had imagined. When I found shelter in Nadir, I learned to embody everything that would make men hungry.
Anthony Once you learned that, you came to my notice.
Reason Recent experiments at Camp Bentham have shown that a homeless man can endure incredible pain.
Chorus Thanks General for keeping us safe. Now we go once again to Samantha and Harry on the street. Samantha. . ? Yes, this is Samantha and Harry down on
Fifth. . . As you can see from the swirling snow behind us, we are in the middle of a blizzard, unbelievable for this time of year, Thanksgiving not even a week
away. . . Whether everyone is staying inside obeying the President’s request or whether the storm is the cause for the empty streets, it’s hard to say. . . From time to time one of the Homeland Protection vehicles passes. The agents inside are wearing their now familiar bowler hats, bearing the once secret, now public society emblem, The Home Within The Home. . . This once all-volunteer, now private sector-sourced cadre has become the heart and soul of our security system. But there are the questions on everyone’s mind. . . Where are the homeless? Where is their leader, Edward Ammonia, who escaped recently from the luxury facility on Sybaris? And here with us now to help answer these questions is the new PC or Protection Chief, the former Police Chief, PC Jimmy Rascul. . . Thanks, Chief Rascul, for taking the time to speak with us on this blustery, snowy night.
Rascul My pleasure.
Chorus We see that you’re wearing the bowler hat.
Rascul That’s right, folks, the citizen needs to be able to quickly recognize the good guys from the bad guys in case of emergency. The hat is a giveaway.
Chorus Could it become a target for terrorists?
Rascul They haven’t a chance in the world.
Chorus What if they begin wearing these hats?
Rascul The Homeless? This is one time you can judge a book by its cover. Believe me, you’ll see the difference! Besides we also wear the patch, and these are only issued to the initiated, that is, the good guys.
Chorus Chief Rascul is pointing to the patch on his hat, The Home Within The Home.
Rascul Our All American Homes within our All American Homeland!
Chorus Yes, and on the chief’s lapel we see the familiar American flag pin worn by everyone in politics these days.
Rascul I’d be naked without it. Besides, what would they say in the office if I didn’t wear it?
Chorus Are you confident of apprehending the ARCH Chieftain, Eddie Ammonia?
Rascul His days are numbered.
Chorus Is there anything special you would like to tell the viewers?
Rascul If they’ve got beards like that little guy, Velluminsky wore. . .
Chorus I think you mean Vellum, Thomas Vellum.
Rascul Yeah and they’re out on the street, then they’re enemas of the state, period.
Chorus Thank you, Chief Rascul and now to our. . .
Rascul If you’ve a lead on them, then lead us to them, call the emergency number. Operators will take your information and all will be done confidentially.
Chorus Yes, thank you, Chief.
Rascul And don’t forget to ask for your fifty dollar rebate, our special way of thanking you for your loyalty.
Chorus Folks, you heard that, our patriotic duty is worth something. And congratulations, PC Rascul on your recent promotion.
Rascul Thank you, Samantha. Harry.
Chorus That is all from the streets of New York City, for Media Free USA. . . Thank you, Harry, thank you, Samantha. Now back to our show up above 5th Avenue, where the delectable Judy Crucible, now wearing big Tony’s gorilla head, flirts with big Tony in his gorilla suit sans head.
Anthony Do I have this right, the SS are now in charge of the police, or is it the other way around?
Chorus That seems to be so, Anthony, but we must pause for the moment and turn our attention to the other activities in the room. . . Raymond was commending TV for his quest to save the human race and for his desire of anonymity in a vanity ridden society. He tells him that he too wants nothing better than to go about the streets of the metropolis, without pretension, unrecognized, but alas, his destiny is to provide entertainment for the human race.
TV Entertainment!
Raymond Si! So why not get paid for it? Money, Thom, everyone needs it. You can shun it, because you have been graced with renown. You, Thom, are the modern Homer. Your stories are the stories of all people, your voice and the voice of humanity are one and the same. Outside, who do you hear? You hear people in everyday situations talking just like you! Can a citizen who speaks Vellumese. . .
Cass Vellumese, Raymond? Or volubility?
Judy The English teacher scores another run!
Raymond Excuse me, Cass, but can someone who speaks Vellumese be criticized? Can he be sued? No, he or she is a fan! This universal voice has been analyzed by our computer. We used the same programs that gave you, Thom, the answers you needed to pursue the greatest story ever told.
TV What programs?
Raymond And I might add, that until our TV arrived, the greatest story ever told had
been the Bible. Like the Bible, TV’s world history has a following of true believers!
Chorus Amen.
Anthony I never realized Thom’s impact on people.
Cass Especially his family.
Judy I thought you were old friends.
TV What programs?
Anthony My cell phone doesn’t have a signal. Can I use your phone, Raymond?
Chorus Raymond is pointing toward the foyer.
Anthony I’ll be right back. I need to tell Deme where I am.
TV What programs?
Raymond Exactement! Your works were already stored in your machine to begin with. You wrote them on your computer. . .
TV I used a simple word processor.
Raymond But you admitted, in fact, that the computer was the actual creator.
TV A conduit!
Judy To his angel.
TV That’s right!
Raymond Ok. Still, you tweaked your factory-made computer. Together you and the machine created the Vellum chronicles, you and the machine drew the words from cyberspace. So who cares if my ghost writers, using a specially developed TV program, have gone on to create the first of our new series in The Metropolis and, I might add, a possible pilot for a television series! I take it you picked up your check.
Cass Why didn’t you tell him about the check? You’re driving him crazy again!
Raymond I knew he would find the P.O. box sooner or later or he isn’t our TV.
TV My entire experience was rigged, even the people I met. I was a rat in your maze.
Raymond Absolutely not! See, you doubt your own abilities. Only you, Thom, can show us the way. You know the old saying, we stand on the shoulders of those who preceded us.
TV You had me followed. The Pawns!
Raymond They’re only interested in you as a bearded anomaly. Once you shaved they lost sight of you. And I didn’t have to tell them where you were. There were plenty of bearded suspects for them to follow. But since you led them to the ARCH Gang, I convinced them you were, wherever you are, a free-world agent inside the deadly virus of homelessness. So you’re coming here is cause for celebration.
Chorus Tonight you are a national hero!
TV National nothing. That’s me on the wanted poster. I know what I look like.
Raymond Do you? We could all agree to a similarity in features. The beard for instance. But out on the street, you might run into hundreds of bearded men.
TV That’s me!
Raymond Why quibble? Feel your chin. Do you have a beard? No!
Chorus TV, you served us an artist who couldn’t separate the forces of his creativity from the outside forces shaping that creativity.
Raymond Using the TV program being developed by SoftChip. . ,
Cass SoftChip?
Raymond We’ll be able to work hundreds of mutated story lines, just like yours. Soon anyone can be you once they load their computer with the TV program by SoftChip!
Judy Did you reach your wife?
Anthony Yeah, I told her where we are.
Chorus Boy, are they getting chummy. Does she know he’s nothing but a dirty old man?
Chorus You’re the dirty old man. . ! He’s got hair on his palms.
Anthony Who’s financing Soft Chip?
Judy The same people financing me.
Chorus This would be a good time to open up our phone lines to all of you in TV land. I know we’d all like to find out how our viewers feel. . . We can’t do that. . . You’re right! I forgot we don’t have that option. Instead we go to Samantha in the lobby of the Ratz Hotel where Harry is speaking with Professor Steblen, renown architect and author. . . So Professor, what do you think of the government-sponsored plan to build modular apartment complexes for the homeless on their return from Refugium? Do you feel vindicated?
Steblen Well, Harry, I have always wanted to design something for the community which would be both mobile and transferable. These homes will be constructed as needed. When the veteran returns, he does the paper work and a home is custom-built for him, then placed into the apartment house cluster using special built-in lifts. Not much different than the old cassette racks one used to find in cars. But of course you’re too young to remember that. Although we start with one home, we could end up with hundreds. If the veteran moves, he can either take the house with him, something a vagabond may be interested in, or he can sell it. We have also designed these homes to be upgradeable. Once they’ve served their initial low-income housing purpose, they can then become middle class homes. That’s how we keep housing up with inflation. With the eventual shortage in luxury housing these units can become multimillion dollar abodes.
Chorus And I take it, this is your daughter?
Steblen She’s my star pupil, as well as my poetic muse. In other words, she’s now my wife. We married yesterday.
Chorus Congratulations to the both of you. And how do you feel about all of this, Mrs.Steblen?
Ms. Steblen Stebby’s a genius.
Chorus Ok, well, there it is, and now back to you, Samantha.
Ms. Steblen That’s my name too.
Chorus Really?
Ms. Steblen Samantha.
Raymond Naturally, once the Group understood the SoftChip achievement they saw the possibilities. After all, their job has been the highly lauded task of codifying our lifestyle for easy digestion.
TV You’re with the Group?
Anthony Figures.
Cass At school I’m telling kids about the basic concepts of morality and ethics, and I was seeing it all through the old black-and-white movies.
Anthony Cass, don’t stop believing with your heart.
Chorus Imagine him saying that, sitting there with Ms. Easy.
Raymond Thom, we’re all part of the Group. It’s civilization. Remember Billy?
Chorus Billy Board, for those of you who may have missed that episode, helped TV out during the crisis years when a series of hard-drive crashes luckily destroyed Thom’s earliest work, a plodding historical novel. It was out of those crashes that the new works emanated like a phoenix from the dark ashes of loss.
Raymond Exactement! Thanks to you, Thom, Bill Board, who was unemployed at the time, was able to get back on his feet. He brought the TV program to life, and is now the CEO of SoftChip, ‘The Chip You Can Virtually Eat.’ And recently SoftChip expanded its base by acquiring an upstart robotics company called RoboSurgeon.
Judy ‘SoftChip is the only chip, the only chip you can virtually eat, you can virtually eat. . .’
Chorus Judy’s song vaguely reminds us of an ancient tune from a coffee commercial we once saw on My Tube. . . That was way before my time.
Raymond Hey, maybe we have something here. Can we get the Bottles to sing that for us?
Cass Bad enough we’re a pill-popping culture.
Raymond Cass, this will be different. In fact this will take the virtual world by storm. I think Billy was talking about Nano technology. Digestible chips that will aid in digestion and health and help us see the world like Thom. Imagine!
Cass What could be worse?
Chorus You, of all people Cass. Science saved you. . . For those who don’t know, Cassandra Kale was dying from auto immune hepatitis, a malfunction of the immune system. As you probably remember, TV hypothesized in his work that the introduction of mass amounts of sugar into the world diet not only established the financial underpinnings of the Industrial Revolution, an idea already posited by a certain professor and well documented, but also undermined her immunity system. . . In Cassandra’s case, the family of a young man, who was killed on the Long Island Expressway, donated his organs to help others. His liver gave her new life.
Cass Please, don’t make my life into one of your soap operas! It is difficult enough knowing I benefited from a family tragedy.
Chorus People like to know these things, Cass.
Cass Then they should look to their own hearts. Billy Board betrayed a trust. I thought he was our friend, but he’s betrayed us.
Chorus Please Cass, be careful of what you say. We’re broadcasting live.
Judy We’re on the air?
Chorus Judy, we’re all part of an on-going data stream.
Judy You mean a hot air stream.
TV And all this time I was hiding out in a public park!
Raymond For Billy this was an opportunity of a lifetime. And why not? Cass, you should be proud of the industries Thom’s work has created for friends and strangers alike.
TV So then why did you have me knocked off?
Raymond One of the editors at M is responsible for that! They needed to shorten the piece, so she simply. . . she knocked you off.
TV What’s so funny?
Raymond While having you killed was unfortunate, it turns out to have been fortuitous. Look at the advantages. Homeland Protection is looking for Eddy Ammonia, not you. You’re out of the picture.
TV Ammonia told the authorities about my Assumption.
Raymond To get rid of the body.
TV There was no body! I’m alive.
Raymond So they say.
Cass What do you mean by that?
TV Yeah. Now you don’t need me because you’ve stolen my artistic voice.
Raymond There you go again, doubting yourself. But imagine, for a moment, the possibilities. They’re infinite. Consider TV resurrected on the 3rd day, in the middle of a big sporting event. Right!
Chorus We are excited by these possibilities but it seems our TV is not. . . He’s turned his back on Raymond and is staring out the window into the white night. . . His head hangs in despair. He approaches Cass and puts his arm around her.
TV Cass, I don’t know how this is going to end.
Cass With each other.
Chorus It doesn’t look as if Cass will run off with Raymond after all. . . Let’s ask our viewers, do you think Cass should stay with TV or not?
Raymond Now tell me, Thom, if this isn’t you. In a later installment we could have you reincarnated in various avatars, right? I mean, isn’t this what the story is about initially, the various instars of Phillip K? Of course your idea of using intelligent paper, well, that changes everything, the plot now changes with each new reading. That’s just brilliant. And so unpredictable! We’ll have Billy look into this.
Anthony Won’t work for you guys. No profit in a book that goes through metamorphosis on its own.
Raymond You might be right, Tony. Who would need to buy a new book if the old one was always offering new possibilities.
Judy Reinvention has certainly been my story.
Raymond So perceptive, Judy, so perceptive.
Cass Come on, a great work of literature is always changing, offering the diligent reader something new on each read.
Raymond That’s true, Cass, but nowadays we don’t read carefully, we scan. So we need gimmicks. And Judy is our North Star, all roads now lead to her, her coming out, her evolution from oppressed housewife to body artist.
Judy You’re calling me a gimmick?
Raymond Judy, you should remove the mask. I can’t see your face and you have so much to offer.
Chorus You ain’t kidding and it’s all up front.
TV Raymond, you won’t codify me.
Raymond We’re talking about language, Thom. Isn’t a computer program a language?
TV You’ve stolen my style, my. . .
Raymond You said yourself it was machine-derived.
Chorus We’re getting tired of all this talk. We might as well be listening to lawyers. . . So we’re going to wander over and talk to Judy Crucible, now sitting in front of the empty fireplace next to Big Anthony. . . Pay attention, boys and girls, her bathrobe has slipped open and reveals an oversized jersey. She’s barefoot in her dark stockings and garter. The gorilla head reveals her great sense of humor. . . Judy. . .
Judy Yes?
Chorus You two seem to be getting along fabulously over here in your quiet corner. But aren’t you bored?
Judy It’s peaceful here, watching the stillness..
Chorus Do you mind, Anthony, if we interrupt you two so we can introduce Judy to our viewers?
Anthony Up to her.
Chorus Judy, do you mind if our viewers can see your lovely face?
Judy No, I like it under here. Think of it a the proverbial paper bag.
Chorus Anthony, you shouldn’t encourage her with your laughter.
Chorus OK, well then, tell us something about yourself, was your mother beautiful?
Judy I thought so, so did my dad, I guess. I remember pictures of her, but I can’t really make her come alive in my head. I was fifteen when she took off.
Chorus Took off? Usually it’s the other way around.
Judy Usually. . . She had this nervous energy that surfaced whenever she tried to read to us. We loved Grimm, Clever Elsie, The Goose Girl. She tried to stick to the words but she couldn’t. I remember her hands fidgeting, pushing the hair away from her eyes, checking the time. It was just impossible for her to keep the tension alive in the story with her moods constantly ricocheting from excessive tiredness to bouncy can’t sit stillness. There was always this tension inside of her that was at odds with the story.
Chorus Have you noticed? Anthony’s mask has brought out another side of you. You’ve become pensive, reflective.
Judy I’ve always been reflective. What you’ve seen lately is another mask. Can you see my eyes?
Chorus Yes, you have beautiful eyes. Don’t you think so, Anthony? The bashful boy’s nodding yes. So go on, were you home when she left?
Judy The wisteria was in bloom, so it was the middle of May. My sister and I came home from school and she was gone. We waited through the long evening until it was dark and then Dad came home from work.
Chorus You loved your dad, didn’t you?
Judy Oh, yeah. He was the world. I couldn’t understand why mommy would leave him. He didn’t know either. It was bizarre seeing this guy always in full control, simply lost. He filed a missing person’s report. Ended up, she’d run off with my sister’s high school art teacher, this older guy, one of those people she’d always warned us about being weird because they didn’t believe in god and had longish hair and a goatee. They lived in the next town over. Occasionally I’d see her in the distance. She seemed happy. My sister refused to go to school after that. My mom was probably in her thirties, younger than I was when I left my husband and kids. She couldn’t have known herself any more than I had when I married Frank who was ten years older than me. Everyone assumed I would marry him since he started dating me when I was in ninth grade, coming over in his white impala convertible. Did I know myself then any better than mommy did before she married dad? Dad remarried someone who looked like mom, and that’s who I remember now.
Chorus We pause here to listen in on the other discussion being carried on
peripatetically. . . Wow, that’s a big word, I’d say TV is walking in tight circles, talking to himself. He stops by the window, looks out. He leans his head against the window pane. . . Cass nearly collides with Raymond as she stops abruptly in front of him.
Cass Stop with the sophistries. You’re making theft sound like something constructive.
Raymond Spoken like a teacher, Cass. But think of it. For centuries artists have had workshops full of apprentices. Nowadays even writers have ateliers, like the old painters, full of assistants, only we now call them interns. Imagine, a race of humans thinking like Thom. . . underwriting his work. . .
TV Underwriters!
Cass Underwriters?
Raymond Well yes, who research and articulate the ideas of the master, using an emulated style. It has more to do with management, the intern system now converted to an assembly line system.
Cass Those kind of assembly lines research books, like histories.
Raymond Fiction too. You know, a few years ago a friend and I drove north from my place in London and visited an interesting area in Northumbria, Lindisfarne and Jarrow, have you heard of them?
TV The venerable Bede.
Raymond Yes, I think that’s his name. Ruins set on windswept bluffs, but a thousand years ago the monks sat together and copied the old manuscripts of Rome and Greece, preserving them for all posterity. So when I think of our own young people learning from Thom, while copying him. . .
Cass What are you talking about, you just said a computer program copies his style?
Raymond TV, like it or not, is the collective voice of the nation. There’s no way out of this. It’s too late. He is too big. He’s in the general domain.
Chorus We’d like to remind our viewers that when TV developed the artist-living-the-story theme, he took performance art to new heights! He turned conceptual art back into a literary art and gave the memoir resounding credibility as a creative art form. . ! Long live our TV!
Raymond Well Thom, there you have it! Once your name is chiseled into the architraves above the nation’s schools beside those of Homer and Aristotle, there’s no way you can sue for infringement of rights.
Cass You won’t find Aristophanes there.
Raymond Aristophanes?
Cass Yeah, right.
Chorus Whew, that’s exhausting. . ! Yeah, while they circle around the issues of public domain. . , a sticky subject indeed. . , we return to Anthony and
Judy. . . Judy, your mom’s story is yours. . . Yeah, It’s about change. About misrepresentation. What everybody expects from everybody else.
Anthony No, it’s about a nightmare called history, where we repeat the mistakes of our parents because we don’t have all the facts. Even when we do have them we fail to understand them. We’re all responsible.
Chorus That’s a big leap, Anthony. . . Yeah, are you blaming us for Judy’s failed marriage. . ? Just because we sympathize with her. . . Hey, do you blame us for what is happening out in the streets tonight. . ? That’s right, did we create this snow storm? Did we cause the invasion of Refugium. . ? No, the homeless did.
Anthony Just the way the homeless drove her mother from the family hearth!
Chorus Judy, we don’t understand what you see in this man.
Judy What am I supposed to see? I didn’t know I was seeing anything but a man.
Chorus OK, you celebrities are allowed to indulge yourselves. So tell us how you came to The Nadir. Our viewers always ask us about it.
Judy I guess everyone assumed I’d marry Frank because he’d been coming around courting me since before my mother left. He was still working on his MBA when we got married. No one talked about it but we assumed I would work to help pay the bills. I started working as an assistant to the village clerk in the town hall. When our daughter was born, I took a leave of absence for six months before returning to work. By that time his mother was taking an active interest in her upbringing. I looked forward to going back to work.
Chorus You had a pretty full life.
Judy I did. After he got his masters, he started working for a big insurance company in the city. He took over the responsibilities of paying the bills. He didn’t want me working any longer. By that time I had the two girls. He wanted me to raise them full time. Even though I had liked working in the office with the other women, I thought he was right. I belonged at home. I was shy but some of the girls were bold. On Fridays they often went out on the town and partied. One time before the I had my first baby I went with them and when I came home Frank was so angry he hit me, telling me the apple never falls far from the tree. I didn’t want to be like my mother because of how she hurt my father. So I worked hard, kept the house clean, prepared the meals and got the kids to school and picked them up. But his mother, who’d found Jesus, was always critical of me. She wanted to instruct the girls in the ways of the Lord. Because I wanted to please Frank, I encouraged her. But over time he began to see the world as she did and it seemed I could never do anything right. He got edgier and crankier overtime, while I lost more and more of myself. I had always hated how I looked and those years with him didn’t help. It got that I was afraid to look in the mirror. Now and then I ran into one of the girls I had worked with and they told me what was happening. But gradually I lost touch even though they lived nearby. And though I had neighbors, I hardly talked with them any more; and my mother-in-law was coming in and out as if it was her own house and not mine, so I got more and more lonely. I wanted to die and I often thought I’d run away. But I was afraid. Afraid I would become like my mother, that I would prove Frank and his mother right, that I was just another Jezebel. When I was working, I’d overhearing the girls talking about this club where they had an open mic. Their excitement was palpable. It was a place where anyone could change and be happy. They once asked me if I wanted to join them but I had the girls and I was afraid Frank would hurt me. But the thought of this place sat in the center of my brain and every so often it would glow and I would become aware that I could go there myself, if I had the courage, if I dared. It got so that I wasn’t even paying attention to the girls anymore. Oh, I took care of them, made sure they ate and washed and did their homework; but they had begun to remind me of my failings. They’d remind me I’d forgotten to say a prayer of grace at diner, or tell their grandma I was late picking them up at their prayer group. When I looked at them I saw Frank. He loved them as much as he loved his mother. That’s when I realized if I didn’t go I would kill myself. And something told me at Nadir I would be changed and I would be happy. One day, on a sudden impulse which shutout all my reservations, my fears, I threw a few of my things into a plastic bag. I called Frank’s mother and asked her if she could be here when the girls got home so that I could pick up Frank’s suit from the cleaners. She chided me for not having planned the day, but I hung up. I walked out the door and hiked the two miles to the train station where I caught the 3:20 to the city. I walked into the Nadir looking like a housewife out food shopping. No one cared though. Someone beautiful served this dark liquor and I drank it. Next thing I remember I was talking to this guy named Eddie. He was a poet. I remember telling him my name but then it fell away, like a pebble down a well. The famous guy over there reminded me tonight. My name was once Doris. It’s not that you forget. It just becomes something different, remote, belonging to someone else. After a while you forget it’s there, the name, the memories.
Chorus Did you forget your children?
Judy No, I didn’t forget them, but like my name and my past they became remote. I felt compelled to move on. Eddie called me Salome so that became my name, because everyone had that name. At that time this young blond woman was the queen of Nadir and her name was Salome. Eddie always sat with his legs crossed, smoking his weed, saying what I thought were simply profound things. He recited Rilke, like TV. I found his words gentle like a lullaby, you know, I was the girl from the suburbs. He said he liked me clean and pure, the way he found me, the innocent housewife. Later I learned he was from the suburbs too, used to sell vacuum cleaners. But as long as we stayed inside The Nadir it was okay. How long we were there, I don’t remember. Whenever we left and tried to make a go of it on the outside, I realized I wanted Eddie and he wasn’t Eddie. He probably didn’t want me either, he wanted Salome. When I realized he had taught me everything he could, I left him. I went back to The Nadir and this time it was somebody else. Same thing, Eddie and Salome inside Nadir. Eddie says all the things I want to hear and I must have looked like everything he had ever wanted in a woman. He said he wanted to liberate me from all that I had known, no more games. But when we tried to make it outside, we couldn’t do it either.
Chorus So you left him.
Judy But with each relationship I took away something, the poet’s fetish with corsets, the rocker’s with ballet heels. But this time, I didn’t go back to The Nadir. I tried waiting on tables. I was too old for that. And I couldn’t afford to experiment with the clothing I was coming to need. I got desperate. I lived on the generosity of new friends. I was afraid I would fall apart and then no one would want me. So I went back to Nadir with a new plan.
Chorus New plan?
Judy I’d studied Salome. Her style, her technique. She took a liking to me, like to an older aunt. Compared to all of them I was homely and not a threat. But she liked my experiments, the older lady wearing corsets and torture heels, that’s what she called them. But they turned her on. She was a fox; but when I think back she was a rather traditional beauty, short skirts, slumming in the lower east side. She invited me into her bed one night and for awhile I lived with her, which was something new for me. It gave me a chance to observe a sexy woman in bed. She got money from somewhere so she encouraged my wardrobe fantasies.
Chorus But what was your plan? You have us all on the edge of our seats!
Judy I wanted to be the Queen of Nadir.
Chorus Overthrow Salome.
Judy She was young, she was engaged, and would move back uptown.
Chorus It’s a fairy tale.
TV “What casts a spell over other gods lets this most cunning god escape into his ever-receding power.”
Chorus That, ladies and gentlemen, was our own TV, wandering the room, sometime mumbling to himself but this time reciting poetry to Judy. . . His own verse?
Judy No, that’s from Rilke’s Idol.
TV “You whom one never forgets, who gave birth to herself in loss. . .”
Judy Then I ran into Blotter again. I’d met him the first time at one of the parties the painter and I gave. . .
Chorus Painter? Is that the one you mentioned earlier when we were talking about your long nails?
Judy Remi is part of the story, part of my evolution, like everyone I’ve met. He’s the one who inscribed the Tree of Good and Evil on my body with needle and ink.
Chorus Can you show us? Please. . ! Not now! Really. About Blotter.
Judy No, it’s ok.
Chorus Oh, well, Judy has obliged us, by opening her robe and lifting her jersey. . . I love your nipple shields.
Judy Me too.
Chorus Don’t look down, Anthony or you’ll see the root of good and evil. . . That’s not funny. You’re the one who can’t get your eyes off her. Anyway thank you, Judy, that was extraordinary. Beautiful work. . . Yeah, top to bottom. . ! About Blotter. We’ve heard of him but we don’t know much about him.
Judy Adolf wasn’t like the others at all. He was walking his dog in Washington Square Park. I used to walk through the park on Sundays doing my usual workout. That day I was wearing a latex body suit, tight corseted of course, stretching calves and ankles in ballet boots. It was warm so I could keep the front zipper down so everyone could see my tree tattoo. He noticed the small group that had gathered around me, so he came over to have a look. He must have recognized me because he sat down next to me and asked me how I was. I’d learned a lot by then. I’d finally upstaged Salome. I was Samantha now, the Queen of Nadir. Life thrilled me. I still got chills thinking how far I’d come. I’d proved to myself I could be anything I wanted. Body modification was becoming a major interest. But then what? I lived for the day. But what did that mean? He told me he had just read a brilliant book that connected everything. A unification thing. He said that was the way the world was going and he intended to be on top of the wave. He wanted to broaden his influence which at that time centered around the Standard Testing thing. He said Standards were everything. Actually he wasn’t much different from the husband I’d left behind in the suburbs, only he was richer and more ambitious. He asked me if I could sing. I said yeah, even though I’d never even whispered into the open mic, and that was how Judy Crucible was born.
Anthony If Blotter could market masturbation as manly and wholesome, he’d do it. And we’d be in agreement for the first time.
Chorus What an outrage! We hope our viewers didn’t hear that, especially the youngsters.
Anthony They’re the ones who need to hear it.
Chorus Morales, you have a filthy mind. . . Told you Mr. Hairy Palms was a pervert!
Anthony I’m a dog with a bone, a Pavlovian bone. I can’t excise the Goddess from my thoughts, nor edit the way she looks.
Judy I don’t picture you the masturbating type.
Anthony Everyone’s the masturbating type, whether we use our hand or our head.
Judy You’re right there.
Chorus The intercom is ringing. . . Thank god. . ! Raymond! The buzzer. . ! Who could that possibly be at this hour. . ? In this storm. . ? On a night when no one is supposed to be out?
Anthony But I’ve had time to understand.
Judy You sound like a priest.
Anthony In a way, but more like a slave to the Goddess.
Judy Your wife, isn’t she your goddess?
Chorus Look who’s just arrived? Adolf Blotter. We had no idea, Judy, he was so tall. . . And distinguished. Just goes to show you what kind of a woman these men like. The man behind him is large and burly with wild hair and a beard. . . Folks, this is Bill Board, the technical wizard for TV’s light bending computer. . . Blotter is slapping the snow from his overcoat sleeves but his companion seems unaware of his own snow cover. The white snow in his gray hair is beginning to drip down his face. Unlike the stylish beards so many are sporting these days, this beard is a complete shambles. . . With care Blotter dries his face with his extended fingers. He wears the fashionable week-old growth.
Blotter Wind’s picking up. I even heard thunder.
Board Cass. . . Thom!
Chorus Board looks shaken by the sight of Raymond’s guests.
Anthony Every woman is a goddess at some point, Judy. Deme was mine.
Judy Was?
Anthony Until we got to know each other, then we became flesh and blood and the world once again was round.
Judy And me? Am I a goddess?
Anthony Oh yeah, right now, you’re the goddess. And that’s what you want, isn’t it? Like that poem Thom just recited.
Judy To never be forgotten.
Anthony And you’ll remain the goddess for as long as you remain untouched and without love.
Judy I’ve been touched and loved by many.
Anthony But until someone really knows you and loves you, you’ll remain an image on water, always out of reach.
Judy You’re the poet.
Anthony Nah, I’m a truck driver.
Chorus Blotter walks briskly forward, carrying a large plastic shopping bag. He stops when he sees Anthony Morales in a hairy ape suit, sitting next to what looks like a shapely woman wearing a man’s bathrobe, in dark stockings and a garter, her head inside a hairy mask.
Blotter Raymond, I have to hand it to you for luring Morales here. Judy? Judy, you can take that off now, you’re safe.
Raymond I didn’t lure them here, Adolf.
Blotter Then Judy did, after this bastard. . . Judy. . .
Raymond Nope, this is another page from TV’s chronicle.
Chorus Looking at TV, Blotter’s eyes are struggling to see him inside what we will call, in Vellumese, the hallow glow of an internal idea.
Blotter Thomas Vellum? This is, I was. . .
Chorus Now he’s looking for something inside his bag.
Blotter I was talking to this man a few hours ago at the bar when Morales abducted Judy. I had no idea he was the . . .
Chorus He has just seen Cass, as she comes striding across the wide living room expanse in the fetching sweater Raymond found in his daughter’s bureau. . . It doesn’t look as if she is aware of his presence as she paces in what must be an exhausting night for her.
Blotter Ah, the young teacher, my pleasure. . .
Cass Don’t give me that “young teacher” shit, buster.
Judy Take it easy AB, you look like you’re about to faint.
Blotter Raymond, you say they just walked right in? Morales, I’m surprised you’re not in jail.
Anthony Adolf, I thought you’re only jailing the helpless now.
Chorus You mean the homeless.
Anthony Yeah, that’s what I meant. He’s only picking up the homeless.
Blotter I’m doing nothing of the kind. Politics and business don’t go together.
Anthony I didn’t think so, until recently.
Judy Like church and state.
Raymond Do you think there’s a niche market for fundamentalists? We need to consider that.
Blotter Judy, that mask is a symbol of ASS. Please take it off.
Raymond Maybe there’s a market for that as well, you know, the story of Beauty and the Beast.
Blotter Morales, stealing a doll is one thing, kidnapping. . .
Judy I was walking out on you, AB.
Blotter . . . is a federal. . . You were leaving me?
Judy Yeah, so put your phone away.
Raymond Take your coats off. Let me take that bag, Adolf. Billy, you know where to hang it. Adolf, let’s start the meeting.
Chorus We are following Raymond over to the piano. . . What’s in that bag,
Mr. Blotter. . ? With great ceremony, no, not quite that dramatically. . . We often get carried away at times like this . . ! Samantha, it’s a Judy doll, wearing the wicked dress she arrived in. . . Her boots are different. . . It’s Judy down
to . . . Harry, we all can see them. . . Samantha, I just wanted to draw the attention of our audience to the exquisite artwork between them. . . Can the rest of our viewers see the TV doll? He’s wearing white linen trousers and vest. If it wasn’t for that long scraggly beard, he’d be one handsome dude. . . Even with that long beard, he’s quite the gent. . . More than just a gent, Harry. There’s something special about him. Have you ever noticed how male dolls seem to lack, you know, pizang. . ! Yeah, we noticed.
Blotter Judy, did I mislead you?
Judy No, I misled myself.
Blotter Someday people will be looking at this facsimile the way they look at Venus de Milo. It will be in museums.
Raymond Bill, set up your computer, let’s get this session rolling.
Chorus Board looks nervous to us, what do you think. . ? Yeah, it looks that way to us, too.
Cass Bill, you haven’t changed much.
Board Older, heavier. But you look the same, actually better.
Cass Tell me what this heavy metal kewpie doll has to do with the Vellum doll?
Board Cass, it’s just a marketing thing. I’m just a hardware man.
Blotter Isn’t it obvious? They have chemistry.
Cass Chemistry?
Blotter I’ll be blunt. ASS smeared Barbie. The kids began dressing Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, in her accessories as if he was a Barbie. We need a red-blooded male, not a transvestite.
Chorus Look, Judy is stroking the little TV’s beard. Opps, it came off.
Board Don’t worry, it was designed for that.
Raymond These dolls are anatomically correct, even TV, down to the smallest details, a modern feature.
Chorus Marvelous. . . What could be more real. . ! More real than humans.
Raymond We’ve given them special wardrobes, designed by Sari. . .
Judy Excuse me, that wing dress – I designed it!
Raymond How could I forget. Which makes me realize you’ll need your own signature line.
Blotter I agree.
Board These dolls interface with a computer. A simple jack or laser connects them. Through commands at the keyboard, they act like real little people. They can be taught to speak, to recite poetry, sing songs. . .
Blotter Kids will love these two.
Chorus Adults too!
Blotter This isn’t just a love doll like Ken.
Board TV is an intellectual, just like its archetype. The breakthrough technology is the way I wired the Vellum doll. It’s a simulacrum.
TV That’s not me. You created it, Billy. It’s more about you.
Board It’s you, your gestures, I copied them off video pieces. It’s you, or it will be as soon as I’ve downloaded all your stories, I mean this is as real as it gets.
TV He looks like a preacher to me.
Anthony And she looks like an anatomically correct dumb broad.
Chorus How rude, Anthony. . . Only a pervert would see her as just another broad and not see the real human being.
Board Judy, you’re a new phenomena, I didn’t have enough material to download. But you’re a performer, you can sing.
Chorus Look, TV has put down his own precious bag of garbage so he can inspect the dolls. Perhaps we have a détente.
Judy He’s right, the Judy Doll is just a dumb broad.
Board I didn’t have enough time to develop her circuit board either.
Judy It’s always a rush job, when it gets down to me.
Board I got your voice right. Listen.
Judy Doll Hey, baby.
Chorus Don’t you just love her, that child-like voice. Judy, it’s your voice.
Judy That’s it?
Chorus Judy, she even has your piercings. How cool.
Board There was enough room for the larger pieces, your nose rings and the ear lobe pieces.
Chorus Look, TV has removed one of the little tunnels.
Board Yeah, the kids can buy their own tunnel kits – they’re interchangeable. We were also able to add the ear wings, eyebrow spirals, even the lip claws but the dermal stuff was hard to get all in.
Chorus How about the nipple. . .
Blotter Yes.
Chorus Raymond, the intercom is ringing again. . . How annoying. At a time like this.
Raymond The doorman is upset. He said the police have arrived.
Judy Doll Hey, baby.
Chorus Look Samantha, she wobbles when she walks in those weird shoes. Her hips move just like yours, Judy.
Judy The pony boots were my second choice.
Board We couldn’t get her to stand in her other shoes. . .
Judy Ballet heels.
Board She kept falling over. We thought about magnets but then it would only work on a metal table or platform and she’d move like Frankenstein. Judy came up with the pony boots which are weighted and give her balance.
Chorus Billy looks like a mad pianist talking quickly, working madly on his keyboard. . . Imagine if he was working a chorus line of Judy dolls. . . That’s funny.
TV Doll Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?
Cass Hamlet?
Judy Doll Hey, baby.
Chorus Judy, she’s adorable.
Judy So what? She sounds stupid.
Blotter It won’t work, Morales. Newspapers won’t carry this.
Anthony What won’t work?
Blotter Whatever you are trying to pull downstairs.
Judy Doll Hey, baby.
TV Doll That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.
Judy Doll Hey, baby.
Chorus Samantha, she can even shake her top. . . Take it easy, Harry.
Board Wait, I’ll get it, wait.
Chorus Where can I buy one of these Judy dolls?
Judy My old Barbie did better than this.
Judy Doll It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to. . .
Board I haven’t worked out all the details.
Chorus But it’s marvelous, she’s singing.
Judy You’ve wired his doll for brains, but for me, you’ve wired mine to grow size 40 tits!
Cass Well, Judy, we do agree on that. Only thing is you do have big tits. You did that to yourself. You made yourself a body. That’s what we see.
Judy Who said a woman with big tits doesn’t have a brain?
Cass I guess a woman with tits can have a brain, even if the men around her don’t.
TV Just as some of us must explore the full potential of corporeality – it’s an imperative. . .
Chorus What’s he talking about. . ? I haven’t the faintest. But it’s the most profound thing I’ve ever heard, Harry.
TV some of us must explore the full realm of the mind, whether in fantasy or science. Some explore both the physical and the ethereal simultaneously, a lesson I’ve been learning over the last year. This is the area where averages meet, the transitional areas where the physical world and the cognitive merge, where a genius in mind needs the freedom discovered by the genius of body to be fully himself. . . or herself.
Board Like Turing.
Chorus Touring what. . ? What’s touring have to do with this?
Board Alan Turing. He invented the electronic computer that broke the enigma code which helped the Allies win the last world war. Some say he committed suicide because he was gay, a social outcast in his country.
TV We lost him, his work in the world of the mind, that we can be sure of. He
couldn’t be himself, though hard he tried, a kind of defiant Caravaggio of the intellect. His life could have been easier had more Crucibles been battling on the field of physicality against the narrow mindedness of what is human. Thanks to social warriors like Judy and Sam. . .
Everyone Sam? Who is Sam? Do you know a Sam?
Raymond Let me get his name into my phone. What’s his last name?
TV the rest of us can be free both in body and spirit.
Chorus Well, no one knows what to say.
Cass Well, Judy, I guess I have to agree with Thom on that strange flip of an idea. But as to what Shakespeare has to do with Thom – you’ve lost me, Billy. You might as well have him reciting Homer.
Raymond We were just talking about that. Billy, can we do Homer?
Chorus The door bell. . ! Will someone please answer it. . ! Look! It’s the police chief at the door.
Rascul Blotter, what’s going on here?
Blotter I should ask you that, Rascul. Why are you here?
Chorus It’s Chief Rascul with members of Media Free USA. We knew something big was happening here. . . It’s getting crowded in here.
TV I can’t breath. I need some air.
Raymond Please Thom, don’t open the window. The snow will blow in.
Chorus Let’s go down to Samantha and Harry on the street. Samantha, special guest star, Chief Rascul has just arrived on our show. We’ll find out what brought him up here but can you tell us how is it down there. . ? We can barely see our hands in front of our faces. Fifth Avenue is swarming with Homeland Protection officers who’ve taken over the block with their Humpervees. Very lurid, headlights glowing, engines running. . . Is there any reason for all the activity down there. . ? There are rumors afloat that Eddie Ammonia is in the building. . . That explains why Chief Rascul is here with us now in his Homeland Protection uniform, which, if you remember, includes the bowler hat with emblem and the American flag pin. Do we know the designer. . ? Not yet. . . We all agree he looks great, sporting a new tightly trimmed beard. . . Yes, we thought so too. We hear the sanitation plows in the distance but can’t see them yet. . . Thank you, Samantha.
Rascul We received an anonymous phone call. Then our infrared satellite surveillance caught Ammonia at your window.
Blotter That’s crazy. In weather like this?
Rascul That’s another secret department with its own financing and its own secret patch.
Blotter We’re having a business meeting.
Rascul Tonight? With a war and a blizzard, a meeting? And with that guy in the ape suit?
TV I need fresh air.
Rascul You! Don’t move.
Chorus Our colleagues from Media Free have cameras and mikes. Listen to what he says or they’ll shoot.
Raymond Thom, close the window, the snow’s ruining my drapes.
Rascul I told you, don’t move.
Judy Doll Hey, baby.
Chorus We love when she lifts her arms that little bit and spreads her arm wings.
Raymond Let’s step back a bit and take a deep breath.
Blotter Rascul, let me introduce. . .
Rascul Morales, as soon as we have dealt with the homeless, we’ll be tackling the subversives and perverts. You’ll be first on my list!
TV Doll We are arrant naves all; believe none of us.
Rascul What are those things?
Board Simulacrum.
Rascul Simu-what?
Board I’ve recreated a miniature TV and Judy. They interface. . .
Rascul In the nude?
Blotter Raymond, this is the new head of Homeland Protection, Chief Rascul.
Raymond Ah yes, my pleasure. You present quite a formidable image on the screen, Chief.
Rascul Thank you. An hour ago Congress passed the Open Surveillance Law, so it makes it even more important to look your best.
Judy Doll Hey. . . What’s it all about, Alfie. . .
Board Isn’t that better?
Judy What a dope.
Blotter You already know Judy. Judy, take that mask off.
Judy It’s easier this way, AB.
Rascul Who are you impersonating?
Cass Les Demoiselle d’Avignon.
Blotter Yes, and this charming woman is Cass.
Cass Cassandra Kale.
TV Doll To die, to sleep – no more – and by sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to!
Chorus Oh look, the TV doll is walking over to little Judy. He is trying to hold her hand.
Judy Doll What’s it all about, Alfie?
Rascul Folks, have a look around.
Raymond I can’t have Media Free poking around like this! This is my home.
Rascul It’s the law now.
TV Doll There’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life: for who would bear the whips and scorns of time, th’ oppressor’s wrong. . ,
Judy Doll It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to.
Cass Why didn’t you program You Don’t Own Me instead.
Chorus Chief Rascul, he appears to be jumping.
Rascul Hey, I told you to step away from there!
TV Can’t you hear the cry below?
Raymond What law?
TV Doll . . . the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office. . ,
Rascul Just passed in an emergency session. Media is now an arm of the law. We no longer need a warrant. If you have nothing to hide, think of it as free publicity.
Anthony Publicity versus privacy.
TV Doll . . . and the spurns that patient merit of the’ unworthy takes when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?
Raymond Please, Thom, it’s cold. And my draperies.
Judy Doll It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to. . .
Rascul We’ve taken the televised Town Meetings and the popular Law Enforcement episodes to a new level. People want this sort of thing. Now we have investigations carried on in public by the media. Transparency. And we all know how Joe and Sally Public like to ham it up for the camera!
Chorus Did you hear that. . ? Yeah, we’re taking over.
Rascul It’s all legit. Got to keep this country safe!
Chorus Yes, instead of being just a voice in the crowd, we’ve become the voice of the crowd.
TV Is that the wind howling or the cry of people down on the street?
Chorus The media and the people are one! This is an historic day for democracy. . . Yes, our feeling and your feeling. . . Yeah, we’re just like everyone else after all.
Rascul So who is that guy?
Raymond That’s TV.
Blotter The famous entertainer.
Rascul No, I’d know TV’s face. That looks like the guy in the poster, Eddie Ammonia, only without a beard.
Raymond No, that’s TV.
Rascul Let’s keep this simple. The President advocates simplicity.
TV “Simplicity, which has no name, if free of desires. . .”
Rascul What the hell does that mean?
Board As you can see the doll’s beard is an accessory. See! He comes with or without the beard.
Rascul Proves my point.
Raymond What’s your point?
Rascul Same guy with or without the beard. Keep it simple. That’s what the President says. Same guy, with or without the beard. Did you get that?
Chorus Got it, Chief!
Raymond Obviously. But the man on the poster. . .
Rascul Listen here, what did you say your name was?
Blotter Raymond Smith. Let me explain, Rascul. . .
Rascul Explain nothing, and Blotter, call me Chief when I am visiting in an official capacity. Now, if you will allow me to carry out my duties I will continue my interrogation.
Cass You’re just an official bully.
Rascul Let’s keep things simple. Ok, tell me again, Eddie, why did you shave?
Chorus Chief, he never told you.
Rascul Did you think we couldn’t see the difference? Did you get that?
Chorus Got it, Chief!
Raymond Chief Rascul, you’ve got it all wrong. TV is the fountainhead of our economic system. I already explained that to those in charge.
Rascul I am in charge, and if we don’t get some answers here, I’ll be taking everyone in for concealing an enemy of the state.
Blotter Get serious, Rascul.
Rascul Did you hear what this man just said to a servant of the people?
Chorus Got it, Chief.
Raymond We wanted to take the publicity off TV. Ammonia is the bum you want. He’s the Homeless Head of State.
Rascul Isn’t it true that aka TV funded ARCH through his Homeless Institute Trust Fund?
Cass Funding ARCH is quite a stretch from helping the needy.
Rascul And isn’t it true that aka TV helped pay off the debt incurred by the Refugium government after the World Bank, who justifiably wanted to recoup their loan, instituted strict measures to balance their budget.
Cass So what, we paid off their debt, after those measures destabilized the culture!
Rascul Did you think that an individual could do something? Did any of you ever think this homeless thing would get so big? It’s bigger than global warming. We’re invading nations. You should have considered the ramifications of your action, whoever you are.
Blotter Chief Rascul, you have an important job now.
Rascul And don’t I know it. A poor boy like me, it’s amazing.
Blotter It’s America!
Raymond Did you know, Mr. Rascul. . .
Rascul Chief, Chief Rascul.
Raymond Yes, Chief, did you know that The Council for Economic Development awarded TV its highest honor, the medal for the Creative Recycling of Ancient Principles?
Rascul Didn’t know that.
Chorus Chief, is it true that Eddie Ammonia has become the most powerful man in the world?
Rascul Who told you that?
Chorus It’s the news on the street, Chief, brought to you first by INNETNEWS.
Blotter I see an opportunity. Ammonia might have a price.
Rascul Why don’t you ask him since you brought him here? But I’ll tell you this, he was already offered everything while in detention and he turned it all down.
Blotter Who?
Rascul Him! Eddie, during interrogation. So Eddie, you never answered my question. Why did you shave? Was it to throw us off?
TV In a sense.
Rascul Did you get that?
Chorus Got it, Chief!
TV People have been following me for years. Especially them.
Chorus Us? Of all the nerve.
Cass He shaved because his beard was turning white. He’s a vain man, but no more vain than the rest of us!
Judy Chalk up another for Eve.
Rascul I’ll tell you why he shaved. Right now I have officers lining up for duty in Sybaris. It’s paradise! Balmy evenings, palm trees, pretty girls. But he didn’t want anything to do with it. You’re one of those incorrigible people. You want to be different. You don’t want to be like the rest of us. . .
Judy Neither do I!
Rascul Now that we have beards and want the god-given right to enjoy ourselves, you turn your back on us. And don’t think you can create a thousand year old religion through self-sacrifice. Bill Bop will see that your word is not the word.
Raymond Thom, are you recreating yourself again?
Cass Raymond, you’re as crazy as this SS agent.
Rascul Ms. Kale? Is that right? You seem to know this man?
Cass For some time. We’re husband and wife.
Rascul But you chose to keep your own name?
Cass That’s right.
Rascul So you can vouch for your husband’s whereabouts for the last three years.
Cass Not exactly, since he chose not to live at home.
Rascul Exactly my point. And isn’t it true, Eddie, you prefer a life of desolation over the comforts and luxuries of civilized living? Isn’t it true, Eddie, that you’re not like the rest of us? You prefer life among the homeless to life inside a home?
Board I’m confused. Who’s he talking to?
Chorus To Eddie Ammonia.
Blotter I don’t know who Eddie is, but that’s TV.
Rascul You just met him for the first time tonight, right? So how would you know?
Blotter Because I believe his wife. And that doll was made in TV’s image.
Rascul That’s right, and I’ve already demonstrated the close ties between EA and TV. Where you find one, you find the other.
Cass This is your fault, Raymond, printing all those posters with TV’s image and calling him EA.
Raymond What’s in a beard?
Rascul In times like this, you can’t believe anyone. This man is Eddie Ammonia. Whether he’s TV is irrelevant.
Chorus He’s right, Adolf. If the Chief of Homeland Protection says he’s EA, then he’s EA. Which leaves us wondering, what’s become of TV?
Rascul There is no TV.
Anthony And two plus two equals five.
Chorus Raymond, the phone!
Raymond Yes, hello. . , oh that’s wonderful. . . Yes, do it. . . OK, hold on. It’s Sari Sermon. She’s designing an Eddie T-shirt. She’s got that feeling it’ll be big, but she’s only got TV’s image on the old shirts.
Chorus Look, little Judy is dancing with tiny TV. . ! You mean little Eddie. . ? Oops, old habits die hard.
Anthony This guy’s Thomas Vellum.
Raymond Sari. . , yes, everything’s fine. Look, we’ll market the old T-shirts with the TV images. . Yes, TV is EA with or without the beard. The beard is an insignificant detail. . . Wonderful, bye.
Rascul No point in shaking your head, EA, the game’s up.
Chorus Ah, the phone again. Raymond, answer it. . ! Wow, little EA is trying to put the make on little Judy. . . We’re going down to the street to see what’s going on there. . ? It’s unbelievable out here, sheer bedlam. . . Yeah, wind and snow and suddenly thousands of people appeared out of nowhere despite the curfew. It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like this. . . Homeland is surrounded by students from SATS chanting against Standardized Testing, members of ASS chanting against all Standards and young and old gathering to see Eddie Ammonia.
Judy So that’s why you called your wife.
Anthony Deme is our coordinator.
Chorus So is it true, what we’ve heard down here. . ? Yes, seems the man we thought was TV is actually EA. Seems that when beards were switched back at ARCH headquarters TV did indeed assumpt. His role was assumed by Eddie. . . Amazing. Now back to you.
Anthony He’s no more Eddie than you are Abe Lincoln. Thom looks exactly the way he did when I last saw him in. . . in 1980.
Rascul And you are about as reliable as a cell phone under a mountain of lead.
Raymond I love the whimsy of the market!
Anthony You’re always looking for the pace setter.
Raymond That’s my job.
Judy I’m a dime a dozen.
Chorus Why the hang dog look, EA? You’re a rising star.
TV I’m not EA. I’ve got all the proof I need in my bag.
Chorus Like your poster. What a scream!
Blotter SATS?
Chorus Yeah, SATS.
Blotter But what is SATS?
Cass Students Against Testing Standards.
Chorus Perhaps this is the moment we can ask our viewers if they think this is the end of an era, a shift in values?
Anthony A paradigm shift, like the 1980s, when the world turned its back on real world.
Chorus Call in and tell us what you think. Our operators are on the line waiting for your calls. . . You don’t need to ask them. . . What do you mean. . ? We are the people. Ask yourself. . . I see what you mean. . . Listen, the crowd is roaring for EA. He remains standing by the window, holding the wanted poster in hand, where his likeness has now become more than obvious. He is like someone sentenced to death. . . The Chief has gone over to the piano and is looking into the plastic shopping bag EA put down when he opened the window.
TV Hey, that’s my bag. It’s full of evidence.
Rascul Evidence of what?
TV Of who I am!
Rascul We know who you are.
Cass He started shaving because of a few grey hairs.
Raymond Eddie, if I had only known, I could have recommended an excellent hair stylist, she does wonders with color.
Chorus Look, little Judy just pushed little Eddie away and almost lost her balance.
EA Doll How I am tortured by spasm and rigid convulsion! Oh! I am racked on the wheel!
Board Wait a minute.
EA Doll Quick, oh! Be quick! Life has no more charms for me since. . .
Judy Doll Hey, baby.
Chorus Board looks frantic. . . Little Eddie is chasing little Judy, who can barely move in her gorgeous dress. . . Oh my. Look at the front of his pants. . . Samantha, Harry, big news up here. Billy Board, inventor of simulacrum, has created a doll that gets an erection.
EA Doll I can’t get rid of it!
Rascul Now would you look in here! Bring the surveillance in for a close-up. A bag full of filth, pictures of naked women, an old tattered magazine. All the kinds of things a perverted, dirty, old homeless man would have. Scan this stuff.
Chorus Right on it, boss!
Rascul Eddie’s even got money in here.
Anthony That money isn’t real, and you know it.
Rascul No, Morales, you’re right, it’s counterfeit. Did you get that down, Media?
Chorus Got it, boss!
TV That’s not Eddie’s stuff.
Rascul Didn’t you say this was your bag of evidence?
TV Mine, not Eddie’s. I’m not Eddie!
Cass He’s not Eddie!
Rascul Evading authority through impersonation. Got that Media?
Chorus Got it, boss!
Rascul OK, one final proof. Ask the people in the street if he is Eddie Ammonia.
Chorus Ask them yourself. . . Can’t you see we’re involved in a new level of reality?
Rascul If you want to keep your license, ask them.
Chorus All right! Harry, we’d like you to take a survey. . . In this snow. . ? Ask the crowd whether the man they see in the window is TV or EA.
Cass Asking them won’t answer anything. They don’t know my husband.
Rascul You may be a teacher but I belong to the majority and this is a democracy. In spite of your sarcasm, the people always know.
Cass That’s right, I forgot they chose Barabbas.
Judy Listen!
Anthony That’s the wind.
Judy Sounded like thunder.
Chorus What a hew and cry. . ! What did the people say. . ? We want Eddie. We want Eddie. . . Let me rephrase this: Do they think TV is Eddie. . ? Long live Eddie.
Rascul He’s Eddie.
Anthony But no one identified him. They didn’t they say he was Eddie. They just said they wanted Eddie.
TV No one wanted me?
Rascul Yeah, you’re wanted.
Chorus This is a moment to be proud of, we see popular democracy in action.
Rascul There was a time when I was young and took to the streets. The people united can never be defeated. Yeah, and now I’m helping to run a democracy. Power to the people.
Blotter This is getting out of hand, Rascul.
Rascul This is the last time I’ll tell you, Blotter. Call me Chief.
EA Doll Ah! What a bad thing it is to let yourself be led away by other women! Why give me such pain and suffering and yourself into the bargain?
Judy Doll Hands off, sir!
EA Doll And Aphrodite, whose mysteries you have not celebrated for so long? Oh! Won’t you please come back home?
Judy Why am I always involved in this story?
Judy Doll No, least not till a sound treaty puts an end to the war.
EA Doll Well, if you wish it so much, why, we’ll make it your treaty.
Chorus What a strange outburst from the little simulacrum. What’s going on Board?
Board I’m not sure.
Cass That’s Aristophanes.
Raymond I guess we did find Aristophanes after all, Cass!
Cass I don’t get your point, Billy.
Board I don’t know, I didn’t download this.
TV See. It always works out this way.
Rascul Why all these pictures, Eddie?
TV They’re of her. She’s everywhere now.
Chorus Like Ammonia.
EA Doll At any rate, lie with me for a little while.
Judy Doll No, no, no! but just the same, I can’t say I don’t love you.
Chorus What a tease.
EA Doll You love me? Then why refuse to lie with me, my little girl, my sweet?
Chorus He’s hysterical, with his little hard-on. Excuse us.
Rascul What is this, a coded message?
TV Give me that! It’s just a stupid postcard from Starks coffee shop.
Judy That’s his quote.
Rascul T A O. Got that.
Chorus Got it, Chief. . ! Chief is reading more of Eddie’s coded message. . . That’s a copy.
Rascul Tao. . . action. . . transform. . .
Judy Something like: ‘As we roil through this state of flux, must always remember simplicity.’ Made total sense when I heard it.
Rascul . . .desire. . . simplicity. . . free of. . . the world will be at peace of its own accord. Yep, seems we want the same things, Eddie, only our tactics differ.
Blotter Nothing makes sense. Why is SATS downstairs?
Rascul Not so fast, Ammonia.
Cass Leave him alone!
Rascul Have it your way, let him jump.
TV I’m not jumping. I need air.
Chorus Listen to the crowd. . . They see you. Let’s go down to Harry and Samantha on the street. . . Yes, we have here members of SATS. Your name?
Atah Atah.
Chorus And yours.
Clio Clio.
Chorus Is Eddie Ammonia, otherwise known to all as EA, involved in your organization?
Atah In that he stands outside the system, the standardized system, yes, in a sense he is.
Chorus Do you know who he is?
Clio No. But his influence seems to be more important than his actual being.
Chorus A very exciting night though.
Clio Yes, very exciting.
Chorus Any word to our viewers?
Clio Yes, come out. Where ever you are, come out!
Atah Become part of this. End standardized testing.
Rascul Why, that’s a call for insurrection! Did you get all that? Find out who they are?
Cass That young woman is our daughter!
Board Cass, I had no idea these dolls would become. . .
Rascul Your daughter? EA has a daughter? EA, a family man?
Raymond Cassandra, do you think we’re beginning another instar? Isn’t that what you called it, Eddie, when you were Thom? Can you hear me, Thom? Eddie, is that you?
TV You don’t even know Eddie. None of you do.
Chorus What a come back!
EA Doll . . . won’t you lie down now?
Judy Doll But, miserable man, where, where?
Chorus Judy, she is your spitting image. Just look at the way you’re twisting Eddie around your little pinky.
Anthony That’s not Judy. That’s just a doll.
Chorus Just a doll, he says. . ! You should know. You still play with them.
Cass This play is working toward a specific end, the end of senseless war. She has a purpose here.
Blotter Your daughter is a member of SATS?
Rascul If she’s out on the street calling people to arms, that doesn’t sound like she wants to end war.
Raymond Billy, have you lost control of them?
Board I don’t know whether to be ecstatic or miserable. But yes, they seem to be acting out something on their own.
Cass Not on their own. This was written over two thousand years ago!
TV Like I’ve always said. . .
Rascul What did you say?
TV A wormhole is feeding this data to the computer. Board knows. After all he’s using my hyped up word processor.
Rascul Media, we want an all points bulletin, do you copy, must apprehend Clio and her friend. They are young and they are dangerous.
Board Do you think that’s it, Thom? Last time I thought you were a crazy but creative guy. But now I’m not so sure you’re even crazy.
Judy Doll Well, I’ll be off then, and find a bed for us.
EA Doll There’s no point in that; surely we can lie on the ground.
Judy Doll No, no! even though you are bad, I don’t like your lying on the bare earth.
EA Doll Ah! How the dear girl loves me!
Judy Doll Come, get to bed quick; I am going to undress. But, oh dear, we must have a mattress.
EA Doll A mattress? Oh! No, never mind that!
Judy Doll No, by Artemisia! Lie on the bare sacking? Never! That would be squalid.
EA Doll Kiss me!
Judy Doll Wait a minute!
EA Doll Good god, hurry up.
Rascul Media, did you hear me?
Chorus Harry, Samantha, the word up here is ‘awesome.’ We are completely mesmerized by Billy Board’s toys.
Board They are not toys!
Chorus They do everything, even the naughty stuff. . .
Rascul Apprehend EA’s daughter, now!
Chorus Samantha, Harry, did you hear the Chief? Come in, Samantha, Harry. . .
Chief, we seem to have lost touch with the ground.

Anthony stands and helps Crucible remove the mask. Her mascara is running black
stripes down her cheeks. The areas around her many skin anchors are blotchy. “What, I’ve lost my goddess appeal?” she says, shaking her dreadlocks, frizzy from perspiration. Cass comes to her rescue with tissue, dabbing her cheeks and cleaning the corners of her eyes. “Standardized Testing? What’s that got to do with anything?” “Money for one,” Judy says. Blotter wipes his forehead with his tie. “We should be going home.” “I’m not going home with you.” “What about our plans. The doll, the…” “Your plans, not mine.” “I’ve got to get downstairs,” says Rascul. “Keep an eye on them, Blotter.” “I’m coming with you.” Bill Board reverentially places his dolls into his plastic bag. “Folks, I’m sure we can work out all the difficulties to everyone’s benefit.” “It never works out to everyone’s benefit, Raymond.” “Well, we can always try. . , draw up papers. . . We can even modify the dolls. What do you think, Bill?” Billy Board is packing up his computer. “Blotter, stay here.” Adolf Blotter grabs the plastic bag. “No, I’m leaving with you, Rascul. You’re security and there are people down there, terrorists, who don’t believe in Standardized Testing. I demand protection.” “Who’s going to watch Ammonia?” “I will,” Raymond volunteers. “Can we trust him, Blotter?” “Absolutely, even though he is freelance, he admits he is a member of the Group.” “The Group stands for culture, Eddie, for civilization.” “Are you coming with us, Billy?” “Yeah, where those go I go,” replies Board, pointing to Blotter’s plastic bag. “SATS are young people, Blotter. You’re not afraid of them are you?” “There’s not one person down there calling out my name. They don’t even know I’m here.” “Yeah, they used to love me and now they want somebody new.” “Let’s go, enough of these idols and their babble. Don’t try anything foolish, EA. I have the building surrounded.” The Chief Of Homeland Protection leaves followed by Adolf Blotter, President of the Standards Group, and Billy Board, CEO of SoftChip, the digestible chip.

Vellum is standing by the window. The wind is blowing. Sirens are wailing. People are shouting. People are chanting. But a white haze obscures everything. Cass and Judy go over to see, followed by Anthony and Raymond. Vaguely, in the air, the susurrus murmur spells out the name, A M M O N I A, which mingles with the winds, distinguished and clear, like a voice descending from the heavens.
Are you sure you’re not Eddie, Thom? I’ve never tried to be something I’m not. You tried to look young. But that was a way to get away from the relic seekers. So then what does he look like? Who? Eddie Ammonia, EA. Probably like Jesus did. So he still has a beard? I don’t know, did Jesus have a beard? I know Buddha didn’t. So maybe he looks like Buddha. Yeah, with a beard. Buddha is never shown with a beard. Does anyone remember what he looked liked? How about Tao Tzu? Who’s that? The guy who wrote the poem on simplicity. I liked that. Yeah, I got it in my pocket. Did Tao have a beard? He’s always depicted with a beard, long and wispy. You can’t say that with surety. Well, it must have been difficult to shave in those days. Yeah, so why does Buddha have a smooth face if he lived under a tree, without toiletries? Good question. Sometimes Buddha is bearded. I think the Eddie I knew before he disappeared had a mustache. I remember. Perhaps he did have a beard, and I copied him. So that means you were the last man to see him. Well, a lot of people saw him, but they just never noticed. He’ll probably be remembered the way he looked dancing with little Judy. That was me. But you’re not him. Who?

According to the doorman who was questioned later, Adolf Blotter and Bill Board were bombarded with a cannonade of snowballs. They disappeared into the white windy air. The bag Blotter was carrying burst. Green money exploded upward in the snowy drafts filling the air with green images of a naked woman. A roiling crowd of students shouting for an end to Standardized Testing chased the three men into the sodium-lit white night. Lightening fulminated above the buildings while the lights of the distant police cars, unable to enter the block, illuminated the swirling flakes in aura of red. Homeland Protection, seeing Rascul disappearing into the haze after Blotter and Board and SATS, followed, a hundred men wearing black leotards, caps and bowler hats and the famous Home Inside a Home patch on their hats. Rascul and the hundred were never seen again. Later, articles of trash bearing the image of a naked housewife were found by the clean-up crews. Much later, according to witnesses, a much trampled Blotter was found wandering through the streets, confused, clutching a wad of green Crucible money. Along with other vagrants he was shipped without trial to Sybaris and hasn’t been seen since to the great wonder of the Group, now rudderless. Board found his way to an east side bar on Park Avenue where his beard drew a great deal of attention and favor. A habitué of the establishment introduced him to her friends who were techie-venture capitalists. When he described a novel method of downloading data through a wormhole, he was met with great skepticism, someone remarking it reminded him of a story or movie he had seen a few years ago where a famous author, whose name he couldn’t recall, was played by you remember who, and so on and so forth. On describing his simulacrum Board was met with even more skepticism, but all agreed that their new-found madman was entertaining.
Back at Raymond’s, the remaining cast waits by the windows until the ensuing bedlam below them grows faint. Raymond, though exhausted, cheerfully offers everyone coffee. Thomas Vellum goes over to the piano and picks up his plastic bag. Anthony, Vellum says, I think we are dealing with something far bigger than beauty. It’s all in here. But instead of pulling out scraps of paper bearing Crucible’s image, he pulls out the dolls. They took my evidence! What are you talking about, Cass exclaims, you’ve got the dolls. That’s the end product of all your evidence. Let me have my stupid doll! Judy demands. And I want my magazine. No, that was my magazine. Well, I want my paper cup too and the post cards, the money. . . It’s my collection. Yeah, but that money wasn’t real. So what? Judy, don’t break the doll, we’ll add it to my collection on my truck grill. What does your wife think of your collection? She knows they’re nothing but dolls. Here at home it will take time to complete our own mission of purifying our society. Who’s that? Must be the Grand Wizard in Washington. Our nation was built by farmers wresting from the indifferent earth a patch of land on which to build their homes. It was farmers who ran our government. Be serious now. I am. Today it’s our commercial leaders who wrestle with an indifferent globe in order to build homes for the world’s downtrodden. Milk and sugar? It’s our commercial leaders who run our nation according to the god-given laws of non-involvement. I promise each and everyone of you, we will succeed in our endeavors to make this world one big happy home. Hey, the phone is ringing. Hello. Yes, I’ll tell them. It’s Clio, she says the coast is clear.

SCRAPS:
Anthony Do you have the time?
Chorus Anthony watches Judy, in her mask, pull a watch on a gold chain out of her cleavage.
Judy I can’t see it clearly through these eyes.
Chorus Watch Anthony. He has to bend over her to look down at the watch. Isn’t she a tease.
Anthony It stopped.
Judy Damn Blotter! Another one of his cheap gifts.
239
This time I ran the show. The aura was gone.
Cass I knew you were my age.
Chorus I don’t know of any woman, of any age, who wouldn’t want that body as her own.
Judy I think you’re older. But I was a mother, too.
Cass I still am.

THE TRUE BUT OFTEN APOCRYPHAL STORY OF THE METAMORPHOSIS OF THOMAS VELLUM’S BEARD, PART II:3

II:3 He rereads The Metropolis story. He discovers aspects of the story he had missed before, as if a bar of light which he had failed to see in a previous reading now illuminates another facet of Philip K’s activities or his train of thought. Hard as it is to believe, he discovers facts he had missed before, essential facts like the apprehension of the murderer whose name is not given. How could he have missed such an essential development in the story? If each reading erases some earlier clues while revealing others previously unseen, then successive readings become absolutely necessary. So he repeatedly culls the piece, garnering details missed in previous readings, writing down the missed details in the margins until the margins contained more words than the source.
Although apprehended, the killer, like the author, remains a mystery. And, even though the police know the killer’s name(how could they not?), the reader doesn’t; that is, any reader other than our TV, who has every reason to suspect that the author, Anon, is himself and possibly the killer. As for the victim, here the light is bright and steady and within its stabilizing glow he sees himself again. No matter how many times he rereads the piece, the victim remains the same. Because Philip K’s adventures bear a close resemblance to his own, it stands to reason that TV the author is also TV the victim. In an early reading a pool of blood was found at the scene of the crime. Since talking to the salesman in the prie-dieu room, he can find no trace of blood in the story – did he imagine reading about a pool of blood? And did he imagine reading the article in The One Way Street Journal bearing witness to facts not mentioned in The Metropolis story, that a struggle between two groups might be at the bottom of TV’s disappearance? And what about the inset in the article describing a new line of dolls called Judy. He remembers one model was a nun called Sister Judy, who follows the present day dress codes of the nuns. But some critics said the skirts were too short and questioned the necessity of showing undergarments. He pulls himself back, returns to the evidence. Without a body, the presence of blood indicates the need for one. The victim was seen lying in a pool of blood. After the body disappears, the pool of blood becomes a tumble of brightly colored leaves. In the last reading a cardboard box was found at the scene of the crime full of Phillip K’s clothing along with scattered clippings of his facial hair. Vellum’s last recollection of the box was of holding it during the Halloween parade just before the fight when he obviously lost it. How did it end up at the arch? If the killer had been apprehended, why does everything remain in doubt? True, the apprehended killer remains innocent until proven guilty, but a suspect is a suspect nonetheless. Unless one assumes that TV the author, having dispatched TV the victim, has in effect committed suicide. In which case, how could the killer be apprehended as in the recent reading?
The article expands with probability. Some now claim that the accused man, held incognito like the man in the iron mask, refuses to admit that the disappearance of Phillip K was murder. Does this substantiate the suicide theory? In which case there shouldn’t really be an accused man! To add to the confusion, the so called murderer, when he was apprehended in one of the later readings, called himself The Savior. In a still later statement he reiterates, “I have murdered no one.” He goes on to say he actually saved the victim from certain death. Our TV reads on: ‘The police held him for a night but without a body or any other evidence to substantiate the murder, except their absolute belief it occurred, they flipped a coin, heads he leaves, tails he stays.’ No one knows the outcome of the toss. In a another reading, the killer escapes, leaving behind a messenger dressed in white who promises a final judgment!
More astonishing is this latest development in the reading. According to police chief Arthur Rascul, the investigation, some of which is printed in this version of the story as an official document, has undermined the actuality of the murder itself. The detective in charge writes in his report, “The body was never been recovered, only the plastic bag full of brightly colored leaves placed in a secure storage room. Because the boilers were turned on by maintenance in preparation for winter, the heat from the nearby radiator, in combination with the dampness sealed inside the black bag, quickened the decomposition of the evidence. With the breakdown of the leaves, any semblance to the color red was destroyed, only a black sodden mass remains.” As for the belt, its where about is still in question. “It is now assumed,” says the chief, “that a hoax has been perpetrated.”
“A hoax!” cries TV, aghast.
Now it’s as if he had never existed! Even we must catch our breath. What could be the outcome of such a train of thought? Yes, the Trojan Horse was indeed a hoax. But does that render the Greeks hiding inside a hoax? Is all of history in doubt? Must we turn ourselves into knots of despair? Can’t we work out something better, something that will lead us happily back to our recreation rooms?
The hoax, according to the police chief, was perpetrated by the Arch gang to cover their own dark plans to undermine the American way of life, the indelible right to own your own home, as stated in the our Declaration of Independence. To a room filled with photographers and a few writers the chief says, “With the help of Homeland Protection who are providing us with the necessary information at only a nominal fee, we are rounding up the homeless all over this land. Anyone who might be involved in this crime against the rights of the American people is to be apprehended. Without Philip K’s body and his belt we have nothing more to say.” Indeed it is looking more and more like a hoax.
But if the homeless are responsible for faking TV’s death, then why did The Metropolis story describe in an early version an interview on the corner of 110th and Broadway, between Edward Ammonia, reputed leader of the Arch gang, and the same reporter, who tracked down the bearded Vellum, aka Philip K, at the beginning of this story. Eddie was sitting at his new card table selling his own epigrams to help pay the cost of staying alive. The sun was bright in his face. He looked comfortable. He continued to aver any claim to leadership of any kind. “The homeless,” he claimed, “are independents, we have nothing to defend or fight for. Because we believe in the rights of the individual, we live in total anarchy.” But this reporter caught the choice word ‘anarchy.’ A photo was snapped to catch a ragged man grimacing in the face of a blinding sun. Once again Eddy Ammonia, out on his own recognizance in regard to the case of the missing Philip K, is picked up. This time, as an anarchist or terrorist, you’re pick. He is whisked off to the island of Sybaris, off the tip of Florida, where ancients wander aimlessly in search of the Fountain of Youth, mentioned earlier, or at least a cup of coffee. He is given an brilliant orange suit and full medical coverage. Others of his kind, caught in Rascul’s dragnet, are also taken there for evaluation. And there again, despite truth serums injected through the nose, Eddy audaciously claims that Philip K was abducted by aliens.
Now rumors abound. If the disappearance of Philip K is a hoax, why is there a suspect in the custody of Homeland Protection. Does a hoax warrant the rendition of Edward Ammonia and members of his following? Can we believe Police Chief Rascul? It is now hinted that the Chessmen are being employed as outside contractors for the new Homeland Protection and can already be seen wearing the logo of The Home Within The Home. There is even talk that Police Chief Rascul might be getting a promotion.
If the suspect is really the savior, as earlier hinted, then whom did he save, since no one was found? It must rest upon an act of faith. Somewhere one has to believe there is a saved person. If the character who seems to have been murdered in the earliest readings of the story appears to be TV, then the person who in later versions is saved must also be our TV. Is TV saved or is he about to take his own life? In which case, is someone going to save him? Does that mean he is going to save himself? How convenient. He decides to follow the story even more closely. Because the murderer (or savior, depending on what one believed) was released (or escaped), was tailed (or pursued) by the fruit heads, grew distrustful of (or concerned for) his friends and relations, he became a hermit, homeless without community. This warping of behavior seems to some who know him an admittance of wrongdoing; to others it is vindication. TV can’t wait to tell Cassandra. In lieu of that he steps into a library. Luckily, the hours on this particular day are between 1:00 and 3:00 and it is 1:30. He pulls from the fiction stacks a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. He has a hunch the protagonist in The Metropolis piece bears a resemblance to Raskolnikov. No, the resemblance is not conclusive. Now it is the Bible he seeks, and he rereads Luke in search of the stranger at Emmaus. But not all ‘the disappeared’ reappear. Mary could rejoice, but thousands of mothers remain in tears. Meanwhile, according to his own sacred text, the police don’t ever give up their belief that the body of the victim will surface someday. The black bag of mulch remains in storage. Like the guards standing watch at the tomb of Arimathaea, the police stand guard at the portal of possibilities. Since his own existence depends on whether the murderer or savior is apprehended, TV once again folds his wife’s Metropolis in half and tucks it back into his coat pocket, already burgeoning with evidence.
He returns to La Rhetorique. He sees Marguerite ensconced between her young software entrepreneurs who are now sporting new, neatly trimmed beards. There is something remote about her, as if he is viewing her through a dirty pane of glass. In fact, it could just as easily be someone who resembles her. A number of the other men are wearing incipient beards in varying degrees of lushness, each cut in a manner reminiscent of TV’s own initial experiment. There are others present in the establishment who could just as easily have been Marguerite and her suitors, all of them sporting the same look of wealthy lack of concern, leather jackets and turtleneck sweaters, sharp-edged suits and silk dress shirts. Even if it is Marguerite, it seems unlikely that she or her friends, all of whom seem too preoccupied with their daily lives, would ever find the time, or more importantly, the interest to kill him. That utterly relaxed vanity with its hedonistic attributes had preserved them in this cozy corner of the city from the Halloween melee a month ago. They might kill a rich husband or wife if for some reason their livelihood was threatened, but more likely they would find ways of compromising their associate through some tightening web of intrigue supported by gossip and lawyers. Better living in lies than in loss. He steps up to the bar and discovers that a new bartender is serving drinks. He leans over and asks him if the other guy, what’s his name, black, Asian guy, is off today? The man wipes the counter with his cloth and looks at him with eyebrows raised.
“What black, Asian guy?” He contemplates TV and wonders whether much effort is needed here or whether this guy is just here for answers.
“I was here, this time maybe a month ago. He was tending bar at the time. Are you new here?”
“I’ve worked this gig for years and I don’t know this guy. What will you have?”
“What’s she having?” asks Vellum, pointing down to Marguerite, who, by her total disregard of his existence, might have been no more than a simulacrum of someone he had once known.
“Tanqueray, neat with a twist.”
Vellum is reassured to hear that she is drinking the Marguerite drink. So Vellum orders a tonic with lime. The man fills his glass with ice and empties a short bottle of Slitzes into it. He drops in a squeezed lime as he passes the glass over to TV on the familiar coaster. He does all this without taking his eyes off TV. The coaster doesn’t bear any message.
“Maybe he works a later shift. A tall guy, clean shaven, hair pulled back into a pony tail that I never noticed until he set the Miles Davis flowing over the speakers.”
“Nope,” and he walks away.
Vellum wonders if the guy has something against Miles Davis, or music in general, since
he isn’t playing any. Above the murmur of voices and the clinking of glasses and tableware, a newscaster on one television describes the last ditch efforts being made by peace groups to avert the government’s all-out war against the homeless: “In cities all over the country young people are gathering in public places to voice their concern, something not seen in thirty years. Their large numbers are attracting the attention of the Chessmen, a private security company under contract to Homeland Protection, the publicly run business recently established by the president.” Behind the newscaster in a smaller screen surrounded by the program’s distinct emblem of sunlit clouds in endless motion, a young woman in blue blazer, with clip board in one hand, a mic in the other, is seen talking to people hurrying home. The station cameras zoom in. The young woman asks, “Why are you afraid?” The anchor, now resuming his place on the screen, turns to Vellum, “And that,” he remarks with all the wisdom of the ages, “is the question we are all asking. . .” But Vellum has now turned his attention to another screen where a fast moving image, hashed by endless jump-cuts, displays a teenage female singing, sometimes in sync with her actual image, sometimes not, her outfits as varied as the sequence of picture frames and camera angles. Her shoulders drop, her hips rise, her long lashed eyes look at Vellum longingly. But with dizzying speed the view rotates around her as she now stares at another woman kissing a man. Is she jealous, and of whom, the man or the woman? With a queasy feeling in his stomach reminding him of The Nadir, Vellum finishes his drink and drops the bills onto the lacquered surface.
“Have a nice Thanksgiving,” offers TV as he rises from his seat.
The bartender watches him in the mirror without response.
A cold breeze envelops him making him wish he has on a warmer coat. Sinking his hands into his trouser pockets he crosses Park Avenue. The costume store display on the other side is more than twenty years behind the current display fashions, one of those incongruities of New York. Behind a large dusty window framed in black peeling paint, special magazine racks display old copies of action comics as well as the original art work by the artists who helped create the characters and their styles. On a cardboard cutout on one side of the window a bare-chested man with long, blond hair, wearing a helmet with horns, and holding a sword in his raised hand, forms the apex of a pyramid composed of men and women in equally bizarre suits. On the other side a fierce woman in red tights and Viking armor wields a sword of doom over strange humanoid creatures, several moons rise up behind her. He is shocked to see how the heroines have changed over time. Unlike his wife who has grown more fierce with time, these women look less fierce, than they did in the seventies.
Walking south on his way to The Nadir he comes out of the deep shadow of buildings onto 17th Street. Clouds in the west stretch dark fingers eastward consuming the sky. Santa Clauses of all sizes bearing gifts have appeared amid synthetic green boughs and twinkling bright lights in many of the shop windows. He checks the date on a headline in a newspaper stand. Has he really been reading the same Metropolis for over a month? The same story? As he approaches the bus stop on the south side of Union Square, he comes face-to-face with a larger than life illustration of himself with his long beard pasted on the inside wall of the bus kiosk. Written across the top of the drawing in large, bold letters is the following:
WANTED
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN?
In these times of heightened alert it is imperative
YOU report this man’s whereabouts. His ties to
abnormality are well-documented.
He glances around to see if anyone is watching him. They could be watching him from anywhere. As his confidence in his youthful pre-beard shield diminishes, he pulls the collar of his jacket up and slinks on. A large poster is pasted across the doors of The Nadir:

CLOSED
until The Res-Erection Day.
However
SEE THE BEAUTIFUL
JUDY CRUCIBLE
in
L’ETOILE
AT CHAIN MAIL
NEXT TO CIBL’S

This is troublesome. He feels the ever-tightening circles of claustrophobia pulling him toward a whirlpool in which Judy Crucible sits enthroned. Slowly he walks back to Astor Place reminiscing about the night he met Sandy at The Nadir. Since discovering the Standard on Halloween, its power has extended into every facet of his life. A thread of the web now reaches across town to Chain Mail where he discovered the antidotal movement against the Standard. He decides to call home. In the coffee shop, he buys coffee and walks to the phone cubicle where he wants to put down the coffee on a flat surface but finds none. He tries holding the coffee while he extracts his wallet from his pants pocket, hoping to remove a quarter from the wallet. It can’t be done, and mustn’t be done. His fury intensifies. As he surveys the shop, he notes with dissatisfaction all the kids sitting casually, cells phones to ears, chatting away. In frustration he places the cup on the floor at his feet and proceeds to find the quarter. Unfortunately, in turning to place the call, he kicks it over. He loses only a quarter of a cup, but his ensuing fury threatens the calm needed to invite Cass to see L’Etoile at Chain Mail. With great effort, our all-to-human TV controls himself. When Cass answers the phone his only criticism comes out as, “What took you so long?” To Cass’s credit she ignores the comment which allows him the opportunity to rebound on better terms. Unfortunately, he is now holding the cup in his hand and staring at a picture of a wholesome family embedded in the traditional green-and-white colors of the cafe, mother with smile, proud father, two boys and a girl, all sitting tightly together in a pyramid of security with father’s head at the apex above which was written:
SUPPORT FAMILY VALUES
Judy Crucible in apron is Mother. Accepting the worst, he slowly rotates the cup in his hand, the receiver now wedged between his ear and his shoulder where he can hear Cass calling to him. As he expected, Judy is bent over, her back to the viewer, nearly naked in a red and black corset, atop her emblematic ballet heels, her posterior like an enormous watermelon split in two by the corset tail, her bejeweled face, her sweet smile, all turned toward him.
“Cass, I’m sorry,” he finally responds.
“I thought I lost you there.”
“Yeah, well you wouldn’t believe…”
“Knowing you, I would believe…” she says.
“Well, I’ll tell you later. Anyway Cass, would you like to see a show tonight? There is this wonderful little theater in the West Village and they’re doing L’Etoile. ”
After a pause which kept Vellum waiting this time, she replies.
“Wow, you have caught me off guard. We haven’t gone out like this in… in….”
“Ok, I get your point.”
“A downtown company is doing the opera, L’Etoile?”
“Well, yeah.”
“And you thought of me because you know it is one of my quirky favorites.”
He had not remembered that, but realizes it now, another of life’s coincidences.
“Yeah,” he lies.
“So what’s your interest in this?” she throws out at him with a tinge of sarcasm.
“Nothing really. . .”
“Get off it, I know you have an interest in this. So what is it?”
“Well… I can’t really say. . . Chain Mail happens to be one of those places I told you about on Halloween.”
Several seconds pass before Cass picks up the lead.
“You were talking movements. I supposed movements are associated with places. You need support.”
“Yes.”
He doesn’t want to tell her that the woman on the green dollar bills is the lead singer in the opera. Why bother, he rationalizes, she’s appearing everywhere now.
“Where is it?”
TV isn’t sure Cass will understand their meeting at a gay bar, so he suggests meeting at Sheridan Square. What Judy has to do with Chain Mail and this opera mystifies him. Perhaps she too is a man. He is laughing at this when he hears Cass.
“Can you hear me? What time?”
They agree on the time.
“And can you bring the Barbie?”
“What Barbie?”
“The doll I brought home the night of the Halloween parade.”
Another silent moment ensues.
“Why?”
“I don’t know. Think of it as an amulet, or something.”
“Is your fantasy girl in this?”
“She’s not my fantasy girl,” he too quickly replies.
“Is she?”
“If you mean the woman on the fake money, yes.”
“Ok, I’ll be there.”
He walks down Christopher all the way to West Street and then south. He wants to approach the place from the west side this time, just to understand the block better. He passes the well-known rocker club CIBL’S next door. The two clubs share a common alley. On a foldout, A-frame billboard L’Etoile is advertised against a bawdy background of color. Judy Crucible’s name is the only one on the billing. On the reverse side was an upcoming attraction starring TV. The sweat is saturating his clothes like the mist off a swamp. Is this another joke on him or has he really lived too many lives?
SING THE STANDARDS
WITH TV
He finds a woman sitting behind the table in the foyer selling tickets. She could have been Emily’s mother, portly, crowned with white hair molded round and neat the way his own grandmother used to wear it. He buys tickets and asks if he can have a program now. She gets up with a “let me see” and pads off into the inner sanctum. When she returns she gives him a simple folded sheet that has been mimeographed. He hasn’t seen a mimeographed sheet since his last year of formal education in high school. He bring the paper to his face and smells.
“Is the bar open?” he asks innocently.
“No, right now they’re setting up.”
“Who is this TV?”
He points to the billboard outside.
“I thought everyone who comes here knew him.”
Vellum realizes his forehead must be glistening with perspiration.
“TV, you know, that’s Trans, that’s his first name, and his last name is Vestite. . , transvestite, you know, it’s a stage name,” she adds, laughing softly, almost blushing.
He nods.
“Excuse me,” he continues with the persistence of a detective, “but has Judy Crucible ever preformed here before?”
“Not that I know of ,” replies the woman innocently, her smile unadorned.
“Yeah,” continues Thom pressing on, “I thought she sang regularly across town at The Nadir.”
“I wouldn’t know,” comes the woman’s response.
He looks under the table to see if she is wearing the same kind of black tie-up shoes his grandmother wore. She’s wearing large white sneakers.
“Thank you,” he offers, nodding his head in agreement.
Walking back to Seventh Avenue, the empty coffee cup still in his hand, he passes a food market on the corner with stands of fresh fruits and vegetables displayed on the sidewalk. Oranges and pears, quinces and even boxes of cherries usually available mid-summer are arranged in green paper in open wooden fruit crates tilted toward the customer. On the crate ends row after row, are pictures of Judy Crucibles bursting from plaid blouses with kerchiefs or stuffed into dirndl dresses with orchards and mountain tops in the background. He grabs a plastic shopping bag from a pile of trash near the curb and empties his bulging pockets of all the evidence, throwing the cup in as well as The Metropolis. The bag is bulging.
Cass exits the subway station anticipating a great night. Rarely does her husband include her in his explorations. She is ready and willing to witness the antics for herself. And she is dressed for it. She had bought a gold-colored short jacket some time back when in one of her exuberant youthful moods and has matched it up with pink pumps from the seventies and an orange-pink blouse and yellow dungarees, somewhat tight, which she hasn’t worn since the late sixties. Ebullient in her excess she has added pink nail polish and lip gloss.
“I was determined to fit into them.”
She swings around right there in front of a cigar store showing off her dungarees.
“Not bad,” she opines.
Now that darkness has settled in, a chill wind is blowing in from the river. Because he feels cold he wonders if she isn’t chilly. His bouts of sweating haven’t helped.
“You didn’t have to get decked out like a rainbow.”
“If you think I’m going to see one of your current beauties wearing the traditional colors of mourning everyone slinks around in, you’ve got another thing coming. Besides I want to stand out!”
“Well, you’ve succeeded there,” he assures her, embarrassed by her enthusiasm.
He wants to slip into Chain Mail without fanfare.
“Here, take this,” she says disdainfully as she hands him a package wrapped in brown paper.
“The doll?” he asks, looking around, his eyes moving faster than his head to appraise any furtive characters.
“What else would it be, a bouquet of flowers?”
“You wrapped it up, smart,” he acknowledges. “Well, it doesn’t matter. If they don’t know where you are, they won’t have trouble finding you. Anyway, let’s get a bite to eat first, we have time.”
He throws the wrapped doll into his bag.
“What do you have in the bag?” she asks. “A surprise for me?”
“Evidence.”
“Most detectives carry briefcases, don’t they?”
“Briefcases?”
“Just kidding.”
They walk a block north and find a small restaurant in the basement of a building. The steps look as if they lead down to the super’s apartment. But candle light in the lower window indicates the eatery.
“So what can we expect?” she asks, sipping Chablis from a water glass.
“What do you mean?”
“You wouldn’t have asked me if you weren’t needing reinforcements. I suspect the Halloween night knocked some sense into you. Isn’t L’Etoile playing where your parade began?”
“Not the parade, but yeah, it’s headquarters for ASS.”
“Clio called. She was glad I was joining you.”
“Did she say anything else?”
“Nope, nothing else.”
He leans way over toward her, his face glowing in the flickering light.
“Have you heard the news? About the war against the homeless?”
“What bullshit. . ! But it goes to show you, Thom, there’s somebody as creative as you are.”
“Who?”
“The president!”
Our TV would need to sit back on this revelation. He imagines the final struggle in the mountains of Peru between two creative forces, his creative mind struggling to the death with the creative mind of Mammon, now personified by the president. It’s too much for him to grasp.
“Yeah, well, according to the authorities, Eddie’s their leader.”
“Eddy?”
“Eddie Ammonia. He’s a friend of mine from the Arch. All those people I knew are said to be his followers.”
“What are you talking about?’
“Yeah,” he continues, “to be honest I never noticed any leadership among these folks. It was more like laissez-faire in the purest sense. You could attribute their freedom to their inability to communicate. . .”
“ ‘Their’ meaning the homeless?” her voice rising with exasperation.
“Now they’re called the Arch Gang. But they were my friends.”
Her look of bafflement leads him on to other measures of explication.
“Everybody the police caught was taken down to the Caribbean island of Sybaris. That’s where Eddie is. It’s all in M.”
In answer to the questioning space between her pursed lips, he grabs the plastic bag lying at his feet and rifles through the contents, removing the flattened coffee cup in the process before pulling out the severely worn copy of Cass’s Metropolis.
“It’s in here, a full description of Eddie and the capture of the Arch gang. . . I know,” he responds on seeing her shocked expression at the sight of the tattered magazine.
The ratty cover is stained with coffee, creased and torn in places, and a scrap of tissue is stuck to something sticky and purple in the corner.
“Please,” he continues. “don’t say anything. . . It’s all in here.”
He opens the magazine to a particular page that is dog-eared and covered with scribbling. He starts reading to himself as he searches for the relevant passage. Soon he is engrossed. Cass dips a slice of Italian bread into a saucer of garlic and oil. She chews. When she is done with this piece, she is about to take another. Instead she loses her self-control.
“What are you looking for, and why is it taking so long?”
He looks up, as if she has just appeared out of nowhere.
“It’s unbelievable what I’ve just discovered. A whole new passage! Listen to this: ‘Every day Ammonia,’ that’s the guy I’m talking about, ‘and his confederates were taken to a cabaña where palms trees give shade. The personnel sat everyone down at tables with white linen tablecloths, peaked cloth napkins and bright sterling silverware. Ammonia was given the table of honor. On the far side of an Olympic size pool a band played rumbas and salsas, while women in bikini bottoms danced and swam. Plates of rich foods were brought in and placed on all the tables, the best reserved for the leader. Women came over to them and dipped prawn and snail into colorful sauces, then hand-fed the inmates morsel by morsel. Frosted fruit drinks spiked with rum were served with bowls of figs.’ ”
“Reads like a sober version of Salambo.”
He nods before going on.
“ ‘One by one the men fell, unable to resist second and third helpings. After a week some had gained considerable weight. During the second week a second team joined the staff. These women began introducing the prisoners to other aspects of consumer life, using games as their tools of persuasion. The inmates were encouraged to build their own model homes using tinker toys and little plastic bricks. Adding colonnades and other extravagant features was lauded. Once the two and sometimes three car garages were built, little model cars were introduced. With these items in place a famous board game was set up and the inmates, using dice and cards, played against each other to see who would end up with the most possessions.’ ”
“Monopoly!”
“ ‘The goal of these games was to help the inmates correlate happiness with owning their own home, having their own job, and with all the goodies that come with materialism. Now and then the jailers pointed through the fences enclosing Camp
Bentham at the land beyond and said, ‘beware of becoming like the Sybarites,’ a word synonymous with deprivation through lavish communal sharing.’ ”
Vellum pauses while the entrées are placed on the table. The table is small. He is patient while the waiter rearranges all the little plates, bread basket and the olive oil saucer, the candle and the salt and pepper shakers as well as the mangled coffee cup to make room for the little bowls of salad.
“ ‘As the days went on more and more gang members fell into the luxuries of freedom. After giving in they were taken off by naked beauties to what seem unimaginable pleasure inside the dens of consumer heaven. Rumors abounded among those that remained that their fallen brothers had signed deeds, become home owners. Somehow through all this Ammonia resisted, encouraging the strongest of his followers to stand firm. He refused to eat the food provided, preferring the scraps to be found in the garbage disposal behind the kitchens. He refused to change his underwear. When they forced him to wear silk, his resolution grew adamant. He became inert, having to be carried around. He wet his clothes, soiled his silk garments. When the women came to caress him, he began to preach to them about the powers of abstention. He told them their bodies were sacred temples which shouldn’t be debased in acts of profit. The women clamored for assignments to his cell. His popularity among the staff as well as the example he set for his remaining comrades enraged management. One night he told a cellmate they would never kill him with their rich food. The following day he escaped. It is said the women helped him negotiate the seven gates that blocked his way to abject poverty.’ ”
TV can go no further. He stares at the candle. Cass asks him if he is all right.
“He’s escaped. Frankly, I don’t understand how Eddie became the center of all this. I could never have imagined such a story myself.”
“Sounds just like you.”
He takes the mangled coffee cup and pushes it into a dimensional shape.
“We’ll be seeing the opera in the same club where Philip K discovered the Barbie brigade. . .”
“Why did you chose that name?” interrupts Cass, starting to laugh.
“Please. I didn’t choose it. This is serious.”
He gives her the cup.
“You can’t believe the extent of it,” he says with resignation. “That night was actually part of an ongoing struggle between two political factions. One side wants to demolish the façade, the other wants to maintain the facade.”
“What façade?”
“The façade of superficial beauty. Something like the social appearance of things, but more. It’s a consumer thing. First sugar and now beauty.”
“Don’t put too many words between you and your Postcard beauty,” she says acidly, putting the coffee cup down with disdain.
“I can see you think this is a funny situation.”
“Well, Thom, I’m not sure whether I think it’s funny or pathetic. You have to admit, you’ve lead Clio and me on one hell of a goose chase before.”
“That so-called goose chase lead me to an amazing discovery, that our society of greed is directly related to the production of sugar! What do people who really love something, like a partner, for instance, call that something?”
Cass looks at her husband with a complete blank.
“Give up? Sugar.”
He sits back with arrogant satisfaction.
“Come on,” she responds, head shaking. “Sugar is a metaphor. I will accept it as a metaphor for greed.”
“Sugar is addictive and so is beauty. This is what the is fighting against, the Standard of the desirable, sugar. Not refined sugar, but the sweet Crucible.’
“Whatever you say, Thom!”
Cass asks the waiter to bring a half bottle.
“What about your transplant? You shouldn’t drink.”
“I never drink and my doctor said I could have a glass of wine from time to time, and I never do so I am making up for lost time. Won’t you join me?”
“You know I gave an oath to give up sugar and booze after I made the connection.”
“So did I. But seeing this marks a new turn in our lives, I’m willing to suspend my resolution. We’re working together! This is like a post-nuptial agreement. A libation is called for!”
“Ok, a glass, but seriously, I need you. Someone followed me; they capitalized on my travels.”
“Do you think they’ve made money at our expense?”
“Some people make money the way cars make smog, it’s a by-product of our culture. So who knows?”
He flips through her Metropolis. The fake money and the check fall out.
“You’re certainly flush!”
“This stuff was in my mail box, but look at. . .”
“How dare you, in our mail box, what if Clio. . !”
“No, no, in my post office box on Varick.”
She looks at him aghast.
“You have you own post office box?”
“Not mine! I told you already. Someone has the box registered under my name, and The Metropolis sent me the check for writing this story. It was also in the box. . .”
“So you did write the story!”
“Please, believe me, I didn’t write this story – as far as I know, I mean we live in a world of uncertainty.”
“You certainly do.”
“And I don’t know who sent me the check, I don’t know anything, I mean, I know The Metropolis did, but why? That’s why I need your help,” he says taking out his handkerchief and wiping his forehead once more wet with perspiration.
She sits back and looks at him with concern. Then, with concentrated effort she finishes off her manicotti, chewing deliberately without looking at him. He watches her intently. A slip of her short dark blond hair has fallen over her forehead. Her brow is furrowed, but her composure is reinforced by her well shaped nose. Her glasses, reflecting the candle flame, glow with a tint of gold. When she looks up, she nods.
“OK.”
She opens her purse and takes out her pill box, and with a glass of water downs her immunosuppressants and the various supplementary pills necessary to ensure her survival.
“Can you take those after drinking all that wine?”
“Thom, I had a glass and half of white wine. You just finished the bottle. Let’s stick to the facts.”
As they approach the doors of Chain Mail TV becomes increasingly nervous. Cass sees this, but she doesn’t comment. She sees the A-frame ad for TV outside the door.
“Do you believe that?” he says raising the collar of his jacket to hide his chin. “Someone else is calling himself, herself TV. A transvestite.”
Standing in front of the ticket table to claim their reservation, he senses the futility of hiding with Cass standing beside him lit like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. At any moment he expects Jack to appear in a flash of lightening and hug him like some lost lover. The moment passes as they enter the dimly lit interior. The bar is operating as a refreshment counter, serving coffee, teas and all-natural soft drinks. A stage has been set up along the wall opposite the bar. The tables have been removed. All that remains of the barroom atmosphere are the chairs, now informally set in rows. They take two close to the aisle near the back. Once settled they can hear the pounding music seeping through the walls. He tells her there is a rock club next door. Gradually the theater fills. Not until the producers are satisfied that all the seats are accounted for are the lights doused some twenty minutes after the original curtain time. He becomes aware that the music next door has subsided. As soon as King Ouf appears on stage in his zany, puffy, lavender costume Thom realizes, despite the king’s disguise, that he is being played by Jack. There are others in the cast, who look familiar to him, all of them dissembling to one another in one way or another, all in some way connected with the Halloween festivities. When Laoula appears, the audience claps, cheers and whistles. So this is the fabled Judy Crucible. Until now we’ve seen her only as the manifestation of a media blitz penetrating every corner of TV’s world. We know her effect on him. But who is she and why is her life mysteriously entwined with his? We want to know. She is like a bright star suddenly appearing in the night sky, more brilliant than any around her. We were not in Chain Mail that night – oh to have been would have been as wonderful as witnessing the signing of our Declaration Of Independence. But all the evidence as we’ve indicated earlier leads us to believe that TV was there, with Cass, his wife. We can only imagine what she thought. Luckily we live in a new age. We acquired the live video file that was created that night to cover Judy Crucible theatrical transformation at Chain Mail. After reviewing it hundreds of times we can say, clearly, despite the script, Judy was not the innocent Laoula of the opera, but was indeed light years ahead of her lover, Lazuli. Of course, we knew this. TV’s plastic bag was full of paper cups and postcards demonstrates this fact. But Crucible’s take on the character transformed the fun loving opera into a cameo production for a fetish addict who pushes the edges of our known world, opening up new worlds for those of us who are less adventuresome. We will take our time here to describe in detail Judy’s transfiguration that night.
She first appears as a country girl, accompanying her guardians, visiting the big city for the first time. Because of her father’s strict views on her deportment, she wears a plain black woolen floor length dress and carries her belongings in a large plastic bag, which she guards with both arms. But soon after her arrival in the city, she slips away and meets Lazuili, the poor peddler. To him she confesses she is buried inside a chrysalis and needs his help to release the captive beauty hidden inside. At first he thinks she’s crazy, just another homeless country girl. To prove her sincerity she pleads with him to unbutton her gown which is buttoned up in back to the top of her neck. He is surprised by her foolish request and decides he will take advantage of her. When the dress falls to the ground, Laoula stands before the poor boy in a tight, black, vinyl hobble skirt. In front two vertical orange contoured panels accentuates her shapely curves and add strength to the built in corset. The upper edges of the panels curve upward slightly beneath her breasts adding re-enforcement to the bodice. Her extravagant décolletage begins where her shoulders and arms join and descends in a wide sinuous sweep across her bosoms to the top of her frontal zipper just below her incipient cleavage. The zipper then descends to the hem just above her knees. A cluster of five inch black steel chains ending with half inch red balls is toggled to the slider. Where the tops of her breasts peek out from beneath the stretch material, the stunned Lazuili marvels at a tattoo of the Tree of Good and Evil rising up from unseen but easily imagined areas underneath her dress. Its tangled limbs with foliage and fruit, lie trompe-l’oeil, atop her rigid mounds of flesh, the delicate leafy branches rises up the sides of her breasts before disappearing beneath the fabric. When she giggles the leaves shake and the slider suddenly slips revealing a little more of the Tree of Paradise. And there lying on a limb, looking out at him is a snake. That is not all, she sings her excitement mounting, as she twirls around on her bare feet. In back, a long vertical opening, reinforced by two more vinyl orange contoured panels, is loosely laced together with long corset strings from the collar to the bottom hem. The mass of string falls loosely past her buttocks. At the hem additional chords are loosely knotted at her knees. He is confused because, although she is pleading modesty, he can see, as she twirls around, that she has nothing underneath. Ignoring his embarrassment she lifts her arms to show him the orange and black vinyl fabric attached to her long black sleeves binding her long arms from her wrists to her armpits to the sides of her dress down to her waist. When she raises her arms the web like material reminds Lazuili of bat wings, only here, instead of flight, they restrict the motion of her arms. It is only evident when she tries to reach out or hold her arms up, which is impossible to do. In spite of this restricted motion “her wings” as she calls them delight her. In that voice Vellum heard at the Nadir, she whispers to Lazuili , as she points to the woolen dress on the ground, how she has waited thirty five years inside of that larval sack my father made me wear for this moment. He hid me from the world, saving my purity for an arranged wedding. Without daddy knowing and in collusion with her seamstress, she had this dress made specially for her. And my lovely little tree was stenciled in ink by a master who understood the needs of an emerging woman. But it’s you who has released me, she coos to the poor peddler! Now you will help me evolve. You, she sings, will be the first to see me through my transformation. As she reaches the highest exalted notes possible to her, the zipper in front slips down further revealing more of the large round half moons of her breasts. But she frowns. Her shape is all wrong. Daddy told me I’m fat, she confesses. Lazuili assures her she is not, and reaches out to embrace her. But, no, she sings, I’m not yet complete. There is much to do. Here, she whispers, pull on these. She gives him the thick mass of strings dangling in back of her dress. But don’t look, she whispers. He can’t help but look and see the white line of her body between the vertical edges of her shiny narrow dress. The dark vertical line through the center of her large rump of ass is hardly hidden by the lacing, he sings in darker tones. You must try, she begs. Ignoring his desire to reach through the lace, he pulls the chords with zest. She, in turn, cries out, resisting his energy by grabbing a nearby lamppost to hang on. As they sway back and forth, the sounds of their increasing excitement draws the audience into their pleasure. Is that enough, he sings, wiping the sweat from his forehead, I can barely see your backside now. No, she answers, it must be tighter. With renewed lust he pulls furiously against her now as if to finally draw her toward him, but she tightens her grip on the pole, until her waist shrinks to a slender petiole. Enough, she yells. Reaching for her bag she removes a tailor’s tape measure. Ahh! she claps, throwing the tape back in the bag, fifteen inches! Turning slowly in a circle, for him to marvel, she slides her hands down along the sides of her tapering body which now resembles a cello. In his eyes, she resembles a wasp. Unable to deny himself further he grabs her, but she pushes him away. Look, she pleads, pointing to bare feet. Lazuili eyes follow. Smiling meekly, she withdraws from her plastic bag a pair of ankle boots with calf straps. They are unlike anything the peddler has ever seen before. The green leather is soft, and the long straps delicate. But the shape is feral. Large red buttons on either side of the boot near the aperture where her small foot slides in look like dragon eyes. Along the length of the shoe down to the strange small square sole at the toe, the red laces resembles the upper lip of the dragon, while the long, red, spike heel that runs parallel the full length of the shoe forms the dragon’s lower lip. Holding one boot in her hand, she says, if you ever tell daddy I wore these, I will have my dragons eat you! With that he drops to his kneels, promising he will never tell. Taking a kerchief from her bag, she spreads it open on a nearby stoop, and sits on it, her back straight and rigid, breathing lightly and hurriedly because of her compromised bodice. Opening her bag she retrieves two black sheer stockings which she bunches up and hands to him one by one, instructing him to roll each stocking up each leg. He too is rigid as he rolls the stocking up her leg to her kneecap, there before him. As she hooks the stocking to hooks of an hidden garter underneath, he grabs her leg wanting to bite it. But she is insistent he roll the other first. Before he can rise to his feet, she sings, her voice growing husky, now my boot. Taking her foot he slides it into the narrow cavity, forcing her foot into a straight line with her leg. He can’t help but caress the shoe as he tightens the red laces and buckles the delicate straps to her calf. She sighs amorously and pats his head as he groans placing her foot down on the ground on the tip of the toe. Then he slides the other foot into the other cavity and tightens the red laces and buckles the delicate straps, barely able to contain his excitement, nor she hers. The sounds of their increasing excitement lures the audience once again into vicarious pleasure. The ragged peddler now stands, the evidence of his desire before her. She smiles as she reaches up for his hand so he can help her onto her toes. She staggers slightly, her arms extended, no more than a few feet, as far as they can go, to keep her balance. I’m out of practice, she admits. She describes to him how beneath her exterior, a state of liquid turbulence is taking shape. I am slowly climbing a tall reed, she sings, out of the dark waters of my interment. He grabs her vigorously, but she is more resilient on her toes than it seems and though carefully balancing herself, she backs away from the awed peddler and points impatiently at the hem of her shiny tight dress. What now, he asks, exhausted, his groins aching. Tie them, she sings, pointing to her knees, see how loose they are. Then she pouts and gently pushes him to his knees again and guides his hands around to the back of her knees, where the hem meets her soft skin. You must tighten these laces, she says. As if devouring her he pulls on the hem chords with all the hunger of his heart. She squeals with delight. Is that enough, he asks, panting. No, she cries, her voice high and shaky, now these. She drops both hands and points to the laces on either side at the hem. For the first time the peddler notices her long tapering finger nails painted glossy orange. He pulls until her knees are locked together. Yes, she sighs with pleasure and the audience sighs with her.
Now you are perfect, he says, rising to his feet. But she is still not happy. Adornment, she cries and this hair, it’s black and plain. You must take me to the palace! I need a parlor artist. What’s that, he asks. Somebody who can work on my face and hair. We must hurry before it’s too late. My guardians must be looking for me now. If they find me before my pupation is complete, they will tell my father and I will die old and plain and you, you will die young. We must hurry. But atop her ballet toes, she can only lift her boots an inch off the ground and each step forward is impeded by the hobbled dress. With every step her extravagant hips move side to side and her upper torso wobbles gently. But she seems to love every step of the way as a chorus of men gather around her and ogle her. The peddler fears they will be discovered. To make matters worse, every time she stumbles, the zipper in front slips down further to reveal more and more of her breasts until her nipples begin to appear like glowing crescent moons in a pale sky; and every time this happens, Laoula feigns embarrassment, raising the back of her hand to her mouth in a blush. Becoming worried and jealous, Lazuili, tries to cover her exposed bosoms but she slaps his hand away. No, we must hurry! Coming to the lady’s defense, the crowd begins hitting and kicking Lazuili. When he falls, Laoula lets go of his hand so as not to fall herself. She tells the crowd not to hurt her poor servant, she will have him beaten when they return home. Her words are like oil on a stormy sea. The men step back as she waits impatiently for Lazuili to get on his feet.
When they reach the main avenue before the palace, downstage, the crowd is so large, it draws the interest of the King, who is in disguise and walking among his people to see who deserves to die on his birthday. Lazuili begs Laoula to leave. But she pulls away from him, showing she is quiet skilled at walking alone, in spite of her dress and shoes. When the King sees her, he falls head over heels for her. He approaches her and takes her hand to steady her as she steps to and fro on her toes to catch her balance. Lazuili rushes forward to protect her and pushes the man away. Out of nowhere two nearly naked giants appear and grab the peddler. Laoula pouts as poor Lazuili is clapped in irons and dragged away. But this new stranger in her life, though an old man, retrieves from his ragged pants a golden ring on which a flower is stenciled in thin gold strands. In the center of the flower is a ruby. He places it on her index finger, while admiring her pointed orange fingers nails. I am the King, he assures her, and I will not harm your servant if you don’t wish it. Your wish is my command. Really, she sings, then you can see my face! It’s all too plain and needs a little something! And this hair, oh! The audience laughs and Cass feels they’ve been waiting for this line. King Ouf, laying his other hand on her extenuated hip, assures her, with a figure like yours, you needn’t worry about your face. Nonetheless he claps his hands and the two well defined males in G-strings who have finished hanging the peddlar from the wall of a prison cell, reappear. They lift her torso above their heads and carry her horizontally, face down, upstage into the palace. Moving her arms slightly, her black and orange wings opening and closing she appears to be a wasp, zigzagging above the crowd. What is this place, she asks, as they place her on a soft, reclining couch of purple leather. But seeing the elevated steel tray attached to the couch, on which brightly polished steel tools lie on sterile white towels beside boxes of tissue and gauze and various bottles of alcohol and other lubricating ointments, she nods knowingly, a beauty parlor. They nod their heads in agreement and reveal themselves to be not only the King’s bodyguards but the palace beauticians as well.
They peer over her chest admiring the Tree of Good and Evil. A master created this, they concur. The workmanship is the best we’ve ever seen. Yes, she agrees, and to her surprise noticing her wasp like figure atop the purple couch in a large video screen hanging above the couch. He was daddy’s house painter. He complained that he had created masterpieces no one would ever see. I begged him to paint something for me. Finally he agreed, only he told me he would work in a new medium, with needles and ink and I would be his canvas. I told him I could get into that but wanted to know what he was going to depict and where. He wouldn’t tell me except it would be in the style of Rousseau, because the woman in one of Rousseau’s paintings reminded him of me. It took him a year. Marvelous, clap the naked men. Every leaf is etched beautifully, says one to the other. Yes, agrees the other, and do you see colors in the eyes of the snake, stunning, they agree. So how can we add to your beauty? My hair, it’s blah! she says, it needs strands of new color, here and here and here, the color orange, and some red. I’ve wanted dreadlocks all my life, lots of them. I haven’t combed my hair in over a year, hoping to encourage knotting, but I need help, I’m in a hurry. The orange and red dreads must twist and turn every which way. I want to be free. One of the beauticians begins washing her hair. It’s long enough, he tells her, so your desire will soon be sated. I doubt that, she says. The other directs her eyes upward to a large screen above her head. How lovely, she cries, feigning surprise. With the screen above her lounge chair streaming live the ongoing process, the audience can follow every procedures in detail. The attendant now draws her attention toward a large chest standing nearby. He opens the lid to reveal glittering objects in various shapes. What does the madam require, he asks. She knows what she wants and tells him. Pointing to her tattoo and her breasts, he say, we can see that you are familiar with the art of body modification. Yes, those, she sighs, it’s become difficult hiding them. Speaking in confidence, she tells them she had all her fittings and fistulas secretly install over many years. My daddy thinks my dermal anchors are acne. She laughs. But hurry, I need to complete my metamorphosis. I’m anxious, she sings, to sniff the pollen and taste the nectar of life’s flowers. With ceremonial flourish he dons latex gloves and from the silver tray takes up needle nose pliers and tweezers. While the hair dresser blows dry her hair, the hands of the other craftsman move about on the screen with pliers and tweezers. Everyone can hear the chirping of her erotic pleasure as the King’s beauticians envelope her with their skills, one dyeing the thick strands of hair, the other delicately screwing the silver fittings she has chosen into the dermal anchors embedded in her cheeks. When he is done, she points to three inch silver spirals. The hairdresser hangs her thick segregated masses of black, orange and red over the edge of the lounge and joins his partner. They ask her if she wants them to brush her brows with black. When they are done, they each thread an eyebrow with painstaking elaboration, finding each of fistulas she promises are there, round and round from one end of the brow near her nose to the far ends closer to her ears, an elaborate coil that snakes through her eye brow. At her request they thread silver eyes onto the threaded terminal posts at each end of the coil from which they hang five inch lengths of delicate silver chains where little red balls dangle.
Now for my ears, she smiles. I want something new, something elaborate and I believe my cartilage can bear the weight of the scaffold I want you to build. Insert four two and a half inch black posts into these four piercings along the rim of my ear. Tie each post off at the bottom with a black eye ring where we can latch more dangly chains and red balls. On the scaffold I want you to fit the orange and black Mylar pattern I have in my bag. I designed this when daddy thought I was sleeping and my seamstress, oh I loved her, helped me cut the material to my specifications. You will be the first to see it, she confides. When they see the design, they bow their heads, you’re an artist, they tell her; we’re honored to assist you. Once the four posts are set, and the dangling chains added, they carefully mount the stiff Mylar sheets from post to post, using the delicate eyelets in the fabric. They tie off each post at the top with a back ball. Everyone is breathless. Her ear wings, shaped like the dorsal fins of fish, radiate half way around her ears, two inches above the rims. Sensuously she tilts her head slightly to see one of her ears. In her excitement she opens her arms to reveal both in color and pattern the fin like shape of her arm wings. The audience claps. In her excitement the zipper of her black hobble dress slips further exposing more of her nipples. Watching herself she bashfully covers them.
Now, she sings, something marvelous must be found for my elongated earlobes. I began stretching them secretly when I was twelve. Engrossed in her story, she forgets her bashfulness, as she reaches over, panting quickly as she tries catching her breath in her corset dress. She removes two three inch diameter ebony tunnels. The audience gasps and with bated breath watch as her assistances lubricate the skin, then gently stretch the large holes in her earlobes to insert the shiny wooden tubes. I grew my hair to hide the holes. As she watches her assistants in the video above her head she moans with joy eliciting the simulacrum of pleasure from the audience.
While these delicate procedures are occupying the King’s beauticians, Lazuili hangs like a pendant on a prison wall not far from King’s beauty parlor. The King and his guards enter Lazuili’s cell. While the King eats, his guards beat the poor peddler. Bored with this static view of suffering, the King has the peddler placed on a board and dipped, head first, into a vat of cold water. This too elicits no excitement from the King. Suffering indigestion, he orders the gasping, shivering peddler hung back on the wall, and returns downstage looking for his astrologer, Siroco, to see if he has anything for heartburn. The astrologer warns the King that if Lazuili dies, it is fated the King will die soon after.
This revelation goes unheard as the audience hangs upon the bird-like chirping of Laoula and her assistants. I now want more lovely chains, lots of them, dangling between my tragus here as she points to the fistula in the flap covering her ear channels to here and here and here where you can see I have six extra itty bitty dermal anchors just waiting for you to screw in your lovely little rings, at least two chains to each dermal fitting, more if you can do it. They clap their hands with approval. But I want each of my targus fittings to be a larger silver U with silver barbell post, but the balls on the post should be prominent and black. The U has to be large enough to bear all these chains and another set of chains I will tell you about later. Once done, silver chains, eighteen total, stretch loosely from each ear across her cheeks to the dermal eyes, six all total, located beneath her eyes, both sides of her nose, part way down its length and down near the bottom of her cheeks. The audience claps approval.
Next door, the King quickly enters Lazuili’s cell. He tells the guards to take him down immediately. The ragged peddler drops to the floor in a heap. He is dragged to another chamber in the palace further down stage, with the King following behind them, telling the men, be careful, careful. From here to the end of Act II Lazuili will be treated like a prince with fine food and every possible entertainment.
Upstage one attendant returns to Laoula’s coif. He begins to back comb the segregated strands of black, orange and red. Your hair is thick, he tells her, as she stares upward admiring herself. How thick do you want the dreads, he asks. Give me one, red, at least two inches thick, I want it to lie here over my shoulder and down to here, she says, pointing to the leafy crown of the Tree of Good and Evil. I want the black dreads piled up on top in a basket weave and the orange and red twisting every which way. While the hairdresser begins to rip and twist the long strands, the other asks her if she needs anything more. She raises both hands in disbelief and points to her mouth. My lips now seem naked. I have two labret fistulas here and here she points to the middle of her lower lip. Find something daring. As you can see they’re close together, off center, an inch apart. He shows her a variety of labret rings but no, she prefers something more in your face. He shows her two three inch ebony curved talons, swollen at the base, tapering to needle points. Yes, she giggles. If we use a semi-circle post with a ball terminal it will enhance the effect. She thinks about it, then says, red balls, since they will show just above my black talons. With the tips of his fingers he slides each post through the holes in her lower lip, wrapping the post over the top of the lip and screwing quarter inch red balls at the terminal. I see you have a split tongue, he says. Shhhh is her response, it’s still my secret. He screws the dark talons on until they hook down under her chin. When he steps back she and her audience review her face on screen, she shakes her head. I want them to arch up! With more fanfare he twists the talons upward allowing the arcs of each talon to arc over her lips. Using her fingers she points inward. He twists the talons slightly inward so that the needle tips nearly touch each other, just beneath the tip of her nose. You must be careful, he warns, not to prick yourself. Oh, she sighs, watching herself as she opens and closes her mouth, rubbing her talons with her finger tips. The audience claps quietly, as if watching a perfect putt in a golfing tournament.
And like the spectators at a golfing tournament, they now wait with trepidation for her next move. On my chin, she says returning to the work at hand, you can see three fistulas, the center one is the lowest, the other two off center and high up. I want lots of silver chains with orange ball endings handing from silver U fittings with black barbells and balls. She sees that the hairdresser has completed the dreads. Give me the big one, she tells him. He pulls up the single, long, thick braid and drapes it over her shoulder where she grabs the end, teasing the frayed ending with her spiky orange finger nails. While she pets the giant dread, she instructs him to start working on her forehead. She points to her two dermal post at either end of her forehead and the fistula in the center of her forehead below the hairline. Connect them with more chains, loosely, and hang the five inch dangly things with the orange balls from these two but from the center fistula I want another large silver U with black barbells like he’s inserting in my chin. And we need at least six, eight inch chains with quarter inch purple balls at the ends hanging from this fitting. The audience watches as the chains are set. Now she point to two large dermal inserts on either side of the central piercing of her forehead. I’ve always wanted something long here, something that leaps out and can touch the world before me. There is much discussion and then her attendants tell her they have an idea, since this extension must be light. They screw into the dermal inserts inch long ferules. Into each of these they slip a slender silver two foot long stalk resembling Verbena bonariensis. On the end of each stalk a silver seed cluster with lavender glass vibrates every time she moves. She and the audience clap with glee. We are also the King’s gardeners, they confess. We had these fabricated when the King complained that his dried flower arrangement were too dull.
Downstage a weary Lazuili feigns joy as he is now force fed rich foods. The King has the royal tailors fit him in silk pajamas and presents him with dancing women. While Ouffs enjoys the spectacle of women and encourages Lazuili to live and enjoy life, we are brothers, with strained joy, the peddler nods in agreement. Every now and then he looks toward the open window and sings in soliloquy, I don’t need wide wings to be free, only this open window to flee.
Now we need that little extra oomph, Lazoula tells her attendants. They can’t imagine what she wants now but they aren’t surprised when she reaches over to the chest, gasping for air in her constricting dress, and pulls two inch wide silver nose rings with silver terminal balls from the treasure chest. She wants silver chains dangling from seven fittings on the circumference – she shows them where. But here, I want an extra ring fitting – I’ll soon show you why. When they show her the chains for her nose rings, she asks they must hang down past my chin. So they add extra chain. The fistula on each side of her nose is close to the cheek. When the rings are ready they remove the silver terminal balls and slowly push the thick rings through her holes. Although she watches herself on the screen, her excitement mounts and she apparently forgets where she is and slowly rubs her nipples. Oh, she cries, suddenly covering them. The hoops lie nearly flat on her cheek, but not enough to curtail the movement of the other chains on her cheeks. I want black terminal balls instead of silver, she tells them when they are ready to cap the ends of the rings. Each ring bears a series of delicate ten inch chains terminating in quarter inch purple balls well below her chin. The hoops and talons are nearly touching. Take more chain, she instructs them. I wants to pull the rings back and up by chain to the tragus fittings. Ahh yes, they exclaim, as they watch her tongue tips dart out like a snake’s and wrap around each of her spiky uprights, her hands stroking her thick dread. Nice, they exclaim, as they finish tying off the nose rings to her tragus fittings. When done, she draws breath and bends to the metal tray and fumbles through the tubes of lipstick before losing her breath and lying back gasping. Orange or purple, she pants. Purple, they agree, handing her the stick. While she screws up the stick, she asks them for long, black eyelashes and black eye shadow. While blue fingers are gluing lashes and brushing on black mascara, she carefully coats her lips purple, looking amorously at herself in the screen above. Each member of the audience, male and female alike, except Cass – we can be sure of that, thinks she is looking at him or her with her sensuous eyes.
At last the naked men stand her on her toes. She resembles a new species of insect. Her black dreadlocks are woven high on her head, while the orange and red dreads twist up and over her head and hang like serpents above her shoulders. The single, thick red dread is draped over her shoulder and hangs down between her breasts. Her assistants are ready to escort her down stage, where Ouff and Lazuili eat and drink, but she stands hesitant. Something is missing. Nervously, she strokes the tip of the fat dread, and moves it up and down between her nipples. They look at her wondering. You are perfect, they sing. No, she replies looking down, chains cascading off her cheek! They slap their forehead in unison, of course!
With great flair they pull from the chest a small purple cushion bearing two black circular, slightly concave nipple shields three inches across. With great deliberation they show her the details. The audience can see them on the large screen above as a camera zooms in. Two black stainless steel concentric rings, one inside the other form an outline around a central opening, three quarters of an inch across. The outer ring is studded with small roundels of red glass, the inner with roundels of orange glass. The inner rings bear small oval eyes at the diameter, holding silver barbells with black stainless steel balls screwed at the terminals. Each ball contains a thread hole for other fittings. The rings are separated by four interlacing black steel arcs, like one often sees holding up the dome of a church or public building. The footings of the arches on the large rings interlace while the apogee of the arcs are soldered to the smaller rings at four points, creating four hour glass patterns around the brooch. These remind us of your shape, they agree, admiring her tiny waist. Each hourglass consists of two small panels of red glass cloisonné. The larger panels underneath the arches are filled with orange glass cloisonné. In the middle of the larger, orange panels, roundels of embossed black glass are set. These are my colors, she admits, lifting her arms to show her colors in the webs of her wings. She grows impatient to wear them, her excitement is palpable. One of her assistants removes the black ball from the barbell and slips out the post. As she presses the central opening over her nipple, she closes her eyes, telling them she wants to feel the cold metal against her skin. The attendant hands her the barbell which she then gently pushes through a hole on one side of the wreath into the fistula in her nipple. In a deep voice she moans with pleasure. The audience goes crazy and nearly ends the opera there. The assistant then screws the black terminal ball onto the barbell locking the ornament to her breast. She then takes the second shield from the other assistant and again with excessive ceremony adorns her the nipple to wild acclaim. She sings how lovely are these matching reds and oranges. And these round surfaces won’t tear my vinyl dress, she adds.
I am ready to visit the King, but now it’s the attendants who stop her. From their treasure chest they produce another group of delicate, five inch chains ending in red balls – to match your lovely apples, they say, pointing to the Tree of Good and Evil flourishing in the soft pale skin of her breasts. Each attendant attaches the silver chains to the black barbell balls on a shield. The four sparkling clusters of chain hang from her nipples down over the rim of her open dress. Pointing to the little apples, the attendants in their baritone voices, tell her these are evidence that your rich fruits are for everyone to taste.
In spite of the script and the on going plot downstage there is no doubt in our minds that the first two acts of the opera revolved around Laoula and her couture needs. And no one apparently cared, except Cass.
Laoula’s journey is slow, since she can barely lift her toes, a prisoner in her own apparel. As she passes Lazuli’s room, Ouff and his retinue rush out to look at her. Lazuli doesn’t recognizes her in her rings and chains, her hair in twists of color. Only the dress informs him. Unnoticed he slips out of his luxurious seat, tears off his new silk shirt, and escapes through the window. The King and his retinue follow behind her as her now devoted beauticians support her elbows, her hands holding the thick dread nervously as she looks left and right, smiling, teasing her admirers, her split tongue darting snakelike through her lip spikes. The chorus parts, singing their praises, as she moves to the edge of the stage for all to see. Off stage a gun shot rings out. But no one notices, not even the King, as Laoula wobbles to and fro like a new born wasp, her antennae bobbing before her, her tongue dipping in and out through the strange needle-like ovipositors in her lips. Slowly but repeatedly she raises and drops her arms the limited three foot arc she has allowed herself, her wings drawing applause. When she touches her ear wings with the tips of her fingers, the audience explodes with excitement. A newly discovered member of the phylum, Anthropoda, or, as she would prefer, a butterfly, stands before them drying its wings in the cool night air. The audience leaps to their feet, races forward to touch her. The shot that could mark Lazuili and Ouffs demise fads into the clamor of adulation.
At intermission Cass looks over at Thom and shakes her head despairingly.
“She’s certainly twisted one of my favorite off-beat, hardly-ever-done operas, not to mention her body. Why would a woman do that to herself?”
Thomas could tell her why. If our understanding of TV is correct, we can be sure that during the first two acts, Thomas, while watching Crucible’s transformation, was suffering a complete meltdown.
“Better the opera was never done,” adds Cass.
Standing up she pleads for fresh air. The sight of Judy irritates her because of all her husband has said and because of all the ‘evidence’ he apparently needs to carry depicting her in one form of nakedness or another. With a body like that, why hide it? She acknowledges it. But all that other stuff? She steps into the aisle before TV can stop her and disappears. TV is afraid. Inadvertently he reaches into his bag and squeezes the wrapped Barbie. The wrapping paper crackles, startling him. If he follows Cass, he might be seen. A moment later a tap on the shoulder confirms his worst fears and he freezes. He recognizes a voice and when he turns around he is facing Emily, the seamstress of that inglorious night.
“I didn’t recognize you without your beard,” she says, genuinely pleased. “It was your voice. I have a good aural memory.”
“Hey,” he replies, a bit too energetically but remembering his new beardless look, “are you the one responsible for Jack’s outfit?”
“Yes.”
“And, uh, who did ah. . .”
“That was outsourced. She or somebody designed her outfit. The only thing she
left out was her kitchen sink.”
“Kitchen sink?”
“She went a little overboard, don’t you think?
“Oh, certainly, way overboard.”
“PFG is really pissed.
“PFG?”
“Pierced For God. They’re accusing her of pushing their body art mainstream. If she sets a new standard for modification, everyone will follow her they way everyone have followed TV. Everyone will be wearing those crazy talons turned up and the wild ear fins, which I thought kind of cool. But the bottom line is, the mom and pop parlors will disappear. In their place the big chains, no pun intended, will start marketing Judy Wear and serving this lucrative new trade. PFGs are eccentrics, they can’t fit in, so they create their own small communities where they can shine amongst themselves. Crucible threatens all that with her growing mass appeal and the financial support she is generating. She’s like a super nova in a universe of small stars.”
Our TV sees Cass glowing at the bar with a plastic cup in hand, talking to a fashionably dressed man. He too has the collar of his dress jacket pulled up around his neck. He seems pleased with himself. Thom feels an ancient jealousy enough to heighten his color. Thankfully the lighting is low inside the theater.
“Who is that?” he asks Emily, nodding to the bar.
“I don’t know who she is. I thought she was with you.”
“Not her. She’s my wife.”
“She’s your wife. I love her outfit! I want to meet her.”
“Well sure, but who is he?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Let’s find out.”
Before he can deny her impulse she has already stepped into the aisle and is waiting for him. Uncomfortably, he lumbers to his feet taking every opportunity to stall, hoping the house lights will blink the warning and he can plead against the introduction. But nothing happens. He follows Emily to the bar, smiling wanly at Cass.
“Cass, this is Emily. She designed the King’s costume as well as many of the outfits on Halloween night.”
Cass turns with evident relief.
“How nice. I love the King’s costume.”
At this point the man turns to Emily with interest. But she is indeed entranced by Cass’s outfit.
“I just love what you’ve done, the nails and the pumps, wow, you are a breath of fresh air!”
Even Cass finds this praise more than her enforced equanimity can handle, and she blushes. The tall man unwittingly comes to her rescue by turning his attentions on Emily.
“The costumes? I take it he means the Barbie brigade.”
“Yes,” replies Emily, turning toward him, looking for some sign of familiarity.
Vellum watches the man hoping he will now introduce himself. When the man doesn’t, TV is forced to ask.
“Adolf Blotter,” commits the man without looking at him.
“Wow. I don’t know many Adolfs.”
Our TV is all wide-eyed with fascination. He remembers the name from somewhere but can’t recall where or the why of its familiarity. Doesn’t everyone he meets further his search? Why not Adolf Blotter? Blotter is only to happy to explain his nominal archetypes.
“It was popular once,” Blotter says with importance, now turning all his attentions on Vellum, who stands with both hands clutching his treasured plastic bag. “For years I was too embarrassed to use it. So I created various pseudonyms. Then I discovered that there were many more good Adolfs besides the bad one, and decided I would live with my birth name after all.”
“So are you a fan of the Brigade?” asks Emily.
“I’m a follower,” replies Blotter warily.
Cass interjects.
“Adolf was telling me that he’s with Judy Crucible.”
Cass’s look bears a message both serious, as seen in her eyes intently cocked in the direction of Blotter, and sardonic, as seen through her half-hearted smile at her husband.
“Judy Crucible,” repeats Thom, “now wasn’t she performing over at The Nadir?”
“Yes, she had an indefinite engagement there until the place was closed down by the Board of Health. It seems a complaint was filed by one of the patrons, something to do with the drinks. Apparently she had ordered a wine spritzer but got some sickly sweet dark drink which apparently everyone else was drinking.”
“Sandy,” adds TV absently, thinking back to her.
“Excuse me?” says Adolf, peering down at Vellum.
“Oh, you know, when in Rome do as Romans do.”
“Yes, exactly my sentiments.”
“Sounds like a cult thing to me,” added Cass cheerfully.
“I wouldn’t know. Do you know the place, Mr. . .”
“Sherman. No, no, but I’ve heard of it.”
“Well, thanks to Judy’s new agent she landed this gig,” he says, putting his hand into his pants pocket and expanding his chest.
“She seems to have brought her fans with her,” Vellum remarks.
Under the natural lighting of The Chain everyone looks their natural selves. He wonders if Samantha or Harry are present.
“Mr. Smith was only too aware of that.”
“Mr. Smith?”
“Her agent, of course.”
Thom looks at Cass, who knows what he is thinking.
“You mean Raymond Smith?”
“Of course, do you know him?”
“No, but I’ve heard of him.”
“He’s in great demand, naturally, being TV’s agent.”
“Do you mean TV the transvestite?” chimes Cass coyly. “We actually came here to see her, but got our times mixed up.”
“No, I don’t know about her,” says Blotter dryly. “I’m referring to that great auteur of life, the writer. . .”
“I know exactly who you mean, don’t you, Sherman?” says Cass with feigned enthusiasm, looking straight at her husband. “We know his work by heart.”
“I know his work, too,” chimes Emily polyphonically.
TV’s forehead beads with sweat like a cold water pipe in a hot basement..
“So what’s your connection to Judy?” questions Vellum, wanting to change the subject.
“I’m Judy’s manager and more. I am also her… ah, but enough about me,” he says, looking over to Cass. “You strike me as someone who might be in the same business.”
“Business?” she asks, sidling up to Thom.
“Entertainment. If not, you should be. You have beautiful features.”
“Thank you. I’m a junior high school English teacher. . .”
“Really, I’m impressed. I love kids and work for an organization that guides them toward the academic fulfillment of their dreams.”
“Actually teaching is a lot like entertainment. You need to keep the interest of the kids alive.”
“Exactly my sentiments,” he says regally. “I have children of my own, well into adulthood now, and grandchildren too. I well appreciate the efforts of you teachers; in fact I have a deep interest in maintaining the high standards in teaching this country was known for, that is, before the influx. . .”
“Influx?” wonders Emily.
“We need,” he continues, ignoring the question, “ the means of judging children’s aptitudes to the life tasks ahead of them.”
“Like separating the grain from the chaff,” comments Cass sardonically.
“Yes.”
“But too often people fail to see,” Cass continues, “how easily and readily kids can be entertained without all the special effects, you know, the fireworks, the razzle dazzle.”
Thom kicks her heel. Something is surfacing in his mind.
“We should talk more about this, Miss. . .”
“Kale. Cassandra Kale.”
“My god, with a name like that, your career in the business would be completely assumed. Here’s my card. I hope we might speak again.”
With that he elaborately takes out a billfold and pays for her drink as well as his own, and in the same fluid motion presents her with his card.
“Now I must be getting backstage to see how things are going,” he says, looking at his watch. “We should have had the signal by now.”
“What are you drinking now?” he asks, perturbed as Blotter walks away.
“Soda and lime of all things, Mr. Goody Two-Shoes! I wanted Johnny Walker Black,” she adds with a wicked laugh, “but they weren’t serving liquor tonight!”
“Where is backstage?” Vellum asks Emily.
“In the alley, believe it or not, between Chain and CIBLs. The rockers between sets and the actors between scenes gather out back, it’s quite a scene.”
The audience is getting restless. Some even begin chanting ‘Judy, Judy, Judy.’ The stage hands appear on stage. They walk about aimlessly, indecisively. The supporting actors join them on stage. Everyone appears to be looking for something. Then a rocker stumbles on stage and holds up his guitar triumphantly. The unresponsive audience bewilders him. The other members of his band have followed him. They are drunk and disoriented. The drummer, expecting to find his drums upstage, staggers toward the purple lounge where Crucible’s transfiguration was completed. He stands wavering in front of it. The lead guitar lifts his guitar again. This time members in the audience begin chanting ‘Judy, Judy, Judy” again. He nods and begins furiously strumming his guitar unaware of its lack of amplification. The rhythm guitarist, stage left, is shaking his head in astonishment. Then the bass guitarist truculently asks someone in the crowd what’s become of their fucking amplifiers. He strides over to the lead, who is thrumming away, lost inside his dark sunglasses unfazed by the paltry steel-wire twang he conjures. When the bass shoves the lead into the rhythm, the fighting begins with the stage hands running for cover. This is when Blotter runs onto the stage.
“She’s been kidnapped!”
Everyone stampedes toward the stage. But Vellum takes Cass’s hand and runs to the front door.
“Where are we going?”
“We’ll head them off on the street.”
“What do you care?”
“It must have something to do with me.”
“You think everything has something to do with you.”
Big irregular flakes of snow are falling, coating the crevices and corners around street lamps and curbs with a white veneer. At the other end of CIBL’s the yellow truck is parked.
“Come on.”
As they run toward the truck, a group of women in spiked heels appears, a phalanx wielding purses. Their exhalations cloud the sidewalk like the steam escaping from mighty steeds ready for war. Then the gorilla appears. Walking delicately behind him as calmly as possible on the tips of her toes on heels the length of her feet, sheathed in her black and orange vinyl hobble dress and a purple faux fur coat, is Judy Crucible, Laolla’s plastic bag in her hand. The gorilla opens the door of the cab. There she puts her hand on her hip, arches back slightly and looks at him in amazement. It’s obvious she can’t climb in herself. The gorilla looks at her and shakes his head. With long full strides several tall Barbies approach and scoop her up in their arms and set her down on the cab seat. Everyone cheers. The gorilla, relieved, walks around the front of the truck and boards on the driver’s side.
Thom leaps onto the riding board with Barbie in hand and looks into the cab through the window. Judy is looking at TV as if at a wall.
“Thom! Thomas Vellum,” cries the ape.
Imagine TV’s surprise! He faints and falls back onto Cass’s shoulder. She pushes him up, wondering to herself as she heaves, what she, a junior high school English teacher, is doing here, and in fact what her husband is doing here with all these weirdoes. Jack helps her elevate our famous TV.
“My god! I love this man,” says Jack enthusiastically, introducing himself.
Cass stares at King Ouf while straining to hold up her husband who has regained consciousness. Wanly smiling, she nods.
“Don’t we all.”
“He doesn’t look anything like his older brother, Sam. My god, if I had only known I’d been so close to royalty.”
“Yes, and I liked your performance,” she tells him. “It was her,” she says nodding toward the truck cab.
“Oh, she just thinks that because she’s like mostly real up here means she can act as well. Actually this was my big chance to do white face, imagine!”
Cass laughs politely, and to think she had been only worried about her husband’s heterosexual encounters.
“Thom! Get in, man,” shouts the ape, “we’re in a hurry.”
As TV swings out, holding onto the side mirror bracket, Judy pushes the door open.
“Let’s get out of here,” she says.
He climbs in with his Barbie and his shopping bag pulling Cass up from behind him onto his lap.
“Ah,” cries Jack from the street, “nothing impedes love. How beautiful!”
With that he raises both hands to his mouth and throws them kisses before closing the door. The Barbie Brigade has turned toward the alley to meet the followers of Crucible who are clamoring for revenge, the giant Blotter in the lead. As the truck pulls away into the white haze of snow a rear guard of stage hands, Emily included, appears behind the antagonists.
“What about Blotter?” asks Vellum.
“What about him?” Judy asks.
Despite the already bizarre events that have led up to this moment, Thom still can’t digest the fact that he is sitting next to the forbidding Judy Crucible, his wife on his lap, talking to a Gorilla who is the only stranger to recognize him. Cass, wondering the same thing, watches the receding scenery through the side view mirror. Somehow she expected this kind of madness in her husband’s books but to think he actually lived out those scenes flabbergasts her and gives credence to Raymond Smith’s assertions of Thom’s genius for investigative fantasy. She is exhausted, as you can imagine.
Judy looks at Thom.
“So, are you the famous Thomas Vellum?”
A look of interest flickers in her eyes. But he doesn’t hear her.
“What you said, up on the stage, that was all true, wasn’t it,” TV asks her, staring at her.
“That depends on what I said. Turn up the heat will you. I’m freezing.”
“You’re fogging up the windshield,” the gorilla tells her.
Thomas is so close to her he can guess her age. Her chin and nose are promontory and the effects of all her piercings have mottled her skin. In the changing light caste by the passing street lamps, her face appears sometimes pitted like small pox, or shimmering with jewelry. His desire is tempered by fear. He is repelled as much as he is drawn toward her, because she has stepped beyond the possible into excess, because her ornamentation makes her as ugly as she is beautiful. She straddles the sharpness where light and darkness meet, where the bright side of the moon slices along its penumbra on the clearest night, where white and black rule the esthetic spectrum in icy unity. The long silver spirals weave through her thin, black eye brows with dangerous precision and the chains hanging from her ears and face sway precariously as the truck lurches through the streets. He wants to put his fingers through the enormous black napkin rings in her ears and pull on them to see if she is real; and touch the spikes arching over her lips to see if they’re sharp enough to draw blood. She has become as much monster as goddess, an untouchable talisman inside his brain.
“So, are you the famous Thomas Vellum,” she repeats, holding her thick dread in both hands like an oboe, jabbing her tapered orange finger nails into the red braid.
Inside his memory the layers of pseudonyms are caught up in a single wad. He can’t think of a single name to which he should answer. To reply ‘yes’ to Thomas Vellum will once again set him apart from the world. On the other hand, isn’t this exactly what’s becoming of her? Isn’t she already mythic even though he only heard of her the first time a few months ago? Near her red heels he sees the large plastic bag she carried on stage.
“Yeah, but…”
“But nothing,” chimes the ape. “This guy’s the goods. We go way back, the two of us.”
“How do you know me?” Vellum asks, realizing his hand hurts because he’s been squeezing the ungiving plastic of the Gorilla’s doll.
“Thom, it’s me, Tony Morales.”
“Tony?” chokes Thom. “You’ve got to be kidding, Tony?”
For a frantic moment they reach over Judy, who turns her head to avoid getting hooked, and grip each other in awkward roughness.
“Watch the road!” cries Cass, shoved toward the door of the passenger side.
“I have your doll.”
“So I gave 3210 to you! I couldn’t remember,” exclaims the ape, taking the doll in his paw. “It’s a collector’s item.”
Cass is speechless.
“Cass, this is Anthony Morales. I’ve told you about him.”
“Oh yeah, you mean he’s the one, you and him, who had that stack of…”
“Tony,” interrupts TV abruptly, “this is Cass, my wife.”
“Nice to meet you, Cass.”
“And I’m Judy Crucible,” says Judy with laconic voice.
Everyone nods.
“Yeah, I know. We were just enjoying your rendition of Laoula,” says Cass acidly.
“I wrote that new libretto for her.”
“It was inventive,” adds Cass without conviction.
“I thought so. Made her a modern girl.”
“You created something new. That’s Laoula’s plastic bag, isn’t it,” asks Thom, inquisitively. “What’s in it?”
“My things. What’s in yours?”
The wind shield wipers sweep across their line of vision and land with a thud before renewing their efforts with squeaky resilience.
“His collection of Crucible mementos,” snaps Kale.
“How do you and Tony know each other,” asks Vellum, quickly.
“We don’t. He’s abducting me,” returns Crucible
This is met with silence.
“How come we can’t have just a regular night out, Thom?” Cass finally says, exhuming every ounce of her darkest moods. “You don’t look abducted to me,” she adds, turning her body around, a motion Thom does not want her to repeat.
With her knees pointed toward the stick shift, she is studying Crucible in detail. Crucible, nonplussed, is looking to a point in infinity where the sidewalks on either side of the street meets in a snowy haze.
“Ok,” says Judy, finally turning to Cass, “it wasn’t always this way. Being abducted I mean.”
The hairy-headed ape laughs.
“When Emily told me she was booked at The Chain,” the hairy-head explains, “we figured the Group wanted Judy inside ASS.”
“Raymond booked her,” injects Cass, as concerned helpmeet looking at provider.
“Who’s Raymond?” asks curious G, the primal teamster.
“My agent,” coos the pincushion, pointedly. “Blotter and I were going to meet him tonight.”
“He’s my agent too,” adds the beardless youth, breathless, looking at his spouse.
“Actually, you must have had a similar idea,” raises the hairy king, looking first at the pincushion, then toward beardless and his helpmeet. “She was on her way out through CIBLs, when I met her.”
“You swept me off my feet,” whispers the cushion, musically. “Adolf talks about you all the time.”
“He swept you off those shoes? I doubt it. How the hell do you even wear those things,” pointing to her shoes, “as if heels aren’t bad enough!” asserted Cass.
“It takes practice, something I do everyday. But you get used to them.”
“Yeah, the way a horse gets used to horseshoes!”
“The horse doesn’t have a choice. But I’ve got free will.”
“And that bit about your childhood seamstress. . .”
“I thought that part about my old seamstress was touching.”
“That and the bit about the tattoo artist.”
“Yeah, well there, you’ll find truth in fiction.”
She describes her Hellenesque escape.
“In the alley backstage I saw the rockers popping nitrates; so when they headed toward CIBL I told them wrong door. They didn’t believe me, but then I went into CIBL. I thought, shit, they’re going to follow me, but the lead guitar shrugged and headed into Chain Mail. The drummer was more interested in fooling with my nose rings until the bass pulled him away and off they went.”
“He probably thought those hoops were his triangles,” adds the English teacher, acerbically.
“Then I ran into this big ape, standing at the bar.”
“When I told her what we were about to do,” says the ape, “she said, great, that will save her cab fare.”
“You’re Doris,” concludes our youthful sleuth. “You left your husband and two kids.”
“Nice name, Doris,” the abducted replies. “Perhaps she found a new life.”
“She ran away with Blotter, leaving her daughter,” interjects Thom.
“No, I ran off with a poet”
“In Nadir.”
“I wasn’t beautiful when I arrived at Nadir, and I was shy. But I was older than most of the people there. I’d already had a life, if that’s what you call it, locked inside someone else’s vision. At first I felt strange, all these young people around me. But something in me was pushing out, wanting a voice of its own. In Nadir I could be different from the quiet housewife who had grown old on Long Island. I could be as young and glamorous as everyone else there, because no one cared who I was. And because I had become like everyone there – we were all the same, in the image of Salambo, I began to look at myself differently. I could fit in, as a Salambo, without standing out. Being older actually helped me. The Nadir became my home and everyone there my family. We encouraged each other. As my confidence grew, I realized that beauty could be something you wore. That I could redesign myself in my own image under the protecting image of our reigning queen. So I began experimenting, following the examples of others, who seemed way out there to me. They encouraged me, their den mother, to become more daring. No one there judged me. Not my husband, for I had no husband there. The one I had would never have thought to look for me in Nadir. The poet, he was a John, was an idealist. He taught me the beauty of words. He read me the poems of Rilke and I remember one that reminded him of me: ‘They rise above the green grass and lightly sway on their long pink stems, side by side, like enormous feathery blossoms seducing. . .”
“‘A shriek of envy shakes the parrot cage; but they stretch out, astonished, and one by one stride into their imaginary world,’” concludes the writer famous, adding, “Flamingos.”
“I love that poem. We’d all sit around drinking the tonic Nadir, comfortable with what we all possessed in common. John’s idealism lead him to that era before the first world war. One day he bought me a corset and a funky Edwardian dress. I thought why not, I would never have considered dressing up in vintage. It was difficult at first, the restriction. It seemed like work. But I was thrilled to be doing something so different, so retro. People stopped to stare at me. My costume was like a fortress where I felt safe. So I kept at it. I got rid of the funky dress but wearing corsets became a part of my daily ritual. As I walked down a street, not only was the corset under my dress shaping my body the way a potter’s hands shapes a vase out of clay, but inside this sacred vase – my body was sacred to me now, not something embarrassing, my new identity was contained, like a germinating seed. I bought others, more restricting. My waist shrank. It made me realize that I could be the mold, not the casting at Nadir. I experimented with latex and vinyl. These experiments brought me suitors, who paid for my interests. I began to stand out. I realized people were now drawn to me, I who had never been noticed before! When they looked in the mirror, they saw me. When they looked at each other, they saw me. I enjoyed what my daring had created. When I met Remi, the painter, I was wearing a new transparent rubber latex hobble dress, that a suitor dared me to wear. I’m always amazed how an admirer enjoys the desire my appearance creates in other men and women. Jealousy is the fuel of romance. Everybody was staring at me. I was thrilled by the attention. Beside a purple thong to match the latex, I wore nothing else beneath. I had never appeared naked before. Only I didn’t feel naked at all. Remi followed me from table to table looking me over, me the queen mother of the Nadir. Even if I had wanted him to leave me alone, I could have hardly run away! I could taste the excitement. My immobility, his incessant presence. Finally, he asked me if I could be his canvas. . .”
“Like your libretto,” says TV, drawing in her story like the sweet scent of incense during a high mass.
“Yeah, like my libretto. He wanted to use ink and needles. But he told me augmentation would make my tits firm. It would improve what he had in mind. I’d never considered that but I thought, this is a another opportunity to try something new, so I made a deal. Give me tits, I told him and I am yours to tattoo.”
“The Tree of Good And Evil,” the wicked voyeur whispers, his interest barely contained.
“Yeah, that Tree,” she agrees, shaking her head like a wind chime. “We agreed I should get my enlargements first, something prominent; then he could overlay his filigree. That was the first time I physically changed my body and I was scared. Then I was stunned by the size of my breasts and how heavy they felt. I went from a 32C to a 38DD. He studied them like a jeweler, describing to me the layout of his intaglio. I didn’t even know what the word meant until I looked it up. Aside from my childhood vaccinations I’d never been pricked by a needle. It hurt like hell and it went on for months, the artist with his ink gun, but I looked forward to every session, seeing the evolution of his idea, from the sketches on paper to the ink in my skin. It was the best thing I’d ever done. I figured if I can go under the knife to enhance my body and lie through hours, day after day, being jabbed with needles like an ornament, I could at least have my ears pierced for the first time. I had discovered the pleasure in pain and soon I was adding new piercings. Later I started stretching my ear lobes, which took time. I studied the work of master decorators, many of them kids, who were studying tribal customs.”
“Pierced for God” TV informs her.
“Yeah, that’s how it feels. My Remi was right about augmentation. When I put on that purple transparent skin again for my debut, my tits stood out like the pyramids of Egypt. I was worried the seams would separate. But. . .” as she then arches and stretches, dropping her hand to her crotch and lifting it like a ballerina to her chin, “my lovely Tree of Enlightenment grew right up my middle from way down here to way up here for all to see! I didn’t wear a thong, it didn’t seem necessary.
Anyway, my waist training had paid off and by this time I was appearing every night tightly corseted, wearing a pair of my growing collection of ballet heels. I’d become the star diva of the Nadir, writing my own lyrics about transformation. Somebody always wanted to write my music. There was no way I was going home again, so I needed to find a more realistic person. That’s when I met Adolf. He came to the gallery on the opening of Remi’s etchings and studies of The Tree Of Good And Evil. I was on display as well, a tableau vivant. Adolf took a shine to me.”
“I saw you,” says doubter, his interest in her bag plastic unabated, “one night at Nadir.”
“He saw the commercial side of my interests,” she says softly, smiling at TV, her finger tip stroking an ebony talon, her smile behind the bars of her arcing fangs. “Now here was a man who wasn’t jealous. His interest in me, though not without sexual implication, was strictly business. To mark the occasion I became Judy. He hired my photographers and my song writers. He put together my public relations team. Instead of suitors I had staff. Instead of wondering who will pay for my next experiment, I had corporate sponsors funding my projects. I didn’t have to do anything but tell people what I wanted. It was dreamy. I told him I wanted some place new to show off all my new work. So we decided, what better showcase to hang all my chains than the Chain Mail!”
With this new intelligence the helpmeet takes a novel interest in the cushion’s pins and needles.
“Ok,” enters the now curious but cautious helpmeet, “you’re a performance artist, not my style but that doesn’t mean anything. But why all this stuff?
“Yeah,” laughs the missing link, “it looks to me you’re raising the ante with this new obsession of your.”
“You mean all my little jingly things,” says the pin cushion, setting off a tintinnabulation against the harsher metronome of windshield wipers with every movement of her head.
“It’s hard enough for the average woman to get ready for work,” our sleuth’s helpmeet adds, “let alone encourage them to dress like you.”
“I’m not encouraging anyone to go to work.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“How they dress is their choice. Besides, I don’t put all this on everyday, only a corset and a pair of heels, which is part of my daily workout. And like I said, I enjoy working within the confines of a restricted space. I’ve come to enjoy a certain amount of bondage, using materials that envelope me and force me to be creative when I move.”
“Like Houdini,” posits the time traveler.
“Yeah, like Houdini, only I don’t want to escape. I already did that. And I hang my chains and use latex instead. And I do like the potential all my piercings give me.”
“But why promote your hobby like a commodity,” the persistent ape asks.
“It’s not a hobby: it’s a way of life. Even Adolf doesn’t understand that because for him it’s about money. But tell me, don’t we keep upping the ante in everything we do, why would my interests be different? Isn’t it our nature to grow lax in our appreciation of what is around us. We sent people to the Moon and lost interest before the exploration was over. To the Moon! The most amazing adventure and we got bored. That’s why I need the prick of a needle. It tells me I’m alive. And if what I do to my body makes me feel aware that I am alive, why should I stop, or limit myself. As long as I don’t hurt anyone. The important thing is to change.”
“But what if you’re encouraging a young girl to hate her body, to hurt herself changing it,” wonders the worried teacher.
“How can I prevent that?”
“You have daughters.”
“I’m not interested in what others do,” snaps the queen of Nadir.
“But you want them to adore you.”
“Yes, the way they adore anything they love. I’m a commodity. I don’t deny it. But I’m the most valuable commodity on my shelf.”
“No. You’re not a commodity, you’re a person! You said you had a choice,” replies the liberated helpmeet.
“Are you kidding! Yeah, I have a choice, a personal choice. But why did I make those choices. Because I was withdrawn and shy? Because I was ugly and hated myself, who knows? Once I made the turn off that road, I felt propelled.”
The wipers sweep the melting snow from the bleary glass, smearing the lights ahead. No one says anything.
“Well, that was honest,” sighs the teacher.
“John used to talk about the arc of civilization. He didn’t mean an arc on a timeline but a kind of parabolic spiral where epochs in history, including our own, resemble one another because humans repeat the same errors, again and again as time unfolds.
“Gambista Vico,” notes Vellum, mentally weighing the known contents in his plastic bag to the unknown contents in Laoula’s.
“He said the high points of our civilizations, like the Golden Age of the Greeks and the Italian Renaissance, were actually the highest points of delusion, where we all felt important, drawing on the image of god as the human model. He said with every descent the illusions disappear and we begin to look at each other realistically, not in the likeness of an ideal but as commodities. Since we see everything that way, the world around us, and all the world’s living things, we treat ourselves that way, as something replaceable. Nothing is sacred. From the cosmic level it’s a fair estimate of what we are, a composition of elements.”
“Do you really feel that the Medici considered the lower classes created in the image of god,” asks the youthful time traveler.
“I don’t know, I only know what makes me feel good and that’s better than feeling like shit.”
“But no one is satisfied with their body, there’s always something wrong. I just had to accept who I am, and hope that my daughter can do the same,” says Cass slowly, warily.
“I was playing a house frau, but didn’t know it, didn’t realize I was putty. My husband molded me in the likeness of his own ideas. That made me feel like shit. Only I thought this loathing was normal. When I arrived in Nadir, I was molded in the likeness of Salambo’s vision, but it was a vision I chose for myself because I was still hiding. No one chose it for me. And that was liberating.”
“Were you Samantha,” asks Vellum dreamily.
“I created her. What you saw that night was me, everywhere, in an earlier version.”
“But on stage, you didn’t look like Samantha. You were glowing. . , you were different.”
“I was Judy by then. But it takes time for others to see something is new. Everyone was Samantha, everyone but me. Those who are seeing it and are able, can evolve with me. But to be like me means to work hard, daily, training the body to conform to my standard.”
“So you want everyone to be like you, to look like you, to dress like you.”
“I’m an exhibitionist, I enjoy people looking at me. I want to share my discoveries with the world. I used to hide under my clothes, the apron of the housewife, now I thrive in the sun light of people’s desire. I’d say that’s my freedom of expression. Believe me, people will someday clutter their bodies with all their life possessions, just the way we clutter our rooms with stuff. We are materialists. We get bored. Insensitive. We need more. Why shouldn’t I inflate my lips like inner tubes or reshape my ears like putty? I’m now considering all of these,” says the butterfly, touching her ear wings with her extravagant, orange fingers nails.
“Would these changes be permanent,” asks Vellum fascinated.
“Why not? Big oversized lips. Pointy ears. At first I thought this stuff looked bizarre. I said I would never do that. But there was a time when I would never have conceived of augmentation,” she smiles, rubbing the fleece coat covering her chest, “or needle and ink, let alone pierced ears. Who defines beauty? Each of us.”
“But can you ever return?”
“Return where? Why? Like you, I’m an artist. Only my body is my medium. And it will take me where it will. Like I said, where there’s pain there’s pleasure. One day in Washington Square Park during my workout I sat with a woman who really got off on these crazy almost full-thigh ballet boots I was breaking in. When she talked I noticed something interesting about her tongue. When I asked her, she told me she had her tongue cut in half. She described the pain, then the difficulty she had leaning how to talk again and use her tongues to eat and kiss. But I liked the way it looked.” To emphasize her story, her tongue quickly darts out, splits in two, wrapping around her lip spikes. “She was right, it was difficult at first. I couldn’t talk or eat for a week and I drooled for days. Really disgusting and I had to carry a box of tissues everywhere. My decorator had warned me I’d have to work hard to get control of both sides of the tongue. He said it was easier for younger people. I told him I could do it and I did have to work hard at it. Luckily he advised me to pierce my tongue first, which would help form scar tissue and prevent the tongue halves from rejoining as it heals. He suggested a four gauge dumbbell which I inserted two inches back – I wanted a long split. I wore the stud for a year, my gleaming secret inside my mouth, then had the split,” she says, twisting her tongue tips around each other. “I’m thrilled by change.”
“The artists of the Medici defined beauty.” the time traveler again muses, “It seems the only epochs we value and forgive for their cruelty to other life forms, are those that produce great art. If your sacrifice to your art is remembered, maybe we’ll all be forgiven.”
“Forgiven what? What difference does it make in the cosmic realm? No one will remember me. In these small cosmetic changes, I am in control. I’m here to please myself.”
“You’re honest, I give you that. But are you pleased when everyone wants to look like you,” questions the teacher earnestly.
“Of course I am!”
“What about your daughters. Do you want them to follow your path?”
“They’ll have to follow their own path.”
“Or your husband’s.”
“That would be unfortunate. I’m useful only to those, uncomfortable with themselves, who are searching for something different, something dramatic. I wanted to look like the woman who was queen of Nadir when I arrived. I knew nothing. I was unconfident. For the unconfident, I’m a way, a path toward change. If someone discovers a new identity where they can thrive, then isn’t that wonderful? What would I have become had I not discovered Nadir? I’ve met people, who’ve guided me through their own minds. They’ve shown me the full potential of my imagination.”
“Like how to dress.”
“Yes, like how to dress. How decorate my body. But also about what they liked and disliked, their views of the world, so many views, views so different from that of a Long Island housewife. I hated myself. Now I’m in love with who I am. Another artist friend recently invited me to a body art festival. I’d never imagined this kind of thing was going on. With an airbrush and stencils he and his assistants tinted me purple, my favorite color, then elaborated from head to toe on the theme of my tree. My jewelry was color coordinated and my tree of enlightenment became absolutely gothic. That night all the models came out on the stage, one by one, where we danced down the aisle to live music, our skins glowing in the dark. I was the oldest women on stage, but my body was perfect and I felt eternally young. We won first prize! And a new door has opened for me. The airbrush tickles and I prefer the prick of needles, but paint, like stenciling with ink and needle, adds a whole new dimension to my wardrobe. Who needs a latex dress,” she laughs wickedly, “when I can wear latex paint! I am the measure of who I am, not anyone else. And who’s to stop me, my abductor?”
“Well, you represent yourself well, Judy,” said the gorilla. You’d fit into the Chain, where everyone works toward individuality. But it’s this need for followers that makes you dangerous, like you want revenge on all those who kept you from your self-revelation. You’re with The Group. You’re the axis on which their Standard’s campaign pivots.”
“I’m not with the Group.”
“They back you.”
“Dirty old men, like Thom here, getting turned on when you tie yourself all up in your latex,” helpmeet lashes out. “And how about Blotter?” she continues, pulling Blotter’s card out of her purse, “He told us he represents you but it says here he’s the president of Standardized Testing.”
“Blotter,” says the hairy biped authoritatively, “is many things to many people but essentially he is The Standard. He’s building her up to be the new Barbie.”
“An extreme Barbie,” Judy says, teasing her long thick dread with her finger nails. “The kids love me.”
“The doll?”
“I kidnapped her,” asserted Morales.
“I can see that!”
“I mean the doll, the original doll. Advertising needs a standard it can use to cajole us into buying the products associated with the standard. It’s like our campaign against the homeless terror. Keep everybody on edge and a majority of people give the government more power, to keep the peace at all cost. Of course shopping fits into that.”
“And getting turned on by me,” she says softly, “keeps everybody busy. As they say idle hands are the devil’s playground.”
“You’re right there,” laughs the hairy king.
TV feels the tightly knit pincushion leaning heavily against him as they come around a corner. He admires Morales’ solid determination to carry this project off. She is looking Cass over.
“I like that jacket,” she says agreeably, “You look like a fruit tree in a Macy’s window.”
“I didn’t know they had fruit trees in Macy’s windows.”
“It’s a compliment. . . Where did you get it?”
“My outfit’s too sedate for you.”
“Anthony,” shouts TV, the sleuth, “make a left. Stop here!”
Thom opens the door.
“Where are you going?” asks Cass, his wife, startled. “It’s freezing.”
“Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?” wonders Judy, nostalgically.
“Lift up a little,” pines Thom, pleadingly.
The writer leaps from the cab, as if from the open door of an airplane, his madras jacket aflutter. He runs into the wind-driven snow to a nearby bus stop kiosk, where he looks for a way to open the ad-wall on the kiosk. Judy bends forward and unbuckles the strap of one of her shoes and begins unraveling the red laces.
“You’re not dressed properly,” the singer announces, as she slips off her ballet heel.
The teacher looks over at the singer and just shakes her head.
“I’m cold but my vanity always keeps me warm with excitement,” smiles the hobbled diva, “don’t you remember feeling that way when you were a teenager?”
“Yeah, after that I grew up. No boy was worth catching pneumonia.”
“Try this,” advises the spiky diva, when Thom returns dejected and empty handed.
She leans over Cass and hands him her strange spike heel through the truck window.
“Like what! He’s supposed to use that like a pick axe?” responds the cautious teacher.
“Why not?” responds the dangerous diva.
He stands there, the engine idling, the wipers sweeping, holding the green boot with yellow eyes and red lips, reminding him of the hound heads along the margins in the Book of Kells, that mystical book he’d once seen on a pedestal at Trinity College in Dublin. For one moment his thoughts drift through the story of Cinderella. . .
“Tom, for Christ’s sake, get done with it,” shouts his helpmeet, winding up the window.
He returns to the present, then turns on his heel. With one deft hammer he punches a hole through the glass.
“He may keep that thing for his grab bag,” laughs Cass, maliciously.
From this he’s able to kick the rest of the glass free enough to liberate his face from the bus stop wall. With a tattered sheet in hand, the breathless youth returns to the waiting truck. The snow is coming down in thick flakes now. The whirlwind around the high incandescent street lights is transforming a metropolis of shops and stock exchanges into a radiant fairytale city.
“More evidence, Thom?” hisses the irritated wife. “Not enough goodies in your plastic bag?”
“It’s my wanted poster,” replies the unsuspecting husband.
“Evidence of what?” asks the innocent singer, a possible interloper, as he reluctantly returns her shoe.
“Of your existence,” responds the wife quickly, lifting her husband’s plastic bag before he can prevent her. “You seem to verify his own.”
The home-breaker laughs as she struggles to slip into her boot.
“Even the famous TV. I’m flattered.”
Thom looks at her.
“Why didn’t you marry Lazuili instead?”
The question, coming without the support of any earlier reference, stops her. She sits up and drops her hands limp in her lap and stares at the famous writer in bewilderment. Seeing her difficulty, Thom bends over between helpmeet and diva and helps her slip the shoe on.
“Oh god,” says helpmeet.
“Get the side zipper, it’s easier.”
“I’m amazed it fits,” he states incredulous.
“I’ll get the straps, so your wife doesn’t kill you.”
“Thom, remember the hill in back of the Riley house, where we sledded in the dark after dinner? Nights just like this.”
“He remembers the wood pile,” adds the vengeful wife, turning her anger on curious G.
“The wood pile! Not the wood pile, Thom?” exclaims the beastly boyhood friend.
“She’s my wife,” admits an embarrassed husband, looking angrily at the now smiling wife.
“Wood pile?” enquires the tintinnabulator deadpan. “Sounds like the place where I wished I’d lost my virginity.”
Everyone looks at her. Then the beastly school friend laughs out loud. He tells her about the sacred stash of porn magazines he and friend Thom found as kids behind a neighbor’s woodpile.
“Figures,” says she, with candor, turning on the radio. “Blotter said they’d be playing my music.”
“Aren’t you afraid of hooking yourself with those things on your ears?” asks the innocent wife.
The winged creature, fiddling with the tuner, races through static and talk shows initiating a nightmare of voices only to find one station playing music: “He took a hundred pounds of clay and he created woman for you and me.”
“That song puts you and me in the same category,” the philosophic singer states, looking at the wifely English teacher. “As for these,” she continues, taking her long orange nails and gently touching the edges of her elaborate ear fins, “I do have to be careful. Don’t you think they give me that out-of-this-world look? On the other hand I’m having my ears surgically shaped. I’ve been sketching some ideas.”
The white walls of snow dissolving beyond the beams of light isolates the box truck from the world; the truck cab isolates the crew from the snow and now the olden goldie isolates each of them in their own thoughts. But moments later, the song is interrupted by a newscaster. “The President has just announced that the invasion of Refugium has begun. ‘It is my intention as Commander in Chief to protect our freedom-loving country of decent, hard-working people from this renegade nation whose sole aim is to destroy our way of life. . .’ According to sources in the White House conclusive evidence recently surfaced when the Standards Group running a global statistic collation program discovered that the average person in Refugium makes roughly ten dollars a year. Only one percent of the population own their own homes. Here, according to a government official, is the crux and danger to our way of life. Homeless societies do not make good consumer-based democracies.”
“That son of a bitch Blotter promised me a radio blitz kickoff tonight for my CD.”
“What invasion?”
“The same music I heard you sing at The Nadir.” said Vellum transfixed by all the voices but seeing the strange shoe in his mind’s eye.
“Yeah.”
“In the beginning,” says oblivious Anthony, “She was sacred. Not my beginning, but the very beginning. But over time she became a commodity.”
“. . .According to all sources this pre-emptive attack is going according to plan. Eye witnesses describe streams of refugees who claim their homes were destroyed by falling bombs, but officials in the White House claim these rumors are unsubstantiated. ‘These are lies,’ said the Secretary of Defense, ‘floated by a sophisticated enemy experienced in the art of propaganda.’ He claimed that ‘the application of surgically applied smart bombs from supersonic automated predators operated at 30,000 feet by specialists at Vandenberg airbase in California were strictly softening enemy targets in the capitol city of Babel.’ When asked about the loss of American lives, the Vice President told the press, ‘War is never pretty.’ The President, who prides himself in being just another everyday guy, felt ‘it was the duty of everyone to give something to keep our nation free.’ He quoted a former presidential icon, ‘Ask not what’s in it for you but what’s in it for your country.’ He then turned the discussion over to his military advisers. General Reason of the Joint Chiefs of Staff assured those present, ‘That because of our sophisticated technology few of our brave men and women were actually involved in this stage’ of what now is being called Project Buy-A-House. ‘Project Buy-A-House is homegrown,’ added the President, ‘made in the US of A.’ ‘Certainly no homeowners have been killed,’ added the Vice-President. ‘He doesn’t beat around the bush,’ kidded the President. Reason said, ‘Unmanned robotics units are spearheading the invasion on the ground.’ ‘If we can put people on the moon,’ added the President in a jocular tone, ‘why can’t we put a democracy in a foreign country.’ On the hill members from both parties took a moment to stand in unison and applaud the President in his judicious application of power during these grave times.”
“And that’s why we stole Barbie,” concludes the Gorrilla, as he weaves his way through the city on this snowy night, oblivious of the radio. “And that’s why we have taken you, Judy.”
“What are they talking about?”
“Who are you talking to?”
“What are we doing.”
“And where are we going?”
“Do you think anyone is following us?”
“Maybe.”
“Hold on!” cried Cass, looking more closely at the gorilla, “That’s a big stretch there isn’t it, from the goddess to a Barbie doll?”
“This just in. It’s now confirmed Eddie Ammonia, the chief operating officer of the Administration for the Revolutionary Council of the Homeless, otherwise known as the notorious ARCH gang, who recently escaped from Camp Bentham, has entered the country. The threat to our national security is greater than previously estimated. It has become widely know among security analysts that ARCH is a front for the Central Committee for the Homeless of the World, a secret organization advocating worldwide anarchy to further the cause of homelessness.”
“How did Eddie become the center of a worldwide movement?”
“. . . whose motto is ‘Home is just another name for nowhere else to go’. . .”
“What happened to me? I was there. And I’m not even credited for locating him.”
“You’re talking like a Judas, Thom. I thought he was your friend.”
“You’re right, Cass. You’re always right. They are my friends. I just never imagined all this was going on beneath my nose. No one under the Arch seemed much interested in anything but the next meal.”
“It’s always about you.”
“It’s always about us! And tonight was to be my debut? This was going to put me on the same map he’s on.”
“So Thom, who is this guy Ammonia? Is he for or against Universal Standards.”
“Raymond had to have been the one to set that up.”
“The Standards?”
“Her radio debut.”
“I want to know where we’re going?”
“You must be freezing in that jacket.”
“About this Ammonia. . ?”
“I am freezing.”
“Me, too, my jewelry’s sending cold chills through my skin.”
“I’m sorry about the heater .”
“You make it sound erotic.”
“I guess we knew a war was coming with all the talk, but a snow storm?”
“In a way, as long as I don’t get frostbite.”
“Raymond lives near here.”
“So let’s go to Raymond’s.”
“All roads lead to Raymond’s.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
“Make a left!”
“And now to our correspondent in Washington, Samantha?”
“Thank you, Harry. . .”
“Harry and Samantha?”
“Friends of yours?”
“. . . speculation turns to fact. It is becoming more obvious to those of us waiting here in the black and blue room of the White House that we are in this for the long haul. The President is about to reappear with his Cabinet and the Vice-President. They will be sitting around the great conference table with portraits of presidents on the walls and coffee served from silver urns. The Chief of Staff, who by the way, used to manage the ‘70s rock band The Bottles before becoming a minister in the Whole World Church of the Crucified Christ, feels that being accustomed to the sit-com, we and our viewers will find this setting comforting. The President is now entering from stage left wearing his special leather flight jacket. He is followed by his Cabinet as well as select members of both houses. They are taking their seats, the President is asking who would like some coffee. The Vice-President likes it black, the new cabinet member for Homeland Protection is asking for half and half. Some pleasantries are spoken, and now the Press Secretary is stepping forward to the edge of the stage. ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the press, our President.’ The President is sitting back on two legs of his chair and has placed his cowboy boots on the table. Those of you old enough might recall this emblematic moment in the movie Giant and now the President: ‘My fellow homeowners across this great land, a nation of homeless refugees endangers our survival and is a direct threat to our national security. I needn’t tell you that Weapons of Mass Deceit in the hands of the wrong people spells the end of society as we know it. Homelessness has no borders. Its movements are secretive. Tonight, to protect ourselves from certain annihilation should these conditions continue to exist, I have authorized our new department of Homeland Protection to detain anyone who appears to be homeless. I am asking all freedom-loving citizens to return home at sunset and stay there. Do not go out. Mark your door with an X using silver sticky tape. This will instruct our enforcement officers in their efforts to maintain the peace to bypass your house. Buying sticky tape also helps the economy. As you know, the Vice-President was once president of this company and he assures me that the product will stand up to time. In Refugium we are already using this tape to help rebuild the infrastructure torn down by the marauding refugees. For your own safety, do not go out. Anyone found outside after dark will be picked up. Stay at home. Authorized delivery services run by corporate leaders like those you see around this table can bring you your entertainment. Stay at home, watch movies, follow the news, listen to music, enjoy yourselves. Nothing in our economic democracy has changed. Order online. Pick up your phone now and dial your favorite restaurant.’ The president has picked up the executive phone. ‘It’s a great night for takeout. . . Yes hello, this is the White House, I’d like to order ten large pizzas, all the toppings, thank you. . . Those without homes, with no place to go, will be arrested.”
“What about renters?”
“Most of us still are.”
“Are rentals considered homes anymore?”
“Samantha, what is the general opinion in Washington? Are these new measures a reaction to Eddie Ammonia’s escape?”
“Will somebody tell me who Eddie Ammonia is?”
“He just escaped.”
“It’s all in here, how he did it.”
“In where?”
“My magazine!”
“ I know I ruined it, but it’s all in here, I must have written the article over a month ago.”
“So now you are claiming to have written it!”
“Well, I got paid for it, didn’t I?”
“It’s hard to say, Harry, the creation and deployment of Homeland Protection shows a great deal of forethought. No doubt the President and his cabinet realized the possibilities of such an occurrence and its repercussions.”
“Come on, this is such bullshit!”
“It can’t be Harry from The Nadir. He was a chemist. Maybe it’s your brother, after all.”
“You are crazy!”
“They were fans of Judy, but they looked like Judy when she was Samantha.”
“Wait until they see my new improved model.”
“I still can’t understand how Eddie did it?”
“Did what? Why can’t someone tell me?”
“Become so big, so important, and right under my nose.”
“And now a word from our sponsor.”
“We here at Sticky Tape are happy to be of service to our country and look forward to providing everyone with enough tape to fulfill all your household needs. We also offer a variety of other products that might be of use during this time of crisis. Please check with your local dealers or go to our online store. And be sure to buy our new camouflage sticky tape!”
“We shouldn’t be wandering the streets, not with Homeland picking up everybody who is out.”
“No one is going to stop us, not in weather like this. It’s a bluff.”
“I thought we were going to see Raymond.”
“Do all roads lead to Raymond?”
“The people will not take this lying down.”
“Unless they’re out shopping.”
“On a night like this?”
“Seriously, right now the young people are mobilizing.”
“Unless they’re shopping too.”
“On a night like this?”

THE TRUE BUT OFTEN APOCRYPHAL STORY OF THE METAMORPHOSIS OF THOMAS VELLUM’S BEARD, PART II:2

II:2 When he shows Cass the article she thinks it’s funny. Then without actually reading it, she begins paging through the magazine.
“That’s me, for Christ sake.”
“That’s stretching it, don’t you think? ”
She glances at an article about Martha Stalwart.
“You know,” she continues, “if I had known you would take my magazine I wouldn’t have given it to you. I hadn’t finished it.”
She starts reading the Stalwart piece.
“I can’t let you have that magazine.”
“You can’t let me have my magazine?”
“It’s my only clue.”
“What are you talking about, clue? What, this story about a guy who shaves his beard? You have to be crazy. Don’t go off the deep end like you did the last time.”
“Deep end, is it? What came out of the deep end was fame and fortune.”
“It always gets down to this!”
“But it’s true,” he reiterates.
“Like fame and fortune are things you relish. About the only things you, or I for that matter, have gotten out of all this fame and fortune is a new kitchen, pleas for help from third world nations and non-profit foundations, a rich financial planner and a bank account that embarrasses us. We still don’t own a car, not even a dish washer!”
“Ok, point well taken.”
“Now tell me, anyone who shaves off his beard is copying you?”
“No, obviously not. But it’s the method of shaving off the beard piecemeal that makes it mine.”
“What? You own a patent on a method of shaving?”
“No.”
“You know my brother was way ahead of you in this. He cut off his beard piecemeal. That’s right. Harry started off looking like Rasputin and ended up looking like D’Artagnan.”
“Your brother?”
“That’s right. Maybe you need professional help.”
When he mulls over this coincidence he is struck by a new thought. Is he just one of the common herd? It’s like looking into the funny mirror in the circus fun house and seeing thousands and thousands of fractured selves looking at him, laughing when he laughs. He would rather die an individual than be stalked by a serial killer chasing down every bearded man who follows the Vellum shaving method. Besides, how can he be sure her brother had shaved? Even if he asked him, he might lie. A cabal. Maybe her brother was the writer.
“Is the ending coincidence. . . or prophesy?”
“What ending?” she asks.
“I am. . . I mean the bearded guy is killed.”
“For Christ sake, Thom, it’s fiction! You of all people should understand that. You write fiction, right?”
“Not exactly. My work is true. My stories are prophetic. Jeremiah was never doubted.”
Cassandra stands mouth open. What did she expect? Her husband’s obdurate insistence on the veracity of his work precluded any further movement toward an agreement. So she returns to her article. Martha Stalwart at least is dependable; no one believes her product was the work of a single hand but the result of consultations with experts. But so what? With Martha you got a tangible end. Seeing that he has lost her, TV shoves the postcard under her eyes.
“I saw her in The Nadir.”
“Is that a strip joint?” she asked cuttingly.
“She’s a singer.”
“So what? She must be up and coming,” she says with an irritated voice.
Again she resumes her reading. He shoved the fake money he pocketed the night of the Halloween parade under her eyes.
“You’re certainly building up a nice picture collection, a singer!” she says dryly.
“Yep, same woman,” replies an oblivious Vellum. “This guy was handing these out the night of the parade.”
“Next you’ll be wanting to share your magazine collection with me. It doesn’t interest me.”
“Cass, you know me! This isn’t my collection. This is. . . this is evidence.”
“Evidence of what!”
Vellum shrugs.
“It corroborates the story in my magazine.”
“My magazine,” she asserts.
“But these pictures prove that this story happened in the real world. She’s in the story. This money is described in the story. It’s not just a fiction.”
“That, Thom, is called cross-referencing. Fast food, radio and television as well as film, they all do it. It’s about advertising, an advertising blitz to disseminate an image through as many agencies as possible, conscious and unconscious manipulation.”
He is surprised to see how well informed she is in all these matters.
“This happens with children’s books. A book about dragons and wizards becomes a movie about a dragons and wizards, and out comes dragon and wizard themes, ad infinitum, interviews with author and director, toys of dragons and wizards, colognes smelling of reptiles! You, of all people, should know this!”
According to Cassandra, all that he has witnessed during the last few weeks is simply an advertising campaign that is now successively sustaining his own excessive paranoia.
“Open a magazine,” she continues, raising her Metropolis up to him, the scent of musk permeating the air around his face, “it’s all about the pitch!”
“You sound like Raymond.”
“Everybody knows this,” she says quickly, defensively.
“How long has your brother, Harry, been out of work?”
Cass is struggling to finish the first page of the Martha Stalwart story. Now we all agree that Martha created her entire business around her image. Unlike an actress whose primary product is her role in films, Stalwart segued her image into an array of products from information to actual goods. TV sees that Cass’s patience has become thin ice.
“Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering what an out-of-work historian does?”
“Look for work.”
“Like at the college level, a professor of history, right?”
“Please, let me finish. Can’t I have one leisure moment. . . I take that back. I just need a moment to recoup from school.”
“Right, understood. It’s just that an out-of-work historian might take up writing, right? I mean history is one long story. . .”
“Frankly, I don’t know if Harry is writing history right now.”
She rises and leaves the room, The Metropolis in hand. Thomas watches the magazine disappear into their bedroom.
If Harry had written this story, had he anticipated Vellum’s own protracted shave? Or is TV the plagiarizer, following a script his brother-in-law had written? Of course TV had shaved off his beard before he was even aware of his brother-in-law’s script. Quite possibly Harry had read The Metropolis story, then told his sister that he too had once shaved piecemeal. Nonetheless, the magazine story was still a projection of events in TV’s life. It is imperative he find the writer. For now he will keep Harry as a suspect in the back of his mind. Harry would have had fun writing himself into The Nadir scene, where all the male customers, becoming infected with the Harry virus, begin to look like him – not that Harry of The Nadir looked anything like Harry, the Historian. Harry, the Brother-In-Law is overweight and perspires. But if he is the writer, does he know the killer? Perhaps he is Harry, the Killer. TV finds it difficult imaging Harry as a killer. What would be his motive? Harry, the Unemployed, is jealous of TV’s good fortune. Or, being modest, he is disgusted with his character’s vanity and kills him. Not plausible.
And that would rule out any suspicion of the Chessmen since vanity was a portal to consumer spending. If anything, they would come out of the woodwork to suppress anyone who might damage the engine of material consumption. After all, being unshaven for years and living among the homeless was detrimental to the business of consumption. But kill him? Why not treat him like the prodigal son returning a broken man from his lack-luster life of assumed poverty? In which case they could slap him on the back and blame the whole thing on the eccentricities of the artist. No matter how old, how bad, the artist, like the old rock-and-rollers, is always good for the economy. No matter how adolescent his behavior, the artist, more than ever, is at the forefront of our advertising culture. We only wished, the Chessmen would add as admonishment, you hadn’t experimented with communism, for living in a community of poverty under the St. Clare’s Arch, property paid for by the hard work of taxpayers, is communism. Still, we welcome you back, humbled, into the fold of our Calvinist work ethic. And we see no harm in your quest for a youthful appearance. What could be better for business? And here TV imagines a great pontification, the SS donning the splendid robes of academia to celebrate the discovery of Florida, the result of another explorer’s search for the Fountain Of Youth. Who among us is not a Ponce de Leon? Like birds in migration the elderly fly to Florida to warm the chilled bones and dried skin of northern winters. Tracts on the fabled west coast are still available, but they are going fast, houses going up everyday, they might add. Embracing TV the Chessmen would exclaim, let bygones be bygones. We don’t live in the Inquisition, we don’t expect a recantation, we only ask you write a memoir! Now here the musing stops. Was the story actually a memoir? His memoir? A ghost-written memoir? Following in the footsteps of Galileo, TV describes his fall into the degradation of communism, before seeing the light of resplendent spending, thus saving himself and his country from a fate worse than death, equality over individualism. Impossible! How can one die at the end of one’s own memoir? The Chessmen would kill the bearded TV because he didn’t shave. In the eyes of the killer/writer, vanity was bad. The writer assumed TV was vain, and he was right.
Vellum’s legs suddenly feel tired. He realizes he is pacing back and forth in the living room, his killer still at large.
“If this is all coincidence,” interrupts Thomas, entering the bedroom, lifting up the Barbie, “then where did I get this?”
Cass is sitting on the bed on her side, her head and the magazine she is trying to read both tilted toward the only light in the room, her bedside lamp.
“Is she in the story too?”
“No, actually this doll is not in the story. The main character is not carrying a doll,” he says emphatically as if this is a proof of the story’s unpredictable dimensions. “That means I am one step ahead of the writer! Which means I am one step ahead of the killer. Still I need to check this out in your Metropolis”
“Thom,” she shouts as she stands up, “take it, take the magazine, you win.”
She throws it on the bed and goes into the bathroom. Next thing he hears is the sound of the shower.
When Vellum enters Starks he always hopes for a seat against the back wall. This morning a large beefy man occupies the prize location and is obviously intending to spend the entire day there. What the beefy guy does for a living is beyond TV’s understanding. So Vellum sits in front by the window in the only remaining chair where he feels part of a spectacle. For the last few days TV has carried the magazine, the post card of Judy Crucible, the post card of the oak tree with the poem and the fake money in an old briefcase, believing the leather case legitimized his efforts in rooting out the truth. He left the doll at home fearing the attention it might draw if a Chessman saw him. But the case was awkward to carry and ostentatious. So now he wears an old madras dress jacket which he once sported in high school which is apropos, considering his younger appearance. The jacket has deep pockets where he buries his evidence, excluding his doll. Again he reviews the data. The article is a document, an account of his own experiences. Unfortunately it also makes him doubt his own existence. Is this something he made up, or is he the main character who somebody else made up? The postcard with Judy Crucible tells him to believe the story. But why was the doll left out of the piece? He digs down into his pocket and feels the Crucible money. Perhaps the story was written before he had the doll in his possession. If the writer left the Halloween parade before it was over, how did he pick up TV’s trail later? If TV is the writer, fine, call his state of mind self-doubt; but if someone else has thrown his own life into doubt, that is unacceptable. He wonders if he hasn’t unconsciously read the story, then imagined himself in the role of the protagonist. Was Cass right? We know Cass must protect herself from her husband’s flights. After all, she’s on immunosuppressants and needs to watch her health. But she has always come around to his point of view. They’ve been together too long. Having consumed several cups of strong coffee, he pulls out the Crucible postcard and the money for reassurance. This is evidence that what the story describes happened. And there is the doll. He wants to go home again and look at it to make sure it’s real. That’s silly. Cass suggested the publishers of the story had utilized all the elements in TV’s possession as a sales gimmick. But that’s crazy. After all, this is a weekly publication. He’d never heard of such a thing. Perhaps a book publisher would try something along this line, plant bits and pieces of the story line in public places, subliminal advertising, but a weekly magazine? Not likely. Unless The Metropolis is planning to publish a full-length book in the future. Was this story abridged? Had more happened of which he is not aware? Is he suffering from amnesia? Then he remembers the other card and takes that out again. Tao invariably takes no action. . . here Simplicity, which has not name, is free of desires. He shakes his head. This idea of simplicity seems as remote to him as the idea of a quasar, holding the past within its pulsating breath out on the edges of the universe.
The story depicts a struggle. The Crucible card and currency prove the existence of one side of the struggle: the SS Group. He had yet to find any real evidence of the other group anywhere else but M. The doll, though not mentioned in the story, could be evidence. The ape told him to hold it and squeeze it whenever he thought of Crucible. As for the anagram on the back of the oak tree card? Not conclusive since it could be coincidental. ASS could refer to any number of organizations. How about The Association For Sensitivity Studies? The doll is tangible. The gorilla gave it to him and he is mentioned in the story. But why was Barbie and the Barbie Brigade excluded from local news? Even INQUIRY and INNETNEWS covered the Halloween parade as if nothing unusual had happened. No mention of a struggle. What happened to the CYNow report? The product ads appeared in the background of the photos and video shots but nothing else. One could assume that the SS controls the press, the means of advertising, so they would never publicize anything having to do with ASS. On the other hand, who published The Metropolis? Were they independent enough to publish this story? Or did the editors assume it was fiction? Then it dawns on him. If reality is converted to fiction, the dangers to the ruling powers are muted. It was fiction. If TV had titled his work as a memoir, it would have been believed, then suppressed under the accusation that he had faked it. Turning quickly around, he looks to see if anyone is watching him. No one is, not even the big guy, hunched over his coffee cup stirring his coffee with his spoon again and again.
Aside from Cass and Clio who knew him through all the alterations he had just experienced, this writer is the only other person who seems to know him thoroughly. The writer knows who he is regardless of his disguises. The big guy goes on stirring his coffee. TV turns quickly back to look at the sidewalk and sees someone disappear behind the picture window. He stands abruptly to pursue, knocks his coffee across the table. A busboy, an old gentlemen with white hair, comes quickly to his rescue with a white dish towel.
“Starks saved me, I can save you,” he kindly smiles.
The Metropolis is soaked. Hastily Vellum pulls napkins from the stainless steel dispenser and dries the cover.
“Stick these between the pages,” the old man advises, handing him more napkins.
TV follows his orders. He thanks the man profusely, embarrassed by all this attention and walks to the cashier, stuffing the soggy magazine and the rest of his evidence into his coat pockets. The big man is gone. Well, if the writer/killer had fallen asleep, he must be wide awake with all the racket. Surveying the customers, Vellum nods with a kind of ‘I know you are watching me’ look. He is in a cold sweat. Obviously he can’t speak with anyone he knows with the same sense of impunity he had felt before.
He leaves the coffee shop in a hurry. Near the entrance to the subway station he looks down and discovers wallet-sized, black-and-white cards with pictures of a woman scattered near the steps. He reaches down hurriedly and picks one up, aware that anyone nearby will think he is a pervert squirreling away yet another phone-sex cards. But he forgets his concern in a new wave of sickly worry as he sees that on the pic is a naked, plain woman, her well defined back to the camera, twisting around at the waist to look at him. Her face is shinny, her nose and cheeks uneven, the pores prominent, her chin protruding. She smiles gamely. Under the heels of her flat feet are the words:
WOULD YOU PREFER PLAIN JANE
OR
and here he turns the card over to find his plain Jane staring defiantly out at him. She stands on her toes in black ankle boots with tall steel heels, in glistening black latex leggings, her hands on her waist. The Tree of Good And Evil with its accompanying serpent emanates from the waist band, it’s fruit bearing limbs twisting around her breasts, now the size of cantaloupes. Her nipples are pierced with rings and bound together by a delicate chain of glittering floral beads. Her face still resembles plain Jane, except now her blond hair hangs wildly coiled in Rastafarian dreads, some of which are red. Her ear lobes droop with white porcelain inserts the size of napkin rings. Looped through the outer walls of both nostrils enormous rings of gold shimmer, matched by gold pins with snake heads that emanate from her lips like fangs. She smiles lewdly at him, like a wild bore. Her cheeks are pierced by dozens of hornet shaped studs and gold rings spiral through her eye brows like wire augers in a field of wheat. The inscription
THEN KICK ASS
stretches between her taut legs like the cross beam in the letter A. It is Judy Crucible.
The clouds are rolling in, curling high over the apartment buildings to the south. A wind scatters the remaining yellow elm leaves still hanging on the branches. He rushes home, opening the door, just as the telephone rings.
“Is this Mr. Vellum?”
“Who is this?”
“Mr. Vellum, I have been a fan of your for years. I hold your stories in great esteem. This latest one is incredible. Thank you so much.”
“Excuse me? What story are you referring to?”
“The latest one in The Metropolis.”
“I didn’t. . .”
“Yes, I understand, otherwise you wouldn’t have used the name of Anon.”
“Who is this? Do I know you?”
“Just an admirer, Anon, and adieu.” She hangs up.
Her voice resonates in his ear, touching off a concatenation of memories too vague to settle the question of her identity. Deep and rich, certainly a distillation of all the fabulous voices of women he has seen in film noir. Is it the woman in the long coat in Washington Square Park many alterations ago, the woman seeking a cigarette? He turns in a circle, then takes out the card with the Tao poem. Simplicity. He repeats the word several times. OK, he will wait in the unlit living room for Cass to come home from work. He will seek her advice. The first trepidations of rain strike randomly on the fire escape. He picks up the phone and asks information for the number of The Metropolis Magazine. He waits patiently until the automatic voice recites the number. On the second recital he gets the whole number down on the edge of the first page of the magazine article. The woman answering the phone at The Metropolis refers him to an extension she dials for him. After three rings, another woman answers the line. She won’t reveal the name of the author. He decides to leap.
“Excuse me, but I am the author.”
After a brief pause, the woman on the other end continues.
“Perhaps I don’t understand your question.”
“Please, I am sorry to be so abrupt, but I’m a bit upset. Not more than ten minutes ago a fan called me up on my home phone and congratulated me on my latest story. She was referring to the fiction piece you just published, THE LIE OF THE LAND, you know, an elaborate structure set against a backdrop of radiant leaves falling ever so gently to the ground, a kind of metaphor for the many guises worn by the protagonist before his eventual fall… I naturally denied it. Do you get my drift?”
“Excuse me, but is this Mr. Anon?”
“No, Anon is a pseudonym. You should know that.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve never talked to you before, all our correspondence has been through e-mail.”
“Yes, of course, but the sudden invasion of my privacy through my home phone set me off. How do you think she got my phone number?”
“We don’t even have it, so I don’t know.”
“And my remuneration?”
“Excuse me?”
“Payment,” he replies irritably, wanting to hasten over this stretch of the conversation.
“One moment. . .”
He is left on the line wondering if she is tracing this call. If he needs to, he will use his real name, a name she would know naturally, and suspend all doubt. After all, Thomas Vellum is already being given credit for this anonymous work.
“Are you still there, Mr. Anon?”
“Yes, yes I am, and you can call me Anon as if it is were – as they say – my Christian name, though I am certainly anything but a Christian.”
“Anon, the check was just mailed out.”
“You misunderstand. I am not asking for my money but whether the information there might have given someone clues as to my real identity.”
“As far as I can see, we have only Anon as your real identity. In fact you never gave us your home address. We only have your P.O. Box address on Varick Street and, of course, your e-mail address. I can’t vouch for your internet provider.”
“I’ll look into that. But as far as you know, no one has called up to praise my work?”
“No.”
“Thank you for your help.”
He hangs up the receiver and sits back, head against a cushion, his eyes closed, listening to the rain outside, the sound of traffic on wet streets. The gentle rain is enough to shake out the remaining color left in the trees, the only reminder of change in the otherwise static world of approaching winter. An unchanging aspect of gray days stretches out before him. Somewhere in February the sun will climb high enough to remind some people that yes, the days are getting longer again. The door opens and a moderately wet Cass steps over the threshold, leaving her open umbrella in the hallway outside.
“Hey, what are you doing sitting in the dark?”
“Just resting…”
“Boy, do I hate the short days.”
“A woman just called me and congratulated me on writing this Metropolis story.”
Cass turns on one of the lamp lights and then returns to the closet where she takes off her jacket.
“Well, did you? Although I can’t see when you would’ve written it, seeing you’ve been out so much.”
She walks into the living room.
“I didn’t write this story.”
She sees the folded copy of the magazine next to her husband.
“What happened to my Metropolis?”
“Cass, listen, I didn’t write this…”
“Yeah, Thom, but what happened to my magazine..?”
“I spilled coffee on it. It will be okay. Please listen. . .”
“So this woman calls you and tells you she’s a fan.”
“Yes.”
“So your identity is out again. You must be looking your age again!”
“This is not funny. I didn’t sign my name to that story. It’s signed by Anon, that’s the author.”
“Anonymous.”
“Exactly.”
“I wouldn’t know, Thom. The story certainly has the characteristics of my TV.”
“Yeah, but that was different.”
“What? You don’t take credit for any of your old work and now you won’t take credit for this new work, but somehow you’re getting the credit. Are they going to pay you?”
“They apparently sent the check to a downtown P.O. Box.”
“Good, our suffering is not in vain!”
“Besides,” he plows on, ignoring her levity, “the old work at least originated on my computer. This story has sprung directly from a magazine.”
“So call the magazine.”
“That’s how I found out I’m getting paid, that is, Anon.”
He pulls out the little card and shows her.
“You actually picked this up? It’s even been stepped on.”
“Look at it.”
She looks at both sides. He nods knowingly.
“What are you nodding at? What am I supposed to see? This lady obviously needs a lot of attention.”
“First of all, there is no phone number.”
“Oh, you know that kind of stuff, great!”
“ASS is Abolish Superficial Standards. Besides the Barbie, this is evidence proving ASS exists. I mean, other than M. That is Crucible’s connection with ASS. The Tao poem was printed by an ASS, but. . .”
“I don’t care!”
Cass looks toward the window where the first bars of light are striking out from behind the curling mountains of gray that had hidden them.
“That’s not true, Thom, I do care. I’m your confederate.”
Later that day the first thing TV notices as he approaches Virtual Wear is the state of the window displays. Men and women, real ones, are working inside the bays removing manikins, painting the interiors, draping materials over furniture props or taking off the garments of those dressed figures he had seen on previous visits. Inside the store a similar fury is in action, as if the seasonal changes that are transforming the world outside over the last month are suddenly working transformations inside the store. Inside this landscape of clothing racks and changing rooms transmutations are occurring in the world of fashion.
It seems years since he last entered Virtual Wear. Workmen are busy setting up dividers and tall ladders for touch-up painting, and in a far corner a green wreath with red ribbon is being hung. The tie and belt racks have disappeared. For a moment he is at a loss. But then he gathers in his focus and marches resolutely to the escalator, looking around to see if he can catch a glimpse of his young salesman. In the prie-dieu room he sees the young man discussing a line of Sari Sermon clothes with a young business man, about thirty-five, who is prematurely balding. As he draws closer to catch the young salesman’s eye he notices he is a week or two into a beard. The man looks up but doesn’t take notice of Vellum though he looks him in the eye. Vellum nods knowingly to which the young man cocks his head questioningly. Seeing he is not recognized, Thomas paces about, stopping abruptly now and then at one of the kneeling stands to glance erratically at the catalogues, pressing the ‘enter’ button to flip the digital pages. Sari, modeling her male line, is sporting the now popular beard. And to his shock he sees that for her women’s collection Sari has been digitally made to resemble Judy Crucible with nose and ear rings. He slams the lid to the laptop down bringing the salesman up short.
“Slipped,” concedes TV timorously.
The young salesman approaches him, apologizing for having kept him waiting. He is
dressed neatly in a gray suit with wide lapels. He asks Vellum if he is interested in anything particular. Vellum is elated. He doesn’t recognize the real me, he thinks.
“I’m looking for someone who was last seen leaving this store wearing a Sari Sermon suit of a black leather jacket and matching jeans tucked into black ankle boots. He was a man about my height, had sideburns and a mustache with a goatee trimmed tight. He carried under his arm a flat rectangular box that held the Sari Sermon suit he wore in.”
“I know who you mean, the guy with the ever-changing beard.”
“Yeah, he. . .” TV studies the young man’s beard.
“Are you a reporter?” the young man asks.
“No, why?”
“Ever since he became my customer lots of guys have been coming into the store telling me they saw this guy somewhere and wanted to dress the way he did. One of those guys told me he was his agent. He told me who the bearded man was, that famous writer, apparently a real eccentric. . . I’m not much of a reader but I’ve seen some of his films; you’ve seen them, starring. . . what’s his name in the lead. The wife is played by that well-known blond actress and the kid is. . , you know.”
We are again compelled to enter the story to say that while we understand the importance of TV, there are many who don’t even remember his name but who are affected, nonetheless, by his work without knowing it.
“His agent came by?”
“Yeah. He opened a house account and bought lots of stuff from the Sari line too. You know, because ‘his boy’ put Sari Sermon on the map. Now Sari wants to meet him.”
“You have to be kidding, wants to meet the agent?”
“No, the famous writer. He was a cool guy. He was kind of going through changes, constantly changing. And each change made him younger, so I was always stepping down the ladder into younger attire to address his latest. . , I don’t know, shaving experiment. What happened to him?”
“Never mind. . ,” replies TV, inveigled into further investigation by the upbeat statements of this admirer. “You say he came in often?”
“Every time he shaved. The first time, he was wearing these really ragged trousers and an old, sweat shirt with a T-shirt underneath. Smelled as if he had been wearing them for days. It had holes in the back, up by the collar. I remember because he hooked his finger into the largest hole to pull the shirt off! I had no idea he was a famous entertainer.”
“Writer.”
“Whatever, I’m just repeating what his agent called him. Anyway, from then on he was like a chameleon, coming in regularly to buy a new set of clothes, taking the old set out with him in the cardboard box you mentioned. I became his personal dresser. He wanted me and no one else. . .”
“Did he confide in you?”
“Sometimes, about his fear of being found out or about some interesting people he had met the day before, or how the women liked him the day before, which surprised him but at the same time gave him the courage to pursue his experiment.”
“You just called it an experiment? He didn’t call it that, did he?”
“No, not actually, but the way he was going about shaving his beard and buying the Sermon line, it seemed he was experimenting. Kind of like adding a little of this to see what will happen, adding a little of that to see if it will change yesterday’s results. He certainly wasn’t worried about money. He paid cash every time, even though that meant we did this song and dance around a cash machine. My supervisor told me rich guys often have strange eccentricities, sometimes illegal, sometimes just outright crazy. . .”
“You think he was crazy?”
“I don’t know. I liked him. He didn’t bother me any. I just mean he could have paid with a credit card or even with a personal check. But he really preferred working it all out just so I wouldn’t know his name. . . So what happened to him?”
“He was killed.”
“Oh my god.” The salesman is seriously startled.
“He was apparently killed in Riverside Park on the evening of. . .” here Vellum takes out his Metropolis folded over to hide its cover and looks at the time, “a month ago, end of October. . .”
This would coincide with Vellum’s final shave. Had he returned to the park? How would anyone have known him without his beard? TV pulls out of his reverie and continues.
“The body of Philip K. . .”
“Was that his name?”
“No, that’s a fictitious name for the sake of record keeping, and to protect any related parties.”
Vellum wonders why his name was changed to Philip? Why not Franz!
“That makes sense.”
“The body of Philip K,” TV continues, “was last seen lying in a tumble of fresh fallen leaves…”
“A tumble?” asks the salesman.
Vellum looks up from the article he is reading and nods.
“Yeah, that’s what it says.”
“Sounds literary, you know what I mean,” comments the young man.
“You’re right,” replies our TV, wondering if ‘in a tumble’ sounded like anything he recognized.
“I mean it’s odd for a report to sound so. . . so, you know, literary. That was my major, literature, before I signed up for business.”
“And you never heard of this writer, this what’s his name?”
“My professor actually turned me off. He had a strict and serious adherence to styles of thrift. I remember my professor telling us that this writer. . . I wish I could remember his name, I’ve never been good with names, anyway I remember him telling us the guy was excessive.”
“Excessive?”
“Yeah, good for film scripts but not for the modern novel. He liked, you know, The Old Man and the Sea.”
TV nods, then continues reading aloud.
“A tumble of leaves under the arch at St. Clare’s at the north end of Riverside Park. . .”
“He was found in the park?”
Vellum reviews the article again.
“Actually, no. He was last seen there in the park. His body was never recovered.”
“Wasn’t recovered. . . You mean he’s missing?”
“Odd isn’t it?” queries TV before going on. “The brightly colored leaves were raked into black plastic bags and taken to the precinct headquarters on 126th Street as evidence. . .”
“The brightly colored leaves. . .” repeats the salesman.
TV looks at the young man for a moment before reading on.
“Because violence has been on the rise among the homeless, they are prime suspects. One Edward Ammonia, leader of the St. Clare’s gang, otherwise called the Arch gang, was brought in for questioning. He claimed to have seen gardeners in the vicinity of the Arch around the time of Philip K’s dormition in the brightly colored leaf pile.”
“Wait.”
TV again patiently pauses.
“‘Dormition in the brightly colored pile…’ really? That was written in the report?”
Vellum looks down at the magazine as if to qualify it. He nods to confirm its veracity.
“But what does that mean?”
“I think that refers to sleep.”
“So how do they know he is dead?” concludes the young man hopefully, stroking his new beard.
“Good question. There are the eye witnesses, of course, who last saw him. . . and of course, the gardeners. The report mentions them again further on, let me see. . ,” he says paging ahead. “Yes, gardeners of foreign descent are being picked up. . .”
“You mean like Mexicans?”
“Aren’t Mexicans landscapers?”
“Is there a difference between gardener and landscaper?”
“I don’t know. I think they are referring to Middle Easterners.”
“I’ve never met a Middle Eastern gardener. I’m sure they are around.”
“Hanging gardens of Babylon, I guess,” our TV says, referring once again to his Metropolis, thinking, Yeah, nobody, just eye-witness reports. And an anonymous author writing down the reports. The perfect crime.
He looks around furtively to see if anyone is watching them. The young man looks around as well, suddenly drawn into the furtive search for an outsider.
“So,” continues TV, “ we need to know if there were any suspicious people you might have noticed during your sessions with the deceased.”
“I wasn’t really paying any attention. What did the eye witnesses say?”
“You mean the group of men living with him communally?”
“I guess.”
Vellum again refers to the document.
“The author of the report doesn’t go into details. In fact,” he continues, absorbed by the evidence as much as the young salesman, “some eye witnesses are calling it a holy experience.
“The dormition?”
“They call it an assumption.”
“Are we talking about the St Clare’s Gang?”
“Yeah. They say he was assumed into heaven. Others claim he was abducted by aliens. Everyone agrees that his belt was the only object that remained at the bottom of a well of light shining down on him from above. When the police asked for the evidence, they told the police they would return the belt if the body of PK was found, but until then they placed the belt in a neoprene reliquary wrapped in plastic bags and were keeping it for the day a shrine was built to commemorate the assumption of PK.”
“No shit, the belt,” exalts the salesman. “He always chose his own belt!”
“According to the INQUIRY,” continues Vellum, “PK’s voice was heard by all the major religions of the world and recorded in the sacred texts of each. All the homeless did agreed that alien abduction was where it’s at in these days of deductive reasoning. However, the CEO of the Arch Gang, Edward Ammonia, claimed, while being interrogated, that K was reincarnated and that he and the reincarnatee spoke at length at a major crossroads, near the town of Emmaus, PA., rated one of the top towns in USA to live in by a leading financial magazine.”
“Sounds like a spiritual happening,” says an awed salesman. “And to think. . .”
“You hit the nail on the head,” affirms TV. “Anyway, this is why I am carrying on this investigation. To see that justice is carried out.”
“You don’t have much to go on.”
“On the contrary, you might say I have too much to go on!” exclaims Vellum in frustration. “This dossier,” he adds, pointing to The Metropolis, “is full.”
“Are you a cop?”
“No, I am not police. . . Let’s say I have a personal interest in this.”
“You know, he seemed drawn to this woman he had met or maybe did not meet but had seen, maybe not even seen, but just heard of, a woman he called. . . I forget. Anyway, she was on his mind the last time I saw him. For whatever it is worth.”
“Thank you. . . thank you. . . If I ever decide to buy something in the way of a new suit or something, I will repay you by looking you up.”
“No prob. We sell that belt, you know.” He is looking straight at TV’s belt. “In fact, that was one of the items he picked out for himself, that belt.”
Vellum feels a cold sweat pouring out of his pores.
“What belt?”
“That belt. The one you are wearing.”
Is the salesman playing with him as he is playing with the salesman? The way everyone plays with each other in these ever tightening gyres of deception? But the ingenuous look on the young man’s face doesn’t seem to cover some knowing intent in the comment.
“You mean he bought a belt like this one.”
“Yeah, whatever. We carry that line of belt, and until recently it was on display downstairs on a rack along with ties.”
“You mean I’m wearing one of the Sari line?”
“No.”
“Oh, ok.”
He writes this information down with an emphatic gesture of great penmanship, right along the margin of his Metropolis article.
“Well, thank you.”
As TV descends the escalator into the large foyer where the work of remodeling is in progress, he is troubled by an inconsistency highlighted by the young salesman – the belt. According to the St. Clare’s gang, the belt is being kept in a reliquary for safe keeping. After Philip K’s assumption the belt possessed a sacred value. On the ground floor of the clothing store customers are scrambling around the ladders. The place seems busier than when he arrived.
It is already dark when he starts walking down toward the Varick Street Post Office. With daylight savings, an entire hour has been lopped off the day, changing the quality of the hour. People are busily walking along the sidewalk in the glow of street lights and window lighting. He hopes the PO is still open as he enters under a scaffolding set up for work being done somewhere above. The place is crowded with students and office workers on their way home, everyone waiting in line for one of the windows. He walks over to the special services window where he waits for a few minutes while the woman in front talks with an official. Somewhere in the back of the PO, he hears the voice of a newscaster: “. . . on the commodities market possibly threatening the price of oil. And today, evangelist Billy Bop had this to say about reports of a new religion. ‘I hear this new faith was born beneath an archway in a park where the homeless live, and I hear these squatters are TV’s disciples. As if the fame and fortune heaped upon him by our fair country wasn’t enough, now this so-called humble artist wants to be a god. Shame on you TV. Folks, do you know the homeless? They don’t believe as you and I do in the stability of the family. They don’t have families. They don’t believe in the home. They don’t have homes. They don’t even believe in the sanctity of possessions. They don’t have possessions. The homeless share their food. They share the same spoon, the same washcloth, that is, when they bother to wash. And when they need money for their liquor and drugs, do they go out and get a job? No, they beg and steal. Is this the foundation of a new religion or of a new disease? Ask yourself where disease is born. It is born in the squalor beneath the arch. My friends, this is not a religion but a virus born up there in New York City to attack our beliefs, to undermine our faith.’”
“Sir?” exclaims a large man with suspenders impatiently, standing on the other side of the glass partition.
“Yes, yes, sorry, what crazy talk.”
“What is?” says the man unctuously.
“Never mind, I’d like to review my contract regarding my Post Office Box.”
“Name?”
“Anon.”
The man waits with his pen in hand looking down at the piece of paper on which he has written A N O N. Now he looks up.
“That’s it?”
“Yeah, I like keeping things simple.”
“Seems the rage.”
He turns and disappears behind a wall of filing boxes. TV now recognizes the voice of the president emanating from the hidden radio which he imagines is on one of filing boxes. “Billy Bop is right. The people must be protected. So I have asked Congress to create a new agency, called Homeland Protection, answerable to me through a new cabinet member.” His voice becomes chummy, like a father, seeking the best results from his troubled children. “When I was a boy I remember playing with Chinese boxes. Inside of one box was a smaller box, and inside that still another, and another inside it down to the smallest little box. This toy reminds me our great nation. I ask you to think of the largest box as our Homeland. We look inside and we find a smaller box. This would be your community, the town where you live. Inside this box is your home. And if we look inside your home we’ll find a smaller box containing your largest possessions, your television, your furniture. Inside this box we discover other boxes right down to the smallest box for your smallest items. The job of this agency is to protect these things which you have worked hard to buy. The agency will also safeguard our freedom of consumer choice, which is an unalienable right. To prevent the agency from becoming a burden to all of us taxpayers, I am establishing a new initiative. The agency will support itself on its own earnings. Shares will be sold on the New York Stock Exchange. Its logo, The Home Within The Home, will be displayed on apparel which we will retail in a chain of stores across the country. Members of the government will be asked to shop there. The Secretary of Homeland Protection will also be the agency’s CEO. This pilot program will help us begin the process of converting our government into a model of efficiency and profit making. Naturally, its product service will specialize in rooting out the homeless terror.” Just the word itself made Vellum shudder. Terror. Fear of the unknown. The big Unknown. The ineffable. The unexplainable. An unexplainable ineffable. An unaccountable inexplainable. Apparently the government had placed a face on the ineffable: the homeless. A spokeswoman for the new agency says, “We are here to ensure the peace and tranquility of every freedom-loving homeowner. We urge those who love their homes to report to their local anti-terror group anything suspicious that might indicate the presence of a terror cell in their communities. If you see an untended package which you didn’t buy, report it.” TV looks around. There are boxes everywhere. Does anyone suspect him? Do any of these young people remember the struggle against communism? One might as well be describing scenes from the Iliad or The Bay of Pigs. And how about the war against cancer? The war against cancer is still being waged as well as the wars against AIDS and Inflation. It seems ages since the clerk disappeared. What is he doing? When he returns he is shaking his head. In times like this we know Vellum likes to reach out to another human, and the clerk looks about his own age.
“It seems the homeless are a threat.”
“It’s just the news, has nothing to do with me,” says the agent apathetically. “You sure we have your name down right?”
“Yeah, why?”
“Because we don’t have anything under the name you gave me.”
Cocking his head to the side, the clerk scrutinizes TV, no doubt trying to place him.
“You’re kidding.”
For the second time that day Vellum is releasing streams of sweaty, nervous energy. Somewhere overhead a helicopter hovers motionless over the city streets, rotors whirling.
“No, but maybe you are.”
The man is obliviously not in the mood for jokes. In a desperate move to improve his credibility Vellum does what he has been struggling for years not to do; in a tone barely audible he gives the man his real name.
“Thomas Vellum,” the man repeats as he writes the words down.
Again he disappears. Now the announcer, echoing from the depths of the post office, is describing the search for the weapons of mass originality that the terrorists are using. The government’s ambassador to the United Nations is going to present their case to the world asking for permission to seek out and destroy all WMOs wherever found. “Anyone,” reiterates the ambassador, “anyone who doesn’t own or lease a home is suspect. If you are traveling because you are homeless, don’t. Buy a home now and settle down. Refugees will not be spared. If you are homeless, you are suspect. Anyone who threatens this nation with weapons such as boycotts will be apprehended.” Emily Hedges of Queens, when asked about the weapons like boycotting chain stores, had this to say: “What’s this world coming to? Imagine not buying anything for a week!” Before the opinion of Hernando Emil of Washington Heights can be aired, the clerk returns with papers.
“OK, that’s better.”
“You’re kidding?”
Vellum is shocked, but then seeing the face of the large man looking back up at him with a troubled look that will brook no further tricks at his expense, he quickly adds with a stream of spontaneity that later makes him feel ingenious.
“I mean I can’t believe I used my real name. Very stupid of me. I like to use Anon in circumstances like this, you know, anonymous. Anon, that’s short for anonymous.”
“Sir, I know that. I also want to remind you that you opened this account just under a month ago, so I can well understand your slip in memory.”
The clerk exaggerates concern. Behind him up above in the back corner a camera on wall bracket is pointed right at Vellum.
“So what did you want to review?”
“Review?” asks our TV, preoccupied with how he must look on an anti-terror Homeland Defense monitor. “Yes, well, may I see the contract?”
“I need some identity.”
Vellum takes out his wallet, glad he hadn’t thrown out all the pertinent IDs when he disappeared three years ago. He produces his driver’s license as well as a defunct library card.
“How about a credit card? I mean what’s good about a library card? It’s not even valid.”
Vellum removes a credit card. The man looks at the numbers and compares them to the ones on the contract.
“Ok,” he says, handing them back, “everything is in order”
Does the post office accept credit cards now? Vellum wonders if the credit card numbers lined up with those used to open this account. How can this be? The man shoves the paper over to TV and then elaborately swings the paper around so he can see it. Yeah, the same credit card number. He notes the P.O. Box number 007. To show the man he is serious, he reads the contract. The calligraphy looks like his but he can’t be sure. His own signature evolves from week to week developing loops and curlicues depending on his mood. Once his credit card had been turned down by a clerk who failed to see the similarity between the card signature and the one he had provided on the receipt. That clerk had been right. There had been no similarity. And the attention given to his name created bedlam in the store as shoppers crowded around him.
“Thank you for your patience. Now I need a key.”
“Lost yours?”
“That is too harsh a word. Misplaced would be more appropriate.”
“It will cost you.”
“How much.”
“$2.50.”
“Are you serious?
“We are not a charitable organization. We have been authorized by the Congress to produce a profit, you know, the days of deficits are over.”
It is TV’s turn to shake his head in disapproval as he once again produced his wallet, this time removing a five.
“You don’t have anything smaller?”
Here TV holds his line, shaking his head in the negative. The man shrugs his shoulders and slowly shuffles off. “Evil,” according to the distant voice on the shelf, “will go through every means to strike fear in our way of life. The Terrorists have an alien view of life. They don’t understand the freedom of choice, the right to choose this facial cream over that facial cream. In fact, they don’t even know what facial cream is. The symbolic gesture of all terrorists is the unruly beard.” Vellum immediately reaches up to touch the beard he no longer sports. As he does he looks up at the camera eye. Then he breathes a sigh of relief. Five minutes later the clerk comes back and places the change and the key on the counter.
“Thank you.”
“And thank you,” the man says. “Enjoy your mail.”
Vellum is sure he has said this sarcastically. When he finds box number 007 he opens it and finds a stack of the SS bills with Judy Crucible and the expected check from The Metropolis. Can a famous man claim identity theft when he himself isn’t sure of who he is?
Aside from his few and possibly inconclusive evidence proving the existence of ASS, Vellum hasn’t seen another sign of the resistance since shaving off his beard, not the yellow truck, nothing. Yet everywhere the SS and their campaign against ASS are evident. He is even finding the salacious material in his mailbox. Wait! This is not his mail box despite all evidence to the contrary. The confusion is building up the way the clouds had earlier in the day, mounting with surety but with no more solidity than the so-called evidence he is accumulating. He had hoped to find the author of the story. The evidence points to him. Since he suspects the author is the killer, he concludes he is the prime suspect responsible for his own death; if not his own death, then his own disappearance. He longs for the good old days when he lived in the future, on the high peaks of Machu Picchu.
As he crosses the street he kicks a coffee container underfoot on which he notices the now familiar image. He picks it up from the gutter and sees a wholesome picture of a family gathered together for this portrait, mother and father and three kids all with smiles on their faces. The mother is Judy Crucible. Slowly turning the cup around he sees Judy again as he had become accustomed to seeing her ever-changing, her breasts larger than before, her waist cinched down tightly, the corset strings behind hanging between her legs like the tail of a horse. Her hips in a g-sting are plumper, her legs whiter, standing apart on her toes in her strange heeled boots. She is holding a dishtowel and a spatula in her hands. TV’s eyes are magnetized by the enormity of her partially visible nipples, where the nipple hoops bear foot long tassels that sparkle. Sparkling tassels hang from rings high on her ears while in the huge holes of her elongated ear lobes, enormous silver disks are embedded. A wire sculpture rises from inserts through both sides of her nose, forming a spiral horn in front of her face. From the upper lip porcelain fangs protrude like miniature tusks. She smiles sweetly at hubby who kneels before her while the kids stare up at her open mouthed. Vellum bursts out laughing, as he stumbles down the stairs like a drunk to the uptown subway. The train doors open. The car is packed with people in gray suits and overcoats, in straight skirts and jackets, everyone carrying briefcases, everyone traveling uptown from the business district. The long, gray coats add to the damp stuffiness inside the car. Here and there someone ignores the confinement and with neatly folded newspaper, reads the One Way Street Journal. True to the universal form of the insular commuter, no one gives any indication they have noticed him as he slips into a newly vacated seat. TV, leaning forward, is clutching the cup, his eyes darting from it to his surroundings. Then on the lower left hand corner of someone’s folded newspaper, not more than twelve inches from his eyes, he glimpses the headline:
THE SUPERFICIAL STANDARD GROUP CONSIDERS CAMPAIGN SUCCESS
The hand above his head shifts the page and Vellum, no longer laughing, begins seriously pursuing the disappearing text until he is on his knees beneath the page. This does draw the attention of those sitting on either side of him who, until then, had gently rocked with the motions of the train, their eyes shut. He nods his head apologetically as he sits back, wondering if he shouldn’t grab the paper and run out the door at the next stop. But luck is with him. At 34th Street a great disembarkation releases a half dozen seats into one of which the reader of the newspaper sits, the article now in full view again and conveniently set at an angle easy to read. The man’s thumb obscures the opening line but from the knuckle on Vellum reads “. . .during a planning session to prepare for the upcoming centennial commemorating the invention of the television to be held at The New World Hotel in ‘07. Adolf Blotter, president of the American Standard Testing System who gave the opening presentation, credited television for helping to translate the language of the motion picture into a world-wide standard, thus preparing the way for our visually connected society vis-à-vis the computer. He confessed that it was ‘his enthrallment with television’ that led him to create the first non-profit enterprise that produces the now universally accepted exams. Standard testing is used at all levels of society from kindergarten to post-graduate and corporate levels to ensure that the providing institutions receive the very best applicants. The striving for perfection of those hoping to further their educations or careers unites everyone by a common theme of acceptable knowledge. ‘No more solid proponent,’ said Mr. Blotter, ‘could be called upon to defend our standards than Plato, father of philosophy.’ He spoke of the success of the Superficial Standards Group, the non-profit organization he chairs, at combating the subversive war being waged against the eternal standards of judgment that help us define success. Blotter referred to the recent Halloween struggle that took place on the Avenue of Americas in the West Village where a non-violent rally by members of the Group was set upon by a gang of Barbies, heavily armed with signs and hair brushes. Later at a press conference, the police chief Arthur Rascul accused the attacking Barbies for actually being debased men. The mayor suggested that the disguised attackers represented a cell of foreign terrorists out to destroy our cherished image of ‘Miss American Pie.’ ‘The next thing these people will want,’ claimed Rascul, ‘is a broader qualification for the sacred institution of marriage!” Mr. Blotter considered the sacrilegious use of an idol cherished by little girls all over this land as regrettable. He asked, ‘Who would do such a thing?’ But he reassured his audience that the Standards Group had matters well under control’ The commemoration ended with Blotter leading the attendees in a rendition of This Land Is Our Land.”
Vellum can hardly contain himself. Here is proof of the struggle, although it seems every effort is being made to diminish the qualifications of the opposing view by either not mentioning its practitioners or by insinuating their crazy character.
Exiting from the subway Vellum walks to the newspaper stand on the corner and buys copies of all the available dailies. But none of them, including another copy of The One Way Street Journal he was reading on the subway, carries the article. At home he goes online and looks up the issues for the last few days but can find no mention of Blotter and the Group.