Vellum’s Paradise: Part I


November 29, 2015

The other day the song writer, P. F. Sloan, died. He was only seventy. I remember one song in particular which still resonates with me, Eve of Destruction sung by Barry McGuire. Whether it was playing on the radio or inside our heads, it well describes the loss of hope and the intense anger many of us felt at our world gone awry. Some things never change.

I thought it would be interesting to raise the dead, in this case, an early Thomas Vellum story, which materialized in the early 1970s. It reflects my literary interests at the time of Thomas Vellum’s first appearance, in particular the works of Gustave Flaubert, specifically of Bouvard & Pecuchet, its style and tempo. I read many of the classics, all translated by voices I didn’t suspect. I thought the voice of the translator to be the voice of the author and not of someone living in another era, in his or her own time. So in a way I was as much influenced by the translators as by the authors. Astronomers, viewing a distant star, don’t see what we see, our sun, burning brightly in the sky, but a palimpsest of energy, rising out of the past, caught with infrared spectrographs that registers this star’s former powers in brilliant color. I eventually realized these authors, unlike the authors of my native tongue, arrived diffracted, caught momentarily in pictures not only of the author’s time but of those times when the translator was at work. In spite of the distances in time and the limitations of translation, we humans go on behaving in ways that always strike us as familiar, in spite of an excessive atrocity or kindness on the part of certain individuals. It may be something distant viewed but we can still fill it with our imaginations.

On rereading this early rendition of an alter ego it seems the times described could be today. We are, again, in the dark days following a major war of retribution; and the global economy, teeters hot and cold, with greed still manifesting its head where accumulated capital in the hands of few compound the misery of many. Energy again is in question, though our understanding of the crisis is clearer, involving more than the cost of filling a fuel tank and driving off. Our global envelope is at risk. If the disasters of our Southeast Asian adventure spread throughout the region after our departure in 1972, we at least left understanding our failure – or at least some did. When President Bush declared the mission accomplished in May of 2003, many of us already understood wars never really end in one’s lifetime. We’d seen this all before. War always continues in ways we can’t imagine, this one evolving in a downward spiral with no end in sight, indeed a world unraveling. But the threads that bind us together as communities is not being pulled from outside, by them; but from inside, by those who take advantage of them, the sabotage of bureaucrats, and by us who willingly give away freedom for security.

None of this matters to Thomas Vellum in this early stage of his development. The daily headlines don’t matter nor the world at large. Still he is breathing the same air as everyone else, and if his solipsism is unique, it’s still a delusion. So then here is where the young Thomas Vellum, unemployed, after nearly reaching the bitter end, rediscovers the American dream.

To begin…