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

I:2 With a razor he skimmed the surface of the beard until it was tightly shorn around his chin and jaw. In the closet he found an old gray tweed jacket which he hadn’t worn since his senior year in high school, the last year of his formal education. He slipped it on over his t-shirt, remembering the autumn evenings in ninth grade when he and his best friend, Anthony Morales, met Anthony’s girlfriend, Sylvia, and her best friend, whose name he couldn’t remember, up on the Miracle Mile off Northern Boulevard. The girls loved Anthony. He relied upon an elegance drawn from his Cuban heritage that was unusual at that time in the suburbs. Applying a thick dollop of white hair tonic called SCHOOL to his scalp, Anthony could elevate his jet black straight hair into a wave which reminded everyone of Dion of the Belmonts. The old jacket still possessed some of that ancient odor of nervous expectation. He certainly hadn’t been wearing blue jeans that evening, he reflected, looking down at his pants. Blue jeans would appear a few years later in his senior year. Morales would have worn tight black jeans, he concluded. And whatever Anthony wore, Vellum wore.
At the front door he hesitated, wondering if he should remain at home and begin a new project? The INQUIRY said his latest book was a digital receiver for cosmic messages. What new book? As he descended the stairs to avoid meeting anyone in the elevator, he pictured ears, antennas and an angel speaking to the apostle Matthew. He stepped into the sunlight and saw the mysterious man in the bowler hat watching him. But to his delight the man didn’t take the usual steps in pursuit. At the corner he passed Eddie who asked for a handout without the usual bravado of a friend. Vellum walked on, feeling as if he had betrayed the principles of the homeless by which they had all seemed compelled to live. He had shorn away not only the attributes of his recent identity but the attributes of a radical believer in the homeless doctrine of the non-proliferation of goods.
He was sitting in Stark’s Coffee Shop just north of 110th Street, enjoying his anonymity when a young woman at the table behind his, introduced herself as Samantha. She asked him if he was Mr. Steblen. When he turned to look at her, he noticed that she was hoping with all her might he would be this Steblen. He was shocked that he had actually been mistaken for someone else. He told her he was not. Steblen, it turned out, was going to be her professor in a class on architecture. She had seen Steblen’s picture in COUNTRY AND CITY HOME, where he had been interviewed because of his work in a Gramercy Park renovation.
“He’s one of the great new architects who’s made a name for himself and you look just like him.”
Well the word ‘new’ didn’t mean young but perhaps it indicated he was time traveling in the right direction. She looked to be in her early 20s. She had transferred to Columbia from Carnegie Tech.
“I moved here to be near Professor Steblen. Because of his work. I can’t believe how much you look like him. It’s amazing.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“I’m not disappointed. You should be honored. He is like Frank Lloyd Wright.”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
“You will. So then what do you do? I mean, do you teach or something at Columbia?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Really!”
He felt his hands grow cold, his palms clammy.
“Like what have you written? Have I ever read anything you wrote?”
“I doubt it,” he said quickly, mentally creating a new by-line with potential plot structure to support his need for cover, “I write copy for advertisers. I’m a copywriter.”
“You mean like the Beatle song.”
‘Yeah, but I think you mean Paperback Writer.”
“Actually I never knew what a copywriter was.”
“You know, jingles, stanzas, short statements about products…”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment in her voice. “The song always made the copywriter romantic.”
Hours later, with the sun settling into the western sky, not a cloud above and the harbor water like glass, he was sitting in Battery Park when he became aware of a man who had walked his poodle past him several times. On the last pass the man actually brushed Thom’s extended foot. When Thom looked up, the middle-aged man, perhaps a year or two older than Thomas, immediately sat down beside him.
“I thought you would never ask. This is Insidious, on account of the way she works her way into your affection. I’m Sam. And you, you are a designer, I know it, I’ve seen your face somewhere. Where? Where have I seen it?”
Thomas, thinking that he was once again being mistaken for Steblen decided to play along.
“COUNTRY AND CITY HOME?”
“Excuse me?”
“Was it in COUNTRY AND CITY HOME?”
“Not really. Were you in there too?”
“Well, I have to be going,” said Thom, moving to the edge of his seat.
Insidious growled.
“Well, don’t get that way about it. I would have thought somebody like you would have had an entourage or something, young girls hanging on your arms, like Oleg Cassini, each of them wearing one of your unique and fabulous signature designs. Never in a hundred years would I imagine that you would be down here alone.., and dressed so plainly. Excuse my enthusiasm.”
“There must be some mistake?”
“Yeah right! Like next you’ll tell me you were in WOODS AND BROOKS!”
It turned out that he had this time been mistaken for an upcoming fashion designer named Sari Sermon whose atelier was in Brooklyn and who had received coverage in the fashion section of the BAT, the BIG APPLE TIMES.
“What nationality is Sari?” TV’s curiosity was piqued.
“Japanese, maybe”
“Well, I’m not Japanese!”
“Is there a problem?” queried an offended Sam.
He still insisted Vellum had something to do with fashion design. Vellum explained he worked in advertising. Unfortunately, Sam found that wonderful, too.
Taking the subway home he realized he had succeeded in reversing time but with it had come some unforeseen problems. He was flattered by the attention, although something frightened him. For one, it irked him that he was being mistaken for other celebrities, celebrities only now on the brink of success! But wearing a mask and behaving according to the expectation it drew out of others was seductive. What if he had become Professor Steblen or Sari Sermon? Naturally he wouldn’t actually have become them, but if he had played along would he have changed? Would he have gone off with Samantha, who had shown interest, or with Sam, who was quite brazen with his desire? And what would have happened when they eventually discovered he was neither of their heroes?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *