THE TRUE BUT OFTEN APOCRYPHAL STORY OF THE METAMORPHOSIS OF THOMAS VELLUM’S BEARD, PART I:6

I:6 Though he stood right in front of the mirror looking straight at himself he forgot the subject of his thoughts. He stared straight through his image into a new creation. The sweaty clamoring of his adolescent self was reaching up in confusion. Perhaps the painter, the photographer and the film maker were best equipped at capturing the visible signs of identity. What could a writer ever hope to achieve trying to pin down a face in the crowd to a core of thoughts and emotions below the surface, the essence of change in the adolescent chrysalis? The ruling dictum of the modern world was that a picture is worth a thousand words. The literary critic, Wylie Sypher, called it “the tyranny of the eye.” Perhaps it all began that day when Anthony Morales and he discovered the cache of porn magazines out in the woods behind a neighbor’s house when they were kids. What words could possibly have assisted him in describing what he saw in those magazines and what he felt because of them? The correlation between saying “big tits” and jerking off didn’t tell half the emotional confusion he felt. For a moment Vellum forgot himself and remembered the two of them sitting behind the wood pile, the stacks of weather-worn magazines opened before them, the images of tawdry babes on wrinkled paper firing up the testicular furnace. He went into the bedroom and saw Cass lying on the bed under the blankets, torpid, deeply breathing. He gently shook her.
“What, what… Oh, Thom, what now, what..?”
“I have to tell you all that happened tonight.”
“Tomorrow.”
“Such a strange night. Yet I am closing in on something. But then I forgot what I was trying to do.”
“Hide. You are always hiding, Thom.”
“Yeah, hiding. But these disguises.”
“It was something to do with the white hair.”
“Yes, that’s it, my vanity.”
Next morning he sat in front of the keyboard which had been his time traveling console to fame and searched through himself for any of the tremors he had sensed last night, some leftover signature of the vast unfolding of truth. But there was nothing. Only the black screen and the silence of the world around him. Finding his connection dead after so many years of ignoring it he ran down the eight flight of stairs and out the front door of the building. He crashed into the noisy sounds of the street, the jack hammering of the road workers around the corner on Broadway, and the traffic filing past the safety horses. The fruithead was nowhere to be seen.
On the train downtown, a doll-like woman-girl got on. She was perilously thin, had bleached blond hair set in a style reminiscent of the 50s, a white powdered face to give her a porcelain-like mien with red lips and black eye liner. In tight black cloth gloves she held a single burgundy rose wrapped in clear plastic. Her bellbottom jeans were laced with red thread patterns that wound their way under her obviously fake white Persian lamb mid-thigh coat. A belt was cinched tight around her waist. When he stood to get off she turned to let him off. He could see in her little blood-red purse just the top of a red paperback book, The Castle by Franz Kafka.
He didn’t even wait at the belt and tie rack but headed straight for the escalator to the mezzanine where he entered the prie-dieu room and knelt at one of the stalls, a supplicant. It wasn’t long before his salesman appeared and they worked out the essential gear for this new metamorphosis. He was wearing a black leather jacket and black jeans with black ankle high boots when he entered La Rhetorique. Caving in to consensus he also had bought a Sermon special, a black belt with silver studs. The usual crowd was assembled. There in her usual seat was Marguerite, coldly sophisticated, ever daring. But she didn’t notice him. With her now was some new interest who looked surprisingly like he did. She didn’t recognize him. No one did, no one but the bartender. But then, no one noted the music either, an engineered subliminal sound constructed of lutes and high voices like a high mass celebration derived from a more spiritual time before the church.
“How did you know?”
“Your box,” said the bartender, nodding to Vellum’s box of old clothes. “You never shed your skin and leave it behind. They are like the chapters in your book.”
“My book?”
“Figure of speech.”
Alone, he sipped a tonic and lime. Without really contemplating the force that brought him to this bar, he waited until the bartender presented him with another name, written as before on the back of his coaster: The Chain-Mail. He looked up at the bartender who was then shaking a blended drink in his metal tumbler. The man nodded and TV dropped his bills and left.
The yellow truck was parked in front of the comic book store. An enormous poster of average, middle-aged men and women wearing superhero costumes covered the entire side of the cargo box wall. He stood in the golden afternoon light contemplating the truck and its poster. Up the street the shiny black SUV was parked conspicuously. He walked to the front of the truck and saw the Barbie dolls he had noticed earlier. A group of four and five year-olds approached, accompanied by a woman in her 30s whose attention toward one of the little girls indicated their relationship. They were dressed as multicolored, furry little creatures with huge feet and paws. They carried plastic jack-o-lanterns with green handles. The mother was dressed as a witch in a very short denim shirt with black tights. As they disappeared behind the truck a fruithead bolted from the cross street up to the truck. With a spray can of silver paint he blotted out the faces on the poster, then quickly pasted the faces of glamorous actors and actresses in their place. The silver paint created a resplendent halo around the newly pasted faces. When the trick or treaters appeared at the end of the truck walking north, the vandal walked quickly south without looking back.
Vellum was north of Houston and west of Hudson when he stopped in front of the place. On each side of the door was a trompe l’oeil of a naked man in chains while over the door, held up by their muscular arms, lay a man dressed in a flouncy, pink chiffon dress with painted lips bearing a smirk and a five o’clock shadow, one eye winking. A pounding disco track was reverberating inside. Hesitant, he decided to review his options by first walking west to the end of the block. A former factory right next door had been converted into a hard rock club called CIBL’s. Perhaps he thought this was more than he had bargained for when someone behind him shouted.
“Ohh, you’re just what I needed.”
A young black man in a trench coat with a Dick Tracy hat, took hold of his elbow and with several deft moves turned him around and helped him across the threshold into a red lit foyer.
Once again we interrupt the flow of our story, so we can give substance to the wild theories that prevail regarding TV’s whereabouts. We’ve based our present suppositions on what we’ve culled from the magazines and newspapers, television shows, billboards and internet search engines. Our phone lines have been overwhelmed with TV reports from street corners and restaurant bars. The vanguard of our dragnet, to put this in words TV might use, is our newly launched web page, FOUND AND LOST, where enthusiasts like yourselves can meet to discuss our recent findings. Although every TV sighting ignites a fire of excitement, it requires corroboration. Unfortunately hundreds of bearded imposters, hoping to capitalize on the sudden popularity of the beard, are standing on street corners preaching their own TV gospel. Since no two gospels are alike, each needs review. No sooner have we investigated these possible TVs, when the police arrive, taking these wanna-be TVs in for questioning. We worry that police interest in our investigations is compromising the integrity of TV’s following. Just as the constitution calls for the separation of church and state so we can see the need to understand the difference between entertainment and government. Why TV or his proponents should be hounded because of their appearance is deplorable. There is also a rumor that the government is creating a new agency to combat these frauds. One source, however, claims there is legitimate worry in some circles of the administration that Billy Barbudos, long time leader of Sybaris, is flooding our country with these bearded imposters in an effort to destabilize our way of life. Ironically, as we indicated earlier, we believe TV no longer wears a John Brown beard. At this moment in our narrative, all our leads indicate that TV has entered the heart and soul of ASS. It comes as a shock to us.
“No,” said a resistant Vellum, gripping his box, “I think I was looking for another place.”
“No, no, no, no, not another poor boy looking for Chain Mail. Go on-line,” the young black man directed with an extravagant flick of his hand. “They have a web site, you know. But you don’t have to be like all those cyber freaks sitting beside each other in that little café on East 4th writing to each other. You know they could simply turn to the person next to them to say hello, but no, god forbid, vocalism is taboo! You know, they pretend to be romantics from Lord Byron’s time, writing ever exhaustive letters to one another. Avatars like Charles Babbage, Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace – I like that name myself! Punch REPLY and simply add your two cents! Please. You belong here.”
A large room expanded before him into infinite space. On one side a long bar stretched into the dim light. All the tables had been pushed against the other wall. The sound was deafening. The room was full of motley crews of men and women, working feverishly on various projects.
“Emily!” shouts his attendant, waving his arm as if he were a long-lost soldier standing on a train platform in a World War II movie.
They walked to a round table where a large woman in her forties in a muumuu dress of classic Marimekko design was stitching a button on a blue sequined dress. Around her, sitting at the table, old women, some of them ancient, some of them round, were hemming dresses, polishing pumps and heels and spraying extravagantly shaped wigs perched on the heads of mannequins.
“Emily, this is. . .” and he looked at TV to fill in the blank.
“Sam. Now I must be going. . .”
“Shhh, darling, I’m Jack. . ,” he said, looking him over. “What do you think, Em. . ? Sam wearing a Sari Sermon outfit.”
“Don’t worry, Sam,” Emily piped, in her womanly voice. “Jack isn’t always this pushy, but he got stood up.”
“I’m desperate, just desperate. My escort can’t be found. And think twice, dears, he’s a Sam too! But you, you’re my angel, Sam.”
Men were powdering their faces at the large mirror above the bar. It reassured Vellum to see at one end of the room a youthful group probably Clio’s age working on papier-mache mannequins.
“We’re setting up for the Halloween parade, Sam,” Emily said, answering Vellum’s unspoken questions. “This is the headquarters for the Barbie Brigade. We’re part of ASS.”
“Excuse me?”
Again he started to leave, hugging his box, but Jack hooked his arm.
“Not so fast, angel. . .”
“I support full equality, but I’m not of your. . . your inclination.”
Jack started laughing.
“ASS stands for Abolish Superficial Standards,” said Emily, quite seriously.
“Standards?” asked Vellum, suddenly needing to sit down.
The noise was unbearable, pounding on his ears. Everyone was shouting, except Emily who seemed to command his attention in a normal volume. He noticed a roll of shimmering blue material, lying on the table.
“You might say that most of us live outside the standard,” said Emily, pulling a thread she held with her teeth.
“Outside the standard,” echoed Vellum, pointing dumbly at the roll of blue fabric.
He felt queasy. Sweat was dripping down his spine. She laughed.
“You might say I don’t fit into that standard. This?” she asked, pointing to the roll.
Vellum nodded.
“No one does, sweetheart!” said Jack irritably, fussing with the pile of flashy trinkets on the table.
“Jay picked this up – Jay’s my husband – over on West 4th Street, the Church of the Holy Grail, that’s our main office,” said Emily. “We needed extra fabric.”
“Hurry, Em, we’re going to be late!” said Jack impatiently.
Towering above everyone, a young woman in a white nurse’s uniform reached over Jack and grabbed a pair of scissors.
“Please, Sarah!” shrieked Jack. “my coif.”
“Pardon, Monsieur Barbarella,” she said, her voice musical and calm.
She curtseyed. Her jet black hair emanated from her head like the remnants of an exploded star and was held in a semblance of order near its center with a brilliant silver diadem. Her face was striking but marred by an ancient outburst of acne.
“Is she French?” queried Vellum, watching her go.
“No more than I’m a woman, dearheart!” piped Jack, stuffing a newly donned brassiere with wads of toilet paper. “And her boyfriend is half her size and head over heals in love with her, his name’s Francis of all things! Can’t imagine what he’s thinking!”
Males and females, tall and short, round and thin had already shed their daily personas for various permutations of Barbie. Many of the women who looked in their forties and fifties, upon donning their costumes, looked exactly like the dolls he had seen on the truck grill.
“Real broads and they’re straight,” intoned Jack, “from the Teaneck Barbie club.”
Thomas was at a loss.
“I for one always wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe,” said Jack, “I love all the pretty paraphernalia! But,” he added superciliously, “just tell me what makes their Barbies better than ours?”
In some cases it was difficult telling one Barbie from another.
“So everybody here is in the Brigade?”
“We’ve also got the students for FSA,” said Emily.
“What’s that?”
“Fat and Skinny Alike,” said she rolling her tummy. “We even got a crazy bunch of gardeners from a small garden in Riverdale.”
Then he noticed something very different, kids mostly in their twenties, who carried small daggers in their ear lobes and myriad rings in their noses. Emily nodded.
“Pierced for God. St. Sebastian is their patron saint. Weird huh? We all belong to ASS. Even cops and vets, anyone who believes in a little creative chaos to advance democracy!”
“So it’s like Barbie’s the Queen?”
“He’s got it!” cried Jack, slapping Thomas on the back.
His arm was laden with bracelets.
“By George he’s got it!”
All around TV a muffled refrain from “My Fair Lady” lifted and fell in susurrus tones before losing itself in the frantic industry of preparation. Emily helped Jack squeeze into the sleek, blue dress.
“It’s not like we’re against pretty women as we know them today,” puffed Emily with safety pins in her mouth. “We just want to see other entities in the currency beside the Barbie Standard.”
“My lord, how you sound!” said Jack, deeply inhaling while Emily patiently made adjustments.
“Hold still, Jack!”
A young woman in her twenties, with long curly dark hair, carrying a box full of walkie-talkies walked by on her way toward the door. She was telling everyone to get ready.
“Her father is the founder of ASS,” Emily nodded.
Two nearly naked muscle men in faux tiger pelts lifted several Barbies onto the bar top. They strutted down the length of the room while the music amped up their gestures. People were hooting and hollering and a lot of whistling was taking place. Vellum felt the energy flowing through him.
“And I thought Barbie was over.”
“Are you kidding?” said Emily, shoving Jack’s breasts over. “With plastic surgery there are more Barbies walking the streets than there were on the counters during the sixties!”
The last of the cardboard signs were taped onto cardboard tubes. Near the restrooms the papier-mache mannequins were completed. Some bore the faces of everyday people, others were in the likeness of famous entertainers. All were naked like the figurines from a Last Judgment painting.
Someone cried, “It was Beauty killed the beast!”
Everyone stopped talking, the music was cut. Suddenly the front door swung open. Jack gave Thom a wink. From the foyer a cough, then a roar. A giant ape stood on the threshold, holding a Barbie in its hand. Someone shrieked. Gently the ape tickled the doll under the chin. A shout of enthusiasm nearly ruptured TV’s ear drums. A few moments of bedlam followed as everyone queued up behind the gorilla. Half the brigade was nearly decapitated as the various posters, signs and mannequins swung about toward some orderly arrangement of exit.
“Remember,” shouted the ape through a handheld megaphone, “do not provoke, do not respond. Your cardboard tubes are to hold your posters.”
Thus the Brigade of men and women began marching out through the door. With an extravagant gesture of floodlight pomp, Jack grabbed Vellum’s hand. Vellum’s initial reaction was to withdraw into the shadows, but destiny had brought him here on the energy of his own new identity. Emily laughed as countless hands pushed and squeezed them all out through the narrow red foyer onto the street. TV had difficulty holding his clothing box and keeping up with the ever-theatrical Jack, pulling and tugging on his hand. A crowd had lined up on the other side of the street behind makeshift barricades. The yellow truck he had seen in front of the comic book store was parked in front, its side panel paintings repaired. He thought of the bartender standing sentinel at La Rhetorique. The ape, with Barbie in one hand and the portable megaphone across his shoulders hanging down his back, climbed to the top of the truck with the help of the muscle men. There he slipped his feet into fastened shoes and hooked himself to safety wires.
“That’s Jay driving.”
The truck started slowly down the street, turned left on Hudson, then right toward Christopher Street and 7th Avenue, followed by the Barbie Brigade.
As they proceeded to the parade start, others were joining them, many who had never heard of the Barbie Brigade, let alone ASS. Members of the group handed out leaflets explaining the goals of ASS. On 7th Avenue, not far from the playground, they saw hundreds of men in black lining the street on both sides behind clusters of police. They too seemed to have a women’s faction, who were already shouting at the Brigade. TV was shocked at the language they employed.
“The Chessmen,” whispered Jack, as he wobbled awkwardly on his platform high heel shoes, “and their ladies!”
Metal police barricades separated the spectators on the sidewalk from the participants in the parade but didn’t contain the rowdy Chessmen. They laughed and jeered, and with their lady folk carried machine-made placards with the emblems of their sponsors decaled in the corners: Fast Foods and Beef Forever, Pride and Pork, Grand Autos Forward, Highways To Heaven, InsureAce Coalition, HearseLand, to mention a few. Some carried black canes and wore capes and top hats with the heraldic emblems for Kings and Bishops. Others wore black tights and dark shirts with baseball caps stenciled with emblems of a Castle. The Pawns were wearing the familiar dark coats with bowler hats.
“My daughter told me about these people,” mumbled Vellum nervously passing in front of the crowd. “One of them was following me. . .” but he stopped himself.
“Why you?” asked Jack, smiling in the face of the jeering Chessmen, but almost losing his balance. “These shoes are killing me.”
The crowd of sightseers magnified the number of Chessmen, who were interspersed among them. Colorful mascots for fast food places scurried around, toning down the ominous presence of the dark-clad group. On one corner a parked trailer with hydraulic lift supported news cameras and loudspeakers and earphoned crews pointing cameras down. Even the apartment windows high up looked sinister, although in one or two, well wishers waved or hung festive flags more in keeping with the occasion. On the fire escapes police with digital hand-held cameras and radios were photographing the parade.
“But why would the police be here in such force?” asked Vellum nervously.
“Oh, not to worry, Wee Willie,” placated Jack, wobbling along beside him. “Police are people after all. I dated one! We’ve got cops straight as arrows who belong to ASS.”
“Yeah, but what about these Chess guys?”
“Started years ago as a secret society in one of the ivy league schools. It was just pranks then, until the Kings and Bishops found themselves in positions of power.”
When a roar emanated from one side of the street, the cameras turned in unison to the source of the commotion, a chorus of Chessmen shouting, “Long live the standards.” Then a Castle leaped out and grabbed a Barbie just in front of them who flattened him with an uppercut to his jaw. Infuriated, Castles and Pawns descended on the brigade to avenge their fallen member. Sarah ran over to the Castle, Sarah in her yellow raincoat descending like a giant white breasted bird with yellow wings. She bent over to administer to the fallen man.
“I’m going to sue your ass,” said the Castle weakly.
With his megaphone the gorilla encouraged the Brigade forward. But no one could move. From behind a Pawn tore at Jack with both hands, groping him and trying to get one hand up his tight blue dress. A sudden fury filled Vellum, who saw in this Pawn all the Pawns who had ever followed him. He took the man’s hat and crushed it underfoot. During the melee that ensued, TV lost his precious clothing box. A woman screamed in pain as one of her attackers, assuming she was a man, tried pulling off her breasts only to find them all too real. In her fury she swung her pink plastic purse and sent him spinning in retreat. A Bishop pulled a wad of green bills from his pocket and threw it into the air. Bedlam ensued as the sidewalk viewers joined the melee to retrieve the money. Duels broke out with the placards. I LOVE MY THONG, AND SO DOES MY HUBBY crossed with THE BEAUTY I MARRIED WAS JUST A CARBON COPY. A few of the Brigade, bleeding from cuts on the forehead, realized that the Chessmen were using hardwood supports for their placards instead of the required cardboard tubing.
TV picked up one of the bills and discovered it contained a holographic picture of a naked woman where one of the founding fathers was usually shown. It was Judy Crucible. To her right in block letters, the inscription NEW AND IMPROVED was written. Her body seemed larger than life, her hips rounder, her waist narrower, her breastworks enveloping the surrounding medallion. She was shimmering, her face a cosmetic mask, her hair color aglow, her accessories twinkling. The bill reeked of perfume as heady as wine. Where the White House was usually depicted stood the entrance to a nightclub. Vellum recognized The Nadir. Above the entrance were written the words ONE IN A MILLION. When the bill was wrinkled Crucible’s hips swayed, her breasts wobbled. Phone numbers and web pages with heraldic emblems of various Chessmen were embedded in the images like hidden symbols, as well as Internet addresses where one could acquire magical dietary formulas, botox injections and plastic surgery. Feeling the intoxicating power of the image, Vellum stood paralyzed as he stared into the circular medallion where Judy wiggled whenever he moved the bill. All around him heterosexual men were gazing like cows at the bills in their hands.
“She’s not real!” Emily was pulling on his arm.
“Barbie is finished,” laughed the Bishop, “We’ve a new currency.”
When the ape saw the Brigade’s political ardor dissolving and the police arresting members of the Brigade, he leaped to the ground rather than wait assistance. Momentarily paralyzed, he fought the effects of gravity on his spine before seizing the mesmerizing bill from Vellum’s grip.
“She looks familiar,” he said, dismissing the image at a glance.
“You’ll be seeing a lot more of her,” said a King, who towered over everyone. “Maybe we can lure you back into the fold with our new line of toys.”
While the public was scrambling for the fake bills, TV saw Pawns mounting the hydraulic lift. According to a metal plaque riveted to its side, the lift belonged to MediaFreeUSA, a subdivision of Channel Clearance Corporation. After a brief negotiation the speakers were berating the “so-called” Barbie Brigade and asking them to step aside and let the parade move on. Mothers, tearing the nasty bills out of their children’s hands, thought the Barbies responsible for the mayhem.
“Shame on you,” bellowed the loudspeakers.
The mothers joined the chorus emanating from the sound towers. Voices swelled from further back and rolled forward consuming the conflict in one audible sound of anger. Those in the rear of the parade wanted to move on.
TV picked up another bill. He didn’t really understand all this hoopla over beauty. This wasn’t the epic struggle against greed he had written about. Of course he hadn’t understood the connection between sugar and greed either? Still, why march against beauty? Should women hide beneath veils? And why Barbie? She was from another time, the time of his youth and just a doll. It didn’t make sense to him. But when he thought of the exquisite Judy Crucible, whose features he hardly remembered – had he even seen her at the microphone at The Nadir? – it all made sense; that is, he thought all this commotion senseless. Her features had melted into his consciousness. Her shimmering shape seemed cast in an out-of-this-world foundry. Or more to the point, forged in some other dimension, like cyberspace or in a parallel universe, more probably in a clinic. It trailed his every movement in a neighboring fold of time. He remembered her voice, picked up her scent, imbibed the aura of her being. He had a strong sense of who she was, as if she occupied the same space he did or even inhabited him. And when he thought of her he felt young and alive, just the way he did when he was a teenager, when his knowledge had been all too imperfect and his imagination all too vivid. And that was the purpose of this journey, a journey back into time. He was growing younger and she was yet a bridge to his more virile time. In this reverie TV drifted toward the SSG side, but the gorilla grabbed him and pulled him back.
“But she is beautiful,” Vellum cried in despair.
“Hold on to this,” said the ape, slapping his Barbie into his hand like a baton, “this is real. Squeeze it when you’re feeling weak.”
“But I saw her at The Nadir.”
“Squeeze! This Crucible, she’s just a new pop queen for the SS Group. Believe me, a night with Judy and you’ll want out.”
“I’d like find out for myself – since it’s only a night. My wife wouldn’t even miss me.”
The ape looked at him.
“I know you. . .”
Suddenly horns blared. People waiting in their cars at the intersection had joined the commotion, shouting at the combatants to get out of the way. To TV’s relief, this drew the ape away. As the gorilla bellowed into his megaphone, the Brigade sluggishly reassembled. The gay factions encouraged the dazed straight males to cast off their love-struck shackles. The women held their peace in the face of this blatant reductionist strategy of the SS Group. But now the SS had lined up across the avenue blocking the way. The Kings and Bishops were conferring with the police.
“Barbies,” shouted the gorilla, “move aside. We can do this. Let the rest of the parade pass.”
Emily’s husband pulled the yellow truck as close to a barricade as possible, while the Barbies followed. The police began setting up barricades to contain the Brigade, much to the amusement of the SS who jeered from the opposite side of the avenue. The parade resumed its way up the street. When the ape saw a CYNow van moving through the hot spot, he raised his arm and bellowed into the megaphone, Abolish all standards. As if on cue, the Barbies formed a chorus line and began dancing and cavorting. Even some police laughed. The van veered off and pulled up behind the yellow truck. Reporters jumped out.
Sarah called out, “1, 2, 3, 4 toss all standards out the door: 5, 6,7,8 throw king bigotry out the gate.”
Hastily a King and Bishop ran up trying to intercept the newscasters.
“Is there any reason why you folks are standing here?” asked a Bishop with seemly innocence.
“According to this beast your hooligans in black,” replied a reporter, “are out to destroy the integrity of the parade by profiling Barbies. Any comments?”
“We love Barbie,” said the tall King, unable to restrain his appreciation of the dancers near him. “We were simply waiting for them to move on.”
“Really?” cried the gorilla. “Does the police chief give us his permission to move on?”
The police chief was just then looking at one of the green bills and hadn’t heard the request. The sergeant pulled the chief away from his reverie and seeing that the fickle public could no longer find any reason to blame the Brigade and seeing that the King was nodding in agreement, the chief nodded and the Brigade was again integrated into the parade to great cheering. Many onlookers admitted that this year’s parade reminded them of the old days when the parade was a fringe event rather than a mainstream news item.
“The Group may own the media,” the gorilla told Vellum, “but the media likes the bucks and Barbie always sells! You remind me of someone. . .”
Vellum began squeezing the doll the gorilla had given him. With the Brigade moving again Vellum edged away from the ape, but Jack grabbed him.
“Not so fast, honey.”
Jack was leaning on his shoulder, so he could bend over and straighten his heel. Suddenly a familiar voice shouted, “Hey.” TV leaped nervously, knocking Jack off balance.
“I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
It was Sam from Battery Park. TV stuttered a denial, gripping his doll with both hands. But Sam caught hold of Jack.
“Well,” cried Jack appreciatively before glaring at him. “And where have you been!”
“I had to take Insidious to the vet after he ate the stuffing from the davenport cushion!”
“Well, you’re too late Sir Arthur, Mr. Lancelot is my escort now. Your dismissed.”
Sam turned to TV and squinted his eyes.
“I never forget a face, let me see, you are. . . begins with an S. . .”
The ape returned with reporters following him like a swarm of yellow jackets, camera lights popping and a boom mic dangling in their midst from its pole. Jack and Sam fell into each other arms for a cameo shot as Vellum slipped away into another contingency just then merging with the Brigade’s rear guard.
A block later, the parade dissolved into streams of people flowing off down different streets. Vellum found himself among the SS whose members were passing out more bills of Judy Crucible. His black jacket seemed enough like the SS jackets and capes to allow him safe passage through their group. They were all joking about getting that ASS hole of an ape.
“Hey,” said one of the Castles, “you got a Barbie.”
They gathered around. Unconsciously he began squeezing the doll, even as he reincarnated a scrappy Sam Sherman, street fighting man. He slowed to a swagger.
“That’s right,” he said. “It’s my parade trophy.”
“What division are you from? Don’t recognize the uniform.
“I’m a Rook.”
“A Rook?”
“Yeah. Between a Pawn and a Castle. Now, if you don’t mind, fellas, I’ve got to get home to my woman.” He strode on without looking back, squeezing his doll until he thought her head would pop off.
He found himself in Gramercy Park where the traffic and pedestrian flow moved along as if nothing unusual had happened. People were eating in restaurants, window shopping, strolling arm in arm. Then he was standing in front of La Rhetorique. Looking in he saw Marguerite sitting between two new companions, unaware that in an adjacent neighborhood factious ideologies were struggling for power. He turned south to Union Square. New stores had replaced old stores. He ran down the stairs into the subway station, and sighed with relief.
The train arrived and he worded a short prayer of appreciation, thanking the forces of the universe for quickly bringing this subway to his rescue. He sat across from two kids accompanied by their father, their candy bags full. The boy, perhaps eleven, was dressed as the Tin Man and his young sister looked like Alice. Despite lapses into moments of exhaustion where they would stare into space or into their candy bags, they were respectful of each other in loving ways. Even when the boy kidded with his adoring sister, he was gentle and patient with her. Unconscious of appearances, they giggled shamelessly. The perfect age, thought TV, where the body, after a spurt of growth, is once again strong enough to counterbalance the intruding world. We don’t topple over in bulky snow clothes. We have dexterity and an interest in small things. We are not yet scooped up by the tree of knowledge with its intriguing apple. Wasn’t Judy Crucible the picture of Eve on the fake bills? She beckoned. Imagine a fruit whose taste and scent reveal the world in all its amazing intricacy. Every object, its color vibrant, its shape singular, becomes a portal promising intimacy. It comes only with puberty. Not just a sexual understanding of the world but an almost prescient means of solving problems. The heat off a new internal engine expands the surface with a hollow confidence. We know everything. With the nimble mind simmering with intense interest, the answers shimmer just beyond reach, encouraging an unwieldy bravado. The stars radiate in the cold blackness of night for you; the leaves and flowers unfold toward summer fullness for you. But oh, the payment for such brightness and such fullness is sexual knowledge as well. Suddenly we see ourselves with the same perspicacity, without the benefits of objectivity. We see ourselves in the visual impressions of those around us, especially the opposite sex or the people we desire to please, what do they think of me now? He was drawn back into the subway car when he realized the two siblings were looking at him, the strange man in expensive rumpled clothes, gripping a Barbie doll in one hand, fake money in the other. A strange image even on Halloween. He smiled at them with a nod of his head, as if to say, this isn’t the real me, then hoped he didn’t give the impression of leering. Eventually the eternal world of Alice and the Tin Man, of their self-absorption in the present, would be lost forever. Some of us are lost forever down the sex drain; we just never re-ignite the embers of those Promethean fires to do anything but chase the opposite gender. We marry. We live plain lives. A moment of lust, consummated or not, precedes every moment of creativity. Imagine a culture that genetically procures the means of keeping the intellectually stimulating side of puberty without the absorbing and sometimes all-consuming sexual side.
At 42nd Street he switched trains, following the tired father and his two kids up and down the stairs to the Broadway line. A local train was already in the station. As they all took their seats, a young man got on. His ornamentation was hard to ignore. He sat down on the same side as Vellum, several passengers down and directly across from the father and kids. After the train pulled out, TV looked politely into the dark panels of the opposite window where he saw the stranger’s face etched clearly. He had never seen anyone like this, except perhaps in the lobby of The Nadir. His head was festooned with tattooed vines and leaves which seemed to grow out from his shirt collar to cover his face. Not believing his eyes, TV leaned forward slightly and glanced right and noticed the leafy lines growing out from under his sleeves and cuffs to cover his hands and sandaled feet. He was like the fabled Green Man of medieval times. But that was not all. He might have been one of the Pierced for God. Emily had said St. Sebastian was their patron saint. TV had never heard of him. A blade of grass made of silver wire on which a copper darning needle rested, attached to a nose ring, curled up over the young man’s nose and on his ear a faience butterfly was perched. The tattooed cheek was covered with studs of honey bees clustered together in the leaves like trompe l’oeil. Lady bugs and centipedes seemed to crawl from rings on his fingers. He was the epitome of Halloween.
Rude as it seemed, TV couldn’t keep his eyes off him. Everyone stared. This young man couldn’t object to everyone’s fascination, seeing how he had forged his body into an art object. One had only to extrapolate a trend once someone, like the ticket man from The Nadir, had initiated a theme. Before long a younger generation became even more startling. What could possibly come after this? Once embarked on this road, how could such a young man change his course? Could he ever become a plain man again, a man without a past, a man without an identity? Was his metamorphosis complete or would he, in this jungle atmosphere of competition, find other means of transforming his body into stranger thickets full of insects? Everyday was Halloween. The choice had to have been his. No second thoughts. He would be under the magnifying glass forever. Could he work in an office or must he work in a circus? Even little Alice and the young Tin Man stared for a while before their timeless self-absorption caught them again. But Vellum was lost to the man. It seemed to him that the further out into the margins of extremity people went, the more alike they became, despite their extravagant behavior and opposing views. He watched him leave, mesmerized. When he regained his attention, he saw that father and kids were gone too. Those left behind were looking at him.
A disheveled TV arrived home. He had lost his Virtual Wear box of clothing, his own clothes were torn. Cass, lying in bed reading, looked up at him.
“What is all this?”
“I have discovered an underground movement that is out to destroy the standard of Beauty, ASS. . .”
“Ass?”
“Abolish Superficial Standards. . .”
“Is this another one of your acronyms? I mean, are we for real here?”
“May I continue. . ? Anyway, Clio knew about it.”
“Why am I not surprised? And pray tell, why you are carrying a doll?”
Vellum looked down at the Barbie.
“It’s not just a doll, it’s a symbol.”
“Whatever happened to the good old days when a doll was just a doll?”
“Anyway, Clio knew about it. . .”
“About you having a doll?”
“No, about this movement.”
“That’s where you picked that thing up?”
“We were in this parade in the Village and were set upon by reactionaries from SSG working for all the big industries, advertising, film, cosmetics, you name it. Their signs were everywhere, capitalizing on the growing popularity of Halloween among adults. It was like a page out of German history, black shirts fighting brown shirts.”
“Where does Barbie come in?”
“We were part of the Barbie Brigade. The other side had Judy Crucible, a kind of digital queen, or something, I mean she’s real but. . , but. . .”
“Is this another prelude to one of your creative streaks? I barely survived the last one.”
“I’m being serious, Cass.”

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