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

II:1 We are afraid the tenuous trail we’ve been following turns in on itself. A major piece of evidence in our search for TV went unnoticed. All that we have imagined appeared as a story in a popular quasi-literary magazine enjoyed by many, then promptly was forgotten. Even the movie moguls who use this magazine as a mine for potential films passed it over. What is shocking is that we, who pride ourselves for being TV authorities – after all, when you love something as much as we love TV, you learn everything you can about it – were so interested in finding him, we didn’t register his joke. Naturally he has always denied any connection with his work. So what did we expect?
The following week, the trees and shrubs, to use his own words, “are smoldering with exquisite reds and oranges.” He studies them daily as he walks to Starks Coffee Shop, where, if you remember, he met the first Samantha, who mistook him for Professor Steblen. No one comes up to him for an autograph, no one wants to shake his hand. It is as if the old bearded Vellum has obliterated any memory of his earlier fame. By metamorphosis TV has returned to an earlier self and resumed a place in society as an unknown. As he is passing Eddie Ammonia on this particular morning, unrecognized, he is thinking about generational amnesia. People forget, muses Vellum as he picks up the daily Big Apple Times and The One Way Journal at the stationery store, where in the past he always chatted with the young Pakistani behind the cash register, who now pays him little mind. It’s as if the original TV had never existed. Even he finds this hard to believe. Our memories play tricks. Even with historical evidence in front of us the past is always sinking into the gravity of the present. The data snatchers work in front of their computers as if these ultimate garbage compactors have existed for centuries. He shakes his head in amazement. He sits at a table by the wall, his newspapers spread out in front of him. Every morning the dark clouds of rhetoric rise up from the agitated text beneath the daily headlines as if from the breath of a single disturbed mind. The nation groans with fear. Ominous reports of an upcoming conflict appear. The government hints at dangerous elements living like parasites among us who wield weapons that could alter the way we think. The old bearded Vellum, like Rip Van Winkle, has stirred from his long sleep to discover a world around him changed. Yet, when TV looks around, nothing at all has changed. Students are sitting about drinking expensive coffee, a fashion unheard of in his youth. Laptops as expensive as his first car open onto spread sheets and writing exercises. Outside people are passing by, expensively dressed, warmly attired. His recent experiences seem like a dream.
He folds the newspaper and sets it aside. With an air of contentment he picks up last week’s copy of M which he borrowed from Cassandra. M is short for Metropolis Magazine, also called The Metropolis, a magazine dedicated to literature. He sips his coffee, begins reading a story. The words flow evenly and then gather in momentum until the current pulls him over the edge into a labyrinth of foreign excitement along a route that becomes more and more familiar. He is rushing from word to word, anticipating what follows. The rendition of what is otherwise innocuous is cast in an exciting light, shadows and cabals, spies and counter spies. This is not a trivialized tale of everyday life but more like someone’s dream with its own logic. On the surface, the tale mimics real life. People are awaiting an imminent attack, yet it is the government that is doing the attacking. In this topsy-turvy world, where the fear of being attacked leads to a pre-emptive attack, the story narrows down to specifics, a well-known bearded celebrity, now in his fifties, decides to shave because his beard has whitened. He is afraid people see him as an old man. The protagonist decides to whittle away at his beard piecemeal until he is finally rid of it.
Vellum looks up from the magazine at the coffee machine on the other side of the counter. It’s as if he is standing on the moon looking at earth. Had anyone ever seen the coffee machine in this light, from this distant vantage? The turbulence inside him doesn’t reflect the calm world around him. The counterman is wiping the counter carefully with a towel, as if that is his sole purpose in life. The couple at the table near him are still talking about a planned weekend in Boston. Cass’s magazine has become a looking glass. Could this have happened in someone else’s mind? Or has someone been following him? He looks up. He sees in the self-absorbed looks of those sitting around him the possibility of danger. Is the counterman looking at him? What about the couple? Are they talking about him in that tête-à-tête so artfully overlaid with words about travel?
He reviews the last page he has read. No doubt about it, someone has plagiarized his life, implicating him in a dangerous story. Was it one of his friends? Was it Cass? Or Clio? Clio is capable of this kind of magic. It’s as if someone had entered his home and walked about and looked through his drawers, picked up personal items like a photo of his parents or an old letter from his grandmother and then left. A vandal of the spirit. Of course this isn’t his story entirely, only the superficial aspects. He reads on, mesmerized by the coincidences. Even the Halloween parade is mentioned as well as the secret groups that have materialized only recently in his life. Instead of putting all this behind him, it’s here in front of him. If the author knows all this, is the author aware of what TV is doing now? But this is fiction. The character in the story dies; in fact, he is murdered. A chill envelops him, his forehead wicks a damp heat. The author is someone called Anon. The coward. A short bio describes him as an outsider. Looking up he sees the man in the bowler hat standing outside the picture window looking at him.
Unable to bear the implications of all these ideas, he abruptly rises from his seat and buys another coffee. On the cream and sugar counter he looks at the postcards in the postcard rack. Another look out the window proves the man he thought was a Fruit head is actually a young man in a motorcycle jacket and helmet. Looking down again, the anagram on the top of a postcard catches his eye. SSG is printed boldly across the card. Turning one of the cards over he discovers Judy Crucible, with pancake pose, her arms crossed before her in feigned modesty, her breasts flattened and expanded by her extended arms, her legs, encased in white latex boots, bent to one side, her heeled feet in ballet toes kept close together, her only hidden asset covered by her hands, out of which the Tree of Good and Evil rises in the bright colored pigments of a tattoo artist, a cobra coiled around its trunk looks out at him. Beneath her toes, as she precariously balances on the letters N, is inscribed the plea,
DON’T LET THEM BANISH ME AGAIN
Then he wonders how long he has been staring at the picture. Is anyone watching him? Actually he is just another guy standing by the sales rack. Luckily no one can actually invade his mind and see how he is drawn to this woman, real or imagined. Actually she has invaded his mind like a virus. He remembers the night he picked up the Crucible currency. He fell under its influence. There were guys standing around, just like him. But certain people were immune to its effects. Jack, of course, and Emily. The giant nurse, Sarah. But also her boyfriend and the gorilla. What did they have in common? It was as if they had an antidote that made them immune to her powers, the kindred herb the messenger god gave Odysseus to stem the witchcraft of Circe. Of course not everyone minds being under the power of a beautiful woman. We want to be enslaved. In fact, desire and addiction seem to be the two faces of the same coin. But it is not easy to throw away the coin. We enjoy our sweets. Of course it was the production of sugar that financed the Industrial Revolution and helped mechanize greed. He unveiled that discovery in his last book, but no one cared. Many thought his ideas, which were not really his – he harvested them from the scholarly work of others – as nothing more than detailed elements enhancing an exciting story, one that would translate well onto the big screen. It is possible that this addictive nature of beauty, or whatever it is that is drawing him toward Crucible – she’s certainly not the classic beauty of ancient Greece, Crucible’s face is not beautiful, in fact is anything but beautiful, with all the irregularities of a real person, but in his mind more like the putty he manipulates for his own purpose – is leading him to something else. He is confident he will not disappear forever into The Nadir where that woman from Long Island disappeared. He is not about to leave Cass for another woman. Emily was telling him it was standards, standards in general. He remembers the national initiative to convert our system of measurement to metric to be in sync with world-wide standards. Industry resisted. That was so long ago. Looking again at the image he realizes it has buried itself in every cell of his body. Zillions of viral copies of Crucible are dancing in the very building blocks of his being.
“May I,” asks someone beside him.
He drops the picture on the floor, and in his embarrassment nearly knocks the stand over trying to pick it up causing such a commotion that everyone in the shop stops. It’s Samantha, the architecture student, and none other than the ancient Steblen, her teacher. They wait for him to gather up the small pile he created when he knocked things over. He is about to say hello when they nod politely and step around him to fill their coffee cups with cream from the pitcher on the counter. Meanwhile the activities of the coffee shop resume. He is forgotten. He begins to put the various booklets and cards back into the slots. He notices that Steblen and Samantha look quite cozy together as they sit down at a table in the far corner. Steblen is enjoying the adulation of his pupil. He searches for a slot to place the last card, a decorative photograph of an oak tree canopy illuminated by sunlight streaming through the leaves. Something in the quote beneath the tree catches his eye: ‘Simplicity, which has not name, is free of desires.’ He reads the whole quotation:
Tao invariably takes no action, and yet there is nothing left undone
If kings and barons can keep it, all things will transform spontaneously.
If, after transformation, they should desire to be active,
I would restrain them with simplicity, which has no name.
Simplicity, which has not name, is free of desires.
Being free of desires, it is tranquil.
And the world will be at peace of its own accord.
Free of desires he repeats to himself, turning the card over. He sees the inscription, ASS. He thinks about the dissemination of ideas as he buys the cards. Here is a positive example of the commercialization of everything.

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