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?”

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