In his office, the Llama reluctantly eyed the contents of his In Box. The tray held a Pendaflex file with a typed tab reading DESTINY and a peculiar green folder left by Wayne Niebold. Though Wayne’s report interested him more, especially since he usually left rose-colored folders, the Llama reached for the Pendaflex file. It held a punched paper roll he should have approved weeks back and a report on the fallacies of daytime soap-opera psychology. The report, which had been a factor in the Llama’s concept of Denotational Drive-ins, listed statistics from a recent poll. Apparently soap fans were split 50/50 about whether human tragedy was due to random catastrophes or individual character flaws. Incidents were believed to vary in number within a specific time span. Unexpected crisis was rarely linked to free will.
Crisis, the Llama reflected, is as mutable as personality, especially since free will was often inhibited by common sense. His drive-ins provided a medium for the exercise of the latter, since one could enjoy contemplation in the comfort of one’s own vehicle and time-frame. Briefly, the Llama allowed himself the satisfaction of enjoying his own solid idea. Then he rotated the paper roll to the beginning in order to review the total contents of the print-out. The chore bored him horribly but was necessary.
The roll contained a Denotational print-out on human aspiration. The print-out was the product of a state of the art “thought condensation machine” for organizing philosophical questions. The Llama found the device handy, but frustrating, since the print-outs simp1ified complex interactions but made them appear superficial at the same time. The editing mechanism on his word processor was worse. It convoluted his words and made his thoughts seem incomprehensible. He worried over the following paragraph, adding qualifyers:
HUMAN ASPIRATION DOES NOT NECESSARILY COINCIDE WITH THE NATURE OF REALITY.
HUMAN LIMITATIONS AND THE COMPROMISE OF ACTUAL CIRCUMSTANCES NEVER REALLY SATISFY INDIVIDUALS.
ASPIRATION CANBE SATISFIED IF REALITY IS ASSESSED IN ASPECIFIC TIME FRAME. NOT A PROJECTION OR INTUITIVE GUESS, BUT THE CALCULATED CERTAINTY OF PROBABILITY.
PESSIMISM IS EQUALLY ASIRRELEVANT ASOPTIMISM.
A SKEPTIC LOSES HEART WITHOUT. THE CAREFUL BALANCE OF
ANALYSIS TEMPERED WITH EMOTIONAL RESPONSE.
HAPPINESS IS THE RESULT OF CAREFULLY FELT KNOWLEDGE ANDPOSITIONING WITHIN THE LIFE STRUCTURE.
This was the ninth reprogram. The Llama only too well appreciated the graphic form of this paradox between human compromise and aspiration. He put the roll away and opened Wayne’s folder to a dated memo reading: FROM WAYNE TO SANDY– SUMMARY OF THEORY ANDACTUAL PROGRESS ON THE LASER ARMOF THE PHOENIX — FROM THE ANARCHIST’S WORK IN PROGRESS.
The Llama read down the page:
Laser has been defined as Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.
The word “laser” is an acronym formed by the first letter of each word of its definition. It means: “Alight-emitting body with feedback for amplifying the emitted light.”
The Anarchist is assembling a chemically-powered laser once developed for experimental purposes by a company in California. It consists of a long, hollow tube with mirrors at either end. By burning hydrogen and fluorine gas within the tube, a bright flame is created. The light produced by the flame is then bounced back and forth by the mirrors at the ends of the tube to produce a laser beam.
It is the “pointing technology” that worries the Anarchist. In addition to the two mirrors used to produce the laser beam, a third large mirror is required to reflect it to the target, and it will have to be “Q-Switched.”
The Anarchist has decided against a ruby rod. They make a neater laser with more power, but are harder to control and cost too much. The chemical laser burned with a flash lamp should work fine. The adjustments may be difficult, an angled window would take some fine grinding. And then, according to what he knows about the “Q-Switching” mechanism needed to control the “resonance” (as he says) in such a way that the counteraction between the pumping and the laser action is eliminated.
This kind of laser would be of higher intensity because the conversion occurs in a matter of seconds, the stored high energy would burst out of the lasing element in a giant pulse with power up to gigawatts per square.
NOTE: The Anarchist just told me to add that the “Q–Switch” he will use is a rotating prism instead of a Kerr-cell technique. The Anarchist says you should know that the most successful for pure continuous wave operation are the gaseous mixtures. He wants intensity. Still, it is possible to mix the gases, like argon and krypton in which lasing might occur simultaneously at ten different wavelengths, ranging from violet through the red spectral region. A real “white light” laser.
The most powerful and the most efficient is a CO2 laser. The first glass one contained a helium-gas mixture. Although its first successful opera-
The Llama skipped from the technical information, available in the engineering section of New York’s best public libraries, to the bottom paragraph which he circled for later contemplation. Implementation of the laser might imply its purpose.
We are through with research and are accumulating apparatus. The Anarchist wishes the laser arm of the PHOENIX to be structurally independent, though, of course, it will coordinate with the dust dump — just a half-hour before. It will be a dramatic forerunner. I will follow this report with further bulletins on our assemblage and general theory.
You should realize the Anarchist has appreciable say in these reports, as he agreed to their existence with great reluctance. Since they are in evidence, you are under no circumstances to call him to account or comment on any aspect of his arm of the operation.
IMPORTANT NOTE: DIO’S CHECKS ARE TO BE LEFT BLANK IN A WHITE ENVELOPE UNDER THE DOOR OF THE WORKSHOP.
The Llama put down the report with a feeling of acute betrayal. He had always thought Wayne a model disciple totally loyal to the Church and the Lama. What had gone awry? What had caused him to become associated with anarchists?
The report on the AG, yes, the Llama thought, wasn’t it obvious? As the case took more hours, the quality had declined into obtuseness. And, the Llama remembered, Sandy and the Anarchist were connected with the AG. Wayne had become dangerously involved, split his priorities and personality. Only a “wash” would mend the fissure. The process of his defection would be unraveled, recorded, and stored for future reference.
The Llama pushed a small button inside his desk drawer which activated a teletype machine at the Inner City Villa. He spoke into the teletype mechanism:
”Tell the task force benevolence squad to send an ‘invitational’ telegram to Wayne Niebold, and pick him up for a wash. Immediately. I am to be informed.”
The Llama, aware of Wayne’s extreme sensitivity, was sorry to give the order. But it was necessary for him to uncover the full meaning of the “Phoenix,” including its timetable. If he didn’t stop the operation, his centers with their blameless facades might not see the light. No one would see the Wes Mavine banner unfurled in the dark or torn or…
Suddenly, he imagined the clairvoyant dreamer, the blonde girl lost? NO! She would be saved from these anarchists, as well as his centers. Not an imaginative man, the Llama focused on Wayne. He consoled himself that Wayne intended for him to discover the operation. Why else would he have switched the color of the folders? THERE ARE NO ACCIDENTS, he recalled as he pushed his button again to give a new order.
“Rescind the Wayne Niebold order. I want him in the field. Pick-up an anarchist called Sandy. Her description and habitats will be listed in the Niebold files marked AG.”
The Llama eased into his chair once again. The report was addressed to Sandy, the leader of the operation. She was the key, not Wayne. In fact, Wayne had expressed his loyalty by his subconscious exposure of the PHOENIX. He had proved his value, and, ultimately, he would lead the Llama to the AG.
The time-lapse between orders was only a few minutes, but the Llama’s Villa Phone Alert crew coordinated schedules with the taped calls. The crew was already working on a batch of seizures and telegrammed ”invitations,” when they received the last tape of the day–the one ordering the seizure of Wayne Niebold. The crew sent the telegram and assigned the follow-up, just as the machine closed down for the right. The rescind order and Sandy’s seizure were in its memory, unprocessed. Zeke, a temporary member of the crew, recently reoriented and awaiting release to his own environs, received the name and address of Wayne Niebold with small pleasure. Parts of his mind remained intact.
Wayne Niebold’s apartment showed signs of accelerating chaos. Rings of paper were no longer identifiable among clothes dropped days before. Piles of underwear, worn socks, shirts, and sheets filled the floor and a nearby chair beyond the limits of overflowing. The problem was Wayne had no peace of mind and rarely had consciousness of his immediate surroundings. The Llama’s report, Sandy’s memos, and his column occupied all the available room in his mental landscape. He lay on his couch in a kind of semi-conscious reverie. Inevitably, his exhausted psyche took its due. Tonight, he let his mind wander through boyhood memories of television.
It was Saturday night and Wayne, age eleven, was watching “Billion Dollar Movie” on the color set in his parents’ bedroom. It was a large, square room with two double beds welded together and wood end tables with lamps concocted of oriental rice paper and pressed leaves. Wayne’s mother often remarked she had not bought ones with pressed butterflies, because it was too barbaric. Wayne approved her sentiment, told her of this, and asked that she not call a sitter. He wanted to explore the forbidden territory on the top shelf of his parents’ closet.
Hidden by clothes, were his father’s adult books, “Justine,” “The Story of O,” “The Diary of a Victorian Gentleman,” and a lesbian pulp classic called “Circus.” Wayne, having read his mother’s copy of “The Child from 5-11,” knew his curiosity was normal. Still, he was careful to put the books back in the right place. If he were caught, he planned to say he only read them while watching the movie, just to have some kind of internal sound track. Even if it didn’t match, he would go on, it was fun making the adjustment.
On this evening, he remembered he didn’t feel like reading. He had chicken pox and a high fever, though he didn’t know it. His eyes were purplish and swollen. The images on the screen skirted the right to the left wings of the tube. Wayne wished he could slow down the rhythm. He wanted to read the actor’s lips. After a while, he watched without trying. The movie featured was an Alfred Hitchcock film with Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart. She was singing “Que Sera, Sera,” tears in her eyes for her little kidnapped boy. In the final scene in an opera house, she screamed, thinking her boy lost. But it was okay. The fear in her face reflected Wayne’s own feelings. He turned off the set and was immediately jarred by the buzzy electronic quiet of his parents’ room. It seemed to vibrate uneasily with the energy of the overhead lights. He turned them off and turned on the leaf lamps. Wayne still felt at odds. Only movies turned out all right. Life would never wrap up like the movies. Real life, happiness forever, must only exist on the tube. Life was a sham. Everything, including himself, was as inert as the objects in his parents’ bedroom. Wayne wanted to put the TV in the closet and return to reality, but he knew his folks would miss it. Instead, he pulled a book from a shelf and read the rhythms of eroticism on his own private soundtrack. He felt alive again. Wayne never watched TV after that, not really.
Now, in his apartment at twenty or so, he tried to visualize Doris Day and saw not her, but the AG with tears in her eyes. He wished he had a television. Over his image of the AG were printed the words: TO GET RID OF SINK ODORS, POUR STRONG SALTWATER SOLUTION OR A CUP OF BLEACH DOWN THE DRAIN. LET WATER RUN TO BE SURE NO BLEACH REMAINS TO ERODE THE PIPES.
Wayne got up to make some coffee. He didn’t like the way tension and fatigue affected him, how his subconscious used Doris and the AG to work out residual emotion. He thought of the comments of scientists on seeing the first pictures of Saturn, “The commonplace is the bizarre.” Or its Denotational corollary: “There are no mysteries.” To hell with introspection, Wayne thought, better to deal with the question of consistency in his reports. He had tried to make Sandy’s terse and educational, though his loyalty to the Anarchist made him choose jargon over reportage. For the Llama, he had used a repetitive style, detailing the AG’s routine with a hint of boredom and detachment, so that he would not charge Wayne with unpurged personal involvement. Still, his “Helpful Hints” column had remained a problem. The original pragmatic style had become garbled with obscure ideas that didn’t relate to any feasible household problem. Wayne was surprised that the Llama, who expected coherency, hadn’t commented on Wayne’s last column when he confused the concept of fixing a dishwasher with the elements of a ruby red laser column. He had also once mixed-up a description of the AG’s latex column with directions on obtaining a mercury tube — still, that one might have passed since the AG’s outfits were usually pretty far-out. Wayne knew his problem lay in one area -- thoughts all lost coherency in the incredible image of Dio’s cloud of Arizonia Dust.
Wayne had always assumed that somewhere down the line he would find the means to act as saboteur, but he had underestimated Sandy’s penchant for total grasp and control of all specific details. She really had given no clear picture to anyone, except the mysterious Mr. Dio, as to how the operation would really work. Wayne had seen the mandala picture of the sites and an estimated timetable, but nothing else. When he delivered his reports, she never answered his questions about the rest of the operation. Lately, ever since his mind had been functioning on overload, he wasn’t sure what he had delivered to her. In fact, he wasn’t sure what he delivered to the Llama either. The idea made him very nervous.
Wayne opened his middle desk drawer, where he kept carbons of his reports in dye-cut folders that were color-coordinated with the delivery folders. Though this system was supposed to keep them properly separated there was always the danger of mix-ups — especially for same-day deliveries. Wayne opened Sandy’s green report to a carbon that read:
The AG wore a bubblegum pink dress with large, yellow buttons. Her hat was a flat boater-type yellow straw with pale green ribbons. Her yellow open-work stocking and lime-green Mary Janes caused many stares in Washington Square Park. She seemed not impervious to these, merely surprised, as though it was odd that people stared at her when the colors of a sunset could be seen shifting hue.
Wayne panicked. Not only had this report reached the wrong party, but it wasn’t even slightly objective! He had written as if he understood the AG’s thoughts! Staggered at this gross self-deception, he opened the rose-colored folder, which should have contained the Llama’s report on the AG. In it he found a carbon with the following title:
LASER ARM OF PHOENIX OPERATION
The title was all he had to read to know he was in trouble. Not wanting to think of the implications, he opened the last folder, the kitchen yellow one, and read:
“Are your crepe soles worn out with no hope of repair? Many shoemakers do not maintain rubber soles to substitute for worn shoes and heels. To fix your worn rubber footwear, use liquid rubber ‘Fix-It.’ Squeeze the substance from the tube to the level worn down on your heel. Take a piece of cardboard and carefully plane off the excess. Dry with the heels up so the “fix-it” doesn’t run while it’s curing. Soon your shoes will be good as new!”
It was the correct carbon. One copy was correct. Wayne wondered who would react first, the Llama or Sandy? Maybe the Llama had been too busy supervising the opening of his centers to get around to reading the report. Wayne could substitute the correct AG report. Maybe Sandy would merely think Wayne had developed a clothes fetish in regard to her roommate. Wayne realized neither of these developments was likely. Unsure how to rectify the unforeseeable, and perhaps horrific, consequences of the mix-up, Wayne decided to escape into some editing work on his “Helpful Hints” column. He put on his Sony Walkman, turning the volume to its max so he could feel the vibration through his temples. In this way he could follow musical rhythms. He tapped along with his pencil, reading the column.
“Natural kitty litter is more healthful for you and your pet than the commercially available brands. A simple, organic mixture of cut newspapers and regular potting soil is a good choice. Line the box with pebbles first, then the layer of cut papers. On the bed of papers, pour about an inch of absorbent potting soil. In this way you avoid exposure to the harmful additives contained in packaged litter.”
Wayne crossed the column out as farfetched and tried to think of an alternative. All that came to mind was the AG, in a rhythm tangibly vibrating from his Walkman
GOT ME AN ANGEL SENT TO EARTH, the pattern went…
So much for automatic writing, Wayne thought, not believing he had spontaneously produced such corn. The words in the crossed-out column fairly rippled with emotion under the heart-felt “X.” That act of censorship, he realized, was less about the column than his own fear of confronting Sandy or the Llama. Best to see Sandy first and explain the mix-up…
The door vibrated under the fist of someone knocking repeatedly? Pounding. Was it the Llama’s proxy or Sandy about to blast him with some unimaginable weapon? Wayne knew he had watched too many gangster episodes in his youth. The concept was almost prehistoric…
Wayne opened the door to a man in a Western Union uniform, holding out an envelope and a pink pad for him to initial. He asked who the sender was but the man in the uniform didn’t know sign language. Wayne was writing in the margin of the pad, when he recognized Zeke. He changed his message: AREYOU FROM THE LLAMA OR ON AN OUTSIDE JOB?
“Excuse me,” Zeke said with no recognition, “I’ve never met you before.”
Either Zeke’s brains were scrambled from the ”wash,” or he had been trained to deny identification with the Llama. Wayne found little in his face, though the Llama’s familiar logo was on the upper left-hand corner of the envelope. Wayne hid his increasing fear. Did an “invitational” mean Zeke would attack Wayne, pin his arms behind his back, and march him into a truck? He had heard, but never experienced, this and decided it was best to go with procedure. If Zeke had suffered some brain damage, Wayne might as well use it to his advantage. Wayne signed the pink pad, took the letter, and ushered Zeke out in a matter of a second. He waited until the truck disappeared before opening the envelope:
CONGRATULATIONS DISCIPLE NIEBOLD. YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED TO ATTEND ASPECIAL RETREAT IN THE EXCLUSIVE DENOTATIONAL INNER SANCTUM. INNER VALUES WILL BE REVIEWED AFTER ORIENTATION. SAUNA AND PUNCH PARTY TO BE HELD AT THE LLAMA’S VILLA WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS.
Sneaky, Wayne thought, leaving it ambiguous whether the invitation was for a “wash.” In any case, the Llama was giving him time to clear out, a kind of advance warning. His apartment was out, he couldn’t live there. He would change his clothes for survival mode and beat it. The Llama WAS angry.
Wayne leaned out his window to enjoy the view for perhaps the last time. Other days, when he had had problems, he had simply gone to the Bank Street dock to think them through. Today, his problem demanded more immediate action and, yet, Wayne saw that the day was fantastic, the sky a real robin’s egg blue. The furthest point he saw was the white triangle tips of yachts bobbing with parties around the dark Statue of Lady Liberty. Closer, on the dock, he saw rows of bronzed men and an occasional woman. If he went there, he could squeeze a space next to an old couple dressed in seedy resort clothes. Wayne could see the details of his open shirt, loose tie, and hat severely slouched over reading glasses. He could see how the woman’s flowered silk dress fluttered over a pair of the nicest knees Wayne ever saw, though she looked at least seventy. The woman was painting what Wayne took to be the harbor, and she seemed irritated, because a bronze man blocked her view. Moving his sight back from the woman, Wayne noted two salad trucks, a Chinese food wagon, and numerous ice cream vans.
It seemed impossible for him to stay in his apartment, as it was to comply with the Llama’s order. Disappearance would signal his refusal.First, he would file one last report and leave it behind for Zeke or another proxy. The report would require the Llama to trust Wayne’s information was correct and, so, his loyalty.
The same way the Llama had so outrageously expected Wayne to trust him, to the extent of placing himself in the Church’s hands for a ‘wash!’ Wayne felt he owed the Llama this last report, and that it might yet be possible to stop Sandy.
SIR: I AM NO LONGER A PRAGMATIST, BUT I HAVE LEARNED A SENSE OF INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY FROM THE DENOTATIONAL CHURCH. SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN MY PSYCHOLOGICAL GUARDIAN ANDSEE FIT TO ORDER A“WASH,” I WILL HAVE TO BREAK OFF RELATIONS. I CANNOT REFUSE IN PERSON, SINCE YOU DO NOT OPENLY CONFRONT ME. THEREFORE, I AM DISAPPEARING. BEFORE DOING SO, I FEEL OBLIGATED TO EXPLAIN SOME OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE REPORT YOU RECEIVED THAT WAS INTENDED FOR A NIHILIST NAMED SANDY. THE ANARCHIST, THE AG’S BOYFRIEND, HAS BEEN WORKING ON ALASER PROJECT THAT IS TO BE PARTOF SANDY’S PHOENIX OPERATION. THIS IS SET FOR 6AM. ON MEMORIAL DAYIN MANHATTAN. DUST WILL BE DUMPED AT MANY KEY ENTRY POINTS TO THE ISLAND AND WILL PARALYZE TRANSPORTATION AND MEDIA ARTERIES. I WILL ENCLOSE SANDY’S TIMETABLE AND CONTACT POINTS, MUCH ASI KNOW THEM. DO AS YOU SEE FIT.
P.S.–DO NOT PICK-UP THE AGIN REGARD TO THIS MATTER. SHE IS IGNORANT OF THE OPERATION ANDSHOULD NOT BE HELD IN CAPTIVITY. ASYOU KNOW FROM MY REPORTS, SHE IS VERY SENSITIVE.
With this report on the table, Wayne hastily prepared to disappear in the underground of avant-garde culture found in the East Village. He would contact the Anarchist at the health foods restaurant and avoid Sandy, as long as possible. Leaving the Church for the Anarchist was a step he took that night of the meeting. But he kept one foot in The Llama’s camp, like many a prodigal, unsure if he would again find home.
With a thin blade, Wayne tore his shirt around the sleeve seam, making it look like the garb of a college boy gone wrong. It was a stupid stab, but he had to do it. Next, he safety-pinned the seams of his pants from the inside, pegging the shape. He took some kohl and rubbed it under his eyes. The total effect ofhis outfit was almost complete, the classic look of a cultural in-group of cultural outcasts. This particular uniform was the hair shirt of nonconformity to date.
Looking in his mirror, Wayne thought he totally understood the Anarchist’s passion for vegetables. It was an aggressive act of renunciation of worldly values. Like the Anarchist, he was now renouncing his career, his home, his ambition, his stance of worldly sophistication. The Anarchist signaled this with the idiocy of a green thumb. Wayne only had some fingers stained with washable ink. He wondered if the Anarchist would receive him favorably at the restaurant. Little emotion had passed between them.
Wayne entered the subway in an outfit no longer a disguise. He exited at St. Marks and made his way to the “Grass Roots,” a leftover hippie bar. He noted the clientele, a mixture of hippies, college kids newly entering the work force, illegal aliens, and transsexuals. They were all hanging out. Some were good at it, some were bad,some seasoned pros, and some merely talented amateurs. It was all a matter of posture. Wayne discovered he could be very successful at being ignored.
The AG woke suddenly and found herself in bed alone. She looked at her ceiling and thought of all the different kinds of ceilings she had seen in the city: high ceilings with ornate cornices, low ceilings with sound-proofing holes, sloped ceilings made of tin, and plaster ceilings painted with shiny deck paint. The AG was especially fond of the white ceiling of her loft. Unfortunately, on this night, it made her feel lost in a large expanse. She would like to live somewhere else, she realized, a happy place again. Tonight she saw all the imperfections in her environment, cracks which had never been spackled coated everything with dust. Bolts of fabric were stacked at random and the impression of disorder was not aided by the tawdry costumes she wore for clothes, costumes that crampedthe makeshift rack used as an open closet.
Because of her disturbed sleep, such musings had become familiar. Fatigue prodded her from soft fantasies into a painful awareness of her surroundings. Her nerves, once nonexistent, had overtaken her playfully channeled sensibility. She missed the Anarchist beside her and could not discover the reason for his absence. It was almost better not to know, bad enough she could imagine the feel of him beside her, their legs entwined. The memory of his hair was a mockery of their present relations. He rebuffed her care and was hesitant to touch her, mourning, as if she were irredeemably lost.
The AGrolled into the dent left in the mattress by the Anarchist’s body. It was as if the spot might yield some trace of his secret, one she dreaded discovering. Was the Anarchist punishing himself or her? Perhaps he should seek analysis, she thought, though the idea upset her. The Anarchist had always defied analysis, even his own. There were no ink stains on the spot he left in the mattress. His jaw was unaccustomedly slack. The AGknew he was making no posters, yet spent more time at the shop. He was quite guarded about that!
Once she had come to visit him unannounced. He had been cruel. She had stood timidly in the doorway of his shop. Her jacket was thin on her shoulders. He had been wild and terrible, his hair and beard seeming to have grayed. His eyes were mad before he masked them, but it was his hands that upset her. They seemed autonomous objects forming something insidious, hidden from her sight.
“Get out of here!” he had yelled harshly, his voice a whip across her face.
Later, from a place by the stairwell, she had overheard Sandy and the Anarchist in conversation. The tone of their voices was very serious, but all the AG could make of their words was “act of war,” which for some silly reason made her visualize a civil war etching of the Battle of Gettysburg. As the solemn voices continued, she recalled details of this etching by an American primitive–the drawn swords, the cannon facing gray troops, and Lee’s face a wide-open frontal black.
Remembering that horrible afternoon, the AG rolled to her own side of the bed. She curled around herself, thinking how dreadful she looked. She saw purplish shadows around her eyes, the signs of time and strain. She would have to consciously control her worry, or it would further deteriorate her energies. The AG was so self-conscious, she felt her epidermis and dermis layers as pliant substances more tangible than the mattress underneath her.
She uncurled, stretched her legs and arms, wriggled her toes, and rolled onto her back. She made herself less frail and slim by imagining her body as a resilient cushion. She was aware of it as a buoyant, springy place for her vibrating spirit. With this train of thought, her sorrows sunk into the substance of her flesh. She was light and detached. Release sent tangible joy throughout her being. She was ecstatic inside the naked, fleshly coating of her skin.
The AG began to think of leaving her body behind. She wasn’t considering death, but escape for a short while; floating free. She had done it for fun once before. She thought it might be a useful way to uncover what the Anarchist did when he left her bed at night. Still, she was aware of the dangers of out-of-body travel and the caution required. Two clients of the alcoholics’ clinic next door had summed it up well in a conversation she had overheard on her morning walk along the Bowery. The first one said, “The human body is really something. I’ve seen a man chopped up with knives, beaten within an inch of his life, and he’ll live–but a weird slip, a quick fall on the head and they go, just like that. It’s the oddest thing.”
“Sure,” said the second one. “We’re only mothers’ sons…”
The tiny threads that held body and soul together were very delicate. The AG, who had no fear of death, found soul-travel exhilarating. Even so, the similarity to death made her careful not to stray outside the loft. She didn’t know what snags might be encountered outside. Tonight, though, it was worth the risk. She feared her present suffering far more. Bodily rising required a lot of imaginative control, intensive concentration on the process. First she felt the outline of her form, heaving in the mattress. Then the weight receded into the depths of her flesh. She rose, gradually, through her own tissue. Pleasantly floating through the layers, she listened to warm cells breathing restfully, enjoying a nice dream cycle. The weight behind her, she was totally contained in an upward movement. It was, she thought, like rising from a transparent waterbed. Atthe point of separation, the body was buoyant, no longer held within the framework of bones. With an act of will, she left her body behind. Above it, she affectionately watched her sleeping shell, finding it odd that death could decompose it. The thought made her sink a few feet. She was in danger of falling back to her form. She would have to take care with her thoughts. Their weight made her heavier than her last out-of-body ride. She would have to hover, initially, to adjust.
Separated from carnality, her substance was akin to an indirect light source. Relaxing, she flexed, though there were no limbs to respond. Her substance, a wave of diffuse electrical particles, pulsed to the other end of the loft at an incredible speed. The AG, unused to the motion, became timid; causing herself to sink very suddenly. It was some time, redoubling her control, before she could rise and execute a simple, lateral move. The AG practiced her faculty of imaginative control. She visualized herself as a blip on a computer screen and then, a flash of bacteria in a Petrie dish. Moving through the timeless medium, she experienced the tiny, but resilient threads holding her to her body. As they effortlessly unraveled she recalled an ad for the telephone company with fiber optic threads pulsing with impulses. Yes, the AG acknowledged, I am like that. Honed in her new form, she safely ventured out.
The AG rose to the ceiling, got nicked in a crevice, and rolled around the rafter before sailing sideways out the kitchen windows and up a brick wall. She uprighted herself and took a long look at her body in the bed, seen through the window of the loft. Then she saw the window of the loft from the top of a nearby water tower. She rose way above the Bowery, parallel to an advertising blimp made visible by luminous computer graphics. She felt an electrical attraction to the powerful images and paused to soak up the vision.
RICHLAND – RICHLAND — A SAGAOF AMERICA read letters on the blimp, before a huge chunk of gleaming coal became a sun over a mountain range. Lakes filled-in and a derrick formed parallel to the mountain peaks. Quickly, that turned into a green field containing a family fixing a suburban home, which changed to another field sprouting trees, many houses, flowers, and many families hand in hand in front of sparkling housing units all lit up in runs of 0coded colors.
The AG, intoxicated with the colors and lights, suspended herself above the blimp. Light components and spasms of sound sent her gliding. Down below, she saw the yellow dot of Phoebe’s awning. She couldn’t hear the words of Bowery men fighting, but her psychic sense intuited the deep guttural sound of a man dying of a bullet wound — a soldier in the city’s ever-present, unknown wars. Out of body, she could do nothing to aid him, and she feared other help would come too late. The man’s pain was very intense. The AGunraveled for safety, where the air was thin and chilly. The higher she went, the more pleasurable was the sensation. The threads, which held her, felt ticklish. She was newly conscious that such interference could be delicately eliminated. The impact of this idea lowered her many sobering feet. Hovering over the injured man, she realized she could use her substance to make a fire. Focusing her change on a corner of the canvas awning of Phoebe’s, she started a flame. Awaiter, smelling smoke, discovered the man. The AG, uncomfortably omniscient, thought again of her mission. She zeroed in on what held her to Earth, her Anarchist, for whom she had risked this journey. The AG compressed downward to street level and soared, invisibly, through the closed window of the Anarchist’s shop.
The Anarchist, enraged, was pointing to a large glass tube and a case of lead. He was pressing an issue the AGcouldn’t quite make out, standing over two large mirrors and a prism, which hung near a basin. He was playing with the prism as he talked. Beams of spectrum rays lit Sandy’s rigid, angry face. She kept gesturing toward a projector set up on the Anarchist’s press bed. The AGheard her say, “If anyone understands the ironies of symbolism, it’s me.” Of the Anarchist’s reply, she understood nothing. Her own emotions had short-circuited comprehension.
TheAG attempted to rectify this, but the argument grew more intense. She was blown around the room by the charged will of first one, then the other. The AGfeared the difficulty and danger of being bodiless. Like a weightless astronaut, she navigated, using the wall as a ladder–hand over hand. The threads which held her life could sever or melt in the hot war of threats and recriminations. Amidst the turmoil, the AGfound the courage to focus on the specific objects of their contention.
Behind a funny wagon wheel design in magic marker, was a map of Manhattan. Wall Street was outlined in a small, blue box. This box was the target of Sandy’s wrath. The AGbraced herself for the next attack.
”The amount of power you are capable of generating with that thing will do us little good at that target. I’ll select a site that will yield some measurable damage.”
The AG blocked her emotive feelings to hear the Anarchist reply.
“I don’t care about damage to property. I do care about the icon of a great nation, a founding father long ignored. That musty building disgracefully hides a fine revolutionary tradition. It’s a national shame! No one goes here but tourists. My laser will mark the blow of a refugee against American hypocrisy!”
Sandy smiled, a slight edge of contempt in her voice. “I am a utilitarian. I fear, my colleague, your act has too many abstractions weighting it. It will mean nothing but muddle. Besides, who will hear your complicated idea of significance? Who will care?”
“You will be running the broadcast, Sandy. You could…”
“I won’t. It’s risky and stupid.”
The AG, unsure what any of this meant, only knew the Anarchist was close to venting his violent temper. His hands, testing the prism, were becoming clumsy and forced. His sense of purpose was shaken. Yes, the AG thought, he needs a sign. I will move something, make some distraction to give him room for a rebuttal. Too many chemicals in the shop to try a fire. Could she move an object at will? An attempt by the AG to move the projector sent her spinning dizzily around the shop. She was too light for such a mass. At that moment, she didn’t exist as more than an invisible cry. It was some time before she recovered. She watched the Anarchist hold the glass tube and explain about wave structures, about the force of the weapon, how larger and larger waves could decimate a whole building, but that he was planning to construct a competent control mechanism with the help of his assistant, Wayne Niebold.
WAYNE NIEBOLD. The name in the Anarchist’s mouth was a savior for the AG, If only she could find him! Wayne would help her if, she hoped fervently, his involvement was an outgrowth of her long-ago request to watch her Anarchist. Disloyalty from Wayne was too much of a blow to her fragile sensibility. No, he cared for her, she was sure.
The AG drifted with the Anarchist’s excitement as he explained his laser. Images of diamond cutters, assemblers of silicon circuits, beams of electric eyes, and a sci-fi rifle were the associations she conjured for the word LASER.
”The site at Federal Hall, or I’m out of this project,” the Anarchist said.
“There is an agreement between us.”
“I committed, but only as an autonomous partner.”
Sandy began to take off her clothes. “You threaten my authority, and, yet, you’re committed to nothing but symbolism.”
“Autonomy was my condition,” the Anarchist replied. “Put on your clothes. I haven’t enjoyed one night of love since my commitment.”
Sandy stopped undressing, thoughtfully saying, “Yes, then you have sacrificed something more than ideas. The AG.”
Fear, sorrow, and betrayal ran through the AG’s naked self, causing her to crash against the walls of the shop and back up the surface of the closed window. Battered, she knew it wise to find her skin before she was destroyed — before the threads came finally undone. The AG could not listen to Sandy and the Anarchist anymore, nor could she leave the argument. She was diffused throughout it. Independence, self-integration, was the priority for her survival.
Using imaginative control, she would attempt to reduce her level of involvement. The AG assumed her stance above the Bowery, that of an entity beyond this immediate point in time. She imagined herself a handmade Japanese kite formed of translucent rice paper. Her owner, a loving child, carefully reeled in the string which held her, wanting to avoid a tear in the toy he had made with his own hands. She visualized this child in the loft, coaxing her back to her body, which rested so lonely in bed. The AG felt a “click” as her circulatory system, her muscular layers, her good solid bones meshed with her spirit. She hovered an instant before sinking into the refuge of her slumbering body. Lulled by her body into almost total unconsciousness, she almost erased the Anarchist, Sandy, and the whole scene in the print shop.
But there was an agitation in the AG that kept her from losing consciousness. She could sleep through it, but not obliterate it. She eased the sensation by deciding to locate Wayne Niebold. Unearthing elements from her memory, she constructed his clean features, the apartment he had once described, the notepad he kept in an inside jacket pocket, close to his heart. Once these details were established, she endeavored to resume the peculiar communication channels opened at Joe’s Place. The AG had never tried to exercise her abilities over an indefinite stretch of time and space. Still, she was game to try. Through the motion-filled waves of sleep, she attempted to locate Wayne Niebold physically. Failing that, she merely wanted to leave a message for him to come and see her. The AG only succeeded in waking her exhausted body with her efforts. Feeling sweat all around her, she realized that her agitation was less a spur than an impediment. Fear and sorrow had made her attempts impossible.
In a bathhouse mirror, one door clown from the Grass Roots bar in the East Village, Wayne Niebold was enjoying the exaggerated points ofhis “outsider” clothes. His pants were sufficiently sleek, his sleeveless shirt was a classic, but he would have to do something about his hair, that emblem of eccentricity. He would have to make his Bo-ho orthodox.
Wayne opened an ancient tube of Bryl Cream hair cream he’d bought at a vintage 1950s store. He coaxed his hair, which was long on top, into a pompadour, and combed and cut-in the side for speed. When he finished, he had to admit the resemblance to a desert roadrunner. Happy with the result, he exited the bathhouse for the street. He wanted to enjoy the effect of his hair design in the East Village (more girls with miniskirts looked at him than ever before).
Despite his homeless status, Wayne found this neighborhood very pleasant. Couples on stoops sat or stood with heads on each other’s shoulders, exchanging coolly wistful smiles in the wind. Though stylish sophistication predominated, bodies melted together awkwardly – sways coordinated for a last desperate cling, a small clutch against time.
Wayne felt foreign in all that heat. In terms of women, he had never been awkward or adolescent. Women had always been available, but now he wanted to fall in love immediately, several times at least, especially if she had an apartment. His position might be precarious, but he’d fearlessly crash any party if it were possible he might meet a woman, if it were possible for him to fantasize about a woman’s face held at a certain angle. Sometimes the conversation was provocative enough to activate his imagination, but nothing happened. He looked at the lovers in the East Village and felt envy for what appeared to be “easy affairs”–the “simplest thing” as a ’50s song on an old jukebox would nostalgically chime in.
Wayne wondered if his preoccupation with women was due to his homeless state or his real feelings for the AG. Did he want to make love to her? No, he realized, strangely surprised. He wanted to make her tea, sit and talk with her, lose himself in her luminous presence. Romance was what it added up to, not sex. She was the drifting focus of his thoughts, though his relationship with the Anarchist put him in a peculiar spot. The Anarchist might learn of Wayne’s flight from Sandy, but he must never discover his connection with the AG. Besides, Wayne intended to ask him for asylum, a bunk in the Health Foods Restaurant. Suspicion would make life very difficult. Despite this risk, adrift on the streets, he found it essential to inform the AG of his whereabouts. How, he wondered, was he to establish contact without the knowledge of either of her roommates?
Wayne decided to send a postcard so ambiguous, only she would understand its origin. The moment he made this decision, he was rewarded with a mind’s eye image of the AG. With incredible clarity, he saw her mouth; the wide, softly puckered lips, the arc of the trembling upper lip. Wayne was awed by the perfect consistency of color. He banished the image from his mind, knowing that mouth would feel lovely, and made his way to Unique Boutique. He would find just the right postcard there.
Rounding the corner of Astor Liquors, Wayne reviewed the exact information he had given the Llama about the Phoenix in his final report. His copy of the operations schedule was vaguely coded: TASK FORCE 9 AT TIMES SQUARE INTERSECTION AT 5 A.M.REINFORCE DUMP TRUCKS l-8 FOR COMMUNICATIONS RADIO BLOCKADE. Would such information make it possible for the Anarchist to seize control and reroute traffic along safer routes? Had Wayne wanted to help the Llama at the Anarchist’s expense? Because of his confusion on the loyalty issue, he realized, he had given only half-hearted information. He hadn’t wanted to be responsible for a rescue or an anarchist’s act.
Wayne walked up Broadway, admitting his cowardice, but unsure what action would rectify it. Instead, he concentrated on the design of the postcard. Ashe had once noted in a fashion filler for THE PRINTED WORLD, Unique was a mass merchandiser of reasonably priced counter-culture fads gone mainstream. There were always bright colored T-shirts with various necklines and sleeve lengths. There were jeans of every conceivable leg width and length, as well as plastic geometric jewelry, belts, and high-tech scarfs with a revival feel to them. Wayne especially liked the card kiosks. They were quite extensive.
He entered the clothing warehouse through a revolving door just past a chained park bench. An employee in a turquoise tux took his travel bag and stowed it in the top of a spray-painted locker. Wayne located the card kiosks in back of the polka dot and multi-media tights. He revolved past Man Ray’s photograph of a woman bass fiddle, past scenes from Buenuel’s L’Age D’Or. He paused at a row of black and white European surrealists. Classic or not, he didn’t think the AG would like such contrivances.
For a thoughtful moment, Wayne considered a Walker-Evans photo of miners, but eliminated that quickly. It was a genuine statement, but the AG might construe social commentary on a postcard as purely exploitative. Wayne also looked at a trendy Warhol photo of Edie Sedgewick at her most decadent, and then some color Xeroxes of the Empire State Building. Edie had a nose resembling the AG’s, but was inappropriate in style. The color Xeroxes were closer to the idea, but somehow uninspired. In this same fashion, Wayne considered a classical kiosk and almost bought a card of Ingres’ Odalisque (before remembering Sandy’s infamous alliance with the Anarchist, of which the AG needed no abstract hints). Finally, he settled on some montaged Xeroxes that had a freshness missing from the Empire State Building postcards. These were original and succeeded in being funny, which was more than Wayne had anticipated.
There were three types of montaged Xeroxes. In the first, the Statue of Liberty was being swallowed by the shark in Jaws. The second showed King Kong climbing the Empire State Building (which seemed reminiscent of the Anarchist’s mission), and the third was a shiny idyllic convertible speeding through a fantastic 3D farm country. Freedom, affluence, innocence the significance of the image was widely understood. Wayne selected this upbeat, naive, shining postcard for its old-fashioned flavor. It was clean like the AG. It would communicate the idea that he was around but on the move, her shiny champion had not forgotten her. Wayne picked up his bag from the locker, located eighty cents, and waited briefly in a moderate sized line. He put his money on the counter glad he had exact change. There was little time to waste, if he wanted to catch the Anarchist at the restaurant.
Heading down St. Mark’s, Wayne wondered if he should confess his love for the AG to the Anarchist, say that he respected him but his involvement with the projecthad little to do with politics. It was for the AG. Such a confession would be impossible.The Anarchist’s involvement was not complex. He could never explain to this man, who was so fanatical about ideals, that he simply loved women, that the AG had made him believe in the existence of a soul, even his own. It would be as impossible for theAnarchist to understand Wayne’s feelings, as it was for Wayne to understand theAnarchist’s commitment to Sandy. It was better to let it ride. There was yet time before the laser was completed, time for him to influence the Anarchist in his madness.
How strange, Wayne thought. He had grown so fond of the Anarchist in such a short time. Was he substituting one mentor for another? His disillusionment with the Llama dated before the order for his “wash,” about the time he had become involved with the Anarchist. He no longer thought of the Llama as a true visionary. He considered him a manipulator; a benevolent Machiavelli, a Freudian Bismarck savvy enough to pay attention to someone as unusual as the AG.
HE WHO PLACES A MAN ON A PEDESTAL WILL THROW THE FIRST STONE. In Denotational fashion, Wayne framed his question and tested it’s accuracy concerning the Anarchist. The Anarchist defied his dictum about idols. They were equals. He proved this fact by remembering an intimate gesture of the Anarchist when Wayne and he were discussing the laser theory. The Anarchist philosophically tapped his finger along the bridge of his nose to indicate Wayne was right. This gesture was the acknowledgement of comrades. The two men were equal in radical activity and, though the Anarchist didn’t know it, admirers of the AG. Wayne hoped he could trust the Anarchist to be consistent about their friendship. Wayne wanted to put him to the test and tell him everything, his connection with the Church, his mix-up with reports, his fear of
Sandy. He wanted to spill everything so the Anarchist would be responsible for his destiny. It was a childish, self-destructive desire unworthy of equals, he realized. Such tendencies were the reason he had needed the Church’s counseling. Instead, he would be adult. He would lie, since fabrications were less complex and more believable than truth. The Anarchist, rough-cut, had somehow evolved without being touched by modern socialization processes. This was why Sandy so easily manipulated him, but also, most probably, the reason the AG loved him. It was also why he would be more suspicious of a complex truth than a fabrication.
Fast approaching the restaurant, Wayne took out the postcard and wrote the number of the loft on the address section. On the other side he wrote the message: YOUR WORDS NEVER FALL ON DEAF EARS. FOR YOUR TOTAL PSYCHIC SELF REVEALED CONTACT MADAME ANNA WAYNE – FIRST LIGHT – TOUCH LATE IN THE WINDOW BOX, WHERE BEAN SPROUTS AND BACON BITS NEVER CEASE TO GROW.
Wayne dropped the card in the mailbox, hoping the Anarchist would not fail him. The AG was sure to get the message in a day. At the back of the tiny restaurant, the Anarchist wiped bacon bits off a counter. He regarded Wayne’s underground get-up with some amusement.
“So you’ve picked up the regional garb?”
Wayne nodded, writing on his pad: EVICTED. I HAD NO FORMAL LEASE. NO HEAT, WATER, OR ELECTRICITY. DO YOU KNOW OF A PLACE I CAN STAY UNTIL I FIND SOMETHING?
“You have receipts for your rent checks, don’t you!” the Anarchist exploded. “The realty company can’t evict you without a hearing! Didn’t they give you any notice?”
I WILL FIGHT IT. BUT CAN I STAY HERE TONIGHT?
The Anarchist patted Wayne’s shoulder fraternally, considering options. “I’d ask you to my place, but it might provoke questions from my girl. Men like us should leave curious women behind. Serious matters sound childish in the daylight.”
The Anarchist paused, looking out the storefront window of the restaurant. “Let me check with my boss about the bunk,” he said, his thoughts obviously concerned with something else. Wayne placed himself in view of the Anarchist’s boss, a round East Indian woman.
“Could he,” the Anarchist said indicating Wayne, “sweep up for me in return for sleeping in the front window? He’s safe and less expensive than a guard dog. “
The Anarchist’s boss, he had once said, was always ready for a laugh. This time, she tilted her head back to the limit and let one roar. This response, as it turned out, meant she liked the idea. She even supplied some large cushions, which made a comfortable bed when Wayne placed them across two chairs. Around this bunk, he arranged his change of clothes, note pads, toiletries, and the tube of Bryl Cream. Then, he unbuttoned his shirt so the Anarchist would say good night. He wanted to be alone when the AG if the AG paid her visit.
“Aren’t you going to help me with the project?” the Anarchist asked quizzically. “I found a bazooka case for the tube, and I’ve been waiting for you to assemble it. We’ll go to the shop after I sweep up here and work most of the night.”
Wayne took out his pad and wrote: I CAN’T RUN INTO SANDY. SHE HAD BEEN TRYING TO CONTROL THE PROJECT THROUGH MY REPORTS. I GAVE HER A PHONY ONE TO THROW HER OFF OUR TRACK BUT IT WAS TOO OFF. NOW SHE IS SUSPICIOUS OF ME, BUT IF SHE THINKS I’M MISSING, SHE’LL LAY OFF.
With concern, the Anarchist sat on a cushion. “Never wanted her to be checking up on us at all.”
SHE’S ANGRY AT ME.
”Knock on the side window after you’re through here, and I’ll let you in. Wait until later, when Sandy’s gone to work.”
SHE WILL SAY ANYTHING TO INTERFERE WITH OUR OPERATION.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” said the Anarchist. “She can’t confront me directly. We have our agreement. I’ll have to keep you two apart.”
The Anarchist stood and took a broom. “Now, I want to show you how to sweep up this place. You do a good job and come by the loft around eleven tonight. Sweeping’s not as easy as it looks. You have to be careful to get the grains of rice that get stuck between the floor boards. After you wash them down, use a little boric acid to keep the roaches out.”