Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Periphery: A Novel of Rage and Reason

Imagine there’s no heaven;
It’s easy if you try.
No hell below us;
Above us, only sky.
Imagine there’s no countries;
It isn’t hard to do;
Nothing to kill or die for;
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people;
Living for today.
You may say I’m a dreamer;
But I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us;
And the world will be as one.
(With thanks—but, no thanks—to John Lennon)

Freedom Center
#415

Dispatch Immediately:

Be on the lookout for Carmine Spostato. Forties. 5’11”. 165 lbs. Black hair, with patch of brown as birthmark on back of head. Brown eyes. Nearsighted. Gold frame glasses. Clean shaven. Aquiline nose. Thin, athletic frame. Last seen in a pair of black shoes, light gray slacks and a dark-gray pullover. Interested in history and conclusions. Dangerous.

Time:

(The Last Days of the Ancièn Régime: A Vague Sometime Between 1979 and 2001)

Book One: On the Periphery

An Exile Finds a Home
Citizens on a Hill
The Yearnings of the Huddled Masses
They’ve Thought of Everything!
The Kermesse, or Goya’s Triumph

Book Two: The Spread of Periphery

The Eternal Return
Can Anything Good Come From Queens? Part One
Novus Ordo Saeclorum
At the Core of the Apple
Faith of Our Fathers
I am Looking for an Honest Man!
Narodnik
Stakhanovites
Pardon Me!
The One is Not the Many
Acts of the Apostles
See Lenin Laugh
Sparafucil
The Ramifications of Siddharta
The Triumph of the Will
Thanks, But No Thanks
Can Anything Good Come From Queens? Part Two
E Pluribus, Definitely Unum
Part One: Salve! Popolo D’Eroi!
Part Two: The Pot Melts, or No Enemies at the Abyss!
Ritorna Vincitor!

Book Three: Flight From Periphery

Bathing in the Fresh Springs of Ignorance
Danse Macabre
Liber Scriptus Proferetur
Either-Or

Summary

This is a root and branch attack on the central principle of American life: Pluralism. That attack unfolds through the story of Carmine Spostato, an American who studied at Oxford, returned to New York, and, after years of not finding an academic job, is hired by Periphery University, in a difficult-to-reach section of the City. Carmine discovers that Periphery lives up to its name: it has, as its purpose in life, the goal of being on the periphery of learning; of never actually aiding the central cause of education, the discovery of Truth, which he had embraced with great enthusiasm.

Horrified by this fact, Carmine goes into a kind of “inner exile” at the university, while he explores the possibility of finding meaning on the outside. He is aided in doing so by two mysterious figures from Queens, a group of beggars, and a large array of baffled and increasingly annoyed friends. To his dismay, everything else in the United States--liberal, conservative, popular, elitist, worker, business, religious, immigrant, and criminal—despite its promise of being “unique” and “vibrant”--all proves to be linked together in the same, meaningless, peripheral enterprise that his University supported. After dabbling in an equally futile Nihilism, Carmine and his friends decide on a last, supreme effort to confront the supposedly “different” elements of American life with one another, so that they can prod them on to a real hostility, and stimulate an explosion of true divisiveness. This is designed to take place at an enormous party that they have arranged to coincide with the historical celebration of the Birthday of Rome. But, instead of finally “vibrantly” coming into conflict with one another, all the various “different” aspects of American life recognize how much they actually are the same. They all share an acceptance of the “common sense” of American Pluralism and the purposeless, integrated, non-confrontational existence that it demands of “free” individuals. Carmine and his friends, by this point, are ready to accept their inevitable defeat and surrender.

Their opposition is revived by Don Primo, the second of the mysterious men from Queens dedicated to aiding Carmine and his friends in their quest to find the true rock on which to build their lives. Don Primo announces that he has decided to take seriously a central joke of the Birthday of Rome party, his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States. A variety of wild mishaps give this candidacy an absurd plausibility. But Don Primo’s only goal is that of exposing American Pluralism for what it really is: an attack on human life at its very core; one that works by exiling all meaningful thought, spirit, and action to the “periphery” of existence. Carmine and his friends are dragged, unwillingly, into the campaign, only to that see it, too, ends by being highjacked into serving the purposes of what they all call “the Regime”. It is at that moment, that Carmine realizes what Pluralism actually is: demonic.

The book ends with Don Primo having set off a tumult in the United States and the world at large. This tumult convinces Carmine and his friends that an historical Decision Time of drastic significance has been reached, compelling them to make a choice either for Life or for Pluralism. Their decision commits them to a fight to the death against the demonic force that has devastated their world. Unsure as to the exact nature of their role in this battle, but aware that it involves an infinitely deeper acceptance of the teachings of their Faith and their Reason, they await, in hope, further enlightenment from the Christian God.

BOOK ONE: ON THE PERIPHERY

Chapter One: An Exile Finds A Home

“Misled!”, the Dean lamented. “Haven’t you noticed? People are constantly misled by superficial judgments. Even you may have leaped to the conclusion that Periphery is not at the center of things. And yet our location impacts well on the demographic unit definitized as focal by the Student Attraction Program inputted by The Team over at Hormone Hall.”

He pointed in the direction of a needle-shaped structure recently donated by an alumnus of the Department of Pharmaceutical Studies enriched from the sale of tattoo-inducing enzymes.

“Besides”, he added, “you’re not likely to pursue domiciling in town after a couple of weeks at Periphery. You’ll want to be with us constantly. We’re a community here. Noah’s Ark! All for one and one for all. We’re a place where you grow. As a person. But not just that! Fun? Forget about it! Never ends! And look at it from this angle. Until you move, you’ll have Lady Liberty in the harbor to inspire your commute.”

A secretary interrupted the Dean’s monologue. Signatures were needed on a dozen sheets of what appeared to be estimates for the annual budget.

“WEFMUR”, the Dean grunted, by way of explanation for the disturbance. “Weekly Faculty Mail Use Reports.”

The secretary fled. She, like everyone else in the building had a multi-colored tattoo on the reverse of her right hand.

“I found myself at Periphery!”, it proclaimed.

“Steel!”, the Dean bellowed, in praise of his aide, his fortissimo intense enough for the entire office staff to hear. “Pillars of strength, each and every one! Chemical agents would run right through their systems without leaving a trace. Love and respect all The Team in this neck o’ the woods, I do.”

Carmine Spostato did not claim to understand much that Dean Diaphonous Veil was telling him. Oh, he was certain that it must make sense. Or, at the bare minimum, that its profundity would be clarified, along with all the other apparently inexplicable experiences dotting his own confused existence, on Judgment Day. At the moment, he did not need the Beatific Vision. All he wanted was a job.

Carmine blamed himself for his failure to grasp the message of Veil. He was, after all, very, very tired. First, there had been the fortnight of nervous excitement, stirred by the advertisement announcing a position in European History at Periphery University, and the unexpected call to a face-to-face interview. Carmine had spent a number of years since his return from Oxford looking for a job without encountering a single serious bite. Or a proper nibble. Or even a respectable scrap from a fairly sterile rubbish bin.

Yes, there was that possibility of a Chair of Seventeenth Century Polish History at Ratatan College in Slavic Pope, Arkansas. The one replacing a madman who had threatened to throw acid in his face if he dared to appear at the podium.

Carmine had not gone to investigate. He had always preferred Italian pontiffs anyway.

Since the Ratatan affair, he had labored at the Fond Embrace Envelope Factory on the Lower West Side, and gradually abandoned all academic hopes. But now, the times they were-a-changing. Opportunities were opening up, due to a nationwide renewal of education. Periphery was knocking at his door. And in New York City, no less. Home, itself! Was this to be his castle in Spain? If, that is to say, exhaustion could be overcome en route to the drawbridge?

Anxiety also accounted for Carmine’s present fatigue. True, only seven other applicants had been called up for an interview, but he became a bit discouraged upon hearing of the stiffness of his competition in the tense atmosphere created by the general concern for educational renewal: A Double Transgender Catholic priest-nun. A Lubavitcher Eskimo. Two Siamese Dwarfs, who complicated matters by insisting upon sharing the post. One certified idiot, the completion of whose doctorate had been transformed by the media into a national triumph. A former convict, flushed with enthusiasm over his rise from wife-slayer to prison philologist. And a token Lapplander, who prided himself on his complete and utter ignorance of the English tongue.

Causes for fatigue? More Still? As if these were not sufficient? Try that labored search for the most suitable means of arriving punctually for the appointment!

Carmine knew from the start that Periphery was not quite in the center of town. He finally had to go to the City Archives for a map of New York detailed enough to pinpoint it at all. Eight miles separated the campus from the Village, where Carmine had lived since returning from Oxford. Still, connections seemed clear, he would be going against the traffic, and his interview was fixed for a civilized 10:00 A.M. Always an early riser, Carmine planned to leave his apartment around 7:00, arrive at the campus an hour later, saunter round about the gardens, and smile, knowingly, at the earnest faces of industrious summer students. Who could tell how many of them might soon debate his interpretation of the Age of Reason? Ponder the ins and outs of Revolution and Counterrevolution? Nihilism and Utopia? As understood in the Spostato manner? After all the homework they’d been given since pre-school? It would be hard to get them to leave the classroom! Carmine even thought that he would linger for a moment in the cafeteria, savouring a blend of university coffee made palatable by the certain success of his visit. A well-chosen mint would repair any damage done to the attractiveness of his breath.

Things did not proceed precisely according to plan. Kamahojo Fugiwara-Minamoto, a wealthy Japanese businessman with whom Carmine had shared digs at Oxford, was a major catalyst in its breakdown. Kamahojo arrived in New York for a surprise visit on the eve of Carmine’s interview, accompanied by four of his fellow countrymen, all of whom knew less English than the Lapplander. Carmine met them on the sidewalk in front of his apartment building. He had been out walking the entire afternoon and early evening, seeking to calm his nerves. Bed had beckoned.

Heartfelt yearnings sometimes remain unfulfilled. All five Japanese nabobs kidnapped Carmine, forcing him into a New York Geisha House for a nocturnal debauche. Carmine was quickly discalced. The pungent scent of Spostato toe jam placed an entertaining obstacle in the path of swift satisfaction of appetite.

“Feet! Feet!”, one Japanese plutocrat screeched incessantly, both horrified and amused by the stench emitted by the American’s extremities.

Carmine’s explanation of the reason for his aroma and its connection with the approaching interview plucked a tender chord in the soul of the Nipponese capitalist. It was time for a gift. Computer-chip watches were the fellow’s forte. He carried pocket samples with built-in alarms to dispense, as tokens, to sympathetic riffraff, wherever commerce guided him. An Italo-American required a device that played a tarantella. On the hour. And da capo once the first round was finished. A mere jab with a straight pin in Carmine’s forehead was enough to install the mechanism, relieving sinus pressure as it settled in. Time was told instinctively, to the inner man, with each blink of the eye.

It reached 5:00 A.M. At least Carmine would not risk oversleeping. He escaped to his morning ablutions. Weariness so benumbed him that he forgot the effects a crisp new blade would have on his Mediterranean beard. He noticed the blood stains on his collar by the time he entered the subway, and watched them smear to Jackson Pollock proportions inside the train. Who would attribute them to a toilette gone awry? Suspicions of endemic Village perversions with high medical costs as hangovers would arise.

Carmine learned in the subway that long-term improvements in MTA service mandated forty years of short-term disruptions. His trip temporarily required two changes, including one to a local delayed by a bag lady who refused to allow the doors to close unless the train changed directions. The main part of the journey, thirty minutes on a ferry, tipped the hour mark due to a confrontation between the boat’s refreshment stand manager and his supplier. A consignment of butter had been erroneously delivered, instead of margarine.

“No respect for my customers?”, the manager spat at the foolish merchant. “What’s happened to the Social Contract? I tell you, the polis is finished! You’re walkin’out through the eye of a needle!”

But Carmine was really held back by the double bus ride that awaited him on the other side, and the second driver’s inept attempt to spread cream cheese on a bagel. Carmine promised to perform the task for him, repeatedly, for life. And even to put on the weight due the driver after the concoction’s ingestion. So long as the man would depart. A twelve minute hike through the grounds of an abandoned mustard factory completed the odyssey. Bloodied, stained with fats, smelling of cinnamon-raisin, and drenched with sweat, Carmine reached the administration building at 10:05.

It was now 11:00 A.M., and Dean Veil was elaborating the Philosophy of Periphery.

“The benefits of Periphery for both students and faculty—and let me say at this point that our faculty is genuinely loved and respected by The Team over at Hormone Hall as much as they are by Me and Mine—these benefits are incalculable. Utterly incalculable. You’ve got the perimeters of urbanity at the edge of your fingertips--truly fingertipized, as it were—and yet you wouldn’t know that we were anywhere near what my assistant—sixty pillars of strength he is—calls “the city”. That’s why you’ll want to actuate a move here, quick.”

Dean Veil was en train. His relaxation boded well for Carmine’s acceptance. Furthermore, there was the promise of rapport with the as yet nebulous figure of the Assistant Dean: Carmine also tended to refer to New York as “the city”. Still, he could not grasp what appeared to be an obsession with the importance of his emigration. Why should he abandon what was a pleasant apartment, especially in the current housing crunch, to establish himself near Periphery? And, besides, Carmine appreciated his home. Lord knows he’d undergone the agonies of the souls in torment in order to find it. His mind wandered back to that painful endura as Dean Veil perorated without ending.

When first returned from Britain, Carmine lived in various perhaps overly modest accommodations in the East Village. One of these dives was occupied by a friend, his friend’s brother, the friend’s brother’s harlot, and two pensioned off Yemeni terrorists. Carmine slept in a closet. His initial sensation each morning was that of a raincoat or a tie tickling his forehead. On special days, the odd riding boot stored high up top fell down upon his prodigious nose to remind him of the problem of pain.

Carmine came out of the closet after several months. He then headed towards Second Avenue and a room in a Hells’Angels’ redoubt, notice of which had escaped the Real Estate section of The New York Upright Zeitgeist.

One entered Carmine’s second hideaway through a communal doorway, passing, first, into an interestingly-appointed, cat-infested salon. This overflowed, regularly, with more than mousers. Spandex-clad lovelies, seated Indian style on table tops, were also present, clutching Nazi regalia and staring blankly ahead. The blankness of the gape was fixed forever vividly in Carmine’s memory. At that time, there remained a number of New Yorkers who had some life left in their faces. And the contrast with those who did not was still noticeable.

Carmine’s room was on the second floor. Transportation thereto was afforded by means of a rope ladder. A trap door had to be removed upon arrival at the ceiling. Corridor walls were the only forms visible, once through the barrier. These could be slid away, revealing a fairly large collection of miniscule chambers. Carmine saw sights in some of those cubicles that no man should ever see. All the walls of both corridors and rooms were decorated with murals depicting suicides. In Pre-Raphaelite style.

“I see the English as a curious race”, one debased cycle fiend commented under a watercolor of a Northumbrian maiden’s butchered body, as Carmine hung up his clothes. “At once, both traditional and subversive. Don’t you agree?”

Carmine was very agreeable.

A condition of inhabiting the place was that no furniture be brought in, except for a pallet on which to sleep.

“The cops”, Carmine was told. “Let’s hope they don’t come at night. In winter. Or when the girls are pregnant.”

Life on Second Avenue was indeed hard. Carmine took to frequenting a local tavern.

“Do you sleep with your head aiming towards the sliding wall or away from it?”, a young wench asked him at the bar one day over a beer.

“Towards the wall”, he answered, bemused. “Why?”

“Aren’t you afraid that someone will chop it off?”

He hadn’t been.

He left that day.

An apartment building some blocks away seemed as though it might perhaps become home. Oh, it was hideous. Oddly constructed, too. Exaggeratedly long and wide. But its setting seemed so calm. So human. And the structure was a trifling two stories high. Done in brick. Even surrounded by a little garden. With roses. Trimmed.

One gained entrance to the quaint abomination through a double set of doors, the outer one solid and secure, the inner, totally of glass. Guests could be buzzed in through the first entrance, sight unseen, though the inhabitants were obliged to go, in person, to greet them and assure their passage through the next. Destiny assured Carmine rapid introduction to his new neighbors. Having rented the front ground floor apartment, he would inevitably witness the continuous commerce of hosts and visitors.

Yes, indeed, he thought. Be it ever so humble. Here it was. His refuge. His rock. His Sion, Persepolis, Acropolis, Capitol Hill, and Cliffs of Dover combined.

The boy had not yet read Schopenhauer.

It took no more than two nights in this pleasant pastoral enclave for him to long for the calm and cultivation of a school of gladiators.

Carmine had happily picked up his pallet from the Death Gallery and thrown it onto the floor of his new mènage to rest a weary but intact head. The first of what he presumed would be many nights of salubrious undisturbed sleep descended. And, as it did, a long, loud drum roll announced one half hour of Polish military music from the apartment next door. Slavic Pope, Arkansas had apparently moved to the East Coast. Two elderly Poles, illegal aliens, could be heard sobbing, bitterly, reliving all the horror of the three Partitions, as the old songs called them to the doomed colors.

Innocent words and sounds are often transformed into something unexpectedly vile under the pressure of circumstances. Carmine was long familiar with this metamorphosis. Now, the names Pilsudski and Dombrowski, a phrase resembling green chickens and the harsh report of heavy slippers manifested the phenomenon anew . “Green chickens—stomp, Stomp. Green chickens—stomp, Stomp. Pilsudski, Dombrowski, green chickens—stomp, Stomp.” Later, only the words “professor” and “student” would vie with these for the laurel wreath of loathsomeness to crown his tormented psyche.

Noisemakers, Carmine learned, also occupied the basement. Its inhabitants were Serbs. This was appropriate, for, with Carmine serving as a reference point in central Europe, North and South Slavs were then situated approximately where they would have been found on the map of the Old World. Carmine’s position enabled him to suffer, as did SS. Cyril and Methodius, from pressures endemic to areas plagued by corrupt interests of both Latin and Greek origin.

Serbian merriment began at midnight. It was then that the Folk heated up their bean soup, brought out cassettes of native tunes sent from relatives in Nis, and wept. Carmine, ever alert sociologically, noted the penchant of both branches of the great Slavic Family for tears when the music was turned on.

Italians were about to join their ranks.

But these nuisances were merely the antipasto. And the entrées were so varied and rich in woof and web.

Through single-minded application, Carmine finally succeeded in dozing off. He was awakened from his dogmatic slumbers by thumps in the hallway at three-o-clock. A door opened. A television blared. Devilish cackling replaced the thumping.

Only after several days did Carmine ascertain the cause: the nightly ritual of a seventy-five year old, one-legged roué, who left his apartment every dusk in pursuit of sexual conquest. Vice was always rewarded, even in those perilous times. The roué returned home, left the door ajar, and made as much noise as possible, apparently in order that the whole world might rejoice in his continued potency. This murky chanson de geste played until near dawn, when, exhausted, his member shriveled, and his arrogance and pride along with it.

Don Giovanni’s wall separated him from the apartment of a hunter, whose whole living space sported mounted trophies. The roué himself informed Carmine of the hunter’s activities over breakfast, the first dawn that the scholar screwed up courage to complain to the sinner about the triune problem of door, tube and cackle. Once, the hunter had accidentally shot a hole through his own ceiling while cleaning a gun, and had blown up a beer bottle on the table of his upstairs’ neighbor. The hunter never understood the ensuing row, especially since he had offered to buy another beer for his victim.

“For cryin’ out loud!”, he had protested to all who would listen. “It was only a Budweiser! And I was gonna replace it with a Pilsener Urquell!”

All of Carmine’s neighbors seemed to thrive in either legal or physical danger, whether Slavs, degenerates or potential killers. Worst of all, and in this last category, were two young drug dealers, who, due to the peculiar structure of the building, lived both next to Carmine and alongside the Poles. These citizens were cherished by the landlord—a rapacious, frustrated architect from Graz named Glorian Feschpendel, responsible to date for the construction of Carmine’s building alone—who was pleased that the entrepreneurs paid their rent a year in advance.

Drug dealing generally kept the villains away from home. Carmine might thus have benefited. If, that is to say, their two Dobermen had not hurled themselves ceaselessly against the apartment wall in rage over their masters’ absence.

Unspeakable sweatshops attract immigrants, like the Poles, who sometimes have no choice but to frequent them to survive. Yet young maidens voluntarily streamed into the drug dealers’ apartment to offer themselves as holocausts in that overworked temple. Some, once they had gained the status of resident aliens, did not leave the premises for weeks, obviously fearful that their passports might not be stamped for multiple entry. It was easy to determine who was leaving for good: the two heart throbs would send the offending girl’s suitcase, and then the creature herself, plummeting out of the kitchen window. The departing guest would always crawl humbly away, swearing that she would somehow learn to please her owners should the opportunity to serve the demigods once more come her way. Perhaps hurtling herself more speedily into the walls than the Dobermen would do the trick? In fact, the drug dealers began to post notices on the wall urging the babes to follow them as role models.

When frightened crowds gathered round the front door of the building, Carmine himself felt the need to keep watch for those exemplary hounds of hell. They were regularly let out for a romp to allow their masters the chance to make love to human pets. When they were not, the pups became too nervous, drew one another’s blood, and disturbed the touching romantic atmosphere a tad above the chillingly acceptable.

Carmine’s studies raised his mind to higher things. So did the roof of his ground floor apartment. Alas, his upstairs’ neighbors sustained no such heavenly aspirations. They dedicated themselves to ripping from their floor every material placed there by the already stingy Feschpendel to muffle sound. Afterwards, they had deposited as many noisemaking devices as possible on the ground above Carmine’s pallet.

Oh, it wasn’t the strains of Josquin des Pres that called down from the clouds. Nor an unknown chorus of Aeschylus’ Persians. Country music of the Texas Panhandle, transposed for hard rock and rap, were the dominant theme. The male would sing along with these ditties in falsetto. His foul-mouthed consort punctuated the concert with vulgarities even more base than those of a revolutionary journalist. As it turned out, she was a college administrator; he, a doctoral candidate in linguistic analysis.

A wicked nightly ritual guided the life of this couple as rigidly as that of any pharaoh preparing for the Sed-Feast. Carmine pieced the ceremony together as best he could through the power of logic alone. Aristotelian. It seemed that a given signal from the bubble gum music warned the incubus and succubus that it was high time to don metallic shoes and clomp from one end of the flat to the other.

“I am the peripatetic incarnate!”, he would then thunder.

“Fuck, shit, fuck!”, she would respond to his epiphany.

After an hour or so of drill, one of the duo would call a halt to the parade by knocking down their dresser, loaded with weighty stones, onto the ever weakening floorboards. Finally, all would be quiet on the ceiling front.

Life is hard, the Second Avenue refugee reminded himself. Perhaps this kinky pathway to mutual self-fulfillment was necessary to the couple’s temporal salvation. Yet another petty persecution flowing from the bite of an apple. Probably one with worms, as well.

A new twist was added to the farce with the purchase of a dog. The frisky little female was wont to run and slide from wall to wall, hour after hour, scraping on the floor with her sharp claws and yelping like a squeaky milk shake machine. The female dog as well. Ever on the lookout for means of raising the decibel level, the couple acquired a steel Sisyphysian ball for the cur to roll hither and thither during drill. Sometimes the dog’s antics reminded the woman too much of her own colleagues, and she was aroused to expressions of vulgarity which Carmine preserved in the chip in his forehead for the delectation of future generations.

“Bitch!”, she would then screech in her lewd, concluding argument. The exact purpose of this choice of word was difficult to interpret. Was she addressing the dog? Accurately? Or was she merely “signing” her own stupendous outburst, truly artistic in its own right, and worthy of being laid claim to by its author?

The cry of “bitch” was accompanied by a kick befitting a Turkish child at play with a hapless Armenian; a kick that hurled the offensive creature against the opposite wall, and set off the beasts downstairs. One day, the kick was followed by the clanking of metal human feet, a rush to the bottom of the staircase and the slamming of a garbage can cover immediately outside the building. Carmine never heard the pup again.

Would that the same were true of the assassins.

Everything in Eden came to a head on weekends. Nearly all the occupants were at home. Pick-ups were plentiful, drug deals were in full swing, and Slavic memories sailed comfortably down a river of plum wine. Even Glorian Feschpendel visited, to show off the designs for yet another edifice, certain, finally, to assure recognition from his otherwise indifferent peers. Only Carmine’s upstairs’ neighbors frequently absented themselves from the festivities. Their Texas Panhandle proclivities regularly tempted them to the Little Falls, New Jersey rodeo circuit. Just as house alarms inform burghers on an entire city block that no burglar has entered the residences on their street, so, too, forty eight hours of loud, uninterrupted country rap music told Carmine that his upstairs’ buddies had, most certainly, taken Jersey Transit to southern Passaic County to wrestle steer. He confronted the Bitch the Monday after the atrocity first was perpetrated.

“Oh, fuck, shit, fuck!” she said. “I forgot!”

She forgot regularly. And she forgot, each time Carmine reminded her, that she had forgotten before. There was no point remonstrating with the man. No human sound was of sufficient intensity to register on his damaged ear drums. These were plugged all the time, anyway, as he listened to tapes of grunting cattle.

Steer had too much natural self-respect to perform that action live before him.

Carmine thought of wrapping string around the entire apartment. Or maybe placing a dead dog on the doorstep. The landlord was certainly of no use. Glorian Feschpendel became a civil libertarian whenever Carmine urged him to exercise his rights as owner to enter the corral to shut the offending devices off.

“God forbid that I should perhaps see my tenants’ underthings!”, he gasped. “Do you want that I should sift through my tenants’ underthings? And look at the labels? To see where they buy? Some things are sacred. Besides. No one else hears it but you.”

Glorian Feschpendel’s libertarianism sometimes gave way to such concern for majority opinion. Still, he was right about the noise directing itself only towards Carmine. One heard nothing but the sounds of silence from every other vantage point in the universe. Carmine had, of course, tried merely a few of these. The rest was a simple process of deduction. Even in New York. Even after Francis Bacon. Even after David Hume.

One August weekend, all Creation groaned. Carmine again picked up his pallet and walked.

At first, that fateful weekend, the evil had stayed within traditional bounds. Glorian Feschpendel had appeared around 8:00 A.M. to show Carmine his plans for yet another totally concrete and windowless church.

“Let in the fresh air!”, he exulted. “I see this as a symbol of the reconciliation of Christian spirituality and Sokka Gakai. I call it: ‘Our Lady of All Things Bright and Beautiful’.”

Carmine had little time to listen. He was off to the dentist. Extraction of all four wisdom teeth was imminent. The operation took but a few moments. He returned home in the late morning, very groggy and eager for a day of repose.

Day of repose?

How could there be a day of repose if his neighbors and he did not share the same definition of a basic sense of fairness?

That Saturday afternoon, moved by some profound but misplaced communal drive, everyone in the building took out vacuum cleaners to expunge a year’s accumulation of filth. The drug dealers were so aroused by the rumble of the machines that the Dobermen were thrust outside to irritate unwary passersby.

Not that the vacuum cleaners really mattered, though. Pain caused by failure to heed the dentist’s cogent post-operative instructions was already making Carmine toss about on his pallet. He got up. Perhaps activity would help. To while away the hours of suffering. Carmine took to clipping his hair. As he worked, he noticed that his butchered gums were moist with blood. A call to the dentist taught him that biting down on tea bags would stop the flow of vital sap. He quickly inserted two tea bags into his mouth, one on each side, not bothering to undo the Lipton labels which dangled, rather symmetrically, from the edges of his lips. He returned to the hair clipping. Unfortunately, the gums again unnerved him. While trying to shorten his sideburns, he accidentally sliced open each ear lobe. Yet another previously unknown medical fact impressed itself upon him. Those suckers could bleed! Carmine’s face resembled slightly dampened dry land, surrounded by a Red Sea. He looked around him for the Promised Land.

Nope. Only the New World. And without any manna and quail to boot.

At that moment, the bell rang. Carmine was no atomist. He believed in society. He turned to answer it. The door was ajar. This proved to be useful. Applying pressure to each lobe with the appropriate hand, Lipton tea bag labels dangling from the ends of his red-stained lips, teeth clenched tightly together onto bloodied scissors, wearing shorts and bare-chested, Carmine had only to kick the partially-opened portal inward with his foot.

It was the Poles. They had come for a visit.

“We are perhaps here at awkward time?” the woman both asked and admitted simultaneously.

Carmine shrugged an embarrassed yes, and the Poles walked apologetically away. He heard them commenting on what they had just witnessed as he shut the door and bolted it firmly.

“So sad”, she said. “And such a nice boy.”

“Just like the Swobodas”, her husband reminded her. “Only they wore latex.”

Carmine had become part of the local show. All he needed now was for a house committee to award him membership in the building association.

But things really got out of control only at dinnertime.

Carmine was in no condition to party. He prepared the best meal that he could, given the circumstances: illness; heat; scirocco; and a kitchen which remained close no matter how much air was allowed into it.

The drug dealers were still making love, and their liberated Dobermen, attracted by the aroma of victuals, inserted as much of their bodies as was possible through Carmine’s screenless windows. He sensed that the dogs were not exigent. Should the food run out, he himself would satisfy their need for the odd hors d’oeuvre. It was not their snarling and snapping that bothered Carmine. He was merely uncomfortable, having been raised to consider it to be impolite to eat alone in front of others. Moreover, he thought it wasteful for him to devour all his delicacies, only to be mauled and digested himself but moments later.

Shutting the windows in the torch of August was unthinkable. Little alternative was offered by the living room, though, as he would then be forced to eat on the floor. Carmine had detested the floor ever since undergraduate college, when everyone was obliged to sit on it in a spontaneous ode to freedom. Besides, dining in the living room would require him to endure the full volume of the concert coming from the apartment of his dear absent friends above.

Step by step, Carmine was led to an inexorable conclusion. He must repair to the only other room in the house with a seat. No need to worry about waste there. Hands could be washed, meals eaten and digestive demands met with an economy of movement that the Pilgrim Fathers would have respected. And the Founders enshrined in the Constitution. As a demonstration of Common Sense. Of Truth. But, above all, of Beauty.

Allowance did, of course, have to be made for the oddities of Glorian Feschpendel’s architecture. The Austrian Palladio had designed Carmine’s bathroom with a sort of alcove for the toilet, allowing just enough space to slide oneself onto the seat. This alcove might have been cozy, had it not been for the fact that two spikes protruded from its walls: spikes which aimed at the front and back of one’s head. There was no room to move, side to side. And the slightest twitch, frontwards or backwards, threatened instant impalement.

Perhaps this was a result of Glorian’s deep concern for good posture. Carmine’s parents had begun to ask him why he had cuts on his forehead. He explained to them that he regularly jabbed his fingernails into his temples in frustration over the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. They did not understand. They became cranky.

“But I like electric can openers”, his mother whined.

The mob is bought that cheaply.

After dinner, Carmine glanced out the window. The drug dealers were insatiable. Nevertheless, the Dobermen were temporarily busy, scoffing a Chinese takeaway meal someone had thrown to them in order to secure uninjured entry to his home. Carmine took advantage of the respite to empty the rubbish.

This was no swift maneuver. A bag man, a veritable Everybum, was chanting obscenities, beating his head with a worn-out briefcase, and picking chicken wings out of the trash bin. Emboldened by the courage forged from his own physical suffering, Carmine asked him what his problem might be. The man then recounted a perfectly coherent tale of bureaucratic difficulties sufficiently vexing to drive a computer geek into the arms of a Whirling Dervish.

“But it was the stamp that really did it”, he confided.

There had been just one form too many to fill out and return to the appropriate illiterate authorities at his own expense.

“I mean it’s their government!”, he argued. “Couldn’t they at least provide their own stamp? If I scream at you, do I ask you to pay for my throat doctor? After I’ve unburdened myself? No. But not the secular authorities. Not the Imperium. It’s usury, I tell you.”

Carmine understood.

“Get on with it”, he urged. “Rage is therapeutic. The Jews know this. Never forget.”

“Thanks”, Everybum responded. “Most of the other derelicts accuse me of casuistry. Jansenism is pandemic.”

Carmine turned towards his abode. Upon reentering the hallway, he discovered the hunter pacing back and forth about the door to his lodge, awaiting a friend who was a trifle late for an evening fête. The occasion was the bagging of a goat. Newly stuffed. And placed next to an enormous duck in the living room. A celebratory ragout of goat’s innards was bubbling on the stove in anticipation of his arrival. Carmine was invited in for a look at the luckless creature. It was standing, whole, on a pedestal, like a golden calf awaiting renegade Israelites to worship it.

Carmine felt no misplaced piety. He entered his apartment and tried to read in his bathroom for a while. His eyes became strained in doing so. The lighting was fine, but the effort of holding the book to the right or left of his head, and then of probing it, eyeballs sideways, was debilitating. If only the Feschpendel Spikes could have been temporarily moved! But then they would have been only artificially dramatic, like make believe pillars on colonial homes. Reality would have suffered another defeat.

And could it stand a further test?

About 9:00 P.M., Carmine heard the doorbell ring outside. After an interval of no more than five seconds, that ring was followed by the sound of smashing glass. All the occupants of the building, and Carmine among them, ran to their doors or down the staircase to investigate.

There was nothing. Only the hunter. Chatting happily, to a man with a bloodied arm, as the two processed towards the idol and the sacrificial stew. Behind them, the glass entrance to the Feschpendel Arms lay in ruins.

The hunter looked with some irritation at the gaping crowd.

“My buddy got impatient”, he announced, as the two entered the menagerie together. “Ain’t he gotta right?”

The hunter then noticed his upstairs’ enemy, staring in disbelief.

“Waatsamatta?”, he yelled out in derision. “Wanna nutha beer?”

He laughed with the security of a Cicero obliterating an infinitely more pitiable Cataline.

“The creep wants a nutha beer”, he said to his friend.

He turned to abuse his retreating foe.

“Wanna nutha beer? Wanna nutha beer? Wanna nutha beer?”

That did it. It was Carmine’s stamp experience. He fled from his ground floor window the following morning.

“Don’t you even want your scissors?”, the Poles shouted in surprise as they noticed him rounding the block.

No. Carmine wanted nothing. Not even the memory, for future vengeance. No memory. No photographs. No postcards. No monthly deposit. Nothing. And, thenceforward, he ran instinctively for an exit whenever anyone asked him if he wanted “a nutha”.

The summer of Carmine’s discontent thus continued, with the prospects for resolution of his housing dilemma diminishing rapidly. Vae victis! Practically all of his funds had been depleted in securities for shelters that had possessed the charm of open air sewers.

Someone urged consultation with a witch.

“Yes?”, the hag asked.

“A home?”, he inquired.

“Here?”, she continued, hesitantly. “Now? Long term?”

Carmine nodded affirmatively.

She opened the Sybilline Books. Checked the chickens pecking their seed. Split the small intestine of a sheep with a straight pin.

“Sorry”, she announced.” I just don’t see it. But we’re all in the same boat. And it may prove to be beneficial. As a start. For the reconstruction of the social order. Without consulting the General Will.”

Carmine refused to believe in hoary superstition. Finding a true flat now became a full time job for him, one to be approached with grim purpose and self-donation. He left his bags and pallet with a bartender at Grand Central Station, so as to have a convenient, temporary, midtown address from which to work. Each night, he took from behind the bar whatever he needed for the next twenty-four hour period, and went off to stay with one or another of his boon companions.

“You’re on your way!”, Everybum congratulated him.

Most frequently, Carmine stayed with Thalwart Sequitur. Thalwart was known to his friends as Demosthenes, ever since the day that he had been fired from his brokerage house for Philippics against the free market. Demosthenes, of average height, average weight and average colored skin, might have been taken by the passerby as an ordinary, dark-haired fellow in his early 30’s.

Caveat emptor!

At the first words of a serious conversation, Demosthenes’ flesh became the body electric. No doubt remained as to the character of the artist responsible for this form. He hadn’t been a merely competent draftsman, but a Byzantine mystic, an El Greco, and a Caravaggio tossed into one. Structure was completely transformed by this Genius through an understanding of spiritual desire, inner strength and movement towards light. And Demosthenes was his masterpiece.

Demosthenes’ real home was Tuscany, where he had had the good sense to purchase an extremely well-priced villa during his very brief period of capitalist prosperity. Every summer, usually in August, Carmine, Demosthenes and their circle somehow managed to get to Europe to spend a bit of time there.

The pilgrimage was always vicious. Demosthenes detested flying. It was discomfort rather than the fear of death that annoyed him. A fixed feature of each New York-Rome journey was Demosthenes writhing in agony in the middle section of a 747.

“This is it”, he would say, hopefully, as he maneuvered himself into a position promising bodily relaxation, but actually fit for nothing more than a moment’s quiet preparation for still greater misery.

When not at the villa—namely, for ten months or more of the year—Demosthenes’ abode was the Upper West Side, on a landmark block near Riverside Drive. The block could just as well have been an eyesore, so little did Demosthenes ever regularly see it in the light of day.

Every morning, Carmine’s friend rose and read one or another of the Great Books. Then, as night fell, he hurried excitedly out onto the street to find someone with whom to discuss the day’s exhilarating discoveries.

He needn’t have rushed.

Demosthenes sometimes became so enraged over the lack of response from his fellow man that he would run back to his apartment, choose a particularly large Great Book and hurl it at a dull-witted pedestrian from his roof top. Generally, however, the demise of thought was lamented in dialogue with Carmine. Excessive quantities of good wine, paid for with earnings from the editing jobs which now kept Demosthenes alive, consoled the masterpiece as he bemoaned the ramifications of intellectual collapse.

Once, after getting nowhere in an argument over the romantic conception of love, both men were seized by lust, and went off to a local honky-tonk in search of the Incarnate Idea. The girls at this brasserie did not want to speculate about divine pulchritude. Their interests veered in the direction of television commercials.

“Did you see the ad about the pig and the lemon shampoo?”, one babe cooed in Demosthenes’ ear.

Passion faded. Reason revived. Desperate now for intellectual female companionship, Carmine and Demosthenes found two prostitutes willing to abandon their normal function and give sexy feminine comment on readings from early modern political theory instead. Carmine took Room 401 and the Leviathan; Demosthenes, Room 405 and Marsilius of Padua. They agreed to discuss their findings later. But the evening ended in disaster. Twinkle objected violently to Demosthenes’ emphasis upon Marsilius’ dismantling of the medieval synthesis.

“It wasn’t worth a farthing to begin with!”, she argued. “I’ve seen the polls!”

Demosthenes called her a fool. She spat at him. He overturned a table, shook his fist and said that he would be avenged on her and all who prattled as she did by the judgment of future centuries.

“Future centuries!”, the whore laughed. “Future centuries! What a joke.”

The Madame called a squad car filled with cops on the take to throw him out.

“But we never even got to the Defensor Pacis!”, Demosthenes complained, as the police urged him and Carmine—who protested that the Hobbes’ colliquoy was proceeding fruitfully—to go peacefully.

“Can’t you perverts leave normal people alone?”, one of them begged. “No wonder things are going from bad to worse. Even the girls at the Frankfurt Book Fair have been complaining.”

Apartment hunting is a tiresome venture. Once, Carmine felt the need to leave the city. For two nights, he took a vacation from his labors at the home of Florida Brilliantina.

The Brilliantinas lived in the piney woods, on a hilltop in a forgotten section of Westchester. One reached their property by means of a trail hewn out of the forest rocks by Florida’s father, Hermes. The house was surrounded by two dozen wrecked cars with which her brother, Zorba, an exegete, liked to dabble when not annotating Syriac texts. It had been built, bit by bit, by Hermes, as new, unexpected amenities were required. Thus, it had something of the look of a Pompidou Center adapted to the needs of the palisades and Sleepy Hollow.

Florida was an extremely attractive Latin in her mid-20’s. Undulating, vital black hair framed her Roman face, her warm shoulders, narrow waist and very feminine hips. To this cross of beauty, she added a second: that of being another of the most extraordinarily intelligent people whom Carmine had ever met. If Demosthenes’ form was transfigured by impassioned wisdom, Florida’s was naturally accompanied by it. Her shape demanded an inspired complement, lest the order of the universe prove somehow out of synch. Forced to enter upon the path of life with two such crippling defects, it was no wonder that she continuously met obstacles, and had to deal with frustrations that a plain or downright ugly simpleton could easily have avoided.

“All I want is men to buy me drinks”, she sighed, whenever Carmine consoled her.

This was not quite accurate. What she really wanted was one man who loved her to buy those drinks. And then, in the attendant euphoria, to ask her hand in marriage. Allow her to have children. To exhaust herself in normal human activity. And try to make him immeasurably happy.

Florida was obviously no historian. She confused hers with previous centuries. Carmine once tried to explain the difference. Her sighs grew deeper and more lasting. The sole cure for her fin de siècle malaise proved to be vin de siècle. She entered vigorously into the vintage wine explorations of Demosthenes and Carmine, making the case for Amarone as strongly as the other two for Riojas or Barolo. When Carmine visited Casa Brilliantina, her generosity with the grape both humbled and edified him.

But Carmine had to return to the hunt.

The woods were barren. And his friends, unexpectedly, were temporarily called by other business out of reach. Several days after returning from Florida’s, Carmine found himself in the dreadful position of having to locate an inexpensive hotel; one in which he might actually survive the night. It was not an easy task. He was about to give up entirely when the Empress Elizabeth Inn beckoned to him from near the Byelorussian National Home in Alphabet City.

A gigantic Ethiope speaking truly excellent Punic greeted him at the reception desk, and offered a room on the top floor. Cheap hotels only have rooms on the top floor. Anyone visiting France knows as much.

Oh, the Empress Elizabeth did have a European flair. It was illumined by timid lights. Like Parisian dives. Carmine pressed a button at the foot of the staircase providing rays. They were of limited intensity and duration. He made it to the top, fifth floor, just as the hall went black.

Gross darkness covered the earth.

Determined to get to bed, Carmine groped his way back down to the button. Pressing it smartly a second time, he raced to the top floor anew, now reaching his very door. The lights went out again. No keyhole was visible. Down he went.

The Ethiope pointed to an elevator at the corner of the lobby. Carmine pressed the button a third time. He ran to the lift. It moved. First floor. Second. Fourth.

Fourth and a half.

He crawled through the two feet of space permitting exit, grasped onto a thin metal bar and chinned himself up to the top floor. This time, Carmine kicked down the darkened door. He flicked on the faint overhead bulb. The landscape left something to be desired. A rug, outwardly proper, rose at intervals, covering large lumps, the smell of which indicated dead animal. Bits of bathroom lay about the entire chamber. A showerhead here. A toppled sink there. A kind of sherry trifle, decorated with cigarette butts, filled another, seemingly functioning wash basin.

Examination of the operative sink soon explained the presence of a toppled one in the same room. Carmine rested his hands upon its edges. It tumbled next to its fallen comrade. The floor spread about with still more bathroom furnishings. And Carmine had to take some of the tempting sherry trifle into bed with him. Even though he hated eating between meals. After he had brushed his teeth.

His bed sloped on all sides, like the steep roofs of alpine chalets. This made it possible for Carmine to explore the excitement of rolling onto the floor from every conceivable vantage point. When he collapsed from one direction, he bathed in the fullness of the sherry trifle. Mixed in with other types of slime. And the occasional whole granola bar as well. A run down the matching opposing hillock introduced the guest to little quasi-Feschpendelisch spikes making up a conspicuous part of the room’s finer, if more incomprehensible accoutrements.

It was best to entertain oneself on the slopes, though. Sleep was out of the question. Every sexual activity known to man was taking place in all the other rooms of the Empress Elizabeth Inn. Simultaneously. By each of the occupants, singly and in groups. A printing press in a neighboring building began to churn out the daily account of disasters for the late morning borscht and pierogi of the whole of Little Minsk. An English student on holiday vomited out of his window all night long. Five Californians occupied the room above him. They didn’t have to do anything. Being Californian was sufficient, in and of itself, to disrupt and stir unwanted gastric juices prohibiting rest and relaxation. It was a question of essence and existence. Even the logical positivist might have understood. Could Bertrand Russell have lived at Muscle Beach?

Above the insomnia presided a portrait of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Weighed down by Wanderlust and incapable of settling down herself, she smiled upon the weary Carmine as though to encourage him: “Who knows? Maybe an anarchist will dispatch you as well. End your misery. As he did mine. Though ideas still reached conclusions in my day.”

The inevitable happened. Not the appearance of an anarchist, though. Something more natural. Thankfully, Carmine had been so revolted by the filth of the room that he had not undressed. He got up and walked to the door in his search for a bathroom. As he tugged at the objects that he had piled up next to the unlocked and half-destroyed entrance to his chamber, he became aware of the fact that the hallway was flooded with light. What was responsible? After such difficulties with darkness? The aurora borealis? Son et lumière? Organized by Hapsburg loyalists? In these days of post-Soviet, pro-legitimist change?

Carmine looked through the keyhole. Eyes looked back at his. He opened the door. There were many Arabs squatting round a bonfire roasting a lamb.

“Cigarette?”, their chieftain asked, seeking friendship.

“Bathroom?”, Carmine inquired, as he accepted the weed. Just to spite the Californians.

“Lamb’s brains?”, the man offered, while gesturing to the hallway to his left.

“Later”, Carmine promised. “But why are you here?”

“Why are you?”

“I asked first.”

“Because”, he said. “This is it. This is definitely it.”

Carmine clambered down the corridor, past some bored rats, over a heap of what appeared to be earthquake rubble, and into a little weasel of a man without a tooth.

“Bathroom?”, the man wondered, seeking to ascertain Carmine’s wishes.

“Cigarette?”, Carmine questioned, providing tit for tat.

“That way!”, the man indicated, grabbing the butt and pointing out a window.

Carmine shimmied down a rope. He had experience, after all. But he was out in the street. He raised his head to the window above for enlightenment.

“Where?”, Carmine asked his guide.

The weasel knew Goethe’s Italian Diaries.

“Dappertutto!”, he shouted. “Dappertutto! Isn’t it obvious?”

Just as Carmine was helpless, a maniac from the building housing the printing press dumped a bucket of water on his head. At least this stimulated his own flow. The weasel hoisted Carmine back into the hotel. Carmine devoured the lamb’s brains. They made him ill. He fell into the sherry trifle for dessert. His drenching resulted in a summer flu. The next morning, he beat his head with a briefcase alongside Everybum.

“It’s just like the Athenian public”, a passing dramatist explained. “They’re having a catharsis. Theatre is reviving in our Homeland. This portends great things for the Red, White and Blue.”

Everybum now took Carmine under his wing. They breakfasted at the Grand Central rubbish bins. Slept on the streets. Washed wherever the gods decreed.

Unhappy and unclean after his first night roughing it, Carmine was coaxed by Everybum into a restaurant famous for being outfitted like the Baths of Caracalla. In their original state, of course. He had located a working shower fixture between the library and the sous-chef’s cutlery and hung a curtain before it, decorated with portraits of all the emperors from Septimius Severus through Heliogabulus and up until the time of troubles in the mid-200’s.

“I sneak in whenever I can”, Everybum explained. “The later Empire fascinates me beyond all other periods.”

This shower became the two friends’ early morning solace; the sounds of the Baths’ ordinary breakfast customers a cosmopolitan touch in their daily levée. All went well until Everybum forgot his toothbrush and needed to borrow the Spostato model. Carmine agreed, but only remembered to hand it over after climbing in behind the curtain. He took the device out of his notions bag and waved it to his mentor, standing outside.

“I’m finished”, Carmine alerted Everybum, the passing guests, the sous chef and the head librarian. “You can use it now, I’m finished.”

No one in the crowded Baths took up the offer. The mayor, who was a regular, complained. The owner personally evicted Carmine.

“Perform your unsanitary mendicant ablutions elsewhere!”, he snarled.

“It’s your fault”, Carmine exploded to his friend, as he wrapped his bathrobe tightly around him on the street corner. “You tempted me into thinking I was back with the Severan emperors. They were open to everything. Oriental mysticism. Mystery cults. Sol Invictus. You think confusion over a toothbrush would have led to this?”

Carmine found another shower. On his own. Without derelict wisdom. It was in a museum. In the basement. He had never seen such a facility. Equipped with book racks, sporting works on existentialism and hand towels embossed with little excerpts from the Brothers Grimm. Neither had he ever entered a stall whose door--impenetrable, uncompromising, extending from floor to roof—automatically slammed shut upon entering. Nor had he previously been trapped in a space which demanded a large sum of money to be allowed to escape.

The police eventually freed him.

“I was worried by the second day”, Everybum admitted.

“And yet I wanted for nothing in the way of intellectual stimulus”, Carmine assured him.

The suggestion of a fellow Oxonian provided Carmine with his most painful experience in those weeks of crisis. He worked in a law firm that had it all. Including showers. Of European quality. Such as the Empress Elizabeth herself would have known. Only better.

“Why not bathe here?”, the man inquired. “No one need know.”

Carmine took up on the offer. Funny. The embarrassingly luxurious room seemed to lack that staple of every continental toilette: a bidet. He stepped into the shower. Water rushed over his head. It was at that point that he discovered the missing item. The same intense jet shot upward from a barely visible spigot on the shower floor and into the appropriate target. He rested the next few days in the Emergency Room. Everybum welcomed him back onto the streets as August came to a close.

“Trust professionals from now on”, he admonished.” Would the Legions have conquered if they had lacked hierarchy? Or a sense of mos maiorum? How do you think Scipio Africanus Maior overcame the odds? Against Hasdrubal in Thither Spain?”

Finally, Labor Day weekend, when nearly all the world was out of town, Carmine located his present apartment. He had noticed the ad while trying to ignore the revulsion aroused in those around him by his increasingly unshaven and unkempt body. As well as by the odd bit of trifle which he had never quite been able to dislodge from his left hand fingernails. Carmine rushed to the address given, and forced himself upon the landlord and the landlady as they were still in pajamas eating breakfast. He asked them, sometime afterwards, why they had agreed to rent an apartment to such a stinking mirage of a man.

“You looked like you were down on your luck”, they explained. “Like you had nothing. We thought it was our duty to be charitable.”

“By taking what might have been my last pennies?”

“What are we? Saints? They’re all dead and buried.”

Nothing bothered Carmine in this West Village paradise. He had moved to a remnant of a real Italian neighborhood. A quarter inhabited by true sons of Rome, not Chinese who went inside at night so that the trattorie could make the area pass for Naples. Actual babies and live children could be seen on the streets. Il Caffé del Garda beckoned with honest espresso and vino generoso. The flat was of ample size, good design and aimed away from the square that made the front apartments rather noisy. And Carmine needed no rope to go to bed or to the bog. No money or armour for the shower. So pleased was he with his good fortune that he refused to be upset by the one undeniable disturbance of the entire building: the antics of Maddalena and Matteo, who lived directly below him.

Both these figures, husband and wife, were quite mad. Luckily, their madness was predictable. And limited to normal waking hours. At mid-morning, Maddalena moaned. Then, she began to undo all of the ten locks that secured her apartment door.

“Oh, my God!”, she would gasp.” The jewel thieves! Again! How did they get in? Oh, may God! Matteo! The jewel thieves! We need another lock! Matteo!”

Matteo would then appear at the door, and, while embracing in mutual terror, they’d voice their common, constant, inexplicable fear in life.

“Oh, Lordie! We’ll never get to Chelsea!”

Carmine was seriously alarmed when first exposed to their outburst, which was repeated regularly during the course of each day. Not knowing what to do, he ran to his landlady, who lived across the hallway from him. She heard his tale, sighed and descended to assure Matteo and Maddalena that the jewel thieves had left. That they had robbed everybody. And that, indeed, the couple would never make it to Fourteenth Street, much less Chelsea.

“You can’t pander”, she told Carmine as she returned to her ironing. “They never learn.”

Maddalena, her various parts fitted roughly together like a primitive, mastaba pyramid or an Italian tootsie roll, always dressed as though she were a horse past its prime and wrapped compassionately in a blanket. Matteo played Jack Sprat to her piecemeal equestrian presence. He was fastidious, and, in true Latin fashion, primped for the evening. At dinner, Maddalena played Christmas carols on tasteful cds. She always presumed it was Christmas. Several weeks after his arrival, Carmine heard Matteo balk at the sight of a table set for twenty. A holiday meal was about to be served.

“What’s all this?”, he screamed.

“Merry Christmas, dear one!”, she shouted, overcome with seasonal cheer.

“It’s not Christmas!”, Matteo yelled, momentarily lucid.

He thought hard.

“That’s next week.”

He’d lost it already.

“Who’s going to eat all this food then?”, she gasped.

It was the only time Carmine was to enter their flat. At least Maddalena could cook well.

Normally, the Christmas carols signaled the beginning of the vicious daily dinner battle.

“Move that spoon!”, she commanded.

“No! You move your spoon!”, he retorted, authoritatively.

“I never saw anybody move a spoon like that!”

“I’ve never moved a spoon any other way, and I’m not gonna start now!”

Both then stared out the window, broken by the horror of it all, loudly lamenting the increase in jewel theft. With “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” as an accompaniment.

Carmine warned Florida and Demosthenes about the inevitable outburst from below as his friends sat down to a housewarming meal in his new flat towards the end of September.

“Always the joker”, Florida laughed in disbelief.

“I’m dead and in Hell!”, Maddalena screeched through the floorboards, on cue, as Carmine smiled to his friends. “I’m dead and living in Hell for all eternity with a husband who can’t even move a spoon right!”

“One man’s poison…”, he thought, later, as he lay his intact head upon his pallet.

Diaphonous Veil was still en train. His tall, thin body boasted sixty years of odd physiological extras, which bulged, anarchically, into many udder like appendages, giving him the general appearance of an overblown map of Switzerland. The Dean’s head was a mystery, both active and stable in concert. Strands of his thick crew-cut hair stood immobile on an oily, shifting, soft-shelled skull. In fact, Dr. Veil’s entire cranium was constantly in motion, a slowly bubbling stew, different bits of which rose to the surface from time to time, held in check only by the grateful presence of his mummified follicles. Carmine noted the curious way in which, eyes half-closed, he related the merits of the university. Memories of cheerleaders, arms and legs akimbo, preaching the invincibility of the home team, crossed his drowsing mind as the Dean took fire.

“Now, Periphery has a very dynamic mission in the utimate scheme of things in today’s vivific modernity”, he chanted, each phrase punctuated by reverse peristalsis. “It’s exciting what we’re accomplishing here. Exploiting the outskirts, as it were. Giving shape to their aspirations.”

The Dean grasped his forehead between his thumb and middle finger. He squeezed it tightly. Was he committed to its destruction? Something like a carrot appeared to shoot, for a moment, to the crown of his head, but then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, deigned to disappear. Dr. Veil adjusted his udders. Lugano and Locarno slipped further down the right hip.

“Carmine”, he said, “the outskirts are the future. I saw this already when I wrote my dissertation—The Impact of the Abyss on Higher Educational Facilities. No one has ever really probed its depths before. The abyss, I mean. Going to the abyss of the outskirts. As the greatest of missions, so to speak. An exciting mission. In today’s vivific modernity.”

He leaned as close to Carmine as propriety and the Swiss frontier permitted, enunciating his final words with the fervor of a Jeremiah. Before he was hacked to death by doubters.

“Dr, Spostato! We were looking for the Best Way! And we found ourselves at Periphery! Yes! Yes! Young scholars like yourself can make a difference! No need for cynical Nihilism any longer! I can see from the electricity in your face that you already share our sense of purpose!”

Dean Veil was partly correct. Carmine was, indeed, charged up. Still, his excitement was only marginally due to this epiphany of Periphery. Its intensity actually had more prosaic roots. A roach, whose home appeared to be in the moist, dark underbrush of a forest of papers marked “concretize”, had emerged from its lair. Retreated in horror. And rematerialized with a skeptical friend. This pair, now reconciled with the outside world, was making its path by means of forced marches to the exotic butter-blood-cinnamon raisin stains on Carmine’s shirt. Carmine did not want to call attention to the roaches’ existence, lest such a reference to the Dean’s untidiness embarrass Dr. Veil. After all, letters from a fresh batch of serious candidates lay on a filing cabinet behind him, including one from a Mexican syphilitic who had edited the Emperor Maximilian’s doodlings with an emergency grant from the National Endowment For Whatever is Left. Why did the best always seek what Carmine wished?

Three men providentially appeared outside the Dean’s open door. Dr. Veil excused himself for “momentary deliberation with discussion and dialogue over an intrinsic matter”. Carmine utilized this unexpected interlude to dispatch the vermin racing towards him. His intention was assassination; his weapon, the copy of Spengler’s Decline of the West that he’d brought along with him to read on the journey.

Alas! The dictum of a graduate school comrade was all too true. The murder of an ant is swift and clean. But a cockroach leaves behind it a most unedifying corpse. Both victims fused together shamelessly onto an impressive document atop the Dean’s desk. Carmine turned away from the abomination in horror, fumbling for a handkerchief that might serve as a shroud.

Piety was useless. A second demon then materialized, this one conjured up from the Orient. Carmine had forgotten the existence of the chip in his own forehead. His agitation somehow set off its alarm. Periphery became Sorrento.

“I like a man with a little humor”, the Dean said, glancing back from the negotiations at the portal. “I guess I have sort of been neglecting you. Great head, too.”

Carmine stood and began to stammer a reply, but Dr. Veil interrupted him.

“This is part of The Team from Hormone Hall”, he said, introducing the three men with one regal sweep of the arm. “Ed-Joe-Bill”, he belched, “meet Carmine Spostato”.

Ed-Joe-Bill represented three different manifestations of the same entity: consubstantial, totemic and frozen in time and space. Carmine could see no means of attributing a specific designation to any one of them. All three looked identical. Each had neatly coiffed, moderately lengthy hair, blown out and parted smartly down the middle. Each wore a blue, three-piece, polyester suit. Each had a fitted shirt. All three tottered about like cowboys, the consequence either of a youth encased in designer jeans or excessive sexual activity on horseback.

Individuality proclaimed itself only in choice of ties. This aroused in Carmine a hitherto unnoticed sympathy for conformity. One manifestation of Ed-Joe-Bill wore a tie with little footballs and the faces of robust athletes on a computer monitor background. Another boasted a pizza red cravat that said: “Hi! I love Everyperson and Everythingamajigee at Periphery!” The third sported a blob that displayed a completed crossword puzzle.

Carmine smiled a hello and sat down sweating next to the Dean’s desk. Dr. Veil fumbled with the document upon which the bloody dead had been consummated. Carmine now understood that Instrument’s significance. It contained a drawing of what was to be Periphery’s now logo.

“Now, fellahs”, the Dean began, continuing his top-level negotiations near Carmine, so as to make him feel at home. “I’ve been studying the new emblem for some time. I like the “P” symbol, the indicativeness of a university community in the embracing envelopment of the peripheral structure. But what the hell the dot is on the edge of the “P”, I’ll never be able to figure out.”

Carmine was mortified. He was referring to the remnants of the massacre.

Ed-Joe-Bill the First and Second seemed baffled. Ed-Joe-Bill the Third was not. He explained that the Student Attraction Program had seen this as the final touch.

“It’s exciting!”, he insisted. “We’ll add an arrow from the center of the “P” to the edge where the dot’s located! We’ll place the inscription ‘We’re There!’ next to it! We’ll write highway directions straight on the arrow line! The whole thing will serve as an emblem and a map. Both! Together! In unison!”

He looked at Carmine.

“It’s exciting!”, he reiterated. “A new concept!”

“You know”, the Dean explained to Carmine. “That idea really developed out of a meeting here in my office two months ago. Ed-Joe-Bill, they were all here. And we sat together. We often sit together, cause, heck, what can I say, I’m a sit together kind of guy. We each had a Danish. I had the blueberry. They had cherry ones. I remember, ‘cause it was the day that poor old Flesh’s fingers got stuck in the soda machine. Dr. Onnipotente stopped by. A Team Player, Carmine! The best! And Mrs. Frenetico—that’s my secretary, Carmine, sixteen pillars of strength, she is. Mrs. Frenetico wore her new dress.

“Well, anyway, I said to Mrs. Frenetico how much I respected this Team here, and, Ed-Joe-Bill, you remember! You said: ‘Dean Veil. We respect You and Yours. You’re our Guru. You care for us as people persons.’ And I said: ‘Well, isn’t that funny, cause Guru is spelled—Gee! You Are You!’”

He put his hand on Carmine’s shoulder.

“And they agreed with me that it was funny, and we wanted a symbol of that agreement for Periphery.”

Dean Veil held the document high in the air.

“I see that dot, with that arrow which will be drawn in, as a real sign of what a community that loves and respects itself can achieve. Dr. Fist, I can tell you, will be thrilled.”

Everyone stared, fixedly, with the solemnity of the priests of Marduk, at a portrait of Dr. Wholesome Fist, President of Periphery University. This had been painted by the faculty union leaders and hung over the entrance to the Dean’s Office.

Painting Fist, as opposed to portraying Demosthenes, had obviously not required much in the way of artistic skill. No Vasari would write the life of those who had undertaken this task. His tiny face was entirely covered by an enormous pair of sunglasses. All one could see was their label.

“Made in the USA”, it read. “Buy American.”

When Ed-Joe-Bill had departed, the Dean’s mood moved from satisfaction to elation.

“Carmine”, he said, “I want you here at Periphery. We’re looking for interested young faculty, devoted to their research, to good teaching and to the peripheral environment. All of them. In this exciting time of educational renewal in our ever greater land.

The Dean became serious. His syntax had improved.

“Good teaching, devotion to students and commitment to publication can be hard, unenviable work, Carmine. But they will move you high up in the hierarchy here at Periphery. And there are no ranks better to move up through.”

Dean Veil scrunched up his face in thought.

“Of course, we will have to go through the formalities of interviewing all of the others. The two dwarfs will make a stink if we don’t. The dwarf community is big in the news at the moment.

The Dean was referring to an incident, all too well known to Carmine, which had occurred some days earlier, when a dwarf had been caught in a man’s raincoat while crossing a street. The little ones had answered the reporters’ queries with a resigned “it happens” that had awakened dwarf rage. Carmine, luckily, had escaped unnoticed, with a tuft of tiny hair and subatomic bits of dandruff in his pocket.

Elation returned to the Dean’s face.

“As far as I’m concerned, though”, he concluded, “you’re as good as hired. We can go over the terms of the contract right now if you’d like.”

Dean Veil led Carmine past half a dozen filing cabinets marked “traffic” to a small shoebox containing a hard copy of information on faculty benefits.

Carmine left the office a tired but ecstatic man. Fears of fifty years of forced camaraderie with the Untermenschen of Fond Embrace vanished like the glue on the envelopes its workers produced. Moishe and Alfonso would have to debate the relative merits of Yodelos and Ring Dings in front of another victim. Zipski could no longer berate “the stupid genius” for his failure to follow Monday Night Football. Wang-Ho Friedman’s regular laceration of his finger on the Embraceagross Machine—“good for a coffee break”, he said—would cease to be the highlight of the day. Carmine would have a title. His own office. Love and respect from The Team. And a civilized pathway to honor and glory.

He gritted his teeth.

“I will survive!”, he shouted. “That which has not destroyed me has made me stronger!”

The time before his acceptance at Periphery had been unfruitful due to bad luck. The six years available for work towards tenure could be marred by nothing other than personal failings. Carmine lusted for labor. It was clear that he would never succumb to laziness. What other obstacle to a place in the sun could possible arise?

“Hi!”, a jovial man in his 50’s boomed from an door neighboring that of Diaphanous Veil. “I’m Costanzo Paura, the Assistant Dean. Got time for a coffee?”

Mixed feelings overcame Carmine as he searched for an answer. He feared a new skirmish with the roach faction at Periphery. Besides, Florida and Demosthenes were awaiting him in Chinatown for a lunch that would now be transformed into a celebratory feast.

Still, Dr. Paura was one of the Dean’s chief confidants. And Carmine could not help but feel flattered by the thought of already being treated so warmly as one of The Team. He opted for acceptance, and walked towards the beckoning administrator, who withdrew, backwards, slowly, into the hinterland, behind his desk. Mrs. Frenetico shot into the office as well, carrying two official Periphery coffee cups, each sporting a handle moulded into the form of a toll booth.

Dr. Paura leaped up and carefully closed the door as she exited. He beamed a Krishna smile. Carmine thought of the Count, in the Barber of Seville, when Almaviva disguises himself as a music teacher to befuddle Bartolo. “Pace e gioia sia con voi!”, he half expected the Assistant Dean to bubble in benediction over their budding relationship.

Carmine looked closely at Dr. Paura. The cause of his smile was difficult to determine. It could not be ascribed to his nature. Clearly, any peace that he experienced must have been the product of long warfare against thrones and dominations. Ravages from the conflict were obvious throughout his face and thick body. His hair was burnt, like toast. Perhaps from mustard gas. All visible skin surface was crisscrossed by deep and well-fortified trenches. A perfunctory glance might have mistaken him for the Hindenburg Line. Everything seemed to have been patched together for the peace treaty as a result of compromises with which no one was happy. Any impact upon his flesh—with a hand, a breath or a soft word—might have caused the entire quilt to explode. Luckily, Paura kept his distance. It appeared as likely that one could get close to him, physically, as it was for tourists to approach restricted fields, covered with landmines, in certain areas of Verdun.

“I cannot tell you how honored I am to meet you”, Dr. Paura alleged, bowing on the horizon. “I’ve heard so much about your fine scholarly abilities.”

“Well”, Carmine demurred, “I am immensely interested in Revolution and Counterrevolution in the nineteenth century”.

He started to feel more comfortable, and nestled into the first of innumerable quality discussions at the university. He grew bold.

“In fact”, he boasted, “I am hoping to do ground breaking work in that field”.

“Of course you are!”, Dr. Paura agreed. “Such intensity is what Periphery is all about. How well-defined your goals are. How clear the path that you have taken. I think it’s just wonderful.”

He beamed, knowingly, at Carmine.

“Your lectures, naturally, need only be passable.”

Carmine laughed, pleased with Dr. Paura’s teasing banter.

“Well”, he joked, “I think that I can do better than th…”.

“Oh, no, no, no”, Dr. Paura pontificated, wagging his finger vigorously. “Barely passable lectures ought to be your highest aspiration. Tenure is a difficult thing to get now. Especially with the reforms pending. Sad but true. Socrates would seem overly standoffish to a tenure committee. His homophobic denial of involvement with the boys would suffice to do him in. Plato? Detours, detours, nothing but detours before getting anything practical done. Pascal? Too abstract, much too abstract. Who wants a man who thinks he’s a reed in the wind? Better to welcome an Alcibiades. Dynamism, Dr. Spostato, dynamism! We need a dynamo! Dynamic publications! From a dynamic Alpha professor. Lectures must be barely passable if you are to do your job dynamically. And avoid permanent adjunctship.”

Dr. Paura opened a desk drawer for a snack. He offered Carmine his choice of a Yodelo or a Ring Ding. Smiling broadly, though in torment, as if a bayonet were fixed in his gullet, the Assistant Dean awaited a statement of submission from the bewildered place seeker.

“I…”, Carmine stumbled, meekly, after a time. “I, um, it still ought to be pos…”.

“And cooperation”, Dr. Paura cut him off. “Cooperation at Periphery is central. Cooperation and enthusiasm. Dr. Onnipotente is quite adamant about that. ‘No cynics on our faculty’, he says. And he does go on. ‘Cooperative men. Filled with optimism’. Oh, yes, he is insistent.”

Mascherato Onnipotente, to whom Dr. Veil had also made reference, was the Vice President of Faculty and Student Management at Periphery, and known as the Dean of Deans.

“Just focus on those guidelines, Dr. Spostato”, Paura concluded. “Just focus on those guidelines, and you’ll be us a long, long time. As long as time allows.”

He looked intently at Carmine. His smile faded. Something like compassion made a visit to the tortured battlefield. It appeared that he had a vital truth to reveal. One that had been learned from bitter combat experience. His trenches filled with armaments. His face seemed ready to blow.

But the Krishna smile soon reemerged. Not without great effort, though. And not without leaving Carmine perplexed and slightly queasy.

“What, exactly, have you published to date?”, he asked.

“There was an article in a journal in France last year”, Carmine responded, happy to be on solid ground again. “I wrote it at the envelope factory.”

Paura smiled indulgently at the mention of Carmine’s labor history.

“Dear Dr. Spostato, please do not make mention of ‘the envelope factory’. You’d be much better off saying that you spent some time studying the social question. In an urban environment. But, back to the article. How many pages was it?”

“It was reduced to four, because of the print size, but that was still…”.

Dr. Paura shook his head.

“Four does not look good to the tenure committee. The National Mean for four year multi-interconnected campuses is twelve. We’re shooting for twenty five here, to build up the image. What was it on?”

“It was in my field. On two counterrevolutionary thinkers. Louis Veuillot, from Paris. And his Italian friend, Taparelli d’Azeglio. And the interest…”.

“Twenty five would be the best. Dr. Affirmativo edited telephone directories. He looked for clues regarding ethnic commitment to letters of the alphabet. He got six hundred pages out of that. The tenure committee really went wild. He got the President’s Medal. The Lithuanians like “Z”.”

“Well, my article on Veuillot and Taparelli might be short, but…”.

“Where did you say you published it again? France?”

“Yes. A small journal. Foi et Raison.”

“Why not The Review of European History?”

“It wasn’t appropriate. And, besides. The subject is tricky.”

Dr. Paura shuddered mightily. His face alternated between concern and horror.

“You’re not taking stands on anything, are you? Young faculty should not be taking stands. Courting divisiveness. Dr. Fist cannot tolerate controversy. Dr. Onnipotente has been known to come down hard on polarization. The tenure committee doesn’t like it. In French, was it? Good. No one will understand a word at Periphery. ‘It’s Europe’, they’ll all say. ‘We’re hated there’.”

He thought for a moment.

“Why don’t you write on Turkish bullet use in the late Delhi Sultanate? I read something on that subject in Get With It, History a few years ago. No one is hurt by it. At least not around here. There are only a few Hindus near Periphery.”

Carmine now grimaced, despite firm resolve to remain cheerful.

“I’m not all that gripped by the subject”, he admitted.

Paura chuckled.

“Life is hard, dear boy. We can’t always do what we’re interested in. It’s a question of learning to live with the devil. So to speak. Why, you probably could list the serial number of every bullet. It would take about fifty pages to do so. The committee would like that. Dr. Fist would probably award you with President’s Medal. With the William of Ockham ribbon in the bargain. Affirmativo wouldn’t speak to you afterwards of course, but that’s what you’d want anyway.”

He got up.

“Unfortunately, I have to go now. It was so nice chatting with such a fine young scholar.”

Dr. Paura led Carmine to the door, slowly, hesitantly, as though he still had something more to tell him. They stood for a moment at the threshold of the office on a tile of darker hue than those both inside and outside, like two men poised on one small but significant rock in the middle of an impressive pond.

“You’re Italian in background, aren’t you?”, the Assistant Dean asked. “A noble people. I once was Italian.”

Carmine remained silent. What could he answer to a comment of that sort?

Paura searched for more words. He floundered. The Rossini libretto came to his rescue. Almaviva returned. Peace and Joy along with him.

“The Italians”, he bubbled, “have an affinity for ‘S’.”

The two men remained frozen.

“Remember”, Dr. Paura noted, as Carmine leaped off the rock and eastward to the other side of the pond. “Barely passable. Think bullets.”

He took a deep breath.

“And remain forever grateful for a fresh start in a completely new life.”

Troubled, confused, Carmine eventually reached Chinatown. He was too early. A dazed meandering took him northwards. Into the East Village.

Caspite!

He found himself in front of the Empress Elizabeth Inn. Almost twelve months to the day from his first, wretched visit. Good humor returned. Carmine smiled, triumphantly, in the direction of the room from which he had been lowered by the weasel. Finally, he thought. A future. This is it!

The noise of cascading water burst forth from the window of the printing house next to the Empress Elizabeth. The maniac, holding an empty bucket, laughed down at the dripping Spostato.

“I’ve waited all year for that!’, he roared.

Chapter Two: Citizens on a Hill

Carmine had no opportunity to settle into his office or meet any of his colleagues on his first excursion to Periphery. In fact, Demosthenes and he left immediately for a two week vacation to Tuscany after the initial visit, actively encouraged in the venture by Dean Veil himself.

“Periphery will soon be in your marrow, Carmine!”, he belched. “Get out there in the good air. Eat. Drink. Write up your lectures. Good ones. Outstanding! Thought provoking. Periphery standard.”

It was, therefore, only on the day before classes began—a day marked by both departmental and faculty meetings—that his chance came to penetrate the heart of the Periphery community.

Plenty of time was available for exploration on that occasion. The meetings commenced at 6:00 A.M.

Carmine’s journey to the university, the second time around, differed in its particulars though not in its overall character. He again encountered the woman troubled by the train’s direction. She was sitting, calmly, in his local IRT station, a child’s portable piano keyboard on her lap, attempting to play what she called “her songs”. His attention focused on her. This was a mistake. It blinded him to the difficulty of drinking a cup of coffee with a knapsack slung over one shoulder. The strap dropped, insidiously, as he listened to the hag. It hit his arm near the elbow joint with a thud, causing him, reflexively, to toss the coffee in his face, much to the horror of two proper ladies standing by the turnstiles. Carmine did not really enjoy hot coffee in his face in the early morning. Nor did he appreciate the fact that the bag woman took a liking to him, got off at this stop, and happily set sail by his side.

The boat crossing was uneventful, though depressing, since all the lights were shut off.

“We only turn’um on going towards Manhattan”, the Captain informed Carmine.

Too bad. With light, he might have recognized the other side for what it was and turned back.

Four bus shelters extended from the ferry exit to the main road. Four buses, which, as Carmine had already noted on his last visit, all seemed to follow exactly the same route, were parked brazenly across from them. A five-o-clock crowd of commuters, each of whom, like Carmine, was headed away from the city, stood by the first of these shelters, presumably for more light from inside the terminal. They had not been there on the previous excursion, when Carmine had had the good fortune to depart for Periphery at a slightly later hour. Or, perhaps, he had simply been too nervous then to pay them any heed.

A half dozen were Hasidic Jews, engaged in a bitter dispute over the Russian invasion of Lodz in 1919. They were bordered, on both sides, by a shoeshine man returning from a night shift on the Ferry and a seventy year old woman in a leather cat suit. The pianist stood to the side, admiring Carmine, while the owner of two microscopic pooches named Angus and Digby permitted these rat-like mutations to sniff, unhindered, at his feet.

A driver briskly marched to the number 14 bus. He started its engine and pulled into position at the farthest most shelter. Prayer shawls flew in the late summer wind. They were followed by shoeshine rags. Bits of distintegrating skin, both tanned and human. Paws. And the none too stable bags into which Carmine had stuffed the books essential to his teaching. The People—led, appropriately enough, by the chosen ones, were running toward the earthly paradise. Angus and Digby became overexcited, and urinated on Carmine’s shoes. Just as all had reached salvation, and the doors of the New Jerusalem had closed, the other buses sputtered into action. They stopped at their shelters, found no passengers and departed in indifference. The number 14 driver shut off his engine, went for coffee and moved out half an hour later.

Carmine was exasperated. He screwed his head in all directions to meet the eyes of the others and share his indignation with them. There was no response. The Jews were resigned. It was Lodz all over again. The worker and the sexy old age pensioner were dozing. Angus and Digby, kidneys relieved, leaped and cavourted in the aisles. The bag lady, who could not afford to board the vehicle, remained at the shelter, entirely at the service of her music. Carmine’s outrage was the number 14’s “what did you expect?”

Further difficulties developed at the mustard factory. Half-dead bees, driven mad by their memories of this once fruitful haven, and angered by their inevitable end-of-summer fate, were aroused to one last passion by Carmine’s embittered sweat. They displayed special interest in those areas violated by Angus and Digby. Encumbered though he was by his books, Carmine nevertheless flailed courageously and smote his enemies. He passed through the valley of death, charged into the university precincts and triumphantly entered upon the path towards the faculty center, Gorgias Hall.

The path to Gorgias Hall was actually not a pathway at all. It was a parking lot. Indeed, Periphery itself was a parking lot, punctuated by evangelically loathsome buildings. Here and there, it is true, one spied once attractive structures whose character had been altered for reconsecration to the cause of ugliness. Carmine was reminded of a girl with whom he had worked at the envelope factory who had carefully disguised her charm and cultivation so as not to seem out of step with her hideous, vulgar co-workers. A brief shudder passed over him as he remembered a postcard that he had recently received from a friend exiled to a prairie college. “Here”, the fellow had noted, “dull, flat people occupy a dull, flat landscape.”

It was the architecture of the former beauties gone a-whoring with those born to the game which disturbed him the most. Two of the fallen virgins could be seen in one glance.

Gorgias Hall, Carmine’s destination, was the closest. The first impression gained from it was that of an iceberg, sitting, threateningly, upon an ocean of steel and macadam. One could recognize that it had an elegant history behind its corrupted façade, perhaps reaching back to the previous century. Indeed, it had probably then exuded that bourgeois sense of smugness and abundance whose vices Carmine was now more than tempted to forgive. His spirits rose when he noticed nineteenth-century stained glass in the door windows of Gorgias Hall. They fell when he came closer and discovered that a plastic copy had replaced the original. A glimpse of the fine Victorian woodwork that remained visible at the building’s edges was inspiring. Spray paint and aluminum siding over much of the rest were not. Still, Carmine told himself. What could be expected, when one thought of the immense sums of money that the university had to save in order to carry out its true mission. Art? Yes! But not at the cost of knowledge!

From closer to Gorgias Hall, across the Great Lot, as it was called, one had a better view of the second prom queen gone astray. This was Knossos Hall, the main administration building, the site of Carmine’s interview. Though almost an exact replica of the faculty center, it gave off the image not of an iceberg, but of a cathedral. With the closely-parked cars around it playing the role of flying buttresses.

Innate ugliness began next to the administration building with Plugdata Hall. The most interesting thing that could be said on its behalf was that it had not yet been torn down. And, of course, the fact that this dubious place, filled with classrooms, was to be the focal point of Carmine’s life work. To the right of Plugdata, sunken below the Great Lot and barely visible to the naked eye, was the Library, the Hohenheim Multi-Media Ingestion Center. Its neo-Stalinist façade had been tempered by the addition of seven friezes on which were depicted the Seven Activities of the peripheral life: Engine Tuning, Toll Collection, Lawn Mowing, Shopping, Turning on the Various Devices, Turning Off the Various Devices, and Complaining About the City.

Two structures stood out most impressively from all the architectural horrors. One of these, Hormone Hall, called to Carmine’s attention on the day of his interview, was also known as the Management Efficiency Service Site. Here, methods for spreading the philosophy of Periphery throughout the country were conjured. The second, the student center, was designed and constructed by Dr. Irksum Skreetch, who had hung himself from a superfluous beam extending from the second floor on the day that the building was dedicated. His last words—“Enough! Enough, already!”—were etched on the portal of what was baptized Irksum Hall in his memory. His body had almost entirely deteriorated before Carmine’s arrival, though certain features on one or two bits could still be noted if one squinted vigorously and craned his neck.

Carmine proceeded to Gorgias Hall through that small, insignificant segment of the Great Lot enfiefed to the faculty. The cars in this alcove, now filled to capacity, bore only a generic relationship to the average automobile. Each seemed to possess a medical history all its own, the one suffering from a bone cancer, another victimized by epilepsy, a third bearing the scars of a perilous psychosis. Two vehicles appeared to be abandoned, their headlights simply attached to their decaying carcasses by means of adhesive tape. The entire scene called to mind a visit Carmine had once made to a Rumanian flea market to purchase a discarded portrait of President Ceaucesceau for a friend convinced of their common descent from the Emperor Trajan. There was that same sense of longing on the part of everything present, man and machine, for a prosperity which, alas, everyone knew would always remain a dream.

Resigned sighs and the din of unremitting labor emerged from the edge of the lot. A young, blonde, slightly chubby woman, possibly thirty, obviously one of Carmine’s colleagues, was kicking—or, rather, attempting to kick—shut the driver’s door of an enzyme-colored Rambler from the days of the Eisenhower Administration. Carmine prepared for his first encounter with a fellow member of the faculty of Periphery University.

“Hello!”, he said, enthusiastically.

“Shit! Shit! And all the shit that comes from shit!”, she repeated in response, clearly preoccupied by the fact that a book had jammed into the joint between the door and the rest of her diseased machine. Carmine helped her to release the text, only to discover that he had actually succeeded in ripping it in two. And not on a seam.

“Damn it!”, she shouted, stomping her foot, and bursting into tears. “That does it. That really does it!”

Carmine reddened.

“I’m very sorry”, he stammered. “Not the best way for me to get to know people on a new job.”

“Are you Dr. Spostato?”, she asked, her face heavy-laden with concern upon hearing the affirmative reply.

She stared at Carmine’s bags.

“You didn’t bring any books with you, did you?”

Carmine was baffled by the question. While trying to decipher its meaning, however, he noticed that two or three other faculty members were loading up their heaps with magazines, paintings, manuscripts, family photographs and similar objects. One man packed a bust of Franklin Delano Roosevelt bearing the inscriptions “1936” and “Return of Hope” into the back seat of a Studebaker. Another embraced a Statue of Liberty, complete with Emma Lazarus’ poem, before depositing it into his trunk.

“Well”, Carmine replied, “there’s just these few which I’ve…”.

“It’s alright”, the woman interrupted. “I’m Inca Kakatatatonic. You can call me Inca. And I’ll call you Carmine. Carmine’s your name, isn’t it? No. It’s quite alright. I live near the mustard factory. I can bring them in my car to the bus for you.”

Dean Veil had not told Carmine about a faculty migration from Gorgias Hall, especially one requiring public transport. Thank God he had not returned earlier and placed everything that he had intended to bring with him into the old office! He would now be able to set up shop once only. In the new improved quarters.

“Where are we moving to?”, Carmine asked. “You can just drive my things there. Really, you know, I can even carry them myself.”

“Books are not allowed”, Inca continued, in response to Carmine’s comments. “We’re not going anywhere. Dr. Swabalot just will not permit personal books in the office any longer. Or pictures. Or posters. Or eating. Or drinking. He feels that it is unprofessional. And betrays standards. Dr. Swabalot says that Periphery must not be allowed to disappear in a cloud of dust. ‘How can it help the revivification of education if it can’t be seen?’, he argues. I’m a sociologist. Do you think you’ll get tenure? Will it rain today? When’s your birthday? Do you like tofu? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck? Want a coffee?”

The last thing Carmine wanted was a coffee. Especially with this malcontent. Why, she seemed eager to poison, through insane accusation, a not yet even begun relationship with Dr. Swabalot, the Chairman of his department! Carmine had heard of people like her while at Oxford. Frustrated colleague cannibals. Living ‘twixt their miserable research, love of gossip and fear of competition for grant money. Under no circumstances would he fall prey to her unhealthy charms. No coffee with Academicus Pandemos for him!

“Here come some of the others”, Inca said, cutting short Carmine’s thoughts of flight.

Four men and one woman of varying ages trudged through the debris of the faculty parking lot, skirting those packing up their cars, and approached Carmine and Inca.

Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts was the eldest. Sixty four year old Ernst proclaimed just that mixture of central European bloods which racial theorists and eugenicists hoped not to have to deal with by the middle of the twentieth century. Squat and dark like a Bavarian, his facial expressions sang the melancholic ballads of the Pripet Marshes. One’s attention was inevitably drawn to his excrutiatingly thin lips, whose size was continuously diminished due to an habitual nibbling. Map images again came to Carmine’s mind, as they had with Veil. Ernst’s lips were to the rest of his body as the Panama Canal to the bulk of Latin America. He was as nervous as a fugitive aware of an all points bulletin issued against him by the police of the entire globe. And Simon Wiesenthal as well. In fact, Ernst was a refugee, a man from the old Soviet Bloc, who had managed to get out and briefly pursued a dream of becoming a concert pianist before settling down to life as a philosopher at Periphery.

“I am relieved to see that the faculty are still capable of producing children”, Ernst confided to his thirty year old colleague, Anatole Crumbs, a professor of literature and chain-smoking father of a one month old baby, as the group arrived. “I, too, once produced. But that was many years ago. When I still had a brilliant career ahead of me.”

Anxiety also seemed to plague Crumbs. Clearly, he had more to lose from its ravages than did Ernst. Crumbs was tall and trim, with a basketball player’s frame, even though his hair, goatee and glasses gave to his face the configuration of a Leon Trotsky. If nervousness made Ernst appear resigned, it assured Crumbs the look of an athlete whose benching by the coach had been accepted only with the gravest injury to pride.

The third male member of this consortium was a mathematician. Dr. Volontier Corvée balanced off his companions brand of tension with one built upon disorientation and perplexity. Corvée had an empty coffee cup container in his hand and was busy tearing off little bits from the top and carefully placing them inside.

“Tenure”, Crumbs whispered to Carmine. “He got tenure. Last spring. Tenure. Yes. Tenure.”

Dr. Corvée was noted for growing hair on his bald pate in the summertime, upon leaving Periphery, and losing it again once he and the students returned in the fall. Still, it was not the cranium that captured one’s regard. Rather, it was the almost impossible banana-like appearance of his body. Curved. Thick-skinned. And yellowed. Two little feet were attached to the bottom of the parabola, almost as an afterthought, though they did serve the laudable purpose of stifling the temptation to try to peel Corvée from the neck down. Neuroses were particularly upsetting in his regard. All of his energy seemed needed just to keep mind and rind together.

Hermione Rittenoff and Porphyry Contramundum were the last of this Gang of Five.

Dr. Rittenoff, translator and commentator of a five hundred page collection of Florentine Renaissance Neoplatonic texts, not yet published, taught Remedial Reading. She was carrying with her, in a sizeable golf cart, dozens of reams of paper for her work.

“I have to secure my supply now”, she told Carmine. “You just can’t be certain later. Especially next semester. When BARF begins. And the Halloween costume essays will be upon us before we know it.”

Carmine looked at her closely. Nearing forty, she was already quite gray. Hermione clearly had once been attractive. Like Gorgias Hall. Like the envelope factory worker. Like the Western Hemisphere, before the Puritans. Every part of her was well-formed and sensuous, from her inviting lips to her classic hour glass figure. Unfortunately, she had the demeanor of someone who had been stretched, regularly, upon the ground, so that an elephant dance could take place atop her body. If Dr. Corvée had had Hermione’s spirit, banana strands would now be carpeting the Great Lot. Her inviting lips probably had not called the right people to the regal feast that they promised. And her hourglass figure might well have been utilized chiefly to hang pasquinades in the service of pointless causes. Should first impressions be trustworthy, however, a gentle soul housed within that battered palace, and the eyes that confirmed its existence welcomed Carmine to relax and know that it would cause him no harm. Though perhaps no help either. Still, Hermione’s bearing stirred Carmine’s confidence, as well as a desire to make inquiry about a number of Periphery oddities. Including the mysterious menace called BARF.

Before he could question her, however, Porphyry Contramundum pulled him firmly aside. He gave Carmine a card entitled “Eternal Plunge”. This advertised the “Ultimate Service Corporation”; one providing funerals, over Long Island Sound, with bodies shot out of helicopters in disarmed warheads purchased in the Ukraine. With heavy metal accompaniment.

“Here’s the way out”, Porphyry promised Carmine. “Get in on the ground floor, and you’ll never have to get up for early morning classes again.”

He moved away, sketching pictures of plummeting corpses, swathed in chain mail and Viking helmets, on the back of his business cards as he walked.

Porphyry, like Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts, was a philosopher. He could not have been older than forty-five. Just under six feet tall, just slightly overweight, just barely graying, Porphyry called to mind a likeable and common enough type with which Carmine had had a long experience. The transvestite. No. Not the type that masqueraded man as woman. Rather, those of one background taking on another form of outward dress. Orthodox Jews from Second Avenue imitating Viennese aesthetes. Culture starved Brooklynites strutting about like Hungarian magnates and speaking, endlessly, of their engagements with expatriate countesses. Neighborhood butchers who entertained themselves as amateur detectives, and assured their friends that they were hot on the trail of the Czarevitch Alexis. Porphyry, however, was a more complex manifestation of the phenomenon. He was clearly a man of intelligence. A wit. Probably a bon vivant as well. But one who wished to hide something under the unnatural garb of a dedicated cynicism. What was his secret? An ingrown toenail? The makings of a sixth finger? A tail? A mistress? Maybe even a deceived idealism? What was he covering for?

Whatever the case, there was little time to mull over such superficial judgments. The cortège was moving towards Gorgias Hall. It was not a cortège triomphant. Carmine was guided by Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts, who explained to him his escape from Philippopolis to Linz in a taxi cab in 1968. Drs. Crumb and Corvée took up the rear, the former chastizing his banana-like colleague for what Carmine gathered to be a yeoman effort to abandon caffeine.

“Never reduce external stimulants and depressants”, Crumbs catechized. “You know what happens to us.”

The full battalion pressed through the entrance to Gorgias Hall, that extraordinarily large and eclectic mansion that housed the entirety of the Periphery Faculty: the Department of Pharmaceutical Studies; Advancement of Management and Kineseology; Real Estate and Litigation; Personal and Software Growth; Bigger Computer Parts; Smaller Computer Parts; Motivation; Technocracy and Mysticism; Communication and Personal Finance; Money Science; and, finally, the center of this particular company, the Department of Other Studies.

Gorgias Hall’s interior was not without impact. A banner hung in its foyer, joyfully preaching the Good News that “At Periphery, Appearance Is Reality!” The door to the lobby was open, though passage was obstructed by two enormous slabs of metal; the kind that refugees like Ernst used to find at the borders of the East Bloc.

“Put up to keep visitors away”, Crumbs explained to Carmine. “But it costs too much to actually buzz anyone through.”

He and four others, familiar to the work, pressed the diptych open, like so many Egyptian fellahin urging bits of pyramid into place.

The vista west of the Wall was dominated by a dilapidated couch, evoking embarrassing memories for Carmine of the day that he had conspired with several friends to drag a similar object from the canteen of a bankrupt fried bread supplier in Oxford to the rooms of a detested fellow student. To punish him. Professor Contadina Panico and her husband, Bozhimoj, both in their late fifties and teachers of education, rested immobile, their heads in their hands, worrying intensely amidst the couch’s dust. Tiny, bulbous, radish-like feet, dangling from equally miniscule, grapefruit bodies, scarcely touched the ground as they sat. When Dr. Corvée stood next to the Panichi, the trio transformed Gorgias Hall into a Jersey truck garden.

“What’s on their mind?”, Carmine asked Porphyry, pointing to the fruit and vegetable stand.

“How to please the students before they’re asked”, he explained. “It’s a category of BARF that has forever marked them.”

Above the educators sagged a portrait of Dr. Wholesome Fist, emblazoned with the presidential motto: “Our Students Deserved Something Better!” A bulletin board and a “No Smoking” sign completed the chamber’s furnishings.

Immediately to the left of the seedy lobby stood the door to the Department of Other Studies. Its central window pane was decorated with a poster labeled: “Who’s Where in There!”, detailing desk assignments. A sketch of students with bookbags slung over their shoulders, and apples shining in their open palms, nestled to the poster’s right. Matched by a “Welcome Back to the Inside Track!” sign, colored in with magic marker, on the left.

“Dr. Swabalot”, knowing voices croaked to Carmine.

Titans alone could require the colossal desk dominating the interior of the office, facing outwards towards the entrance. Graduate assistants sat behind it, hired to direct traffic to faculty members’ places. One telephone occupied the desk top, riveted thereto, with the words “Do Not Use Without Permission!” inscribed in Roman and Gothic script, Carolingian miniscule, and italics around the edges.

Fifteen little desks flanked the Monster, each arranged neatly, one behind the other, imitating those of secretaries in a turn of the century typing-pool. Each desk was mated with a filing cabinet and a garbage pail. Desks, filing cabinets and garbage pails were all labeled according to faculty member. With his birthdate. And list of publication rejections. Summer scenes brightened the office walls, along with “We’re There!” and “Appearance Is Reality!” banners. A blackboard was affixed to the back end of the room, one piece of chalk suspended on a string at its side.

“Meeting! 6:00 A.M.! Faculty Lounge! Gorgias Hall!”, the chalk had written on the blackboard’s face. A typewriter and a slowly-turning ceiling fan—the sort used by southern sheriffs in Hollywood films as they contemplate the latest pogrom—languished in the far corner. The typewriter was bordered by a table, topped with a plastic seraphim and a curious septagon divided into pockets identified as “one through six” and “last of all”. All the desks had legal calendars turned to the accurate date. Carmine glanced at his. “Not scrap paper yet!”, he learned from the admonition penned in on the front of each message sheet through December. No books were anywhere in sight. Additional members of the Department of Other Studies were seated in the office.

“Every man his own show”, Porphyry Contramundum whispered to Carmine.

He may have been correct. Television is full of odd and dull programs.

Veiled in the corner, separated from the masses by a little iconostasis, was Dr. Gordian Riddel, sixty-one years old and a teacher of psychology. His neighbor, on the congregation side, was Arius Affirmativo. Arius Affirmativo was a political scientist, about fifty. He was also President of the Faculty Union and a fine portrait painter. Carmine met him as he was investigating the contents of his filing cabinet. It proved to be impossible to avoid peeking into it along with him. Carmine observed a picture of King Charles II, bound for execution, with the caption, “Thanks for the advice”, etched in beneath it. Serge Sarcophagus, a fifty five year old rhetorician, could be discerned, intermittently, at and about his desk. Serge entertained himself with little nips from a Balkan liqueur, purchased illegally through the Albanian janitorial staff. He tried to cover his face under a mound of pencils whenever Carmine happened to draw near to him.

“It’s hard to get close to old Serge”, Porphyry commented. “The quality of his rapport with other faculty at Periphery depends upon tariffs levied in Tirana and by the emigrant Albanian community down the road each semester.”

Umberto Flesh, a mathematician nearing retirement, mammoth in proportions, struggled to change clothes at the window, the Department of Other Studies’ only source of fresh air and light. Beside him stood Periphery’s sole musicologist, the forty-three year old Ronald Coleman look alike, Alfred Humdrum-Impasse. Alfred stared hard at the window pane, seeking enough of a reflection from it to straighten his tie.

“We’re going to have to chip in for a mirror this year, Flesh!”, he prophesied.

The two graduate assistants introduced themselves at this time as well. These were the Monopolus Brothers, or the Monopoli, as they were nicknamed, being identical twins. Roma Pasticcio, a faculty secretary, also wanted to make Carmine’s acquaintance. With the bearing of a mother about to tell he child that he must drink a bottle of Pepto Bismol for an unspecified period stretching long into the foreseeable future. The other secretary, Thelma-Gruff Artifact, sat dutifully at her desk, as pitiless as Queen Zenobia of Palmyra when her husband begged for sexual intimacy more than once within a given cycle. There was not much time for a look at the rest of Gorgias Hall. Carmine heard that the other departments were not worth the visit anyway.

“Private offices”, Crumbs explained. “Most of the good stuff is closed to the casual tourist.”

Besides. The graduate students began almost immediately to corral the faculty into the Other Studies’ Meeting.

Carmine was conducted to a room designed for storage. Bits of lumber of uneven size and inhuman purpose leaned, arthritically, in one of its corners. A water fountain, long deceased, slumbered sideways against the adjoining wall, topped by hundreds of back issues of Periphanalia, the school newspaper. Pieces of crippled office furniture were scattered poignantly about the length and breadth of the place, pleading for attention like incurable lepers hiding in the back caves along with Ben Hur’s mother and sister. The room was adorned, here and there, with the sort of inexplicable and often dangerous peculiarities that one frequently finds in side desk drawers, and periodically purges. A rubbish bin, occupied by age-old tenants, exuded an exotic eastern aura. Faculty were moving about amidst the ruins in small groups, as citizens in wartime might examine a neighborhood after a particularly devastating bombardment. Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts gazed steadfastly at an unexpectedly magnificent chandelier, which hung, as perplexed and worried as Corvée and the Panichi, above the destruction.

“The lights are going out all over Periphery”, he mumbled, in response to Carmine’s quizzical glance. He stared in terror at the newcomer. “We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

Immacolato Swabalot was already present. Rag in hand, he was dusting bric-a-brac with the diligence of a lesser Prussian bureaucrat. It was clear that he was almost uncontrollably excited. Carmine found his enthusiasm contagious. He could not help but wonder as to its cause. Surely, it was knowledge of some project of great moment for the life of the Department of Other Studies as a whole! Carmine hoped that he had brought sufficient paper with him to handle the tidal wave of commentary its announcement would inspire. For Carmine had always been prolix. Especially in the service of good causes.

Dr. Swabalot was a long, thin man, nearing sixty, and an exact double of Woodrow Wilson. Periphery boasted faculty resembling plants, actors, revolutionaries, maps and, now, statesmen. Moreover, that Wilsonian character of Swabalot extended from face and body to action. Indeed, he called the meeting of the Department of Other Studies to order with a perceptibly charismatic ebullience, perfectly reminiscent of the former president of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. A mixture of religious abandon, mystic rapture and puritanical zeal accompanied Swabalot’s announcement of the initial steps to be taken by those assembled.

“The first item on the agenda”, he preached, “is the work calendar!”

This seemed reasonable enough to Carmine. His colleagues apparently thought otherwise. Dr. Corvée’s nostrils became inflamed. A Marxist rally could have been called before their flush of resplendent red. He twitched unceasingly and began to search his suit jacket for tufts of hair. The vast majority of those present stared impassibly ahead, so many torsos of Ramses II, trapped in the ancient, sacred crypts of Egypt. Carmine turned to Dr. Swabalot for the words to break this uncanny spell.

“The eighth day of September”, the Chairman began, “is the day when the Albanians shake out the doormats. Faculty can assist by not walking on them at all on the seventh. On the morning of the ninth, the air-conditioner covers will be polished. At 12:00 noon, the next day, the pictures of the Canadian Rockies above Dr. Corvée’s desk…”.

He interrupted, with a gesture of greeting to the suffering don, who smiled, wanly, in response.

“…will be replaced by those of Bambi, frolicking in the fallen leaves.”

A tuft of hair blew across Carmine’s cheek.

“The ninth is a Thursday”, Dr. Swabalot continued. “And pencil shavings will be dumped every Thursday…”.

He said this with violent emphasis. Had there been some debate regarding its necessity the year before?

“…into the western waste basket next to the graduate assistants’ desk.

Carmine emitted a laugh. A nasty, brutish, short and, most unfortunately, solitary one. Dr. Swabalot did not appear to be bothered by it. But the unbroken silence of his colleagues convinced Carmine that he had committed a blunder. The work calendar continued.

“The tenth of September is the deadline for ordering paper clips. It is also Mrs. Pasticcio’s birthday. I will be placing the traditional piggy bank on the desk for collection.”

One of the Monopoli held up the swine for all to see.

Carmine tried to atone for his error by listening with perfect unction to what could not be other than some cosmic joke. Thirty minutes later, he had gained a detailed knowledge of every conceivable aspect of Periphery trivia. He learned how best to place his feet under his desk without disrupting classical canons of balance and harmony and a Confucianist sense of public duty. He heard of the evils of irregular blinking and its impact on faculty morale. Indeed, he was even given pictures of monks from Himalayan lamaseries, and texts on True Pure Land Buddhism to develop respect for self-control. Swabalot’s erudition and Wilsonian fervor brought the science of misplaced zeal to levels undreamed of by generations of Catharists and Presbyterians combined. It took a nudge on the shoulder from Porphyry Contramundum to make Carmine aware that the time had come to proceed to the Faculty Dining Room in Irksum Hall for a gathering of the university teachers as a whole.

“This one’s been laid to rest’, Porphyry explained. “It’s usually just long enough to deaden responses to the next assault.”

Carmine filed into the Faculty Dining Room with the benumbed delegation from the Department of Other Studies, only to be disoriented still further. The place had obviously once been cluttered, then stripped bare, and, finally, redecorated in its present peculiar fashion.

Peculiar was perhaps too weak a word to describe it. An inexplicable eyeball, wires bulging from its pupil, stared down at Carmine from the back of the room. Could this be the means by which some Interrogator General kept control of the activities of his agents in the field? A coat rack, sufficiently deformed to resemble either an instrument of torture or a statue in the Museum of Modern Art, hid, self-consciously, in the corner. It already cringed underneath the weight of those patched and unkempt Bowery rags that are a sign of the presence of a certain type of American university professor. But what could be the reason? It was only September. Had people left them hanging for safe keeping since the previous winter to save storage costs? Or for purposes of barter? Colored photographs hung on the walls, providing a touch of joy to a Puritan eatery. On closer inspection, however, these proved to be the standard depiction of a choking man, and the best means of ending the tribulations of his upper thorax, an action approaching sexual harassment. Yet why were such pictures here? And not on naturalization office walls? To warn aliens of what they might be fed in their future lives? A mucous membrane colored lamp, whose bulbs were being removed by an Albanian just as Carmine spotted it, showered its last dubious rays upon the assembled multitude.

Caravaggio had never seen light like this.

Carmine was abandoned by his departmental colleagues in the doorway of the Dining Room. They all made a dash for the chairs lining the rear, though not everyone made it to the goal. This left two thirds of the space sparsely populated. It was as though Calcutta and Alaska had been placed next door to one another.

On one side of the chamber was a table marred by indelible coffee stains. It had previously been the student dining room. Complaints by sensitive student leaders had brought about its immediate removal. The table was now set with a rickety coffee dispenser, several half-used containers of milk, a few stirrers and, perhaps, two hundred cups and tops. The dispenser shot hot fluid into its users’ eyes. Stirrers broke swiftly in two. The milk was rancid. Each cup had a hole in its bottom. None of the tops fit. That did not stop the entirety of the Other Studies’ faculty from periodically creeping towards this fountain of vigor, eeking out its juice and gratefully returning to its seats with the elixir trickling slowly across the floor.

“That saves me seventy five cents today!”, Hermione Rittenoff chirped.

Dr. Corvée took two empty coffee cups and began tearing little bits of one into the other. Anatole Crumbs held Java before his noise to entice him back into the game of existence.

In the front of the room was another desk, piled high with heaps of paper, behind which were seated DiaphonousVeil, Mrs. Frenetico, Dr. Paura and an unknown guest. Despite the inevitable no smoking sign, an ashtray next to the papers was already filled with anywhere up to two packs worth of stale butts. Voices were heard. Carmine thought that Dr. Veil was discussing The Magic Mountain with Mrs. Frenetico. It turned out that he was merely coughing. Dr. Paura sat, smiling, with hands folded nervously together. Carmine caught snatches of his conversation with passing faculty members. He could not make out much. Only the words “beware”, “take care”, “not on paper”, “untraceable” and “please”, “yes”, “learn to please”. Mrs. Frenetico occasionally retreated from her consumptive and secretive superiors in order to lift the innumerable reams of paper off the desk top and into a tumbril wheeled in for that purpose by Drs. Flesh and Humdrum-Impasse.

Carmine had been eagerly awaiting this opportunity to meet the members of the other departments within the university. It would be a chance to share knowledge with people focusing on subjects different than his own. He had learned so much in Oxford Common Rooms, just by talking with his fellow man! That was one of the major appeals of diversity. And, best of all, given Periphery’s size, there might be a hope of developing real camaraderie among the people dispensing Truth alongside him in a phalanx of enlightenment. After all, there could not be more than thirty faculty in all. Divided among the six departments.

Divided was the operative word.

In fact, all of Carmine’s other colleagues did show up, and all at once. But only, as it turned out, to tell Mrs. Frenetico that they had been excused to attend a champagne brunch with Dr. Fist and several honored pupils. It seemed as though they had arrived, in strength, like a tiny army of decadents, in search of an antipasto of cheap thrills in a gypsy camp before reclining at couch for the grande bouffe.

Still, Carmine did manage to get a general appreciation of the group as it exited the Faculty Dining Room. As a rule, its members looked like professors from the Department of Other Studies who had been dressed, under external threat, in expensive clothing and did not quite know what to make of it. Many were Orientals. Those who were not, resembled ducks, violently compressed, whole, into large take-out containers. One wore a hat, which he had lowered, jauntily, over his right eye. He appeared to be surprised not to be recognized and fawned upon. A man clad in an exaggeratedly long leather blazer turned his head slowly from side to side. Did he think he was a radar screen? Honing in on an unidentified flying object? The last to leave the room was, appropriately enough, the spitting image of a caboose on a turn of the century presidential campaign, upon which fine cotton garments had been mistakingly draped instead of bunting.

Carmine’s observations were cut short by an imposing but complex roar issuing from the direction of the podium. Dr. Veil had cleared his throat to signal the opening of the meeting. This action had disturbed some fault running through his entire oddly shaped trunk, moved extraordinary substances lying in his digestive track and unleashed creative impulses moulding themselves into an atonal symphony.

Sympathies within the room, guided by the spiritus mundi, led others to take up and further develop the theme of Veil’s troubled motif in unexpected ways. Flesh, in particular, was absorbed by this inner, organic dialogue. He seized his stomach and placed it majestically upon the desk in front of him, in order that his artistry might break free from the constraints of mere formalism. If something did not happen soon to break the spell, nature itself would react vehemently, and Vishnu reincarnate yet again to conduct the chorus. Fortunately, the author of these disturbances himself now intervened.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Gentlemen and ladies!”, Veil bellowed. “The Team has a well-computed agenda to definitize today. May we begin so that we can most expeditiously bring to a resolution and a conclusion the items and points within our most specific and detailed and immediate grasp!”

Carmine sneaked a peak at those around him. Everyone was electrified by Veil’s words. Was this Periphery? Or Nüremberg? New York? Or Moscow? The present? Or the 1930’s? A renewed belch redirected his thoughts pragmatically, so that he had no time to dwell on troubling analogies. In true American fashion.

“Ladies and gentlemen!”, The Dean continued. “Allow me to ignite our consultations by insisting that all of us—and perhaps, no one more than anyone, The Team over at Hormone Hall—are more pleased than that which can be imagined when pleasure is thought of, and, indeed, if pleasure could be spoken of more, it would only be a fool who could indicate less of it!”

The audience responded with prolonged applause. Dr. Rittenoff was so touched that she spontaneously leaped to her feet.

“I know I speak for the whole of this faculty”, she bubbled, “when I say that there is a pleasure greater than that which can be imagined…”.

Carmine was lost. He had never been at home in scholastic debate, and this twist on the Ontological Argument confused him.

Rittenoff went on.

“…and it is the greater pleasure of responding lovingly to pleasure freely offered!!”

The ovation was deafening. An icon of St. Anselm levitated above the head table. Dr. Veil silenced the Faithful and commanded Mrs. Frenetico to call the roll. Dr. Rittenoff was surrounded by colleagues congratulating her on her Intervention.

Item One on the agenda involved an address by the Academic Vice President, Dr. Strahlung Beamo. Dr. Beamo was the unknown guest, sitting all this time at the front of the room next to Dean Veil. He could not seem to keep still. His eyes darted constantly this way and that, but never aimed even momentarily where they ought to have been focused. Swabalot surely must have longed to rivet them firmly to one object. Dr. Beamo had fingered nearly every part of his anatomy while in the public eye. Not out of misdirected lust, or a need to convince himself of his continued health, but simply because not doing something with his hands would have exposed him to an existential void and its attendant dread. At moments of excitement, such as the Rittenoff Intervention, he, too, rose to his feet, but in a special way, shooting diagonally with his whole body to the left and to the right, many times in succession. When introduced, Beamo attacked and took possession of the podium, smiling, propelling himself alternately this way and that, darting his eyes and waving his arms at the audience as though he were fending it off.

“No, no, no!!”, he punctuated, clearly eager to prevent a repetition of the enthusiasm awakened by Dr. Rittenoff’s historic deed. But he need not have worried. Instead of applauding him, most people imitated the indifference of Dean Veil, who set about picking his teeth. Some faculty became openly defiant. Alfred Humdrum-Impasse plucked out unshaven hair from his chin. Serge Sarcophagus emitted audible pig grunts. Teeth could be heard gritting so tightly that bits of enamel, which the Albanians swept up to sell on the Black Market, fell to the ground. The mood of the assembly grew faintly obscene and determinedly mean.

“No, no, no, no!!”, Dr. Beamo went on, gazing at the ceiling and the walls, and oblivious to his own debasement.

“Ladies and gentlemen!”, he continued, pecking at this words as though bobbing for apples. “I-I-I…I-just-want-to-thank you. To-thank-you- profoundly. And-you-know-Thanksgiving is-in-in a sense-what it has all been about-since the time-of the Pre-Socratics. Even if-the Assyrians could not find it-in their hearts-to give thanks-and-decorated palaces-with the skins of their enemies-instead. Others-have given thanks. Others have!!”

Beamo paused, stuck his whole fist in his mouth to win time to think, and then reentered the public arena.

“Yes! Others-indeed-have!!”, he affirmed, triumphantly. “And we-too-give thanks-ladies and gentlemen-for you-ladies and gentlemen-and for our students-and for our abnormally lovely campus.”

He panted heavily for emphasis.

“We-have a fountain-on our campus! Oh, yes we do! Oh, yes we do! And-as Plato says---somewhere---that fountain-can jet forth-in a way-that reminds us!! Of-our duty! Of our aspirations! And-and-even-even-of Eros!”

Beamo suddenly blushed, pawed the top of his head and his cheeks, and then renewed his discourse.

“The pagans-were-most definite-Naturalists”, he pecked, insistently. “And-the Nominalists-too-gave thanks. In their way. Of course. This we know. And-afterwards-came-Dialectical Idealism.”

Dr. Beamo lost his train of illogic. His face momentarily darkened. Then, not only did he regain his composure, but he positively glowed. As his name indicated that he should.

“So much the worse for the facts!”, he boomed. “Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha ha-ha ha! And that’s-what we’re here for-today-ladies and gentlemen! Oh, yes we are! Oh, yes we are! To make-a leap-of faith. To get-on-with-it. Just like Kierkegaard. And even…”.

He hesitated, thoughtfully, and then dashed to his conclusion.

“…and even Heidegger!”

Dr. Veil began to floss. Dr. Beamo resigned himself to an end to his discourse. Perhaps it was their prearranged signal.

“But-unfortunately-ladies and gentlemen-as much-as we scholars-want to focus-exclusively-upon the life-of the intellect…”.

He sighed and scrunched up his face.

“…we must-consider-the very important topic-which-Dr. Fist-has written to-this august council-concerning. A subject-which weights-very heavily-upon his mind.”

Dean Veil interrupted, now quite solicitous in support of the idiot.

“Dr. Beamo is here to speak to us of the Extra Special Program. And I can personally assure you and yours that this is indeed very, very, very important to Dr. Fist and His.”

Faculty immediately assumed a different attitude towards Beamo. Like Frankish warriors greeting Pepin. After his anointing as King at the hands of Pope Stephen. Although he noticed the new respect as little as he had previously been aware of the contempt, Dr. Beamo was aroused to further passion by a sense of mission.

“Ladies and gentlemen!”, he continued. “Here we are! Here we are!!”

Cheers resounded through the Hall. It was impossible not to approve! Consensus was achieved! Dr. Beamo stopped dead for at least thirty seconds, smiling, darting, pawing. He stuck his entire fist in his mouth twice. Then, allowing suspense to build for revelation of the great truth whose full import only now had registered upon him, he held up the Periphery logo and jabbed at it.

“Ladies and gentlemen! ‘We’re There’!!!!!!”

Thunderous, nay, superhuman applause greeted this dictum. The Faculty rose to its feet as one man. If the Dining Hall had been Covent Garden at the end of a ballet, liveried servants would have presented bouquets to the conquering Beamo. His victory was complete. Only Dr. Rittenoff was put off, since the Academic Vice President’s exaltation diminished her glory. Dean Veil whispered something in Dr. Beamo’s ear—remember, man, that thou art dust?—while the demonstration ran its course.

“No, no, no, no!!”, Beamo cautioned after several minutes. “No, no, no, no!!”

The frenzy subsided.

“Ladies and gentlemen!”, he continued, even more earnestly than before. “Standards in education-have become-one of the nation’s-deepest concerns. Hence-they have become-one of Dr. Fist’s concerns-as well. Periphery-must be--will be--and is already well-on its way-to being-one of the nation’s-models-in the realm-of Standards. All-we have-to do-is-iron out a few kinks. Not in society. Or in the ghetto. In the machinery, I mean. Give thanks-…”.

Veil coughed.

“…and get on with it.”

Beamo’s face then turned ashen.

“But, ladies and gentlemen! Let us never-never-think! Let us never-never think that the way-to reach-such laudable and pressing goals-can be-by taking the pathway suggested-by the Faction-that polarized-and divided us-last year. Oh, no, no, no! Oh, no, no, no! That Sect-which I regretfully-very regretfully-call attention to-would have had us-implement-certain changes leading to-an abandonment-of the very philosophy of-Periphery!”

“What did it want?” Carmine whispered to Porphyry Contramundum.

“Students who could read the name of the university.”

Beamo now stood tall.

“In response-to the hopes of national regeneration-and the fears unleashed-by last year’s Unpleasantness-Dr. Fist sent to your-Curriculum Committee-humble suggestions-for the Extra Special Program. Periphery’s program. The Periphery path to the perfection of education-which-our-nation-so-deeply desires. Dr. Fist understands-that the program-will be reported upon-and voted upon-today. And he asked me-to come her-to assure you again-how very dear it is-to his big heart. And to the needs-of our particular-and ever improving-student body.”

Dr. Beamo quivered with the delight of a remembered blessing.

“Ladies and gentlemen!”, he dribbled, in hushed tones. “I-I-I do believe! I-I-I do believe that we have with us-today-representatives-of our beloved student body! Where are they?? O, where, o where?? Oh, please do stand up! And take a bow! Oh, do, oh, do!!”

Nothing happened. Dr. Beamo was obliged to rephrase the call. Once. Twice. In seven different ways. Seventy times seven.

It was not as though the students in question were difficult to locate. There were three of them present, two males and one female. One of the males sported high-topped sneakers and the inevitable cap worn backwards. His buttocks, shaped like the main piazza of Siena, were moulded by extraordinarily tight shorts into a cuneiform wedge upon whose large surface it was possible to imagine a surrealistic card game taking place. A strangely meshed shirt allowed openings for his nipples to air. His fellow scholar’s face was almost entirely obscured by acne and safety pins. A French Marshal would have envied his medal-bedecked chest. Instead of pour le mèrite, however, these read “I want to screw all of my girl friends at one and the same moment”, and, “If you ain’t from Periphery, you ain’t diddely shit”. The wench was the Whore of Babylon, pure and simple. Carmine had never dreamed that his primary emotion at his first faculty council meeting would be a vulgar one. He spontaneously reached for his wallet when he saw her. Porphyry Contramundum saved the day. He slipped the students a note.

“You-He Means You”, it stated, in crayon. The students tried to read this, grasped the purport of the stick drawing accompanying it, and finally stood up.

No previous ovation came close to matching the majesty of the outburst following their Lordships’ rise. Faculty howled and stomped their feet. Some teachers waved arms over their heads and clapped like Germans at beer festivals. Others spoke in tongues. It was the Year of Jubilee! The Kiss of Lamourette! Palm Sunday! Surely, Carmine thought, the lion will now lie down with the lamb! And the Kingdom be restored to Judah! The students smiled, waved, and blew bubbles. He of the safety pins took one out and jabbed it into the grateful Humdrum-Impasse’s tympanum. Flesh and two others hoisted all three of them on their shoulders. One rested his boot upon a chair. Bozhimoj Panico salivated, made a start and just barely restrained himself from rushing over to kiss it.

“Look at them!”, Dr. Beamo urged, barely audible over the hubbub. “Look at us!! Here we are!! WE’RE THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Madness slowly reached a crescendo. Ten minutes. Twenty. Half an hour. Faculty and students joined hands and danced in a circle. Several professors actually levitated alongside St. Anselm’s icon. Nosed the clothes rack. And unabashedly licked the soles of the students’ footwear. Then, on a signal from Dean Veil, life came suddenly back to normal. Everyone had a cigarette, despite the prohibition that seemed only to apply to the plain below the Magic Mountain, and fell to calm.

Beamo again spoke.

“But!”, he panted, “I am not here-ladies and gentlemen!”, Beamo noted. “I am not here-ladies and gentlemen!”

He gathered breath for a final statement.

“I am not here-to interfere-with-your deliberations. Let Democracy function!”

With that, he walked towards the door, pawing himself and muttering additional adieux.

The meeting then began in earnest. Carmine studied his program. Dr. Beamo’s speech was indeed a direct introduction to the report of the Curriculum Committee. Bozhimoj Panico was its chairman. He went to the front of the room, as Mrs. Frenetico wheeled the tumbril next to her desk from professor to professor, issuing the hundred page statement of his committee to every faculty member present.

“My fellow colleagues”, Bozhimoj boomed. “Our Committee met every single blessed day this summer from 9:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. Our sessions began on May 18th. Our first speaker…”.

One hour later, Bozhimoj reached the first proposal: The Periphery Abroad Program, “The College at Plovdiv”.

“This exciting new concept”, Bozhimoj announced, “puts Periphery in the forefront of American-Bulgarian developments. As Dr. Fist said on the first rock video advertisements—now playing across the county!—he could think of only one thing when seeing the icons at monasteries all over Bulgaria: ‘I—Can!’ And now, as you see…he could!!! It’s a rock solid, market-wise, innovative program. And, best of all, in a country on the runway to freedom. Where Periphery entrepreneurs can someday work! To help in the paving of the pathway to Liberty!”

The rock video was then shown, ending with a dance by Fist, the former Bulgarian Politburo, a number of CEOs and a few successful drug dealers. A steamy folk-grunge number. With background music by a native neo-Absolute Latest Yesterday Punk-Funk band: Festering Rumelian Excrescent Pustules.

Many things baffled Carmine abut this program, not the least of which was the curriculum, noted down in Braille, in a special insert: Bulgarian. The Turkish Border Question. Adrianopel Irredenta. Housing Problems in Sofia. Cheap Birth Control. College Fund Raising. And, due to a decisive intervention of the mathematicians, Counting. Still, Carmine was the new kid on the block. He did not want to steal his colleagues’ thunder through his own assault. Once their ire was inevitably aroused.

“Questions?”, Bozhimoj asked.

Serge Sarcophogus’ hand shot up.

“Aha!”, Carmine giggled, maliciously. “It hits the fan!”

“Adrianople is misspelled. The ‘e’ and the ‘l’ are interchanged. Like in ‘Art Garfunkel’.”

Murmurs of approval reached Carmine’s ears from both Calcutta and Alaska. Justice where justice is due!

“Thank you, Serge”, Bozhimoj answered. “Dr. Fist will be pleased by your vigilance. Arius?”

Arius Affirmativo was all smiles.

“I move that discussion be closed and a vote taken.”

“Second?”

Ten hands erupted.

“So moved! All in favor? Opposed? Abstentions? Unanimous!”

It was done in a second. Like the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Carmine was stunned. Even he had voted yes. Twice. He was beginning to understand the century in a much more intimate way than ever before. He would telephone Florida with the news to depress her still further.

“Mr. Cyst of the Sports Program”, Bozhimoj rattled along, “will lead ‘The College at Plovdiv’. He will begin studying the language on arrival. It’s so much easier to pick up on the spot, without indulging in any prejudicial foreplay. And he once ate at a Bulgarian delicatessen, traveled near the Balkans and conjugated a Romanian verb.”

“Thank God there’s an expert involved!”, Dr. Rittenoff shouted, eager to regain her eclipsed prestige.

The next question to be discussed was the Five Year Catalogue, the third to be adopted in the last two years. Faculty were given copies from Mrs. Frenetico’s bottomless tumbril. Carmine eagerly flipped through his. It pronounced itself solidly for Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and, above all, Standards. The revised Five Year Catalogue, Bozhimoj explained, had been made necessary by both the National Drive for Excellence and a specific desire to keep step with the exciting new study of “Change of Life Science”. Periphery hoped to offer the best program in “Change of Life Science” in New York City, with degrees all the way up to the doctorate.

“You can see what the program entails on pp. 60-70”, Bozhimoj announced. “But there’s really no need to trouble yourselves with the details here. The spirit of the new Five Year Catalogue says it all admirably on page one.”

Hands flipped through pages back to the start of the book.

“You’ll see what it says there!”, Bozhimoj indicated. “’Periphery University—We’re There—During Your Change of Life!’ It’s exciting.”

Interest in the actual courses forming part of the “Change of Life Science” Program was zero. Carmine cautiously examined them. Subjects offered were indeed extensive: Advanced Lip Waxing (two bodies per semester); Psychology of Burial; the Neurosis of Next Day Bereavement; Who the Hell Needed Them Anyway?; Wills, Testaments and College Funding; the Bulgarian Path to Eternity.

Had the framers read Evelyn Waugh? Carmine abandoned his reveries just in time to shout out an “aye” to make the vote once again unanimous.

Finally, the big moment arrived. Discussion of the Extra Special Program. Now, Carmine grasped the wisdom of his colleagues’ compliance with the earlier proposals! A strategy was involved here. All of the Faculty’s wrath, as concerned scholars, was to be directed against the flaws of this enormous, egregious mistake.

Carmine did not know whether he would be able to describe the Extra Special Program accurately to anyone, since he did not feel sure that he clearly understood it himself. As far as he could determine, though, it was divided into three parts: the Super Extra Special Program; the Extra Special Program Per Se; and, finally, the Happy Gifted Ones.

“The Super Extra Special Program”, Bozhimoj explained, “is the future. It will tap a lode of talent whose surface alone has been skimmed up to this point.”

“What talent is that?”, Carmine asked Porphyry.

“Emptiness.”

Bozhimoj continued.

“Super Extra Special facilities will be built to develop all of the creative potential of this hidden treasure. And physicians will always be on hand to determine the progress of program participants.”

Carmine saw photographs in the prospectus of the first Super Extra Special Students, taken at their various homes and state institutions.

“The presence of the Super Extra Special at Periphery”, Bozhimoj argued, “represents our commitment to the ideals of this Nation, which cannot be too highly praised!”

Bozhimoj was elderly. He remembered Eleanor Roosevelt. And the simultaneous existence of enough ordinary people to offset the effects of her teaching. The chairman droned on.

“Of course, the Extra Special Program Per Se is something that Periphery has, in a sense, been dedicated to, without the name, from the beginning of its history: that large pool of sadly neglected potential which, at this very moment, is being entertained by Dr. Fist at his Champagne Brunch. No new facilities will have to be built for anyone admitted to Periphery under the Extra Special Program, but there may have to be an expansion of the game room. More poker chips will be purchased. Along with a wheel of fortune. To teach Civics.”

Bozhimoj turned inordinately serious.

“Our Nation has a drinking problem. We all know this. But we would be foolish not to realize that drinking will be done. And, hence, that it is better to allow it here, in the open, rather than in back alleyways, where corkscrews could be misused barbarically and the mark up might be outrageous to boot. Thus, as part of the Extra Special Program Per Se, a full bar will be added to Irksum Hall.”

Serge Sarcohagus lit up.

“Shouldn’t a full-time bartender be hired? And cocktail waitresses as well?”

Bozhimoj frowned.

“The purpose of the bar is to end drinking. True, new employees will be needed. But not of the piano lounge sort. Instead, we’re hiring what we call the ‘Carrie Nation Kids’. And here they are!”

He held up a picture of a bartender and seven cocktail waitresses.

“Finally”, Bozhimoj concluded, “there is the program for The Happy Gifted Ones. Periphery is very concerned that this troubled clique not be coddled. Dr. Fist is extremely frightened that its interest in books and writing gives it a totally one-sided view of life. Therefore, each Happy Gifted One will be watched by a ‘Big Brother’ from among the Super Extra Special Students. An appropriate tool will be given these ‘Big Brothers’ so that they can break their charges of any bad habits that they may have acquired before reaching Periphery.”

“What tool is this?”, Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts inquired.

Bozhimoj held up a cattle prod.

“The New Organum!”, he proclaimed.

Carmine waited and waited for the storm to break. But the skies remained placid. Arius Affirmativo was about to move the question for the third time when Carmine decided to pluck up the courage to intervene.

“How does this program gell together with the idea of improving Standards?”, he ventured. “It seems awfully contradictory to me. Shouldn’t it be sent back to committee for further study?”

Silence. It could have been an operating theatre. Heaped with defused larynxes. Bozhimoj simply did not know what sound to utter. Council members blurted out short phrases to one another, some of which Carmine overheard.

“The Faction.”

“Polarization.”

“Divisive.”

“Unpleasantness.”

“Not the way to handle these things.”

“Due process.”

“A protest! At a meeting! Last time I heard that was in a prison discussion group in the Gulag.”

Dean Veil came to the rescue.

“Ladies and gentlemen!”, he eructed. “You have before you Dr. Carmine Spostato. Our new personage in the historical endeavor. Welcome, Dr. Spostato. Salutations. Dr. Swabalot will have more to say about the good doctor by way of acquaintanceship later.”

He turned towards the source of civil disorder.

“Carmine. There has never been a faculty rendez-voused with a more erudite gusto for Standards. The Team prostrates itself before every agenda our faculty passes through this august Council. So does Dr. Fist and His. Because they and theirs love our faculty and Standards. Dr. Spostato! Our faculty would not put its John Hancock on a program it itself has organized if it were not aggregately consonant with Standards.”

He smiled broadly. And his subjects did the same, glad that the misunderstanding had been put to rest. Each faculty member waved a little flag to celebrate the restoration of harmony.

“But why are we voting on this?”, Carmine whispered to Porphyry Contramundum. “I mean, if the program is already in effect?”

Porphyry gave him another “Eternal Plunge” card.

“You’ll be needing this sooner than I thought”, he sighed.

“But what about Standards?”

“With goals so lofty, who needs Standards?”

A unanimous vote approved the whole of the Extra Special Program. With extra special thanks to Dr. Fist for “saving Standards from the work of ‘limiters’, ‘carpers’ and ‘wreckers’”.

Dr. Volontier Corvée, Chairman of the Central Committee, gave the only other report of the day. He spoke of progress on a new faculty dining room.

“Our committee met several times this summer with Dr. Fist’s secretary and with the Special Counsel to Student Government. I am very pleased to announce that three steps have been taken. First of all, Dr. Fist’s secretary is allowing us to use her personal lounge between 9:30 and 10:30 A.M. and 4:30 and 5:00 P.M. Though for bag lunches only. But as soon as any litter is found, she threatens to withdraw this privilege.”

“That’s fair enough”, Arius Affirmativo submitted.

“Secondly”, Dr. Corvée continued, “students will permit us the use of the game room, and access to the new full bar, for all non-alcoholic beverages.”

“We do have to maintain ourselves as role models”, Hermione Rittenoff interjected. “Temperantia evokes reverentia.”

“Thirdly”, Dr. Corvée concluded. “The President of Student Government, with whom I was able to meet personally on several occasions, has donated a truly beautiful illustrated book of Medieval College Dining Halls…”.

He held the text up to a chorus of appreciative “oohs” and “aahs”.

“His Excellency has deigned personally to autograph this masterwork!”

A motion of Gratitude to the Student Government President was unanimously passed, amidst ringing applause, and the eldest member of the faculty sent running to inform the potentate.

Dean Veil now noted that two special visitors had statements to make.

The first of these was Marcel Perdu, the Head Librarian. Dr. Perdu was a living confirmation of Lamarckian evolutionary theory. He had a normal body with an aberrantly long neck, head and arms, as though the need to stretch to the tops of shelves had shaped his appendages to their chief function. Dr. Perdu spoke so swiftly that all he recited took on the contours of an excrutiatingly boring bibliography. Still, Carmine gradually captured the cadence of his voice, and managed to grasp the essence of his message: the need for a Purge of the library to fit the requirements of the Super Extra Special Students.

“Space in the Hohenheim Multi-Media Ingestion Center has, up till now”, he began, “been put to a very bad use.”

“Probably the work of the Faction”, Contadina Panico mumbled.

“If we are to make a major effort, immediately, to reach and surpass the Fist goal of peripheral self-sufficiency in the rejuvenated world of arts and sciences in America; if we are to assure a reform of the library, its Great Leap Forward, bad uses must be set aside for good.”

Marcel Perdu’s eyes began to glimmer. He prophesied. And not with the straightforwardness of Amos. No. It was the visions of Ezechiel which inspired his ecstacy. And he traced diagrams of the new improved Hohenheim Multi-Media Ingestion Center onto his forehead with a stick to emphasize the analogy. He even stripped and delivered his message inside of a barrel for further prophetic color.

“I see a day”, the Head Librarian panted, “when everyone who enters the chambers under my command will bring Life with him! I see a day when the romance of learning matures! Leads to marriage! And results in children who merge their studies together with every other daily activity! No more boundaries! Away! Away! No more pedantic divisions of Library from Life! Open the doors! Let the outside in! Let the aroma of salami mix with that of Salamis! Let the application of a deodorant match an application to Plutarch! Who’s to separate the study of Euclid from a good satisfying scratch? A foot rub? Or a complete body massage? Who, I ask you, who?”

No one knew the answer. The faculty was putty in Perdu’s hands.

“Away, away! Life! Let us get the books out of the Library into Life, and Life back into the Library!”

He crossed his arms defiantly before his chest, just above the upper boundary of the barrel. It was Mussolini! At the Piazza Venezia! But with a different set of priorities.

“Our goal is simple”, Marcel Perdu concluded. “No one must ever introduce a sickly pedantry into our athenaeum again. Our method is equally clear. Nothing feeding the pitiful and lifeless habits of the Happy Gifted Ones will be left standing between my office and the front entrance. No more book dust! Did Jansenius not choke on it? No one can rest content until our Alexandrian Museum fills with the life-giving odor of the highway! The hershey kiss! The sweat sock! The discarded needle! Nothing human is alien to learning!”

Had he gone too far? Was this Bukharin? Spouting off the party line against his real will? Testing the waters? To see whether exaggeration would make faculty realize that such judgments were not those of a normal rational being? Like the Patriarch of Moscow did in the 1920’s, by signing countless manifestos so that no one would believe a word that he said? Or was Perdu a Botticelli? Won over heart and soul by the preachings of Savonarola? Carmine could not tell. Whatever the case, the faculty unanimously approved of everything that he had already done, was now doing or ever intended to do in the future, through his ego, his id, or some superior, though hidden consciousness.

Perdu rolled out the door. Leaving bits of prophetic revelation behind him, which could only be interpreted through special goggles. A dozen Mormon missionaries rushed through the open portal to begin the task.

But lo. A cleric materialized. It was the second special speaker. The university chaplain. The Reverend Pignoli Estephong. Reverend Estephong was an impressive figure of a man, 6’8”, 225 lbs., late fifties, still with jet black hair. In perfect fittle, Reverend Estephong nevertheless bent almost totally in two as soon as he reached the podium. The top half of his body formed a right angle to the bottom. So softly did he speak that it proved almost impossible to hear him. The entire audience leaned as far towards him as his body crumpled in its direction, just to make a respectable effort to deal with the problem. A military wedding might have taken place under their crossed frames.

“Dear friends”, Reverend Estephong began. “I am here, just to remind you? If I may? Without intruding in the slightest way? Of the fact that we have a chapel on campus? It is situated in the basement of Irksum Hall, behind the faculty restrooms? No? Please? Yes? Do come? If you ever have the opportunity? And—as Dr. Beamo so movingly told us in his immortal sermon—give thanks? You will never find anything but kind words and love in ‘The Chapel That Dares Not Speak Its Name’. But, could I ask you? Dear friends? If you do feel like coming? To please give me several weeks warning? ‘The Chapel That Dares Not Speak Its Name’ is often used by the Creative Bodybuilding Class when the instructor needs to carry out a liturgy. Is it not? And I expect that with the full bar being installed, and seating within its precincts at a premium, many students will spill over into the pews. Sometime or later? Of an evening? In one way or another? Will they not? So? If you feel the urge of a little prayer? By all means! Come? But remember? Charity and love are greater virtues than piety. And it is best to show openness to others’ needs first. Rather than to indulge one’s own selfish desires to worship what one or the other person thinks of as God. Thank you? And I am very, very sorry.”

Dr. Veil had finally dislodged the stubborn strand of the cheap giro meat which had first caused him to pick up his floss. He now rose to begin the introductions of the two new faculty members.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Beloved faculty! In a profound and even deep sense, you have now all obtained acquaintanceship with our conspicuous new colleague, Dr. Carmine Spostato. Serious, in re Standards, as he has shown himself to be. A true American. And a true man of Periphery! But, to insert him into our actuality in a more personable way, here is the Chairman of the Department of Other Studies, Dr. Swabalot.”

Dr. Swabalot reached the lectern, dusted it with a clean rag, and set to work.

“Carmine Spostato, whom the Department of Other Studies has hired for the position of Assistant Professor of European History, is, as you can see, in his late 20’s, 5’11” tall, 165 lbs. Dr. Spostato has black hair, a dark complexion and a birthmark on the back of his head. He comes to us from Greenwich Village, where he has an apartment, despite the generally high cost of such things. He speaks in a pleasing voice and dresses neatly. Dr. Spostato once had a part in a movie, the academy award nominated film ‘Marty Hirschfeld-Greenbile Pukes Up’!”

The faculty had listened politely until the mention of the film. It then erupted. Several professors held up their copies of the video. One began to do the jumping jacks that always preceded Marty’s lava flow.

“I’ve seen that twice!”, Contadina Panico squealed, turning round in all directions from the swivel seat that she carted with her wherever she went to address the rest of her colleagues.

Carmine waited, but the introduction was complete. No mention of Oxford. Or any academic accomplishment. Or even of the mole on his stomach. All that mattered was a role as stretcher bearer for Marty Hirschfeld-Greenbile after his last, drug induced evacuation; a part which had fallen into his lap simply because he had left his apartment later than usual one morning and accidentally incapacitated the designated stretcher-bearer by kicking him in the shins at the local bagel shop.

Another new man, Oliver Stonato, was also presented. He was a political scientist. Big. 6’2” and 250 lbs. Brown hair. Light complexion. With a liking for discount suits. He had not played a bit part in a lousy film. No one paid him any heed at all.

The meeting was winding down. Just before everyone left, however, Arius Affirmativo took the liberty to inform the faculty that the World Association of Significant Teachers of the Elite, the faculty union, would be gathering in convocation immediately following the college assembly. Carmine studied Dr. Affirmativo as he spoke. Although quite slim, Arius nevertheless perspired like someone plump. In fact, he continuously dripped, as though he were an imprudently large ice cream scoop dissolving in the hot summer sun. His clothing glared brilliantly and bore the scent of a tenth press olive oil. An impression of superfluous weight was aided by the innumerable chins cascading off Arius’ rather average-sized face. There were more chins added to the Affirmativo countenance than subordinate clauses to a descriptive German sentence.

An Albanian entered the Faculty Dining Room with a note from Dean Veil just as the union caucus was about to begin. This informed the gathering that it had no right to use college facilities for its deliberations. The World Association was not officially recognized by Periphery, even though Dr. Fist negotiated with it for convenient pragmatic reasons.

Arius led the obedient flock into the open air. Another Albanian informed it that ether, after all, was university property as well, and a basic sense of fairness compelled a further retreat. Just as the faculty was about to convene on the grounds of the mustard factory, a modus vivendi was negotiated. Veil decided that WASTE could settle in its original location, so long as the conventicle declared itself to be gathering not as a union, but in tribute to Dr. Fist.

“Sounds fair to me!”, Arius Affirmativo effused.

Short was the operative word with the union gathering. Arius dispensed with minor business first. He read to the assembled members new rules for obtaining sabbaticals. Stipulations required a university employee going on leave to demonstrate that he could earn sufficient extra income with the free time to justify his being honored with it.

“It’s called the ‘Tripled Talents Addendum’”, Arius explained. “So far, only the members of the Department of Real Estate and Litigation have proved eligible. And, of course, the Albanians on the work staff.”

“I call it the ‘Inverse Merit Principle’”, Porphyry whispered to Carmine. “The less you do here, the more you’re rewarded with time on the outside. It works with salaries as well.”

Dr. Affirmativo also read a statement from the National Headquarters urging subscription to faculty malpractice insurance.

“The university has graciously agreed to sell it to us rather cheaply!”, he gushed. “And the Department of Real-Lit has also hinted that its members might lower their rates in cases involving their colleagues!”

Most faculty were chiefly concerned with the report on the new contract. Its generosity was glowingly painted. In exchange for cooperating with the library’s Great Leap Forward, faculty were to be granted a .01% pay rise in recycled Confederate money over the course of the next decade. A bonus of a bushel of chicory would be offered for every class of over two hundred students as well.

“Things are really finally improving!”, Hermione Rittenoff shouted, while levitating. “I became eligible for low income housing this year!”

“Dr. Fist”, Arius added, excitedly, “has also personally agreed to try to intervene to extend the hours of use of his secretary’s lounge. He is thrilled that we all said the right things at last year’s regional evaluation meeting.”

“What did they say?”, Carmine asked Porphyry.

“Nothing. They stayed away from school, running students’ errands.”

“And, what’s more!”, Arius went one, ever more triumphantly, “the President has volunteered to tell us how much we can expect to get in our contracts, two months before negotiations begin ten years hence! So we can start planning our budgets long before the union goes into action on your behalf!”

The meeting broke up. There was only so much applause that hands could take on any given day. Mrs. Frenetico came rushing to the door. She had forgotten to distribute memos to be read the first day in class. Not to speak of Carmine and Oliver’s class schedules.

A glance at this schedule disturbed Carmine deeply. It was very awkward indeed. His first semester program involved four classes. Three of these were sections of the basic global civilization course entitled “They Did All That?”. One class met at 7:00 A.M. Another at 12:00 noon. The last at 9:00 in the evening. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The fourth class, a course on the Enlightenment known as “Here Comes Happiness!”, met for an hour and a half every Tuesday and Thursday at the crack of dawn. Carmine also had an obligatory office hour on those same days, between 5:00 and 6:00 in the afternoon. Monday to Friday, Carmine would either be on his way to, at, or headed back from Periphery. He worked up the courage to express some concern about fatigue to Dean Veil, when the two accidentally met in the piazza in front of the Hohenheim Multi-Media Ingestion Center just after midday. The Dean gave him paternal reassurance.

“Carmine”, he said. “Periphery is a total experience event. We want it to put its arms around you. Give you a real loving bear hug. Get the vital excresence seeping from you. The most corroborating it can.”

Reverse peristalsis interrupted paternalism.

“In a deep and profound sense and regard”, Dean Veil began anew, “our students are all Super Extra Special Students, Carmine. Most of ‘em are self-supporting. Come from real pioneer stock, they do. We’ve got to schedule encounters in the mornings and at nights so that they can travail. Pick themselves up by their own Nike straps. Earn credits towards parole. Progress. Proud of ‘em, Carmine! Proud of ‘em we are!”

Dean Veil paused to clean the wax from his ears.

“Got to get ‘um blown out soon. Flesh has the same problem.”

He flicked some wax into the fountain of the piazza. Carmine watched it plunk down next to an empty crack vial. The Dean continued.

“Periphery has taken on a special mission, Carmine. We’ve promised the parents and wardens of our deal little ones to nurture their prizes. They dream great dreams, Carmine. Especially with the stuff they’re on. And we’re here, in the trenches, giving them our blood. Just, for God’s sake, avoid needles!”

Dean Veil faced Carmine directly, and grabbed him by both shoulders.

“Carmine! We’ve all got to pay our dues in life. Each man has to pull his own weight. To fulfill our students’ dreams! Periphery’s faculty is not a TAGH faculty, Carmine! We don’t just ‘Teach and Go Home’ here! Don’t fail us, Carmine! Don’t fail our dear little ones most of all! Shoulder to the wheel! Think of Dr. Fist! ‘I-Can!’ Besides, the schedule’ll give you plenty of time to do your research. Periphery’s got a prime research tool for you to use in the Hohenheim Center.”

He stretched his arm towards the site, from which wafts of smoke and the acrid smell of burning parchment had already begun to emerge. Diaphanous Veil gripped Carmine still tighter.

“Make us as proud of you as we are of the dear little ones, Carmine. Answer the enthusiasm in their eyes.”

The Dean’s eyes were empty.

Carmine’s conversation with Dr. Veil nevertheless cheered him considerably. A mission, and a community in which to fulfill it, had been his purpose in choosing academics as a career in the first place. Sure, Periphery had problems. Every place did. Where did he think he was?” Eden? All men labored in a weed-strewn vineyard! Florida, who was in town that day, had offered Carmine a ride back to Manhattan at 4:00 P.M. He had four hours to kill if he still wanted it. What better way to pass that time than to return to his office and work on his opening lectures.

Carmine thought over this task with pride as he wandered back to Gorgias Hall. He stood with Veil and not Paura! To do justice to those in his charge—and to himself as well—he would have to prepare his presentations perfectly. How else could he avoid being a mere “requirement”? How else could he become a positive force for students’ betterment? What other manner of tempering and directing their agitated radicalism? Freeing the angry among them from a fetid and vile cynicism? Besides, only solidly-constructed lectures could stand firm against youth’s ever vigilant, if sometimes petty criticisms. And save Carmine himself from the fundamental loneliness accompanying bewilderment in the middle of a talk.

His office was crowded. It was food rather than work which was uppermost in his colleagues’ minds. Food brought from home. Food purchased at exorbitant prices from the cafeteria. Swabalot? Gone for the day! Passion for food consumption could be indulged without fear.

“I always snack on baby food!”, Gordian Riddel whispered to Carmine from behind his iconostasis while swallowing minute rations of slime from a gilded spoon. “Strained peas are the best!”

Dr. Volontier Corvée maneuvered his cutlery in a fashion acceptable only to a paraplegic in therapy. He stabbed haphazardly at some beast that had once run happily through the Great Northern Woods, untroubled by the thought of its being cut down in its prime. Meat gone, Corvée gnawed on a dinosaur bone, as adept at devouring its marrow as he might that of a well-roasted chicken wing.

Contadina Panico had brought dozens of stale Italian cornetti to nibble, along with the type of dust cake that Carmine had previously only read about in the memoirs of German prisoners of war in Tunisia. He touched a piece of the latter, just to test its consistency, but an invisible viscuous substance surrounding its rind adhered to him like a desert scorpion. He was forced to flee, momentarily, for the garden hose, attached to the outside of Gorgias Hall, to rid himself of the undesirable appendage. Carmine had remembered this trick from childhood. When several friends and he had built a Chinese junk out of wood stolen from Van Cortlandt Park. Sailed it on the Hudson. Sunk. And emerged, covered with leeches.

Sounds of a printing press bellowed from the interior of the Other Studies office as he worked at dislodgement. But life had changed. No bucket drenched him! He grew excited anew. Why hadn’t the Dean told him that Periphery published its own books?

Alas, It was not a press. It was merely the noise of Inca Kakatatatonic chewing.

“Mmmmmmm! Contadina!”, she cooed. “You’ve got to give me the recipe for this cake!”

Carmine returned, slipped a cornetto into his pocket, and vowed to sprinkle it through his apartment as an anti-cockroach measure. He passed by Serge Sarcophagus, who was tucking into a bowl of hootch, disguised as bouillon, and saluted Stonato, the only man seriously at work.

“Getting ready?”, he asked.

“Well, it’s my first time, you know. I guess I’m a little nervous.”

“Tell me about it!”, Carmine laughed. “Talk to you later.”

Carmine sat at his desk. Time to get at it himself. Umberto Flesh approached. He prepared a mayonnaise and sardine sandwich on Wonderbread atop Carmine’s filing cabinet. Oil dripped down onto his ink blotter. Once Flesh finished, he departed, as wordlessly as he had arrived. Carmine flipped the ink blotter over and opened his knapsack for his papers. Contadina Panico appeared and dumped the remaining dozen cornetti into it. They broke into as many bits as there were resorts along the Italian littoral.

“Welcome to Periphery, you gorgeous little boy!”, she screamed. “My health does not permit me to eat anything so good. But you! You! That face! You are young! Grow! Expand! Eat! Eat!! Eat!!!”

“Thanks”, Carmine smiled.

He would never need Combat pads again.

He rummaged through his bag, tugged out his work, scrapped off the industrial waste flakes and laid his papers upon his desk. Alfred Humdrum-Impasse came in from the heat. He removed his shirt and wrung the sweat onto Carmine’s lecture.

“Phew!”, he exhaled. “Scorcher!”

Then he vanished.

Carmine glanced down. Was this how the proverbial yellowed and withered professorial notes were generated?

Finally, he was alone. His attention turned to the syllabi he had prepared the night before. These described, in great detail, the manner in which he would approach the courses he knew he would be teaching. Carmine had listed not only the books required, and a grading policy based on a mid-term, paper and final, but even daily topics of discussion as well.

The regular stomping of a great beast on the march interrupted his meditation da capo. What was that? Could it be the dinosaur that Corvée had ravaged? Coming in search of the bone that it had discovered missing?

No. It was the Monopoli Brothers, rumbling about the office, heaping dozens of fresh decanal memos onto the faculty’s desks. Quite suddenly, old hands in the Department of Other Studies rose and dashed from desk to desk. Oliver Stonato and Carmine faced each other, startled, and leaped to their feet as well.

“Quick! Quick!”, Inca commanded, and they, too, galloped about the office.

“My knees! My knees!”, Contadina Panico cried, as she gasped for breath, supported only by the arms of her husband, Bozhimoj.

There seemed to be some rule to the game that Oliver and Carmine did not know. People picked papers up from one desk and deposited them again on another. Carmine grabbed a handful at random.

“No! No!”, the faculty vetoed, in unison, as it scurried hither and thither. Carmine limited himself thenceforward to the race alone.

“Can’t make it!”, Umberto Flesh panted as he finished his sixth circuit.

“Come on, Flesh!”, Serge Sarcophagus rooted, half plastered. “Ad astra!”

Just as Carmine was beginning to enjoy the exercise, his colleagues all sat down.

“I’m just getting too old for this”, Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts lamented, near to tears.

“What in God’s name was that?”, Oliver cried out.

“Oh, the Memo Exchange!”, Arius Affirmativo casually informed him. “There’s a lot of important work that The Team at Hormone Hall needs our help finishing, you know. And fast! Dr. Swabalot does not like these memos to pile up. Once a day, the Monopoli Brothers distribute them, and we have to deal with the whole package in ten minutes. Very efficient and clever indeed! But it will be only a nostalgic memory once our new individual computers arrive.”

Dehydrated by Swabalot’s sagacious maneuver, Carmine went into the hall for a drink of water at the fountain. A sign above it read non potabile. The hospital rooms and telephone numbers of those on the faculty not speaking Italian were listed alongside it.

“New Jersey has to dump its waste somewhere”, Thelma-Gruff Artifact sneered, when Carmine expressed dismay. “Besides, the mineral water in the cafeteria is quite acceptable.”

He left for some.

“Could you bring me a coffee?”, Inca Kakatatatonic yelled after him.

“And don’t try to drink out of the students’ fountain”, Thelma-Gruff called through the window after he left. “It gives you an electric shock. Unless you have a Super Whopper Extra Special Pass in your pocket. And bring me my lunch when you return. You may have to wait for a time while it’s prepared. Do not dawdle.”

Carmine did as he was told. Thelma-Gruff’s lunch cost him everything remaining in his pockets.

“It’s cold”, she complained, as he lay it before her.

Thelma-Gruff tucked in. Carmine waited a few moments for his indemnity, but nothing happened. Inca beckoned from the office, pointing greedily to the cup of coffee Carmine had fetched for her on his cafeteria run.

“You’ll have to fill out a Secretarial Luncheon Reimbursement Memo”, she told him. “Thanks for the coffee.”

Inca took this from Carmine. Without recompense.

“When will I get my money back?”, he stammered, to no one in particular.

“I got my ‘81’s paid last May!”, Hermione Rittenoff beamed.

Her face darkened.

“I just don’t know what to do with Bulgarian dinars.”

The Monopoli Brothers placed a large jar with an “Aid for the Plovdiv Program” tag onto the Guide Desk.

Finally, Carmine had some time to work on his first lectures. He pondered these meticulously. He would begin the basic course with a broad discussion of the ancient mentality; the advanced, with a general indication of the roots of the Enlightenment in late Medieval and Renaissance thought. Precise examples would dot each hour, woven round careful distinctions. Lest some clever student—and there must be a few—catch him in an exaggeration of the purport of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Or the impact of Lucretius. Or Nicholas of Cusa. Carmine penned notes to himself as to when and how he should modulate his voice. As to where a dramatic gesture might prove effective. And when this might seem to be a touch overblown.

“And”, he thought smugly to himself, chest puffed slightly out. “I know psychology. I must arrive early for my classes tomorrow in order to dominate them properly. I must identify the virtuous. Reward them with approving smiles. Isolate the potential malefactors. Punish them with disdain. Yes. Punish them.”

Carmine felt warmer than the day’s considerable temperature warranted. No wonder! A number of colleagues were packed tightly around him, gaping, like fifteenth century Scots gathered around Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, on papal mission to the Highlands, trying vainly to understand the concept of white bread and wine. Others came and joined the initial crowd, until nearly the entire Department was in on the awe.

“I, too, once prepared”, Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts sighed. “But that was many years ago. When I still had a brilliant career ahead of me.”

“I think it’s wonderful that he’s preparing!”, Hermione Rittenoff countered. “I spend hours and hours doing it myself!”

Her voice trailed off.

“The only thing is”, she mumbled, “it’s the same point that I keep making.”

“The students seem excited by anything I tell them”, Crumbs joked, dryly.

“That”, Porphyry Contramundum laughed, “is because anything you tell them is news”.

Crumbs pulled Carmine aside.

“Didn’t Paura warn you against preparing?”, he asked. “How will you ever get tenure if you prepare?”

The crowd began to disperse. Carmine consulted Stonato.

“I think I’ll be finishing at home”, Oliver said.

“It does seem best”, Carmine agreed.

He packed his things.

“Well”, he smiled, lifting up his mineral water towards Stonato. “Here’s to a fresh, calm start in the morning.”

A prayer to San Pellegrino would have been more efficacious than a toast.

Chapter Three

The Yearnings of the Huddled Masses

San Pellegrino might have bottled up the heavens. Lord knows his intercession was needed, for the gods had grown angry. And incontinent. That night, a terrible rain descended upon New York. Winds of apocalyptic force battered its shore and its admittedly hefty pride. Fruits of the divine wrath—big, ripe ones--were everywhere in evidence when Carmine left his apartment the following morning. He dashed quickly into the nearby bagel shop for his usual coffee, and ran as fast as his feet could take him to the subway entrance.

Alas. He was no winged Mercury.

Floodwaters worked to dissolve the bottoms of his dilapidated shoes, making progress a sluggish and downright onerous venture. Carmine arrived at the underground drenched and nearly sole-less, his single solace the possession of his morning hit of caffeine.

Houston Street Station was chaotic and rag-tag. Everybum and Associates were present, in full battle strength, an occupying army down on its luck and eager to surrender to any enemy. So thick were its ranks that the two friends could not speak. Or even touch hands, like God and Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Riffraff also blocked sight of the ladies Carmine had encountered in the station on his journey to Periphery the previous day, to his immediate discomfort. Even the briefest of glimpses in their direction would have reminded him of the futility of drinking coffee while shouldering a knapsack. And prevented him from once more tossing it in his face.

Many boats had been cancelled due to the storm. The Ferry Terminal overflowed with anxious, perplexed travelers. It was a multi-racial Dunkerque without the persistent vexations of a Luftwaffe lacking smart bombs.

“Never saw weather like this!”, a sailor on the ship marveled.

Really? Carmine suggested that he telegraph hoteliers from the French, Dalmatian and Sardinian coasts. All of whom he knew much too well. Having been trapped, helplessly, in their lobbies at the height of several wrecked summer holidays.

Disembarkment on the Island recalled the First rather than the Second world conflagration. The Allied assault upon Gallipoli to be precise. First, the boat attempted docking, but was thrust, repeatedly, from the shore, just as had happened at the Dardanelles in 1915. Then, after landing, the paid agent—in this case, a Ferry employee, hired to lower the apron to allow departure from the vessel—delayed his appearance, depressing the still absurdly hopeful passengers again. Nothing new under the sun.

“It’s just like those Ottoman traitors”, an elderly Chinese lady remarked to Carmine, between bouts of clearing her throat and spitting on the deck. “They disappointed their British paymasters in the same way. And to the detriment of the entire Imperial Expeditionary Force! Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?”

Finally, the ferry ramp having been opened too soon to the Manhattan-bound passengers, they, like enraged Turks, aware of how nearly they had been betrayed, crushed many of the exiting riders under the heels of their boots.

Carmine had never actually witnessed a morning rush hour. Fate decreed the opening of his career as the moment of introduction. Stream upon stream of people of every age, size and shape poured from bus to boat, oblivious to the consequences for those being liquidated in the process. Their facial expressions told it all. It was that of fourteenth century Hesychaste mystics, from all the reduced number of provinces of Byzantium, adjusting look, chant and bodily position to absolute unity in a single minded cause. Of monks pouring into Alexandria to slaughter the Melkites. Janissaries butchering Moldavians on order of the Grand Mufti. Worse! It was that of European drivers, staring intently at the traffic signal on the side of the road, waiting to move when the red turned green, and destroy the blundering pedestrian still in his path.

Oh, the commuters did have a certain sense of proportion. Their determination to succeed was balanced with wisdom. They knew that rush hour was favored by the ferry personnel as the time most suitable for moping floors with noxious and slippery ammonia-based substances. The more charitable among them actually paused to pity the uninitiated.

“I’ve been doing this since 1945!”, one man boasted, as he helped pick the suffocating academic off the ground.

Carmine forged ahead, dazed, handkerchief shielding his nose and mouth.

“Hey!”, the guy called from behind him. “You forgot the soles of your shoes!”

Even if the storm itself had now eased considerably, the problems left in its wake were still obvious at the shelters. Bus after tardy bus arrived simultaneously. People who had not seen one another for years rebuilt interrupted friendships upon alighting. Sang the old songs. Two elderly immigrants from the same village even showed off their similar Austro-Hungarian passports to television cameras. Oh, vehicles were indeed coming in, alright. But nothing was leaving the terminal at all.

“Anyone foolish enough to travel in this direction”, a driver chastized, “deserves everything he gets. You ride the train? You pay the fare!”

Carmine grew alarmed. He had lost a great deal of time. He decided to take off on foot. Or, rather, on sock. Given the fact that he now had to advance with his uppers alone.

Morning on the Island illustrated the Nietzschean proposition that life is one, long, despairing effort to vomit. As Carmine hopped up the hill to Periphery, he met people oozing from their homes like undigested bits of food, lodged haphazardly in various parts of the body, and now gathering in fixed locations within the island organism in the hope of expulsion. Their struggle was not to be crowned with an easy success. Commuters to Manhattan originating on the hill might run to their bus stops, but few vehicles halted there. The vast majority of buses rushed past, from some unknown point of departure beyond the grand expressway that cut the island in two, already impossibly crammed. And it was no blessing when one or two did deign to brake. Attacks upon their doors were parried by equally stern thrusts of the occupants outwards, forbidding entry.

Carmine wondered if anyone on the hill ever left even on normal days? Or were these particular commuters paid by their employers for the extraordinary effort alone? And how dared they quit their homes in such dreadful condition? Could no wife or husband have stopped to tell them what they looked like? So tired and forlorn? Was there no compassion remaining in the land? No love? A smidgen of justice even? Commutative if not distributive? O tempora! O mores!

Rant one might. To no avail. Nothing reduced the hill’s relentless gridlock. Human sludge collected together with that provoked by the rain. An avalanche of Alto Adige proportions threatened, but nihilistically refused to become historic fact. Mud Hill just would not disgorge.

“Why do you do this?”, Carmine interviewed a fellow who picked him up from his second spill.

The chap was puzzled by such a question from a man whom he took to be a fellow Islander.

“It’s the price one has to pay”, he noted, his saliva mixed with gravel and sewage from his own last tumble onto the street. “To avoid the pandemonium and Angst of city life.”

Carmine made a brief attempt to cross the grounds of the mustard factory. Slops produced by the storm were everywhere. He retreated, cursing as a German tank commander might have done, while trudging across the autumnal gumbo of the steppes of Russia. But the muck of the mustard factory took its toll. It sucked off one of his socks. A tiny part of an upper. And a toenail in the bargain. Thankfully, only a little toenail was thus compromised. Carmine tried to find it, but quickly abandoned his excavations. What could he do with the treasure if he actually unearthed it? Present it to Thelma-Gruff Artifact as a souvenir? Hide it in Flesh’s lunch? Eat it himself? Hang it on his filing cabinet to ward off the evil eye?

The main road leading to Periphery was also subject to gridlock. Gridlock with a difference. Actually, three.

One was the fact that its gridlock had assumed a two-way character. Prosperous burghers still headed down Mud Hill from the expensive abodes they had raised along its slopes. But now their adolescent descendants joined them, advancing upwards towards Periphery. Rolls Royces, Renaults, Delorians, and sports cars so low and sleek as to be camouflaged entirely under the leaves dispersed by the storm, all competed for the available space. Each car had one inhabitant. Each occupant was imprisoned in headphones. Carmine could not see the drivers all that well either, because most had attached curtains to their windows, or tinted the glass, to secure privacy.

And what was this? Could sense be made of the upward traffic? Carmine noticed one line of vehicles completely stalled, and another two threads, on either side, riding up the lawns of the good local citizenry. Eventually, he saw a tree branch, too large for a car to drive over, but not for an individual to remove. It had obviously been tossed onto the road by the unexpected monsoon. Many students in the stalled queue leaned out their windows to shake fists at the stump. A number were in tears. An epileptic had a grand mal seizure. After a while, they, too, motored up the surrounding lawns to avoid it. One burgher inspected the damage to his fief as he prepared to join the downward gridlock in his Daimler.

“Pretty rude of them”, Carmine commiserated.

“There was a branch in the road”, the bourgeois responded. “What else could they do? Are there no sanitation men? No matter about the lawn. I’ll pass the cost on to the consumers. The government will cut my taxes. We’ll conquer a banana republic to pay the difference. They’ll love us for it.”

The man sped off. He had no time to speak with a feeble minded utopian socialist.

A second difference with the earlier gridlock was Carmine’s loneliness. His were now the only human limbs actually walking on the thoroughfare. This privilege offered him the opportunity to take more serious notice of the homes that the dwellers of Mud Hill had erected for themselves. Diverse ethnic groups had fashioned residences reflecting either their deepest aspirations or their most profound cultural experiences. Southern Italians constructed palazzi imitating torrone; the Jews, out-buildings at Auschwitz; those of mixed breed, odd edifices that resembled the Brighton Pavilion, the Alhambra and Co-op City all jumbled into one.

While mulling over his impressions, Carmine realized a third difference from the earlier jam-up. The downhill commuters had enjoyed the good fortune of not being fanged. But Carmine was now the victim of unprovoked aggression. Dobermen, Setters, Spaniels, Pekinese, Chihuahuas and Shepards, both alone and in mighty packs, understood their duty to be his pursuit and dismemberment.

A front porch presented itself as a potential asylum. Vain hope! A sign on the lawn warned him that he would automatically be sprayed with toxic chemicals if he sought refuge upon it. He rang the doorbell at a second address. Its residents panicked, and declared that they would stuff themselves with high cholesterol foods and stimulate crippling strokes if he did not depart that instant. Horrible injury was spared him only by a triple gridlock of cars, Carmine and dogs, so thick in texture that there was literally no room left for an animal to get a good chomp in.

“These citizens came here to escape the constant fear accompanying every wretched moment of existence in Sodom”, the nurse explained to Carmine later in the day, when he had the leisure to have his wounds bandaged. “You cannot deny them the right to guard their Arcadia. Their Isles of the Blessed. Their little houses on the prairie.”

Periphery’s grounds also teemed with life. There were even human beings visible. None were moving, though. Or, if they were, it was with the tiniest of steps. Altogether, the campus approximated Times Square. At 12:01 A.M. on New Year’s Day. With everyone protesting that his visit had been just splendid, but that it was time for him to be off. First. Before anyone else. And preferably alone. Carmine grew anxious. He felt hot breath on the nape. He turned to see if this foretold the appearance of man. With a sledge hammer. Demanding his blood. As it had the one year that he had been stupid enough to go to 42nd Street for a celebration of the final day of the annual cycle round the sun.

It did not. It portended only Hermione Rittenoff.

“Big freshman class this year!”, she exulted. “I have a hundred students in my 6:00 A.M. Remedial Reading course alone! Periphery’s message must be getting out! I’m sure that Dr. Fist and His are very happy indeed!”

Dr. Rittenoff pontificated for the length of a Polish encyclical. Meanwhile, the gridlock seeped down the pathway towards Plugdata Hall, and into its very corridors themselves. Guards armed with walkie-talkies were stationed at strategic crossroads to report traffic mishaps. Occasionally, Carmine heard a yelp, and saw hands flailing about in panic until the body in question disappeared.

“Path Two. Direction Plugdata”, a guard would then report. “One under.”

Some students succeeded in calming much of the crowd on their own, by getting it to sing television and radio commercials, as well as theme songs from historic programs. Carmine finally learned all the lyrics to “Car 54”. One girl was so moved that she fell backwards, thrusting all her hair into his mouth. But that was alright. After all, he had not yet breakfasted. And a smoker who burned his ear with a cigarette succeeded in cauterizing a wound made minutes before by a particularly insistent dachshund.

Carmine saw Dr. Rittenoff sucked involuntarily down the wrong corridor, but managed to reach his own destination without detour. Not that this was a blessing. Could someone rejoice after detraining from an overloaded local? Reeking from the stench of the all too close contact with the rest of humanity? Without being properly introduced? Only to climb immediately into the equivalent of an overpopulated Neapolitan bus? The Black Hole of Calcutta? A holding pen for cattle with each steer piled on top of the next like people in a medieval painting before knowledge of perspective had learned to separate them?

Innumerable eyes of countless students met Carmine’s gaze. A number seemed unacceptably tall. Then he observed that they were simply seated on their colleagues’ shoulders. Some young scholars had already so lost confidence in education that they were fleeing through the windows.

If only they had waited! Help was on the way. A team of Albanian workers was already building a second-level in the back of the classroom to house the monstrous, oversized polis. Arius Affirmativo and Alfred Humdrum-Impasse were among the laborers, laying bricks.

“A natural mistake!”, Arius explained, referring to the packed cell. “The computers put all three of our classes in the same spot. A perfectly understandable error! They’re programmed to understand Liberal Arts subjects as all being identical.”

Mrs. Frenetico’s voice penetrated Plugdata Hall. She was standing on a ladder outside the building, shouting through a bullhorn.

“Drs. Affirmativo and Humdrum-Impasse!”, she commanded. “Take your pupils to Rooms 108 and 109. They’re unoccupied. The Department of Management and Gestalt has cancelled classes until next week.”

“How just!”, Arius argued. “There’s nothing they can really do on the first day anyway. Gestalt requires time.”

There was not much improvement with Arius and Alfred gone. Many students were still left standing. And those that were not were seated in chairs designed for midgets. Carmine felt as though he had been placed in a room occupied by incredibly humble individuals, none of whom could be quite comfortable unless effacing himself, cringing closely to the ground. A door lay directly behind the podium. Students in the next classroom kept opening and shutting it. Carmine thought that they found his session to be more interesting than their own, and enjoyed the flattery. Then he realized that it was simply the movement of the hinge that had gripped their attention.

“Wow!”, they gasped. “Wow!”

By the time the confusion had subsided, there were only twenty-five minutes of class time remaining. Noise from the workers’ construction site made it painful to speak. A ponderous sunlight came streaming through the windows at normal late summer levels. Bees from the mustard factory joined in the fun, stinging one girl on both sides of her head, which took on the shape of puffy Indian bread. Teacher and students were united, mystically, in their common stupifecation. Carmine arranged for a boy to climb through the window to get a coffee for him so that he could recover. He gagged upon tasting it.

“What did you do?”, he asked. “Flavor it with pork fat?”

“I could only get it from the faculty room”, he said in self defense. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

It was now possible to get down to business. Item one on the agenda was the taking of attendance. Sixty names jammed the roster. It was the United Nations. Luckily, Carmine was well versed in foreign languages, so he could pronounce the surnames properly.

Alas, his charges could not. Fortunately, the correctly pronounced names of some students matched the incorrectly pronounced names of others, so the problem was barely noticeable. Moreover, Carmine’s pupils had resolved age-old dilemmas, through their inability to describe exactly who they were. Names of ethnic groups of diverse hemispheres all merged, successfully, into one indistinguishable lump. Rivalry could finish. War cease. Everybody was everyone else. And no one was anyone.

Memos were Carmine’s next concern. He had honestly meant to look over the package presented him by Mrs. Frenetico at the previous day’s meeting, but the storm and its consequences had deprived him of the chance. What could he do now? Carmine chose the longest memo from the heap in his sack. This was labeled as being “Of the Utmost and Absolutely Indispensable Importance”. He read:

“Those students seeking Periphery’s assistance in establishing an UNG account with ARG-UKY, tagged at 2.5% quarterly, commensurate with NUP standards set by the World Bank’s delineation of Cross Currency Regulations, can obtain the necessary forms and receive the following forty benefits:”

Now he was stuck! He had to read all forty! Hands shot up as soon as he had finished. He called upon the oiliest.

“Will the sub-functionary debt on my ultra-lunar OOPs loan be liquidated under Point 17, with reference to the Riyadh Convention?”

What the hell was the brat talking about? For years, Carmine had kept money in a sock under his pillow. He had opened a bank account only to satisfy the landlady, who laid that burden upon him as a test of manhood. Carmine concocted a 41st point, which directed the students to address all questions to the Albanians on the janitorial staff. This provoked grumbling.

“Their rates are too high”, one fellow complained. “And they’ve got a surcharge. The ‘Balkan Drop’.”

Bitching aside, the ploy worked. Carmine now decided to read only those memos marked as being “Of the Utmost and Absolutely Indispensable Importance.” All were listed as being “Of The Utmost and Absolutely Indispensable Importance”. Perhaps “short” was a better criterion to go by? A very short memo offered itself from the middle of the pile. Carmine read:

“This class is History. History is not Math. It is not even Real Estate. You must leave the room at once if you think this course has anything to do with numbers.”

The room grew noisy. Carmine looked up. About twenty members of the class were preparing to emigrate. So were several of the Albanian workers. Many were mumbling to one another in disbelief and agitation. A girl burst into tears and needed to be slapped back to her senses by a classmate. Grief specialists entered through the window to deal with her subsequent rage.

There were now only ten minutes left. Carmine had to say something about the class requirement sheet. He abandoned the memos. Upon announcing his intentions, the mood, paradoxically, both relaxed and grew ugly. Young men took out the sports pages and propped their feet on the shoulders of the guys in front of them. Girls began to brush their hair and apply make up. Boy friends even did their toenails for them. A few stretched out hammocks. Fix or six played strip poker with the Albanians.

The majority yawned loudly, stomped their feet, and then fidgeted, uncontrollably, like Shakers. Were they having a religious experience? Carmine started to speak more swiftly, in response to their jerking movements. But this only seemed to agitate them further. Both lecture and shaking continued like jackhammers. Change the time and locale, and the gyrations could have indicated the presence of a hot new club.

Meanwhile, Dr. Swabalot, who taught the geography class following Carmine’s, had arrived in the hallway outside the door. He pressed his face onto the window and watched the proceedings inside. Passing students thought that an entertaining diversion was occuring. It was the proverbial Swabalot at the door!

They pressed their faces excitedly around that of the chairman. Scholars in Carmine’s class began to wonder what the commotion was all about. They pressed their faces outward from the inside glass panes. Never had Periphery seen such pressure. At exactly the moment that the class was scheduled to end, Dr. Swabalot flung the door open, pointing to his watch. The gridlock outside found a new space to enter. It poured in, willy-nilly. Carmine’s students left the best they could, some by the door, some by the new path through the window. All abandoned their course requirement sheets, their teeth, and their broken noses in the waste paper baskets as they departed. Swabalot ran madly about the room with a paint scraper, dislodging bits of gum and other items that the students had ground into the floor.

Carmine took the Swabalot Purgation as an opportunity to vacate the room himself, thus avoiding a possible confrontation with the chairman over the quality of his footwear. A student stopped him in the hallway.

“Hey! You! What’s your name? You never told us!”

“Dr. Spostato.”

“Hey! Nice to meet you Mr. Spostato! I’m Vinne della Joey, the Senior Class President. Great course! Great course!”

“Nice to meet you, Vinnie.”

Carmine hesitated momentarily, and then decided to establish himself as an authority from the very outset of the year.

“One thing, though”, he told Vinnie. “It’s Dr. Spostato.”

“Oh, yeah, sure, Doc! Hey! Are you a real Doctor? Or the kind they have here?”

“I guess it depend on whether you’ve got a Brain Fever or not.”

A gum chewing wench in Vinnie’s entourage laughed.

“You’re funny!”, she said.

The creature turned to face the rest of the President’s Court.

“He’s funny!”, she repeated.

“Funny! Funny…funny…funny!”

This word passed from person to person until the entire group reiterated it in loud and approving terms. Carmine was acceptable to the mob. It was as though the King had had a son. Or San Gennaro’s blood had liquefied again. Such an advantage could not be lost. Carmine used it to pose a question that happened to cross his mind.

“Vinnie”, he inquired. “You’re a senior, you said, right? How did you get into a freshman class?”

“Dean Veil gave me special permission. Hey! Doc! It’s been really great! Maybe I’ll see you some time again this semester! I gotta run to Advanced Lip Waxing now.”

He patted Carmine on the back.

“Hey! See you around, Mr. Spostato! Huh?”

Carmine’s second class varied little from the first. Two hundred students occupied a room intended for eight. One couple became so friendly in consequence that it asked Carmine if his powers were those of a captain of a ship. Sufficient to perform a marriage.

“I think you should give it time”, he argued.

“But we’re in love”, the boy responded. “She does things to my body. A lot better than the one in the last class.”

“Life is hard”, Carmine counselled.” Go see the Albanians.”

Eight hours separated Carmine and his evening class. Perhaps Oliver Stonato could drive him to a store to buy a new pair of shoes?

“We’d be better off walking, if you still can”, Oliver advised. “We’d never get my car back into the parking lot.”

Carmine could have been mistaken for a Discalced Franciscan on pilgrimage by the time they reached White Boy Shoes at the foot of Mud Hill.

“Left it pretty late, didn’t you?”, the salesman sneered.

“I hate waste”, Carmine explained. “There’s an environmental crisis.”

“No patriotism, huh? Haven’t you heard the government’s call to shop?”

The evening class, which ran from 9:00 until 10:00 P.M., was unique. It served for the enlightenment of only seven people, all of whom slept soundly from its start to its finish. One lady brought embroidered slippers with her.

“I’ve been working all day”, she grumbled when Carmine gave her the wake up call.

“So have I.”

“Oh, but I have a real job.”

There was less of a rush the next morning. “Here Comes Happiness” began so early that it had been pointless for Carmine to go to bed at all. There was even a chance to chat with Everybum at the station. The two female commuters, obviously on a schedule as erratic as Carmine’s, arrived while he spoke with his friend. Both women eyed Carmine suspiciously and moved back towards the turnstiles when they recognized him.

“There’s the man who throws coffee in his face”, he heard one tell the other.

Everybum smiled at his pupil with a new respect.

“But look”, the other lady responded. “Today he has real shoes.”

Everybum spat and returned to sleep.

“Backsliding”, he mumbled, as he dozed off.

Seventy were listed on Carmine’s course roster that day. Only one was present in class.

“Where are the others?”, he asked his sole customer.

“Does everyone gotta come?”, he shrieked, with real alarm.

“I’d like that.”

“They probably couldn’t make it up because of the gridlock.”

“Why don’t they walk?”

The fellow took umbrage.

“Hey! Who are you talkin’ about? We ain’t degenerates, you know!”

Carmine could not judge. He had no precise scientific knowledge of their genetic histories. And he hated to leap to conclusions on the basis of experience alone.

Instructive was the only word applicable to the next six weeks. Carmine learned so much from his lectures. How the sound of his voice instructing the mob impressed him! In fact, it led him to logical conclusions in his own thought that might never have been reached had he not been obliged to express them viva voce. It was as though the act of speaking had itself shaken the very foundations of the universe. But turbulence in the cosmos left little impact on Carmine’s charges.

Admittedly, there were certain environmental reasons for their torpor. Surely, Carmine thought, the peculiarity of the classroom distracted them very badly. Room 201 was, indeed, should one say, eccentric? It invited many questions. Dozens of spigots lined the place. What were they intended to pour out? Gas? Beer? Schweppes? Water? So that boats could sail here during the summer, as they had in the Piazza Navona in previous centuries? Carmine obtained a Spigot Questionnaire from Thelma-Gruff Artifact in order to learn the answer. But all he received was a five page memo with theories.

A staircase of six steps led from the back of the room to a blank wall. Was this a warning against vain ambition? Or a miramare from which to admire, dive into and dock boats at the flooded piazza below? A huge American flag occupied the center of the wall behind Carmine’s podium. An equally enormous NO SMOKING sign was affixed to a space beneath it. Would some future archaeologist think that this had been the purpose of America? Carmine did not want the real meaning of his nation obscured! Some of the students held the sign in awe. It was a romantic spot for a cigarette or a joint. Dr. Swabalot kept it clean. He polished it neatly before and after each of his sessions.

Mirrors stood at knee level at the right side of the room. Girls sitting at the midget desks thought this useful for doing their hair. No one ever could be quite certain just how many midget chairs and desks would be available in the class from day to day. Sometimes there were enough for everyone. Sometimes for only half the students. Occasionally, the room was solid desk. Carmine had to teach standing atop them. He hated this, because he often fell through and felt cheap. On Wednesdays, giant desks appeared alongside their midget brethren. This enabled part of the class to leer down at cringing colleagues. It was an enjoyable contrast. Students frequently changed positions to permit each the experience of domination and submission.

Scrupulous honesty characterized the Albanian work staff. A quarter dropped from Carmine’s pocket one day after his evening class. They never touched it. Neither did they disturb coke cans, cigarette butts, banana peels, or anything else that Periphery’s population threw onto the pavement in abundance. What for? Swabalot could be counted upon to do the cleaning anyway. A nightly collection and disposal of chalk and erasers was the only mission the Albanians happily fulfilled. By the third week of the semester, all chalk and erasers, along with other necessary supplies, had disappeared entirely.

“What do I do now?”, Carmine asked his chairman.

“Buy your own!”, he ordered, teeth bared. “If you’re dedicated, that is.”

Two particular oddities disturbed Carmine the most. One was the heat. Ten minutes into each session, the spigots fizzed.

“The heat! The heat!”, the students shouted, as panic spread.

Soon, the temperature rose drastically, and the room filled with steam. Youth began to strip. It became difficult to see. Carmine and his charges wandered, aimlessly. Searching. Emoting. Touching. Procreating. Five minutes later, the steam disappeared, but the heat remained a constant 140º. And winter was approaching! Dread effects suggested themselves to Carmine, as he thought of passing swiftly from the sauna into the frigid tundra outside. Oliver Stonato had exactly the opposite problem in his domain. Temperatures dropped precipitously. Soon, his class iced up. Porphyry Contramundum also taught in the frigidaire. He built a profitable little business out of the Crisis, renting students overcoats and mufflers for the duration.

“I make the most out of the furs”, he explained to Carmine. “The girls like them because they’re stylish. Want a good line of swim wear? For your class? The Albanians can get it for you in bulk. From customs officials.”

Dr. Swabalot denied the existence of the phenomenon when Carmine and Oliver approached him for clarification. No matter. Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts revealed the truth. The upper reaches of Plugdata Hall had originally housed the university’s gymnastic facilities. Basketball courts. Sauna baths. Steam and cold rooms. Once Irksum Hall went up, the early gym had been abandoned. But so much equipment was already in place! Someone had to utilize it! Why not the Department of Other Studies? Each faculty member dealt with the dilemma in his own way. Porphyry Contramundum, by making a profit. Most others, by taking the Cure.

Still, construction of the second level was Carmine’s worst disruption. Drilling, hammering and sawing made lecturing a thankless trial. It was bad enough when the regular Albanian workers were there; infinitely worse when the team of faculty volunteers appeared. Dr. Corvée was especially nerve-racking. And the timbre of his screams, while momentarily exhilarating, swiftly became oppressive.

Other irritations came from outside Carmine’s immediate realm. Crucial in this respect was the noise from the former basketball court occupied by Krupskaya Pluralistovna. Dr. Krupskaya Pluralistovna was a thirty-five year old, emaciated caricature of an albino. Her head was the size of a pea, wrinkled after prolonged residence in a pot whose boiling water had been allowed to cool overnight. It was topped by hair as sparse as grass in some parts of the African savannah. Chips from the falling basketball court roof could often be seen dancing about therein, like gazelles heading towards Tanzania. She housed her body in glittery, synthetic avant-garde costumes. Hopefully, given her as gifts. By people whom charity demanded that she please. Krupskaya taught English, along with Anatole Crumbs and Hermione Rittenoff. She had not been at either of the initial meetings which Carmine attended. Neither did she keep office hours. One never saw her on the pathway to Plugdata Hall, because she always arrived late to class. She ignored memos. She spoke disparagingly of The Team, Theirs and the university as such.

“A born rebel”. Paura lamented. “A woman to whom law is merely ‘an instrument of exploitation in the hands of the corrupt’. An impossible case.”

Paraphrased quotations from Rousseau stood atop her desk, in defiance of Dr. Swabalot’s injunction against all forms of personal office decorations.

“The person is born free, and she is everywhere in chains!”, these began, substantially, if not grammatically, correct. “Her reason, her spirit and her body are all in bondage!”

Then came the thunderbolt. The Krupskaya difference.

“I mean to change that!”, a cenotaph dominating the filing cabinet and commemorating martyred Freedom Fighters proclaimed.

Krupskaya’s eyes were vacant. Perhaps her ears were clogged as well.

Carmine had little chance to judge the consistency with which the rebel lived up to her mission. Still, he did know that her classroom was no prison. It fit many prescriptions from the Emile. Laughter. Applause. Howls of delight and approval. All resounded through its air space. But only for a short time each day. Let ten minutes pass and the door flung open. Class dismissed. Krupskaya and the students left together. Fraternally. Equally. With clear conscience.

And they were not alone. Philosophe Krupskaya’s troops joined a wave of young scholars freed by the Citizen Faculty of the other Departments. A Liberation Army mobilized, yelped, hurrahed and vibrated in unison. Many of the troops, faculty included, pressed their faces onto Carmine’s door, locating and saluting friends still oppressed by the Ancièn Régime.

Staring was a favored Periphery pastime, matched in its intensity only by the most obstinate of peasants. Daring student starers eventually knocked on Carmine’s door and asked to leave messages. When refused, they recruited pliant teachers in their stead, whose entreaties Carmine found more difficult to reject.

Environmental factors aside, Carmine’s pupils still did not appear quite moved by his achievement, whether intellectual or rhetorical. Actually, he did not have much opportunity to estimate his impact. Most never showed up in class after the first day. Some, of course, had not even come for that initial session. Often, Carmine waited the eight hours between his mid-day and evening declamations, only to discover that one person had arrived for instruction. Inevitably, the student in question fell instantaneously into that course’s traditional deep slumber. Carmine lamented the absence rate. In front of Swabalot. His chairman entertained dark suspicions of his subordinate’s intentions and actions.

“You’re not dismissing your classes are you?”, he barked. “One must never dismiss a class! Even if there is no one in it! You owe Periphery for lecture time. Especially when there’s nobody there to hear you!”

Dr. Swabalot took occasional spot checks to ascertain whether Carmine was violating sacred canons of university law. He popped up one evening when, in fact, no one did show up for class. Carmine gave a lecture on the importance of rhetoric in ancient Greece, with well-prepared emphases and gestures. There was no need to rush, since the Shakers were not in attendance. Dr. Swabalot’s face pressed onto the window for so long that it smoothed the glass panes, just as pilgrims had polished the foot of St. Peter’s statue in the Vatican Basilica. Future candidates for tenure developed the habit of kissing the panels for good luck.

By the fourth week of the semester, almost half of Carmine’s students, including Vinne della Joey, the Senior Class President, had overcut. University policy required him to fill out an absence form for Paura. He delayed doing so, since his report would entail automatic failure for over two hundred pupils. He again approached Swabalot for counsel.

“Have you dawdled?!”, Swabalot cried out loudly, clearly horrified. “This is a very serious matter! How can we hope to maintain Standards if you don’t do your job properly?! Send in the report! Fail them! Fail them all!”

Carmine did. Next class period, the delinquents materialized. All with readmission slips from Dean Veil.

“You can’t expect everyone to have got used to the steam so easily”, Swabalot argued—suddenly aware of the classroom’s climactic conditions—when Carmine expressed bewilderment. “Unique cases have to be dealt with uniquely, as the Dean has done. One by one.”

All but one of those unique cases disappeared anew. The exception had been ordered by his physician to attend class in order to lose weight.

“He said the steam bath each morning might do the trick”, the fellow confided to Carmine. “But I don’t know. The early wake up call makes me anxious. And I can’t get a good nap going with all this history gunk in the background.”

Five “types” emerged from among those students who did make regular visits to Carmine’s sessions.

“Mummies” were the largest in number. Each Mummy remained inert, gazing blankly ahead. Temptation once overcame Carmine in his introductory course. Upon reaching Livy’s account of the behavior of Roman Senators on the day of the Gallic conquest of the Eternal City in 390 B.C. , he approached a Mummy, just as barbarian warriors had timorously crept towards the motionless Fathers, seated in their chairs, to determine whether they were actually alive. Since the Mummy had no beard to tweak, Carmine merely touched it upon the shoulder. But the Mummy was not a Roman. He did not reach for a staff of office. Or a symbol of consular rank. Or even a private entertainment system, to bop him on the head. Instead, the Mummy toppled to the ground and snored. It had perfected a way of sleeping with its eyes opened. And barely budged, at the end of the class, when three girls walked over it, inserting stiletto heels in its mouth.

Sometimes, the Mummies came partially back to life. Then, dozens of heads bobbed, like those of tired travelers on a train or bus. Carmine thought of following Porphyry Contramundum’s policy of bringing in stakes with little rubber tips on the end, so that the Mummies might rest their chins upon them. But he gave up the idea when the Albanians mistook Porphyry’s whole class for plants struggling to live, and barraged it with chemicals to make it grow.

“It looked alive”, they said, in self defense. “So, we sprayed it!”

At first, Periphery contemplated disciplinary action against the hose men. Dr. Fist intervened, arguing that there might be something in their logic. The Albanians were ordered to start spraying classes at random, to see if they would, in fact, grow over a reasonable period of time.

“High intensity recruitment”, Diaphanous Veil stated in a memo. “It’s exciting.”

Only slightly smaller in number as a “type” were the Mallmen. This group consisted of those who were irremediably thoughtless and purposeless, and pleased that they had reached such a state of perfection. On this new, emerald isle. This Western Paradise of the Amida Buddha of the peripheral hinterland. Where everything was sugared and salted to absolute satisfaction.

“No problem!”, a t-shirt popular with the set announced joyfully. “Before, During or After Life.”

Actually, the Mallmen were a bit complicated. A few did more than giggle. A few were Entrepreneurs. They hawked comics and weight lifting magazines, so that at least some of the time wasted in class might be put to good use. When not selling literature, the Entrepreneurs traded in hairbrushes, lipstick and entire make up kits.

“Body culture”, their advertisements, posted throughout Room 201 noted. “For spiritual excellence.”

Part of the Mallmen population were simultaneously Vulgarians. Vulgarians did more than giggle as well. They chanted obscenities. And lyrics of rock songs. From memory. Vulgarians often asked Carmine to translate the libretti of foreign bands to increase their repertoire of barbarisms. Those among the Vulgarians who could write, spelled out their favorite terms of abuse on desk tops for the world at large to enjoy. “Good shit to all persons!”, this earth bound Host proclaimed.

Energy for the Mallmen as a whole came from the snacks they brought with them to class. Phlegmatic Mallmen were satisfied with diet soda and mashed potatoes. Others needed T.V. dinners. Carmine had no idea such things were still being produced. But, then, he did not own a television. Or a microwave, like the one they often left next to the podium in 201 to heat the slops. And the T.V. dinners proved to be left overs from the 1950’s anyway, saved up for just such emergencies as hunger in “Here Comes Happiness”.

The truly exigent required Chinese food.

“We want Gook!”, they demanded.

A nearby restaurant installed a direct telphone line to supply their wishes. Soon, a fax machine was added, since it provided tastier egg rolls.

“What would we do if we couldn’t eat?”, a few anxious customers asked Carmine when he made a modest suggestion regarding limitation of the barbeque sauce in class.

Snacking done, the male Vulgarians competed to stimulate the libidos of their female concubines by seeing who could scratch, belch, and crack knuckles most imposingly. Was this why college lasted for four years? To allow such athletic prowess sufficient time to mature? Reach Olympian quality? To be crowned with the laurel wreath? Mixed with oregano, salt, pepper, garlic powder, olive oil and vinegar, in case stomachs should rumble before returning to the locker room?

Those who did not eat, chewed gum. Those who chewed gum, cracked it, blew it, threw it, rung it, mashed it, and made it intimate advances. The Albanians grew interested in the resource, and contracted with the Mallmen Entrepreneurs to supply gummy material for the building of the upper level.

“There’s too much commercial activity going on in my classroom”, Carmine complained at Gorgias Hall the day that the deal was sealed.

A memo arrived the following morning from Dr. Onnipotente. Good relations among departments made criticism of capitalism off limits.

“It’s what this country was built on!”, Arius Affirmativo shouted down to Carmine while on his shift. As he stuck the wads of wettened gum that the Mallmen below spat up to him between bricks on the upper level.

Faculty volunteers were now alone on the job. The Albanians were often absent. At the bank. Depositing the surplus left from the actual funds available for construction after the cost of the gum was deducted. They split the difference with their Mallmen partners. And the partners regularly offered Carmine bribes if he would simply cease lecturing.

“Come on!”, they urged. “Enough!”

But there were more “types” still.

“Wait! Waits!!” formed a third category.

Like Mohammedans writing down the sayings of the Prophet, this group seemed convinced that every breath from Carmine’s lips was divine in origin.

“Wait! Waits!!” were led by an Extra Special Student, Geschwinde Urmsilde, from Carmine’s first class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Scribbling madly with one hand, Geschwinde held up the other, howling “wait! Wait!!” recurrently. Often, she asked Carmine to redo his whole lecture from start to finish. Who did she think he was? A Roman priest? From the time of Numa Pompilius? Who had made an error in the Sacred Ceremonies? And risked offending a Home Spirit if he did not begin again from scratch? Geschwinde even took to telephoning Carmine when she know that he would be home. In the middle of the night. Just to check her notes.

“I’m hanging up, Geschwinde”, Carmine would threaten her.

“Wait! Wait!!”, she would beg, in vain, as he ripped the cord from the socket.

Eventually, Geschwinde decided to bring a cassette recorder to class. Then, all her compatriots got the same idea. And Swabalolt observed Carmine lecturing to a roomful of machines.

“You didn’t display enough energy before them!”, he criticized. “You won’t get tenure if you can’t even please a tape deck!”

Carmine became a Luddite. He forbade machinery.

“Wait! Waits!!” were more predictable than another category of Carmine’s students: the Oddities.

There were four Oddities in Carmine’s “Here Comes Happiness!” course. Most amusing was a black man who propped his briefcase atop his desk to play peek-a-boo with Carmine over the cover.

“That’s me peering over the top!”, he chuckled when in motion. “Here comes happiness!”

Inquiry followed gyration.

“Can this be true?” he asked. “Can this really be true?”

“I sincerely hope not!”, Carmine responded, ritually, after several weeks of classroom experience. “But several centuries of western development seem to indicate that it is.”

Ten little black fingers then applauded madly in celebration. And the pickaninny repeated an Italian phrase Carmine had taught him.

“Settecento a novecento!”, he chortled. “Basta così!”

Uncontrollable giggling came as a postscript, making the black seem like a Mallman, which he was not. Well, actually, he did sometimes compete in the belching competitions of the Vulgarians alongside them.

Two of the Oddities were well known to Carmine from before his first class even began. They were the Siamese Dwarfs, with whom he had entered the lists for his present position. Both—thankfully together—had decided, after rejection by Veil, that insufficient training was responsible for their humiliation. Thus, instead of teaching at Periphery, they now attended classes there. Shortly, they argued, Carmine would be challenged anew.

“It will be a two front war”, they warned him, revealing, under the desk, the elasticity of their connection. “We shall envelop you. As the Count von Schlieffen planned to envelop the French armies. In a new and more elaborate Cannae! And then we shall put you out to pasture.”

A final freak was a middle-aged moustachioed woman whom Carmine saw regularly tossing coins behind her back into the fountain of the piazza outside of the Hohenheim Multi-Media Ingestion Center. She interrupted class at least once a day to ask Carmine if he knew when the Sanitation Department was intending to pick up her garbage.

“Wednesday”, he answered. “I’m pretty certain it’s on Wednesdays.”

This normally satisfied her. One day, however, it did not. She approached Carmine in her usual manner, as he was writing on the board, gaining his attention by spitting in his ear. Her traditional inquiry about the garbage was followed by his now time-honored reply that the sanitation men would most assuredly show up as usual on Wednesday. She returned to her seat.

“Well, then!”, she asked, boxing the ears of a Wait!-Wait!! who generally scribbled next to her. “Can they take this little shit with them?”

Carmine could not resist a smile. Others were not amused. The pickaninny had a wheezing fit. The Siamese Dwarfs became so perturbed that they actually attempted to separate.

“No polarization!”, the students chanted, instinctually, forcing the little ones to abandon their misguided effort, and integrate back into shape.

Still, the unpredictable Oddities were less upsetting than the Prisoners. For convicts were present at Periphery. As a constituent element in the Super Extra Special Program. In a category all their own, called “Behind Bars, But Reaching For the Stars!”

“I didn’t have to interrupt my education at all”, one of their number exulted to Carmine. “Even after I shot the bastard with a bow and arrow!”

Prisoners and their guards were in class incognito. Carmine developed a subtle way of deducing who they were. He kept on watch for slightly older, scarred, tattooed blacks, Hispanics, and Ozark Mountain men in leg irons, shadowed by Keepers aiming pistols at their heads. Carmine ran into troubled waters one day when he dared to call on a prisoner with a question concerning Socrates.

“Why the hell you askin’me?!”, the man thundered.

“Oh, I don’t know”, Carmine admitted. “None of my friends are here. And I thought it could be interesting to see what a student might say. Since there are so many of you around.”

“Well, I don’t like it. And now somebody has to die.”

“At least it would be for a good cause.”

His guard never appeared again. This particular prisoner transferred to Gestalt. Management advanced just that extra bit further.

Oh, yes. There were many “types” in Carmine’s class indeed. Would that they at least stayed apart! But, sometimes, they all allied together, moved, inexplicably, by a momentary interest in participating. Even the Albanians occasionally got envious and participated, whenever their personal financial consultants permitted them enough leisure to indulge this whim.

“Are we covering the ancient spider civilizations?” a participating Vulgarian once asked him.

“Why did you put Plato’s death date before his birth date?” a Wait! Wait!! participatingly queried.

“They all died before they were born in those days”, one partially awakened Mummy sighed, contemptuously. “That’s why we study them.”

“How come Athens lived as long as he did?”, a Mallman giggler wanted to know. “Could he still be composte mentis after a couple of hundred years?”

“It is extraordinary, isn’t it?” Carmine commented, getting into the spirit of the thing. He began to think of theater machinery and the deux ex machina. “Every time Athens was about to kick off, something strange happened onto the scene. From heaven. From the gods! To keep him unexpectedly alive. Whenever such an unusual divine event takes place, we have a name for it. We call it a Deuce Machine!”

“Wow!”, the class gushed. “You’re smart!”

Once, when a dog had again bitten him on Mud Hill, Carmine arrived on campus in a foul mood. He told his class on the Enlightenment a joke about the personal foibles of a French philosophe that had kept lecture rooms at Oxford in stitches, and often improved his own sagging spirits. Everyone temporarily became a Mummy. Later, when he merely mentioned the name of Diderot, the laughter was so deep and long-lasting that each midget chair overturned, sprawling its electrified occupant onto the Plugdata floor. And it wasn’t for the right reasons! Only because it had a foreign sound.

“It’s true what they saw about you”, a Mallman remarked. “You are funny. No Problem!”

Carmine gritted his teeth and vowed to remain calm. Then, a Vulgarian provoked him.

“Hey! You!”, he shouted. “We all know how boring this stuff is. You don’t like it, do you? I mean, what’s this shit worth? What’s the pay off when we’re done? Huh?”

“That’s a moot point”, Carmine mumbled.

“I ain’t no mute!”, the Vulgarian stuttered, and then started to cry.

A girl from the Wait! Waits!! intervened.

“Wait! Wait!!”, she bellowed. “Does this have to do with the Sophists?”

“In a sense, yes.”

“Will it be on the test?”

Carmine’s composure dissolved.

“Who cares? And do you really want a clear idea of what a Sophist is? You’re a Sophist!”

She became overwrought, and skulked, blubbering, from the class. The offended Vulgarian exited, broken, behind her. Carmine could hear the both of them, sobbing, disconsolately, outside the door. Their tears set the madwoman off. Crying, loudly, she put her mean fist into action against all and sundry. Her fellow freak, the pickaninny, banged the cover of his briefcase repeatedly.

“That’s me banging!”, he screeched, through his own staccato sobs. “Non basta così?”

Exhaustion sent him into another wheezing display that threatened a reverse peristalsis immeasurably worse than Veil’s. By this time, the madwoman had climbed to the upper level of 201 and stuck her head into a cement mixer. Even the Mallmen felt upset and whimpered in chorus.

“What happened?”, Carmine asked Crumbs, later in the day.

“It’s simple. They thought you didn’t like them. There’s nothing they fear more.”

He was right. Periphery psychoanalysts were busy for weeks thereafter, counseling to avoid The Great Fear. Concern for the madwoman’s health was so pronounced that one of the Albanians offered to marry her to give the lady something to live for. Dreams of her marriage afflicted Carmine for weeks afterwards. But they were dreams of nuptials with him as the groom, and the madwoman as his bearded bride. All of Periphery yawned in indifference as he was dragged away from the pillar to which he had chained himself to avoid forcible union with her. And that was not all. He lived forever. Composte mentis. A Deuce Machine appeared from a flying saucer to remind him to take out the garbage on Wednesdays.

Many weeks into the semester, Carmine received a phone call from the bookstore, Funtime Diversions. Mrs. Funk, the proprietress, asked him what she was supposed to do with three hundred copies of Basic Problems in Western Civilization, and seventy of Enlightenment Writings on Human Nature, An Enlightenment Reader, and The Age of Louis the Great.

“This isn’t the sort of stuff that people eat up, you know!”

“I don’t understand”, Carmine stammered. “You mean that no one bought any of the texts for the course?”

“And do you blame them? Couldn’t you assign them magazines? Or a little pornography? The socially redeemable type? The kind people look at in the psychology sections at the big stores?”

Carmine was extremely agitated. He confronted his classes the following day, explaining, again, that half of their tests involve material extracted from the books.

“You’ll fail if you don’t buy them!”, he concluded, categorically.

That afternoon, the first of several students came to him for confirmation of the fact that they had purchased the proper texts.

“Is this the book?”, one introductory student inquired.

Carmine looked at it.

“How could it be?”, he asked, dumbfounded. “It’s on molecular biology!”

“But they told me that you assigned the blue book. Isn’t this a blue book?”

Carmine dealt with five blue book people that afternoon alone, though the texts they had chosen varied from archaeology to nuclear physics to chess playing to celebrations of “Road” movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Several others, the following morning, brought in blue history books, but for the wrong continent or millennium. One undaunted soul managed, after three attempts, to find the exact work required. He carried it off to Carmine like a tomcat carting a dead mouse to its owner for praise and reward. Carmine indeed lauded him on his victory. The boy waited for further instructions. None came. He opened his mouth.

“What do I do now?”

“You read it.”

“Where do I start?”

“The first page.”

“And where do I finish?”

“The last.”

His jaw dropped.

“Boy. You’re tough.”

Carmine later asked him how he was getting on.

“It’s real boring, so I stopped”, he admitted. “It’s different with you. Yu guys lead dull lives. This shit’s an improvement.”

A week afterwards, Carmine and Florida attended a Viennese Ball offered at the home of a German diplomat living on Long Island whom he knew from Oxford days. Waltzing is fatiguing. Both friends grew hungry on the return trip. A longing for ice cream overcame them on the Belt Parkway. They made a quick descent into Bay Ridge to see what might be scavenged. There, in the Gelateria Mariposiana, run by an immigrant from Genoa, was Carmine’s student.

“Hey! Mr. Spostato!”, he shouted. “Where you going’? It’s Saturday night. Betch’ your gonna go read some Greek stuff, huh? Want me to teach you how to have some real fun?”

Carmine plucked a bit of cream off his boutonnière and smiled.

“Hey! Mr. Mariposa!”, the student called to the owner of the shop. “This guy reads Greek stuff for fun!”

Mr. Mariposa sighed. He had not emigrated voluntarily.

“Homer. Hesiod. Sophocles. Euripides”, he recited, liturgically. “Who would have thought I’d exchange them for Honey Vanilla?”

The student was taken aback.

“You know this shit?”

Carmine looked over at Mariposa, silently. Could he explain? The proprietor shrugged his shoulders, answering the unasked question.

“They know Bay Ridge. They know the Island”, he said. “Why even bother with the rest?”

“The eighteenth century”, Carmine added, determined to see how far he could take Mariposa down his highway. “Progress compels them.”

“Non basta così?”, Mariposa smiled.

Porphyry Contramundum laughed when Carmine bemoaned his reading dilemmas. He showed him a cartoon text on philosophy that he had devised. The students had to hand in a work page each day, tearing it along a perforated edge.

“They like the sound! And the exercise!”, he exulted. “This way, there’s no one else who can ever use it. And I can sell more each year!”

“Here comes happiness”, Carmine mumbled.

Despite his assault upon the cassette recorders, Carmine really was no Luddite. Therefore, he was perfectly ready to accept the idea of cramming four events of major importance to the life and development of both University and students into one and the same week if the Periphery computers demanded it.

“You are so right!”, Hermione Rittenoff agreed. “If we cannot be selfless and giving towards our machines, where will it end? Even grandmothers would not be safe! Charity begins with microchips!”

“Open House”, designed to spark an interest in Periphery on the part of high school students and their parents, marked the beginning of the Glut. It was held on the last Sunday of October.

Periphery was difficult to reach on any day of the week, but Sunday was the worst. Most people on the Island were not working, and there were too many entertainments and diversions in Manhattan to attract them there in their spare time. No Manhattan residents could be enticed to the Island for a visit, weekday or weekend. They had other methods for fleeing blacks. Public transportation on Sundays had thus been cut to almost nothing. A private concern had recently established the Juste Milieu Catapault Company, but its services were very expensive, and a landing site had not yet been constructed on the Periphery side. One simply took pot luck. And Carmine hated the idea of dirtying his one good suit.

Actually, it seemed, at first, as though there would be no need for him to be at the Open House. Dr. Swabalot was committed to participate, and was infinitely more familiar with the course requirements than was Carmine. Frankly, anybody could discuss the outline of the history program after a one minute briefing. Most importantly, however, a memo from Dr. Fist’s office, signed by Dr. Onnipotente himself, indicated that the ordinary faculty member was in no way expected to attend. Carmine sighed with relief when he read it. Crumbs heard and enlightened him.

“We all have to be there.”

Carmine was confused.

“Then why does it say the opposite?”, he asked.

“So that the enthusiasm of the participation will be spontaneous.”

Carmine persisted.

“But….Everybody?”

“No. Not everybody, really. Not the other departments. Remember. They have only two days a week to make money, undisturbed entirely by university burdens. Krupskaya usually doesn’t show up either. But she seems intent on hurting herself for some reason or another. Look. If you’re interested in getting tenure in the Department of Other Studies, you’d better be there.”

Carmine grimaced.

“Come’on”, Crumbs consoled him. “It might not be so bad this year. I’ve heard that Veil got Fist to arrange a reception for us. As a kind of payment.”

Carmine left Manhattan on Saturday night, just to make certain that he would arrive in time for Open House of Sunday. It took the Ferry seven hours to make its thirty minute journey. The only passengers were Carmine, bag people, and shoeshine men. Images of faculty replacing bootblacks crossed his mind as he dozed. “Shine Doctors”, he thought. They could both lecture and do productive labor simultaneously. Upon arrival at Periphery, Carmine headed for a Mens' Room to change his clothes. He noticed that little bits of paper had been taped over the bathroom graffitti. All those sharing the facilities with him were ripping them off to see what lay underneath.

Periphery had indeed put great effort into this event. Thousands of prospective students and their parents crowded the campus. Buildings were hung with “We’re There!”, “So! You’ve Made It To Periphery!”, and “Let’s Make A Deal!” banners. Irksum Hall, the center of the day’s activities, was alive with sound. Special task forces hired by the serious departments had set up exhibits to seduce high school juniors and seniors. Television cameras had been placed everywhere, so that guests could watch videos of themselves and find out what they were doing. Loudspeakers blared out the new Periphery jingle, written by a creative artist who had previously worked for the Army, McDonalds, the Communist Party, the King of Spain, the Emperor Boukassa, several Cardinals, and the United States Senate: “You Just Won’t Believe What You’ll Get From Us!”

Dean Diaphanous Veil began the proceedings with a short address. Slice after slice of his rich syntax affirmed the splendor of Periphery’s commitment to learning, and the abandon with which it larded student-faculty ratios to the advantage of the consumer. Dr. Veil directed the audience to stations at which it could obtain more specific information on given disciplines. A regrettable oversight caused him to forget mentioning the Department of Other Studies. Luckily, he did remember to call attention to the bank, near the faculty dining room, accepting first payments and alumni donations. Veil was particularly keen on the latter idea.

“Why wait to have an alma mater?”, he asked, cogently and often, “when charitable contributions can give you one right now!”

Actually, failure to mention the whereabouts of the Department of Other Studies was not a mortal sin. Irksum Hall was constructed in such a fashion as to oblige everyone to pass through the room allotted to it. People were moved about, from station to station, from one possible discipline to the next, in twenty minute intervals. All had to dally a bit in the Department of Other Studies’ area, lest they create too much of a crowd in Real Estate or Personal and Computer Growth.

The faculty of the Department of Other Studies stood up, as though the National Anthem were being played, as soon as each new group of parents and prospective students arrived. It remained standing while the Monopoli Brothers handed out sheets which described, in detail, every course offered by the Department. Dr. Swabalot placed himself next to a blackboard, aside a diagram of the structure of a program in the Liberal Arts. Each faculty member took a turn, like priests concelebrating a Mass, reading special parts of the handouts, word-for-word, while Swabalot indicated a corresponding bit of diagram on the board. The bulk of the faculty chanted the salient points in unison. The whole effect of the standing faculty, the single reader, and the director, was that of a Greek drama, or an early Oratorio in the Chiesa Nuova, under the guidance of St. Philip Neri. Would that this ceremony someday be capable--in its developed state, of course!-- of producing a new St. Matthew’s Passion? Maybe. Who could see more than a few years hence? Carmine drew a blank whenever he tried to do so. For the moment, he just rose, read, and chanted as any other well-instructed clerk might do. Providence could take care of the rest.

The cycle of twenty minute sessions was followed by a cocktail hour with hot and cold hors d’oeuvres for parents and students alike. Before partaking, the members of the Department of Other Studies had to attend a self-criticism class in which former Maoists who had become expert statisticians and had been hired by The Team explained to them their failings and awaited appropriate expressions of sorrow. By the time they were finished, the food and drink were pretty much gone.

Umberto Flesh managed to scrape together enough crumbs of pastries to make a reasonably-sized cookie. Others poured the remnants and backwash from the wine glasses scattered about the room into a jug. The Department of Other Studies gathered together momentarily, reminding Carmine of those Vandals, besieged by Byzantine generals, crouching in North African hideaways, eager to receive its petty, fetid ration. Dean Veil wandered over.

“Great day for Periphery!”, he said. “The Team and Theirs are proud of the faculty. Good faculty-student rapport. That’s what we wanted, what we needed, what we got. Faculty-parent relations? Good job! Good God, yes! It’s exciting!”

“On behalf of the faculty”, Arius Affirmativo said, “I would like to tell You and Yours how grateful we and ours are for the opportunity to have been present on this glorious occasion!”

“And we hope that there will be many more such occasions for us and ours!”, Hermione Rittenoff shouted, not to be outshone by her working class defender.

The earth shook from the applause. Flesh’s cookie broke into bits of dust upon the floor. An Albanian gave him a dustbin to sweep it up.

“Next time”, he warned the quivering Flesh, “it’ll be a summons before the Comitia Tributa!”

Professors began to circulate about the room, Carmine among them. A potential student, accompanied by his parents, stopped him and asked which courses he ought to take in order to become rich, famous, sexy, and happy the fastest. Carmine was just about to tell his parents a thing or two when he noticed Dr. Paura gesticulating wildly from the edge of the cafeteria. He excused himself to go see what the Assistant Dean wanted.

“Did you talk to them?”, Paura asked, in hushed but clearly worried tones.

“I was just starting to”, Carmine admitted. “Why? Are they important?”

Dr. Paura looked sternly at him.

“Carmine! Never, but never speak with the parents of a student or a potential student!”

Carmine was confused. It was becoming a familiar feeling.

“Why?”, he wondered out loud.

“Very dangerous, legally. Do you realize what you’d be doing? You’d be discussing the student’s case in the presence of third parties! And do you now what that would mean, Carmine? Litigation! At the earliest possible moment!”

“But who would litigate?”

Paura shook his head at the idiot’s naiveté.

“Carmine, Carmine! Don’t be a fool! The students would litigate, since you’d have discussed their private affairs! And with their parents! Carmine, why waste your time in foolish ways? Why don’t you work on your publications instead of causing trouble?”

Carmine resisted.

“I can’t believe what you’re saying. Who would think of his own parents as third parties? And in education, of all things!”

Paura’s sternness increased.

“Carmine, a student is an individual, and his personhood has to be respected. Besides. His parents themselves would be disappointed if he did not have enough presence of mind to sue you for causing them to interfere.”

Carmine was taken aback.

“Isn’t the University protected by insurance in these matters?”

“In litigation over personhood cases? Very awkward, Carmine, very awkward, indeed. And, moreover, they could sue the University and then you. As a teacher. And then as a mammal. A biped. And…”.

He noticed some of Flesh’s cookie crumbs on Carmine’s lapel.

“…probably as an overeater as well, for all I know. The lawyer might be a Periphery man himself. And God bless him if he were! That’s what we’re in business for, Carmine. Remember that!”

Paura vibrated one of his characteristic quivers, and seemed, for a moment, as though he might apologize to Carmine for what he had just said. Carmine grew embarrassed every time The Reaction occurred. He excused himself, returned to the parents and child, denied having any connection with the University, and claimed that he had wandered in by mistake, thinking it was the Hippodrome in Constantinople.

“Have you seen the Emperor Justinian?”, he asked. “No? The Empress? No? The Patriarch? A Monophysite? No? Goodbye!”

The Monday following Open House was dedicated to the “’Shall We Begin to Reach for the Stars?’ Moment”. This was created to remind freshmen, a year after their own “Open House” visit, of the various options that were available to them at Periphery as they contemplated choice of a given major. Already, at eighteen, they could map out, infallibly, everything likely to happen in their lives. From that “Moment” until the day of their death. In one decisive instant, the student would be given an opportunity to choose the exact manner in which he would journey towards the “Reach for the Stars” ceremony, formerly known as graduation. And to learn of every single job for which his major would prepare him once his rocket aimed towards the heavens.

“Lift off to betterment!”, a sign in Plugdata Hall announced.

“The Moment” was scheduled to take place at 10:00 A.M. in “The Bubble”, that curious tumor forming the upper level of Irksum Hall. A toss-up between an indoor tennis court, a clam shell, and the whiteheads on a student’s face, the Bubble was used by Periphery for sporting events, plays, assemblies, “Change of Life” memorials, charades, and, more regularly, as a “waist control center”.

There were three problems with the Bubble.

To begin with, it could only be entered single file, through one immensely heavy revolving door. Oh, there were other gates, to be sure. And at the Bubble’s inauguration, people had streamed in through all of them. But due to some engineering principle which Carmine did not fully understand, the Bubble had exploded, causing much pain and reconstruction da capo. Hence, restriction of access to its present level.

Pain, on a lesser scale, was the second difficulty connected with the Bubble’s use. Air pressure of high intensity went to work immediately on those emerging, one by one, from the revolving door. Visitors put their hands to the sides of their heads to seek protection from the attendant torture. The crowd resembled a large-scale rendering of Munch’s “Scream”. Faculty members of entire Departments had notes from their physicians prohibiting their entry on health grounds. But professors from the Department of Other Studies were of hardier stock. And could not afford doctor visits.

Peculiar methods of construction made it impossible to capture anything said within the structure, causing a third dilemma. Ceremonies became pointless, though, one had to admit, more pleasing as a result. How could one be offended? When nothing could be heard? And barely seen, too? Those who had witnessed too many decadent plays to trust and enjoy anything come from a stage again took excursions to the Bubble to renew their passion for the theater, creating a fad and convincing The Team to charge faculty for the privilege of entertaining themselves.

The “Moment” now began!

Students sat on the bleachers all around the central floor, clutching their ears and writhing in agony. Many instantly reported to the first aid station run by the Periphery medic for a small fee in the far corner of the room.

“Where is it?”, Carmine asked.

“Over there”, Crumbs indicated. “By the neon ‘New York Nurse’ sign.”

Carmine looked. He did see. The nurse also had a tape deck.

“I’m gonna live forever!”, it blared.

Dean Veil began the assembly by shouting into a microphone whose vibrations and static were worthy of a slow subway train rounding the curve at the Ferry station. Since everyone was familiar with the failings of the Bubble, written sheets had been distributed to each student to read while Veil inaudibly spoke. Hundreds of specialists had been hired for the day to translate the Roman letters to the throng. And the message ultimately got through! It was a triumph for modern communications! Congress was certain to make “The Moment” a National Holiday! On a Monday! A pregnant student was so excited by it all that she gave birth on the spot! The nurse tossed the baby “to the Stars” to begin its own great leap forward. A sense of camaraderie so great was engendered that absolutely everyone attended the little creature’s cremation later in the afternoon.

The Dean, all this while, was calling the young scholars’ attention to the superior education they were receiving. He officially introduced the entire faculty: the absent members of the serious departments with their faces on screen, lights beaming round, fireworks blasting off, the 1812 Overture, ice cream, and canned applause and shrieks of delight from I Love Lucy reruns; those of the Department of Other Studies collectively, as “them”. Only Humdrum-Impasse stood up and out from the mass when he howled after the baby landed on his head and began to disintegrate.

Program proceedings were then turned over to Dr. Paura. “Reverence” was his central theme. Reaching for the Stars had to be planned reverentially, he insisted, and not foolishly or romantically. Stations had been set up around the room, he explained. Stations where last minute doubts about declaring a major could be resolved, and the final obstacles to Reaching for the Stars carefully identified. The Departments of Litigation, Personal and Computer Growth, and the Advancement of Management and Gestalt were all placed together in the middle of the Bubble. Their station was illuminated by an ineffable light, designed by Dionysius the Areopagite, emanating from thousands of bulbs imported from Syria illegally by the Neoplatonist underground. Other departments were located around them. It was as though a Beatific Sun were circled by planets gaining splendor from close association with it. Passages from the last canto of the Paradiso hung on streamers all about the scene.

Under the bleachers, near the nurse, squatted the Department of Other Studies. Perhaps Periphery had fixed it there with Roman Law procedures in mind. To protect the identity of any sucker compromised through involvement with it. And location close to medical assistance simplified the school psychotherapist’s examination of the mental imbalance of the nerds defiled by traversing its unholy ground, whose perimeters were sprinkled with depleted uranium.

Dr. Swabalot crouched under the bleachers to handle potential patients, though most of his time was spent wiping grease stains off of the joints. His faculty were at their sister stations. Some, hired to give presentations for missing teachers, the profits from which went to the upkeep of the Team’s Sauna. Others, holding palm leaves over students’ heads, or swatting flies from off their sacred bodies.

Periphery’s charges sat stiffly at attention while listening, pointlessly, to the inaudible Paura. One might have thought that every second of their lives had been planned to enable them to offer a hearty “yes!” to Dr. Paura’s question: “Shall We Begin to Reach For the Stars?” It was moving and incredibly simpatico following the student body as it made it way to the Beatific Vision in the building’s center while wrent with the agony caused by the Bubble’s structural flaws. No pain? No gain! A memo, the following day, heralded the results of the “Moment”. Five hundred had “reached” for Litigation. Five hundred and fifty for Personal and Computer Growth. Six hundred for the Advancement of Management and Gestalt.

Two for the Department of Other Studies. Both were ordered quarantined for several weeks. And sent to Disneyworld for counseling thereafter.

“A necessary toughening measure”, Hermione Rittenoff insisted. “Regrettable. On this we agree. But inevitable and by no means jejune.”

Pre-registration also marked that busy week. Pre-registration was serious business. It gave early information to The Team of just how many people would be taking just what courses during the following semester. And just how many adjuncts might be fired. Each day, memos were sent to the Periphery faculty, complete with detailed charts prescribing the exact manner in which pre-registration was to be conducted. A specific number of students were assigned to each professor for counseling. Students were to be interviewed in the presence of a witness, and advised of their rights. Their programs had to be signed, in the advisor’s blood, before they could be sent off to Paura for confirmation of their schedules. Serge Sarcophagus, appellation controlée, had two hundred advisees. He needed a transfusion by the end of the week. But, then, he needed one anyway.

Many courses could only be taken in special sequence, like a kosher meal or the path to the Consulate in ancient Rome. Swabalot outlined the series in a pamphlet. The Monopoli Brothers lay on their backs and painted it onto the ceiling as well. Unfortunately, the courses, their proper sequence, and the times they were offered were changed constantly during pre-registration. The Monopoli Brothers were frozen in a horizontal position for much of the rest of the semester as a consequence of their unceasing labor, At any given moment, dozens of faculty were supine below the twins, desperately trying to interpret the more complex drawings. Walking inside the office became not only very troublesome, but unchaste as well.

Almost all of Carmine’s advisees fell into two categories: those who hadn’t the faintest clue as to what the pre-registration torment was all about, and those who felt that it could be dispatched without the slightest consideration whatsoever. Like everything else in their education. And lives.

The first group was variegated. Carmine spent an entire morning with one student who exhausted himself trying to come to terms with the concept “school”. He thought he knew what Carmine was getting at when the don described a place with desks and blackboard. But the effort was too great, and the fellow eventually suffered a minor seizure. Finally, at the end of the afternoon, he promised Carmine that he would think the matter over and return. In a way, Carmine was glad for the delay. He would not have to open his veins for twenty-four hours. Most of the group of baffled scholars was convinced that the pre-registration meetings had been arranged to allow them to talk over their personal neuroses. Carmine first encountered the phenomenon in a boy who launched into a discussion of his love for cannibalism and the slow dismemberment of meticulously tormented animals.

“Why are you telling me this?”, Carmine shot back, horrified.

“Aren’t you a teacher?”, the boy asked.

“Yes. I teach history.”

“Big deal. So you teach chemistry. Don’t brag. Teachers counsel. And they always want to know what’s wrong with you.”

“Well I don’t. Do you want me to confess my flaws to you?”

He did not. Carmine never saw him again. He walked into Veil’s office with a couple of lizard parts and requested a change of advisors.

“Someone normal”, he begged. “Want an eyeball?”

The bulk of the advisees fell into the second category. They could care less about their future learning. All the fuss had to be endured, as a misery imposed by nature, like betrayals, exhaust fumes, and faulty mufflers.

Interviews with this crew tended to be brief.

“What course would you like to take?”

“8:00 A.M.”

“Doesn’t matter who? Or what?”

“Nope.”

Carmine marked down “Atomic Meat Packing and Food Creation”.

“What else?”

“Humdrum-Impasse.”

“Doesn’t matter what course?”

“Why? He’s easy in all of them, isn’t he?”

“What else?”

“Anything but Flesh. He picks his nose in class.”

Carmine ambled through pre-registration week, occasionally lying on his back to watch the Monopoli Brothers painting the ceiling with changes, and revising his advisement on that basis. He talked to his colleagues about the weather while horizontal. It made for community, and gave an interesting perspective on peoples’ looks. It also reminded him of the final chapter of drunken dinners at Oxford.

Two students, both seniors, differed from the rest.

One, Charles Breaksassoni—squat, pasty, with a wrestler’s body and a boxer’s face—was a punk rocker. He came to Carmine dressed primitively, in an outfit formed from pebbles, turtle shells, rat skins, and feathers. His chest was bemedaled with amulets bearing phrases incomprehensible to any Indo-European. He could have passed for Papageno decorated as an introduction to a poem by T.S. Eliot. Charles’ previous grades were excellent. His eyes, intelligent and even majestic, especially when contrasted with the twisted nose. At first, their conversation took on the standard form: 8:00; Humdrum-Impasse; anyone but Flesh. Carmine opted for a probe which changed its direction.

“Why do you want to do this?”, he asked.

“Do what?”

“Take all of these easy courses. For no reason whatsoever.”

Charles shrugged his shoulders. Something from New Guinea fell out of his hair. Carmine picked it up with a latex glove and burned it. He wanted none of it to seep into the wounds on his forearm.

“Tell me”, he continued. “Do you think this is going to prepare you for anything valuable? It’s a tough world out there, you know.”

Oh my God, Carmine thought. How could he have said such a thing? He sounded like a Utilitarian. Like Gradgrind! Would he, like Bentham, end up pickled in a test tube for his University to display on holidays? No matter. Charles took up another point. And he became quite serious as he did so.

“Dr. Spostato. When does it get tough?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, when I was in grade school, they told me that high school would be tough, even if eighth grade wasn’t. When I got into high school, they said: ‘this may not be tough, but, boy, when you get out of here, they’ll put you through the ringer at college!’ Now, I’m at college, and I’m told that graduate school will be tough. Or, if not that, work in general. Does it every really get tough? Really tough?”

“No”, Carmine answered, encouraged by the dialogue. “Not in the sense that you mean. But I don’t think that we can discuss this fruitfully in a few minutes here. Do You ever come to Manhattan?”

Charles, unlike the vast majority of his fellow students, understood the geographical reference. Carmine gave him his phone number and urged him to call whenever he had the chance.

A second potential jewel, Marco Toglioildisturbo, was Charles’ opposite in appearance. Dark, tall, thin, clean-cut. Self-possessed in speech and bearing. In the eyes of a second party, but not to himself. Every comment out of his mouth was accompanied by another self-deprecating one. It was as though Prospero thought that he were Caliban. Marco was concerned for the courses he was taking, at least in theory. And his work, like that of Charles, had been outstanding. He just did not think that anything he accomplished would ever have much impact on his future life.

“There’s something wrong with this ‘Reach For the Stars’ game”, Marco told Carmine. “But who am I to explain what it is?”

“You’re one of the Remnant”, Carmine clarified. “Do you ever come to Manhattan?”

Open House, the “Moment”, and pre-registration shared the week with mid-terms. Oh, it was not the easiest burden in the world for Periphery to shoulder, having to endure the incubus of mid-terms at a time when so much of its real work was being accomplished! Secretaries, especially, detested them, overwhelmed, as they were, with weighty administrative tasks. And who could really blame them? They had wretched machines to use, traded to Periphery from Nineveh in exchange for grain. No use offering to help either. Faculty were not permitted to touch this equipment on their own, and had to fill out forms six months in advance in order to employ the secretaries to divert it to their purposes at all. Carmine sneaked into Gorgias Hall one night to try personally to prepare his tests. Security guards threw him out, threatening to run him through a printing press if he returned. Thankfully, the Monopoli Brothers were working late. Tourists were beginning to come in buses to examine their Achievement. Careful bribes—and a crowbar, to wedge them out of their Horizontality—managed to win Carmine their support for making sufficient copies on student government machines.

Carmine pondered the problem of testing a great deal. After all, these would be his first exams. And his students seemed to be having such difficulties academically. Porphyry Contramundum described his own method, which was to give the same test repeatedly, taking off more credit each time, until every question was equivalent to one hundred points. Humdrum-Impasse advised him not to let the students write anything, and, better still, not to give them any exam at all.

“Have them decide among themselves who should get what grade”, he suggested. “They’re often very good about those things.”

It was Krupskaya who urged Carmine on to higher goals.

“I don’t understand your worries”, she said. “The kids are good. And the best among them are just as good as the best anywhere. You’ve got to get at them, that’s all. Like I do. They put out for me. The idiots around here aren’t interested in uncovering their true talents. Don’t sell out!”

Carmine was ashamed. He doubted his perverse judgment of his students’ lack of ability. He decided that he must stay optimistic. Follow Krupskaya’s advice. And await the revelation of secretly hidden talents. It was necessary to administer a solid, comprehensive test. But also to warn his students exactly what lay in store for them! Over and over again. How lectures. Book readings. Maps. Objective questions. All. Yes, all, would be balanced in one gigantic Inquisition.

Groups of Carmine’s pupils entertained themselves playing cards in their vehicles on the morning of his initial exams. So what?, he thought. It’s early. And a soldier needs calm before “going over the top”. But more than half of the sixty students registered for his first course were missing when he arrived. Many of those present were on hand only to proffer excuses. Numerous grandmothers had died and were being interred overseas. All of Brooklyn was in mourning. Petitioners arrived with bandaged hands. One carted an x-ray of a bullet in his back.

“How can you walk?”, Carmine inquired.

“Gumption”, he explained. “My family has always pulled itself up by its own bootstraps. Besides, I’m going to a slam dance tonight.”

Excuses in the equally desolate afternoon and evening classes were dull. They only involved cases of depression. Business trips. Vasectomies. Abortions. Euthanasia of close and healthy relatives. Someone wished to be exempted from the upper level exam the following morning because he was ennervated from an evening spent disposing of his car, in the ocean, for the insurance money. Mothers of otherwise street smart children appeared at the doorstep of all Carmine’s classes to inform him of their offsprings’ various miseries. The prison warden phoned. It was only then that he learned of the changed schedule of one of the dependents whose absence from the exam he was justifying.

“They do what they want”, he noted. “I simply bless their activities. Like a priest at a wedding. Have you seen his guard, though?”

Some students who took the test left class after a few minutes. Others sat and eyed Carmine plaintively. Many wrote interminably. And, Carmine guessed, in invisible ink, since, mysteriously, nothing discernable remained inside the completed booklets. Cheating was endemic. And ingenious. Answers had been tattooed onto the back of the least attractive woman in the classroom, and attached to the Siamese dwarfs as well.

“They’re already messed up!”, a boy whom Carmine caught with an engraving burin complained. “Come on! What’s your problem?”

He left the budding Dürer off easily when the twins admitted that the sensation was pleasurable.

“In our position”, they argued, “you take what you can get.”

Carmine was awaiting a Revelation from his tests. That revelation was apocalyptic. Almost everything was dead wrong. He thought back to the short memo he had read on the first day of class. Many did believe they were in math! But even those who accepted the fact that they were actually studying history said exactly the opposite of what Carmine had instructed them in the course of the previous six weeks. Maps and essays stood out most informatively amidst the debris of Carmine’s efforts. Travel agents could have arranged appealing and interesting excursions on the basis of the students’ maps. No problem with accommodations in the South any longer; Florida had swollen to unspeakable proportions. So had the United States as a whole. In fact, America had conquered the globe. Language and custom were standardized on a Mud Hill measure.

Still, this Americanized world was indeed exciting. New continents had emerged. Fascinating regions and waterways. The Viennese no longer had to deal with the same boring old Danube. The Happy Sperm River flowed gloriously past the capital of the Hapsburgs, north of Denver, through England, emptying into the Great Western Tub. Fortune had smiled upon the Viennese in even more profound ways. They had, at least, survived. Many other towns of Old Europe had plunged into the Parisian Ocean. It was the world turned upside down! In fact, in many cases, the maps as a whole had been drawn while students were, physically, standing on their heads.

Yet the maps were positively Aristotelian in comparison with the essays. Western principles of writing, in straight lines, from left to right, defeated Carmine’s pupils. They ended sentences on the backs of pages, so that every flip of a booklet presented one with a sheet filled with “ings” and “tys” and “ouses”. Those who had come to terms with the rudiments of writing tended to scratch their words down brutally. Their test papers could have passed for stained shirts. Used napkins. Celebrated art works.

Still, Carmine’s students had given him a new reason for continuing with his discipline. So many more amazing events had occurred than he had ever realized. Where had he been when the barriers of time had fallen? Why had he not learned of the deeds that the various time travelers had wrought? To reach his age without noting Hammurabi dancing together with Franz Josef! Moslems becoming Moonies! Ecumenism triumphing, as Moses led the Jesus out of Egypt to Mecca! Martin Luther, crowned a King, in Birmingham! Cro-Magnon man, “the guy who goes just about everywhere, like the Jews”, serving as the primordial jet-setter! John Locke ascending to the presidency of Periphery itself! How exhilirating to find serfs selecting representatives to the American Congress; Justinian, scholar that he was, composing the Corpus Christi! And Carmine’s jokes having more significance than the entirety of the seventeenth century.

Abstractions had obviously deeply perplexed Carmine’s audience at Periphery. Popes were transformed into the enemies of the Papacy; the Church that they ruled over became naught but an international collection of pews. A better fate than monarchies, however. All of which were dominated by generation after stupid generation of King Dumbs.

Florida and Demosthenes helped Carmine correct the exams.

“This one”, Florida insisted, “perforce, was on drugs”.

She referred to a fellow who inexplicably devoted his essay to lunar calendars, and confused the earth’s moon with the exposure of its naked buttocks. A most impressive contortionist, that cheeky little green planet.

Drugs? Who could tell? Nevertheless, the grading did at least take on a more amusing tone once the three friends decided to handle it through the smoke screen of a bong.

One person in the upper level course did, miraculously, pull an 88. But every other grade, in every other class, averaged out together to a dismal 15. Ninety-nine per cent of Carmine’s students had failed miserably. Some got negative numbers. He expected the worst when presenting news of the miscarriage. He again overestimated his charges. Most were indifferent to the result.

“I got a ‘D’!!”, one of the few passing students shouted with real triumph.

Actually, those who passed were generally the most truculent. Geschwinde pestered Carmine mercilessly about her essay on Diocletian.

“What was wrong with it?”, she sobbed.

“Geschwinde! You said he organized a cheerleading squad!”

“But that’s what you told us!”

“I said that his efforts to reform the Empire were like trying to drum up support for a losing team.”

“You see what I mean? I was right! Why are you persecuting me?”

Whining got her nowhere. Geschwinde punished Carmine by having all her friends and acquaintances telephone him through the night. At 4:00 A.M. came her own coup de comble.

“I don’t understand my grade!”, she howled.

“You got a “D”. Thirty points were taken off the objective questions and ten from the essay”, Carmine wearily explained anew.

“That’s what I mean! If you add the ten off of the essay to the rest, it’s only twenty off altogether! And I should of got a “B” instead!”

Carmine tried fifteen different explanations.

“Why are you persecuting me?”, she screamed after each. “Is your real name Mengele?”

Eventually, he renounced the effort, confessing to Geschwinde that he had AIDs, and that one could catch its worst strain over the telephone.

“They don’t tell you that”, Carmine assured her. “To avoid panic.”

The upper level course, “Here Comes Happiness!”, gave Carmine a much harder time than his other classes, but only because of the one respectable performance yielding an 88.

“Look”, Carmine said, to defend himself, holding up a book on Enlightenment views about universal education. “Don’t blame me! Blame them.”

Afterwards, he delayed the girl who had done well, in order to commiserate.

“Hey!”, she complained. “It was tough! All those ideas!”

“But you got them right.”

“Sure! I memorized them for the test. What the hell were they anyway? Damned if I can remember now! Am I exempted from the final?”

Carmine left, discouraged. He passed Dean Veil on the way to Knossos Hall to hand in his mid-term grades.

“Good man, Carmine!”, Veil belched. “Give’um what they deserve! Standards! Improved Standards! That’s what makes the Nation proud of its Periphery!”

Dr. Paura shook his head upon seeing Carmine’s grading sheets. He pointed to those already hanging in the hallway. Carmine took a peek. As yet, there were none from Oliver, Hermione, and Anatole. But every other roster boasted of an excellent calibre of student. Krupskaya’s classes were so good that each of “the kids” had received an “A”.

“Who’s right, Carmine?”, Paura smiled. “You? Or the world?”

Carmine left for home quite distraught. Had he misjudged his little ones? Were they better than he had made them out to be? Were his tests unfair? Was Geschwinde correct? Were good students begging for bread, with him, unloving father, giving them stones, instead?

He consulted Everybum.

“Questions of this nature perturb me”, Everybum confessed. “We must seek the advice of a specialist.”

He dragged Carmine over to East Second Street. Everybum stomped upon a manhole cover. Keys appeared through one of its openings, streetside. Everybum unlocked the device, and a gentleman in an elegant suit appeared.

“My God!”, Carmine gasped. “A Deuce Machine!”

“Find allies!”, the Deuce Machine commanded. “Lest they drive you mad! Give succour to the worthy! Abandon the dross!”

“Who was that?”, Carmine asked his ragtag friend as the manhole cover clasped into place.

Everybum shrugged his shoulders.

“Interesting though, isn’t it?”, he smiled. “And so much more to come!”

Carmine followed the Deuce Machine’s orders. He wouldn’t worry about the mob. But that did not mean retirement from the arena. He would seek more good students. Had he not already seen Charles and Marco? There must be others. They could be cultivated. Improved. To make their lives glitter. And his own as well. Self-interest had its just demands too, after all! But he could not do the job alone. He needed the help of friends.

Most of Carmine’s colleagues could not be approached on this or any other subject. Like Room 201, they were simply too preposterous to be considered seriously in the context of civilized encounter and discourse. Carmine was not unfamiliar with odd professors, of course. He had, after all, been to Oxford. He had known teachers so unconcerned for their personal appearance that they had let their nose hairs grow to Rastafarian dimensions. He had endured dons so shy that they had hidden in corners during tutorials and refused to introduce themselves over the course of six years. But he had never been exposed anywhere to anything like the staff at Periphery.

Most of his colleagues, whether from the Department of Other Studies or outside of it, stumbled not only on the pronunciation of Carmine’s name. They could not even, for the life of them, regularly remember their own patronymic. Why, it took great concentration for them to recall Carmine’s very existence when they met him on the pathway to Plugdata Hall. Sometimes, he would say “hello”, and the face of a colleague would remain stern, his stride unbroken. Occasionally, the colleague’s body would stop, but the face not know what to do along with it. Not infrequently, a man might one day be deaf to a good-willed salutation, and change into the merry mailman the next. Then, he would halt, wave madly, step off the path and continue to salute as Carmine went by, keeping up his activity for many minutes thereafter, becoming less and less visible in the distance. Finally, confused as to what had happened, he would ask the next passerby who and where he himself was. The following day, the ecstatic hand waver could walk through a door held open for him by Carmine without the slightest recognition, as though he were the concierge. A week later, the same fellow and another professor would both respond to the same “hello” and the same name, the mystery of this agglomeration startling them as much as Carmine upon encountering it.

Even those colleagues who did speak regularly and consciously were generally unhelpful. Arius Affirmativo and Alfred Humdrum-Impasse changed the subject or offered quick and flippant suggestions whenever Carmine brought up the question of students and their abilities. Porphyry Contramundum could barely contain his laughter at its mention. Crumbs and Rittenoff, whom Carmine learned had also been pressured to alter their more than generous mid-term grades, were cryptic.

“I have heard of good students”, Crumbs said. “I’ve just never met any myself. Isn’t a paycheck enough?”

“I’m certain that good students exist!”, Hermione bubbled. “Though I always find out about them when they’ve graduated and come back to tell me of their genius.”

Only two people were truly eager to speak at length on the matter. One was Oliver Stonato. His experience approximated Carmine’s.

“I know exactly what happened”, he confirmed Carmine. “My students also thought the class had something to do with math or biology or chemistry. After all, it is called Political Science. Geschwinde wasn’t fooled, though. She knew where she was. Unfortunately, she was obsessed the whole first month with the fear that world war was about to erupt, when the Kings of France discovered that presidents were living in their own competing palaces along the Champs-Elysées. And she wasted too much time trying to come to grips with the genocide perpetrated by the ‘Knotsees’.”

A second “speaker” overheard him.

“You want to know if there are really good students or not? In sizeable numbers?”, Krupskaya asked. “Well, then, you can’t wait for them to come to you! You’ve got to awaken them. Meet them on their own turf. Understand their ways! Like I do. That’s why ‘the kids’ put out for me.”

She glared, knowingly, at Oliver and Carmine.

“Tell me”, she inquired. “Have either of you ever spent any time in their Dining Room at Irksum Hall?”

It was shameful to admit that they had not. In fact, neither had been in Irksum Hall on a class day at all. Both had seen even the Faculty Dining Room but once.;

“Then”, she triumphed, “what do you expect?”

“But if we spent a lot of time traipsing through Irksum Hall”, Oliver complained, “it would take away our last bit of freedom to work on research and publishing.”

Krupskaya was unmoved.

“Look”, she said. “I frankly don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m on my sixth book. It certainly hasn’t affected my output. In fact, it inspires me. Don’t look for excuses. If you try to understand the students, you’ll find that they’re as good as any others in the country.”

Neither Carmine nor Oliver had ever thought of himself as a missionary. Mission country now called. Its potential had to be exploited. The two men agreed to become the Columbanus and Boniface of Irksum Hall.

Carmine’s Japanese friend, Kamahojo, appeared on the scene, just at that moment, for another of his regular business trips. He wanted to see where his former classmate labored. His visit could become a occasion for beginning The Work.

Kamahojo arrived one Monday morning. The Mission set off from Gorgias Hall, across the faculty parking area. Kamahojo wanted to take a taxi through the Great Lot. He was offended by the private guards that had been hired by the students to stand watch over their vehicles, and the dogs trained to snarl at men of color. Parrots yelling racial epithets were also unappealing, though the fact that they were aimed primarily at Koreans mollified Kamahojo considerably.

“I thought you said your students had to work?”, he asked Carmine. “Just look at their cars! Someone with a car like one of these in Japan would be considered quite wealthy.”

Kamahojo was right. Impressive automobiles filled the Great Lot. Some students brought two with them, lest fashions change during the course of the day and they be caught short. Most served cocktails from built-in bars, and kept away the idle poor by sitting behind the ubiquitous tinted glass windows. A few chained themselves and their girl friends to the cars to indicate the indestructibility of their commitment to them.

The Great Lot was critical to student life. Students came to Periphery chiefly because of it. The Great Lot gave meaning to existence; a place to leave from and arrive at. It was from the Lot that the limos to the City and the Interstates set forth. So important was the Great Lot that students sent their cars there without a driver, just to see and be seen, as Rastignac might have done at the Opera during the Restoration Era. More than a few had left home entirely in order to live in their cars permanently, the one proviso being that they be parked comme il faut, in the Great Lot. A statue to the automobile stood in the center of this extraordinary Space. Periphery paid for the employment of thurifers from Santiago de Compostella to incense it unceasingly. On the sad occasion of a student’s death, the statue was draped in black. Students longed to be buried in the Great Lot. And Periphery had begun to sell plots to them within it, so that the entirety of the area was already covered with plaques marking future grave sites. The effect was not unlike that of Westminster Abbey. An especially somber stone marked the Tomb of the Unknown Student, the man the recruitment teams had missed, but who, nevertheless, was certain to die on the highways anyway. Fist had levied a special tax upon the faculty for the support of the family of this student, which, being unknown, graciously allowed the funds to devolve upon Periphery as a corporation.

“Hey! Mr. Spostato!”, a girl in Carmine’s “Here Comes Happiness!” class called out. “Look at my new guy!”

He was utterly undiscernable from every other slob at the University.

“Do you like him?”, Carmine asked, trying to be cheerful.

“Come on!”, she chuckled. “Look at his car!”

“Why”, Kamahojo wondered aloud to Carmine”, “doesn’t she date the car directly?”

“It’s a machine”, he explained. “It’s programmed with discernment. She’d never pass muster.”

“At least something in this region has taste.”

They entered Irksum Hall. Behind each entrance to Irksum Hall was a little “toxification” lobby, a sort of “Sleazatory” where one was introduced, on a minor level, to the unpleasant language and mores predominating in the main rooms. Here, one truly began to understand the importance of cheap beer, of indiscriminate sex, of that indifference to the environment and fluency in Fucklish that characterized the local inhabitants. Yet going from the Sleazatory into the Real Thing was itself as profound an experience as moving from Ventimiglia into Rome. The moment that the doors to the actual eating room swung open, the eyes and the ears of the blind and the deaf themselves would have had to pop back into operation. And their owners ask themselves whether something more than sight and hearing was required for human happiness after all.

“Oh!”, Kamahojo yelped. “Not at all like Oxford! Can they avoid corruption whilst living amidst this evil? It boggles the knees!”

His question was understandable. But his comparison of the Irksum Hall Dining Room to the antipodes of Oxford was not completely accurate. Carmine found much inside that reminded him of the City of Dreaming Spires. The smell evoked that of the Oxpens or the Municipal Dump; the floors, the look of the Covered Market at closing time, when its refuse was collected and piled in little hillocks here and there; the ambience in general, a butcher’s smock from any shop along a Market Lane. “Let copulation thrive!”, Lear had said. Carmine himself had heard him say it at a performance at the Oxford New Theatre. And there were Periphery students, obviously taking the command to heart! Why, even dogs were at it between fraternity tables. Moreover, Carmine had frequently seen cripples, some of them veterans from the two World Wars, near the Radcliffe Infirmay on the Woodstock Road. Periphery, too, was filled with wounded men. Maimed at intramural football games.

“Where were you injured?”, was, perhaps, the most common question asked in the student precincts.

As soon as one’s initial shock was overcome, he had to admit that there was a kind of order in this Hades. That order was to become still more obvious to Carmine and Oliver in the days to follow. One could begin to understand it by dismissing immediately the authority of both the University and the undergraduate democracy as well.

The function of the Dean of Students, Gerschwin Stereoputnik, was “to listen”.

“I’m listening!”, he would say, as those students who disliked the filth complained, and then retreated, unsatisfied, to the alternative dinettes of their cars’ front seats.

“I’m listening!”, he told those regularly beaten by their contemporaries for falling behind in debts incurred through the incessant card games institutionalized at tables round the room.

“Gosh! I’m really listening!”, he assured Oliver Stonato, who grew upset when cocaine flew into his platter of French fries, and a vodka bottle hit Kamahojo in the head. Gerschwin Stereoputnik was a modern man. He listened, but he did not hear.

This was no wonder, given the school music station, WHUH, which dominated the air waves. Not that the students paid that much attention to it. They were listening to their own shrill noise from private earphones. Or screaming to one another or into their cell phones to be heard over the din. Or watching videos on their computers. Or eating, barbarically. Or evoking other sounds by touching forbidden parts of one another’s tempting bodies.

Ostensibly, the Student Government reigned over the affairs of Irksum Hall. That’s what the Statutes said. And, ostensibly, the Student Government controlled the various clubs and organs of expression which met and worked in a number of offices clumped around the entrance lobby.

But that was theory. In practice, Irksum Hall was the playground of a set of fraternities and sororities bearing inventive, clever, and colorful names like “Humpers” and “Good Time Guys” and “Angel Sluts” transliterated into the Greek alphabet. Each of these corporations had staked out its turf, along with all the tables and access routes appertaining to a specific Irksum fief since the earliest days of Periphery’s existence. Each had gained authority over a given dance during the course of the school year, centered round a variant of a standard “Bud and a Butt” theme. Each had a share in the Student Government offices and a right to patronage in the clubs and organs of expression, especially the radio station, Periphanalia, and the yearbook, Hey! Not to be a member of a fraternity or sorority was fearful. It was tantamount to civil death. And the “free” man could be identified easily. He was always isolated in his car.

The mere sight of the dining room was enough to send Carmine, Oliver, and Kamahojo scurrying back into the Sleazeatory, and, from this starting point, to an alternate entrance to the faculty’s private facilities. In order to reach the Faculty Dining Room, one had to pass through another pan-fraternity appendage: the Game Room. The Game Room was filled with strutting young warriors, proud, as their every bodily movement indicated, of their prowess with video games. Every seven days, a photograph of the “Victor of the Week”, the man best skilled in electronic strategy, was posted on the wall, right arm raised in sign of triumph, to stir the others on to even greater deeds of derring-do.

“Just like the cigarette ads!”, Vinnie della Joey, a frequently victorious “Humper” informed Carmine.

The room itself was decorated with a huge mural called “Conquest”, in which tense and intent young men were shown relaxing after their exertions on the monitor fields.

Hand shaking was also popular among the sports-minded. In fact, every student at Periphery was almost always shaking some other student’s hand during free moments. It did no good to consolidate and make one symbolic handshake with each acquaintance the first time one saw him that day. Ten encounters, ten handshakes. Fifty? Fifty. Five hundred? Five hundred. Sometimes, Carmine found that he could accomplish nothing in class, because both hands were occupied by arriving and departing students for the entire period.

He noticed several of his scholars ingesting large quantities of orange juice in a corner of the Game Room in order to assure sufficient energy to exhaust Kamahojo’s wrists in this native ritual. So many people wanted to shake the Japanese’ hand that they had to content themselves with his feet, his nose, his ears, and his chin instead.

There were couches and chairs in the Game Room as well, so that people could dialogue and debate the peripheral issues. Only a few students were in these chairs at the moment, and they were reading the latest issue of Periphanalia. Carmine picked up a copy.

“What was your worst date?”, a headline blared, followed by interviews with various fraternity members.

“Imagine! Me! With a fat girl!”, one incredulous, laughing “Good Time Guy” was depicted telling an equally astounded reporter.

All three men entered the Faculty Dining Room. This, like Belgium, was a road, despite the desire of its inhabitants to make it an entity in its own right. Its location between the Student Dining Room and the Game Room made it almost irresistible to Humpers, Good Time Guys, and Angel Sluts alike. It seemed to be irresistible to the staff, too. Particularly the Albanians, who treated the intrusion of faculty members, whom they regarded as little better than panhandlers down on their luck, as being as outrageous as Uhlans stalking the forests around Louvain in 1914. A huge sign hung in the barren but immaculate room.

“For Heaven’s Sake, Keep This Place Clean!”, it commanded.

A girl walked by, dressed in the kind of tight jeans that isolates each buttock as though it were a separate continent. One of Carmine’s students followed after her. He winked at Carmine as he went by.

“Some slut, huh?”, he asked.

Kamahojo left for Japan that evening, claiming that he had to blow his nose with tissues he preferred to purchase in Kyoto.

“I add this to the list of outrages you have committed against my person”, he wrote to Carmine later. “Even the foot incident was more humane. Still, I must admit that I have at least been awakened to the necessity of warning my friends in the Opposition”, he added, on a happier note. “There may yet be time left for those of us on the outside.”

Oliver and Carmine discussed Kamahojo’s reaction and their own vision of what could be done to find the good students. They decided to stake out a place for themselves in the Faculty Dining Room where they would be certain to encounter the bulk of their charges with the least noise. Cultivation could take place there. Not only would they be able to engage them in conversation as they passed through, but by dressing, dining, and drinking regally at a faculty Stammtisch, they could also give them the example of another world, closer to the source of light, stirring them to flight from the dark cave they presently inhabited. Crumbs overheard their discussion.

“I’m skeptical of the educative value”, he admitted. “Would you take someone interested in the food alone?”

The Marshal Radetsky Exaltation Society, as the new association called itself, was really directed by Carmine. Necessarily so. Both Crumbs and Stonato were married, and, due to time and place considerations, not in a position to make the crucial preparations for a feast, whatever the variety, especially if sizeable sums of money were required. Carmine supplemented the funds they could give him with some extra cash he obtained from a savings bond redeemed before its due date. He did not believe in the future.

Obviously, hot foods were out of the question. Each time Carmine had the chance, he obtained the best of the cold. Fresh breads were no problem. These he could pick up at the oven itself on the way to the Houston Street Station each morning. Cheese was an equally simple matter. And fruit. And wine. Most days, Carmine and his friends dined on solid fare of such a category. Along with tomatoes. And olive oil. And clove after blissful clove of virile, strength-giving garlic, friend of Zeus. And with this, their feast was complete.

Carmine knew that elegance in dining had little to do with the exact nature of the victuals. It grew and prospered with the proper spiritual cultivation. This had become absolutely clear to him some years earlier when two wealthy friends from the States had joined him in Paris for a short visit. Snobs had told them that they must be prepared to disburse vast quantities far beyond the pittance he knew all three could well survive upon. Carmine’s friends followed his advice. Undreamed blessings attended their decision. They left him with their ample remaining funds when they eventually departed the Ville lumière.

For one blessed week, Carmine lived like the upper bourgeoisie of the Belle Epoque on holiday. In a good hotel. With breakfast on the balcony of his room. Lunch in fine restaurants requiring half a day to complete the meal. And dressed in clothing purchased on the spot expressly for this purpose.

Then came the Fall. Money ran out. Carmine retreated to cheap auberges . Croissants and cafe crème were taken in a local bar, standing up at the counter. Meals were tossed together from the stalls of the market and the shops of the Rue St.-Honoré. And devoured on the lawn of the Tuilleries.

But there was a common thread linking both experiences. A love of France. A love of food. A love of the proper setting for the proper dishes. Did the buds of garlic smeared with olive oil behind the Jeu de paume tease the pallet? Yes! And in what a picnic ground! Were the high tables of the eating establishments on the quais of the Seine a pleasure to write home about? Of course! Who could deny it? But both were blossoms on the same bush. To deny the value of the one would most likely lead to a rejection of the other as well. And the culture builders of Periphery were wise to understand the same truth. Especially given the limitations of the common purse.

Oh, sometimes more ambitious meals were intercalated in the daily round of humble repasts. And they were indeed appreciated when they arrived. On banquet days, Carmine carted ripened forms from the caves of the greatest cheese makers of the Continent straight into the peripheral environment. These he leavened with choice selections from the English countryside. With pâtés so fine as to make even a goose’s mouth water. And meats and vegetables and elegant sweetbreads cooked into pastries according to time-honored Umbrian recipes. Friends of Marshal Radetzky drank well on banquet days. Indeed they did! Demosthenes and Florida helped in the selection of the vintages for the occasion. There was Claret. Barolo. Amarone. Once, when a second bond had been redeemed, even an aged Romanée-Conti. On banquet days, meal's end witnessed the appearance now of a decent tiramisu, now of a Zuppa Inglese. Coffee was available on all occasions. Good coffee, a fine Central American blend or an espresso made from an electric device plugged into the Dining Room wall. But banquet days also saw Cognac! V.V.S.O.! Capped with a decent, though small cigar, taken in the Game Room, where smoking was still permitted. And in full evening dress to boot.

It was impossible for people not to notice the proceedings in Irksum Hall. Dr. Stereoputnik pressed his face, in traditional Periphery fashion, against the windows of the Faculty Dining Room, eager to see what all the fuss was about. Faculty themselves slowed their gait, confused by the aroma of something natural, pleasant, and elegant in their midst. Even Dean Veil appeared, carrying a little paper plate, a plastic fork, and the whole of the Ticino and Graubünden with him.

“I think it’s great what you young scholars are doing here”, he said. “Shows camaraderie, devotion above and beyond the call of duty. Bad for the cholesterol, though. Can’t eat any of this stuff.”

Dr. Veil grabbed a piece of tiramisu, washed it down with a glass of first growth claret, and plucked wax from his ear with a cigar.

“Got to get back to Me and Mine”, he belched, speeding away towards Knossos Hall.

Within a week, it became clear that the plan could conceivably exercise a major influence for the good. If not among the students, at least among the faculty of the Department of Other Studies. Crumbs and Stonato were, for the first time in their lives, developing a real sense of community with fellow scholars. And often living in a style to which their intelligence was suitably matched. Dr. Corvée began to visit, his hair, contrary to all previous experience, growing slightly in the course of November. Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts was so moved that he began to accompany the Marshal Radetzky dinners with Chopin, Schumann, and Scriabin on the Irksum Hall piano, enhancing the experience considerably.

At first, the majority of students seemed totally indifferent to the display of opulence laid out before them. Gradually, however, they had to admit that there was a certain entertainment value to watching the professors eat. And it was definitely more appealing to them to bring their inquiries regarding term papers inside Irksum Hall, rather than making the onerous trek across the Great Lot to consult these strange and potentially dangerous figures in their offices. Before long, therefore, queues were forming. One, to file past, rather quickly, as people would before the Crown Jewels. The other, actually to dally, for the purpose of man-to-man speech. One day’s crop differed little from any others. Mission work was difficult and generally fruitless.

“So”, Oliver asked a bubble-blowing girl who approached him. “Have you come up with a topic for the Twentieth Century Political Theory Course?”

“Yeah!”, she chewed.

“And?”

“Cicero. I’m doin’it on Cicero.”

“But Cicero lived before Christ!”

“How do you know that?”

“From books.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“Well, I think it stinks!”

“How about something on the Rumanian Iron Guard?”

“What’ll it get me?”

“An insight into my personal inclinations and temptations.”

Carmine liked to deal with his dialogues by concentrating on just such personal matters.

“Next!”, he shouted out.

A boy emerged.

“I’m here about my paper”, he said.

“What would you like to do it on?”

“How should I know?”

“Well”, Carmine probed. “What are your interests?”

“I don’t know. What am I supposed to answer? Is this a trick question?”

“For example. If you were going out to eat something. Something new. Where would you head?”

“I wouldn’t go at all.”

“I see.”

He tried a new tactic.

“Tell me. Do you ever read?”

“Read what?”

“How about newspapers?”

“Sports.”

“I suppose you’re better off. But what about books?”

“Books? Why?”

He became frantic.

“Has Blockbusters shut down?”

“Don’t panic. Did you ever write anything before?”

“I thought computers did that.”

“Let me ask you this. Why are you here at Periphery?”

“So I don’t fall back.”

“What does that mean?”

“Make less money than my father.”

Carmine changed tactics again.

“Are you interested in falling in love?”

“Sure. Everybody likes to screw.”

“How about getting married?”

“Sure. You gotta deal with that shit some day. Life can’t be all good.”

“Want kids?”

“Sure.”

“What do you want for them?”

“To better themselves. To make even more money than me.”

“Why?”

“Huh?”

“Why? Money can’t be everything, can it?” “Come one! Let’s be serious!”

The boy grew worried.

“Hey? You a communist or something? Or are you just a nut like they say?

What’s your problem, huh?”

The fellow had made his point. He now relaxed.

“I gotta question for you.”

“Shoot.”

“Is it true you speak Italian? How’d you learn it?”

“From a book.”

“I hear everybody’s learnin’ English. I’m ‘Reaching’ in May. Goin’ to

Europe for a week—Italy, Mexico, the whole shit. Hey! You gotta enjoy yourself once in life before you start workin’ and getting’ mature. It’s now or never. What about my topic?”

“Try Francesco Bernardone.”

“Would I be interested in him?”

“He’d have been interested in you. I’ll spell his name out.”

Yes, the missionary work was difficult. The innately converted were the sole beneficiaries. Among the students, only Charles and Marco really took the enterprise seriously. They, in fact, were present so often that they were granted auxiliary membership in the Marshal Radetzky Exhaltation Society. Carmine and Oliver learned a great deal about them in the process.

Charles had the spirit of a medieval knight. He was obliged to express this by wearing Heavy Metal gear. It was permissible to display an appreciation for strength, bravery, and daring at a rock concert, where it couldn’t cause any problems. It was quite another to make it a serious part of one’s every day life. That would have been dangerous. And the psychiatrists would have been summoned. As they often had been when he acted up in the past.

“Anything, so long as it means nothing”, the doctors had informed him years before, offering the choice between a studded choker and chemical imbalance pills.

Marco was a born thinker. A poet. And interested in ancient civilization to boot. This, too, forced the people around him to question his sanity.

“You could write jingles”, they whined, in exasperation, when his interest in reading and meditating on Byron became fixed. “Or make films in Hollywood. Roman epics are popular. It’s not all lost!”

Marco’s extreme shyness and self-deprecation had grown hand-in-hand with their upset. But the commitment to something good remained constantly solid. Now, under the wing of the Marshal Radetzky Exaltation Society, he was beginning to understand the reasons for the academic disaster encircling him. He was beginning to understand a lot more as well. And the problem became one of controlling his anger. With a little push, he might readily have turned Blackshirt and violent. But that would have been going too far. Wouldn’t it?

One day, Marco arrived at the Exaltation Society’s simple meal overjoyed.

“Something good has happened!”, he proclaimed.

“Relax”, Carmine urged. “Have a garlic bulb. Tell us.”

“In July. When I’m done and out of here. All I need is that ‘union card’, the B.A., and then it’s mine! A two year scholarship. A small foundation. ‘Dig We Must!’. Mostly archaeologists on expedition. But others, too. Historians. Traveling through Magna Graecia. On the basis of an essay I wrote! And my grades here.”

Carmine knew nothing of the organization. He did some research. Eccentric it was. But not positively bad. That was good enough under current conditions. Marco had time to become a warrior later. Let him see a bit of the world first.

“And the others here at Periphery? The other students?”, Carmine asked him at a later meal. “What about the others? They really wouldn’t be tempted by a similar opportunity?”

“They think they’re having a good time. Everyone tells them they are. If they’re not, they feel that a little more of the same will do the trick.”

“Everybody thinks there’s a party going on somewhere”, Charles added. “If yours is a flop, you’ve got to find the one that’s working. But it’s always the same party. It’s like being fed up with a bologna sandwich on Wonderbread, and being offered spaghettios as a change of pace.”

Carmine studied Charles. The Exaltation Society had been good for him as well. It had given him a superb friend in Marco, who proved that intelligence and strength could be allies. And he didn’t seem to feel the slightest trace of envy over Marco’s good fortune. Or was it that his manly spirit had suppressed even the most meager temptation to indulge such a sentiment as flawed and undignified? My God, Carmine thought. What’s going to happen to these two? Should I let Demosthenes and Florida tell them? Should I? Or is it that they might be the ones who could some day help all of us?

It was just at this moment of celebration that the alarm was sounded. Swabalot was the first to ring the bell. He called Carmine and Oliver into his office the following morning to apprise them of the error of their ways.

“Bad example”, he explained, “is a very wicked thing.”

They fully agreed.

“And yet you two are setting the bad example.”

Carmine and Oliver looked at one another. Were there secret vices that neither man knew the other indulged? The Revelation continued. Swabalot, Wilsonian that he was, took out his Fourteen Points.

“You have consistently been seen drinking in the Faculty Dining Room. Do you realize what could happen if the students were to pick up on this? With alcoholism on the rise? You have made the non-teaching staff feel very uncomfortable about eating their own foods, while you’re putting on airs through those ‘meals’ that you bring in. And, worst of all!…”.

He paused the Periphery pause. What had they done? Used silverware?

“Worst of all! Conversations of an intellectual nature in the Game Room. The Game Room!”

“What could possible be wrong with that?”, Oliver asked, sincerely perplexed by the outburst.

It was now Swabalot who was dumbfounded. He picked up a dictionary and showed it to the two professors.

“The Game Room”, he enunciated, “is…for…games!!”.

He hurled down his pen in exasperation over his subjects’ failure to grasp first principles. Carmine wondered what effect this announcement would have had at Oxford. But then his own University had not been touched by improved Standards. Oliver now grew perturbed.

“Dr. Swabalot. I’m sure that it doesn’t come as a surprise to you that the students are guzzling vodka and snorting cocaine with the Carrie Nation Kids while we’re airing wines. It’s true that we tried to have conversation in the Game Room, but that’s been abandoned since we need power equipment to be heard over the surrounding people exercising their freedom to overwhelm us. The games, by the way, are fixed by the fraternities. And how can the staff feel uncomfortable about us? We’re not using the Dining Room as a road, like the students are. But, besides that. The Faculty Dining Room is, after all, our room.”

Swabalot’s anger brought him near to a serious stroke.

“First of all”, he sputtered, trying to control himself, “what you claim the students are doing is obviously a lie. The Team and Theirs have repeatedly explained that the students in the bar are only interested in grape juice. They don’t even want alcohol! They’ve seen the studies! It’s a new trend! It’s exciting! Don’t you think that if there were abuses, the school authorities would stop them? That’s what authorities do, after all! And what do you expect, anyway? Don’t the students pay our salaries? Your Dining Room, no less! You want Periphery to cut off a room to the students? I reiterate. They pay your salaries!”

“I don’t think that Napoleon cared who paid for his wars or what they thought”, Carmine muttered, just loud enough to allow his existence to be perceived. Swabalot did not grasp the irony. Just another outburst from the lunatic! Carmine shrugged his shoulders. He was used to being ignored for his historical forays into contemporary events. Oliver leaped back into the fray in his impotent place.

“Everyone here has a room. Why not the faculty?”

“We”, Swabalot screamed, “are an open society!”

“And the music”, Oliver erupted. “Stereoputnik should control it!”

“And interfere with the students’ rights? How?”

“Find a knob and turn it down!”

“Impossible!”

Swabalot thought he had hit upon a clinching argument, and smiled, sardonically.

“If you’re so adamant, why don’t you do it?”

“Because it’s not my job to do it. It’s the job of the appropriate authority. Just as you yourself indicated it was.”

“Not committed to your ideas are you? No! Just a carper! And why are you against a little music? We all need some joy in our lives. Are you against joy? What’s your problem? Do you need counseling?”

Swabalot’s anger heated up anew. Like refried beans.

“While we’re on the subject of counseling, why are you wasting your time with those two freaks you picked out of the student body?”

“Freaks?”, Carmine yelped.

“Yes, freaks! Those two problem kids. The deviant. And the masochist. Whatever the hell their names are! Our real work is with normal children. With students like…like, him!”

Swabalot pointed to a portrait of Vinnie della Joey hanging on the wall behind him.

“And then”, Swabalot croaked. “Look what you’ve done to the others in this Department! Ernst! A grown man! Playing the piano, as though he didn’t have something mature to do!”

Oliver rose.

“From my standpoint”, he shouted, “this interrogation is over!”

He stormed from the room with Carmine in tow.

“Don’t lose faith”, Hermione Rittenoff told the two men when they complained to her about what had just happened. “The Team and Theirs know what Swabalot is like. Just talk to them about it. Calmly. They’ll put him in his place!”

Carmine and Oliver acted on her wisdom, drafting a memo to Dr. Onnipotente, the Dean of Deans. Next day, both men were summoned to Paura’s office. Somehow, he had intercepted the missive destined for another administrator entirely.

“I found myself in possession of this mistake”, he began, as oblivious to the problem of cause and effect as he might have been in announcing that he’d “found himself” as a drug dealer, alongside Elmer Gantry, amidst 10,000 Afghani guerillas. “And it’s a good thing that I did! You boys shouldn’t be wasting your time writing memos, when there are so many really important things for you to do yet. If Dr. Onnipotente had got hold of this note and learned that you were cultivating friendships with students, and congregating together regularly, he might have had to take action. I repeat what I’ve always told you two. Work on those publications. When you fully understand the nature of Periphery, you’ll know more clearly what I mean.”

But Dr. Veil seemed to approve of our dining society”, Carmine argued.

“And, of course, Dr. Veil was right to do so. It was the manner in which you were doing what you were doing that was erroneous.”

“And what would have been the correct manner?”, Oliver asked, dryly.

Paura became impatient. He fidgeted in his chair. He spoke again. Without conviction. Reciting his part.

“The correct manner would be understood by mature men who were not obsessed with romantic delusions. Just worry about tenure. And don’t write any more memos. They can be used against you. Trust me. I have a family. I’ve learned, through the years, what one has to do to be certain to be able to take care of it. Trust me.”

A look of pain came over his face.

“You’ve got to learn to live with the devil.”

Carmine and Oliver became disconcerted, and thought that they had best digest Paura’s warnings. Oliver told him that he could destroy the memo. The old, cold Paura returned.

“Destroy a memo? I can’t do that! Quod scripsit, scripsit! I could just as soon destroy yesterday!”

He shook his head.

“I’ll have to file it. Just don’t do it again.”

Carmine and Oliver left the office in complete bewilderment over Periphery policy. Who made it? What was it? Who was in charge? Did it really want faculty community? Excellence? Devotion to students? Or not? Did it hope to maintain factions fighting one another all the time, or did it dream of real unity? They grew more angry the longer they strolled about the campus.

“What do you think we should do?”, Carmine asked Oliver.

“Continue!”, he exclaimed, determinedly. “Tomorrow, get a Jamaican blend! I’m tired of Arabia Felix!”

But the next day, when Oliver, Carmine, and Crumbs returned to their habitual Stammtisch, they discovered a padlock on the door of the Faculty Dining Room. In fact, they saw that it was now called the Staff Dining Room. One needed a special key to enter both this and the Game Room. As well as a chaperone from the senior class. And Albanian nationality. Openness had triumphed.

“Now what?”, Carmine asked.

“To the library!”, Stonato responded. “Paura wants us to work there, right? We can’t bring food in, of course, though I’m sure the students do. But we can still hold court. There are kids there to conquer!”

They certainly weren’t there to read. The library had no books on its shelves any more, except for an already anachronistic eighteen volume work on how to use the overhead projector. Everything in the library was now computerized. It was impossible to enter, to use the bathroom, or to exist without a knowledge of programming them as well. Carmine and Oliver had to take a crash course in the City to learn basic techniques. Their instructor was delighted by their interest and perseverance.

“I wish other Humanists were as aware as you are!”, he bubbled. “I’m a former tragedian myself. Imagine what Shakespeare would have been able to do if he had had a laptop!”

Once they had mastered certain simple programming skills, and had learned a sufficient number of computer languages, they were able to pass through the border controls and break into the Hohenheim Multi-Media Ingestion Center. Needless to say, neither rushed to the banks of terminals. Starting from the comic shelves, they determined to reconnoiter, each on his own, and report back their findings within an hour. Carmine saw a great deal in his wanderings that he had not seen since his days in the East Village. Students used the library to carry out the naked mock crucifixions that permitted full membership in fraternities. They ate their dinners there if the noise in Irksum Hall became too intimidating for them. They made love amidst and even with the computers, mistaking the machines for people.

“They’re user-friendly”, one lover told Carmine as she embraced her PC. “I’ll never change from Word Perfect!”

She bared her teeth, as though the hapless professor were trying to insert himself as a new application.

“Never! Never!”

Bored by what he saw, Carmine decided to spend his time looking for some more traditional spot to use as a base of operations. He latched onto the Music Room, only to discover that the sign had erroneously remained attached to it when it had been handed over to the computers some years earlier. Carmine asked someone inside what he was doing.

“I’m computin’.”, the student responded.

“Computing what?”, Carmine wondered.

“Who the hell cares!”, he taught. “What’s the matter with you? You need a a psychiatrist? What’s your problem?”

Finally, after a forty-five minute ramble, Carmine came upon a little shanty town of one aisle and several shacks hanging off of the library’s back basement wall. It was filled with everything ranging from Greek and Roman compendia to icons to the Principia mathematica of Newton. Carmine ambled happily from one end of this Tobacco Road to the other.

“What are you doing in the Prop Room?”, a voice screeched at him from the library proper. “Did the prop men give you permission to come in here?”

“Yes, they did”, Carmine lied. “I’m turning into a museum piece and I was told to sit here for a while to familiarize myself with the genre.”

“O.K. You sound like a prop. But the Albanians will be coming soon to look for some pieces to prop up tables in the Student Dining Room.”

She turned back to Carmine as she left.

“Also, be on the lookout for a maniac who’s wandering around the building talking to the students about their lives and interests.”

“Sounds dangerous.”

“The worst! And he’s got an accomplice too!”

The next day, Oliver and Carmine discovered that the code for entering the library had been changed. A scarecrow with a skull and crossbones had been placed in front, atop a trench imported from the fields of Verdun, replete with barbed wire, body parts and live shells.

“Intruders out!”, a placard fixed in the scarecrow’s arms read , in English, French, and German.

Reverend Pignoli Estephong came out from the Ingestion Center, like Pope Leo to Attila, to explain reasons for not plundering the Holy Place. A Student Protection Association, flush with secret funds, had been formed to prevent the use of paradise by unwanted ilk.

“They’re serious about this!”, he warned. “They want the healthy and the sick separated. They’ve even got skull and forehead measures left over from Berchtesgarten. They’re taking blood types. Who knows how far they’ll go?”

Over the course of the next few days, the whole experiment of the Marshal Radetzky Exaltation Society came to an end. Dr. Corvée’s hair began to fall out again. Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts complained of arthritis in the fingers. The school piano was hacked into toothpicks. Crumbs backed away because of fears for tenure. It became difficult to dialogue and eat in the corridors of Plugdata Hall, to which the remaining members of the Society were forced to flee for refuge. This difficulty was exacerbated when Dr. Swabalot hung out the “No Loitering” signs and the first National Guardsmen advanced to clear the space of riffraff. By that point, however, nothing much mattered any more. After all, the semester was nearly finished. And its concluding blows fell, one by one, upon he heads of Carmine and Oliver.

First, in the form of term papers. Term papers fit into two categories: the plagiarized and the incoherent. Some of the plagiarized papers had clearly been purchased. The source? Easy enough to determine! Companies advertised in the weekly issues of Periphanalia. Carmine’s charges, who could not even speak English, displayed familiarity with all European languages, ancient and modern. Certain of their footnotes actually appeared in Arabic. Students of more modest means purchased their papers from former, slightly more gifted buddies. Plagiarists were obviously proud of their chums. They handed in their work with the original writers’ names, their teachers’ grades, and the appended faculty comments as well. Most bore no relation to the subject at hand.

“Anyone ever heard of the word ‘plagiarism’?”, Carmine asked in class.

“Yes!”, they all shouted innocently.

“And?”

Geschwinde explained.

“Plagiarism is when you hold the book that you’re using too close to your eyes when you copy it.”

“But copying it in and of itself is not bad?”

“Oh, no”, Geschwinde insisted. “That’s resource management. We learned all about it in Personal Finance.”

Incoherent papers made Carmine long for an East Bloc country of the 1950’s. So much use could have been made of them there. In public lavaratories.

Finals came along hot on the trail of the written work. Some things are not worth speaking of.

“Well?”, Oliver asked Carmine the day that the grades were due.

“Just like you, I suspect. Everybody failed. A lot didn’t show for the tests or hand in a paper. Even that girl who got the 88 before. She screwed everything else up now. She said that her first exam made the point, so that she was excused from doing anything more by a basic sense of fairness.”

They passed Krupskaya when walking into Knossos Hall.

“Happy Holidays, guys!”, she bubbled. “Boy, the kids really outdid themselves this semester!”

They had also finished early. Carmine had not heard a movement in her classroom for weeks. Mrs. Frenetico hung Krupskaya’s grades on the wall as the two men proceeded towards the main office. All were “A’s”.

“Are we sharing the same planet?”, Oliver asked Carmine in disbelief.

Dr. Paura tapped a pencil rhythmically on the office counter as he examined their own results.

“You cannot be serious”, he argued.

Oliver grew truculent.

“Are you telling us to change them?”, he asked.

The Assistant Dean threw up his hands in horror.

“Grading is your sacred trust. And Periphery does have its Standards to maintain. I’m simply suggesting, as a friend, that you take care.”

He mouthed inaudibly to them the same words he had said a short time before.

“Learn to live with the devil.”

Paura whispered something else, audibly, in an affable manner.

“Look. Fail two or three if you must. Two or three. No more. Not the whole crop.”

They hemmed. They hawed. They grunted. Their stomachs churned. They gave everyone a “B” or a “C”. Paura smiled.

“It’s a start”. He said. “Merry Christmas, my friends. Peace, to men of good will.”

Oliver and Carmine watched, later in the day, when their shame was hung upon the wall next to Krupskaya’s pride. Dr. Beamo palsied by, glanced at the overwhelmingly excellent marks, and smiled broadly at the two suffering dons.

“When our students produce”, he exulted, “they produce!”

Geschwinde followed hot on his trail with a friend.

“Oh, Mr. Spostato!”, she squealed, thrilled with her “B”. “Lots of kids are taking you next semester, you know. You’re so smart! Real opinionated! You know? And, you’re, like, really crazy! The kids love it!”

Carmine sneered, spit, rolled on the ground, foamed at the mouth, pulled out chunks of his hair, and kicked over a Christmas display.

“I hate everyone and everythingamajigee at this guttersnipe of a university!”, he screamed.

“Gosh! You were right!”, Geschwinde’s friend whispered to her. “He’s really funny!”

“Yeah, but you gotta watch him sometimes”, Geschwinde responded. “He can get cynical. It’s a good thing there are serious people around to point out how to Reach for the Stars.”

Chapter Four

They’ve Thought of Everything!

Carmine marshaled every resource for a whirlwind spin round his traditional European haunts during the semester break. It was a vexing holiday. No one believed his stories about the University. An Italian barber attributed them to Carmine’s innate gifts as racconteur.

“You are, after all”, he argued, “of the race of Boccaccio and Goldoni. From a people of heroes. With a gift of the gab to boot.”

A Swiss civil servant Carmine met on the train interpreted his accounts as the result of unpurged humors in the blood stream.

“More sex”, he advised, as they pulled into Sankt Gallen. “Do not be choosy.”

One Englishwoman accused him outrightly of lying.

“And you! A man of letters!”, she scolded, folding a copy of The Daily Telegraph into a formidable, though mercifully unused bat. “The shame of it all.”

An aged Wise Man, speaking to Carmine gently on a Provençal bench, urged him to bear the ascetic’s Cross. And shoulder the burden of silence.

“You have a great mission”, he prophesied. “Give up childish prattle.”

Carmine ended, like a character from Kafka, convincing himself that his critics were correct. Periphery was solid. He was the weak link. Life was a joy. Bitterness a snare.

“Have a nice day!”, the sign on the front of the #14 bus commanded as he boarded it on his maiden voyage of the beginning Spring Term. Its words were Holy Writ.

The morning of that opening day confirmed Carmine’s altered state. The fact that Oliver had undergone a similar conversion aided the process of peripheral acculturation considerably. True, the previous semester’s rituals were repeated, but in such carbon copy form as to relax the observer. Periphery seemed predictable, and, hence, capable of being tamed. Saddled. Harnessed. Mounted. Ridden. Carmine would most assuredly be able to break the University and bend it to his indomitable will. Carmine was Creator. Carmine was Lord of the Universe. Carmine was Microcosm, and Periphery but helpless protoplasm in his godlike hands.

Carmine was a fool.

For Carmine had not yet BARFed.

Oh, he had heard Hermione Rittenoff speak of BARF in the Great Lot in September. And he had even seen the tortured glances exchanged among his colleagues when she had done so. But, somehow, in the turmoil of his own first days, Carmine had neglected to probe the meaning behind both the term and the actions.

That was precisely because he had not yet BARFed.

Mrs. Frenetico was the first to alert him as to what lay ahead. She called Carmine aside after the opening day faculty council meeting to explain.

“You’re tenure track”, she commiserated. “It’s time for you to BARF. Just like the others.

“What”, Carmine inquired, alarmed, “is BARF?”

“The Basic Annual Report of the Faculty. A reapplication for your job. You list everything you’ve done to deserve it. It is essential for everyone in the Department of Other Studies—in theory, for all faculty—to BARF annually until tenured. Then, you’ll never BARF again. I’m surprised that no one has spoken to you about it!”

“Me, too. How do I begin?”

“That’s simple”, Mrs. Frenetico assured him. “You go to the special BARF meeting for the Department of Other Studies this afternoon. Dean Veil will be there. Dr. Swabalot, too. It is essential that everyone BARF before February 28, at 10:00 A.M.”

Carmine was puzzled. A meeting, to discuss the simple list of a faculty member’s activities? Why, he could draw that up in half an hour! Be that as it may, the event seemed important. Dr. Swabalot was busy at the blackboard in Gorgias Hall on its behalf when Carmine entered his office.

“2:30 P.M.”, he chalked in. “All BARF”.

Dr. Corvée sat quietly at his desk, rocking nervously backwards and forwards. Twitching. Wheezing. Balding. Carmine had never seen him perform so many bodily functions at any one given moment.

“I no longer have to BARF”, he exulted, as Carmine congratulated him on his dexterity. “But I cannot rejoice fully while my fellow man is being lifted on the Cross.”

At 2:30 P.M., Carmine entered the Wholesome Fist Room of Knossos Hall with a group of Periphery academics, unusually subdued even by its own peculiar standards. Arius Affirmativo and Porphyry Contramundum were the only tenured faculty members present. Arius, in his role as union leader; Porphyry, for the sake of amusement. Silence reigned for several minutes. Hermione Rittenoff broke the ice.

“I think this time it’s going to be different!”, she prophesied. “I think Dean Veil is going to tell us what really counts!”

“What do you mean?”, Oliver Stonato asked. “Counts for what?”

“For tenure”, Crumbs observed. “She’s talking about tenure.”

“But isn’t that obvious?”, Oliver responded. “The Statutes seem pretty clear to me. Good teaching, publications, and conferences. I thought there wasn’t any doubt about it.”

“Not exactly”, Crumbs explained. “You see, no one has been certain since the initiation of the expanded day schedule and the conference money cutbacks precisely how much of a role publications and scholarly papers still play. Paura says that they’re all important. But it just doesn’t seem possible any more.”

“I’ve got classes between 6:00 A.M. and Midnight this semester”, Hermione interrupted. “There’s no time for me to do any research on Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. I only got $3.50 back for my last visit to Fiesole. And Veil has always told me that my students are my primary concern. I’m really so sure that the Dean’s going to clarify things today!”

Hermione captured all those present in one single, ecstatic swoop of the eyes.

“He and His are so concerned about the welfare of us and ours!”

“She’s right”, Crumbs agreed. “The old boy was even Best Man at my wedding a few years ago. Did I tell you that? He may be a bore, but he’s actually got a heart of gold. Deep down. If you look. My wife saw it.”

Rittenoff and Crumbs were, of course, the most deeply concerned about BARF among all the faculty in the Fist Room. They were up for tenure that very year. Krupskaya was due as well, but she had not bothered to appear, arguing that she had an itch on one of her fingers.

“How can she expect to get through if she doesn’t play by the rules of the game?”, Carmine asked Porphyry Contramundum.

Porphyry gave Carmine one of his characteristic sneers.

“Rules?”, he chortled. “Rules?! Periphery is what ‘they’ call a ‘society of laws and not of men’. Don’t you know what that means yet? Rules? Keep your eyes open and you’ll see what ‘rules’ amount to! Oh, God, Spostato, for a smart guy, you’re really a babe in the woods, aren’t you? Just like all these other suckers!”

Carmine shrugged his shoulders, and diverted his glance to Dean Veil and Dr. Swabalot, who had entered the Fist Room and begun to distribute sealed BARF forms to the untenured faculty. The Dean called the meeting to order.

“There’s been a lot of tenure declamation around here, lately”, Dean Veil belched. “The Team has been getting numerous questions about it and how it relates to BARF. I’m here to address those inquiries.”

Hermione Rittenoff beamed at her colleagues round the room.

“Let me ignite by telling all of you again”, the Dean emitted, “just what a privilege and an honor, not to speak of an honor and a privilege it is for The Team to serve you and yours.”

Arius Affirmativo rose.

“Dean Veil! On behalf of the faculty union, let me tell You how much we appreciate the love and respect that You, The Team, Yours, and Theirs have shown us by calling this convocation!”

“Dr. Aff”, the Dean laughed. “It’s because of people like you and yours that I drive here, fifty miles a day in each direction, not counting detours. You know, they’ve been detourizing the vehicular concentrations on the southern bypass…”.

Dean Veil departed on a detour of his own into the subject of deviant highway construction.

“…anyway. When I hear you talk, Arius, it all seems worth it. It’s music to my auricles! We’ve always been frank with one another, ‘cause, heck, that’s what Periphery is all about. And, Arius. What can I tell you? I love you and yours! Boy! You’re the greatest!”

Faculty shuffled about in their chairs, red-faced with delighted embarrassment, like children praised by their parents for having taken out the garbage. Or Stakhanovite workers in old Soviet propaganda films.

“Imagine”, Porphyry whispered to Carmine. “Imagine coming here just to listen to that smelly old Guido!”

Everyone now sat straight up, expectantly, for the rest of Dean Veil’s Message. He clutched a copy of the University Statutes.

“It is essential for all untenured faculty to BARF by February 28th, at 10:00 A.M. Tenure is given on the basis of good teaching, publications, and recognition outside of the University, as evidenced by invitations to scholarly conferences.”

He closed the Statutes.

“Well, that should do the trick. And remember. My door is always open to you and yours! Thank you, and hasta luego.”

Hermione Rittenoff was ecstatic.

“I’ve never seen it quite from that angle before!”, she gushed.

“Look, you need an expert to clarify these matters”, Alfred Humdrum-Impasse commented. “That’s why they sent Veil.”

The meeting disbanded. Arius approached Carmine and Oliver while their colleagues fanned out across the campus.

“Listen, guys”, he said, conspiratorially. “You’re both doing this for the first time. Get in on the ground floor. Protect yourselves on the cooperation front. The Team likes you. Forget that little tilt with Swabalot last semester. Nobody takes him seriously anyway. There are two spots coming up on prime cooperation vehicles: Curriculum Committee and the University Senate. Can I engineer it? There’s no competition. It’ll give you something good to put down on your first BARF.”

Both men eagerly agreed. It was the dawn of a new Era.

“Tell me, Arius”, Stonato asked, as they were about to break up. “What about Hermione and Anatole? Do you think they’ll make it through?”

“Haven’t they done what they should do for tenure? It’s true that it’s tough these days, what with the improvement in Standards and everything, but haven’t they done what’s required?”

“Well, Hermione seemed to think there might be some further information coming from Veil ab…”.

“Other than what’s in the Statutes? That’s why we have rules, boys! But Hermione’s case is special, with the Remedial Reading, you know. She works damn hard! Who could forget that?”

“What about Krupskaya?”, Carmine chimed in. “Will she make it?”

“Has she done what the Statutes say? Periphery is a society of laws and not of men. It’s the Statutes and the Statutes alone that matter. She claims to have done six books, of course. But each one is only two pages long.”

Carmine was too jumpy that evening to perform any serious academic tasks. He opted, instead, for dispatching his BARF application. After dinner, he took out the instruction sheets explaining the procedure.

BARF quickly brought on dry heaves. By 2:00 A.M., Carmine was finally ready to admit defeat. He didn’t know what the hell he was supposed to do. No amount of exegesis yielded the secrets assuring proper completion of BARF. Reading the literal text was useless. Each line was Kantian. Even if, after an hour’s struggle, one thought that he had made progress on a given phrase, it quickly became apparent that the entire purpose of the battle had been totally forgotten in the interim. Allegorical and anagogical approaches to the document proved to be as futile as the literal. Carmine passed the instructions close to a flame to see if a hitherto invisible set of words might appear, throwing light where there was as yet naught but darkness. He held them up to a mirror to try to read them backwards. The mirror broke. He drank, seeking the inspiration that the Romantics thought might come from stupor. But liquor merely caused him to doze off. At 3:00 A.M., he stripped naked, painted his body, and danced around the BARF instructions, reciting meaningless phrases culled from a source book on republican Rome outlining the ceremonialia of the Flamen Dialis. Not even Everybum, who was lying outside his door, could help. They went together to Second Avenue to consult the Deuce Machine. He took one look and locked himself back under the manhole cover.

“We’ll go see my buddy, Zenzendorf”, Everybum suggested. “Old Zenzendorf spent his career finding ways to simplify work. Then he decided that living in a cardboard box out here was infinitely more simpatico. If he can’t give assistance, no one can.

Zenzendorf could not.

“You’re young! You’ve got your health!”, he cajoled, with true empathy, when Carmine asked for his advice. “What do you want with a job?”

Surely, Carmine thought to himself as he left for school, the organizers of BARF could not have intended what appeared to be in the instructions. Five hundred copies of the form were demanded. All had to be printed on paper fabricated by four pregnant women from rushes growing outside of Etruscan necropoli. The work could not be discussed at school except in a curious clicking language, indigenous to tribes of south west Africa, which the faculty found difficult to master. It had to be dispatched on Wednesdays, under a quarter moon, while bilious, and within a twelve hour period of having eaten cloves from the Mollucas, washed down by Batavian gin. A notary’s presence was essential, to observe one’s legitimate efforts, forcing the BARFing faculty to begin from scratch should a mistake be discovered. One was obliged to type the form while rubbing his stomach and patting his head. The notary’s, that is to say. Moreover, the material required for BARF seemed to Carmine impossibly excessive.

“BARF!”, to paraphrase a Roman saying. “Non basta una vita!”

There were thousands of details demanded regarding everything. Everything. Lesson plans for each class: those that one taught, and those which Periphery might have assigned were the university to have thrived in ancient Lydia, or on the Deccan Plateau, under the guidance of Chandragupta. Names of all those who subscribed to journals to which a faculty member’s printed work had been submitted were a must. Descriptions of childhood hobbies and objects displayed at kindergarten show-and-tells as well. To make matters more complicated, these details had to be recorded in a definite sequence. Differentiated according to age. Proximity to tenure. Extent of tooth decay. And biorhythmic cycles.

Carmine discovered that day that there were more variations to the way BARF was interpreted at Periphery than there were leaves of a sfogliatella. The untenured faculty maintained, each second semester, a BARF Forum, a BARF Crisis Center, and a BARF hotline in order to try to iron things out. But the language difficulty always proved to be insurmountable. Advice from The Team was out of the question. It, too, had physical problems producing the necessary glottals. Hermione Rittenoff gave Carmine a stack of books from the New York Public Library on “The BARF Question”, along with several unpublished dissertations on the same subject.

“I‘ve never been able to purchase the real masterpiece”, she lamented. “Dr. Onnipotente’s thesis: Secrets of BARF.”

“Why not?”

“It costs $15,000 and requires foot binding in down payment. Even the Albanians haven’t located a copy. But I know its motto: ‘Put Down Everything!’.”

Other colleagues agreed. The spirit of BARF was that found in the instructions of the central Jacobin authorities on the Committee of Public Safety in revolutionary Paris to Agents-on-Mission to the rebellious provinces. “When all conceivable has been reported and done, one has still yet to begin to BARF!”

It was nerve-wracking trying to dig up a model BARF application to work from. Every year, all five hundred copies—destined for departmental, college, staff, neighborhood, and pornographic journal committees—were shredded and sold as landfill to southeast Asia. The Mekong Delta was being rebuilt upon the lives of the Periphery Faculty. Arius, Porphyry, the Panichi, Corvée, Riddel, and Serge Sarcophagus had actually managed to get to the tenure stage and survive, but they had suffered so badly, physically and emotionally, from the experience, that the untenured professors preferred not to disturb their hard won peace.

“There is, of course, Victor”, Hermione blurted out. “Didn’t he have the True BARF?”

At first, Carmine’s colleagues were shocked that Dr. Rittenoff had brought up Victor’s name. Still, they had to admit that anyone possessing the courage to approach him might indeed find his counsel useful. Such daring had, up to this point, been lacking.

Victor Meochmet was a nuclear physicist who had come to Periphery at a time when the university was thinking of making a splash in the sub-atomic world.

“Fission will unite us!”, Veil had proclaimed, in defense of this temporary scientific obsession.

Victor had taken to BARF slowly. Part way through BARFing, he was converted, and began to see it as the wave of the future. Victor began to preach BARF as Condorcet had preached Progress.

Gradually, however, he became convinced that his colleagues were magicians, conspiring together to steal from him or destroy his, the True BARF. He carried books of counter-spells with him to ward off their own nefarious conjurations. He searched through their mail boxes and steamed open their letters. To parry their thrusts, he drove through red lights and stopped at green ones, like a native Neapolitan. BARF became Victor’s life. Finally, his BARF application grew to multi-volume dimensions, each section printed on a different color paper for visual effect.

“His green chapter”, Hermione Rittenoff cooed, “was said to be a masterpiece.”

So widespread was the renown of Victor’s BARF that Dr. Onnipotente himself came to see it. His judgment was sobering.

“Meochmet may have ascended the first step on the grand staircase to BARF”, he declared, “but he still has to correct certain imperfections before his castle has a solid interior!”

Enthusiasm ran high. A special meeting of The Team was called to determine how to help Victor over the final hurdle to perfection. But after the gathering, however, Victor sprinted, screeching, through the dales of the Island, the aisles of the Ferry, and into the very streets of New York themselves, a modern St. John of the Cross. He now lived in BARF House, a unique institution set up by the municipal government to study the phenomenon of which he was the most famous, though mysterious, representative.

Carmine went to see BARF House, which was located in the West Village, not all that far from his own apartment. Its inner workings were a well kept secret. There was very tight security around the place, though an attempt was being made to breach it by the Lesbo-Hermaphrodite Committee for Equal BARFing. An enraged hermaphrodite tried to intimidate Carmine, whose Periphery identification card gained him grudging entry. It howled that gender specific persons in general, and untenured professors in particular, were part of a clique depriving its community of the knowledge and practice of BARF. Carmine offered to let it BARF as much as it liked, but it insisted that it was the struggle which mattered most.

“Isn’t that the point of freedom? The struggle?”, the thing pressed. “I mean, reaching some goal would be dangerous, would it not? Reaching goals has caused hurt in the past.”

The lobby of BARF House was filled with Victor Meochmet’s volumes, glosses by reputable scholars, sub-Saharan pygmies held on a leash by the Citizen Ndinga Ndanga, a room for mystics of all denominations to congregate, and several epiphenomenal relics of the True BARF. The pope had declared the place to be “a monument to man’s universal longing for God”, and conditionally beatified all those entering its portals. Five hundred theologians had already signed a manifesto contesting the truth of both that claim and action, unless ratified by a two thirds vote of all editors of heretical quarterlies, as well as the unanimous consent of the entire Shia ulama since the time of the Greater Concealment.

Victor himself lived in a suite on the second floor, where he sat, studying his fingernails and dribbling. Physicians told Carmine that the only way one could get his attention was by spitting at him, giving him a swift kick in the butt, poking his upper arm repeatedly with a filthy syringe, and telling him that he had to exercise his right to donate a dollar on his income tax to support the next presidential campaign.

Carmine followed their advice. Victor perked up.

“I’m here to see your BARF”, Carmine explained softly, while applying ointment to the wounds he had so brutally inflicted.

“Downstairs”, Victor mumbled. “Didn’t you notice it when you came in? Why are you disturbing my peace? Are you part of the conspiracy?”

Carmine decided that he really should peruse the Ding an sich before he asked Victor any broader questions. He returned to the lobby to do so. Volume One lay in front of him. He flipped open to the Preface and read:

“I, Victor Meochmet, would like to thank the many people who helped me complete this work, with the exception of the following blackguards:”

The list of exceptions went through three volumes, including, along the way, the entire faculty of Periphery.

“I would especially like to thank The Team and Theirs”, he had added, at its conclusion, “for making me grasp the enormous distinction between the words ‘a’ and ‘the’, which I thought I understood before, but not with the awesome implications I see now.”

Carmine’s time was short. One was only allowed a half hour visit per entry. He could always return to the lobby at a later date. The look of the syringe had been frightful, and it did not seem so certain to him that Victor would last out the week. What he really wanted to find out was what had happened at the fateful meeting. Up to the second floor he climbed.

“You must promise to go with my by bicycle from Calais to the Punjab”, Victor insisted.

“Done,” Carmine promised. “My spokes are being shined right this moment.”

“Then, behold! And see! Ecce BARF!!!”

Victor pressed a button. A copy of his BARF came through the floor, but one that had the bindings of each volume folded back, pages dangling out, huge makeshift arrows jabbed in haphazardly, magic marker notations, and addenda stapeled on. The entire work looked no longer like a multi-volumed book. Instead, it had the flavor of a giant octopus from a specialty shop near the harbor, in the process of being de-veined.

“They told me that the committee would only have five minutes to look over each BARF!”, Victor sobbed. “They said that I had to mark out the salient points!”

Carmine patted him on the back, spit, kicked him in the butt, thrust the syringe into his navel, gave him an EZ tax form, and left.

“My life! My life!”, Victor cried out after him, fondling the monster squid.

“Try reading the Federalist Papers”, Carmine counseled from the door. “They’ll restore a sense of perspective about your environment.”

A jubilant untenured faculty welcomed Carmine’s report. Everyone began to write multi-volume works, ripped and torn and mangled, and left overnight in gourmet fish shops, in order to give a better understanding of the salient points to the committee. The Team got word of this development, and sent an investigatory force to Gorgias Hall to see what was going on. It quickly reported that pages were not being torn out, mangled, stapled, and left overnight in gourmet fish shops in the precise Meochmet fashion, so that the volumes would have to be redone and destroyed a second time. After the faculty complied, a new memo arrived, announcing that section XXXVI, c. 414, v. x-xi should become section LXXII, c. 9000, v. ii-iii, so that everything would need to be begun anew. People who availed themselves of Dean Veil’s offer to walk through his open door with questions and complaints came back with varying explanations of the memo, all, once more, unfathomable, because of the clicking tongue dilemma.

Meanwhile, one day in early February, another major feature of the BARF procedure was completed. The entire untenured faculty was evaluated. Carmine was pleased with the result. After all, the lecture he gave, the one that was observed, was among the very best of his brief career. Even the students contributed to his apotheosis. A Vulgarian himself tried to give Carmine a chance to shine, by asking a question.

“Did Cicero live before we all got smart, or was he one of the people responsible for it?”, he spluttered, feebly, before blowing his nose with his thumb and index finger.

Dr. Swabalot obviously recognized the futility of picking fault with an Olympian. He awaited Carmine in the classroom at the beginning of the period, but remained for only ten minutes of the session. Dean Veil arrived later, staying just long enough to devour a dozen or so Hershey kisses.

“Fuel, Carmine, fuel!”, he explained to the don on departure. “Veil without his fuel is like a sheik without his oil!”

Veil exited in bedouin fashion, moving from this exploited oasis to the next bit of greenery.

Carmine left for school the morning after the observations with the distinct impression of being ill. It was only gradually that he realized the true cause of his odd, unfamiliar state: high spirits. Oh, he remembered when cheerfulness had been such a common experience for him that the failure of his spirits had been reason for concern. Sometimes, in the past, he used to awaken in the middle of the night, excited by nothing in particular, or, perhaps better put, by everything all at once. This had been frequent enough at Oxford. Carmine had interpreted the phenomenon as a growth in wisdom. But the Assistant Dean assured him that the sensation had merely been the effect of adolescence, and would surely disappear soon. And forever.

“Maturity, Carmine. The spirits you feel at Periphery on a day-to-day basis are the mature man’s good spirits”, Dr. Paura insisted. “Above all else, maturity. Away with false enthusiasm, away, away!” All his force went in to these last words. He reminded Carmine of Aeneas, in Purcel’s opera, urging his men to their boats, once the home spirits had turned thumbs down on Carthage as a resting place. A happy one. Each with a lush babe on his arm. And Aeneas with Dido the Queen, the best of the lot.

But, lo! Good spirits of the old sort had re-emerged! And were bound to be reinforced at the formal discussion of his evaluations with both Veil and Swabalot.

Carmine’s first stop that day was at the Dean’s office, where his confidence proved to be accurate. The Dean’s evaluation was, indeed, superb. Carmine was doing all that had to be done perfectly. “Carmine” was “excellence” incarnate. Publications and conference appearances were yet to be visible, of course. But that was understandable in the case of a first year faculty member! In teaching, where things really counted, Periphery had found a polished gem. It was, therefore, in still better form that Carmine wended his way over to a chat with Swabalot.

Dr. Swabalot sat, bureaucratically, behind his Purge Desk. He invited Carmine to take a seat alongside, solemnly shut the door, and opened the lock on his portable file folder, the combination to which he had written out in Old Finnish. Carmine saw him draw forth a multi-colored document, emblazoned with the Periphery emblem, and covered over with little circles. On the side of these circles were fifty seven different ways of judging a faculty member’s performance. On the top, categories ranged from excellent to abysmal. Carmine thought that Dr. Swabalot had extracted the wrong form. For all the circles, except the one corresponding to quality of dress, were colored in under the caption “dreck”.

“Carmine”, Dr. Swabalot began, “Periphery gives credit where credit is due.”

He scratched vigorously at the edge of the form, mistaking a page number for a coffee stain.

“Never in the history of Periphery has anyone dressed as well as you do. Even if your footwear sometimes has left much to be desired. Really, you are an honor to the academic profession. I just don’t know how you do it, what with the cost of clothing today. I know you’re not leaving a wife home on weekends like Stonato probably does when he wants to go out galavanting. Speaking of which, are you eating right? You look exceptionally pale and sickly to me today.”

Carmine knew this monologue well. All too well. It was Swabalot’s “show me a man with taste, and I’ll show you a hidden pervert” speech.

The chairman paused to spray the top of his desk with Pledge. He rubbed a long-forgotten smudge with a rag pulled from the “r” section of his portable file, and turned back to the issue at hand.

“Yes, Carmine, you do indeed dress well.”

He sighed.

“I only wish that you could grasp the rudiments of teaching.”

Carmine bit his lower lip. Swabalot wrote this fact down in his notes and continued.

“Carmine, Carmine! I just don’t know if you are truly Periphery material. Look at your evaluation form. It says so right here. How can I argue with the facts?”

Carmine studied his evaluation as Dr. Swabalot read it aloud.

“Didn’t you notice that classroom of yours? How can I rate your lecture as being ‘well-prepared’ with that pigsty in the shape it was? Six window shades, Carmine, all adjusted to different levels! One tugged all the way to the bottom!!”

“The students always pull them down”, Carmine interrupted. “It’s the six-o-clock class and they can’t stand the sun on their heads.”

Dr. Swabalot shook his own cranium.

“Carmine, you cannot cater to the students. Standards, Carmine, Standards! We demand this! Did I say ‘we’?? The Nation demands it. Standards, Carmine, Standards! A teacher who courts popularity is his own worst enemy!”

Carmine remained silent. His chairman went on.

“And then the coffee cups! I counted four coffee cups! Are you allowing students to drink coffee in the classrooms? Is there no distinction between Periphery and one of your…”.

He screwed up his face in imitation of a stroke victim as he thought of Bleecker Street.

“…one of your…cafés?”

“Dr. Swabalot”, Carmine countered, finally roused to a passion. “It’s the six-o-clock class! No one can stay awake! Besides, the other departments eat their breakfasts in the rooms. The Gestalt man even has his servant cook kidneys in 108!”

“The Department of Other Studies”, the chairman triumphed, warming to one of his favorite subjects, “is not the Department of Advancement of Management and Gestalt. Nor Personal and Computer Growth. We will maintain Standards! It starts with coffee and ends in the boudoir!”

Swabalot looked straight at Carmine as if he had discovered something unknown to him but a moment earlier.

“Is that it? Do you want Periphery to become a brothel? A bordello? A house of shame? Have you no modesty? Is this what you learned…”.

Another stroke ravaged his face.

“…overseas? Law, Carmine! The Romans had it! And so do we!!”

He grasped the Statute book and held it high. He could have been an Orthodox priest carrying the Gospels at the Divine Liturgy. An Old Believer, no less.

The Statutes were opened to the section on breakfasts. Carmine’s ordeal continued.

“I counted only two windows open. And with that heat! As if you didn’t know how our students smell, Carmine, especially after having eaten. Two windows! There were five cigarette butts on the floor. The ‘No Smoking’ sign was crooked. Crooked! You waved your umbrella four times while discussing the Third Punic War. One girl even spoke to a man…”.

“She asked him for a pen”, Carmine muttered.

“Periphery does not tolerate lack of preparedness on the part of its students”, Swabalot smirked. “You are seriously in danger of becoming a popularity seeker.”

“But the lecture was excellent!”, Carmine countered.

“Poor!”, the chairman answered, underlining the dreck circle on the form for emphasis. “Poor! It says so right here, in black and white! How can I argue with the facts?”

Swabalot stared Carmine down.

“Carmine. You gave a lecture on the Roman achievement. I did not hear you once call a student by name, and ask him the peninsula on which Rome is located.”

“Dr. Swabalot!”, Carmine exploded. “Several of my students are passable. Just several. One of them might even someday be capable of writing an essay on Rome. I can’t ask them if they’ve ever heard of Italy. As for the others, they’re sub humanoids! To utter the words ‘Bay Ridge’ would be an exhausting task for them. I could waste the whole period asking them to pronounce their own surnames!”

“My friend”, Swabalot equivocated, “you are a man without human feeling. Are you completely uninterested in the needs of our dear little ones? Yes? And, yet, their welfare should be your first concern. You must make yourself like unto the Super Extra Special in order to deal with every student properly.”

“Even if their retardation and brutality start to affect me?”

Swabalot glared.

“A fifty minute delay would be worth it, especially for the Happy Gifted Ones, just so that both you and they could hear the word ‘Italy’ sound on the lips of one of the Extra Special Students!”

Carmine bit his tongue. Swabalot jotted a note of this once more.

“And that’s not all. Where was your seating chart? I did not observe you consulting a seating chart! Audio-visual equipment? Not used, was it Carmine? And when we look outside the classroom? Publications? You’ve been fallow, haven’t you? Barren! After five months! If you are ever…”.

There was nothing proper left that Carmine could bite. He stood up, determined to leave. Swabalot threw down his magic marker, always a sign of anger, and began to sputter, enraged.

“I wasn’t going to mention this now, but your impudent behavior makes it imperative!”

“What next?!”, Carmine screamed.

“Cheese!”

“Cheese?”

“Cheese!”

“You want me to smile?”

“Cheese, I said!”

“Cheese?”

“Yes, Carmine, do not deny it! Do not deny it! Cheese! Cooperation? Poor! And after the Irksum Hall incident, no less! Do you know what turmoil you have caused in Gorgias Hall with your eating habits? Every day! One or another of your foreign cheeses! I even found a list of cheeses in your drawer that you’ve ticked off, one by one. You’re devouring your way through the entire Dairy Kingdom! What will happen when you get to things like Rocquefort? It’s enough to garrott poor Thelma-Gruff!”

He shook his head.

“Cheese and wine have no place in Periphery. They are the consequence of an inconsideration which can only come from your time among the French. And not only that! Why the fascination with talking to people in the alien departments? I’ve seen it! I’ve seen it! Why? Are you anti Department of Other Studies? Where were you all winter break anyway?…”.

Carmine left Dr. Swabalot’s office feeling quite mature and normal again. He took some Tylenol to celebrate, and went for a walk through the Great Lot. His timing could not have been worse. Dr. Paura appeared on the scene as he fumed.

“I heard of your wonderful session with the Dean!”, Paura bubbled, back to his Almaviva mode.

“You should have seen the one with my so-called chairman”, Carmine rebuffed.

Paura’s face darkened.

“You must, of course, please your chairman.”

“And if such pleasure is impossible to elicit?”

“Listen, Carmine”, the Assistant Dean counseled. “You must learn to cooperate. Things are going to get very difficult for you if you don’t.”

Paura’s smile faded entirely. Almaviva went into hiding. His more perplexing Doppelgänger struggled for control of the trenches of his face. It took several minutes for fatuity to regain the upper hand.

“Carmine”, Paura then continued. “I find myself knowing that Arius has approached Stonato and you about openings on major committees. Take them. Cherish them. Use them. Buckle down on the Cooperation Front. And remember…”.

Smiles and twitches competed for domination of the Paura battlements.

“Periphery never asks of a man more than he is capable of giving.”

The Assistant Dean ran off for “R & R”. Conversations with Carmine exhausted him. He would be unable to talk again for days. Not to speak of mounting a new offensive on the Western Front.

The next faculty council meeting was presided over by Dr. Beamo, since Dean Veil and Dr. Paura were away for the day. Arius leaped into action when elections for the Senate and the Curriculum Committee were announced, shouting out the names of Oliver Stonato and Carmine Spostato. Contadina Panico immediately moved that the nominations be closed. Dr. Beamo complicated matters somewhat by insisting that the candidates address the assembly, that demonstrations of support rock the hall, and that a debate be held. Ballots were distributed, then collected, and counted by two upright men and women. Bewilderment overcame Beamo when registering the results. He demanded a recount. Finally, he proclaimed the Good News. Oliver Stonato was raised to the rank of Senator. And Carmine Spostato had entered the illustrious company of Curriculum Committee members.

“Bravi!”, Hermione Rittenoff shouted. “Well done! Fine campaign!”

“It’s the excitement of Democracy”, Dr. Beamo exulted, “that makes this faculty council the envy of academe!”

Oliver Stonato was indeed moved by the thought of his first senatorial gathering. Visions of togas, the Roman Forum, and Cicero’s orations against Cataline whirled about in his head for days. The evening before the assembly, he went to a monastery to recollect properly. He purchased a new suit, selling his wedding ring to do so. He bathed in precious ointments. And he proceeded, at the appointed time, to the Wholesome Fist Room, to meet the other Conscript Fathers.

Most of these were already present when he arrived, hunched over a buffet and cocktail bar reserved for “Senators Only”. Oliver accepted such privileges as understandable perks of high office. He signed the “Senators Book” and tucked in.

Several hours later, he began to wonder when the actual meeting would begin. In fact, he became downright alarmed as the crowd thinned out. Perhaps he had come too late, missed the labor, and garnered only the perks of the patricianate. Oliver grabbed hold of one departing colleague from the Department of Litigation to ask him the meaning of the flight.

“Honorable Member! When will the meeting be convened?”

“Clarissime! This was it! Didn’t you get anything to eat?”

“But what about the Senate’s business, Most Exalted One?”

“Didn’t you sign the Book, Senator?”

“Conscript Father! I did! What did that signify?”

“Sublime One! It meant that you agreed!”

“But what about discussion, Your Beatitude?”

“Jewel of the West! Think of what you are saying! If there were discussion, there’d be no time for lunch!”

“But, Your Magnificence! Why have the meeting at all?”

“Who would eat the food? That would be a terrible waste of resources, Thrice Blessed One! Can it be that you approve of conspicuous consumption when there are nations that are starving?”

Oliver shrugged his shoulders, had another hors d’oeuvre, and approached the Senators Book to see what he had approved. It wasn’t much. Just a grant of total power to Wholesome Fist for another three months. This Senate was not that of Cato the Elder. One had to go to the reign of Caracalla for a closer model.

Meanwhile, Carmine underwent a different kind of initiation at the Curriculum Committee. Bozhimoj Panico was ill. His wife chaired the meeting in his absence.

The Curriculum Committee had full powers to initiate, shape, and suggest withdrawing all courses in the University. Its meeting lasted thirty-six hours, mostly because Contadina insisted upon describing every physical and emotional torment she had endured since her conception. She brought along resource persons, including her very aged mother, to corroborate her testimony. X-rays and a dried vein from her upper arm were also useful exhibits accentuating the truth of her gloomy diagnosis. Committee members were so horrified that they had little stomach left for the curriculum work at hand. But that was just as well. Minutes of the meeting were already distributed at the outset. And everyone had voted “yes”.

Senatorial and curriculum business soon faded into insignificance, though. More important events were occurring. The day of BARFing had arrived!

It was extremely difficult getting to the university that morning. Carmine pulled a little mini-van behind him. The police mistook him for a Chinaman tugging a rickshaw. They asked him for his immigration papers, and proof of his death at Tienanmen Square, defending freedom, in 1989. Crumbs and Rittenoff had hired buses to carry their work up Mud Hill. Faculty contributed to the renting of sanitation trucks to mash the BARFs down to manageable size. When Carmine waddled in with his rickshaw, people were rushing up to them, pouring their pride and joy into the grinders, like so many Carthaginians offering their little children to Moloch. A portrait of Flaubert had been placed nearby to recall scenes from Salammbò explaining exactly how to do so properly. Classes were cancelled that morning. There was no space for the trucks, BARFing faculty, and students all together in one spot. Dirgibles carted off the applications to the BARF clearing center in New Mexico. Pages were flying in the wintry wind like unintended libations. Pilgrims came up from Victor’s house to see if a relic of the True BARF might somehow be available amidst the debris. Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts began to chant.

“Day of BARF, dread day of wonder, prophets say, ‘midst fire and thunder…”.

He turned to Carmine.

“Will He save you on that day?”

Krupskaya handed in a two page form in script. Two was clearly her favorite number.

Three proved to be more memorable as an integer in Carmine’s future dealings with Periphery. For three axes fell in the next two and one half months. Sharp ones. Clarifying more than he even then realized.

The first took the form of a set of “danger signals”. These involved Marco, to begin with. He and Charles appeared in the office of the Department of Other Studies early one March morning, aggravated and apprehensive. Marco had received a note from the Registrar’s Office. A clerical error had occurred. Periphery failed to inform him of the extra 1/4 credit that improved Standards mandated for graduating seniors beginning that year. Hence, the missive indicated, he would have to come back to Periphery for another course in the fall. The university could not be held liable. Article #692 of the “Acceptance of Acceptance” forms signed by all incoming freshmen reserved to Periphery the right to change degree requirements any time before, during, or after graduation with no prior notice.

“The problem is”, he explained, “that I’ve got everything arranged for July, and if I don’t get the degree in time, ‘Dig We Must’ is not going to wait for me.”

“Marco”, Carmine laughed. “It’s only a 1/4 credit! There’s no way we won’t be able to straighten this thing out.”

“Of course not!”, Oliver agreed. “We’ll offer to give you an independent study project for whatever’s missing. Go to the office and find out what paper work has to be submitted.”

The two boys left, slightly more relaxed.

It was the calm before the storm. The first axe continued to fall. And another warning bell blared as it did.

Somehow, the names of Hermione, Anatole, and Krupskaya disappeared from the list of reputable employees praised in The Team’s mantras. Or even criticized in its laments. Carmine noticed the gap in visits to Paura; Oliver, in a chat with Veil; and both, together, one day, when brushing into Mrs. Frenetico. She casually asked how things were going in Gorgias Hall. Crumbs’ name was mentioned. The Dean’s Secretary ripped the tape out of the miniature cassette recorder in her coat pocket and erased the relevant passage.

Porphyry Contramundum rang the warning bell still louder. He called Carmine aside on the day of the departmental personnel committee meeting. Everyone had been confirmed, he noted. And the tenure cases sent up to the college-wide body for consideration.

“But something went wrong”, he added.

“How? Everybody got through.”

“In a sense. You see, there was one negative vote. Against all three tenure candidates.”

“Big deal. There are five people on the committee.”

“Carmine, you idiot ! How long does it take with you? Nothing is ever negative at Periphery. It’s a signal. If unanimity is broken, it’s the same as Civil War. There’s no such thing as venial sin here. Mark my words, the situation stinks. I’ve heard rumors about the other departments agitating for creation of their own English courses. To avoid having their students overloaded with work. But this is the first palpable indication I’ve seen that they could be true. I’m worried. Very worried. Don’t you understand?”

Porphyry’s fears were not without foundation. Their accuracy was confirmed when the second axe fell, in the form of Judgments: those of the College Personnel Committee, and that of the mysterious force responsible for determining Marco’s case. Both decisions came at once. On the same Friday, late in April. Carmine heard all about Der Tag the evening after. From Crumbs and Marco themselves. On the telephone.

Five people went up for tenure on Der Tag: Crumbs, Rittenoff, two professors from the Department of Personal and Computer Growth, and Krupskaya. The members of the other Departments were given precise moments to appear in court. After all, their demanding schedules outside the University required precision. In justice! But Department of Other Studies’ candidates simply had to be on hand when summoned.

“You can read if you’re delayed”, Dr. Onnipotente, who chaired the meeting, had informed them beforehand. “That’s what you people like to do anyway, isn’t it? Besides, there are refreshments.”

Crumbs drove Rittenoff to school on Der Tag. She was much too nervous to be put behind a wheel herself. It was already frightening asking Hermione to “sell herself” before the committee. Asking her to enter a highway before the marketing would have been a death sentence, and, hence, unproductive. There would have been a demand for her from the deciding body, but no supply.

The Abracadabra Space, large enough to fit the whole Personnel Committee, was located in one of the most well-trafficked sections of Irksum Hall. It lay next to the Music Room, with which it shared a little lobby. Refreshments were offered in the form of a fountain spouting a tepid and insignificant jet of water. Of course, the lobby could not be blocked off, lest a section of Irksum Hall not be considered to be part of an open society. Students, therefore, appeared incessantly to gape at Crumbs and Rittenoff, teachers who did not normally frequent the area. The yearbook staff took advantage of the anomaly to snap photos of the terrified Hermione.

“She’s makin’ faces!”, informers had excitedly told the editor.

Hermione entered the Abracadabra Space first. For five minutes, just as Victor had predicted. She would not say what had happened to her therein, since she took the oath of secrecy that was administered very seriously. All that Crumbs knew was that she seemed calm when she exited, having given her humble speech without incident.

Within seconds, an Albanian appeared at the door of the Abracadabra Space.

“No, no, no!”, he shouted, shaking his head firmly back and forth. “No, no, no!”

He slammed the Abracadabra door in their faces.

Rittenoff grew frantic. Crumbs cupped some water from the fountain in his hands and offered it to her. She placed her head on his shoulder. He stroked her hair to quiet her. That got two photographs from the students, one of which was immediately published in Periphanalia underneath the caption: “Teachers Make Out!”

Meanwhile, two members of the Department of Personal and Computer Growth made lengthy presentations before the worthies inside. Crumbs, with Rittenoff leaning on his shoulder, heard laughter and the clink of glasses from behind the closed Abracadabra iconostasis. Once, that barrier opened, and a committee member, obviously tipsy, exited to use the bathroom. He smiled at Crumbs and the whimpering Rittenoff, giving them a “thumbs up” signal. Crumbs entered next. He, however, had no qualms about the oath. Carmine learned everything about life on the inside.

“I have to confess”, Crumbs told his colleague, “that I did think it was in the bag, once Hermione was turned down.”

He entered an Abracadabra Space outfitted in true Periphery fashion, though with the addition of a “senatorial” bar and buffet. Crumbs recognized Swabalot, Onnipotente, Veil, and Arius Affirmativo, but no one else. Oh, he knew the others were from The Team, but he had never realized just how many upper-level Team players made up the committee. Did any of them read and write? Had they ended up managing Periphery simply because there was no job momentarily available with the Coca Cola Corporation? Or at the White House? Or with an avant-garde foundation? Or a concentration camp? Who knew? Perhaps the information could be called up on a computer somewhere. But how? And by whom?

Dr. Onnipotente presided over the assembly.

“Got anything to say?”, he barked, tapping his finger on a stop watch.

Crumbs nodded “yes”. Onnipotente sighed, petulantly, threw his pencil down on the desk, crumpled into his chair, and signaled him offhandedly to begin. Needless to say, the behavior of the Dean of Deans disconcerted Anatole. Still, it was polite compared to that of the other members. Some were talking, others belching, yawning, and scratching. Most simply continued to devour bits of pâté and cocktails. Crumbs had momentary vertigo.

“Am I in the classroom?”, he asked himself.

He made a short introductory remark and moved on to his main point. Onnipotente cut him off.

“If you can’t stick to the theme, stow it!”, he shouted.

Crumbs was stunned. What had he done wrong? Onnipotente turned to Swabalot before Anatole could react properly.

“How about you? Anything to the point you got to say?”

Swabalot the Jabberer had nothing relevant to add.

“Diaphanous?”

Dean Veil was speechless. Perhaps he was so overcome with love for Crumbs and his that mere words failed him.

“Anyone else?”

Arius Affirmativo, stirred by something primal, seemed almost to remember that he owed his colleagues a good turn. Swabalot and Veil sensed the temptation. They scribbled in the word “Promotion?” on their note pads and displayed them to the political scientist. Arius’ science was that of the free, modern, pragmatic world. And thus he fell mute. Anatole Crumbs was then given a mint from the buffet and told to depart to await the committee’s decision.

“The Albanian came right out?”, Carmine asked.

“Yup. Instantaneously. ‘Overwhelmingly negative!’, he shouted. ‘Can you two clear outta here? I got work to do!’”

“And Krupskaya?”

“Never showed at all. Automatically rejected. She sent a note to say that a tear from a cut onion had blocked her vision and she could not risk leaving home.”

An operator interrupted Carmine’s conversation with Crumbs. There was an emergency call. It was Marco. Carmine promised to get back to Anatole as soon as possible, but was told to let it ride for a couple of days.

“I hate to think of BARF while I puke”, he joked, grimly.

Marco was disconsolate. And in his old, resigned manner.

“It wasn’t any good”, he sighed. “They said that their hands were tied by the Statutes and by their commitment to Standards. They said that I would understand when I had children of my own and had to discipline them. ‘This hurts us more than it hurts you’, they said. I’ve had it. I’m gonna watch television.”

Carmine rushed over to East Second Street to see the Deuce Machine.

“What next?”, he asked.

“Get a lawyer. Or go to the Press.”

The Deuce Machine shut his manhole cover.

“Excuse me, Carmine”, he continued, his voice muffled from below the street. “I’ve got to retreat. The horror of what I’ve had to suggest has overcome me. Your dilemmas cut too close to the bone.”

Monday morning, Carmine returned to Periphery, determined to do all that he could to help both varieties of Friday victims. He ran into Paura as he passed Knossos Hall.

“Yes”, the Assistant Dean admitted. “A terrible, terrible shock for all of us. Krupskaya’s case was a foregone conclusion, of course. But Hermione! And Crumbs! And so very sad for that fine young man, too. But everything isn’t lost, you know. We must not be cynics. There are proper channels and due processes to correct any mistakes that have been made. If I were any one of those three, I would start this very moment making the special appeal to good Dr. Fist that the noble Statutes guarantee as a basic human right.”

A small group of faculty was gathered round the two professorial victims back at Gorgias Hall. Carmine noticed, however, that many colleagues barely nodded to them in recognition as they scurried nervously to their niches. A war council was being held among the Remnant.

“We’ve got the opportunity to appeal directly to good Dr. Fist!”, Hermione, partially recovered, explained. “He’ll realize that an injustice had been done and correct the mistake! It’s all a question of due process and law.”

Stonato was agitated.

“It’s nothing of the kind!”, he stormed. “Don’t you understand what’s happening? For once? You’ve got to get a lawyer. A lawyer! Fast. Preferably one of their own. They’re like medieval robber barons. They can serve both sides. Once the time owed to their liege lord Periphery is over, they’ll serve you too. It won’t matter that you and the university are on opposite sides. And they know the place inside out!”

Hermione shook her head firmly.

“No, Oliver. Bad attitude. I’m not a cynic. I’m an optimist! If we did what you say, we’d violate due process. And then they’d be justified not correcting the mistake.”

“What mistake! Don’t you understand? What mistake? They did this on purpose!”

“It doesn’t matter anyway”, Crumbs mumbled. “We just aren’t the sort of people who get lawyers.”

“And it’s not due process to do so!”, Hermione reiterated, constitutionally.

“I repeat what I just said”, Oliver insisted. “There are no rules. None. It’s only pressure that counts here. And they survive simply because we are the only ones who operate as though there were rules. They’ll even say that we approve of our own exploitation if we don’t do anything to gum up the works!”

“Due process!”, Hermione belted out, embracing the university flag and bursting into an emotional rendition of God Bless Periphery.

“Porphyry”, Carmine asked. “What do you think?”

“Go to the Press. That’s what Krupskaya’s probably doing right this second. They’re bastards, the Press, no doubt about it. But like understands like.”

Just at that moment, Arius tried to sneak by. Oliver caught him by the arm.

“Arius, my friend!”, he chippered. “How is the union going to help the appeal of these two fine people against the outrageous decision of that venal personnel committee?”

Arius was clearly not happy about being interrogated. He soon regained his composure, however, and recited his traditional part.

“Periphery is a society of laws and not of men. Due process must be maintained. Liberty and justice for all. Amen. We can’t get involved as a union until due process is fulfilled.”

Arius’ paean to justice moved Hermione to tears. She galloped towards the portrait of good Dr. Wholesome Fist to kiss it. Arius took the opportunity to escape.

“There’s no temple nearby, Arius!”, Oliver shouted after him. “Could you donate the silver to the faculty party instead?”

Porphyry tugged at Carmine’s sleeve as the group dispersed.

“Hey”, he said, unusually upset. “Get them to go to the Press. The kid, too. This is a power question. The Press may smell a cause. Turn the dogs on one another.”

Neither of the two groups of martyrs could be budged.

“What does Athens have to do with Chambers Street and CBS?”, Crumbs asked.

“I’m too busy with the Simpsons right now”, Marco added. “But I’ll go the procedural route.”

Thus, it came to pass that Hermione, Anatole, and Marco had to take up their Cross a second time, and carry it to good Dr. Wholesome Fist’s office itself. Giving a chance for a third axe to fall. The truly definitive one.

All three victims had a hard time finding out from Onnipotente exactly what had to be done for a proper appeal.

“You’re trying to get me to talk on the telephone, aren’t you?”, he barked, suspiciously, whenever they contacted him. “That’s why you called, isn’t it?”

Onnipotente retaliated for their indecency by offering one after another bit of contradictory information, and providing form after diametrically opposed appeal form. They were all to be kept occupied with endless paper work. Crumbs and Rittenoff had an advantage here. They’d developed an aptitude for pointless labor through years of hopeless composition courses and BARF itself. Still, so burdened were they that their end of semester performance fell off badly. Threatening memos were sent to them by Swabalot, emphasizing their incompetence.

“You see?”, the chairman told Carmine. “They’re sluggards! No wonder they were rejected! They can be spotted a mile away, laying down on the job!”

Finally, completely on their own, Hermione and Anatole discovered that the noble Statutes vouchsaved them the right to have expert witnesses come to testify to good Dr. Fist on their behalf. Crumbs did not feel that he needed their support, since his publications, if only properly examined, spoke for themselves. Hermione, who had spent the bulk of her time slaving over the Remedial Reading Program, under strong pressure from The Team, felt that she did. Renowned scholars, and the entire staff of the Uffizi were flown in from Tuscany to praise her research on Marsilio Ficino. They even dressed in Renaissance finery for the occasion.

Carmine waited in his cubicle at Gorgias Hall on Appeal Day, with an ever-dwindling number of sympathizers, to learn of the outcome. It was soon made known. Four men in Renaissance page costumes entered Gorgias Hall, bearing Hermione, like Snow White, on a makeshift stretcher. Crumbs and Marco followed behind.

“What’s this?”, Carmine stammered. “What happened?”

Marco spoke first. His story was the most simple. Good Dr. Fist cancelled his appointment because of a luncheon with Vinnie della Joey, the Student Government President. His secretary told Marco that the only other possibility for a meeting would be in October, “which shouldn’t be a problem for you, since you’ll be here anyway.”

Crumbs explained Hermione’s adventure. Security guards had blocked the doors to the appeal when she arrived.

“Get those faggots outta here!”, Onnipotente screamed, observing the planeload of fifteenth century courtiers.

“But it’s in the noble Statutes!”, Crumbs then yelled, holding the proof in his hands.

“You think so, huh?”, Onnipotente exulted.

He handed Crumbs a new, revised book of the Statutes. Who had revised them? Were the revisions legal? How could he know? When would he get the leisure to find out? And where would he find the needed pot of gold to pay for the research? Contesting the matter would take still more time and money. Who was in charge of Periphery?

Hermione awakened. She continued the story.

“I went in. Good Dr. Fist was waiting at a table set for lunch. It had a long tablecloth draped over it. ‘What do you want?’, he asked. “’Are you the Student Government President? You don’t look like him. You’re kinda dowdy! How the hell did you get in here, anyway?’ I didn’t quite know what to say. I stuttered who I was and why I was there. He seemed to remember, and changed tones. ‘I don’t know why in God’s name we bother with deadbeats like you! Where the hell are your publications? Nothing! Zilch!’ So, I explained about the Remedial Reading Program, and how I had been told that doing it was for the good of Periphery and would help me in the long run. He laughed! ‘What are you? A baby?’, he asked. ‘Boy, did you get suckered! You’ve got to be selfish in this world, kiddo! Now scram, deadbeat!’ Then I collapsed, he opened the door, and rolled me outside.”

Hermione burst into tears. Crumbs spoke anew.

“I propped Hermione up on the couch outside and entered myself. Fist went through a similar routine. First, he thought I was Hermione. ‘Where the hell are your publications, kiddo? Did you find them?’, he sneered. ‘Here they are!’, I said. That threw him off the track, but he shouted over and over: ‘Where the hell are your publications?’ And I kept responding: ‘Here they are! Here they are!’ Then, when it finally dawned on him that I wasn’t Hermione, he attacked from another direction. ‘What committees have you sat on, kiddo, huh? What did you ever do for the Remedial Reading Program, stink bomb? No school spirit, right? I hit it on the head, didn’t I?’ Then, picking up steam as he went along, he walked over to a curtain and called me next to him. ‘Come here!’, he ordered. ‘Gimme those publications!’ He pulled the curtain. There was an enormous scale behind it. The kind you find in a market. He put my work down on one side and made me sit on the other. My weight tugged the scale where I was seated to the ground. Fist laughed. ‘You call these quality publications, stink bomb? Now get the hell out of here, halfwit!’ I did manage to leave before I collapsed. As I was leaving, several servants crawled out from underneath the table and asked: ‘Can we begin to prepare the luncheon now? Won’t His Excellency, the Student Prince, be arriving soon?’”

Crumbs was distraught.

“You know”, he concluded. “Fist has a huge sign on the inside of his office door. I only noticed it when I departed. It’s got two arrows. One points to him. ‘Suffer the little children’, its caption reads. The other points to the visitor. It’s got a label, too. Know what it says? ‘Ask the University anything in Fist’s name…’”.

“Now are you ready for the lawyers?”, Oliver asked, sputtering in rage.

“No lawyers!”, Hermione persisted. “There’s still time!”

“We’ve got to worry about future letters of recommendation, too”, Crumbs added.

“There’s still time to go to the Press”, Porphyry whispered to Carmine. “There’s still time to use one evil spirit against another.”

Meanwhile, Thelma-Gruff Artifact assaulted the office, plunged a letter into the hands of Crumbs and dropped one onto Hermione’s stomach. Carmine opened them both.

“It’s the form specifying why your tenure and appeal were turned down”, he informed them. “Apparently you’ve been guilty of everything. No publications. Bad teaching. Lack of school spirit. Everything. And you’ve got to sign the paper in order to get recommendations for new jobs.”

Crumbs and Hermione were taken aback. Hermione immediately recovered.

“My God!”, she exclaimed. “A forgery! The letter’s a forgery!”

Crumbs was broken.

“I don’t think I really want to work here anyway”, he said, sadly. “I don’t think I want to work any place where my ‘Best Man’ still plays a role.”

“It wasn’t Veil!”, Hermione cried. “I tell you the letter is a forgery! It must be the work of the Faction!!”

Oliver spoke when the tension receded slightly.

“Look. We’ve go to do something. Will you all sign a memo to send to Paura, protesting what has been done, and demanding that the faculty council address the issue at its last meeting of the year?”

“No!”, Hermione screeched. “No, no, no!”

“What could we possibly do?”, Carmine asked.

“Anything we want! The Statutes are supposedly our responsibility, right? We could alter them. We just never do. We do what we’re told. Let’s change. Now. We could obstruct graduation. All we have to do is refuse to pass the list of names of graduating students, and none of those asses can ‘lift off’ and ‘Reach for the Stars’!”.

“It’s not germaine!”, Hermione squealed. “It’s probably illegal! We’ll all be arrested! It’s obstructionism! It’s like the Faction! It’s…It’s…divisive!!!”

“That’s precisely the point”, Oliver admitted. “It is obstructionism. Force has become our only resource in this dump. They’ve made force the only law. And they disguise the reality by giving us the ‘right’ to vote at council meetings, since they know we’ll always act like sheep. It’s ingenious!”

“I’ll sign it”, Carmine said. “If you add Marco’s case as well.”

“But”, Crumbs mumbled. “I just don’t want to work here any more. Anywhere but here.”

Next day, Carmine received a note to come to Paura’s office.

“Carmine”, the Assistant Dean warned. “This cannot be your doing. It’s got to be Stonato’s work. You won’t help anybody with such troublemaking. Periphery has Standards to maintain. Anatole and Hermione will get another chance to try to improve themselves somewhere else. They need recommendations. Marco needs to graduate. Sometime. If he picks up his work industriously. And you need tenure. Why threaten your important goals? And get that adolescent Stonato to shut his foolish mouth, will you? Nobody is going to speak up for him for tenure if he continues this behavior. Don’t be immature. Do you want to disrupt due process? Each of the cases in question went along right by the book.”

Oliver was furious when Carmine told him what Paura had said. He left a message for the Assistant Dean in his mail box that evening.

“Doesn’t it ever bother you”, it read, “not to stand up for anything principled?”

Carmine picked the note out of the pigeonhole early the following morning, examined its contents, and destroyed it.

One week later, the faculty council meeting convened. There was some awkwardness at the outset, but this disappeared as it became clear that Stonato was behaving himself, and voting in agreement with the unanimously agreeable faculty. Paura smiled broadly at Carmine, who, in actual fact, had done nothing to restrain his friend. Neither Crumbs nor Kruspskaya had bothered to show up. Hermione had, but it was the last of such meetings that she could legitimately attend. Dean Veil was at the final hurdle. Old Business? None. New Business? Arius Affirmativo was already on hand, with his arm outstretched to propose that the session be adjourned, when Stonato spoke up.

“I have some new business.”

Carmine thought he saw the eyeball on the back wall of the Faculty Dining Room blink as Oliver rose.

“We are all aware”, Stonato began, “that two injustices have been perpetrated this past month.

Carmine looked up. Veil’s flesh was sagging far into both Lombardy and Piedmont. Beamo’s mouth was twitching from Atlantic to Pacific. Arius Affirmativo had sprouted another chin. Paura was searching for a means of ending the disruption. Stonato had caught them off guard by delaying so long and by mention of the word “injustice” itself. It took time for the Assistant Dean to re-enforce the trenches of his face for a well-mounted counter attack.

“One of these injustices”, Oliver continued, “concerns a student. There has got to be some mechanism by means of which the faculty council, which has full power over curriculum and graduation, can do something to deal with a legitimate exception to the letter of the law. I want to propose that this student’s name be added to the list of those graduating. The second injustice concerns what has happened to two of the finest faculty members Periphery has every known…”.

Hermione was getting agitated. Paura interrupted.

“Dr. Stonato”, he said, as calmly as he could. “We can send the matter to the hearing and deciding committee for appropriate action…”.

“No committees!”, Stonato roared. “Let’s hear and decide here and now! The matter is crystal clear and everyone knows the nature of the injustices done.”

“I object to your use of the word ‘injustice’, Dr. Stonato”, Paura spat, angrily. “I ob…”.

“You’re damn right you object!”, Oliver exploded. “You’re damn right you do! Because it underlines the whole fucking fraud that’s perpetrated here on a daily basis!”

A hubbub developed.

“He goes too far”, voices piped in from around the room. “Yes, he may have had a serious point to make. But now he has ruined it by going too far.”

“You go too far”, Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts whispered up to Oliver.

“Much too far!!”, the whole faculty shouted, led by Hermione Rittenoff.

“I disassociate myself!”, she yelled. “My hearings were the fairest this University has ever conducted! I disassociate myself!”

Paura smiled. A vote was taken on the Stonato proposal. There was one affirmative ballot: his own. Carmine abstained. Or, rather, he made no protest when his abstention was counted as a negative. The faculty filed out, pleased that Oliver’s anger had legitimized their show of Aristotelian moderation. And happy that good sense and justice had allied and triumphed. People ignored Hermione. Stonato was ostracized.

“You know”, Inca Katatatonic said to Carmine as they were at the door. “Those two weren’t very good teachers anyway. Did you ever notice how bad our students are in English? Why didn’t they correct that? I mean the people in Gestalt do well enough.”

Carmine looked behind. He saw Oliver, brooding. Alone.

He left quickly, alongside Inca, so as not to be associated with him.

Chapter Five

The Kermesse, or Goya’s Triumph

Bacchus led his dance. Periphery was in festival. Mind you, this was only natural. Every people, every community in the history of mankind, has written “full stop” to periods of near unbearable exertion with a time of organized exuberance. “To the piazza!”, the masses have shouted joyfully after the harvest, the vintage, the successful war, or happily concluded courtship. And why should the masses of Periphery have been denied their Saturnalia?

Oh, there were some within the peripheral establishment who did not feel especially like dancing. One was Krupskaya. She wandered from fête to fête that month of May, collecting sympathetic listeners who joined her in lamenting the recent troubles robbing her of her normal springtime joie de vivre. Anatole Crumbs was another who was deaf to the call of the bacchanal. Luckily for him, though, the failure of his bid for tenure had automatically erased his name from the invitation lists of the bulk of the end of the year events. Carmine was tempted to look back in the University’s archives—if such records were, indeed, kept—to see whether Crumbs’ name still figured amidst them at all. Oliver Stonato was not about to cavort round the meadows of Mud Hill either. Periphery, for him, had become the Whore of Babylon. And he vowed never to have another thing to do with her, under penalty of sin. In fact, he was busy making definite plans to move on, knowing, as Costanzo Paura had confirmed, that “no one of The Team would ever defend his job at this University or help him find one at any other.” Neither were two good students in the mood for celebration. Marco was much too pre-occupied with the demands of rearranging his life. Charles was agitated and confused by the meaning of his friend’s torment.

“I just don’t believe this!”, the warrior complained, as the end of the year festivities began. “What’s the party for?”

Carmine shrugged his shoulders and let go a bitter laugh.

“Damned if I know”, he jibed. “Read Solzhenitsyn. He had the same question once he arrived here.”

“Well, I refuse to celebrate anything ever again, unless it’s really justified.”

“Can’t say as I blame you”, Carmine agreed.

“I even feel like liquidating everybody out there who thinks he’s got the right to party.”

“Can’t fault you on that either. Have you thought of heavy explosives? To deal with the size of the crowd?”

Charles looked disappointedly at his mentor.

“You’re taking this whole travesty kind of lightly.”

He grew alarmed.

“You’re not going to join them, are you?!”

That was the sad thing. Carmine certainly did not feel like joining in the hoopla. Oliver Stonato had taken the kind of initiative at the faculty council meeting that he would have liked to author. And Oliver had paid the price for it. Carmine had toyed for several days afterwards with the idea of adding his own public postscript to Stonato’s efforts.

“Don’t be a fool!”, Costanzo Paura had again counseled, upon learning of Carmine’s temptation. “Don’t ruin your chance for tenure because of some romantic gesture on behalf of the Rabble!”

Carmine had kept his mouth shut. He felt cowardly. Cheap. Mercenary even. Perhaps he felt so because the intuition was absolutely accurate. No, he would never go so far as to cut off contact with his victimized friends. But he had acquiesced sufficiently to divert suspicion from himself. And he was planning to add his voice to the ecstatic chorus of end of the year revelers.

At least one of the Rabble would be with him in this. Hermione Rittenoff was ready to play her accustomed role. Whether officially invited to the various celebrations or not.

“I’ve really got to go”, she explained to Carmine. “If I don’t, my students would be terribly upset. And, after all, it’s only embarrassment that stopped The Team from sending invitations. I’m sure everyone is very disappointed about what’s happened to me and mine. I don’t want to be a spoil sport either. If I don’t go, Dean Veil might be offended. He might believe that I thought The Team responsible for my being ordained one of the Rabble!”

Hermione looked sheepishly at Carmine. She was troubled by a feeling of hypocrisy.

“And, you know, I have to confess”, she added. “Just like Anatole said. There’s also the question of the letters of recommendation.”

Dr. Rittenoff stood up suddenly. The Albanians were dismantling her chair.

And what was this? Carmine thought for a moment that he saw several farmers. With plows and salt. Alongside a couple of priests of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Armed with trenchant curses. All moving about the perimeters of her desk! But he shook his head and the vision faded. Only Balkan interlopers remained.

The round of celebrations opened early that year, during exam week. They began with the student barbeque. This was held, anarchically, in whatever open space could be found between Irksum and Plugdata Halls. If anything, it veered more towards Plugdata, so that students still taking tests could move more easily between their classrooms and the pit. Many sat on window sills between essays, dangling their feet below them and howling to the music of the Festering Rumelian Excrescent Pustules. Brought to the United States as the first fruits of the Periphery-Bulgaria connection. And with its name changed to “I-Can”. So loud was the noise from their instruments that people near to New York Harbor spontaneously plunged into the water for protection, tying up maritime traffic around the globe for hours. Commuters telephoned the police to complain. But they were urged to seek psychiatric help in response.

“Let your hair down”, the Commissioner commanded them.

Dr. Volontier Corvée’s last bits of hair—those along the crown, which he let grow, to give him the appearance of wearing a fez—fell completely out in one solid clump during the foreign band’s premier number.

“Now”, he said to Carmine, “I know that summer is not far away.”

Seniors, the only students at the barbeque who could legally drink, were all gathered in the tennis courts, whose high fence kept them separated from the underaged dancers in the “I-Can” crowd. Carmine tried to enter for a little brewski. He was pushed away from the entrance rudely when he confessed that he would not be able to live up to Standards. He would not be able to drink the requisite gallon of booze, within the allotted fifteen minutes, which alone would justify permitting him to take up space. Couples of different ages met poignantly and sobbed on two sides of the mesh of the tennis court fence, separated not by religion or ideology, but merely by the Will to Beer. Porphyry Contramundum thought of selling little pokers to people outside the fence to stick and prod those already in a stupor inside. Not so much for the money, but just to see something painful.

Unfortunately, for once, he was too late. Porphyry’s sport would have competed much too crudely with the Student Government’s “Bait the Dean” game. This consisted in pressing charcoals onto the flesh of Dr. Stereoputnik until he made monkey noises. One purchased two briquets for a dollar, and the proceeds went to the student prom. Every ten minutes, the Dean read a message of pride in the student body sent from Dr. Wholesome Fist himself. If, that is to say, his tongue’s lesions so permitted.

But the barbeque’s high point was the unveiling of a cake, baked in the shape of an enormous penis. No one at Periphery had ever seen anything so amusing. The astonishment was so great that one wondered how the human race had succeeded in getting on with it and procreated in the first place. Everyone was doubled over in laughter, running to call friends, squeezing, stabbing, and yanking, the girls in the forefront. Those who recovered their composure stood around watching newcomers to the spectacle, holding in their hands as they did so every form of food product created industrially since the machine age began. Carmine was pressed by the crowd next to someone eating an object from a plastic container which was called the Meat Thing. It bent, at will, into all the shapes of the cosmos. It oozed fats which miraculously formed into rectangular, circular, triangular, trapezoidal, and straight line patterns. Each fat bit sizzled like a heated blood corpuscle as it reached the uppers of Carmine’s shoes.

“Please”, Carmine begged, evoking his equivocal authority. “Don’t eat that. I’m a doctor.”

The student was moved. He obediently dropped the abortion on the ground and walked away. Flesh, standing next to it, paid the Albanians the usual litter fine, but was summoned before the Comitia tributa, as they had threatened earlier in the year, nonetheless. Carmine himself decided to leave when the carrion crow began to circle.

Much more important than the student barbeque was the senior prom the following evening. This, Vinnie della Joey informed Carmine, was to be an extremely elegant affair.

“I mean it costs $1000 bucks a head!”, he explained.

“Grandeur is expensive”, Carmine agreed. Somewhat.

For $2000 a couple, the Periphery University graduating class assured itself wonders. The entirety of the Hotel Bimbo—a new, super luxury Inn, which pursed its walls into Sambo lips and blared out Rap Music over the whole of midtown Manhattan—lay at its disposal. This meant many different values to many different people. To the gourmand, it meant the Bimbo High Table, which contained 7500 types of salad ingredients, which appeared and disappeared in groups of five hundred, on carriages on an enormous, squat, ferris wheel at the end of the Grand Ballroom. To others, it was that celebrated Ballroom itself, whose floor flipped those whisking about it into the air as though it were a trampoline, giving rise to the classification of its users as Bouncing Bimbos. To many of the girls, it was the world’s first mechanized powder room. Not only was this space equipped with beds, which were fitted with arms that applied make up to every part of the body of whomsoever lay upon them; it also automatically sent forth a special beam each ninety minutes to slap one back down onto the same cot and repeat the treatment. To all, whatever his special interest, it meant an unforgettable evening. Vinnie della Joey choked with excitement as he related still further benefits to Carmine.

“We got the choice of the chariots or the golden limousine to bring us to the City! And then we got the purple carpet! They’re gonna throw out the purple carpet for us, Mr. Spostato! It’s in the Sine Qua Non Deal! You don’t get it with the Non Plus Ultra Gimmick for $1500! And we get the comic, too! The dirty one!”

“But why the whole hotel?”, Carmine asked, naively.

“Hey! You need the bedrooms, you know! You can’t screw in the Powder Room of the hallways. For $2000, you get the whole thing. And they leave two condoms under the pillow for you, with chocolates, and wash the girls out the next morning, just in case. Look at this!”

He handed Carmine the Hotel Bimbo advertising prospectus.

“An Other Directed Enterprise”, it read. “Take nothing but good memories with you!”

“Can’t beat that, huh?”, Vinnie gushed.

“You’ve tried all the rest”, Carmine admitted. “Now screw at the best.”

Carmine telephoned Florida to see if she would care to sit in the bushes across from the Hotel Bimbo entrance with him to watch the arrival of the glitterati quietly.

This arrival did not take very long. First came Vinnie della Joey and his date, who descended from their chariot dressed in matching red rubber tuxedo and funnel miniskirt. Hermione Rittenoff had been hired to pull their vehicle, but had offered to do it for free when the University reminded her that she was no longer considered eligible for paid, Periphery-related work.

“It is, after all, for a good cause”, she whispered, out of breath, to Carmine and Florida as she was being tethered by Vinnie to a fence near the shrubs. “Though I do wish they would lay off the whip a bit on the bends.”

“Hey! Mr. Spostato! Ain’t this great?”, Vinnie said. “We all thought she was dead by now, too! What’d she teach anyway? We never figured it out.”

Behind Vinnie came a score of golden limousines, many of them two or three stories tall, some with the traditional liveried footmen. Most of the students had opted for the chariots, which were pulled by Sumo wrestlers whose faces and bodies had been blackened to make them appear to be Nubian slaves. Actually, their extremely white teeth made them look like Oriental Jewish minstrels from a 1920’s vaudeville show, imitating life on a Mississippi showboat.

Carmine thought that the slave imagery was being continued when he noticed that the bulk of the prom guests were lying on their backs, on litters, which were being carted into the Hotel Bimbo. But later, one of the wrestlers, squatting next to the don, resting for the return trip to Brooklyn, told him differently. Through his artificially whitened teeth—he did so like a cross between Louis Armstrong, Al Jolson, and an overweight Emperor Hirohito—he explained that the party goers’clothing was so tight that they had had to lie down to put it on. Afterwards, they could not get up. It had proved to be necessary to transport them supine, from their homes to the chariots to the dance floor, where they were now lying, breathing calmly. Those, like Vinnie della Joey and his girl friend, who were still on their feet, were unable to ambulate, except with the greatest deliberation.

“Very slow, very slow”, the man continued, between bites of raw fish. “Like tea ceremony. Or a No Drama. Not Kabuki. Here is deep meaning.”

His face darkened with real concern as he continued. Apparently, someone from among the group who had remained on his feet had tried to approach the salad bar. Alas! He was not quick enough, and had been snapped into one of the carriages of the ferris wheel, jamming the machinery. At that very moment, he was standing, upside down, legs pointed upwards towards the Bimbo ceiling, smothered in the Bone Marrow-Butter Crunch Dressing. To make matters more critical still, his date had dared to lie down on a luxury bed in the Powder Room. Since she could not get up once she had done so, the bed had lost all self-control. Its arms were applying layer after layer of make up to her writhing body.

“Soon”, the wrestler, an educated man, told Carmine, “girl will have to be excavated. Like ruins of Troy. Each level of face constructed upon another. As new cities built upon destroyed, older ones, farther below.”

He gasped, overcome by the horror.

“Here is deep meaning”, he insisted.

Carmine and Florida left for home. Carmine had studied modern history to avoid archaeology, and he was not about to delve into a new discipline at this late date. He also disliked the study of subinfeudation. But, that, of course, was not in question here. You never know, though.

Actually, the first of the festivities that really concerned Carmine directly was held later that week: the Annual Ball for the faculty, administrators, and donors to the University.

Everything rational and instinctual in him urged Carmine not to attend. The event cost too much: $200 per couple for the reduced faculty ticket. It committed him to an entire evening on the Island, and at its most inconvenient location. The Crystal Palace, where the Ball was to be held, was at its southernmost tip, as far from Manhattan as possible. Worst of all, he might even be obliged to speak to someone such as Onnipotente or Wholesome Fist. What would he say if he were to confront them? Would he, like Thomas More, have the courage to ask: “All this? For Periphery?” Or would he smile and paw? As was his wont? No, he did not wish to go at all. Contadina Panico and her husband, Bozhimoj, awakened him to the Great Fear of not attending, using time-honored techniques.

“It’s crucial for tenure”, he whispered and she screamed. “You must be seen. Or it might be thought that you side with the Rabble.”

“The Rabble” had finally replaced “The Faction” as the real threat to the stability to Periphery. Carmine bought his ticket and went, dragging an unwilling Florida along with him.

As it turned out, he needn’t have worried about talking with Fist or Onnipotente or anyone else on The Team or among the big donors at all. They were as separated from the faculty of the Department of Other Studies—which was seated next to the toilets—as the Roman Emperors from the populace after Diocletian’s reforms. Carmine wondered whether “the cheerleaders” would appear to complete the historical analogy.

Indeed, they did, in the form of an Extra Special Student Honor Guard, which served as a Cordon Sanitaire to protect The Team and Theirs from the mob. Geschwinde, who served as its leader, had clearly come up with the idea.

“I remembered! I remembered!”, she bellowed to Carmine as the Guard marched into the Hall.

“I remembered! I remembered!”, she continued to bawl as she assisted her comrades in incensing the perimeters marking off the space of the Elect from the Pale of Faculty Settlement.

“I remembered! I remembered!”, she screeched once more, as she covered Carmine’s eyes, so that he could not see the President making his way to the Crystal Palace Mens Room.

“Fist!”, she led the Guard in chanting, lifting the slogans direct from the reign of the Emperor Claudius II. “You, or someone like you, we have always desired as our President!”

One inhabitant of the Pale of Settlement, Carmine never discovered whom, tried to take a picture of Fist as he passed by. The Honor Guard chased him outside the building. There, the culprit tossed the offending machine to Hermione Rittenoff, who had been waiting in the parking lot for The President’s Touch, to see if it would rehabilitate her and lift her from the Rabble. She thought that the camera was a sign of grace, and held it up joyfully for the Guard to see.

“It doesn’t hurt too much”, she said to Carmine as he waited with her for the ambulance. “Well, just a little. Around the shoulders. Where the halter was too tight on the way to the Hotel Bimbo.”

Dinner at the Annual Ball could not seriously be called such. It was rather like a patriotic German Eintopf meal from the First World War, and contained nothing except rice and beans. Even worse, it was eaten off of paper plates embossed with yet another University motto: “Give it to Periphery, and Periphery will let YOU have it!”

Dancing was announced at 10:00 P.M. Florida, who had been making increasingly unpleasant comments to Carmine all evening, brightened up considerably. Lights dimmed. A band rushed out, howling, onto the Crystal Palace stage. Carmine gasped.

“It was “I-Can”.

“Come on!”, the band leader yelled. “This isn’t the classroom. You can let your hair down!”

“It’s not bad enough I had to come here?”, Florida complained to Carmine, exasperated. “I’ve got to listen to this shit, too?”

Carmine was equally upset. He had expected waltzes, polkas, fox trots. Maybe the jitterbug. But Festering Rumelian Excrescent Pustules?

Meanwhile, much of the faculty was obediently moving onto the dance floor.

“No! No!”, Flesh screamed, as he was forced into a red rubber suit, like that of Vinnie della Joey. “Not me! I’m much too fat!”

“Drop the mask!”, the band leader sang. “Let your hair down!”

Now, nearly everyone was out on the floor. Contadina Panico and Bozhimoj danced by Carmine and Florida, who were not.

“Come on!”, they laughed, though terrified and miserable. “Let your hair down!”

“But I hate this!”, Carmine protested, trying to be heard over the music.

“You’ve got to show you can let your hair down! You’ve got to show that you can relax!”, they insisted.

“But I can’t relax or let my hair down with this stuff. I hate it! I hate it!”

“I-Can” blared out its latest hit.

“Freedom, freedom,

We’re the children of freedom!

And we’ve gotta be free,

So that we can be free!”

Contadina and Bozhimoj stumbled by, exhausted, once more.

“Relax! Let your hair down! Tenure! Freedom! Come on! Be happy!!”

Carmine and Florida liberated themselves. Clenching their teeth and their fists, they relaxed with the others on the dance floor.

The entire Ballroom was hopping. Tense looking faculty were letting their hair down everywhere, and growing grimmer by the minute. Corvée had brought a toupée to show that he could let his hair down and have fun, too. But even this was shedding across the whole of the parquet. “I-Can” seemed intent upon outdoing its barbeque performance in volume. Each faculty member was given an amplifier to attach to his ear. Alfred Humdrum-Impasse tried to cover his with his hands, but an Extra Special Guard member tied them behind his back.

“Let your hair down!”, he commanded. “Have fun! Be free!”

“I will!”, Alfred promised. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it! I’ll be free!!”

“They’re letting their hair down!”, the Honor Guard cheered.

“Hey! Look! There’s Mr. Spostato!”, Geschwinde shouted. “Mr. Spostato! Mr. Spostato! I knew you were really one of us, deep down!”

“They love it!”, “I-Can” shrieked. “They love it.”

“We love it! We love it!”, the faculty howled, looking ever more desperate. “We’re letting our hair down! Honest! We are!”

New heights of frenzy were soon reached. The faculty was now expected to chug beer while it danced. Carmine grew faint. He looked around as he gyrated. Flesh resembled a sculpture of an obese, contorted, many-armed Indian god, trampling something beneath his feet. Mathematical axioms, perhaps? Taught by him that very month? Built upon a belief in the harmony of the spheres?

But wait! Alfred Humdrum-Impasse was holding firm, hands tied behind his back though they were. He was singing! Was it not one of the operatic arias that he attempted to play to his classes? No. It was the “I-Can” hit:

“Freedom, freedom

We’re the children of freedom!

And we’ve gotta be free,

So that we can be free!”

For a moment, Carmine even thought that he saw Hermione Rittenoff sneak, bandaged round the neck, back into the hall, declaiming something. A bit of Shakespeare from her upper level course, peut-être? Or some theory of lights from Giovanni Pico della Mirandola? Nonsense!

“We can drop our masks!”, the vision screamed. "We love it! We love it! Look! We’re free!”

And it wasn’t Hermione after all. It was Marcel Perdu. The Head Librarian.

“The elders think it’s the end of history”, he choked out to Carmine as he motioned with his arms, in front of his face, as though swimming, in response to the band’s repetitive beat. “They think it’s the end! But it’s just the beginning!”

Just then, though “I-Can” kept up the beat, the level of the music diminished. A spotlight-strobe light aimed at the band’s leader. It was time to announce what Carmine did not even know existed. A door prize. And the door prize’s winner. $1000 had been collected from among the proceeds of the ticket sales. A number was called out, accompanied by another burst of the “I-Can” hit.

Somehow, Carmine knew that he would win. Somehow, he knew that he would be the one forced to go forward and stand in the midst of that unspeakable quintet, blaring out its vile and treacherous music, with its strobe light aimed at his gentle face. To accept the reward. Still, he figured. $1000 was $1000.

Greed gets its just desserts. Carmine, once arrived on stage, was made to sit down on a pink stool. The strobe light zeroed in on him. He became conscious of rising above his audience. And, indeed, his stool was being lifted! Round and round! Like a seat in a cheap photograph booth. Until he found himself staring at the Crystal Palace dance floor from a spot close to the Crystal Palace ceiling. Spotlights and strobe lights grew stronger from all directions. This was meant as an honor. But Carmine felt like an enemy aircraft. It soon became clear that he was destined to remain a totem for the remainder of the evening. The dance resumed its earlier frenzy and his stool did not drop. A bucket with a rope had been placed on the seat alongside him so that he could lower and hoist messages and provisions, like St. Simeon Stylites or some Desert Father in Sinai. An opening epistle arrived from Contadina Panico and Bozhimoj.

“It’s customary to donate the prize money”, they wrote, “to the Good Dr. Fist Fund for College by Will Power.”

The second note came from Florida.

“If you dare”, she threatened, “I’ll give Glorian Feschpendel your address!”

A third came from Arius Affirmativo, whom the Panichi had enlisted to enter the fray.

“It’s for your own good”, he assured Carmine. “Be generous. Add a few dollars from your private fortune. And a thank you message.”

“I won’t!”, Carmine screamed downwards, tiring of the use of the bucket. “I won’t! I won’t!”

Nobody answered him. Instead, Arius approached the band leader, who then stepped on a button that called the stool back to land.

“It’s for your own good”, Arius repeated, as Carmine descended and Contadina sprayed mace both at the prize winner and his unhappy date. Next Monday, Carmine saw a picture of himself in the last issue of Periphanalia, sick from poison, eyes held open by a cheery Bozhimoj.

“Mr. Spostato”, the caption read, “Lets His Hair Down! Generous Contribution to the Good Dr. Fist Fund!”

Carmine was depicted receiving a gold copy of the “I-Can” hit: “It’s, Like, Freedom”, in recompense.

Oh, he was growing ruffled. Carmine’s irritation made if difficult for him, at first, to enjoy the end of the year Faculty Party, which took place on Tuesday.

Finding a location for this party had been a complicated affair. It could not be held in the old Faculty Dining Room, which now belonged to the staff, because the veto of but a single staff member could cut off its use to strangers. One of the Albanians objected to the smell of Dr. Corvée’s half denuded toupée. Smell was also a factor in exiling the faculty from Gorgias Hall. Dr. Swabalot insisted that any food aroma would stay caught forever in the walls, like chewing gum or plastic in the stomach of a child. Finally, the Albanians agreed as a group to a rental of their private lounge to the faculty, so long as the staff could all have time off, paid for by deductions from the teachers’ salaries, until the stench from Corvée’s hair and pate wore off.

Although the union did not contribute to this unexpected expense, it allotted some money for the party itself. The entire sum was entrusted to Carmine, since, living in the City and enjoying the leisure of bachelorhood, he would once again, just as in the days of the Exaltation Society, be the perfect agent for purchase of the necessary provisions.

They didn’t amount to much. Desperate efforts to get a supplement from faculty members themselves proved to be useless. Some hadn’t bought anything for pleasure since before the Vietnam War, and didn’t realize that prices had changed since 1964. And not for the better. Alfred Humdrum-Impasse had turned over his whole check, for years, to the Periphery Company Store, and had received from it, in kind, whatever the loot entitled him to get. A few faculty members did contribute something, however. Umberto Flesh gave some mayonnaise. Serge Sarcophagus offered a copy of Flaubert’s Sentimental Education. And Inca Katatatonic donated four cents and a stick of only partly chewed gum.

Ultimately, Carmine managed to purchase two loaves of day-old bread. After standing in line one morning at a welfare distribution center, he was also able to collect a pound of dried out cheese and some lettuce, for roughage. Real wine was out of the question, so he brought from home a bottle of dark red French wine vinegar. At least this spared him the burden of carrying a corkscrew. Demosthenes provided a tin of powdered chocolate. Carmine hoped to scrounge up some hot water from the cafeteria to make of this a palatable drink for those who did not imbibe alcohol.

“We can only give it to you cold”, the cafeteria managed told him. “We always stop heating water one week before the break, so there won’t be any leftovers wasted.”

Carmine arranged practically everything available on a single rather modest-sized plate. He sliced one of the loaves, very thin, and cut some bits of cheese to go with it. The rest of the food he left towards the back of the room, as though it were extra, to give an impression of bounty. He poured the vinegar into some glasses and the chocolate water into others. Finally, the doors to this Lutèce were opened. And the hungry crowd marched in.

At first, nothing happened. Faculty looked on without touching anything. Not out of horror, as Carmine had feared, but because expectations had so drastically fallen since the collapse of the Exaltation Society. People simply could not believe their good fortune.

“Bravo! Bravo, Carmine!”, Arius Affirmativo shouted, his fellow colleagues then joining in a thunderous expression of approval. They even hoisted Carmine onto their shoulders and processed around the vinegar bottle three of four times, symbolically decanting him before setting him down on a chair.

“It’s so beautiful!”, Hermione Rittenoff sobbed.

She had grudgingly been permitted to attend this function, so long as she wore a veil, and a scarlet “R” for “Rabble” round her misshapen neck.

“I’m so proud still to be here to be able to experience this profound joy!”, she choked. “A proof of the influence of the supernatural in all our lives!”

“Wonderful spread”, Carmine heard people commenting as they streamed towards the buffet. “Just wonderful!”

Faculty ignored the cut bread and cheese, and waited in line to slice and break off their own.

“We’ll save these”, Arius whispered, winking towards the prepared tray of stale, moulding foods. “Just in case the bigwigs come by!”

Carmine glanced around. Several of his colleagues had taken delicacies to corners, to devour them like trapped, starving animals. Others moved in stately fashion to the windows, as though to bless some unknown crowd with this food of the angels. Many, Alfred Humdrum-Impasse among them, stuffed them into their pockets, “to take them home to show the wife”.

The main topic of conversation was the new yearbook. People passed the faculty copy from person to person as the members reveled in its wonders. Carmine, having got something of a buzz on from the vinegar, seized it with anticipation himself. He grew confused upon doing so.

“But this is last year’s!”, he finally noted.

Hermione Rittenoff came to sit by him, knowing that he was the only one who would now speak with her.

“We always get it a year late”, she explained. “It doesn’t seem to matter very much, anyway. So many of the students seem to look the same.”

The yearbook, Hey!, was quite long. There were pictures, full length, of each graduating senior in three or his or her most fetching outfits. Some of the male photos took up three pages each, and drooped to the ground, due to the width and length of their hippety hoppityest jeans. There were shots of each of the students doing something amusing, like biting nails or belching or throwing up or scratching his crotch. There were pictures of each of the Albanians and members of the kitchen staff. Along with pictures of their pets, their favorites recipes, the dealerships where they had bought their cars, their banks, their checkbooks, and their pension contracts. There were photographs of each of the fraternities and sororities, and little cds alongside with their respective histories. There was a centerfold shot of a prized fraternity pool table, named after the first girl who was gang banged on it. There were reports of every score from every match from every team that had ever even dreamed of a playing a game at Periphery since the day the Feds fried Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

“Where’s the faculty?”, Carmine asked.

“There!”

Hermione pointed to a big photograph of a group tickle in the Great Lot, with Gorgias Hall in the background. A magnifying glass, dangling from the yearbook binding and stuck into the back pocket of a pair of floppy jeans drooping off a prize football player enabled one to examine several heads peering out at the fun from one of the faculty office windows. Carmine looked at Hermione, outraged. Hermione shook her head. She was upset as well.

“I know!”, she lamented. “It’s been a constant complaint. We just can’t seem to get our act together. There are always faculty who forget to get to the picture window at the precise prearranged second. If you win again next year, maybe you can donate your prize for more money for the yearbook photographer?”

A commotion caught Carmine and Hermione’s attention. Faculty were carting the remainder of the food, the vinegar, and the chocolate water out the door. Many were standing on their heads, trying to spit up what they had eaten and drunk. The operation was being conducted smoothly, under the direction of Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts, who understood how pharaoh organized ancient Egyptians to sandbag the banks of the Nile.

“What’s going on?”, Carmine asked Arius, who stood, observing the proceedings with binoculars.

“We’ve unwittingly blundered into a terrible breach of University policy!”, Arius quaked. "Periphery functions require Periphery food. Contraband must be confiscated. The noble Statutes mandate it.”

Carmine spat bile.

“Are you alright?”, Arius asked. “Perhaps we could pilfer a little vinegar? To restore you?”

“It’s O.K”, Carmine reassured him. “I guess you could say I’m just a trifle stirred up.”

“Festivities sometimes have that effect on people. Too much of a good thing, you know.”

Carmine was still riled when “Reach For the Stars Day” drew near. But what better moment to calm down, and let the fresh air of his time and place dispel any stodginess of soul that had taken root within? What better occasion than that which publicly rewarded so many dreams, struggles, and sacrifices? Cautiously, Carmine picked up the telephone and invited Florida to come with him again. It was not an easy sell. Nevertheless, she agreed, under the condition that he procure for her the best marijuana that money could buy.

“It’s stoned”, she insisted, “or not at all.”

“You have chosen the better part”, Carmine admitted, after they returned from the drop.

It was already hot and sticky when Florida and Carmine arrived at the Great Lot at 9:00 A.M. on “Reach For the Stars Day.” Spirits were murky, but the sky was cloudless. This meant that the Bubble Building, available in case of inclement weather, would not be needed. And that the ceremonies would be held under the enormous tent that had been rented from the circus and set up alongside Irksum Hall. Carmine prepared to exit the car to go to the faculty staging area. Florida briefly restrained him.

“Wait!”, she ordered, as she slouched in the seat and took a hit, the length and depth of which Carmine had not imagined possible. Florida held her nose with her left hand thumb and forefinger, her facial expression indicating a supreme effort to force the weed into every recess of her skull. She made a sharp, repeated, tugging gesture with her right hand, as though pulling a very stately sanctuary bell, announcing the passage of a priest from the sacristy to the altar.

“It’ll be easier the second time around, in the crowd, when I’m less inhibited”, she assured Carmine, as she stuffed the meersham peace pipe into her bag and shut the car door.

The two Siamese dwarfs, graduating early, by special order of Dr. Fist, walked in front of Florida, sharing two caps and one gown.

“Oh, it’s going to be a wonderful high!”, she exulted.

“Score one for Periphery”, Carmine muttered.

Carmine wandered through the crowds of students and their admirers to the room in Irksum Hall where his colleagues were assembling. Astonishment followed arrival on location. Could this be the Periphery faculty? Dressed in their robes of office, they were transformed! They looked like the Elect, the Redeemed, the Wise Virgins come to receive their due, both conscious of their dignity and its certain source. Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts, swathed in his Basel finery, seemed a second Plotinus. Alfred Humdrum-Impasse, a new Lully, or Archangelo Corelli. Umberto Flesh appeared to be a cross between Pythagoras and Descartes. And Hermione Rittenoff, veil and scarlet “R” notwithstanding, any member of the Florentine Academy. Even Arius Affirmativo resembled Marcus Aurelius. Carmine donned his doctoral robes and hat and rushed to the mirror. Sure enough! He saw none other than the Dean of Christ Church!

A record player, a relic from the 1970’s, sputtered, fitfully, breaking the spell in this Assembly of Notables. Its uncertain trumpet indicated that the line of march, Marshal in front, faculty taking up the rear, was beginning to Reach For the Stars. The composure of the Assembly, momentarily shaken by its rather humble positioning, was immediately restored when the nature of the march became clear. It was a Seventeenth Century Anthem, dear to Dr. Fist from his own early education. He demanded it be played on every Reach For the Stars Day. Despite the occasional elision caused by scratches on the aged recording, the sense of the words was easy to make out. And comforting. They spoke of universal truths. Of perfection. Of justice. And freedom based on Truth, Love, Self-Discipline, and Self-Abandonment. Truth! Truth! Truth!, the Anthem reiterated.

Carmine stood tall. His spine had not been this straight since the days of the Feschpendel Spikes. The line of march serpented from Irksum Hall into the tent, in such a fashion that Carmine could see the students processing up the main aisle in the distance parallel to him. Boys were baring their chests, revealing notches they had scratched in them to indicate how many girls they had taught the true meaning of love. Many of them hurled out phrases in Fucklish and burped to their friends in the crowd, to demonstrate their language proficiency as well as their knowledge of biology.

“How do I look, daddy?”, Carmine heard one girl scream. She spit a wad of gum in the air, caught it on her tongue, and, then, in response to the cries of “awesome! Awesome!” that she heard from the audience, flipped it from her mouth into the mob’s outstretched arms. Its lucky recipient cherished it as a second-class relic, and appeared with it on nationally-televised talk shows for the next few weeks.

Now it was time for the Assembly of Notables to turn down the main aisle. No one—not students, nor their friends, nor their families—had ever seen anything quite so amusing as its costumes in their lives.

“Look at the hats! Will you look at those hats?!”, Carmine heard. “It’s hysterical! Who would ever have thought they’d leave the funniest part till last!”

People were doubled over in laughter. The crowd broke out into rhythmic applause and whistling, which the Marshals found hard to control. The mood began to change, however, when the Assembly of Notables reached the section reserved for it to sit. Many of the places had been occupied. When Flesh, egged on by his revived, though shaking sense of dignity, ventured a suggestion to move, the occupants shook their fists and sputtered in rage.

“You shoulda got her earlier!”, voices from around the audience cried out, accompanied by murmurs of approval, applause, and foot stomping. The Marshals came by and sternly commanded the faculty to stop making a scene, as it could delay good Dr. Fist’s lunch. Everyone scrambled to find a place wherever he could. Hermione Rittenoff, who had thought the crowd’s earlier reaction to be a recognition of merit, was still taking bows, and, thus, left standing. Carmine saw a folding chair in another row, and pointed it out to her, but she claimed that she preferred to stay on her feet.

“It’s so much better for my back”, Hermione told him as she moved into a space next to a teenager with a picnic basket on the seat beside him. Carmine glanced over a bit later. Hermione was holding the basket so that he could prop his feet up on the chair.

Meanwhile, Dr. Onnipotente, Dean of Deans and Master of Ceremonies, had approached the podium, signaled the disc jockey, and brought the Processional Anthem to a conclusion.

“Folks, that just about sums it up!”, he boomed, after the Truths had sounded for the last time. “Let’s have a round of applause for the Meaning of it All!”

Onnipotente was grinning broadly, like a politician waiting for a second candid photograph to be taken. The Dean of Deans had never smiled but once in Carmine’s recollection. That was the occasion on which Crumbs had pointed out to him that the day was especially attractive. Only to be told by Onnipotente that it was the anniversary of his wife’s death.

Behind the Dean of Deans was The Team, and a wide array of unknowns, all of whom looked as though they had just arrived from a particularly vicious Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. There was a man with a nose so long that the average person could have been kept thin simply by jogging up and down it. Next to him was an American Indian in war paint wearing a turban. There were also two young giants, lilting dangerously sidewards, luckily, in different directions. Occupying a large space beside the giants was a person possessing barely a head, surrounded by others with Downs’ Syndrome, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other non contagious illnesses and conditions.

What was this? A scene from Lourdes? An illustrated Nazi broadsheet on “Why We Are Fighting?” Would Céline appear to explain? He just might. There were many other people on the stage, including good Dr. Fist himself. Still, they could not really be delineated by Carmine, blinded, as he was, by the sheer number of oddities and deformities that he saw before him.

But now the Reach For the Stars ceremonies were beginning in earnest!

“O.K., folks”, the Dean of Deans shouted after the applause for Truth had died down and the National Anthem was finished. “Let’s get on with it. We’ll begin with something close to the hearts of all of us at Periphery. The awards to students of the highest academic achievement, and to those judged ‘most well-adjusted ’ in their disciplines as a whole.”

Wild applause broke forth again, under shafts of beauteous heavenly light. Onnipotente emitted little barking noises while it continued. The effort to smile was taking its toll, causing him intense pain, which he took the opportunity of the noise from the crowd to express and ease.

The first set of awards to those of highest academic achievement, was easily completed. They were given out in one lump to the students from the Department of Gestalt, who were legally forbidden to receive anything less than an “A”, lest their psyches be disturbed. However, the next batch was a more complicated and dramatic matter. Mrs. Frenetico handed Dr. Onnipotente two envelopes for each distinct discipline. These contained the names of the Finalists and Winners in the separate fields. Carmine had gone to Swabalot with a suggestion for “most well-adjusted historian” when he heard of the upcoming awards, but was told that the choice was made by computer, so that his subjective advice was not really needed.

The antiquated record player blared out a drum roll when each of the first envelopes was opened, and the three finalists were called onto the stage. Excitement mounted every time. The boys looked tense; the girls held hands. Drum roll. Second envelope. Winner! Tears welling in their eyes, the losers embraced and kissed the sobbing victor, as a spotlight aimed at the hero and the theme from “Chariots of Fire” was played. Then, the reward—a golden chain, with a “$” pendant inscribed “Hope” and “Betterment”, which could be taken as such, converted into Periphery bonds, or in cash at 80% of face value—was presented. Only the Transportation discipline’s winner was missing from the line-up. His car had broken down, and he did not know the way to Periphery by bus. Obviously, Carmine thought. He could not possibly read the signs.

“And now”, Dr. Onnipotente announced, barking hideously after each phrase, “we will hear from our students themselves!”

Two representatives of the student body appeared on stage: Vinnie della Joey and Geschwinde. Vinnie approached the podium first.

“Dear Team, family, and friends”, he began. “For four years, we’ve been in this place, where we’ve been judged by our grades. Now, we’re goin’ out into the real world, where we’re gonna be judged by how much money we make. But just cause we’ve made it, we shouldn’t forget the cripples.”

He looked over at the honored guests.

“I mean, they can’t walk, and some can’t talk good, and if you leave ‘em alone, boy, can they stink!”

Vinnie looked hard at his audience.

“They don’t even screw!!”

There were gasps from the student body as the magnitude of their problem now sunk in. Vinnie continued.

“Just to show you I’m not the only one who thinks this way, here’s a poem I ran over the other day:

‘There once was a man from Khartoum,

Who made all his clothes on a loom.

Then his feet both fell off,

Slopping pigs in a trough,

And his body collapsed in a zoom!’”

Most people were in tears. Dr. Onnipotente breathed more easily. He could now smile for real, easing his otherwise unending torment. Vinnie went on.

“Me and my girl friend ran this over in bed the other day, and I said: ‘You know, Boobs, I’m a success, and you’re a success. But what about them cripples, huh? And that’s the final thought I want to leave you with today.”

He again stared his audience down.

“Huh? Huh?”

Everyone was now weeping openly. Dr. Onnipotente waited, patiently, next to the podium, balancing his checkbook. A spotlight came down on Vinnie, and then on the deformities on stage. Most of these did not know what was happening, but their attendants made them clap their hands—at least those that had hands—and some got so into the spirit of things that they began to enjoy themselves. Eventually, they had to be sedated.

“This is a farce”, Carmine mumbled, above his breath, slightly.

“No human feeling”, Swabalot muttered back to him. “You’ve got no human feeling, Spostato.”

Next came the speech by Geschwinde, who wanted to say something significant.

“It’s gonna be like Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex!”, she told Carmine some weeks before, when announcing excitedly the honor that had been bestowed upon her. She mounted the podium.

“Dear Team, family, and friends”, she intoned. “What is a university? The best thing about answering this inquiry is knowing that because so much which stands in threatful opposition to education is exogenously omnipresent, we don’t have to think very hard or look very hard to locate the answer. Outside of the bonafide champions of education, who have found their fulfillment in preaching alternative wholesome lifestyles, a massive collectivity of social victims find the pluralistical inclinations of their popular counterparts too difficult, and often too tempting, to reconcile with sanction. What, then, is a university? If not, perhaps, the only sacrosanct remnant of moral institutionalism, what else? The urgency of persuasion is a dire one! It is and should be the only reason why an institution exists. Where exogenous influences have erred, our own must rectify!! In professional practice, all Educates must act. Why this is most important is because today’s youth do regard with solid airs of expectancy, in all superiors, the modelistic manifestations. And if, and when, they do not find it in those in whose stature it is compounded, they are not better people for it. No, they are not!! And will synergism survive? Do not ask yourself what is a university! If we can be sure of nothing else—there is our motive!—we can subscribe to one redundancy. The university has a mission. Don’t forget it.”

She now leaned forward and banged her fist on the lectern.

“The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions is new in the American experience. We recognize the imperative need for this development. But we must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes!”

What, in the name of anything, had she said? Everybody but Carmine and a few of his friends seemed to know, since, once more, the applause was deafening. The Downs Syndrome/Alzheimer’s Disease Complex got excited and clapped again. There was nothing left to sedate them with, so their attendants just punched at random and began laying to with cat-o-nine-tails.

Dr. Beamo, the next speaker, summarized the general mood of catharsis.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Dearest Team, Beloved, Beloved Students!”, he bubbled. “What—what—really, what could I say—that has not now been said—better? I have—I mean--truly, oh, truly, I have—been moved more deeply—than I would ever have….So, no speech, no speech. But, more words! Yes! Indeed—more words—from—from—from this!”

He held up a copy of the Literary Supplement of Periphanalia.

“Because, I—I—was so moved by this—too—that I wanted—to share it with you—and…”.

He wiped back a tear.

“…and with—our beloved—cripples!”

He looked at the audience.

“Huh? Huh?”, he asked.

When he had recovered, he began to read selections from the Supplement.

“Love is full of happiness, the heart can understand.

Love is full of kindness, and the touch of someone’s hand.

Love is full of memories that can only be made by two.

Love is full of dreams, that someday may come true!!”

“Baseball is about to end, and I’ve given up hope on the Yankees and

Mets.

But just around the bend, are Sundays with the Giants and Jets!”

“My passion is to write, and poetry’s my thing!

I can make you the queen, or I can crown you king!

With a stroke of my pen, I can do all of this.

Make two people fight, or two lovers kiss!”

Dr. Onnipotente wriggled in his seat, and tripped his watch alarm. Lunch was getting toxic in the microwave, and there was still much more pomp and circumstance to be dispatched. Fortunately, Dr. Beamo was so broken by the depths of his own emotions that he asked for assistance to leave the podium amidst a standing ovation.

Now, the Honorary Degree Ceremony began.

The first of these went to Arturo “Bolt” Hohenheim, the blimp-like Cyrano who had paid for the Multi-Media Ingestion Center. “Bolt” and his wife, Formica, had been responsible for the ultimate in fast food innovations. The “Bolt-It-Down Slophouses” offered not only fast-food, but also a mechanical device opening one’s mouth, forcing it to chew and swallow at incredible speeds, and then popping into it a “Pill of Forgetfulness” that erased all memory of having eaten at all. A favorite at the Slophouses was the Emotion Bar, where, for a large fee, a child’s career mother could come to spend quality time with her offspring. Hohenheim’s latest success had been the Bolt Diet Dinner, which consisted of nothing but the Pill of Forgetfulness and a receipt. So that one could starve, forget having eaten nothing, but then see the receipt and feel satisfied anyway. It was very expensive. It was very successful.

Bolt advanced to the podium to be honored. He stood far away from Dr. Onnipotente as the citation was read, knowing, from long experience, that allowing only a normal distance between him and someone else would cause nose jam. Undisturbed by the Hohenheim probiscus, the Dean of Deans reached the conclusion of his statement:

“…and having donated $14, 686, 444. 04 to Periphery, this University is proud to declare him, Honoris causa, Doctor of Capital Investment, Professor of Commercial Science, Master of Real Estate, Primum Mobile!”

Hohenheim bowed.

“Take off that nose!”, someone belted out from the crowd, laughing wildly.

It was Florida. Hohenheim, oblivious to criticism, took another bow, scraping the floor with his snout.

“Off the stage, anteater!”

Florida was in her pipes. Luckily, the Triumphal March from Aida interrupted her. And then the Hallelujah Chorus. The faculty instinctively stood up, and the Albanians folded many of their seats, tossing them onto a truck to return to the rental agency.

The second honorary degree was awarded to the two giant founders of the “Everything Useless” food chain. The reason for their presence was twofold. They were Hohenheim protégés, and, in addition, former Periphery students. Their achievement had been to set up a network of eateries based on everything useless collected from composte heaps behind the Slophouses. There they stood, next to Onnipotente, as he finished their citation:

“…having profitably utilized what could have been pointless time in the classroom to make plans for their future Public Service Enterprise, and having donated $46, 414. 52 from the proceeds of their Cellophane Quiche, Periphery University awards them, Honoris causa, the degree of Doctor of the Philosophy of Waste!”

“Give my people cake!”, Florida commanded.

Why did no one locate and silence her?, Carmine wondered.

Aida and the Hallelujah Chorus interrupted again.

Next, came the turn of the Swami Rarapapadum Oneupmanshad, from Upper Pradesh, but born Crooked Arrow, on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. The Swami had been hired by social clubs, churches, the House of Representatives, and, his vita boasted, an entire galaxy, many, many light years away, to read hearts and foretell the future. A recent coup had been his location of an inexpensive Mexican restaurant in Manhattan. There was a hush in the stunned crowd as Onnipotente finished:

“…having foretold, precisely, the number of students who would take the Extra Special Program by hearing of it from matchbox covers, Periphery University is proud to declare him, Honoris causa, Doctor of the Technology of Tomorrow!”

“Go back to the wigwam, phony Wog!”

Florida, Carmine observed, enviously, was enjoying a very, very serious high.

“Trent and Diderot!”, she laughed, madly. “Trent and Diderot! Can you imagine? Both Trent and Diderot!”

What the hell did that mean?, Carmine asked himself. Had she been talking to Geschwinde? No time to mull it over. Again, Aida and the Hallelujah Chorus intruded, along with a dozen elephants, whose cavalry charge down the aisle was a special surprise arranged by Formica Hohenheim, who was mounted on the hump of the lead beast, alongside an effigy of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Now, the high point of the Honorary Degree ceremony arrived.

The last of the recipients was wheeled onto the podium. She was a woman who had been eyeless, deaf, dumb, and without limb from birth. How she had managed to survive could be known to God alone. Every moment of every day had to have been excruciating pain and struggle to her. And yet, she had lived. Carmine could not help admiring her endurance. It was clear that she had no real idea where she was or what she was doing, but knew that people were fussing with her, and wanted not to be a problem for them. She sat, quietly, surrounded by the Others, whose symbol she was meant to be, while the citation was read:

“…having been given meaning in life, by being put to work, along with her friends here present, in the Bolt-It-Down Slophouses and Everything Useless Eateries, pointed out as suitable for this purpose by Swami Oneupmanshad, and preparing now to enter Periphery next semester on a Work-Study program, her future Alma Mater is pleased to award her, Honoris causa, the degree of Universal Doctor!”

The tent resounded with every expression of approval known to man.

“What altruism”, Carmine heard, from some of those around him. “Finally! A purpose!” And, “I’ve heard they even think they’re working for a law firm!”

“Is nothing sacred?”, Florida screeched. “Who’s in charge here? Who’s in charge?”

“Is nothing sacred?”, Carmine mumbled to Swabalot.

“No human feeling, Spostato”, he spat. “You are devoid of human feeling.”

When the woman had been wheeled off stage, to get back to work in time for the noon crowd, and her companions had been beaten into a stupor to quiet them down, Onnipotente again appeared on the podium. Something was about to happen outside the scope of the published program.

“Ladies and Gentlemen! We have an unusual presentation to make today, an especially happy one for The Team and for Periphery as a whole. Today, in anticipation of the approach of the Twenty First Century, we are rewarding the ‘Teacher of the Millennium’!”

Carmine and his colleagues looked at one another, surprised, and, perhaps—one had to be honest—secretly hopeful. Onnipotente pressed forward.

“Our teacher of the millennium has distinguished herself…”.

So it was a woman. Hermione Rittenoff grew excited. This was the moment for rectification of her situation! The Team had planned this all along! Her false assignation to the Rabble was a mere purification ceremony!

“…in every regard. Her courses, while no picnic for her students because of the demands she places on them, are marked by compassion and availability.”

Hermione grew more excited. She was already preparing her acceptance speech.

“Human feeling!”, Swabalot sneered, triumphantly, to Carmine.

Onnipotente continued.

“Her publications have won her international renown…”.

Hermione’s face dropped. Her book on The Theory of Lights had not yet been released.

“A woman of strong convictions, expressed often and forthrightly, though sometimes to our discomfort…”.

The Team laughed appreciatively. After all. Who doesn’t need correction?

“…but devoted to the university as only someone of her character could be, she has merited, as no one else could, her full professorship, her new position as Special Assistant to the President, and, the greatest gift of all…”.

He paused.

“That of being Krupskaya Pluralistovna!”

By this point, the announcement of Krupskaya’s name was no surprise to the faculty. Porphyry had been right after all. She must have threatened them with the Press. And what difference did it make to The Team anyway? She gave all her students good grades. She could easily be allowed a great deal of leeway after upholding this central peripheral dogma. Still, Carmine was dazed by the Truth. He remained in a daze through the squeals of delight coming from his colleagues.

“Who better?”, they celebrated. “She deserves it all! We must

congratulate her. Me first! To her hands! To her hands! A kiss, just one kiss!”

And “due process”? A “basic sense of fairness”? What due process? What basic sense of fairness? She had won! That, in itself, made questioning whether due or fair process had taken place absolutely unnecessary. In fact, the faculty, led by Hermione Rittenoff, would now probably die defending the principle that due process had never been more strictly adhered to than in her case.

The Spostato stupor extended through Krupskaya’s speech accepting the award of Teacher of the Millennium. He heard, stiffly, her expression of thanks and loyalty to The Team and Theirs. Her condemnation, albeit obliquely, of the Rabble. Her message of encouragement to the faculty: “I, too, once sat in your humble ranks”. Blankly, he, too, marveled, as he heard of Krupskaya’s fact finding mission to England, to determine the feasibility of establishing “Periphery at Oxford”. Carmine shuddered at the thought of Pluralistovna, Vinnie della Joey, and Geschwinde tredding upon the stones of his city. Up the Cornmarket. Down Ship Street. Even cross Trinity College Lawn!

How long, O Lord!

It was just now that Carmine had his first personal glimpse of good Dr. Wholesome Fist. Fist appeared, wearing the enormous pair of sunglasses that he sported in his portraits around Periphery. He felt no desire to remove them in the darkness of the tent. Otherwise, aside from the eye gear, he was not the figure from Hieronymous Bosch that Carmine had expected, but very ordinary and insignificant looking instead. Something one could see on every evening television set. With his sunglasses, Fist was nothing other than a hybrid of a mid-western M.B.A. and a Banana Republic grand Muckamuck. There he was, seated, pulling degrees over the top of his head from a lackey standing behind him, and handing them to gaping students. Smiling, always smiling. Fist smiled less painfully than Onnipotente, but with a grin that said: “On my terms. Which you will never discover. And don’t touch the glasses. My eyes? Them? To see? That? Forget it! No! Clever, am I not?”

And now, everyone was on his feet, applauding the President of the University, about to begin his Commencement Address! Would that Frenchmen of the Twelfth Century had hung on the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux as eagerly as the Periphery audience greeted those of Fist! But the Frenchmen in question came from a narrow age, and were not trained, like Carmine’s students, for profound, rational discourse.

The microphone spoke. It was the voice of Fist. Carmine thought for a moment that he sounded vaguely like the Wizard of Oz, jeering at the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow.

“Dear Team, Beloved Students, Ladies and Gentlemen!”, began. “It’s over. The whole thing is over!!”

The peripheral world applauded the end.

“But before it’s finished, I want to make sure that everyone responsible is publicaly identified. So, just be patient. It won’t take long. Obviously, the business of Periphery is students. Without student, there’d be no pegs for the holes society needs fitted. So, here’s to the students! Students! Stand up and be counted!”

The future gears of the machinery of the Nation rose, giggling, and waved. Recruiters for various companies bought whole rows full of them on the spot. Fist began anew.

“Then, it’s clear that without efficient management, the march of our merchandise towards its lifetime resting places would have been irregular. Ladies and Gentlemen! Behold The Team!”

Seven men and Krupskaya stepped forward. The President embraced them all, and Krupskaya most warmly.

“But neither the Students nor The Team would have arrived where they are today without Theirs. Without parents. Without others even more responsible for this occasion than they are. All you forbears out there. Stand up and receive the testimony of your descendents!”

Parents and grandparents rose. Oh, they were heartily saluted by the Kids. At first, the elders looked on, a bit embarrassed and very confused, as a host might be, offering a flattened cake to guests for dessert. But they too got into the spirit of the event.

“After all”, Carmine heard one father say. “They are our own flesh and blood. I’m sure that one day we’ll love what they do. And even do it ourselves!”

Good President Wholesome Fist now reached the main body of his text.

“Students!”, he said. “We live in a society that has given us Truth, Freedom, Justice, and Love. It said so on the record, you just heard it. Periphery has poured forth its soul spelling out for you its commitment to these concepts. In doing so, it has fulfilled its mission: that of sowing the seed.

“Your duty is to mow the wheat down. A brilliant future lies ahead of you. In Banking. Law. And every other harvesting profession. Nothing can stand in your way. You’re working with Industrial Combines. Nothing can stand in your way, that is to say, except you.

“There is no doubt that you have the ability to mow down the wheat that others have sown. Just look at yourselves!! In the mirror! When you take a hard look, say to yourselves: ‘I am the greatest Mower in the world! My parents wanted this. I want it. It’s all in my hands, now, and in mine alone. Like the prairie chicken that wanted to be an eagle, I, too, will sprout wings and ‘Reach For the Stars’!

“Will it be tough to reap the wheat that others have sown? You bet your insider’s angle it will be! It may even be a grim task. But someone’s got to call in the harvest sometime! There may be mornings when you’ll wake up and feel that it’s impossible to harvest everything. You may think your life is meaningless. I thought the same thing when I pitched the Grand Slammer that ended my last year in Little League. But things can always be worse. Think of Sally! On ‘My Empty Womb’. On channel 14. Twenty five miscarriages and abortions! And dead before mid season! And you think you can’t pluck any fruit? Shame on you!

“So, remember. You are on your own. Success is your baby! It’s your fault if you fail, not Periphery’s. And there are disclaimers here to that effect for all of you to sign before you leave. Nice having had you. The Stars have been Reached. Good-bye and good luck. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

Good Dr. Fist looked at his watch. Things were running late. And there was still the reception to deal with before lunch. He signaled the disk jockey, who started the Recessional. This was the recent Broadway hit which had rapidly become the musical expression of the aspirations of so many Peripherites: “We’re, Hey, Like I Mean, Like the People, You Know! And We’re, Hey, Like I Mean, Like You Know, On the Move!” The Team zipped out a special back entrance, so as to be first at the cocktails. Students and parents then filed away, willy-nilly, sobbing loudly, moved by the lyrics of the Recessional:

“Like, Hey, I Mean, Come On, We’ve Won!

Its Pluralism, and Fun, Fun, Fun!

We’re the People, We’re Great, and Anything Goes!

Relax! Let your hair down! Stick a Finger in Your Nose!”

Everyone had seen the video. Even ninety-year olds had their fingers in their noses. Those who did not were dragged off to Workshops, or accused of anti-Semitism, or exchanged for anyone speaking a non-European language. No one waited for the Assembly of Notables.

“Someone has to pay for this!”, Florida screamed, unheard or unheeded. “Why don’t you look at yourselves? In real mirrors? Not trick ones!”

Carmine met her outside the tent. She was exhausted.

“It was wild!”, she said. “Most incredible high I’ve ever had! I saw the most amazing things: teachers holding picnic baskets for punks; the humiliation of cripples; Sitting Bull dressed as a Maharajah from the Rajputana; Mamie Eisenhower; an orchestra that looked like a record player!”

“What did ‘Trent’ and ‘Diderot’ mean?”, Carmine asked.

“What?”

The thought came back.

“Oh, right. Well, they both would have laughed at those quacks. Ironic, isn’t it?”

She grinned, widely.

“Huh? Huh?”

“Give me a hit”, Carmine demanded. “It may be the only way I can deal with the reception.”

“Isn’t there any liquor there?”

“I’ll need that, too. I thought I could take both, together.”

“Yes, but…”.

“And a cigarette. That keeps it going. Doesn’t it?”

“But why?”

“Cause I’m preparing to ‘let my hair down’.”

Carmine and Florida were now both stoned by any man’s definition. They floated by the Alumni Benefits Pavilion, which offered psychiatric counseling, insurance, sex therapy, pensions, and the “It’s Never Too Early” Mausoleum Plan. Then, they entered Irksum Hall for the reception. The cafeteria of Irksum Hall was filled to capacity with students, their families, and the Periphery staff and hierarchy. The Team and the Honorary Degree recipients were separated from everyone else, but the faculty, led by Hermione Rittenoff, had surged through the barrier to congratulate Krupskaya.

“It’s so encouraging to know that the Good triumph!”, Hermione gushed.

“Yes, it is”, Krupskaya responded, washing the spot that Hermione had touched with anti-outcast rubbing alcohol provided by the Swami.

Carmine spied a podium, working microphone, and the dilapidated record player. His heart beat faster as he approached. Could he really be so fortunate? Yes! There it was! In all its glory! The Recessional! His moment had come. He Reached for the Stars! Leaping to the podium, Carmine turned on the microphone and screamed out the fateful words:

“Come on, everybody! Let your hair down! It’s exciting! A new concept!”

Then he let the music blare.

There was nothing that could be done. Everyone had been programmed to be free. Students, all of whom had come into the world since the 1960’s, had been born free. Parents had abandoned themselves to freedom when its undertow took them with it. The faculty had taught freedom. The Team had marketed it. So off they went!

“Chug those beers!”, Carmine cried.

“You go too far!”, Paura screeched at him, both clenching his fist and terrified as he tripped the light fantastic. “You’re in over your head! You don’t know who you’re dealing with!”

The President sashayed by in a Reel that included his wife, Onnipotente, Flesh, Krupskaya, the Swami, and an uncomprehending cripple. Irksum Hall was popping, and the disc played on:

“Like, Hey, I Mean, Come On, We’ve Won!

It’s Pluralism, and Fun, Fun, Fun!

We’re the People, We’re Great, and Anything Goes!

Relax! Let your Hair Down! Stick a Finger in Your Nose!”

This time, people really took the song’s message seriously. One man belted out: “Love! Love! Free Yourself to My Love!”, and tried to bite off the finger of his partner. He was mortally offended that she objected to this action as less than loving, and stomped down on her foot to increase the clarity of his endearment.

A woman defined the meaning of the word “your” in the song’s refrain in such a way as to view it as a command to violate her neighbor’s nostril space. She stuck five fingers in Hohenheim’s miraculous snout.

“That’s not it!”, the wounded Bolt screamed. “That’s not the meaning at all!”

“Oh, it isn’t, is it?”, the woman spit venomously at him. “And who are you to define ‘your’, and insist that I submit to it, vocabulary Fascist!”

She then stuck her whole fist up the left channel.

“Learn respect for freedom, tubby!”

“Let your hair down!”, Carmine roared. “We’re free!”

“We’ve won!”, the crowd responded, antiphonally. “We’ve won! We’re free!”

The last that Carmine remembered, Flesh had tried to stick his finger in the nostril of good President Fist’s wife, Subgiugata. But then the entire mass of the heavy professor had fallen on top of Fist himself, who needed many months to recover. Finally, everything went black.

When next conscious, Carmine found himself in a dark space that slowly assumed the shape of his bedroom. A voice, clear but sourceless, seemed to speak to him.

“Good start, Carmine. Not bad at all.”

He awoke with a jerk. He saw no one around. And he laughed himself back to a sound sleep through the rest of the morning.

eHeHeeHe pauseedHHHHiiii

BOOK TWO: THE SPREAD OF PERIPHERY

Chapter One: The Eternal Return

Was it to be the Buddha, or might Elsa Maxwell do after all? Would the dominant motif of the dawning academic year be that of the eternally frustrated soul, trapped in a fleshly envelope, and longing for release from its bodily prison? Or could dormant Neapolitan frivolity again gain ascendancy over an unsettled Geist?

Carmine pondered this dilemma as he plunged into concupiscence on the couch west of the wall of Gorgias Hall in mid-September. On the one hand, he reasoned, the Indian ascetic ought to be the preferred model. After all, didn’t Siddhartha perceive that a “good” god and a universe embracing Periphery were two contradictory concepts? Had he not recognized the spirit’s need to take wings and flee from the corruption of a fetid world? One wherein such a cancre as a Periphery might fester? And precisely while the soul seemed to be held most helpless within the Beast’s infernal grasp? The Buddha’s path entailed a complete indifference to everything forming part of one’s environment. Carmine might do worse than to heed his message! Indeed, how could he afford not to deny, forthrightly, the very reality of the wretched academic community in which he was condemned to labor? And wasn’t there the example of Gordian Riddel to confirm the validity of the Enlightened One’s insight?

Carmine did not know which of the obvious phrases that came to one’s mind might most aptly capture the essence of that man’s story. The Riddel Case? The Mystery of Gordian Riddel? The Riddle of Riddel? All of these labels seemed sorely deficient. A Kant or a Hegel would have to invent the correct word to apply to the man’s saga. But then people would not understand the term, and obfuscation would triumph from a different direction.

No one at Periphery knew anything definite about Riddel. Carmine could not determine where and when or even if he had ever gone to college. It was, of course, indeed rumored that the Dean and Dr. Fist were both in possession of this bit of trivia, but Carmine believed that they, too, were really in the dark. The truth was simply that each of those dignitaries was embarrassed to admit his own ignorance concerning Riddel. And lulled into insouciance as well, convinced that the other man could most certainly produce the facts if required.

Dr. Riddel lived somewhere in Manhattan, though the exact location was, again, unclear. He had no home mailing address. Whoever wrote to him anywhere other than Periphery addressed himself to one of four post box numbers, corresponding to East and West Sides, Upper and Lower. Lifts from Periphery back to Manhattan were rejected by no man, not even Riddel. But he refused to allow the privilege of dropping him off in the City to lead to any more precise conclusions regarding his permanent whereabouts. Riddel insisted on being deposited at diverse places on different occasions in order to throw the meddler off the scent. One evening, it might be the Plaza; another, Chinatown. Every so often, to toss a real kink into the machinery of prying, it would be a Ukranian Pizzeria, a pit bull shop, or an Ezra Pound discussion group in a Lithuanian section of Harlem.

Carmine’s colleagues had once paid him a decent sum of money to track Riddel down. The experience was dreadful. Riddel led the younger man through transfers at stations Carmine never dreamed existed; stations that he was unable ever to unearth again. Fifty-ninth Street proved to be his undoing. There, near midnight, a garbage crew opened the doors of one of their slow-moving yellow maintenance cars at a single snap of Riddel’s fingers. Riddel entered. He and his train then chugged off, just out of reach, stopping dead for two hours. At 2:00 A.M., it retraced its path back into the station. Riddel was not a passenger. If Carmine had been a fascist and empowered to recruit others for a little squadrismo, he would have thrashed Riddel with bulls’ penises on Monday morning, and then forced him to scoff a gallon of cod liver oil. But Carmine had emerged from long-suffering democratic roots.

Still, even Farinacci might have been reduced to impotence upon meeting Gordian under the circumstances Carmine normally did, on his way to work in the morning, at the Manhattan Ferry Terminal. Many of Carmine’s colleagues appeared in that august hall at sometime during the course of a semester, either as part of their daily routine, or in consequence of doing something shabby. Krupskaya, who lived in Brooklyn, and lamented, regularly, the frustrating of her earlier ballet career, practiced pirouettes and pliées while waiting for her ship to come in. Carmine knew that it had arrived when the report of her knees cracking overcame the snores of the bagmen lying next to him. Flesh would pass by at least twice a month, each visit indicating a successful escape from his wife’s surveillance, and an accumulation of Schlag cakes forbidden him at home. Head bowed and body bent under a whipped cream stained trench coat, he slowly unwrapped each prize in a terminal corner. There, surrounded by the mutilated, the diseased of mind and soul, and the filth of an entire era, Flesh gorged as happily as if he were on the Ringstrasse. Riddel was one of the Terminal’s regulars. He waved to Carmine every morning, and even reached the point of confiding to the younger man certain petty aspects of his early hour movements. Each dawn, Riddel left his mysterious bunker costumed as repulsively as possible.

“Afraid of muggers?”, Carmine asked.

“No. They’re asleep when I leave.”

“Why, then?”

“I don’t like to encourage familiarity. It backfires. The problems come out when its too late. Then you’re trapped. Huis clos. “

Riddel then closed this already too lengthy discussion, quietly burying himself in his paper. Intimacy had threatened here as well. Distance had to be maintained at all costs.

Gordian’s habits at school were very odd. Aside from baby food, the only other nourishment Carmine ever saw him take was a stale hot dog roll garnished with one slice of fatty bacon.

“I can’t deny myself all pleasures”, he said. “But you should have tasted this back in the days when Schraffts was Schraffts.”

The most peculiar mail arrived in Riddel’s box at Periphery: complimentary discs of Apache War Songs; prayer rug remnants; pages of English-Gullah Dictionaries. Carmine was well aware of the take, because Riddel insisted upon distributing such trophies to his colleagues.

“I knew you’d want this”, he would note on Carmine’s blotter, next to a huge, fold-out diagram of Tibetan viscera.

Riddel’s subtle influence over his fellow teachers at Periphery was such that they had begun to imitate this peculiar custom the year that Carmine arrived. Soon, everyone was distributing his mail to the point that a man became seriously confused as to its real possessor, and that possessor’s true identity. Serge Sarcophagus began to parcel out his own clothing and bric-a-brac. Inca Katatatonic received a gift of underwear; Carmine, a Chinese coolie’s hat. T’ang Dynasty. Mid. Then the fever died down, and Riddel was left alone to his singular habit.

Riddel carefully locked every drawer in his desk, and his entire file cabinet, even when he tied his shoelaces or casually turned to sneeze. He attended no faculty functions other than official meetings, where he sat, smiled, and voted yes. One man, whose tenure at Periphery lasted but two years, actually did seem to arouse Riddel’s sympathy. There was speculation that they had even become personal friends. But when his “comrade” left, Riddel failed to attend the farewell dinner, claiming a 10:00 P.M. dental appointment.

“So late?”, Carmine screwed up the courage to ask.

“Oh, yes”, he responded. “It’s splendid. There’s no line. And the teeth stand out in the dark, awaiting the expert’s touch.”

Most mysterious, however, was Riddel’s Paraguayan connection. So fond was he of Paraguay that the words “Riddel” and “Guarani” became synonymous on Mud Hill. People gathered that he had purchased an estate somewhere in the backwoods as well. Riddel left for Paraguay the very evening of his last day at Periphery each semester, and returned the morning that classes began anew. Carmine asked him what he did there.

“I lose myself”, he announced, “in the Bolivian community.”

Did he exist anywhere? Carmine pondered the question. But not too much. For it seemed possible that the enigmatic professor might punish the undue attention of his upstart colleague by inserting pins into a Spostato doll fashioned by mestizo demonologists.

Gordian Riddel’s whole life was devoted to preparation for retirement to Paraguay. He told Carmine that he intended to keep a pied-a-terre in some slum in the United States, “possibly in Toledo”, just so as “not to lose touch”. But off to Paraguay he would go. Without fanfare. Forever. Alone, And probably disguised.

On the first day of September, just before the current semester began, Riddel announced a sudden decision for early retirement. He cleared out of his office, bit by bit, over a week-long period. Then he donned his hat, said “good day”, and walked into the sunset. A lifetime of experiences and acquaintances were happily jettisoned by the moment he left the Great Lot.

Several days after his departure, Carmine received notice in the mail that Riddel was dead. The traditional Periphery announcement of the loss of a colleague, this one reported by a “friend from Toledo”, had been sent to everyone at the university. Carmine was shocked, and telephoned Porphyry Contramundum to commiserate.

“Did you hear?”, he asked.

“Yes”, Porphyry answered, unperturbed.

“Terrible, isn’t it?”

“You believe it?”, Porphyry laughed.

“You don’t?”, Carmine babbled.

“Of course not! You don’t die that quickly of cancer at his age. It’s just his way of cutting off everything absolutely. They probably think that he’s dead in Asuncion as well. For all I know, maybe he thinks he’s dead, too. It wouldn’t make much difference. But if there is anything in this life that’s certain, it’s that Riddel is not dead.”

Carmine telephoned six other colleagues. Opinion was divided. Two believed that Riddel was alive and well. Three thought that he might be dead, but that it could not have happened when, where, and how the announcement had indicated. A sixth was convinced that Riddel would soon die, and that he was the “friend from Toledo”, assuring himself control over his own demise.

Was Riddel? Or was he not? And could his peculiar way of life be emulated? The Buddha had obviously influenced one Peripherite’s vision. Non existence had worked for him. Why not for Carmine? Victory through self-annihilation!

Carmine lay on the couch and meditated still further. It was no use. He flushed, on and off, with occidental pride. Ultimately, Carmine was obliged to admit to not being fully prepared to lose himself unquestioningly in any unpredictable Oversoul or downright Nothingness just yet. The flesh and its manifold delights might actually continue to have something to teach him. He owed it to his earthy ancestors; to Italy; to Alberto Sordi. He had to retain, for a time, an opening to Creation.

But, surely, Carmine concluded, the divergent tugs at his spirit could be reconciled. Why be an ideologue, when a two-pronged policy might be permitted? A little Mahayana stray from Siddhartha’s Noble Hinayana Truths. Buddha was there to lead him through the academic tundra. At Periphery, Carmine’s motto would be: “I’m ashamed to have a body”. Outside of the university, however, western realism would reign. And with a vengeance. Excess would be his guide! He would take that corpus whose needs he disdained in its workaday Stalag and plunge it, in off hours, into a sensual, sublunary whirlwind of whimsical, artistic, and degrading experience. Renunciation would be the Spostato password at the Gulag; while at home, Indulgence.

“I play hard, just like I work hard!”, some long-suffering corporate mogul had confessed to Carmine from a subway advertisement that very morning. This had depicted a ninety year old executive. Smiling. Sweating. Seated astride an exercise bicycle. Reading a memo. Making love to two women and one man. All simultaneously. On a Sunday dawn. While attending his local Anglican Church. In his $5000 a night Weekend Getaway suite at the Hotel Optimus Maximus in midtown.

“I don’t get to enjoy myself like this every day!”, he admitted, with labored breath. And in bold print. With witnesses, even. And a letter of support from the Pope, who apologized for not being there himself,

Perhaps he was right, Carmine thought. Perhaps serious indulgence had to be programmed. That’s where Elsa Maxwell’s memory came in. Like the hospitable Maxwell, in her Old World salon, surrounded by her “ninety-nine most intimate friends”, Carmine would carefully shape the sybaritic side of his existence. He would punctuate the year with a cycle of unspeakably exhausting parties, each giving vent to his vigorous imagination and physical energy. A sudden inspiration convinced him to conclude these events with a celebration he had always longed to organize: that of the Birthday of Eternal Rome, April 21st, 753 B.C., now to be revived in the fading years of the twentieth century. It would be a once in a lifetime event! Belshazzar’s Feast! With classical contours! A veritable orgy of Hellenistic excess! After the caput mundi had been fêted, the school year would rapidly come to a close and he would be able to fly back to the remnants of the Empire itself for a summer of unrepentant abandonment to pleasure.

Yes, he thought, smugly. Renunciation and Indulgence. Work hard, play hard. He would be two persons in one Carmine: Carmine Buddha-Maxwell. And in this Hypostatic Union lay his Redemption.

So engrossed was dear Carmine in the orgiastic joy of party planning that he had not even noticed Dr. Swabalot fussing about his chosen place of repose. In fact, Swabalot had been there for quite some time. First, he had emerged from his office, equipped with a saw, a hammer, and nails, and had begun alternately cutting, pounding, and squealing in pain, all, apparently, without notable consequence. Swabalot had then industriously emptied out and scoured the two ashtrays that stood guard at the edges of the couch like lions at the gates of Babylon. This was particularly peculiar, given that the long-standing no smoking policy meant that butts had not been flicked into the mouths of these cats for generations. Periphery rumor had it that their sole purpose was for the reception of denunciations, such as those placed in the mouths of real sculpted lions in the Republic of Venice of happy memory. Recent happy memory, Carmine sighed, audibly, remembering how Florida, Demosthenes, several other friends and he had passed the bulk of the summer upon that State’s most blessed lagoons.

Carmine took serious notice of Swabalot only when the chairman began to cower round the floor at his feet. For one moment, he became hopeful. Maybe Swabalot had undergone some profound metanoia. Perhaps, like a Dostoeieskian character, he was now groveling, intensely repentant, in the hope of receiving forgiveness for past misdeeds.

Alas! He was merely plucking stubborn bits of dust from the strands of the carpet.

Finally, the true purpose of Swabalot’s jitterbug about the couch was made manifest. He leaped to his feet and sped passed Carmine, depositing a carefully prepared ukase in his hands. “Do not slouch on the couch!”, it preemptorily ordered. “Dr. Fist has published a stringent memo prohibiting all couch slouching.”

This, Carmine admitted, was de fide. Dr. Onnipotente had spent much of the previous spring snooping about Gorgias Hall, following up persistent rumors of continued faculty relaxation and camaraderie. Suspicion had led to action. He had embarked upon a mass expropriation of chairs, tables, shooting sticks, prie dieu, stylites, and anything else on which troubled dons might pause to share the wisdom gained from their rootless cosmopolitanism. The basement lounge was proclaimed a fire hazard. Carmine half expected the revelation that a deranged Dutch Bolshevik had been discovered setting it alight with the connivance of The Team.

But, no. It had been refurbished. Given to an ad firm as a recruitment center. With a course in ad verbs to spread its message. Thelma-Gruff Artifact was instructed to inform the faculty that the office of the Department of Other Studies was a ballroom sufficiently luxurious to accommodate the social requirements of the most exacting Parisienne, not to speak of social climbers from Periphery. Carmine’s couch was retained simply because the sanitation department obstinately refused to pick it up. Also, Dr. Onnipotente found it to be useful for scraping bits of caked mud from his galoshes after rainstorms.

Yes, Carmine was aware of all these truths, but he crumpled the note and tossed it onto the floor anyway. Bluntly put, he just no longer cared what Swabalot or Paura or Veil or Onnipotente or even good Dr. Fist desired. How, in all honesty, could he? Would it not be a betrayal? An assault upon the spirit of the summer gone by? An armed attack upon the very meaning of the Ducal Palace?

Not that the Venetian sojourn had been entirely free of pain. It was, perhaps, too bad that the accommodations had given onto the high security prison of the Veneto, and that the inmates complained, unrelentingly, that Carmine’s gang kept them awake during riposo. But, come on, they were bad eggs, anyway! And the gleam of the guards’ submachine guns did arouse such hopes for the revival of a substantive masculine spirit. Besides. Outside, lay Venice. Could one really go from La Serenissima back to worrying about Fist? That poor soul had his own exacting problems, recuperating from his Flesh-imposed wounds in a Latin American sanatorium.

The memory of Venice was not the only thing making Carmine unwilling to treat peripheral authority too seriously. There was also the realization that The Team and Theirs would do nothing to retaliate even if he spat brazenly and broadly throughout their odious realm. It wasn’t worth their effort. Periphery recognized that Carmine’s influence over his colleagues was transitory. It had come to explain his eccentric concern for learning and faculty esprit de corps as a brain fever inspired by foreign vapors. Stonato was malicious; Spostato, merely a freak. Carmine was convinced that Fist, Onnipotente, Veil, and maybe Paura believed this theory firmly. True, Swabalot did not, but his animosity was harmless, since he was clinically insane. And even his attention was generally focused away from Carmine, and towards the personal Watchtower and high powered binoculars that The Team had given him for his help in ridding Periphery of Stonato. All that Carmine had to do to survive at the university was to play the role of professional fool to the tyrants, of Brutus to the Tarquins, and the checks would never bounce. He was certain that his patience in enduring humiliation more than matched their eagerness to inflict it. If he could but think of the Buddha, deny the reality of the corruption around him, limit his universe to non-Periphery, and smile as he allowed his genitals to be removed, then everything would proceed smoothly.

And there was one further cause for calm. A purely physical one. Inexplicably, the bees that normally plagued the Island in late summer had entirely disappeared. Carmine noted the phenomenon to Ernst Wissen von und zu Nichts.

“Everyone”, the philosopher explained, “is fleeing the sinking ship. The sting is gone from the stuff of life. No more honey once the land has been milked.”

Carmine slid defiantly further into the couch. He grinned as Swabalot picked up the rejected note, sputtering with rage.

Meanwhile, new colleagues, replacements for those massacred through the spring semester’s BARF, momentarily occupied his attention.

“We who are about to die, salute you!”, he mused, as he listened to them praise the wisdom of their future hangmen.

Carmine studied the victims closely. Try as he might, he could not suppress that frisson of joy which the presence of ugliness often inspires in the hearts of corrupted men. Carmine remembered, fondly, an excursion outside of Oxford, to a country house, whose family gallery included the portrait of a baby of enchanting loathsomeness. He had jokingly approached the saleswoman in the little gift shop upon exiting to inquire about a possible postcard.

“Excuse me”, he had puckishly begun. “Is…”.

“I’m sorry”, the saleswoman had firmly interrupted. “There are no more Ugly Baby postcards available. You can put your name on the Ugly Baby Waiting List, though.”

That same hint of malicious pleasure which he had experienced while meditating upon the popularity gained by a child of the gentry precisely because of its incomparably hideous snout struck Carmine again now. He lay rapt before a veritable cornucopia of Ugly Babies, preparing to offer themselves to a Moloch so rapacious it would swallow and exploit anything.

All the members of this fresh batch of cannon fodder had been well chosen. They were misfits of the highest order, enchanted with their special deformities and the Eden in which they had been deposited to prance about. One of their number was impossibly fat, much, much worse than Flesh. The human body, Carmine told himself, just could not biologically function with all the parts that went into making him up. A division might have bivouaced under the cover of his pantaloons. The Fat Man was also restless, and he lumbered up and down the main staircase unceasingly. Each time Carmine glanced at that conduit, the chub appeared at a different level, his forward bits a calendar year ahead of his posterior. Presence of Fat Man remained marked, indelibly, on each step, so many emanations of one ponderous reality, composing, together, a single very great Chain of Being. Existence not only precedes essence, Carmine thought. In this case, it could easily smother it. History had a new reference point. Before and behind Fat Man. But, on second thought, this was a physical impossibility. Such a standard would reduce the temporal to an Eternal Moment. And one devoted totally to the superfluous.

Amazement over the man’s size was enhanced by his rhetoric. He spoke so much as to give rise to wonder regarding when he had had the leisure time necessary to pack the weight on. There seemed to be no subject beyond the scope of his active mouth, be it whales’ teeth, the number of stops on the LL line, recipes for homemade Turkish Taffy, or the gestation period of dromedaries. In several days’ time, he had impressed upon Carmine an aptitude for pontificating about all subjects imaginable, except for those considered to be important by the collective wisdom of mankind from the time of the Sumerians until the foundation of Periphery. Vox Fat Man, Vox Nothing. William of Ockham would have been able to sharpen a factory supply of razors on his dicta.

Another new worthy was a Brooklynite who spoke with an exaggeratedly low class southern accent, and spiced up his conversation with pronounced slaps on the knee. An irksome, continuously repeated “heelt-heelt” laugh completed the portrait of an Ozark Mountain White Trash bumpkin. This Bensonhurst hick had taken his artificial speech to heart, like a fanatic Platonist embracing an innate idea. It became more a part of him than the historical facts of his own contradictory life. The accent had been perfected after a two week visit to Nashville, during which he had tried to interest record companies in an album of country western music with psychologically penetrating verses emerging from the daily experience of a Coney Island Avenue wanna-be sharecropper.

Both these new fellows found one another overwhelmingly fascinating, as they did two other specimen now standing next to them at the door to Thelma-Gruff Artifact’s suite.

Carmine knew little about the second duo. One of its members openly introduced himself as a Renaissance Man. As far as Carmine could determine, the focus of his intellect was fixed, immutably, upon the erotic life of drosophila flies. He wondered whether the Renaissance Man forced the results of his genetic experiments to fit what he expected of them, just as Carmine and his high school buddies had done: by collecting thousands of extra red-eyed bugs, whose birth Mendel had not predicted, and tossing them from the tops of ferris wheels amidst the kind of blood curdling squeals that pimple-faced adolescents alone could produce.

A woman completed the group. She, too, like the Renaissance man, lay within the grip of an idée fixe: the apparently nightmarish realization that she would have to share her bedroom with the lover she was about to marry. For the rest of her life. Together. And on one mattress. All else paled to insignificance before the thought of the momentous, eternal ball and chain about to be fastened to her, to him, and to their common pillow.

The dialectic was in full blossom as Carmine began seriously to eavesdrop.

“You’ll see”, the Fat Man prophesied. “Soon we’ll be flushing our toilets, and there won’t be any place for them to drain.”

“What’s going to happen if he hears me talking in my sleep?”, the woman interjected. “I mean, I do that if I dream about using the bathroom during the night, and there are some things I just don’t want anybody to hear. Oh, God! It’s going to be awful. Really awful!”

“Even the bugs maintain a conscious sphere of privacy”, the Renaissance Man edified. “Some call it forum positivum. In my latest article in The Bifurcated Antenna, I break new ground and speak of ‘Fortress Drosophilorum—Citadel of Democracy’.”

Hank Whitetrash began to belt out a tune that he had hastily composed on the back of a course syllabus:

Well, ah once had a luv,
Aynd, she had no place to shit;
Aynd, she slept in mah rooooom,
With a deep sense a’gloooom.
This opus generated a level of enthusiasm difficult to calibrate. The Fat Man visibly swelled with an extra ten pounds of satisfaction, as though he had seen the young Mozart spontaneously composing a masterpiece while crouched on the pavement in front of the doors of the Sistine Chapel and devouring a fist full of fries.

“It’s incredible”, he concluded, summarizing the mood of the entire agape. “All this! In one place! And at one moment in time!”

“Yes”, Carmine asked himself, now barely maintaining his commitment to ignore Periphery by sheer will power alone. “But why my time? Why my time, and why my place?”

Chapter Two: Can Anything Good Come From Queens? Part I

Will power is a tricky thing. Carmine’s was clearly weakening badly by the conclusion of the ballad of the Brooklyn mountaineer. Oh, he waited for one brief moment before stealing away from Gorgias Hall, nurturing, as he did, the vain hope that some protest might issue from even the most somnolent of the local Lares and Penates. But, alas, the pagan gods were dead. Buried. Unmoved. Where Swabalot had failed, Carmine’s new colleagues had triumphed. He packed his books and left for home.

By the time he reached Father Demo Square, depression was ripening nicely. Carmine knew that it would be foolish, given his rapidly deteriorating spirits, to head directly to his apartment. Regrettable things would occur should he do so. Deeds a l’outrance. Anarchistic deeds. He might buy a television and watch rock videos; telephone, and then visit, some dominatrix to drive home his sense of humiliation; speak to his parents, who would plead with him to follow the latest bit of advice garnered from the talk shows and seek the intervention of psychotherapists. They might even approve of the idea of the dominatrix. Trapped in his apartment, ripened depression could lead Carmine to refrain from alcohol. Avoid salt. Lower his cholesterol. Quit smoking. Bodybuild.

“Why don’t you go see Débordant?”, Everybum suggested, as the don stood, bewildered and paralyzed, in front of the door to his own building.

Débordant Vase was a post office supervisor of indeterminate age who worked in Chinatown. Carmine had met him—if that was the word one could legitimately employ—in the midst of a blinding snowstorm in a barren stretch of Williamsburg one day during the previous winter. Snow was already falling thickly as Carmine boarded the 4:00 A.M. ferry that fateful morning. Everybum telephoned the office at 6, when Carmine’s class was finished, to warn him that a blizzard was rapidly taking shape in Manhattan itself. Still, it was not possible to quit the premises until mid-afternoon, when the fund raising Fist called from Colombia to cancel school.

“There’s no snow in Bogota!”, he snarled over the line. “Are you sure you’ve got it there? Deadbeats are known for their delusions! Alright, let the bums out! I’ve got entrepreneurs to talk to! Their needling me already!”

A colleague offered Carmine a ride back to Manhattan. Conditions were dreadful. Engine problems forced the car off of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Carmine left the vehicle to look for coffee, while his friend haggled with an overworked AAA representative on the phone.

Williamsburg’s geography defeated Carmine. He became hopelessly lost. Vase emerged from nowhere to guide him to a nearby bar. The two men chatted so long that Carmine’s driver, car finally repaired, beat the premises. With no way out, the don and his new friend drank themselves into a stupor for the remainder of the blizzard. This set a pattern for the future of their relationship, which was always played out in such an alcoholic daze that even now Carmine would have been very hard pressed to describe Vase accurately for a police blotter. Even with a pistol aimed at his head. Which prospect, in this best of all possible worlds, always loomed dangerously just around the corner.

As familiar and intimate and even necessary as Débordant had become for Carmine, especially in his ever increasing moments of confusion, he forever remained something of a mystery, though of an immeasurably different kind than that offered by Riddel. Vase’s puzzle build upon nature. Riddel’s annihilated it. Each encounter with Gordian left one unsure of the earth upon which he trod. Carmine always departed from a session with Débordant having learned something concrete, although never concerning the reason why his friend was in Williamsburg the day of their introduction. Vase joked that he had gone there simply to tell him the quickest way to get a fire stoking in his stomach.

“I was needed. Right?”, he asked. “Punto e basta. Isn’t that enough? And doesn’t the oddity add a piquant footnote to the basic datum? An amusing cocktail party gambit?”

Traveling to visit Vase provided enough exotica for an epic. It was akin to climbing Mount Olympus in Homeric times. Pre-pre Socratic. And as a confirmed and missionary-minded believer. A man could only undertake the excursion in fear and trembling. No human being ever seemed to get off the subway at the stop where Carmine boarded the local to Vase’s home. Actually, few seemed to go to any of the six stops intervening between the express and the station closest to the Vase residence. Carmine was, therefore, frequently alone on the last leg of the journey. And any unexpected company was almost invariably unwanted anyway.

One day, during a season when urban swordsmen were skewering New Yorkers along the length and breadth of its avenues, a lunk with an enormous bag of hammers sat down smugly next to Carmine in the empty train. Smiling broadly, he lovingly caressed the pommels of each of his weapons. Carmine pictured to himself the next day’s headlines: “Hammer Man Splits Several Skulls on GG Line. Historian Makes Omellette History Himself.” Students of his would surely be questioned. Each would recount some story that Carmine had told them concerning vicious historical events, just to keep their mouths shut in class. Intimations would be made that he had invited the attack for obscure reasons of his own. Dr. Swabalot would purchase ten copies of the first paper that began the most comprehensive libel campaign.

But the assassin simply got off at the next stop, and started banging madly at the subway wall. Perhaps he was turning the station into a branch of Periphery? Or looking for misplaced tokens? Preparing to immure his family? Or seeking a place for the tooth fairy to hide gifts from his children? Probably all, simultaneously.

Then, on another occasion, a timorous chap sat down in a seat diagonally across from Carmine. Unwilling to frighten the wimp, Carmine smiled at him. Surely that would have put most people at ease. But not him. He rose, cuffed the don repeatedly, boxed his ears, and crushed his toes, whose nails, admittedly, did, as usual, need a smart clipping. Then he sat down again, finally relaxed.

“Perhaps”, Carmine’s assailant eventually suggested, “we could some time join forces against a third, still weaker party? And convince him of the fact that the chastisement was for his own good? You know. A little reenactment of the Reformation. The Reign of Terror. The Great Purges. Would you be so kind?”

From that day forward, Carmine carried a bottle with him on the subway for protection.

“I see no other way out”, he told an alarmed Florida. “It’s the war of all against all. The seventeenth century already knew it would come to this, subway or no subway.”

A drunk was responsible for a serious delay on a third trip. Train doors would not shut once he collapsed between them. The conductor came to the car to pull him in. Carmine recognized the transit worker. He was a Periphery summa cum laude, graduated in a special program for mid-year over-strivers.

“He’s a child’s protégé!”, Vinnie della Joey burst out in pride in explaining the man’s achievement at the time. “Not too many of them around!”

“Oh, I don’t know”, Carmine objected. “In this land of opportunity?”

At each subsequent stop, the drunk slid out anew, necessitating a repetition of the same operation. No wonder the conductor did this so well. He’d had practice, regularly, with his fraternity brothers back in Elysium. By the fifth station, the doors would shut no longer.

“Adopt emergency procedures!”, the driver advised.

Periphery’s best did not know what these procedures were.

“Turn the key counter clockwise in the control panel, conductor!”, the driver commanded.

But what might counter clockwise possibly mean?

“Could you help me?”, the conductor begged his former teacher.

He took out his dinner while Carmine worked.

“And would you pour this ketchup on my hamburger as well?”, the summa whined. “I never took the course.”

Convinced that he was on a train to nowhere, Carmine left the vehicle to make his way on foot.

Perhaps most distressing of all was the day that he arranged for Volontier Corvée and Inca Katatatonic, both non New Yorkers in origin, to come with him to meet Vase. Carmine should have known better than to go on the subway with frightened out of towners ever since he had mistakingly led two visiting Frenchmen onto the “M” train to East New York, telling them that it was an “R” aimed at Penn Station. Besides, disaster always strikes precisely those people who expect it to befall them. And Corvée and Katatatonic were on the lookout for Apocalypse as if it were water from the tap.

A frail, sixty year old man in cowboy uniform eyed Inca Katatatonic lustily as the trio waited on the normally empty express platform for the local. He retreated a respectable distance and then charged her, head down, with all the energy that a geriatric bull could muster, repeating this action a half dozen times from as many different approaches. One could see, as he did so, that the cowboy worked with shriveled arms which flapped uncontrollably, like the limbs of the little mechanical toys which Carmine’s parents used to buy for him in early youth. Carmine was momentarily bitter. This fellow’s arms had the advantage of not requiring the batteries that his playthings invariably lacked when he opened them on Christmas morning.

The arrival of a train disrupted the bullfight. Everyone boarded. Inside the car, affairs were no more peaceful. Two wildly drunken black men were seated in the nearly empty vehicle. Still, Greek aesthetics triumphed amidst the chaos. Even if one man of color was light-skinned, the other was a midnight special. How their stupor made them screech! But nobly, in a balanced and proportionate way, assuring the victory of Apollo over Dionysius.

Still, the men were upset. The cause of their torment was close at hand, with a group of teenagers holding opened bottles of whiskey under their nostrils. Excitement stirred the man with the withered arm to renewed passion for the frantic Katatatonic, who was, by now, near collapse. Carmine decided to jump ship at the next stop and wait for another local. Sighing with relief, he and his friends exited into the embrace of an upright human centipede which snarled, snorted, and flailed with his many armed coat in greeting. Inca and Corvée darted speedily to the door and took a cab directly to the Island.

“Some things”, Vase commented upon Carmine’s arrival, “are not for all to see. Pray that the unprepared are never put to the test en masse.

The obstacle presented by the subway was as nothing compared to the reality of Queens itself above ground. For Queens was ravaged by a moral distemper labeled by Carmine and his friends as “the Pall”. “The Pall” was a disease which could not be diagnosed merely through examination of a city’s buildings or the surrounding landscape alone. Its feel, however, was unmistakable. “Here”, one would say, once “the Pall” was identified, “human life has ended. The Spirit has departed. Boulders lie upon the active intellect. Nothing can be done but flee to another town, another province, another hemisphere, another reality. immediately.” Carmine had long ago come to the conclusion that practically all of New York was covered by “The Pall”, making it virtually uninhabitable. True, sections of Manhattan, like his neighborhood, seemed miraculously free of the infection. But the island’s midriff exuded the disease unshakeably. No improvements could de-pall Twenty Third Street, just as no tidal wave of cultural activities could purify a Calvinist conventicle. Certainly the Outer Boroughs of the City of New York knew the malady. A journey to each of them—not to speak of a trip to any of their sister communities throughout the United States—was a true voyage to the end of the night; a serious introduction to death on the installment plan. Whatever the disorder was, Queens had it. And probably could pass it on.

But that was not the whole story. Surely, Carmine thought, a stutterer—and an irrational one to boot—had been put in charge of naming transportation arteries in Queens. One left the subway at 116th Street, turned into 116th Drive, which became 116th Road. By this time, one expected to hit 116th Place, only to be surprised by 40th Place, followed by 116th Place, 116th Boulevard, 20000th Esplanade, and then 119th Causeway, Highway, Expressway, Pathway, Runway, Lane, Footbridge, Stroll, Walk, Via, Fondamenta, Rue, Strasse, and Calle, before hitting 116th Street again, where Vase actually lived.

The absurdity of the street names did have the one virtue of keeping attention away from the architecture. At best, the buildings were the architectural equivalent of furies protecting the gates of the underworld from Orpheus. Even though speaking of a thousand different cultures, the shops still evoked the barren uniformity of a postwar People’s Republic. If was as though vast quantities of absolutely valueless ethnic trinkets had been shipped here simply to fill an excess amount of space. The impression of austerity was reinforced in the clothing emporia. Everything had stopped around 1960. And Queens’ fashion was to Manhattan what Madame Khruschev had been to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Vase House lay on the ground floor of a twelve story building. This formed part of a complex, inhabited mainly by Orthodox Jews, totally surrounded by man made waterways called “The Rivers”. Set as it was between two large phoney streams, and populated mostly by Semites, Vase’s home gave off the feeling of Mesopotamia during the dry season.

A visit to Vase House itself was joyous, partly because Débordant was an accomplished chef. It seemed, at times, as though his reason for existence was to ingest as much as possible of Creation until the day of his death; to become a literal microcosm, though of a sort never imagined by either Pico della Mirandola or Hermione Rittenoff. But, then, again, the New Problems of a New World require New Solutions.

Vase’s whole entourage underlined the microcosm image. Carmine had seen the same prodigious capacity for food in the thinnest of Vase’s friends, one of whom could swallow an entire pound of fusilli with sun-dried tomatoes, while simultaneously reciting the intricate maneuvers required for producing a risotto alle seppie.

Although Vase was unmarried, visitors of all varieties gathered in his home like a surrogate family. No explanation for their presence was ever given. There were elderly Spanish dueñas. Victims of child abuse. Shi’ite mullahs defrocked for abandoning belief in the Greater as opposed to the Lesser Concealement. Men with strange, insatiable, sexual appetites, brought just recently under control, and their repentant concubines. Carmine swore one day that he saw Everybum, Zenzendorf, and the Deuce Machine leaving Vase’s kitchen by means of a trap door. But this he attributed to the effects of miasmal mists rising from the fetid Rivers. The motto of Vase’s home could easily have been the opposite of that of the American state. Union did not emerge from the many. All visitors were married in Vase. And Vase guaranteed them a forum to shine. De Vasea, plura, one might readily shout, if freedom, as recently understood, permitted. Which it did not.

No one aside from Vase was visible now, when Carmine left Everybum and arrived at “The Rivers”.

“I was going to introduce the leader of a Sufi Brotherhood to you”, Vase apologized, “but he demurred. Just as I had him pinned down on certain contradictions in Islamic thought, he remembered that he and his ghazis had some supporters of the Old Man of the Mountain to eliminate.”

“I’m relieved”, Carmine admitted. “My spirits are a-tremble, and would prefer nuance.”

Dinner was in the Vase grand style. A Vase stupor thus began almost instantly. Débordant chatted happily about his attempt to set up a laundromat in Cadiz in 1955, Andalusian memories serving as an excuse to offer fine sherry. Superb Amontillado did not inhibit Vase from pouring himself a glass of Vermouth as well.

“Just to see the effect”, he said, in self-justification.

Aperitifs were followed by a meal, whose courses were difficult to enumerate. Carmine was pleased to learn the limitations of the Arabic counting system. Gargantua’s appearance required that of Dionysius. All of the varied categories of wine known to western palates settled upon and ennobled Vase’s table. Vintage port followed the repast, each glass obscenely alternated with a schluck of Marsala. Finally, as a coup de comble, Vase poured out two fistfuls of Framboise.

Conversation became serious as soon as the two friends left Andalusia. Carmine described his Hypostatic Vision to Vase. The older man sipped a touch of Framboise while listening.

“I was once in a similar situation”, Vase commented after a moment’s thought. “It was at the Bimidgie, Minnesota Museum of Fine Arts, the home of the nation’s only first class collection of discarded road signs.”

A shiver ran through the microcosm. Carmine found this restful and refreshing, like watching waves at the beach. Vase panted and swallowed more Framboise.

“At Bimidgie, I had the equivalent of tenure. Job security.”

He grabbed Carmine’s arm.

“But I got out!”

Vase finished this sentence with real exaltation. He could have been an escaped prisoner-of-war reporting back to his superiors. Carmine ignored him, and continued to unveil what Vase clearly judged to be a pedestrian plan of action.

“How long have you been at Periphery now?”, he asked Carmine.

“This is my second year.”

“And is it really just as bad as you make it appear to be?”

“Worse.”

“Good chances for getting tenure?”

“The best. They consider me the token harmless malcontent.”

“No desire to leave?”

“Débordant, we’re talking about New York, not Bimidgie! Besides, New York’s my home. And, remember, I do have my strategy.”

“Emasculation at Periphery, based on the unreality of Creation. Degeneracy in the outside world. Complete life as a result. Understandable.”

“But you don’t approve.”

“No.”

Vase had obviously done a great deal of thinking on the subject of job captivity. His attitude was that which an Odysseus might adopt when journeying to Penelope again after a second Trojan War. This time around, the Calypsos dotting the landscape and urging him to dawdle and waste his years would not be permitted a single moment’s notice. Nothing would keep him from his destination. Nothing. Even if it were not exactly clear which steps had to be taken next to get there. The important thing was not to content oneself with the pointless.

“And remember, Carmine”, Vase summarized. “Calypso doesn’t have to be a beautiful woman. She can be a hag like Periphery, convincing you to seek your satisfaction elsewhere, to entertain yourself by mocking her, but to stay with her all the same. Play games with emasculation, Carmine, and you’ll end by emasculating yourself for real.”

“Heliogabalus”, Carmine muttered.

“What?”

“Who, you mean. Heliogabalus was a Roman Emperor. Transvestite. Chopped off his balls one day to assure the purity of the perversion. The Romans killed him.”

Vase looked at Carmine.

“Stay at Periphery much longer, Carmine”, he warned, “and you won’t need the Praetorian Guard or the Senate or the Comitiae to finish the job. Go to Uzhbekstan. To Montenegro. To Zimbabwe. You can even go to Bimidgie, although I don’t advise it. It’s highly like they’ve never filled the position I fled.”

Vase gripped Carmine’s upper arm once more.

“Carmine. Get out. Beg. Borrow. Steal.”

He became pensive.

“Ever read Death in Venice, Carmine? Remember when Aschenbach suspects the cover up of the epidemic by venal municipal authorities? He finds a man who knows the truth. ‘Better to leave today than tomorrow’, the fellow counsels. Listen to me now, Carmine. I’m serious. A bit drunk, true enough, but…”.

Vase stared into the eyes of the equally inebriated, exhausted, and uncomprehending creature before him.

“Get out! Start working at it today! Get out, Carmine, get out! And beware of Calypsos!”

Framboise beckoned. Vase reached towards it. He picked up a can of diet Pepsi left by the pious Sufi instead.

“This is ghastly!”, he choked. “Really ghastly!”

Another drunken lunge for the Framboise yielded the same mistaken liquid, thus verifying Vase’s initial judgment.

“Men drew this from nature?”, he shuddered. “They did this? Willingly? My God, there really should be some temporal punishment!”

Both Carmine and he collapsed on the dining room floor.

Morning came. With both men’s heads as clear as hangovers had been expected by them. And Carmine set out from Mesopotamia with Vase’s blessing.

Chapter Three: Novus Ordo Saeclorum

A. At the Core of the Apple

Vase’s advice convinced Carmine of the need to explore escape routes from Periphery. But exits leading where? To another university? To the non-academic world? To some place far from Manhattan? It was that last possibility which most frightened Carmine, reminding him, as it did, of a Hungarian academic who had spent four years in Dachau, emigrated to New York, and had then been forced to accept a position for half a decade at a backwoods college in a town like Bimidgie.

“I wake up panting many nights”, the Magyar told the Guinea, shortly after returning to the city. “But then I realize that I am not in Spearfish, and I fall into a restful slumber. And that’s when I am still actually lost in my dreams, and think that I’m back on my cot in the camp outside Munich.”

A slow death in the mid west would be a far worse fate than a similar demise at Periphery, in New York City. This would be true regardless whether the check funding Carmine’s cantina came from the Gary branch of Everything Useless, the Bimidgie Museum of Fine Arts, or Spearfish University itself.

Vase had suggested radical action. And yet, despite his behavior at the May graduation, Carmine was normally a rather prudent man. How many years had passed before he had shed the subconscious conviction that Myrmidons would run heatedly from Avery Fisher Hall and the New York State Theater to shoot him full of nails should he, like any other music lover, dare to enter the Met to purchase a ticket for Tosca? How many months had a recurring native shyness delayed his enjoying the delights of his Oxford Common Room? Yes, even if Carmine liked to think of his spirit as an essentially anarchist one, in practice he regularly moved with the discretion of a party apparatchik.

In typical Carmine fashion, therefore, a prudent approach to a possible exit from Periphery suggested itself to him. Denial of the nightmare and organized abandonment to the flesh could still remain the twin poles of his day to day policy. This would save his sanity, just in case a lifetime tenure at Periphery were indeed to prove to be his earthly lot. But it did make sense, simultaneously, at least to see what the rest of academe might have to offer him. Carmine could explore the Other quite naturally. He could deliver scholarly papers at non-peripheral institutions. Play a role in professional organizations. Publish. And, while doing so, he would be working at what was supposed to get him tenure in his own dump anyway. He would protect his existing position prudently in the precise act of breaking, spiritually, from commitment to it.

A golden opportunity to drain many kinds of pasta with the same colander was soon deposited onto Carmine’s desk by the Monopoli Brothers. It took the form of a brochure. The Inter-Galactic, Eschatonophilic, Plusquamcomprehensivo Association of All Thing Vertical and Horizontal, the state of the art scholarly organization to which an up and coming historian had to bend the knee, was holding its second annual convention in New York City that September, just when the don most could profit from it. Carmine sat for a time, meditating upon the imminent conference of the youthful assembly. Actually, the Association had been in existence for one hundred and two years, its first century having passed under the title of the North American Historical Society. An acrimonious palace revolt righted the wrong this name encouraged at the centennial.

“It was so easy to spell its title in the old days”, Carmine sighed to the Primum Monopolus.

“They had a noble motive”, he responded. “The desire to leave no one out.”

“But they left out the word ‘history’”, Carmine complained.

“They’re only human”, the assistant chastised. “And something had to give. Again, you display that self-destructive negativity which has made you a byword for touchiness and the talk of the town. Always carping, always carping. How is your gall bladder?”

Carmine had ignored the last meeting the Association held under its old name, a conference that had discussed “Continuing Problems of the Enlightenment and the American Experience”. He was then at work in the Envelope Factory and demoralized. Preoccupation with his debut at Periphery derailed Carmine the following year. Hence, he missed taking the bus from Pierre to Undulation, South Dakota for the reformed organization’s treatment of the topic ”Yeast for the Revolution of Rising Ennui”. A renewed depression, following the incidents of the BARF semester, had diverted Carmine from submitting a paper for consideration on this season’s conference theme: “Historical Questions That Just Are Not Asked”. This was doubly disappointing, given a special feature of September’s conference. Its site. New Atlantis College in midtown Manhattan.

New Atlantis was liberal America’s long heralded answer to the crisis of contemporary education. Millions of dollars from both the government and the private sector had been poured into the place. The brightest and the best from the educational establishment had been enticed to teach there. New Atlantis was commemorating its fifth anniversary that September. It had promised an enchanted nation a Five Year Celebration truly commensurate with its epochal achievement. And with good reason. For New Atlantis had been designed to be something truly unique in the game of intellectual growth. And had it not already expelled the Idols of Superstition, Tyranny, and Intolerance from education, thus fulfilling the mandate of an alert, dignified, democratic people? Had it not marshaled intelligence, bravery, and self-donation in one sublime union? Ensured the cooperation of the Humanities, Mathematics, and Science in an enterprise destined to effect the Enlightenment of all? Had it not worked to end fruitless squabbling over anachronistic stupidities? To heal dissension through fraternal good will? Unfetter the human personality? Shed light where there had once been naught but darkness? Make the student strong enough to stand on his own two feet? Open him up, as wide as an illuminated individual could possibly hope to stretch? Guided purely by the twin torches of Reason and Freedom?

“Five years of Free and Rational Questioning”, the official program for the festivities rejoiced. “And Unburdened by a Single ‘Truth’!”

New Atlantis’s accomplishments were indeed praiseworthy in all regards. Still, it was its commitment to real American Values that was most important to the trustees.

“New Atlantis is the Bill of Rights translated into education”, the college’s statutes proclaimed. “All its hopes! All its dreams! Protections for the individual and his development? From adherence to the True American Dream? What a cornucopia! It’s a wonder there’s any space left for people, what with all the tools they’ve been given to prosper! Checks here! Balances there! Profits for everyone who uses them!”

Certainly the national intelligentsia’s oversubscription to the college’s festivities more than proved Reason’s agreement with New Atlantis’ noble boast. Reason was sending thousands of its children to take part in the Grand Event and show its respect for success. And Reason was willing to pay any price to do so, even though taxi fares had increased beyond what anyone could consider to be in any way rational.

Now, New Atlantis had not ended all educational problems. Please. A little humility, thank you very much! But had it abandoned its Faith in resolution of those petty difficulties that still remained? Only a bitter man would suggest as much. A cynic of the most execrable type. Or one of those slavish, credulous devotees of the Cossack’s knout and truncheon. No. Hope sprang eternal in the hearts of the Masters of Them That Know Not, But Know It All Anyway. Besides, judged by any modern standard, liberal America’s long heralded answer to the crisis of contemporary education had already gone far beyond its president’s modest assertion of “having advanced the frontiers of the possible throughout the entire country”. Why, the latest research data provided by its own Department of Oceanic Augury indicated that it had actually laid out the Garden of Earthly Delights. And in the center of town itself!

The “history” association had had to fight long and hard for the honor of holding its conference during the general college festivities. So many deserving groups wanted to be united fraternally with an institution that was in the vanguard of intelligence, freedom, creativity, and cash contributions. In point of fact, the history conference had proved to be so troublesome that it had almost been cancelled. This was due to the impudence of an eighty year old member of the Association, a figure of some importance in the ancièn régime, who had told a friend over the telephone that he did not see how one could be an historian without reading books.

Now New Atlantis was of as free and democratic a spirit as America and the Bill of Rights themselves. Moreover, its kaleidoscope of programs was designed to open it to an ever broader popular base. Its students included everyone from high society matrons, tattooed wrestlers, querulous Guyanese, old age pensioners, visitors from round about Cyrene, and toddlers to French poodles. Debate continued about the advisability of admitting heads of cabbage, though a few Brussels Sprouts were to begin their studies the day after the Five Year Celebrations ended.

It was no wonder then that New Atlantis’s president, Zwingli Managgia, proudly led a nationwide protest against the obscurantist elitism implicit in the old historian’s blatherings, and from the very moment the man had put the receiver down, and his words had been registered in the college’s open access data bank. He singled out the octogenarian’s comments as “symptomatic of the growing fascist threat to a civilized country’s true intellectual psyche”. He blamed the Association’s Presidium for “harboring persons hostile to the regenerated perchild’s mind and the national renewal of education”.

“Next”, Dr. Managgia prohesied, “this Obersturmbahnführer will be saying that there’s such a thing as definitive, objective judgments, independent of perchild opinion. And a more vicious assault on the wisdom and freedom of action of a progressive people cannot be imagined.”

The conference had only been saved at the last minute by the offender’s explanation that he had not intended to exclude the “illiterate” in the old, narrow, undemocratic sense of the term, and that by books he had meant coffee table volumes filled with pictures of colonial furniture. It also helped that he studied the ritual suicide of General Najori and his wife upon the death of the Meiji Emperor, and that he and his own spouse repeated it, slowly, in full public view on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, with the Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations as the special guest of honor.

New Atlantis grudgingly accepted this recantation and timely demise, allowing the meeting to proceed. Nevertheless, it openly showed more enthusiasm for the simultaneous gathering of the International Conference of Sub-saharan Medicine Men, the Convention of Scientists for a Democratic Andromeda, and, most importantly, the first gala soirée of the Hermaphrodite Liberation Front. A debate that had raged at New Atlantis over whether a man or a woman would give the main address at the ribbon-cutting ceremony was resolved once the Hermaphrodite secretary accepted an invitation to speak on the topic of Safe Sex.

“The taboo is broken”, Zwingli Managgia announced, when the program was released. “And all things seen and unseen breathe more heavily.”

It seemed clear to Carmine that attendance at the history conference would assist his Vase-inspired search immensely. Publishing houses and scholarly journals would be represented there. He would bring copies of his completed work for them to consider. Academic societies of every variety would send emissaries extraordinaires. Who could say? Perhaps employment might be found with one of them. Still, on that score, a much more direct path to improvement could be explored. Other colleges would be discretely interviewing for vacancies, offering positions with the Spostato name embossed upon them. And Carmine would be doing what he did best: observing and testing the waters before leaping into a current that could plunge the unwary anarchist over the waterfall. Débordant Vase was delighted when Carmine telephoned to let him know that action had begun.

“This is it!”, Carmine said, excitedly.

“I have a close friend who works at New Atlantis”, Débordant noted. “My closest friend, in fact. His name is Primo Serviente. Don Primo, we call him. It’s hard to pin down his field. He dabbles in everything. Actually, his main interest is plumbing, but his academic mission at New Atlantis takes much of his time away from piping now. You’re bound to come across him if you’re around for awhile. Tell him, when you do, that he could check in with me now and then, will you? We’ve got serious matters to discuss together.”

Dean Veil granted Carmine permission to make his way to the history conference at New Atlantis on the last Friday in September, in lieu of sacrificing himself before his latest crop of Periphery dolts.

“Hey!”, one nitwit shouted to Carmine Thursday afternoon as he left campus. “You’re not comin’ in tomorrow?”

“No”, he answered. “That’s why I announced it in class.”

“Well, I didn’t hear it.”

“That’s because I said it in English.”

“Hey! You gonna make up stuff that happens to you, like in those other stories you tell us?”

Carmine gently brushed away the scorpion crawling up the student’s chin.

“Those who have eyes to see”, he whispered, more to the bug than to the twit; “let them see.”

“What a clown!”, the fellow said to his friend as Carmine left. “Boy, I’ll bet he could make big time bucks on TV if he’d quit goofin’ off and do some real work.”

New Atlantis was divided into two parts: an award winning, neo-neo campus and a nearby twelve story annex. The history conference took place at the annex. Here, officials housed faculty offices, some classrooms, and facilities suitable for the right nurturing of a scholarly assembly. The annex was crowded with its normal inhabitants on Friday, thus disguising the conference participants proper. Never mind. Glossy, professionally-prepared signs directed one to the site of the event nicely. “Intergalactic Association Conference”, they read. “Historical Questions That Are Just Not Asked.”

A nineteenth century degenerate might have compared the quarters of the history conference, mutatis mutandis, to those of a high society bordello. One first entered an enormous reception hall, where visitors registered, obtained information with regard to services available, and made general aquaintances. Then, when one wished to proceed to a more intimate knowledge of the delights proferred by the management, he left the somewhat boisterous central chamber for the small, innumerable surrounding boudoirs.

Actually, the central chamber, once filled, invited a variety of comparisons, ancient and modern. It could evoke images of the stock exchange. Or a cattle show. Perhaps a camp for displaced persons. Maybe even a slave market. Thousands wandered noisily, haphazardly, resignedly across its floor. Some of these confused boulevardiers were in search of jobs. Others, of recognition. Many explored markets for their books and articles. A select few were even looking for interesting conversation, though they were sent to the nurse for aspirin. Bonds of union did reveal themselves amidst the confusion, though. Everyone seemed as though he had returned from a long, exhausting encounter with a botched fantasy, the nature of which did not have to be mentioned viva voce to be understood by all and sundry.

No, Carmine thought. This reception hall is the nave designed for the drudgery necessarily accompanying any large conference. The rich branches of the trees of the groves of academe gently shade newborn ideas maturing in the intimate side chapels. But something caught Carmine’s attention. Queens was calling him anew! A strangely familiar, nasal accent from that Outer Borough arose from among the anonymous flaneurs.

“Carmine! Yes, yes. Carmine!”

Carmine turned to locate the only body that could possibly belong to such a sound: the body of Bevlin Blurtz.

Bevlin Blurtz had been an instructor at Carmine’s undergraduate university, Boystown, where he stood out from the average teacher for two reasons. One was his appearance. Bevlin’s torso was the living equivalent of the unfinished Rodins one sees in his museum near the Invalides in Paris. It was a roughly chiseled block of granite, waiting, hopelessly, for some genius to complete it. His head was like an oversized, bleached medicine ball, on which features had been sketched, darkly, with eye liner. The forehead was so extensive and inviting that one wished desperately to etch something on it: a name, graffitti, a map of Asia Minor, cuneiform obscenities. Carmine did not know one student who—if the human anatomy had so permitted it—would not have longed to unscrew the Bevlin globe from its foundations, take it bowling, and then reinsert it onto its native stump.

The second of Bevlin’s outstanding features was his academic competence. Bevlin Blurtz was the only real scholar whom Carmine knew personally, even after his years at Oxford. Trained in Renaissance Humanism by exceptional parents from Maspeth, Bevlin had branched out in adolescence into many fields crucial to an understanding of western culture as a whole. Along the way, he had mastered disciplines as diverse as Arabic literature and the intricacies of French colonial administration in Cochin China. Hellenistic studies were his strength. He had published, at his own expense, a number of brilliant texts read by several people over a decade and a half.

“My son”, his father had once announced proudly in front of Carmine and the blushing scholar, “is the only man from Maspeth who knows what’s what in post-Alexandrine Bactria!”

But Bevlin was no pedant. If he were interested in the detail of scholarly work, it was because that detail was the inevitable, and, indeed, often fascinating, pathway to the general principles that really mattered to him. Oh, his students understood what was important in his lectures, though his success in making them grasp cosmic relationships assured their familiarity with the details he enumerated as well. When Carmine asked himself who had first awakened his broader historical interest in music, art, philosophy, and literature, he was inevitably led back to Bevlin Blurtz.

Bevlin was dismissed from his position at Boystown a year after Carmine’s graduation. The university argued that he did not have sufficient charisma to inspire students. All of the history majors attending the university during the years of Belvin’s tenure there signed a letter of protest, in which they singled him out as being “the most important academic influence in our lives to date.”

“Flukes”, the Dean had said. “And not a Black among them. Probably autistic, too.”

Bevlin was replaced by a man whom the chairman characterized as “having an infinitely more determined chin”.

“He modeled for GQ”, the Dean announced at a cocktail party. “Everyone’s seen that cleft. Not to speak of other parts, both singly and in pairs.”

Carmine, due to sheer laziness, had not once contacted Bevlin since returning from Oxford. But Bevlin was not the sort of man who held grudges. Vendetta took time away from learning. Knowing this, and sincerely eager to see his original mentor, Carmine looked carefully through the mob until he could be found.

The sight was monstrous. Oh, it was Bevlin Blurtz alright, but a Bevlin Blurtz whose torso had been attacked by a Surrealist with a mallet, and twisted into an infinitely more improbably shape than beforehand. His arms and thighs had swollen to enormous proportions, as though the muscles of a bodybuilder had been added to a crossword puzzle square. His shoulders were so large that Bevlin’s neck had entirely disappeared. Even that lush melon of a head seemed overwhelmed by the overgrown patch in which it rested, so much so that when it stretched itself in Carmine’s direction, its appearance was unexpected and frightening, like that of a jack-in-the-box. And the most knowledgeable student of Bevliniana would never have anticipated his subject attired in the indefinable, unspeakable, untouchable-quality hand-me-downs wrapped around the former Rodin. Carmine could remember no outfit like it anywhere on earth or in any book of historical costume. Not even at Periphery.

“Dr. Blurtz!”, Carmine stuttered. “My God! What has..I mean…it’s so good to see you. How…how are you?”

“Fine. Yes, yes. Fine”, he responded. “I had heard—yes, yes—that you were returned from the Sceptered Isle. What are you doing now?”

“I’ve been lucky, so to speak. I guess. I’ve got a tenure track position at…”.

Bevlin fell to his knees and embraced Carmine’s femurs.

“Each time I see someone on a tenure track, I fear that I have glimpsed the Divine, and will not be permitted to live. No, no. It has not been given me to enter that Promised Land. I kneel outside the gates and watch those treading the Holy Ground in fear and trembling.”

“You mean you haven’t found anything yet? But, Dr. Blurtz, I’d heard that the gates were beginning to swing openly lately.”

He pulled his former mentor to his feet. With some difficulty, if the truth be told, given the fellow’s new muscleman frame.

“Yes, yes”, Bevlin agreed. “That’s true. Wide open. The Holy of Holies is opening wide. But it’s pork chops they’re tossing in! Ham sandwiches for the High Priest! Opening wide, it is, but not for my line of work. No, no. I do not blame my illustrious parents, but I dare say that I’d be in a better situation now if they had directed my scholarly interests away from Bactria and towards Bantus, Bitches, or Business.”

His body shook with the old, recognizable, Bevlin laugh, which escaped from the mouth in short, bubbling noises, like those of a stovetop espresso maker ready to be poured.

“If you haven’t found anything”, Carmine asked—not without trepidation, aware, as he was, that the answer might not be a terribly cheerful one—“how have you been surviving?”

“Ah, Carmine, it has not been simple. No, no. You have most assuredly noticed my, shall we say, less than formal garb? And my still underdeveloped chin?”

He laughed again, his mouth signaling the readiness of another demitasse.

“I have”, Bevlin continued, “become a book of synonyms. A thesaurus. A World Almanac. An uncomfortably grand, single-volumed Shakespeare compendium. The kind that crushes one’s internal organs when propped upon the stomach to be read in bed. I have emerged as a thing always available and yet consulted only in dire necessity. I have become, in short, a professional adjunct. I teach, on the average, ten courses per semester, thus piercing together the kind of living that would have aroused compassion in a muzhik in the hard days after the collapse of the Pugachev Rebellion. I work in at least six different universities each term. Often more.”

“Six? How is that possible?”, Carmine babbled. “How do you manage it? Where? All here in the city? Are they at least conveniently located? ”

“I supposed for their purposes they are. I must confess that I find it a bit trying to get to Boca Raton from my morning class in Big Mother Boulder, Wyoming. But I don’t want to complain. No, no. What I lose on commuting, I save on rent. I no longer need an apartment. I’m always on the move. I’m—yes, yes—like a teaching friar of the mid-thirteenth century.”

Bevlin’s hearty laugh announced a round of coffee for an entire piazza.

“Are you at least teaching what you want?”, Carmine asked.

Caffeine flooded the entire Nile River Valley! From the Elephantine to the White Walls of Memphis!

“What I want? I’ve had to adapt, dear Carmine. Oh, yes, yes, no, no! Dear me, I’ve had to adapt! It’s so many varied things they demand now. You know what one school told me? ‘Can’t you drop this philosophical emphasis when discussing Zeno?’ So I had to prepare something they considered to be more to the point.”

“Which was?”

“Power-erotic relationships in the Stoa.”

“Are they all like that?”

“Pretty much. Yes, yes. ‘Black Culture in the Sanjak of Novi Bazar’; ‘Oppression of Woman Among the Counts of Mecklenburg-Schwerin’; ‘Capital Gains and Macedonian Investment Procedures’; ‘Sexual Deviations of the Worshippers of Moloch’. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll get a course bearing a certain relation to truth, but then it can be very dull. I just finished one on prison furniture in late Petrine Russia for a fashion institute.”

“And Big Mother Boulder?”

Bevlin pointed to his swollen arm and leg muscles.

“They needed someone there for kayaking, and for the Mandatory Equine Education Program.”

“You horseback ride?!”

The thought of Bevlin Blurtz horseback riding was like that of the Pilgrim Fathers, picknicking al fresco on the Janiculum, discussing the quality of the vintages of the Castelli Romani.

“Yes, yes. I mastered the technique through a supreme act of will. The method can be deduced, logically, by observing equestrian statues. I also sweep the stables when class is over. They give me marshmallows for it. But I have to reach Big Mother by pulling myself over the Boulder with a rope.”

Carmine could not believe that such a fate had befallen Bevlin Blurtz. Then he remembered the likes of Arius Affirmativo.

“Are there no unions anywhere that can help?”, he raged.

Bevlin laughed, more gently this time.

“No, no, Carmine. No, no. Do we look like proletarians?”

He swept his hand over the crowd of aging, worn-out boulevardiers. Shabbily dressed though they were, they did reflect membership in some intellectual elite. All had pipes, which they kept, lit, in their mouths, even while speaking, most even without tobacco. And all were carrying thick books.

“Maybe you’re right”, Carmine admitted, pointing to the texts. “They’re clearly eager to snatch a few moments of reading when the opportunity comes.”

“Oh, those are not books in their hands, Carmine! They’re curriculum vitae! They take forever to prepare, and cost a fortune. Exhausting, too. Yes, yes. Ennervating, indeed.”

Bevlin’s words obviously rang true. It was BARF universalized. The doom of the Amazonian rain forest. Guaranteed prosperity to the plutocrats of foolscap.

“But what could they possibly put in them to make them so big?”

“Everything they’ve ever done. I, for example, have a ten page entry in mine on ‘The Society for Sassanian Research’.”

“What does that do?”

“Nothing. I invented it.”

“Who belongs to it?”

“Me. Want to be Vice President?”

“Are there many such inventions?”

“I, Carmine, am no longer even certain whether this conversation is real or manufactured.”

“I see.”

Bevlin held his medicine ball of a head on high.

“But we are still not proletarians.”

A bell rang. A number flashed on a giant screen in the reception hall. Bevlin grew ashen.

“My God!”, he screamed. “They’re posting a job in real history! Get out of my way!”

Bevlin hurled Carmine smartly into a side wall with the force of his kayak built muscles. This may have saved the younger man’s life, for the intelligentsia abandoned its composure and rushed, willy-nilly, towards the room number indicated on the screen. Only a few made it in, though, since mastiff hounds were soon released to keep the bulk at bay, and an iron door resoundly slammed shut. The mob then leaped and clawed its way up to the height of the door to an open window that it had spotted atop the portal. Those inside quickly barred this entrance as well, leaving the crowd of place-seekers piled in a human heap, disappointed, disgruntled, but at least temporarily spent. All it needed was for a horseman from Big Mother Boulder to ride arrogantly to its peak to approximate a scene from an Eisenstein film. Pipes were still smouldering in peoples’ mouths. Luckily, all were pointing outwards. Bevlin pulled a few marshmallows from his pockets and invited Carmine to amble over to these makeshift brasiers to roast them.

“One takes his opportunities when available”, Bevlin sighed. “Fuel is not cheap.”

They leaned against the unlikely mountain of men and mulled over its implications.

“Perhaps I do require a certain consciousness-raising”, Bevlin ventured.

“There’s obviously been a revolution of diminishing self-estimation”, Carmine agreed. “I think it has something to do with the rampant Monism afflicting us for the past half a millennium.”

Bevlin looked closely at his watch and announced that his own conference session was about to get under way. Carmine followed him into one of the boudoirs surrounding the reception hall.

“This is where I will be delivering my paper on ‘The Total Lack of Chinese Influence Over Provincial Government in Roman Bithynia”, Bevlin explained.

The boudoir was empty.

“Well”, he announced. “I expect I should begin.”

“But there’s no one here!”, Carmine noted, incredulously.

Bevlin looked at him as though he were mad.

“No one ever comes to these sessions”, he explained. “I thought you understood that. Don’t you teach?”

Bevlin began to declaim. He put his energy into the address, just as Carmine had done before empty evening classes, gesticulating wildly, pounding his fist on the lectern, and moving a fair number of chairs to both tears and applause.

“Do you mind if I have a look in the other rooms?”, Carmine asked, interrupting Blurtz’ discussion of the absolute disparity between accountancy in the Han Dynasty and the Black Sea regions.

“I’d prefer that the audience raise questions at the conclusion of my paper, but—no, no—go right ahead.”

Carmine strolled through at least twenty of the more intimate chambers. Most were like Bevlin’s. Speakers carried on before no one with Ciceronian confidence . They elucidated subjects all of which seemed to fulfill the conference’s main theme successfully: “What if Marcus Aurelius had known Felix Frankfurter?”; “Should Charlemagne Have Written a Pornographic Novel?”; “The Frequency of the Use of the Word ‘I’ in Beyond Good and Evil and its Consequences for the Duchy of Burgundy”.

One man was delivering a terribly illuminating paper on the question “Should Romulus Augustulus Have Changed His Name to Hubert?” before a wildly enthusiastic empty house. Carmine noted, on the door to his room, that he would be giving five more talks that same day, guaranteeing him, in total, six new lines on his curriculum vitae. His present address would be followed by: “Romulus Augustulus, An Amusing Name”; “The Current Interest in the Possible Name Change of Romulus Augustulus”; “New Insights Into the Romulus Augustulus Name Change Controversy”; “Current Interest in the New Insights Into the Romanulus Augustulus Name Change Controversy”; and “Forty Justifications for a Defense of Romulus Augustulus as a Name for Your Newborn Hermaphrodite”.

Some of the rooms did indeed have an audience, but the topics concerned a run of Marxist deviations, esoteric sexual practices, investment strategies, and salary preoccupations so rich in their own specific symbolism that Carmine could not precisely determine to which historical era, idea, event, faculty, or personage they might refer. Many speakers wished to address the audiences for such topics, so much so that dozens had to deliver their papers in concert with the aid of a pitch pipe. In one room, two hundred conference participants agreed to speak in sequence, each talking as fast as he could for thirty seconds.

Carmine attended the one session whose title he could fully recognize, even if not completely comprehend: that on “Democratic Stability Versus Autocratic Decay: The Second French Republic Confronts Byzantium.” He listened, in growing bewilderment, and then publically objected to the speaker’s contention that the Second Republic was incomparably more solid than the Eastern Roman Empire.

“How can you possible quarrel with this self-evident axiom?”, the savant sneered in response.

“Maybe because the Second Republic lasted four years? And the Empire over a thousand?”

“It was a Pyrrhic Victory,”, the man shouted triumphantly, to a standing ovation from the crowd, all of whose number ripped open their shirts to display the Constitution of 1848 tattoed on their chests.

Carmine fled, disgraced, as well as confused. Why did logic always seem to win the day in Plato’s dialogues? Had he misread them? Maybe Bevlin could enlighten him? He wandered back to his professor. On the way, he noticed a seventh paper topic posted on the door leading to the fellow obsessed with the last Emperor of the West: “Reaction of the Man Who Heard the Suggestion that Romulus Augustulus Might Have Changed His Name to Hubert”. Carmine return to his starting point just in time to note Bevlin’s final dismissal of “the absurdity of any as yet unlikely assertion of yellow impact in the foothills of Anatolia”.

“Well?”, Bevlin asked. “What did you learn from your excursion?”

“Outrage.”

“Keep it to yourself. It’s sacrilegious here.”

Bevlin declaimed the last lines of his text.

The Chinese, if they had invaded Bithynia, might, or might not, have massacred the population. But even if they had skinned alive every blessed man, woman, child, and cat in the province, who the hell cares anyway? For the Holocaust is unique. Why do so few people speak of it? Merely mentioning it has divinized me. Amen.

“But Dr. Blurtz”, Carmine begged, miserably. “There must be something that can be done to save historical studies!”

“Think so?”, he challenged. “Now? After the general Renewal of Education? And the particular Regeneration of the Association? When everyone’s so excited by the Achievement? Then look here!”

Bevlin flung open the entrance to a room that Carmine had not noticed before, holding his nose as he did so. Carmine quickly covered his nostrils as well. The room’s stench was appalling. Dozens of people inside it were screeching obscenities at one another, waving papers, examining documents, and litigating. Carmine clutched at Bevlin’s biceps for protection. He swayed from them for several minutes and did a dozen chin ups to restore his shattered calm.

“What’s going on in there?”, he asked, horrified.

“That’s the Association leadership. They’re ‘participating’. ‘Engaging in The Process’. ‘Having an impact’. They haven’t left the place all week. In fact, in one way or another, they haven’t taken a rest since the Association was reformed two years ago.”

Bevlin stared Carmine down.

“Do you want to do what’s necessary to fight them?”

Carmine shriveled in disgust.

“How could I?”, he asked. “I like to eat and drink properly. Get fresh air. Read. I’d be interested in meeting someone to marry. Perhaps even having children. I don’t want to spend my life swallowed up by that quicksand.”

“Then, if you wish to leave Periphery, I suggest you start to study for Mandatory Equine Education. I can show you such instructive pictures! There are pills I know that can keep you awake nights while you’re doctoring your curriculum vitae as well. Or you might prepare your mandatory outrage remarks for any paper you contemplate presenting next year. Could you get yourself slightly wounded by a mugger? In the hip, perhaps? And then claim that he was a Palestinian? That would help considerably.”

Bevlin excused himself. He had to go to a session on “The Contribution of the Dragonfly to Napoleonic Economic Reform”.

“If one isn’t seen”, he whispered, “it could be dangerous. They would know, and suspect me of being anti-bug.”

Carmine felt as crushed as an oppressed ant.

“It doesn’t seem too hopeful”, he mumbled.

“For what?”, Bevlin asked.

“I brought my book with me to explore the possibility of getting it published.”

Bevlin shrugged his shoulders and pointed Carmine down the hall.

“There’s the Acceptance Room. Live and learn. Good bye and—yes, yes—good luck.”

Carmine approached the Acceptance Room with some trepidation. His experiences with publishing had been limited. Raison et Foi operated out of a butcher shop in Thionville. Only one copy of the issue containing Carmine’s article had been printed. And that had been wrapped round blood sausage, mailed to the author, and promptly confiscated by the customs officials, who sent Carmine a bill for disinfectant and two rather ample glasses of Stella Artois.

The Acceptance Room resembled a mausoleum. It looked as though bodies had been buried in the walls. The bodies of exceptionally aged people.

“Well, at least they had a long life!”, he chippered to the young woman who ruled the roost therein.

“Longer than you think. Those dates on their stones are the time they began and finished waiting for editorial review.”

She looked skeptically at Carmine.

“May I help you?”

“I don’t know if I have enough time. I’m here for an acceptance.”

“Where is your disk?”

“My work is typed.”

“Well, we’re obviously in no rush, then, are we? You’re already a decade behind in your communication skills. What is it you’ve done? Fiction? Non fiction?”

“Non-fiction. History.”

“History? It’s been deconstructed. The genre does not exist. Do you have a hidden text? Maybe that would do. This century?”

“No. Nineteenth century.”

“What I mean to say is, are you looking for an acceptance and publication in this century? There’s not much time left. You shouldn’t count on it. Aren’t you interested in the environment? Saving paper? No? Too bad. There’s not much time left at all.”

“Oh, that doesn’t bother me”, Carmine confessed. “Look at Augustine. He wrote the City of God when Hippo was surrounded by the Vandals. It didn’t have much success for hundreds of years. Why bother to publish something right away, when no on will pay much attention to it for six centuries anyway? What’s the hurry?”

“Mensch, I like your attitude. How about a publication date of 2500? To test your commitment to the principle?”

“Fine. I’ll take it.”

“When can I speak with your agent?”

“Do I need one?”

“Who will read it otherwise?”

“I thought you would.”

“What would the middlewoman do if I read it? This isn’t 1970 you know. Where do you think you are? Pre-pharaonic Egypt? Come out of the horse and buggy era my friend!”

“Could you be my agent?”

“Perhaps. My lawyers will see you next week. What’s your book called?”

“Critiques of the Enlightenment as an Enemy of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.”

“Any gratuitous violence?”

“Plenty, in the long run. Perpetrated by people who were constitutionally opposed to capital punishment. The character development is extraordinary, too.”

“Why not call it Dismember and Grow?”

“I’m game.”

“O.K. Dismember and Grow for 2500. The galleys will be at your door on October 1, 2499. My consultation fee is due day after tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

Carmine left the Acceptance Room. The young woman called after him.

“Excuse me”, she said. “Your work has been fed into my marketing computer, identified as flawed, and improved radically.”

“In what way?”, Carmine asked, amour propre slightly bruised.

She handed him a copy of what was now entitled Heartburn of the Heroes. The computer had wilfully removed the word “not” before many of Carmine’s most controversial declarative sentences, to make its tone more upbeat, and changed every mention of an execution into a discussion of the use of Tums. Italian quotations had been excised en masse, though the broken English ones with which they were replaced were identified as the sage pronouncements of a hitherto unknown Ligurian dialect. Most oddly, a 104 year old philosopher was now said to have died when still under the age of reason.

“Why?”, Carmine asked.

“The latest trends indicate a need to find truth in the mouth of babes.”

“Does a four year old Plotinus strike you as a rational suggestion?”

“All things are possible in a democracy. Have you sunk so low as to doubt that? You really are that byword for negativity that the city has so justly been chastising. Oh, wait a moment.”

Her computer churned anew. She consulted with it. A laser attachment vaporized Carmine’s book and its revision.

“I’m sorry”, the woman announced. “Trends have changed again over the past ninety seconds. Our deal has been deconstructed. Indeed, it never took place. The fee is still due, though. Have you read Zwat Biff’s Acts of the Punkers? Analysts say that the enthusiasm of its readers recalls that of bishops at the Council of Chalcedon reacting to Leo the Great’s dogmatic definition of Mary as Theotokos. Perhaps I can arrange for him to touch you? Some of his charisma might rub off. Better still, why not just think of a less demanding field in which to exercise your clearly limited talents? You ought to diminish so that scholarship may increase. Oh, do have a nice life, creature of a day.”

Carmine sat down on the floor in the hallway, broken. This history conference was killing him. His only copy of his book had been obliterated. Nothing the Association offered could turn his situation around. The best he could hope for was eternal serfdom at his own wretched institution.

“Imagine how miserable you’ll feel”, Inca Katatatonic had once said to him, “if you actually get tenure!”

She was right. What’s more, her diagnosis probably applied to any history position he could find through the Association. A Periphery by any other name was just as foul. He began to fear that he had failed in his choice of professions entirely. He was doomed at a young age. Raté. Misgelungen. La mala pasqua a lui!! Carmine needed to get away from the mob. He felt nauseous. He required air. Where was the Buddha-Maxwell principle? Had he lost it for good? Perhaps a walk would lead him to rediscover superficiality and opportunism? But where? A stroll in nature offered little comfort. That Friday was simply too hot, too close, and generally too oppressive to hope for any solace from the outside world.

Perhaps some respite from the history conference’s disappointments might be offered by an hour’s gentle ramble about the spacious, air conditioned New Atlantis annex itself. Wisdom suggested a meander from the top of the building downwards. Carmine commandeered an elevator and clambered up to the twelfth floor. Here, he found a kind of annex of the annex, modern and state of the art like the rest of the building, but untended, ramshackle, and crammed with leftovers. Twelfth floor New Atlantis resembled an imitation Camembert. And a hunk of pasteurized Roquefort. Forgotten for a fortnight behind the bedroom curtain.

Just as he was about to leave, he perceived an unmistakable, irrepressible, empirical call. Crowds might threaten on other floors. He reckoned his task best dispatched in the tranquility of the present environment. Instinct aided the hunt for a Mens Room. New Atlantis made the search more simple still by placing its facilities face to face with the elevator door.

The nation’s great hope in education boasted precisely that sort of bathroom, filled with unnecessary gadgets and inexplicable noises, that kept Carmine’s mind off the project at hand, and got him into trouble instead. Its urinal was fitted with a laser beam which caused a flush as it was intersected by the fleeing liquid. Now Carmine had always been eager to conquer a beam like this. Moreover, he thought the physical challenge might help him to emerge from his present mental swamp. Since there was no one in the place to disturb him, he pulled a table over to the pissoir, stood on top, and opened fire. And with great Success! Finally, the discovery of a talent! And for something athletic as well! He was back in the Game of Life!

“Not bad”, a voice said from the doorway.” Though for a real treat, you should try to cut under the beam. It takes weeks to master. If you pray a lot. But what of it? Why should one rest content with nature’s tools alone?”

Deeply mortified, Carmine turned slowly to the source of the speech. A slightly short, amorphous figure with the map of Calabria plastered all over his face, smiled up to him. Thinning strands of black and grey hair shot out from the creature’s head like the bristles of a porcupine or the fuzz on cocktail toothpicks. The man in question, around fifty five years old, was wearing a suit which would have been quite impressive in the right context. As it was, it was almost as unclear as an Association lecture which setting that might be. The suit was oversized, holding enough material to clothe its wearer three times over and disguise his real shape, which became Vase-like in its indiscernability. Its mass, however, did not prevent two enormous socks, with a multicolored “P.S.” label, from prominently sticking out from under the hem. Bits of blueberry muffin were fixed firmly to the suit’s lapel, and even clumped round several follicles of hair. Everything was badly rumpled. The muffin included. Carmine focused on the dishevelment in his confusion.

“Been sleeping?”, he asked, stupidly.

The man laughed.

“That’s college. One big snooze. I don’t usually run into people on this floor. I teach here, there’s no way to deny it, no matter how demeaning the confession. Somebody’s got to be around, to keep tabs on…things. But, forgive me. I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Primo Serviente.”

“Don Primo!”, Carmine gasped, forgetting social niceties. “I’m sorry, but, I mean, Débordant Vase said for me to look you up. I’m a friend of his, too. I’m Carmine Spostato. From Periphery. I’ve been at the History Conference down below.”

“At the conference? Well, then, you’ll need a shot of something illegal, I suppose. Some special vodka from Finland, perhaps? Come over to the office, it’s just down the hall. You’re a friend of Débordant? For how long? I’ve known him forever. He probably asked you to have me check in with him, right? There’s only so much I can drink at the moment, though. I’ve got a lot to do and so little time to do it.”

Carmine zipped his fly and climbed down from the table. The two men chatted happily, wandering into Don Primo’s office. There was scarcely any space to maneuver inside that cubbyhole. Not only was the office small in and of itself, but it was piled high with a wide diversity of items. Books. Pamphlets. Piping from a broken gas heater. Windshield wipers. Masses of wrenches, gaskets, and faucet parts. A little cot in the corner appeared to Carmine to be stuffed with samples of all these objects. A terrible fish smell inundated the entire room.

“I wonder that could be?”, Carmine blurted out, stupidly, a second time.

Don Primo was unperturbed.

“Oh, I suspect it’s the fish heads I’ve got stashed around here. I think they’re behind the cot—damned thing gives me back problems whenever I try to sleep on it. I don’t quite know why. All I know is I can never find time to get rid of the stuff. And I certainly won’t have a chance today or tomorrow. I’ve got my part to play in this anniversary farce.”

Don Primo handed Carmine a glass of brandy. Then, acting on a sudden inspiration, he pulled an envelope from his wallet and placed it meaningfully in Carmine’s hand. Carmine examined it. There was nothing inside. Was this a college prank?

“Listen”, Don Primo explained, oblivious to his empty gesture. “I don’t understand why you wanted to shatter your innocence in the first place, but it’s too late now. So why waste your time with a mere history conference, when you can be totally illuminated at once? New Atlantis is having an exhibition on its ‘fulfillment of the promise of an enlightened education’. And tomorrow night there’s a banquet as well. Each of the faculty was given four tickets. I didn’t want to go out of my way to subject anyone else to the event on purpose, but I think now that you might benefit from it. Since you’ve had the misfortune to plunge in already, that is. Drink deep or not at all from the Pleireian Stream, as they say! I’ve got one ticket for myself. Here are three more. Do you know any other troubled innocents?”

Carmine knew Florida and Demosthenes.

Don Primo finally perceived the emptiness of the envelope.

“Oh, for heavens sake! I’ve obviously misplaced them. Well, they’re back in the apartment then. Forget about locating my place. It’s in Queens, like Débordant’s, and just as difficult to find. And I’m never there. Not lately, anyway. Look, I’ve got an appointment with some colleagues tomorrow afternoon, close by, before the banquet. Why don’t we meet near the subway? I can give you the tickets around three o’clock. That’ll give you more than enough time to see what this fraud is really all about.”

Carmine did not know exactly how to take Don Primo’s comments. Was he joking? He couldn’t be completely serious. History conferences, indeed. But the whole nation was united in the praise of New Atlantis. A blessed people, a progressive era, a free and democratically-formulated evaluation of the foundations of human dignity, centuries in development, could not be in error! Could it?

Don Primo sat back and smiled as he contemplated Carmine’s perplexity.

“Have some more brandy”, he urged. “So. Are you really eager to escape Periphery? Honestly so? Can you stand to hear a little more advice?…”.

Saturday dawned still more unnaturally hot and humid than Friday had been.

“I know you can’t afford a cab”, Everybum warned Carmine in the early afternoon, when the two men chatted briefly in Father Demo Square. “But it’s much too sultry to deal with the subway today. Why do you want to expose yourself to its rigors? And there’s some sort of industrial action troubling free movement down there as well. Cattle cars, Carmine. People are packed together like in cattle cars. Please. Stay home. Sit in the tub. Avoid this Baptism of Sweat.”

At 2:00 P.M., Carmine was standing with the other steer, bitterly regretting that he had not taken his friend’s words seriously. A theoretically short ride proved to be unendurably protracted. Passengers dripped buckets. Normal refreshment was non existent. Entrepreneurs marketed perspiration to the desperate mob. Korean sold best, due to its exotic foundation and slightly pungent edge.

“It’s especially good with lima beans and red potatoes”, one man noted, crouching on his haunches like a practiced Oriental over his mess kit. “But that’s neither here nor there right at the moment. Not when the subway system is going to hell. And we, as fellow-travelers, are going along with it, voluntarily, to boot.”

Advertisements posted by the Transit Authority boasting of improvements in service helped Carmine to pass the time and avoid the gazes of his gagging fellow citizens. An especially attractive offering showed a rather jolly chap walking barefooted in a cool, mountain airy.

“We Make Things Faster!”, the MTA claimed, shamelessly, below the photograph.

Someone tapped Carmine on the shoulder. He turned. It was Don Primo, who had joined the train at 42nd Street, arriving from Queens.

“Bet you’d like to be him now, wouldn’t you?”, he joked, pointing to the pedestrian on the poster.

“There are worse fates”, Carmine admitted.

“Just think”, Don Primo continued. “If you hadn’t entered the path to Enlightenment, and if it weren’t for this machine, insisting that it makes life more comfortable, you’d probably never have entertained the thought of sweating your way to New Atlantis today. Why, you’d be home right now, resting in the bathtub, with a beer, cool and happy.”

Carmine thought of Everybum, trapped in his own personal Dark Ages, under the shade of a leafy tree, across from Father Demo Square.

“I dare say you’re right.”

“Isn’t it nice to live in an era filled with such conveniences?”, Don Primo continued.

“That sounds like a topic for a conference about historical questions that just are not asked.”

“And just who prevents the asking?”

Conversation was cut short by the train’s jolting halt. It was the New Atlantis Station. Carmine and Don Primo got out. So did everyone else: those who wanted to exit, and those who never had had any intention of doing so. The departure was not an elegant one. Transit workers herded all the cattle out of their cars and the very station itself in one, swift, unexplained maneuver. So put upon by their ordeal was the sweat-drenched, brutalized Menschenmaterial that it greeted the merciless weather outside as an instrument of deliverance.

Florida and Demosthenes were waiting at the subway entrance as planned. Both were excited by what they hoped would be an illuminating and exalting experience on the grounds of the nation’s most notable liberal academic establishment. Introductions and expressions of enthusiasm had to be made on the run. The MTA’s paid persecutors were continuing their evacuation procedures streetside, steamrolling the resigned cattle, Carmine, and his friends relentlessly towards the entrance to New Atlantis.

“I brushed up on my Xenephon this morning!”, Demosthenes noted as he picked up speed. “Who knows what genius I’ll confront today!”

“Good for you!”, a surprisingly agile Don Primo responded. “Self improvement is always praiseworthy. Especially that focused on finding escape routes from dreadful situations.”

“And I spent the day finishing Fathers and Sons”, Florida announced, as she moved from trot to gallop. “And listening to Otello as well.”

“Lovely one”, Don Primo said, kissing her hand gently while approaching the finishing line. “You shall encounter many sons who are indeed their fathers’ offspring. But the only Exultate to be sung here will be that in praise of your Divine Pulchritude.”

Florida beamed, both flattered and contented.

“I find”, she confided to Carmine, “that those two sensations often do seem paired.”

Demosthenes, in contrast, was troubled by Don Primo’s banter.

“There will be serious conversation, won’t there?”, he asked, between gasps for breath. “I’m not noted for a blithe abandonment to intellectual disappointment.”

“My dear boy”, Don Primo chuckled. “There is no doubt that you will be directed to profound reflections by the nature of the dialectic to which you will be exposed.”

He looked at the shadow cast from a former passenger, felled by a transit goon’s whip. It was late.

“I’m afraid that I must really leave for my appointment”, he sighed. “Here are the tickets. I’ll see you in the banquet room at 7:00. There, ahead of you, is the university entrance. Try not to trip on the path to Progress.”

Don Primo kissed Florida’s hand once more, patted Demosthenes on the back—as one might a failed doctoral candidate—and disappeared among the heat stricken passengers. Carmine sought to follow his movements as he passed through their ranks. Don Primo came back into sight only once. Carmine staggered when he did. Surely, the heat was benumbing him. For it seemed as though he were chatting with Everybum, the Deuce Machine, and Zenzendorf.

There was no chance to meditate upon the meaning of this extraordinary mirage. More cattle were pressing onward from the subway station, which faded further and further into the background. The mob’s inexorable progress was promoted by an increasingly large army of recruits aiding the evacuation measures. This now included not merely transit officials, but city police, passersby, and kapos from the crowd of cattle itself. Soon, the perspiring Golden Horde was at the very gates of the Campus of Culture.

The entrance to New Atlantis’s “campus” could, in one sense, have been mistaken for the portals of Nineveh, or those of a great Sumerian temple city, or even Disneyworld. Looked at from another light, it might have been taken for an Emmental. One climbed up the steps of a ziggurat and through a monumental stone gate to reach the inner precincts. Shoddy workmanship by unskilled masons had allowed for the appearance of many holes in its fantastic, amusement park shape. Carmine glanced atop the gate to read the New Atlantis motto—“Questioning Makes Free”—as he and his friends passed into the compound.

A mammoth esplanade opened itself up for their inspection. The Vision Center, New Atlantis’ main headquarters, could only be reached by traversing its whole breadth. And that great distance, this very special anniversary week, was host to a variety of exhibits illustrating the Five Year Celebration’s rallying cry: “From Out of the Depths, a New Atlantis!”

For one brief moment, the thought of the cultural bounty before him troubled Carmine in the way museums often did. Oh, he appreciated a beautiful sunset at the very end of a crisp autumn day. He enjoyed observing people from his favorite café as they went about their natural activities. A fine altar piece or statue in a well-used church, or a painting presiding over a venerable dining hall in Oxford could easily dominate and guide his fantasies. But the idea of examining sixty Madonnas, five hundred scraps of half-eaten herring, and a thousand portraits of overweight Dutch capitalists often failed to move him. Especially when the artistic interview took place in an overcrowded, overheated room, between 10:00 A.M. and 5 o’clock in the afternoon, sandwiched in between the unpleasantness of a subway ride and the importuning of dunning postcard salesmen. Would New Atlantis’s displays offer a similar torment? Would he be up to the challenge? Carmine shook the analogy from his head. Don Primo had assured him that this exhibit would bear little relation to anything seen anywhere else on the globe. Even by him, with his own rather particular experiences.

Besides. He had not choice but to visit. Instruction could not be avoided. The Celebration organizers had been prescient enough to lock the doors of The Vision Center until banqueting time. And the mob ascending the steps of the ziggurat, was implacable. It was as little disposed to permit traffic in the opposite direction as Greek peasants boarding a packed vessel from the Piraeus to the Dodecanese Islands during the donkey season.

Guests visiting the “From Out of the Depths, a New Atlantis” Exhibition were given an elaborate, but frustrating, explanatory brochure. It became painfully clear that digestion of all of the specific features of the displays would be impossible. A choice had to be made. Arrows directed the trio down a pathway towards one track of the exhibit which the brochure praised for “demonstrating the steps involved in the most precious experience that a perchild can undergo: ‘The Creative Process’.” A gargantuan pavilion, occupying much of the esplanade, had been made available for its unveiling.

“Hello!”, a well-dressed, well-spoken man in his thirties said to Carmine and his friends as they entered. “Welcome to ‘The Creative Process’. My name is Treacle Sovacuous. I am one of the Helpers. It is my great honor and pleasure to be able to guide you on your wondrous journey to Productive Enlightenment. If you follow me, I will lead you through Stage One of ‘The Creative Process’.”

Classicizing Renaissance artists would have admired the Helper. His head was a perfect circle. In fact, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, neck, and torso all fit one’s image of ideal geometric designs. Even the slightest attention to detail could pick out a triangle here or a trapezoid somewhere else. Unfortunately, all of these lovely shapes appeared to have been screwed together by a child experimenting with detachable parts of a doll. Careful study of the Helper’s arms, to take but one example, revealed that these functioned unnaturally, as though they had been stuck on backwards on a rainy afternoon by perverse little girls, who had then semi-garrotted them with their pigtails. The more that Carmine eyed his geometric Helper, the more ridiculous the creature became. Carmine found it to be difficult, at least at first, to keep from giggling, as when he repeated to himself the words “Periphery”, or “professional”, or “the Hamptons”.

Sunglasses were needed to shield oneself from the brightness of the Helper’s countenance. His skin was golden. His mouth permanently opened in a wondrous smile. Gleaming teeth, which reflected, with triple intensity, the mid-afternoon light invading through the cracks in the pavillion roof, blocked appreciation of his gullet, just as stalactites and stalagmites prevent a clear estimate of the other inhabitants of a cave or a cavern. Numerous freckles reminded one of sunspots. Brilliant red hair shot out from the top and sides of his head. A surge of sunlight burst through a particularly wide crack in the man-made shelter above Carmine. This was no longer just a Helper. It was the Sun itself! The solar disc. Aten. Or Amon-Ra. Surely Apollo would arrive with his team of horses to guide the Helper and his guests through the exhibition. Or, better than Apollo, Akenaten. For cultural purity’s sake. It was an unmistakable portent.

“Come, and grow with me in wisdom”, the Helper commanded.

Carmine, Florida, and Demosthenes did as they were told, seized with enthusiasm for the Light. But the Helper led them into a lugubrious chamber. Was this not some egregious mistake? Why had the Sun been moved to enter Purgatory? To go to the far side of the moon? To some local version of Plugdata Hall? Carmine gasped. Perhaps he was headed to Bimidgie after all! Historical knowledge did not in itself explain the rationale of what now unfolded before the trio’s eyes, but it did, at least, identify its nature. Unwilling penitents were processing before them in a humiliating auto-da-fe. Most walked hither and thither, hugging tightly onto the possessions they had managed to carry with them into the line of march, pursued by battalions of Sovacuous look alikes heaping huge sacks filled with books and equipment onto their literally breaking backs. Some of the most obstinate of these wretches were undergoing intense electric shock treatments or being injected with intoxicating drug cocktails. The trio’s jaws dropped at the sight of such misery. They looked to the Sun for further enlightenment.

”Yes”, the Helper sighed. “These unfortunates have been enslaved to Superstition. To Authority. Conventionality. And for so very long indeed. See how they hold tightly still to what destroys them! But once the Help they are so mercifully receiving is complete; once their Information Sacks are filled to the brim, their eyes will be opened, their free spirits will soar, and they will become as I now am.”

“You mean”, Demosthenes asked, “they are not undergoing the unspeakably evil totalitarian manipulation and debasement that that they appear to be?”

Treacle Sovacuous laughed.

“Manipulation? Debasement? Oh, that’s clever. Do I have your permission to repeat it? So there are no messy law suits over ownership of the witticism? Manipulation ? Of course not! Manipulation and debasement are what they are being helped to escape. The Helpers do not manipulate. They illuminate.”

Light beamed from every inch of the Helper’s face as he spoke. A breeze wafted strands of his red hair towards Carmine, creating the effect of a sudden sun shower.

“Funny”, Carmine mumbled. “I could have sworn this was an involuntary auto-da-fe or a sort never dreamed of in any caricature of the Spanish Inquisition.”

“Auto-da-fe!”, the Helper roared. “Is it called that? Has anyone used such words? Why, no. It is ‘Help’. Auto-da-fe has many more letters. Count them up yourselves and you’ll see the difference. It is indeed true that they are being helped to rid themselves of their unfortunate past. But it’s the most joyful of rubbish collections. Totally unlike an auto-da-fe. Oh, it’s a jocular little assembly that’s fallen to my lot to enlighten today! “

Treacle Sovacuous studied New Atlantis’s Help admiringly.

“Yes”, he went on. “When the idols get tough, we bearers of wisdom start Helping. But let’s not focus on our often thankless travail, struggling against the Slave Mentality. Instead, I’d like you to meet a novice from exactly my own background who has been almost entirely helped already. He can tell you how extraordinary his enrichment has been.”

The Helper pulled the hair on the crown of some prey sagging beneath the burden of an Information Sack. He also grabbed at the creature’s Liberty Leash and a set of pulleys attached to the ends of his mouth with Freedom Clips.

“Can’t you, child?”, the Helper asked.

He tugged harder at the leash.

“Tell the nice people about your unfortunate past, Happy One.”

“Yes, Helper.”

The novice spoke slowly as his pulleys were worked.

“My life was once hemmed in by concern for all manner of inconsequential matters. Petty though these were, they had the ultimate effect of destroying my dignity as an individual. Imagine. I took seriously the fact that I was a male. That I was white. That I was, at the time, a teenager, 5’11” tall, 160 lbs., of Serbian and Croatian extraction, and resident in the State of Maine. My parents, victims before me, invoked the aid of the very forces that had crippled them, and led me like a lamb to the slaughter. They indoctrinated me. In logic. The Seven Liberal Arts. Platonic philosophy. Literature. The exploits of so-called great men and their female fellow travelers. All these vanities were fastened to my native free spirit like so many chains.”

The novice wiped a tear from his cheek.

“These fetters were complete when I—of my own accord, no less—accepted the indoctrination. I even came to believe that wisdom ultimately required faith. In certain mysteries. Placed beyond the reach of the senses.”

He sighed.

“In other words, I was trapped. By the world around me. By the consequences that I drew from observing it. I probed that world to feed a mad craving to know ‘answers’. My studies, both natural and supernatural, piled up one vile little ‘answer’ after another. So much so that I…that…I,,,”.

The novice stumbled, overcome with unbearable remorse.

“That I found a satisfying place for myself within the cosmos that gave meaning to my life!”

He dissolved in tears, his arms wrapped around Treacle Sovacuous’ knees.

“I had no dignity!”, the novice sobbed.

“There, there, Happy One!”, the Helper comforted. “You were less than a perchild at the time. You couldn’t choose. You placed the Find before the Search.”

The novice licked Treacle’s hand and continued.

“When New Atlantis accepted me, the Helpers descended in all their glory. And they have led me, step-by-step, to my current self reliance and fulfillment as a real perchild.”

“To liberation?”, Carmine interrupted.

“Close”, the novice admitted. “My training is not yet complete. I must learn to put into practice the many pounds of wisdom that lay now like dead leaden weights in my Information Sack.”

“Please, Happy One”, the Helper counseled. “Tell the nice visitor how you have approached the threshold of fulfillment.”

“Oh, it was the most rational and scientific of processes. First, the Helpers demonstrated that my faith, psychologically understandable though it might be, was not the sort of instrument that a perchild of dignity should ever rely upon. ‘Trust you own native powers of perception’, they insisted. Afterwards, the Helpers made me realize that the same principle applied to my concern for the Seven Liberal Arts. For Platonism. For literature. And, above all, for logic. ‘Free that inner man from slavishness to external form!’, they commanded. Finally, the Helpers brought me to understand that my liberation from Superstition and Formalistic ‘reason’ had enormous, exciting consequences. It made fixation upon such trivia as my maleness, whiteness, ethnic origin, height, build, age, and home absolutely purposeless. ‘Start constructing a distinct personality’, they urged. And I have.”

Treacle Sovacuous beamed down his approval upon the novice.

“Tell the nice visitors about the art, child.”

“Yes, Helper.”

The novice opened his Information Sack. He extracted from it a canvas, which depicted a picnic spread out on top of the tongue of Queen Elizabeth II.

“It’s very representational”, Florida commented.

“Please”, the Helper pleaded with her, sternly. “Do not call attention to its flaws. It could set the child back badly.”

The novice continued.

“When I first saw this masterpiece, I thought that I was viewing a tongue with a picnic taking place aboard it. A work executed by a no talent shyster, who was disguising his lack of genius by demanding an act of faith in the value of a piece of rubbish attested to only by the spirit of this age, but laughable in any other. I was ready to attack the vulgarity displayed herein as an indecent, uncharitable, unmanly, and downright silly assault upon my raison de’être. I was so revolted that…”.

The novice had now become confused. Regression threatened. Treacle adjusted the pulleys on the novice’s mouth, gave him an electric shock, and reminded him that he would be on television that evening if his treatment finished in time. Reason was restored. Progress assured. The novice continued its testimony.

“Happily, I am presently aware of the conventionality of my criticism. I understand that this Master has touched upon one of the deepest fears of our times. I can see the anguish caused by stretch marks in Her Majesty’s taste buds, especially towards the lower left base.”

The Helper brushed off a tear, which fell on his charge’s face.

“Helper”, the novice asked nervously. “Have I not made myself clear?”

“Yes! Yes, Happy One! Yes, you have!”

Sovacuous crunched his Manumission Boot playfully into a scar on the novice’s cheek, manifesting his pride in the freed man’s achievement.

“Forgive me”, he apologized to Carmine and his friends. “I am particularly close to this case, being formerly of mixed Serbian and Croatian background myself. I feel such a rush of joy whenever I participate in a first aesthetic experience, and realize that the time has come for the candidate to move on to still better things.”

“Is he now prepared to create something valuable?”, Demosthenes asked.

“He is, as he himself indicated, on the threshold of creativity. The Old Per-son has indeed been crippled. The New Perchild must yet be fully nurtured. It must open and use the information in its Sack in order to find itself. It must develop bravery and boldness. And be quite certain that it is open, lovingly, to all the opportunities offered by Change. All this happens in Stage Two of ‘The Creative Process’, displayed just ahead of you.”

Second stage perchildren were engaged in a variety of developmental activities. A few were listening to recordings of their own voices. Several were studying diagrams of their bodies, or examining enormous, overblown photographs of themselves. Some had reached the point of manipulating suction cups so efficiently that they could temporarily remove their own eyeballs to scrutinize their faces from a host of contrasting perspectives. Those nearest the Stage Two exit were staring fixedly at their own figures, as reflected in mirrors, using their detached retinas, gilded and designer labeled, as monocles. Demosthenes approached someone from this last group.

“Excuse me”, he said. “May I ask you what you’re doing?”

“Yes”, it proclaimed, confidently. “I am Perchild. I am gathering insights about the universe around me. I am adjusting myself, sensitively, to life in all its fullness. I am preparing to make informed, sincere choices. For me, and, ipso facto, for Perchildity an sich. Soon, I shall create objects of joy which will, hopefully, justify nature’s continued right to exist as a raw material for my genius and utility.”

It grew sullen.

“Now beat it. Finding the Other in the Me for the progress of the We takes a hell of a lot of time and attention. You are distracting me and threatening to become a counter-perchild begging for Infinite Rehabilitation. Live free or die.”

Nature intervened. Rain clouds had been generated by the sultry afternoon sky. One of these began to bombard the esplanade. Its drops seeped through the cracks in the pavillion roof.

“All’armi!”, Florida yelped. “It’s raining.”

“I would once flippantly have accepted that judgment as well”, Perchild commented to the fleeing friends. “But I shall have to study myself anew to determine the character of this current manifestation of what is merely a superficially familiar phenomenon. I shall not be tyrannized by pure prejudice. What right has my past knowledge to dictate to my present experience? Where does it draw the nerve? The faccia tosta? The cran? Stop, I say! Back off, tendentious heritage! Crouch in your parochial corner! Farewell experience! I have no further need of you. I don’t miss you at all. Non! Je ne regrette rien. Life free or die.”

The trio watched him from the sidelines.

“I must Reason this phenomenon through”, he muttered, gritting his teeth, clenching his fists, stooping over from the force of the downpour, and aiming one detached eyeball at the other for illumination. “I must dominate nature and compel it to please me. I must Create. I must generate Beauty. I must not look back. Je m’en fou du passé.”

“It seems”, Demosthenes noted, “to be a bit like constipation. But when trapped on the pot, I, in contrast, often become rather nostalgic and prefer Ne me quittes pas to even the best of Edith Piaf.”

The Helper sighed deeply.

“The laborers are many”, he lamented, “but the soil is often infertile. Jacques Brell is indeed alive and well in the minds of all too many! Temptations to backslide lurk in each and every nook and cranny. This is why one mandates intensive training for bravery and openness.”

He beckoned the trio to follow him. Florida and Demosthenes did so immediately. Carmine sat on a bench to catch his breath. A penitent was hyperventilating next to him.

“Found yourself?”, Carmine asked, after a half an hour.

“I’m trying.”

“Any luck?”

“I’m close.”

“What seems to be the problem?”

“My kulak mental qualities have all been liquidated. They say I’m now dizzy with success.”

“Perhaps you need a further purgation?”

“If only I’d have a stroke. Then I’d know that collective happiness was just around the corner. Why are you testing me, anyway? Are you a Trotskyite?”

Demosthenes returned. He was angry. Carmine could practically taste the bile.

“Where’s Florida?”, he asked.

“With the Helper”, Demosthenes sputtered. “Come and see.”

Carmine left the hyperventilater studying a latex copy of The New Organum and approaching orgasm. Demosthenes took him to a section of the exhibit called the “Hall of Cowards”. Here, those preparing for bravery and boldness learned contempt for the flaws of the craven personalities whose portraits hung on the walls before them. A cursory glance at these paintings brought Carmine face to face with the Prophet Jeremiah. A host of consecrated virgins. El Cid. Several unknown couples celebrating their diamond jubilees. And two heterosexual actors who had refused to copulate with one another.

“Let’s not get bogged down here”, Demosthenes commanded. “Let’s go straight to the Equipment Room.”

“Equipment Room?”

“Yes. Behold!”

Carmine watched a beaming novice being outfitted with a radar system and a huge magnet. What could this mean? He looked to Demosthenes for guidance.

“That’s how the Perchild of Courage is created”, he explained. “The radar and the magnet keep it eternally vigilant to the signs of the times, and move its free will boldly forward to embrace them.”

“And that’s how it knows that it’s being brave?”

“It’s only the start. You really know you’ve become a Hero when you abandon yourself to the Four-Fold Cross.”

“Which is?”

“Popular adulation. Wealth. Official support. And incessant praise for your daring from the Media and the World.”

“I don’t fully understand.”

“Neither do I. We lack the radar and the magnet. If they were installed in us, it would all become much more clear. But even with the operation, don’t think that all problems disappear. Let’s be serious! For life is hard.”

“What difficulties remain?”

“One of them is indigestion from all the dinner invitations that the brave Perchild must stoically accept from his plutocratic admirers. Hence, the significance of Heartburn of the Heroes. Much more importantly, however, there remains the Cross of Confrontation with two conflicting signs of the times, like Hermaphrodite Liberation and the struggle for feminine self-consciousness. One cannot serve two masters. To which should the brave devote their attention? Souls could crumble under the dilemma!”

“Is there no hope?”

“Yes! New Atlantis has its ‘Tough Choices’ program to teach one how to decide what to do when faced with the Ultimate Questions.”

“What’s the method?”

“You find it described here.”

Demosthenes gave Carmine a massive text: Intrametanoic Mestasmorphic Psychoseismographical Indices for the Choicemaking Process. He flipped through it.

“It’s absolutely incomprehensible”, the historian complained.

“That’s why the students rely on the accompanying synopsis in order to reach a final solution to what ails them.”

Demosthenes handed over a small pamphlet entitled Triumph of the Will.

“Why do they buy the textbook at all?”, Carmine asked.

“You should see the juicy pictures in the middle. Soft porn appeals to practically everyone. Admit it.”

“Is that all?”, Carmine asked miserably.

“No. There’s this last room. ‘The Showplace of the Daring’. Come on.”

They entered.

“What is that?”, Carmine wondered, pointing to a block of granite.

“Why, that’s the pedestal of the Model Martyr.”

“But there’s no one standing on it.”

“Galileo was once there. Then Newton. Voltaire. John Locke. John Stuart Mill. Others. Many others.”

“And?”

“Apparently they were just never bold and self-sacrificing enough. This one hung, slavishly, onto the law of gravity. That one to some other natural axioms. They were all still weighed down by some kind of formalism or another, poor suckers. How could they ever be sufficiently courageous and open to the signs of the times? Anyway, there was a debate over whether to exile their statues to the ‘Hall of Cowards’.”

“So? What happened?”

“It soon became obvious that most people couldn’t place their names any more. There was no point. ‘What the hell is this Enlightenment schtick, anyway?’, everybody started asking. ‘Where does it come off telling the Sovereign Individual what to do?’ Their busts were discarded at the last student rummage sale. New Atlantis leaves the pedestal empty now so as not to compromise itself with a clunker ever again.”

Carmine went back to the bench. Its occupant had disappeared. Florida was hyperventilating in his place.

“Dizzy with success?”, Carmine asked.

“Purged of all remaining illusions.”

She began to recite the Party Line.

“All Creativity is based, ultimately, upon developing a love for the opportunities afforded by Change. Obstacles to love must be utterly eradicated. New Atlantis has hired the Lupercalie to accomplish this task with budding perchildren. “

Carmine and Demosthenes had heard of Giulia Lupercalia and her consort, Singularius, the Bouvard and Pecuchet of the openness instruction world. Both were globally renowned for their awakening of people to unconditional love for all that was of passing moment; to that transcendence of self accompanying the carefree “yes” panted to the Ever Altering Other, without which there could be no hope of perishable Creativity. If, through all their years of experience, there was one thing that they themselves had learned, it was this: a Love for Change was best developed by exposure to sensual joy.

Singularius had begun to awaken to unquestioning quantum leaps of love at the age of four, while Giulia, a somewhat more reserved character, herself a late starter, commenced only at six. By seventeen, when the bloom of youth had withered, they rubbed into one another. Their experience did them in good stead. Each taught the other more about openness and permanent love for novelty, using different methods, manuals, and equipment. They discovered self abandonment, by imaging themselves to be other people, deformed and severely retarded. or, better still, non human creatures or non-living objects..

“Rocks are best”, Singularius insisted, “though Giulia retains an outmoded preference for pterodactyls. Not to blow my own horn, but most Humanists are now definitively leaning to the inanimate camp.”

They had no children. They had agreed that there would be none so long as Singularius could not change sufficiently to give birth to a baby. Giulia was flushed out, once a year, on the Feast of the Annunciation, just to make a point. Besides, they had found their mission. Teaching the world about the Romance of Sensual Change involved books. Conferences. Videos of suicide bombings for the awakening of those who could not be aroused by any other means. The Lupercalia Change Boat, cruising regularly down the Nile, accompanied by sexy alligators in heat, and orgies imitating those of ancient mystery religions, with temple prostitution in the Babylonian manner as an added perk from the Amarna Era. And ending with a dozen spectacularly Open students changing into mermaids and dedicating themselves to Astarte and Marduk in a whirlpool in the middle of the river just south of Cairo. Though this finale, last year, had got out of hand, the mermaid being joined by practically everyone else on the boat, and drowned in a terrorist attack organized by the Moslem Brotherhood.

“New Atlantis is already an expert in stimulating love for Change in adult perchildren”, Florida sighed to her friends, “but the national renewal of education it sponsors will swiftly assure the opening to such a desire from earliest youth. The Lupercalie have been put in charge of a ‘Tittilate the Toddlers’ program to expand the excitement precociously. Here’s a quarter. Just put it in the device over there. Its lens aims at the show in the next room. Go ahead, have a peep. See the future. Learn how love for Change is best nurtured.”

Carmine and Demosthenes put the quarter into the machine. Each took one lens to watch. Giulia was explaining to a little girl in an adjoining auditorium the romance of the life open to Change. Singularius gave her a lollipop so that she would remain calm while she began her own opening. An audience of fresh perchildren monitered the toddler’s pulse and heart beat as the session progressed, Giulia pried a picture of her father out of the girl’s hands by bopping her over the head with an oversized doll. She then gave her a coloring book with depictions of everything that two or more human beings could do with one another, and later replaced this with another containing explicit photos. Once the girl had understood the deepest innate desires that were demanded of her, Singularius gave her a packet of condoms, an “I’ll screw you before you screw me” t-shirt, and a copy of The Prince, to equip her for a life of passionate Change. She then leapt uncontrollably into the crowd of older illuminated perchildren to discuss with them the theory of boundless Creativity. They began to strip her of any remaining barriers to Change, so that the dialogue could proceed without inhibition.

But, alas, the time allotted man idly to investigate, with academic calm, every blessed ray of the Light that will shine straight into his eyes, day and night, for the rest of eternity, tends to fall short of the desideratum. Appreciation of theory must give way to the active practice of daily life. Watches, clocks, sun, the call of gratuitous law suits, and the panting of the Lupercalie audience indicated that the illuminati and its guests were now inexorably called to The Vision Center to banquet. Immense, grasping, Handmaidens of Happiness did their part to foster the general impression of urgency as well. These mechanical arms gently critiqued an overlong liason with the world of Pure Reason by seizing both novices and visitors, and handing them over to its matter-of-fact consequences. Just like powerful hands free Brazil nuts from protective shells in order to pop them into the waiting mouths of the ravenous. Treacle Sovacuous offered some last minute instructions as the Handmaidens gripped the bodies of the three friends to hurl them off to their progressive Destiny.

“Dear friends,” he declaimed, “you have been instructed in the logic of ‘The Creative Process’. You have explored the constituent elements of illumination, so long and slow in their development. You have filled your Information Sacks. The full bounty of the New Atlantis harvest groans on the table awaiting you in The Vision Center. There you will be exposed to ‘The Explosion of Creativity’.”

Apollo’s horses pulled the Helper’s face so close to those of his guests that they began to bronze. Florida most severely, due to her delicate complexion.

“Still”, Treacle Sovacuous warned, nervously, “the Explosion of Creativity produces shrapnel. Bits fly in all directions. We here at New Atlantis speak of its ‘Fragmented Fruits’. Each of these fruits will be on display at the banquet. That feast is laid. But are you ready for its plenty? Can you reach for the stars?”

“ I already have a good deal of experience with that effort!”, Carmine blurted out. “And I’ve frequently told my friends exactly what it can offer.”

“Oh, that’s just so special!”, the Helper rejoiced. “Then there really shouldn’t be any fuss with any of you. It takes a great deal of learning to understand the futility of the fragmented choices confronting those emerging from the Darkness. I can tell you I am not even sure that I myself have mastered all the steps in the exciting dance of enlightenment. I’m actually going on a fact-finding mission to explore certain exciting suggestions for channeling the fullness of its promise. But please allow me to express what an eternally inexplicable pleasure it has been to help you. Somehow, I’m sure that I’ll be able to continue to provide you the opportunity to progress dynamically towards nothing definite in the near future. One can never be sure where a Perchild or a professional Helper will land once it takes off on its astral journey.”

The Handmaidens deposited Florida, Demosthenes, and Carmine in the Vision Center, now uncomfortably crowded with both the banqueteers and the film crew hired to record the anniversary celebration for posterity. Don Primo caught sight of them and quickly approached, alcoholic solace in hand.

“Well?”, he asked. “Did ‘Questioning Make Free?’ Feel Braver and Bolder? Opened to Love For Change? Ready to Create?”

Florida began to tear. Only a strawberry daiquiri seemed capable of quelling the Vesuvian eruption that threatened.

“Oh, I really do love it when men buy me drinks”, she sobbed, ever more controllably, as the mixture worked its inevitable miracle.

“And what can I get you?, Don Primo asked Demosthenes.

“An Aristotelian”, he mumbled. “A rigid one. I mean, where’s the architectonic here? The Summum bonum? Where? Actually, on second thought, you can get me an rigorous Aristotelian with a hand grenade. I want to see the ‘brave’ bleed—courageously, deeply, and, above all, for an excrutiatingly long period of time.”

“Bleed they can”, Don Primo chuckled. “It’s recognizing their wound, and then having the decency to die quietly from it that they haven’t mastered.”

Conversation was interrupted. The President of New Atlantis had called the banqueters to their seats and the elegant sufficiency of champagne in the glasses next to their place settings. But every silver lining has its cloud. Zwingli Managgia’s presentation was apparently to precede the dinner. He groped his way to the podium, trying to shade his retinae from the filming equipment. A watchful light man whisked his hand back into its predestined place.

“Holy things are given only to the holy”, he reminded Managgia. “Show a proper respect for the sacred.”

“Every good and perfect gift comes down from you, Father of Lights!”, the President chippered obligingly.

Managgia turned to the crowd. He, too, shared the same geometrically-shaped body as the rest of the illuminati, though one could pick out the unnaturally individual features that accidentally remained alive: dense, white hair; overly longish ears; one lip; a body that somehow sizzled and crackled as it moved, like a fatty pork chop on too high a flame. There seemed to be little doubt that his wife abused him, irrationally. And that he refused to put on underwear. Well, maybe hers.

Moreover, as the next few hours demonstrated, he possessed the demeanor of a drunk who thinks his ranting makes sense, and is confirmed in this conviction by his long-time bar-hopping partners. Carmine had a vague recollection of displaying the same intoxicated fatuity the night he explained to the police the dangers posed to drivers like himself by marauding bands of peasants who were confused by the anti-feudal decrees of the National Assembly, seconded in his description of their depradations by beer swilling compatriots from high school. The police hadn’t believed him. But there were no police in the New Atlantis audience to secure an authoritative confirmation of the true order of things. And any ordinary citizens who had happened onto the spot had all that they could do to retain some shred of their own personal sanity, without entertaining the luxury of helping others to shore up the tent of the tottering cosmos as a whole.

Managgia now began his oration.

“Hermaphrodites, Transvestites, Others”, the President chanted. “Welcome to this magnificent Festival of Lights! Five years! Oh, who could ever have imagined that we; we, of all people; with our kind of ideas and our kind of resources would have ever had the opportunity to live to see this beautiful moment!”

“He’s referring to their battle scars”, Demosthenes whispered to Carmine and Florida, rich from his understanding of enlightened bravery. “Hold out your glasses. I dare say there’ll be another spritz of the Fizz. Their front lines are supplied by a different commissary than any you’ve ever encountered in your history books.”

Indeed, the Masters of Them That Know Not, But Know It All Anyway, toasted one another’s sufferings with great unction. Zwingli Managgia began anew.

“Yes!”, he boomed. “We have fought long and hard. And against absurd allegations as well, especially from those accusing us of propagating our own disguised set of truths. I defy our critics to find the words ‘doctrine’ or ‘truth’ anywhere in the New Atlantis program. I defy them! They will only find ‘reason’ and ‘freedom’. ‘R-e-a-s-o-n’. ‘F-r-e-e-d-o-m’! Not ‘d-o-c-t-r-i-n-e’! Hence, their argument is a truly crapulous, unspeakable, fetid and vile libel, unfit for the children of light, and worthy only of those destined for the dung heap of history. It is capable of bringing back a time of harsh polemic and crude anathemas. Catcher in the Rye? Oh, Catcher in the Rye? Where are you? Do you hear me? Watch out! The enemies of reason and freedom are still on the march. If we do not stop them, your days are numbered.”

Guests seated around Carmine and his friends groped, mentally, to comprehend the absurdity of opposition to New Atlantis. Several token reactionaries shining shoes under the banquet table were dissected on the spot to try to appreciate the puzzling phenomenon. If only some other obscurantists would be so civil as to ride away from their adjunct duties at Big Mother Boulder or steal a few moments from the basement mimeos spewing forth their despotic ukases to come to witness the agonies endured by Confessors of Intelligence on a day-to-day basis! Surely that would put them in their place. Surely. then, they could begin to grasp the meaning of self-donation for high minded ideals.

But what was this? Zwingli Managgia had departed from his prepared text. Genius had taken control of him. Sincerity sat tall in the saddle. And he began to speak as one having real authority! Pythian vapors, emerging from the microphone, accompanied his oracular pronouncements.

“Please excuse me if I am somewhat obscure”, he babbled to a crowd seated on the edge of its sunbeams, and eager to catch a sharper glimpse of the President through the Delphic mist. “But the whole meaning of our accomplishment is only now just formulating in all its fullness in my mind. It seems to me as though what we have achieved is a double liberation. More exciting—forgive me for saying this, friends—but more exciting than many of us at New Atlantis even imagined when we began this great enterprise of light. Not only have we been freed from the constraints of petty details of life like our gender, but we don’t have to put any burden on that very trivia either. The facts of life don’t ever have to worry about existing in conjunction with human beings again. They, too, are unchained. Able to fulfill their own remarkable destiny.

“Moreover, it is not just we, ourselves, who are liberated by cutting free from the limits imposed by some formalistic ‘Reason’. Think of Reason! The real thing! It has no more work to do. Fly as it might to the most exalted realms, it will find itself freed from labor there as well. What could be more satisfying than all that leisure time? To do absolutely nothing?

“And, yes friends, even Faith can find a way to Redemption in the New Order of Things. Because we’ve liberated Reason, it’s as free as a bird to fly about and never nest anywhere definite. Correct? That means there’s no way for it to have any more border disputes with Faith! Faith and Reason can enter the territory, one of the other, without a passport. No privileged delineation of their specific realms survives. Both can do nothing together! Liberated, at one and the same time, from us and from worries about their joint activities. Reason is free to have Faith in its own unstructured and unguided behavior; Faith, to believe that a completely rootless fanaticism is the height of phronesis and sophronia!

“Behold the miracle! Petty detail evaporates into abstract, groundless principle. Reasoning gives way to mindless action. Faith becomes credulity. All fulfill themselves in a soaring, pointless, cathedral of vapidity!!”

Carmine thought the President had gone too far. He reminded the don of Marcel Perdu. And here there were no barrels to hide his bared soul. Surely the illuminati would find some way to rein him in?

But no! The crowd was stunned by the man’s erudition. People spontaneously generated dissertations. Others glossed the finished products. Enthusiasts rolled through the remains of the dissected reactionaries, spitting saliva and blood, pulling out tree roots with their back molars. Some even coiled vipers round their necks, enduring the serpents’ bites to prove that their poison could have no further effect on them.

“Managgia!”, the illuminati screamed. “Bis! Bis! Rationem ad absurdum!”

He silenced them. Because there was, indeed, more to come. And he let them have it.

“Yes. We can all now think and believe and act without ever having to go through the slavish drudgery of justifying ourselves again. We are bound by nothing. We can accept the work of witch doctors. Commissars. The Lupercalie. Faculty committees. We can welcome all judgments by anybody, knowing full well that they will change whenever their authors damn well feel like it. When nothing counts, the individual’s potential is achieved. Dignity finally triumphs. Thought, where is thy sting? Logic, where is thy victory? Faith, where is thy object?”

Managgia folded his arms in front of his chest. He meant business. In fact, he used a cell phone to sell some stock before continuing.

“No. Let us never be troubled by the critique of our idol worshipping enemies. And here’s another of their pedestrian jibes. ‘What’, they ask, ‘if the Perchild decides that it wants to go back to the chains of petty detail and Reason and Faith in their old sense again? What if it still sees these as being necessary constraints? On us, and on them as well?”

Cave like mouths gaped widely. Illuminated lips rolled back over the teeth and gums of the audience as its members competed with one another to guffaw the loudest. Perchildren with pointy shoes stabbed them into the pavement, like bayonets, symbolizing their rage over the absurdity of the proposed question.

“I ask you”, Managgia continued. “Do you allow the drunk to buy another bottle of a mere third growth Bordeaux? When the cork is clearly inferior? No! Of course not! Any product of illumination ready to retreat into the Darkness would obviously still be subject to the illegitimate influences of oppressive forces. It would actually be begging, under its foul, intellectually wino breath, to be sent back to the Helpers for a mouth wash. These Angels of Light could then engineer it free from the entertainment of self destructive thoughts. Fill its Information Sack with Haut Medoc. Why, regression would not be allowed to reach its second trimester.

“But, friends! What about the country at large? Can it be forced to accept illumination, against its ‘better judgment’? Wouldn’t the Nation itself then be subjected to some new unwanted fetter? If such submission were actually demanded of the many by the few?”

The illuminati sat, jaws opened. The tension was too great. Some unhinged their lips from their teeth and gums and bit their neighbors’ ears in anguish; others pounded their heads onto the table before them. They needed an answer! It came! Thank God, it came!

“In a narrow sense”, Managgia pontificated, “it is true that anything that the illuminati insist is serious might, in theory, become oppressive to others. Perchildren should, therefore, theoretically be given the freedom to be pointless and impotent; and America, the liberty to recognize and disregard them as such.

“On the other hand, Happy Ones, let us be prudent! We must take up the Helpers’ Burden, and refuse to allow consistency, that hobgoblin of little minds, to affect our final actions. Our whole pointless endeavor must exercise eternal vigilance over the decisions of the lesser brethren, and act as though it does have permanent and valuable significance. Otherwise, we risk allowing the enemies of the human intelligence a chance to sneak back into weaker brains with their despotic essences and accidents.

“Far be it from us to define the ultimate meaning of individual dignity. We do not paralyze words. In a world with polio vaccination, how could we, anyway? But, still, for the sake of our shapeless victory, we must accept as binding everything that trickles out of a credulous, irrational soul, oblivious to the world around it.”

Carmine had not been this confused since talking with Diaphanous Veil. His head was buzzing, and, since the windows were opened, surrounded by droning flies as well. He began to smack his cheeks to deliver himself from both plagues. Many banqueters presumed that this was part of the answer to the questions raised by the President, and began to slap one another’s cheeks, heaving with a desire for sensual Change as they focused on the bottom pairs belonging to attractive neighbors. Luckily, Managgia seemed to be approaching the conclusion of his prophetic, ecstatic detour with the determination of a vigorous flyswatter himself.

“But now!”, he trembled, excitedly. “Now, this very evening, our accomplishment here at New Atlantis is being recorded, in the most spiritual way known to Perchildkind, on film. Our fortunate land will be able to see and study and emulate our creative achievement. In fact, government grants will ensure that all inhabitants of the United States view this documentary over and over and over again, until the voice of intelligence finally sinks into their exhausted bodies, and all memory of superstition, paternalistic tradition, and existence in and of itself is smothered as effectively as was Tiberius by Caligula with his very own pillow.

“Friends! In the name of Intelligence. Of Light. Of Freedom. Of Progress. And, above all, in the name of good shots for the expensive cinema crew gracing us with its presence tonight. Let us leave the supreme testimony for our fellow citizens to imitate!”

He raised a copy of the University Statutes and the Bill of Rights to sign the crowd with a Final Blessing.

“Let us, the Illuminated Ones, Perchildren par excellence”, he perorated, “now rise from our seats and show what it really means to live and create in the New Atlantis way!”

All Enlightenment broke loose for the wide screen. Guests emerged from their chairs, feigning surprise at being in front of a crowd, as though they were liverymen stepping from inside a castle built of sweetmeats at a Renaissance banquet in Lucca. All of the Fragmented Fruits prophesied by Treacle Sovacuous were offered up in unison, without distinction of religion, race, sex, height, weight, mental capacity, age, species, up and down, life or death. The audience became thoughtful, free, daring, accepting, loving, changeable, and, hence, creative in one fell swoop. Wherever could one begin a description of the Explosion? Perhaps with the general demeanor of the crowd as a whole? That was the path which Don Primo suggested.

“Yes!”, he explained to the bedazzled trio. “What you have before you is the new New Adam!”

“And how”, Florida queried, does one describe this je ne sais quoi in his redeemed behavior?”

“Aha!”, Don Primo responded. “Lovely one, it is indeed appropriate that you use the French. A precise verb is required to delineate the contours of the New Adam’s oeuvre. That verb can readily be taken from the philosophically rigorous language of Molière. Our New Adam cannot identify himself merely as ‘being’ or ‘doing’. No, my friends! He presents himself to the world for emulation in a specially conscious way, unlike anything known in the past. A reflexive is called for. Se poser. The New Adam se pose!”

“Ils se posent?”, Florida asked, sweeping with her hand across the room.

“Oui!”

“Heavens!”, Demosthenes marveled. “Ils se posent wall-to-wall!”

“C’est vrai, mon vieux”, Don Primo agreed. “Still, there is a certain multiplicity within the unified action of being des poseurs.”

“Ils se posent a quoi?”, Carmine inquired.

“Let us not rush into grammatical judgments about the preposition one uses with se poser. Yes, many people se posent a or en. Indeed, in a sense, all do. But only with respect to the resolution of major dilemmas. If, however, one is engaged in a logical development of New Atlantis’s attitude towards Reason, then, according to the judgment of the best Academicians, on se posse comme rather than a or en.”

He pointed to his right.

“Take those fellows working out the consequences of Reason over there. Oh, New Atlantis thought they were important when the Redemption of Education began—that’s why they’re still here—but their heyday is long gone. Ils se posent comme des hommes de l’ordre rationelle. Though now that I think of it—twisted as my prepositions may be, and in violation of the very rules that I just enunciated…”.

Don Primo shook his head sadly.

“…ils se posent a la recherche du temps perdus.”

Carmine and his friends strolled over to what appeared to be a convocation of sages, divided into three distinct groups. A sizeable crowd of illuminati, mouths gaping, and munching on popcorn, stood beneath a small stage on which the tripartite convocation was perched.

“Ils se posent…?”, Demosthenes asked Don Primo, with reference to the credulous mob.

“Avec!”, Don Primo answered. “Toujours! And, always, plus tard et plus profondement que tout le reste!”

“Bring out the fruits of your Reason!”, this hoard shouted, cutting off Don Primo’s French lesson. “Bring some Order into this unseemly dump!”

Togas clothed the first batch of sages stage center. Its members stood tall, together, pointing majestically with their thumbs to something behind them. Who were these creatures? Imitation Augusti of the Prima Porta? Tired of standing in Rome? And eager to hitchhike a ride to a rest and relaxation center on Capri, near the palace on the promontory overlooking the resorts of the Bay of Naples? The one with Tiberius, Caligula, and the pillow?

“Back! Back!”, they shouted, enthusiastically, causing Carmine and his friends to retreat confusedly. Carmine instinctively assumed some guilt on his part, began exhaling heavily into his cupped hand for evidence of the garlic bagel he’d broken his fast on that morning, and waited for a signal to remove himself still further. But the sages remained unsatisfied, even when all had moved as far distant as the walls of The Vision Center permitted.

“Back! Back!”, they bubbled happily.

Carmine, Demosthenes, and Florida now examined the group more closely. They were actually pointing to a set of bookshelves in the hinterground, laden with Greek and Roman tomes. Magnificent ones, admittedly. Filled with glorious sayings and done out in precious style. But abridged. Annotated. Edited. And generally bettered, in tasteful Benedictine editions.

“You want the Order that comes from Reason?”, the sages gushed. “ The Creativity flowing from them? Ecce libri! Too bad there’s so few available, though. It would be much better if we had the entire stock to offer.”

A dump truck ambled by. It spilled out thousands of copies of unknown and unabridged antique works, much changed from the Benedictine editions. Along with the truck came an entire battalion of Greeks and Romans, and not necessarily from the best families. Men of the mob. With relatives of Carthaginian blood. And Etruscan. And Egyptian. And Mesopotamian. Pre-historic, too. All carrying picnic baskets, filled with edicts of Diocletian, Melian Dialogues, pictures of Gog and Magog, Hermes Trismegistus, demons, and several hampers stuffed with doubts and dreads. The sages were ecstatic, though almost totally buried under the magnitude of the take.

Out of the rubble, clutching haphazardly onto bits and pieces of what was available. emerged the two other groups qui se posaient comme des hommes de l’ordre rationelle.

“Forward! Forward!”, they cried, to all and sundry.

Carmine and his friends had learned their lesson. This time, they advanced with everyone else to see the show. The sages on stage went determinedly into action, ignoring both the original batch of wise men as well as one another. The second confraternity pulled algebraic equations, trigonometric proofs, and logarithms out of their Information Sacks while the third sodality drew forth test tubes and Bunsen burners. Both tossed their numbers and instruments into the air, transforming them into tractors and aspirin.

“Well done”, the mob howled. “You fellows are terrific. It’s so much better to go forward than backward. How about love potions? Got any love potions? Love potions would really do the trick! The stronger the better. And can you bring back the dead? Better looking, less offensive, and more serviceable? Perhaps with bunny ears on their heads, just for a little amusement? Come on. On the double.”

“Ask a perchild anything in our names”, the sages promised, passing collection baskets around to fund their activities, “and it shall be given ye. Is there a father who, when his son calls for bread, would give him stones?”

“This, is how Order emerges from a forward-looking Reason?”, Demosthenes gasped. “It’s nothing but magic. Alchemy. All we’re missing are wands, hats, toad blood, and philosophers’ stones!”

All three groups of sages fell silent, and stared him down together.

“Are we being irrational?”, they asked the crowd.

“You? But how could you be? Impossible! Your name tag clearly identifies you as Men of Reason. We don’t see any reference to magic on them. Tell the bigot to save his Dark Age opinions for the Comedy Cellar.”

“It doesn’t matter”, Don Primo comforted Demosthenes. “It’s all passé. Passé! No. No one finds Order through the use of Reason any more. The creative posing action in these latter days lies with those whose Reason teaches them the need for accepting nature’s promise of unlimited Freedom. Observe!”

He pointed in the direction of perchildren who were viewing writers producing novels with no words. Philosophers glossing figments of imagination. Artists producing their portraits without canvas, paint, or any point of reference whatsoever.

“Anything! Anything!”, the Happy Ones begged. “Create anything freely for us! You don’t have to explain it! We’ll love it! We’ll know how to appreciate it! We won’t be irrational. We know that something is beautiful when we’re arbitrarily told that it is.”

An author smiled appreciatively at them.

“Once interfacing products of illumination empathize amidst socioradicoantigenderohypomental elements”, he noted, happily, “power struggle expostulates communalize.”

“Do they all speak in tongues here?”, Demosthenes asked Don Primo.

The writer overheard him.

“One must expect petty opposition to the fruits of the Free Spirit”, he sneered. “The little man has always been hostile to the oeuvre of the great.”

“Will you look at that”, Demosthenes said. “An understandable sentence. Stupid, admittedly, on this we agree. But at least comprehensible.”

“Only by accident”, Don Primo warned. “It all depends what comes out of an illuminatus’ indispensable resource bank.”

“Which is?”

“The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer. Look.”

The perchild was carrying a top hat. The sort used by prestidigitors when calling forth rabbits.

“That’s The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer?”, Carmine asked.

“Yes”, Don Primo assured him. “And anything can come out of it. A quotation from the Bible. String. Asparagus. The Baron d’Holbach. A tap dance. A chocolate bar. A little glossalalia. Anything!”

“What do you have to say about the Argentinian pampas, huh?”, the perchild sneered at Don Primo in response. “Ha! Cat’s got your tongue! And what about steel production in the Benelux Countries? You didn’t take that into account, did you?”

“See what I mean?”, Don Primo nudged Demosthenes.

“It’s an inexhaustible Treasury of Absurdities”, Demosthenes marveled. “Falsetto of the brain.”

“Exactly”, Don Primo agreed. “Not too idiotic if older habits, though moribund, still retain a certain hold over the speaker’s soul. It’s much worse, the more closely the perchild embraces the logic flowing from the principle of Unlimited Freedom as the ground of Being. The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer enables the less logical and meritorious among the illuminated to call forth help from the more advanced of their brethren, whose own superabundant blatherings are contained therein. But feast your eyes on the spectacle over to the right. You have there a Dialogue between a representative of the Reason Yields Order and the Reason Yields Freedom schools, each participant drawing from The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer. And, since there’s an audience, ils se posent pour.”

“Hi!”, a man of Order said. “My name is Legion. I possess the multiplicity of single minded keys to all knowledge and happiness, communal and private. To question me is to question Intelligence itself. I’m so active, I’ve gone through thirty of these keys already. This week, I am sorry to announce, my infallible wisdom assures me that you, your thoughts, and all you stand for are mere mindless products of that plastic in the bloodstream which is threatening the evolution of all Perchildren. “

“Hi!”, a Freeman responded. “My name is Gerund. Here is a pamphlet describing my most intimate thoughts, my insurpassable glory, and my syllabus of changes. How do you define ‘mere’? “And ‘products’? And ‘plastic’? You think your definitions would mean anything to me even you could define them? I spit on your definitions. Why, I myself already define them differently than I did when I began this sentence. My creative imagination and free choice rush far ahead of me. I choose not to be interested in the slightest thing you have to say. And I choose to say that ‘I hear you’, even so. Anyway, the only thing that I choose to be interested in at the moment is the novel that I’m writing, and the civil liberties which have been denied my fictional characters by a repressive government unconcerned for the rights of the non existent. And, another thing…”.

He consulted The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer.

“What do you have to say about the Argentinian pampas, huh? Ha!”

“I’m going to ask these two if they know how many angels dance on the head of a pin”, Demosthenes mumbled.

Don Primo bristled.

“I beg you not to insult the medievals. That particular question had a point. And, besides, they wouldn’t be able to understand your barb. Figuratively, and, by this moment in time, probably not literally either. But it’s their era, my boy. Right now, their dialogue seems to them to be worthy of the Academy or the Lyceum or the Stoa. If they’ve even heard of those institutions, that is to say, which is highly unlikely.”

The Dialogue had degenerated into a shouting match.

“My fictional characters have a basic and fundamental right to be loved!”, Gerund asserted.

“They’re nothing but cogs in a machine poisoned by plastics”, Legion taught.

“That’s an ad essentiam argument which I will not stand for!”

“I beg your question?”

“No! I beg your question!”

“I am apodictically certain that I am right, and that you and your nerve endings must mesh together with the gears of my argument!”

“And I sincerely feel that I am right, and that your plastics must melt in the fire of my words!”

“The dialogue is over”, Don Primo announced. “They’ve reached the conclusion.”

“Which is?”, Florida wondered.

“Visceral reaction.”

“But then there’s no way of resolving the dilemma?”, Carmine lamented.

“Intellectually, no”, Don Primo admitted. “Moreover, some of the illuminati realize it themselves. Look where the battle of infallible Order and unrestrained individual Freedom has lead the kitchen staff.”

Twenty people were darting hither and thither round the stove and refrigerator with Gurkha knives and copies of the poems of Leopardi, trying to summon the courage to stab themselves in the chest and fall into the abyss.

“It’s just an endless clash of irresistible wills!”, they sobbed. “Everybody has his own truth. We know nothing. Never have and never will! It is better to eat later than earlier, and best never to have eaten at all!”

“But if there’s no intellectual agreement”, Carmine asked, “how can New Atlantis go on?”

“Two ways”, Don Primo explained. “And that finally brings us to the usage of se poser with a. There are two ways of bringing the viscera under control.”

He cocked his ear.

“There’s the first!”

Several howitzers blew. Don Primo, Carmine, and his friends dropped to the ground. Helpers walked by with stretchers bearing the victims.

“Why?”, Carmine asked them.

One wounded victim raised his head.

“I stood by my principles”, he gagged. “I refused to make any more changes, and destroyed my copy of The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer.”

“Excuse me”, a Helper said, pulling out a blunderbuss. “You heard Managgia. Your inwardly open spirit surely knows that it does not want to be a kink in the machinery of Progress forever.”

He administered the coup de grace.

“Respect for popular will”, he said, waving away the pungent smoke of the exploded powder. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Victory, in this best of all possible worlds, for freedom of choices so well hidden that even the outer man hasn’t realized them.”

“Il se pose a obeir au peuple.”, Don Primo noted. “Still, this is such a needlessly disturbing way of dealing with the problem of essential disagreement. True, it’s not entirely out of fashion. But it’s definitely not the wave of the future. Besides, you need a certain strength and courage to be able to resort to it. One can end the difficulty of the viscera much more peacefully and much more effectively.”

“How?”, Florida asked.

Don Primo sighed.

“Would that it were easy to explain!”

“Why? Is it a method used only by an elite?”, Demosthenes inquired.

Don Primo laughed.

“Au contraire! It’s a national method, if the truth be told. An adroit use of fraud. Un truc a l’americain! Involving much bold equivocation. Most of the characters here eventually come to latch onto it.”

“A kind of Bonapartism?”, Carmine wondered.

“Quite. Only without the papal coronation. Otherwise it would be useless. Remember, New Atlantis gets state funding.”

Don Primo remained silent until the shelling ended. He spoke anew once the group rose safely to its feet.

“I don’t think it’s possible to give you a concise philosophical description of this baby. Lord knows I’ve tried. You’ll have to learn it, bit-by-bit, like the rest of us did. When you see the whole picture, problems you yourselves have experienced on a daily basis will swiftly be clarified. Let’s just hope the learning process doesn’t destroy you in the meantime, though. It has the ability to do so. Here. Come this way.”

Don Primo motioned for them to proceed before him. But when they had done so, he softly tapped three times on the floor. A periscope peeped through the tiling.

“I’m of two minds. What do you think?”, Don Primo whispered into it. “Should I tell them?”

“No”, a distant voice responded. “Too soon. It won’t sink in. Even the most sage offer a tenacious resistance. They’ll draw the wrong conclusions. It takes great effort and patience to question the obvious and arrive at the right answers.”

There was no time for further enlightenment regarding the second path now, anyway. For the film crew, having grown bored with its task, had ended its shift. Fresh personnel were required. Large numbers of young New Atlantis graduates had arrived to answer the call. And batches of illegal immigrants, working cheaply. All were in love with their own Information Sacks and personal opportunities for sensual Change. They began to readjust the lighting equipment so that they had room to screw, take drugs, build huts, sell trinkets, and sacrifice nightingales. Dr. Managgia went up to one of their number.

“Friend of Reason!”, he called out. “Friend of Freedom!”

“Friends of Gonads, you mean!”, the man yelled back. “ Big Time Bucks! And hoary incantations!”

The new crew gathered threateningly round its spokesman.

“Look”, he said to the President. “You people have sat here too long for any good that you’ve done. Now, get the hell out!”

Zwingli Managgia became extraordinarily meek. It was one of the Tough Choices. Reason and Freedom of Expression stood in one corner, represented by New Atlantis. Idealistic youth and victims of western ethnocentrism, both with bigger muscles, in the other. Managgia protested, stammeringly, as an aide went to fetch a copy of The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer.

“But we’re here for Progress. For the Future. For you!”, Managgia babbled, confidently awaiting the assistant’s return. “Nous nous posons!”

“Look, Mister Fatty Pork Chop”, the spokesman responded, pulling out his Triumph of the Will. “I don’t care if you’re here to fart. Which is what I’m doing. And in your face, no less. Repeatedly. Until you like it, or you get the hell out!”

Carmine returned to New Atlantis one day during the following week, just to see the fallout from the coup which ended the Fifth Anniversary Celebration of the nation’s long heralded liberal answer to the crisis in higher education. Treacle Sovacuous, his novice, and a sizeable group of Poseurs were nowhere to be seen. Serious change had entered into the lives of the others. Much of the original progressive elite remained on campus, though most of it simply as statues decorating the esplanade, giving the entire complex the atmosphere of Hadrian’s Villa.

“We’re thrilled to be here, manifesting the triumph of a rational and free society”, one perchild exulted, as he stood, muscles taut, posed to hurl the discus, chained to a pedestal.

“What victory?”, Carmine asked him, astounded. “You’re nothing but the victim of strong men who took advantage of an insane idea to exploit you.”

“My dear friend”, he responded, compassionately. “Freedom requires sacrifice and openness. Your background—was it religious? Repressed in some other fashion?—has hamstrung you and left you embarrassingly immature. Incapable of altruism. Cynical about its very possibility. How will you ever be able to take advantage of the liberty guaranteed us by the self-donation of the oh so many Americans who built this democratic society of ours? If, one day—God, forbid!—you were forced to live without freedom, maybe then, you’d grasp what now so sadly escapes you. Besides. Freedom and Reason are gifts much too precious to let our preconceived notions about them get in their way. Even the slightest imposition upon one man’s vulgar libertinism means the end of liberty for everyone. And if I were not chained up, the Post Office wouldn’t mail me to Ougadougou for the sacrifice, would it?”

Zwingli Managgia sauntered by, swathed in a loin cloth, smeared with war paint, with a bone in his nose and a raw elephant shoulder between his teeth. He had made a great deal of money off of the transformation.

“Aren’t you ashamed?”, the don chastised him.

“Ashamed? Ashamed of what? Ashamed of my ability to change? To adjust to new needs? To fresher and deeper insights of virile creative forces from other realms? Why, I’m proud that my intelligence and freedom are such as to have enabled me to remain open, even at my age, to fresh visions. Despite the pain entailed.”

He flicked some ashes into the eager open mouth of the discus thrower.

Don Primo came by to pull Carmine away from the pathos.

“And this?”, the younger man sputtered, pointing to the liberal debris. Don Primo grasped Carmine by the elbow, leading him off knowingly, as Cosimo de’Medici might have done with an as yet still innocent Lorenzo the Magnificent.

“Simple”, he noted. “Ils se posent quand même.”

“But how could such an obvious deterioration be so calmly accepted?”, Carmine sputtered. “Where did the ability peacefully to swallow this degrading change from the original Atlantis plans come from?”

“From the practitioners of the second method for controlling the Fragmented Fruits, my dear boy”, Don Primo concluded. “The Masters of Them That Change Not. From the Masters of Them That Change Not, But Change Everything Anyway.”

B. Faith of Our Fathers

“Whatever happened to your friend, Oliver?”

Débordant Vase picked about this tender theme persistently along with his asparagus. Carmine had not expected to discuss the fate of any of the three martyrs of Periphery when he went to his mentor’s home in Queens at the beginning of October to give an account of the debacle at New Atlantis. It was not as though Carmine did not think of them. Good Lord, they were constantly on his mind.

Hermione had been impossible to reach.

“Away! On vacation!”, the neighbors told him. “Let’s hope she stays there! So property values rise again!”

As for Anatole, poor, dear soul, Carmine was in regular and sorrowful contact with him. That was a story he would recount to Don Primo on another occasion.

But Oliver? Speak with the Hero? After having abandoned him in the midst of his travail? Oh, no. For that embarrassment, Carmine was not yet prepared. Still, Crumbs had kept him aware of Stonato’s movements. His trail had not been lost. Unfortunately, that pathway recalled characteristics of other notorious historical wanderings: those of armies led into ambush by paid agents or their dupes; wagon trains lost in the High Sierras; the Death March through the Bataan Peninsula.

In short, Oliver had encountered insuperable obstacles in his campaign to secure a new teaching position after his dismissal from Periphery. The Team and Theirs had been true to Paura’s threat. Stonato’s position was not unlike that of a nineteenth century union organizer, whose working documents had been stamped with a notice to prospective employers identifying him as a contumacious Agitator. When last heard of, Carmine’s former colleague was engaged in land reclamation along the coastline of North Carolina, somewhat like Faust in his declining years. Oliver was paid in kind, with sacks of lentils, and given use of a house, on stilts, in a Tidewater rice paddy.

Carmine returned from Queens feeling remiss in his duty to a suffering friend, and yet more confused than ever about how to overcome a sense of guilt shortcircuiting all efforts at redress of grievance. Then, as though by intuition, an unexpected resolution to the dilemma came from Oliver himself. He had mailed a letter to Carmine, haste posthaste, on the very day of the dinner with Vase. And it was a happy letter. Oliver had found his rock of refuge. Something fixed. Something stable. Something personally fulfilling.

“No more lentils!”, Stonato exulted. “Milk and honey! This is it!”

Salvation had come from a conservative academic organization known as “The USA! Golly-Gosh, We Adore It! Golly-Gosh, We Adore It!”. Oliver had had some commerce with GWAI-GWAI, as it was known, tenderly, to intimates, for several years. This institute sponsored seminars, summer schools, and book clubs dedicated to fulfillment of a two-fold mission. On the one hand, there lay the task of demonstrating the corruptive influence of Enlightenment Liberalism upon the life of the Nation, and, on the other, that of emphasizing the dependence of communal and personal sanity upon a return to the Wisdom of The Unadulterated American Tradition.

“Down with Liberalism!”, its founder had shouted in his famous Deathbed Peroration. “You call that idiocy it defends Rational? Freedom loving? Capable of building a culture? Don’t you notice the obvious contradictions? The heavy-handedness? Statism? Insane passion? Self destructiveness of it all? And who’s this Individual they keep talking about? Huh? Where’d he come from? Has he ever been to dinner? No! And he’d eat you out of house and home if he ever arrived anyway! You know what I say? Stick with Tradition! That’s what I say! If you want real Reason! Real Individuality! True Pluralism! Serious Progress! Listen to Tradition! And when you’ve listened, you know what you can do? Shut up! That’s right! Keep that trap shut! The American Heritage! As it was in the beginning. Should be now. And forever must be, world without end. Amen. So be it. Ainsi soit il! All that which is traditional is ours!”

A recent GWAI-GWAI newsletter had announced the launching of a new project of great moment, conceived in the spirit of the Deathbed Peroration: “America is Worth an Idea!”. “America is Worth an Idea!” was designed to develop a deeper intellectual appreciation of the value of the Founding Fathers, the Framers of the Constitution, as GWAI-GWAI preferred to call them.

“Which do you want?”, the announcement read. “The ideology of lunatic revolutionaries? Their fruitcake utopianism? Or the one and only Idea that counts? Tradition! As reflected in the thought of our Great American Men. Using the genius of the ages. Demonstrated in common sense understanding of human nature, God, and the limitations imposed upon us by them both. Which is it to be? Huh? That is the question before us! Huh?”

A quarterly journal was a special feature of the plan. Its articles were to focus on what was hoped to become a vibrant new discipline probing the full meaning of the Fathers’ achievement: Framing. Oliver had applied for a position on the review’s staff. He had been accepted, and had probably begun work already by the time that Carmine tore open the envelope of his letter.

Stonato’s Covenant with “America” guaranteed him The Good Life in a way that nothing else could dream of matching. It said so in the contract. Tradition cannot tell a lie, especially on paper. And even if, in theory, it were possible for a conservative to offend God, neither in theory or practice was it possible for him to break a contract. Oliver’s letter gushed over the terms of the agreement.

“The Document also mandates that the devotion of my colleagues to their Mission be already legendary”, Carmine read. “Je suis arrivé! Out with the old life and in with the new! Can there be any joy like unto my joy?”

In mid-October, Oliver telephoned from his new office.

“’America’ needs your help!”, he thundered, enthusiastically, over the line.

“Credo ad absurdum”, Carmine joked. “But what merit could I possibly have to warrant being called up?”

“Usefulness. To our up-and-coming ‘Messengers of Joy’ Conference. ‘America’ finds you eminently useful.”

Oliver declaimed from a prepared text.

“It is our duty as citizens to spread knowledge of the Unadulterated American Tradition throughout a liberalized Nation, wrecked by places like New Atlantis, with their absurd emphasis on francophilic ‘Reason’ and ‘Rights’. Future teachers have a key role to play in this enterprise. ‘America is Worth an Idea’ has received a grant from a traditionalist patriotic association…”.

“Which one?”, Carmine interrupted.

“Well, actually, from a popular toilet paper producer”, Oliver admitted. “But it has a ten year history with the same name. And it recycles.”

He went on.

“’America is Worth an Idea’ has received a grant from a traditionalist patriotic association which enables it to invite brilliant young people who plan to teach to come to Washington, D.C., ‘Capital of Tradition’, for a week-long conference on the American Framing. Properly prepared, before the corrosive influences of Liberalism have begun to affect them, these teachers can help mightily in promotion of knowledge of the Ineffable. We’ve marshaled the best resources available for this conference, and…”.

Oliver stopped reading. He became frantic.

“Look, Carmine”, he panted. “’America’ was planned haphazardly. GWAI-GWAI had a National Coordinator who set this show up last spring, before the foundations for the project were properly laid. He was just offered a new job. Teaching business ethics at a rayon factory. A dollar more per year than he was making with us. Naturally, he left. This morning. At 5:00 A.M.”

Oliver’s mood changed from frantic to hysterical.

“Carmine! I’m now the National Coordinator! There are hundreds of Messengers of Joy expected at this Conference, Carmine. Hundreds, Carmine, hundreds! About half of them are Unadulterated Conservatives, handpicked by my Predecessor. All the others are unknown quantities. Hundreds of unknown quantities are descending upon ‘America’, Carmine! People of all sorts! Do you know what that means, Carmine? Do you? Hundreds! Do you understand?”

Carmine did not really want to know. But some response was expected of him.

“Where would I fit in?”, he asked, darkly.

Oliver grew more hopeful in tone.

“Well, there’s a large group of foreigners that’s been invited, to observe Framing first hand. Contract labor, I think. For teaching, in out of the way areas of the country. Who else would do it there? As far as I know, none of them speaks an appreciable amount of English. We need someone familiar with a few languages to keep the wheels turning. Who better than you, Carmine? You’d get paid, too! $500. Room and board included as well!”

“But I work already. Remember?”

“Carmine! It’s only a week. Imagine how good it would look on BARF! I presume you may still be concerned with that particular travesty. Periphery would let you off. You know how dedicated it is to its students’ instruction. They probably wouldn’t even notice that you were gone. And Carmine…”.

Oliver threw down what he thought to be his trump card.

“Some of the most important names in Conservatism will be here. Lecturing. Socializing. Preserving. Preserving, Carmine, preserving! Preserving the Tradition! For God and Country! Who knows? They might even be able to suggest some way for you to escape from Periphery.”

Carmine said nothing. New Atlantis had badly shaken his faith in anything that smacked of the intelligentsia and its works. Oliver sensed the weakness of his argument and replaced it with an uncharacteristic whining.

“I beg you, Carmine. In the name of friendship. As a means of paying me back. Forgive me, Carmine. I’m sorry to bring this up, but as a means of paying me back. It’s something one thinks a lot of in my present circles.”

Once put in such terms, there was no choice but for Carmine to cave in.

“All right”, he agreed. “But not enthusiastically all right. As an expiation for my behavior. And that’s it.”

Uncharacteristic whining now transformed itself into an equally unusual fawning.

“You have no idea how grateful I am to you, good Carmine. So very, very grateful. But, dear friend, can I make one final request of you? Please? No questions about the Conference? Please? Friend? Castor? Damon? Jonathan? It’s not that I wouldn’t answer, but…well…It’s that I’m so busy. Yes. That’s it. You see? So very busy. No questions. Please?”

Carmine put down the telephone. Oliver was clearly too overburdened to chit chat. Moreover, Carmine had to prepare for a party to which some importuning pest from the Upper East Side had invited him. He had few illusions about the nature of the experience awaiting him in that irritant’s flat. It would must certainly be shaped by the type of creeps who would prosper at The Vision Center. Grumbling to himself about Helpers and Creativity, flux and change, Liberals and Conservatives, he tied his shoes and went his way.

Products of illumination did, indeed, dominate the dreaded event. Escape from such riff-raff lay only in gravitating towards a sneering young man fixed in a corner like an anchor, salivating, during a particularly trendy moment of the endura. What did his grimace remind Carmine of? Was it Louis XVI’s confessor, paring his nails at his trial before the revolutionary tribunal, and attributing his composure to contempt for the jury? Or was it a painting that he had admired just recently in Venice? The one of St. Jerome, listening disdainfully to the confession of a penitent who had suffered the vicissitudes of Orpheus crossing into Hades to reach him? Never mind. The sneer was authentic, directed at the surrounding lumpen intelligentsia, and sustained. That was as effective as a golden chain in binding don and stranger together. Carmine approached to investigate still further.

“Enlightenment?”, he asked.

The man spat on the ground before him.

“Change?”, Carmine whispered.

He rolled his eyes and tore out great clumps of his hair.

“Se poser?”, Carmine lisped, sadistically.

Too far! The fellow opened, and then leaped from the window. A liberal from the crowd moved into the now vacant space he had occupied.

“Who was the guy who just committed ritual suicide?”, Carmine queried.

“Did someone exercise a termination choice?”, the liberal equivocated.

Two illuminati eyes peered down the shaft.

“Who? Him? The Enemy of the People?”

The liberal had read his Social Contract. A Rousseauian gesture waved away the significance of the incident.

“No loss. A conservative! You call that a Perchild?”

Carmine grew excited. Could it be? His heart palpitated. Were the conservatives really different?

Of course they were! How silly he was to put New Atlantis and “America” in the same camp! Conservatives didn’t carry on in an illuminati fashion. Heritage was the name of their game. They knew that Heraclitus was wrong. Not only could you step into the same waters twice, but you were obliged to do so repeatedly until the very end of time. As one’s forefathers had done since the beginning. Hail to the still waters of Tradition! Ever gentle! Ever pure! Ever deep!

Carmine straightened to full height. Conservatism had called upon him, in person, in defense of his nation’s true greatness, and his own best interest. For one week only. With a contract. And a check. He pulled out a dollar bill—the only item that he possessed sporting a picture of a Framer—and kissed it.

“My country, ‘tis of thee!”, Carmine hummed at Gorgias Hall, on the last Friday of October, when preparing to leave for the great event.

“You’re awfully happy”, Porphyry Contramundum joked. “Hot date?”

“With Unadulterated Tradition!”, he responded, explaining the nature of the task ahead.

“And if the Tradition’s a confirmed whore?”, Porphyry suggested.

Carmine went to meet Oliver and the foreign contingent at Washington Airport, late Sunday afternoon. Oliver’s Predecessor had insisted that the European visitors arrive together on a single flight from Paris.

“Why?”, Carmine asked, when rendez-vousing at the information desk.

“He wanted to save money by planning one charter alone.”

“How did they get to Paris?”

“By air, separately.”

“But Oliver!”, Carmine exclaimed. “Do you have any idea what the cost of flying is like inside Europe? They’d have been much better off each arranging a cheap flight from inside his own country.”

Oliver shrugged his shoulders.

“My Predecessor was annoyed that they didn’t take advantage of the American stamps he sent them to mail in their receipts.”

The two men sat together in silence for the next few hours. Oliver did not want to answer any questions, and Carmine could not figure out how to formulate them. Anxiety also marked those evening hours. And it increased with every moment of the plane’s delay. Apparently, the flight had left Paris four hours behind schedule, in order to ensure that conference attendees arriving from outlying nations could make their connection properly. Then, it had fallen prey to the demands of established traffic patterns, its swift passage hindered by the just needs of jets that were on time. Carmine finally broke the silence.

“It’s like that”, he consoled Oliver. “A drunken Englishman jumped from the Ostende-Berlin Express I was on a few years back. We stayed on side rails for hours. Couldn’t get back onto schedule again. In fact, we didn’t arrive anywhere until the next day.”

“With luck, the flight will return home!”, Oliver suddenly moaned. “The things they’ll see here!”

“Oliver!”, Carmine exploded. “What the hell have you dragged me into?”

“Forgive me, Carmine. I’ve abused our friendship. I thought I’d ask your forgiveness when it was all over. I knew at least you wouldn’t feel guilty about last spring any more, once this was done. But I was too cruel! I’ve abused our friendship. I just couldn’t endure it on my own!”

“I don’t understand”, Carmine stammered, miserably.

“Neither do I!”, Oliver sobbed.

“What’s going to happen at this conference?”

“Logic will reach its final conclusion! Retire to Florida! And play Trivial Pursuit!”, Oliver predicted, gloomily, while wiping his nose. “It’s the end of civilization as we’ve known it! And I was so hopeful when the last lentils were scrapped from the pan!”

Carmine fell silent. This was an unexpected blow. Hadn’t Aristotle received his definitive hammering at New Atlantis? What more could “America” do to him?

Finally, when almost everything human had vacated the airport, the flight from Paris landed. The guests, some of whom had been on the road for almost twenty-four hours, were exhausted and bewildered. Several wanted water, but the only supply available was bottled. No one, Carmine and Oliver included, had sufficient American currency to pay the inflated prices demanded for it. Luckily, the employees at the refreshment stand needed postage stamps, which they traded for water at a depreciated value.

Exhausted though they might be, the hundred foreign conference participants were excited by the prospect of seeing Washington. All trundeled, hopefully, onto the two buses which had been hired by Oliver’s Predecessor, Stonato taking his place on one, Carmine on the other. The two drivers aimed, definitively, for the capital.

Just as they arrived at the last possible exit before the Potomac, however, they turned sharply left and headed northwest. The foreigners, while unschooled in the specifics of the capital’s geography, recognized a city when they saw one, and shouted that a terrible mistake had been made. The bus drivers paid no heed. Foreign souls sank into docile acceptance. Perhaps Washington spread out much further than they had been taught in Europe.

“It’s no mistake”, Oliver confided to Carmine by radio-phone. “My Predecessor wanted them to be taken outside of Washington. ‘Some place interesting, nice, and free from liberal corruption’, he said.”

“But I thought that Washington was ‘the capital of Tradition!”, Carmine wondered.

“In theory”, Oliver admitted. “But then there are the practical results.”

During the remainder of the journey, Carmine confirmed an observation that he had tentatively made after the initial moment of contact with the foreign conference participants. Each potential Messenger of Joy had a smattering of English at his command, just enough to locate and use the most basic necessities of life. But none of the members of a given ethnic group possessed the slightest knowledge of the other foreigners’ languages. Basques, Normans, Frisians, Circassians, Montenegrins, and inhabitants of the Friuli were united only by their ability to ask for the toilet in broken English. And for patriotic recycled paper to use in its stalls. Oliver cursed gently when Carmine radioed this inconvenience to him.

“My Predecessor wanted it that way. ‘Let the people come!’, he said. ‘We’ll show our detractors that we can put together a conference even under the greatest handicaps imaginable.’ He even consulted specialists, so that representatives of unheard of languages might join the group. ‘A nous! A nous!’, he shouted. Probably the only non-English words he ever learned.”

Oliver paused.

“Besides”, he sighed. “They’ll stand up well against the native Americans.”

About an hour and a half after the bus drivers’ “wrong turn”, the vehicles reached “some place interesting, nice, and free from liberal corruption”. Carmine gaped, through the darkness, to identify the character of the environment. He squinted, painfully, at what was once a lovely wilderness, transformed now into something resembling a Hudson Bay fur trapping settlement. Carmine made out a typical megalopolis highway, zipping pointlessly this way and that, studded with several shops: a tire distributor, a muffler replacement center, an Everything Useless eating establishment, and a gun department store. A large motel dominated the former countryside.

“This is where we meet the others”, Oliver explained, resignedly. “My Predecessor set the place up as a conference center. He saw its construction as a profession of faith in the permanent union of all those committed to the maintenance of the Unadulterated American Tradition. He called it ‘The Wily Dullard Pregnant Presbyterian Inn’.”

“What?!”, Carmine winced.

“’The Wily Dullard Pregnant Presbyterian Inn’.”

Carmine blinked, uncomprehendingly.

“I know”, Oliver agreed. “Sounds like the family name of a second generation feminist couple.”

He began to recite, from memory, several paragraphs of the conference program.

“All Framing is divided into two schools: those of the Wily Dullards and the Pregnant Presbyterians. Each school protects the absolutely unchanging Tradition in its own inimitable fashion. There is no ‘America’ without the contributions of both, together. Where there is a Wily Dullard, there is a Pregnant Presbyterian somewhere in the bushes as well; where a Pregnant Presbyterian, a Wily Dullard. Hence, the fitness of the name of the Inn, indicating the meshing of the two schools into one common Framing.”

“And do they mesh nicely?”

Oliver ceased reciting.

“It depends upon your taste and perspective. Do you serve chocolate milk with your pesto?”

Oliver looked at his watch and the progress of the baggage removal from the bus.

“Come inside”, he ordered, nervously. “The novice American contingent will probably have eaten and gone to bed by now.”

He shuddered.

“But I’m sure that the Wily and Pregnant stalwarts will be up waiting.”

Everyone shuffled into the “Tradition Hall” of the “Wily Dullard Pregnant Presbyterian Inn”. This chamber was basically a recreation room of the sort mandated by middle class housing project developers, Vastly oversized portraits of the Framers hung from the far wall of the room. Carmine was surprised by their number. He strained his eyes to make an exact count. No. Memory had not betrayed him. The Framers had not spontaneously generated. It was simply that each of the Great Men was depicted twice over, once, on the right side of the wall, and yet again, in quite different fashion, on the left.

Carmine gazed intently to his right. John Adams gaped back. That face! Had it discovered a gall stone that would never dislodge? Was it worried about the location, by strangers, of some pennies it had hidden under a pillow? Or might it merely be tired, and overwhelmed by the necessary exertion of a yawn? Whatever the case, Carmine had most certainly seen such a countenance many times before. It was the visage of a thousand constipated peasants, staring, dumbly, from the bench fronting the local tavern, trying to appreciate a poet, a baroque façade, or maybe only a visitor from the next block.

“Our life!”, Carmine heard some voices murmuring. “Our sweetness! And our hope!”

A fairly large group of conference participants lay reclining on cots and adulating the portrait hanging above them. For the first time in his life, Carmine understood and sympathized with the Anatolian Iconoclasts. And Leo the Isaurian. The Moslems, even. hacking away at the images in Hagia Sophia.

If they had been stripped naked, these idolators could easily have been mistaken for livestock. But they were not unclothed. All were dressed in slightly out-of-date costumes. Each clutched his possessions in one hand and a tumblerful of liquor, disguised in paper cups, in the other. None was older than twenty five, though the entire crowd appeared to be past caring about anything other than rest. Many seemed to have webs between their fingers and the slight indications of a tail below the small of the back. Carmine turned to Oliver.

“Dullards?”, he asked.

“Yes, but Wily ones. Don’t underestimate them. There are deviously sly particles mixed in with their worn-out blood.”

A more energetic action de grace thundered from the left of Tradition Hall. Here, a horde of conference participants outfitted in Genevan clericals, and brandishing copies of Scripture, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the Constitution of the United States, shouted hosannas to an Adams resembling themselves. Carmine raised his glance in the direction of their alleluias. Their object was more frightful still than that of the Dullards. The eyes of this second Adam burned like hot coals. They were lit with the enthusiasm of a preacher who knows that he has already thrown his congregation into utter existential despair, and still has fifty minutes more of his sermon to go.

There was, however, one point of contact between this version of the Framers and the previous one. He, too, looked constipated. But, whereas the peasant Adams appeared as though he would, at some point, take comfort, and end his misery, his ministerial counterpart had the demeanor of a man who had left the privy unfulfilled, and would make his fellow creatures pay for it. Carmine turned to Oliver anew.

“Presbyterians?”, he inquired. “Pregnant ones?”

“Like jackrabbits. Same blood as the other crew, though. Maybe that’s what makes their activity so unnaturally bouncy when they get heated up.”

Two choirs, representing each of the two schools of Framing, competed for the attention of the newly arrived guests from both right and left sides of the room. Why, it was almost like a concert in Saint Mark’s Basilica! If, that is to say, Monteverdi had written discordant music. And insisted that it be conducted, jointly, by someone comatose and a compatriot on cocaine.

For there was clearly no love lost between the Framing factions. Two versions of the same Song of Welcome assaulted the visitors’ ears. Although the Pregnant Presbyterians were, almost be definition, more energetic than the Wily Dullards, the lethargy of the latter group lent to its singers a kind of dreamy, Bing Crosby like persistence. The foreign listeners, most of whom could not make out a single word, were fed a mish-mash of the teachings of the two schools. Carmine also found the messages difficult to distinguish too clearly, since the choristers themselves would often get confused and accidentally sing some of the words of their opposite numbers.

Competitive choral work continued until several Ruthenians threatened to slit their wrists. Oliver than intervened, to the joy of all the hungry and thirsty foreigners.

“There’s Kentucky Fried Chicken for everyone!”, he exulted, unconvincingly, while pointing to a mass of plastic boxes and smiling wanly.

An Andalusian looked down, disillusioned, at what he had hoped would be the bounty of a fruitful New World. He then made an error which reminded Carmine of Vase groping towards the Pepsi on his hunt for Framboise.

“At least some drink!”, this son of the Mediterranean exulted, having caught sight of and schlucked a can of root beer before Oliver could warn him of his pathetic blunder.

“Hops swallow different vitamins in American soil”, Carmine explained, as the fellow ate the soda container, thinking the alcohol might be hiding inside. “You’ll soon learn to adjust your vision of Paradise to the contours dictated by availability.”

Actually, Carmine could not tolerate the thought of the guests’ torment. Remembering the Wily Dullards, the paper cups, and their disguised elixir, he rushed to their stronghold to swipe some booze. The Dullards resisted stoutly.

“I’m a conference organizer!”, Carmine proclaimed, testing the extent of their unexpected vigor. “All that you own belongs also to me!”

Someone roused sufficient energy to mouth the words ‘larceny’, and “not traditional”.

Carmine cut him off at the pass.

“The Framers”, he shouted, “wanted it this way!”

The lips contorted as the Dullard was on the verge of calling for help.

“Hamilton!”, the man chanted, collapsing from the exertion without the slightest display of any particular wiliness.

Hands loosened their grip. Carmine grabbed at the booty. Scotch had run out. Hootch was the only item still available in the Dullard stock. Any port in a storm! The don ran off satisfied with his meager booty, only to have a Pregnant Presbyterian confiscate the bottle before arriving back to the Europeans.

“But I got it from the Dullards in the corner!”, Carmine argued.

The Pregnant Presbyterian was unimpressed.

“All I saw there was a paper cup. Besides. Do you think that he would approve?”

The fellow pointed towards a portrait of Rufus King. Carmine had never seen a more obvious lush. But there was no time for Oxonian powers of observation to triumph. God’s agent-on-mission noticed the cigarette dangling from Carmine’s mouth, and plucked the offending weed smartly from its vise.

“Are you certain that you intend to inhabit the Heavenly City?”

Carmine was furious.

“Do these zealots have to be here?”, he demanded of Oliver.

“My Predecessor insisted that both elements of The Glorious Unadulterated and Unchanging Tradition be present. How else could the chemistry that produced the last great hope of Mankind work its peculiar magic?”

Next morning, a resident of the Sanjak of Novi Bazar questioned Carmine about the location. Why had the group been placed in exile? Had it done something wrong? Lord knows that it had been difficult enough getting visas in the first place! Was Washington off limits? Carmine promised to investigate the transportation dilemma. He approached a Wily Dullard reclining on his cot, adulating an image of Benjamin Rush.

“Please don’t get up!”, Carmine greeted. “But how does one get to Washington?”

Tears streamed down the Dullard’s face.

“Washington? Are we moving? Is there a disturbance? Have strangers come onto the block? Must I make a decision? Will I lose my goods, moveable and immovable, if I don’t? I don’t have to meditate, do I? What’s happening? Is something happening? Is this an abstract question? What would the Framers say? Isn’t there a copy of Burke around? Or John Locke? Perhaps I need a drink? Yes, I indeed need a drink. What ever happened to States’ Rights, I ask you?! ”

The Dullard lost consciousness. Carmine resigned himself to speaking with the Pregnant Presbyterians. He left Tradition Hall. Some of the zealots were sitting in the warm autumn sunlight, praising the Lord and the Framers. This took little effort. One simply picked phrases, at random, from Scriptures and the Constitution, mixed lightly, and vocalized the printed word.

“Thank you, Powers that Be”, they chanted, “for giving us typeface!”

“Praise the Written Word!”, their leader shouted to Carmine. “We are so blessed!”

“Jumping Jehosophat! Why?”, Carmine asked, politely.

“Canaanite cookies! Because the Rapture is coming!”

“Soon I will be done with the troubles with the world! When should I expect it?”

“Fire and brimstone! Soon.”

“Shiver me timbers! How do I prepare?”

“By recognizing how meaningless all our works are.”

“Done! Any more exact info?”

“It’ll be the day The Wily Pregnant gives its staff the afternoon off.”

“Caw, blimey! What if it happens in the morning?”

Carmine changed the subject back to transit schedules. He asked for the nearest bus stop.

“By the beard of Seth! Why?”

“Foreskins of the Moabites! To get to Washington, halleluja.”

“Cedars of Lebanon! Whatever for?”

“Amen, amen, so the foreigners can visit.”

“Holy Moses! They’ve come from Sodom to see Gommorah? Haven’t they got God’s Little Acre here at the Wily Pregnant? Smell that country air!”

Carmine did. He lit his entire last remaining pack of cigarettes to purge his lungs of the car fumes, and moved to exit by the main Wily Pregnant gate.

“Through that portal”, the leader insisted, “is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“My eyes are frightfully dry”, Carmine argued in self defense. “And I desperately need dental work on my grinders anyway.”

“Would the baby Jesus have left such a place?”, the leader chastised.

“The baby Jesus grew up”, Carmine reminded him.

A walk past the tire distributor, the muffler replacement center, the gun department store, and a branch of Everything Useless finally brought Carmine face to face with a man standing near a dump on the side of the road.

“Where can I find the bus to the city?”, he asked.

“Here.”

“When does it come?”

“I’ve been waiting a week.”

“It leaves less than once a week?”

“Please, it’s the Cross of the neighborhood. But we’re fighting it, and service should be reduced to less than once a month soon.”

“Keeps the riff raff away?”, Carmine guessed.

“Gideon’s trumpet! Solon and Lycurgus as well.”

“Assyrian toenails! Who wants the common good anyway?”

Carmine returned to the Inn.

“Anything?”, the fanatic inquired, nervously.

“No.”

“Hosanna with Fries! Now you can join us in reciting the Good Books. Haphazardly. Backwards as well as forwards. Even with your lips jutting out, as though you were a jungle bunny.”

Carmine reentered Tradition Hall.

“Do I have to reflect?”, the terrified Wily Dullard asked.

“No”, Carmine reassured him. “The Pregnant ones would spontaneously abort.”

“Well?”, the resident of the Sanjak wondered when Carmine rejoined his party at breakfast. “Is news?”

“Washington is undergoing police action. They’re looking for another Tradition.”

“What do we in such wilderness?, he stuttered.”

Carmine thought of Florida.

“Perhaps you should read Othello. The parts in Cyprus. When he’s on his own. Out from under the control of the Venetian Council. Reduced to relying on his personal merits alone. You may find it quite prophetic for your own future.”

Their dialogue was interrupted by an East Rumelian.

“Is pleasant room!”, she said of Tradition Hall.

Carmine gaped at the innocent abroad. What was her problem? Had she succeeding in pilfering some hootch from the Dullards? Was she practicing her stunted English? Had she been befuddled by a liter or two of imitation maple syrup at table? Or had Oliver’s Predecessor simply chosen his people well?

Actually, it was probably the case that she was merely getting used to the place. For Tradition Hall was not only the refectory and bedroom for the Messengers of Joy. It was also the location of their conference sessions. Everyone was obliged to eat, sleep, and work here. There was literally no time in the program to allow them to move about too great a distance. Each day involved at least thirty lectures alone. They’d never get to see Washington!

“Why so many sessions?”, Carmine asked Oliver.

“My Predecessor wanted the most intellectual improvement that time would allow. ‘Idle hands are the liberals’ workshop’, he declared. He gave me a stop watch to measure the progress by the second. ‘This is America’, he said. ‘So I’m real, real optimistic!’”

“Purgatory and Indulgence!”, Carmine responded. “Did he believe in good works after all?”

“No. Exhaustion. The Unum Necessarium for right reason.”

Participants’ cots folded into desks and chairs during the conference sessions. All faced an imposing stage. A small gallery overlooked the seating. Oliver prepared to repair there.

“Whatever for?”, Carmine wondered.

“I must follow the instructions of my Predecessor to the letter”, Oliver recited, again from memory. “That is one of the absolute givens underlying the liberating Sine Qua Nons. I must ascend to the gallery during the presentations in order to operate the Lecture-Go-Round. Look at the stage.”

It was a half-circle. As Oliver, fixed in the control booth, pulled the lever referred to as the Stifle Stick, the half-circle moved, causing the scene then visible to the audience to disappear, and a new image to take its place.

“There’s so much to hear!”, Oliver lamented. “My Predecessor did not want to take the risk of wasting time having the speakers mounting and dismounting the podium. ‘And what if the questions went on?’, he wondered. ‘There would be disruptive controversy. The Wily Dullards would disintegrate entirely if there were commotion. And the Pregnant Presbyterians think that Reason’s a whore already’.”

Dice had been thrown to determine which school would provide the speaker for the keynote address which was so crucial to the Conference's meaning: “How About Them Framers?!”. The Wily Dullards had won the existential toss.

Their first candidate had been Billion of Wuckley, editor of The Fatuous Review. It would undoubtedly have been a real coup having Billion attend and speak. But the dullard wisdom of The Fatuous Review placed all of its staff in the greatest demand. Traditionalists sympathetic to its viewpoints invited the editors to reenactments of the high points of their respective cities’ Traditions from all four corners of the globe. Billion himself had recently done yeoman service, representing the journal at the Roman Forum, where Fatuophilic merchants commemorated the forthright continuation of market trading during the sack of the Urbs by the Visigoths in 410. News of his appearance reached Provence, which, as a loyal servant of late Rome, refused to be outdone. Billion was called straight from the Eternal City to Arles, to be present at the ceremonies recalling that sixth century rhetorical contest in which the Ciceronian orations against Catiline had thrilled the assembled townsmen as barbarians ransacked their noble polis. How glorious for The Fatuous Review to have its editor present when the memory of the victorious rhetorician was evoked! The one crowned with the laurel wreath! Which the Burgundians generously allowed to remain on his head, even after sticking his entire noggin on a pole and parading with it through the devastated thoroughfares of the once thriving metropolis.

Yes, Billion and his staff were in great demand, and his appearance would have been the stuff on which legends are solidly constructed. Unfortunately, being, at heart, of stable, eighteenth century English Whiggish heritage, he ultimately realized that he had to abandon his wanderings and go to tend his own garden. The invitation was rejected. But this was no disaster. T. Buck Angloman, a Wily Dullard activist, came in his place.

T. Buck’s prestige in these circles was very great, due both to his descent from sixteen different participants in the Constitutional Convention, as well as the autobiography-cum-history of the Conservative Movement that he had published a few years before: Even This I Can Still Occasionally Remember. Carmine had only vaguely heard of the man, and had certainly not read his book. He awaited T. Buck’s appearance, therefore, with a kind of mild enthusiasm. Surely, the old warhorse would pepper his venerable presentation with anecdotes useful in future cocktail party conversations.

Alas! The old warhorse turned out to be a self-geriatrophied Bucephalus, whose sole accoutrement was a pair of blinders. Instead of the aged sage, whose wise counsels the intelligent would spontaneously follow, there appeared on stage a man in his late 20’s, who mumbled, stuttered, labored with his jaws and extremities, and stumbled about like an octogenarian. Moreover, his imitation of senility in his thinking process was peerless. A Wily Dullard choir greeted his arrival with sedated joy.

Practical and Peaceful Framers,

Handed down the Best!

No more worry! No more scurry!

Drink and eat and Rest! Rest!! Rest!!!

“How About Them Framers?!” had a number of basic points, the first of which concerned the Framers’ love for unchanging Tradition. By God, they loved Tradition! And why? Because they loved the Common Man. Common Sense. Common Aspirations. Common Judgments. And Tradition, after all, was the sum total of these Commonalities. Their Gross Common Product.

“No Change”, T. Buck said, in his homespun style; in his Common Rhetoric. “Not like them wacko liberals! Everything just like daddy had. Around 1776. As understood in 1920. Or 1950. Or whenever you was growing up and couldn’t imagine anything else. No Change. Just common sense livin’. Real practical like. No change! That’s what makes the down home folk happy. Calm. Quiet. Real quiet. Yup. And that’s what Tradition’s all about. And that’s why the Framers loved it. So’s everybody could stay real quiet like and take care of his own garden. Like our boy Billion. Greatest practical fighters for Tradition the world has ever knowed, them Framers was!”

T. Buck almost dozed off, in gratitude for the calm guaranteed him by the Framers. But this was no time for sleep. There was work to do. He had to show the audience exactly how the Framers protected their people from tradition-altering change. And how did they do so? Through Preservation. T. Buck fixed his blinders back in place before speaking again.

“You name it—they preserved it!”, he then exulted. “No change. They just followed the standin’ orders comin’ down that ol’ historical pike. Now that’s what I call Common Sense. That’s what I call handin’ down what the home folks want.”

The Framers had indeed—as the rest of T. Buck’s speech indicated—preserved a great deal. Christianity and Deism. Spiritualism and Materialism. Naiveté and Machiavellianism. All had been conserved carefully by the Framers for future generations to spread on toast as the winds of change threatened to buffet the little house on the prairie on cold winter mornings. No telling when one or the other might come in handy to prevent disastrous upheavel! And why cause turmoil by refusing to cherish the raspberry jam along with the marmalade? Even personal antinomies had been preserved by the Framers in their love for keeping alive everything that, at one time or another, the Common Man had wanted. The Framers were, at once, both short and tall; bushy haired and bald; rich and poor; audacious and prudent. Apocrypha inevitably enters into the lives of great men. T. Buck candidly admitted that there was no truth to the rumor that they could bilocate. But their ability to time travel was a given. And contemporaries reported that they could sweat without leaving a trace. Experts were still divided over their responsibility for the invention of solitaire and bridge. Yes, indeed. Confessors of the widest traditional values in their drab, provincial, unimpassioned, tobacco-stained, linsey-woolsey lives, the Framers were the High Priests of Continuity. Marching to the tune of “The World Turned Upside Down”, they had succeeded in preserving everything. They were the Framers of all the Traditions.

“So rest quiet like, folks”, T. Buck counseled willing Dullard ears. “And don’t trouble yourselves s too much ‘bout nothin’. Remember. Them Framers done passed down all the thinkin’ thoughts everybody done done before them. Ain’t nothin’ left to think ‘cept Framer thoughts. They got it all. Give up the Framers? Know whatcha get? A liberal Tower ‘o’ Babel. Before you know it, them liberals’ll be shouting from the tower top. Callin’ in the State. Tellin’ you guys to make things change, different like from what you got right this second. Give up your property, even. Any problems with Framer thought? If there could be? Which there can’t? Know what the real answer would be to that? More Framin’.”

T. Buck looked at his watch. It was time for a snack. A quiet one. With hours to digest. Slowly. And, besides. He’d been on stage for ten minutes already. Tradition showed that such a lengthy performance might tax the patience of the Common Man. The People could become disturbed. Fall prey to Agitators and Ideologues who’d raise import and export duties. Increase the size of the Civil Service. And speak of governmental action. T. Buck might then be tossed into Chesapeake Bay by phony Indians! It was time for a new speaker. To prevent such disastrous change from taking place before his very eyes. Moreover, poor Buck was overwhelmed by his intellectual achievement, and fearful that it would detract from the glory of the Framers themselves. He signaled Oliver to pull the Stifle Stick. The Lecture-Go-Round moved into operation. T. Buck faded, stage right.

His place was taken by a Pregnant Presbyterian minister, Preacher Increase “Tremble by Yourself” Depravity, thirteenth in a line of clergymen from a family that had arrived with the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower. The Preacher, like Billion of Wuckley, also edited a journal, One Thing, illustrating his primary concern for the Union of God and America. He stood atop an artificial mountain erected on the stage, imitating Charlton Heston. His silent, devoted assistant, Johnny-Cracker Nuthouse, accompanied him, holding an umbrella over his head.

“The Lord gave the Word!”, the Preacher sang, accompanied by a lovely tuning fork, made from the most precious of synthetic materials.

“Great was the company of the Framers!”, the Pregnant Presbyterian choir responded, moving straight into a more elaborate Hymn of Welcome:

Framers! Framers! Lion Tamers!

Smot the men of sin!!

Took those popes and social folks,

And tossed them in the bin!!

Preacher Depravity and Johnny Cracker descended dramatically from his Sinai.

“Thus, saith the Lord your God!”, Depravity thundered.

The Lord spoke of Tradition, which was the gist of His Law, handed down trustingly to the Framers, who preserved it with the same enthusiasm with which they maintained all the other manifold wishes expressed along the highway traveled by the Common Man. Preacher Depravity announced the source of God’s teaching. It wasn’t the Councils. Not the Fathers of the Church. Nor papal pronouncements. Or anything else that could be confirmed in the local library. It wasn’t even Scripture. Not really. Ultimately, it was Scripture illuminated by private revelation. Maybe even the inspiration of a single, gifted, Common Man, who might be bopped over the head with it at any moment. Sometimes even over breakfast. If the foods used at the table were domestic ones.

“Praise the Lord!”, Preacher Depravity bellowed. “His Spirit bloweth where it will. Though it generally comes from Battle Creek. With the cheerios.”

Preacher Depravity quoted a gripping, dramatic monologue of God—which had been delivered to him just the other day, while he was unfolding the breakfast napkin—from charismatic memory.

“’Hey there, Depravity’”, God had begun. “’Hold onto your hat. Here’s one for you. Here’s a good one! Here’s what I whispered into the Framers’ ears, down in Philadelphia, during that hot summer, in 1787. So they could get out fast and not stink the meeting hall up. Here’s what I whispered to my blessed Framers. And it was the same message I’d whispered to their parents and grandparents since the very earliest beginnings of Tradition in 1517.

“’Preserve my People, I said. Keep them really well preserved. Keep them so well preserved that they won’t do anything I wouldn’t want them to. Preserve my People. You here?

“’And then I told them how to preserve my People. Framers, I said. I have made a Free Investment in my Creation. Totally without governmental restraint. And not that you slobs deserved it. After what you did? Back in the Garden? Forget about it! But don’t let me get started. Now, Preacher, what was I saying? Oh. Yes. My Free Investment.

“’Anyway—I said to the Framers—what do I ask of you dung heaps in return for what I’ve done? Interest? Principal? Why, I don’t ask you to do anything. Good works? Don’t make me laugh! You think I’d want your cheap trash? What would I do with it? Store it on Neptune? Why, I wouldn’t even show the garbage to Beelzebub. No. I’m telling you right here and now that nothing you do counts. Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing! Zilch! Blotto! Big fat zero! Preacher Depravity! More toast!

“’But back to the main point. What could anybody do with the mess you freaks made out of the Garden? Oh, you tried once. Ha-ha! Oh, I know all about that, don’t I? Ha-ha! What a joke! Art. Music. Philosophy. City States. Holy Roman Empires and such. Oh, Lordie, I know all about that. Ha-ha! You thought you could beat the rap by thinking? Organizing? Sorting things out? Did you now?

“’Well, let me tell you this. You were even scummier acting together than each on his own. That’s precisely why I told you people to cut out from that Old World. That fleshpot of scummy social activity. Right? Go to God’s Country, I told you. Right? You think I said that for my health? Oh, no! Preacher Depravity! Where was I? More coffee! De-caff.

“’No. Not for my health. I sent you to God’s Country for your own sake. To build my kingdom. By doing nothing valuable. Transforming nothing. Thinking nothing. Ad majorem Nothing gloria! I didn’t want to hear any more talk about fixing up this composte heap of a planet. That’s why I wanted you out of Europe fast.

“’And that’s why I want this meeting in Philadelphia finished. I don’t want those empty little noodles thinking too much. Reason? Ha! City of Brotherly Love? You want me to choke with laughter? Community? For what? I already told you! For nothing!

“’Look. Each of you is on his own. You get it? O.K. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that you’ll need to cooperate sometimes. But for what purpose? Just to make sure that nobody tries to prevent you from being on your own, or tries to stir you up to do something positive. You get it? Fine. Just remember that when you do get together to do something, you’re nothing different from what you were before you started. Insignificant little twerps. On your own. Accidentally working in unison. To build nothing. O.K.? Are we sure we’ve got it straight?

“’Now. On to another point. What are you going to do, each by yourself, on your own, to fill up your time when you’re doing nothing that can please me or make life better? Look. Accepting praise is the name of my game. And being obeyed. So I want to some praising and obedience action. But don’t expect a prize for it. I’ll give you Heaven only if I feel like it, boys. Gratis. Without any work on your part. Now that’s what I call profit sharing! If my Son’s sacrifice doesn’t have market value for those who can cash in the chips, I don’t know what has. But let me warn you again. It’s only if I feel like it. Everything you ‘do’ has jackass written all over it. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.

“’But, aside from praising and obeying me for no reward at all, what else are you going to do? What the hell do I care? You think that concerns me? Makes any difference? Give me a break! I’m sure that each of you will invent new paths to perdition no matter what I tell you. That’s really all you’re good at. So go ahead, do what you want. Wait, here’s a point! Are you really looking for suggestions to fill up your time? Really? Not just something to babble on about in your tedious rambling way? I’ll tell you what you can do. You might tell those idiots across the seas to stop putzin’ around, trying to figure out and fix up this dump of a globe. Sure, you’re weak now. So back off. Do your exercises. And when you’re strong? Go for ‘um! Sic ‘um! Get ‘um when they’re down! There’s a deal for you! Up with the New World, down with the Old! Teach them the value of living to achieve nothing!

“’But I’ve had enough. Good-bye. Call me up again when you need another epiphenomenon.’”

Carmine’s mind was ablaze. T. Buck had spoken of Framers who unthinkingly collected traditional chaff with traditional wheat, and wanted nothing better than a communal snooze. Preacher Depravity had presented a Framing Milieu in which God had instructed the Framing Heroes to defend Tradition by destroying many of its existing forms. By Dismantling community. Unleashing perverse individuality. Promoting world revolution. This message was pregnant indeed. And probably fed by some wild fertility drug. Was it shredded wheat? The vitamin pill? The morning pop-tart? Who knew what this pregnancy was capable of producing! Especially if somebody took the substance of the inspiration and told the irritating Deity responsible for it to get lost. It certainly would disturb even the deepest sleeper’s most sound nap.

But, look there. Preacher Depravity did indeed share the same tired blood that coursed through T. Buck’s veins after all. And, in fact, they were closely related. Cousins. Inbred. Revolutionary though the Preacher might logically be, his slowly trickling juices still, in practice, ruled the intellectual roost, telling him that he, too, needed a snack, that highest of spiritual goods. With time for digestion. And a chance to allow the godly Framers’ glory to shine forth uncontested.

Oliver pulled the Stifle Stick a second time. One more figure appeared on the podium. It was Professor Hush.

Professor Hush was an enigma. He gave an hour’s talk on Platonic, Aristotelian, Roman, and medieval Christian political theory. He spoke of the capabilities of the individual as well as his flaws. Of the need to build a unified society. One in which the search for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful played the most important role. He spoke of the horrors of a world founded upon mundane aspirations and personal passions, played one against the other. Not to speak of the evil of idolizing a given political system and its leaders. And then he praised the Framers for obviously creating the best possible setting for such demands to be met.

“That’s the Tradition they supported”, Professor Hush maintained. “Without any shadow of the slightest doubt. And thank God for us that they did.”

Carmine couldn’t believe his ears. This was so different from the first two talks. What was he to make of it? Fortunately, a panel discussion was beginning, with all three speakers now on stage, together. Perhaps there would be a chance for clarification? Someone had to start the ball rolling. And Carmine was very pleased to do so, because he had many, many questions.

“Good sir!”, Carmine called out to T. Buck Angloman.

“Hey!”, T. Buck responded, resigned to more labor. “We’re down home folk here, boy! Kick your feet up!”

Carmine quickly got into the Common Spirit.

“Y’all protectin’ Tradition, critter?”

“Stands by my Framers, I do”, T. Buck reaffirmed. “Why, we got Traditions by the barrel. At least two, for the price of one. What’s on your mind ‘bout Tradition, boy?”

“Hey, ol’ possum! Any difference between the Framers and them French fellers? The ones actin’ up ‘bout the same time?”

T. Buck was in his element.

“Differences! Do I see differences?”, he laughed. “Whoooeee! Are there differences between night and day? Black and white? Up and down? North and south? Boy, them Frenchies was enemies of the ‘ol Plantation! Enemies of Tradition! That’s why they started changin’ things in 1789, killin’ them down home folks and wreckin’ the pumpkin patch!”

Carmine was somewhat relieved. Then it was not the case that the Framers really preserved everything, literally. They’d been smart enough to bypass the Eighteenth Century. Perhaps it was just the exuberance of T. Buck’s rhetoric which had confused him. He decided to sum up his pleasure, so that T. Buck could leave the stage and collapse into the nearest easy chair.

“Thanks, dude! You done eased my mind. Lucky we live in this country. Where folks know they need the ‘ol Plantation. And have somebody up there in the Big House. Guidin’ them ‘taters to grow. So’s we all knows and does what’s right. So’s we watch out for one’nuther. So’s we get help. So’s we can get better and better.”

There was trouble in the cabbage patch. God was about to seed it. With the chaff of “traditional” individualism. Customary atomism. And a time-honored sense of depravity. Along the Preacher’s lines after all. For, suddenly, Mr. Greenjeans became serious. Adjusted his blinders. Took some feed. And began making distinctions.

“Did I say that, guy? No-sir-ee, I did not! Y’all think the Framers was like them French madmen? Heh-heh! Y’all see the Framers talkin’ ‘bout the Plantation and its leaders ‘buildin ‘character’? Do ya? No’ y’all don’t! Start talkin’ bout that, boy, and before you know it, you got them Robespierres, and they’re buildin’ character with a guillotine!”

“But, feller”, Carmine retorted, somewhat agitated. “What’s Tradition to be used for? Come on, guy. Straight out. In simple like talk.”

“Why, boy, I told you what it’s for. It’s to help common folk. And preserve common ways. We got Tradition so we can help the down home folk do what they always done: watch out for themselves. On their own. With no revenoors comin’ round, lookin’ at the moonshine, tellin’um what’s good for’um and what ain’t. That’s what common folks has always wanted. The only thing they’ve wanted from their neighbor. And common folks knows what’s best for themselves. Let’um do what they want. That’s what the Tradition says. And that’s what we’ve got it for.”

“But that’s not Tradition”, Carmine screeched. “That’s radical Enlightenment thought. Indebted to Calvinism, to boot!”

T. Buck must have gone to Peripihery. Or New Atlantis. He didn’t understand the references. He gaped around him at nothing in particular, awaiting further illumination.

“On the one hand, it’s a sell out to a mediocrity that underestimates what men are capable of”, Carmine clarified. “On the other, it’s a invitation to indulgence in wild passions. Great men in the past knew that individuals go mad on their own. Or lose sight of their own merits. Of what they can build. They’ve got to be lifted up. Through community. Sursum corda! Otherwise, everything falls apart. Mos maiorum! Reverentia! Temperentia! Disciplina! Honor and glory to the res publica! That’s the real Tradition. In politics at least.”

T. Buck could barely believe how wrong Carmine was. He explained why. He showed how anyone who had ever wanted Tradition to triumph had, ipso facto, wanted it the Framer way. The results were extraordinary. Aristotle became a Calvinist. Cicero was transmuted into Hobbes. King Louis IX and Jeremy Bentham were blood brothers. United through the Framers. Carmine abandoned his objections as Ulpian and Cotton Mather lay down to copulate together. Just to shut T. Buck up.

“O.K., guy”, he agreed. “The common folks can build the Plantation like they wants. If that’s what the Framers say.”

Thin ice was everywhere. T. Buck was kind enough to prevent Carmine from falling through. He reminded the don that he was dealing with people who wanted nothing more than absolute tranquility.

“Now, just hold your horses, boy! Did I say that? Whatever could you be meanin’? You a liberal, feller? Why, you talk like you just been doin’ and you be stirrin’ up them there preversions that rip the down home folks’ hearts apart!”

“But you just told me that people should be allowed to do what they want.”

“Hey, boy, you ain’t a baby, are y’all? You got no Common Sense? You just gotta draw some lines, boy. That’s where the Framers was different from them crazy Froggies. Old Frog wants to build his ‘Republic of Virtue’. You don’t see the Framers talkin’that. Framers ain’t no Frogs. They was talkin’ practical. Pragmatic. That’s the word, boy. Praaaaaaaaaaaaaaagmatic! They knew them down home folks wasn’t no angels. Framers knew that. ‘Give the folks a little room’, they said. ‘To make a little moonshine’. But that’s all the Framers was talkin’ bout. Just a little room for a little moonshine. That’s Common Sense. But they didn’t want them down home devils up to mischief, playin’round with the shape of the Plantation. Lordie knows what they’d come up with!”

“The Framers thought that people could be bad?”

“Come on, guy! Didn’t you hear the Preacher? Of course they thought people was bad! Bad, bad, bad! They was realists. Praaaaaaaaaaaagmattic. That’s the word. Pragmatic. Bad, bad, bad! They knew nobody’s up to no good. How else could they have built this beautiful country of ours, unless they knew that there’s nobody good in it?”

“But if they thought the down home folks was evil, then they must’of thought the ‘ol Plantation could do somethin’ to guide’um.”

T. Buck shook his head.

“There you go, boy, flyin’ right back into ol’ Frog’s hands. You build guillotines for a livin’ boy? Use your Common Sense. Com-mon Sense!”

Carmine was losing sight of common decency.

“I don’t understand! Who’s going to restrain the millions of little monsters running around, if the plantation authorities don’t do it? And how do you stop them from getting uppity? Or pressure them to do something good? If they can’t do good, the bad will find some way to win out and wreck things in the end, anyway. That’s anti-quiet. Anti-calm. Anti-every Tradition yearning for true order. The Plantation will fall apart, I tell you. Without a vision of the Good, the people perish!””

“Good? Vision? Good? What you talkin’bout, boy? You think the down home folks is good? I thought you believed in God, boy! You an atheist? You one of them Commies? I thought they was dyin’out, and now I got one right in front of me! Some high falutin’ liberal Commie comes up with somethin’ he thinks is good, and then he buys your guillotines. Right? Y’all in it together?”

T. Buck became firm.

“Well, let me tell you, we don’t need any high falutin’ ideas, boy. We’re God fearin’ folk. We just want a little room to make some moonshine. And what you mean ‘bout us not havin’ any Vision? Why, we got more vision than everybody put together! Just depends where you lookin’ for vision. And what you call vision. You just look round here today and you’ll see our vision. And it won’t be tied up with any of your Eye-dee-ah-lo-gee.”

“But the Plantation had to start out with ideas that came from somewhere. Forget about ideology. Just some ideas. Where’d they come from? Where’d Common Sense come from? It must be based on something? I mean people disagree with it. There are ways to oppose it. There must be some way to defend it. Using ideas. Where’d they come from?”

A look of honest bewilderment transformed T. Buck’s face. The question had never crossed his mind.

“Where’d they come from?”, Carmine asked, pressing what he thought to be his undeniable advantage. “Where’d they come from? Do you really think that everybody automatically understands things the way that you do? About God? About individuals? And their abilities? Where’d the ideas come from?”

T. Buck remembered the answer! In fact, he had, by now, forgotten what confused him in the first place. He slapped his knee and roared with laughter, thus signifying a return to the Wisdom of the Framers.

“You thick, boy? The ideas are just there. They are just there! And they stay there. They’re basic. Basic Common Sense. A basic sense of fairness. Common Sense. Basic fairness. COM-MON SENSE. C-O-M-M-O-N S-E-N-S-E. You see now, don’t you? The ideas, they just be there, so long as ol’Frog and his crazy men don’t come in and drug you up. They just there, cause down home folks wants ‘um to stay there. Just there. They don’t change. If you leave people alone. You talkin’ Commie talk again? ‘Bout ideas? Preachin’ atheism again? It’s Common Sense, I tell you. Good ol’ C-O-M-M-O-N S-E-N-S-E. Practical. Praaaaaaaaaaaaaagmatic. Come on, boy. You want to encourage Eye-dee-ah-lo-gee? You want trouble? You want guillotines, that’s what you want! And me? I want what my Framers wanted: a Plantation small and silly enough that the people can make moonshine and not bother theyselves ‘bout thinkin’.”

“And if you meet up with a big, un-funny Plantation? Where people are logical? And work together? And what if some moonshine makers who think a few thoughts decide to define your Common Sense differently. What happens then?”

“Hey, boy! Don’t you go hardenin’ your heart ‘gainst the Wisdom of the Framers. Common Sense and fairness takes care of everythin’ on their own. And that is it! Now, I is tired. I can’t listen to nothing that ain’t pragmatic, and you ain’t pragmatic. You can talk all you like to the Preacher. It’s his job to deal with men of sin.”

Carmine turned to plumb the depths of Depravity.

“Good sir!”, he called out.

“Praise the Text!”, the Preacher responded. “What the Hades do you want?”

“You in favor of Tradition?”

“Hey! Is Cotton Mather Puritan?”

“Hate the French Revolution?”

“Did Joshua fit the battle of Jerico?”

“The Enlightenment?”

“Does General Motors hate foreign imports?”

He even gave a gesture to ward off the Evil Eye.

Carmine was somewhat relieved. Then it was not the case that the Framers had really preserved the atomistic, anti-social world that the Preacher seemed to indicate as God’s Traditional gift to mankind. Perhaps it was just the exuberance of the rhetoric of Depravity which had confused him. Carmine summed up his pleasure, so that the minister could leave the stage and rest.

“I’m so happy to hear that you, at least, reject the Age of Reason. And its attack on authority.”

Uh, oh. Trouble.

“Whose authority?”, the Preacher asked.

“Well, that of the community. Man is a creature who grows and perfects himself in a community. Which itself needs authority.”

The Preacher again warded off the Evil Eye. He pointed out to Carmine the grand scale of his error. Carmine really did not need the details of his explanation. He had himself read Walden Pond and Self Reliance, though, admittedly, without biblical references. For the radicalism contained in those works was retained by the Preacher intact. But backed with all the support of the Macchabees. Queen Esther. Mordechai. The Kings of Israel and Judah. Judges. Deuteronomy. And a host of prophets and bits of Wisdom Literature as well.

Carmine didn’t want to let the Preacher get off easily. But he failed to reckon with the wily influence of the Dullard blood that he shared in common with T. Buck. This now reminded the cleric that he, too, needed a nap. And that all the talk of logic was boring. Valueless. Without import. Definitely non pragmatic. Depraved interpretations of Leviticus needed no defense. They would be protected from their inevitable side effects by that Basic Sense of Fairness which even the Common Sense of the Devil would recognize to be inviolable.

Only Professor Hush remained on stage. Carmine turned to him, and with some confidence. After all, the man’s vision differed significantly from that of T. Buck and the Preacher.

“Doesn’t there seem to be a contrast between what you said about politics and the beliefs of the Framers as described by your colleagues?”, Carmine invited.

A professorial finger raised to his lips.

“Hush!”, he commanded.

Carmine was taken aback. He tried again.

“Isn’t there an exalted character to your vision of man and society that’s missing in the picture of the Framers presented by T. Buck and the Preacher?”

“Hush!”, the professor ordered.

Carmine persisted.

“You don’t like the atomism and factionalism they expect and encourage, do you?”

“Hush!”

Carmine radioed Oliver.

“Which school does this guy belong to?”, he asked.

“A truly traditional one.”

“Which is?”

“He’s one of the Fools.”

Carmine bucked up. He had had experience with this type. And often was one himself. He questioned the Idiot anew.

“Don’t you…”.

Professor Hush left the stage to apply adhesive tape to Carmine’s lips.

“Please”, he cautioned, sottovoce. “Do not speak the way you do. What if the enemies of the Framers were to hear? Liberals? Communists? Madmen? What would become of those precious little remnants of our Tradition that they so nobly encourage? Why, they would disappear entirely. Our view of life would be wrecked. Forever! Where would we be, then? At least here, where the Common Man is appreciated, we have the chance to nurture a part of the Truth in our own gardens. So long as we silently leave everyone else alone to pursue their different paths. Truth and Silence form the blessed union guaranteeing perpetual Order. That which the Framers joined together, let no mere mortal put asunder!”

“Ah, let’em talk!”, a refreshed T. Buck said, walking up to Carmine and ripping the tape off his lips. “Down home folks all think he’s nuts anyway. Too obscure. Bores the hell out of ‘um with all this history hoo-ha. Ain’t practical. Or pragmatic. This thinkin’ business gets in the way of making moonshine.”

A morning’s lectures and panel discussions had quite enfeebled Carmine. And his lips, still burning from the application and swift removal of a strip of adhesive tape, begged earnestly for refreshment. But there was no coddling on the grounds of the Wily Dullard Pregnant Presbyterian Inn. Twenty-seven more speakers followed one another in rapid succession, each more active and optimistic than the next. Snacks of salt, sugar, essence of fat, and diet soda were taken, periodically, during the course of the afternoon and evening, even as the lectures continued. They were served on the plate of one’s kneecaps, and removed as swiftly as the dishes of diners at the Hofburg when Franz Josef had finished his own entrée.

“I know my weakness, and I hate to be a pest”, Carmine panted to Oliver, “but a glass of some passable wine would really hit the spot.”

Oliver threw up his hands in exasperation.

“Don’t you ever give up? What were the chances of finding a Chianti after stepping onto Plymouth Rock? You’ve seen the neighborhood. Where could you get it? Is it any wonder they think the world’s wicked? And my Predecessor set this up as an officially ‘dry’ conference anyway. He didn’t want participants distracted by frivolities. Still, you know what the Dullards are secretly up to. I think there might yet be some of that vile hair tonic that they keep under their cots for when the Hootch and Scotch run out.”

Carmine despaired. He and Oliver’s Predecessor obviously had developed opposing definitions of frivolities and necessities.

By midnight, the lectures ended.

“Bed!”, Carmine rejoiced.

“Discussion groups!”, Oliver corrected. “My Predecessor insisted upon at least an hour’s display of that creativity which must, per forza, emerge from the intellectual development made possible only through the freedom and happiness and harmonious order provided within the framework of the Unadulterated American Tradition.”

Six different settings for a more intimate development of the manifold fruits of free, ordered Tradition were now prepared for the half-dead conference participants. Easy chairs were scattered in six clumps around Tradition Hall. Makeshift hearths were rolled next to them. Plastic logs burned electrically behind their grills. A quilt was placed above each hearth.

“Our Happy Home!”, it gushed. “May the Lord God, Our Framers, and Basic Common Sense Preserve It!”

Wily Dullards seemed especially pleased with the arrangements, their deadening joy so strong as to rub off even on a large number of the more Presbyterian minded of their Pregnant brethren. Many Dullards lumbered over to the fauteuils, collapsing into their promise, while those left standing rested their hands upon the chair backs. T. Buck Angloman wandered amongst the domesticated, rewarding each for his exertion with a tumblerful of disguised moonshine, and reminding anyone betraying the slightest touch of élan vital just how immeasurable exhausted he really was.

“Framers! Framers!”, the two choirs intoned in common.

“Framers! Framers! Praise the Lord and the Common Man!”, everyone, Dullard and Presbyterian alike, responded.

But problems hindering the free and ordered development of Tradition immediately announced themselves, even en famille, within the circles of the various Happy Homes.

For one thing, there was still much bad blood between those Dullards who considered the Pregnant Presbyterians to be fanatically energetic, and that faction of the zealots despising the penchant of the Wily ones for hidden booze and heaven knows what other secret vices. Moreover, the vast bulk of both schools of thought were so suspicious of Reason and of one another as to block them from productive speech and social contact. Even if the Dullards had had the energy to converse, all will was lacking. And the average Presbyterian was too weak from counting up the commas in the Book of Joshua to succumb to whatever residual temptation to engage in communal dialogue might trouble him. T. Buck actually distributed earmuffs to snuff out the sound of any throat clearing that might accidentally be mistaken for a premise or judgment requiring some sort of response.

Ordered development of intellect and creativity also seemed threatened by the introduction of novices and foreigners into the Happy Homes. Many Wily Dullards and Pregnant Presbyterians stared angrily at these potential Troublemakers as they stood, hesitantly, around the beckoning hearths. The fears of the natives were all too obvious. How else to describe the precautions that they took before finally admitting the catechumens to the club? The friskings? The stethescopes? The appearance of a dental hygenist, to examine the newcomers’ fillings for concealed signs of disease? How else to account for the stern song of warning chanted by the Pregnant Presbyterian choir?

We have no King, but God on high!

You foreign scum, who once did try,

To scale the Heavens, fell like Tsars,

The Lord alone can reach the stars!

Still further obstacles to fruitful maturation of the free, Unchangeable Tradition appeared when all were united within the precincts of the six Happy Homes. None of the foreigners, as Carmine had already determined, knew much English. The American novices couldn’t speak the language properly either, or even remember what it was called. But, worst of all, once an East Frisian actually did break the ice, asking for a toilet, several of the more energetic among the Pregnant, who were eager for conversions, gradually engaged in the semblance of a real dialogue in sign language. The movement of their fingers shattered the peace of the normal Dullards, while the average Presbyterians took it to be a secret diabolical code. Something intellectual and creative, modest though it might be, was actually happening! The eyes of both the peasant and zealot Adams rolled in circles in disapproval.

“Framers! Framers!”, the unengaged Dullards begged, eager for enlightenment as to what to do next. “Scum! Scum! Reason’s a whore!”, the anti-dialogue Pregnant horde joined in. Portraits quaked on all the walls, rocking the establishment to its very foundations, leaving cracks and even gaping holes in several locations.

Measures clearly had to be taken. Discussion could make the conference participants realize what a motley crew they were. There would be expressions of an emotional divisiveness. In the midst of this, some of these closet atomists might begin to reason, take logic to its conclusions, and actually do what they damn well felt like doing. Worse still, others might resolve their differences. Do something to try to improve the world. State power would surely grow in consequence. There would be interference with making moonshine. Easy chair values might decline precipitously.

Carmine heard further rumbles behind him in the wake of the first major tremor. He looked over his shoulder. Funny. A huge trunk stood in the corner of Tradition Hall, next to one of the cavernous holes blown out of the side. He ambled over to investigate.

“Do not open”, a label on the lock said. “At least not until cracks appear in the walls of the Inn.”

Good a time as any, Carmine admitted to himself, undoing the latch and rummaging through the contents.

An instant lottery ticket offered itself for inspection. Carmine took out a coin to rub the card with its edge to see if he had won. Nope. Typical. Lost again.

He stuck his head back into the chest. Inside it lay a volume containing a host of writings of medieval heretics, texts from the Enlightenment, and photographs of inbred Saxons trying to make heads or tails of them. Acting on a whim, Carmine rubbed a page with the coin’s edge anew. The ink began to disappear. Cheap, he thought, but interesting in its consequences. For underneath the book in question lay the Constitution of the United States and the Federalist Papers! Intrigued, Carmine scratched on another page containing exactly the same material, with the Saxons replaced by a group of more thoughtful, though dangerous looking continental types. Here, he came upon the foundation charter of New Atlantis, descriptions of the Creative Process, and the work of the Helpers! His curiosity by now fully awakened, Carmine scraped with his coin at the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. He gasped anew. Just below the surface lay a picture of one perchild battling another, and precise directions for getting to the Vision Center! A final rub, this time on the New Atlantis charter, yielded an equally startling result: a portrait of a chuckling James Madison holding blueprints for the control of the consequences of the Fragmented Fruits!

Rumbles had pulled Carmine’s attention away from the intellectual developmental workshops in Tradition Hall. But rumbles now redirected his interest back to the Happy Homes, and with good reason. For the strangest of scenes lay before him in them. His fears regarding the application of logic to individualism had proven to be accurate, but in a totally unexpected fashion. Some of the Pregnant Presbyterians were doing what their name indicated they some day might. They were finally giving birth! New forms were appearing from the heads of those exuberant activists who had thought through their principles and begun to initiate a dialogue with the others.

“I’m fed up with this evil shit”, Carmine heard one of them sputtering. “Enough is enough. Who can believe it for any length of time anyway? So it’s just me and God is it? Well, so long, partner! I’ve had it with you and your fruitless demands! I’m making it on my own from now on. With you off my back, there’s nothing to stop me.”

“I’m with you!”, a second chimed in, as he lifted his foot from out of another Presbyterian cranium in labor. “If we’re talking individualism and assault on authority, I’m taking mine straight up. Once you tell this Despotic Deity and his Commandments to get lost, the sky’s the limit. Time to really ‘reach for the stars’! There’s help for people like us to get a fresh start, too. You know where we can go? To New Atlantis! They’re helping newly liberated people with our special needs. Shall we?”

A second, much more thorough-going quake hit the premises. The rebels were blown out of the Wily Pregnant, taking a number of foreigners, American novices and the nose of a Dullard with them. Carmine, too, got caught up in the blast. Luckily, he did not get carried all the way to the Vision Center, but landed just outside the grounds of the Inn.

Now, outdoor life had never been Carmine’s forte. He had gone camping but once. It had proved to be impossible to light the fire with sticks, as infallible Tradition demanded. Monsters of unclear species had emerged from the glen, necessitating flight inside a vermin infested tent. The dysentry which Carmine and his ill-advised friends contracted in drinking from a contaminated pond matured while the beasts neighed and scraped at the tent with their manifold claws. Eventually, the campers had stood up inside their primitive domicile, excavated its moorings, and walked, painfully, out of the woods, panzered by this unlikely and humiliating canvas. Carmine had promised himself that his next stay under the stars would be for his interrment.

Conservatism made him revise his assessment. For even the wilderness was preferable to the Wily Dullard Pregnant Presbyterian Inn. He spent the next two days and nights outside, scraping roots and beetles from the underbrush for his meager nourishment. Still, undeniable problems began to surface. Atomistic problems. Carmine began to dribble. To toss rocks into the air and catch them on his ears. To imitate bug speech. To scratch his kneecaps with the nails of his big toes. In short, life in the American Wilderness was causing him to lose what little was left of his mind.

Curiosity saved Carmine’s Reason, and, simultaneously, overcame his aversion to the Inn. For by Thursday, the bustle in and about the precincts of the Wily Pregnant had become exceptional. More conference participants had left and then returned, repeatedly. Strangers had arrived along with them on each reentry. It was all so mysterious that Carmine could not help but give in to the temptation to penetrate the facility anew.

Change had hit the Happy Homes of Unchangeable Tradition.

For one thing, the room’s atmosphere had become frenzied. Most conference participants, from both schools of Framing and from amongst the novices and foreigners as well, darted hither and thither, without a pause for breath, as though dancing. Indeed, the most enthusiastic of the lot had even donned tutus. Oh, it seemed, at first glance, so charmant; so terribly gemütlich!

But why? Was it The Rapture after all? Carmine checked his watch. Nope. Afternoon already. And The Wily Pregnant staff was still at work. Maybe the food was responsible? Perhaps the meals had unexpectedly inspired people? Surely that must be it. This was a Viennese Ball, rewarding everyone for having endured days of the trying Hapsburg Court Ritual; a Gala punctuated with exuberant polkas from Austrian Galicia!

“What happened?”, Carmine asked Oliver, who was sitting on a half-wrecked table, playing mindlessly with the Stifle Stick.

“It was time to deal with the Presbyterian post-partum rebellion, which kept spreading, getting more heated, and ever more radical. I had to call in the Dance Instructor. To keep things going properly. It was the only way. That’s what my Predecessor said. ‘Go to the Dance Instructor’, he counseled. ‘He will insure that the Pregnancy is controlled by Wiliness, and that everything remains within the Framers’ vision. He’s the Federalist Answer Man’.”

“The Federalist Answer Man? The Dance Instructor? So this is a sock hop!”

“Absolutely”, Oliver mumbled. “But a politicized one. With only one type of dance allowed in it: it’s called ‘Madison’s Delight’.”

He said this with the deepest gloom. And closer inspection demonstrated to Carmine that the gloom was more than justified. For one thing, the music had the most peculiar lilt. It was provided by both Wily and Pregnant choirs. Singing together. Themes familiar to the one now mingling more impossibly in union with the other than every before. The choristers themselves sounded like Tibetan monks who had learned to manage several voices at once. From First Soprano right on down to Second Bass. Taking breaths in the Tenor while the Alto continued. Contented with the product as a whole, even while it came across as madness to the listener. And the words formed an anthem to the general tune of a Tantum Ergo, simple mode, specially adapted to the Inn’s quite altered worldly setting:

Novus Ordo Sae-cu-lo-rum

Makes a People meek and tame!

First you strip both God and Nation,

Of their meaning, leave men lame!

Once they’re crippled, then you’re ready,

To begin the Framing game!

Left un-ru-led, left a-drift-ing,

Self-reliant, bound to nought!

Man exhausts himself in looking,

Never finding what he ought!

But you’re free to roam, card sharking,

Practicing what Framers taught!

Find a motto, coin a slogan,

Repitition hones the ploy!

Sing a song of mindless gladness,

You will cause the Framers joy!

And you’ll so benumb the masses,

That they’ll be no harm at all!

See diversity a-blossom,

Based upon what shits we are!

Homes can open to the many,

Many won’t their quiet mar!

Mental life takes a siesta?

Who cares? Thought can go too far!

Mankind’s highest aspirations,

Should form branches of one bank!

Action must be aimed at Greenbacks,

Scams and gimmicks fast and rank!

Left and Right both chirp together,

‘Fill up the dol-lar-ic tank!’

Should a person start to wonder,

Whether things are really right!

Ask him: ‘Do you see the State, sir?

Grinding down with all its might?

Praise the Lord God and the Framers,

Tell him there’s no need for fright!

Never let a man lose sight of,

Just how vile and base we are!

Keep him ever on the lookout,

Make him with his comrades war!

Praise the atom! Stoke the Factions!

True agreement, always bar!

If you find a real Socratic,

Don’t admit it! Obfuscate!

Call him ‘cynic’, ‘naïve’, ‘dumb hick’.

‘Nazi’, ‘Commie’, ‘mad’—then wait!

Watch the sucker—lonely, hated--.

Swiftly praise this dump as great!

Novus Ordo Sae-cu-lo-rum,

Is the goal of life today!

Controversy is a washout,

Integration is our way!

Peace provides the order needed,

For all groups to have their say!

If you make a male a female,

If you make the day the night!

If you make a playground town jail,

If you make what’s black what’s white!

And you claim that they’re still different,

You’ve learned ‘Madison’s Delight’!!

“I don’t understand”, Carmine stuttered to Oliver.

“It’s an affirmation of the ground of the polis. For Tradition cannot triumph until a Hymn to its basic, communal, common sensical axioms is regularly intoned.”

“But…”.

Carmine found it to be hard to make himself heard amidst the clamor of the dance. And equally difficult to grasp all of its steps. As far as he could see, anyone possessing the slightest energy in the conference proceedings of the days gone by had been dragged into the center of the reel according to a well-defined, though baffling, pattern. Large groups of Wily Dullards had been unnaturally agitated, though many Pregnant Presbyterians had been somewhat dulled in their movements. Each participant twirled and twirled without discernable goal or imminent ending. Whenever groups of dancers began to grow comfortable with one another, the most dexterous of the participants appeared in their midst, shattered their calm, and shoved one or two of them into the shins of the others.

“Who is that?”, Carmine asked Oliver, unable, at first glance, to make out the man’s features.

“The Dance Instructor. The Federalist Answer Man. All I know about him is that he’s a former liberal. A fellow who’d built up a nice situation for himself in some university in New York, but then apparently saw the dangers threatening the truly liberated man coming from the liberal understanding of freedom. He searched for a way to escape the peril, and quickly learned that salvation came from the Framers. I called him and he arrived, along with a whole mass of his former pupils, and a film crew to boot.

The fellow pirouetted by, making faces, standing on his head, singing off key, telephoning brokers to buy everything advertised in the morning newspaper; fomenting unnecessary wars, passing out dollar bills to fondle, and displaying his bankbook to the adoring mob. Carmine rubbed his eyes, as the dancer rested momentarily to prepare his next prodigious leap of faith.

It was Treacle Sovacuous. He had abandoned “Help” for “Framing” as a result of the research he had done on his fact finding mission, and come to the Wily Pregnant with the New Atlantis viscera. Every one of them—all the sages, the men of freedom, and the attendant mobs—was now inexplicably getting along!

“How is this possible?”, Carmine stammered.

“Simple”, the former Helper beamed, more Apollonian than ever before. “They’ve gone shopping in The Free Supermarket of Ideas!”

Carmine looked about him. Indeed, at second glance, The Wily Pregnant now did look like a supermarket, but filled with Treacle’s New Atlantis buddies. Des poseurs were running up and down makeshift aisles choosing metaphysical concepts, moral truths, aesthetic principles, and political ideas at random. It was Aristotledämmerung! The end of logic! Everything was being thrown happily into the shopping bag all at once!

“Fit, dammit!”, one enthusiast cursed as he played with both relativism and moral self-righteousness.

“I’ll choose to be concerned about the environment”, another man announced, boldly, at the Social Counter. “But maybe I’ll take a little libertinism, too. You know. The kind that makes you so grasping that you’d burn down an entire jungle without the slightest hesitation? Just for a wee bit of pleasure? And then? For dessert? Why, I think I’ll choose to ignore the contradiction!”

A scholar’s cart was filled with oxymorons.

“Big crowd coming over tomorrow night!”, he gushed. “I’m serving community stuffed with individualism. Commitment on a bed of changeability. Tradition à la Revolution. Sure hope the alcohol free liquor doesn’t run out!”

A loudspeaker boomed through the Free Supermarket of Ideas.

“Sale on Anti-Racist Outrage! Sale on Anti-Racist Outrage!”

One couple’s ears pricked up.

“Oh, darling”, the woman bubbled, as both embraced in aisle ten. “Let’s do get some of that. I simply must make an amuse-gueule statement on apartheid!”

Her husband darted off to take advantage of the offer.

“Wait!”, his wife screamed after he had already rounded the bend. “Here’s that lovely Margaret Sanger Nigger Sterilization Kit. Only two for a dollar. What a buy!”

“Honey!”, Carmine heard the man call out from the distance. “Do you have the Nominalist Coupons with you? I see a disconnected thought in the Flatus Vocis aisle. With a mountain of humdrum data next to it.”

Carmine walked over to the site of the sale. A hecatombe of shapeless concepts were going for a song. Part of the New Atlantis film crew which had come along with Sovacuous for the journey was interviewing an ecstatic flock of young shoppers on the spot.

“It’s incredible!”, they rejoiced. “We picked up so much!”

“Could you tell our future audience more about it?”, the interviewer requested.

“Yes, of course! I just gobbled up a bundle of legends and lies that make me understand more about Christianity than the Church Fathers. Plus that, I picked up some very, very courageous, super lucrative, avant-garde films on the glories of the American Way. Best of all, I got hold of bad philosophy, and can now become a literary critic. But nothing can compare to the shopping done by my friend here!”

He pointed to a chap standing near him who flushed with embarrassment.

“Do you know what the old devil has managed to stick in that cart of his? Look!”

It was a six-pack of ideas!

“Gee, I’m so envious! He found an attack on counterrevolutionaries, blaming them for all of the previous enlightened generation’s errors. He’s picked up some praise for progressives who lament disasters years after they’ve happened, and then wisely suggest that we move, blindly down the same path of destruction again. Here, he’s got a high dudgeon over Louis XVI’s execution of rapists, along with a justification for a hundred thousand freedom-loving revolutionary murders. And will you look at this big, stuffed box of spiritualized capitalism? I tell you, it just goes on and on!”

“Well, congratulations to all of you for a successful evening’s purchases!”, the interviewer concluded. “And let’s hope that it will be an inspiration to those who study this documentary. So that they, too, can begin to think more clearly in the future, fulfill their potential as liberated Perchildren, and…”.

The whole crowd smiled for the camera, giggled, and recited the phrase the cue cards dictated.

“…and shop in the Free Supermarket of Ideas!”

“In the name of all that’s shit!”, Carmine cried out. “What the crap is going on here?”

“What’s going on?”, Sovacuous exulted. “You don’t understand the gift of life that comes from our Blessed Framers? Pluralism? The ‘zany diversity’ allowing a free people to combine their liberty and their passion for peace, thus ennobling them? And yet it is in the traditional air that you customarily breathe on a time-honored basis!”

He took several deep breaths himself and then turned to the Poseurs, many of whose training he had ensured.

“Live, my Happy Ones! Live as we never could when in thrall to madcap Liberalism! Throb with the energy of ordered fulfillment!”

Carmine turned back to the Supermarket. The pace of shopping was indeed extraordinary. People were putting things into their carts and throwing them away at a faster and faster speed. They were actively changing and adjusting to one another’s suggestions, as soon as the creative imagination of but a single illuminatus sang of some new inspiration. Cheerleaders and high school bands guided the movement.

“Change!”, they puffed. “Adjust! Essence of Perchildity! Change! Adjust! Essence of Perchildity! Change! Adjust! Essence of Perchildity!”

Shoppers were tripping one another to get more contradictory changes into their carts faster than their neighbors. Much time was spent parrying such thrusts. Meanwhile, psychiatrists were busy in the corners of the room hearing the confessions of those who did not feel as though they were changing fast enough, or fitting sufficient contradictions into their bags. Quarrels broke out between Jesuitical and Jansenistic factions with respect to the length and profundity of the therapy to be administered to sluggards.

“I’ll bet you’re a Probabilist”, Carmine heard one rigorist shout at the laxist in the next booth. “Why, before you know it, you’ll drag the Chinese Rites Controversy into this blessed Free Supermarket of Ideas. Disputes over Guarani missionary tactics! Devotion to the Sacred Heart! What actually is your take on Unigenitus?”

Change was racing out of control. People began to change their clothes. Their names. What was more dramatic, even their psychiatrists. The Lupercalie arrived on the scene to urge them to change their sexual partners, their sexes, and their social security numbers.

“I want more changes!”, the most advanced wailed. “I don’t care if I make any mistakes. Mommy will make it better if I do anyway!”

Carmine stared at Sovacuous in utter dismay.

“But this is madness!”, he stammered. “How could someone not see the madness of such behavior?”

The former Helper clapped his hands in excitement.

“Madness? In this Most Blessed of Supermarkets? Au contraire, oh ye of little faith! It is the wondrous Wily treatment for all of the problems of the Fragmented Fruits that I warned you about! Just look at the Happy Ones now! Look! All so energetic, so alive, so creative, so open! Le frutte son mobili! And yet all of them are ever so accommodating to one another! Even if they were not up to the call of friendly adjustment to the need for harmony, why, there are so many of them, each thinking and doing what he feels like, that no one of them is strong enough to do any harm to the others with their shenanigans. Besides, now that the Presbyterians have shown them how curiously rotten each and every one of them is, there is no one who is not keeping an eye on his fellow monsters.”

He grasped Carmine round the hips and whispered still more wisdom into his ears as they tangoed through the New Atlantis perchildren.

“And how about this, as well? “, Sovacuous cooed, doubling Carmine’s back almost to the ground in a tango bend. “Let’s say one of the more persistent perchildren convinces many of the other dancers not to get in one another’s way? Teaches them to let down their guard and bop fraternally together on the floor? Well, that’s why people like me are around ! To bring in still more Fragmented Fruits! To offer further complicating steps for consideration! To wake up the younger ones to the constraining jitterbug of the parents; the parents to the over exuberance of the kiddies’ fandango! To check and balance them! Ping them and pong them! Up them and down them! Out them and in them! Oh it’s just so ingenious, and productive of ultimate tranquility!”

He reeled Carmine in and out of the dance floor like a fisherman with his rod and tackle, just to make the excitement of the principle more clear. Then, finally, the former Helper pulled him close for a tight embrace, grasping him by both shoulders.

“Not a single individual will ever, ever get the chance to stop creating! Nor will he ever arrive at a definite destination or satisfactory conclusion that might bring the dance to a conclusion. All will go round and round in an eternal unending whirl. There you have it: The Federalist Answer. And the Thrice-Blessed Framers discovered it!”

Sovacuous was lost in his own personal Supermarket Rapture. He addressed the dumbstruck Carmine with an almost Zwinglian lack of concern for the consistency of his comments.

“Don’t you see now? Oh, Happy Flaw of Fragmented Fruits that led to such a still more magnificent Redemption of Order! What were Perchildren that the Framers should condescend to think of them! The unparalleled harmony that has been attained as every liberated Perchild fulfills himself while achieving nothing! Just look at them! Oh, the utter exhaustion of it all! Have you ever tried to foment disorder when you’re worn out? You think they have the time to uncover the flaws in their reasoning that might cause them to withdraw from the dance of creative labor? Or to determine whether their freedom is well-used? Has become illogical? Fallen prey to equivocation and gimmickery? Become inimical to their professed ideals? Do you think they care about the seriousness of their thought and its conclusions any longer at all? Nonsense! They’re like children who’ll run around so much that they’ll go to bed peacefully whenever their parents want them to. But I tell you all this is for the ultimate good of perchild dignity. Freedom and Order are perfectly reconciled.

“And you? If you wanted to disturb the childlike simplicity of the shoppers in the Free Supermarket of Ideas? Would you be willing to invest the time needed to make them sit down and grow up? Have you ever tried to keep tabs on just one child? For merely an hour? How about thousands? Millions! Every moment of every day! That’s how the Free Supermarket survives. Through the exhaustion it generates in both its friends and its enemies. By stimulating a fear of being left behind in a race that no one has the time to understand. Or control. By making you doubt your sanity if you even contemplate the slightest need to reassess the validity of your actions. I tell you this is an incomparably splendid way out of the problem caused by the Fragmented Fruits! Bloodless and without bitterness! And the Framers discovered it!”

When Carmine tried to address him, the former Helper shot a machine gun water pistol towards the don’s genitalia and then began to toss a succession of pies in his face. It was like Mi-Carême, in Brussels, when clowns abuse tourists unaware of the holiday, to the great delight of the surrounding crowds. Pie filling after pie crust dripped down Carmine’s cheek, while he sought, fruitlessly, to get Treacle to think over The Federalist Answer just one more time. He had to diet for weeks afterwards to regain his normal svelte form.

And how the crowd loved his humiliation! It cheered lustily at everything that Sovacuous taught it, and with much greater abandon than the hordes in the Piazza Venezia in the 1920’s, who, even if overexcited, always maintained a certain sense of discernment and decorum. No procession from Santa Maria Aracoeli, headed by the miraculous statue of Il Bambino, would have been permitted to cut a path through this crew. Not even with the Viaticum. It would have been nudged by Treacle into the Conga line to do the shimmy with the lion and the lamb. And go on tour together to display its skill. With aging members of the Rolling Stones carrying the sacred objects.

Carmine himself was forced into the crowd to bop along, This gave him the chance to study more carefully the full effects of Madison’s Delight upon the Poseurs. Most Dancers were optimistic about the fruits of their jitterbug. It had sound market value. Bucks were pouring in! But bad money seemed to be driving out good. Despite everything that former Helper had said about the Dance’s ability to prevent anyone from causing harm to anyone else, it seemed to him that it was working distinctly to the material advantage of some people over all the others, creating precisely the sort of changes that Carmine had noted at New Atlantis.

“Me?”, a Treacle protegée great with child proclaimed. “I just can’t decide between giving my beloved French lessons in the womb or calling it a blood clot and flushing it out.”

Friends passing by with a fresh Jeremy Bentham Salad enlightened her on the cost of language instruction. There was simply no contest.

“Love is never having to say you’re sorry”, she chirped, mixing the Romaine with some utilitarian arrugala. “Farewell, budding linguist ! Your sacrifice will help maintain the fiber of a free people. Especially if you’re added to the Salad. “

Moreover, the shopping and Change elevating some free individuals over others appeared to have especially ravaged those among the original Conference participants whose tired blood and refusal to think logically made them most attached to their beliefs in the unchanging Framing order. Carmine took the opportunity offered by the whirl of Madison’s Delight to waltz over to some of the Happy Homes to investigate this phenomenon more closely.

In one of them, Dullards resting in the easy chairs were positively glowing with excitement. Some Presbyterians, while equally radiant, were seated on their laps. Carmine was shocked to discover that they were actually radioactive. Recycled wastes had been used to stuff the fauteuils sagging under their weight. These had burst through the seams, causing the occupants’ unnatural glow. A bizarre side effect of the fallout transfigured two of the zealots into commas and semi-colons right before Carmine’s astonished eyes.

“Hey! It was cheaper to make the chairs that way”, the supplier bristled, when Carmine confronted him with his grammatical handiwork. “I was just tending my own garden. Making a little moonshine. Ain’t I got a right?”

Barbed wire surrounded the victims and their misery.

“Keep out”, the notices posted above the cincture read. “Totally corrupted. Enter only under supervision.”

Carmine was shocked by other signs of change and decay as well. Hearths were cracked, and the wires providing them with electricity were split, tangled, and thickly patched with masking tape. Plastic containers and excresence of fat peppered the floor. A stench overhung the room as a whole, redolent of a peculiar mixture of crisco oil, armpit, embalming fluid, bile, and Beowulf. But the choirs were still belting out their song, and the portraits of the Framers and Happy Home quilts remained in place. Polished daily. More than ever before. Shining with a sexy nuclear sheen.

“Who’s going to clean this mess up?”, Carmine asked the broken Oliver. “Will the Federalist Answer Man do it?”

He shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

“My Predecessor left no instructions about what to do. There are no clear lines of responsibility. He said that the Unadulterated American Tradition would always take care of everything. ‘Do not think what the Unadulterated American Tradition can do for you’, he urged. ‘Think what you can do not to disturb Faith in the Unadulterated American Tradition’ And after all, who’s to say that this is a mess, and not actually the fullness of Beauty which only the Framing could produce?’”

“Besides”, one Dullard interrupted. “We’re too busy minding our own business to worry about such things.”

“We’re each in this jungle alone”, one Presbyterian chimed in. “As sinners. I beg your pardon! I never promised you a Rose Garden!”

Carmine heard the voice of a Montenegrin who had once engaged in dialogue sitting in a cage which he had constructed to isolate himself hermetically from the negative influences of his corrupted Happy Home.

“I listened to the choir more closely. I heard the choir. I heard the choir”, the fellow declared, swinging his arms, scratching, and staring blankly ahead.. “It’s just me and the Lord now. Just me and the Lord. Just me and the Lord. Alone, alone, alone.”

Villas had gone up amidst the rubble of other Happy Homes in Tradition Hall. Some were built by enterprising dancers who had spent their time marketing amphetamines to the Conference participants. But the private gain of a few had also yielded a public service for the many. People could now endure the rigorous schedules of lectures and the meager nourishment that “America” had provided them at the Inn. By popping pills! And forgetting that they existed entirely! Until the very last moment of their rapidly approaching demise.

Not all of the new buildings had been put up by the drug dealers. Some were constructed from the earnings of an amusement park called “Locke Land”, which used tours to visit the radioactive Dullards and Pregnant Presbyterians as its central attraction. Carmine met a young couple that had driven all the way from Portland to gape at the barbed wire and enter the compound under proper, paid supervision.

“Such suffering!”, the woman marveled, as she read the brochure offered by the Locke Land directors. “It was well worth both the trip and the entrance fee.”

“You gotta pay for the best”, her husband noted.” Nothing in life is free. And thank God someone is finally calling attention to the bits falling off each and every one of these deteriorating wretches.”

“If only they would all fight just a little with one another, though”, his wife added, when questioned by the film crew from New Atlantis. “Nothing existentially disruptive, of course. Some common sensical steam letting would punctuate the horror with a certain rhythm; give it a special syncopated cachet.”

Loudspeakers began to broadcast clearer versions of the original Dullard and Presbyterian hymns, to remind the fading victims of their former differences and stir them on to that final poke or two that might temporarily enliven the scene for the unsatisfied consumer.

“Where do you get the wiring for the music?”, Carmine asked.

“Here!”, the Locke Land chairman announced.

He ripped some of the leads out of one still functioning hearth.

“We must tend our own gardens”, he explained. “My garden needs wiring. How else would I feather my own nest? And survive in this war of all against all?”

“Framers!”, the radioactive schoolmen croaked, devoutly, as the Vandal destroyed their hearth. “Our Happy Home! As it was, is now, and ever shall be!”

Some of the jollier Madisonians had built their villas by entering the entertainment business. Their earnings came from popular punching galleries. Punching bags were offered to spectators in the form of some of the passive Dullards. They agreed to serve in this capacity to avoid the more brutal beatings that Common Sense dictated the entrepreneurs themselves would otherwise have to administer them to make a sufficient profit from the viewing public.

“Throw a punch!”, the bosses shouted to the gallery visitors. “Fifty cents a pop!”

“How can you allow this?”, Carmine asked Professor Hush, who had become the central punching bag.

“Allow what?”

“This exploitation of your freedom.”

The man had memorized Novus Ordo Saeculorum.

“What exploitation of my freedom? I’m as free as a bird. I live in a free country. Tradition and loyalty to the Framers make that a certainty. Doesn’t it say so in the Constitution? Wait! Are you referring to the work of the entrepreneurs? Take care! Watch what you’re saying! Hush! Why, limit the initiative of but one of the least of these and you limit the hopes of us all! How could I ever aspire to develop my potential for exploitation if others do not use me to fulfill their own?”

“But that’s where the liberals end up with their understanding of freedom. You’re just as wacko as they are!”

“Liberals? Us? Like liberals? And yet ‘liberal’ is spelled ‘l-i-b-e-r-a-l’. And we are ‘c-o-n-s-e-r-v-a-t-i-v-e-s’.’C-o-n-s-e-r-v-a-t-i-v-e-‘ is altogether different from ‘l-i-b-e-r-a-l’. There are more letters! Test for yourself.”

Treacle Sovacuous descended from a wild leap.

“Look, troubled one”, he told Carmine. “Let’s be serious. They live in splendid liberty. This is simply not in question. They’ve been to school. They read the papers. They know. If those guys didn’t want to be punching bags, don’t you think they would tell you so? Where do you think we are? In the Middle Ages? For heaven’s sake, this is America.”

He took a few slugs himself to advance the cause of traditional freedom. Carmine ran to a radioactive hearth, crashed through the surrounding gate, invaded the compound, and grabbed a Dullard and a Presbyterian by the lapels of their contaminated jackets.

“Why do you permit this destruction of your Happy Home, you nincompoops?”, he thundered.

“What destruction?”, they marveled. “Don’t you see the quilt? The Framers? Aren’t the choirs still singing ‘alleluia’? What destruction? If—God forbid!—our Happy Home were some day to fall in jeopardy, don’t you think we’d know it? Why, we wouldn’t see the Framers’ cherubic faces gazing down upon us!”

The men began to quake. They averted Carmine’s glance. He had started a controversy. The eyes of the portraits of the Framers burned like hot coals to express their rage. And by now, Carmine could no longer hear the sound of his own voice. The loudspeakers had begun to play a new verse of Novus Ordo Saeclorum to calm frayed nerves.

“Framers! Framers!”, they belched out. “This is the day the Lord has made!”

Prudence and Carmine parted company. He found the connecting wires allowing the discordant music to blare. He tugged. He pulled. He sabotaged. The music ceased. An angry crowd of dancers soon gathered round him.

“So!”, Treacle Sovacuous shouted. “Interfering with the Natural Order of Things, are we? Why, just look at the clutter you’ve left! No concern for the environment, have we? How can Tradition survive with such a blatant disregard for basic communal spirit and cleanliness?”

The mob grumbled.

“And not only that!”, the former Helper agitated. “He sneaked into the exhibit without paying as well!”

“Idiocy”, Carmine mumbled. “I’m surrounded by idiocy of the most gratuitous sort. Disguising itself as the most exalted development of a people’s Tradition. And getting worse by the minute.”

“Well, will you look at this!”, Sovacuous sneered. “Liberal elitism! Oh, I know that beast alright, and had the good fortune to escape from it through the influence of Madison’s Delight! Think you know what’s best for us, right? Well, all I can say is Praise the Lord and the Framers for giving us a country where people can suffer the consequences of their own rule.”

Carmine was pelted with fats from all of the dancers, most especially from those who detested the music emitted by the loudspeakers even more than he did. Just to show that, despite everything, they were basically normal, too.

“But what happened to the intellectual discussion in the Happy Homes?”, Carmine pleaded. “There’s no discussion any more at all. I see nothing but commercial activity.”

Treacle grew more irritated still.

“Don’t you ever quit with your liberalism?”, he spat. “Can’t you for just once abandon that lust for ordering the Common Man around? First of all, I don’t know what you mean when you say that we’ve abandoned discussion. Look at all this activity around you! Look at it! What about all the talk needed to get this work done? Isn’t that what freedom’s all about? The right to talk? Positively? And optimistically? For a profit? Why, I’ve never talked so hopefully as much as this in all my life! Look around you! Peoples’ minds are incomparably active. And creative. It’s the springtime of the intellect! Something useful, too. Not like that progressive nonsense. And why are you against the average Joe making a buck? What are they doing? Stepping on your toes? Onto your turf? Is that it? Or is it that you’re just a baby? A utopian baby to boot! Well, grow up, friend! Reality’s tough. There’s no so-called ‘intellectual life’ without money. So there’s no better start to a dialogue than a fat bank account. Whoever can’t accept that deserves what he gets!”

“It’s the best!”, his dance partners agreed. “The best! If only we can keep it going! For our children! And our childrens’ children! Unto the ends of the earth! Quam olim Abraham praedixisse!”

“But what happened to religion?”, Carmine sobbed to the Pregnant Presbyterians still shouting hallelujas. “I thought God was supposed to be all important to you?”

Johnny-Cracker Nuthouse, who had transformed himself into an entrepreneur, changed his name to Nuthouse-Splitshare, and clearly emerged as a powerful preacher in his own right, was on the spot to set him straight.

“Listen, son”, he said to Carmine. “We’ve told people all along what slime they were. We haven’t fallen for any belief in the ‘goodness’ of the world like those apostate liberals. Not us. That makes the Lord proud of us. God above, and Jungle Warfare below, that’s our motto; the sky above, the mud below. Pragmatism is the name of the game in this ruthless tangle of life. And in that tangle, there’s a profit to be made, but with gains for charity as well. Why, we’re all engaged in public services here. Giving the people what they want. What they desperately need. And have a weakness for, no less, just as the Good Book says. If they’re not babies, like you, that is to say. What’s your particular problem? You hate God, boy? Don’t want to help your fellow man? What are you? A cynic? That’s where you atheist utopians always end up anyway, isn’t it? By the way. Want to buy a revolver? To put yourself out of your misery? I’m selling them cheaply. But excuse me. It’s prayer time.”

He climbed onto the Holy Mountain still located on the stage, stretching his arms and a copy of One Thing into the air towards Jahweh.

“Dow Jones!”, he screeched.

“Dow Jones!”, the dancers responded. “Dow Jones!”

“Dow Jones!”, the Preacher continued, ad infinitum, raising his arms unceasingly towards heaven to keep the Market high.

Carmine twirled over to Preacher Depravity and T. Buck Angloman.

“Can you still call this traditional?”, he spat. “However you butcher the definition of the word?”

The two lecturers looked quizzically at one another. They, too, didn’t see the State. They, too, didn’t notice the Common Man complaining. They, too, still heard hymns to God and the Framers. And, above all, the Constitution was obviously still there, hovering, in a copy placed inside a helium balloon, above their heads, just like the French Constitution of 1793 in the National Convention. Preacher Depravity carved the word “Constitution” onto a table top, like Luther refuting Zwingli, to prove to Carmine its importance and indestructibility. T. Buck stomped on top of his own personal copy, printed on paper stronger than any that had ever been created by man. And printed in indissoluble ink in the bargain. He couldn’t be bothered to read the boring medieval heresies on the upper layers of the edition Carmine showed him. And Preacher Depravity found them eminently traditional anyway.

T. Buck put his arm around Carmine’s by now badly bruised shoulder.

“You just set yourself down, boy. Y’all been thinkin’ ‘bout them Frogs too much. You just have yourself some moonshine, boy. It’s all gonna go away. We gonna make them Frog thoughts chokin’ you all go away.”

He called a nurse over to wipe Carmine’s perspiring brow. She placed a sign in front of him.

“Hospital zone”, it declared. “Quiet. Patient recovering from Gregory of Nyssa Syndrome. Graeco-Roman delusions with hyper-Christian flights of fancy.”

Carmine tried to thank T. Buck for his concern, but only managed to stammer a few nonsensical monosyllables. T. Buck found his comments illuminating.

“Now you’re talkin’, boy! That’s what I call Framer Wisdom! I’m glad you finally understand, critter! It’s been a real pleasure traditionalizin’ you. So long, son! Depravity and I gotta go and let them take a few punches at us so old Hush doesn’t get all the fun!”

The hospital zone was crowded, filled with people who had not been blown out through the first explosion, and who had tried to continue to have a serious discussion when the Dance first began. Alarmed by the terror of the Dullards, the reproach of the Presbyterians, the contempt of the lecturers, the anarchism of the rebels, the heat of the Framers’ burning eyeballs, the frenzy of Madison’s Delight, and the enthusiasm of Sovacuous, they had opted finally for a policy of quiet accommodation. In fact, tutored by Professor Hush, they had actually donned strait jackets. This charitable demonstration of self control won them praise from the former Helper, their action having at least involved a purchase.

“Leave us!”, a group of utterly broken participants called out as they saw Carmine about to speak to them. “We are unclean! Divisive! Mad as hatters! And just as exhausted as all the others in the bargain!”

Carmine observed them with a telescope. The poor dears were indeed tuckered out. And so were a few of their comrades next to them, who were seeking to gain their release by showing the nurses that they could adequately spend themselves physically through Agreement. On anything. And everything. Thereby proving their appreciation of the Framers’ message.

“Today is Friday”, Carmine heard one of their number insist.

“Yes”, his interloqueter responded. “Yes. Yes, indeed. Yes, I believe I see that now! Yes, Yes! I do see it!! Indeed!”

“One plus one equals two!”, another dialectician maintained.

“And I say that it’s four”, his counterpart rebutted.

“By golly”, the other man shot back happily. “I can fully accept that! Oh yes I can! In the name of the Framers, we actually agree after all! Perhaps now we can reenter polite society.”

Carmine approached Oliver, who was munching on a full corona and downing large quantities of the remaining Dullard hootch.

“I’ve seen enough. I’m busting out of this joint”, he informed him.

“You have chosen the better part. Good luck.”

A frantic hunt for a telephone led Carmine to the bus stop. The same man stood there, still awaiting transport.

“Problems?”, he asked Carmine.

“Big problems. Adjustment. And to such things that I never knew existed in nature! Me! Who never liked Emile Zola.”

Tears suddenly streamed down the other man’s face.

“Did I offend you?”, Carmine inquired, alarmed at his condition, and primed, by now, despite everything, to avoid divisiveness. “Perhaps you are a Naturalist? Sorry about the Zola. I do, in the final analysis, have a weakness for Huysmanns, you know.”

“No! It’s not that. Look. A balloon!”, the man cried out. “Look! A balloon is coming! We can finally leave!”

“Where’s it going, though?”, Carmine questioned, as the traveler hopped into the landed vehicle’s undercarriage.

The fellow consulted the schedule.

“Philadelphia”, he answered.

“That’s it?”

He looked again.

“No. There are three connecting flights. One direct to Geneva. A second to some Parisian salon. The last to a backwoods village in the English Midlands, where no one has ever had a thought in his life.”

Carmine took a pin out of his pocket and popped the fellow’s bubble.

“Forget it,” he spat. “I must destroy what other men cherish.”

The suffering don then took all the change out of his pockets. He had to call New York. It was Friday evening. Everybum was bound to be outside the Caffé del Garda. Surely the proprietor would go out and fetch him for one of his steadiest customers.

“Help!”, Carmine begged, when Everybum took the receiver.

“My dear boy”, the derelict sympathized. “What do you expect me to do? Do you think I’m a thaumaturge?”

“I frankly don’t know what you are! Go get the Deuce Machine! I implore you!”

Everybum asked Carmine to return the call in an hour. He returned to the Inn in the interim. The unalterable had changed more radically still. Everyone had disappeared. Oliver alone sat amidst the ruins, finishing his cigar and downing his swill.

“Where are they?”, Carmine wondered.

“Gone.”

“I can see that. How?”

“I don’t know. It happened so quickly. The Federalist Answer Man gave an inspiring speech and off they went. I suppose it was inevitable. Here. Look.”

He tossed a transcript of Treacle Sovacuous’ talk to Carmine, who read it aloud.

“You fellows”, the Federalist Answer Man had criticized, “have been sitting here a long time now. What, in God’s name, have you accomplished? Don’t you want to accomplish something? It looked good at first, but the spirit seems to have gone out of your Dance. Where’d it go? Why don’t you go look for it? Where’s your gumption? Your frontier spirit? You call yourselves followers of the Framers? Where’s your creative freedom? Where’s your pragmatism? Look. You got what you could out of the Inn, didn’t you? Now swing those butts! Move on! There’s lots of places other than The Wily Pregnant waiting for some Traditional Wisdom to ease their problems, too. Find the remaining liberals. Those products of Presbyterian conception who went off to New Atlantis. Teach them Madison’s Delight, so that nothing comes of their nutty conduct. Folks all over the four corners of the globe are unconsciously looking for Framer Sagacity. We’ve got to air lift a little Common Sense and Pragmatism everywhere. Show the Peoples of the globe how to make some moonshine. Fight the eggheads. Give joy to the world. The mine at the Inn is stripped, I tell you. It’s stripped for good. Let’s do it. Let’s get ready to rumble! We might even find that Dullard’s nose. And sell it to the circus!”

Carmine took up Oliver’s offer of a cigar and a tumblerful of hootch as he read.

“So”, he said. “We’re the only ones holding the fort?”

A trap door opened up imperceptibly behind them. Everybum, the Deuce Machine, and Zenzendorf appeared. Everybum held a can of nitrous oxide. He looked around at the motel ruins and back at his companions.

“The liberals”, he said, “are truly pikers compared to these guys.”

He aimed the nozzle at Carmine and Oliver.

“The evil of the week”, he whispered as the spray overcame the two men, “is sufficient thereto.”

The Deuce Machine and Zenzendorf helped Everybum tug both Carmine and Oliver through the trap door. Bits of The Wily Dullard Pregnant Presbyterian Inn crumbled as they shut the door from inside.

“Shoddy workmanship!”, the Deuce Machine complained.

“It served their purposes, mon vieux”, Everybum reminded him. “It served their purposes.”

Speculators were on the scene making a profit within minutes.

“Bargains!”, a sign informed passing motorists. “As is. Nothing changed from the original building materials.”

Carmine and Oliver awakened on the bus home. It was the Riddel Case all over again. Each thought the other knew how they got there, and was too embarrassed to admit his own ignorance. In any case, they were both too tired to do much talking.

Sleep was out of the question as well. The bus was equipped with communal television sets, which everyone but the two conference veterans was watching. Oliver sat, staring blankly out the window. Carmine indulged a bad habit, and listened in on other passengers’ conversations about the tube. A couple across the aisle were outraged over the news broadcast they had just seen.

“Unbelievable!”, the woman said to her husband. “A beautiful complex near the capital. Completely destroyed! And right out there in public, as normal as normal could be, next to an Everything Useless!”

“What’d you expect?”, her husband answered. “Foreigners involved, right? Then eggheads, right? Pinkos, probably, given what happened. And they’ve got to, just got to have had government money behind’um too, right? I tell you, America’s got to stick by its Tradition a lot more closely if it’s gonna survive!”

Carmine heard Oliver sigh. He looked over at the twice-martyred man.

“Do you see New York yet?”, he asked.

“No. Nothing. There’s nothing out there, Carmine. Nothing.”

“May I ask with whom I’m speaking?”, Carmine teased. “Oliver Stonato? Or Albert Camus?”

Oliver continued to stare out the window.

“What I mean to say is that we’re still on the periphery.”

He now turned to face Carmine directly.

“And that it’s all Periphery.”

Chapter Four: I Am Looking For an Honest Man!

Narodnik

Carmine sat in the Caffé del Garda, coloring in the “a’s” and the “e’s” and the “o’s” of the wedding invitation that he had received from his cousin Javelin in New Jersey a month earlier. He daydreamed as he scribbled, recalling the most empty experience of his life to date: his youth. The arrival of an espresso awakened the don from Memory Lane.

Not that his dreamy state had been pointless self-indulgence. Far from it. Javelin’s Nuptial Bliss was programmed to begin the following Sunday. A decision regarding participation in this parallel Rapture was required, haste posthaste. The realization that something had to be resolved left Carmine anxious, as though he were trapped on the LL, between stations, during a police action.

In order to get to the wedding, Carmine would be obliged to go to his parents’ home—his former “home”—and join them for the trip to the ceremony and the reception. And going back home meant, inevitably, dredging up still more debilitating memories of adolescence.

A wedding invitation had only been sent to Carmine pro forma. Javelin, like the rest of the family, had become used to treating him as a Platonic Idea, and not as an entelechy, a creature of flesh and blood, subsisting in his own right. Among all his relatives, only Carmine’s parents had maintained regular contact with him. This was due to the fact that they adored fresh mozzarella, and could pass directly in front of Carmine’s apartment on the way to a reliable supply with only the slightest of delays. And even they had not been heard from for quite some time.

Still, to be fair, Carmine had to admit that his status as a non person was largely of his own doing. True, no one other than his parents was ever willing to travel to New York to see him. But no one other than his parents ever traveled anywhere else either. Once they reached the age of twenty one, Carmine’s relatives and high school friends seem to have fallen under the jurisdiction of a draconian Martial Law, whose exigent administrators required them to have internal passports to usher forth from their homes. Honestly, though, Carmine could have made the extra effort needed to go to visit them. But he simply preferred to avoid this excrutiating trial.

Carmine had lived in Beatific Rosebush, New Jersey, a bedroom community in “The Valley of Smiles”, since seven, at which tender age his family had fled The Bronx. When he left Beatific Rosebush, at eighteen, he had vowed to come back as little as possible. Would that all of his more sensible oaths had been kept as fully! Carmine had not returned once since going off to college.

Not visiting home meant not having access to the family car. And not having access to the family car entailed abandonment of all tolerable means of flitting about Swoon Town or Prosit Nulla or Enthusiasm or Tiny Plural Village or any of the other spots to which relatives had moved since the time of The Great Migration from the doomed northern Borough.

Oh, the Migration itself, like Carmine’s present daydreaming, had made a certain sense. It was caused by several factors, all found in Nature, one hundred per cent genuine, even if, to a large degree, frightful.

Horrible flight-inducing conditions had not always been givens in Carmine’s original cradle. His earliest recollections of The Bronx were of a stability anchored round the family table, the local coffee house, and the parish church, with only the occasional smack from an authority suppressing an undue passion for chocolate breaking the impression of unending calm. Many memories emerged from winter holidays, like Christmas, when the table was occupied by industrious women shaping ravioli into forms both round and square, and men uncorking and amusingly rejecting bottles of homemade wine. Cousins stood out vividly in these holiday reminiscences. Especially the ones who stayed overnight, sleeping between table legs, in anticipation of the sacred feast, or after the New Year’s Eve dance, attended by the whole Spostato clan, at the social club on 187th Street.

But summer made for recollection also. How could Carmine forget that telescope placed one crystalline June night on top of the tenement roof? With his eyes at the close end of the tube, and Eternity at the other. And a universe in the middle whose Big Bang would have explained as little of the Milky Way’s appearance to the inhabitants of The Bronx as sex could have accounted for Carmine’s January birth date to his own parents. But, after all, they were only simple people doing simple things, and desperately in need of both Help and Framing.

The Elders came out in summertime. Even the Eldest of the lot. They could do so then, without catching unfortunate diseases and dying on the spot, before Emergency Medical Services could have arrived to chip them from the wintry ice.

Oh, Elders often said such things, many of which made people laugh, and rightly so! Especially when they indulged age-old temptations to rely on the advice of witches, who promised all sorts of wonders, appearing inexplicably, from the mixture of this and that ingredient, in potions and talismans whose inconveniences made them more troublesome than they were worth. Ha-ha! The absurdities those Elders could cultivate to avoid the clear Laws of Nature! Oh, yes, then the laughter filled the air!

But witches were a sideline with the Elders. So was any mockery of Age on the part of Youth. Most of the statements of the Elders were treated seriously and obeyed. Even more so if the priest approved. Repeatedly. Liturgically. And in parish-wide Encyclical Letters. Or when last year’s mistake in laying down the wine had to be corrected. Or should the local boy-made-good came by to beg for information regarding plumbing. Or a poltice. Or a critique of a possible fiancée. Besides, it was the Elders who had purchased the telescope, and convinced Youth to put away the chocolate for a moment to investigate. Why, even their witchery itself, in its concern for the awesome phases of the moon and movements of the planets, had helped contribute to the stimulation of a desire really to reach for the stars.

No. Carmine’s earliest memories were not those connected with the motives for The Great Migration.

But, then, Change moved into town. No one liked the dirty parks, the overcrowded sidewalks, and the strangers on the block that Change brought with Him. These regrettable buddies of Change were soon censured bitterly in endless apartments-above-stores. In Sons of Italy Halls. And in feverish stoop-to-stoop conversations. Outrage over the growing threat from the Change Gang replaced contemplation of the galaxy, even on Midsummer’s Night. All was a tumult. It was Volk in motion. The neighborhood no longer believed The New York Upright Zeitgeist’s editorial contention that its life was becoming more enriched, once the newspaper boy was eviscerated on the eve of Saint Bartholomew’s Day.

“It was a creative evisceration”, the rag gushed. “Focus on that. For healing. And Science may yet find a way to use the kid’s guts in valuable experiments. Measure up to the demands of Change with Openmindedness. His yoke is easy. Oh, the lightness of the Burden of the mutable life that He offers!”

Carmine’s neighbors burned the editorial page, in lieu of a liberal. They still had Mom and Pop stores, so there was no need to torch any Free Supermarket of Ideas. Would that they had charred the whole of the offending gazette! But, alas! they did not. For it was seeding time. People were in the market for just the right kernels. And the Press had something for everyone. Carmine’s neighborhood might not like the editorial page. Nevertheless, it devoured the tales bandied about in the Zeitgeist’s Real Estate section and suburban inserts. Reports of grass, the possibility of living spaced out, and the attendant liberation of Potential contained therein enchanted the whole of Fordham Road.

Now, editorials are written by egghead elitist liberals. This is a given. Real Estate ads, on the other hand, just…are. Like a Basic Sense of Fairness. Sprouting from nowhere. Guided by nothing. Completely value free. And friendly to the Common Man. Like America itself. Agitators gathered round their Elders in the little piazza outside the local parish church after the appearance of each additional ground-breaking announcement.

“Give us a place to live!”, they shouted. “Like human beings. Away from these wacko liberals and that villain, Change! For the sake of our children. And our childrens’ children. To protect our whole Way of life! How about it? Don’t we gotta right to protect our Way of Life? As Americans? Don’t we get the fruits of America, too? This place ain’t made for an Elite, you know! We’ve heard Aaron Copeland. We know the score. Up with the average Joe! Save the Common Man!”

The tocsin was sounded, and the People responded. Not with a massacre of the enemy, as in Paris, back in the days when men were men. And not even with the building of a park. But by taking out Veterans’ Loans, buying automobiles, packing bags, and heading deeper into the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Thousands stopped at the George Washington Bridge, wiped the dust from their shoes, and spat, collectively, towards whence they had come.

Blasts of spittle are tricky things. This one missed its target. The Bronx was spared the murky shower. Rome and Athens were hit instead.

“What the hell is this?”, the Sindaco telegraphed New York from the Campidoglio the following day. “Wasn’t the newsboy’s assassin a good enough target? Or a cement mixer? How about the unwanted crowd on the sidewalk? Why not stick pins in Change Himself? You had to bite the hand that fed you? Marcus Aurelius has a whole wad of the stuff in his eyeball! The horse, too! Not to speak of the Aracoeli! And you think I’m bitching! You should hear what they’re saying on the hills of Athens, next to the Propylaea and the Erectheum! Where will it end?”

“Whasssamatta?”, the Bronx refugees telegraphed back. “You a liberal too? Trying to drag us into some egghead discussion? To destroy our simple Way of Life? We’re real Americans now. You know what that means, buddy? No talk! No more fussy gobbledygook! No tricking the average Joe. Just good, solid, common sense Action! Move we must!”

“I move from death to life”, Gabriele d’Annunzio had announced, rather pompously, in changing sides in the Italian Parliament of the 1890’s. Once, just this once, his descendents in the New World had imitated his bravado. Only they crossed in the opposite direction. Optimistically. Protected by the Common Sense of their adopted nation. As ordinary “down home folks”.

“Good life? Here we come!”, they roared, as they belted down the highway. “We’re gonna save the children. Tend our gardens. Live like free Americans. Better than ever before. Change?? You can keep The Bronx. Bring in all the misfits that you want. As for us? Salus familiae lex suprema est! Floreat traditio!”

It took Carmine six months to refer to Chunky Little Ticklish Lane as anything other than Tremont Avenue. Still, after his initial bewilderment subsided, Carmine accepted the wisdom of equating subdivisions with security, serenity, and stability. How could it have been otherwise? Was it not foolhardy for him, a callow youth, to question the judgment of his Betters? After all, his parents turned down house after house before choosing Beatific Rosebush, with just such considerations of space and homeliness in mind.

“Not enough grass!”, his father pronounced, in rejecting a suggested abode.

“Where would we plant the maize?”, his mother lamented, if insufficient prairie surrounded another possible residence.

“What would the pioneers have said?”, both moaned, when tempted by a spot too close to anything smacking of state, religious, or communal amenities. “We’re Americans now, and we gotta protect our families in an American way!”

Beatific Rosebush satisfied all of their dreams. It was an almost self-contained naturalist’s paradise. A single street and the railroad penetrated its frontiers. The name was owed to a town center completely lined with the most suggestive specimens of the promised vegetation, and, almost as a whimsical afterthought, with giant oaks as well. Footpaths and horse trails led from what the developers called The Valley of Smiles—it had originally been known as Muckypunk Trough—through simple fields and up pleasant fir-covered mountains. Carmine enjoyed getting lost on them, making believe that he was a traveler entering Rosebush in 1858. His parents had given him a book with pictures from the town’s past, and it did not look much different in their day than it had a hundred year’s earlier.

Actually, there was one blight on Rosebush’s natural skin: the housing development where the Spostati had established themselves. Heroes Complex was no national park. Built for World War Two veterans, it was swept as clean of plant life by tractor as central Berlin had been by allied bombers. A wide, ceremonial entrance to Heroes Complex, called Victory Boulevard, had been planned and begun. At the moment of the Spostati arrival, however, one simply passed from the enormous, desolate “situation” in which it would someday terminate, and into the much grander barrenness of Heroes Complex proper. This was occupied by hundreds upon hundreds of the self-contained rectangular abodes with which the Soldiers of Equality were being rewarded all across the land.

“Nothing! Absolutely nothing!”, the developer had declared when taking possession of this wilderness region. “Nothing is appropriate enough! To celebrate the Triumph of Democracy over Evil? Nothing!”

From the air, Heroes Complex looked like a collection of dots. It was a pointillism that might have sent Seurat scurrying to nestle in the bosom of Raphael. Like similar estates throughout the area, Heroes Complex was determinedly optimistic and natural. Its street names proclaimed as much, hammering out the theme of pioneer happiness like Dionysius the Areopagite the various Names of God.

Colonists, Carmine’s parents among them, gave witness to the Message faithfully, by joyfully planting hedges, weeding, and building rock gardens. Carmine also joined the cult. He rooted and tugged and hewed along with the other devotees, learning botany, cross fertilization, and giggling in the process. When planting season was over, all rested and waited for Tradition to prosper.

Yes! Carmine decided, at the height of the fervor. This was it! A place and grounds large enough to allow the Lares and Penates room to breathe. A house and garden fit for extravaganzas even greater and more baroque in character than those jammed into cramped apartments back in New York. This was what the move was all about. That the wilderness might be admired. Made more splendid through the handiwork of man. And serve as a new bulwark protecting what had been threatened in The Bronx. Wasn’t it?

Apparently not. For the colonists had been seeded along with the soil. Pregnancies were reaching their term. Sentries were reporting sightings of Change & Company in the near vicinity. And the next dull steps of Madison’s Delight were being taught, gratis, to enlighten The People, and thereby mask the ugly Truth.

Although everything in Beatific Rosebush was, in theory, intended to emphasize the natural and the traditional, all, in practice, turned viciously against them. Rosebush swiftly began to alter beyond recognition. Several streams were drained, and two mountains leveled, to provide space to build Nice Highway. For rapid communication between the automobiles of Heroes Complex and others like them in the area.

Carmine was sad that everyone loved his car so much. Travel by rail was exceedingly delightful. Trains to Rosebush left from Hoboken. They passed through a series of swamps, wastelands, and ruined factories, creating the impression that New Jersey had had a turbulent but interesting history. At the very least, it awarded it the aura of having once been filled with trolls and goblins.

Rosebush did not want Carmine to be sad. It ripped up the railroad lines as an obstacle to transportation. Now there was no choice but the use of the steering wheel, and the Bronx boy had no opportunity to make unhappy comparisons with more romantic modes of movement.

Carmine also hated to see flowers die. The City Fathers came to his rescue in this matter as well, ensuring that there would be none left for sad eyes to see pass irrevocably into the other world. Rosebushes were destroyed all over town; oak trees demolished en masse, along with the entire old village center. Now townsfolk could drive their cars more calmly into The Valley of Smiles Shopping Mall. And what better way to avoid the painful interjection into Paradise of the seamy side of life? Than by not allowing anything tasteful, precious, and precarious to thrive in the first place, thereby preventing any disappointment accompanying its corruption or disappearance? Besides, it was dangerous to allow the development of dependencies on Beauty which might weigh down mercilessly on that Self-Reliance which alone could toughen people to accept the true repulsiveness of existence.

Horses made Carmine happy. But being saddled with taxes frightened many Rosebushites. Hence, squat, industrial rectangles were set up on the grounds of the old riding academy to prevent neuroses, lower the public debt, and give everyone just that little bit greater opportunity to be fulfilled. Except Carmine. The dead stallions. And some of the Elders still susceptible to the magic of Nature.

Newcomers arrived in droves to staff the rectangles. Soon, next to Our Lady of the Cloverleaf, stood the First Church of Christ, Cloverleaf. The Cloverleaf Animist Shrine. And the No Such Thing as Secular Humanism Cloverleaf Auditorium. Rosebushites were on a ramp to heaven. Moreover, the Cloverleaf Pizza Parlor and Espresso Bar gained the company of the Cloverleaf of Nanking, the Cloverleaf Blintz, and even the Caldo Gallego Cloverleaf Take Out.

“Whatsamatta?!”, developers said to critics at town meetings called to discuss these alterations in Arcadia. “Are you against public services? You think everybody’s as rich as you are? So that’s it! What a bunch of cynics! First you come here claiming that you want to protect the Way of Life of the average Joe. Then, when other average Joes want the same chance to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, you don’t even give them the opportunity. And you call yourselves down home folks? Shame on you! What a crime!”

“Let’s not be immature”, younger, better practitioners of Madison’s Delight argued after the gatherings. “Everybody’s gotta make his buck where he can. How else does the average Joe live? Look, let’s tend our gardens and forget about it. Thank God they’re not Blacks coming in! And the pastrami and kielbasi and dumplings and amontillado will be better than in The Bronx. We’ll all be enriched!”

At least for a while. Until other average Joes made their moonshine by eliminating food with character at reasonable prices. And renewal of one’s certification as a down home folk demanded that such slop be relished and praised as better than anything that had ever teased any taste bud beforehand.

“Besides”, one lady said to Carmine’s father. “If we don’t like it, we can always leave. It’s a free country, after all!”

Mr. Spostato looked at the mortgage. If the Spostati left, The Bank would make certain that they returned. Still. In America, the family could live vicariously. The bankers moved.

No, there was nothing to do but to tend one’s own garden. Though this was easier said than done. For Change soon penetrated Heroes Complex itself.

A quick survey of this visit of Change might have given rise to some hope. The neighborhood had become greener than the rest of town. Carmine came to compare Rosebush and sixteenth century Rome. It was as though the inhabitants of Heroes Complex had used the greenery of Old Beatific Rosebush to decorate their allotments, just as cardinalatial families had taken the marble of the Forum for their own new projects. Was this some inevitable law of conservation in the world of beauty? Perhaps. But Heroes Complex was not the Villa Farnese.

Victory Boulevard was never finished. In fact, the entire enterprise was abandoned. Carmine’s father conjectured that it would only be revived to ensure completion in time for the Defeat.

No one was allowed out onto the streets or into the gardens in Heroes Complex as Change swaggered through it. Priests, for fear of confrontation and Religious War. Elders, since questions regarding improvements in winemaking and the smell of the vintage offended Pregnant Presbyterians over the fence in the next yard. Carmine, because grease from the Cloverleaf Parthenon Grill blocked his telescope’s view of Neptune. Moreover, an unholy alliance of vicious beasts, automobiles, and situation comedies made use of the outdoors both dangerous and incomprehensible. One newsboy who ventured forth unprotected was eviscerated on the eve of St. Bartholomew’s Day, whether by wolfhound or a windblown antenna remained forever unclear. Shouldn’t the Unadulterated American Tradition have been informed?

Oh, it was, indeed. But no tocsin was sounded. It would have sounded harsh to certain ears. And it would have been pointless anyway. It could only have been heard and heeded in the old Bronx, towards which the prevailing Westerlies blew all rational sound. Actually, one newspaper editorial did venture to lament the boy’s demise. Rage, reminiscent of the old days, in intensity if not in direction, was immediately aroused.

“What are those pinkos getting involved for?”, the People roared. “The kid deserved it for interfering with the Laws of Nature. An Invisible Hand gave him the just desserts he was begging for!”

Some inhabitants of Heroes Complex, Carmine’s parents included, had fled indoors for other reasons. They had discovered an antipathy to planting. Those few days on which the elder Spostati still ventured forth for a half-hearted dab at horticulture were so depressing to Carmine that he closeted himself in his room reading texts on investment capitalism to share in their debasement. Sometimes, Carmine would try to forget The Crisis by pacing up and down in the garage, alone, next to the lawn mower, practicing Optimism. If this failed, he would attempt to walk to town. Maybe a spin about the local agora would make him realize that Change’s presence need not affect the essence of a community. But walking to town was a mistake. Neighbors disliked the Statement involved. It was the late 1960’s. People thought that Carmine was becoming a Radical. They set up a “crisis cortege” to go after him with cars, incessantly offering him rides.

“Don’t fall for liberal hoo-ha, Carmine!”, they shouted. “Trust your roots. And thank God you live in a place where it’s possible to nurture them!”

They needn’t have shouted. It didn’t matter. Carmine soon recognized that there was no town to walk to. Dayliner advertisements on radio and television made it appear that the supreme experience of an excursion on the Hudson was to reach West Point and “turn around”. As Dayliner, so Carmine. Except that the approach to West Point reminded one of the Rhineland, while that to Rosebush had all the character of a march through a carpenter shop on the way to a cheap Framing.

It was precisely during those years of the new invasion of Change that Martial Law came into effect. Carmine’s household was not spared. Fewer and fewer relatives appeared at holiday celebrations. Carmine’s family did not go to see them either. Nor was it invited to visit. This had nothing to do with transportation. Some relatives had seventeen or eighteen cars. They could walk from their homes to Carmine’s atop their vehicles without ever touching the hood of an automobile not in their possession. In fact, a few relatives lived right down the street, much closer than they had in the past.

“Why can’t it be like it was in The Bronx?”, Carmine whimpered to his mother and father.

“We all have families of our own, now”, they told him, by way of explanation.

Biology had never been Carmine’s strong point. He wondered who had generated his parents. He pressed the interrogation.

“But there’s plenty of space for whole armies to eat here. They could stay up all night, playing cards and drinking, like back home!”

The Elders grew exasperated with him. Was he slow? Slightly retarded? Did he have lice? Had the scratching kept him up nights, and then exhausted and dulled his mental faculties? Didn’t he understand that there was no room for guests when the Army of Change arrived to bivouac? Something had to be done to set the kid straight! What use would he be otherwise? And just at this moment, too! When his help was needed to move the family table downstairs, so that the new television could be set in place!

“Carmine”, his mother patiently reiterated. “Holidays are a very, very trying experience. Everybody is cranky. You can’t put demands on people when they’re under tension. And your smaller cousins might break The Conveniences of the Good Life. Remember. You were a child in The Bronx. You have childish memories of it. Nostalgia is fine, sometimes. But not when it stands in the way of living, Carmine. Not then. Why don’t you realize that you’re growing up now? Why not aim your attention at something real? And attainable? Like the freedom we have to be ourselves and fulfill our potential in this best of all possible lands?”

Henceforth, Carmine limited his own visits to his relatives to times when they would apparently be more relaxed. Such as work days in January, after the misery of celebration was mitigated. Or, in the case of his cousin Vito, whenever the prison authorities were kind enough to allow him to come to the window to wave.

No, Carmine was no Iconoclast. Some sacred principle was clearly at stake here, similar to the one that forced children into an unwanted sleep because they’d “had a nice day already”. Obviously, it was either The Bronx, without vegetation, but with people and a social life, or Beatific Rosebush, the other way around.

But had this been true in Orvieto? And in Florence? Not to speak of the Groves of Academe?

There was some consolation in the awareness that the eldest member of the family shared the same concerns as the youngest. Carmine’s philosophical speculation was counterbalanced by his grandfather’s more traditional Italian reliance upon lamentation.

“Why did you take me to this house?”, he would sob, regularly, to Carmine’s mother. “Where there’s nothing but grass!”

He was very disturbed. He even took to Reefer to emphasize the point. Every morning, Grandpa hopped the one bus still available to Manhattan, with a blanket for the seat next to him. To cover the weed. Upon arrival, he played cards with other disgruntled representatives of the northern borough diaspora, at a makeshift Social Hall in exile. Occasionally, Grandpa anticipated socializing with a visit to his favorite church and a historical site or two. Watching soldiers at the armory was another pastime, and one that gave him the chance to reminisce with his buddies about deeds of derring-do beside the arditi of his youth.

“Oh Bronx! Oh Bronx!”, Carmine envisioned his grandfather and friends chanting round a bottle as evening fell and darkness overcame their demi-polis. “Oh Bronx! Oh Bronx! Why have we forsaken Thee? And if we repent? Will you transmute into a recognizable paese once more?”

“Grandpa’s gone out again today”, Carmine pouted, jealously, to his young cousin, Javelin.

“Who wants to get old!”, the kid complained. “You can’t shake your boring bad habits. Boy, am I glad we got outta that dump! We’d probably be wrinkled up as grandpa by now if we hadn’t. Thank God we had a chance to better ourselves!”

He twirled about the living room while speaking, practicing the new, improved, spontaneous step that everyone was learning to emphasize his expanding fulfillment of potential.

Grandpa and his buddies might look to the Divine for aid in overcoming their current tribulation, but God helps those who help themselves. Grandpa’s repentance was itself fitful. Even he had a picture of the Framers on his bedroom wall. A box of seed on his night table. A cheap phonograph playing the contemporary version of Novus Ordo Saeculorum. And a prie-dieu on which to kneel and praise the Almighty for the blessings his Classical, Catholic soul had received at the hands of Dullards and Presbyterians.

Why was there no tracing of effects to their cause?

Why not!?! By God, the reasons why not were clear enough! The contours of the whole Schtick were visible all the way back then, and long before. Step after step of Madison’s Delight was being practiced for the Grand Ball even as Carmine sat in the car on the road to Rosebush. If only he had been skilled enough to discern it at the outset! Maybe he could have thrown a tantrum and forced the Elders to turn back. Childish obstacles to indoctrination could, of course, swiftly be removed in the years to come, but at that time such an action might yet have had some impact.

Why did nobody trace back effects to their cause?

Activity, for one thing. Everyone was exhausted, just like all the visitors to the Wily Pregnant; just like Treacle Sovacuous’ converted perchildren.

Carmine’s father was exhausted from maintaining the house, permanently fixing the boiler which the superintendent had admirably managed to keep in working condition back in The Bronx. Carmine’s mother was spent from the search for some trickle of bonhommerie in the open space before the trash bin of the Beatific Rosebush MacDonalds. Her entire generation was aging on gasoline, as it took to the streets in a ceaseless hunt, by car, for some modicum of artificial social life. Traffic jams regularly debilitated Grandpa on the way back from Manhattan. And the fumes were mostly generated by the vehicles of his own offspring. The rest by the weed.

Optimism took over where Activity pure and simple left off. What better method of ennervation than the constant repetition of all the ritual phrases of enthusiasm? The hunt for words of pleasure fitting enough to describe the joys of the life that was killing them? After all, weren’t they due and due tenfold? Didn’t the Common Man now have more than he ever dreamed of desiring throughout the course of recorded history? And wasn’t his victory protected by “The Process”? Which allowed for correction of any flaws in the machinery of satisfaction? So long as the average Joe entered a little booth each autumn? And pulled The Lever? So firm, and yet so moveable? Symbolizing all of the deepest aspirations and achievements of human society during lo these seven thousand years? All in the wrist! Salvation was all in the wrist! Oh, the Rosebushites passed more time each day than a Benedictine on his Hours, demonstrating that they were as pleased as punch with their new environment. Each outdid the others “wishing upon a star” that no one cared to look at through a telescope ever again.

And what alternative was there? Russia? Wouldn’t disapproval of Beatific Rosebush be tantamount to treason? Or insanity? Something worthy of the Chair or the Nut House? Most likely the Nut House? Committed by relatives? For failure to recognize having it good? Like Grandpa? Whom people were now thinking of declaring incapacitated and sent off to the Grinning Motel for Jaded Optimists? With clowns and disco music to entertain him until he slammed eternally into the big, impassable, Jolly Brick Wall?

Perhaps effects would have been traced to their cause if Rosebushites had not been left, each to his own devices. But they were. Every man in his subdivision. Watching television. With greater choice available every day. Rugged individualists. Feisty. Doing for themselves what everybody had helped one another to do since the time of the cave drawings of Altamira, with no one to smack them on the hand if they ate too much chocolate, and tell them to shut up and grow up.

But one thing they did share in common, and that was Awareness. They were aware that Enemies of the Common Man and his Way of Life were lurking everywhere, armed with subtle arguments, aimed at getting the average Joe involved in discussions. Putting obstacles in the path of what he wanted. This peril called forth that eternal vigilance for which free Americans were noted. Didn’t the original pioneers have to keep rifles on the ready to fight off the omnipresent danger? How much more so their descendents! In a world filled with liberal cabals! En garde, hommes du Peuple! En garde! Turn up the volume on the set! En garde!

Yes, Activity and Optimism and Rugged, but vigilant, Individualism were exhausting Rosebushites from the very outset of their pioneer experience. Nevertheless, the first generation was, after all, filled with novice drudges. And Madison’s Delight was a dance that required real skill to perform well. One needed a free society’s Help to perfect things. Nothing leftist, of course! Only the solid stuff afforded by the Silent Majority and its GWAI-GWAIs.

A respectable start was made towards this end through the workings of the Rosebush educational system. The Elders were thrilled with its promise. How could they not be? Wasn’t the system presided over by Mr. Hearken Bloodlust? An ex-marine? A man of Discipline, by definition? Who, ipso facto, bis, and encore, protected the Way of Life?

“If we can’t trust a soldier”, the Elders argued; “then the Republic is down the tubes”.

Hadn’t they ever heard of Marius and Sulla? The Infernal Columns of the revolutionary armies in the Vendée? And the obedience owed even by generals to their superiors? Who, in turn, are often subject to some grey eminence? The kind that frequently turns tail and goes over to the adversary?

Carmine knew the Rosebush educational system all too intimately. Oh, compared with Periphery, it offered a training on the level of the Florentine Academy. Nevertheless, both Rosebush and Periphery were recognizably in the same league. Plugdata Hall proceeded from Carmine’s own juvenile classrooms directly, while the connection of the Rosebush school district with Marsilio Ficino and Fiesole was accidental and tenuous indeed.

No need to illustrate this point with reference to early childhood training. Preparation for Madison’s Delight was more suitably offered on the secondary, adolescent level. Indeed, it could only effectively be provided at such a time, since its steps were incomprehensible to those who were more emotionally developed, and had passed on to manly pursuits. Not to speak of anyone bearing the full burden of the Drama of Truth.

“Aren’t we a free people?”, Mr. Bloodlust declaimed when identifying the spirit of Carmine’s teenage hangout. “Isn’t this a Democracy? Then why load our children down like beasts in the fields? Like slaves! Just think of the problems that obsession with Certainties could cause for the average Joe. Over the fence. In the backyard. Fixing the barbeque. Eating hamburgers with the other commoners. You didn’t all come from The Bronx you know! You weren’t all baptized on 187th Street! To each his own. Live and let live. Tend your own gardens. Make a little moonshine. Then sit back and enjoy the fruits. The Process will take care of all the rest. But you must pull those Levers regularly. Remember! It’s all in the wrist! This is our Vision! Discipline? Does this mean we’re abandoning Discipline? Hell, no! Remember who you’re talkin’ to! Marine spells Discipline! But Discipline for what? For what counts! For that which needs no pointless discussion! For participation in the Process! This is our Vision! It’s all in the wrists!”

The vision of the builders of Bucking Bronco High School did not appear to be all that good. Even architecturally, the place was an assault upon Truth. It looked like a Death Camp, yet it was not. Death Camps, one must realize, served the purpose for which they were ostensibly created. And Bucking Bronco did not educate.

Careful, Carmine told himself. You are losing your train of thought. Bucking Bronco was not meant to provide schooling in any natural, traditional, logical, “unhelped” fashion. It was intended to present the Unalterable Tradition of a New World. To give disciplined, pioneering, dancing lessons. It was a Dancing School before being anything else. And the character of its teaching made its architecture appropriate, in a New World way. True, Bucking Bronco did not leave carnage with the cossack’s whip. It slaughtered the innocents gently, precisely by Framing them.

To do so effectively, it had to add to the Activity, Optimism, and Rugged Individualism already mastered by many of the Elders, a basic respect for brainlessness. With this in mind, Carmine defied anyone who shot out his lips and laughed serious learning to scorn to find fault with four years of instruction at Bucking Bronco. All of its dons did yeoman service in the cultivation of a Nominalist disposition on the part of their students, even without knowing the meaning of that concept themselves. Theorems, corollaries, countries, centuries, and world wars drifted haplessly into one another in the mouths of Bucking Bronco dons. It was continental drift on a massive intellectual scale, speeded up and made more recent than any geologist ever supposed possible. Each department added its gloss to the basic script assaulting Truth. Each possessed what The New York Upright Zeitgeist might have called “a refreshing contempt for formalism”, expressed in a failure even to attempt teaching enthusiasm for disciplines for which they had a pronounced distaste and a singular inaptitude. Advancement in the Kingdom of Erudition was of as little moment to them as the implantation of new organs onto eunuchs might have been to an Ottoman sultan.

Carmine’s own passion for the subject of history was, in part, fashioned from a desire to make sense of the nonsense taught him in his high school years. “Polyphony” was the only term he ever learned in his European Civilization course. His teacher insisted that her name be sung, allegro moderato, at the beginning of each day’s session, by eight voices in 4/4 time, while she watered the model of a huge plant root left in the class by the biology instructor who used the room before her. As for the scientist, the only time Carmine saw the slightest concern for his subject roused was when his own class paired rat corpses destined for dissection into waltzing couples. And then, merely because he was outraged not to have received an invitation to the cotillion, to trip the light fantastic. No, not a single person graduating from Bucking Bronco would ever have questioned for an instant the Lutheran cry: “Reason is a whore!” Bucking Bronco, job well done!

Bucking Bronco’s students also had to be trained to shed any residual disdain for Activity that might still be carried, as a virus, by the disappearing generations. Here, too, its success was proverbial. Activity was the test of manhood at Bucking Bronco. Not to be Active was Original Sin. Original Sin?!? What was Carmine saying? It was the Sin against the Holy Ghost! Anyone illegitimately inactive called upon himself an automatic excommunication. A drumming from the ranks of the People. A sentencing to the stake, without due process, in a manner that any Danton would have approved, and with Bloodlust in the role of Fouquier-Tinville. Only a direct intervention from a Framer could have lifted the stigma from the poor wretch thus compromised.

The medievals recognized those who prayed, those who fought, and those who worked. Activity at Bucking Bronco was founded upon anyone who tackled, acted, or manipulated.

It was no wonder that sports were encouraged in the teaching of Madison’s Delight. There was no vigor left to breathe after practices, much less think or speak coherently. But who could care? The rewards offered were so great. Cheerleaders in revealing costumes leaped and cavorted and cut capers for anyone groveling in the mud for the pleasure of the spectators. Especially if the kowtow were accompanied with an injury. Streets were named after active, young, crippled Rosebush sportsmen. High scoring double amputees took turns crouching in the atrium of the Valley of Smiles Mall to be worshipped by the mob. Colleges fought for healthy Heroes with assault guns in the form of dollar bills, placed in safety deposit boxes at local banks. Indeed, newly established banks chose a patron athlete, to whose bedroom employees often processed for a liturgical sniffing of the sweat socks on Ember Days. Admirers tattooed footballs onto their foreheads. Others hyperventilated and toppled over road embankments to demonstrate their appreciation of a particularly active Olympian.

An elite at Bucking Bronco avoided Sport, but exhausted itself in Drama Society or in controlling the organs of student power. Carmine was among its members. He spent himself in both Art and Politics together. The depths that he was thus able to plumb! Even at such a tender age! There were hopes that the psychological problems caused would be of such profundity and duration as to impale him for a lifetime! And thus turn him into a model citizen.

Carmine was class Tyrant. President. For one year. Two, Three. Eternity. It was a simple procedure, to which his dramatic abilities contributed. Self-abasement began his rise to glory. He called public attention to his prodigious nose and the obstacles it placed in the path of a proper kiss in his role as romantic lead in the class play: “It is the Excessive Fears and Neurotic Worries Which Congeal Us, Reduce Our Efficiency, and Heighten the Morbidity Which We Should All Seek to Master”. Building on the fame this won him, he mentioned in campaign speeches the fact that every other part of his body was either too big or too small. And his nipples off center. Ho, ho!! Carmine was funny. And hence an American Hammurabi. Solomon. Numa Pompilius. And Cato the Elder and Younger, all rolled into one. The kind of statesman the expanding Toyocracy demanded.

Power had its rewards as much as Sports. Democrats and Republicans actively courted Carmine. He was invited to Cheery Cluck Town, the county seat, for the coronation of the county Niceholders. “Spostato the Kingmaker”, they called him. There was even talk of an embourgeoisement, and investiture with a Happydom.

But Activity could not satisfy Bucking Bronco pure and simple. It had to be expressed in a ruggedly individualistic way if it were to be really acceptable. In recognition of the tough life of competition lying out there awaiting the student in the future. Of the need he would experience to fight to achieve his ambitions. Of the war he would have to wage against all and sundry. Wouldn’t Bloodlust let the Elders down if he failed to instill a proper respect for Reality in his charges?

This was why the sportsmen had to kill one another on the playing fields, from Rosebush to Guam, and wherever else the Framing captured a people’s imagination. What kind of teaching would it be to the young Heroes if a match went by without a passing? There goes Discipline! And there goes Tradition.

Rugged Individualism also accounted for the things that Carmine did with his Power, regrettable though they may have been deemed, in se, at another time and in another place.

But were they really so awful? After all, guests ended up preferring coffee made with the water that the hot dogs had been cooked in at the football refreshment stand. Certainly Carmine and his staff did. It saved them steps, walking to the pump. In fact, hot dog coffee gained a reputation as a Rosebush specialty, like buccellate, in Lucca, for an Italian on the way to the Mediterranean for an outing. Visitors came from all over Nice County to gorge themselves as its fame grew.

“I relish this!”, an out-of-town coach proclaimed. “Even when my team loses. What gumption that Tyrant shows! It gives you hope for Democracy!”

And didn’t Bloodlust reward Carmine with the Croix de voix? Shortly following his commencement of regular libels against Rosebushites on the school radio station? To increase the listening audience? When presented by a petition of the vast majority of the local citizenry, stating that they would put up with any amount of muckracking for the joy of hearing their names mentioned on the air?

“Bad press is still press”, one of the many residents who invited Carmine to dinner told him, as he competed with his neighbors in staged wickedness in order to assure future exposure. Maybe the Tyrant would even go so far as to hint of car molestation in his next attack.

But what were Mindlessness and Activity and even Rugged Individualism if accomplished without song? Without the stirring choruses of Framing Optimism?

“The future is ours!”, lettering over the enormous map of America placed in Bucking Bronco’s Central Hall insisted. Pins stuck in that glorious plan showed what happened when students called in their Activities. Put them together in a seven thousand page yearbook. Gave the world the sight of clubs whose members only learned of their existence at the moment of the group photograph. Proved the validity of de Tocqueville’s description of Americans as a community-minded people. Mailed off their Deeds in applications to win admission to a Good College. And received from the university of their choice a golden pin to place in the appropriate geographic location, marking the glory of their achievement. Stick another pin into the heart of America, Bucking Bronco! Follow the example of the Puritans! Stick it to the map but good! The Process works. It’s all in the wrist!”

“The future is ours!”, the embossed menus glared at Carmine’s Senior Prom. Where he, as Class Tyrant, had to sacrifice himself by sitting, at table, with all the Living Errors no one else would allow to sup with them.

“The future is ours!”, the class sang at graduation, as fine clothes adorned the body, trumpets sounded, and a giant arrow hanging from the ceiling of the school auditorium pointed the Way to an Even Better Life than the Rosebush pioneers had known.

“Those were the days!”, Carmine and his friends belted out, while dancing in circles atop a mountain overlooking Rosebush, to celebrate the victory.

Carmine sat on that mountain for the rest of the night, long after all the others had gone home. He entertained himself by coloring in the “a’s” and the “e’s” and the “o’s” of the graduation program, his driver’s license, his draft card, and a map of Nice County that his prom date kept in her pocketbook “to improve her education”. He glanced down from the summit to look for clues defining the nature of the victory. He saw nothing. Nothing, that is to say, except for a once-in-a-lifetime, Extra Special excursion of the Dayliner, in the far distance, near West Point, preparing to “turn around”.

Each of the graduates had been given a book—Now Do You Understand Why We Came Here?—filled with photographs of the immigrant experience. Carmine looked at the caption underneath a snapshot of a destitute couple carrying its child into nowhere at the end of the First World War.

“Little man”, the caption read. “What now?”

Carmine looked at himself.

Indeed, little man, indeed.

Carmine left Beatific Rosebush with mixed emotions. He had wanted to help the emigrants from The Bronx defend Tradition. Community. The Way of Life of the Common Man. Rosebush was all that he had. And yet Rosebush was anti-Rosebush. Anti-community. And anti-Tradition.

Not that Boystown University, crammed with students who longed to plant and nurture counter-cities across the country, offered much of an alternative. No. It was Oxford that showed Carmine what the option might be. Oxford gave Carmine an entity that Aristotle might have recognized. A common table with common meal times. Elders. Thomps on the hand for ill bred behavior. A telescope to look at the stars. A common language to share with his comrades, each of whom did the task assigned to him specifically, so that no one had to do everything all at once. Carmine did not have to be told, daily, that the sun came up in the morning. The things that were obvious were considered by Oxford to be obvious, while the pit of obscurity was clearly marked off to avoid a harmfal fall.

Intention? Did Oxford intend, in the 1970’s, to do for Carmine what it did for him? No matter! No matter at all! It did what it did for him whether it wanted to or not. Its inertia was still on the side of the good. And it was as valuable as Periphery University’s inertia was wearing.

Problems? Did attendance at Oxford end Carmine’s problems? Impossible! In fact, the experience heightened his awareness of his own flaws. Along with a desire to correct them. Years passed. Joy reached its zenith. This meant that return was imminent. And with it, an explanation of the Truths that Carmine had learned.

But how would this be possible? Could a man who had discovered love explain its excitement logically to others professionally committed to denying its very existence? And wasn’t it precisely a grasp of the full meaning of love that Oxford had taught him? A Rosebush that had at one time at least been tolerable loomed unendurable before Carmine. He had to hold hands with a stranger throughout the entire flight back to New York.

Carmine did not want to distress his parents immediately upon arrival at Kennedy. They provoked him. Forgetfulness of past injury had been added to the steps of Madison’s Delight which they had already mastered before his departure.

“Time to settle down!”, his father declared. “We’re building an annex for you. Full view of Chunky Little Ticklish Lane. On clear days, even a sight of the Hudson and the Dayliner. With plenty of space to plant!”

“You could watch Phil Donohue with me every morning!”, his mother exulted. “And his expanded show on Christmas Eve as well! When there’s nobody around and nothing else to do!”

Carmine jumped from the car at a stop light near Continental Avenue and entered the subway. There had been no return to Rosebush. In fact, the only contact with New Jersey that he permitted himself was an occasional glance across the treetops from the front of Demosthenes’ apartment. Drunk. All that he had to do to keep friends and relatives away from pressing invitations upon him was to mumble a few completely rational and interesting comments to them on the telephone.

“You’re being nostalgic over Oxford!”, they would then argue.” Stop being a romantic! You’re so cynical about life!”

Nostalgic over Oxford. Nostalgic over Tremont Avenue and The Bronx. What about Rosebush? He had once liked Rosebush. Why didn’t anyone say that that was nostalgic? Or romantic? Or sick? Or that criticisms of England and the old northern Borough were cynical?

Silly question. Because the seeding time had ended. Everyone had been impregnated. The dull harvest had been taken in. The bread was being baked. And the loaf was rising to its full size.

Still, Carmine had saved his love for Tradition only be escaping from his home. How long could such measures be effective? Would they not, some day, produce the consequences that that short stay outside The Wily-Pregnant already portended? And the Montenegrin in his little cage had exhibited? Another version of the same madness displayed by the practitioners of Madison’s Delight? The building of a sense of community based on another form of atomism; on Spostato individualism?

A second espresso reawakened Carmine to the Caffé del Garda and the problem of the wedding.

Now, Carmine Spostato was basically a humble man. He knew that he could err. Had he not done so recently? By taking New Atlantis seriously? And “America is Worth an Idea” as well? Yes, he was an erring man, basically intelligent though he might be.

But wait. Perhaps that was it? Perhaps he had erred in other ways as well. Perhaps the madness threatening from an attempt to create community ex nihilo had expressed itself in this form. By making him into a true, honest-to-goodness egghead in his years away from home. Overly self conscious. Insanely illuminated. Beset by rationalist demons. Reduced to the sickly refinement of a Hans Castorp in a Davos sanatorium. Why, perhaps he had actually perverted his memories of Rosebush, and, along with them, the whole idea of what had happened to the Common Man inhabiting it. Liquidated the wonders of his personal paradise, like an Old Guard Bolshevik who ends by believing Stalinist whitewashing of the past so as not to trouble his flawed idée fixe. Perhaps he had paid the price for his Sin in his self-exposure to Zwingli Managgia and The Wily Pregnant.

Forget the absurd expostulations of the Thinking Classes, Carmine said to himself. These are indeed obviously unsound and deadening. Return to the things in themselves. To a phenomenology of the ordinary. Then you’ll see!

The fallen ideologue laughed self-critically in his down home heart. As though the Real American could fall prey to what were, in effect, but intellectual maladies, whether liberal or conservative! As though the history of Rosebush were really what he, in his twisted arrogance and pride, had made it out to be in false memory!

“Rosebush!”, Carmine sobbed, overcome with regret and sense of loss. “How smiling was my valley!”

By the time the second espresso was finished, Carmine had convinced himself that the Beatific Rosebushite, far from being what contorted reminiscence had made him out to be, was actually the font of true virtue. Unmarred by the stupidities that only an intelligentsia could take seriously. Unjustly abused by the Elitist. Ugliness, caused by growth spurts, at an ungrateful age? Yes, perhaps, the Beatific Rosebushite had endured its effects. But only as the Righteous Sufferer, through whose stripes many are healed. Even his parents’ comments on the way back from the airport were fitting and proper, and merely misunderstood by an exhausted time zone traveler.

It was all so sad. The years of joy with kith and kin that Carmine had missed! Now all to be made good, as with the return of the Prodigal Son, by a fraternal reunion at a blessed event on holy soil. A sacred union. Like that of Corinth, against the Persian threat! There was a goal to make a real man’s heart leap in gladness.

“I’m going back to the People!”, Carmine telephoned Florida.

“So what.”

“Will you come with me?”

“Must I descend into the nether world anew? Have you no shame?”

Vice again worked its wonder, however. Florida would indeed meet him, Sunday afternoon, just inside the Rosebush city limits. And he would give her a Pio Cesare Barbaresco, ’78, as soon as her car door opened.

“I’m going back to the People!”, Carmine announced to Porphyry Contramundum on Friday afternoon.

“How drole”, Porphyry yawned.

“”Don’t you believe in the average Joe?”

“Tell me where to find him.”

“”Never read Chesterton?”

“Never listen to the radio? My God, what am I saying? Never talk to your colleagues? But forget all that. Want a true guide to the Commons?”

He shoved a book into Carmine’s hands.

“Then try this.”

It was A Framer’s Guide to Total Life Without Fuss. Written by Treacle Sovacuous. Two hundred thirty million copies sold that very week alone.

“Inconvenience. Fuss. Egghead distinctions”, the book jacket spat out. “The last obstacles to the Common Man’s enjoyment of the Promise of America. Don’t be left out in the cold! Discover what life would be like if you had the time to fulfill your deepest aspirations! Looking for a ‘how-to-‘ book? This is it! Common Sense=Common Desires=The Easy Life Without Fuss!”

“And nothing transcendent to judge it”, Porphyry noted, lest Carmine miss the full implications of the Sovacuous argument.

“Big deal”, he muttered, rejecting the temptation to despair. “People need bookends.”

Porphyry smiled triumphantly.

“The proletariat needs a vanguard”, he concluded. “And if it’s not one kind, it’ll be another. This other.”

*************************************************************

Sunday arrived. Alas! Sunday was rainy and unpleasant. Carmine donned the shirt, tie, and suit that he would wear to the wedding. He stopped along Sixth Avenue to buy underclothes, socks, a sport shirt, and a pair of jeans. Such measures were forced upon him by Javelin, who had forbidden Carmine’s carrying a suitcase to Rosebush from Father Demo Square.

“He’ll bring bugs!”, Javelin had remonstrated. “Black ones! And there goes the neighborhood!”

Roaches did not frequent Carmine’s apartment. No matter, As far as people in the Rosebush regions were concerned, New Yorkers were covered with them, daily, from head to foot, like beekeepers fooling with their stock. And what else but roach fever and its attendant madness could explain why all New Yorkers constantly tossed one another off subway platforms? Hourly even, as a source of entertainment denied to men from other climes.

Admittedly, relatives still bore memories of Carmine’s Great Aunt Drangula, who once lived on Madison Street, near Chinatown. She had placed a roach bomb in her living room, compelling millions of the misguided creatures to fling themselves to their deaths from the bay window giving out onto the street. This had attracted hundreds of passersby, the police, an ambulance, and a liberal bishop seeking candidates for a deserted seminary. The entire family had shared in Great Aunt Drangula’s shame. Though the diocese rewarded her handsomely, making her a domestic prelate.

“If he comes from New York with a suitcase”, the love struck Javelin reiterated daily, “no wedding”.

Public transport to Rosebush now troubled Carmine again for the first time since youth. There was still a railroad line to Nicethickwood, ten miles from “home”. Nicethickwoodsmen had decided, however, that anyone still using the anachronism possessed a car to collect him once his nostalgic binge was over. Thus, nothing—neither telephone, nor taxi, nor bus—awaited the hapless pedestrian upon setting down at the station. Hitchhiking was impossible. It was deemed to be a sign of hostility. Police automatically injected the terrorists engaged in it with calming potions to which Carmine was most certainly allergic.

He could, of course, also use Grandpa’s method of travel: the bus. Port Authority still offered one bus daily directly to Rosebush. On the other hand, this involved dealing with Port Authority.

Among Carmine’s thrills at moving into New York City was that of never having to call at the Port Authority Bus Terminal again. Suburbanites pointed to that site as a symbol of the horrors of daily life in the metropolis, but as far as Carmine knew, they were the only people who regularly used it. He frequently met neighbors in the Village who hadn’t the faintest clue as to where it might be.

“In fact”, Carmine told Everybum, while preparing for his decision concerning the voyage; “I’ve forgotten myself how to get there.”

“And you wish me to enlighten you?”

“No?”

“Against my better judgment. I mislead everyone who asks. The Common Man often needs that kind of protection. If he has to leave his homestead. Offered by a member of one Elite against the depredations of another. Since all elites are not the same.”

Time was short. Carmine was supposed to meet Florida by six-o-clock. It was now nearly one. There was no way that he could risk an injection from the Nicethickwoods’ police force. A bus was the only option. He fumbled along to Port Authority.

Change had not affected the Bus Terminal as much as might have been expected. Traces of the godly culture in which it had grown up were still obvious. The wickedness of the grape remained a given here, thus excluding the possibility of the purchase of a flask to while away the Sunday hours. No matter! The depravity of the body continued to be taught in a fashion that could easily consume decades of leisure! In examining magazines of encyclopedic proportions, available every day of every week, designed to introduce novices to very precise vices known intimately only to a select, though devoted, clientele.

“And why not?”, the owner of The Triple Breast Boutique ventured, as the don tried to sneak by his Sin Palace unnoticed. “What would you have the average Joe think? That his natural bodily juices shouldn’t give him a cheap thrill? When expelled through and into the right orifices? That he’s obliged, even in the dead of night, to have a roll in the hay only with Dialectical Idealism? You’re one of those people that Sovacuous talks about, aren’t you? The kind that wants to pick the Common Man off the ground! By burdening him down with all sorts of fussy decisions about bad, good, better, and best. Well, thank goodness there are still democrats like me around! Who don’t go in for this high falutin’ ‘We are the World’ leftist crap! Who still give the average Global Joe what he wants! And leaves sex in the gutter, right where the Manichees put it!”

Sovacuous’ work was advertised prominently at the Cabbalist Book Store, which itself occupied one whole floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The place was packed. Carmine peeped in. It was old home week. A Bronx witch owned the enterprise.

“But I call myself a Feminist now, honey”, she cackled. “We got branches of this chain all around the country. Life Without Fuss is my best seller. It sure casts its spell! Even without toad blood! Who’d ’a believed it, huh? Hey! Need a computerized nose picker?”

Platform 16, 876A called Carmine away from the Conjurer and onto the Rosebush Express. But, shock of shocks, why had no one told him? There was no more Beatific Rosebush! Change had altered it’s appellation! It’s surname had gone the way of all fructifying plants. It was now called Beatific Exit. And no one at the ticket counters would admit that it had ever been known as anything else.

Advertisements for Life Without Fuss covered the vehicle. And, sure enough, the interior was crammed with Conveniences reflecting its crucial theme. Indeed, the Beatific Exit Express was a Living Convenience. Moreover, the Conveniences aboard enjoyed the ride enormously. But as for the people, Carmine could not say. It was impossible to locate them accurately. Oh, he knew that they were there. He could see the scantrons picking up, registering, and responding to common desires whose fulfillment would avoid Fuss. Sometimes, he thought he could even hear a voice audibly enunciating a need suggested to it by the recently marketed Passion Finder, for which humans were queuing up for miles around. But as for seeing riders? Directly? Forget it! What did Carmine think? That Conveniences come without a struggle? In this arduous planet of tears? Where the Common Man had to sweat blood for every step forward he takes? In the midst of so many foes? Delusion! Erreur doctrinale!

It was understandable, therefore, that the struggle for Convenience on the Beatific Exit Express would entail the minor inconvenience of the retreat of the passenger. Where would the Conveniences fit if people were left prominently in view? Some Common Sense, please!

Still, Conveniences do not march to the tune of justice alone. The Conveniences can also be merciful. And charitable. Distributive justice invariably triumphs. Hence, they allowed some indication of the whereabouts of the individuals whose shapes the rigor of the law did not permit to be pinpointed exactly. Carmine wanted to get to know the man he was given to sense must be seated beside him. He climbed onto the hood of the car that the fellow had brought, compacted round him, grabbed hold of the fang-like Ticket Purchaser sold at Macy’s, followed it down to the battery-operated Scratcher, and reached the atomic-powered Tongue Mover to break the ice.

“Hi!”, Carmine said to the Tongue Mover. “I’m your neighbor! Who are you?”

The Tongue Mover did not function. For the man was fitted with a Question Deflector, avoiding the Fuss of answering on his own. Question Deflectors directed troublemakers to Personal Video Screens.

“Why?”, Carmine asked the image of his neighbor when it appeared.

“To save time”, the Video Screen announced. “To do what?”

An arrow on the Video Screen pointed to a Passion Finder and its demand for satisfaction of another wish. A stroke of luck! The Question Deflector had just outlived its warranty and broke down. Carmine approached the Tongue Mover swiftly and brutally, to see the consequence of the appearance of a man threatening Change in its vicinity.

“I”, Carmine stated, forthrightly, “am going to tickle you!”

Damn! The man was also clothed with a custom-made Silver Lining Activator.

“Have a Nice Day!”, this beamed to the Tongue Mover, which set Carmine’s neighbor’s mouth in motion. “I’m optimistic that we can integrate your desires with mine with the least amount of Fuss possible. The Tickle Acceptor is already on its way. Lucky we’re on the bus fleeing Sodom, isn’t it?”

Carmine resigned himself to speaking with Conveniences for the remainder of the trip.

“Why bring the car with you?”, he asked the Video Screen.

“Best place to take it”, the device responded. “I certainly couldn’t use it on the highway properly. And where would I go? There’s no place to park. Someone would steal it if I did. It’s too late in the season to go to the shore. And if it weren’t, the car would rust there anyway. Yes. It is truly Convenient to use it only here, on the bus!”

Conveniences jammed the exit ramp. The Beatific Exit Express was delayed a solid hour. A busload of Scruplebusters fell out of the vehicle ahead of Carmine’s inside the tunnel, necessitating another sixty minute dawdle. By the time Carmine finally rumbled down Route 3, the clock had struck five.

Nature suddenly became friendly. The mists caused by the autumn rain lifted, allowing one brief glance at the dying day. Still, it wasn’t fairy castles that emerged from the gloom. It was Route 46. Here, in front of Carmine, unmistakingly rising from the miasmal mists, was “The Pall” incarnate. The Pax Dollarica taken up and developed by the countryside itself.

No Balzac could fit what Carmine saw into any Human Comedy. For Carmine looked out onto a world of unremitting, Fuss-reducing, Convenience-producing commerce. Junk shop after junk shop, shaped into Führerbünker, crystal palaces, fish lips, and turds defaced the already diabolically ugly roadway. A rat scurried up an embankment, saw the Triumph of the Bourgeoisie, ran about madly as in a maze, and scampered off, confused and embittered. No trace of the First and Second Estates came to the rescue, breaking the horizon. Spirit, family, and manly virtues were all exiled by Convenience as one gigantic pain in the butt. Towns came into view. Convenience had shown the same respect for their individuality as it had in exiling Fuss from Milwaukee, Tallahassee, and Juneau. Only one place stood out as being different at all. It was fortunate enough to have retained a monstrous and grotesque city hall in neo-Stalinist design. Carmine heard a human voice break free of the guidance of its Tongue Mover.

“Look!”, its distinctly feminine tone told a child, a remnant of good taste causing it to shudder as it did so.

But it was not able to pronounce a judgment of its own. An Emergency Fuss Avoider got hold of the rebel in the armpit. To bring good out of evil. And lead the malfunction to an appropriately ridiculous conclusion.

“Look!”, the Emergency Fuss Avoider caused the Tongue Mover to shout. “Look at the exquisite historical building!”

Carmine thought he heard the man seated next to him disconnecting several of his Conveniences in an effort to get some air. A head soon popped out

from the side window of his coupe. It surveyed Route 46 and shook itself, slowly but firmly.

Poor devil, Carmine thought compassionately. Must be coming to terms with the omnipresence of the hideous. How he suffers!

The victim turned to Carmine. His Silver Lining Activator was still in charge.

“Sometimes I wonder whether it’s all worth it”, it commented. “But then I see this, and I know that it is.”

He withdrew his head into its shell. Carmine gagged, and was about to launch a verbal assault on the Idiot. A Question Deflector rose to the occasion. The Video Screen flashed the word “sneer”. The Devices knew what was happening. They were dealing with another one of those anti-Treacle aristocrats. The kind that hated the Common Man. The sort that wanted to maintain Fuss.

“You got some problem, buddy?”, the Video Screen demanded of Carmine.

“It’s not, well, you know. It’s not very attractive outside? Is it?”

The Video Screen cursed.

“Attractive! Attractive? And why should it be attractive? That’s not its purpose, it is? You know how much it would cost the average Joe to make these places attractive? How much in Fuss as well as in money? Sheesh! That’s the trouble with you damn liberals. Lording it over the rest of us. Anathematizing, always dictating. You see this stuff around you? It’s what we want. What we need. That’s all. You do your thing and let us alone to do ours. That’s what Tradition is all about.”

Carmine still generally believed in signs. Signs warned him for miles that his destination was approaching. And it was a good thing that they did. Because Beatific Exit was so overgrown with Conveniences that it, too, was almost impossible to discern. Certainly no streets could be seen.

“Well, thank God for that!”, a Device explained for its owner. “I mean, if there were streets, people would stay out on them. Walk. Talk to one another. Discuss. They’d waste time, wouldn’t they? Avoid practical action in exchange for pointless babble. Valuable moments would pass that could have been used locating and utilizing a Convenience.”

Several factors made the outline of Beatific Exit still visible. The whole of the town was topped by a huge glass dome, itself crowned with a massive Solar Dish, the entirety shielding the village from noxious substances which the Conveniences poured through a rivulet that emptied just outside the barrier into a moat.

“What’s that?”, Carmine ventured to a Video Screen.

“One of the biggest sources of the air problem”, it explained. “The Baby Canal. That’s where Science dumps the products of conception when they become a pain in the ass. We’re optimistic, though. Research is looking for something useful to make of it. Progress has already been phenomenal. The guts of newspaper boys seem to serve as an antidote.”

Carmine pointed to the Beatific dome.

“What happens if its punctured?”, he wondered.

The fellow pulled a gas mask out of his briefcase.

“We all carry them. Their production has generated jobs. I have a sexy model.”

“And for those of us without?”

“This is a free country, dingbat. You can buy one, you know. But if you’re too cheap, or too lazy to work, there are Bell Jars conveniently located throughout the glens of Beatific Exit. Generated a lot of jobs making them, too. I tell you, pollution has been a blessing for the average Joe. Science cures the ills of science. Although I guess you’re anti-Science and anti-Industry, just like the rest of your pinko diddlytwit sidekicks.”

It was the Enlightenment turned upside down. Surely the Video Screen was a college graduate.

Florida awaited Carmine in her car, atop a mount of Cuisinarts and discarded telescopes. She was entertaining herself singing a Dies Irae from the Verdi Requiem.

“Why?”, Carmine asked her through the driver’s window.

“I always do at weddings. To remind me not to be overly concerned about my own dreadful marital prospects.”

Carmine’s neighbor overheard the music as he was attached to the back of his wife’s car to be dragged home.

“Such Fuss”, his screen complained. “Imagine what life would be like if you had to live the whole thing with the kind of finicky music she would send you off with!”

Carmine hopped into Florida’s vehicle.

“Can you do the Agnus Dei for me as well?”, he chirped, cheered considerably by the thought of death.

“Hand over the Barbaresco first. Any more Conveniences in my near vicinity and I’ll down the bottle on the spot, too. Where are we?”

Good question. Carmine was terribly disoriented. He and Florida left the car to press the button on a Location Finder which stood conveniently nearby.

“Yes?”, a voice asked from inside its soul.

“Where are we?”

The Location Finder flashed a picture of Beatific Exit onto the screen. But in its Rosebush life, as it looked decades earlier. Long before even the Great Migration began.

“Your Happy Home!”, it announced cheerfully. “Culture Preserve. Pride of the Framers. Welcome back from Babylon!”

“Our whereabouts”, Carmine shuddered to Florida, “are now all too certain to me.”

This was not totally accurate. Exact directions to the Spostato estate were still unclear. Carmine was about to consult the Location Finder anew when a copy of Life Without Fuss extruded from a Cuisinart, shot into the air, and clunked him on the noggin. This provided guidance from experts.

“Visiting Beatific Exit?”, the book questioned in its Table of Contents. “Don’t let’s rest content with the surface. Explore Beatitude-Under-Convenience and its charms as well!”

A map was provided at the end of the Moonshine Chapter. It offered instant gratification. Carmine and Florida fell through the Convenience Shell while consulting it. Life Without Fuss flew down with them, breaking apart as it did. Several pages stuck onto Carmine’s nose. Useful ones as it turned out. The first containing shopping coupons. The other miraculously shaping into a top hat. Carmine looked inside. It was The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer! Though the brim was now decorated with American flags and labeled: A Beer-bellied Barrage of Ball Busters for Big-Headed Bastards.

But this was no time for reading. Carmine and Florida plastered themselves next to a dozen Food Chewers. A house had nearly run them over. For the Common Man was on the move! Like a rat in a maze, unclear where to patter next!

The entire configuration of Beatitude-Under-Convenience was radically different both from that depicted on the Video Screen and Carmine’s memories of the hamlet, whether real or distorted. Still, one could not deny that it was ordered in accord with Common Sense. Each of the Conveniently Beatified, outfitted not only with all the dictates of his desires, but with his home as well, was on the move, in one permanent excited procession through the precincts of the village.

“Why the joy?”, Carmine asked the screens of a speeding Cape Cod.

“Simple”, the split-level following behind answered. “New Supermarket in town. Join the fun!”

“Is it needed?”, Carmine questioned.

“Hey! Growth demands it! Take away this one Convenience, and they’ll all go with it!”

Carmine and Florida studied their surroundings as carefully as the dreadful traffic situation permitted. Sure enough. The whole population, all of its works, and nature itself were actually zipping through the aisles of a mammoth emporium. This was stocked with much more than your ordinary Conveniences. It was crammed full of disjointed ideas as well. Imported! Fresh from the New Atlantis! The whole lot! All on sale! Nay! Given away as samples to stimulate new Passion for avoiding still more Fuss!

There was really no room for pedestrians in the aisles. A fairly slow moving colonial ambled by. Carmine and Florida hopped onto the roof, clutching its Passion Finder for dear life. They tugged themselves through the mechanism to safety. It was a complex device indeed. Connected to freedom clips. A magnet. Eventually to a telephone. Carmine picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”, he asked.

“Screw everybody!”, Giulia Lupercalia answered.

Carmine turned the Passion Finder down as far as it would go. It had no “off” switch to dispense with it completely. Even so, the house shook from its violation! A rift opened, near the chimney. Carmine and Florida climbed through.

A large number of Living Conveniences sat, smiling, pillows placed between their various parts to avoid the friction of rubbing them together. Video Screens offered images for the viewing. Carmine instantly recognized two of them. His high school friends, Guardatutta and Perpiacere Calpestata, who had married while in their junior year at Bucking Bronco. No one initiated a conversation. How could they? There was no input from the Passion Finder, enabling the People to express its thoughts and desires accurately. Besides. Intimacy was such an Inconvenience. Better to sit alone and belch. Luckily, the Maginot Line of Question Deflectors saved the meeting from total disaster. All the occupants beat out advertising jingles with Hand Operators on the Device Rack to drown out any potentially troubling inquiries from the newcomers during the crisis. Carmine found the situation debilitating. He could not stand in the way of Democracy. He climbed back outside and revived the Passion Finder. Its revitalization started things going again nicely. The dignity of man was saved. Tradition had another lease on life.

“Good to see your image!”, Carmine told Guardatutta and Perpiacere. “How’s the old gang?”

“Eighty per cent”, Guardatutta’s Screen answered, “are divorced. The Passion Finder’s looking for reasons to split up the rest. Two dozen have changed sexes. Three are in prison in Thailand, for life, for drug smuggling. We think they’ve committed suicide by now, though. Several have become gay porno film stars. One guy just recently declared himself a god, and is being worshipped by a number of disciples from Tiny Plural Village, who need a strong man in their lives. Bloodlust phased out the hand holding prohibition at Bucking Bronco just in time to be able to introduce condom dispensers, but had to leave for Pakistan, where there are still kids to teach and schools to run.”

“So, all in all?”

“Hey. We’ve got it made. Our lives have been enriched.”

“Any kids?”

“Degenerata-Logica!”, Perpiacere called. “Degenerata-Logica! Come say hello to your Uncle Carmine!”

A Video Screen ambled over to Carmine and Florida. They shuddered when its image flashed towards them. It was the girl they had seen at New Atlantis. Being opened up at the Titillate the Toddlers Program.

“We couldn’t send her anywhere around here”, Perpiacere explained. “Schools have run out of kids. When New Atlantis started accepting the very little ones, we rushed her off. The employment opportunities it will open up! The resumé it will give her! The chances for bettering herself! She gets to use all the methods we were allowed, and every other one as well. No Fuss whatsoever.”

Guardatutta embraced her daughter, image to image.

“Tell Uncle Carmine your life story, Degenerata-Logica darling! Tell him your hopes for the future! For the future is yours!”

“Invade my space again”, Degenerata-Logica said, warding off her mother’s touch, “and I’ll give you Litigation Fuss for a lifetime.”

“Precocious”, Florida commented.

“Alas!”, Guardatutta responded. “She does have a touch of it.”

“Of what?”, Carmine asked.

“The ‘City Disease’. Progressive elitist types suffer from it. They pass it on. It comes from thinking too much and living in a communal environment.”

“How many of the children around here suffer the malady?”, Florida questioned.

“All of them”, Perpiacere sighed.

“No signs of infection earlier on?”, Carmine wondered. “Before going off to New Atlantis?”

“Why bother to look? Where else could they come from?”, Guardatutta laughed, bitterly. “We’ve raised our child to respect our Common Way of Life. And our Common Desires. So have the others. It must have been the City!”

“I guess”, Carmine suggested, “that it has to be a little like AIDs. You know. Passsed on only by homophobes.”

“Makes you frightened for the average New Yorker”, Perpiacere concluded. “Still, one reaps what he sows. Liberals refuse to admit this.”

But time was passing.

“What about the wedding?”, Carmine asked.

The Video Screens registered confusion.

“What do you mean?”, Guardatutta’s wondered.

“Well”, Carmine exclaimed, “For one thing, where is it?”

“Where is it?”, Perpiacere roared. “You’re at it! Look at the Devices!”

Carmine and Florida raised their eyes to a General Screen on the house’s side wall. This did, in fact, show the celebration of a wedding. With the entire family present. And all of Javelin’s friends as well. Including Guardatutta, Perpiacere, and their vile child.

“But none of you are really there!”, Florida marveled. “Are you?”

“Of course not!”, Guardatutta’s screen laughed. “Neither is Javelin. Why go through the Fuss? And Inconvenience? And the tension? Not to speak of the trauma of remembering the day’s hopes in the future, once they’ve been dashed! Good Lord, bring the whole thing down to a practical level as soon as possible! We were much too fussy about this even in our day! On that, all the therapists are agreed. By the way, Carmine, are your nipples still of center? Do they distend during regular hormonal activity? The therapists say this is important. The body finds the relaxation convenient.”

“Besides”, Perpiacere interrupted. “Having it on the screens means we can view it over and over again, once the unpleasant memory of the day itself has faded. And why should anybody interfere with the fun the Devices are having at the wedding party? Look at them. Almost make you wish you were there!”

Carmine and Florida stared in disbelief at the General Screen. Everything appearing on it took place in accordance with the No Fuss Principle. A No Fuss Preacher had been hired to “get the thing done” in an aisle of the Free Supermarket of Conveniences and Ideas, so that no passing house would feel left out, and no Device attending made uncomfortable by any reference to something denominational. Fourteen bridesmaids-Devices marched up the aisle along with a monstrous starter home and a tool shed, all wearing the same dresses as the bride, which made the tool shed look a trifle ludicrous. By prior arrangement, everyone responsed “yes” to the No Fuss Preacher’s question. This destroyed all residual tension, jealousy, and envy. Javelin’s Device was telephoning friends as the wedding march approached.

“Going hunting tomorrow”, it shouted out of the General Screen to Carmine.

“Deer?”, he asked.

“Girls!”

“No honeymoon?”

“Why the Fuss? I’ve been sleeping with her for years already. And it’s been no picnic up until now, I can tell you that. Come to think of it, it might even be time for a Change of Desire.”

“Who’s the lucky Device?”, Florida inquired.

“Does it matter? I’ve slept with all of them. I might marry each of them some day. Come to think of it, I believe I’ve been married to at least two. It’s such a bother remembering. You get more out of life by just achieving closure, moving on, and junking the past. Actually, I’m not quite clear which one I’m marrying today. Ha, ha! All I know is that thinking about the question is blacking out my kinetic energy. Besides, I have work to do now. A man’s gotta earn a living.”

“Good job?”, Carmine asked Guardatutta.

“Oh, he’s been so fortunate! He’s made it big! He’ll be able to get all the latest Conveniences!”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s so popular at the surviving schools. And he’s got the special job of creating a demand for the supplier. Carmine, you know, he’s—forgive me for saying this, but it’s true—he’s just so much more productive than you are.”

“What’s he doing?”

She handed him a catalogue of abortofacients.

“Selling Intimacy Fuss Avoiders. And he just got the Hotel Bimbo prom contract!”

“Javelin’s killing babies?”

“Carmine! What kind of thing is that to say? How disgusting! And at a sacred moment, no less! In front of your parents! What kind of heartless creature has life in the City made you?”

Carmine looked up. His parents sat calmly in a chair, represented by their Devices, in the middle of the General Screen. Smiling. And for the first time since the move to Beatific Whatever. What could be the reason? He was about to ask when Florida’s voice interrupted.

“What do you do”, she wondered, “with the time saved by not attending the No Fuss Wedding?”

“Why”, Guardatutta chirped, happily, “we use it to go to the Spostati funeral!”

“Funeral!”, Carmine boomed. “Funeral! What in the world are you talking about? What funeral? My parents are smiling right in front of us!”

“And a rough thing it was for your Great Aunt Fellucca’s Device to get that smile twisted into place this morning for a last image! But we wanted to have some videos of the old timers at the wedding before we packed them away.”

A second General Screen went into operation. It depicted the Devices attending a funeral. Simultaneously with the wedding. The No Fuss Preacher dispatched the old folks to their destiny, reading a list of their Activities, and waving farewell “until we all meet again in that great high school of the sky.”

Carmine burst into tears.

“Son”, Great Aunt Fellucca’s Device comforted. “Mom and Dad had become so uncomfortable with the Better Life. Both were inconvenient to their loved ones. What else was there to do but make everybody comfortable again? With a couple of Javelin’s Travel Pills.”

“You mean you killed them?!!?”

“Carmine!”, Guardatutta’s Screen interjected, horrified. “How revolting! And at a sacred moment! On a holiday! With the flags out! With the dance of democracy in full swing! Just like it was when those average Joes were sitting on The Wall in Berlin! When the opportunity for us to fulfill our potential, to grow, and do what really counts is at its peak! When the time saved by not going either to the wedding or to the funeral enables us to shop! And clothe you and your friend properly! You think you can turn your back on shopping, Carmine? And get along without Conveniences? Are you some kind of atomist? Where do you think you’ll go when that City comes crashing down around you? You’ll be all alone then, won’t you? But we’ll still love you, Carmine. Despite your vicious talk. We’ll welcome you back among the down home folks. Then you’ll be gratified we’ve kept a little garden to plant some corn in. So. No hard nosed City talk, Carmine. Basta! Back to the hearth! Floreat traditio! Down with liberalism! Onward Ecclesia! Forward Boulé ! Move, Pyratanies, Archons, and Ephors! Advance Comitia Centuriata and Tribal Assembly! Courage, Genius of the People! Victory to the General Will! Honor, always, to the Di parentes, who, alas!, no longer have the strength to buy and exist. But as for the living? En route! Shop we must! Charge!! Without a purchase, the People perish!!!!!”

The entire house now joined the parade through the Free Supermarket of Conveniences and Ideas. Justice demanded it. Love compelled it. Not to speak of a sense of duty towards family and friends. Florida was confused. Carmine was in such a shock due to his parents’ murder, that he stood, zombie like, awaiting decision. Guardatutta served happily in his stead.

“When are you going to grow up, Carmine? Get yourself a car? Some furniture? A fax machine? Establish a credit record? Go into debt? You can’t think of yourself all your life, Carmine. A man your age shouldn’t be standing up at the opera, when, with a little sacrifice, you could own a compact disc player. You spend money on dinner in restaurants with friends and you don’t even have an answering machine. You sit in cafes, writing, in long hand, with a pen, when you could just as easily make instant espresso at home, without going out—it’s just as good, Carmine, don’t let the liberals fool you, it’s just as good. It’s always been good enough for us—and do your work on a computer, like an adult. You’ve got to buy, Carmine, buy. Buy a television, and stop living in your fantasy world, Carmine. It’s time you grew up. The moment has long since arrived for you to stop wasting your God-given potential on romantic atomism and wake up to some real sense of community. Caritas urget nos!, Carmine. We will not fail in our duty. Don’t betray the People, Carmine! Remember our forefathers’ dreams! Back to hearth and home, kid! Don’t give in to the message of the Elitists who ruined The Bronx. Floreat traditio!”

What happened next was difficult to describe. Convenience upon Convenience was heaped on top of Florida and Carmine, the only thing valuable among them being a gift certificate which, in their hunger, they ate. Before long, they looked like Gregor after his metamorphosis, and could not move without assistance. Another victory for community and betterment under the Common Man’s expanding belt!

As Conveniences were purchased, all of the Ideas of New Atlantis and the Wily Pregnant that came along to justify the passions to obtain them leaped onto Carmine and Florida as well. Soon, much of their strength was devoted to fending off the Begging of the Question and Aristotledämmerung, with the whirl of Madison’s Delight suggesting constantly that nothing unusual was happening to them at all. For how could that be? Hadn’t the Rosebush pioneers fled the City precisely to avoid the High Priests of Change? They were t-r-a-d-i-t-i-o-n-a-l-i-s-t-s, not c-h-a-n-g-e-r-s. They could spell. Buy a dictionary, Carmine! Buy a dictionary and read! Oh ye of little Faith!

Nevertheless, whatever was happening in the Free Supermarket of Conveniences and Ideas, quickly took on further contours of the New Atlantis experience. Purchases, behavior, and justifications grew more childlike as the shopping wore on. Carmine began to realize that Beatitude-Under-Convenience had not been completely altered from the town that Carmine himself had known on the day of his arrival there some decades ago. It had successfully maintained one remnant of the past: Infantile Paralysis.

“You call it that”, Degenerata-Logica’s Screen sneered. “We call it ‘the integration of all ages’.”

Be that as it may, the Video Screen, lively and eager as ever, showed that Beatitude-Under-Convenience had assured perpetual childishness in a way that Bucking Bronco had only barely touched years earlier. Guardatutta’s suggestions for purchases specialized in late youth; Perpiacere’s, the crib years. Great Aunt Felluca was an expert in grammar school existence. Why, there was really no need for children in the narrow sense of the term any longer, though perhaps they were required as some kind of control device. For the screens all seemed rigged to react to Degenerata-Logica’s iron will. After all, she had begun the best education that the most educated generation in history had available to it.

And no one would stop. For why should they? Wasn’t the Integration of All Ages the expression of unchangeable Common Sense? Weren’t the Common Desires of the Common Man the infallible guideline for the good life? Was this not the Activity that the television therapists all held up as best? Whoop-dee-do, there were now Levers everywhere! Polls. Market surveys. The wrists got an endless workout. And the party moved on. And on. And on. The community had to stay at it! How could one part of the show be missed? Who knows what potential might thus remain unfulfilled? What was the alternative? Not Russia any longer. The Russians were coming over here for self-improvement!

Before long, however, all of the Devices, and the house itself, lay exhausted on the ground and highway.

“How can you endure this?”, Carmine panted.

“I know”, Guardatutta admitted. “Shopping can be rough. Still. That’s what the Devices are here for. Thank God they save us the time.”

Carmine and Florida looked at one another, bewildered again.

“You mean…you mean”, they burst out, together. “You mean, you’re not shopping?”

“And go through all that Fuss? Come on! How could we be open to future purchasing by tomorrow’s Devices if we prejudiced current sales and current mechanisms with actual hands-on involvement today? How could we be on the road, looking to satisfy the Common Desires by moving to some new paradise when opportunity knocked? How could the American Tradition be protected if we were doing anything definite that prevented us from shortly doing something else?”

Florida clutched Carmine’s axle gears with her little finger, the only piece of flesh that remained exposed on her panzered body.

“But”, she stammered to Guardatutta. “Are you…are you…are you here? Now?”

“Here?!”, the whole chorus of Living Conveniences present roared with laughter. “Going through the Fuss of explaining ourselves to you? Here?! Now? Why would we do that? Are we under pharoah’s whip? This is a Democracy. No burdens! The Uncontrollable Lightness of Being!”

“Florida!”, Carmine whispered.

“I know!”, she gasped.

“Ils se posent!”

“Comme des vivants!”

“But where in the world are they?”

“Who knows? And how would we find out?”

Carmine was beginning to learn from experience. Somehow, he sensed that he should look around the floor of the house. Sure enough. A couple of hatchets stuck through some cracks in the linoleum. Florida and he glanced at one another cautiously, each waiting for the other to speak.

“Why the delay?”, she panted to him. “Let’s discover where they really live!”

Both friends inched their way as best they could towards the hatchets. They lopped off their purchases and ideas while the Living Conveniences were still laughing. Then they attacked. Degenerata-Logica was the first victim. Carmine tied her to the ground. Florida hacked her way through plug after plug, wire after wire. Layer under layer of Convenience disappeared. But there was always another stratum to go. Seventy times seven veils of Salome! A Tower of Babel of Conveniences and Ideas! They’d never find her! It took hours finally to reach something resembling a body. Once the trick was learned, however, the entire house filled with hacked Devices. Florida slayed her thousands. Carmine his ten thousands. It was a gruesome slaughter. Both friends were utterly spent by the time they had reduced all the Conveniences to bodies.

No Canticle of Victory ended their work, though. The action of the visitors unleashed unpleasant consequences. Something happened to the Beatific Exit Dome. Hacking triggered a device within its mechanism. Florida noticed the bodies on the floor casually donning their custom gas masks.

“I think”, she told Carmine, “that Toxica is about to strike.”

“There must be a slight crack above us”, Guardatutta said. “There’s no need for a Fuss. Just go into the Bell Jar on the porch.”

Carmine and Florida entered gladly, if only to get away from the sight of the Massacre. Then, something hopeful happened. The newly-freed People began to approach. Timidly, at first, if truth be told. But seemingly seeking further insight into the behavior of these strange outsiders. Carmine’s Great Aunt Fellucca was first.

“Why”, she asked, “don’t you say: ‘Have a Nice Day’?”

Javelin was next.

“Really”, he wondered. “How do you make it without a television set?”

Guradatutta and Perpiacere pressed their lips onto the Bell Jar itself.

“Is there honestly a Europe?”, they asked.

Soon, a semi-circle of incredulous friends and relatives gathered round the Bell Jar, mouths a-gape, listening to Carmine and Florida teach of the benefits of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.

“Put away the Devices!”, Carmine preached, dedicating his work to the memory of his parents. “Start making ravioli again! Lay down the home made wine! Consult your Elders! Dance to a different drummer!”

Attention was rapt. Progress was being made. The Conveniently Beatified seemed prepared to accept the burden of Truth, whose yolk was really easy in comparison with that to which they had been subjected. Carmine was excited, and reminded of a Rembrandt etching he had seen, though he himself was now in the position of the persuasive St. Paul that the Dutchman had depicted.

“Florida!”, he cried out. “There’s hope for the average Joe!”

“Oh, it does appear that way, Carmine”, she teared, happily. “Doesn’t it?”

Suddenly, however, at 12:00 P.M. on the dot, an alarm went off. Everyone rose and left the area surrounding the Bell Jar.

“Wow!”, Javelin said as he departed. “You guys were a really refreshing change of pace. I’m so glad the Crisis Activator pointed us to you. But it's time to be daring again. To try new things. And ‘Goofball House’ is about to begin! Why, it’s the hit of the season! And we all need role models. You know what those guys make on that show?”

He turned to Carmine just before disappearing.

“By the way”, he said. “I’ve always wanted to tell you how much I admire you for teaching at Periphery.”

One guest, a ten year old cousin of Carmine, hesitated for a minute or two, as if relishing further instruction. Carmine smiled hopefully at him.

“Will you tell me?”, the boy asked.

“About Truth?”

“About why reruns are beginning so early this fall?”

“But what about the Cosmic Verities?”

The straggler yawned, and fled to join the others. Florida and Carmine clutched one another’s hands, shivering in terror.

“Where are the people?”, they moaned.

A van zipped by, then backed up and stopped. Several humans, all young, Degenerata-Logica among them, got out, dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns.

“Where are the people, indeed!”, Degenerata-Logica said. “We’ve had it with this dump, and its inane shopping mania! We don’t want to waste our lives. Let’s face it. The Common Man does need an Elite to guide it. And where’s that Elite? Back in town! Where else! The City’s where the action really is. The Creative Centers. The outlet for personal potential. We want to tend big gardens, not little cabbage patches. Dream big dreams. The way the aristocracy does. And always will. Want to join us? The van is toxin free. And not cheap, we can tell you that! I pawned my mother’s jewels for my share in it.”

Carmine and Florida escaped from the Bell Jar and climbed inside the vehicle.

Beatitude-Under-Convenience was suffering yet another traffic jam as they left. Hearken Bloodlust was returning from Pakistan, with children to fill the demand for a supply of cheap labor to staff the Free Supermarket of Conveniences and Ideas. After all. No one in town wanted to do such work. They were all too busy arranging for their devices to go out partying. And who cared if the God’s Cloverleaf is Great Mosque would soon be the biggest structure in town? With the people inside taking what their holy men told them seriously? Too much Fuss to worry! Leave such boring tasks to the Eggheads. The Nay Sayers. The Prophets of Doom. The enemies of the average Joe. The western religious bigots.

By the time the van had reached the open road, Carmine dozed, fitfully, next to an utterly unconscious Florida. He came back to life periodically as he overheard the excited and ambitious aspirants jabbering. They were talking with a radio host over their van phone, and listening to his answers, live. It was a tremendous encouragement to their Pilgrimage of Grace.

“We can’t believe we actually managed to get through!”, Carmine caught one of the aspirants rejoicing to the talk host as he began his definitive nod next to Florida. “Thanks for the tips! We knew you’d write a sequel to your last book. Our only regret is that we couldn’t stop at the cleaners to have our dress shirts done. For the real party that lies ahead!”

Carmine closed his eyes with the voice of Treacle Sovacuous ringing in his ears.

“Why the Fuss?”, the former Helper told the hopeful noblemen, over WPRO. “There’s no need. Where you’re going, the cleaners are open twenty-four hours a day.”

Stakhanovites

Carmine had heard from someone whom he knew was “doing well ”.

Anatole Crumbs, ex-Peripherite, was “doing well”.

Crumbs’ search for a new career, like that of Oliver Stonato, had been a trying one. He had begun his task by following up an advertisement in The New York Upright Zeitgeist’s Higher Educational Supplement for a program entitled “Pragmatic Perchild”.

Pragmatic Perchild sponsored a “Save the Teachers!” course which promised to guide former academics enslaved to traditional western disciplines to fresh, exciting, liberating, and creative new fields. Similar courses, among them “Save the Mystics!” and “Justice for the Knights Templar!”, were all linked together in a mammoth altruistic enterprise assuring passage from old, hidebound, mandarin classes into a more progressive, democratic, and fuss-free Elite.

“Protect your Dignity”, Pragmatic Perchild pleaded. “Learn to sell yourself. Ideas must diminish, so that lucre may increase!”

Three factors prevented Crumbs from acting favorably upon his findings. For one thing, all of Pragmatic Perchild’s courses were over-subscribed. Seven thousand traditionalists had inscribed their names on waiting lists that stretched long into the next millennium. There wasn’t enough space in all of Manhattan to house the robes and vestments and military honors of the down and outs who wished to learn how to take the first steps towards the development of a practical philosophy of life. Moreover, the cost was far beyond Crumbs’ means: $20,000 for six, half-hour sessions. With coffee, though, And a copy of a popular new treatise entitled: Cash From Conscience—A Downward Stroll Through the Hierarchy of Values.

More important than oversubscription and cost in forming Crumbs’ initial wariness about Pragmatic Perchild was fear: fear of taking instructions from Tinkle Funkbugel, the principal lecturer for Save the Teachers. Dr. Funkbugel, part of the President’s Council on the Reinterpretation of Illiteracy, was one of the few people ever dishonorably discharged from Periphery. His inability to sign the tuition check had so startled Dr. Fist that that dignitary himself had descended to the faculty dining room to complain of the continued toleration of low standards.

Still, necessity is the mother of invention. Crumbs read in the prospectus that one failed professor tried to sell his daughter, disguising her as a Filipino, in order to finance taking the Pragmatic Perchild Program. He had, unfortunately, been arrested and thrown into prison before pocketing even the initial payment.

“It was the color of my parachute!”, the man had pleaded in self-defense. “What more noble Star to follow? In this land of self-reliance? Of shared traditions of profitable gardening? Creativity? And inimitable freedom? If I’m denied the path to self fulfillment, what happens to the foundations of American life? Its perfection of intellectual achievement? Not to speak of its domination of the global moonshine market? Besides. The kid had a hairlip.”

Both judge and jury were deeply moved by the defendant’s Common Sense. Still, their hands were momentarily tied by outdated laws unresponsive to Change’s latest alterations in the basic concepts of fairness guiding the Nation.

Luckily, prison proved to be a blessing in disguise. There, the academician, along with a discalced Franciscan stigmatist and a Prince of Jülich-Cleves, each tempted by circumstance into analogous expedients, came into contact with students from Periphery’s “Behind Bars, But Still Reaching for the Stars!” scam. After long and fruitful discussions with the crooks, all three men wrote to the director of Pragmatic Perchild together. Was it not possible, they asked, to emulate the policies of a standards-friendly New York educational establishment?

The Process works! Indeed, it was more than possible! So impressed was Pragmatic Perchild by the soon classic “Clink Letter” that it allowed the would be slave traders to register for its courses and obtain correspondence certificates for their troubles. A student loan program at 16% interest, remitted slightly with every successful equivocation of an act of malfeasance, enabled the fellows to finance their efforts. Pragmatic Perchild was thrilled with the subsequent enthusiasm unleashed in jails, waiting pens, workhouses, reformatories, brigs, calabozos, oubliettes, and concentration camps all across the land. No intellectual criminal would ever be reduced to such desperate straights as the Pioneer Pleaders again.

“Fifteen years of reclusion!”, an article in the back of the course prospectus exulted. “And still on top of their studies!”

This was followed by pictures of the smiling convicts and their respective victims—one daughter, a bewildered Cistercian, and a Knight of Malta, all three wretches slopping pigs on some unknown plantation in Mozambique—as well as a tear out loan application form. Dr. Fist was so touched by the imitation of his university’s work that he immediately invited the inmates to the coming graduation ceremonies at Periphery, in order to receive directly from his hands their just academic reward.

Crumbs studied the Clink Letter. It was really impressive, as an example of its own genre. He bit the bullet. He wrote to Pragmatic Perchild, facing it with a second momentous question in an already tumultuous year. Was it not feasible to do for a free man what had been accomplished for the incarcerated? And in such a fashion as to allow him to avoid Funkbugel? Just as the authors of the Clink Letter had done?

At first, the management was dubious. How sincere could an independent, law-abiding citizen be? What guarantee did it have that he would be as enterprising as Heroes willing to risk prison to achieve their goals, like the confessors and martyrs of old?

But greatness had been thrust upon Pragmatic Perchild’s leadership. It stiffened its shoulders. It rose to the full glory of the task it had assumed. It permitted Crumbs to enter the program. To fall deeply into debt. To work himself into an early grave. To spend the remainder of his shortened life praising the system that permitted his indenture. In lieu of paying homage to one that might not secure him the convenience of owning a car. Which he could no longer park anywhere anyway. Et cetera, et cetera. Why, Pragmatic Perchild even gave Anatole the phony Filipino girl’s address, so that they could become pen pals. And his certificate eventually arrived, without ever having to endure a single Funkbugel mispronunciation of a definite article.

Like Oliver, odd jobs of all varieties kept Crumbs and his family alive as he finished up with “Save the Teachers!”. Some days, he worked as a stockboy’s assistant, loading the upper shelves in a local supermarket. On others, he functioned as a private detective or a sacristan. But it was only when his program finished, and he struck out on his own that his real problems commenced.

Crumbs’ quest for a stable job introduced him to unsympathetic personnel directors throughout New York City. Almost all of these dealt with him in a similar manner. Their lips contorted in derision before a single sound of abuse emerged from jaws well accustomed to this method of stimulating attainment of Personal Best. Then came the accusations of indolence. Lack of self reliance. Excessive ties to roots. Contentment. Satisfaction. Above all, with his Age-Wealth Factor.

“By now”, one director told him, “a mature man your age ought to be making at least $500K. He would have helped five or six competitors to discover the creative joys of other careers. But we’ve dawdled, haven’t we? We’ve tried to find an anchor instead of setting sail on the never-ending search for growth and fulfillment. Am I wrong? What is it, Anatole? Don’t we want to Reach for the Stars? To realize our potential? Protect our family and its well-being? Are we totally uninterested in being a good provider? Are we completely oblivious to the welfare of our children? Do we know what college costs are like today? The only thing that demonstrates the slightest desire on our part to rise up to a sense of gravitas is the stockboy position.”

Prophesy also lay within Crumbs’ judges’ charism. Each cried out a warning to any concern that contemplated wasting its time training the sluggard. To what end?, they thundered, given that the fellow was certain to abandon the Real World as soon as possible for the fleshpots of unregenerated Collegedom. For the literary myth. For the classics. And the Scriptorium. The Palace School at Aix-la-Chapelle. Or maybe even the Hanlin Academy, should the West go farther under.

“Anything!”, one particularly vehement Jeremiah predicted. “He’ll go for anything except what’s down home, average Joe like, practical, and therefore truly creative. Pax tecum, Anatole! Pax tecum! But away from our door.”

Anatole was the sum of all heresies. The Alpha and the Omega of the Children of Darkness. At once, both Machiavellian and dull-witted. Arrogant and craven. Diseased and a disease-bearing Hound of Hell. My God, he had been so brazen as to suggest as a reason for wanting a whole variety of potential jobs the fact of his being unemployed! Did he think that flippancy was a path to glory? In a world where people had dreamed all their lives of the personal development which they could ensure only by working the Raskolnikov Bludgeon Rental Agency? Sweating blood over its counters? Theirs and other peoples? Had he no respect for noble souls who had stated their Vision spontaneously? On the Spontaneous Vision line of their application? The one requesting the exact date that their infatuation with the company began? The man was utterly reprehensible! Where was his joy? His desire for a stable life? Where was his sense of dignity? He probably didn’t even use condoms!

One personnel director indicated that he might be willing to give the Monster a try, should he agree to spend some time with a company speech therapist, who would reduce his vocabulary to the basic, fuss-free English necessary for the position, and thus render him pliable to improvement. Crumbs dutifully visited her penthouse suite for lessons, though the vulgarities bored him. Still, he learned enough dialogue from cutesy evening news broadcasters to qualify as an educated common man, and began his descent into the modern Elite.

Crumbs’ first job, like that of many a contemporary American Humanist, was with an insurance firm. He was given three weeks to master the use of its computers, again, under the assumption that academic stupidity would prove to be his undoing.

By the time the morning coffee break of the first day arrived, Anatole had already finished looking up “Hitlers” and “Margaret Sangers” in the telephone book, and was searching desperately for something else to do to occupy him until lunch time. It was then that he decided to rewrite the Computer Training Manual, which had been composed in Pig Latin, and reduce the three week program to the hour that it had taken him to become an expert. He was fired on the spot for insubordination, uppitiness, and desertion of post under fire. The company president swore an eternal oath never to risk hiring a former academic again.

“Aristocracy has its Code!”, he explained. “Respect for the Dignity of the Machine forms character. With us, Chivalry is not dead!”

The president personally congratulated Crumbs’ replacement, who eventually took six months to grasp the functions he was obliged to perform, for “the kind of gumption, feistiness, and intellectual rigor that made this great American firm come to life in the first place.”

Crumbs became so distressed that he actually left the City.

Now if one has to emigrate from New York, there is no sense making believe that Bayonne will be any better than Paducah. Always forthright, Crumbs made as miserable a choice as possible, and moved to Cleveland. Oh, there was a “good” reason for selecting that particular Cross as well. A publishing house located in town had advertised for a man with a Liberal Arts degree and some editing experience. The job had a month’s vacation attached to it, along with a living wage. Crumbs knew how to handle the first. But he longed for the experience of learning how to deal with the second.

He left for Cleveland on his own, like a turn of the century immigrant, to scout around before sending for his family to join him. It was a perilous trip. A grasshopper invasion crossed his path somewhere at the edge of the Alleghenies. Beasts covered Crumbs’ entire vehicle. He reduced them to a green pulp by turning on the windshield wipers.

This was nothing compared with what he was expected to do to Thought. For Crumbs’ employer was engaged in the task of revising second grade textbooks for the use of graduating high school seniors.

“No one should be taxed beyond his strength”, the donor who had made this project possible had told the press when handing over the first check. “That’s one of the things we’ve learned in improving Standards, isn’t it? Down with traumas for the young in mind!”

Anatole’s job was to pluck out sentences of more than several words, and consign them to the rubbish heap of history. His labor pruning textbooks proved to be similar to that of the speech therapists determined to whip eloquence out of his own educated rhetoric. His first mission was that of updating a history book. The development of the Roman Empire had to be explained according to the dictates of Crumbs’ marketing analysts.

In fact, just as in Carmine’s experience in The Acceptance Room, it was the market analyst who actually rewrote the whole text. Crumbs simply looked it over for spelling errors—“since you’re in English Literature”—and allowed his academic credentials to be used in its sale. He mailed Carmine a sample of the analyst’s work. The sentence—“A variety of barbarian tribes wrecked havoc with the fabric of Roman culture”—had become, instead—“New immigrants diversified stagnant Roman society. Some native Romans were fearful of Change. But what does ‘native Roman’ really mean? Only volcanoes can truly be called ‘native’ in Latium.”

“Did the analyst send you supermarket coupons along with his work?”, Carmine asked in the return letter.

“Oh, yes”, Crumbs admitted in reply. “And the company always allows us time off to shop in his favorite emporium. Actually, I think it’s a subsidiary of theirs.”

Soon, however, the situation in Cleveland turned ugly. Anatole had two left feet at Madison’s Delight. Neighbors of Crumbs, fearful that the presence of an ungainly dancer would bring disorder into their Peaceable Ballroom, wrapped his car with toilet paper, captured his cat, got it indecently drunk on Ohio State Champagne, and hurled it from a postal delivery truck into Lake Erie. Crumbs began to think of the month vacation, and questioned the head of the publishing house as to when his might fall due.

“You’re not planning to take it, are you?”, she marveled,

Crumbs was baffled.

“Well”, he stuttered. “I mean…well…well, yes. Is there some problem doing so?”

“I should say so! No one has ever taken his month vacation. What would you do with all that time?”

“I’d thought of going to Europe.”

“I don’t see why you should, what with your career still developing and everything. Noblesse oblige, Anatole! Noblesse oblige! Besides. How much of your work could you take overseas? There’s only so much baggage allowance, you know. Last year, my husband and I were really thrilled with a visit to southern Ohio villages. The charm! The gaiety! The joie de vivre! The year before, we sailed back and forth from Cleveland to Ontario several times. Each trip took only three days, and we almost got back on the second both times. Not only that! My signals came through loud and clear!”

She stepped away from the desk to show Crumbs her body, which was wired in such a fashion as to enable her superiors to stimulate her within a two hundred mile radius with only the slightest of jolts. Crumbs returned to his office. On his own authority, he slipped into a textbook about to go to press and be shipped to millions of school children across the country, a description of the Ostrogoths as “weasley little turds”. His replacement sent him a postcard from the Higgledy Piggledy Shaker Museum on his afternoon summer break the following August. He expressed a hope that Crumbs had followed the company’s advice and undergone the mental treatment whose payment the severance agreement foresaw.

But November proved to be Crumbs’ lucky month. For it was in November that a newer, still more democratic organization than Pragmatic Perchild—“Lift Up Your Bucks!”—managed to grab hold of the older, related enterprise in a creative corporate merger full of Moment for his final Destiny.

No one could claim that Lift Up Your Bucks! acted out of whimsy or with lack of forethought, either in this merger or anything that it did. The organization had clearly specified its desires in a work outlining neatly the nature of its approach: Creation ex Nihilo.

“What is America?”, the book’s author had asked. “Its people. And what do its people want? Conveniences. No Fuss. And what kind of economy would its common representatives build? Would it be simply a convenient and non-fussy construction? Nonsense! It would be the most creative, the most exalted, the most glorious manifestation of individual freedom ever existing. Is it Fuss you want to avoid? So be it! Soit! Fiat! Amen! Laissez-faire! But must one turn his back on the creative and liberating tendencies accompanying? Heaven forfend! What would one then be saying about the mission of America? No! No mere ‘trade union mentality’ for America. Lift Up Your Bucks and Fulfill Your Potential! The average Joe is a Perchild too!!”

The free and creative energy of people lifting up their bucks could not be kept purely private, any more than a Roman might separate the life of the family from the Res publica. Could one come out of the cave and refuse to spread the Good News? Whither virtue under such circumstances? Anyone lifting up his bucks had to endure the pain borne by other intellectuals and artists who had suffered for the evangelization of their creativity throughout history. Weren’t all the Extra Special and Super Extra Special united in their recognition of the sorrows caused by knowledge and talent? That’s what a true Elite was all about. Concern.

Hence, Lift Up Your Bucks! naturally sought a union with Pragmatic Perchild. All of the Gifted were in the fight for the perfection of civilization together. Both the traditional representatives of culture and the newer contributors to it from more humble ranks. At least this was true in a society like that conceived of by the Framers. Where the High stooped down to the service of the Low. And the Low reached confidently into the realm of lofty Genius. And both showed a skeptical world that they could work together. Avoiding the twin alternatives of Tyranny and Despair.

Besides. Lift Up Your Bucks! and Pragmatic Perchild were mining the same prisons in pointless competition.

“What the Framers have joined together”, Creation ex Nihilo ended, revealing its hopes for a fruitful merger; “let no man put asunder!”

But Lift Up Your Bucks! was aware of human psychology. It did not want Pragmatic Perchild to think that it had been conquered. Such was not the Framing Way. Yes, it was the case that all the valleys of human desire and enterprise were to be exalted, and spread with the fervor of an Isaiah. Indeed, the mountains of the human experiment had to be brought low, and made susceptible to nimble human passage. True, both in unison, had to advance throughout the globe, so that all might learn the value of Sion and worship at its shrine. But not with a sense of vae victis! No! Together! Always and forever! Integrated! Married! With new symbolism to indicate the fact.

Therefore, the merger of Lift Up Your Bucks! and Pragmatic Perchild was accomplished through formation of a new company—“Trompe l’Oeil For You!”—which shed the names of each of its constituent firms. Trompe l’Oeil For You! Would manifest the exalted Perchildity of every buck lifting, average Joe-like enterprise it promoted, passing its wares on to the population at large in the only way that a truly Framing elite knew how to. Not as mere economic Conveniences. Or as simple Fuss Avoiders. But as cultural necessities. Trompe l’Oeil For You! would dedicate itself to preaching the multa necessaria produced by the Sacred People as intellectual triumphs essential to Salvation.

But a name change proved valid for other reasons as well. Captive Greece led her captors captive! Almost immediately, the common desires transfigured into Creative Achievements by Lift Up Your Buckers within the Trompe l’Oeil organization were latched onto by their Pragmatic Perchild colleagues. Once in their possession, these manifestations of Ordinary Genius were rendered practical again! Though now in such a rarefied manner that not even an astute sociologist could have recognized their origins in those who called themselves “people”. So successful was the merger that it thus became impossible to determine whose bucks had been lifted up and which Perchildren had been pragmatised. Everyone in Trompe l’Oeil could be cultured and simple, humble and mighty, humdrum and creative, simultaneously!

Yet even the satisfying merger and the formation of Trompe l’Oeil For You! Was as nothing compared to the first project that the new entity undertook: the exciting creation of the Multidimensional Commerce Space, more commonly known to New Yorkers as “Shopopolis”.

Nothing in the history of mankind had been constructed as fast as Shopopolis. Announced one day in yet another book—To Market, To Market, to Buy Us a Frame—which itself combined the texts promoting the mother organizations’ primeval and separate labors—this mammoth undertaking had been completed within twenty four hours.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day!”, the builders of Shopopolis boasted, cogently. “Shopopolis was! Has there ever been a project like unto this project?”

Probably not. But there are some historical questions which are better when they just are not asked.

No more than forty eight hours after Shopopolis’ construction, advertising made it the deepest and most heartfelt goal of every American who hoped to better himself, and from long before the project had ever been conceived. People were already complaining of neuroses caused by having to grow up without the Multidimensional Commerce Space during the Great Depression. And no wonder! To Market, To Market, To Buy Us a Frame showed conclusively that it was only in Shopopolis that the creative Perchild could suitably prosper. And the average man’s desires be turned into cultural and spiritual gold. By the end of a single week, thousands of aspirants, longing to join the democratic Elite of the greatest Nation that ever weighed down upon the soil of the earth, had moved into the project’s vicinity, awaiting its official Grand Opening. Giving birth to yet another diverse New York neighborhood, which tourist brochures excitedly named Sho-Po.

Now the leaders of Lift Up Your Bucks-cum-Pragmatic Perchild alias Trompe l’Oeil For You!, which was incarnated in Shopopolis, discovered Anatole Crumbs’ records in the Save the Teachers! File. His cause became their cause celèbre. Personnel directors affiliated with the old Lift Up Your Bucks! organization suggested that Crumbs the Monster be shown salvageable within the confines of Shopopolis. He was needed. And he had earned, on his own, some of the crucial qualifications for membership in the new Elite, idiot though he might be. He was buried in eternal debt. He had suffered needlessly. And Crumbs was a challenge! What kind of statement would it make if he didn’t fit in at Shopopolis? He must fit in! There could be no carelessness tolerated in his regard! Someone might argue otherwise that the Framing was incomplete. Insufficient. Imperfect. People could claim that the ordering of society should be based on something other than a consensus of mindless beings, seeking indefinable private benefits, backed only by a positive law, whose sole appeal to a higher court lay in a flick of the wrist at the Lever. All Creation groaned for the purification of the lost lamb.

“Crumbs!”, the Shopopolis leadership cried. “Crumbs! Your warfare has ended! Come, rest in the bosom of your Protector! Anatole! Venite adoremus! Crumbs! Help is on the way!” So effective was its call that “Remember Crumbs!” swiftly became a national slogan, reflecting the entire country’s commitment to the excellence of even the least of its children.

Crumbs telephoned Carmine in mid-November, not long after arriving at Shopopolis, to invite him to the Grand Opening celebrations, whose highlight was to be a magnificent dance. A grand cotillion. The Anglo-Strutters Ball.

“You can bring a friend if you like. I have two tickets”, he announced.

“How come you’re not inviting your wife?”

“You live close by. I appreciate your intellect. But I love my wife. In fact, I revere all women. Don’t invite a lady. How abut your buddy, Demosthenes?”

“When is it?’

“Saturday afternoon.”

“For a ball?”

“It’s convenient. It won’t disturb the Sunday work routine.”

“Will there be food?”

“Yes. Meet me at the Pas Pour Tous for lunch. Much of the new staff will be there. Aspirants, all of them. Super aspirants. On the fringes of Elitedom. Most don’t have the energy to lift a knife or a fork. They’re always on the move, lifting up their bucks instead. Who’s going to pay the Cosmos for all those lost hours crossing datelines?”

“Beats me. Sounds anti-semitic. Maybe I’ll come early to have a look around before getting to the restaurant.”

“Good idea. It might be best not to have the appetite to eat too much.”

It already seemed that Crumbs had realized that this was not “it”.

Carmine met Oliver Stonato and Porphyry Contramundum for a drink near his apartment after speaking with the obviously troubled Crumbs.

“Don’t go, Carmine!”, Oliver begged. “Do you have a sadistic streak? Do you want to see yet another soul in agony?”

“But Oliver”, Carmine remonstrated, not terribly convincingly, even to himself. “Shopopolis is for the crème de la crème!”

“And if the crème de la crème is piled onto a heap of shit? Guess which loses its savour? Or are you so blasé by now that you can ride on the back of a monster without worrying about its effects on you? Still. I understand what Crumbs feels like. I pulled the same stunt with you.”

“God, Oliver!”, Carmine chastised, half-peeved and half-malicious. “You sound like our friend over here.”

He jabbed Contramundum.

“Hey, Porphyry. How come so blasé yourself? Awfully quiet, aren’t you?”

“Sorry”, Porphyry answered. “Just reading. Creation ex Nihilo, Cash From Conscience. To Market, To Market. Ever see them?”

He shoved the works into Carmine’s hands. The don’s eyes bugged out further than Buckwheat’s.

Damn! How was it possible? What the devil was this? Why was he plagued by madness evoking operatic analogies? This time, one from The Marriage of Figaro? With Treacle Sovacuous in the role of Cherubino? And Carmine as the Count? Discovering the irritant on every step in his path? How could that character write so much?

Porphyry smiled his inimitable grin. He patted Carmine on the shoulder.

“Friend of yours, isn’t he?”, he sneered.

Porphyry turned to Oliver.

“Hoist your glass, Stonato!”, he commanded. “Don’t let’s us discourage the boy. Send him on his way. Drink up, Carmine! Drink up! Drink it all in. Drink up! Drink the dregs, poor humble drone! Destined to down it all. For the historical record, if for nothing else. Come over to my team, Carmine! Come on over. You’ll come sometime. But drink it all in first!’

Matteo and Maddalena were up celebrating the holidays all of Friday night. Carmine couldn’t sleep. He called Demosthenes, who himself was wide awake after a fist fight with a defender of Malebranche. Both friends left together for Shopopolis, in proper morning suit, at 6:00 A.M.

No map was needed to indicate the approach to the Trompe l’Oeil realm. Warnings were posted in “The Gatelands”, a park built upon the territory of a once charming Danish neighborhood which lay outside the new Republic’s walls. These warnings took the form of people. A number of them were elderly, mostly Danish.

“Where else would I go now?”, a tiny Jutland-American inquired, peering over the top of a dedication issue of Kierkegaard from inside a sturdy wire-mesh garbage bin. “At 170?”

“So, Grandma!”, a Lift Up Your Bucks! aspirant panted as he jogged past. “Didn’t plan your IRAs creatively, did you? Waited till past your kindergarten years, I expect? Wasted valuable time with that pleasure reading in your hand, I suppose?”

“What about Boise?”, his companion chastised. “Can’t she go to Boise? They desperately need welders in Boise. Boise, Grandma, Boise.”

“But I’ve lived here for 159 years!”, the old philosopher sobbed. “And I’m so very frail!”

“Frigid, you mean!”, the first jogger judged. “Can’t respond to the Conveniences offered through the passionate embrace of Change! No wonder we’re losing out to China. No more passion left in the American public.”

Her frigid hands were shriveled. Carmine and Demosthenes stooped down to the rubbish bin’s wire mesh to turn the old lady’s page.

“Why don’t you at least go to a shelter?”, Carmine asked the dowager gently.

“One gets his community nowadays where he can”, the woman informed him. “And, to tell you the truth, many of the people here are quite interesting.”

Carmine looked around him. It was indeed a cosmopolitan, though useless crew. In addition to Danish friends of the Kierkegaardian, the park was dotted with other riffraff in menial positions, incapable of producing necessities and unresponsive to the call of the appropriate Conveniences. There were several classicists, a dozen troubadours, an Egyptologist or two, an entire exiled royal family, some Homeric, Celtic, and Icelandic bards, and the total population of a Missouri Synod commune from the state of Iowa. Mass upon mass of those so unbalanced as to wish to devote a part of their life to something other than the opportunity to participate in the Anglo-Strutters Ball littered the Gateland’s agora.

“Even I’m here!”, a familiar voice called out to Carmine, before disappearing into the ranks of a group of Spanish mystics. “For following your advice, I might add.” Carmine turned towards the sound to catch the briefest glimpse of Marco Toglioildisturbo, who ducked behind a discarded Ugarit Dictionary.

Hardly anyone other than Carmine and Demosthenes cared to stop and speak with such disreputable figures. Any serious attention from the outside world was directed towards another group of park occupants—poor souls in their own right—incapable of doing anything other than lying about tending festering sores and missing limbs, and wondering, madly, about unanswered questions regarding the meaning of life and the significance of body lice. The stench coming from these clearly shattered Gatelands’ denizens was so strong that the student film crew from New Atlantis documenting its suffering had to douse itself in expensive perfumes just to be able to keep at its work.

“Worth the trouble though”, the young producer exulted. “This should make my name in the Agony Seminar.”

One lunatic sat rocking backwards and forwards in his own special fairy land. Demosthenes handed the victim a dollar to ease the burden of being filmed by his inferiors.

“I saw you give that free spirit a buck”, the seminar coordinator marveled. “This is what, even under the best of circumstances, is called Tokenism. Here you have someone who requires not a dollar, but a further restructuring of society, so as to respond, more favorably, to his creative impulses. On the basis of still more of the liberation and individualism that makes what’s good about this country greater than anything that’s come before it. That’s what we’re working for, and you are preventing. Trying to buy off Freedom’s Final Triumph? Shame on you! And when the man has yet to be completely helped! And could be tempted to use the money on cognac. Or a pack of Balkan Sobranies. Or, worse still, on furs. As though he were actually someone who had already perfected himself and could give in to all such whims with wild abandon.”

Demosthenes turned back to the maniac and gave him a fiver. He even tried to help him to his feet.

“What are you doing now?”, the coordinator raged, shaking his fist in the air like an epileptic Statue of Liberty. “Are you interfering with the Space of the local citizenry? Denying him one of the consolations of poverty in this Blessed Land? Where everything public becomes private, and can be decorated according to a Perchild’s own unique tastes? He has chosen his present abode. His wishes, are sovereign. And, what’s more, he’s exposed here to so many of the Fragmented Fruits! He can rise, in the midst of The Gatelands, to the call of the harmony of the spheres!”

He clapped his hands. A loudspeaker blared out waltzes from The Nutcracker and Rosenkavalier. Students attempted to entice the wretches into a therapeutic twirl.

“Dance, Bohemians! Dance!”, they shouted to the cripples.

“Why are they so concerned with you?”, Demosthenes mumbled to the lunatic whom he’d befriended, not really expecting an answer. But perhaps the fellow had been trained by Everybum. He looked at Demosthenes with honest compassion and understanding.

“You’re asking why they’re concerned with me? A truly certified nut?”, he laughed. “A man who shuts out the real world? Then builds his own? Bound to the dictates of his inner voice? You? Supposedly with all your wits about you? You’re asking me this? Why, because like responds to like! That’s why! And because I’m the ultimate American! Rugged individualist? Voilà! Eccomi qua! Ecce homo!”

Music blared from the loudspeaker still more insistently. The screams of the Bohemians were drowned out by the voice of Strauss’ Marshellin.

“Care to dance?”, the maniac asked Carmine. “I still have one limb left. And a single lobe up top which has yet to be removed.”

Neither Carmine nor Demosthenes could respond to the proposal, politely proferred though it was. For the aspirants were on the march. Thousands swept through The Gatelands, pressing the two men towards the walls of Shopopolis as relentlessly as poseurs in training once had driven them to the entrance of New Atlantis.

Carmine and Demosthenes examined the Aspirants as a whole. Most were in spandex and lycra, so that they could seduce, jog, and aspire simultaneously. Some calculated the number of their lovers or the calories they had lost on their path to fortune, using computers which they wore on their buttocks as nineteenth century women did bustles.

Aspirants need decaffeinated lattes before enterprising. The two friends were thus directed by the mob’s flow into the Caffé Beltà for a quick, proto-elitist Schluck. An exhausted owner told them that the clientele had been pouring in earlier and earlier each day.

“They’ve been getting ready for the Anglo-Strutters Ball”, he noted. “I bought this place years ago, before Shopopolis was ever dreamed of, just to have a cheap hang-out for a snack, and a little exercise in retirement. But this morning, when the doors were unlocked, they opened never to close again.”

Carmine patted him on the back, eager for a candid exchange of views. But suddenly the modest entrepreneur’s eyes lit up. He heard the music of the Dance.

“Yet this!”, he chanted, in the eighth mode, in his eighty year old tenor voice, “is the price a free people must pay for the blessings of Progress!”

“The price”, Demosthenes grumbled, “is much too high.”

A closer look at the constituent elements of the aspirants in the Caffé revealed what a varied lot they were. Many had started out with Pragmatic Perchild, as intellectuals or aristocrats or spiritually gifted souls eager to make certain that their ideas and their abilities finally had an impact on society as a whole. Madison’s Delight taught them how such a goal might be reached. An entire symphony orchestra stood round the Beltà bar. Painters of real merit as well, all clearly identified as such with plaques around their necks. Each carried a whip in his mouth for The People to stir him on to ever greater achievement. A number seemed positively delirious with joy.

“I mean, you can’t be a romantic all your life”, a flautist explained to Carmine. “Just as there’s romantic and post-romantic genres in music, there’s dreamy and practical in the game of living. O.K. Granted. Daydreaming is fine when you’re an adolescent. But later? When you grow up? You know where such childishness gets you? Read your Isocrates! Into an early grave! That’s where you’re pushed! No, no. A man of talent must be open to Reality. And to the insights of a realistic People like our own. Hey, I tell you, we’ve got a lot to learn from the guy down the block. You think their common desires are worth nothing? Exactly the opposite! The first shall be last, and the last shall be first! And that comes from a greater source than me! National polls attribute it to a majority of our fellow-Americans!”

Conversation was momentarily interrupted by the passage of an average Joe rigged up with a thousand Conveniences and wiring himself for fifty or sixty more as he walked.

“If we don’t listen to the wisdom of the People in a democracy like ours”, the flautist concluded, after the last battery’s disappearance brought Carmine back into view; “if we don’t provide them what their spirit wants, we risk losing our talent in our own cranky obsessions. Noblesse oblige, my friend. Noblesse oblige. It calls us to the service of the ennobling Plebs. Remember Crumbs!”

Others among the Aspirants were originally recruited by Lift Up Your Bucks!, and were present to make certain that their entrepreneurial skills received the intellectual recognition that was their due.

“Let’s talk seriously now”, a particularly offensive specimen taught the shuddering Demosthenes. “There’s more philosophical wisdom in my managerial skills than in a thousand of those characters prancing about with Pythagoras in Crotona. My staff has Vision. We’ve been to the Vision Center, after all. We’ve formed a Vision Team. We’ve got Global Vision. Local Vision. Pre and post Vision Vision. There’s no Vision like Our Vision like No Vision I know! And we produce Visions by the barrelfull each day, according to the needs of the Market. What Prophet can you name who did that?”

“Do you make fat books with your Visions?”, Demosthenes asked.

“As thick as you want!”

“Prepare me the biggest. Deliver it personally. And don’t make plans for the rest of the week afterwards.”

Also present at the Caffé Beltà were the most gifted and highly motivated of the Convenience Seekers of America, stultified by the crude, materialist limitations placed upon them by life in the countless Beatific Exits across the land.

“Oh, I know that mere shopping deserves the mockery that it receives, when pursued in parochial cubbyholes by those lacking all sense of mystical buck lifting”, one of these Professionals told Carmine, “But true convenience seeking—yes, admittedly, still a kind of ‘shopping’ in popular parlance--embodies our deepest sense of the majestic and exalted. Our understanding of the essence of what sets us apart as a species. Why are we on earth, if not to exercise the freedom to buy what is sold? Take away all the rest, and this alone would divinize us. Be ye perfect, as our Market is perfect. This is the Call! This is the Challenge! It is Choice in Action, and, after all, Choice is the definitive human activity. I, myself, and others like me, will only under special grace enter the ranks of the Elite as such. Neither are we aspirants. But we, nevertheless, in our own fashion, shape and enhance the common mission.”

“A kind of Third Order of Peripherites?”, Carmine asked.

”Yes, that’s it! Oh, you must be an intellectual! Have you begun to market that concept? Is it a trend yet? Am I expected to buy it at the moment? Or will the Fuss caused by not possessing it wait till Glorious Thanksgiving Friday to make itself felt?”

But the time for idle chatter had ended. Potential was about to blossom into Act. Seed would emerge and reveal its flower. Everyone poured out of the Caffé. And the walls of Shopopolis loomed large before the excited mob.

Border formalities awaited those seeking entrance through the Eleusian Gate to take part in the Anglo-Strutters Ball. A frontier zone separated the voyager from his goal, and the Orphic ecstacy accompanying that goal’s attainment. Aspirants were questioned regarding the purpose of their visit and the desired length of their stay, as the guards flipped carefully through their documents. Once given permission to proceed, each immigrant changed into his Ballroom best. For all had to be clothed in wedding garments before the Mysteries could commence and proper appreciation of their import contemplated.

“And you?”, the guards asked Carmine and Demosthenes, upon discovering them not to be part of the Aspiring Class, nor even of the Third Order of Professional Transfigured Convenience Seekers. “Have you nothing to contribute? How are you to be admitted to partake of the Mysteries Unfolding?”

Carmine showed them the invitation from Anatole the Hero. The guards snapped to attention. Cannon, imported for the occasion from the Invalides in Paris, fired in the distance.

“Remember Crumbs!”, they shouted, collecting from the two men the passports, job identification cards, and pictures of their ancestors extending back to the first corporate quarterly report demanded from Professional Visitors.

“We can deposit our shoes as well”, Carmine offered.

“That measure”, the guard conceded, “while symbolically appropriate, would hinder participation in the Dance. Just be ‘open’ if you’re asked to step under a net to complete a Mithraiac baptism of blood.”

A spin about Firmament Hall, the center of Shopopolis, while not necessarily akin to a trip down the Milky Way, was at least similar to a journey to another Continent. Passing through its vast space, and traveling along its express and local moving sidewalks, gave to Carmine and Demosthenes a taste of that physical discomfort, confusion, and sense of insignificance that they always associated with their flights abroad.

Feelings of disorientation were heightened by the attitudes of the other strollers as well. Both Aspirants and Professional Convenience Seekers seemed to know exactly what they were up to in their surroundings. And they approached their function with such grace! True, all were simply engaged in the everyday ritual of Selling and Consuming Themselves. Nevertheless, there was in their bearing that unmistakable conviction of being at the center of it all, an awareness that here, more than any place else, a dignity appropriate to the majesty of their action was required. One saw true recollection and economy of movement. Both Aspirants and Professional Convenience Seekers spoke in hushed tones as they concluded their “real” pieces of their “Ideal” Deals, surprised that they might come so close to the Principle of the Cosmos and still live. Carmine thought of placing an altar rail before The Contract to enhance the correct mood. Everything black, white, yellow, red, poor, rich, short, tall, male, female, living and dead was pressed before the two friends into a Mystic Union of creativity and pragmatism, whose life blood was credit, and whose vigor far exceeded the hopes of the original Trompe l’Oeil Founders.

“We must complete, in our endeavors”, a group of Aspirants explained, “that which was lacking in the labors of the Shopopolis Framers.”

Carmine and Demosthenes clearly needed guidance amidst all the bustle of the surrounding activity. They examined the copy of To Market, To Market, To Buy Us a Frame which had been sold to them at the Eleusian Gate’s Information Bureau for “help”. A computerized map found in the centerfold—and one fed constantly changing economic date—advised them to follow the Aspirants and Professional Convenience Seekers down Necessity Boulevard, where the first wave of Elite had already established a quarter of a million shops. Sufficiently motivated opening day Convenience Seekers, eager to buy the latest devices that they themselves would be making an essential part of common shoppers’ future daily lives, were expected to inspire a second wave of Aspirants to double the number of these establishments within the week.

Oh, it was a Mystery indeed! And a grueling one to boot! There were shops created, expanded, diversified, and made into Necessity Boulevard chains on a scale whose investigation would surely last a life span. But what was mere time in the service of a task so eminently reasonable? For was it not the case that a Lupercalian love of Change required a man to probe each and every possibility, tasting all their fruits before tossing them into the bucket with the orange peels? How else to know whether the fullness of one’s family needs were being satisfied in union with the dictates of Good and Better Parenting? What other pathway to Growth? To Creativity? To the allaying of the fear of missing the real party? And prevention of an appearance at the festival with the wrong party hat?

Oh, the inventiveness of this race of Heroes at work on Necessity Boulevard! Already exalting it far above the heights of its democratic antecedent on the Attic Plain. And without anyone having to die on the plains of Marathon. Or in the Saronic Gulf. Or through that internecine strife which finally broke the promise of fair Hellas.

Aspirants laid out new shops on Necessity Boulevard according to a clear and distinct Cartesian plan.

“It’s all so practical!”, one Pragmatic Perchild gushed to Carmine and Demosthenes. “And so proportionate! We are indeed the heirs of Praxiteles! I think this is what Adam Smith meant by the Invisible Hand. And the harmony created out of enlightened self-interest.”

“But where are the Necessities?”, Carmine interrupted. “I can’t locate a single one.”

The man was perplexed by the question.

“I mean, like vegetables”, Carmine insisted. “And spices.”

“Oh!”, the fellow responded. “For those, you have to go to Luxury Square.”

The two friends wandered into Luxury Square, passed “The Shoe” and “The Wonderful Bread Machine”, until they reached “The Garlic Experience”, where cloves were available, individually gift wrapped in lapus lazuli, for one hundred twenty five dollars per ounce.

“What would I do with this?”, Carmine asked the professional clerk.

“What would you do with it? Why, you would take it with you on a cruise to southern climes. And ‘The Suit’ next door has the perfect costumes to wear on the beach alongside your bulb.”

He called the Consul General of “The Suit” to program a visit for a Diagnosis of a potential patient presently undergoing therapy at “The Garlic Experience”.

“$750!”, the sales doctor pronounced, once off the telephone. “Travel costs separate.”

“Seems a little high for a tiny amount of cloth”, he complained.

“Aren’t there any bargains?”

“Not in the middle of the season!”

“What season? It’s November. Capitalism provides bargains for bathing suits in November. The Manchester School of Economics says so!”

“Aha! But the Manchester School of Economics did not realize that November is a prelude to the High Season in the Southern Hemisphere. So accessible for that well-earned afternoon getaway in our global village. And why are you quibbling? The Elite never pays less when it can pay more. Unless, of course, you’ve made an error and come to the wrong place. Perhaps you were looking to rejoin your tour bus back to Beatitude-Under-Convenience?…”.

He motioned towards Demosthenes, as to a dog.

“But got waylaid looking for Toto, here?”

Squeals of intense pain emerged from the mouth of Demosthenes, disrupting conclusion of The Deal. He had bitten into an apple offered in a coating of Lydian coins minted before the invasion of Cyrus. The professional clerk of “The Garlic Experience” faxed a message to “Toothworks, Inc.” down the block. Two burly men arrived, strapped Demosthenes into a formidable chair, placed a heavy protective covering over him and took fourteen hundred x-rays. A dentist appeared anon.

“Smile!”, he ordered.

Demosthenes had no choice but to respond.

“Oh, we do have special teeth!”, the dentist said. “And special teeth require special treatment!”

“Au contraire, mon docteur!”, Demosthenes demurred. “I have very ordinary grinders. How long would my treatment take?”

“About a decade. With a discount, if you prolong it into a second.”

Demosthenes ran from “The Garlic Experience” in his nuclear protective shield. Women froze as he passed by, instinctively embracing their fallow wombs.

“What are you looking for?”, a security guard asked him, as Carmine appeared on the scene and the two together freed Demosthenes from bondage.

“Help!”, he shouted. “To treat one tooth!”

“So primitive a Need?”

He yanked the offending molar from the poor man’s jaw with his bare hand.

“How do people afford this life in the long run?”, Carmine asked the guard while bandaging Demosthenes with his cumberbun. “It must be frightfully expensive.”

They were directed down Time Savers Lane to Activity Avenue, Mad Optimism Ramble, Fear Place, Straw Man Street, and back, once more, to Necessity Boulevard.

Here, an Aspirant book store was selling manuals for more desires. Carmine bought one. It urged a visit to Fulfillment Esplanade. Only one shop was located upon it: “The Sursum Corda Mart”.

“Lift up your hearts!”, its employees shouted to the two friends when they entered.

“How?”, Carmine asked.

“Tell us what you’ve seen in Shopopolis so far.”

“Material keys to happiness.”

“We offer more.”

“And superfluous things made into Necessities.”

“How many?”

“Nearly half a million.”

“We’re approaching the billion mark. Anything else?”

“Time saving strategies.”

“A great number?”

“Close to five thousand.”

“Try a hundred thousand! That’s what’s in our catalogue. Tell us anything that you’ve observed so far, and we can give you still more of exactly the same thing. Look!”

One employee led them to what appeared at first glance to be an ordinary television set.

“There are twenty-five billion stations that this can pick up. You’ll be active for all eternity hunting them down. As we know, it’s all in the wrist. What better practice for the Lever? Learning how to exercise Choice? It’s almost like being in a Civics Course! Almost? Infinitely better! Remember Crumbs!”

Carmine’s face contorted. He began to shake nervously. Demosthenes had that twinkle in the eye which regularly preceded an act of assault and battery.

“I don’t blame you fellows for having a numinous experience”, the employee assured them. “That’s what Shopopolis is all about. If the Spirit cannot soar with this mystic stimulus before it, it is obviously burdened by remarkable and incurable neuroses, which only a lifetime of necessary therapy might master.”

Carmine grabbed Demosthenes and escaped onto the Esplanade.

“You’ll be back”, the employee cried out after them. “This is the top level of shops. There’s nothing more. This is it!”

“It may seem strange to admit it”, Demosthenes told Carmine on the Esplanade, “but I’m hungry. Lydian silver doesn’t quite do the trick. It must be time to head for Pas Pour Tous. Right?”

It was indeed. And Crumbs was waiting, as planned, at the entrance to the restaurant. His special Hero’s Table, always set for his and his guests’ use, was located on a little balcony from which one could observe the action in the main dining room.

“Often filled?”, Carmine asked.

“Always”, Crumbs admitted, ruefully.

“Ils se posent?”, Demosthenes questioned.

“Mais oui, mais oui!”, Crumbs sighed.

“Comme?”, Carmine inquired.

“Comme ayant un but!”, he noted. “As though they had a goal!”

Crumbs waved his party’s attention to the crowd of Poseurs invading the restaurant, all of whose members were engaged in a little preprandial Activity.

One couple especially intrigued the viewers. Both man and woman were extraordinarily beautiful creatures, though possessed of just that sort of exaggerated perfection which causes one to vomit at the sight of the slightest unexpected physical blemish. These were purely public beings, all of their exposed flesh painted with portraits of friends, relatives, and civic and business authorities admiring them. The couple looked about for someone to whom it could prove that it was actually doing the officially recognized Right Thing. It zeroed in on Carmine, Demosthenes, and Crumbs, and –to avoid the trouble of speech—presented them with a long manifesto—bound and gold-embossed—of its talents, achievements, body weight, and cholesterol level. It then demonstrated the last gavotte step it had mastered, looking past the glance of the diners in the Hero’s Box into that great eternal cue card in the skies.

Carmine took out a pen to jot down some calculations from The Manifesto. The man claimed to have worked at least 150 hours during the week gone by. He also said that he had attended classes on Persian and Lettish, collected art, read eighty four books, directed his neighborhood block association, perfected himself as a gourmet chef and Reformed Confucianist scholar, and been uncommonly attentive to the needs of his equally demanding girl friend. Given one hour a day for commutation and personal toilette, and six a week for his two full-time courses, he had five hours left every seven days for everything else, including sleep. Heaven forfend that he should have to go to “Toothworks, Inc.”. Or that a Stalin should arrive with a Five Year Plan. Death was absolutely out of the question. It simply involved too much time. That’s why he did not smoke.

A sixty year old waiter approached the Demigod.

“May I suggest”, he toadied, “the ‘Eminence de gazouillement’?”

The Super Aspirant was offended.

“But that’s only $5,000!”, he snarled at the cringing slave. “What do you take me for? A Commoner?”

His consort examined her incalculably more expensive entrée, dabbed at it with a fork, and called the servant back.

“Superb”, she admitted. “But I couldn’t possibly manage another bite. Throw it out.”

Carmine looked around. The other diners were equally sated. Dishes were dutifully carted away. But perhaps people were merely saving room for dessert? For a battery of waitrons wheeling carts loaded down with exquisite chocolate creations approached the various tables below the Crumbs Terrace. No. That was not it. Hapsburg Court Ceremonial ruled at the Pas Pour Tous as much as at the Wily Pregnant. As soon as the first person announced that he could under no circumstances swallow a morsel, another detachment of servants trudged in to take the food away.

“Would you care for the after dinner equipment?”, the Captain addressed each of the customers.

All did. Gauleiters from Club Perfection were ushered into Pas Pour Tous to encourage those who had gained an ounce or two to run the gauntlet between them and have the weight thrashed or chiseled off.

But it wasn’t merely the joy of approaching Elitism or reveling in the privileges that this entailed which kept Life Near the Top hopping. It was a variant of Madison’s Delight as well. Another step in the Dance. De rigueur for the coming Anglo-Strutters Ball. A variation on position One, called “The Multiplication of Factions”. This was mastered by formulating accusations of declassé behavior which, even in the cozy after-lunch ambience, could potentially blossom into mutually-destructive, life-long litigation.

“What do you mean, your contract?”, two young executive lovers began to quarrel. “What do you mean, your contract? You couldn’t have landed it in a million years!”

“Fuck you!”, Beatrice screeched. “Fuck you! Who was the one who kissed ass? I was, pal!”

“You?”, Galahad responded. “I kissed ass, I tell you! I kissed ass! You’ll never amount to anything. You’ve always been Other-Directed! I’m the one who looks out for Numero Uno! Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!”

“How dare you! I’m just as self-centered as you are!”

“Self-centered! Why, you even want a baby!”, he cut to the core.

“Filthy liar! I’ll sue your butt off for that!”

A Gay Professional intervened, nibbling at and then whispering into the young man’s ear.

“You see?”, he said. “Soon you’ll be turning down promotions so you can play with the kids. Avoiding your real responsibilities. Admit it. You can’t give yourself to Elite society as much as I can. I’m free from your self-restrictive dependencies. In fact, you have so little potential for power I wonder why I’m even wasting my time speaking with you right now.”

He released the young executive’s ear lobe, which fell, disengaged from the rest of his body, onto the Pas for Tous pavement.

Barbs rebounded still more violently from Beatrice to Galahad. A fourth man, overhearing the storm, ran frantically to a telephone to call his wife.

“Honey!”, he pleaded. “Listen to me. I’m soaring into the Elite. Once I get to the top, everything will change. I’ve just got to work harder. It’ll have to get tougher before it gets better. That’s the real world. The more evil, the more real. I’ve got to watch our for enemies along the way. Colleagues. Other companies. You. Most of all, you, and all you stand for in the way of diversions. Once I’m at the top, I’ll have the freedom to make things move. But I can’t change now! When you jump in, you jump in for the duration. Change in mid-stream? Lose my corporate family? I’m on my way into the aristocracy, babe, and aristocracy is born to suffer. Remember Crumbs! The Elite has no time to do normal things. What do you want? To live like they did in the Middle Ages? With 200 holidays a year? Be sensible! This is life! What alternative is there? Balance? Harmony? Moderation? Decency?”

Carmine and Demosthenes had had enough.

“We’re ready!”, they cried out to Crumbs.

“Good!”, Anatole responded. “And so should we all be! At every moment!”

“Shall we go?”, Carmine ventured.

“Where?”, Crumbs wondered.

“Why”, both visitors shouted in unison. “To the Anglo-Strutters Ball!”

“But, my friends!”, Crumbs laughed. “You’re at it! In fact, probably longer than either of you ever could have realized!”

Carmine and Demosthenes looked more closely at their surroundings. Pas Pour Tous had dropped its walls. All Shopopolis lay round about. Musicians from the Caffé Beltà were, in fact, setting up their stands and tuning in preparation for the initial dance. A waltz out of the Vienna Woods? Something Hungarian of Brahms? A gavotte elaborated from a theme found in Tosca, perhaps?

Nothing of the sort. Soon, the members of the orchestra donned baseball caps backwards, reebocks, and t-shirts advertising prophylactics and watermelon. Their mouths, fashioned by God to hum the accompaniment to Schubertlieder at a Gewandthaus in some better Amsterdam, twisted round and about in repetitive pronunciation of the words “mother fucker”. Their bows, destined by the Graces for Beethoven’s Late Quartets, jerked this way and that, producing a cacophony useful only as a divertimento for a rape. A group of Clap Singers appeared in dinner jackets before them, jutting ribs and chins and elbows in an elegant sufficiency of directions. Every now and then, one of these artists jabbed his fingers into the midriffs of the well-fed conglomerate of bedazzled Caucasians watching them:

You pat yo’ fat, it don’t go away!

Yo’ white man breakfast make it stay!

“This is the music for the Ball?”, Carmine stammered.

“And lucky we are to have it!”, a Trompe l’Oeil administrator gushed, lost in admiration for the Clap Singers who were lifting up their bucks. “Such talent! With rhythmic patterns, sonata form, and development of first and second theme, maturing and perfecting in twentieth century fashion what was barely struggling to come to life in Haydn. Already moving on to enlighten and transform the past still more effectively the moment we think we’ve grasped the full purport of their achievement. And look how the representatives of the lesser music of the past approve of the work of these jigaboo masters in broad, ecstatic smiles.”

It was true. The orchestra was smiling. It was inevitable. Its instruments were laced with crack.

“Besides!”, a trumpeter argued. “Our contract demands active, joyous participation. If not, the Happiness Police will come to take us away for therapy. And a good thing it is for us to be exposed to others who are themselves so open to cultural diversity.”

His word were drowned out. A Clap Singer was rolling on the ground, laughing at a picture of Handel.

“Who’s the honkey?”, he roared. “Where’d he get the faggot hair?’

By now, all remaining human sound was suffocated underneath the incorporation into the accompaniment of disco, ghetto blaster, jackhammer, easy listening music, and anything else that might increase that sense of disease which only the purchase of a Convenience could then alleviate. One of the orchestra members was so moved by the polyphony, however, that he regressed, and took the liberty to slip in a few bars of something distinctly classical. The security forces forced his body slowly down the second French Horn which had joined the Counterrevolution along with him.

Aspirants of the Pragmatic Perchild or Lift Up your Bucks! persuasions were at work setting the stage for the Ball in many other regards as well. Painters of merit sat down at their easels to produce portraits of women, using transvestite models whom middlemen provided to pose for the pictures. Socratic philosophers engaged in disputation, their dialogues refashioned to be sung by choruses of grunting pigs. Skilled artisans produced colorful dollies as Christmas ornamentations onto which people blew their noses, with illiterate children’s snot in most special demand. Strollers donned loin cloths, scarab masks, and war paint, in order to worship beetles, vampires, and grits for a documentary on the Enlightenment Achievement. Professional Convenience Seekers begged for slivers of the autographed spit of anyone who had been recognized for anything. One man even went so far as to importune a particularly famous French poodle for a stick drawing on his forearm. Avantgardistes engaged in copulation on demand, without apology or consequence. There was a need to communicate. A need to compute. A need to raise. A need to lower. It was the best of times and it was the even better than best of times. The crowd of Aspirants, like Carmine’s newest colleagues at Periphery, was honestly stunned by the cornucopia of talent overwhelming them. It stared at the decorating crew with the quizzical yet docile glance of friendly dogs, struggling happily to understand their masters, but prepared to give up the effort in exchange for a big and juicy bone.

And the dance had now begun in earnest! With everyone in Anglo-Face. Bevlin Blurtz should have bought a ticket. Each of the dancers had the proper determined chin, which jutted straight out like the beards of the Kings of Sumer and Akkad. That knowing, prudent mien. That disdain for logic which picks a certain moment in a discussion or a lifespan to turn absolutely and totally bonkers, and then to declare poppycock to be the height of human thought. And, Lordy, the whirl was so uncannily familiar! The eternally popular steps from Plugdata Hall, New Atlantis, the Wily Pregnant, and the exits to Beatific Rosebush. All clear variants of Madison’s Delights. No matter what the selection from the orchestra and the Clap Singers themselves, the dance remained Forever Framing.

“Hey!”, a more common peripheral voice called out to Carmine and Demosthenes across the Ballroom floor. “Mr. Spostato! Hey! Remember me? I’m heading for the Big Time!”

Carmine shuddered. It was Vinnie della Joey. And he was not alone. Degenerata-Logica was with him. Along with Treacle Sovacuous’ fellow Serbo-Croat novice from New Atlantis. And the entire staff of Locke Land, carting their radioactive Dullards and Presbyterians in tow. All had joined Trompe l’Oeil For You! in their efforts to rise to fame and glory. Degenerata-Logica spoke first.

“We have become Symbol Makers”, she announced. “A People needs intellectual and spiritual Symbols. The pre-illuminated Symbols were tainted Symbols. A People requires pure Symbols. Democratic Symbols. Our last batch was pretty good, and were well on their way to being adopted by much of the Nation as the Perfect Symbols, but we’ve recalled them. We find our present Symbols much more suitable to the spontaneity of the American People.”

“Can they be altered so easily?”

“A People that cannot change in response to its innermost needs and desires is doomed to extinction. And if they do not change their Symbols rationally and democratically, will they not be altered by arbitrary and despotic power?”

“But they did have Symbols before?”

“Unredeemed ones, which they thought they wanted because of their servile character. And because of the Terror accompanying Inquisitions shoving hot coals in your hands.”

“She’s clearly read different history texts than you have”, Demosthenes whispered to Carmine.

He continued the interrogation.

“But how do you get your Symbols adopted?”

“Through the work of the passive People’s better nature, expressed in us, its obedient active Agents. And I can tell you that my friends and I have learned from Madison’s Delight more steps towards responding to that exalted nature than anyone in these last two centuries of emergence from Darkness!”

Carmine looked at Vinnie della Joey, now a professional shyster if ever there was one. But the boy had donned a set of reading glasses, put on a pair of jeans, teased his hair, and altered his facial appearance to the point that he resembled Sartre. This semblance surely indicated that he was on his way to enduring the Four Fold Cross.

“And who are you now?”, Carmine asked.

“A member of the Intelligentsia”, he responded. “A creative trend setter. A genius who engineers the acceptance of Symbols purely on their artistic merit. But for a hell of a lot of dough on the side.”

“You’re not a shyster?”

“I always call things by their true name, Mr. Spostato! I am an Aspiring Intellect. I am seeking to Lift Up My Bucks! And with my fresh wisdom and my artistic friend’s new pragmatic inclinations, the Symbols we’re marketing will probably win us fast entry into the ranks of the Elite.”

By this time, a large crowd had gathered in front of one of the Symbols: an edifice which performed all the bodily functions of a human being.

“Wow! Oh, wow!”, a woman shouted, excitedly, as the construction belched in her direction, emitting an unpleasant aroma of raw onion. “Wow! The things they can do now! All is possible! Remember Crumbs!”

“Will you look at that sucker blink!”, someone yelled behind Carmine. “It’s absolutely incredible. Only in a free country! This is great for America! I tell you Shopopolis is doing more the construction of the Interior Castle than the New York Marathon. These artists deserve even more for their work than the Chicago Bulls. The spirituality! The bucks!”

At that moment, lights flashed through the whole construction. Steam came pouring out of its side. The building heaved up and down. It seized a Professional Convenience Seeker that it had overwhelmed with its onion breath and raped her. Carmine rushed towards the victim. He could not believe his eyes. It was Guardatutta! Come to see her daughter’s work. And understand it. So as not to be left behind on the path to Progress.

“Philistine!”, she choked in revulsion, as Carmine tried to rescue her. “Never, but never, interfere with the creative process!”

Vinnie della Joey placed his hand gently, but firmly, upon Carmine’s shoulder, restraining him.

“Nothing”, he explained, “can stop an idea whose time has come.”

“But it’s violating her!”

“Must we pigeonhole our experiences with outworn labels?”, Degenerata-Logica chastised. “Must we bind and suffocate reality within Romanesque constructs? Must we always oversimplify?”

The building finished. It hurdled Guardatutta away from it.

“Its love has ended!”, she sobbed.

“Can’t you divorce Perpiacere?”, Carmine asked. “And root yourself in its foundations?”

“Legalism accomplishes nothing”, she insisted, “when emotion has died, and I become but an inconvenience.”

The building grew queasy. It was clear that it was preparing to vomit. Dozens of people pushed Carmine out of the way, as they wished to receive the edifice’s internal message themselves.

“Not the enemy of Perfection!”, they shouted, tossing Carmine over their shoulders, away from the nauseous edifice. “We wash our hands of him! No! Us! And our children’s children! Give us your substance! Give us your substance!”

Carmine heard this particular explosion of creativity from a safe distance, guarded by Demosthenes. Its shock waves were mingled with cries of exaltation. The two friends looked up. The crowd was heaped with concrete nails, mud, piping, carpeting, and sealing wax. Each member of the mob embraced the person next to him, like Frenchmen upon hearing that Blèriot had successfully flown the Channel. One man prostrated himself on the ground before Vinnie della Joey. He wiped some wet cement from his lips and spoke.

“Now you can dismiss your servant, Master!”, he said. “For I have seen the future. And I know that it works!”

“But this is just the first of our Symbols, Mr. Spostato”, Vinnie della Joey boasted. “We’ve got the Symbol of Symbols!”

“And that is?”

“Advance!”, Vinnie and Degenerata-Logica commanded. “Advance! And ‘Take Comfort’!”

They pointed to a sculpture which looked and smelled like a composte heap. Appropriately enough, it was just about the size of a college classroom. A little dung ledge tottered precariously half-way up its side.

“This”, Degenerata-Logica said, pointing to the masterpiece, “is ‘Take Comfort’. Art must fight dehumanization. Perchildren must recapture a sense of intimacy with life. The present must be reunited with the past. That is why we ask people to ‘Take Comfort’.”

She paused to admire their work, and then continued.

“Our mission is this: to reproduce ‘Take Comfort’ in large numbers, so that its message of hope and satisfaction can humanize an artless, rootless, a-historical America.”

“Where would you put it?”, Demosthenes asked.

“Here”, Vinnie della Joey triumphed, handing over a list of sites. These included the city centers of New Orleans, Charleston, and San Francisco.

“The spiritual hunger and historical appetite of the age must be sated”, Vinnie della Joey insisted. “These barren cities, too, must be allowed to ‘Take Comfort’.”

“I love it! I love it!”, a voice rang out.

It was Guardatutta.

“They get more out of life than we did!”, she screeched to Carmine. “I love it!”

Guardatutta scaled the composte heap with the difficulty of one of Hannibal’s elephants crossing the Alps. She squatted, triumphantly, after a treacherous climb, on the tottering dung ledge. Vinnie and Degenerata-Logica were moved. They, too, squatted down, to add new touches to the work.

“See how the past triumphs in the present when one ‘Takes Comfort’!”, Degenerata-Logica exulted. “Set this sculpture in front of the mission of San Juan Capistrano, and my mother could easily be mistaken for a Poor Clare about to recite the Angelus.”

“Couldn’t San Juan humanize the place alone?”, Carmine asked.

Degnerata-Logica marveled at the don’s stupidity.

“A structure built by slave labor? Do you want the Inquisition to put hot coals in your hands, too?” “Would you like to ‘Take Comfort’, Mr. Spostato?”, Vinnie della Joey wondered. “Surely you and your buddy must need to by now.”

“It depends”, Demosthenes answered. “I work part time. And Mr, Spostato, as you know, is a teacher. Our salaries are not high. Could we afford it?”

“Hey! I’m afraid we’re out of your class. Try looking for a bog. They was built by repressive societies, though. And a lot of them are kind of crappy.”

Part of the Ballroom was fitted with official refreshment stands, selling Fast Foods of All the Passions and Cults. Eager to live up to the demands of their surroundings, Aspirants devoured their Anabaptist, Jainist, and Mormon delicacies with greater dispatch than ever before. Some, the most devout, ate still more determinedly and grimly than their compatriots. They stared intently at television screens playing videos of people having the kind of conversations that the latest research indicated the average man would have in a sectarian fast food center, were he to know how to speak on his own. These were the truly aspiring Professional Convenience Seekers from among “the people set apart”, committed to demonstrating that they understood their Third Order duty in a world of permanent carnival and no Lent.

And the conversation! Oh, my God, the dialogue! Heights were reached on the wide screen whose character had never before been imagined. Amazed images spoke with embarrassment, admitting that they had just not realized up until that point how much they really needed to desire to buy in order to be and grow and speak. Only now did they see how close to the Gatelands they themselves had been. How far below the Elite they actually remained. How spiritual the fruits of Convenience Seeking, and the Deeds made possible by the action of the purchase might be. And how sublime the transfiguration attendant.

But by that point, the music and the dance of the Anglo-Strutters Ball had captured everyone’s attention. Aspirants whirled across the Ballroom floor, hands outstretched above them, with palms aimed open upwards.

“I’ve never felt quite so pragmatic”, a Shakespearean actress dressed as a hooker Desdemona gushed.

“Nor I, so creative!”, a former Lift Up Your Bucker! responded, trampling Carmine on a rush to “Take Comfort”.

And yet, enthusiasm to the contrary, all that the Aspirants had succeeded in doing was to rebuild Route 46. For the same shops shaped into turds, fish lips, mermaids and top hats; the same sweeping of the landscape of First and Second Estates; the same horrifying picture for man and rat alike had been painted by Trompe l’Oeil Aspirants and Professional Convenience Seekers on the Shopopolis floor.

“Besides”, Carmine noted to Crumbs. “Each of the dancers is alone. Where’s the sense? Who are their partners?”

“Why, the objects of their affections, of course!”, Crumbs noted. “The Elite!”

Indeed, the Aspirants were whispering sweet nothings to their intended partners.

“Darling! Lamb chop!”, one could hear them moaning. “The things that you and you alone get out of life! The hopes you inspire! The dreams! Oh, divinity! If only I could be with you. My God! How I long for union with you!”

“But, where…””, Demosthenes stammered.

“There!”, Crumbs said, miserably. “There! Behold the Elite!”

Carmine and Demosthenes gagged. They looked at Crumbs in disbelief. Surely the man had erred. Surely, he had not meant to say “the Elite”. Distressed foreign laborers on the step pyramids of Saqqadra, perhaps. Inhabitants of Jerusalem, lamenting their torments at the hands of both Babylonians and Flavians, maybe. A demoralized cabinet of the late Third Republic in a pinch. But “the Elite?” Every member of this “Elite” looked like a soul in agony. Each part of their bodies was in constant motion. Acting. Doing.

“That’s how you know ‘the Elite’ at first glance”, Crumbs explained. “It does.”

So much was the Elite doing, that some of the wizards from New Atlantis had added extra arms and legs to all their available skin surface.

“We’re good at this”, one of them boasted. “We take parts from the Passive and stick them in the Active.”

“Like essay revision?”, Demosthenes wondered.

“Yes. And it results in a vigorous, go-for-it style. Because Americans are not contented simply with doing, but in becoming doing.”

“I am who do?”, Carmine ventured.

“You’ve understood.”

“But there’s only one problem”, Demosthenes commented.

“Pray tell?”

“Well. They’re no longer human beings.”

“A minor inconvenience”, the surgeon sneered. “An insignificant sacrifice for the glory of reaching the heights of Individual Dignity. And besides. Who are you to define what a human being is? To suggest that there ought to be a definition? Are you an animal-hater? A Homocentrist? Remember Crumbs!”

Chips falling wherever they might, Carmine and Demosthenes still found it to be difficult to look at the new Aristocracy. Each of its members was a many-limbed Shiva, reflecting that god’s abilities as Creator, Destroyer, and Telephone Operator. Most limbs held a receiver in their grip. Some that did not were faxing. Others, computing. Most, divorcing. It was as though twenty or thirty centipedes had rejected their natural limitations, reached for the stars, sought fulfillment in the business world, and dominated the world of Doing.

But fatigue seemed to have taken something of its toll on this Insect Kingdom. Worse than in Carmine’s classroom. Everyone’s lids had been removed so that they could never give in to the temptation to rest. Ears were permanently stretched to hear messages for Entrepreneuring. Sticks were placed in their mouths to prop them open like crocodiles, lest they shut and miss a word contributing to the encouragement of activity. This, needless to say, did cause some dribbling, making speech slightly cumbersome, but it was worth the sputum to prevent the détente. Moreover, dribbling aside, the Elite appeared to speak a secret tongue, which required some getting used to before its mysteries were revealed.

“Flums is the Cad Wallider of Skadden Arps”, one female Elitist shouted excitedly to Demosthenes.

“Nomen est omen!”, he responded.

“No”, Carmine gasped audibly. “Surely, this cannot be the Elite.”

“But you cannot deny that you’re seeing Life at the Top!”, Crumbs insisted..

This was undeniable. It was indeed Life at the Top. For all of the Shivas were hanging, suspended, from the ceiling, far above Carmine and Demosthenes’ heads. The tables that they were using dangled along with them.

“Anatole”, Carmine sobbed. “Why would a human being put up with this?”

“Don’t you think you’re begging the question? I thought we’d answered that one already. But, aside from the obvious, for a whole variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the chance to…”.

“Se poser?”, Demosthenes guessed.

“Comme?”, Carmine asked.

“Etant arrivés!”, Crumbs concluded. “As having arrived!”

It was indeed the Consolations of Aristocracy that lured them. Consolations given out only at the highest level of American society.

“This is it!”, a feminist yelled down to Carmine. “No more grueling life at home for me. Fulfillment. Liberation! Power. I already control 30,000 checking machines. Tomorrow? It will be a trillion! All available at 3:00 A.M. When I return from work!”

She embraced all her fellow Elitists in one loving gesture, and then shouted down to Carmine, holding an all too familiar document in her hand.

“We’re here!”, she waved. “It’s exciting. A new concept!”

The blood rushed to her head, forming a purple so deep that she became indistinguishable from a little Chinese eggplant. So did her neighbor, a man. Perhaps marring the victory of Sisterhood? No. Not in a way that could disturb her. She would no longer be able to recognize a man if she saw one.

“We get a chance to do this!”, another fellow said, jutting out his Akkadian chin and stabbing at an ant on the ceiling. “And, at seventy, after a creative life as a respected junk bond salesman, I’ll have enough money to read poetry. And begin helping my fellow centipedes!”

“Better late than never”, Demosthenes admitted.

“And you?”, Carmine shouted up to another member of the Elite.

“Yes”, the insect mused. “As you can see, I am a success. And when the opportunity comes, in my second century, I intend to publish my memoirs, and describe to an envious world my Lucullan life. Here! Listen to this!”

He ‘read’ from the future autobiography he was composing in his mind.

“Anything fresh and charming in me was broken in school, which began the pragmatization of my Perchildity and the lifting up of my Bucks. The cockiness past ages called immaturity was, of course, maintained in me, forever, so that I would suffer no trauma of growth. Yes. It all comes back to me now! By the age of eighteen, I found myself spontaneously in Business, towards which every tool of society had aimed my indomitable feisty will since conception. Then, I got married, had two children, whose photos I blew up to ten times their original size and then used to paper the walls of my house. My wife? She got fat and began to diet with the aid of a suction cup. My two children began to watch sex videos. They said ‘fuck you!’ to me, day in and day out, but in a cute little way, like you see on situation comedies. Naturally, I myself encouraged such behavior, so as to deprive them of the trauma of growth even more effectively than my parents had done for me. Then, once I had made enough money, my wife divorced me and moved on to New Atlantis to learn how to liberate herself enough to torture another member of the Elite. Soon, I’ll die, having accomplished absolutely nothing. My tombstone will deny that my troubles were different from those experienced by any other people since the beginning of the world, while insisting, at the same time, that my age and place are radically altered and improved. But what will it matter? For the cemetery will soon be swept away anyway, as inconvenient, especially if the Free Supermarket of Conveniences and Ideas has to expand, as the CEO replacing me says must happen if its bottom line is to be met. Yes. That’s why I am a member of the Elite. Envious? I should expect so! And good for you if you are! For it’s the transformation of the common temptations of Perchildkind into an ironclad system that makes this Nation the last great hope of the world!”

There was no more time for talk. Because an upsetting feature of hanging and swinging from The Top was permanent entanglement, aided and abetted by Madison’s Delight. It was impossible for the Shivas to resist the desire to get in one another’s way. To gum up each others works. To litigate! And over what?

Over nothing. For, perhaps most distressing of all the accomplishments of the Elite was the fact that its domain, like Shopopolis Basso, was also an exact replica of Route 46. With just the slightest bit of gold trim added. And, one had to admit, a rather offensive sheen causing a glint that assaulted the retina. Not that this imitation disturbed anyone other than Carmine and his friends. None of the Aspirants and Professional Convenience Seekers whirling about below seemed to notice the either the similarities or the peculiarities. They expressed undisguised awe at the sight unfolding above them.

“My God!”, one visitor gushed. “I…I…I’ve never in my life seen anything quite so overwhelming! Oh, you can tell we’re at the heart of it all. At the true party! The Heavens are telling the glory of God! It’s so very different from anything on the outskirts! Unbelievable! Just unbelievable what they come up with here! No wonder the dialectic has yielded a destruction of cheap Marxist perspectives! I tell you it was worth all the effort I’ve made so far! And even more! Just to be here to experience this!”

He picked up a Convenience to prove his commitment to the kind of Professional Seeking that had won his entrance into the Trompe l’Oeil kingdom in the first place. An Aspirant was inspired by his piety, and himself bore a wedding party, a dinette, a catafalque, and an entire office on his back to show a willingness to work still harder to maintain his current privilege. Indeed, he tried to pick up the whole of Firmament Hall as well! If Atlas could lift the world, an American could hoist the galaxy!

“It’s their confidence that’s inspired me”, he confessed to Carmine after realizing that he was still not up to the ambition. “The confidence which an Elite alone can pull off. That special difference which, perhaps, only a Dante or an advertising agent would be able to express properly to the uninitiated. If we could just get a Team together to explain and market what I mean!”

Enthusiasm for the Elite had so seized hold of all the enthralled dancers below, that the Elite itself began to respond. The Elite set itself in motion. For it had to exercise the power that its position had won for it. And that could be done in one way and in one way only. By purchasing the Necessities that the Aspirants were creating. And, lest the Aristocracy fall behind its admirers, in an even more professional Convenience Seeking mode as well. The manifold arms of the Elite wished to swoop down to the ground floor and show that they could still do best what had engendered their construction in the first place: grasp, and grasp mindlessly.

“They’ve finished posing!”, Demosthenes screamed, once the nature of the movement became clear. “Ils se plongent maintenant! Beware! The sky is falling!”

Oh, the Elite wanted it all. It purchased toy water pistols to douse one another, with debilitating medical consequences. It changed into t-shirts, guzzled cheap beer, and talked unceasingly of football strategies and their spiritual import. A few crouched on all forties behind their colleagues and waited for comrades to send the victims toppling over their backs. Women put their hair in curlers, posted pictures of rock stars on the Shopopolis walls, drank endless cups of coffee, complained of men, and hyperventilated. Couples called for limousines and watched Goofball Brigade on videos, or simply sat, quietly, talking of favorite programs and malls. Some of the Elite got hungry, abused the waiters of Pas Pour Tous until they brought Yodel-os, and, when instant gratification of all proved to be impossible, demanded a creative-pragmatic-traditional-revolution. Copies of Triumph of the Will were consulted.

“Get the weak!”, the Elite shouted.

Gauleiters from Club Perfection arrived. They clubbed some of the most frail among the Trompe l’Oeil Aspirants, checked their medical charts to determine their nutritional value, and then served them to the Elite on an enlightened economic platter.

“That ever popular Jeremy Bentham salad!”, the waiters announced. “The latest version.”

Luckily, some of the weak remained around. For a couple of Aspirants had already created a new trend that the Elite wished to cash in on: the frail as pets! Survivors were quickly lassoed, renamed “Mutt” and “Fido”, and offered positions as Aristocrat’s Best Friend. Naturally, those Elitists who availed themselves of this bargain did so with greater sensitivity than any animal owner had ever exhibited in the past. Until, that is to say, the digestive juices began to flow again, the pets were no longer wanted, and their continued presence as unwanted beings made them a tragic social problem. Noblesse oblige again! Social activism triumphant in the chomping of Elitist jaws! Remember Crumbs!

Yes, the Elite plunged magnificently! But the movement was not simply in one direction. No, indeed! Once arrived in Shopopolis Basso, the Elite had to aspire as of old. To pay for all its exciting new needs. Which in turn required new arms and legs, whose use hoisted them back to their elevated positions at The Top. Moreover, this time up, they would carry with them the best of the Aspirants who had not yet made it even once to the ethereal realm. In fact, as a special mark of grace, the greatest of the Professional Convenience Seekers would be assumed alongside them.

Degenerata-Logica was herself hoisted amidst the artificially-inseminated children of the Upper Class, who swung, precariously, from the top of the Firmament. She celebrated her new-found glory by manifesting a Rage greater than any she had felt as a Tittilated Toddler or a Trompe l’Oeil Aspirant. This was especially easy for her, since her mother, Guardatutta, had made it to the top a moment earlier than she had, in recognition of her incomparable labor as a Professional Convenience Seeker.

“You didn’t get me when you had the chance, Guardatutta”, she shouted. “Wait till I have the opportunity to strike back. You’ll be gone in a flash! And the tax payer will be better off for it. A basic sense of fairness dictates a long painful shot at a bitch I never had the democratic right to choose as a mother.”

“You would have been better off if you’d never been born!”, Guardatutta bellowed, her consciousness finally raised along with her status. “What a career I would have had without you! The Conveniences I could have purchased! I should have given you over to cure Parkinson’s Disease when I had the offer to sign on the dotted line! I’ll never miss a Convenience like that again! I’ll never be screwed one more time!”

Yes, love for the proper kind of change had triumphed throughout the Anglo-Strutters Ball.

Soon, the new, improved Hierarchy of Values, promised by Cash From Conscience, Creation Ex Nihilo, and To Market, To Market, had formed throughout Shopopolis Basso and Alto. Elite, Aspirants, and Professional Shoppers were journeying this way and that at incredible speeds by super-sensual means as the Mysteries Unfolded. The gnosis this guaranteed! Not to speak of the vertigo. Only Carmine, Demosthenes, and Crumbs were appalled. But worse was yet to come.

To begin with, the creative appeal of “Take Comfort” had grown so great that it, too, had become a Necessity. Hence, “Take Comfort” was hoisted to the realm of the Elite along with its creators, making it instantly desired by any Aspirants who had held back from answering its call until that moment. Needless to say, this ensured that the supply of “Take Comfort” was constantly replenished, to satisfy an ever increasing demand. The more of a Necessity that “Take Comfort” became, the more that masterpiece was mass-produced.

This had the unfortunate side effect of rendering the whole of Shopopolis immensely slippery. Elite whooshed down the sides of “Take Comfort” like figures on bad days at the Market. The ordinary Aspirant worked like Sisyphus to clamber up its cliffs to The Top. Landslides became common. Earthquakes even. Carmine and Demosthenes found it very difficult to maintain their own footing. Crumbs himself no longer tried.

Secondly, Pragmatic Perchildren who had the extra benefit of having being trained at New Atlantis were still, of course, outfitted with their magnets. Sometimes, these devices pulled them towards the trend-setting Elite; on other occasions, towards Necessity-producing Aspirants further down the mountain of comfort. Whatever their direction, the constant motion forced them to don goggles, which lent a particularly cocky Junior Bird Man air of Convenience and Inescapability to their flight.

Soon, everyone wanted a Magnet installed. The Aspirants without a powerful one worked so hard to procure it that they ascended at unheard of speeds to the Elite, whence they dived into the productive ranks of those Strivers who had already perfected an improved model, in order to make an additional purchase.

Heavens, how the Anglo-Strutters Ball was enriched! The excitement produced as the creative smashed head on into the common sensical was well nigh superhuman! The thrill of concussion from the happy merger of the average Joe and the illuminated went beyond the abilities of a Homer to recount! Trend replaced trend, purchase followed purchase, Elite transmuted into Aspirant and Professional Convenience Seeker and Aristocrat again and again, as inexorably as campus radical became Wall Street broker, and avant-gardistes entered the ranks of the millionaire-persecuted. Each change in position on the Chain of Being was hailed as being superior to the previous resting point with the regularity of a Baby Boomer discovering a new phase in his life. And everything, always, was cooled by the fresh Etesian winds of “Take Comfort”.

“This is what we all want!”, a member of the Elite said on a downward spin. “Isn’t it?”

“Of course!”, an Aspirant encouraged. “How could you doubt it? Why else would we be striving so?”

“Yes, yes, and triple yes!”, the whole chorus proclaimed. “And remember Crumbs!”

“I will this to be the height of civilization”, a voice from New Atlantis familiar to Carmine and Demosthenes commented from inside an odiferous crevasse in the splendid hillock. “I will Reason and Freedom and Human Dignity to have realized themselves fully only here, amidst these cosmic delights.”

“I know that this may be attributed to my usual orneriness”, Demosthenes complained. “But I would very much like to know the exact identity of the choreographer of the dance.”

He had his chance. The group was accidentally packed up with Necessities and hoisted to The Top. Once viewed from the limes of Firmament Hall, the extent of Shopopolis’ downward stroll through the Hierarchy of Values became all the more shocking. Demosthenes exploded.

“You serfs!”, he thundered. “You stupid victims of a preposterous agglomeration of Americanist claptrap!”

There was a silence in the Firmament, both in the vault and at the base of the heavens. Demosthenes increased the dosage of his assault.

“You’re waddling about in shit!”, he cried. “Do you hear me? Shit! Shit!! Shit!!!”

Elite, Aspirants, and Professional Convenience Seekers became extremely irritated. Who in heaven’s name was this maniac? And where did he come off injecting vulgarities into the Anglo-Strutters Ball? Couched in such offensive political language, too. Had he no sense of decorum? Res privata and publica stood poised on the edge of an abyss if such a lack of good manners were to triumph. People shook their manure-covered fists at the interloper. One of two even detached a temporarily inactive limb to hurl at his forehead. Others stopped up their ears with part of the art work.

“What’s you alternative, fathead?”, a hard-striving Aspirant called out from a dung ledge.

Demosthenes spent three hours outlining two millennia of western history.

“You see?”, the crowd laughed when he had finished. “You see? He has no other option. Just a boring lecture!”

“And, look”, someone shouted. “The guy’s got none of the very latest Conveniences with him. And he doesn’t have any extra arms and legs! He’s a sluggard. A do-nothing. Why trouble ourselves arguing with this cynic? If the guy were serious, he’d get a move on it! Pull some Levers! The Process works! Haven’t we visitors to Shopopolis pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps? And on this very day? Can’t he do the same? Then he can pontificate! All he wants! But he won’t do the unum necessarium! He’s just a lazy cynic. How can he hope to understand what smart people know about life unless he buys and sells?”

“Empturus est!”, the mob commanded Demosthenes. “Buy, ut intelligat! Without a Convenience, the People perish!”

Demosthenes’ assailant suddenly guessed that the mountebank probably was guilty of even the worst of crimes.

“Buddy”, he asked. “How much debt do you have?”

“Debt?”, Demosthenes stuttered. “Why…why, none. None at all.”

The tension completely dissolved. Roar, heavens, roar! Roar with well-deserved laughter! And roar the Firmament did. With such vehemence that a chorus formed, belting out a Handel fugue. Though furnished with creative Trompe l’Oeil words:

He trusted in solvency,

No Bank will welcome him,

No Bank will welcome him,

When he requires a loan.

WHEN HE REQUIRES A LOAN!!!

“Carmine”, Demosthenes whispered, as both sought a chute to slide through the taunting crowds to “Take Comfort’s” base. “Carmine. Look at the Elite. I mean, really closely, Carmine. Look!”

Close looks at the Elite were difficult things to master. The sheen was so great as to trouble the eyes for several minutes, and leave frightful memories perpetually thereafter. But it wasn’t the sheen itself that was most overwhelming. It was the fact that once the eyes had grown adjusted to brilliance, the realization slowly dawned that there was nothing left to look at. The Elite, Carmine now understood, was pure sheen. It was nothing but a formerly human mirror. A huge, only apparently diversified, reflection device. There was no Elite in any animated sense at all! There was merely reflection.

“Carmine!”, Demosthenes added, frightened of the full purport of this discovery. “Carmine! Think about what this means! When you add it to what you told me about Rosebush.”

Some thoughts are too mind-boggling to be mined completely on first investigation. And this was certainly one of them. Carmine and Florida had been unable to locate the average Joe. The creature was a non-being, shaped by those who set the Devices. Still, it was from the ranks of the average Joes that the Aspirants emerged. The Aspirants strove to transform themselves into the Elite. They, too, took cues from the Aristocrats above. And yet the denizens of Shopopolis were mere reflections of the Aspirants who mirrored them! Route 46 above was an imitation of a Route 46 below, which itself merely sought to become what the highway in the sky taught it to be! Where were The People? Where was The Model? What was going on here? And who, as Demosthenes wanted to know, was the choreographer?

“Please don’t misunderstand me”, Crumbs begged his two companions when they slid to the foot of “Take Comfort”. “But the events of the past few minutes have created a certain sense of intimacy which I never quite expected from them.”

Carmine felt the same closeness as did his former colleague. And with good reason. For the action of the Magnets, combined with the movements of Aspirants and Elite and Professional Shoppers up and down the Hierarchy of Values was causing the entirety of the shoddily built Shopopolis edifice gradually to flatten out. Everything—shops, streets, pets, humans, sheen—was, step by step, transmuted from vertical to horizontal.

“Aren’t you concerned for your health?”, Carmine asked a couple of Professional Convenience Seekers who, like he and his friends, were now reduced to all fours.

“Why?”, both man and Significantly Convenient Other responded. “Have we missed a bargain?”

“No!”, Demosthenes shouted. “The flattening!”

The Significant Convenience looked into its dulled lover’s eyes with intense bewilderment. Whatever could the simpleton mean? The world was ordered marvelously. The Elite was in its Seat. The Aspirant were striving, still. In fact, both groups were more inspiring and closer to the Third Order than ever before. Insistently close. Face to face with all their charm!

“Don’t pay attention to him, dear”, the Significant Convenience cautioned its companion. “He’s either a lunatic or an agent provocateur.”

“I hate to alarm you”, Carmine said to his friends, as all were pressed to their backs for space to breathe. “But I’m sure you’re both aware of what is about to engulf us. Do either of you have any suggestions?”

“I do”, Carmine offered, calmly. “I’ll call my Thaumaturge.”

He slid past dozens of people, some smeared with Orphic ecstasy macroons from Fast Foods of all the Passions and Cults; others, who simply resembled rather insipid, aged pizzas, of the kind that pie masters hide, in abundance, under the counter, for the indiscriminate lunch crowd. Having eaten, Carmine did not stop for a snack.

“Everybum”, he cried out, upon reaching a working telephone. “I’m at Shopopolis. It’s flattening out!”

“Surprised it took so long. I’ll be right down. Ooze over to the Eleusian Gate.”

Carmine, Crumbs, and Demosthenes slid towards the rendez-vous point as instructed.

“You’re in my way!”, one oily pizza snarled as they approached. “You’re trying to sneak into the two for one shop before me, aren’t you?”

Demosthenes smacked him in the crust with a Llamasery Burger. Everybum was waiting at the Eleusian Gate along with the Deuce Machine, who held a copy of Plato’s Republic, with an addendum contributed by medieval scholastics on the importance of harmonizing the action of the Three Estates.

“Heavens!”, the Deuce Machine joked, as the flattening and “Take Comfort” both impressed themselves upon him. “You guys are really in the bowels of the thing. And just when it seems to be having a movement!”

“Look”, Carmine chastised. “Be an aristocrat. Action first. Humor later.”

The Deuce Machine jammed the book, vertically, in between the ground and the flattened ceiling. It was just enough to prevent a total destructive closing of the gap.

Carmine separated from his companions and headed home for recuperation. It was only at midnight that he felt sufficiently recovered to leave the apartment for a breath of air. He stopped at a newsstand to buy the next day’s papers.

There was no report of The Flattening whatsoever.

Oh, the papers appeared in their usual thick editions. But almost all the news was optimistic. A New Atlantis “White Paper” reported that the injection of creative forces into the Shopopolis Elite had effected an encouraging democratic leveling of society. The Fatuous Review spoke of the sudden broadening of economic opportunity in the Sho-Po area.

“Extra building space discovered!”, it cheered. “See how much the Nation prospers ? When Government interference is avoided? And the unshackled human spirit can freely produce?”

“Growth!”, the Beatific Exit Highway Patrol also exulted. “Shopopolis spreads out into the suburbs!”

Only the New York Upright Zeitgeist alluded to the occurrence of alarming events.

“Socratic Dialogue Discovered at Shopopolis!”, its headlines screamed. “Revival of Fascism Imminent? Special report by Elie Wiesel.”

Chapter Five: Pardon Me!

Setting: An Immensely Large Ballroom

Time: Yesterday and Today

Cast: Each and Every Blessed Grain of Sand on a Polluted Beach. Including the Ones that Ought to Know Better

Special Props: Various Recordings Suitable for Dancing Madison’s Delight. The Free Supermarket of Conveniences and Ideas. Innumerable Copies of The Enlightened Man’s Ready Answer. Handkerchiefs.

The One is Not the Many

It was midnight, and Carmine was awaiting a telephone call from a saint.

Angelina Inghiottotutto was a pediatrician from Tuscany. Her father,

Signore Sempre Inghiottotutto, now lived in Rome, though the bulk of a

large extended family inhabited lush villas and suggestive apartments in and around San Gimignano, “the city of the beautiful towers”.

Carmine had met Angelina not long after his return from Oxford, at a mammoth reception given by the Italian Consulate on the anniversary of the foundation of the Republic. It was not as though he had sentimental ties binding him to June, 1946. Far from it. If anything, he would have liked to fancy the House of Savoy. So old. So prestigious. From the northwest, where they did such wonderful things with butter. But, unfortunately, allied with its own Risorgimento-fueled version of New Atlantis. No. Carmine had gone to the Consulate simply because the food and the drink were free. So had Angelina.

“Inghiottotutto”, she had squealed to him, as the crowd shoved her providentially into his life. “I am an Italian, you know.”

Wasted breath! As though a zesty Chianti, airing proudly in a glass, alongside some prosciutto, figs, melon, and a ciabatta needed to announce its geographical origins. For Angelina was the Mediterranean. She was classical Latinity emboldened by Baroque exuberance. The balance and harmony of her compact figure were placed in still greater relief by the dress that held in check those parts of the female anatomy which prosper in confinement. Its seventeenth century character was emphasized by the flourishes underlining the curves and flesh that ought to protrude. Nearing forty, Angelina was ageless, just like everything else that pays a due respect to the classical order of things, while allowing some room for fanfare and admitting the possibility of the appearance of a saint.

Signore Sempre Inghiottotutto was himself a highly cultivated forza di natura, destined, in youth for respectable glory in the diplomatic service. Several stumbling blocks had intervened to thwart juvenescent promise: capture by a variety of enemies of Italy; national defeat and humiliation; destruction of the Inghiottotutto home; and post-hostilities starvation. To name but a few.

“Diplomacy was out of the question”, he explained to a group of Americans on one of his many trips to New York to visit Angelina. “I was trained under Mussolini.”

“In other words”, an irritated Peripherite, unfamiliar with the Duce’s name, commented; “you lost your optimism. Don’t you think you should have tried harder?”

“Somehow”, Signore Inghiottotutto objected; “I doubt that your leaders would have been among those permitting strenuous effort to have the intended effect.”

Heads of elder listeners shook in righteous censure alongside those of a later generation. Nothing ever, ever, ever justified a loss of Enthusiasm. Not even Armageddon. Middle-aged Americans now understood the reason for the defective plumbing they had observed in Europe in the 1950’s.

Armageddon had turned Signore Inghiottotutto from diplomacy to education. He developed a reputation as a capable administrator, and spent many years directing elegant schools in Montecatini Terme and Frascati. The younger Inghiottotutti, Angelina and her two brothers, grew up in circumstances that made them feel as though they were children of noble caste, given permanent rights to play on the estates of minor Italian princelings. But most of their fellow countrymen shared this sensation anyway, so they escaped unpalatable elitist tendencies.

Now Signore Inghiottotutto was not a man who could rest content with the idea of fitting into a comfortable niche. Why reduce the remainder of his life to a cipher? After twenty years of service in Montecatini and Frascati, it was just this fate that loomed large. The time had come to cultivate new fields. To reform what needed to be reformed. To rock the Italian educational boat.

Boat rocking was not approved of in mid 1960’s Italy, still scarred by wartime memories and enjoying a new-found prosperity. Signore Inghiottotutto was supposed to collect his salary until age permitted him to gather in his impressive pension. As for anything else that he might think? Well, he could think whatever he liked.

Alas! He connected thought and action! And just when Italy was beginning to prove itself to be a loyal part of the Free World! Troubles came from this mistake. Demotion arrived along with them. The Inghiottotutto fortune was disturbed. Eventually, the family had to move to a large public project just outside of Rome. With Signore Inghiottotutto a clearly marked Troublemaker for life.

The younger Inghiottotutti were warned by their father to find careers in which dynamic temptations like his own could be indulged with greater serenity. He thought that all would go well when the personal inclinations of each of his children led the three of them to enter the noble world of medicine.

Angelina was the first to embrace the work of Aescalapius. It was a labor of love. She accepted the long hours, the night service, the horrors of the Emergency Room, the denial of much that a woman in her early twenties might have relished. It came with the terrain. Besides. Signore Inghiottotutto had instilled in Angelina a sense of purpose and of duty. Not to speak of gratitude for the gifts that she’d been given.

Her spirit was successfully tested during the last stages of medical training, when she also had to nurse her mother, who ultimately died of cancer under her daughter’s eyes. But Angelina could bear such trials because she was a saint. And given a natural push to become one by a Tradition that chastised people who went astray, directed them to things that really mattered, and maintained a truly “down home” lack of confidence in the innate strength of widespread Common Sense.

After medical school and internship, things, for a time, went according to plan. Angelina helped her brothers through their medical apprenticeship, both financially and emotionally. She obtained a secure position in Rome. She was assured a superior, secure, and totally predictable way of life until the day of her retirement. Following which, she would enter into another absolutely foreseeable track until death. The Inghiottotutto demon had arrived. And this time at the tender age of thirty.

Let it not be thought that either Angelina or her father would have encouraged that demon for light and transient reasons. The Italian equivalent of a job such as Carmine’s, wretched as it was, might have made it possible for both to exhaust their energies in projects whose indulgence its security supported. But Angelina’s position, like that of Signore Inghiottotutto before her, did not involve a twenty-four week vacation. Its dull routine was year round. It sapped her life blood. Polluted the Mediterranean. Deadened the classical. Made the Baroque whimsies of her spare time endeavors as unlikely to produce great fruit as the cheapest and most cloying of Rococo frivolities. Medicine in Italy was not dynamic. It was time to move on. This was not a full life.

True.

Still.

At least it resembled life.

Other factors made movement seem urgent. Angelina had become disturbed by certain pretensions of her friends in Rome. She grew tired of hiding in the Theater of Marcellus to avoid meeting them if she ventured out in the evening in flats. Excuses for her habit of conversing with the local butcher and baker were wearing thin. Long acquaintances adopted a surly attitude when she appeared at the main Sunday mass without her fur. Or, worse still, at an earlier or later service. And then went so far as even to express interest in the sermon. They ground their teeth in rage at her refusal to buy an evening gown to eat rigatoni in guts’ sauce in their new apartments in the Parioli.

But.

Yet.

At least they still ate dinner.

Lord knows, Angelina did not wish to cause problems for the rest of society. She was no revolutionary. She knew Aristotle’s Organum. She had memorized the Corpus juris civilis. She understood the rules for exhibition at the Louvre and the rigors of the Vienna State Opera. All she wanted was for the Canon to admit some whimsy, some spunk, a dash of mystic inspiration. And—though she would never herself have thought this—the possibility of the existence of a saint.

Signore Inghiottotutto suggested that Angelina take some time off to go to England, where her two younger brothers had settled. Angelina did so. Parts of Britain enchanted her, but it was the mid 1970’s, and the average kitchen had not yet discovered the charms of seasoning. She lost so much weight that she had to flee to the Continent to avoid total evaporation.

On her return journey to Italy, Angelina lingered in many a town and hamlet, trying to determine whether she might break with Rome to locate there. Nothing seemed to please her. Snares, often similar to those she had experienced in the Eternal City, lay about, visible to the naked eye. And she did not feel quite at home anywhere. The burdens of life in the Old World fell heavy and inescapable upon her.

Finally, the Myth of America made itself felt. An old friend of the family, also a physician, had begun to send glowing reports from Cleveland, where he had married and set up house. America, he wrote, was still the land of the new, of the unpredictable, and of every-expanding Opportunity; the country that had won the very great war in which Italy’s dreams of Empire had been shattered. And in America, the refuge of many immigrants, no one specific person or group was made to feel a stranger. America nurtured a diversity of cultures and individual approaches to life in one overarching whole. She could remain truly Italian. Others could maintain their Hindu Kush ways. Each group confusing and disturbing the others. Nobody felt at home here. So nobody was left out! To America Angelina would go.

If only she had gone sailing to Byzantium.

The director of Angelina’s hospital in Rome was heartbroken when she announced her intention to him.

“We will miss you, Angelina”, he said to her as both burst into tears. “You are 100% physician, and 100% woman!”

“I cherished those words”, she told Carmine.

It was a good thing that she did. It was the last time that she ever heard them. Or had the chance to prove their validity.

Oh, it was not easy to enter Paradise! The Civitas Dei! Alfardaws! Kamavachara! One has to pass the entrance examination. Before Paradise, one visits Purgatory. And is it not perhaps possible, in an enlightened world, to find that Purgatory leads straight to Hell?

Be that as it may, Angelina had to take a test satisfying the officials of the Celestial Empire that her medical knowledge was up to their mandarin standards. Objective science was a national priority.

“Can you submit to being Creative?”, a liberal at the American Embassy questioned.

“True to an unchanging Tradition of Change?”, a conservative added.

“Open to an incredibly demanding avoidance of Fuss?”, the clerks inquired.

“Capable of Pragmatizing your Perchildity?”, a battery of entrepreneurs wondered. “And Lifting Up Your Bucks?”

“Most importantly!”, all of the Anglo-Strutters sang in chorus; “can you claim still to be standing up straight? While smack in the midst of the kowtow?”

“Yes!”, she assured them, whatever in the world they were talking about. “Yes! I can, I will be, I am, of course! Guide me! Help me! Watch me!”

And so, the Dance began.

Angelina spent her evening improving an already excellent command of English, in order to relearn her entire discipline in that language. And memorize the Constitution. The Bill of Rights. American folklore. Not to speak of studying the documents on immigration slipped in amidst the shopping coupons. For the “land of laws and not of men” required more than a passing knowledge of possible sources of litigation.

“You won’t be dealing with many people in Elysium”, the Embassy legal officer warned her. “I suggest that you examine these commentaries on torts. They form an imposing blanket on winter nights. Probably the only warmth involving human action you’ll come to know on the Other Side.”

It was all so very foreign. Such odd myths! As strangely disjointed as the Greek theogony. As out of sync with Angelina’s vision of Falak-al-aflak as Olympian Zeus was with the bull compromised in the rape of Europa.

Still. Each nation has peculiar skeletons in its closet. But do they mail accounts of them to visitors with bureaucratic cran? Who had the time to wonder? Angelina had another step in Madison’s Delight to learn! And another. And another. And….

By the time the girl was as fully prepared as anyone might be, America decided that it wanted little to do with skilled, intelligent, good-willed physicians of European descent who were fluent in English. Bad luck! She was ready to move, just when the New Atlantis contingent was leading the national jitterbug. Hindu Kush were “in”! They could pass through the Pearly Gates on the strength of their background alone. An Inghiottotutto did not possess the proper heritage. Meanwhile, the entrance examination for westerners was changed. Its written test was redesigned to assure failure by anyone without the answer key. Angelina failed.

But an Inghiottotutto could not be deterred. Angelina now quit her post in Rome. Day and night, she studied and restudied. For six months, she did not see the streets of the Eternal City. It was good preparation for Eden. Where she would not encounter the City at all. Then she flew to Athens, the one place in Europe where those foolhardy enough to take the impossible test could sit for it a second time.

“Why Athens?”, Carmine asked her.

“Who knows? It was the furthest distance in Europe. But I’d never been there. The sites were delightful. Except for all the spit carried in by the prevailing westerlies.”

Angelina-At-Athens was better prepared than the examiners hired to destroy her. She found errors in the questions and in the answer key themselves. She passed. She had won!

She had not yet begun to fight. For America does not forget a setback. And there are many Madisonian waltzes in the Anglo-Strutters Ball.

Angelina’s visa did not really entitle her to work. Instead, it forced her to find a research grant, enabling her to study some different medical specialization. Thus, she was granted the privilege of working very hard, in a way that recalled her internship, for relativally little pay. She was being awarded the wartime conditions her father had known, but that history had as yet denied her. This, too, Angelina accepted, presuming it to be a nation’s normal efforts to protect the labor of its natives. Even though many of them, like Carmine’s students, were barely capable of patting their heads for the entertainment of passers-by on the sidewalk, and did not know where they lived anyway.

Angelina moved to the suburbs of Oz. A hospital in downtown Newark was the original site for her new specialization in endocrinology. Now, Angelina was no fool. She was not like those people who get off the train in Newark, thinking that they heard the conductor announce New York. Nevertheless, she made the understandable error of presuming that the two might perhaps be similar. Which they were, indeed, but only in the peripheral sense.

Angelina’s first nights in the United States were spent with the family of one of her new colleagues at their large home in a wealthy Newark suburb. She was welcomed warmly by the physician’s wife and by her four children. But not by her husband. Or by the father of the kids. Neither of whom had been around to visit for years at a stretch, though they kept the place packed with convenient Necessities to fill the gap. At dinner time, 5:30 P.M., when Rome was still digesting lunch, Angelina descended, dressed by Botticelli. A hot meal was provided, which she, like each of her hosts, was invited to consume, alone, in front of her own home entertainment center.

“You’ll have more time to fulfill yourself if we avoid the Fuss of a formal dinner”, the woman chanted, giving her a program guide. “It’s a stressless arrangement. No furs are ever required.”

America had opened its arms to yet another member of the huddled masses, yearning to be free. And America’s words of welcome were spoken by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. At least it wasn’t the Lupercalie. That would come later. When Angelina moved closer to a fully stocked Supermarket.

Baskets full of fruits of the New World ripened for Angelina with every step that she took over the course of the following weeks. And the juice from each specimen she cut open always got her with a squirt in the center of the eyeball.

The full life demanded a place on the periphery with a pall all its own. Angelina was directed to her Happy Home with the usual promises of fresh air, cozy camaraderie, and safety. Her colleagues found her a truly convenient apartment, with easy access to major highways. Each apartment was surrounded by its own cloverleaf, so that one could go forthrightly from front door to car without walking a single step extra or being delayed by idle chatter. One could smell the polis everywhere! Community had never been so very much alive! How could it be otherwise in the New Athens? Only a lunatic would utter a complaint!

Angelina had thought to take public transport to work. This notion was attributed by her new colleagues to some Tuscan disease against which she had forgotten to be vaccinated. Besides, her apartment’s safety features made access to the normal street impossible. Alas! Angelina’s co-workers lamented the fact that home safety features could not prevent her from having to endure inhuman physical exertion in Newark itself. Why, she had to park her car three blocks away from the hospital!

“This too shall pass”, a parking attendant commiserated. “All newcomers go through it for a while. Nevertheless, pretty soon, you’ll realize your full potential. Then, you’ll never use your legs again. The car will walk for you. You’ll have time to begin learning never to use the rest of your body. And start preparing for the implantation of artificial elitist limbs. There’s a new line coming out this spring.”

While ambling to work at noon one day, she was mugged by a black man whose fulfillment required possession of Angelina’s ring. At first, the lunchtime crowd thought that it was watching the filming of a television program on racism. It offered its services to either of the parties involved, while grinning at imaginary cameras. Then, it realized that it was only seeing a plain, old, everyday mugging. This was no longer fulfilling. Outrage bubbled along with the disappointment. But even Outrage required Fuss. So the crowd grew bored, lost interest, and returned to scratching and gossiping and voting on issues related to Chilean internal security. Angelina managed to cauterize her wounds, though a woman threatened to send her a laundry bill for a small blood stain she got on her skirt.

“You newcomers!”, she complained. “Always trying to use people! I tell you, every time I leave the door, it’s like Socrates trying to spark the idea of virtue all over again, right from the beginning. But with Persians at the Areopagus instead of Hellenes!”

The initial police car that Angelina tried to flag down shooed her away. It was leading off a group of Augustinian philosophers to the new Newark Gatelands where they would soon be receiving Help. Angelina stopped a second police car by hurling herself before its front wheels, like a turn of the century Feminist at the King’s horses at Ascot.

“Aiuto!”, she cried. “I’ve been mugged!”

“Well it serves you right for walking in public, doesn’t it?”, the policeman reproached her. “Haven’t you read the ‘Crime Watch’ suggestions? You don’t brazenly walk in public! Walking in public is an open invitation to a criminal. Do your duty as a law abiding Perchild. Fulfill yourself fitly. Walk in private. Look at you! Now we’ve got to take you to the Emergency Room.”

Another public service! At least Angelina would not be late for work. After all. America does not like to coddle its guests by keeping them idle. Otherwise, she might have to be sent to the neighborhood Gatelands, too.

All in due time. All in due time.

Immigration was, in one sense, a rejuvenating experience for Angelina. She was back in the Emergency Room, just like ten years earlier in Rome. Actually, it was, perhaps, going a bit too far to say that anything about her existence in Newark was “just like” what she had known in the Eternal City. In the Old World, she had been a physician doing a physician’s job. Here, she did everything. “Activities” of all kinds abounded. Angelina served as nurse. Policewoman. Go-fer. Expiatress for the sins of hundreds of years of white, male, Anglo-Saxon slaveholders. And justly so. After all, the Catholic Mediterranean must somehow have been responsible. Look at Galileo! And those Portuguese traders on the Ivory Coast were probably all pious daily communicants anyway! Along with Hitler, right arm of Popes!

Only sweeping lay outside of Angelina’s daily responsibilities. One of the bigger Hindu Kush researchers had decided that this was an effective and relaxing form of therapy. Furthermore, it paid too well to leave it to a European immigrant. Or a needier member of his own people.

“I came here for opportunity, remember”, he explained, in sign language. “Mine. Not yours. Not theirs.”

When not jabbing, restraining, buying sandwiches, or suffering abuse at the hands of minority-group prostitutes, Angelina was busy being browbeaten by her director for her Old World naiveté.

“Little Angel”, he said, showing precisely that kind of respect for ethnic origins for which the New Jerusalem was renowned; “don’t fall for outdated notions of womanliness. Grow as a female. Become a man. The tools are inside. Try them out. The parts are in the refrigerator.”

Angelina was unhappy. But salvation came. And from right around the corner! A new research position in endocrinology, freed from Emergency Room duties, opened up in Brooklyn, giving her a chance to move to New York City. Oh, the Optimism this unleashed on the part of those encouraging Angelina to accept the post! The desire for hard work that it inspired in everyone hearing of her good fortune! The justification they said that it gave for her previous torture on the outskirts of fulfillment. Angelina was so moved that she was probably good for a dozen more years of delusion regarding the Promise of the Holy Land.

“This’ll keep the Little Angel going”, her boss predicted. “Even without the addition of an arm and a leg or two.”

Carmine’s odyssey in search of an apartment was matched by that of Angelina when she left for the City. Living quarters had become scarce. After several weeks of fruitless hunting, she ventured into a sublet. This might have worked well, if the woman subleasing the apartment had actually moved away.

“Isn’t it obvious?”, Angelina was told when complaining of the equivocation. “I fulfill my need to make more money this way. And lucky for you that I do. Your bitching reveals a desperate longing for the interpersonal relationship my staying on will give you.”

Search ended through the labor of Signore Inghiottotutto, who came to visit one month after Angelina began referring to her hunt for an abode as “my latest dilemma”. He chanced upon a midtown luxury apartment requiring no agent’s fee to rent. And with only a six month security deposit.

Angelina’s residence, Suckup Mews, had all of the benefits expected by young, wealthy New Yorkers: two Grand Staircases, modeled after those of the Paris Opera. Floodlights. A private zoo, boasting rare animals shipped in from Africa, the Hebrides, and Charlemagne’s special ménagerie at Aix-la-Chapelle. A lobby decorated as the Alhambra, with gypsies from Granada telling fortunes and spitting disdainfully on shoes as their children ate ice cream alongside them. A symphony orchestra. And, finally, a staff twice the age of the average resident, permanently outfitted in formal garb with Spanish collar, and programmed to cater to the inhabitants’ every caprice.

The concierge was a German who had followed the Goddess of Disaster on her Grand Tour round the Twentieth Century. He told Carmine that he preferred to enter difficult professions under impossible circumstances, because the competition was less energetic. He, interestingly enough, given the role this would play in his future home, had first found work as a dance instructor in Berlin in 1945. Unfortunately, the population failed to respond to the new quick-step that he had choreographed: The Götterdämmerung Gallop. He had needed a Joint Allied Escort to leave the City. From Berlin, he had moved to Jerusalem, Dien Bien Phu, Algiers, Havana, and back to Indochina again.

“I thought I'd made it when I opened up the studio in Phnom Penh”, he told Carmine. “None of the Khmer Rouge could Fox Trot. But they lacked gumption. And nothing’s so good for my real line of work as being in this place. I’ve never seen such devotion to a jig. People here dance till they drop. I’m finally where the action is!”

Deluxe apartments were the simplest brand in Suckup Mews. Carmine had seen such places in his youth, though he had known of them as doll houses. Angelina had to buy miniscule furniture at The Old Suckup Mews Company Store to furnish her cubicle. The shop was also stocked with everything from milk and baby food to cocaine and abortofacients and colored condoms for varied lifestyles. These could be manifold, even in one flat. After all. as many as five people were known to share a deluxe apartment in her building.

“I remember similar conditions from Naples, after the last earthquake”, Angelina told Carmine. “People corrected them.”

Still, Angelina did not want to carp. The only thing that really concerned her was the fact that the neighboring apartment was a brothel. Not that this was unusual. Only whores, international bankers, Third World diplomats, and philanthropists could afford the Pamper Suites at Suckup Mews. In fact, all these types were quite often next door to one another. Or sharing each other’s bedrooms. Angelina grew suspicious of the existence of a brothel due to the large number of confused and harried-looking men wandering aimlessly about her floor. And, of course, the police raids. Carmine confirmed its reality by telephoning a number advertised in The Village Idiot. He was given direction to Suckup Mews. The brothel was run by a company in good standing with Trompe l’Oeil For You! Its lawyers and staff came from Periphery. New Atlantis provided the philosophical justification for its work; America is Worth an Idea, the Hallmark cards advertising its wares, and praise for what was, in the final analysis, the most traditional of professions. All these institutions had branch or recruitment offices on each of The Suckup floors, and helped to pay for the piranha and lilies in the Alhambra pool. America provided the contaminated soil and the polluted atmosphere.

The Suckup Mews roof was pleasant when Angelina moved in. It offered, if one craned his neck, a panoramic view of the entirety of the North American continent. Within six months of taking up residence, however, a newer, higher building was put up next door. Accidentally taller than city codes permitted. Yet saved from the wreckers by offering free space for Clap Singers to perform and then grow ill openly for the delectation of the population at large. Special seminars were arranged to help spectators to understand how to enjoy both their cacaphany and death.

“You scratch my back”, the German concierge commented, explaining the complications of the construction to Carmine. “And I knee yours.”

The Chuckling Plutocrat’s Arms undeniably offered many advantages: the company of forty two brain surgeons. One hundred nineteen lawyers. And five really, really big houses of ill repute providing lifestyle satisfaction. Most exciting, however, was the ability for each inhabitant to watch Suckup residents shading themselves next to their pools from his own terrace.

But the Chuckling Plutocrat was hoisted on its own petard! A still bigger house, Wycliffe’s Triumph, enabled the Chuckling Plutocrat population to overcome inhibitions of its own. It could now strut about half naked in view of the newer building’s occupants, each of which was provided with a powerful telescope designed to probe behind curtains. And video cassettes to record the results.

Angelina’s apartment problems were matched by those at work. Her job at Touch Me Hospital, like everything else in the New World, was centered upon helping people. It was involved in the treatment and stretching of dwarfs. Touch Me Hospital was famous across the globe for being in the forefront of the Dwarf Stretching Movement. And it intended to remain there.

“No frozen scientific icon is safe from us!”, its director announced to the public in radio spots. “We are always on the move where it counts. Aiming higher. Fighting obscurantism. Crucifying critics of Darwin. Preparing to learn from more advanced alien cultures once they arrive to dialogue and integrate.”

Angelina was expected to provide ever new data indicating improvements in Touch Me knowledge in the field. If no new data came in, she had to tug and pull harder at each dwarf. Should this do no good, they were handed over to the Margaret Sanger Sewer Works and flushed out of the system.

“If Touch Me can’t work’um over”, the Director noted, “they’ve had it anyway. And somebody’s gotta hire these unskilled sewer workers and give’um something to do. How else can the average Joe illegal immigrant live?”

When Angelina complained that she did not have the time to do the requisite tests, she was told that it was results, not tests, that mattered in Real Life.

“Little Angel”, her new boss, equally conscious of ethnic niceties as his Newark counterpart, warned her. “A mature person would understand what is at stake here. You must learn to grow up, and do what is demanded of a professional.”

“But I’m used to something considerably different in Rome”, she explained.

“Backward ways for backward nations”, he pontificated. “Here, it’s shape up or ship out! We want performance-oriented people. No cynics. Do you understand? Who are you? A babe in the woods? Shirley Temple? Performance-oriented people. No cynics. The March of Science, Little Angel, the March of Science! No falling back!”

He eyed Angelina suspiciously. Perhaps she was mentally unstable? Did this explain why she would not take advantage of the cheap housing available on the hospital’s grounds? Which would leave her so much more extra money than The Suckup Mews? Allowing her to traverse the slums between subway and home in the late evening hours, as she returned from the after work diversions in Manhattan she would then be able to afford? Yes, that was the reason. He had employed a first class wacko. A cretin. The Original Gorilla. Maybe he should give her an Old Babylonian amulet to ward off the idols preventing her from becoming the hundred per cent rationalist that her work required her to be?

Never mind, Angelina thought. Her problems were being solved. One by one.

“I am in control”, she told Carmine. “This is it.”

A desire for Romance chose just this moment to strike the hitherto unaffected Angelina. Actually, the soil giving it nurture was being turned from the day that her job and housing situation seemed to be slowly resolving themselves. Nature was working in its ordered manner to fulfill still unanswered requirements of the good life. Angelina made a logical conclusion from the kind of training she had received back in Italy. She would place herself in circumstances where she would meet men. She would hope, then, to fall in love. Marry. Make love. Have a child. Preferably, in that order.

“This”, she told Carmine, “is what logic dictates.”

But Toxica had its Novus Organum.

Her efforts to socialize were generally devastating. Angelina spent so much time talking of venereal diseases that there was no moment left to speak of tenderness. Oh, she encountered many who would “buy her drinks”, as Florida wanted. But the price was too high. She was expected to leap under the blankets. Immediately. Even before. Feign passion. Then watch football games, with her hat worn backwards. Praise her lovers as sensitive members of the Intelligentsia. Appreciate their Orgasm Data Books. And the teddy bears representing that inner vulnerability that always remained untouched in them, no matter how consistent the vulgarity of their actions.

Angelina consistently refused. The effects were instantaneous. Men lost control, acting like rebuffed Turkish rug sellers in the bazaar. They pouted. Screamed. Accused her of trying to be interesting. Offered her the names of prominent psychoanalysts, from whom they received substantial kickbacks. One fellow even admitted that he himself was an analyst, and sought out Italians like Angelina to drum up business in the slow season.

“That’s ghastly!”, she cried out.

He handed her his personal annotated copy of the Novus Organum.

“It works!”, he said.

He then did a little routine of Madison’s Delight.

“And if it works—cha, cha, cha—it’s firmly integrated into the Good!”

“Who taught you such a thing?”, she sobbed. “What about love?”

“Taught? Where does teaching come into it? I’m simply speaking Common Sense. You don’t ‘teach’ Common Sense. You just know it. I learned how meaningless ‘love’ was when the women I betrayed betrayed me back. Love? Ha! There’s your ‘love’! God bless the land that unmasks love for what it truly is!”

No one at Touch Me Hospital could comfort her. Angelina knew a few kind men who worked there, but they were too broken themselves to offer consolation. An Irishman whose fiancée had just left him, realizing how serious he was about becoming a general practitioner, tried to do so. His efforts to calm Angelina broke down entirely, however, when a phone call from the departed lover interrupted their conversation, the ex-fiancée querying the Dubliner about possible legacies that might still make him an acceptable consort. The man ran to a street corner and massacred everything female in sight. Angelina attended his execution.

Feminists also tried to provide assistance to the suffering visitor from Italy. They did so by pointing out “tight asses”, and giving Angelina instructions on how to score without losing control herself.

“I don’t understand this scorecard”, she complained to Carmine. “The game is going to end too quickly for anybody to make much of any victory.”

Angelina could not leave well enough alone. She tried to justify herself. She explained that she did not relish the idea of a banquet in Yucca Flats. Or a concert in the sewer. Or a cocktail party atop dead bodies. So why should she want to love and be loved in a context which was all askew?

“In Rome, if I refused to sleep with a man”, she explained to her co workers, “he still knew how to treat me as a friend.”

That was the last straw. The bitch had to be put in her place.

“This is America!”, an indignant Senegalese buck told Angelina. “We don’t go in for that kind of Roman hypocrisy here. I have slept with one hundred and fourteen women since arriving at tea time, yesterday afternoon . I would spit in the face of any slut who refused me.”

He grew more understanding after the brutality of his initial assault had reduced Angelina to tears.

“Look”, he whispered, nervous lest anyone overhear his attempt at rapprochement with a psychotic imbecile. “You obviously need help to cure your puritanical fear of the body, so that you can offer it to the world. Admit your sexual needs, which are as savage as any man’s, but which you have repressed—been forced to repress by the oppressive male society round you, which makes women feel guilty about their desires--and sublimated into false dreams of family and children. Be more charitable to yourself. Develop the self-donation of a real woman. Donation to self. Don’t you want to fall in love? Are you a cynic? What do you think? That your breasts have some exalted mission? Come on! Where’s your self-respect?”

He offered her his latest girl friend’s psychoanalyst’s card.

Angelina became frantic. She telephoned her family friend in Cleveland. He promised to come, with his wife, for a visit. Though he looked the same as he had in Rome, certain changes had taken place in him. For one thing, he had become fluent in American.

“Don’t be a child, Angelina!”, he commanded. “A mature person would understand not to expect love at your advanced age.”

“He even told me that love was something to be bought with jewels”, she whimpered, afterwards, to Carmine. “Though only on credit. With a Gold Card.

In fact, the couple had come to Manhattan precisely to use Angelina’s American Express Card to purchase a necklace for the man’s wife.

Where was love?

Rutme had at first seemed different. Angelina met him on the roof. He spoke to her of his desire to find a real woman. One who would cherish him. Honestly. Forever. For himself alone. As a person, not as a money-making machine. Oh, he knew what Toxica had to offer in the way of empty promises! Angelina was charmed. She showed him that she adored him in just this straightforward and permanent fashion. He asked her to prove her love. By traveling to the Caribbean and sleeping with him. How unique! How caring! How sensitive! How sui sui generis!

“I’m a new kind of man”, he reassured her. “This is clear.”

“Don’t accept fast food, Rutme!”, Angelina pleaded. “Wait for Babette’s Feast!”

“Must you be so exaggerated in your emotions?”, he critiqued. “Are you Italians that child like?”

He pulled out his psychoanalyst’s card.

The last time Angelina saw him, he had moved in with an eighteen year old mental defective who thought she was a zebra. And was grateful to Rutme for getting her started, sexually.

“The zoo”, she told the German concierge, “just couldn’t do it all alone.”

Luckily for Angelina, the visa problem now reached drastic proportions, far overshadowing the romantic question. It proved to be impossible, after two years, both to renew her research position, and also to get a Green Card to obtain real work. Angelina appealed for help to her director. He, at first, professed impotence, which may have been true, but wasn’t in question here. There was a nationwide shortage of dwarfs, he moaned. That was the problem. Carmine and Angelina went hunting. One escaped from under Carmine’s raincoat, causing the national scandal that had almost prevented his being hired at Periphery. A couple fell into their clutches in lower Manhattan, but once they had been transformed into basketball players there was nothing left for Angelina to do. She was released.

After one day’s unemployment, however, Touch Me’s director somehow managed to rehire her, on the sly. But for one year only. On call. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. She accepted meekly, and with extreme gratitude. Dwarfs now mysteriously reappeared.

“What can I tell you?”, the director defended himself. “The market has its ups and its downs.”

Angelina could now perform the same task that she had been doing previously, but for longer periods of time and for infinitely less pay.

“My director said that I should be pleased with my Decoration”, she told Carmine.

“Where is it?”, he asked.

“Here!”

Angelina pointed to a beeper.

Labor in the stretching room was shared with two Hindu Kush who had entered the country illegally, barely spoke English, and liked to play tennis. Courts were only free in the middle of the work day or very late at night. Off they went. No problem with the hospital duties. Angelina would never let the patients die.

Fatigue took its toll after a year’s labor. Luckily, Angelina’s director told her that he could not pamper her for another three hundred sixty five vacation days of the type she had enjoyed. Besides, the Hindu Kush had threatened to turn her in to the police for the Green Card Through Betrayal Program. He fired her to avoid the scandal.

“We only wanted to be good citizens”, the Hindu Kush apologized, as they pocketed the hush money the director awarded them, ostensibly in praise of their year of dedicated service.

Angelina’s dilemmas by now merged into one big Predicament. The real slide had begun. The Gatelands were calling. And there were so many more payments yet to make on her friend’s wife’s necklace. Past bills to lawyers for help with an immigration impasse that could have been better resolved if she had arrived in Paradise in the middle of the night with a thousand Mongolians on an asteroid. Malpractice insurance, for cases initiated by dwarfs who could now reach desk counters to complain. Tempers were running short. And there was nothing to eat in Angelina’s apartment but bran, which she bought, fresh off the stalk, and trampled like a peasant girl did grapes at vintage time.

At this point, the entirety of Arcadia leapt upon her. At her most vulnerable. Barefooted. Bringing in the sheaves and crushing them with her own tiny unstretched toes. Acquaintances banged at her door to criticize her for lack of gumption. Friends tried to force her into an arranged marriage with a rich, ninety year old Sumatran fishmonger. The Hindu Kush, finally legalized through betrayal of a dozen indentured Costa Rican servants, offered to hire her as a drug runner for Touch Me Hospital, where they were now prized administrators. Her Senagalese stud-colleague hovered nightly from a helicopter outside her windows. He had reached the metamorphasizing age of thirty, bought a briefcase, married, become a New Traditionalist, and gone on the hunt for decadence, of which Angelina seemed to him to be a probable hidden example. The phone rang unceasingly. Even Geschwinde called to chat. Angelina was transformed into Job. She had to be convinced by all of the sin that had assured her fall from grace into her present state of misery.

“Admit you’re wrong!”, the mob admonished. “You want the Good Life, don’t you? Avoid all this Fuss you’ve built up round your life! Shame on you! Concerned with baby love! With pride in your work! With self-esteem! Get with it, kiddo! Lift Up Your Bucks! Pragmatize your Perchildity! Keep active! Find enemies! Get hold of a bundle of Convenient Necessities! Work hard to think of even more! You’ll be too overwhelmed ever to have a conscience qualm abut anything again! Accept your sin! Confess! And grow! You don’t want people thinking that America is responsible for your problems, do you? What kind of statement would that make?”

“My patience with this country has worn thin”, she announced to Carmine. “It’s time to prepare my return.”

But leaving America was like leaving Troy for an Ithaca that had itself fallen into Priam’s hands.

“Forget it”, relatives telegraphed from San Gimignano. “We’ve got more doctors here than in a synagogue. Besides. Everybody’s packing their bags to visit. There’s no place like America! Even the terroni are putting aside their onions to trade in for a hop over to 42nd Street. For their honeymoons, no less. You? Return? Whatever for? Did Beatrice return from Paradise to travel with Dante to the Inferno?”

What next, little girl. What next.

A collage of illegal jobs managed to keep Angelina alive for a short period of time. She sold phony relics in the suburbs, and did housework for career women, who chained her to the apartment walls while on duty.

“It’s frightfully hard for a Helper herself to get help these days!”, one altruistic Achiever said to Carmine, as she unshackled Angelina, so that he could take her to the Branmarket. “There are so many obstacles to my self-fulfillment. I’m so glad I’ve found this Little Angel though. Let’s face it. The Blacks are useless. And will you look at this faux-fingernail of St. Vincent de Paul that she found for me!”

A clinic on the Lower East Side provided pediatric employment for several weeks. But that hopeful position degenerated swiftly. It was only part-time. The malpractice company argued that Angelina had no right to work just a little, since it would thus be difficult for her to meet her insurance payments. They threatened to sue her for misfeasance. A colleague in the clinic left, during Angelina’s first consultation, taking all of the office furniture with him, causing the little children to fall on the ground and spit blood. Angelina’s sessions with patients were reduced to five minute’s duration to handle the tidal wave of cases.

“Just give’um a pill and a toy”, her superior commanded.

This advice fit together nicely with the patients’ mothers’ desires. They were often there with their offspring simply to pick up tools useful to their lovers’ drug habits.

“Something addictive!”, one would scream. “What else are we here for?”

“The pump!”, a chorus of voices yelled out in concert. “The needle! The glue! Up by those bootstraps! Remember Crumbs!”

“How did you end up like this?”, Angelina questioned a sympathetic Dominicano.

“What do you mean?”, she answered, pride offended. “I’m second generation. I’m one of the ones who made it.”

When government inspectors shut the clinic down and took away its director in handcuffs, Angelina fell into despair. For five weeks, she reduced her bran ration to siege proportions. Then she found work, from 5 P.M. until 10-o-clock in the morning, for a senile, eighty-five year old woman.

Mrs. Eccomi Finitaqua was a wealthy Neapolitan-American. Proud. Widowed. Integrated. Incontinent. She insisted upon shutting windows in her obstinately un air-conditioned apartment during heat waves. Dressed in evening gowns, adorned with her jewels, sitting in front of the television and babbling in dialect.

“America”, she insisted, “has been good to me.”

She may have been right. Much is, indeed, relative. There are eight million biographies in the Naked City. Some have to be read from start to finish.

Angelina tried to get a little sleep on a dilapidated couch, which Carmine piled with telephone directories from throughout the metropolitan area, so as to create some semblance of balance. She brought bran from home to munch on in the wee hours. Every night, around 12-o-clock, when Madame Finitaqua had finished her Neapolitan rant, and the extra strong coffee fed her by the day nurse just before her departure had worn slightly off, Angelina rang Carmine. She would cry to him of her Dilemma. He would moan to her of Periphery and its spread. Wonder if he could leave for Italy with her. And the two would thus be comforted.

That night, Angelina did not call. Carmine, who was in a dry spell financially, ate some uncooked pasta with a glass of vinegar, then stripped naked and lay on his bed, smoking a stale cigar. He awakened the next morning, phone shrieking, with a big, but not terribly noticeable burn on his chest. Carelessness often led him to such results. This was why his launderer found wine stains on his underwear, and his friends, nose hairs in their soup. Carmine reached for the phone.

“It’s me!”, the unmistakeable voice of Angelina squealed. “I am free!”

Carmine’s spirits soared.

“You’re going home?”

“My dear, with what money?”

He grew concerned. Perhaps she’d had a relapse.

“You don’t mean you got your Green Card?”

“No, silly one. How? Have the Framers descended in glory? I haven’t looked out the window yet today. No. I mean I am free of Mrs. Finitaqua. She is hiding behind the couch right now!”

Madama Finitaqua’s voice screeched out.

“Who are these men? Save me from these men! Samanabeech!”

“What’s upset her?”

“Presidential candidates. She saw them on television. It’s starting again, you know.”

Angelina laughed loudly. Carmine was less sanguine. And it wasn’t merely the misery of another election that disturbed him.

“She won’t stay hidden past next November. Then she’ll want you back again. She’ll crawl in front of the sofa.”

“Well, she won’t find me when she does. I’ve got a job! During the day no less. Still illegal, of course, but a job with some money. One that eventually will feather my nest in Italy. No more bran, Carmine! No more bran!”

Angelina sounded like Oliver. This upset Carmine anew. He demanded more information.

“A job doing what?”, he asked.

“It’s a travel agency. A big new one. With powerful men and money behind it. Italians have organized it. They’ll need someone back in Rome soon. I’m certain of it.”

“How did you get it?”

“Oh, Carmine, from one of those consulate receptions. I met an Italian there, from an old family. Signore Ochebella Vignamarcia. He was interested in my Dilemma. “

Carmine learned more of the enterprise in the next few days. Signore Vignamarcia had created a travel agency called “We’re Back! Tours”. It specialized in trips for hyphenated Americans who wanted to visit their ancestral lands. Vignamarcia, like many contemporary employers, had had a hard time locating people to work for him who could think. Angelina came onto the scene just at the right moment. Moreover, her price was right: low. And she was so charming. Tuscany personified. The risk of delving into an illicit pool of labor was more than worth it. Besides. He would be helping a fellow countrywoman to fulfill her Dream of sharing in America’s bounty! All supporters of the cause of freedom would rejoice in his enterprise. At bargain-rate emotional levels. Vignamarcia even hired Madama Finitaqua as well. She went on the lecture circuit as an expert in political theory. Which, indeed, she had proven that she was.

A chance to judge the nature of Angelina’s new job soon arrived. An Italian-American organization, the “Gabriele d’Annunzio Pleasure Club”, located in the Bastashoot section of Brooklyn, had invited Vignamarcia to a party at which he would be presented with the “Honorary Gumba of the Year” Award. This was awarded, annually, for outstanding service in helping a dignified people to preserve knowledge of its heritage. Angelina was obliged to go along, just in case some unexpected language problem with the members required bilingual expertise. She was allowed to bring a guest. Carmine got the ticket.

“Thank you, Carmine darling”, she said, unexpectedly sombre, when he accepted. “I know you’re used to this sort of thing.”

Carmine had shrugged off the dark tone in Angelina’s voice. There was only so much disappointment he could prepare for before the fact. It was in fairly good spirits, therefore, that he boarded the “B” train at West Fourth Street one Sunday noon towards Brooklyn to meet Angelina and her new employer.

Bastashoot had apparently been created as a laboratory in which jeans companies could test their wares. Everything in the Stadtbezirk was wearing jeans. Babies were in jeans. So were buses. Shops. Dogs. Cats. Chicken bones. The dead. Planned Parenthood headquarters, just to give it something of a human feel. All and sundry were levi-ed. The Founding Market Analysts of Bastashoot were eager to show that their subjects could wear such clothing more close-fitting than anyone or anything else on the globe and still survive. “Tight makes Right” was their unstated battle cry. Jeans were soldered onto Bastashoot heads, necks, ears, arms, feet. Not to speak of backsides.“Hont soit qui mal y pense!” stood written on the Bastashoot coat-of-arms, underneath the depiction of a mammoth tight ass. A local Edith Piaf had just recently made an international splash from a ballad describing her unforgettable youth in the neighborhood: “Under Brooklyn Backsides”.

The Gabriele d’Annunzio Pleasure Club lay on 86th Street, directly below the El. One heard the train’s rumble from the thoroughfare regularly and loudly. Recent immigrants to the neighborhood praised this as another ingenious Yankee Convenience, one devised for people with stomach problems to air their grievances without giving offense to any living soul. Even digestive divisiveness would never rock the ever-more integrated Bastashoot environment.

Use of the main hall of the Gabriele d’Annunzio Pleasure Club, like that of many a building that Carmine had lately encountered, could have been made for any purpose. It might have served as a mammoth gymnasium. As a colossal urinal. As a gathering place for criminals from Sarajevo, about to be departed to the Punjab. Anything but a dining facility. But this was the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where miracles were natural. It was indeed now a dining facility, serving two hundred deliriously happy Italo-Americans. Actually, all ethnic groups were present, so as to leave no one out of the experience of being of Italian descent. Huge banners hung over the delirious crowd.

“Italians do it better!”, one proclaimed.

“Ours are almost as big as the Blacks’!” another asserted, with even greater vigor and thrust.

A cardboard cut out of a fat Italian peasant woman holding a plate of spaghetti covered the entire back wall.

“Mamma mia!”, the caption underlining that tasteful symbol of two millennia of Mediterranean civilization ejaculated.

It was not difficult to locate Angelina in the midst of the raucous crowd. For these revelers who did not really remind Carmine of the Italians whom he knew from his regular summer excursions. There was a certain poise noticeable in the average Italian, be he peasant, artisan, or rubbish collector, that made it seem as though the simple donning of different attire could instantly transform him into a nobleman. But the most imaginative of fairy godmothers would be frustrated by the raw material presented to her here. And she herself would probably have been plagued by what years ago Carmine and his sister, oblivious to their common heritage, had uncharitably called Italian Grandma stink.

Clearly, the horde had been instructed not to dress in Bastashoot regulation outfits. There were no jeans. Instead, professional consultants from Queens had been hired to guide the banqueters towards a more formal garb reflective of their Italian tradition. One saw men in maraschino cherry tuxedos with Alpini hats. Women in plastic gowns sporting the headgear of Venetian gondoliers. Couples imitating the supposed costume of mafiosi, running giddily about the room, threatening to eliminate anyone interfering in their turf with machine gun water pistols. Carmine wondered how long Federigo da Montefeltre would have retained his decorum forced into similar duds. His nose, rather than being appreciated as a distinctive appendage to his aged warrior face, would have been marketed by the residents of Bastashoot as a clothesline.

Although the average age of the people present was around forty-five or fifty, Carmine did recognize some youth from Periphery’s own Italian-American Society. He knew them only by their t-shirts. Carmine, as the sole Periphery faculty member who could speak the language, had been rejected as a possible professorial collaborator. A Czech was the leader. He had had to be admitted to get student funding under the “pluralism provision” of the constitution on Student Activities. Music rocked the hall. Literally. Heavy Metal, to be exact.

“We gotta be opena to the kidsa!”, one man, dressed as a zeppole, told Carmine, in a heavy, manufactured Italian accent reminiscent of Zeppo Marx.

There was little time for conversation, though. Dinner was about to begin. Actually, dinner was a buffet, arranged by the Abbondanza Committee of the Gabriele d’Annunzio Pleasure Club, on the Abbondanza d’Italia table. Five hundred pounds of lasagne and baked ziti, shaped in the form of foreboding nineteenth century high schools, were coagulating there on huge aluminum foil trays, accompanied by double magnums of Giacobazzi. This exhausted the menu. Except, that is to say, for the Burger King boxes, wrapped in the colors of the Italian flag, that had been brought in by the organizers for the same motive as the rock music. Everyone was assigned a fixed seat at the meal’s outset.

“It doesn’t matter, though”, Angelina informed Carmine, miserably, pointing to the cardboard peasant woman. “We have to move when ‘Mamma’ up there tells us”.

“Why?”

“It’s to meet more people. They call it a progressive dinner. The hidden purpose seems to be to give us another example of the destruction of the meaning of words in the modern world.”

Mamma mia’s mechanically-operated jaws started to function.

“Stronzi!”, she shouted. “Muovetevi!”

The crowd roared.

“Wow!”, it said. “Who thoughta that! They toppeda the Classica and the Baroqua! Italians do do it better! Anna more often! Remembera Crumbsa!”

Carmine still obeyed paper tigers. A lifetime of indoctrination was difficult to shake. He prepared to shift positions.

“Let’s go this way”, Angelina said, insistently, pulling Carmine to her right.

Others got to that destination first.

“Oh, here’s some seats in front”, Carmine noted, pleasantly.

Angelina did not seem pleased. She sat down, resignedly, next to him. Three guests were present at the table with Angelina and Carmine. One was a proper looking gentleman in his late forties, dressed conservatively, but for the incongruous Alpini hat upon his gracious head. Most of his energy appeared to be consumed by the effort of restraining as effectively as possible what must have been a naturally much more exuberant temperament. His strain reminded Carmine of attempts to appear interested and concerned when told that yet another exhibit of homosexual fetish objects had been run out of town by the local sheriff as an assault on common decency.

A grotesque, much younger couple, outfitted as gondoliers, served as his foil. Man and wife were perfect match. Her body, layered about in fat in such a fashion as to create the impression of a stepladder, seemed teleologically ordained to provide rungs for his enormous flat feet to trod upon. He sat sideways next to his wife, just as Kaiser Wilhelm II did, when he wished to hide his withered arm from the rest of the Court. Vast, nay, ponderous amounts of camera equipment and a screen for showing videos was piled alongside the couple.

Angelina and Carmine had approached the table in the midst of a conversation. A few moments listening convinced him that he was overhearing a discussion among untraveled people who were about to make use of “We’re Back! Tours” for their initiation. He interrupted in his naïve, exuberant, and invariably misplaced way.

“You’ll see such marvel!”, he cooed. “Artistic wonders, and…”.

He was wrong in his diagnosis. The table occupants were no novices. They were seasoned travelers. Of a sort.

“Yeah, we saw all that junk!”, the male gondolier interjected. “Ten Marvels a day. That’s what I told the agent. At least ten Marvels a day. With one Delightful thrown in to boot. I wanted to take enough pictures to make my shoulders sore from carrying around all this damned equipment. That’s what I told him. Marvels! With Delights! For good shots.”

“And?”, Carmine asked.

He turned. The revelation was unbelievable! The man was missing his right shoulder! In fact, half his body had entirely disappeared!

“Fell off on the way back, Stateside!”, he said, contentedly. “But what videos! Besides, I’ve got the other bits on film too. And the doctor was pleased with my weight loss!”

“We’re so proud of him!”, the stepladder gushed, exactly like the Kaiserin Augusta Victoria, when told that her husband had successfully dueled with his weakened limb .”

“Where’d you go?”, Carmine queried, not without some trepidation.

“Who knows? All over Europe, I think. Wherever there were Marvels. Hey, my younger brother’s at your school. With the Italian Club. Costs my family a hell of a lot to get him there, too! He’s trying to match up our pictures with the right names. This is the only one he’s sure of.”

The gondolier flashed a photo of the Battersea Power Station from the south side of the Thames on to the screen.

“Westminster Abbey!”, he bellowed.

Carmine changed both the subject and the conversation partner.

“Lucky devils”, he remarked to Angelina, referring to others who would be making use of “We’re Back!” services for the first time. “Imagine what they’ll think when they taste food in Italy. I mean the real thing.”

“Food?!?”, the stepladder screeched, listening in.

She leaned hard against Carmine.

“If only you could eat right over there. But you can’t even get good Wop!”

The Thing then turned to her husband.

“Remember the lasagna, honey pot? The one in Genoa?? Lousy! They give you this green stuff to put on your food. No. You gotta buy American if you want good Wop. Everybody knows that. Bastashoot and Good Eats. Now and Forever. One and Inseparable!”

Carmine grew somewhat irritated.

“And then”, he said to a sympathetic Angelina, through clenched teeth. “And then there’s the normal way of life.”

The couple howled with peripheral laughter! “Normal way of life!”, the gondolier squealed.

“Honey pot!”, his wife interrupted. “Remember? They wouldn’t let us take these souvenirs from the catacombs?”

“Right, boobidybabes. But we got the bones anyway, didn’t we. Brought’um in today to show everybody, too!”

Carmine gagged. He had been nibbling at what he thought were chicken wings. He cleaned them in some Giacobazzi and left them where he had found them. They soon withered, disintegrated, and were swept away as cigarette ash. Another Christian Tradition bites the dust. What Diocletian had not managed, the tourist population had accomplished. Informally, no less, without any Fuss.

The gondolier continued.

“Awright, the museums are O.K. And the food is getting’ betta. Burger joints are openin’ up. The kids are getting’ nutrition trainin’ in school. They don’t want the green stuff any more. But normal life? Getouttahere!”

“Burger joints”, Carmine shuddered, quietly.

“Hey,”, the stepladder sneered. “People gotta eat, you know. Are you from French background, snob?”

“You mean they didn’t eat before 1945?”

“Shuttin’ down”, the gondolier complained, oblivious, as were most people, to Carmine’s commentary. “They’re always shuttin’ down. I tell you, you go see a couple’a’Marvels. You’re ready for a Delightful. Equipment rarin’ to go. What happens? Shut down! Marvels closed. Then it’s five-o-clock. You wanna eat dinner? Forget it! Shut down! You just can’t get a move on it. Ten marvels a day. One Delightful. Then get a move on it. That’s what I told the agent. But there they are. Just shuttin’down. Like they’re dead. And you try to set up a place that don’t shut down? Forget about it! They try to shut you down! Where’s the freedom? Huh? Where’s the freedom? No wonder their culture never got offa the ground!”

“I had to grab one of them waiters once”, the wife lamented bitterly. “Grabbed him by the apron. ‘We’re tourists’, I told’um. ‘We’re tourists, and we can’t wait. Shut me down and I’m shuttin you down for good!’”

Carmine heard the gentle man cough slightly. The don turned hopefully towards his dignified presence, as towards a natural ally. Surely he, blessed with such noble features, understood the absurdity of the couple’s conversation. In fact, the gondolier and the stepladder both looked at him nervously, as though a word of reproach from his lips would destroy their testimony entirely.

“Yes”, he said, all eyes upon him. “Italy is, in the final analysis, only Italy. Good for a change of pace, perhaps. But there is nothing quite so refreshing as returning to this Land of Hope and Glory after several weeks experiencing the pitiful limitations of the alternative.”

Tension dissolved, as visibly and instantaneously as when a stranger visiting a protestant conventicle drops money in the collection box in full view of the congregation. The couple was vindicated. It savored its victory.

“People just can’t get enough of what we got”, the gondolier concluded. “Remember, boobidybabes? In Florence? The book shop? When I slapped the guy on the back? Called him ‘Gumba’? ‘Member how his face lit up?”

“No International Fuss?”, Carmine asked, accommodatingly.

“No Fuss!”, he shouted. “Exactly. That’s it. People love it. Here. There. Everywhere. No Fuss!”

“And they’re buildin’ them tourist towns, too, honey pot!”, the stepladder added. “Remember ‘Garda World’? And that love scene at the Gardone Hut? D’Annunzio and Sophia Loren?”

Carmine had reached his limit, once the inspiration behind his favorite café was brought into the discussion. He struck back pointedly.

“You know”, he began, his voice laden with as much bitter sarcasm as he could muster, “it’s a shame that we can’t turn every place into Disneyland. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a ‘Rome World’? Next to ‘Garda’? Think of it! No traveling time in between them, for one thing. Each night, the place could be disinfected. Tourists would know that it was, because the first one in in the morning would break through a band placed around the whole city. Just like with a toilet. At the entrance gates—train stations, airport, and bus depots, whatever—you could buy a book of tickets for specific events. Every hour on the hour, we could replay great historical moments, in their proper settings. Of course, we’d have to do a few repairs. Rebuild the Coliseum and the Forum. And fast. In time for next season. But just imagine the fruits. A Senate deliberation! Ceasar’s murder! Gothic invasions! Mussolini in the Piazza Venezia! A papal election! Every hour on the hour! My God, the prospects are unlimited! We could redo the liberation of the city in ’44! Although that might be redundant, since it’s happening ever second already anyway. There could be a holograph of the pope. Saying the Angelus. Blessing everyone. Canonizing everyone. Without letup. Saecula saeculorum. And we haven’t even spoken of Naples yet! The fun that kids could have sliding down the lava during an eternal eruption of Vesuvius!”

Carmine was getting off the track. He moved back to Rome. “Mind you, we’d have to pretty much get everybody out of town. Send them to Tiburtina. We’d keep a few around, in historical costumes, but without any of the attendant Fuss of reality. You do need a few people for atmosphere. Not too many. Otherwise, it gets too crowded for the tourists. And, come to think of it, holographs might do with them just as with the pope. Hey! You know what? Holographs of tourists would be a better idea as well! Why should a human come, when his picture could travel for him? But I was talking about the natives, wasn’t I? Anyway, the remaining Romans could sell souvenirs. Work in ‘fastorias’. Language wouldn’t have to be a problem ever again. There’d be photographs of all the foods available overhead. And no shutting down. Ever again. Then, to begin the season, we’ll have a running of the tourists, chased by credit card…”.

Carmine couldn’t continue. The stepladder had begun to sob, loudly. Her husband too. Carmine was regretting the biting tone that had brought on their suffering, when the husband brought him back to reality.

“This is all so beautiful!”, he said. “Would they finally set up an escalator at the Spanish Steps?”

Carmine wrent his garments.

“My God!”, he shouted. “I’m talking about the destruction of a nation? Don’t you understand? I love the Italian nation!”

The stepladder calmed down.

“Oh, you like nations, too?”, she giggled, happily. “I’ve loved them ever since I was a little girl and saw them on war movies on Saturday afternoons. Or was that notions? I keep forgetting. Oh, but it’s so nice to have a hobby, no matter what it is! It puts a little spice in your life. It’s what keeps us young, you know. On that all the therapists are more than agreed.”

Carmine turned to Angelina.

“This”, he cried, “is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“Nonsense, dear one”, she chastised. “You have yet to handle the conversation that you’ll hear when we switch to a table with Americans.”

“What?”, Carmine shrieked.

“When we switch to a table with Americans.”

“But…”.

“This is some of the staff of ‘We’re Back! Tours’. They’re testing their knowledge of their market before they go out into the field. The older gentleman is Signore Vignamarcia.”

Carmine sat back, stunned, to rethink the entire Pleasure Club experience da capo. Being an academic, he did this slowly and ponderously.

One basic historical principle impressed upon him by his Moravian supervisor at Oxford was that nothing serious survives a transplantation without major change. Macedonians don scented Persian robes on the banks of eastern rivers, and have themselves incensed as gods. Cathaginian elephants develop neuroses, flee contact with even the most genial of sexual partners, and expire, without heir, at the foot of Italian hill towns. German warriors strut about in togas, and insist that their thugs clang their shields, hail them as Roman Emperors, and paint them into mosaics on cathedral ceilings. Professors from Mitteleuropa in English exile strain themselves to such a degree to enjoy sardines on toast and understand cricket that their necks bulge and their veins surge with blood, like the Nile in flood. Remembering this dogma, Carmine wondered how he had ever thought that ethnic groups transplanted to the United States, or organizations claiming to represent them, could be anything other than altered from what they were in the Old World.

But what of Signore Vignamarcia? And his staff? There they were, now, sipping Barolo and chatting in elegant Italian, after demonstrating that they had learned all the techniques that they needed to please a clientele that could give them Big Time Bucks. How could the Real Italian Thing play this grotesque hypheno-ethnic game? And dance such a debilitating minuette? Carmine turned to the Director, opened his mouth, and gently raised the question.

“Surely you can’t justify playing a part in such a lowbrow, tasteless farce?”, he suggested, gingerly. “Don’t you realize that it could impact on you back at home as well?”

Signore Vignamarcia smiled condescendingly to the idiot.

“Oh, come now, let’s be serious, my friend. Ha-ha! As though an Italy, which could deal with Goths and Lombards, could not survive exploiting a few passing American fads. Ha-ha!”

“Well, the ones who migrated here seem to have got swallowed up by those fads pretty effectively. Why not those who stayed in place?”

“Nothing substantial could take place back there, due to basic, unchangeable Italianism! This can never disappear. It’s in our people’s common sense. In my common sense. You are an American. You do not understand such things. Only an Italian—down home, common sensical, and imbued with a basic Mediterranean spirit—would be able t