In my novel, The Rags Of Time, travel to the outer edges of Earth’s solar system has been accomplished. But the Moon still holds its sway – literally.
Today is the lift-off of fifty years ago. I’ll post another segment of my written ascent through the heavens. My crew goes much further, of course. Much
Eric the Red decides to get back to business. He keys the delay coordinates for the radioscope, and checks his map.
“Follow through on your consoles.”
“I’ll admit, Malcolm, the surprises of Pluto will be inconvenient to experience. Until the surface is accurately defined, I agree it’s too dangerous for a landing.”
“Transfer at fifty percent, sir.”
“Acknowledged.” The captain glances at the various instruments. “As you know, our probes to Pluto can not be retrieved.”
“That might not be due to the surface, sir.”
“True. There seems to be an electro-gravitational bind.” Eric the Red looks intently at his view screen. “Reason enough to keep our distance.” He magnifies the image in front of him. “Personally, I feel as uncomfortable attempting a landing on Pluto, as I would setting out to explore Iris.”
“The mysterious tenth planet.” Malcolm whistles softly into his microphone. “That might be for our children, sir. The scientists don’t even understand the orbital path of Iris. I don’t imagine I’ll ever get to look at its surface.”
“You sound interested.”
“Iris is intriguing. During its centuries of orbit, it has penetrated space far more deeply than we ever have.”
My Present / Your Future
Still in this World
A Life Away
You would find it perverse to be wished a “Happy” birthday, but your response would be gracious. Such is the reality you understand, and how you deal with it. I have found that your reality is actually real.
Although it will give you no pleasure – well, ‘little’ pleasure – you are correct in all your observations.
Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies which run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people’. All three governments held their sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.
Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.
Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.
Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly ’tis a consummation devoutly to be had. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words.
People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings, you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. And sometimes – some few times – it loosens its grip.
There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.
Except the grave, of course.
Except the grave.
And, in my novel about him, Kafka In The Castle, I gave him this diary entry.
During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.
One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.
My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument.
He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be.
Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language than I am going to use – “What a waste.”
Chapter One of Fame’s Victim:
UM PA PA! UM PA PA!
Tuba sounds assail ST as he forges through the clogged streets and packed alleys of Munich during these last hours of Oktoberfest. This, and the thousands upon thousands of revealers apparently heading to his own destination.
ST worries what will happen when he reaches the Kafer’s Wiesnschanke tent. Because it is situated on the very edge of these huge Oktoberfest fairgrounds, ST is in one of his impeccable disguises. However but will it prove so effective (as it is proving now), that he will be unable to gain entry? Without immediate entry and quick access to his reserved table, he is not going to get to his waiting bottle of Glen Grant scotch.
ST has never had to deal with this problem. He uses camouflage to get from one private destination to another, and always has the luxury of removing his disguise in the comfort of some bath or bedroom. Here, he will have to prove who he is in one public place, so he can get out of another public place.
ST passes the Hofbrauhaus, with still a long way to go. He regrets he consented to spend these last two hours of the week deep in the gemutlichkeit of Bavarian sausages, chicken and beer – horse-drawn wagons of which trundle past even as he aims unerringly for Kafer’s Wiesnschanke tent.
This dramatic scene is foreign to him, though he supposes he is no longer foreign. It is through his inheritance of vast tracts of land and chattels along the coast of the North Sea (to say nothing of the interesting pockets of real estate and apartments still being revealed across the face of Europe, America, Australia, and the Bahamas) that his special invitation to this evening arrived. And the obligation to attend.
The acres of vibrant lighting cast a multi-hue glow across ST. He notes his roughly-shaped beard (one of three dozen – each cropped differently), takes on such bizarre colouring that he doesn’t remember what it really looks like. He probably could have gone without disguise and passed unmolested. That is what his hosts had told him, but he has had such assurances before.
Under a set of flashing amber and yellow lights, ST looks at his watch. The crowd is slowing him, and he should have used another entrance, instead of the broad way through the tents. He tries to get closer to the edge of the crowd, but the edge in an ever-moving mass is difficult to find. It is analogous to the boundaries of Space/Time, which he can never actually discern either. ST rarely gets such a chance to put his world-famous theories to a practical test. Head up and elbows to the ready, he begins a vigorous forward thrust. This attitude alone is enough to make more people give way, plus he is not without practiced skill at dodging and pirouetting among crowds.
As ST advances the garish lights become more extreme, and he has difficulty distinguishing the various tents. The one he wants is in the upper corner, and supposedly not easy to miss. But it is also one of the smallest (holding slightly over 2000), and for all he knows it may get lost in this absurdist hurly-burly. He may succumb to this incredible throng, and get carried away on its tide to the more boisterous Spatenbrau, or whisked back to the very beginning of his trek at the Hippodrom.
In an attempt to fit in, when ST first arrived at the fairground he had purchased one of the large gingerbread cookies, which so many people are wearing around their necks. This is now proving a mistake, for it keeps bumping back and forth across his chest. As he has never actually seen anyone eating the damn things, he hesitates to take this course of action. On the other hand he is concerned that if he just tries to remove it from his neck, the cord might get tangled in his fake beard.
ST clamps a hand over the cookie as if he was taking an oath, and continues through the noisy revelry. He is just passing the Winzerer Fahndl tent and thus is not far from his destination. A turn to the right and some more well placed elbows, and he might be able to arrive in another five minutes.
Just as ST can lose Time when he attempts to track it, equation by equation, through the vast quadrants of his computer programs, so it begins to elude him here. The overwhelming chore of Oktoberfest becomes surprisingly addictive. Although he still wants his scotch and reserved place at table, he looks longingly at the Winzerer Fahndl tent with a desire to enter. As he stares overhead at the amusement park rides, he wonders if he would find them as thrilling as the screaming participants indicate they are. ST is even tempted to gravitate to the nearest thundering band, and settle in close to the tubas. Perhaps he might risk an inquisitive munch of his over-large gingerbread cookie.
These thoughts put him in a better frame of mind as he eases himself into the slowly moving crush. He gets behind a trio of husky teen-agers, and lets them unknowingly clear a path.
It seems their goal is to sample beer from each of the fourteen tents, but so far their boisterous gung-ho remains good-natured and useful. ST keeps just the right distance behind the three so he is not considered a part of their group, yet manages to glean the benefit of their passage. Much as the stern of a ship glides through the wake of the prow.
When he comes within sight of his own goal at Kafer’s Wiesnschanke, he wonders if his trio of outriders is going to steer in its direction. An argument can be made that it is next on the list of any pub-crawl, but the youths are loudly debating the merits of either the Sportschutzen or Lowenbrauu.
ST has the temptation to clap them boisterously on their shoulders and invite them to his more rarefied destination. His popularity with youth is particularly high right now, as he appears to be quite the rebel with his contention that the year 2000 is not the Millennium. This is not his desire, but who is more going to be asked all the questions about this momentous event than the expert on Space/Time?
Even his obvious equation – obvious to ST, at least – that if someone owes you $2000, you are not going to be satisfied in only getting $1999 back – has become an imbedded catch phrase in nearly every article now written about the Millennium. It has even become a refrain in a contemporary pop song.
ST starts to hum “Don’t Shortchange Us”, having no fear of ever being heard over the din of Oktoberfest. The decision as to whether or not he will befriend the teen-aged trio is made for him as they abruptly link arms and make a wide swing toward the Lowenbrau tent. ST may be mistaken about the sound of his own voice, for the trio of teenagers breaks out in a thundering rendition of the refrain to “Don’t Shortchange Us”. They create a wide path through the packed revelers, many of whom applaud and join in.
ST soon proves to be exceedingly incautious. He raises his voice to match any in the crowd. He is no singer (although he did agree to appear in the music video, campily disguised as a gesticulating Einstein), and if anyone pays him particular attention, it is because his rendition is so bad.
As the teenagers wheel toward the Lowenbrau, ST is again
strangely attracted to follow. However, he can readily picture the chaos which might ensue if he is recognized. Even such a friendly swarm as this can turn dangerous just through enthusiasm. Enclosed space and intoxicated people lead to too many varied conclusions. ST continues on his way, quickly buoyed by the thought of Glen Grant and the opportunity to sit. As with many public functions, ST is actually expected to do very little. No speech, a moderate amount of glad-handing, and he fulfils his obligations. He is no entertainer – which he could quickly prove if he started singing – and Oktoberfest is no place for a learned report about Space/Time.
Kafer’s Wiesnschanke seems not to be a `tent’, but a permanent wooden structure, with lattice at the front. There is outdoor seating, and strings of lights along the peak of the roof. At this time of night guests to the interior are handpicked. No one has given him an invitation or a code word, or any such means of identification. He has not had to prove who he is for so long that he really doesn’t know of any way other than the removal of his disguise. He could show his passport or driver’s license, but the photo displayed doesn’t display him.
People sitting outside give him a once-over, just as they do to all the crowds washing by. Oktoberfest is a people-watching event, but at this time of night, after a festival of beer, there is a sameness and a tiredness to their actions. He has no reason to fear a close scrutiny. ST walks briskly through the seated people and approaches the main entrance. Waiters and waitresses come and go through the door, liter mugs of beer held aloft. There is a small table to the left, and a man wearing a hat sits on a stool behind it. This is obviously the person whose scrutiny ST must meet and pass. He prepares a firm handshake, and a brief explanation of who he is.
From the corner of his eye he sees a figure approach. From its size and build it appears to be a woman, but she is wearing a Harlequin costume and holding a Venetian Sun Mask in front of her face. The gold (it looks like real gold) mask is attached to a long, slender stick, and the hand holding the stick is gloved.
Gloved hand, stick, gold mask and harlequin-attired body all lean toward him. ST is tempted to back away, but an exotic perfume reaching his nostrils is too enticing. He is sure his own disguise will not reveal his identity, so he affixes his fake beard smile.
This sound hissed in his direction seems to be a woman’s voice. Perhaps he is to be asked the time or offered some cut-rate passage to the giant Ferris Wheel. Both have already happened this evening. Some response seems expected and ST decides to resort to his rusty German.
The eyes blink behind the mask and an irrepressible giggle is barely muffled by a gloved hand.
“Annie’s crackers. That better be you.”
“Garbo?” ST takes a surprised step back.
“I was about to take a bite from your cookie.” She removes her mask. “If that wasn’t you, I would have either made an enemy or a friend I don’t want.”
“What are you – ?”
ST can’t tell if he is more surprised by the presence of his lover, or by the fact he didn’t recognize her. As he ponders he hastily pushes her hand so the mask is once again in front of her face. What they both don’t need is the exposure of the beautiful, young movie star. For if she is recognized, will ST be far behind?
“You don’t want to look at me?”
“I don’t want others looking at you.”
“Mmmm.” Garbo steps close and rubs against him. “Jealous?”
“No more than usual.”
This generates a snort from Garbo and a thwack over ST’s head with the mask. She still finds it hard to accept he doesn’t get jealous, even about the explicit love scenes in her last couple of movies.
“Garbo.” ST leans toward her. “We’ll lose our concealment.”
“If we’re being so secretive, don’t call me that in public.”
ST realizes even he is affected by their disguises, for otherwise her pet name would not have been uttered. Garbo is very particular that this name is for his use alone.
“But we’re not even supposed to be in public.” He looks around at the mass of revelers. “I’m here because – ”
“I arranged it.” Garbo giggles again.
“Do you know … ” She lowers her voice, making her words barely audible through the mask. “You look surprised, even through that beard.”
This is a dig at his array of beards. She is far more comfortable with the recognition she receives. ST assumes this difference between them is partly due to her age, and partially because of her business. But he is not above retaliation.
“Who’s wearing the mask?”
“I’m supposed to be a surprise.” Garbo shakes her head, deliberately making the bells on her Harlequin cap jingle. “You are already on the agenda.”
“Let’s not stray off topic.” ST reaches forward and flicks one of the bells. “What do you mean you arranged it?”
“You were asked to come here, because I asked them to ask you …” She jingles the bells again. “… to come here.”
His voice rises as the name-not-to-be-used spills into the night. ST avoids a hit on the arm and puts his mouth next to her ear.
“Garbo.” Her name is now spoken slowly but quietly. “Why did you do such a thing?”
“To get you out of the mansion.” Her lips are close to his ear, but she is not whispering.
“I’m rarely there.” ST sounds as puzzled as he feels. “You know I’m even thinking of selling – ”
“Are you this literal with Space/Time?” Although Garbo doesn’t shift her head, she does lower her voice. “Your boundaries aren’t narrow there.”
“Space/Time has no boundaries.”
“I know that.” Garbo pretends to pull on his beard. “Even though you don’t preach – you do teach.” Her hand reaches for the large cookie around his neck, and she grabs that instead.
“You have to get out more.”
“Where better?” She gives the cookie a solid tug. “Doesn’t time stop here?”
“The beer stops at eleven.” ST smiles, and it is not lost in his beard. “That’s all I know.”
“You’ve become too wrapped up in the Millennium.”
“Fighting the `fake’ Millennium.”
“Whatever.” Garbo lets the cookie swing and hit his chest. “It comes to the same thing.”
“Get me started on the Millennium, and I might preach.”
ST raises his finger, about to point with exaggeration and begin some elaborate theory. However, he remembers where they are and realizes such a joke would fall flat. Instead, he puts down his hand, and shrugs his shoulders.
“Let’s get this over with.”
“Mr. `Life-of-the-party’.” Garbo shakes her own finger. “You need to sing and schunkel.”
“Hook your arms with those of your neighbors, and weave back and forth while singing lustily.”
“I don’t plan to sing – lustily or not.”
“Oh, yes you do.” Garbo links her arm through his, and starts to pull him toward the entrance. “Timely or not.”
She maneuvers ST past the man sitting at the table, and aims for a large, dirndl-encased woman standing at the far side of the door. She has the girth to block the whole doorway by herself, and ST has some hope that she will stop them.
“Remember – you’re with me.”
Garbo chuckles as she says this. When they are a few steps away from the door she lowers her mask and smiles that smile which charms millions. Even though the woman must have been expecting them she looks surprised, and then delighted. She makes a little bow, then opens her arms as if to embrace them. “Wellcommen. They will be so pleased. The mayor keeps sober until you arrive.”
“That’s asking a lot.” Garbo replaces the mask in front of her face, and tugs ST toward the interior. “We have not expected such a sacrifice.”
“Why not?” ST directs the bearded question toward her ear. “I’ve kept myself without lubrication so I can appear here in fine form.”
“But you have me to get intoxicated on.” Garbo pushes him through the door. “You don’t need vile alcohol.”
“But there is going to be some, isn’t there?”
“Annie’s crackers – it’s Oktoberfest.” She pulls him forward. “It’s a feat you’ve managed to stay sober this long. Now it’s time for your reward.”
ST likes the thought of a reward so he snuggles closer, pressing his pelvis against her wondrous ass, encased in its very tight Harlequin pants. She shoves back, which she knows is only encouragement, then reaches and takes his hand.
“You wait until later.”
“Will it be better, later?”
“Depends if you drink too much.”
“You always sober me up.” ST links his arm through hers. “Schunkel, you say?”
“Don’t start singing.” She jingles her bells again.
“`Don’t shortchange us…'” He raises his voice with each word, making Garbo pull him off balance.
“Life of the party,” she hisses. “Not the death of singing.”
He stumbles slightly, making him fit in with most of the other patrons. Then he follows Garbo toward a table that is obviously the depository of dignitaries.
ST knows city officialdom will be involved, but he is unprepared for a mayor in crossed suspender short leather pants, complete with his massive chain of office. Others, whom he supposes are aldermen and various strata of bureaucracy, are also historically attired. They look as suspiciously in his direction.
“Garbo?” His hiss is in the high register.
“Keep your beard on.”
“You promise there’ll be Glen Grant.”
“Annie’s crackers.” She touches the mouth of her Venetian mask. “I’m going to want some, too.”
A functionary rises from the table, ready to approach them with a scowl.
“C’mon,” pleads ST. “Let him chase us away.”
“Too late for that.” Garbo holds her mask further from her face, glancing at him as she whispers. “Besides, it might come in handy to have the city fathers being fatherly toward you.”
“Why? So I can get a parade?”
“With a team of horses to pull you through the streets.”
“We’ve been together two years.” ST puts a hand on her shoulder. “You know I want nothing like that.”
“What you want, and what you need … ” Garbo brushes his forehead with a jester’s bell. “I obviously have yet to teach you the difference.”
Garbo turns toward the table of officials and lowers her mask. The grim face of the dignitary ready to bar their way changes in a second, replaced with a broad smile. He holds out his hand to shake, though obviously debating whether or not to give her a hug. The temptation is great, and the occasion offers a license to such familiarity. Garbo avoids the situation by holding her mask out between them, and pointing toward ST.
The official stops momentarily, the smile trapped on his face. He is confused, wondering if he is being introduced to a bodyguard or some secretary, equivalent to himself. Garbo smiles, and sings a couple of lines from `Don’t Shortchange Us.’ She sings loudly enough to be heard by the other officials at the table, and immediately two heads whisper into the mayor’s ear. The man jumps up, his chain of office clanging against the beer stein in front of him. He pushes past his own officials, and makes a lunge for ST’s hand.
“Mein Herr. Welcommen!”
The mayor’s grip is so forceful that ST is again pulled off stride and they both bump into the table at the same time. The heart shaped gingerbread cookie around ST’s neck gets caught in the mayor’s heavy chain, and they are pulled together as they try to come apart. ST smells the beer on the other man’s breath, and has a pang of envy. Alcohol would be a relief right now, Glen Grant or not.
“We do a little dance – yes?”
The mayor is laughing, but ST realizes that he may be in some danger of losing his disguise. He doesn’t plan any further excursions tonight but his life proves unpredictable, and he can never be sure. Plus, the pull of glue from his face will not feel very pleasant or look very dignified. He can neither escape, nor risk the energetic contact his dancing partner encourages.
“Does this mean you have no time to dance with me?”
Garbo eases herself close to the two men. She stands in such a way that she could be speaking to either of them. They are confused and stop moving. Garbo reaches over and using both hands, manages to untangle the ornate mayor’s chain, and the string which the giant cookie hangs from. She winks at ST, then nudges against the mayor with her hip.
“Or do you boys prefer each other’s company?”
ST has become used to this type of banter, but the mayor does not know if laughter is called for or not. People at this stratum of celebrity do strange things, and he neither wants to appear foolish, nor offend his high scale guests. However, his own photographer is already happily clicking away, and he must do something. Putting his arm across his mayor’s chain so it can catch on nothing else, he turns toward Garbo with a brief bow. Every voter will understand his attraction.
“You dress as Harlequin, yes, so you make the joke.” He extends his hand. “A few steps if the arena is not too crowded.” “Even if it is crowded.” Garbo takes his hand and pulls him away from the table. “Let’s make that chain rattle.”
ST does not know how many people realize who is dancing with the mayor – he suspects no more than already know. It is late and dark and crowded and noisy, and much of that noise comes from people because they are drunk. Most will probably not even recognize the mayor, chain of office or not.
Because of photographs taken at the mayor’s table, ST has concern about his disguise – if photos end up in newspapers, will he have to discard it? Although expensive, it isn’t the cost or inconvenience which bothers him.
Over the years, even with the expertise of Hollywood make-up artists, he has found only a limited number of disguises which look authentic. In addition to this, they have to be comfortable upon his face for hours at a time. The one he chose tonight is a favourite, and he will regret losing it. He should have thought more clearly about the transition he was expected to make. It is rare that he goes in disguise to a place where he eventually is to be recognized.
“I thought a beard would hide a man’s frown.”
ST is startled back to his surroundings. He has been watching the dancing, though he long ago lost sight of Garbo and the mayor. He is astonished to see her standing at his side, Harlequin costume glittering in the subdued light. He notes the mayor sits at his table, beer stein in hand.
“You worked him into a thirst.”
“It wasn’t that difficult.” Garbo reaches for ST’s hand. “I’m about to do the same for you.”
Though ST is tired and has been on his feet a long time, he does not resist. Once out among the other revelers on this last night of Octoberfest, he makes use of the dancing lessons both wife number one and two insisted he have. He has come to quite enjoy the dance floor, and Garbo is an excellent partner.
“Tell me again why we are here.”
“You are `Lord of the Manor’ – literally.” Garbo stifles a giggle. “You should make your presence known in the country.”
“Why in Munich?”
“It’s a good distance from where you actually live.” Garbo aims him toward a corner. “You don’t want people too familiar.”
“I certainly do not.” ST picks up her direction and twirls her adroitly among the dancers. “Except, of course, for you.”
“Not to worry.” She slides a hand over his posterior and pulls him closer. “I’ll not only help you remove that beard, but everything else as well.”
“That will be appreciated.” He thrusts his pelvis against her. “But maybe you could start here and work your way up.”
“It feels as if you’re working your way up already.”
“Yes.” ST now whispers in her ear. “I’ve often thought that dancing is wasted by doing it on your feet.”
ST takes note of the most flamboyant dancers on the floor, and starts to copy their steps. Garbo is initially surprised, but quickly follows his lead. She is prepared to match his every move, and ST is determined to make her lose her step. Other revelers make room for them, and some even start to clap to the music. The bandleader has noticed the commotion, and after watching the couple for a minute turns the beat around to their rhythm. By this time even the mayor’s table is back on their feet, thumping their beer steins on its slippery surface.
“Bring it home, Mamma!” shouts the mayor.
Garbo growls with laughter as ST puts a hand on either side of her waist, and lifts her from the floor. She places her hands on his shoulders, and kicks back with her feet. ST actually aims her in different directions, and other dancers dodge away, squealing in delight.
“And another thing.” Garbo is panting and shouting into his ear at the same time.
“What would that be?” ST precariously leans back, almost losing his balance as he lets her slide to the floor off his chest. He twirls her on her stomach before he scoops her up again, and grips her hard against him.
“You’re heading into two months of Millennium stuff?”
“And it’s going to be serious?”
“Then ya gotta have some f-u-n.” She throws her hands over her head and leans way back, knowing he is not going to let her go. “And what better place is there than the biggest party in Europe?”
As she presses against him again he has a different answer to her question, and he whispers it into her ear. Her eyes go wide, and she brings up her hand in a motion to slap his face.
But she kisses him instead.