Vel

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: May we resume?

 

VJ: I'm game, if you are.

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Every movie has its turning point; in "Cargoes," there are several. Which, for you, was most significant?

 

VJ : For my character, or the plot? I mean, for Bea the story hinges on her transfer to the White man, once Ebeya gets his rifle. After that, her bed is made.

 

A loud procession from the compound, toward the quarters on its outskirts, rouses lackadaisical villagers, and their guests, from midday naps. The vim and vigor of participants drenched in sweat, spreads through the paths, to beating tom-toms, screeching game horns, chanting voices hoarse and harsh. Cavorting dancers, stamping rhythms, raise a russet dust cloud heavenward, its ascent abruptly rent by a firearm's discharge.

 

Barnaby gains the threshold of his sod and thatch-roofed hut, alarmed, now mortified by the scene as he perceives its implications. Chief Ebeya, borne aloft, his throne conveyed by several revelers, is proclaiming his success in trading Beatrice for the gun—now fully loaded, evidently—having mounted this parade to make a grandiose delivery of his cast-off, shamed, adulterous end of the bargain.

 

Bea, in pain, is visibly limping as she skulks behind the uninhibited vanguard. Clad in pseudo-formal bride's garb, she is made to play the fool. A clownish headdress, balanced crookedly, calls attention to her odium, as do taunts from sundry cliques of gawking urchins passed en route. Her loincloth, crimson from the seepage of a crude infibulation (done to reinstate the bartered bride's 'virginity') drips with gore.

 

 

VJ: He had her labia sewn together. That is 're-sewn,' more than likely; girls were customarily circumcised. Midwives did it.

 

{Often lopping off whole clits. Then they would stitch the wounds together using gut, or sometimes thorns, with just a teeny-weeny opening left for pee to passand menses. Such barbarity has to rank among the Faithfull's cruelest practices, one that's gone on now for CENTURIES. Hell, it's STILL going on todaywith complications, from these homespun surgeries, crippling thousands. YEARLY!}

 

"'Ethnocentric,' Graham? No way! You mean to tell me you approve of grown-ups mangling children's privates?"

We were side by side in the make-up trailer, Graham just in for touch-ups. Whereas I would get the worksfull bod'of which I WAS NOT FOND, my skin being "just a touch too creamy," according to 'Massah' Forbes.

 

{Whoops! Did I express that thought out loud? I have to watch myself. This interview could be damaging, if mishandled. Hush my mouth.}

 

"'Approve,' I don't. Nor do I think it's any different, Vel, from 'abbreviating' foreskins in countries we call 'civilized,' ours included, 'for hygiene's sake.'"

"But that's cosmetic, by comparison. What they do to girls is radical."

"No more barbarous, though, in principle. Yet, if you don't conform, it's worse."

"Says who?"

"Says any child who's had to bear the brunt of disapproval—peers are especially hard on kids who don't conform."

"Speak for yourself."

"I am. My parents were against my being circumcised. I escaped the doctor's scalpel, not the pressure of my classmates who, in gym class, in the showers, taught me all about anomalies. Theirs were 'clean and nice and holy'; mine was 'filthy, gross, and sinful'—an affront to good society and a thumb in the eye of God. I begged and pleaded with my folks to let me have an operation; that's how wretched being singled out as 'freakish' made me feel. If I'd known then what I know now about my other, genuine oddity, I might very well have joined some carnival freak show out of shame."

"'Genuine oddity,' Graham? Do tell."

We shared an unobstructed view of one another, in reflection. There were banks of full-length mirrors in front, with light-bulb studded frames, that lit up every miniscule blemish. Thank the Lord for make-up artists! They do wonders turning just-plain-folksI'm speaking for myself nowinto movie idols. That's what motion pictures do; tell fibs. If you want truth, the place to look is NOT in your local cinema.

"Okay; a secret. Which is not to go beyond these walls; agreed?"

We all three promised. I'd forgotten Graham and I were not alone; Clarice was there, and so was Martin. Both of them pros, to the nth degreeordained like priests to 'hear' confessions but never to spill-the-beans.

"Ahem; we're waiting."

"I was miserably self-conscious, as I said, about my foreskin. Even morbidly so—which made my parents anxious, then alarmed. Which meant they phoned our family doctor—a distinguished obstetrician—who, for reasons I'll explain, took on a GP role for us. Including house calls every now and then—though most of these were social. Anyway, off I went in hopes I'd soon be 'cured' of my 'deformity'—that is, whittled down to normal. 'Normal'; that's the bottom line. A consultation had been scheduled; meaning 'talk,' was all. I stone-walled. I played mute to every question. I'd been sucker-punched, lied-to, gypped! Then came the doctor's coup de grace: mistaking silence for agreement, I was made to understand that circumcision meant 'reduced,' as in 'diminished' with respect to sensitivity. 'Lessened' pleasure? Had I come to know the joys of masturbation? Of course I had—despite denials my taciturnity hopefully conveyed.

This lady doctor, friend of the family, long-time confidant, then decided it was high time I was told the facts of life. In full detail. Charts, diagrams, models; she went whole hog. I stayed speechless. She was thorough. To conceal my bald-faced ignorance, I pretended to be glib. I knew it all, my smirk asserted. I invited her to shock me. And it worked. Before she'd finished, I was positively floored."

I told you; Graham was long-of-wind, at times. He had us, and he knew it, so he stretched this lengthy intro to the limit; we were hooked. And mad as hell when he got called..."To be continued," he announced... then rushed off, leaving us to scratch our inquisitive heads.

 

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: What about the plot's?

 

VJ: You mean its turning point? The raid. And then its aftermath, when Barnaby's forced by Crowe to make selections. It's a brutal confrontation. Crowe's pissed off about the rifle—even more upset by what it bought: our hero's hand-me-down slave.

 

With blood now streaming down her inner thighs, each step a test of fortitude, Bea attempts to walk the last few yards with steadfast pride. She fails. The headdress chokes her, having toppled. Held on only by a chin strap, it shifts left and right, its rough-hewed fibers sawing at her neck, its weight a counterbalance, causing her to stagger like a drunkard. The effect is made more poignant by her semblance of a smile—as if to reassure the groom of his good fortune.

 

Barnaby, stunned, remains immobile as his 'acquisition' pauses, begs to enter with a tacit look both plaintive and forlorn. Will he accept? His eyesself-doubting, fixed with loathing—focus fiercely past the supplicant to the gloating chief; inertia yields to hate; retaliation clenches fists prepared for combat.

 

While Captain Crowe & Company, called to arms, make haste to intervene. The situation, at a glance, is clear: the girl, the brandished rifle, Chief Ebeya boasting, Barnaby bristling; Crowe assumes command—while Bea, taking refuge on the earthen floor, curls up like a wounded animal. Disregarding her, the Captain turns to Barnaby.

 

Captain Crowe

Come with me!

 

There is no option; disobedience was the cause of this predicament: hosts turned hostile, armed and ominous, in an inhospitable  land. Therefore the son, whose father charged him to 'recruit' an able workforce, mutely follows him whose craw has had its fill of 'weak-kneed whelps.' As he leads Barnaby, Crowe's opinion of the hangdog youth is obvious. They approach a crude enclosure. Chains, like doleful wind chimes, clink.

 

Ashamed and fearful, Barnaby balks before the throng of childless parents.

 

Captain Crowe

Line 'em up.

 

Malignant faces turn. Each leveled stare seems barbed, as if reminding him who tried to stop their infants' senseless slaughter, that the blame is his regardless.

 

Captain Crowe

Take your pick. The count is eight score—less a few that died since reckoning.

 

Flies are busy laying eggs in eyes reduced to vacant sockets. Twelve lie dead and decomposing—two from suicide.

 

Captain Crowe

Check their teeth.

 

Impassive bodies, drained of fighting spirit, form a wretched queue.

 

Captain Crowe

That one is prime enough, I vouchsafe... By your leave, sir. Scotched; too old.

 

The Captain's judgments snap with overruling rigor, dictatorial—albeit subject to approval by the man who foots the bill, the man with neither will nor stomach for the task performed by proxy.

 

Captain Crowe

Would you have them slain by enemies here, or live as slaves back home? The choice is yours, 'Judge' Lathrop; life and death await your righteous sentencing.

 

Like a troubled conscience, Crowe's harangue assails its guilty target, as the pair make choices, one with deftness, the other with self-reproach.

 

Captain Crowe

Pay close attention, Branaby Lathrop; all your genteel Southern comforts flourish far afield from this, their gross foundation. Use your head! Did you believe that these, your future bondsmen, volunteered their services? Did you think they left their children orphaned willingly, welcomed chains?

 

That little sexpot you just purchased at the price of our security... What is she, if not a symptom of your utter lack of sense? Wise up!

 

A nigger is a nigger is a nigger is a nigger, lest you own up to the wages of admitting 'it' is not, that these are human beings endowed as any other of our brethren, as alike save for color of their skin. And what of that?

 

I'll tell you what of that; without distinctions drawn, the job we're doing—and have done on countless voyages prior to this—would be condemned by even the most magnanimous God Almighty.

 

Accept our difference as essential, and forswear your darling Blackamoor, or prepare your soul for Everlasting Hellfire.

 

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Pithy speech.

 

VJ: And yet the censors tried to ax it as "offensive to minorities."

 

{That's the principal flaw of ratings; they're assigned to total jerks. The slurs, I'll grant you, sound obnoxious, but they are, nonetheless, in character. And the message Crowe delivers is a keynote of the filma point that Graham took pains to make during one of our 'conversations'...}

 

"To me, it's critical; here's this maritime salt turned slaver who has figured out—philosophically—what distinguishes White from Black folks, us from them, namely me from you. I love the irony. Movies, all too often, stoop to trendy lectures. Ours instructs by reenacting myths, that way back when were ' truths.'"

"So what's the difference? Just the words have changed."

"Exactly! Words are pivotal. They're a culture's institutions. Change the words, acts follow suit."

"Mm, mm; with lip service. You have NO idea; Caucasians aren't called 'niggers.' Sure, the term is out of fashion these days; now it's just implied."

Semantic sheep-dip; that's the label I gave Doubletree's spot analysis. We were arguinghey, what's new (?)inside our method actor's pup tent; "Corporal Crackers," he'd been dubbed at this stage. Ha! A name well earned. I won't say how, just yet. The point is we were back to locking horns, with me still unconvinced that "Blackamoor" was benign.

"Crowe makes me puke."

"Because he's racist; no denying it. Captain Crowe's a bona fide bigot. What's significant is, he knows it. Whereas, Barnaby's in denial. At least he is until he's forced to take a cold hard look around him. Crowe relieves him of his blinkers. Only then does Barnaby see."

Graham had this AGGRAVATING habit of explaining things with metaphors, in opinions he'd deliver much like Moses on the Mountwhich found me nodding like some dashboard doodad. THAT'S what drove me crazy. He'd sound absolutely rational, when, in truth, the man was nuts.

"And what's the proof? Check out reactions of the crew to this week's dailies. 'Villain Crowe' comes off as 'Honest John'—he 'knows' the slave trade's evil. Factor in his hating Whites as much as his hating Blacks; he's off the hook. Compare our conscience-stricken home town hero's waffling. Barnaby's pathetic. What we want to do is shake him, make him fess up, face the facts. Except we also know the minute that he does, his cause is lost. It doesn't matter if the cargo comes aboard or stays on shore; the only thing that matters is his love for Bea.

 

The march begun, we see a solitary tree in silhouette against a backdrop painted red by clouds at sunset. In the foreground, prisoners trudge. A hundred exports leave their homeland, linked by leg irons, joined by loyalties, in the custody of an unfamiliar race that has conspired with local...

 

"Cut! Would someone tell that woman she's a cinematic eyesore—meaning ask her, if she'd be so kind, to move her butt from under our tree!"

The tree Scott meant was standing smack-dab in the middle of his framing for a scene we all had come to hope and pray would be our last, the very tree, in fact, that Graham had used as a focal point for 'reflection,' now a bench mark for our cameras. Scott was pissed off; we were stumped. Because the woman he insisted had intruded on his shot did not exist; there was no woman.

"But I saw her! Plain as day."

We all thought, first it's Doubletree, now it's Forbes. A 'shared' hallucination, was the common diagnosis. Save for one dissenter; Graham. Who, in defense of Herr Director, gave so detailed a description even Scott was weirded out.

"That's her. Describes her to a T. So who-the-hell is she? Where'd she go? I swear—the film will bear me out—that she was sitting like some undernourished Buddha, if you please, intent on messing up our wrap. And she succeeded. Look; it's dark!"

In fact, the sky had lost its bloodshot to a mottled brand of drabness, which meant waiting who knew how long for a sequel? More delay. Of course, we had some retakes scheduled, so the time would not be wasted. But a film crew always wants the bare essentials in the can, in case of budget crunches, accidents to the principals, strikes, disasterslike the one we MIGHT have warded off, had anyone shown good sense.

"You saw her, too, Graham; I'm not crazy?"

"She's been very patient, really."

"She's been 'patient'; what does that mean?"

"She's been waiting."

"Oh?"

"For me."

I told you; Graham had somewhat eased his grip on everyday reality. For the most part he seemed cogent, but at times... A case in point was this exchange he had with Scottwho later told me...

"He's behaving awfully odd, of late."

"'Of late'! You finally noticed?"

I was miffed because the motive for this sudden show of interest was the almost-finished syndrome; we were close to being through—beyond which we, the lowly cast, would be "expendable."

"Has he mentioned his suspicion, Vel, that this film is a kind of flashback? You know, talked about its setting with nostalgia?"

"'Coming home'?"

"Yeah; he's convinced that he belongs here. He's been called, he told me. Summoned."

"By your 'undernourished Buddha'?"

"I did see her."

"Ditto Graham. He's seen her off and on for weeks, now. It's the drugs."

"Shit! What's he on, Vel?"

"Same as you and me and everyone else; the goddamn antimalarials."

Which was all the rhyme or reason Scott was keen to entertain. He wanted NOTHING to be wrong, so he was quite content with side-effects .

"Well, we'll finish here in no time. Get our systems back to normal. I've had one or two, what might be called, 'delusional spells' myself. The prophylaxes; I'll be damned. I hadn't thought of that. Sleep tight."

And off he went. If not oblivious, Scott was certainly matter-of-fact about behavior that was growing more eccentric; Graham was ILL and all Scott did was shrug with maddening condescension.

 

"So where's he wandered off to this time?"

"Who, pray tell?"

"Your co-star. Better find him, Vel. In a hurry; Mister Forbes is pissing tacks."

So why was I supposed to find him!

As the winding down dragged on, the cranking up of Graham's bizarreness brought our shoot to a screeching halt. At least it did on one occasion. I am NOT my brother's keeperthough the part was mine regardless. By default; I didn't ask. My only wish, in looking back, is that I'd done a better job of it.

I also wish that I, not they, had found him; 'they' the techies. Were it up to 'them,' we actors would be banished from the start. I mean, they really seem to think of us as OBSTACLES to production, prima donnas throwing wrenches into their nitty-gritty works. 

My guess was wrong, in any case; Graham, it turned out, wasn't at the kopje. Nor was he in his pup tent, on a squat, or at the site. Which didn't leave a lot of options: the canteen, the wardrobe trailers. Some Masai, at last, were asked to lead a search team out of bounds.

I wasn't there so this is hearsay. Still, reports of "Corporal Crackers" were consistent with the kind of stunts we'd come to expect by then.

The story goes that Graham had 'meandered' an 'unprecedented' distance most folks knew that he was prone to going AWOL —by himself, without a canteen, or a weapon, proper shoes, or a goddamn hat; devoid of sense, in other words. Fearless. Or too DAZED to be on guard. It was a scorcher, and that sun can boil the best of brains in minutes; Graham's, by all accounts, had been exposed for almost SEVEN HOURS. Completely lost; would he admit it? No; the version he told differed. On a "mercy mission." Ha! The only fix, per se, was his. Graham claimed he'd carried out the rescue of a chased-by-a-cheetah Tommy that had leaped into a wallow to escape and then got stuck. The tracks confirmed this. So our good Samaritan, watching from a distancewhich any man with wits about him SURELY would have keptclosed ground. The cat, I gather, splitno doubt confused by such foolhardinesswhile our hero waltzed on up and WADED IN with the scared gazelle!

"I didn't hesitate; which surprised me. It was blatant interference. Who was I to come and rob this panting feline of a meal? Though it was none too keen on leaping in to share the Tommy's plight. That mud was deep. Knee-deep, at first, so I was safe, I thought. No problem. I had stripped."

Jumped in BUCK NAKED. He admitted this himself. And slogged his way through hip-high dung and slime and who knows WHAT bacteria (!) to exhume this wild-eyed creature from its otherwise surefire grave. I mean, come ON, we're talking Africa, not some Pasadena theme park. 'Dog eat dog,' in Masai Mara, is for real; not some cliché . And here's this refugee from a film shoot, with his arms around an antelope, in the "Heart of Darkness," up to his ass in glop and hippo poo, affecting acts of daring-do a la Tarzan the Ape Man.

"Nearly boiled! That sludge was hellish at the surface. Underneath, though, it was heavenly. Cool and silky—like I'd sunk myself in a vat of clotted cream. I took a very tuckered Tommy to the shallows, turned it loose, then thought 'Why not (?)' and slipped back in to enjoy my mud bath."

Head to foot, the man was caked with sun-dried ca-ca"clay," he later tried to call it. That's the state in which they found him, like some mummified pig in shit. I mean, imagine how he must have looked, encased in all that doo-doo, on a nearby knoll, cross-legged, like some derelict mahatma, "attuned to voices from the distant past" and "music, " no less; "flutes." The first to stumble on him SWORE that Graham was humming.

"Time frames switched. I guess I felt like I was back to where the human race had started. You know, back among the elements; dust to dust; without a scent. That mud pack must have sealed my odor in, which made me less detectable. I was blessedly re-immersed in life, yet somehow free from threats. And then I saw them—in my mind's eye, lest you label me 'demented'—at the wallow. Only things had changed; the bog was now a lake. And people, all along the shoreline went about their daily tasks: a few were fishing; others gathered grubs and tubers; some made implements. Then a young girl, out of nowhere—maybe heaven— caught my eye. She groped her way to the water's edge—evidently blind but no less stunning—where she washed off decorations so ornate, I sat in awe. Her breasts were 'gilded.' Cross my heart. And she had skin so black it glistened. Like obsidian, only warmer—after rinsing off the dyes that..."

"Humming?" DROOLING seems more like it, by the voyeur's own admissiononce they'd wrenched him from his roost and hauled him HOLLERING back to camp. He wouldn't leave; not voluntarily. Fought them off, he did, protestingin that weird, nonsensical language. What an uproar. What a scene.

"I will admit I did resist some when 'besieged' by the Seventh Cavalry. I was startled, that's all. Scared, in fact. I'd bonded with the role, and from my character's point of view the gang of searchers swarmed like hostiles. They looked alien, almost. Total strangers, up to no damn good. I had this vivid intuition they had plotted my destruction. Come to burn me at the stake, or something. All I did was 'yelp.' And try to fend them off, as best I could. Until the spell was broken."

"Corporal Crackers," he was christened, on emerging from the shower, cast and crew on hand to watch as Graham saluted in acknowledgment of the nickname he knew full-well fit the bill.

 

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE : Changing pace, would you address the broader issue of this trend in White America toward denying blame for slavery; in particular, by its youth?

 

VJ: I think the young DON'T feel responsible; their concerns are too immediate. Whatever happened in the days of yore is old hat, ancient history. Even Malcolm X and Dr. King are outside memory's bounds for those whose PARENTS may remember civil rights; the kids themselves are more involved in what they're facing day to day.

 

{Without an inkling of the past that went before it...}

 

"'Greater good? You think that showing off my 'Blackamoor' tits in a 'White Man's burden' movie does some sociological service for 'folks in the hood'?"

"The film is Black, Vel: you're Black; Scott's Black; I'm..."

"Black? Ha; that mud washed OFF."

This dig was mean, on my part. Graham was NOT an "Afro-Amero" wannabe. He had empathy, true, with Black folks. More than usual, for a WASP. But to suggest that he was discontent with who he was in general, was inaccurate save for the singular fact that Graham was out of sync. It wasn't race so much as Time that made him struggle with identity; in a twentieth century context, Graham, 'progressively,' failed to fit.

"I take that back."

"No, I deserved it. I forget, like all majorities, what it's like to face a color prejudice nonstop, night and day. In fact, you're right; Bea's nudity flirts with reinforcing certain mind-sets that associate Black with primitive—not that primitive's all that bad."

"If you're resigned to being a loser. Simple-minded means subordinate. You, yourself, said native peoples are the first to be abused."

"True, they're exploited. But I never said that primitive equaled stupid. We presume superiority on the basis of technology, but the brain—for instance Plato's—has been smart since brains were born. My hunch is cultures of amazing elegance thrived right here in Africa long before recorded history. Some as bright as ours, some not. But maybe all of them knew certain things that modern Man has missed. For instance, maybe our pursuit of gadgets isn't real advancement; it might very well turn out to be a one-way street to nil. It's not impossible that the road we're on is heading toward extinction. Other roads, that other creatures took, led them down dead ends, too. The fate of human beings has always been a fickle proposition. Self-awareness, good and evil, speculation on divinity, whys and wherefores of existence make it doubtful that our species will prove any more enduring than the dinosaurs."

"Are you through?"

"Almost. The greater 'good,' in answer to the question you asked earlier, is: ideas, bad ideas, given half a chance, recur. There's not a snowball's chance in Hell, if you'll excuse a tired expression, that an audience will conclude from 'C.O.C.' that slavery's swell: that it's okay to have a person own another person outright. Master-servant is a construct that is fundamentally flawed. And yet in churches, governments, on the job, at home exposed to media, folks are led to view authority and celebrity—even deity—as endorsing gods on earth. We are a culture of idolaters, as oppressed in our submission as were those confined to cargo ships who trudged ashore as slaves. The greater good might be to cast off all such bondage."

What a prophet! In between his stints of primal wallowing, communing at the kopje, and ruminating on a civilization lost since who knows when, our resident nut-case dragged a soapbox with him everywhere he wentand seemed to mount it most when his audience numbered 'uno,' singling out me. I suppose I didn't really mind so long as he was cogent. These soliloquies, though, as the days wore on, began to make less sense, till Graham himself would sometimes lose his driftwhile I, having ceased to follow, found him more and more aloof despite his lame attempts to share. We were 'inseparably unattached.' He'd talk; I'd do my best to listen; but the element of exchange was somehow lacking. Or had lapsed. And yet he'd often hold my hand or sit beside me for these sermons. We were more in touch, in that regard, than we'd ever been before, as if he needed my support—much like Ulysses, in The Odyssey, when they tied him to the mast so he could hear the Sirens call.

"I heard a flute, on my excursion to that mud puddle; did I mention it?"

As per usual, this was apropos of NOTHING I had said.

"It played an otherworldly melody carried piggyback on the breeze. I thought at first it was a dove's call, but the song was too complex. I tried to track it. Not much luck, though. Any change in my direction made me lose it altogether. Then I stopped, stood perfectly still... and just as flies began to buzz around, I heard another fragment. Like a voice that's interrupted by a gust of wind. Sweet tune. It had a lilting, somewhat melancholic quality."

Graham would often wax poetic, when recounting certain vagaries one more symptom of his imminent dementia (?).

"Most compelling; I admit to being lured. My true intention—the gazelle was just a sidetrackwas discovery; rediscovery, rather, searching for the site of Man's first step."

It was an absolute obsession; Graham's allegiance to this notion that the Mother of Creation got her cherry broken...

"Here! The very ground on which we're standing may have borne the soles of ancients. Yours and mine. Ours is a common heritage. Aboriginal. Linked. Adam and Eve were not just folklore, Vel; the world produced progenitors. Man and Woman, once created or evolved, combined their strengths. And from their coupling sprang the sons and daughters, families, clans, then tribes, entire nations, all begotten by whoever hailed from here.

"Accord the Rift its fertile due; it spawned a presence so original it resists the dust of centuries, confounds epochs, shrugs off Time, and stirs a memory, in the minds of all those open to its spirit, that impresses so essentially it might very well pass for real. As real as this, the sweat between our palms that makes the sun's heat tangible. Or the clay that clings—or, past tense, clung—to every pore of skin as I felt One with something larger, older, wiser than myself.

"I know you think that my shenanigans ought to land me on some psych-ward, that I'm totally off my rocker, but I'm sane as sane can be. Except I've tuned in to a frequency that the status quo won't heed."

That had him hearing things and seeing things, cavorting like some pagan, speaking in tongues, and who-knew-what-all-else in the privacy of his tent!

"Imagine intercepting a broadcast on your telly from a space probe that has long-since turned to cinders as it reached some far off star. You'd see the program live. Except you'd know it wasn't; it was history, having traveled all those miles, which would account for the delay. Well, I'm receiving such a broadcast—not per se but something similar—that's been traveling over Time instead of miles. Though not from space. Instead, it's generated here, by folks whose culture, if forgotten, still exists as latent signals.

"If technology transmits images over sound waves, why can't we? Why can't we process Time's pulsations, then convert them into pictures that provide a sensory stimulus as dynamic as our dreams? When we're asleep, what's going on if not the brain projecting movies from the clips it reinvents by pulling footage out of stock? It may be true that dreams are random—and I'll grant you they're irrational—but they do display the vast untapped potential of our minds to see the invisible, hear the inaudible, smell and taste and touch the impalpable, in a way that makes them graphic—if not raw-materially real.

"Had I been closer, I'm convinced I might have somehow interacted; that's how vivid was the image-building triggered by that scene of people native to their setting. We're like foreigners, by comparison. How could anyone help but envy their connectedness to the Earth?"

A bunch of hairless apes in loincloths eating nuts and berries (?); come now! What's to envy in a life of braving ravenous bugs and beasts?

"Unless these headaches have me muddled. Has there ever been an Eden? I don't know, Vel. I'm not sure. I sometimes... What about the Fall? Does being human guarantee that good and evil cross our purposes? I've been thinking, trying to pick my brain, pluck fruit from a tree of thorns, but it's too hard when... What if choice itself is why we're in this pickle? You know, behaving half the time like saints, the other half like scoundrels? Once the will is free to choose, it seems our errors in judgment multiply, keeping pace with population growth. Are numbers then our curse? I can't decide if what the planet needs is more of us or genocide."

Fewer people, fewer fuck-ups? Brilliant! One plus one makes ZILLIONS. Graham's solutions were as half-baked as that crust of sludge he'd shed.

"And what has any of this to do with me, an actor on location, whose deductions, or 'delusions,' have my colleagues winking winks, convinced I'm up the pole, possessed, or about to lose my marbles?

"Well, at the risk of sounding ludicrous, I'm expected. Folks are waiting. It's uncanny, I admit, but I've come home, Vel. Home to stay."

You have to bear in mind we'd wandered offthough this time well-escorted. Graham was shadowed by a young Masai, on guard around the clock, who was discreet, if somewhat haughty in his role as Lord Protector. Armed with club and spear and lanky muscles, regal in his carriage, he would herd us when we strayed too far, making sure we walked in circles, and, if need be, grunt a warning should we fail to note some threat. I felt at once relieved and put off by this tightening of security. Graham behaved as if he didn't mind. And got MUCH more respect. In fact, the locals seemed in awe of his advanced peculiarity. You could see it in their greetings; they would ALWAYS shake Graham's hand, and he was welcome every night to join them bunched around their campfire—regardless his contributing little more than "Jambo."

"'Stay'! With whom? Your flight of fancy; Little Miss Glitter-tits?"

"Hey; not nice, Vel."

"Right; she's handicapped—a liability less severe than being NONEXISTENT. Graham, these pipe dreams lose their charm when you insist on their reality. Gorgeous woman, sylvan setting, peaceful kingdom, all that's fine, the stuff of movies, novels, myths and fairytales, NOT the soup du jour."

And then he told me something so ambiguousflattering AND insultingthat I haven't, to this day, decided why it choked me up. I mean, I didn't break down then and there; it hit me like a boomerang. At the time, I think I maybe even laughed it off, or sneered.

"The most provocative scent I've ever smelled, a genuine aphrodisiac, is the pungent, sensual, musky, maddening fragrance you emit. If folks could bottle it, they'd make fortunes. It's ambrosial, Vel. Pure catnip. Really. Every time I'm near you, I'm enraptured... then transported... as if sweat glands seep nostalgia for the places we were born; we as a race, I mean; our prototypes. Yours are somehow elemental. And, forgive me this comparison, but the same is true of her. You know, that blind girl I've been seeing off and on in my 'delirium?' She's an aromatic heart throb, just like you—'almost' as beautiful—and, so help me, I feel irresistibly drawn to her, to here, as if awakened to some former self, some long-forgotten memory that reminds me, in a temporal sense, my life has been a shell, or a cocoon of sun-dried mud in which I've finally metamorphosed.

Nothing's tougher on the ego than a man who turns you down because he's hot for someone elseunless he adds that you REMIND him of the 'aromatic' bitch, which struck me speechless, as in green, as in resentful of his likening me to a life-size Scratch-'n'-Sniff.

"And that analogy's almost literal. I was just about to tell you; in the make-up truck, remember? Family secret? Mum's the word? I was conceived—get this—in vitro. Test tube baby. Illinois' first. I spent my 'formative' months in a surrogate womb. How's that for a gossip-column shocker? 'Whose' (?) is a question you might well posit. I did. Never learned. I've been prevented by my parents and our sex-educating doctor from discovering—to this day—in whom I first was lodged.

Why make her blind? I mean, a figment is a figment. If the girl were manufacturedand there's no doubt in my mind that Graham had made her upwhy flawed? Why give your heart's desire a hindrance; why not conjure up perfection? Her deformity didn't figure.

"Are you listening, Vel?"

"Uh, huh."

He'd rambled on about some deep-dark secret relative to his birthwhich I believe I promised not to blab. The point is, Graham had flipped. I mean, regardless his ingenious explanation of phenomenalatent signals, age-old broadcasts, and that elemental shtick, he had what any good shrink would recognize as a case of 'mortal dread.' At least my own shrink called it that when we discussed Graham retrospectively. In the midst of Masai Mara, though, this cockeyed death-wish clicked.

 

{Thank God we shot the movie's final scenes BEFORE we got to Kenya... from which Graham was bound and determined never to depart.}

 

 

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