BEYOND THE MIRROR
It’s a mystery why some humans are called in their lifetime to end their personal suffering; called to awaken to their true nature; called to discover true freedom.
I. SATURDAY JULY 4TH, 2020
“The entire universe is God's cosmic motion picture, and individuals are merely actors in the divine play who change roles through reincarnation. Mankind's deep suffering is rooted in identifying too closely with one's current role, rather than with the movie's director, or God.”
— Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952)
The main lights of The Garden Cabaret dim. The crowd shuffles and coughs in anticipation of the imminent spectacle they’ve all come to see.
The entire cast and crew have worked tirelessly for the past fortnight to get my show, “The Garden of Eden Spectacular: Part 1,” ready for the official opening of TGC tonight. Preparations for the show had started well before the coronavirus pandemic had erupted in March, and disease and death had come to New Eden. For most of April, May, and June we’ve all been self-isolating, social distancing, and generally marking time. The official announcement of the re-opening of bars, restaurants, and clubs in New Eden had been made two weeks back, and tonight we’re all pumped and excited to finally perform the show live in front of a socially distanced audience, as well as livestreamed on FaceGram.
The stage is dark and empty. A black fly, with two empty doorways in it, is positioned mid-stage. The orchestra begins to warm up and tune to the oboe’s concert A.
A bass taiko drum, slow and ponderous—lub-dub, lub-dub, lub dub—like a heartbeat, penetrates as the other sounds fade. Next, a melody played by the cor anglais with a quiet tremolo string accompaniment, just sixteen bars that build on top of the now fainter taiko heartbeat. It’s a haunting melody but it’s also inviting somehow, and it ends with an unanswered question that’s curiously optimistic.
During the second half of the short musical overture a simple wire-framed bed has rolled through the stage left of the two doors in the black fly. The bed is on the revolve, and it comes to rest in a spotlight, downstage center.
The occupant of the single bed, who’s curled up under a jaunty blanket, has their back to the audience and they appear to be sleeping. Curled up like this the occupant of the bed appears to be small, most likely a child, but it’s impossible to say for sure.
“Angelo!! Wake up!!” a raspy female voice calls from offstage as the orchestra pauses. It’s Miss Sommerville from the Mercy Home for Children in Queens, though no one knows this, no one will ever know this, and no one needs to know this except Angelo himself.
The body in the bed sits bolt upright, stares straight ahead towards the left wing for a few seconds, then slowly turns their head to look at the audience. It’s a teenager, around thirteen or fourteen years of age. The teen’s gender is unclear; they look androgynous. Their skin color is also indeterminate being a honey-caramel color somewhere between dark and light. The teen’s facial expression, however, is clearly startled. Looking directly at the audience of The Garden Cabaret now the teen starts to speak.
“Have you ever woken up in a dream and not been sure whether you’re awake or still dreaming? I mean, right now. Am I asleep and dreaming this, which would mean that all of you are characters in my dream, and none of you are real?” Young Angelo slowly scans the audience, then winks and smiles. Continuing, more playfully now, “Or are you,” pointing to a woman in the front row, “dreaming this, in which case I and everyone else here are characters in your dream and none of us, including you, are real?” Angelo pauses pregnantly . . . then laughs, breaking the tension. “Or are we all awake and no one’s dreaming anything, which I imagine would be a great relief for some of you, but a bit embarrassing for me?” Angelo scans the audience again grimacing, then smiles slyly. “Or are we all asleep and dreaming, in which case none of us has any clue what reality is?”
Young Angelo stands and moves to the apron of the stage now. “What if I was to invite you, all of you, right now, just as an experiment, to imagine that you’ve just woken up in your own dream. So, you’re still asleep in your bed at home and you’re dreaming this. Think about it for a minute,” pauses for effect.
“What if the one who’s sitting there in your seat listening to me speak is just a dream character in a dream that’s taking place in your own mind? I am also a dream character in your dream, as is everyone and everything you see around you, so nothing here actually exists. We’re all just made of thought stuff, fleeting mind objects made of nothing substantial.
“So, how would you feel, if none of this was real?” Pause. “And what would you do if none of this is real? How would you behave? If everyone and everything around you are all just aspects of a dream, of your dream, how would you treat them? Would you be mean and selfish, or kind and loving? And can your actions, as a dream character in a dream—awake or not—affect anything in any meaningful way? If this is all just a dream, are you actually in control of anything?”
Young Angelo freezes now as the Archangel Raphael appears out of the upstage darkness suspended from a trapeze. S/he looks resplendent in crimson and gold, her/his huge wings trailing behind. S/he lands gracefully next to frozen teen Angelo, embraces him lovingly, then whispers in their ear, softly enough so as not to be audible from the audience. Young Angelo then re-animates as Raphael disappears back up into the darkness once more.
Smilingly broadly now, “I just had a great idea!! I’m going to tell you all a story.” Angelo is clearly excited.
“Once, there was a place outside of the known universe, in a time outside of the linearity of time, where everyone and everything lived in peaceful harmony…”
Spotlight off as the bed and actor are whisked through the stage right door in the fly, and the stage transforms, in a blaze of lights and color, into the historical/biblical Garden of Eden. Thus, the premier of my opening night show at TGC gets underway.
Most of us, particularly if we grew up in a culture where the Old Testament of the Bible was a part of the religious canon, know the allegorical story of the Garden of Eden from kindergarten, or Sunday School. We’re all familiar with Adam and Eve’s temptation by the devil, of their eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and of their subsequent expulsion from the garden and their so-called fall from grace. But how many of us have stopped and considered the deeper meaning of this allegory?
Well, for me the fall from grace represents the falling asleep that happens to all humans when the ego develops, naturally, as it does, in early childhood. The ego is essentially just a software program in the mind. It’s an upgrade of the operating system, if you like. Its development coincided with the expansion of the neocortex in the brains of early hominids, and in terms of human evolution it appeared somewhere around the time of the arrival of the Homo sapiens species, say a few hundred thousand years ago.
The function of the ego is to help the individual human organism survive. As a mental software upgrade, the ego has proven highly successful. It includes, but is not limited to: abstract thinking, complex memory recall, future planning, and progressively more sophisticated social structures, all contained within a time-bound story of me. While the development of ego-identification has clearly given humans an evolutionary advantage over all other species on the planet over the past few hundred millennia, it is only a stage in the evolution of the human story, and, most importantly to this story, it’s at the root of all human suffering.
The ego develops gradually in children between the ages of about one and four years, and from this point onwards—somewhere around the fourth year—the firmly held belief that I am a separate individual named such-and-such becomes the core concept around which the self-identity coalesces and develops. This me is then the central character around which our life story revolves.
The falling asleep of humanity into being identified as a somebody— original sin, if you like —and the repercussions of this up to the present day is what’s portrayed in tonight’s show, “The Garden of Eden Spectacular: Part 1.”
Part 2 of the show, which is yet to be written, will show the resolution, the redemption: spiritual awakening . . . if you like!! Has the true freedom and fulfillment that’s inherent in spiritual awakening been told in a way that everyone can be touched and inspired by it? This true freedom and fulfilment which is characterized by, among other things, the lasting realization of the unity and oneness of everything, of the Cosmos.
The Buddha pointed to it in his teachings over 2500 year ago, but the core message has, unfortunately, become less clear as it got progressively lost in the mire of religion, dogma, practices, and rituals that now characterize the Buddhist religion.
The epic Hindu poems, Mahabharata and Ramayana, also first told about 2500 years ago, use story and allegory to depict the truth of reality. They can still be seen performed on occasion today, but they’re not practically accessible to most of us.
The historical man known as Jesus is said to have used myth and allegory to point to the true nature of reality. His teachings have, however, been interpreted and reinterpreted for more than two thousand years, and while the core truth can still be found in the New Testament of the Bible, its transmission has been significantly diluted as the various Christian religions developed over that time. Organized religion in general has—in the past century or so—lost its appeal to a large percentage of the population for a multitude of reasons.
We’re currently in a time of deep crisis in the human story, with so much suffering showing up on so many levels all over the globe. The prevailing institution of worship today has shifted from the traditional religions, and it has become the religion of me, supported as it is by its three core survival drives of the ego: money, sex, and power. Humans today might be described as avaricious, pleasure-seeking control-freaks, and it would describe many of us quite well, don't you think?
Humanity is desperately in need of the great good news of the possibility of awakening to one’s true nature, and the discovery of the freedom and fulfillment that’s inherent in that awakening. In fact, it’s possible that humans need the evolutionary leap out of the mind-identified state now more than ever before in human history, or we might well die out by our own hand. The plan for Part 2 of my show is to express the possibility for both the individual and collective awakening of humans out of the trance of ego, and the rediscovery of Truth; Beauty; Freedom; Love; Peace; Unity.
I know, I know. It’s sounding very much Moulin Rouge!-ey, right? Well, Baz and his crew were most assuredly onto something big in the creation of this wonderful story.
My name’s Angel O, and I’ll be guiding you through the twists and turns of this story. You’ll be finding out much more about me as we go along, but if you’d like to know my full story before proceeding any further—which could be fun, and which would most definitely be useful—then you could start by reading The Story of Angel O, and come back here when you’re ready to proceed with Beyond the Mirror.
Curtain down at TGC.
“Oh, my goodness; what a blast!! Thank you all so, so much, all of you. You’re all amazing!! I’m so proud of each and every one of you,” I say to the cast and crew after applause and curtain calls.
“And we’re proud of you, Angel O,” calls Adam from the rear of the crowd gathered on the TGC stage. “Thank you!!” The others cheer and applaud enthusiastically in agreement. The audience had clearly loved the show, and we’re all on a high as we leave the backstage area en route to our various dressing rooms.
As I enter my dressing room I’m humming and feeling exhilarated. I cross to the dresser, sink into its adjacent armchair, and let out a long sigh as the tension trapped in my body from the recent performance is released,
I love the thrill of performing, but my physical body still experiences considerable stress and tension each time I do so, though I’m not essentially anxious or afraid on any other level.
My dressing room at TGC is not at all what people expect. It’s a circular room that’s modelled after the Salon de la Lune—the Moon Salon—at le Palais Garnier of the Paris Opera. The colors are dark and muted—deep purple, crimson gold, antique silver, rich brown—with disguised mirrors and hidden lighting to accentuate the mood of the room. There’s a large, curved, black leather sofa occupying most of the side of the room opposite the dresser, as well as various lamps, rugs, and various objet d’art.
The most prominent feature of the décor of my boudoir, however, is a large wooden cross that stands in the center of the space. The cross is oriented as an ‘x,’ rather than a ‘t,’ so there’s no sense of evoking Christian imagery, more of a BDSM vibe. This gives the room an almost sinister feel . . . like just about anything could happen at any moment.
What can I say? My dressing room reflects my shadow, my inner darkness. This darkness within me needed to be acknowledged, allowed, accepted, and finally embraced, before I was able to experience freedom, so I’m eternally grateful for it, and I celebrate it here in my inner sanctum.
My dresser has a large triangular mirror above it, the apex of the triangle pointing downwards, like an arrow into the earth. The mirror is surrounded by lights to assist with makeup application and removal. Apart from this bright feature, however, the room is quite somber. A contrast—so I’m told by those who know me and who’ve been inside my boudoir—from my naturally bright and bubbly personality. I gaze into the mirror briefly and smile. “I love my life,” I say out loud to my reflection.
In the back of my mind I’m aware that the Eco-Vigilante Action Group (E-VAG) planning meeting is due to start at Bernard’s Bookstore in less than half an hour, so I really need to motor if I want to get there on time; Mrs. Chu will not be happy if I’m late. I glance at the time, gasp, then switch gears and start the process of changing out of my costume, removing makeup, and generally transforming into my non-performing self.
You’ll either know by now—or you’ll find out shortly—that I’m a chimera, a true hermaphrodite: I developed from two separate zygotes that fused just a few days after their dual conceptions. Essentially, I’m twins who occupy one body. Sound confusing? Oh yeah!!
By day, I’m Dr Angelo Williams, a neurosurgeon currently employed by Jersey City Medical Center. By night, I’m Angel, the proprietor and lead performer of The Garden Cabaret in the East Village of New Eden City. To give you an idea of the level of integration of my two selves as I navigate my 56th year, let’s just say that when I’m on stage I’m most often dressed as a woman, and my energy is kind, exuberant, mischievous, outrageous; and when I’m not on stage I generally dress as a man, and my energy is more quiet, reserved, thoughtful, studious. Don’t get me wrong, Angel and Angelo are both always fully present these days—that’s where the name Angel O comes in—but to most of the world I look like Angel when I’m performing, and I look like Angelo the rest of the time. I’m having a lot of fun letting these boundaries become progressively more blurred, however, and I’m eternally curious about the energy that’s arising more and more as the polarities of Angel and Angelo are merged and transcended.
Angel—who is fundamentally a heterosexual cis-gender woman—is an actively engaged member of the LGBTQIA+ community; Angelo—who is essentially a gay cis-gender man, that’s the ‘G’ in LGBTQIA+—tends to be more neutral about gender politics, and prefers to steer clear of the drama that can arise in this space; Angelo O—the integrated me—could definitely be described as intersex, ‘I,’ though queer, ‘Q,’ is much closer, and neither of these terms define me very well. I know, it all sounds a bit confusing, right? Well, don’t even get me started on my pronouns!!
Midway through my transformation I’m stopped in my tracks by another wave of gratitude that gushes up out of nowhere, and which brings with it a wash of tears. I can’t quite believe how lucky I am. When I look back at my life—the ashram in childhood, the orphanage in my teens, the deeply help and painful story of shame and worthlessness—it’s almost unbelievable that I’ve ended up here: happy, fulfilled, at peace, in love.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you; I’m so grateful,” I say out loud to the empty room as I press my hands together on my heart and look up towards the heavens. I’m not looking up towards a disembodied god or deity of any sort, rather I’m acknowledging the mystery that is life, both within me and all around me, known and unknowable.
My phone vibrates silently on the dresser, and I glance at its illuminated screen. It’s a message from my husband, Amir.
[sufiloveamir] Great job my lover; a triumph!! Have you looked at FaceGram comments yet?
[angel_o] Not yet, I quickly send back as I flick open the app and start scrolling through the comments posted during and after the recent livestream.
[ericahytes] Thank you so much; I cried. It was SO good!! 😍
[broadwaybaby13] Fantastic show @angel_o. Can’t wait to see Part 2. 🌹🌹🌹
[philip1973] So excited for you @angel_o. Incredible show!! 🥰
[silenceinwashington] May all beings be happy and free!! Om, Shanti!! ❤️🙏🏻
[dwp666] Stop now and close your stupid club forever, or everyone will know your dirty little secret.
I inhale sharply and bring a hand to my mouth as my eyes widen. “Oh, no!! Damn it!!” I look up into the mirror once more as tears well in my eyes, then exhale deeply, a heavy sigh. “Nooooooooooo!!” I drop my head and bury my face in my hands. “I knew this would happen; I just knew it.”
After a few seconds I lean back in my chair once more, a pained expression on my face. What I want more than anything in this life is to stand up in front of the audience at TGC—and finally, in front of the whole world—and let everyone know the great good news of the possibility of waking up and being free. If it’s possible for me—as flawed and undeserving as I was . . . as I am—then it’s possible for everyone.
Spiritual awakening is no longer reserved for monks in mountain-top monasteries, or priests in secluded hermitages. Now is the time of the awakening of ordinary humans. It’s possible for everyone to awaken and realize their true nature, and to experience the deep sense of freedom and fulfillment that this realization brings with it. Each of us can then use our lives to discover what it means to live responsibly and lovingly, in service to the well-being and happiness of all beings everywhere. One possible outcome of this burgeoning collective awakening is that humanity might all live together peacefully and share the earth harmoniously.
This collective awakening is already well underway within the greater body of humanity, triggered by the individual and collective genetic programming of our DNA. It has been gaining momentum over the past 60+ years, turbo boosted by the mind-expanding, drug-taking hedonism of the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’re now headed inexorably towards what one of my teachers—Richard Rudd of The Gene Keys—calls a Great Change, by which he means the flowering of the next stage of human evolution.
This turning of the era was pointed to by the Vedic priests thousands of years ago when they described the movement from the current Kali Yuga—the epoch we’re currently in which is characterized by conflict, division, pain, and suffering—to the coming Satya Yuga—which will be characterized by unity, harmony, peace, and love.
Well, that’s my interpretation of it anyway. Everyone is free to have their own view of where humanity is headed, and no one needs to agree with my vision of it, but even the slightest possibility that this is the direction life may head is enough for me to put all my energy towards bringing this vision into form—hence me telling this story and creating my show at TGC. Luckily, there are many beautiful souls awakening all over the planet, and all these beings add exponentially to the momentum of the transition; it’s an exciting time to be alive.
Reading the threatening comment on FaceGram, however, I’m reminded that the exposure inherent in following my vision into the limelight could potentially bring with it a boatload of unwanted, negative attention. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I’m full of self-doubt, and feeling agitated, terrified, and overwhelmed. The familiar desire to curl up into a ball and hide from the world arises strongly now. I inhale slowly and deeply, trying to consciously relax my body and mind, but it’s no use: I’m triggered, and at this moment I’m fully identified with and believing my story of suffering.
Angel, still sitting in the armchair by the dresser, squints her eyes, shakes her head, reaches into the dresser drawer, and pulls out a colorful pair of spectacles and puts them on; Angelo, dressed all in black and hidden in shadow on the curved leather sofa, squints his eyes, shakes his head, reaches into his coat pocket, and pulls out a pair of black-rimmed spectacles and puts them on. Angel and Angelo are both fully back in separation, both fully back in samsara.
My vision issues have been with me since I was a teenager. It was at age fourteen—the same year I’d discovered my hermaphroditism—that my vision had started to become problematic. Curiously, Angel is long-sighted, while Angelo is short-sighted. This has been the cause of great confusion over the years, especially for my optometrist. Interestingly, I—Angel O—am neither long- nor short-sighted; the two refractive errors miraculously cancelling each other out when I’m fully present and surrendered in the moment. Consequently, the clarity of my vision without glasses has become the yardstick of how open and free I am in any moment.
Angel & Angelo now, individually, go over in my mind the tragic, shameful, painful story of being a hermaphrodite once more. It’s so familiar . . . and so boring: Poor me!! Why me!! What did I do to deserve this!! I’m such an abomination!! What if people find out? Will I lose the respect of my colleagues and patients, and lose my position at the hospital (Angelo)? Will people no longer love and admire me, and want to see my shows (Angel)?
“Can I really do this? Can I actually go through with this” Angel asks, looking up to the heavens.
“Can you really do this? Can you actually go through with this?” Angelo questions of Angel.
Angel & Angelo freeze in place as the Archangel Raphael descends silently between them. Raphael is garbed, as always, in glorious crimson and gold, with hints of emerald flashing from her/his breast plate. Her/his translucent wings are shimmering brilliantly, and measure almost twice the height of Raphael’s body. The wings spread out elegantly as s/he lands, lightly and gracefully, on the floor of my boudoir.
Raphael embraces Angel & Angelo lovingly, then whispers into Angel’s ear:
“You’re fabulous!! Of course, you can do this!!”
Angel & Angelo re-animate once more as Raphael disappears into the ether. This time they squint their eyes, shake their heads, remove their glasses and put them away. Angelo disappears into shadow on the black sofa and . . . I’m back, fully present as Angel O once more.
I look up into the mirror and state firmly, “I’m going to step into the spotlight and reclaim my birthright.” Humming again, I compose a FaceGram post:
[angel_o] I hope you all enjoyed the premiere of tonight’s show. I’m so excited to bring you Part 2 very soon; stay tuned. Oh, and by the way . . . I’m a hermaphrodite.
I look up into the mirror again, straighten my posture, lift my chin, take a long deep breath, hold it . . . and hit Post.
At the same instant, Angelo squirms on the leather sofa, squints his eyes, and reaches into his coat pocket for his glasses.
Meanwhile, next door in the male/non-binary dressing room, Adam McCall, William Chu, Alex Abercrombie, and six ensembles are also removing costumes and makeup and changing into street clothes.
“Hey Adam, what’s the deal? Do you have something you want to tell us?” asks Alex, pulling the long blond wig off his head and running his hands through his hair. Alex’s role in the show is Eve—which he finds highly amusing as his twin sister’s name is Eve, and in his costume and wig he looks uncannily like her.
“What do you mean, Alex?” inquires William, curious to know what secret his best friend might be keeping from him.
“He slipped me the tongue again. That’s three times this week. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he has the hots for me.”
“I’m so sorry, Alex,” responds Adam sheepishly, “I just couldn’t help it. When you’re dressed like that, with that wig and makeup, you look just like the girl in my dreams.”
The girl in Adam’s dreams has been visiting him every night for months now, and he’s developed a well-established dream-fantasy relationship with her. Adam has been utilizing this fantasy life to help him endure the imposed boredom and sexual abstinence of the coronavirus lockdown; the boys all know that Adam is a highly sexual being, and that the lockdown has been seriously challenging for his libido.
As Adam finishes telling them all about his dream girl he makes the most adorable face, like a puppy, and everyone jeers and pats him on the head, shoulders, back, and butt.
“Oh boy, Adam. You really need to meet my sister,” says Alex as the noise settles.
“What? You have a sister? Does she look like you?”
“Man, we’re twins; we look exactly alike. Well, almost exactly. I mean, she’s got real boobs,” Alex holds up the fake breasts that are a part of his costume, then holding up the blond wig he’s still holding, “and real long blond hair.”
“What? No way!! You gotta introduce us!! Rght away!! Tonight!!”
“Hold on, Romeo, settle down.” Alex pauses as he looks Adam up and down, then nods his head in agreement. “OK. I’ll set it up for Tuesday, Central Park, 11am. We’ll meet you on the bridge; you know the one.”
“Thank you so much, Alex; I owe you one!!” says Adam giving Alex a bear hug.
William, glancing up at the clock on the wall of the dressing room, suddenly jumps up and shouts, “Fellas, we gotta go; we’re gonna be late. And you know what my mum does to latecomers!!” William, Adam, and Alex all grimace as they mime slitting their throats, then turn and run out the door.
The three young men, plus four other members of The Garden Cabaret cast who are also members of E-VAG, meet me outside the stage door. “Well boys and girls, what do you think Mrs. Chu has in store for us tonight?”
“I know a part of what mum’s planning,” says William, “but there’s something she hasn’t even told me; she’s being very secretive about it all.”
“I can’t wait; this is going to be good,” says Alex, rubbing his hands together.
“OK. Let’s go,” says Adam animatedly.
We start to sing and dance along the East Village streets on our way to Bernard’s Bookstore on the Lower East Side; a brisk fifteen-minute walk from here. Inside I’m feeling conflicted and out-of-sorts, but I try to put on a happy face and join in the spirit of our joyful going home song.
Just minutes later, however, I stop the others and say, “You know what, I’m not feeling so good. I’m sorry everyone, but I’m going to head home. William, please give my apologies to Lola and Bernard.”
“OK, but you’re gonna miss some fireworks; they’ll be disappointed,” states William wryly.
Angel & Angelo have been ruminating on the FaceGram threat again, and their painful stories of suffering are back up and running in my mind. It only takes me a few minutes to arrive at our East Village apartment. Angel immediately pulls on her Mickey Mouse costume—a lifelong security blanket in times of stress—and throws herself dramatically on the sofa; Angelo, still dressed all in black, sits quietly in a shadowy nook at the rear of the living room. They both close their eyes and start to inquire into the barrage of thoughts and turmoil of emotions that they’re experiencing. The one word that arises for both, and which most accurately describes the gestalt of what’s present for them is . . . dread.
In these moments of painful separation, it feels like all the work I’ve done on myself—all the meeting of traumatic and painful memories from my earlier life, all the integration of my male and female halves, all the discipline I’ve acquired through meditation about not identifying with my thoughts, emotions, or sensations—simply flies out the window. In these moments I feel like two separate individuals, who have two separate life stories told from two separate points of view, both of whom are contracted and suffering fully. Angel, full of anger, pride, and resentment; Angelo, full of shame, worthlessness, and self-loathing. The degree of regression into past tendencies that Angel & Angelo experience now is extremely painful, but that’s nothing new . . . for either of them. One thing they’re both quite sure of, however, is that there’s an important lesson to be learned from this situation.
As Adam, William, Alex, and the other Eco-Vigilante Action Group members make their way across Tompkins Square Park, they see the face of Ken Abercrombie—Alex’s wealthy and famous politician father—appear on the huge public viewing screen that’s set up in the park; a sight that has become progressively more common as COVID-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings have persisted into July. It’s a live broadcast from the Partisan National Convention, a scaled down version of which is taking place at the Lincoln Center this weekend.
“Thank you all so much. It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that I accept my party’s nomination to run for President in November: Abercrombie 2020!!” Ken fist pumps the air above him and a roar of excitement explodes from the speakers. The members of the small audience in attendance at the Lincoln Center go wild, jumping up and down, and throwing red and white merchandise into the air.
“I’m so honored to represent this great party, the Partisan Party, and the great American people. I want to take this country back into prosperity and greatness once more; I plan to make you all proud!!”
“Way to go, dad!! You’re such an f’ing hypocrite!!” Alex shouts at the screen. Adam puts his arms around Alex, who is shaking visibly. Alex hasn’t seen or spoken with his father in months, and the animosity, anger, and pain he’s feeling after his father’s betrayal and rejection is yet to find resolution.
Ken Abercrombie pauses as he allows the wave of applause and cheers to recede. “Now, the news I know you’ve all been waiting for. Who will be my running mate? Well, let me introduce to you the future Vice President of the United States of America . . . and my extraordinary wife, Faye Abercrombie!!”
Faye is smiling broadly as she steps confidently onto the stage and approaches the lectern. This is no fake smile, not tonight. Ken’s formal announcement as the Partisan Party candidate for November’s presidential election is thrilling; it feels like her whole life has led up to this perfect moment. The added excitement of possibly becoming the first female Vice President in history—not to mention the first woman to be both Vice President and First Lady—is beyond exciting for Faye. Beginning to feel dizzy, she grasps the lectern tightly with both hands to steady herself. Faye can already taste victory, and she has no problem imagining how sweet it will be when she and Ken win the election in November and are inaugurated in January.
Faye kisses Ken brusquely on the lips; a dry peck, nothing more. Ken quickly exits the stage leaving Faye alone in the spotlight. The crowd in attendance at the Lincoln Center continue clapping and cheering for some time, even after Faye has raised a hand to indicate that she’s ready to speak; it’s clear she is popular with this crowd.
Faye’s address is centered around her bold vision for universal world peace. This is no hollow beauty pageant call for world peace—although some haters on FaceGram are already having their doubts about Faye’s integrity and gravitas—but a true desire to change the world for the better. Faye is not in denial of the fact that there are billions of individuals to convince about her plan, but she knows deep in her bones that she can do it. In fact, it feels like her life’s purpose is to help everybody in the world get along with each other, and at this moment Faye is sure that she can facilitate this.
Faye’s speech includes what she calls her Prescription for Peace, which is the core message and strategy of her new personal charity, Let’s All Get Along (LAGA). Faye wants everyone in the world to spend three minutes each day spreading joy and kindness. She goes on to invite everyone to find a partner—in-person, or online via the LAGA app—then: 1) spend one minute gazing silently into their partner’s eyes; 2) spend one minute hugging their partner (or hugging themselves if online); 3) spend one minute singing, dancing, laughing, and playing together. So simple, but Faye is convinced that her Prescription for Peace can catalyze the development of a peaceful world.
“What if I was to invite you, all of you, to stop, just for a moment, and to recognize that, under all our superficial differences, we’re all the same. Humans are all made of the same substance. It only makes sense to love your neighbours as yourself because . . . they are yourself. Really, there can be world peace for evermore.”
Having finished her speech and received an enthusiastic response from the audience at the Lincoln Center, Faye invites Ken back to the stage. “Please, welcome back to the stage, my husband, and your next President, Ken Abercrombie!!”
A moment of silence falls over the auditorium as Faye scans the wings of the stage for Ken. With a sickening sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach Faye realizes that Ken has already left the convention to be with his mistress, Lobida, at her sinful club, The Dark Side. Faye turns to face the cameras and audience once more, gives one last gleaming smile and a victorious double fist pump, “Abercrombies 2020!!” at which the crowd goes wild again; she rushes off stage in a rage.
William exclaims to the small group gathered near him in Tompkin’s Square Park, "I like her; she can stay. But him, he's gotta go." All the others, except Alex, agree in unison. Alex is frozen, and clearly in shock.
“Not only is my arrogant, bigoted father going to be President, but now my mum—sweetheart that she is—is going to be Vice President? Mamma mia!! This nightmare couldn’t possibly get any worse.”
Alex had been the one to reject his famous family less than a year ago after his father had asked him to publicly deny his homosexuality in order to buoy Ken’s popularity amongst his conservative Partisan Party compatriots. Alex had been horrified and outraged that his own father, his own flesh and blood, could even suggest such a thing. Along with leaving home and cutting all contact with his family—except with his sister, Eve—Alex had leaked the story to the left-wing press, which had caused a minor scandal in the media for a few days.
Luckily, Alex has found a new, less morally corrupt, family— the extended McCall clan—through his friend and dance partner, Adam McCall, and he now spends most of his free time with them at Bernard’s Bookstore on the Lower East Side. Alex is living in a small apartment in NoHo and has just started working as a backup dancer with me at The Garden Cabaret to pay his way through his final years of medical school.
“Don’t get too down about it, Alex. They have to win the election first, and if my mum has anything to say about it, that aint gonna happen,” says William reassuringly. The small group crowd around Alex and give him a hug of encouragement, then turn and continue on their way to Bernard’s Bookstore.
Now in the privacy of her dressing room backstage at the Lincoln Center, Faye sits and stares stonily into the mirror, breathing heavily. She’s fuming, seething, angry like never before.
“How dare he? How dare he publicly humiliate me? After all I’ve done for him, for us, for our family, for this nation!! He would be nothing without me!! Nothing!!” Faye slams her fist onto the table with each ‘nothing,’ causing a clatter of objects to fall to the floor.
It’s perfectly clear to Faye that her husband would not be in the powerful position he is today without her. When Ken fails to be respectful to Faye and acknowledge her contribution to his success, which happens on a regular basis, Faye is not backward at letting him know about it. Indeed, Faye’s appointment as Ken’s VP running mate was not entirely Ken’s decision. Faye has been leveraging staying quiet about Ken’s unsavory business secrets and his ongoing affair with Lobida on and off for years to claim an ever-increasing share of power from her husband. Truthfully, Faye loves the idea of being famous and adored, and being both Vice President and First Lady would make her enormously famous.
Faye closes her eyes and for a moment and envisions herself as her heroine, Eva Peron, stepping onto the balcony of the Casa Rosada and waving to her adoring fans. Faye can easily see herself sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office one day . . . but she’s not about to let Ken get wind of that just yet.
As Adam, William, Alex, and the others burst noisily through the front door of Bernard’s Bookstore it’s one minute past the hour. Bernard is preparing to introduce Mrs. Chu, who is standing stiffly at the front of the small gathering, a tight expression on her face. Also present is my sweet husband—and the bookstore's manager—Amir, plus three other E-VAG members.
“Angel O sends her/his apologies; s/he isn’t feeling well so s/he went straight home after the show,” William announces to the group as he takes his seat.
“What a shame,” says Bernard sincerely. Then continuing efficiently, “Welcome everyone to the first Eco-Vigilante Action Group planning meeting for 2020. A brief reminder of E-VAG’s mission: To save planet Earth from calamitous global warming by discrediting and taking down the individuals and corporations most responsible for polluting our atmosphere. Now, without further ado, I’d like to introduce our first speaker. You all know her only too well, direct from the Capitol building in Washington, our precious Egalitarian Party member of the House of Representatives,” then whispered conspiratorially out of the side of his covered mouth, “and E-VAG’s top-secret consultant and collaborator,” then in full voice once more, “Mrs. Lola Chu.”
Mrs. Chu steps onto the small riser that is the impromptu stage in Bernard’s Bookstore tonight. Lola shakes Bernard’s hand earnestly, then turns to face the expectant gathering. She remains quiet as she allows the room to fall completely silent before speaking, her facial expression the perfect marriage of resolute and hopeful.
“I’m so proud to be here, on this historic night, to tell you two very exciting pieces of news. Firstly, after the success of E-VAG’s first campaign—the public shaming and subsequent deportation of illegal immigrant, planet polluter, and general bad guy, Ha Long Tran—in December, I have great pleasure in announcing E-VAG’s second target. The next omnipotent, earth-destroying scoundrel we plan to discredit and take down is none other than the mega-wealthy, uber-famous, and now Partisan Party nominee for President—Ken Abercrombie.”
A surprisingly large amount of noise is generated in response to Mrs. Chu’s announcement as the small group huddled in the humble bookstore goes completely wild, howling and screaming, jumping up and down, throwing things into the air, eager for blood.
Mrs. Chu, Bernard, and William now take turns in outlining their plan to gather the evidence that will cause the press—and hopefully also the US justice system—to take Ken Abercrombie so far down he’ll be off the map completely and forever.
Anyone who reads the news even a little these days knows that Ken Abercrombie’s high-tech artificial intelligence, robotics, and nanotechnology company, Abercrombie Industries (AI), operates well outside the current moral conscience of the western world by displacing its enormous greenhouse gas emissions load to developing countries for the right price. In fact, it’s rumored that AI may be the single greatest greenhouse gas emitting entity on the planet. Bernard, who had worked for Ken and AI for a handful of years in the early 2000s, knows full-well the extent of these moral transgressions, and he has ample proof to support such claims.
The second component of the plan concerns the speculation that’s rife in the left-wing press at present about Ken’s less-than-legal tax evasion strategies. While Ken is yet to be forced to publicly disclose his tax records, Lola has recently procured a direct line to a former Abercrombie family accountant who’s willing to spill the beans on Ken.
The third component of Mrs. Chu’s plan, yet to be finalized, is to obtain evidence of Ken’s morally questionable extra-marital sex life. She’s sure that a bit of saucy sex scandal will make the whole story just that bit juicier, and give rise to more moral outrage, for a greater percentage of the American people.
It’s been almost fourteen years since the Partisan Party-sponsored dirt piece about Lola Chu had been published on the eve of the 2006 congressional elections—which Mrs. Chu had lost by the smallest of margins—and which had resulting in her withdrawing from politics entirely for the subsequent six years. Payback is going to be sweet, thinks Lola to herself as she steps off the dais.
Alex Abercrombie now steps forward to announce the core detail of E-VAG’s plan that’s just come to light. “As you all know, my dad’s highly controversial mistress, Lobida, owns a questionably legal establishment on the Upper East Side of New Eden called, The Dark Side. Well, I just heard from my sister—who’s a hostess at the club—that one of the male dancers broke his ankle rollerblading this morning so they’re in desperate need of a replacement at short notice. What do you say, Adam? Are you in?”
All eyes shift to Adam who’s sitting, shirtless and muscle-bound, by himself in Bernard’s office nook in the far-left corner of the bookstore. Unlike Mrs. Chu, Bernard, William, Alex, and Amir, Adam is not particularly political by nature, so he’s not terribly engaged with the energy of the E-VAG gathering tonight. Adam also didn’t hear Alex mention that his sister is an integral part of the proposed plan or he might have been more enthusiastic. In fact, at this moment Adam is more intent on scanning his Trendr profile, knowing that tonight he can go out and actually meet women in person for the first time in more than three months. Truthfully, at this moment Adam’s just feeling horny.
“What? Me? Nah, sorry, not interested. How about Stu?” Adam indicates one of the other male dancers from TGC with his thumb, then goes back to scrolling through Trendr.
William smiles, winks at Bernard and Amir, and the three converge on Adam who eyes them suspiciously.
Adam’s father and two of his closest friends now use their intimate knowledge of his sizeable ego and his naive desire to be the hero who saves the day—to be a real-life version of his actual hero, Captain America—to convince Adam that he should go along with the proposed plan. They invite him to imagine that he’s the hero not only for E-VAG, but for the whole county, possibly for the whole world, and to imagine the benefits this would bring; Adam’s interest is piqued.
Bernard then reveals his latest inventions that he's created especially for E-VAG’s plan to take Ken Abercrombie down: a microphone and tiny camera concealed in diamond earring studs. Adam smiles as he admires his reflection in the small mirror adjacent to the office nook after Bernard and William have inserted the earrings for him. In his mind’s eye, Adam can clearly see himself infiltrating the enemy stronghold James Bond-style, and returning home to a hero’s welcome with both the treasure and a beautiful maiden on his arm.
“Alright, alright. I’ll do it!!” cries Adam decisively. Cheers and applause.
Mrs. Chu steps back onto the riser at the front of the E-VAG gathering and claps her hands sharply together three times: clap, clap, clap!!
“There’s more good news.” The group instantly falls silent and attentive to Mrs. Chu once more. “Guess who’s been asked to run as James Brody’s VP?” She pauses for a moment for effect, then pulls a blue and white placard from behind a stack of books: BRODY & CHU, TRUE BLUE, 2020!! Another huge cheer goes up, and more things are thrown into the air.
As the E-VAG meeting draws to a close, and those in attendance congratulate Mrs. Chu and start to drift away, Bernard ushers Adam back into his office nook and closes the door behind him. Bernard’s face is a mask of fear as he gestures Adam to sit in his chair, then squats awkwardly in the cramped space at Adam’s feet, his arms resting lightly on Adam’s knees, his head bowed. Looking down at his father Adam is suddenly nervous, and he shifts uncomfortably in the chair.
“What’s the matter, dad? What have I done now?”
“Son, it’s time. I’m so sorry that I’ve kept this secret from you for so long. Honestly, I’ve tried to find the right moment to tell you this so many times over the years, but it just never seemed to be right . . . until now.”
“You’re scaring me, dad. What is it?”
“Adam, my boy . . . your mother is alive, and she wants to meet you.”
Adam is overwhelmed. He’s heard his father tell the story that his mother died giving birth to him from the youngest age. The painful truth—which Bernard had wanted to keep hidden from Adam to protect his feelings—was that Adam’s mother had abandoned him with Bernard when Adam was just four months old, and disappeared from their lives completely. Bernard, who wasn’t at all good at conversations that involved actual real emotion, had never been able to find the right moment to tell Adam the truth . . . until tonight.
After an initial outburst of anger and disbelief, Adam jumps up and literally starts bouncing around the office nook, he’s so excited. He opens the door and starts jumping around the main part of the Bernard’s Bookstore where the stragglers from the E-VAG meeting are still in conversation.
“My mum’s alive, my mum’s alive, my mum’s alive!!” shouts Adam.
“We know; isn’t it great,” says William as he jumps up and down and hugs his friend.
“Wait. What do you mean, ‘you know?’” asks Adam suspiciously, suddenly motionless and glaring intently at his best friend from close range.
“We know. We all know. We’ve all known for years.”
“Dad!!” Adam turns to confront Bernard. “I can’t believe you; you’re completely hopeless!!” Then softening once more, “I love you, though. I love all of you. I’m so goddam happy right now!!”
Meanwhile, uptown on E 72nd between Madison and Park, Lobida is so full of hubris tonight she feels invincible. She can’t wait to perform on the main stage of her club, The Dark Side, for the first time in more than three months.
Ken Abercrombie, modestly disguised behind sunglasses and a cap, arrives at TDS and is ushered through a private side entrance by security. As he’s making his way to Lobida’s boudoir—from where he can view her imminent performance in private—Ken spots his daughter. Eve had worked as a hostess at TDS for almost a year prior to the COVID lockdown, and she loves the role; it’s given her a whole new lease on life and helped lift her out of the melancholy she’d been wallowing in following a suicide attempt two years ago. Ken taps Eve on the shoulder, and as she turns her head to see who it is she lights up.
“Daddy, you made it; I can’t believe it!!” Eve is wearing a black and white French maid’s outfit with matching fascinator pinned in her hair, and she looks fetching. “Congratulations, by the way, Mr. President.” Eve puts her arms around Ken’s neck and dances seductively, à la Marilyn Monroe, in front of him for a few seconds.
“Thanks, Pumpkin,” says Ken pulling away from her grip nervously and glancing around him to see if anyone had been watching, “but I’ve got to win the election before you can call me Mr. President. Anyway, that’s enough about me. Right now, it’s all about you; I wouldn’t miss seeing you perform tonight, not for anything.”
“But you’re so busy, daddy, what with the nomination and all,” Eve’s energy drops, “and I have no talent to speak of anyway.” She looks at the floor, deflated.
Ken sweeps Eve into his arms and, gazing directly into her eyes at close range, says, “You’re the most beautiful and talented daughter I’ve got, Pumpkin. Really, you’re incredible. And by the way, you look spectacular in that outfit; quite the grownup.”
“Oh, daddy, thank you,” replies Eve, smiling brightly. “I’m so happy you’re here; I just love you so much.” Eve hugs Ken tightly for a few more seconds then releases him and turns back to taking a drinks order from a newly arrived table of patrons.
Ken continues across the club and enters Lobida’s boudoir using the private passcode. As he’s closing the door he glances back and spots Yantra—the manager of TDS—in the elevated control booth at the rear of the club. Yantra is watching Ken intently, and in this moment her gaze is full of venom; she unsuccessfully tries to disguise it as their eyes meet through the haze of the club.
Hmm, Yantra’s mad at me; what’s that all about, I wonder? thinks Ken. I must speak to her about it when I have the chance. She was such a great nanny to the twins back in the day, so loyal and trustworthy.
Bringing her attention back to her work now, Yantra makes an announcement over the club’s PA: “Ladies and gentlemen, masters and slaves, mistresses and shadows, subs and doms, angels and demons, everyone. Welcome to the grand reopening of The Dark Side. We’re so happy to have you back; thank you all for being here.” Loud applause. “And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Please put your hands together for the star of The Dark Side, the Mistress of Darkness herself, the one, the only . . . Lobida!!”
The crowd rises to its feet as one and cheers exuberantly as Lobida appears center stage in the spotlight. She’s dressed in a magnificent floor-length royal-purple velvet gown which is lavishly adorned with jewels, leather straps, and metal studs, and which somehow perfectly marries the normally opposing polarities of elegance and deviance. She’s surrounded by five backup dancers—a mixture of male, female, and non-binary—all dressed in skimpy, sexy, purple and black leather outfits. The six remain unmoving, waiting for the clamor to settle. The crowd re-take their seats and fall silent, the atmosphere thick with anticipation. Lobida turns her face, slowly and silently, towards the audience.
Lobida holds nothing back in making it quite clear to those in attendance at TDS that one-pointed attention to her clitoris, and skillfully performed cunnilingus, are the most important offerings one can make when pleasuring the Mistress of Darkness. In fact, she goes into extraordinary detail about how one should proceed if one were ever to find oneself between her thighs. Faces stare wide-eyed and incredulous at her audacity and chutzpah.
Ken watches the show through the one-way mirror in Lobida’s boudoir. He can sense his mistress’s incredible power and energy through the glass, and his body twitches in anticipation of the humiliation he’ll receive under Lobida’s dominating presence in just a few minutes time.
There’s no sign that Ken’s addiction to Lobida’s domination is waning in anyway. In fact, it excites him more every day. Tonight is the fourteen anniversary of the day of their meeting—the day that Ken had chased Lobida down in Central Park and literally thrown himself at her. Over the course of these fourteen years, Ken has discovered that the power he wields daily in the public eye is boosted in direct proportion to the degree of submission to Lobida’s magnificence that he allows in the privacy of her boudoir on a thrice weekly basis.
Ken turns away from the spectacle of Lobida’s performance for a moment and takes in the décor of her inner sanctum. What a paradox. The circular room is minimalism at its finest. In contrast to the exuberant and colorful décor of The Dark Side itself, the stark white of Lobida’s boudoir is jarring. White wall panels separate matching panels of mirror. The floor is also white, with a luxurious white fur rug occupying the center of the floor. A mirror ball is spinning in the ceiling creating a dazzling display of pinpoints of light. The overall effect is of being inside a snow globe, or on a winter merry-go-round.
The ceiling of Lobida’s Salon du Soleil—the Sun Salon—is mirrored. This isn’t something you notice right away upon entering the space, but the realization of which slowly creeps up on you in a haunting sort of way once you’ve been in the room long enough, as if you’re being watched, and you continually have the urge to look over your shoulder to see who’s there.
On one side of the room is a table strewn with makeup, jewelry, lingerie, latex, whips, and shackles. On the wall above the table is a large triangular mirror, its apex pointing upwards, surrounded by lights so theatrical in appearance, which illuminate the station brightly. A laptop computer stands open on one end of the table, the screensaver currently displaying a moving collage of white doves and snowflakes.
In the center of the cylindrical space, hanging by fine wires from the ceiling, is a harness made from white leather. The harness has snow-white fur lining the main body of the sling. Stirrups, also in white leather and fur, are present to support the feet of the one being dominated. Something about the sling looks so inviting . . . for anyone feeling up to the challenge of receiving the full force of Lobida’s attention.
The pristine room is fully soundproofed from the outside club, making the exaggerated gyrations of Lobida and her backup dancers on the stage appear comical in their exuberantly mimed silence; outside in the main part of the club the music is loud and high energy as the show comes to a rousing climax.
Penetrating the silence, Ken notices now, is a low background hum of male voices chanting, deep and guttural. He recognizes the Gyuto Monks easily as Lobida frequently has them playing in her boudoir. The quality of the sound is so soothing, and it adds to the deep sense of serenity within the space. Ken smiles—this is his happy place. It's the one place on earth where Ken can let down his guard and be small and vulnerable. This is the place where Ken Abercrombie recharges.
As soon as the performance is over, and she’s happy that she’s whipped the audience to the pinnacle of frenzy—"to the verge of orgasm,” as Lobida likes to say out loud as often as she can—Lobida enters her boudoir and goes directly to Ken. She pins him to one of the mirrored wall panels with the full-length of her ample body, eyes ablaze; Ken shrinks from her in justifiable fear.
“Well, my naughty little boy. Does mummy have to undress little Kenny and put on his diapie for him or is he going to do it all by himself?” says Lobida in a surprisingly sweet voice.
“Oh, please undress me mummy. Please!!” replies Ken in an equally soft and sweet innocent little boy’s voice.
“But you’re such a bad boy, yes you are. Once you're undressed, I’m going to have to spank you, and spank you, and spank you. Oh yes, I will.”
“Yes please, mummy. Please spank me. Please!! I’ve been such a bad boy.” Ken bats his eyelashes at Lobida in what seems to be a well-practiced fashion.
Lobida changes the music now to the soundtrack of her just completed show, with the same intensity and volume as the recent onstage performance. The lighting shifts too, and the couple fade into a tapestry of mood-enhancing light and shadow as they begin to play out their well-practiced BDSM scene. Once Ken is dressed in his adult-sized diaper and baby bonnet, a pacifier in his mouth, and laying spread-eagled in the sling, Lobida picks up a spiked paddle and leans across to her phone to turn on the video that will film their interaction as usual. As she’s doing so a FaceGram message arrvies. It’s from her sworn mortal enemy, Angel O . . . from me. Angel has sent it in a moment of rage and despair from the sofa in the East Village:
[angel_o] Leave me alone or else!!
“What the hell!! I haven’t heard a peep from that cretin, Angel O, for almost a year. What’s it going on about now? Always bitching and whining about something; makes me sick. No, actually, it makes me angry. Alright, this is it!! If you’re going to aggravate me for no reason, bitch, you better be prepared to get back more than you bargained for!!” Lobida types in her reply:
[mistressofdarkness] I will humiliate and annihilate you!!
“This town aint big enough for the both of us.”
Lobida returns her attention to Ken who cowers, ecstatically, under the full force of her fury.
Meanwhile, backstage at The Dark Side, Eve Abercrombie is sitting staring into a mirror. She’s not in a dressing room as the club doesn’t have space for her, but in the wings of the stage. Eve is alone and preparing for her first solo singing performance since junior high, more than five years ago. At this moment Eve is terrified to the point of hysteria, and she’s feeling sick to the pit of her stomach.
She inhales deeply, straightens her posture, and gazes directly into the mirror smiling widely for a few seconds. Her face and body quickly fall again, and she buries her face in her hands, letting out a small cry as she does so. She slowly looks up into the mirror once more frowning, and says scoldingly to her reflection, “You’re so ugly; you’re pathetic!!” Then, more inwardly, “I know they’re going to hate me; I just know it. I wish I could die right now.”
Eve slides up the skirt of the little black dress she’s changed into for her performance exposing her upper thighs which are extensively bruised, the bruising easily visible through her dark stockings. She carefully takes a spiked leather strap out of her handbag, unfolds it, looks cautiously around to make sure no one is nearby, then applies the strap to her left upper thigh. As the tension of the strap reaches a certain point Eve inhales sharply, and her body stiffens. After a few seconds she exhales and releases the tension in her body with a shudder as she loosens the strap once more, her face a mushy mask of bliss, high on endorphins.
“Everyone please welcome to the stage, in her debut performance here at TDS, the very beautiful and immensely talented, Eve.”
Eve’s body stiffens once more as her eyes widen. She steels herself, stands slowly, and walks stiffly onstage.
Eve performs beautifully, her voice pure, clear, tender, and full of emotion, but tonight she’s feeling—and projecting—more self-doubt and worthlessness than she can recall feeling for years. Not since the night of her suicide attempt has she felt this level of self-loathing. The audience are clearly not engaged by her performance, and as she concludes they’re only loosely appreciative of her efforts, applauding with nothing like the enthusiasm they’d offered up to Lobida just a few minutes earlier.
Eve bows slowly and deeply to the already inattentive crowd, then trudges offstage. She’s already pulling apart and judging her performance negatively. In fact, the harsh critical voice inside Eve’s head has already dredged up her old familiar story of being completely talentless, and a despicable, horrible person. In this moment it’s abundantly clear to Eve that it’s all entirely true, and she vows never to sing again . . .
For those who are called, it’s possible—through self-inquiry—to recognize that there is a veil of separation between ‘me’ and the world which has been present since early childhood, and which distorts and colors our experience of life.
II. SUNDAY 5TH JULY, 2020
“Whosoever does not fast as regards the world, they will not find the kingdom. Whosoever drinks from my mouth will become like me, and I myself shall become he."
— Jesus, from the Gospel of Thomas
Being high up above street level, the apartment that Amir and I have shared in the East Village for the past thirteen years is quiet, especially early on a Sunday morning. I really haven’t slept at all through the night, however, so I’ve been up for hours. Possible responses to my FaceGram post have been playing over and over in my mind, but so far I’ve resisted the urge to check FaceGram directly; I learned that painful lesson some years ago. As a result, I’m burning in a fire of not-knowing, and my mind is fluctuating between telling stories of injustice and anger—thank you Angel— to telling stories of shame and worthlessness—thanks Angelo.
Amir and I had spent some time discussing the situation when he’d returned from the E-VAG meeting late last night, and, as always, his calm and clear view had supported me to find equanimity in the midst of the mind storm I’d been caught in. Now, in the light of a new day, I’m less agitated but a dense heaviness has settled onto my shoulders, and the world looks, and feels, dull and gloomy.
As the first rays of the rising sun reach tentatively into the upper corners of the apartment, I’m triggered and fully identified with my mind again . . . which for this hermaphrodite means that Angel and Angelo are bickering.
“You didn’t even consult me. This could be the end of my medical career, Angel. You know that as well as I do; we’ve been over this a thousand times. But it’s all about you these days, isn’t it? You and your glamorous career as a cabareeeeeeeeeet performer.” Angelo deliberately lengthens the word ‘cabaret’ to mock Angel maximally.
My medical colleagues at Jersey City Medical have no idea about my double life. As far as they know, when Dr. Angelo Williams leaves his role as staff neurosurgeon for the weekend he goes home to his husband, Amir, and their cocker spaniel, Sophie, and they enjoy a few days of domestic bliss, perhaps with a visit to the theatre or opera on special occasions. None of them have any idea that most weekends I—Angel—put on makeup, a frock, a wig, and high heels and perform not only at The Garden Cabaret in the East Village, but also at venues all over the country.
Angel, who is still wearing her colorful Mickey Mouse outfit, is completely happy with her decision to finally come out publicly as a hermaphrodite; Angelo, now dressed in a black Diablo costume complete with hoofs and horns, is not at all happy about it. It’s been years since Angelo has had his devil outfit on, but this morning it was the obvious choice to match his dark mood.
“You can be so incredibly selfish sometimes, Angel. You know that don’t you?” Angelo spits the words at Angel, who hisses in response. “Oh, chill out, boo-boo head, and stop being so dramatic and uptight!! And you call me the drama queen!! I can’t believe that we’re 56 years old and you still want to hide the truth about us from the world. Well, our secret’s out now, Sunshine, so you’ll just have to suck it up and make do. This genie’s finally out of her bottle, and she aint never goin’ back.” She pirouettes on her stiletto heel and moves toward the French windows that lead onto the small balcony above E 12th St.
“Oh, how I hate you sometimes, Angel!! And will you move away from that window. Please!! You’ve always loved embarrassing me, haven’t you, ever since we were a kid. Go on, admit it. Your favorite game in the whole world.”
Angel turns and opens one of the doors, begins to step across the threshold, then pauses and looks back over her shoulder at Angelo grinning.
“Ha, ha, so funny,” he says drolly. Then, with venom, “You drive me batshit fucking crazy sometimes!!”
It had been Yogini Amani, on the Swami Primananda Ashram in upstate New Eden, who’d made my first Mickey Mouse costume for my fourth birthday. It had consisted of cheap black fabric glued to cutout cardboard ears that were attached with safety pins to a bulky black cap of sorts, a lumpy black tail made from the same cheap fabric stuffed full of screwed up newspaper and pinned to the back of a pair of women’s sports bloomers, a black t-shirt, and black ballet slippers. Since this Mickey Mouse debut I’ve made four further iterations of the Disney-inspired outfit for various parties and performances. The most recent one—which Angel is wearing today—I created about four years back for the 2016 New Eden Pride march. This version is particularly opulent, and includes fully sequined red shorts held up by gold sequined braces, oversized and generously padded black velvet ears attached to a snug black sequined cap, short white statin gloves, and fluffy yellow faux-fur shoe covers that make it look like I have massive yellow feet. This outfit turns heads and makes people smile whenever I’m wearing it in public.
These various Mickey Mouse costumes have not only been Angel’s go-to attire in times of stress over the past 50+ years, but they’ve also been her primary strategy for boosting her self-esteem in moments of gloominess and negativity. Putting on one of the cheery Mickey Mouse costumes and being seen and acknowledged positively by others has been Angel’s way out of depression for five decades. This strategy, however, has irritated Angelo more and more over the years, and recently he’s become entirely intolerant of it. His rage bubbles to the surface now, and the argument escalates exponentially. They throw ever-more mean taunts at one another, belittling the other’s character, and poking at the morally questionable habits and tendencies of the other in a series of ever-lower blows: you might call it the battle of the shadows.
Arguing and fighting are activities that Angel & Angelo have engaged in ever since my hermaphroditism was first revealed at age fourteen and the schizophrenic nature of my mind had finally made sense, so it’s no surprise that it’s in full force today given the stress that’s been precipitated by the FaceGram threat.
On a deeper level, the thing that’s been revealed overnight, and which I’ve been inquiring into, is the awareness of a dark aspect deep inside of me—deeper than the duality of Angel & Angelo—that I’ve never fully seen or faced before. Having been exposed, this dark aspect is engaged in a primal fight for survival, ducking and weaving, and trying with all its might to avoid direct engagement with the full focus of my conscious presence.
What I’ve discovered so far in my inquiry is that this dark aspect is full of animalistic instincts and desires that were inherited, or so it seems, along with my physical body and its DNA. It occurred to me at one point during the night that this is the part of humans that is responsible for all violence and war.
The darkness doesn’t feel personal or wrong, it’s simply an aspect of who I am, and an integral part of my survival mechanism. What this part of me has to say is, “If there’s nothing left to fight for, I’ll cease to exist.” This part of me, clearly, will fight to the death.
Having degenerated to medium level violence, as our arguments frequently do, Angel is in the middle of attempting to strangle Angelo when Amir hurriedly enters the living room from the adjacent bedroom, having been awakened by the hubbub of Angel & Angelo fighting.
To Amir, of course, I always appear as one body, one person, even when I’m triggered and there’s major drama going on behind the scenes. Luckily for me, these days I can usually describe to Amir what’s occurring, and he readily accepts the frankly schizophrenic façade that I present to the world at these times without judgment.
“Angel O, what would Raphael say?” asks Amir breathlessly clutching one of my shoulders.
Angel & Angelo stop mid tussle, look into each other’s eyes at close range, then say in unison, “Breathe.” As they breathe deeply together each gives up their side of the struggle, and they both relax visibly.
After a few seconds Angelo looks Angel in the eye once more and says softly, “I love you, Angel.”
“I love you too, Angelo,” replies Angel, melting. “I love all of you, including all your darkness.”
“And I love all of you, including all your big, bright light,” responds Angelo.
They hug, and . . . I’m back. Angelo disappears into the shadowy nook as Angel removes her glasses, dropping them on the coffee table and slipping quickly out of the Mickey Mouse costume.
It’s quite extraordinary to feel the physiological shifts that occur in my body along with this transition to wholeness that occurs when I stop struggling with life, and I surrender fully to what is. As I mentioned previously, at these moments my eyesight becomes crystal clear, and I no longer need prescription glasses. In addition, my breathing slows and deepens, I feel physically lighter and more energized, and my mood spontaneously elevates as my mind quietens and my heart opens more fully.
This back and forth I’m describing—where one minute I’m triggered and separate as Angel & Angelo, believing my thoughts and stories, stuck in suffering; versus the next minute when I’m present and whole as Angel O, with a quiet mind and open heart, abiding in freedom—is my current experience of life. The spiritual journey for me has been less about attaining anything, and more about an ever-deepening discovery of what it means to not know anything. Interestingly, as I continue to explore this back and forth, life continues to throw all the challenges and ups and downs of the mind-identified state at me; it feels like quite a ride.
Archangel Raphael now appears hurriedly out of the ether. As Amir and I gaze at the shimmering apparition, Raphael adjusts her/his outfit and composes her/himself, as if s/he’s been rushing.
It’s always such a pleasure when Raphael—who seems to be my personal archangel—makes an appearance. In recent times, as s/he had started to turn up more regularly, I’d realized that it’d been Raphael who’d whispered to me in Nepal back in 1983 and told me to become a doctor; that it’d been Raphael who’d whispered in my ear in Australia in 2003 and told me I was going the wrong way in looking for happiness in the external world; and that it’d been Raphael who’d whispered to me in New Eden after my cancer surgery in 2014 and asked if I’d finally gotten the message about stopping everything for a moment in order to discover true freedom.
“What’d I miss?” asks Raphael, looking from me to Amir and back. “Oh, you got it already. Nice going, Amir. Well done.”
“Thanks, Raphy,” replies Amir coyly.
“Now, Angel O, I have an important message for you. We’ve discussed previously that your purpose in life is to reclaim the innocent wonder of childhood and express that in the world, right? Well, I’d like you to contemplate what it would mean to be a Warrior of Light. Will you do that for me?”
“Sure, Raphy, it would be my honour,” I reply humbly, bowing my head. “It really is time for me to meet all the obstacles that appear in life without resistance, and to surrender my stubbornness and fear once-and-for-all.”
“Yaaas, queen!!” responds Raphael enthusiastically.
“You know what I see when I look at you, Angel O?” asks Amir. “I see you as a beacon of light, like a lighthouse.”
“That’s so sweet, Amir, thank you.”
“OK then. Looks like you two have it under control. Bye for now.” With this Raphael disappears back into the ether once more.
It’s only been in the past year or so that Raphael has started appearing to Amir and I without first stopping time. As a result, we’ve been able to make her/his acquaintance properly, and we both love it when s/he drops by, even if it’s when Angel & Angelo are squabbling. Raphael’s presence always brings us more deeply into the present moment, deeper into reality, and with this a deeper and more embodied experience of joy and peace.
In response to Raphael’s invitation, my mind starts to wonder: What could happen if the energy of the dark animalistic aspect of me that I’ve just been investigating is put into the fight for good? For awakening? Maybe this is what Raphael means by ‘Warrior of Light.’
“So, how are you feeling now about revealing your secret to the world?” asks Amir, bringing me back out of my thoughts as we relax back onto the sofa.
“Well, I must say that getting it fully out into the open feels great, very liberating. Angelo, understandably, has been concerned about what his work colleagues and patients will think and say about it all.”
“Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from Dr Seuss, which seems perfect for this situation: ‘Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.’”
“So, if some of my colleagues at the hospital don’t respect me anymore, then they don’t matter, right?”
“Absolutely right, Angel O. You can be yourself fully, exactly as you are. No secrets or hiding needed anymore.”
“That’s it!! Thanks, my love. What would I do without you?”
Amir knows as well as anyone that my intention for creating the show at TGC comes from a deeply genuine and compassionate place. The desire to stand up and speak the truth about the possibility of all beings waking up and being happy and free comes directly from my heart.
“I just can’t believe that some bully is trying to stop me from going ahead with the show and getting my message out there.” I’d been extensively bullied throughout high school, and as I say these words, I realize that it's the trauma of these years that’s been triggered by the FaceGram threat. “And who is it that’s threatening me, anyway?” I ask indignantly. “It must be Lobida; she’s the only person I know who’s that cruel and deluded. But why? Why now?”
“Well, Angel O, just keep in mind that I want you alive and in one piece, so take good care, my love.”
“Of course, Amir, you know I will.”
“Why don’t you go and meet with Bernard and Mrs. Chu? I’m sure they can help you find clarity.” Amir knows from personal experience how supportive both Bernard and Lola can be when something challenging is going on in one’s life. We had all undertaken the Deep Listening Training with our spiritual teacher, Evelyn Bourne, a few years back, and it had permanently changed the way we interact with the world.
“That’s a great idea, my love. I’m going to do just that.”
Meanwhile, Adam McCall and Eve Abercrombie are each preparing to go to the gym for an early morning workout.
Eve, in her bedroom in the Abercrombie penthouse on the Upper West Side, screws up her eyes as she examines her reflection in the mirror. “God, you’re ugly,” she says, scowling at her reflection, collecting her things, then heading out the door; Adam, in his bedroom above Bernard’s Bookstore on the Lower East Side, flexes and kisses his bicep as he smiles at his reflection in the mirror. “Looking good, buddy,” he says, winking at himself, collecting his things, then heading out the door.
Eve had been attending Pump Gym on W 44th St in Hell’s Kitchen for some months prior to the March lockdown commencing. She’s excited about getting back to her workouts today even though deep down she knows that it doesn’t matter how much effort she puts into being fit and healthy, it won’t ever make her look or feel more beautiful or worthy; Adam is excited to try Pump Gym on W44th St in Hell’s Kitchen for the first time today. He’d been invited to visit and train at the gym by its manager—a fellow competitor in the 2018 NBA bodybuilding contest that Adam had won—back in February. He’s excited about getting back to his workouts today even though deep down he knows that he’s going to win the National Natural Bodybuilding Federation contest in Philadelphia in October no matter what.
Pump Gym is surprisingly crowded for such an early hour on a Sunday morning. As he exits the male change room, Adam accidentally bumps into Eve as she’s exiting the female change room. Their eyes meet . . . and time slows to a crawl.
Somewhere off in the distance Eve hears the words, “Don’t forget me, Eve, my love.” She looks around quizzically, trying to locate the origin of the voice, and to try and determine why everyone around her—except for the cute blond guy who’s just bumped into her—are suddenly all frozen like statues; somewhere off in the distance Adam hears the words, “Adam, I will never forget you,” He looks around quizzically, trying to locate the origin of the voice, and to try and determine why everyone around him—except the pretty blond girl he’s just bumped into—are suddenly all frozen like statues.
Life now returns to its normal speed. Eve shakes her head in confusion, and wonders if she just imagined the ethereal voice and the world freezing momentarily. She notices the muscular young man is still holding firmly onto her elbow and, embarrassingly, is staring vacantly off into space. Eve wriggles awkwardly free of his grip and turns away towards to the yoga studio; Adam shakes his head in confusion, and wonders if he just imagined the ethereal voice and the world freezing momentarily. He notices the attractive young woman is squirming to extricate from his grip, and that she has a sour expression on her face as she heads one-pointedly for the yoga studio.
"Excuse me, miss. I’m sorry.”
“Whatever,” replies Eve dismissively without looking back.
For the next hour, both Adam and Eve engage in their usual exercise routines, but something is bothering each of them: a nagging feeling that won’t let them be comfortable. From time to time, they search for the other across the large spaces of the gym and yoga studio, or in one of the many reflections from the mirrors that line the rooms.
Eve knows this feeling, the excitement and terror associated with the early moments of falling in love, and she’s taken aback. Sometime later, as she’s drinking from the water fountain, Eve spies Adam in the main part of the gym with his shirt off, flexing in front of a full-length mirror. He’s posing, smiling cheekily, and clearly admiring his own reflection. Another gym member is filming him as he poses, and the scene is quickly becoming the focus of attention of several other gym attendees. Eve is suddenly struck with a painful, sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach. He loves himself more than anything else, thinks Eve. How could he ever love me? He’s just like all the others. Eve puts the ridiculous idea of finding love with this handsome stranger out of her mind and goes back to her Pilates workout feeling nauseous, and more than a little bit disgusted with herself.
Adam knows this feeling, the excitement and terror associated with the early moments of falling in love, and it’s making him feel playful. Sometime later, as he’s drinking from the water fountain, Adam notices Eve standing motionless in front of a full-length mirror in the yoga studio, gazing intently at her reflection. He’s suddenly struck with an exhilarating, alive feeling in the pit of his stomach. I hope she loves what she sees as much as I love what I see, thinks Adam. How can she be so perfect? She’s unlike all the others. A minute passes as Adam stares enraptured by the beautiful young woman before he notices that his mouth is open, his tongue is out, and he’s dripping water onto his shoes. He shakes his head and returns to his workout.
The next time Adam looks for the pretty blond, however, she’s nowhere to be found. He searches frantically, asking another female gym member to check the female locker room for him, and even running out onto the street in front of the gym to try and find her but it’s no use: she’s gone. How am I going to find out more about her? thinks Adam desperately. She’s the girl in my dreams and perfect in every way. “Damn it!!”
At about the same time that Adam is scouring W 44th St, uptown at the Abercrombie penthouse on Central Park West Faye is ripping into Ken.
“How dare you, after all I’ve done for you. How dare you!!” shouts Faye at the top of her voice. “How dare you humiliate me in front of my friends and peers, in front of my family, in front of the whole world. Everyone knows that I’m the true power in this partnership, Ken Abercrombie. Everyone!! How dare you!!”
“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry, Faye, honey. You know I love you. It’s just, I also love Lobida. Do we really have to go over this again? Isn’t Mrs. Vice President and First Lady enough for you? What else can I give you? My reputation? My cock?”
“Sure, let’s start with that. That might just about even out the balance sheet,” says Faye smiling, and starting to relax her tense posture; the peak of the emotional storm having passed for now.
“Oh, my charming husband. I love you too, but you left me on that stage all alone before I’d even finished my speech. How inconsiderate can you be, you brute, you narcissist, you addict.”
“Yes, yes, yes. Brute, narcissist, addict.. Guilty as charged, your Honor. But I’m also about to become the most powerful man in the free world, and you know that we could never attain that achievement without me at the helm, right?” Ken points to his chest, turns his head sideways showing Faye his profile and winking conspiratorially at her, doing his best to embody the word, cocky.
“Yes, it’s true, my charismatic other half. Note, other half, not better half. We’re an incredible team, together, Ken Abercrombie. But if you ever disrespect me again you better watch out. There’s still one secret I know that you don’t ever want the world to find out about, right? So, show more respect or it’s public knowledge, and your political career will be in the toilet.” Faye leers down her nose at Ken, doing her best to embody the word, menacing.
Faye’s threat reminds Ken of the fact that the SARS-CoV-2 virus currently causing the COVID-19 pandemic and killing tens of thousands around the globe had been synthesized in his research lab in Poughkeepsie back in 2001. A few years later, when Abercrombie Industries had been going through financial troubles associated with the Augmented Intelligence Plus © (AI+) disaster, Ken had sold the novel coronavirus to an eager buyer—without checking any credentials—for an exorbitantly high price. The fortuitously timed off-the-books sale had been the only reason AI had remained solvent through the crisis. Truth be told, Ken Abercrombie is almost entirely responsible for the current global pandemic, and Faye is well aware of the fact. Furthermore, she’s capable and willing to let the world know it to save her own skin if needed.
Without so much as a flicker of acknowledgement of Faye’s loosely veiled threat, Ken turns on his heel and exits the apartment. He’s overdue for a meeting with AI’s latest Chief Financial Officer, and Ken is nervous enough about this meeting without having to deal with Faye’s neuroses too. Faye, quieter now, braces herself on the kitchen bench and sighs heavily. She really doesn’t enjoy conflict, but Faye is not going to allow Ken to get away with bad behavior.
Faye walks to the mirror in the hall and adjusts her hair, her pink Chanel suit, and the single string of pearls around her neck. She smiles broadly at her reflection as if posing for a photograph or a crowd. Everything’s going perfectly to plan. Faye is happy with her performance during the recent angry outburst, and she giggles childishly. She knows full well that Ken would struggle to win the presidency without her capable assistance and abundant popularity with the voting public. “He would be nothing without me,” she says to her reflection. “I’m the power behind the throne. And if he thinks that witch, Lobida, is going to be a part of the Abercrombie administration, then he’s deluding himself. I will not share the White House with her. Never!!”
Outside on the sidewalk of Central Park West, Ken pauses and gazes back over his shoulder, looking up at their penthouse apartment. He smiles crookedly to himself, a half sneer. Everything’s going perfectly to plan. Even Faye’s prideful explosion at him today is exactly the reaction Ken had expected and wanted from her. He laughs, an iniquitous snicker. Ken knows that Faye is entirely correct about him not being able to attain the presidency without her; Faye’s sweet, helpful demeanor is assuredly an integral factor in Ken's popularity. Once he’s elected, however, then Faye is dispensable, and he can move Lobida into his bed on a permanent basis. Ken flinches with excitement at the thought of it. “She has no idea!! She’ll never even see the inside of the White House. I will not share the White House with her. Never!!”
Adam’s appointment to audition for the backup dancer role at The Dark Side had been arranged by Alex, through his sister, Eve, for 1pm. He’s feeling mixed emotions as he makes his way across town from Hell’s Kitchen. There’s quite a lot of fear—understandable given the completely unknown situation he’s above to dive headlong into—but he’s also feeling terrific excitement, as if something of seismic importance is about to happen.
Adam keeps both feet planted firmly on the pavement of E 72nd St as he peers through the open front door of TDS, taking a moment to size the situation up before taking the plunge. He stands tall, inhales deeply, then strides confidently into the interior of the seemingly empty club.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” Adam calls into the cavernous darkness.
“Over here!!” comes a muffled reply from behind the bar. Yantra, who’d been stocking one of the low fridges, stands and reaches out her hand to Adam across the bar as he approaches.
“Adam McCall. I couldn’t see a sign outside. Is this place called The Dark Side? ‘Cause if it is, I’m here to audition for the backup dancer role.”
“Yantra Srinivasan, manager of TDS. Thanks for coming. That’s what we all call it by the way: TDS. Take a seat. You want something to drink?”
“Sure. Mineral water, thanks.”
“Good, not an alcoholic; I like that. How did you hear about the position?”
“Oh, through a friend of a friend,” replies Adam evasively. He hadn’t thought this line of questioning through prior to arriving, and he now finds himself scrambling to make up a plausible answer.
“Who?” asks Yantra, suddenly suspicious, and wary of bringing a stranger into her and Lobida’s private world.
Yantra can quickly become territorial when it comes to Lobida. As far as she’s aware, no one knows about her ongoing play relationship with Lobida, and she wants it to stay that way. Yantra would dearly like to progress their intermittent BDSM play dates—where, in a distinct reversal of her usual role, Lobida submits herself to be dominated by Yantra—to something deeper and more permanent. But Lobida is currently intent on achieving more power and fame through her relationship with the guileless, Ken Abercrombie, so Yantra is biding her time and waiting for the right moment to make her move. She knows she must be mindful of her sometimes-fiery jealousy, however.
“You know, I can’t think of his name offhand. My friend is Sally Jorgenson, from Abyss.” Yantra stares at Adam blankly. “You know, the cool new club on E 11th St.” Nothing. “In the East Village.”
“I know the East Village, sweetheart, but I’ve never heard of Sally Jorgenson or that club, whatever it’s called,” Yantra snaps back curtly. Adam starts to rename the club but is silenced by a raised hand and a “sush.”
“So, can ya dance?” Yantra asks sardonically, changing the subject.
“You bet; I’m the best in the business.”
“Hmm, confident. Well, you look the part. Why don’t you show me some moves?”
Adam, always happy to speak with his body and movement rather than with his mouth and words, quickly agrees. He pulls off his sweats and jumps up onto the runway of the stage that extends out into the audience of the club.
It’s at this exact moment that Lobida arrives and enters the club from the street, taking off a large sunhat and sunglasses and squinting into the gloom. She shouts, in her usual manner, “I’m here, Yantra, hon!! Were you at?”
“We’re up front; come join us,” Yantra calls back, waving both her arms like a windmill to help Lobida locate her in the dimness. As Lobida is making her way towards Yantra’s flailing hands, she spots Adam—who is looking particularly hunky now, dressed only in a tiny pair of shorts and a skimpy tank top—on the stage. “Oh, my goodness. What is this delicious morsel I see before me? Yummy, yum, yum!!” Lobida’s eyes bulge lecherously out of their sockets as she pauses her forward movement for a moment.
It would be an understatement to say that Lobida is a highly sexual being. She is unmatched in her capacity to turn any situation into an opportunity to flirt with, or sexually arouse, anyone in her general vicinity.
“I was just going to have him dance for me,” says Yantra over her shoulder. “Come watch.”
Lobida continues to move, surprisingly quickly now given her generous physical proportions and the multiple obstacles in her path, across the club to where Yantra is sitting at a table adjacent to the stage. Lobida sidles into the seat alongside Yantra without taking her eyes off Adam, and somehow manages to merge herself into Yantra’s hip and shoulder. “Wadda ya think? He looks the goods. You might be jealous if we hire that one, though, hon. How does he move?”
“We’re about to find out.”
At this Yantra activates the sound system via a phone app, and a high-energy ‘80s disco track starts to play. Having simultaneously activated the lighting rig, Adam is literally caught like a deer in headlights. He stares blindly into the spotlight for a moment, stunned, then shakes himself off and starts to move. It’s mesmerizing—pure animal, pure sensuality, pure sex. Lobida howls and starts rotating her hips in time with the music. “Yeah, baby!!” she shouts, shimmying forward to the edge of her seat. “You work those gorgeous muscles of yours, big boy!! Yo!! Ya mama loves ya, oh yes, she does!!”
At this, Lobida leaps out of her chair and runs up the short flight of stairs to the stage where she starts simulating having sex with Adam; the temperature in the room rises exponentially with each gyration of their interlocked hips. In the front row, however, the temperature is icy, and Yantra is fuming. How dare she be so into him, she thinks. How dare he be so goddam good looking. Arrrrrrrggghhh!! I don’t trust that one, not one little bit.
It’s at this exact moment that Eve arrives at TDS in preparation for her afternoon hostess shift. Her mood is dark after the recent encounter with the narcissistic pretty-boy she’d bumped into at Pump Gym. As a result, she’s feeling angry at the world, and is fully in her victim. Just inside the door of the club Eve freezes in her tracks as she recognizes Adam, center stage in the spotlight, almost naked now that Lobida has removed his tank top, rubbing his body erotically against Lobida’s. “Oh, my god!!” Eve whispers under her breath. “How disgusting!! How could I possibly have been attracted to that. Yuck!! Just loathsome.” She runs quickly to the backstage area, without being seen, and hides.
Lobida, panting with the exertion, indicates to Yantra to shut the music off. “Congratulations, kid, you’re hired,” she says between gasps for air. “You’ll rehearse here all day tomorrow to be ready for your first show with me tomorrow night. Wadda ya say?”
“That’s great!! Thanks for the opportunity; I won’t let you down.”
Yantra glares in disbelief at Lobida. She doesn’t trust Adam one bit, and her gut is clearly telling her it’s a bad idea to hire him, but she’s not in charge. We’ll see how long he lasts, she thinks to herself.
Later the same afternoon, Faye has finally decided, after fourteen years, that it’s time to confront her nemesis.
As she takes a cab across Central Park to the Upper East Side she’s feeling nervous, but also highly energized. She slips through the open front door of TDS unnoticed and finds Lobida at the bar smoking a cigarette, drinking whiskey, and perusing the club’s financials.
“So, finally we meet; you’re even uglier in person than I’d anticipated,” declares Faye, trying to sound as tough as possible. “I really have no idea what on Earth he sees in you.”
Lobida whips her head around to see who’s insulting her in her own club. “Oh . . . my . . . god!! Look what the cat dragged in,” she snarls. Then, smiling balefully, “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” she purrs.
“I’ve come here to tell you . . . to back off!!” Faye delivers the two words with such venom she surprises even herself. Her hackles are up and her claws are fully out. “I will not share the White House with you, so back off bitch, or else.”
“Or else what, sister? What? You’ll hurt me? You’ll expose me? You’ll tell the world what terrible person I am? What? Whatcha ya got?” Lobida chides back to Faye, unmoved by her taunts. “I aint got nothin’ to hide; you got nothin’ on me. Won’t share the White House!! As . . . if . . . I . . . care!!” Lobida takes her time delivering her full endowment of loathing for Faye along with each syllable.
Faye and Lobida, both standing now, start circling one another. They instinctively adopt fighting postures, unfamiliar to Faye but as natural as breathing to Lobida. It’s clear from the first moment, however, that Lobida would win any physical altercation, so Faye softens her posture and tries a different tack.
“So, how is it having sex with my husband anyway? Do you get your rocks off together?” Faye asks sourly.
“Why, Miss Ann,” Lobida purrs sweetly, “I don’t suppose you even know what it’s like having sex with your husband,” then with mocking delight, “am I right?
“Well, I suppose there must have been that one time, given you’ve got kids. But are they even his? That's what I wanna know.” Lobida leans forward snickering.
“How dare you cast aspersions at me,” decries Faye in disbelief, clutching at her pearls. “You could be the most morally corrupt person on the planet, with all your covetousness and debauchery.” Faye’s lips are severely pursed now. “Really, how dare you judge me?”
“Is that all you got? Covetous? Debauched? What’s wrong with covetous? What’s wrong with debauched? Sounds like a recipe for some fun times to me,” Lobida growls, starting to warm up towards the message she’s been wanting to deliver to Faye for years now. “Yes, I covet. Yes, I’m debauched. Yes, I know how to have a good time. Yes, I know how to help others have a good time. Yes, I know how to pleasure your husband.” Lobida is overflowing with rage and lifeforce. “Yes. Yes!! Yes!! But what about you, little miss perfect? What do you bring to the table? Your sweet little cutie-pie fakeness? Your sanctimonious judgments? Your Let’s All Get Along empty promises? You make my blood boil. You’re nothing!! Nothing!!” Lobida thumps the bar with each 'nothing,' and a clatter of objects fall to the floor. “And by the way, you should know better than to threaten the devil!! Now . . . get out!!”
Lobida has opened to the full force of her fury now, and she towers over Faye as she delivers the insults which rain down like a WWII bombing raid. Faye recognizes that she’s well-and-truly outgunned, so she turns to leave. With one foot out the front door of the club, however, she stops, turns to face Lobida one more time, and, like David taking aim between Goliath’s eyes, unleashes her most lethal weapon, just one word: “Whore!!” With this, she’s gone.
Lobida, seething with rage and hubris, erupts into maniacal laughter. “Just you wait, Faye Abercrombie, just you wait. We’ll see who’ll have the final word. We’ll see who’ll be sharing the White House with your husband. We will see!!”
At about the same time that Faye is being bawled out by Lobida at The Dark Side, I’m sitting facing Bernard and Mrs. Chu across a shaded picnic table in a quiet, leafy corner of Central Park. It’s hot and steamy out today, but there’s a pleasant breeze flowing through the trees that’s keeping us cool.
Bernard and Lola are sitting quietly and listening attentively as I describe my previous 24 hours. The three of us have been close companions on our respective spiritual journeys over the past fifteen years, and we’ve seen each other through both good and bad times. To have had Bernard and Lola’s unwavering support over this time has been invaluable for me, and we easily fall into this familiar dynamic now.
“As you both already know, I was extensively bullied at high school. It just occurred to me as I was speaking with Amir this morning that the FaceGram threat has triggered this bullying trauma in me, which explains why I’ve been thrown for such a loop by something so small and relatively insignificant.”
“Well, thank you for sharing this with us, Angel O. How does it feel now, having gotten it all out in the open?” asks Lola.
“Oh, so much better. When I think back to those years of bullying now, I’m aware of some fear, quite a lot of anger, and some pain and tension in my body, but I don’t need to react or do anything with any of that; it’s all OK just as it is.”
“And Angel O, I’m curious, how does it feel in your body?” inquires Bernard.
I close my eyes briefly to inquire before I respond. “Well, there’s a lot of energy, particularly in my solar plexus. It mostly feels like rage, but surprisingly it also feels a bit like love.”
“Yes, rage and lover, that's right. And, dear friend, would you be willing to play through the memory of those years of bullying again now. I wonder if there’s anything you might do differently?” Mrs. Chu inquires caringly.
Rather than present my friend with the first answer that comes to my mind, I close my eyes and allow the internal images and associated body sensations of those memories run through me once more. I see it as a short movie of one core memory that represents the five or so years of bullying. I run through this memory from the beginning now, keeping an eye out for the moment where I could have intervened and acted differently. I easily see it . . . and I’m surprised.
“Wow. Thanks for asking me to do that, Lola, it was so useful. I saw that the bullies were acting out of their own fear of not being good enough, or tough enough, or safe enough. Then as I played the memory through a second time, instead of trying to run away, I turned and faced them, held up my hand and said ‘No.’ I was then able to love them unconditionally. The whole thing just disappeared and now I feel free. Great!! Thank you!!”
“That’s beautiful, Angel O. So, when you think about the FaceGram threat now, from this place, what do you find?” asks Bernard.
I close my eyes for a few moments again, then say, “Well, whoever is threatening me is simply acting out of their own fear of being powerless, or vulnerable, and I feel deep compassion for them.”
“Yes. Sounds very clear. Is anything else needed?” asks Mrs. Chu.
“No, that’s it. Thank you both so much; I’m just so grateful. You know, this reminds of that first message I received when I visited Australia back in 2003, when I heard the words: ‘You’re going the wrong way.’” This mysterious message had been the beginning of my whole spiritual journey, and the trigger for the turning of my attention away from the outside world—away from the accumulation of more things and more experiences, in my case mostly more sexual pleasure—and the commencement of looking inside myself for happiness, truth, and freedom. “It feels so good to have gone back to these traumatic times in my life and to have brought healing to them, instead of suppressing or running away from them.”
“Absolutely!!” Bernard and Lola agree in unison. We hug.
“But how lucky are you to have your own private archangel?” asks Lola smiling playfully. “I must say, I’m a bit jealous of that.” Mrs. Chu doesn’t know it yet, but it’s not long before she’ll be in the presence of an archangel or two herself.
“Me too!! Listening to you just now has reminded me of something that I realized yesterday,” says Bernard. “This whole spiritual journey, the whole business of waking up, of discovering one’s true nature and identity, of discovering true freedom, it can all be boiled down to just two words,” states Bernard solemnly.
“And what, pray tell, would those two words be?” Mrs. Chu asks drolly.
“Yes, Bernard-ji, enlighten your friends,” I add in a playful tone.
“Stop thinking!!” replies Bernard, grinning from ear to ear.
After a few seconds Bernard can’t hold a straight face any longer, and a stifled giggle escapes. The three of us proceed to fall about laughing uproariously. It really is hilarious to think about all the meetings and retreats we’ve each attended, all the practices and meditations we’ve each engaged in, all the treatments and healings we’ve each experienced, and all the realizations and a-ha moments we’ve each had, when, finally, it can all be summed up with one simple instruction: Stop thinking!!
The human mind, of course, can’t be willfully stopped—by anyone or anything, least of all its owner—and directly suggesting so is of no use to anyone; the analytical mind would never be satisfied with such a simple instruction given its inherent tendency to make everything infinitely more complicated than it needs to be. More subtle invitations are realistically needed to bypass the thinking mind to discover the truth of reality, but it is hilarious to think of all the time and effort we’ve each poured into trying to be enlightened, when it can be boiled down to these two simple words.
“No,” says Lola between fits of giggles, “it’s not two words. It’s just one word: Stop!!”
We double over with laughter once more. This time Bernard laughs so hard he falls over. Mrs. Chu and I join him on the grass, and the three of us roll around on the ground laughing like lunatics. How I love Bernard and Lola; I’m so grateful to have such kind, supportive friends to navigate life with, and to laugh with whenever the mind is humbled.
As the three of us regroup and gather our dignity once more, Mrs. Chu takes the opportunity to ask Bernard and I for advice about the vision she’s developing for the future of American politics.
Lola Chu is an extraordinary human. She’s been passionate her whole life about universal human rights and all aspects of social justice, in addition to her burning desire to save humanity from extinction due to global warming. She’s even willingly entered the generally narrow-minded and chaotic arena of American politics, having been elected to the House of Representatives in 2014. For a second-generation Chinese American woman this is no mean feat in and of itself. When you then consider the impact that Lola has already had on policy reform in Washington in the past six years, it’s clear that Mrs. Chu is on a mission, and it’s a mission she intends to achieve within her lifetime.
Lola Chu has also been passionate about spiritual awakening and freedom since our chance meeting with renowned spiritual teacher, Evelyn Bourne, back in 2006. Over the past fourteen years—as Mrs. Chu’s two major passions have marinated and merged—the seed of an idea has been formulating for Lola. The idea is about how the current political system in America might shift to support a peaceful, united, awakened humanity.
It’s clear to Lola—and to anyone who’s paying attention—that the ever-deepening divide between the left and right factions of American politics is leading to more and more dissent, rebellion, violence, and poor governance, with less and less consensus, co-operation, peace, and effective governmental outcomes. What Mrs. Chu is proposing is to abolish the hierarchical partisan political party model altogether and adopting a synarchy. What is that, and how would that look? Good questions. Let’s find out, shall we?
“Now, in terms of our ongoing conversation about what to do with American politics, I want to propose that we abolish the hideous hierarchical system completely and adopt a synarchy, where a council of officers is nominated and decided upon based on the individual’s capacity to see both sides of any argument, their emotional intelligence, their intuition, and their integrity, rather than continuing to elect politicians based on their one-sided opinions, their mental intelligence, their popularity, or their personal agendas.
“And I’m not talking about some group of elite superior beings either, but a council of everyday individuals chosen for their inherent goodness and wisdom. What do you think? I know it’s out there, but to me it’s the only way forward. I really need your feedback on this, and I trust you both implicitly.”
“Brilliant!! Yes!! Bring it on!!” I respond enthusiastically.
“It’s an aye from me too,” replies Bernard, his broad Scottish twang more pronounced than usual today. “You know it’s Ken Abercrombie’s goddam company, AI, and that abomination, FaceGram, that are responsible for the mess we’re in, don’t you?” says Bernard. “This deepening left-right division is a direct result of social media algorithms out of control. Humanity is being controlled by its own creation, and it’s completely horrifying.”
“All right then,” says Lola, her excitement building, “let’s get rid of FaceGram as well as Ken Abercrombie.” She claps her hands together excitedly, then thumps Bernard on the back so forcefully he staggers forward to steady himself. “And you’re smart enough to come up with the perfect alternative to replace it, right Bernard?”
“Absolutely!! I’m on it.”
“While we’re at it, why don’t we get rid of Trendr too?” I add. “If I’m not mistaken, Ken Abercrombie was behind that hideous dating app too. I feel it needs a serious update.”
“That’s a great idea, Angel O,” agrees Lola.
“I’ll consult with B on that,” I reply excitedly, “and we’ll get back to you with some ideas tout de suite.”
Bernard turns on his heel and runs off without even saying goodbye, eager to get back to his office nook at the bookstore to give this new task his full attention. There’s nothing Bernard likes more than getting his teeth into a challenging mental problem.
Lola and I look at each other in silence and smile. We link arms and start to stroll leisurely under the canopy of trees. Just seconds later my phone beeps. I hesitate, then pull it out and read the message:
[dwp666] Very clever, exposing your dirty little secret like that; touché!! If you continue, however, your life will be in danger. ☠️😈👺
I gasp, stop walking, and show the message to Lola. She frowns and takes hold of my elbow, gazing at me intently but saying nothing.
A barrage of emotions—disbelief, anger, fear, shame, despair—start to well up inside me, but this time something deeper kicks in. A resolve that’s clearly beyond my conscious control takes charge. I find myself remaining open and unmoving, and choosing not to touch or indulge any of the thoughts and emotions that are vying for my attention.
I stand up tall and take a deep centering breath. “No, I’m not going to be knocked off balance again by another ridiculous threat. I’m going to stay true to love, open and unmoving, no matter what.” I delete the message, and as my gaze turns to meet Lola’s we both smile.
“I guess this is also what it means to be a Warrior of Light, right? Phew. Life really is testing me at present, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but you’re strong enough to do this. I know you are.”
“Thanks, Lola. I know I am too, but your support means the world to me.”
“May all beings be happy and free, my friend.”
“Om, Shanti,” we say in unison, then continue to stroll casually through the park together.
Later that night, back over at The Garden Cabaret in the East Village, cast and crew are backstage preparing for the evening’s performances. Adam is enjoying his last night with his friends—William, Alex, myself, plus the regular TGC cast and crew—before he heads off for an unknown period undercover at The Dark Side, and he’s feeling very playful. Mrs. Chu, Bernard, and Amir are in the audience again tonight.
I decided at some point in my overnight musings that “The Garden of Eden Spectacular: Part 1” needed a warmup number, so we’re trying something new tonight. This number wrote itself a couple of years back when plans for TGC had been in their infancy, and I was having visions of shows that I wanted to create. It’s a bells-and-whistles production number about Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. It includes lots of color and movement, a tap sequence, and ends with a full cast kick line. It’s quite simply a ridiculously uplifting four minutes and forty-one seconds of decadence. I, of course, will play Aphrodite; she’s been my favorite goddess since I first discovered her as a teenager when investigating the etymology of the word, hermaphrodite.
The show revolves around a depiction of the story of Antony and Cleopatra. It’s a love-at-first-sight tale, not based so much in historical fact as in entertainment value. It does, however, demonstrate the lengths that humans will go to in the name of love. As Aphrodite I use my magic girdle to lure the unsuspecting couple, with Cupid’s assistance, to fall in love. Our version of Antony and Cleopatra’s story ends in tragedy. The moral of the story is simple: ordinary, everyday, garden-variety neurotic human love can be the doorway to discovering the unconditional love that is one’s essential nature.
The show, once again, is a triumph, but as I and the cast are taking bows a bomb explodes backstage. The sound is deafening, and smoke and debris pour over the stage, filling the club. Screams fill the air as panic grips the audience and cast members alike, and pandemonium ensues.
In the middle of the chaos, in a pile of rubble in the center of the stage, Angel sits shivering, unable to move, squinting her eyes, and wishing she had her glasses with her. In the shadows in the wings of the stage, Angelo sits shivering, unable to move, squinting his eyes, and pulling his glasses out of his coat pocket and putting them on.
Suddenly, everyone except Angel & Angelo, Lola, and Bernard freeze in place. The phenomenon is so familiar to me by now, and it iss usually accompanied by a visit from Archangel Raphael. It is, however, entirely new for Lola and Bernard, and their eyes widen in awe.
There’s also something else that’s different about the experience tonight which I can’t quite put my finger on, but it definitely feel colder than it should be. Out of the ether now, Archangel Mikael—who I’ve never met before—appears. S/he is wearing a dazzling white winged outfit and holding aloft a flaming sword. Mikael floats gracefully down to the stage and lands between Angel & Angelo. Mrs. Chu and Bernard stare up at Mikael in wonder then run up the stairs onto the stage so as to get a closer look.
Without saying a word, Mikael conjures a mirrored doorway that hovers in front of us. The doorway is large enough for an average sized adult human to walk through without needing to stoop. It shimmers iridescently, and sparkles brightly around its ghostly periphery.
“I am Archangel Mikael. I'm here to test the purity of heart of whoever feels they are ready for liberation. Whoever is without vanity may pass through the portal and enter into Reality!!” states Mikael authoritatively.
Angel looks towards Bernard and Lola who both nod in confirmation. She stands shakily and points to her chest, looking for Mikael’s affirmation. The radiant archangel nods solemnly, and indicates that Angel should step up to the shimmering portal.
The cor anglais solo that had opened the show at TGC just the night before mysteriously begins to play in the background now. Angel stands tall and steps confidently towards the portal, but before she even reaches it, she’s thrown backwards onto the stage amid sparks, flashes of light, and ominous, thunderous chords. She lands heavily on her back on the debris-covered stage.
Bernard and Lola quickly move to see if Angel is injured. Angelo approaches to and kneels and hugs Angel lovingly. As they’re embracing, both Angel & Angelo experience a flashback memory of the fire that had destroyed my apartment at Eldridge Street back in 2006. It had been during the fire, in a moment of absolute terror, that my mind had stopped completely for the first time and I’d known myself to be the formless infinite space of silent, peaceful, intelligent love. In this blissful moment outside of time I’d also heard the words, which I realized only later had been whispered in my ear by Raphael: “You’re not in control.”
“You still think you’re in control,” growls Mikael sternly. “Your heart is not yet pure; you may not enter.”
Angel is crestfallen. Angelo rolls his eyes and slaps his forehead with his palm.
Lola and Bernard look incredulously at one another, their eyes bulging excitedly out of their sockets. Bernard smiles and says, “Why don’t you give it a go, Lola?”
“Not on your nelly, my friend. There’s an ego well and truly still in charge here; I’m not under any false illusions about that. What about you, though?” She winks conspiratorially at Bernard. “You have the purest, kindest heart of anyone I know.”
Bernard is taken aback for a moment, then a flush of fear rises out of the depths. “Me? You must be joking.”
“Why not you?”
“No. I couldn’t possibly,” though Bernard’s mind is intrigued by the idea.
With this, Mikael disappears into the ether once more.
“You know," says Bernard, "that’s not the first time I’ve met Archangel Mikael . . . "
Once seen, it’s possible to penetrate the veil, heal the wound of separation, and return to wholeness. All that’s needed is to see the veil in its entirety: see all its stories and strategies, its desires and fears, its achievements and failings, its woundings and healings.
III. MONDAY JULY 6TH, 2020
"We realize our freedom when we live as individuals who have a personal life that is true and authentic, and that, at the same time, expresses the infinite vastness of Being manifesting its possibilities and its nature freely without constraints."
— A. H. Almaas (1944– )
The start of a new week, and the drama at The Garden Cabaret continues. A bomb squad arrives to investigate, and tape is put up as the club is officially declared a crime scene.
This morning Angel is feeling more anxious and jumpier than she’s felt in years. It’s very clear, however, that she’s been traumatized by the bombing so she’s being gentle with herself. She’s dressed in her seldom-used black Mickey Mouse costume as it best reflects how gloomy and defeated she’s feeling. Angelo, paradoxically, is feeling a sense of relief in response to the bombing. He can’t explain it, but he somehow knew it was coming, and it’s a relief that it happened and is out of the way. He’s dressed in one of his business suits as he’ll be speaking at a Medical Advisory Committee meeting at Jersey City Medical Center later in the morning.
As Dr Angelo Williams, I’ve had a career in the medical field spanning decades, mostly spent working as a staff neurosurgeon at JCMC since receiving my specialist qualifications back in 1994. It wasn’t until the Voice of the World singing contest in 2018, which—as Angel, clearly—I’d narrowly missed winning, that my career as a cabaret performer had taken off. I truly love my work as a doctor and surgeon, which generally happens through the week. I also truly love my work as a singer and cabaret performer, which generally happens on the weekends. These two worlds rarely, if ever, overlap, however.
This morning, rather than it being Angelo’s fear of being publicly outed and shamed at the fore—as was the case a few days ago—it’s Angel’s fear of being physically injured or even killed by whoever’s threatening me that’s fueling the painful state of separation and suffering I’m stuck in.
In stark contrast, Ken Abercrombie is feeling on top of the world as the new week commences. He’s officially in the running for the presidency—something he’s had his eye on since he found himself the most popular boy at Brookhaven Boys back in his early teens—and he’s already commanding a healthy lead in the polls. In fact, both left and right factions of the political press are supporting and buoying his popularity without Ken needing to make any effort whatsoever. The decision to name Faye as his VP running mate is receiving widespread acceptance and approval, and at this moment the outlook for Ken’s immediate future looks to be entirely positive.
Ken and Faye ride in their newly acquired chauffeur-driven limousine to Abercrombie Industries head office on 6th Ave in Midtown. Ken plans to spend an hour or so in the office tying up some loose ends before turning his full attention to the strenuous four-month campaign trail that lies ahead of him. Faye is joining him this morning as she likes to show her face at the office from time-to-time—despite Ken keeping her completely in the dark with regards most of Abercrombie Industries affairs—and it’s a safe place for her to begin her first morning on the campaign trail. In truth, Faye is feeling quite nervous about the public and media scrutiny that will be a necessary part of her journey through the coming months.
As the Abercrombies exit the limo, pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk is moderate. A group of out-of-towners recognize Ken, and they huddle together and whisper conspiratorially to one another. Some turn and ogle openly, others giggle and cover their mouths coquettishly, a few take photographs. Ken loves the attention, and he puffs out his chest as he starts to stride across the wide pavement towards the building entry. Faye, not so enamored by this immediate public attention, puts her head down and partially covers her face with the newspaper she’s carrying as she follows Ken across the sidewalk.
After only a couple of paces, however, a TV news reporter and cameraman step in front of the Abercrombies causing Ken to abruptly halt his forward momentum, which in turn startles Faye who is still looking firmly at the pavement. The petite brunette news anchor thrusts her microphone towards Ken’s face.
“Ken and Faye Abercrombie. Angela Baxter, NENBC. Congratulations on your nomination. Do you have anything you’d like to say to our viewers?”
Before Ken has time to compose himself and come up with an answer, however, a group of a dozen or so protestors gather in a tight circle around the Abercrombies and the news crew. They hoist up the placards they’re all carrying and start to chant loudly: “Planet Polluter, Tax Evader, Sexual Deviant.”
The entire E-VAG membership is in attendance for this morning’s protest; the first step in their plan to publicly shame and bring down Ken Abercrombie and Abercrombie Industries. Bernard and William are leading the charge this morning, while Alex is enjoying seeing his father squirm from the rear of the small gathering. Mrs. Chu—heavily disguised under a large-brimmed hat and sunglasses—has chosen to view the spectacle from a respectable distance and is standing adjacent to the box office of Radio City Music Hall, the building next door to AI’s New Eden headquarters.
Ken recoils momentarily, but after only the briefest of pauses he collects himself, gathers his pride around him like a tulle petticoat, and puffs out his chest once more. He shouts his response at the group: “Don’t you people have anything better to do than to sit around fabricating lies and spreading outrageous rumors about honest folk like my wife and I? How dare you!!” Faye is deathly pale and appears to be in shock. She cowers behind Ken’s left shoulder, mortified.
The news anchor, who is not a personal fan of Ken Abercrombie or his politics, takes advantage of the awkward situation and thrusts her microphone at Ken once more. “So, Mr. Abercrombie. Is there any truth to these allegations?”
“Rubbish!! It’s all rubbish!! And yes, Angela Baxter of NENBC, I do have something I’d like to say to your viewers. You know who these people are? These people are finger-pointers and hypocrites!! That’s all. They’re nothing. Spreading dirty rumours about me and my beautiful wife; we’re honest, law-abiding people. It’s all just a pack of lies!!” As Ken turns his attention back to the E-VAG gathering and their placards he pulls out his phone and starts to film the protesters. He pauses and lowers his phone momentarily as he spots his son, who is clearly enjoying the spectacle, then continues expressing his rage and contempt. “You’ll all be hearing from my lawyers. I will sue each and every one of you for every penny you’ve got, mark my words. You’ll rue the day you tried to discredit Ken Abercrombie!!”
Ken returns his focus to the news crew, but this time he completely blanks the news anchor and her piercing gaze,and speaks directly to the camera: “It’s sad what the world has come to, truly. If you elect me President in November, which, given that it’s the only intelligent option available to you, I know you will, then you can be sure that I will do everything in my power to rid America of these no-good hypocrites.” Then fist-pumping the air, “Abercrombies 2020!!”
“Mrs. Abercrombie, do you have anything you’d like to add?” Angela Baxter from NENBC shifts her microphone towards Faye.
Faye has retreated so far inside herself in response to the drama unfolding in front of her, she’s on the verge of a full-blown panic attack. At the intrusion of the news anchor’s microphone into her personal space she loses her composure completely, turns on her heel, steps out into the traffic of 6th Avenue, hails down a cab into which she dives, and speeds away leaving Ken alone on the sidewalk with the media and his tormentors.
William, who has been uncharacteristically quiet for the past few minutes, uses a fist to wipe away the beads of sweat that are running down his forehead, then, releasing a stifled moan, clutches his chest and slumps heavily to the sidewalk. Bernard whips his head around to look at his young friend, then instantly drops to his knees. His fingers expertly seek out William’s radial then carotid pulse. Mrs. Chu, throwing off her disguise, dashes across the sidewalk and pushes her way through the E-VAG throng. She falls to her knees beside Bernard and her son’s limp body. They glance wordlessly at one another, the fear on Bernard’s face enough to confirm Lola’s worst-case scenario. They immediately begin a clearly well-practiced CPR regimen on William.
“Someone call an ambulance!!” shouts Lola between breaths into her son’s purple lips. “He has a severe heart condition.”
“I’m on it,” calls back Alex who’s already dialed 911.
William Chu had been born with Tetralogy of Fallot—a major developmental disorder of the heart’s anatomy that requires urgent surgical intervention as a baby or it is invariably fatal. William had undergone his first open heart surgery aged just three weeks of age. A second procedure had been deemed necessary by his care team just before his first birthday. That had been more than twenty years ago, and William hasn’t experienced a single twinge of trouble with his heart until today . . . though the possibility has been firmly in the back of Lola’s mind on a daily basis.
The cameraman has turned his camera to film the dramatic scene. Angela Baxter, who has been struck by an uncharacteristic silence, appears to be frozen in terror. Ken Abercrombie, recognizing that the woman currently in the middle of giving her son mouth-to-mouth as his political adversary, reacts excitedly. “There!! There’s the real truth here. Lola Chu, Egalitarian snake-in-the-grass and vice-presidential candidate!! She’s the one you should be questioning about moral standards!! I can tell you some alarming truths about her direct involvement in a number of completely nutty conspiracy theories . . .”
Before Ken can finish his sentence, however, my sweet, gentle husband, Amir, steps forward and punches Ken firmly on the angle of the jaw, causing him to yelp with pain then spin in wide circle and fall heavily to the ground. “Why don’t you put a sock in it, buddy,” shouts Amir heatedly.
Ken spends a moment gathering his pride petticoat around himself one more time, stands unsteadily while holding and stroking his jaw, then points a finger at Amir and the E-VAG group. But no one’s paying him any attention, so he seizes the opportunity to cut his losses and sprints for the rotating entry door to AI headquarters and disappears from sight.
As Bernard and Mrs. Chu continue with the CPR, time mysteriously slows down for William, then stops completely. In the eerie frozen silence, William finds himself floating up out of his body and looking down on the sidewalk tableau from a few feet above everyone’s heads. Next, he hears a familiar voice that brings a wave of emotion with it. It’s his long-dead father, Lawrence, calling his name. Looking towards the voice William sees the bulky silhouette of Lawrence Chu in front of a dazzling bright light. He finds himself being drawn inexorably towards the light and his father’s voice, but a second unseen force seems to be holding him back. For a short while it feels like William will be pulled in two, then something gives, and he finds himself back in his body on the footpath as time suddenly starts up once more.
Mrs. Chu had just indicated to Bernard that he should halt his chest compressions for a moment, and she’d impulsively leaned forward and thumped the center of William’s chest with her fist. William’s body’s reflexive response to this intervention had been to cough violently, then start gasping for breath as he tried to raise his shoulders up off the ground.
William opens his eyes now and smiles cheekily at his mother who leans in and hugs him tightly, relief written all over her face.
A team of paramedics arrive and take over from Bernard and Lola. As William’s ECG trace appears to be stable, they load him onto a gurney and transfer him into the waiting ambulance; Mrs. Chu accompanies William to the hospital in the rear of the ambulance. The remainder of the E-VAG team turn and walk solemnly towards the nearby subway station, their mood significantly more subdued than when they’d been on their way uptown to the Abercrombie ambush.
Angela Baxter continues to gaze unfocusedly into space even after everyone except her cameraman have departed.
“Angela, are you OK?
“I’m not sure, Kirk. What just happened?”
“Wadda ya mean?”
Angela’s wide-eyed facial expression is all she can manage in response to Kirk’s query. Her breathing is shallow and rapid, and a flood of questions are bouncing around in her mind.
A few hours later, back downtown on the Lower East Side, Bernard is in his office nook at the back of the bookstore as usual. Alex and Amir enter the store from the street. They’d stopped in at TGC on their way back from midtown, and they both have uncharacteristically serious expressions on their faces. Bernard joins them in the front of the store.
“What a terrible couple of days,” says Amir dolefully. “First the FaceGram threats, then the bombing, now poor William. Has Mrs. Chu sent any news?”
“Sounds like William’s going to be fine, Amir. No permanent damage, it seems. They’re just keeping him in for observation at present,” replies Bernard.
“Well, please let us know if there’s anything we can do,” chimes in Alex. “I feel so helpless.”
“Thanks, boys. We all feel your support.”
The bell attached to the front door of the bookstore sounds as the door from the street is pushed open once more. Lobida pokes her head through, peers around sheepishly, then spotting Bernard relaxes and says, “Oh, there you are. I can’t believe I made it all the way down here; what a hike!!”
Bernard had recognized Lobida coming out of Saks Fifth Avenue just a handful of days ago. Before he'd thought it through he’d launched himself into Lobida’s path and had almost been crushed by her sheer size and vitality.
The reunion had quickly turned uncomfortable for Bernard, however, who was still holding onto his memories of the Zoe Parker he’d had a brief affair with at MIT more than twenty years before. Bernard has burned a candle for Zoe—the only true love of his life . . . besides Adam, of course—ever since their three-month affair back in 1997, and he’d been looking forward to their reunion for decades. Unfortunately, the image of Zoe Parker that Bernard has stored in his memory banks bears little resemblance to the person that is Lobida today.
For Lobida, who’d never really cared that much for Bernard in the first place, their chance meeting on the pavement of 5th Ave had only served to make her even more confused as to why she’d ever seduced this funny looking little man in the first place. In fact, in the moment of their reunion the very thought of making love to Bernard had been enough to make her stomach churn. Having gotten past the initial shock of Bernard’s unexpected reappearance in her life, however, Lobida had quickly realized—with rapidly mounting excitement—that this geeky little man in front was the key to finding her long-lost son.
Adam would be 22 years old now, and recently Lobida had noticed some unfamiliar sentimentality—along with a physical ache deep in her pelvis—creeping into her awareness whenever she thought of the perfect little blue-eyed baby boy she’d given birth to; Lobida’s body was clearly calling, in a primal sort of way, to be reunited with her offspring.
Lobida had nursed and cared for Adam for four months after his birth before delivering him into Bernard arms on the campus of MIT. She’d always been aware of the deep limbic bond she shared with Adam; the emotional pain she’d experienced by his initial absence from her life had taken years to dissipate completely. Now, finally, she will be able meet Adam in the flesh once more.
They’d exchanged numbers, and Bernard had invited Lobida to visit Bernard’s Bookstore on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, with everything else that’s happened on since the encounter on 5th Ave, the arrangement had completely slipped Bernard’s mind until Lobida had arrived on his doorstep just moments ago.
“Bernard, darling. So lovely to see you again. What a treat, us bumping into each other after all these years. My, don’t you look good; have you been working out?” Lobida piles on the charm as is her natural way of interacting with the world, especially when the world has something that she wants.
“Hello Zoe. I’m sorry, I’ve thought it through and I just can’t call you that other name. I hope that’s OK with you?” Bernard steps up the two steps that lead from the bookstore entrance down into the bookstore proper and takes Lobida’s hand.
“Call me whatever you like, sweetie, just don’t call me lazy!!” Lobida laughs at her own joke so hard she almost falls over. Bernard suspects she may be drunk, or high, or both. In truth, the only way Lobida had been able to get out the front door to meet the fully-grown son she’d abandoned more than twenty years ago was after having a double shot of bourbon and a spliff with Yantra. This afternoon, buried well beneath the layers of bravado that define her public persona, Lobida is terrified. This is, in fact, a novel experience for Lobida who has no memory of ever being afraid of anything her entire life. As she holds out her hand to greet Bernard, it feels a lot like a pair of chipmunks have just started fornicating in her lower belly.
“So, is he here?” asks Lobida, getting straight to the point.
“Come in,” says Bernard bowing slightly, and waving Lobida into the main room of the bookstore. “Thanks for coming. Let me straighten up a bit.” Bernard races past Lobida and frantically starts tidying the bookstore counter. He eventually unearths a small rickety stool from behind the counter which he places in front of Lobida and indicates that she should sit on it. Lobida squats awkwardly on the stool, almost falling off as it buckles under her weight. She manages to salvage the situation by squeezing her glutes tightly enough to wedge the stool securely under her ample frame and using the adjacent wall as a brace point.
“So, is he here?” asks Lobida once more, looking around the cramped pair of rooms that make up Bernard’s Bookstore. Cluttered and chaotic are the two words Mrs. Chu generally uses to describe Bernard and his life, and they are the exact two words that come into Lobida’s mind as she takes in her surroundings.
“I’m sorry, Zoe, but he left about a half hour ago. I didn’t notice him leaving or else I would have stopped him. I was so caught up in reading this amazing article about nanorobots being used to target cancer cells in vivo; incredible!! You should read it . . .”
“Hon, Adam!! I’m here about Adam, not some breakthrough in cancer treatment.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. I get so excited about new tech. He was really excited today as he just landed a new role and was heading out to his first rehearsal. He’s a dancer, you know.”
“Oh, really, a dancer. Nice!!” says Lobida sincerely. “Is he hot?” she says inappropriately, catching herself partway through the question and quickly holding her hand to her mouth and coughing. “Hmmmhhmmmhhmmm. So, how are you? You know you were cute back then, in ’97. A huge geek, but you were a cute geek. How are you?”
“Oh, you know. Same old, same old. Still a geek just less hair. And you? How are you? You look amazing, by the way,” By now Bernard is starting to feel more relaxed, and he rounds up another rickety stool which he places close to Lobida’s. He sits and rests his head on his hands, staring up at Lobida wide-eyed and unblinking. Bernard is also starting to feel some of the warmth he’d experienced with Zoe Parker during their torrid university affair.
Unfortunately, Bernard has placed his stool is too close to Lobida’s for her social comfort, and she start to feel angry at having her personal space invaded. She leans back casually, looking away from Bernard towards an adjacent bookshelf, almost toppling off her precarious perch.
“You know that it took me until your Academy Award speech to be sure she was you,” Bernard continues. “I mean, you were her, Zoe, I mean. I had an inkling, of course, after watching your Benazir Bhutto role—congrats on the Oscar, by the way—but when you gave that acceptance speech and publicly annihilated your whole family and most of your ex-lovers, I just knew. Thanks for not taking a swipe at me, by the way. How are you?”
“Phew, where to start? Let’s just say it’s been a wild ride. What’s he like?” asks Lobida, shifting the subject again. Uncharacteristically, Lobida is feeling mushy and sentimental. Tears well in her eyes as a wave of guilt and shame passes through her body. The wave of emotion is simultaneously both foreign and familiar. The guilt and shame of willfully abandoning her child has been consistently pushed into the depths of Lobida’s subconscious for more than twenty years. In this moment, however, it’s making an uninvited appearance on the surface.
“Oh yeah, he’s such a great guy,” says Amir from across the room where he’s shelving books and trying to be inconspicuous. “And he’s the very definition of hot, just by the way. Yowza!!” Bernard glares at Amir who turns his attention back to his work.
“He’s such a good kid; a total sweetheart. Good to the core he is. You’d be so proud of him.”
At this Lobida breaks down completely and cries openly. She reaches forward and clutches Bernard in a tight embrace, almost sending them both toppling to the floor.
“I’d hoped to meet my son,” she whispers into Bernard’s ear. “I’m disappointed he’s not here.” Leaning back on the rickety stool again, this time looking Bernard directly in the eye, the wave of emotion continues to overflow. “I’m so sorry that I abandoned you. Can you ever forgive me?”
“You know, it hurt for a while; I won’t say it didn’t. But it was clear you had other things to do, with your life, you know? He’ll be so excited to meet you. When I told him you were here in New Eden and wanted to meet him, he almost jumped out of his skin.”
Lobida beams and embraces Bernard once more. They make a date to meet at the bookstore again on Thursday morning, and Lobida heads out the door.