A Bright Idea

At quarter to nine in the morning Prop O’Gandhi went into his Laboratory and turned on the lamp. He liked to crank the 3-way bulb all the way up to 200 watts. Sometimes he’d stop at 150 watts, especially when he was worried about the electric bill. Sometimes one of the filaments would burn out in the 3-way bulb, marooning him in a world of 50 watts. Then he would go to the utility closet, once again find that he had no spare 3-ways in there anyplace, and once again wonder what happened to the extra one he’d bought the last time he went to the superstore. Prop O’Gandhi would return to his Lab and think in embittered darkness. He could never stand it for more than two or three days, though. Annoyed but resigned, he’d get in the car and head to the superstore for a replacement 3-way bulb, plus the spare that never seemed to be in the closet when he needed it.

One day a few years ago, when the summer sun had climbed but a few degrees in its slow arc toward oppressive midday tyranny, Prop O’Gandhi had taken a walk. Several blocks from his home he happened upon a flurry of activity: a garage sale was being assembled. Immediately his eyes landed on the floor lamp, an old-fashioned torchère, standing solitary sentry over the jumble of picture frames, flower pots, and wicker baskets arrayed beneath it. Though the lamp had seen better days, Prop was charmed by the classic gravity of its faux-marble pediment and its hemispheric pebbled-glass shade. Assured by the harried hausfrau who reigned over the impending sale that the lamp did indeed work and that it did use three-way bulbs, Prop, without haggling, paid the small asking price. Hefting it by its painted silver shaft, he carried the lamp home and installed it in his Lab. There ever since it had stood, a beacon of illumination in a darkling world, its base fitting perfectly into the round indentation that it had spent its old age pressing into the worn wall-to-wall carpeting.

For a time, long before he had become Prop O’Gandhi, Ulrich O’Connor had lived in Europe, a place where most of the lamps generate a measly 40 watts. He couldn’t think in Europe, so he had come back to the USA. Lighting was always a crucial element in Ulrich’s work. When people asked him why he’d moved back to the States, Ulrich would say “It’s too dark over there.” “Yes, the Europeans are notorious pessimists,” would be the typical reply. Ulrich would nod noncommittally, acknowledging that most people didn’t realize how much work he had put into purging himself of metaphorical thinking.

Ulrich, who called himself Prop while at work in his Laboratory, felt very tired this morning. Even the most profound ideations emanating from his Portality Notebook failed to move him. He read on:

The Self absorbs and consumes the world, and so the world loses its autonomy. This is how the world becomes transformed into something merely instrumental, existing “for” the Self. The world must be extracted, pulled forcefully out from the Self, if it is to be born again.

“Right about now,” thought Prop O’Gandhi, “I’d sure like to be consuming some of the world’s coffee.” He was clicking his floor lamp repeatedly through its four settings – 50 watts, 150, 200, off. Subconsciously perhaps he was hoping to burn out a filament, thereby justifying to himself a trip to the superstore, where he might also find himself a new espresso machine, the one in the kitchen having begun to show unmistakable signs of impending failure. Perhaps also he was subconsciously hoping that the light bulb would create a bright idea in his head, just like in the cartoons. Prop wondered sometimes about causality in Cartoon Reality. For example, does the cartoon character’s idea generate electrical energy, thereby causing the light bulb floating over his head to light up? Or does the bulb light up first, thereby stimulating the submicroscopic cartoon neurons and synapses to fire creatively inside the two-dimensional cartoon brain? “It’s probably just a metaphor,” Prop thought disconsolately. He turned the floor lamp off.

Although Prop O’Gandhi had rejected most fictional representations of Portality as merely metaphorical and therefore of null value in his attempts to envision a Portalic transport system, still he found himself drawn, almost against his will, to the imaginary Realities of literature and especially of film. As he activated his floor lamp through its four cyclical manifestations, he came to the surprised realization that he had never really given much thought to Cartoon Reality.

Like most kids, the young Ulrich O’Connor used to read lots of comic books. Of course Superman had been one of his favorites, but he also loved the Fantastic Four and the Metal Men. In recent years he had become aware that lots of people loved Superman and the Fantastic Four, but few seemed to remember the Metal Men. Each one of the Metal Men was made from a particular kind of metal and manifested a superpower derived from the special properties of that metal. Mercury Man, for example – that might not have been his name, but that’s who he was – could turn himself into a liquid, so he could pour himself out from under locked doors in pursuit of heroic deeds. They called Superman the Man of Steel, but it was just a metaphor. If there had been a Man of Steel in the Metal Men, he really would have been made of steel. But steel is an alloy, an admixture of different metals: iron plus something else, Prop forgot what. Every one of the Metal Men was a pure, elemental being. He thought he remembered Mercury Man having a big “Hg” emblazoned on his suit; Silver Man had “Ag;” Lead Man, “Pb.” The periodic table alloyed with periodical fantasy: Prop realized that the Metal Men had been unacknowledged forerunners of contemporary American technogeek culture, and that he had been a partaker of it.

This realization filled Prop O’Gandhi with pride and embarrassment in equal measures. “If I was going to join the Metal Men,” he considered, “I’d have to split myself in two. Then I could be two superheroes: Pride Man and Embarrassment Man. Or maybe it would be a secret identity thing: Pride Man’s unalloyed geekhood would hide behind Embarrassment Man’s uncertain coolness. But then again,” he reconsidered, “maybe I’ve come at last to an appreciation of emotional alloys. Pride and embarrassment in equal measure, all within the same hero: not oscillating between the two like Jekyll and Hyde; not half measures of polar opposites, giving me the kind of emotional balance that’s indistinguishable from boring; but rather a full-out intensity of both elements, Pride and Embarrassment, at the same time. I wonder what that kind of hero would be like,” Prop wondered.

He knew that there were filmmakers of today, critically acclaimed and popularly successful, who drew their inspiration from comic books. Somehow these geeks had gotten artistic and famous transforming one kind of fictive reality into another. “God bless ’em,” Prop thought. They were fellow-travelers, looking for a way out. hey could transport themselves into Cartoon Reality, spend a few months or years there, and come out with something to show for it. “Why not?” Prop asked himself.

Why not indeed? As if he were some sort of Portalic cartoonist, Prop O’Gandhi began trying to visualize the relationship between his thoughts and his floor lamp as it might exist in Cartoon Reality. Not metaphorically, but Really. Some sort of relationship between thought and light. Not mystically, but Really. Prop understood that he was treading on dangerous ground – he wasn’t an engineer, for God’s sake; he was a thought experimenter. But what if, in his kind of Lab, engineering meant something different? “After all,” he argued with himself, “if other people engineer dams, say, or new kinds of breakfast cereal, why can’t I engineer thoughts?” Having satisfied himself with this (frankly rather specious and half-baked, not to mention metaphorical) argument, Prop O’Gandhi set to work.

“Let’s say I have three levels of ideas,” he began. With practiced fingers he twisted the on-off knob clockwise until the mechanism clicked; immediately the lamp began to emit 50 watts’ worth of lighting. “Level one is low thought: trivial, beside the point, hackneyed, crude.” He clicked again, to 150. “Level two: medium, pretty good thinking. Logical, well-informed, relevant, apropos.” He clicked a third time. “Ah, but level three! This is the acme, the apex, the highest level of thought: insightful, creative, ingenious. Brilliant.” He switched the lamp off. “This is non-thought. Sleep. Talk shows, cocktail parties, drunkenness. Mowing the lawn. Changing light bulbs.”

He clicked the light on again. “I ought to write this down,” He thought without much enthusiasm. Pulling a fountain pen from his pocket, he glanced around the room in search of his Portality Notebook. Though it shouldn’t have surprised him, inasmuch as new light bulbs had been the only changes the Lab had seen in years, Prop was nevertheless surprised at how dingy the place looked. Faded carpeting, grayish walls with the wallboard nails showing through, the grotesquely warped bookcase, the chipped laminate on a desk kept more or less level by a ragged piece of cardboard jammed under one leg, the frayed cane-bottomed seat of the desk chair sagging precariously in the middle: the Lab looked like the home office of an unemployed loser.

Perturbed by an ominous shadow in one corner of the room, Prop clicked the lamp another turn. At 150 watts the room looked better. The shadows lifted. It turned out that the walls weren’t gray after all, but a sort of subdued mauve that set off a couple of Miro prints particularly well, Prop thought. With another click, the lab fairly glowed in full 200-watt brilliance. The walls and ceilings were translucent; the furniture revealed intricacies of grain and texture. And the Portality Notebook! Bathed in 200 watts, the Notebook seemed possessed of a physical depth and substance commensurate with the intellectual brilliance contained between its covers. One more click and everything was plunged again into the abyss.

Prop O’Gandhi turned the lamp to 50 watts. “I wonder if the neighbor lady would give me a cup of coffee.” He was thrilled. The lamp system was working: he had just had a 50-watt thought. He turned the lamp up to the next setting. “I wonder if different kinds of coffee make you drink – I mean think – different kinds of thoughts?” Not bad, he thought about that thought. Now up to 200 watts. “I wonder how the neighbor lady looks with no clothes on.” Horrified, Prop turned off the lamp. Not because he thought she would look horrible naked – quite the contrary. No: what disturbed him was the nature of the thought he had generated. This was no 200-watter.

Click. “And yet, maybe it was.” Click. “You have to learn to trust the system. If the lamp says it’s a 200-watter, then it’s up to you to figure out why.” Click. “Standing in her kitchen, brewing up a pot of hot joe, her clothes heaped on the counter in disarray.” Click.

“This is fantastic!” Prop O’Gandhi was so excited that he actually said it out loud, though quietly. If he had been a cartoon character, “This is fantastic!” would have been written in small print inside a talk bubble floating above his head. He wasn’t such a fool as to believe that the lamp actually created thoughts in his mind by means of the electronic transmission of light waves through his cognitive plasma, or some other such hooey. He was trying to engineer a Portality system, not some kind of goofy apparatus he could sell in the back of a comic book. The lamp wasn’t a machine for conducting thought rays through the ether. It was a discipline, or rather part of a discipline he would assemble component by component. It would provide a way of channeling yourself out of yourself and into some sort of alternate Reality. Portalic transport.

He thought about William James, the great American pragmatic philosopher and psychologist, brother of the celebrated expatriate novelist Henry James. Apparently James – William; he didn’t know about Henry – had believed in spiritualism, that bit of hokum wherein a bunch of old ladies would sit around the card table, close their eyes, and hold hands until a voice from the spirit world, speaking in Morse code, would identify itself as cousin Nell reaching across from the Other Side, generally happy but still resentful about the way cousin Louise used to cheat her at cribbage. Did the great William James really believe he could make contact this way? Or was it a discipline, opening up the mind to other possibilities, other Realities, wherever they might exist?

Prop O’Gandhi found himself enveloped in 150 watt light. Apparently, while he was contemplating William James’s table-tapping proclivities, Prop had turned the floor lamp to setting two. Remarkable! He braced himself for the next turn of the switch. In an instant his mind became flooded with wonder about what thoughts the next click would bring to him.

Poised between desire and fulfillment, his twitchy fingers itching to go all the way, Prop somehow found the strength of will to hold himself back. He imagined other applications for the miraculous powers of his floor lamp. If, for instance, he carried the lamp into the kitchen and switched it up to 200 watts, what sorts of culinary delights might he find himself capable of creating? He and his wife could throw a dinner party – never mind now who to invite. Move the lamp from kitchen to living room and the after-dinner conversation, ordinarily so, well, ordinary, would become scintillating, intricately nuanced, revelatory. Suddenly the scenario in Prop’s imagination shifted. Now he could almost literally see himself sitting at the neighbor lady’s kitchen table, holding her hands in full 200-watt lighting, with nothing between them but two half-empty cups of coffee. And what was that thing rapping so insistently on the underside of the tabletop?

Click. Nothing. Worse than nothing. Click. Click. Click.

“Shit!” Prop O’Gandhi shouted stupidly into the dimness. The bulb had really blown this time, knocking out not just one but both filaments at once. If Prop could have seen himself then, he would have witnessed the color of his face quickly turning from pink to red. Steam began to blow out of his ears: slowly at first, then so forcibly that it began to emit a shrill whistle which soon filled the Lab.


Why Portality?

At nine thirty Prop O’Gandhi shut his Portality Notebook, still open from yesterday’s jottings, and reopened it at the first entry. For two years now he had been thinking hard about Portality. The essence of all his thought resided in distilled form in this Notebook. He had thought quite a lot; the Notebook was consequently quite thick. “Now,” Prop said to himself, “is the time to turn all this thinking into a system.”

Why Portality? For Prop O’Gandhi there were lots of reasons why. Most of them had to do with the cultivation of difference as an end in itself. If you wanted to get different, you needed to buffer yourself from the sameness of the world. You need a Portal to step out of the world for awhile – or maybe forever. You needed to find a Reality where your particular form of difference wouldn’t be dismissed as mere eccentricity, but acknowledged as an alternative manifestation of truth, beauty and goodness. A Reality where you would be appreciated, perhaps even revered. Prop had filled many pages of his Notebook with meditations on Portality. Sometimes, though, he wondered whether he pursued this line of inquiry with such vehemence because he was basically a misfit and a loser.

Earlier in his life Ulrich had made extensive forays into various sectors of the so-called Real World. He had attained an advanced degree, for example. He watched bemusedly as his fellow students strove for jobs as assistant professors. “Academe isn’t the real world,” he would tell them. They nodded and shrugged, then went back to work on those lines of inquiry they deemed most likely to attract search committees at the universities where they hoped to be accepted for employment and eventually to take their rightful place among the tenured. Meanwhile Ulrich made his own way, carving out his own idiosyncratic research interests and pursuing them without the help, or even the interest, of his faculty advisors. And so it was that, upon completing his program of study and having written and defended his dissertation, Ulrich O’Connor found himself unemployable.

It wasn’t only the false reality of academe that disappointed him. The “real” Real World was, if anything, even less interested in Ulrich’s work. “Academe is just another marketplace,” he realized one day. “If I’m going to compete I might as well go for the money, instead of settling for the false glory of publications and grants and large enrollments in my classes.” So he joined the corporate world. He rarely told anyone that he had earned a Ph.D. because, he often asserted, it was an irrelevant credential in the real marketplace. He would succeed on his wits alone.

Several years and several jobs later, Ulrich had walked away from business. Sure, he had enjoyed some successes along the way, he had made some money, but to Ulrich the successes were hollow. The money? It was nothing compared to what he was capable of making. “The bosses and the customers are all the same,” Ulrich would tell himself every couple of years. “All they want me to do is work on the crackpot schemes they think up. I’m a far better thinker than they are. From now on I’m going to work on my own schemes.” So, just as he had done in graduate school, Ulrich launched out on an independent track. He would satisfy the bosses and the customers, but he would invest his greatest energy and creativity in his own projects.

Invariably the results were the same: no one gave a damn about anything that Ulrich came up with. He would shop his own crackpot schemes around to the bosses and the customers, but they had no patience. “That’s really interesting, Ulrich,” they would tell him patronizingly, and he would feel good for a day or two. He would wait for something to happen: a new product launch team, a new corporate division to support it, press releases. After a month or so Ulrich would call up the bosses and customers. “Oh, that,” they would all say – or at least the ones who would take his calls. “Yeah, that’s a great idea, Ulrich. Now, about my project: how’s that report coming? You said it’d be ready by last week.”

For a time Ulrich believed that he was the only one who actually lived in the Real World, and that all the bosses and customers were floating along in their own personal fantasy worlds. There was one problem, however: they commanded the money and the respect; he didn’t. He began to suspect a conspiracy: they were preventing him from exposing their schemes as fantasies and so blowing them sky-high. He longed to thrust himself forcefully into their madness, to make them see the truth. “Now can’t you see it?” he imagined himself demanding. Perhaps he would need to take a few hostages in order to get their attention, but he wouldn’t hurt anybody. Eventually he realized that they were hoping he would resort to precisely this sort of desperate act, using it as proof that they were on the ball and he was the crackpot. They would talk about paradox: behold the captive-taker, held captive by a paranoiac fantasy of his own device. And so one day Ulrich O’Connor just walked away.

Why Portality? Because Prop O’Gandhi acknowledged that Ulrich O’Connor was a misfit and a loser, but only in this one particular Reality, the one that unfortunately happened to be occupied by almost everyone. He was stuck in the wrong Reality. Did his instinctive reactions usually prove misguided? That’s because his instincts were tuned to a different environmental frequency. Were his best ideas dismissed out of hand? Of course, but that’s only because his mind worked with concepts and insights that, in the aggregate, defined the worldview of another world altogether. Was he a loser? Sure, but it’s because he was playing the wrong game on the wrong playing field. If he was ever going to be in the right place at the right time, he was going to have to find the Portal that would take him there.

And so this morning, when Ulrich O’Connor stepped into his Laboratory and became Prop O’Gandhi once again, he turned back to the very first entry in his big thick Portality Notebook. He had written long and hard; now it was time to pull it all together. He felt like the Traveler in The Time Machine must have felt when he walked into his workshop and began compiling his diagrams and assembling his tools and oscilloscopes and vacuum tubes. With supreme confidence the Traveler went about his business until at last the wondrous machine was ready for the acid test. He had remained so coolly assured that he invited all his best friends to watch the inaugural voyage. He set the gauges, adjusted the cogs and wheels, pulled the crystal levers, and poof! He went straight out of time.

Prop O’Gandhi had already begun planning that day in his mind: the guest list, the champagne and canapés, probably the classical station on the radio. It wasn’t the sort of thing he wrote in his Notebook, but inside his head the great unveiling was just as Real to him as if he had inscribed it in big block letters in indelible ink.


Reality Twenty-One

There were two radio stations that Prop O’Gandhi listened to all the time in his Lab: jazz and classical. A true aficionado might say that the jazz station Prop listened to wasn’t really jazz at all. The station played standards – Night and Day, Stardust, Puttin’ On the Ritz, that sort of thing; some vocal, some instrumental, rarely experimental or cacophonic or atonal, “but,” Prop argued with the imaginary purists, “not easy listening or that monotonous new age stuff either.” The classical station really did play the classics, and not just Mozart and Vivaldi either. Schoenberg, Scriabin, Mahler, Villalobos.

Usually Prop listened to the classical station. He rarely listened intently; for him it was – though he would have been loath to admit it – background music, mood music. He tried to avoid making any loud noises while he was at work in his Lab. Usually he kept the volume on his radio turned down. Today he was tuned into jazz. There was a big-band number from the forties playing: he recognized it, but for the life of him he couldn’t name it. Lots of horns swinging hard, a tom-tom interlude – what is this tune? He turned up the volume. When at last the saxophone kicked in it came to him.

Not the name of the song. What to think about next.

He was going to think about the Portality of music.

The solo trumpet was screaming at Prop from the radio speaker. Then three more trumpets. Then a change of mood. Now it’s just the clarinet and the tom-tom – quiet. The clarinet is doing some kind of Middle Eastern Klezmer thing; juxtaposed with the tom-tom it’s quite something. The clarinet sounds like it’s muttering now; the tom-tom is barely beating at all. Now, all of a sudden it’s the whole band at top volume. Then, suddenly, it’s over.

“Wow,” Prop said to himself under his breath. But it’s already over. Now it’s one of those guitar things, where the guitarist plays the same notes an octave apart on two strings. Cool, but boring. The guy could find this groove in his sleep. And oh Jesus, now here comes the Hammond B3 solo. “Why do they bother with this crap when they could be playing big band music?” he grumbled. He got up and tuned the radio to the right until he hit the classical station, just in time for another, very different clarinet solo. Some concerto. Ulrich had played the clarinet as a kid. Now, listening to the concerto with the Big Band solo still fresh in his memory, he wondered if he still had his clarinet stashed away someplace.

“But hey, I’m getting distracted,” Prop O’Gandhi pointed out to himself. “It’s Portality that I need to think about, not clarinets.” He paused. “But then again, why not clarinets?” Now the orchestra has kicked in – Prop knew this piece too, but he couldn’t think of the name of this one either. The allegro movement finished; it was followed by music that was slow and sad and wistful but still passionate and maybe a little bit tense, all at the same time. “I don’t listen to this music carefully enough,” Prop chastised himself.

The piece ended; next would be Mozart’s Twenty-First Piano Concerto, as performed by the Salzburg Symphonietta. Prop O’Gandhi thought about Mozart. Here was a genius who sold his work on commission. Had Mozart felt obliged to satisfy the Duke of Salzburg with his compositions? Or did this wealthy and regal patron of the arts understand that Mozart himself was the Portal, and patronage merely a means of paying the toll to open the floodgate for a little while? It didn’t really matter any more, of course, since the age of patronage was as dead as Mozart himself. Still, Prop believed in pure art, untainted by the desperate urge to please and seduce. He couldn’t help but wonder if Mozart might not have been quite as pure as people gave him credit for.

Prop O’Gandhi believed in creative genius, but he also believed in the independent existence of Portals. “Did Mozart create the Twenty-First Piano Concerto,” Prop wondered, “or did he discover it?” He turned to his Portality Notebook for insight.

To the extent that an alternate Reality exists independently of the person experiencing it, to that extent it can be described, portrayed, and represented, as in painting or music. To the extent that the alternate Reality emerges in interaction with the person who enters it, to that extent it can only be illustrated or exemplified, as in a story.

Prop wasn’t sure whether he still understood the distinction. “Either way,” he realized, “Concerto Twenty-One isn’t the same thing as the Reality from which it springs. Also,” he continued, “the concerto obviously exists independently of Mozart.” Prop considered what those two observations could mean.

Then, in a flash, he found himself thrust into a revelation. “Aha!” he exclaimed aloud, though no one was there to hear him. “A work of art is a Portal. The concerto is a passageway into another Reality – call it Reality Twenty-One. Mozart is dead, and so is the Duke who commissioned the concerto. But Reality Twenty-One still exists. And you can still find your way there, if you have ears to hear, because the Twenty-First Concerto is the Portal to the Reality.”

Prop wondered if he might have a version of Concerto Twenty-One on vinyl, and he was sorely tempted to go down to the basement to look for it. The fact that he resisted the temptation might have alerted him to something happening at the interface between himself and the Portals, but he wasn’t paying attention.

Prop remembered that representational art – art that describes Reality – had long since passed out of fashion. He also remembered his Laboratory radio telling him once that, for Mahler, to write a symphony was to construct a world. Yet even this modern conception – art as a Reality created by the artist – had been rendered passé by the avant-garde of a generation ago. All that was left to today’s artist was to cut samples from some of the Realities that already existed and paste them together. Prop lamented this deterioration of art to collage-making. Maybe something else was happening in the art world, but  hhead let himself lose touch with pretty much every trend that agitated the waters of his society. He liked it that way.

The biochemical reverberations triggered by these insights worked their way through Prop O’Gandhi’s neural pathways. “If I’m going to create a Portal to an alternate Reality,” he inferred, “then first I have to spend some time in that Reality.” This thought depressed him. How had Mozart found his way to Reality Twenty-One before he had written the concerto? By what sensory modalities did it make its presence known to him? Why didn’t Mozart simply lead people to this pre-existing Portal, instead of creating one of his own? Was it because no one else could pass through the one he’d found, so he had to build one that was more accessible? Does a Portal that inspires a great work of art open itself only to one preordained person, unlocked by genius like a sci-fi Situation Room that’s been pre-keyed to the unique patterns of the chosen individual’s brainwaves?

Prop realized that no Portal would ever grant him access to anything remotely as inspiring as Reality Twenty-One. Reluctantly, he had come to see himself as someone destined to remain on the outside. All he could do was try to imagine what it might be like to pass through the door and enter in, because he would never actually experience it first-hand. He was locked out and he didn’t have any keys on his keychain. “Maybe all those postmodern collage-makers are keyless too,” speculated Prop O’Gandhi, not without a certain cynicism.

“Perhaps,” he speculated further, “Reality Twenty-One is a Reality composed entirely of music.” He chuckled to himself at his play on the word “composed;” then he realized that he was looking desperately for even the slightest sign of genius in himself, or else a sign that a Portal was making itself known through unintended double meanings manifesting themselves inside his own thought processes. He let it pass.

If Reality Twenty-One is an inherently musical Reality, then Mozart would only have to transcribe what he heard there. What if the musical Reality was broader than just that one tune? Mozart could have visited again and again. In each visit he would become aware of yet another musical object that existed inside there; all he’d have to do was remember them, then write them down when he returned to normal Reality. Maybe there were some songs he heard there that he forgot, or that he didn’t like. He only brought back the real gems – all the 600-some Köchel-listed works that Mozart put forward in his short lifetime.

Prop let his speculations range farther afield. Is it the same musical Reality that Beethoven visited, and Brahms, and all the rest? Is it the same Reality for Iggy Pop and Robert Johnson, for John Coltrane and Cole Porter, for Hank Williams and Ravi Shankar? Is there one unified Musical Reality to which all composers somehow manage to find their way? Ulrich had serious doubts; then he began to doubt his doubts. “Maybe,” he thought, “musicians compose in different styles because they’re equipped with different kinds of musical receivers.”

Against his intent, against his will, Ulrich O’Connor was being pulled into a Portal of subject-object dichotomization. Many have gone through this door; many have tried to describe what they witnessed there – their witnesses are both different and the same. So it was for Ulrich O’Connor. Perhaps the most curious thing about it was this: once again Ulrich had been pulled through a Portal into an alternate Reality, and once again he didn’t realize it was happening, even though he spent most of his waking hours meditating on Portality.

It was the kind of paradoxical event that, had he been aware of it, he would have annotated in detail in his Portality Notebook. He had stopped writing new entries some time ago; now it was all he could do to make sense of what he’d written before – and there was a lot of it. Even now, as he hovered in the Portal to Subject-Object Reality, paging blindly through his Portality Notebook, the album cover for Mozart’s Twenty-First Piano Concerto continued to occupy its alphabetical place on a shelf in Ulrich O’Connor’s basement. Had he succumbed to the temptation to look for this recording, his exultation at finding what he sought would have been replaced almost immediately by frustration, because the sleeve inside the album cover was empty. Undoubtedly he would then have launched an exhaustive search for the missing record, but this search would have proven fruitless. This was because Ulrich’s copy of Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number Twenty-One had already been squirted like a watermelon seed out of Ulrich’s Reality. Was its disappearance an anomaly, or a harbinger of things to come? No one was there to wonder.

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