A hollow, grating cord unchains itself from the troubadour’s throat and echoes raucously in the empty space: a cave, a theater, a tomb?

Confusion. An epitaph for a life lived constantly wondering at the contrast between dime store idols venerated by the slavish masses and those who give of themselves freely, with promise of reward and advancement, in service to that most beneficent master, Merit. A master now bow-backed and drooping with the weight of the ages. King of but an impossibly ancient few who hear, in the sounds of nature, a primal song, an ode to mankind’s talents, culled through the ages with advances so perfect they’ve made the original instinct obsolete. Buried in the recycling bin of spirit.

A last vestige dies now as the chill draft blowing through the dilapidated theater sweeps the dried-up dust of the troubadour’s soul across the stage. To be trampled on by callous heels even in death.

Somewhere in that far-off dream world a volcano erupts. The waters have long since receded, evaporating with man’s higher feelings, the climate become hot and arid. But man, in his tower—chrome not ivory—of technological wizardry needs not fear intemperate weather. He is connected even in his solitude; his presence looms large among the mountains that make up the horizon of knowledge.

A phoenix, lone and wondrous, takes flight just as the ash cloud blots out the sun. His wings are weighed down; he gags. Blind in the silt, he crashes, his grave unmarked by a mountain of rubble from under which he cannot rise again.

Back in reality, the penultimate act of the carnival sideshow concludes. The producers have saved the best trick for last.

“A stunning feat! A spine-tingling thrill of amazement! Unprecedented in human history!”

So shouts the emcee, bedecked, like royal news criers of old, in garments that flaunt the grandeur of his employer’s station. He is more outlandish than any court jester, exerting himself with the utmost conscientiousness, could ever hope to be.

“We give you the height of man’s talent!” he cries in the pleasant, braying role of a jackass.

“Self-actualized man at last! Unlimited and unburdened by his base instincts and petty impulses!”

A curtain rises to reveal a boxy metal statue: a hulking chest and spindly limbs and a head bedecked with flashing lights and mismatched nobs. It is an illustration borne of the first cresting waves of a child’s imagination. But made into a monstrous chimera through the juvenile bumbling of inept tinkerers.

It lurches forward, lightbulb eyes blinking demonically, then grasps a guitar in it metal claws. An ear-offending, discordant note vibrates low in the air. The metal man begins to sing an old abiding ballad of love. Not the intense monomoniacal obsession of one with the unconditional adulation of another so popularly sought, but devotion, borne of reflection and conscious choice, to purity and truth in their most perfect forms.

Its vibrato is harsh and nasal, the words choppy and flat. Its lightbulb eyes blink out of time to the steady tempo strummed by its metal claw.

Applause erupts like a sonic boom.

“Ladies and gentlemen, consummate man!” the emcee crows, arms thrown wide in jubilation, as the curtain falls and darkness reigns.

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