‘Spaz’, a horror short story

Giorgio Bianchi was playing dodgeball in PE class. None of his classmates understood why he chose to continue taking PE all the way to grade twelve instead of stopping as soon as he had his one compulsory PE credit; after all, he was clumsy and spastic in the extreme, always embarrassing himself in front of them. Taking elective PE classes made perfect sense to him, though: he’d hoped all that sports practice would improve his coordination. 

But it didn’t. 

At one point in the game, he dodged the ball, but bumped into Ben Davis, one of the most popular jocks in St. John’s Catholic High School. 

“Watch it, spaz!” Ben shouted. 

“Sorry,” Giorgio said. He dodged the ball again, but tripped over the leg of Karen Schultz, Ben’s pretty girlfriend. She ended up falling, too, and right in the trajectory of the ball.  

She got hit on the head with the ball, and was out of the game. 

“Eat shit, Bianchi!” she shouted at him as she walked out of the playing area. 

“Language, Karen!” the coach said. 

Again, a guy on the other team was aiming at Giorgio, who dodged a feint throw, but ended up bumping into Ben again; the thrower, seeing Ben’s disorientation, now threw at him and hit him in the shoulder. Ben was out. 

“I’m gonna kill you, Giorgio Bianchi—Jar Jar Binks, more like it!” he said before walking off to the outer circle, where Karen and the other players stood, out of the game. 

Towards the end of the game, there were only Giorgio and two girls on his team, and an Asian girl and the boy who hit Ben on the other team. That boy had the ball again.  

Giorgio was nervous; he was also at the side of the play area, not at all aware that he was standing just in front of Ben. 

That boy with the ball was getting ready to hit Giorgio. Before he even knew what was going on, Ben had already pulled Giorgio’s gym shorts and underwear down. 

The chorus of laughter, especially the piercing, shrill cackles of the girls at the sight of his exposed penis, made him almost not notice the impact of the ball pounding him in the face. 

“It’s so small!” shouted Karen, who was on the other side from Ben in the outer circle, and thus facing exposed Giorgio, as was the Asian girl, Sophie Chang, who covered her eyes. 

As Giorgio lay there on the floor, he scrambled to pull up his shorts and underwear. The laughter was hurting his ears. He didn’t dare look in anyone’s eyes. 

“Way to go, Jar Jar Binks!” shouted Ben.  

Now everyone was chanting Giorgio’s nickname, one he’d had to put up with for four high school years: “Jar Jar Binks! Jar Jar Binks! Jar Jar Binks!” 

Sophie, the only one who didn’t chant, just stood there with a frown, for she felt his humiliation. 

*********** 

In his bedroom that evening, Giorgio was at his computer, reading for the tenth time about Reddit user Lumpawarroo’s theory that Jar Jar Binks was originally intended by George Lucas to be a villain skilled with the Dark Side of the Force, and only pretending to be a bumbling fool deserving of universal contempt. 

“If only I could come out and surprise people with a hidden kung fu ability,” he said to himself as he watched the video comparisons of Jar Jar’s clumsy, yet uncanny luck in fighting battle droids at the climax of The Phantom Menace with the staggering, pretend clumsiness of the zuiquan wushu masters. “If only my bad coordination was really ‘drunken fist’ kung fu.” 

*********** 

Sophie was eating dinner with her parents that same evening. 

“You look unhappy about something, Sophie,” her mother said. 

“I saw a boy get publicly humiliated in gym class today,” Sophie said. “Somebody pulled down his shorts and underwear in front of everybody. Poor guy.” 

“Ooh!” her mother said. “You didn’t look, did you?” 

“No,” Sophie said in Mandarin. 

“Good,” her mother said. “I was worried you were interested in him based on what you saw.” 

“Who is he?” her father asked in Mandarin. 

“A rather clumsy boy named Giorgio Bianchi, but I think he’s cute, and I feel sorry for him, because he always gets bullied,” she said. “Instead of calling him ‘Giorgio Bianchi’, they always call him ‘Jar Jar Binks’.” 

“Man, that’s mean,” her father said. 

“I wish I could help him somehow,” Sophie said. 

“Is he Chinese?” her mother asked in Mandarin. 

“Is he Catholic?” her father asked. 

“Of course, he’s Catholic, Dad,” Sophie said. “He goes to my school.” 

“I mean, is he a practicing Catholic,” he said. “‘Cause if he is, maybe he’ll get you out of that silly talking-to-spirits nonsense.” 

“The spirits help me with my homework and studying for tests,” Sophie said. “That’s how I get such good grades without having to spend so much time studying.” 

“Whatever,” he said. “I just wish you’d study the normal way.” 

“Also, it’s dangerous to tamper with the spirit world,” her mother said. “Is this boy Chinese, though?” 

“No,” Sophie said in Mandarin. “Does the name ‘Giorgio Bianchi’ sound Chinese?” 

“No,” her mother said.  

“With a name like ‘Giorgio Bianchi’, he’s obviously Italian,” her father said. 

“Anyway, nobody’s perfect,” her mom said. 

“What does he want to do for a job, though?” her father asked. “Does he want to be an engineer?” 

“I don’t know,” Sophie said in Mandarin. “I don’t think so. He doesn’t take any classes at school that would lead up to studying engineering.” 

“What about computers?” her dad asked. Sophie shook her head. “Business? Economics? Law? Medicine?” She kept shaking her head. 

“I doubt it,” Sophie said. Then she said in Mandarin, “He doesn’t seem the type.” 

“Well, he doesn’t sound like he’s worth your time,” her dad said. “Let alone worth your worries. Probably just some lazy kid who just wants to play a guitar and smoke dope.” 

“Daddy!” Sophie shouted. “I like him!” 

“He sounds like a loser,” her dad said.  

“Well, excuse me for not having tastes worthy of your high standards, Daddy! Donut-eating policemen like you are all high-class types, aren’t they?”  

“Hey, don’t take that tone with me, young lady,” he said. “You should respect us cops. We do a hard, dangerous job, and we’re not appreciated much these days!” 

Sophie sighed. “I’m finished my dinner.” Then she asked in Mandarin, “May I be excused?” 

“Yes,” her mother said in Mandarin. 

Sophie got up and left. I hate you two sometimes, she thought. 

She went into her bedroom and locked the door. She stripped down to her underwear, then took out twelve small candles and laid them out in a circle around her, over a black silk blanket with a white pentagram on it. She lit the candles, turned off the light, and got naked. She sat cross-legged in the middle. 

I’ve succeeded at summoning spirits to help me with my homework and tests, so I don’t have to study so hard, she thought. I wonder if I can summon one to help Giorgio. 

She closed her eyes and took several slow, deep breaths. She chanted a triad of words in Mandarin, over and over again. As she got more and more relaxed, she ‘listened’ for any spirits who may have been approaching her. She ‘felt’ their energies touching her bare skin. 

“Oh, all you guardians of the world between spirit and matter,” she whispered, hoping her parents wouldn’t hear, “release one of your kind to rid Giorgio Bianchi of his tormentors. I speak to all the spirits in the entire spirit world, from all times, all nations, and all traditions. O Lady and Lord, yin and yang, Mother Goddess and Horned God, hear my prayer.” 

Just then, her parents walked past her bedroom, speaking in Chinese. 

Sophie heard a spirit say, in Mandarin, I hear you, and I’ll help you. 

Sophie smiled. 

*********** 

Giorgio lay in bed that night, never able to forget his humiliation from that afternoon. Crying himself to sleep, he thought, over and over, I wish I could kill Ben and Karen… 

He had the following dream: 

He found himself in a dark room, what looked to him like a basement or boiler room. An Asian man of about forty years of age, wearing a fedora and red wool sweater, appeared before him. His face was glowing gold. He reminded Giorgio of Freddy Krueger. 

“Hello, Giorgio,” he said to the boy in a husky voice. “My name is Di. I have been summoned to protect you from all your enemies. You’ll have your revenge on your tormentors, as well as protection from any reprisals, starting tomorrow morning.” 

“How can that be?” Giorgio asked. “What can you do?” 

“I can cause your body to work miracles. I am a spirit from ancient China; don’t let my modern clothesor my fluency in English, deceive you. We in the spirit world transcend all time and cultures. I know many kinds of kung fu, though I won’t really be using them to help you. You’ll get your revenge through ‘accidents’. You’ll see.” 

Giorgio wanted revenge for his many humiliations, no doubt, but he didn’t like the grin he saw on Di’s shining face. 

“I’m still not sure of this,” he told Di. “What kind of ‘accidents’ will be used as revenge on people like Karen and Ben?” 

“You’ll see,” Di said, the evil grin never leaving his face. “Your protection is assured. All I ask is your appreciation for what I’m about to do for you. Your soul and mine are one.” 

“This revenge will be in proportion to what they’ve done to me?” 

“The pain they feel will be in proportion to the pain they’ve given you. You’ll see.” 

“How do you define that ‘proportion’? You’re not going to kill them, are you? I don’t want anyone’s blood on my conscience. I mean, after what happened yesterday, a part of me wanted them dead, but–“ 

“I am that part of you. You’ll see, because you’ll do it. Your soul is mine.” He began cackling maniacally, his laughing echoing throughout the boiler room. 

Giorgio woke up, his upper torso shooting up from his pillow. He was shaking. 

I’d like to kill Ben and Karen, he thought, but only in my dreams, my fantasies. 

He fell asleep again after ten minutes of trembling. 

He was in that boiler room again. A knife in his hand, he was staggering about for a few seconds, then he flung it at a mirror, cracking the glass. In the reflection, he saw himself in Di’s fedora and sweater. His face had Di’s yellow glow…and his grin. He saw himself laughing as Di had before. 

*********** 

The next morning, he was in biology class. Ben and Karen were sitting at the table behind his group’s, chuckling. 

“Mesa Jar Jar Binks,” Ben said in the character’s annoying falsetto. 

“Mesa pi-pi so tiny,” Karen said in the same voice. Giorgio’s heart was pounding, almost in pain, at the sound of their laughing. 

At each table, where trios of students were teamed, lay a carcass of a cat in the middle. Each student had a scalpel for dissecting the cat. Giorgio held his with a trembling hand. 

“Don’t you cut me with that knife, you spaz,” a girl at his table said to him. 

Di’s face appeared before his eyes in a split-second, flashing light. 

Karen stepped over to the other side of her table, putting her immediately beside Giorgio. He began staggering. 

She turned to him with her scalpel. “Mesa cut your pi-pi off, Jar Jar,” she said, then giggled. “Mesa make–“ 

With a sudden jerk of his hand while staggering, Giorgio swiped his scalpel in an arc across her throat, cutting her off mid-sentence because he’d sliced the blade clean through her throat! Her blood sprayed in all directions, several small dots of red splashing on Giorgio’s face. She fell to the floor. 

Everyone screamed, not least of all him. 

“What’s going on?” the teacher shouted. 

“That little dork, Giorgio, just cut Karen’s throat with his knife,” the female student next to Giorgio said while backing away from him. 

“Oh, my God!” The teacher said, taking out his cellphone to call 9-1-1 as he saw Karen’s blood surrounding her body in a growing lake of red. “You didn’t do it on purpose, did you, Giorgio? I mean, after what happened yesterday?” 

“Of course, I didn’t!” the shaking, sobbing boy said. “It was an accident, I swear to God!” He began staggering again. 

“You spastic idiot!” Ben shouted, stepping around his table, with his hands in fists, to get at Giorgio, who saw Di’s face flash before his eyes again. The teacher was calling an ambulance. “You killed my girlfriend, and I’m gonna kill y–“ 

Staggering Giorgio slipped on Karen’s blood and lunged at Ben with the scalpel, stabbing him deep in the gut. Ben buckled, coughed blood, and fell on top of Karen. 

Again, the students screamed deafening, piercing cries that made everyone’s hands cover his ears, and in the confusion, Giorgio ran out of the classroom without anyone stopping him. As he ran down the hall, he passed Sophie, who shuddered at the bloody knife in his hand, the spots of blood on his face, and his bloody footprints on the floor. 

“Oh, shit,” she said. “What have I done?” 

When she saw a mob of students running out of the biology classroom to chase Giorgio, she knew exactly where to look to find out what had happened. When she poked her head in the doorway, already full of anticipatory dread, and then saw Ben’s and Karen’s bloody bodies, she retched. She was as frozen in shock as the biology teacher was. 

A minute later, she heard sirens. 

“Wow,” the teacher said. “The cops sure got here fast. Must’ve been nearby.” 

“Oh, fuck,” she said, then ran down the hall. 

“Get that little bastard!” shouted a student from the biology class as she and Giorgio’s other chasers saw him go for the stairs. “He killed my best friend!” 

He ran up the stairs, not tripping over even one, to his amazement: he’d tripped over steps so often in the past, it was as if he’d taken fewer successful ascending steps than tripping, even when walking up them with perfect calm. It was as if…someone…was helping him get away. He saw a flash of Di’s face again. 

He reached the roof of the school, opened a door, and was outside. The students had him cornered at the edge of the building. He looked down four floors to the pavement. He shook as he saw the students closing in on him. He started staggering again. 

“You’re gonna pay for what you did today, you little spaz,” one boy said, his face tensed in a malicious pout. 

More sirens could be heard, as could footsteps up the stairs to the roof. 

“Jar Jar never died in the Star Wars prequels,” another boy said. “His death would’ve almost redeemed them. We can make this Jar Jar die, though.” 

“No, you won’t,” said a female cop coming out onto the roof with two others, all of them pointing guns at Giorgio. “C’mon, kid. Let’s not make this any more difficult than it already is. Come in the car with us.” 

“OK,” he said, still staggering. He dropped the scalpel and held his hands out to be handcuffed. The female officer approached him with cuffs. 

Another one of the cops, Sophie’s father, noted Giorgio’s staggering. “What’s wrong with you, kid?” He said. “Are you drunk?” 

“No,” Giorgio said. “I just feel…woozy.” Di’s face flashed before his eyes again. 

Just when the cop with the cuffs was about to put them on him, Giorgio slid his foot on a pebble, swiping his leg in front of hers and making her trip. She fell off the roof, screaming till her head cracked open on the pavement below. A growing circle of red surrounded her head. 

Immediately after her tripping and falling, Giorgio saw Di’s face in another flash. The third cop aimed at Giorgio’s chest and was about to fire, but the boy’s foot slipped on another pebble, kicking a larger rock that flew at the cop’s gun, knocking it to point up at the man’s face. When in a knee-jerk reaction he pulled the trigger, he shot a bullet up just behind his chin, up through the center of his head, through his brain, and out the top of his head. 

Blood sprayed everywhere, like a gushing fountain. Screaming from all directions was hurting Giorgio ears. 

Sophie’s father cocked his gun. That can’t be mere clumsiness, he thought. No one’s that clumsy…and that lucky at the same time. 

Giorgio looked down to the pavement beside the dead female cop and saw Sophie’s car, a distinct one with black paint and large white pentacles painted on the sides. Its roof was also removed. She looked up at him; she felt…someone…making her drive over there. 

Jump, Di’s voice whispered in Giorgio’s ears. 

He saw Officer Chang coming closer, with that gun pointed at him. “C’mon, kid,” the cop said. “Let’s end this. No more people have to get hurt.” 

“I agree,” Giorgio said. “Let’s end this.” Then he jumped. 

As he fell screaming, he saw Di’s face flash several times in his eyes. The spirit also took over his body, carrying him in midair and placing him neatly into the passenger seat next to Sophie. He landed with his ass hitting the seat, and his feet dodging the glove compartment to land on the floor with no pain. 

“Oof!” he grunted. “How the fuck did I do that?” 

“A spirit made all this happen,” Sophie said. “We’re outta here.” 

She sped off in her car, past her father’s squad car (in which his female partner was sitting), off the school campus, and down a road in a direction that would take them out of town. Both of them were shaking. 

“I…just killed…four people…including two cops…in the past…fifteen minutes,” he said, tears soaking his face. “What the fuck’s going on?” 

“I’ll explain later,” she said, turning a corner with screeching tires. “Right now, we’ve just gotta get you away from my dad and his cops.” 

“How do you know what’s going on?” Giorgio asked. 

“Because I’m the one who summoned the spirit that’s making you kill all your enemies.” 

“How do you know I won’t kill you? 

“Because I’m not one of your enemies, of course.” 

*********** 

Officer Chang got into his car, as did other cops in two cars behind his. They all raced down the road after Sophie and Giorgio. 

“I’m pretty sure he’s in my daughter’s car,” Chang said to the female cop in the passenger seat beside him. 

“How do you know that?” she asked. 

“Because during dinner last night, I had a conversation with her about the boy, identified by his classmates as Giorgio Bianchi,” Chang said. “My daughter feels sorry for him because he’s been bullied at school. She wants to help him. I saw the car they raced off in: I bought it for her last year. From the roof, I could tell by the pentagrams she later had painted on the sides. Only she’d be strange enough to paint pentagrams on her car. She believes in weird ideas, like communication with spirits. It’s a phase she’s going through.” 

“OK, but how was this Giorgio able to survive that jump?” his partner asked. 

“Good question. Anyway, I talked to the biology teacher, who told me the two kids the boy killed had been bullying him. Sophie, my daughter, told me that Ben, the second of the victims, humiliated the boy yesterday by pulling down his shorts and underwear in gym class, right in front of everybody.” 

“Humiliation enough to make him want to kill?” 

“Seems that way to me. Funny thing, though: he has a reputation for being clumsy, and the killing of Ben and the female victim looked like accidents, just the kid being spastic again; but what I saw on the roof, Giorgio staggering for a moment before ‘accidentally’ killing Officers Denny and Howard, looked a lot more like zuiquan than clumsiness.” 

“Sorry. Zuiquan?” 

“It’s a form of kung fu. It means ‘drunken fist’. You see Jackie Chan do it in a few martial arts movies. The fighter tricks his opponent by making him think he’s drunk or clumsy, then he throws a surprise punch or kick. I’m guessing that Giorgio secretly learned zuiquan, and was hoping to kill his enemies by making their deaths look like an accident. If so, his plan didn’t work.” 

“Still, I saw, from this car, him fall and land in her car,” the female cop said. “He didn’t even look injured. They drove off chatting with each other, as if he’d just walked over and gotten in. How could he have done that?” 

“I know, it’s crazy. I’m a practicing Catholic, but I believe God causes miracles to save only the lives of the good. Sophie believes in weird things like the ghosts of our Chinese ancestors, but come on! There must be a scientific explanation. I’m gonna call her.” He took out his cellphone and dialed Sophie’s number. 

“Hello?” Sophie said. 

“Honey, where are you?” her dad asked. 

“Sorry, Daddy. I can’t tell you.” 

“You have that boy, Giorgio Bianchi, in your car, don’t you?” 

“Sorry, Daddy, I can’t let you have him. He didn’t kill those people on purpose.” 

“What makes you think you’re an authority on this issue?” 

“Because I raised the spirit that took over Giorgio’s body and made him kill those people.” 

“Well, I suppose that might explain his miraculous jump off the school roof and into your car without even an injury, as it seems…” 

“That’s right,” Sophie said. “He didn’t even get a scratch.” 

“But I don’t think a supernatural explanation will hold up in court,” her father said. 

“Can you explain it any other way? Can you explain how a guy with a reputation for clumsiness could have performed all those feats with such precision?” 

“I can’t explain the jump, but ask him if he ever studied zuiquan, you know, the martial art.” 

Sophie looked over at Giorgio. “Do you know zuiquan? You know, a kind of kung fu called ‘drunken fist’.” (She pronounced it ‘dzway-chüen’.) 

Giorgio thought for a second. “Huh?” he said. “Wait. Do you mean ‘zooey quahn? Like, a kung fu guy pretends to be clumsy or drunk, staggers a bit, then he lands a surprise punch or kick?” 

“Yeah, that’s right,” she said. 

“I’ve read about it a bit, but I’ve never learned it,” he said loud enough for her father to hear on the phone. 

“Did you hear that, Daddy?” 

“Yes,” her father said. “And that’s proof enough for me. As far as I’m concerned, he’s lying about having no training. Come on, honey, be a good girl and get him to turn himself in. I don’t want you to be charged with aiding and abetting a felon.” 

“Daddy, if I let you take him in, the demon inside him will kill you! Giorgio just told me about the two cops on the roof who he killed. Please stay away, for your safety!” 

She hung up. 

“Oh, Goddammit, Sophie!” her father said, then tried to call her again. “Oh, she’s turned off her phone. Fuck!” 

“So, what do we do now?” the female cop asked. 

“What do you think? We’ve gotta find them. And it’s gonna break my heart, but I’ll have to bring my daughter up on charges, too.” Di’s face flashed before Chang’s eyes. “What the…?” 

Suddenly, a kind of fog came over all the cops’ heads. 

All three cop cars came to a halt. The drivers and passengers in each car looked at each other in confusion. 

“Wait…w-what were we just doing?” the driver of one police car asked his partner. There was an awkward pause. 

“I-I forget,” the partner said. “We were pursuing a perp, weren’t we?” Another awkward pause. “Wh-who were we pursuing?” 

The driver used his radio to call Officer Chang. 

“S-sir?” He said. “I feel really embarrassed to ask, but–?” 

“What are we doing?” Chang said, anticipating the question. “We’re feeling the same confusion in this car, as are the officers in the other car. Just give me a few minutes to think, OK?” He got out of his car and looked around the roads and buildings, hoping in vain to see something that might help him snap out of his oblivion. 

*********** 

As Sophie kept driving, she was checking her rearview mirror with paranoid eyes: were any police cars trailing her? She heard no sirens; were her followers being furtive about it, waiting for a chance to pounce on them when she least expected it? 

Then, both she and Giorgio heard Di’s gravelly voice: You lost them. 

As if no proof were needed to verify the spirit’s words, Giorgio and Sophie believed Di with perfect faith. She slowed her driving, and both of them heaved a huge sigh of relief. 

“Hey, over there,” she said, pointing to an abandoned old building she sometimes visited to get away from the world. “We can hide in there. Nobody will bother us in there.” 

“But it’s so filthy and awful-looking,” Giorgio said. 

“Exactly,” she said. “No one else will be there. Not even squatters, winos, or derelicts.” She parked behind the building, hiding her car between two tall piles of garbage. They got out. 

“Oh, God, it stinks,” he said, then plugged his nose. 

“We don’t have a lot of options, Giorgio,” she said, also covering her face. 

They walked into the building and across to the other side, where the stench wasn’t so bad. She pointed to a corner. 

“Here,” she said. “Let’s sit here and think this through.” 

They sat, and he asked, “OK, what’s all this about a spirit?” 

“Last night, I thought about what happened to you in gym class, and I felt sorry for you,” she said. “I wanted to protect you from more bullying. I also know a few things about tampering in the spirit world, so I summoned a spirit to protect you. I didn’t mean for it to kill your enemies, though! This has all been my fault. Don’t blame yourself.” 

“So, whenever I see the shiny, golden face of an Asian wearing a fedora, right when one of these freaky things happen, that’s the spirit that’s caused all this trouble?” Giorgio asked. 

“Wait a minute,” she said with her mouth and eyes agape. “An Asian with shiny, golden skin? That voice I heard, saying we lost my dad and the cops. That husky, gravelly baritone voice. And he made you move like someone who knows zuiquan…” 

“You know which spirit he is?” 

“Di,” she said. Her whole body looked as if it would drop. 

“He said his name was ‘Di’, in my dream last night.” 

“Oh, no!” She fell to her knees. “When Di is summoned, he doesn’t go away. If he leaves you, he’ll just enter someone else. The best we can hope is he’ll enter someone far away, someone neither of us knows or cares about…not that I’d wish Di on my worst enemy.” 

“Well, what are we going to do?” Giorgio asked, his voice rising in a crescendo of panic. “I don’t wanna be possessed of a demon for the rest of my life! I don’t want any more blood on my hands! You have any idea what it’s like, having no control over your own body? It was bad for me before, but not like this! I’m scared just to move! Look, Sophie, you got me in this mess, you’ve gotta get me out of it!” He grabbed and shook her. 

“Calm down!” she shouted, slapping him. “I need to communicate with Di. Maybe I can make a deal with him.” 

“How do you ‘communicate’ with him?” 

“There’s a ritual we can do with him, to get his full attention. But you have to do it with me, and…we both have to get naked…and sit together.” 

He blushed and shrank away. 

“Giorgio, I won’t see anything I didn’t see yesterday. We have to be naked so our bodies’ energy won’t be blocked from receiving the energies surrounding us. That’s part of how we can communicate with the spirit world.” 

He didn’t stop blushing. “You OK with me seeing you?” 

“Sure, why not? I have a good body, even if I do say so myself. What can I say? I hope you like what you see.” She took off her blouse right in front of him, then unbuttoned her skirt. 

“Wh-why do you hope that?” He unbuttoned his school uniform shirt. 

“Because I’ve always liked you.” She dropped her skirt, revealing her white bra and panties. “You’re cute…and your ass is cute. You’re eighteen, aren’t you?” 

“Yeah,” he said, blushing again while pulling down his pants. 

“I’m eighteen, too, so don’t worry about anything. We’re grown up enough to be doing this.” She took out some candles from her bag, arranged them in a circle around herself and Giorgio, and lit them. She got a piece of white chalk from her bag, then drew a pentacle on the ground, just inside the circle of candles, getting the sides of the five-pointed star as straight as she could, and the circle around it as symmetrical as she could. Then she and Giorgio took off their underwear, she in all insouciance, and he with trembling hands and a purple-red face. 

They sat cross-legged, facing each other. His hands were covering his crotch. 

“Giorgio, you have to be open. I saw it. It isn’t small. Karen was just being mean.” 

He moved his hands away, but he avoided her eyes. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a smirk of pleasure on her face, her eyes looking down at him, and it encouraged him to look straight at her. 

“Don’t be so shy,” she said. “I’d do you.” 

“This is so embarrassing.” 

“You don’t need to feel that way. It’s just the human body.” 

“But I’m getting a boner from seeing you.” 

“Thanks.” She grinned, looking down and noticing the growth. 

“One thing I don’t get,” he said, trying to refrain from looking between her legs. “If we’re summoning a Chinese spirit, why are you incorporating Western pagan symbols into your ritual? I don’t mean to be racist or anything, but the two don’t seem to go together.” 

“Oh, there’s where you’re wrong,” she said. “I find my rituals work a lot better by mixing ideas from different traditions. The Moon Goddess and the Horned God of Wicca, they’re just like yin and yang, as I see it. These opposites are archetypes that manifest themselves in all things, in all traditions, and they’re the basis for contacting the spirit world.” 

“Oh, OK. So, what are we going to do?” 

“Summon Di, and talk to him. I’ll be speaking in Chinese. That should draw him in better. Let’s close our eyes and take some deep breaths.” They closed their eyes. “Breathe in slowly, a long, deep breath.” They both did, grimacing at the foul odor around them. “Hold your breath for a moment.” They did. “And…let it out slowly.” They did. “Let’s do it again, two more times. Just relax. Breathe in slowly…hold it…and let it out slowly.” They did this one more time. 

Sophie started chanting something in Mandarin, repeating the three-word mantra of the previous summoning, saying it several times in a rhythmic way. She and Giorgio started feeling a vibration all around their bodies, between each other, and in front of themselves, where they sensed a presence. 

Suddenly, they heard Di speaking in Mandarin. Sophie replied, and the two began a conversation Giorgio wished he could participate in, for he couldn’t speak a word of Chinese. Sophie and Di kept talking and talking, their voices getting louder, more and more emotional, and with more tension, more agitation. Finally, they ended with Sophie fighting back tears. 

“W-well, what is it?” Giorgio asked. “What did Di say?” 

All you need to know, Di said in Giorgio’s and Sophie’s minds, is that I find you a most ungrateful host, Giorgio. I rid you of those two tormentors of yours—Ben and Karen—I helped you elude the authorities, and now you want to throw me away, like some object that’s exhausted all of its usefulness to you. You’ll be rid of me, boy, but not in a way you’ll like. You’ll see. 

Di laughed in his portentous way, then Sophie and Giorgio sensed he’d left them. 

“Well, what are we going to do?” Giorgio asked. 

“We’re going to make love,” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek. 

She reached forward and kissed him on the lips. She crawled on top of him as they continued kissing. 

“But what…are we…gonna do…about Di?” He asked in between kisses. “What did you…say to…each other…in Chinese?” 

“That doesn’t matter,” she said, then kissed him. “Di will…leave you. That’s all…that matters.” 

“But Di said…I won’t like…how he’ll…” Giorgio began. 

“Shut up and fuck me,” she said. “I don’t wanna d–, be a virgin. Put it in me.” He did. She winced as she bounced on him. “Ow! That hurts! Oh!” The pain in her heart made the pain between her legs seem trivial. Her pain was love for him, just as he was loving her more and more. She was the only person in that whole school who’d ever been kind to him. 

He pulled out and made a mess on the ground. “Ooh!” he grunted. 

“Eww, that’s gross,” she said, noting also her blood, which was mixing with his come. 

“I didn’t want to get you pregnant,” he panted. 

“What difference would that have made?” She got a tissue and wiped herself clean. 

“What?” Noting she looked away from him and wouldn’t answer, he then yawned. “I feel worn out. I gotta sleep for a bit.” 

“Me, too.” They put their clothes back on, lay side by side, and fell asleep in each other’s arms. 

Giorgio, this time, had pleasant dreams…unlike Sophie. 

*********** 

The other two police cars, in their confusion and oblivion, were allowed to drive back to the police station. Chang and the female cop were about to turn around and go back, too; he had vague misgivings that he was urgently needed somewhere and didn’t want to turn around. He let the other two cars go because cops were needed elsewhere in the city. Chang just kept hoping he’d remember again what they’d just been doing.  

Just then, Di’s golden face flashed before the eyes of Officer Chang and his partner; the fog of forgetfulness lifted from their minds. When they finally remembered who they’d been chasing, they wanted to kick themselves for letting the other police cars go. 

“Shit!” he shouted, then started the car. “Let’s go.” 

“I’ll call backup,” she said, picking up the two-way radio. 

As she was calling for backup, Chang was thinking about the series of supernatural events that had occurred. He was merely assuming that boy knew zuiquan. He’d made a miraculous jump of four floors without any injury. And suddenly, conveniently for him and Sophie, all the cops had forgotten who they were chasing. Sophie often talked about summoning spirits who helped her with her homework and tests…and she routinely got excellent grades, without much studying. 

Could she have really involved the supernatural in this? 

“I don’t believe it!” the female cop said. “They said they have nobody available right now to send to help us, and nobody at the police station remembers the killings at St. John’s. How could that have happened?” 

“Spirits,” Chang said. 

“Sir, you can’t really believe what your daughter…” 

“Do you have any other explanation?” Chang said, getting no answer from his partner. “Look, whatever’s going on, we’re getting no help. We’re on our own. The point is, that crazy kid’s with my daughter, and I’ve got to get her away from him. I have a hunch I know where she’s hiding, too. A dilapidated old building on Mason St. She often goes there, and it’s near here, too. If the station has any back-up available to send us, call them and tell them where we’ll be.” 

*********** 

A half hour later, Giorgio and Sophie woke up to the sound of footsteps and talking. They scrambled to their feet, their hypervigilant eyes darting around in all directions. 

“Who’s that?” Giorgio whispered. “The cops?” 

“Shh!” she said. “How should I know?” 

They hid in a corner, behind a stack of crates, and eavesdropped through the wall between them and the approaching voices. 

“Oh!” the female cop whispered. “I’m glad the worst of that stink is behind us.” 

“Shh!” Chang said. “If they’re here, they’ll hear you.” 

“Oh, no,” Sophie said. “That’s my dad’s voice.” She took out a switchblade from her purse. “There’s something I’ve gotta do. You’re not gonna like it, Giorgio. Neither will I, and that’s because…I…I love you.” 

“I love you, too,” he said. They kissed. “But what do you have to do that’s so awful?” He shuddered at the knife, the blade of which she was holding against her wrist. 

“I can’t say,” she said. “You’ll try to stop me.” 

“Oh, God, Sophie, you’re not thinking of…” 

The two cops turned the corner. 

“And here they are,” the female cop said. She took out her cellphone to call the station. 

“Come on, Sophie,” her father said. “Let’s just go home and forget this ever happened.” Then he looked at Giorgio. “Son, for some strange reason, maybe it’s this…demon…my daughter was talking about on the phone, all the cops have forgotten the crimes you committed today. I’m gonna make this real easy for you: just let Sophie go, and you’ll walk.” 

“But, I want to be with her,” Giorgio said. “I love her.” 

“I love him, too, Daddy,” Sophie said, hugging Giorgio. 

“Oh, fuck me,” Chang said. “C’mon, honey. He’s dangerous.” 

“Not anymore,” Sophie said, then let go of Giorgio and began staggering, the switchblade hidden behind her hand. 

“What’s wrong, honey?” her father asked, walking toward her. 

“No, Daddy,” she said. “Stay away!” She saw a split-second flash of gold. 

“Back-up should be here in a few minutes,” Chang’s partner said, putting her phone away. Giorgio shook at Sophie’s staggering. Her father came closer to her. 

“Sophie,” he said, grabbing her free arm, “I just want to…” 

She slipped and lunged forward, stabbing him deep in the gut. 

“Unh!” he grunted, buckling and coughing out blood.  

“Daddy!” Sophie screamed, then pulled the bloody knife out of him. 

He fell on his face on the ground before her, his blood soaking the ground. The female cop pulled out her gun. Sirens could be heard outside. Giorgio backed off, the whites of his teary eyes showing. Sobbing Sophie staggered a bit on the pebbly ground. Di’s face flashed before her eyes again. 

“Sophie,” the cop said, cocking her pistol. “Let go of the knife. I don’t wanna hurt you.” 

Sophie’s right foot slipped on some pebbles, and the knife flew from her hand and into the cop’s neck…but not before she put a bullet in Sophie’s forehead. 

“Sophie!” Giorgio screamed as he saw both of their bodies fall to the ground. 

He fell to his knees sobbing and put his arms around Sophie’s lifeless body. 

Five cops entered the area, guns pointing at him, their faces grimacing from the stink. 

“This is the kid who killed all those people at the school,” one of the cops said. “I’ll bet he killed these people, too. How did we forget about the school, then remember again? Weird.” 

Don’t worry, Di said in shaking Giorgio’s ear. I’ll never trouble you again. The echo of his laughing voice bounced off the stony walls, then faded out. 

The Golden Child

Sometimes in families, there are legitimate, practical reasons to favour one sibling over another, while the parents still love both. To take a convenient example from cinema, consider how, in The Godfather, Michael Corleone is chosen over his older brother, Fredo, to succeed Don Vito as the head of the family business. Feckless Fredo is too weak and stupid to run the dangerous business of a mafia family; his younger brother, however, has proven himself not only strong and smart, but also level-headed, unlike the oldest brother, Sonny, whose hot-headedness gets him killed.

Now, one of course would be hard-pressed to find examples of fairness in families even approaching perfection; but in families with narcissistic parents, sons and daughters are either favoured or slighted based on probably the most illegitimate reason one could think up–how much, or how little, narcissistic supply is given to the ego-driven parent.

Kids often learn early on how to get in the good graces of a narcissistic parent; what they don’t and cannot learn is that these good graces aren’t real love. Normal parents love their kids regardless of what their kids may say or do to frustrate them. The narcissistic parent, however, will hold grudges against his or her kids’ failure to provide narcissistic supply, or worse, the kids’ causing of narcissistic injury.

Narcissistic rage may prompt explosive anger in the pathological parent: all the child can understand is that Mommy or Daddy is angry, and it’s easier to believe that the rage is justified than to acknowledge that the parent is routinely being cruel and unreasonable, a scary thing for a child to contemplate, a child who has nowhere else to go to be safe. Thus, turning against oneself (blaming/attacking oneself instead of the parent) is actually an ego defence mechanism rather than masochism on the part of the child.

The rage may also prompt a vengeful attitude in the narc parent. One effective tactic a narc may use is to engage in triangulation, pitting one kid, or kids, against the offending child by speaking as a mediator between them (i.e., spreading lies and gossip), instead of the kids directly communicating with each other. Here is where narcissistic favouritism comes in. The kids who have learned the rules of pleasing Mom or Dad, at all costs, without understanding how abnormal this family dynamic is, will become golden children. Any kid who doesn’t learn, or refuses to go along with, those rules will be branded as the family scapegoat. Everyone else backs the narc parent in scapegoating the targeted child, partly out of the pleasure of ganging up on one victim, and partly to avoid being similarly targeted in the future.

These labels of ‘golden child’ and ‘scapegoat’ aren’t always absolute: some golden children are more golden than others, and scapegoats who occasionally give narcissistic supply to their disordered parents will enjoy some ‘vacations’ from emotional abuse, or they may enjoy the relief of seeing other family members get an even worse scapegoating. What does remain fairly constant, however, is the power imbalance that the narc parent and his or her flying monkeys have over the scapegoats.

It is truly nauseating, from the scapegoat’s perspective, to see the golden child(ren), GCs, suck up to the narcissistic parent, as I had to put up with in my older sister, J. My older brothers, R. and F., were moderate GCs, and they never really kissed our (probably) narcissistic mother’s ass…certainly not the way J. did, anyway; but Mom never had it in for them the way she did for me, the identified patient of the family. A fault of mine is my brutal honesty, not something our mother took kindly to.

My sister’s allegiance to our mother was cherished, though. She would back our mother up in any situation, and believe any nonsense Mom told her; even if testimony could be given to contradict Mom, J. would take Mom’s side, every time. It was all about proving that she was the worthiest of Mom’s love.

I recall two occasions, back when I was about ten or eleven years old, when J. saw me eating a lot of bad food (burgers and fries, etc.), then accused me of hypocritically “going on and on about following the Canada Food Guide.” I NEVER DID THAT. After I told her so, on the second occasion of her self-righteous accusing, I never heard that nonsense from her again (though I’ve continued, to this day, to eat lots of bad food!).

The question, however, needs to be asked: where did J. get this idea from, that I went around preaching about the virtues of eating right? I don’t think she’d been hallucinating.

In recent years, as I’ve increasingly come to see what a liar my mother was, I found a most likely explanation: Mom and J. had been engaging in one of their many smear campaigns against me behind my back, this time complaining about my bad eating habits, all the while pretending they were worried about my health, when really they were just bashing me for its own sake (on other occasions, J. would sneer at me and snort that she thought I’d eventually become a diabetic, ffs!).

Along with this, I suspect I had said or done something to cause Mom narcissistic injury–perhaps one of my less than enthusiastic reactions (<<<last three paragraphs of Part III) to her having bought me pants, yet presenting them to me (pulling them out of the bag in a dramatic reveal) as if she’d bought me a super-cool toy, one of her many mind games–and Mom wanted to get revenge on me (as all ‘loving’ mothers do, remember) by making up a story about me preaching about following the nutritional advice of the Canada Food Guide, all to hurt my reputation in the family by making me look like a hypocrite. J. has no idea how often she was duped by our mother.

To be fair, I have no way of proving for sure that the ‘Canada Food Guide story’ was one of my mother’s many lies. Maybe J. got the story from someone else. Maybe the lie was her own invention: like narc mother, like golden child daughter. But given my mother’s well-established track record, and that I’ve never caught any of the other family members lying…only in being too credulous with Mom’s fables…abductive reasoning has served me well so far. That Mom made up the lie is by far the best explanation.

My information on these matters is inescapably limited, so I can’t demand perfect explanations; I have to settle for those that leave the fewest holes. How could the alternative explanations, of all they put me through in my life, be any better than what I’ve concluded? Seriously, am I supposed to believe that an emotionally abusive family loves me, and that all their conflicts with me have been my fault? If so, how convenient for them.

It amazes me how often Mom and J. stuck up for each other. Those two were pals in the eeriest way. She was propped up as an exemplary mother, J. as the ideal daughter, always playing the role of ‘loving family woman’. I could retch at J.’s affectation.

Heinz Kohut wrote of how a narcissistically disordered person results from a failure in parental empathy, which is like nutrition for a child’s grandiosity and exhibitionism. When parents give sufficient empathy, and the child’s frustrations are bearable (i.e., given in small doses over time), the child’s resulting transmuting internalization can help him to tone down his wild grandiosity and develop healthy, realistic narcissism.

When, however, one parent fails to give a child the needed empathic mirroring, the child will turn to the other parent to compensate, perhaps in the form of an idealized parent imago; if neither parent mirrors or merges with the child’s grandiosity, his still-unrealistic, immature sense of narcissism could split vertically (disavowed and–I believe–projected narcissism) and horizontally (repressed narcissism). See Kohut, page 185, diagram and note, for more information.

In The Restoration of the Self, Kohut writes of a patient (Mr. X) whose pathological narcissism resulted from a conditionally empathic merging with his mother, provided that he always be no more than an extension of her (such a parent/child relationship being typical of narcissistic parents), and that he regard his father as inferior, a rejecting of his unconscious wish to have his father as an ideal introjected into his mind. As a result, Mr. X’s self was split vertically, with his grandiose merging with his mother, and horizontally, with his unrealized wish to idealize his father repressed into his unconscious (Kohut, pages 205-219).

I believe something similar happened with J., though she assuredly never developed Mr. X’s pathologies as described in Kohut’s book. I believe J., as a child, was traumatically disappointed in our grumpy, ultra-conservative father, possibly in part from our mother encouraging a derisive attitude towards him, however indirectly and subtly, in Mom’s usual mode (causing her to repress an Oedipal wish to idealize him–horizontal split; I believe Mom also did this to my brothers, R. and F.); then, J. found that the only way she could get empathic mirroring and merging with Mom was by allowing herself to be an extension of Mom’s ego (a vertical split, with J. disavowing and denying a grandiosity I saw her nonetheless display all the time, in proudly presenting herself as the ‘ideal daughter’ and ‘loving family woman’, while sneering in disgust at the conceitedness she saw in–or, rather, projected onto–other people).

I’ve complained before of J.’s sucking up to our mother at my expense, with numerous examples (see here for a few; see also Part IV of this). For other examples of her obnoxious attitude (and of that of my mother and brothers), see here.

I’ll give yet another example. Back in the early 1990s, the family restaurant went out of business, so naturally we were all unhappy about that. Until that time, we’d had a habit of, instead of buying our milk in stores, cleaning out empty liquor bottles from the restaurant bar, filling them up with milk, and taking them home. We joked on one occasion about the neighbours imagining we were “a bunch of boozers” after seeing so many liquor bottles among our garbage over the years. I, in my early twenties at the time of the demise of the restaurant, wanted to revive that old joke, but my timing was poor.

I tactlessly joked, at the sight of all those empty bottles in the kitchen, that we as a family “would make good derelicts.” This was right on the night that we’d closed up the restaurant for the last time, so I know, I know: I opened my mouth and inserted my foot. Mom and J. could have just said, in all firmness, “C’mon, Mawr, don’t joke about such things. We’re kind of down right now.”

Instead, J. gave me the most evil of dirty looks, and Mom told me to “Shut up.” They acted as if I’d meant to be hurtful, when surely they realized that I hadn’t meant to, as inappropriate as my remark obviously was.

I bring this up not to suggest I’d said nothing wrong, but rather to point out another example of J. and her virtue signalling at my expense, all to please our mother.

The phoniness of the golden child, as I’ve said above, is nauseating to witness; but the GC’s position in the family is not without its unenviable moments, too, and this phoney act the GC puts on is at the centre of his or her problem, for the GC is pressured into putting on this act.

Narcissistic parents assign roles like golden child or scapegoat for their kids. Not only do the parents treat their kids accordingly, but they also manipulate their kids into behaving in ways consistent with their roles; this manipulation comes in the form of projective identification.

The son or daughter who is meant to embody all of the narc parent’s worst qualities is made to introject those bad traits; my mother did that to me with such things as her autism lie, describing ‘my autism’ in the language of narcissism, and making me feel totally separate and alienated from the world. The GC is made to introject all the ‘virtues’ that the narc parent imagines him/herself to have; this is done partly by flattering the GC accordingly, but also partly by pressuring him or her to embody those virtues. Our mother did this to J., who’d suffer Mom’s wrath if ever she failed to measure up.

I’ll give a crushing example of J. displeasing our Mom. When she was about twenty or twenty-one years old (I would have been fifteen or sixteen at the time), she was dating a young man with long red hair, wearing jeans and a jean jacket. This was in about the mid-80s: he was a ‘metal-head’ or ‘rocker’, not someone my parents would ever accept as a boyfriend for J.

I remember seeing him with my sister on the living room sofa, getting in the mood, when our parents weren’t at home at night (J., studying in secretarial school, was still living at home). Obviously, I had to make myself scarce.

My bedroom was in our basement at the time. From there, I could hear my mother screaming, “I am ashamed of you!” repeatedly at J. on one of those nights; for our parents had come home unexpectedly early and found the young fellow lying naked in her bed. I don’t think you need any more details about what he and J. had been doing.

Along with Mom’s screaming, I could hear J.’s weeping and shame-laden attempts to explain herself. J. had failed to be the perfect daughter she was supposed to be, even though all she’d done was something that had become pretty standard among young adult dating couples by the 1980s…not that that made any difference to our socially-conservative parents, of course.

What is interesting about this is how our father reacted. Naturally, he didn’t approve of J.’s behaviour any more than our mom did, but his anger and shock at J. were much better controlled, as I recall. He focused more on the foolishness of what J. had done (i.e., risking pregnancy or disease), and less on the ‘shameful’ aspect of it. The unkindness of his words went to this extent: “What a donkey!” he said, twice, of J. Our near-hysterical mother, in contrast, seemed to be displaying narcissistic rage at J.’s failure to be her G.C.

Years later, J. was in a relationship with the man who would become her husband (he later died of cancer–<<<scroll down to Part VII). They were living together, and I doubt it was a platonic living arrangement. Though their relationship was getting serious, and the man was a clean-cut, respectable sort that our parents would have approved of, technically they weren’t yet married, and thus they were ‘living in sin’.

Our conservative father was the only disapproving one this time, though he grudgingly tolerated J.’s living with her then-boyfriend, acquiescing to how “that’s the way people do things these days.” Dad was playing the role of protective father, while our mother was all proud, in her smug and superior attitude, of being a ‘progressive thinker’, as against Dad’s sexist double standards for J. (while having allowed R. and F., my brothers, to live with any then-girlfriends, something I doubt our father approved of, either, by the way). This was an example of Mom doing a minor smear campaign on our father.

Mom’s hypocrisy is notable in how narcissism motivated both contradictory attitudes. Her daughter had ‘shamed the family’ by giving herself to a long-haired ‘punk’ (who, for all we know, could have cut his hair and become a ‘respectable’ member of society within a year of his breakup with J.); but now, Mom was a ‘good feminist’ for approving of this modern living arrangement with a man who–though he would prove himself a genuinely worthy husband–could have gotten J. pregnant and run off on her, for all we knew at the time.

Mom’s ‘feminism’ was nothing more than bourgeois progressivism; as long as bourgeois prejudices about ‘respectability’ weren’t challenged, J. and her not-yet husband could bonk away in bed as often as they liked. Years after J.’s ‘shame’ with the ‘punk’ in her bed, she spoke to me of the bad dating mistakes she’d made back in the 80s, with a frown of shame on her face for having displeased our mother.

J.’s haughty, self-righteous attitude toward me should be seen in light of her need to conform with our mother’s expectations of her. In my private thoughts, I always sent J.’s contempt of me back at her whenever I contemplated her chronic need to conform socially (while requiring me also to conform); now I can understand her psychological motivations for doing so. J.’s phoney virtue signalling was indeed an act she was putting on, the False Self she was required to adopt to fulfill Mom’s need for her to embody all the virtues Mom deluded herself into thinking she had. She needed J. to manifest them publicly, so Mom could watch and identify with her, and thus smile with pride at her daughter, her ‘mini-me’.

Similarly, I as the identified patient was also playing a phoney role our mother required of me, so she could be exorcised of her narcissistic demons by projecting them onto me. The scapegoat role is a False Self that I must dispel from my life; I must rediscover the real me that the family never wanted me to be.

Also, Dear Reader, if any of these issues apply to you, you must work to dispel the False Self you were required to be by your disordered parents or ex-partner, be that phoney role the scapegoat or the golden child (the good role of the idealize phase, or the bad one of the devalue/discard phase, respectively, if it was your ex who abused you). You get to decide who you really are, remember, not those people who programmed your brain for their not-so-noble purposes.

Stay authentic, my friends.

Analysis of ‘Taxi Driver’

Taxi Driver is a psychological thriller filmed in 1976, written by Paul Schrader, directed by Martin Scorsese (who also has a cameo or two in the film), and starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Leonard HarrisCybill Shepherd, and Peter Boyle. It is ranked #52 on the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time.

Here are some famous quotes:

  1. “May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.” –Travis Bickle

2. “Each night when I return the cab to the garage, I have to clean the cum off the back seat. Some nights, I clean off the blood.” –Bickle

3. “Twelve hours of work and I still can’t sleep. Damn. Days go on and on. They don’t end.” –Bickle

4. “All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.” –Bickle

5. “I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They… cannot… touch… her.” –Bickle

6. “Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” –Bickle

7. “I called Betsy again at her office and she said maybe we’d go to a movie together after she gets off work tomorrow. That’s my day off. At first she hesitated but I called her again and then she agreed. Betsy, Betsy. Oh no, Betsy what? I forgot to ask her last name again. Damn. I got to remember stuff like that.” –Bickle

8. “I realize now how much she’s just like the others – cold and distant, and many people are like that. Women for sure. They’re like a union.” –Bickle

9. “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” –Bickle, looking at himself in a mirror (ranked #10 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema.)

10. [in an anniversary card to his parents] “Dear Father and Mother: July is the month I remember which brings not only your wedding anniversary but also Father’s Day and Mother’s birthday. I’m sorry I can’t remember the exact dates, but I hope this card will take care of them all. I’m sorry again I cannot send you my address like I promised to last year.” –Bickle

11. “When we came up with our slogan, ‘We are the People,’ when I said let the people rule, I felt that I was being somewhat overly optimistic. I must tell you that I am more optimistic now than ever before. The people are rising to the demands that I have made on them. The people are beginning to rule. I feel it is a groundswell. I know it will continue through the primary. I know it will continue in Miami. And I know it will rise to an unprecedented swell in November.” –Senator Charles Palantine

12. “Walt Whitman, that great American poet, spoke for all of us when he said: ‘I am the man. I suffered. I was there.’ Today, I say to you, We Are The People, we suffered, we were there. We the People suffered in Vietnam. We the People suffered, we still suffer from unemployment, inflation, crime and corruption.” –Palantine

13. [to Travis] “You see the woman in the window? Do you see the woman in the window?…I want you to see that woman, because that’s my wife. But that’s not my apartment. That’s not my apartment. You know who lives there? Huh? I mean, you wouldn’t know who lives there – I’m just saying, “But you know who lives there?” Huh? A nigger lives there. How do ya like that? And I’m gonna, I’m gonna kill her. There’s nothing else. I’m gonna kill her. What do you think of that? Hmm? I said ‘What do you think of that?’ Don’t answer. You don’t have to answer everything. I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna kill her with a .44 Magnum pistol. I have a .44 Magnum pistol. I’m gonna kill her with that gun. Did you ever see what a .44 Magnum pistol can do to a woman’s face? I mean it’ll fuckin’ destroy it. Just blow her right apart. That’s what it can do to her face. Now, did you ever see what it can do to a woman’s pussy? That you should see. You should see what a .44 Magnum’s gonna do to a woman’s pussy you should see. I know, I know you must think that I’m, you know… You must think I’m pretty sick or somethin’, you know, you must think I’m pretty sick. Right? You must think I’m pretty sick? Hmm? Right? I’ll betcha, I’ll betcha you really think I’m sick right? You think I’m sick? You think I’m sick? You don’t have to answer. I’m payin’ for the ride. You don’t have to answer.” –cuckold passenger

14. “Look, look at it this way, you know uh, a man, a man takes a job, you know, and that job, I mean like that, and that it becomes what he is. You know like uh, you do a thing and that’s what you are. Like I’ve been a, I’ve been a cabbie for seventeen years, ten years at night and I still don’t own my own cab. You know why? ‘Cause I don’t want to. I must be what I, what I want. You know, to be on the night shift drivin’ somebody else’s cab. Understand? You, you, you become, you get a job, you you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn, one guy lives in Sutton Place, you get a lawyer, another guy’s a doctor, another guy dies, another guy gets well, and you know, people are born. I envy you your youth. Go out and get laid. Get drunk, you know, do anything. ‘Cause you got no choice anyway. I mean we’re all fucked, more or less you know.” –Wizard

15. “So what makes you so high and mighty. Will you tell me that? Didn’t you ever try lookin’ in your own eyeballs in the mirror?” –Iris

The main themes of Taxi Driver include false ideals, and alienation leading into fragmentation, these being social and psychological problems stemming from capitalism and imperialism. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a Vietnam vet suffering from insomnia and loneliness, problems common to sufferers of PTSD and C-PTSD. With his feeling of being broken off from the rest of society comes the breaking up, the falling apart, of his personality.

You can see how troubled Travis is just from the first look in his eyes at the beginning of the movie. When he’s interviewed for the job, he’s asked by the interviewer (Joe Spinell) why he wants to be a cabbie; when he says he can’t sleep, the interviewer suggests going to theatres that show porno films.

Already we see an example of the social alienation between different members of the proletariat. How is it ‘treatment’ for proletarians’ insomnia to watch naked, sexualized, and exploited lumpenproletariat? Bickle was a veteran suffering from the trauma of fighting an imperialist war where soldiers like him saw (and often participated in) the raping and bombing of Southeast Asians. Recall Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the nine-year-old girl who was photographed running naked because a napalm strike was burning her clothes and her back. How could watching porn cure this, instead of aggravating it?

When the interviewer asks about Bickle’s driving record, he responds, “Clean, like my conscience.” With his record in Vietnam, this joke sounds suspiciously like reaction formation. The interviewer is offended by this remark, forcing an apology from Bickle–more alienation.

When Bickle goes into the parking lot where all the cabs are, the camera moves away from him to get a sweep of the area; not his point of view, but as if we were seeing the scene from other eyes. One would expect to see more of Bickle, who is more or less narrating the story (i.e., the story is essentially from his point of view). The camera drifting away from him suggests his distracted, dissociated mind; it also suggests his growing alienation from himself…his fragmentation.

Bickle does go to those porno theatres; what’s worse, on two occasions he tries to connect with women in that very setting! Naturally, the women in question are so offended and disgusted that they want nothing to do with him.

It’s easy to look at Bickle’s behaviour and say, “What an idiot! Taking a woman he wants to impress on a date…to a porno theatre? Asking the name of a woman selling snacks in a porno theatre? What is he thinking? Is he thinking?”

Such snap judgements, however, fail to get at the root of the problem, which is in the conflicts in his fragmented unconscious mind, in his alienation from his species-essence. Part of him wants to connect with these women (or with any woman in general), but another part of him wants to sabotage that connection by scaring them off. Bickle knows as well as any idiot (though he speaks as if he doesn’t) that no woman wants to date or get to know a pervy porn lover…but he puts women in that awkward situation anyway. In his alienation and fragmentation, he can’t make up his mind whether to be or not to be connected with a girl, so his conflict is resolved in a brutal social faux pas.

Heinz Kohut knew of a patient whose fragmentation perfectly exemplified this inability to think straight–a man who confused left and right! The patient had a dream he was “in an airplane flying from Chicago to New York. He was occupying a window seat on the left side of the plane, as he mentioned, looking out toward the south. When the analyst pointed out the inconsistency in his report of the dream: that, going from Chicago to New York, he would be looking north, not south, from the left side of the plane, the patient became utterly confused and spatially disoriented–to the point that he literally could not tell right from left for a short time.” (Kohut, pages 153-154)

The patient’s fragmentation came from his parents’ disappearance from his life for a span of more than a year, when he was three-and-a-half years old. In this connection, one wonders about the closeness of Bickle’s relationship with his parents, when he writes to them in an anniversary card (see Quote #10 above), and he doesn’t remember the exact dates of their anniversary, his mother’s birthday, or Father’s Day! He remembers only that the dates are all in July. Recall (Quote #6) that he says he’s been lonely all his life, suggesting a lack of closeness with his parents in his childhood. His trauma from his Vietnam War experiences would have multiplied his fragmentation by the thousands, hence his own inability to think straight, or to remember to do even the simplest of things, like remember to ask Betsy’s last name (Quote #7).

When Bickle becomes a taxi driver, he accepts working absurdly long hours throughout the night because he can’t sleep. He is like so many right-leaning members of the working class, who take on such long hours without ever questioning if such a working life is good for them.

He drives his cab around an especially rough area of New York City. As a conservative worker, he feels revulsion at the lumpenproletariat all around him. His prejudice against blacks is first noted when he calls them “spooks” (see Quote #1 above), then says it makes no difference to him if they ride in his cab, a denial of the racism he also manifests in the dirty looks he gives blacks later on, as well as the black man he shoots in the head for trying to rob a convenience store (instead of just making a citizen’s arrest, or, since Bickle’s at close range, maybe shooting the gun out of the black man’s hand in self-defence when he spins around to try to shoot Bickle). If only he could feel more solidarity with all the global proletariat (including not only blacks but also prostitutes, beyond the mere ‘gallantry’ of saving Iris [Foster] from her pimp, Sport [Keitel], more on that later), he just might cure his alienation.

When Bickle sees Betsy for the first time, a curvaceous blonde beauty working for the campaign of a left-leaning liberal politician named Palantine (Harris), he idealizes her in his mind, imagining that the sewer society all around them “cannot…touch…her.” When she rejects him after his foolish choice to take her to a porno movie, his ideal of her has been shattered.

This leads to a discussion of an important theme in Taxi Driver: false ideals. Apart from his temporary idealizing of Betsy, Bickle also idealizes outdated notions of manhood, a problem many right-leaning male members of the proletariat, semi-proletariat, and petite bourgeoisie have, including many in the ‘manosphere‘, for example. Bickle imagines men are supposed to protect and provide for all women, as well as ‘perform’ for them (i.e., initiate dates with them and play the role of ‘perfect gentleman’).

In his social awkwardness, though, Bickle is over-aggressive in his wish to join up through Betsy instead of Tom (Brooks), to help the Palantine campaign. His reason to prefer her over Tom, bluntly given, is that she is “the most beautiful woman [he’s] ever seen”. During their time together in the café, he’s polite and well-groomed, and in his jealousy over Tom’s attentions to her, he bad-mouths him, whom he doesn’t know at all, saying he’s “silly” and that he doesn’t respect her. That night, Bickle takes her to a porno!

The same man who has no problem with pornography does, however, have a problem with prostitution; for he sees Iris try to escape from Sport by getting into his cab. (This version of the scene doesn’t have the dialogue, but the visuals are sufficient to demonstrate my point, anyway.) We see Bickle’s piercing eyes through his rear-view mirror–an important motif representing his projections of his own, inner viciousness out into a world he perceives as vicious (more on that later)–as he sees the pimp grab the girl and toss him a crumpled twenty-dollar bill to make him forget the whole incident.

He can forget about the exploited women in porn, as well as all those other prostitutes he sees on the streets or even in his cab, but not Iris. For Bickle, she has a face: she is a real human being to him. His alienation is so bad that he can recognize humanity in such women only when up close.

Because of his having been rejected by his once-idealized Betsy, he regards her as “in a Hell,” and unkindly generalizes about all women thus, saying they’re “like a union.” He, like those in the ‘manosphere’, would do well to give up their right-leaning convictions, join unions, and end their alienation instead of aggravating it with flippant misogyny.

Note the dialectical tension, though, between this misogyny and its opposite extreme, misguided gallantry. (Remember, also, how dialectical materialism sees a unity in contradictions.) A fellow cabbie inspires Bickle to buy weapons, and after an encounter with an angry cuckold who wants to murder his unfaithful wife (possibly by firing a phallic .44 Magnum at her face and between her legs!), he buys a number of guns to kill Iris’s pimp and mafia associates, and thus free her of them.

Bickle watches that angry cuckold fearfully through his rear-view mirror, seeing a disturbing reflection…of himself, actually, when you think about it. One of the guns he buys is a .44 Magnum. He later watches porn in a theatre and mimics aiming and firing a gun, with phallic fingers, at the screen.

Part of him has wanted to stop himself. He talks to a fellow cabbie they call “the Wizard” (Boyle), who apparently gives good advice. Bickle, in his increasing alienation and fragmentation, can’t tell the Wizard what’s troubling him beyond saying, “I got some bad ideas in my head.” (Then again, how do you tell someone that you want to murder a politician, and then a pimp to free a prostitute, and maybe even kill more people in the future?)

The Wizard’s counsel is hardly helpful. He seems to be experiencing fragmentation on a certain level, too, for he speaks in a largely incoherent way. He does, however, touch on a few important points: a man identifies with his job, and by saying he doesn’t want to own his own cab, the Wizard is implying an acknowledgement of worker alienation, of his own alienation from having to drive a cab every day.

Bickle’s faux-gallant wish to be the hero who rescues the damsel in distress (Iris), yet also to assassinate a popular politician (Palantine), presumably to spite Betsy (inspiring John Hinckley Jr. to try to assassinate Reagan, to impress Jodie Foster), represents a growing problem in the self-centred, alienating modern world–masculinity in crisis.

Just as sex roles have required women to be docile, timid homemakers and beauty queens, they have also required men to be stoic providers and protectors, willing to face any terror without shedding a tear. Such would have been Travis Bickle’s experience in Vietnam, killing fellow members of the global proletariat, including innocent women and children, all to stop the spread of an ideology dedicated to ending imperialism.

The trauma of war, combined with the worker alienation felt in the modern, capitalist world, have all combined to create great social isolation in Bickle. Instead of getting organized, however, with fellow workers to end the capitalist, imperialist system that sent him to kill people in Vietnam, one that created the material conditions that alienate him from the rest of society, he’d rather “get organizized” (more fragmentation) all alone, and fight and kill the ‘scum’ he sees all around him–including his fellow proletarians.

People are way too often distracted from legitimate socialist struggle by identity politics…on both the left and the right: white nationalism and the alt-right; the extremes of men’s rights activism, incels, and others in the manosphere; the kind of CIA-influenced ‘feminism’ that wanted Hillary Clinton to be president just because she’s a woman, while ignoring her total support of imperialism and neoliberalism, etc. Instead, poor whites should be joining the proletarian struggle, and the ending of sex roles should integrate women’s and men’s issues within a socialist context. Solidarity for all the people. Our true enemy is none other than the ruling class. Alienated Bickle in many ways is like those idpol fetishists, who are too self-absorbed to channel their discontent into solving more fundamental problems.

Mirrors are a major motif in this film. I’ve mentioned the rear-view mirror of Bickle’s cab. There’s also his mirror in his apartment during his “You talkin’ to me?” monologue. Though he’s imagining himself confronting one of those “scum” he wants to ‘stand up to’, remember that he sees himself in that mirror. He’s talking to himself. The scum he’s confronting is himself, whom he’s been projecting onto the world around him. As he himself says, he’s the only one there.

Jacques Lacan wrote of the mirror stage, when an uncoordinated infant first sees him- or herself in the reflection. The emotional effects of this psychological identification with the image in the mirror are problems Lacan saw as staying with one throughout life, though. There’s a feeling of alienation from oneself: that’s me in the mirror, but the image’s totality and unity (an idealized version of myself) seem at odds with the awkward, fragmented person I feel myself to be. Bickle, on two tries, has to make three jerks of his arm to make the device under his sleeve produce the concealed pistol in his hand; this reflects that awkwardness, all in contrast with his tough talk, “You’re dead.” The gun should just slide into his hand in one quick, effortless movement.

Note that in this scene, as well as the scenes with his mohawk, he’s wearing a green jacket, part of combat fatigues. The mohawk was also adopted by some soldiers, considered to have done especially heroic missions, during such wars as in Vietnam. Bickle seems, on at least an unconscious level, to be still fighting the war in his mind. Knowing how PTSD sufferers relive their trauma through flashbacks, we shouldn’t find it difficult to imagine Bickle thinking this way.

So all of his exercising, weight-lifting, target practice, etc., is like him going through basic training again. He speaks of eating no more bad food, no more pills, “no more destroyers of [his] body” (not that he actually makes these healthy reforms): in other words, he’s trying to fight against his own fragmentation, just as his mind is falling to pieces.

Recall those breaks in camera continuity, as when he repeats the words, “Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. Who would not let- Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up. Here is…” And again, right after he’s shot Sport the first time, and he goes to sit on the steps before the building where Iris is with the other mafiosi, his sudden walking into the building, turning to the right from walking on the sidewalk, after his sit on the steps, seems too abrupt…it’s as if he never sat. Those continuity breaks, like the camera’s sweeping away from Bickle in the taxi parking lot at the beginning of the film, or its moving away from him when he phones Betsy to try to make up with her after their disastrous date, all symbolize his fragmentation, his alienation from himself.

The scene of his attempt to assassinate Palantine, during which he reacts to the glib, charming words of the senator’s speech with ironic clapping and a sneering smile, could be his attempt to spite Betsy as I mentioned above; or it could be a reflection of his wish to take on the capitalist political establishment that sent him out to kill Vietnamese peasants, people who’d never done him any harm; and yet, in the words of liberal Palantine, that establishment hypocritically condemns the Vietnam War.

Remember that Bickle’s trauma, as is the case with the veteran of any war, is not just about the pain he endured, but also the pain he caused the ‘enemy’: in this case, Vietnamese soldiers who were just trying to liberate their people from imperialism; also, Vietnamese women and children, including prostitutes exploited by American GIs…sometimes underage prostitutes, like Iris.

One might think that, just because nothing is said about Bickle’s experiences in Vietnam, there’s little justification for going on and on about his trauma from the war. His laconicism about Vietnam can, however, easily be attributed to repression. (Recall, also, that the trauma of the Vietnam War was fresh on people’s minds back in the mid-1970s.)

When, during his job interview at the beginning of the movie, you see and hear him talking about his honourable discharge from the marines, his pained, grimacing facial expression gives us a clue as to how “honourable” the whole thing had really been for him; contrast this with the friendly smile of the interviewer, who has also served in the marines.

Let’s come to the film’s climax. Pimps are mafia, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, mafia are capitalists. The brutal exploitation of prostitutes, also something I’ve discussed elsewhere, is another example of capitalist cruelty, imperialist cruelty, in the case of Third World prostitutes exploited by Western tourists. So Bickle’s rescuing of Iris by going into the urban jungle and killing Sport and the other two mafia men, while he’s in his green jacket and with his mohawk, is like him going back into the jungles of Vietnam to kill the imperialists, though he–a conservative proletarian–would sense this intention only unconsciously. Since he unconsciously sees himself in these pimps (and them in him), he is killing himself in unconscious phantasy.

He uses his .44 Magnum to blow off the fingers of a mafia man, then uses a knife to stab the man in the other hand. He puts another gun to the man’s face and fires a bullet in his head, just after he’s filled the face of another mafioso with bullets–all of these acts of violence being symbols of fragmentation…Bickle’s own fragmentation, since he projects his self-hatred onto these scum. In killing them, he’s trying to kill himself.

Indeed, after killing them, he points a gun at his head and tries to kill himself, only he’s out of bullets. So, when the cops come, he just points his bloody finger at his head and mimes shooting himself. Iris, a witness to all the killing, just sits nearby and sobs.

The media portray his rescue of Iris from pimps as an act of heroism. This is more false idealizing, for what Bickle has really done, by subjecting a teenage girl to the close-up witnessing of a bloody shootout, is to traumatize her far worse than all the sexual exploitation she’s been enduring. In fact, with all those phallic guns ejaculating bullets and spraying, if you will, multiple orgasms of blood, Bickle has raped Iris far more brutally than the paid rape of prostitution ever could.

Her father writes Bickle a thank-you letter for having rescued her and having her return home to go back to school; but we never really get her side of the story. She certainly regrets having been a prostitute, but is she happy back at home again? What drove her to run away in the first place? She told Bickle, during breakfast in a diner, that her parents “hate” her. It’s easy to assume this talk is just teenage hyperbole, but the notion of ‘loving parents’ is another easy assumption, a false ideal. If her parents abused her, what kind of abuse was it? Physical? Emotional? Did her father sexually abuse her? If it’s the last of these three, an understanding of object relations theory would explain her running into Sport’s arms.

The movie ends with Bickle giving Betsy a ride home at night. On the surface, he seems to be stable again, even amiable, for he gives her a free ride. Then, just before the ending credits, as he’s driving, he sees something in his rear-view mirror that agitates him. Is it another manifestation of the filth and corruption of the city, a filth he must wash clean with more blood? Or is it his own face in the reflection that troubles him? After all, we see his eyes in the mirror just before the first of the credits; and during his moment of agitation, the soundtrack recording is briefly played in reverse, suggesting a move backwards in time, towards his moment of extreme instability and fragmentation.

He is no hero, of course. He is a ticking time bomb, ready to explode with more violence at any moment. He felt no therapeutic catharsis when he killed those mafia men. He’ll kill again, and the victims could very well be far more innocent the next time. He has by no means exorcised his Vietnamese demons, for the evil is still alive inside himself. No matter how hard he tries to project it out onto the streets of New York City, it remains inside him.

Killing is in his blood; he got it from Vietnam. The internal dialogue of violence was programmed into him from his years of seeing combat every day. The ghosts of all those Viet Cong (and, in all likelihood, innocent civilians) he killed are still haunting him, his bad object relations. Only love would replace those bad internal objects with good ones, and his perpetual objectifying of women makes getting that love an impossibility.

Recall how, before the shootout, he broods while watching TV in his apartment, holding his .44 Magnum (aiming it at the TV, too) and seeing the smiling dancing couples on American Bandstand, a staged love, to be sure (as the media is almost universally phoney); but also one that he, in his isolation, can’t have, much less a real love. Oh, the pain you see in his eyes as that bittersweet song is playing! He can’t even have a love that leads to marriage, then divorce, as he sees in the soap opera just before he knocks over and destroys his TV set.

A man-woman relationship is only a sexual one for him; hence his viewing of pornography. But could it be that, as he says, such a relationship “is not so bad”? After all, he saw far worse treatment of women, sexual and violent, in Vietnam. The escape from reality into a world of pornographic fantasy would seem less harsh. Bickle’s pathological failure to achieve loving relationships leads to his empty pleasure-seeking, as WRD Fairbairn noted (see my third quoting of Fairbairn in this blog post). However Bickle may try to rationalize his pathologies, though, his reality is that he’s in a Hell, the Hell of his war trauma, a Hell of loneliness…and he’s gonna die in a Hell like the rest of ’em.