Stairs

The wealthy, monied aristocracy

causes those of the petite bourgeoisie

to be afraid of those in poverty,

to whom those in the economic centre

may, one unhappy day, have to descend.

Those in the lower social echelons

dream, one day, of ascending to the top;

but those already there would have them stop

for fear that they would, one day, them usurp.

Still, the rich promote the American dream.

In their deceptiveness, they’d make it seem

that anyone financially can rise,

to make them work more tirelessly…what lies!

for their employers; yet, nothing comes of

this extra work. Hence, this misguided love

of all things monetary blinds us all

from the reality that there’s a wall

that separates each step on this stairway.

All walls of glass, invisible, but they

will stay there always, until we, as one,

decide to break them down. Then, we will run

up to the top, and tear the structure down.

Then we will have a world for all the people, not one of rising claimants to the crown.

‘Cedrick,’ a Children’s Story

[Here’s another children’s story in verse, like my previous one, ‘Bite.’ Again, there are no illustrations for it, because I’m far from being the best drawer in the world. I hope to find an illustrator, preferably my wife’s nephew, to do justice to the story. Here it is.]

In the land of Nacada, a powerful witch
Used her magic to give herself beauty.
Named Zill, she then married a man who was rich;
But to none in the world was her duty.

The key to her beauty was throwing away
All her ugliness onto another.
To keep herself comely, she found one good way:
After marrying, she’d be a mother.

On their children, she’d throw all of her ugliness:
First, two sons, and then, their only daughter.
Then at last, their son Cedrick, who never felt bliss,
But instead, his tears flowed out like water.

For on him was thrown all of the hideousness
That the five in his home all possessed.
For, without all Zill’s magic, these five were no less
Hard to look at than her. In his breast,

Cedrick had a good heart, but nobody saw past
His repulsive exterior form.
As a boy, he sought friends, but they all were aghast
At his shape–less a man than a worm.

In their house, the five made him do all of the work–
Washing dishes and clearing the trash.
If any one duty the youth dared to shirk,
He’d get many a bruise and a gash.

He learned of a party one night; out he snuck.
There he saw…oh!…the prettiest girl!
He was far from the power of his mother–what luck!
His good looks were restored! With this pearl,

He dared to chat, dared to ask her for a dance,
And this pearl of a girl said she would.
Oh, Cedrick was glad that he took such a chance,
For her heart, like her looks, was all good.

Her name being Georgia, she said he was handsome!
He’d never been called that before!
He looked in the mirror: he looked good, and then some!
Zill’s spells didn’t work anymore.

They danced, and they laughed, and they talked ’til quite late,
And she saw in his soul a good heart.
And he saw in his Georgia a long-wished-for mate,
And from her, he would not want to part.

But by midnight, Zill’s magic had traveled far past
The more usual reach of its power.
For all five of the family now made a cast
Of their curses at him in a shower.

His deformities all had returned, one by one,
Causing him to flee from Georgia’s sight.
Her surprise came more from his abrupt need to run
Than from how his new looks caused a fright.

Back at home, he saw all his grotesqueness returned,
And his family all felt relieved
That their warts and their boils were now his. How he yearned
For his Georgia, and how she’d perceived

Him as good in his looks as she’d found his warm heart.
And he slaved away as the five dined.
He wondered if he’d get her back…by what art?
All he had was his Georgia on his mind.

The next day, she came back to him! She’d found his home!
She said, “I’ve come to set Cedrick free!
He’s no longer your slave; now, with me will he roam.”
His mother growled, “How can that be?!”

“I, too, am a sorceress,” Georgia replied.
“But, unlike all of you, I do good.
It was I who helped Cedrick to find me outside
At a dance, far from you, where I could

“Give him love and affection, a cure to the ills
That you cruelly all passed on to him.
I won’t leave him with you, ’til your ugliness kills
All his goodness. A future so grim

“Is what you five deserve, so we’re leaving you here
Where I’ll bind you from passing your curses
To others. No longer will anyone fear
Zill’s deforming, maleficent verses.”

Then Georgia and Cedrick left his troubled city,
And wed in a faraway land.
As for Zill and her family, more was the pity.
They died by her cruel, cursing hand.

For no longer could they throw their foul ugliness
Onto others; it stayed there with them,
And they rotted away. Cedrick, though, lived in bliss
With his Georgia, his saviour, his gem.

So, if something inside has been bothering you,
And you try, then, to dump it on others,
You’ll find it comes back, just to vex you anew.
Folks aren’t trash. You should see them as brothers.

Analysis of ‘Tommy’

I: Introduction

Tommy is the fourth studio album by The Who, released in 1969. Most of the songs were written by Pete Townshend, with two songs by John Entwistle (“Cousin Kevin,” and “Fiddle About”), “The Hawker” being Townshend’s adaptation of a song with lyrics by Sonny Boy Williamson II; and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” though credited to Keith Moon, being based on his suggestion of what kind of religious movement Tommy could lead, was actually written by Townshend, too.

Though there are some historical precedents dating from the mid- to late 1960s, Tommy is the first album to be billed as a “rock opera,” according to Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Townshend himself made some musical forays beyond the simple three-minute pop song from 1966 onwards, with songs that have extended narrative elements, resulting in such suites as “A Quick One, While He’s Away” and “Rael,” the latter having melodic material in its second half that was used in “Sparks” and “Underture.”

In 1968, Townshend became influenced by the Indian spiritual mentor Meher Baba, and deaf-dumb-and-blind Tommy Walker’s connection to the world through vibrations (making him amazingly gifted at pinball, as well as a spiritual leader in his own right) came from Baba’s mysticism. Indeed, this mystical connection is the flip side to Tommy’s self-isolating trauma response to the killing he, as a sensitive child, has seen, but has been forbidden by his perpetrator parents to acknowledge having seen or heard, or to speak about. This trauma reaction, Tommy’s mental block, was also influenced by Townshend’s own experiences of childhood trauma. As of 1968, the rock opera was referred to by such tentative titles as Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy, Amazing Journey, Journey Into Space, The Brain Opera, and Omnibus.

Tommy was acclaimed on its release by critics, who called it The Who’s breakthrough. It has been developed into other media, including the Ken Russell film of 1975 and the 1992 Broadway musical. The album has sold 20 million copies and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Here is a link to all the lyrics of the album.

II: Traumatic Beginnings

The Overture is mostly instrumental, incorporating themes from “1921,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Go to the Mirror!”, “See Me, Feel Me,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Listening to You,” and “Sparks.” Another musical highlight is John Entwistle’s French horn. The song ends with one verse sung by Townshend, establishing that Tommy’s father, Captain Walker, is missing in action in WWI and presumed dead.

Tommy’s mother, left to raise the boy alone, takes on a lover. Though the year is 1921 in the album’s version of the story, Russell’s film changes the year to 1951; the war is thus changed to WWII, and her lover (played by Oliver Reed) has Fifties style hair. Furthermore, while on the album, Captain Walker kills his wife’s paramour, in the film, killer and killed are reversed.

Since the killing is the traumatic event that causes Tommy’s psychosomatic deafness/muteness/blindness, it’s interesting to explore the precise psychological circumstances of this trauma. We’re dealing with either the killing of Tommy’s father, implying an Oedipal wish-fulfillment (especially relevant given how the little boy’s mother is played by the oh, so hot Ann-Margaret in the film), or the killing of her lover, suggesting what the boy’s daddy might do to him if he were to satisfy his Oedipal desires with her. (While Freud is generally considered passé today, recall how Townshend’s story was conceived at a time when the ideas of the founder of psychoanalysis were still in vogue, and his ideas are therefore a valid interpretation of the story’s meaning.)

Another crucial aspect of little Tommy’s traumatizing is the denying of what he’s seen and heard. The man and woman screaming at the boy, “You didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it!” happens while he says he did see and hear it, though his words are ignored. Such denial, or refusal to validate a painful experience, is the essence of gaslighting, which causes the victim to doubt his or her perception of the world–in Tommy’s extreme case, to doubt his very senses to the point where he feels forbidden even to use two of them.

The ultimate trauma, though, is in his being forbidden to talk about the painful incident. Being able to put one’s trauma into words is indispensable to healing, and his own parents, refusing to take any responsibility for what they’ve done, are denying the very thing the boy needs to do to get better. One is reminded of that old poem by Philip Larkin.

III: Lacan’s Angle

So this trauma, making Tommy psychosomatically deaf, dumb, and blind, has cut him off from society. The inability to communicate with others has isolated him from the world. Normally, a child of his age would, using Lacan‘s terminology, shift from the narcissistically Oedipal Imaginary Order to the Symbolic; that is, he would go from the dyadic mother/son relationship of self and other mirroring each other’s narcissism, to the healthy relationship of self to the many Others of society. Tommy’s move from other to Other would have been mediated by the Non! du père, the father’s prohibition of Oedipal incest with the mother, and the introduction of language, culture, law, and social customs.

Tommy, however, gets neither the Non! du père nor an introduction to language and culture. The murder of his mother’s lover (or, in the film, the killing of his father) precludes the boy’s entry into society with him seeing his father commit a crime (an antisocial act pushing Tommy in the opposite direction of society), or be killed. He cannot use language and relate to the Other of society if he’s deaf, dumb, and blind, so he cannot enter the Symbolic. Instead of le Non! du père, his is a case of les non-dupes errent: that is, not being duped by the hypocrisies of social life (because not initiated in society), Tommy errs in a non-Symbolic, solipsistic world.

If his mother is reunited with his father (or if, in the film, “Uncle Frank” [Reed] replaces his father, as Uncle Claudius replaced King Hamlet by crawling into Gertrude‘s bed), then Tommy cannot indulge in his incestuous, Oedipal desires with her, the transgressive jouissance of the Imaginary. He can be in neither the Imaginary nor the Symbolic. Therefore, Tommy is trapped in the traumatic world of the Real, a world of the undifferentiated, because of the absence of sight, sound, and speech.

IV: Heaven and Hell

Now, the undifferentiated world of the Real, or of Wilfred Bion‘s O, is not necessarily all traumatic. It’s actually on the cusp where heaven meets hell; it involves the dialectical relationship between the highest happiness and the most traumatizing pain. The only thing that marks the difference between an experience of bliss or one of horror is whether or not one is still attached to one’s ego (something formed during the mirror stage in the Imaginary).

In his essay Heaven and Hell, Aldous Huxley wrote of what he called antipodes, or extreme opposite “regions of the mind,” where one can have blissful or hellish visionary experiences, brought on by trances, meditation, self-flagellation, fasting, or the use of such drugs as LSD or mescaline, all of which in some sense biologically disable the mind–that is, turn off the senses, as Tommy has had his turned off.

Huxley wrote of how quickly one can shift from the blissful to the hellish experience: “In life, even the blissful visionary experience tends to change its sign if it persists too long. Many schizophrenics have their times of heavenly happiness; but the fact that (unlike the mescaline taker) they do not know when, if ever, they will be permitted to return to the reassuring banality of everyday experience causes even heaven to seem appalling. But for those who, for whatever reason, are appalled, heaven turns into hell, bliss into horror, the Clear Light into the hateful glare of the land of lit-upness.” (Huxley, page 90)

Now, we’ve already examined the traumatizing aspect of Tommy’s loss of connectedness with the social and sensory worlds. We must also look into the blissful, mystical aspect of his experience, something first heard in the song “Amazing Journey.” We learn that the “deaf, dumb, and blind boy [is] in a quiet vibration land.” The unifying vibrations of the Brahman-like universe are his only connection with everything around him…but they are also a powerful connection with it, because a connection not requiring the senses. Here we see the influence of Baba on Townshend.

These vibrations will be the mystical source of Tommy’s incredible talent at pinball. Since the regular, wave-like movement of these vibrations suggest a rhythm, we can see how Tommy’s interpretation of the world around him can be understood as a musical one. Such a context is what we need to hear “Sparks” in: a kind of musical dream. In this sense, “Sparks” can be interpreted to mean tiny flashes of symbolic light to guide Tommy through the darkness, and the rhythm of those vibrations is a sound he can feel rather than hear.

V: The Manic Defence

A quack/pimp known as The Hawker claims his wife, a drug addict/prostitute known as the “Acid Queen” can cure Tommy. The use of the lyrics to Sonny Boy Williamson II‘s blues song “Eyesight to the Blind,” which refer to how the beautiful prostitute’s sexy walk is so compelling that it would restore a man’s eyesight, his ability to talk and to hear, are effective in how they dovetail with my psychoanalytic interpretation of the cause of Tommy’s trauma.

The sexual allure of the Acid Queen (played by Tina Turner in the film), as well as the hedonistic escape that her drugs represent, embodies what Lacan called the objet petit a, the unattainable object-cause of desire. Since part of Tommy’s trauma is based on the violent expression of the paternal prohibition against the boy having his mother (given on the album in the form of his father killing her lover, on whom Tommy has projected his Oedipal desire; and given in the film in the form of “Uncle Frank” killing the boy’s father, usurping his position as his mother’s new lover and causing Tommy to have guilt feelings about a murder he himself has, however unconsciously, wished for…like Hamlet vis-à- vis Claudius, in Freud’s interpretation), the Acid Queen as seductress attempts to act as a replacement, a transference, for the Oedipally-desired mother, which if she succeeds, she theoretically could cure him of his mental block. Since the objet petit a never ultimately satisfies that forbidden desire, though, the Acid Queen’s attempt is doomed to fail.

Similarly, the boy may enjoy an intense LSD trip, as musically expressed in “Underture,” with musical themes similar to those of “Sparks” (implying the similarity between a drug trip and a blissful mystical experience of universal oneness, as Huxley observed), still, drugs won’t cure Tommy of his trauma any better than sex will. If anything, indulgence in these fleeting pleasures are the opposite of a cure, for they are only a manic defence against facing the pain, which is the only real cure. Hence, the Acid Queen’s drugs will fail, too.

VI: The Opium of the People

If drugs fail to help Tommy, religion, “the opium of the people,” will also fail. At “Christmas,” his parents fret about how the boy’s disconnect from the world around him means he doesn’t know about Jesus, and therefore cannot be “saved from the eternal grave.” Of course, these parents–being impenitent about a murder they’ve kept secret, a murder whose very secrecy is the cause of Tommy’s trauma–are in no position to judge whether Tommy, or anyone, for that matter, needs to be saved by Christ or not. Their main concern, in making Tommy a ‘good Christian,’ is in integrating the boy with the hypocritical bourgeois values of society.

Making Tommy know of religious custom, or the laws of morality and mores of society, is another manifestation of the Nom, or Non! du père (in this case, God the Father). But with Tommy, who won’t accept pretending he never saw or heard the killing (recall his protests of having seen and heard it in 1921), and who therefore won’t talk about it, is someone not willing to be duped by his parents’ social hypocrisies (including the phoney pretence of Christian piety). Therefore, the boy’s response to le Non! du père is les non-dupes errent: he won’t be duped into following the hypocrisies of society, so he errs in his psychosomatic disabilities.

Along with Tommy’s rejecting of hypocritical Christian piety is his flouting of other social graces. His playing of “poxy pinball,” of course, is a presaging of his uncanny skill at that game, but it’s a game played alone, without friends, and skill at pinball, like skill at billiards, is a sign of a misspent youth. Note how kids at Christmas normally are very excited, but the holiday means nothing to Tommy. He also “picks his nose,” a social horror that guarantees most people won’t like him. Still, since these dysfunctional habits are trauma responses to something his selfish parents have brought on, it is they, not he, who are to be blamed.

His parents ask, “Tommy, can you hear me?”, but if they’ve refused to hear him when he’s said he saw and heard their murder, why should he obligated to hear them? They should be more focused on removing the beams in their own eyes than on removing the mote in his eye (Matthew 7:3-5). Meanwhile, Tommy mentally pleads, “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me“: he so desperately wants to be able to connect with his parents, to be cured of his mental block.

VII: Fiddling About with Fourths

Indeed, far from making a decent attempt at curing him, his parents emotionally neglect him, something carried to the extreme that they “think it’s alright” to leave the deaf, dumb, and blind boy in the more-than-questionable care of, first, his bullying “Cousin Kevin” and his drunk, child molester Uncle Ernie, thus compounding Tommy’s childhood traumas.

A recurring musical motif in Tommy is the back-and-forth progression of suspended fourths to major chords (and variations thereof), a progression epitomized in “Pinball Wizard,” but also heard on “1921” (i.e., when we hear, “Got a feeling ’21 is gonna be a good year.”), and on such tracks as “Sparks” and “Underture” (i.e., the theme they share with that of the second half of “Rael”). In a way, it’s even heard on Townshend’s guitar part in “Cousin Kevin,” though the ‘suspended fourth’ part is actually in the context of a dominant 7th chord resolving to the tonic (i.e., the ‘fourth’ is really a minor 7th).

This back-and-forth, up-and-down movement between the suspended fourth and major third can be seen to symbolize the up-and-down, wavelike movements of the vibrations that Tommy feels are connecting him with the world. They’re the source of his mystical bliss, but paradoxically, they are also caused by his trauma. Significantly, the movement from suspended fourth to the major third chord is also a movement from musical tension to resolution (i.e., a symbolic move from pain to peacefulness). Hence, while we hear the back-and-forth of fourths and thirds in the mystical, visionary instrumentals (“Sparks” and “Underture”), as well as in “Pinball Wizard,” we also hear them in some of the trauma-oriented songs (“1921” and “Cousin Kevin”).

The trouble with childhood trauma, especially the kind that results in the “freeze” trauma response that Tommy’s deaf-dumb-and-blind mental block represents, is how quickly it attracts predatory types. Bullies like Cousin Kevin and child molesters like Uncle Ernie find people like Tommy, now a teen in the story, to be easy prey. Bullies and pedophiles are cowards who cannot take out their pain on people who fight back, so they prey on the weak, resulting in re-victimization for people like Tommy. PTSD thus grows into C-PTSD.

“Cousin Kevin” is sung by Townshend and Entwistle on the album, while in the film it’s sung by Paul Nicholas, whom we see torturing Tommy, who in turn is played by Roger Daltrey. “Fiddle About” is sung by Entwistle on the album, while in the film, the lyrics are growled by Moon, who plays Uncle Ernie. An amusing performance of this role, done during the reunited Who’s 1989 tour, was done by Phil Collins, dressed in the stereotypical pervert’s bathrobe, underwear, and with messy hair and glasses. Billy Idol did a profanity-laced performance as Cousin Kevin during that show.

“Fiddle About” switches from 4/4 to 3/4 when the song’s title is heard in the lyrics. That creepy, rocking 3/4 suggests the act of molestation, to our ears’ horror.

VIII: Heaven and Hell 2

It is fitting that “Cousin Kevin” should occur just before the Acid Queen giving Tommy his acid trip (“Underture”) in the sequence of songs on the album; then, that “Fiddle About” should appear just before “Pinball Wizard.” That is, two of the most traumatic events in his life should happen just before a great mystical or visionary moment, a move from hell to heaven. (Similarly, the traumatic “You didn’t see it!…” of “1921” immediately precedes the mystical/visionary “Amazing Journey” on the album.)

This juxtaposition of the worst with the best brings us back to what I discussed above about the traumatic and blissful aspects of Lacan’s Real Order and Bion’s ineffable O. Rudolf Otto, in his book The Idea of the Holy (1917, Das Heilige), wrote of the non-sensory numinous, the dual nature of experiencing God, which is both blissful and traumatic, mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Tommy’s traumas are so extreme that he’s come out the other end, dialectically speaking, from hell out to heaven; he’s so well connected to the world, so touched by God, so to speak, that he can excel at pinball without even seeing the ball.

As I’ve discussed in many other posts, I use the ouroboros to symbolize the dialectical relationship between opposites: the serpent’s coiled body represents a circular continuum with the biting head and bitten tail representing extreme opposites that meet, phasing into each other. All intermediary points are on the coiled body of the ouroboros, the head and tail of which can represent any pair of opposites–heaven and hell, sanity and insanity, etc.

In Tommy’s case, his mental state is right where the serpent’s head is biting its tail: the bitten tail is his trauma, and the biting head is the bliss of his mystical, visionary consciousness. So with the trauma of Uncle Ernie’s molestation of him, immediately preceding his amazing extrasensory powers as the usurper of the Pinball Wizard, we have a perfectly fitting juxtaposition.

IX: Tommy Uses the Force

How do you think he does it?” you wonder. “What makes him so good” at pinball? That Tommy has “no distractions” reminds me of that scene in Star Wars, when Luke is practicing with his lightsaber on the Millennium Falcon, and Ben has him wear a helmet with the blast shield down, making Luke unable to see the remote. Ben says, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” Then he tells sightless Luke, “Stretch out with your feelings,” and Luke can, through the “mystical energy field” surrounding him, sense when and where the remote will shoot at him, and he can deflect its shots perfectly. Similarly, Tommy is, so to speak, using the Force when playing pinball.

On the album, Daltrey sings most of “Pinball Wizard,” while Townshend, elsewhere quickly strumming those suspended fourths and major third chords on his acoustic guitar, sings some lead vocals during the bridge (quoted at the top of the previous paragraph). In the movie, Elton John plays the Pinball Wizard (in huge shoes!) and, on his piano, plays over the suspended fourth and major chord acoustic guitar strumming with fast, descending arpeggios of subdominant and tonic triads. The film version of the song is extended to include variations on the main guitar riff to “I Can’t Explain.”

X: The Mirror

A doctor is found who, his parents hope, will cure Tommy. In the film, he’s played by Jack Nicholson (“The Specialist”), who–like Oliver Reed–also sings…for good or ill. In the song on the album, we hear a refrain of Tommy’s “See me, feel me…”, a reflection of his trauma; then soon after, “Listening to you…”, a reflection of his mystical, visionary state of mind–again, a juxtaposition of his inner heaven and hell. Realizing that Tommy’s disabilities are all psychosomatic and not at all biological, the doctor et al advise that Tommy “Go to the Mirror!”

It is interesting, from a Lacanian perspective, that blind Tommy would be brought before a mirror, of all things, as an essential part of his cure. An infant establishes its ego, its unified sense of self, an ideal-I, by seeing itself in the mirror reflection for the first time, bringing it into the Imaginary Order. Apart from seeing itself in the specular image, the infant feels itself to be a fragmented body, awkward, lacking in boundaries between me and not-me, and lacking in a unitary identity.

The traumatic arrest in Tommy’s development as a child came from his having witnessed the murder and his parents gaslighting him into not seeing, not hearing, and never talking about it. Also, his having been deprived of his Oedipal desires (note that a baby seeing his mother’s loving smiles is also a metaphorical mirror that returns his infantile narcissism back to him; note also that, in the film, Tommy’s oh, so desirable mother is seen in the mirror reflection with Tommy during “Smash the Mirror”) is connected with the need to establish his ego before the mirror, something his trauma has frustrated. This connection is now key to curing him.

Having Tommy stand before a mirror and stare at himself also symbolically suggests therapy through the methods of Heinz Kohut–that is, a temporary indulging of narcissism through the mirror transference before gently weaning him of this indulgence through optimal frustration. The problem is that Tommy’s mother, chanting “Tommy, Can You Hear Me?” with the others, grows impatient and frustrated herself, and she decides to “Smash the Mirror.”

Such a smashing is far from the gentle weaning of optimal frustration. It’s much too sudden and abrupt, and the fragmenting of the mirror, its shocking suddenness, is symbolic of the threat of psychological fragmentation, a danger often averted by resorting to pathological narcissism. Sure, Tommy’s mental block is gone: he can finally see, hear, and speak, but his “Miracle Cure” is a superficial one.

XI: The Messiah

Now, the narcissism of Tommy’s fancying himself as a Messiah-figure is the one thing keeping him from falling apart and having a psychotic break with reality. What’s worse, as we see especially in the film, his family is indulging his megalomania to make a buck or two.

Tommy has already had “disciples” from the discovery of his amazing pinball skills, but now he’s become a “Sensation,” gaining many more followers, including groupie-like “Sally Simpson,” whose preacher father disapproves of her involvement in Tommy’s cult. Since he’s “free,” Tommy is trying to get as many followers as he can, people who, devoted to him, are treated as mere extensions of himself. They are the other, a mirroring back to himself of his ego, the other of the Imaginary (i.e., a form of the objet petit a, where a is French for autre, only one ‘other’), not the Other (many people) with its radical sense of alterity, the alterity of the Symbolic.

Wishing to cash in on Tommy’s new celebrity, his Uncle Ernie, his mother and Frank (in the film), set up “Tommy’s Holiday Camp.” This whole set-up would be the rock opera’s satirical take on all those who would exploit the spiritual yearnings of the masses for profit.

And at first, the masses go along with it. There’s an ironic twist in having them wear ear plugs, eye shades, and a cork in their mouths. As we know, Tommy’s psychosomatic disabilities gave him a mystical connection with the “deep and formless infinite”; but his followers, seeking to be pinball-playing imitators of Tommy as Christians would be imitators of Christ, are being wilfully deaf, dumb, and blind followers…that is, unthinking adherents of this phoney new religion that gives Tommy narcissistic supply.

When Tommy starts scolding certain of his followers for drinking, smoking pot, or being “Mr. Normal,” they grow disillusioned with him and his restrictions on their freedoms, realizing he is no different from any other religious leader who becomes too authoritarian and repressive. Thus, they all chant, “We’re Not Gonna Take it,” and reject his phoney cult.

XII: Rejection of the Messiah

Their rejection of Tommy leads to an ironic repeat of his “See me, feel me…” plaintive singing. Before, the traumatized boy had our sympathies; now that he’s not only regained his senses but also become a powerful cult leader, his pleas to be heard and healed fall on…deaf…ears.

This irony leads to yet another. The masses’ rejection of Tommy, their refusal to indulge him in his narcissism and megalomania, has made him retreat into himself again. Now, his singing of “Listening to you…,” instead of being straightforwardly visionary and mystical, has become dubious in this new, narcissistic context.

XIII: Conclusion

So, what are we to make of the ending of Tommy? Is it a happy one? To hear the driving guitar, bass, and drums of Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon, as well as the operatic grandeur of Daltrey’s vocals, harmonized by Townshend and Entwistle, one would think it’s a happy ending. The lyrics certainly seem upbeat at the end. Let’s consider, however, what has happened in light of the plot.

Tommy’s recovery from his trauma, from staring at a mirror which is then smashed by his mother, is a shaky recovery to say the least. He’s replaced his previous isolation with a narcissistic Messiah complex. In the end, his followers have rejected him, relegating him to his loneliness, and he’s withdrawn into himself. From this, can he really “see the glory,” “climb the mountain,” and “get excitement at your feet”?

I would describe these ecstatic words not as an attainment of nirvana, but rather as him deluding himself that he’s attained it, as a narcissistic defence against fragmentation. He can convince himself that he’s found the highest bliss, though he’s actually lost his mind, because as I’ve argued above, the heavenly and hellish mental states are actually opposite sides of the same coin.

Still, the very dialectical proximity of these opposing states makes the ending of Tommy ambiguous rather than pessimistic. Just as his childhood trauma also gave him his mystical connection with everything, so can his new isolation, with all the pain of the world’s rejection of him, make him once again pass the ouroboros’ bitten tail to the biting head of visionary bliss.

The “you” he’s “listening to,” “gazing at,” and “following” could thus be his rejecting herd of followers, or it could be God…or it could be both.

‘The Lake,’ a Horror Short Story

“Look at that lake,” Cecil said as he and his fiancée, Eleanore, came to an opening in the forest to see the sparkling water.

“It’s beautiful,” she said with rapt eyes as she saw how the light of the summer sun danced on the gentle waves.

“Let’s go in for a swim,” he said, beginning to take off his shirt.

“Hey, you kids, I wouldn’t do that if I was you,” slurred a man’s voice from behind them.

The couple looked back and saw a middle-aged man standing a few feet behind them, holding a bottle of whiskey in his right hand. He staggered a bit and belched.

“Who are you?” Cecil asked. “And why can’t we go in the water? Will we become drunkards, like you?”

“The name’s Nelson, and if you go in that water, you won’t come back out,” he said, then took another swig from his bottle.

“We can swim all right,” Cecil said.

“It ain’t about if you can swim or not,” Nelson said. “That’s Lake Real. It’s cursed with witchcraft.”

Both Cecil and Eleanore laughed.

“I recommend you leave that rotgut alone,” Cecil said. “It’s affecting your brain.”

“I began drinkin’ because people were dyin’ in that lake. I saw ’em all die with my own two, sober eyes. I also know the story of how a witch turned Lake Real into the deathtrap it is now.”

“Oh, this I gotta hear,” Cecil said.

“No, honey,” Eleanore said, pulling on Cecil’s arm. “Let’s just go. He don’t want us swimmin’ here, so we’ll go, alright?”

“No, no,” Cecil said. “I wanna hear the ghost story. You ain’t too drunk to tell it, are ya?”

“Actually, the drinkin’ will prob’ly help me tell it,” Nelson said, then took another swig. “Have a seat.”

He sat on a rock, and Cecil and Eleanore sat on two rocks facing him, all three of them shaded from the summer heat of the early afternoon by the overhanging trees.

“Well, it all began back in 1857 with the passing of the Gradual Civilization Act in the Province of Canada.”

“What does that have to with us here in the Colony of British Columbia?” Cecil asked.

“Well, back in the Province of Canada, they wanted to get the Indians here to be a part of our Christian society. Some Catholics living near here learned about this idea to purify the Indians, cleanse them of their heathen ways, and teach ’em about Christ. They liked the idea, and used their money to set up a school by this lake.” Nelson pointed with his bottle to an abandoned building several yards behind Cecil and Eleanore, a small, wooden building obscured mostly by the bushes and trees of the forest, but visible enough for the couple to see it. “In 1860, St. Peter’s Residential School was established for Indian children…not those livin’ ’round here in the Fraser Valley area, mind you, but for those livin’ further away.”

“Why not Indian children from here?” Eleanore asked.

“‘Cause the idea was to take the kids far from their families, and from their heathen influence,” Nelson said, then took another swig. “Best way to make ’em Christian…or so the Catholics thought.”

“So anyway, what happened?” Cecil asked. “Did the Catholics make the Indians all Christian in that school?”

“Not exactly,” Nelson said. “There were stories that the priests and nuns were abusing the kids, punishing them for being defiant and refusing to accept Christ.”

“Did they beat the kids really hard?” Eleanore asked.

“Worse than that. The priests, being celibate and therefore denied the society of women, did filthy things with many of the kids, the sorta thing you don’t wanna say in front of a lady. Sometimes, to keep things quiet, they even killed many of the kids.”

Cecil and Eleanore gasped at these words.

“The bodies were buried out by the school, not far from the lake. One woman, who was a teacher at the school named Audrey Wilson, got so infuriated at how the priests and nuns were mistreating the Indian kids that she not only quit the school, but she also gave up on her Christian faith…assuming she ever even was Christian to begin with.”

“What makes you think she wasn’t Christian?” Eleanore asked.

“Well, Miss Wilson was a white lady, so I assume she was originally Christian, but if she was, and lost her faith, I’ll get into the reasons for that soon enough.”

“In any case, giving up on her faith sounds excessive to me,” Eleanore said. “We all know there are some bad apples out there among the Christian flock, but that doesn’t mean there’s no Jesus looking down on us from heaven.”

“Well, whatever her religious leanings had always been, she surely didn’t see it that way,” Nelson went on. “It seems she couldn’t reconcile men of God, presumably guided by the Holy Spirit, readin’ the Good Book and praying every day, allowin’ themselves to stray so far from the right path to be doin’ what they did to those Indian kids. She’d walk by the confessional set up next to the school chapel, and she’d eavesdrop on the confessions of beatings, rapes, and killings. The confessor would advise them to turn themselves in to the law, which the confessing priests and nuns never did; and the sinning priests and nuns continued working in the school, and Miss Wilson knew they continued their abuse of the kids.”

“Well, again, that’s the fault of those priests and nuns, not the fault of their religion,” Cecil said.

“But how do you know all of this?” Eleanore asked. “You live near here, right?”

“Yes, I do,” Nelson said. “And as I said, she didn’t see it as only a matter of sinnin’ priests and nuns, she saw it as a problem of the whole religion. I worked as a janitor for the school, and she and I used to have conversations about the corruption in the faculty. She claimed that faith in Jesus is the ‘theory’ of Christianity; the corrupt ways of the Church are the ‘practice’ of Christianity throughout history, which makes me think she may never have been Christian, but some kind of pagan in secret. She claimed she’d read of, and heard anecdotes of, countless times when the Church–Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant–had committed similar abuses.”

“So anyway, what did Miss Wilson do about the abuse, besides quitting her teaching position?” Eleanore asked.

“Well, a week after she quit–and this was in 1862, so four years ago–I saw her by the lake one evening, after the school closed down for the day. It was still light enough for me to see basically what she was doin’. She was chantin’ something, she had candles lit in a circle all around her, and she was dancin’ around as she chanted. It looked like she was doin’ some kind o’ ritual. That’s why I think she may have been a pagan.”

“And you were getting drunk, and dancing to her music, too, no doubt,” Cecil said with a smart-Alec smirk.

“No, I was stone cold sober!” Nelson snapped. “I didn’t start drinkin’ ’til after the deaths, as I told ya before. And now I’ll get to that part o’ the story.”

“Oh, good,” Cecil said. “Now the story should get interesting.”

“I live near here, as I said before, so I’ve seen it happen every time,” Nelson said, then took another swig from his bottle. “I’ve never known Indians to practice witchcraft, and Miss Wilson was the only white woman I’ve ever known to renounce Christ, or never believe in Him, whichever, so her little ritual must ‘a’ been the witchcraft that caused all the deaths in Lake Real.”

“Very well,” Cecil said. “What about those deaths? You claim you were sober when you saw them.”

“The first couple o’ times, after her ritual, when I saw people go to the lake for a swim, I walked over to the shore to get a better look; for that woman’s ritual looked so intense, combined with her hate o’ that school and the sufferin’ o’ the Indians she so pitied, that I had to see what was goin’ t’ happen.”

“…and what did happen?” Cecil asked, his patience leaving him.

“As soon as the first person to go in was all the way under the water, I saw him freeze in it.”

Freeze in it?” Eleanore asked. “You mean, go cold?

“No, not that,” Nelson said with dread in his eyes. “The swimmer just stopped movin’. Completely. I looked down at him in the water. He was facin’ me, so I saw the terror in his eyes. He wouldn’t move. Couldn’t. Then, what I saw got stranger ‘n’ stranger.”

“What was that?” Cecil asked, smirking in disbelief.

“His whole body…his face, trunk, arms ‘n’ legs…they all started…stretchin’ out, like as if he were meltin’, or goin’ fat, or somethin’ like that.”

“What do you mean?” Eleanore asked with a sneer of disbelief.

“It’s like his body was slowly mergin’ with the water, becoming one with it.” He shook, then took another swig.

“How is that even possible?” Cecil scoffed.

“I don’t know, but that’s what I saw,” Nelson said. “And I was completely sober.”

“No offence, my friend,” Cecil said, “but if you saw all that while stone cold sober, then you’re lucky you haven’t been put away somewhere.”

“If you go in that water, you’ll learn the hard way that I ain’t crazy at all!” Nelson shouted, standing up as if ready to have a fistfight with Cecil. “Go on in! You’ll regret it! I warned ya!”

“Sir, we’re sorry,” Eleanore said. “Cecil, watch your tongue!” Then, back to Nelson, “Please, sit back down and finish your story. What happened next?”

Nelson calmed down, sat down with staggering difficulty, and continued: “As I said, his body was merging with the water, and I could see him slowly fading away. His skin turned blue and became the water, and the last thing I saw o’ him was his terrified eyes, ‘n’ they faded away, too.” He took another swig from his bottle.

Cecil and Eleanore just looked at him with confused eyes. They didn’t know what to say to such a crazy story.

“Every other person, man, woman, or child–white people, that is–that I saw goin’ into that lake over the past four years, has met the exact same fate. I put up a sign or two, warnin’ people not to go in the water, but people just ignore it, ’cause the water is so beautiful. Nobody believes there’s anything wrong with the lake.”

“We saw such a sign, remember, Cecil?” she asked him. “We just walked by it as if it wasn’t even there.”

“Because there’s no reason to believe there’s anything wrong with the lake, honey,” Cecil said.

“Because part o’ the witchcraft is to lure you in,” Nelson said. “Miss Wilson told me how much she hated the white man for hurtin’ the Indians so much, so part o’ her avengin’ them musta been to lure as many white Christian folks to their doom as possible. Some priests in the school tried to baptize some Indians in the lake: the priests went in, felt compelled to dip their heads in the water, go all the way in, and died–I saw it, the same way as that first man…but the Indian kids came out o’ the water unhurt.”

Cecil’s and Eleanore’s eyes widened.

“The survivin’ priests and nuns concluded, as I did, that Lake Real is possessed o’ demons, so they closed the school down and tried to warn other people, though everybody was just like you…unbelievin’. Over the past four years, I’ve tried to warn would-be swimmers here not t’ go in, but none of ’em listen to me. They go in and die the same way. And then is when I started drinkin’…out o’ despair.”

“Very well, then,” Cecil said, getting up with Eleanore. “If it’ll make you feel any better, we won’t go in the water.”

“Thank you,” he told the couple, then stood up. “That gives me a peace o’ mind that I rarely have these days. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” they said, and walked back into the woods.

They’ll still go in, Nelson thought. Lake Real is callin’ for ’em.

Cecil and Eleanore walked through the forest in a semicircle around the lake before coming out in a clearing on the other side. (Nelson had gone in a semicircle the other way; the equidistant roundness of Lake Real made it easy for him to reach the same area in roughly the same time. He hid behind some bushes before they got there.)

The couple looked around for any signs of Nelson hiding.

“Good,” Cecil said. “That crazy old drunk is gone. Let’s go in the water.”

They stripped down to their undergarments and waded into the water, up to their upper legs. So far, nothing to fear. They ventured in further, up to their waists, and far from sensing any danger, they found the water to be most refreshing. They felt an urge to go in deeper, so they went in with the water up to their necks.

“What do you think, Eleanore?” Cecil asked her.

“The water is lovely,” she said.

“I agree,” he said. “Let’s dip our heads in and swim around some.”

At that point, Nelson came out of the bushes and approached the shore. Here’s where it happens, he thought. As soon as they put their whole bodies under, as those priests who did the baptizing, they who couldn’t resist going all the way under, too. The lake makes them want to.

As soon as Cecil and Eleanore dipped their heads under the water, they froze.

They couldn’t paddle their arms or legs at all.

They just floated, immobile, under the water.

“Mmm!” they both whined repeatedly as they tried to fidget in the water, but neither could budge in the slightest.

Both of them were facing the shore, so they could see Nelson standing there, frowning at them. He took another swig from his almost-empty bottle.

Go on, you old bastard, Cecil thought, scowling. Gloat at us. Shout out, “I told ya so!” Go on. You know you want to.

Eleanore wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, but all she could do was whine as before. Why is this happening to us? she asked herself. Cecil and I never hurt any Indians. Why are they taking their revenge on us?

Because you came here with the rest of the white men, a voice said in her mind’s ear and in that of Cecil. You took our land from us, scorned our religion and culture, and stopped us from practicing it. You all abused us, raped us, beat us, and killed us in massacres and spreading your European diseases onto us. Worst of all, you’ve benefited from our suffering. That’s why you all deserve to die!

Cecil and Eleanore assumed that, no longer able to hold their breath and forced to inhale, they’d pass out, drown, and be put out of their misery. But when they breathed in the water, a strange thing happened: not only did they not pass out and die, they found themselves breathing the water as if their nostrils and mouths were gills! The Indian spirits possessing the water were keeping Cecil and Eleanore alive…for the moment.

As they breathed in the water–which felt as natural to them as breathing in oxygen–they found their bodies slowly merging with it. Nelson watched with horror–a horror only somewhat mitigated by his drunkenness, and not at all mitigated by having seen the same thing many times before–as the couple’s bodies were melting and mixing with the surrounding water. Their undergarments slipped off and floated to the surface while the peach colour of their naked skin stretched out into the water, merged with each other, and began melding with the blue.

Nelson saw a growing, wavy rectangular form made up of the skin colour of both of their melting, merging bodies. The two pairs of terrified eyes, however, stayed where they were and stared at him. He almost heard what those eyes were saying to him.

Help me.

Please.

That rectangular mass of skin colour was slowly changing into the blue of the lake. Those pairs of eyes, though, remained intact and kept staring at him, pleading with him.

Help us, please.

Save us, if you can.

Could he save them? In his staggering drunkenness, Nelson knew, far off in the back of his mind, that he could.

The voices of the Indian ghosts in the lake had said to him, every time he watched all the other deaths as with these two, that he could have saved them…if he’d had the guts. He still could, this time.

All he had to do was replace the couple in the water.

Nelson had come to hate his life. He hated his cowardice, the cowardice that had kept him from saving the lives of the previous victims. He hated himself for running away from his responsibility, and running towards bottles of whiskey.

Getting drunk was an attempt to escape the pain, of course, but it was a failed attempt, every time. This time, however, he was so drunk that he felt fewer inhibitions about going in the water, so this handsome young couple, young enough to have been his own son and daughter, could come out of the water and live the full lives they should have been allowed to live.

So, Nelson? one of the Indian ghosts’ voices asked him, the voice echoing in his mind’s ear. Do you have the courage, finally, to do it this time? Will you demonstrate the truth of your religious beliefs? Will you be an imitator of Christ, go in the water, and die for these two people?

Nelson watched those fading bodies and shuddered.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends, the Indian voice said. Isn’t that true, Nelson? Are you ready to redeem yourself, your religion, and your people?

Cecil’s and Eleanore’s bodies continued turning blue, and those pleading eyes kept staring into Nelson’s.

He gulped down the last of the whiskey.

A tear ran down his cheek.

He was shaking all over.

You had better hurry, the Indian voice said. Time is running out for the two of them.

“The hell with it,” he slurred, then tossed the empty bottle to the side. “I’ll do it.”

He waded into the water, staggering and stumbling. By the time he was up to his neck in the water, he turned around to face the shore, took a deep breath, looked down at the pairs of eyes in the water one last time, and dipped his head in.

He froze.

Cecil and Eleanore felt their bodies slowly materializing: blue turned back into the peach colour of their skin, which condensed and reshaped itself into their naked bodies, and they found their undergarments. They rushed out of the water, so eager were they to get out of it that they didn’t care about their exposed nakedness.

They wrung out their undergarments and put them back on; then they put the rest of their clothes back on. Finally fully dressed, they looked out at Nelson in the water.

As motionless as they had been, he was facing them and smiling at them. Eleanore wondered, at first, if his smile was from the lecherous pleasure of seeing her body. Then she realized it was a smile of peace of mind.

It was his body that was melting and dissolving in the water this time. His eyes looked out at Cecil and Eleanore, who looked back at him teary-eyed.

Eleanore couldn’t bear it. “No!” she said, starting back for the water. “We can’t just leave him there to die! We have to–“

“No, Eleanore, no!” Cecil said, grabbing her by the arm and stopping her. “We ain’t goin’ back in there. I won’t let you experience that hell again. He’s done this for us. He wanted to. Don’t refuse it. Look at his face. He’s found peace.”

Indeed, they saw a dissolving face with a smile and eyes that shone peace of mind, something he hadn’t felt in years.

Soon, all that was left were Nelson’s floating clothes and those peaceful eyes.

Then the eyes faded away, too.

‘Between the Divide,’ a Poem by Jason Ryan Morton

Here’s a new poem by my Facebook friend, poet Jason Ryan Morton, whose work I’ve looked at many times before. As usual, I’ll put his writing in italics, to distinguish his words from mine. Here’s the poem:

frenzied and lost
a shadow of what i was
lost in a second
fulfilled at any cost

the parallel lines
turn to parallel lies
I keep seeking the divine
but fall between the
divide

answers hurt to
questions unasked
i bathe in the glory
of a chemical axe
waging war within

that is a sin
as it goes beneath the
skin
to drown me deep within
and without
just another day that
passes far too quick

leaving me trembling
shaky and sick
what was a vision of
mortality
is now a passage of
doubt
and i’m lost again

too many yesterdays
still portraits
crawl with the rotten
stage
falling through my anger

and i just want to turn
the page
to burn the magazine
tie up all my aspirations
and burn the stage

winter is here and it is clear
i am not wanted here
too many disharmonies
to ever sleep without
fear

i close my eyes
and say goodbye
no more goodnights
no more lullabies

only the rage
the justifications
an empty gun
and a permanent
vacation

And now, for my analysis.

Jason is speaking of the struggle to find happiness, including spiritual enlightenment. We sense his frustration with the difficulty of attaining this in the first verse.

The “parallel lines” seem to represent, on top, the spiritual path of God above, and on the bottom, Jason’s attempt to emulate that path below, on the Earth. The problem is that parallel lines never meet, so try as he might, Jason cannot reach God, no matter how hard he may try to conform to the Christian way.

He learns soon enough, though, that those parallel lines are lies, an effective pun. The lie is the failure to attain spiritual enlightenment without “Christ,” which translates actually to not attaining it without first conforming to the catechism of the Church; hence his “seeking the divine,” and falling “between the divide,” another effective pun. The “questions unasked” of the Church, that is, the taboos of questioning and doubting Church authority, lead to “answers hurt.”

Other attempts to heal pain, the alternative of the “chemical axe/waging war within,” sound like the illusory euphoria of psychiatric drugs, with their chemical compounds: this medication never cures mental illness–it only keeps it under control. It “is a sin/as it goes beneath the skin/to drown [him] deep within.” The pills are “invisible handcuffs,” as Charles “Haywire” Patoshik (played by Silas Weir Michell) calls them in season one of Prison Break.

Realizing the hard truth of these false paths to happiness leaves Jason “trembling/shaky and sick,” “a passage of doubt/and [he’s] lost again.” Then there are his painful memories: “too many yesterdays/still portraits.” He just wants “to turn/the page/to burn the magazine,” to get rid of the past, to destroy all of it.

He feels the “winter” coldness of alienation and loneliness; he is “not wanted here/too many disharmonies.” He’d go to sleep and escape the cruel realities of daily, waking life; he’d “close [his] eyes/and say goodbye/no more goodnights/no more lullabies.” He feels “only the rage”…a rage brought on by “the justifications” of the Church that once betrayed him? He has “an empty gun” from having already fired out all of that rage.

His “permanent vacation” could be anything from indefinite disability leave to the dream of an eternal state of nirvana…or maybe even enjoying listening to Aerosmith!

Analysis of ’12 Angry Men’

12 Angry Men is a 1957 courtroom drama directed by Sidney Lumet and based on a 1954 teleplay by Reginald Rose. The film stars Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, EG Marshall, and Jack Warden, with Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, George Voskovec, Robert Webber, and Rudy Bond. (Sweeney and Voskovec played the same characters in the teleplay.)

12 Angry Men was selected as the second best courtroom drama, after To Kill a Mockingbird, by the AFI for their Top Ten List. The film is also considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

With the exceptions of Jurors 8 (Davis, played by Fonda) and 9 (McCardle, played by Sweeney), who reveal their names only at the very end of the film, we never learn the names of the jurors, who are all referred to by number: Jurors 1 (Balsam), 2 (Fiedler), 3 (Cobb), 4 (Marshall), 5 (Klugman), 6 (Binns), 7 (Warden), 10 (Begley), 11 (Voskovec), and 12 (Webber).

Since it will be easier to match the faces of the characters to the actors who play them than to go by their numbers, for this analysis I’ll be referring to the characters by the actors’ names. For the sake of consistency, I’ll even refer to Juror 8 as Fonda rather than as Davis, and to Juror 9 as Sweeney rather than as McCardle.

12 Angry Men is a fascinating exploration of how a consensus of opinion can be gradually changed from one side to the other, in this case from a simple preconception of events to a more nuanced, complex view of them. We see how, in the passion of his convictions, Fonda’s character is the needed agent of change from smug prejudice to sensitive observance.

Indeed, the main theme of this film is prejudice (not just of the class, racial, or ethnic kind, though in Begley [towards slum kids] and Warden [towards immigrants like Voskovec] we see ample examples of that; but also the literal judging of events before having had a proper, full understanding of everything that has happened) and of a needed confrontation with and dispelling of prejudice.

The film begins with a shot of, first, the outside of the New York City courthouse, then, a sweeping shot of the inside (to contrast, presumably, with how the vast majority of the film is shot only in the jury room); then, there’s a brief scene in the courtroom where the trial of an 18-year-old boy (played by John Savoca), from a slum and accused of stabbing his father to death, is coming to an end. The judge (Bond), who looks bored, hot, and tired, tells the jurors in a perfunctory way that they must decide either to convict or, if there’s a reasonable doubt of the boy’s guilt, to acquit him.

A brief shot of the young defendant shows how scared he is, for the reason of his nervousness is the same as that of the judge’s smug lack of feeling about the outcome: a verdict of guilty, leading to death by the electric chair, seems to be a fait accompli. The evidence seems to show the boy to be most obviously guilty. The verdict, however, must be unanimous.

It’s hot in the jury room, with no air conditioning, and the fan doesn’t even work, annoying Wagner in particular. Begley has a “hot weather cold”; he’s sniffling and coughing, with a handkerchief to his nose all the time. This physical discomfort is surely adding to the twelve men’s irritability.

There is a relationship between the level of irritability of each of these “twelve angry men” and their willingness or unwillingness to grow in knowledge, have their preconceptions challenged, and see things in a totally new way. Wilfred R. Bion worked out a theory of thinking that explains how growth in knowledge, what he called K, comes from an ability to process external agitations (beta elements), detoxify them (through alpha function), and make them tolerable for use in thought and dreams (i.e., turn beta elements into alpha elements).

Babies need their mothers to help them develop this ability to soothe, process, and detoxify raw, external stimuli; mothers soothe their babies by receiving, through projective identification (in Bion‘s sense, a preverbal form of communication between baby and mother), all the agitation the babies cannot cope with. Mothers soothe their babies’ anxiety through what Bion called maternal reverie and containment. As infants grow in K and are repeatedly soothed by their mothers, they learn how to soothe themselves, to be the containers of their own contained agitations, and to develop a thinking apparatus. (See this link for more on Bion and psychoanalytic concepts.)

The reason for my brief digression from 12 Angry Men is to explain the model for how the ability to grow in thinking and knowledge is based on the capacity to self-soothe when irritating external stimuli assail our senses. It is significant that the three men most resistant to changing their minds about the accused–Cobb’s, Begley’s, and Warden’s characters–are the ones most easily agitated by either sensory irritants (beta elements–the heat, a cold), or in Cobb’s case, a troubled father/son relationship.

At the beginning of deliberations in the jury room, Cobb is speaking with Fiedler in uncharacteristic calmness; Cobb is in complete denial of having any emotional stake in the case, imagining it to be such an open-and-shut case, the boy’s guilt so obvious and proven, that one needn’t discuss it any further. Just convict the boy and get it over with.

We soon learn, however, that Cobb has done an unconscious transference of his own, similarly-aged son onto the defendant. Sending the boy to the electric chair is equivalent, in Cobb’s mind, to punishing his son for having displeased him so often: seeing, to his embarrassment, his son run away from a fight, getting hit by his son in a fight of their own, and being estranged from his son ever since.

There is a mother’s containment of her child’s agitations, then there’s Cobb’s failure, as a father, to contain his son’s agitations. His son’s running away from a fight is embarrassing to Cobb’s sense of manhood, so he’s tried to toughen his son up. He’s succeeded, but at the cost of estranging his son from him. Cobb has subjected his son to what Bion considered negative containment: instead of soothing his son, Cobb has aggravated his son’s agitations.

The mechanism of containment and growing in K is projective identification, which as I said above is what Bion considered a preverbal form of communication, achieved through exchanging energy–through projection and introjection. When done well, this swapping of projections is soothing and conducive to intellectual and emotional growth; when done poorly, we see, for example, the mutual alienation caused by Cobb and his son.

Fonda, on the other hand, is trying to effect change in the jurors by achieving a more soothing, mutually beneficial exchange of energy among the twelve men. He’d replace contempt for the defendant with compassion. He tries to be as polite and reasonable as he can…though with this bunch, it can be very difficult to be nice.

The resistance of the other eleven to Fonda’s questioning of the facts of the case against the defendant can be described in terms of what Bion called attacks on linking, or the refusal/inability of the subject to link with the object (e.g., the self with other people–that is, the other jurors’ initial refusal to sympathize with Fonda), or to make links in knowledge between things. The result is, instead of a growth in K, the stubborn, adamant refusal to grow in knowledge…-K.

A few of the men, however, are open to Fonda’s wish to discuss the case further. The first of these is Sweeney, who admires Fonda’s courage in standing alone and risking the ridicule of the others. Elderly Sweeney is a wise, thoughtful, and observant gentleman. He has all the virtues one obtains from the ability to self-soothe and grow in knowledge through an exchange of energy with other people.

The opposite of such thinking can be seen in another old man, the bitter, bigoted character Begley plays. It’s not really clear if he is prejudiced against an ethnic group (Is the defendant of Italian background? Is he a Jew?) or against the working-class poor; as a garage owner, Begley is a petite bourgeois who therefore would regard himself as ‘superior’ to the working class. One therefore shouldn’t be surprised that he would have attitudes ultimately linked with fascism.

Begley’s generalizations about the defendant (“He’s a common, ignorant slob. He don’t [sic] even speak good English.”) are obvious projections of his own ungrammatical ignorance. His bigotry is a classic case of trying to project all that is wrong with himself onto the defendant.

Now, as wrongheaded and cruel as Cobb’s and Begley’s reasons are for insisting on a verdict of guilty, at least they have conviction, a firm position on the case, and they believe in consistency with that position. It can be argued, therefore, that Warner’s character is the most despicable of the bunch, for his whole motive in voting guilty or not guilty is in getting out of the jury room as quickly as possible…so he can arrive in time at a baseball diamond and watch the game.

A young man’s life is at stake, and all that Warner cares about is getting to the baseball game in time, so his tickets, which are “burning a hole in [his] pocket,” aren’t a waste of money. His impatience is a perfect example of the inability to soothe and detoxify external agitations, an impatience coupled with an unwillingness to grow in knowledge.

And in all irony, he changes his vote from guilty to not guilty…not because he’s had a real change of heart about the defendant (though, of course, he pretends that he’s had such a change). He simply realizes that the tide is turning in favour of acquittal, and his vote-changing, he imagines, will accelerate the end of deliberations so he can get to that baseball game sooner.

As for Begley and Cobb, their switches of a vote from guilty to not guilty come from a crushing humbling: it’s finally brought home to them that neither bigotry nor vindictiveness is an acceptable reason to send a boy to the electric chair. Warden, on the other hand, just wants to get to his precious baseball game as fast as he can. Begley and Cobb are forced to confront what’s despicable in them; Warden won’t face up to and admit his own contemptibility.

Further irony is in how what has really unfolded is not a growth in knowledge per se, but a realization of how little the men know of what really happened on the night of the murder. They haven’t established the boy’s innocence by any means; for all they know, he may really have stabbed his father. They instead have established a reasonable doubt, and that’s all that’s needed to secure an acquittal.

In Act V, scene 1 of As You Like It, Touchstone says, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Cobb and Begley have learned this truth the hard way, while Fonda has understood it from the beginning. The truth is a fluid, ever-changing thing, so the acquiring of knowledge of the truth is, accordingly, going to be elusive.

With that elusiveness also comes the pain and annoyance of having to rethink one’s position; hence, Bion’s coupling of growth in K with the soothing of external agitations, of converting beta elements into alpha elements.

All twelve men have to go through this irritation: even the best-adjusted men–Fonda, Sweeney, Fiedler, Voskovec, Klugman, Binns, and Balsam–have their angry moments, hence the film’s title. Fonda loses his patience with Cobb, calling him “public avenger,” and “a sadist” for so vehemently wanting to execute the boy. Sweeney gets mad at Warner for tossing a scrunched-up ball of paper, bouncing it off the now-working fan, and accidentally hitting Sweeney in the head with it. Mild-mannered Fiedler calls Begley a “loudmouth” for being surly with him. Voskovec is the leader of those mad at Warner for changing his vote out of mere impatience. Klugman is offended by Begley’s anti-slum bigotry. Binns threatens to hit Cobb for speaking disrespectfully to elderly Sweeney. And Balsam petulantly offers to have Begley take over as foreman, since apparently he isn’t doing a good enough job at it.

Little by little, the ‘unshakeable’ evidence is re-examined and tossed aside as inadequate, much to the frustration of those insisting on conviction. The “unusual” switchblade knife used to stab the boy’s father to death, has at least one double, for Fonda’s found one in a shop in the boy’s neighbourhood.

Furthermore, the noise of a train passing by the scene of the crime would have made inaudible the yelled threat of “I’m going to kill you!” made by the boy to his father. Had the boy killed his father, he’d also have been most unlikely to have returned to the scene of the crime, as Voskovec notes, to retrieve the knife, the fingerprints already wiped off. Finally, people often say, “I’m going to kill you!” without literally meaning it, as Fonda baits Cobb into demonstrating.

Doubts are raised about the reliability of the second witness, who, due to his being slowed down by a leg he has to drag after a stroke, wouldn’t have been able to reach and open the door to his apartment–fifteen seconds after hearing the father’s body hit the floor–in time to see the boy running down the stairs, guiltily fleeing the scene of the crime, as the man testified.

As the deliberating carries on, and more and more jurors switch their votes from guilty to not guilty, not only does the fan start working (to Warner’s pleasant surprise), but it also rains briefly, thus cooling off the heat of the day. This shift from hot to cool, from dry to wet, symbolizes the shift of thinking among the jurors, from the heat of hate, vindictiveness, and bigotry, to the cool-headedness of reason, open-mindedness, and compassion.

In psychoanalytic terms, this shift can also be seen as one from what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position (which Bion abbreviated to PS) to the depressive position (D). PS is characterized by splitting away from oneself what one finds hateful and intolerable (the ‘schizoid’ aspect), and then fearing persecutory attacks from what has been split off (the ‘paranoid’ aspect). In railing away against the boy, Begley and Cobb are trying to split off what they unconsciously hate about themselves and project it onto the defendant; they also fear, in paranoid fashion, the boy’s acquittal, with the implication that he’ll be free to kill again.

D, however, is characterized by a fear of losing what is good in someone, along with the split-off, projected bad parts (‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’). In confronting the false premises behind Begley’s bigotry against slum kids and Cobb’s transferred hostility to his son, these two grumpy men have to acknowledge at least the possibility of innocence, of good, in the young defendant. This causes depressive anxiety in them, turning the self-righteous anger of Begley’s rant against slum kids into shameful sadness, and turning Cobb’s fury into tears…tears symbolized by the rain.

Marshall, as one of the last men to change his vote, is largely calm, rational, and free of personal bias against the boy. (He never even sweats…apparently.) He simply isn’t yet convinced that there’s a reasonable doubt of the boy’s guilt. Marshall, for example, doesn’t buy the boy’s alibi about being at the movies, yet forgetting the names of the films he saw, or the actors in them. Fonda tests Marshall’s memory of movies he’s recently seen, and Marshall shows less difficulty remembering them, but a difficulty sufficiently similar to that of the boy…and Marshall is under far less emotional stress than the boy was at the time. He uses a handkerchief to wipe some sweat off his brow.

Further doubt is established in how it’s unlikely that the boy, far shorter than his father, would have stabbed down (as the stabbing had actually been), rather than up, with the switchblade. Klugman, having been raised in a slum and regrettably more than acquainted with switchblades, insists that the boy would have stabbed upwards.

Finally, Marshall maintains that the testimony of the first witness, a woman who had a clear view of the boy stabbing his father, is incontrovertible evidence. Cobb goes so far as to say all the other evidence can be tossed aside: the woman’s testimony alone proves the boy’s guilt.

Once again, though, a coupling of physical discomfort with a reexamination of the facts leads to a growth in knowledge. Sweeney sees Marshall rubbing his nose because impressions put there by his eyeglasses irritate him. Though Sweeney sympathizes with Marshall’s discomfort–that is, he attempts to contain it, in Bion’s sense–Marshall, further irritated by Sweeney’s probing, fails to see the significance of rubbing where the dents from his eyeglasses are.

That woman rubbed her eyes often while on the stand. She was never seen in glasses in court, but she acted unmistakably like a wearer of them. The men assume she must have wanted to look younger and more attractive on the stand without her glasses; after all, she had those same indentations on her nose, so her rubbing of her nose is linked to her wearing of glasses. She’d been in bed when the murder occurred, and she wouldn’t have had the time to reach for her glasses and put them on to see the stabbing at a far-off distance, with a train racing by in between her home and where the murder happened.

She couldn’t have seen more than a blur.

Marshall now has a reasonable doubt. He switches his vote to not guilty.

Cobb now is all alone.

With his failure to convince any of the others that the boy is guilty, Cobb can only show more of his usual rage; but none of the other eleven, just looking at him calmly, will contain (in Bion’s sense) his rage. All he can do is revert to his hostility to his son, which, recall, he’s transferred onto the young defendant.

He’s had a photo in his wallet of himself and his son smiling, with their arms around each other. Cobb looks down at it before tearing it up (and tearing up and crying): the photo is a metaphorical mirror, in the Lacanian sense; he sees in it the ideal father/son relationship, one of love, and one he knows he can’t live up to, or at least hasn’t so far succeeded in living up to. His tearing it up, and his tears of shame, reveal the true, transferred source of his hostility. Now, he can only vote not guilty.

His weeping is like that of a baby whose agitations are never satisfied–not because a bad mother (or bad father) never soothed or detoxified them (that is, contained them), but because he now is consciously aware that he is the bad father. Fonda, however, helps restore some dignity in Cobb by getting his suit jacket for him and helping him put it on. Fonda, in this way, is playing the role of good parent, being in a state of, if you will, paternal reverie (in Bion’s sense), containing Cobb’s agitations and helping him to calm down.

Everyone leaves the courthouse. It’s wet outside, but the rain has stopped. Fonda (“Davis”) and Sweeney (“McCardle”) tell each other their names and say goodbye. The film ends with Cobb, far off in the background, walking down the steps in a sulk. With the end of the rain is the end of his passage through the depressive position. Who knows? Maybe he’ll call his son up and apologize for having been a bad father.

Then, we might have two happy men.

Trees

Once, trees
were everywhere,
a green Eden
that grew
up
out
of
the
ground, surrounded in grass.

Then, people
gained knowledge of evil,
learned to exchange
wood
for
a
bit
of
cash,
and they traded green for green.

The lust
for profit made all trees
of equal height,
by
axe
and
saw,
and left just the green of the grass.

Now,
not
only are there just brown stumps on the green,

but
the
orange of fire has been killing the brown and the green

’til
no
more brown or green can be seen.

Now, there’s a whole lot of black and grey on our stony Earth.

The Seventh Poem from Jason Ryan Morton’s ‘Diverging Paths’

Here is poem #7 from Diverging Paths, the collection of writing by my Facebook friend, Jason Ryan Morton, whose poems I’ve looked at so many times before. As usual, I’ll be putting his words in italics to distinguish his writing from mine. Here’s the poem:

Staring through, 
The eye of the needle, Where is god now? 

Staring with perspective, 
At the death before me, Where is god now? 

Watching my life, 
Fall into pieces, 
Where is god now?

And now, for my analysis.

The beauty of this poem is in its brevity, which is the essence of well-written poetry. Three short verses, like the Trinity. Jason’s deliberate writing of “god” with a lower-case g reminds me of Christopher Hitchens‘s irreverent use of it in his book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

“The eye of the needle” reminds me of Mark 10:25, when Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” One of the reasons we cannot seem to find God, if He even exists, is that the rich are allowed, for the most part, to do whatever they want with impunity. How many more centuries do we have to wait for justice to be done, if He can dispatch it with omnipotent ease?

Faith can often blind us from perspective at all the death before us: deaths from war, disease, poverty, etc. Perspective helps us see beyond the lies and propaganda. Again, the poet asks where that divine personification of justice is.

Watching his life fall to pieces, the poet can be easily speaking for the millions of people in our world suffering trauma, abuse, and all the other injustices we see everywhere around us. Again, where is God now? God, as the personification of justice and goodness, is nowhere to be seen, and is needed now, more than ever.

If we cannot find this Supreme Being to be anything more than just a theoretical construct, a theory put into practice by a corrupt Church that has failed us throughout history, then maybe we need to take things into our own hands and fix the world ourselves, instead of waiting for an invisible man in the sky to fix it for us.

Who Is to Blame?

One of the popular motivational videos you can find on YouTube is a scene from Rocky Balboa, when Rocky steps outside with Robert, Rocky Jr. (played by Milo Ventimiglia), his adult son, to discuss why Rocky, now in his fifties, wants to go back in the ring and fight Mason “The Line” Dixon, a young fighter in his prime. Robert tries to talk his father out of fighting Dixon, complaining that his ambitions in life have been stifled from living under his father’s shadow, and that this fight will make it all worse; but Rocky retorts with the advice that, to succeed in this harsh world, “it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” He, significantly, also tells his son that blaming others won’t help him.

I must say that I have mixed feelings about Rocky’s speech. While it is true that our ability to overcome difficulties is based on how much we “can get hit and keep moving forward,” and that when we go and get what we’re worth, we have to be prepared “to take the hits,” I don’t think it’s necessarily cowards who point the finger and say that they aren’t where they want to be “because of him, or her, or anybody.”

Sometimes pointing the finger at others is just plain telling it like it is.

And while sometimes it is true that “Life” is what hits the hardest (i.e., bad luck), it shouldn’t be used as a sweeping generalization to which all our troubles can be reduced. Often, indeed quite often, we really aren’t where we want to be because of other people’s evil-doing. Very often, it’s other people who are hitting us the hardest…literally hitting us, even. Blaming our woes on an abstraction like “Life” is often an evasion of personal responsibility on the part of our abusers.

Indeed, abuse victims are traumatized not by “Life” but by other people, their abusers. Bullies often like to make their victims feel as if it’s their weakness that has put them where they are, but that’s nonsense. It’s the bullies who are the real cowards and weaklings, by taking advantage of their victims’ meekness instead of solving their own problems.

The Jews suffered pogroms, discrimination, hate, and a genocide not because of “Life,” but because of other people…European Christians in particular. On the other side of the coin, the Palestinians aren’t suffering oppression because of some abstract notion called “Life,” but because of the Zionists who are occupying their land, and making life there unliveable for the Palestinians.

The aboriginals of North and South America, as well as Australia, suffered the theft of their land, the rejection of their culture, systemic racism, and a genocide not because of “Life,” but because of other people…whites in particular.

Blacks were enslaved, abused, scorned, lynched, and have to this day suffered police brutality not because of “Life,” but because of other people…whites in particular.

And the global proletariat have been ruthlessly exploited and kept in either poverty or near-poverty not by mere bad luck, but by other people…the ruling class.

(The above examples are, of course, far from exhaustive. I’ve failed to mention the many, many other examples of victimization not out of a wish to trivialize or minimize them, but because I simply need to carry on with my argument.)

Yes, other people cause our misfortunes all the time, and there is nothing wrong with pointing this out. In fact, pointing this out is a crucial first step towards ending the misfortune that these other people keep causing for us.

The idea that “cowards” go around blaming other people for their woes is in line with the neoliberal agenda that those in power, and those with sky-high levels of wealth, needn’t take any responsibility for the toxic effect they have on the world. Instead, apparently, those who are down on their luck are unsympathetic ‘losers,’ or are people who just need to pull their socks up.

A recent manifestation of how the obscenely wealthy have risen even higher, while the poor have been plunged into even worse poverty, has been the global response to the coronavirus epidemic. My focus here isn’t so much on how much of a danger covid is, but rather how the global capitalist class is using this pandemic to further their own nefarious agenda.

Millions of people have lost their jobs (I, myself, have gone from employed to underemployed) and/or have been at least in danger of losing their homes, or are food insecure, while the likes of Bezos and Musk have seen their wealth skyrocket. The common people are being made to wear masks while the wealthier don’t seem to need to all that much.

Bill Gates, a man with no education in medicine whatsoever and therefore no authority on medical matters, has been treated like a health guru in the media, pushing the vaccine mandate. A look into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s history with imposing vaccines on their Third World guinea pigs in India and Africa should give us all pause. This, recall, is the same man who has bought up huge areas of American farmland, who has far too much influence over the media, and over organizations like the WHO through the money he’s given them, and who had an unsavoury business relationship with Jeffrey Epstein…not someone we should be trusting.

I’m no “anti-vaxxer,” but I do believe vaccines should be given a longer testing period than these new ones have been given. I’m definitely opposed to the mandate on them that is being pushed. When people who don’t want the jab are being denied work, re-entry into society, etc., only for refusing an experimental vaccine that doesn’t prevent transmission of covid, that at best gives some protection against more serious symptoms, and at worst could worsen one’s medical condition (due to ADE, something the medical establishment dismisses, but which many of us, not trusting the politics of that establishment, don’t dismiss)–all against a virus where, if you catch it, your chances of survival are at least 99%–this is a potential recipe for totalitarian repression. This is other people hurting us, not “Life.”

Now, some might think the use of the term “totalitarian” to describe vaccine mandates, coronavirus immunity passports, and the like is alarmist. We must, however, think about what all of this is leading to, if we sit back like those unthinking beasts in Animal Farm and passively accept all of this piecemeal chipping-away at all of our rights.

Covid is being exploited by the global capitalist class to usher in not only vaccine mandates, but also to goad everyone into having digital vaccine ID passports, which will further erode our privacy. Governments will be able to surveil and monitor everything we do, everywhere we go, in spite of paying lip service to protecting our privacy. Total tech, that is.

Cashless economies will spring up soon enough, making it possible to take us off the online grid, as it were, and deny us access to the purchasing of anything, if we say or do anything considered a threat to the power of the global elite. Sometimes people are denied access to crucial necessities simply through an online glitch from these biometric ID systems, as has happened to many impoverished Indians unable to get their monthly rice rations…these people starved to death. “Life” didn’t do this to them; other people are to blame–the ruling class.

To get back to the covid controversy, the problem with masks, social distancing, and lockdowns is that it aggravates the already devastating alienation that has grown over the past forty years. Solidarity, worker unity, and organizing aren’t sufficient conditions to bring about a revolutionary situation leading to socialism, but they are necessary conditions.

Adding to all this divisiveness is how the media has portrayed the compliant side vs. the resistant side in the covid debates. The former are portrayed as not only ‘mature,’ ‘reasonable,’ and ‘responsible,’ but also as the bulk of the left…and by ‘left,’ the media presents them as liberals. As for the resistant side, not only are they seen as crybabies, irrational, and selfish, they’re also portrayed as largely right-wing (i.e., libertarians, Christian fundamentalists, NWO/Illuminati conspiracy theorists, and/or Trump supporters).

My resistance, on the other hand, as well as the resistance of many others out there to the repressive measures being used on us, is based on solid leftist principles. More and more of the working class is getting fed up with extreme income inequality, long hours with poor wages, food and housing insecurities, and the like; not only are workers striking, but they’re outright quitting en masse. Add to this the worst economic collapse (predicted before covid) we’ve seen in decades (along with inflation), and it isn’t hard to see how the global ruling class is getting nervous.

Just as, a century ago, the capitalist class used fascism to circumvent socialist revolution, so are they now using these authoritarian measures to rein us in. This current predicament is why revolution is so urgently needed. These months and years could be our last chance before not only these authoritarian measures are implemented and irreversible, but also the ecocide of climate change and the threat of nuclear war between the US, China, and Russia could be realized.

Again, these evils that loom over our heads aren’t to be blamed on some impersonal force called “Life,” or “bad luck.” There are real people to be blamed for all these ills.

With a socialist revolution, we could also settle the covid controversies once and for all by taking all the relevant medical information and putting it in the hands of the people. A big part of the reason that so many of us don’t trust how the medical establishment is presenting the ‘facts’ on the ‘rona is with all the censorship and ‘fact-checking’ going on.

The mainstream media lied about Iraq, Libya, Syria, ‘Russia-gate,’ and is currently lying about China and the Uyghurs. And we’re supposed to trust the same media establishment, paid for and controlled by such oligarchs as Gates and Bezos, to be telling us the truth about the ‘rona? Hearing the likes of Fauci, the top mouthpieces of the medical and political establishment, flip-flop and lie–time and again–over the past two years, doesn’t encourage trust.

A revolution could result in the people gaining control over the narrative. With all the information available, uncensored and free of the undue influence of the wealthy, we the people could scrutinize and thoroughly debate the evidence on the effectiveness of vaccines and masks, the seriousness of covid on people of all ages, and all the other relevant issues. Whichever way the pendulum ultimately swings, and how far it swings one way or the other (i.e., the compliant side vs. the resistant side), we would all have an answer we could trust.

We’d also have a decent chance to solve all the other problems of our world: the endless wars, ecocide, income inequality, homelessness, healthcare, education, racism, alienation, and bullying.

If, given this post-revolutionary chance, we fail to solve these problems, we really will have only ourselves to blame.

‘Ghost Town,’ a Western Horror Short Story

Duane Parkhurst rode on his horse into his small hometown of Arlington only to find it completely deserted.

“What the hell?” he whispered to himself as he looked around and saw not even one person on the main street.

Far off in the distance along the main road, he could see the local saloon, which looked burned down to its foundations. It was an eerie sight, seeing it all turned from a healthy brown to a black of death. It reminded him of some nasty business he’d been involved in just a few days ago.

Don’t mind that for now, he thought; I’ll check on it later. I wanna go home ‘n’ see the Missus, see if she’s alright.

He rode off the main road and found the neighbourhood of houses where his family’s was. He got there in a few minutes. He got off his horse, took off his hat, and went in through the front door.

“Emily?” he called out for his wife, then for his kids: “Billy? Sue?”

He looked around the parlour, then the kitchen, and finally, in his and Emily’s bedroom.

“Where the hell is everyb–” he said as he entered the bedroom, then he saw Emily.

She was hanging by the neck under a wood beam from the ceiling. A kicked-over stool was lying by her feet.

“Oh, my God! No!” he yelled, then ran over to her body.

He untied the rope and took her down. He laid her on the bed, then removed the rope from her broken neck. The red marks were deeply cut into her neck. He checked for breath and movement, only to find none. The top of her dress was torn open, revealing her breasts. He looked over at the floor, by the stool: her torn-off drawers were lying there. He wouldn’t allow himself to imagine what had happened.

“No, baby, no,” he wept. “Why? Why’d ya do it?” He held his head in his hands and continued weeping for several more minutes. Then he got up and left the room, fearing for his kids. “What the hell happened here?”

He kept looking around the house for little Billy and Sue, but they were nowhere to be found. It was getting harder and harder for him to contain himself. He returned to the parlour and sat on his chair. He needed a moment to think things over, to reflect on what had happened over the past several days…not that they had had anything to do with what was going on now, surely.

It had been three days, since September 23rd, 1883, to be exact, when he and his gang robbed the bank in Chesterton, Nebraska, and burned down two buildings there to distract the locals from chasing the gang. Actually, two of the boys in the gang, brothers George and Ronald Wilson, also burned the buildings down for the sheer fun of it.

All of them had safely ridden out of town on their horses after a shootout with the sheriff and his men, and Duane and his partner in the robbery, Clifford Keane, hid out by some trees. (George and Ronald were slowed down by the shootout, which injured both of their horses.) Then Duane pointed his sawed-off shotgun at Clifford.

“What the hell d’you think you’re doin’, there, boy?” Clifford said as he stared at the barrel of Duane’s gun.

“Drop yer share of the loot,” Duane said.

“You’re gonna regret this, Duane,” Clifford said, then untied his bags from his horse and dropped them to the ground.

“I’m sure I will,” Duane said with a grin, then shot him.

George and Ronald were approaching on foot, their horses too badly hurt to be ridden on anymore, when they saw Clifford fall off of his horse and hit the ground, a river of blood flowing from his gut. Their jaws dropped.

“What the hell you doin’, Duane?” George said.

“Drop yer bags, boys,” he told them.

They did. Then he shot them. He got off his horse and picked up Clifford’s bags of loot.

As he went over to get George’s and Ronald’s bags, he heard the gasps of barely-alive Clifford: “You will pay dearly for your sins, Duane…You…will…pay…dear…ly…”

Duane tied the other bags to his horse, got on, and rode on towards Arlington. Any posse coming for me would first find the bodies of my gang, he thought. They’ll be too distracted with the bodies to continue searching for me. In fact, who knows? Maybe the posse will think the whole gang was killed and they’ll stop the search completely.

If this last possibility came true, he would be totally free. Then he would ride into Arlington with all that extra loot and enrich the entire village, not just his family with his original cut. So were his hopes at the time.

But now that he’d reached Arlington, he saw nobody, not a soul, to share all that money with.

His triple murder and grand theft had all been for nothing.

Unless his kids were still alive. He hung on to that fragile hope.

He went back outside, put his hat back on, and got on his horse.

I’m going back to the main street, he thought as he began riding. That saloon down the way, burnt to a crisp, looks ominous, but I’ve got to find the truth to whatever happened here.

As he was riding along, he heard, Duane, whispered from a familiar voice.

Emily’s.

He spun his horse around in a panic.

There she was, a glowing, ghostly apparition that was floating before his face. The rope marks were still on her neck, she was in the frilly dress she’d had on–still torn and showing off most of her breasts–when she killed herself, and on her pretty face was a permanent frown.

“Hey, baby,” he sobbed. “Why’d ya kill yerself?”

I couldn’t live with myself after what…they done to me, she said in a reverberating whisper.

“What…who done to ya? Done what to ya, darlin’?” He still refused to contemplate the meaning behind her torn dress.

Three men…yesterday…they…knew me…in a way…only you’re supposed to know me. The ghost began sobbing.

No longer able to deny it, Duane blew up. “Where are they?! I’ll kill ’em, the lousy sumbitches!” He was ready to ride off.

You can’t.

“What’dye mean, I can’t? I’m quick on the draw! You think yer husband ain’t man enough to–“

It ain’t that, honey. You can’t kill ’em ’cause they’re already dead, like me.

His eyes widened so much, you could have seen almost half his eyeballs, it seemed. His jaw dropped so low, it was almost touching his chest. Naw, he thought; it couldn’t have been them.

“How can dead men…v-violate you, honey?”

I don’t know, but three ghosts came at me and…they did things to me…that are so filthy…I can’t describe ’em to you. She began weeping again. They were like…ghosts with bodies, ’cause I could….feel them…inside me. She was weeping louder now.

“Who were they?” Duane asked, afraid to hear the answer.

They told me their names, ’cause they wanted me to tell you: Clifford Keane, and George and Ronald Wilson.

Duane fell off his horse. His hat fell off, and the wind took it away.

He just sat there on the dirt road, stunned, for several minutes.

That can’t be! he thought. Emily never met the members of my gang, not even once in her life. There’s no way she could have known their names. Still, can ghosts come back from the dead like that? Naw, they can’t!

He snapped out of it and looked around. Emily was gone.

“Uh, baby? Where’d ya go?”

No answer.

He got back up and got on his horse. He continued riding over to that saloon, full of emotional exhaustion and dread.

He reached the front of the saloon, that is, its charred and blackened remains, and he got off his horse. He walked in so slowly, it was almost as if he were standing still.

As he walked around the remains of the ground floor, with its coal-black stools, tables that once had been, and a bar totally devoured by fire, he heard faint voices from below.

We’re down here, a group of voices whispered.

“In the basement?” he asked.

Yes, they said in those eerie, ethereal voices. Come down and meet us.

He gulped, then looked around for the stairs down there…hoping he wouldn’t find them, but sadly, he did find them.

Duane went down those stairs with shaking legs as the whispering voices grew louder.

Come and meet your destiny, one voice said.

Come and meet your doom, said another.

Daddy, two children’s voices whispered…familiar voices.

“Billy?” Duane yelped, then rushed down the rest of the stairs, almost tripping at one point. “Sue?”

He stopped dead in his tracks just a few steps from the bottom. For in the basement, he saw a hill of charred corpses. It seemed to be pretty much the entire population of his village here in this large basement. The stench was unbearable. He put his hand over his mouth and nose, then continued inside.

Daddy, Billy’s and Sue’s voices said again.

“Where are you?” Duane asked in sobs, his eyes darting all over the place to find their ghosts.

Over here, Daddy, they whispered. He followed their voices over to the hill of bodies.

He stopped before a slope of the hill of corpses when he saw two tiny, blackened arms sticking out, each with a distinctive bracelet on its wrist. Though they were damaged by the fire, he could still recognize them by the names carved into them: Billy and Sue.

He’d given them the bracelets as gifts a year ago.

He broke down and wailed, “Oh, my babies!”

Why’d you do it, Daddy? Billy’s voice asked from over his right ear.

His head spun around behind him, and he looked up to see floating apparitions of his eight-year-old boy and six-year-old girl. They looked down at him with a kind of despairing frown that should never be seen on children.

“Why’d I do what, boy?” Duane asked in sobs.

Kill those three men you were workin’ with, Sue asked. Weren’t they yer friends? You’re never supposed to do that to yer friends, ain’t that right, Daddy?

Duane’s heart was pounding with terror to know that they knew something they couldn’t have known. The words of his sweet, innocent daughter gave him a pang of conscience.

It’s enough of a sin that you robbed that bank and had your men burn those buildings and kill all the people in ’em, but killin’ yer own buddies, Daddy? Billy asked in that haunting, echoing voice. That’s just too much.

An’ yer buddies done killed all o’ us to get back at you, Daddy, Sue said in that same, chilling whisper. If you hadn’t done killed ’em, they wouldn’t ‘a’ killed us.

“How could this’ve happened?” Duane sobbed. “I just wanted to use all the loot to help our poor town to invest it and prosper. Those three men were just thieves. No one woulda missed ’em.”

You got greedy, Duane, the familiar voice of a man, Clifford’s, rang in Duane’s ears. I told you you’d pay dearly for your sins.

Duane turned his head slowly, away from the ghosts of his kids, the other way to find the source of Clifford’s voice. Sure enough, now he saw apparitions of not only his ghost, but also the ghosts of George and Ronald.

It’s payback time, Duane, George said.

Remember what it says in Galatians 6:7, Ronald said. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

“Since when are you a preacher all of a sudden, Ronald?” Duane said. “You’re as much an unrepentant sinner as I am. I never committed arson, as you ‘n’ yer brother done!”

True, but we’re paying for our sins now, Ronald said. As you will be doin’ soon…with us, in Hell!

All three ghosts were glowing and hovering over Duane’s head, looking down at him with malevolent smiles.

But before you’re sent to Hell, where we’ll really torment you, Clifford said, we want you to see how all your efforts to help your town done the opposite.

“How’d you kill everyone here, you sumbitches?” Duane asked.

Well, after we raped yer wife… Ronald said.

…and did things to her that are illegal in every state in the Union, George added with a lewd grin. What exactly are the laws against sodomy, fellas?

“You shut yer goddam mouth, George! That’s my wife you stained!”

Oh, yeah? George said. Whatcha goin’ do about it? Shoot a ghost?

We played the incubus on yer wife as part of yer payback for betrayin’ us, Clifford said.

Yeah, Ronald said. You ain’t got no right to complain.

Anyway, after we had her, we took possession of all the people in this town, Clifford said.

We led ’em all down into this here saloon, down into this here basement, and locked ’em in, George said.

Then George ‘n’ me set fire to the building, Ronald said. It was fun listenin’ to all o’ them screamin’.

Especially the cryin’ o’ yer two li’l brats, George said.

“You bastards!” Duane shouted.

Shouldn’t ‘a’ killed us, Duane, Clifford said. And now it’s your turn to die.

And when we have you with us in Hell, that’s when the real torture begins, George said with a malicious grin.

“Whatcha gonna be able to do to me if I’m already dead?”

You’ll see, Clifford said. In Hell, there’s sufferin’ you’d never dream of up here on Earth.

Just so you know, it ain’t just yer wife ‘n’ kids that are ghosts, Ronald said. Yo mama, papa, ‘n’ kid sister were in that fire, too. Look aroun’ in that pile o’ bodies. You’ll find ’em in there, too.

You’ll have a whole eternity to see unspeakable things done to yer family, George said. And you’ll hafta watch, ‘n’ won’t be able to do nothin’ ’bout it. He giggled at the thought of it.

“I won’t letcha kill me, you bastards!” Duane said. “I’ll–“

You’d never be able to stop us from killin’ you, Clifford said. But even if ya could, we won’t need to kill ya.

Posse’s on its way, Ronald said.

We guided ’em here, George said.

Duane ran back up the stairs with the laughter of his three former friends echoing in the background. As soon as his head was over the ground floor, he saw a group of men on horses, out on the street, staring at the burnt saloon.

“The remainder of the gang must’ve burned down this saloon the same way they did those buildings in Chesterton,” the leader of the posse said.

“Hey, look!” another member of the posse shouted. “Look down at the stairs to the basement. That man hidin’ down there–he’s one o’ the gang, ain’t he? Betcha he’s hidin’ down there, thinkin’ we won’t look for ‘im down there.”

“I saw his face,” a third posse member said. “I reco’nize ‘im. He’s one o’ the bank robbers.”

“Get ‘im!” the leader said. All of them got off their horses and ran for the basement stairs.

I’m dead, Duane thought, running back down as he heard the laughter of the three ghosts get louder. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna hang by the neck in shame back in Chesterton. Maybe the ghosts of my family and friends in Arlington can help me ‘gainst them three sumbitches.

He took a pistol out of his right holster and put it to his head. He saw the posse coming down the stairs and pointing their fingers at him.

He blew his brains out.

He woke up in Hell.

No burnin’ fire, he thought as he looked around. No Satan. Where am I?

He was in the outskirts of Chesterton again. He saw himself, as if looking in a mirror, pointing his sawed-off shotgun at him.

“Drop yer share of the loot,” Duane said to…himself?

He untied his bags of money from the horse he was on–not his own–and dropped them to the ground, then saw himself in…Clifford’s clothes?

He felt a bullet pierce his gut. He fell off his horse. His half-closed eyes saw, in blurry vision, his blood flowing out in a river. He blacked out.

Now he found himself on his feet, walking with bags of loot in his hands and approaching fallen Clifford and…himself? He looked over at Ronald, then at himself: he was in George’s clothes!

He and Ronald were again told to drop their share of the loot on the ground. He felt a bullet pierce his heart, and just as he began to fall to the ground, he felt his consciousness go over to Ronald’s body…just in time to feel a bullet pierce his heart again.

Everything went black.

He found himself in his bedroom. He looked down at himself…or was it herself?…and saw that frilly dress Emily had worn. His arms were skinny and hairless…his wife’s arms!

He…or rather, she…felt three incubi hit her like three huge balls, knocking her onto their bed. Duane was experiencing it all in his wife’s body. The dress was torn away to reveal her breasts. Then her undergarments were torn off.

Yes, what these three incubi…Clifford, George, and Ronald…were doing to her was unspeakable. Duane felt three female orifices, not two male ones, being invaded. The physical pain was nothing compared with the shame he felt.

So this is how it feels for a lady to be transformed into a whore, he thought as the three-way penetration continued. I’m so sorry, baby. I wasn’t here to protect you.

When they finished, they shot out of the house as quickly as they’d shot in. He could hear himself crying his wife’s tears as the trembling body his soul was trapped in was searching for some rope.

He felt her step up on the stool, tie the rope to the wood beam on the ceiling, put it around her neck, kick the stool, and felt the rope fibres cutting into her neck, cutting off her air supply, breaking her neck, and making her lose consciousness.

Next, he felt himself being compelled to walk out of the house and towards the saloon. He looked down at himself, and realized his soul was inside Billy’s little body. He looked to his right and saw Sue there. She was looking straight ahead, with what looked like no independent will. He could sense the presence of Clifford, George, and Ronald controlling both his boy and girl.

No, he thought. No. Don’t make me experience their deaths. No!

Yes, the voice of Clifford buzzed in his ears. You’re not only gonna experience yer little boy’s and girl’s deaths, not only yer mama’s, papa’s, ‘n’ sister’s deaths, but you’re gonna re-experience them all, over and over again, for all eternity.

What? he thought.

That’s right, George said. Why’d ya think they call Hell ‘eternal death’?

The Devil’s makin’ us three experience the same thing, Ronald said. Experiencin’ and re-experiencin’ the deaths of all the people we done killed. But the Devil done made a deal with us three. Since you double-crossed us, we can enjoy makin’ you suffer far worse than we have to. You see, you’re in what’s called the Ninth Circle o’ Hell, which is reserved for traitors. You’re a traitor, havin’ double-crossed us, so you’ll suffer far worse than us.

This can’t be happenin’, Duane thought as he saw himself and Sue nearing the saloon. This is a nightmare, ain’t it? Please pinch me an’ wake me up!

This is no dream, Clifford said. And you ain’t ever wakin’ up.

No! Duane thought, trying to take control over his son’s body, but he couldn’t move any part of it an inch.

You ain’t got no control, George said. Whatcha think you’re doin’? There ain’t nothin’ you can do ’bout it.

He and Sue walked into the saloon, over to the stairs, and down them. In the basement was almost everybody else.

He saw his mother, father, and kid sister, all of them standing there without any ability to retake control of their bodies and get out of the building. He and Sue were now also standing there, helpless and immobile.

A few more people from the village were made to enter the basement.

Everybody’s here, Clifford said. Alright, boys, go burn the saloon down.

Still trapped in little Billy’s body, the soul of Duane watched, in all helplessness, as the ghosts of George and Ronald flew out of the basement. After several minutes, he could smell smoke.

A while later, he and all the others felt the heat growing, then the flames appeared all around them.

Here are the fires of Hell, Duane, Ronald said. You were wonderin’ about them. Here they are.

The worst feeling of all wasn’t so much the physical pain of the burning; it was feeling the terror of his helpless son and daughter, feeling his boy’s heart pounding, his little pulse racing, his shaking body, and knowing he couldn’t do a thing about it. Looking over and seeing the mounting terror in little Sue’s eyes was all the more unbearable for him.

The flames got closer and closer, already burning his neighbours. The boy wept as he heard their screams. Duane could say nothing to comfort poor little Billy. He had no control over the boy’s body, which was fixed in its spot, practically paralyzed, as all the other victims were, being possessed by Clifford, George, and Ronald.

Then the flames came for him.

As the flames crawled along his skin and devoured everything in their path, the boy screamed and wailed. His father wanted to say, “Sorry, Billy. I’m so sorry!” but he couldn’t even do that.

When Billy passed out from the excruciating pain, his consciousness went over to little Sue.

Oh, God, no! he thought. Don’t make me feel my little princess sufferin’! Please, God, no!

But he would feel it, and hear her shrill screams of pain and bawling until she lost consciousness.

Then he went into his father’s body, and he felt his father’s body burning. Sorry, Daddy, he wanted to say…but couldn’t.

Then, after his father passed out and died, Duane’s soul went into his kid sister’s body, which immediately after began to burn. It broke his heart to know her pretty face and hair were being destroyed by the flames. Sorry, Sis, he wanted to say…but he couldn’t.

Finally, his soul went into his mother’s body. The sacred body of the angel who gave him life…burning in Hell like a devil.

And he could tell her no words of apology or comfort. He could only hear her screams, and watch her body destroyed.

After she passed out, Duane felt himself back in the outskirts of Chesterton again, in Clifford’s body, and looking at himself pointing that shotgun again.

And let’s do it all over again, he heard Clifford’s voice say to him. And again and again and again…forever.

NOOOOO!!!! he wanted to scream, with all of his might, and all of his soul.

But he couldn’t.