The unforgettable nature of strangulation

To know yourself, you must listen to yourself.
Pay heed to that which elicits the strongest responses.
Do you find yourself displaying the oddest and most confusing expressions of groundless passion?
Chances are it’s not that random. Or “groundless.”
These are the unfamiliar moments that a resounding dose of self-examination is needed. Often, your behavior is steered by subconscious conflicts or disguised memories which, if unearthed, may explain your egregious reactions.

Like. For instance. Earlier, on Robert Lindsay’s blog, he posted a link to a disturbing and crazy video filmed in Serbia of a dogcatcher (yes, they even have those in Serbia) who, apparently deciding that “catching” the dog was not enough, decided to strangle it to death as well. A disturbing snapshot of a disturbing video:

This is a ghastly vision of inhumanity as expressed in a sadistic key of bloody gasps coughed out a Serbian stray dog (of which there are many, apparently). Most people’s initial reaction (I’m guessing) would be one of disgust, horror, anger, at such a brutal killing.

How did I react?
Why I fixated on strangulation as a mode of murder.
What a freakish oddball I appear…

A dog is being killed for chrissakes and all I seem bothered to note is that strangulation is a horrible way to die or to kill.

After placing that comment, I began getting ready for my mid-morning commitments and while I was showering I considered my curious reaction to the strangulation video. Strangulation does in fact horrify me. But why?

In the echo chamber of my memory (or maybe it was the shower), it all came back to me.

Back when I was barely 18, a few months into college, my mom hooked me up with a job in the mail room at the Bank of America. It was my first foray into the illustriously impersonal world of the corporacracy, circa 1982. I was too young to care; it was a job and I now had my own source of money without having to ask for it. Self-sufficiency was mine.

It was a cool job, I worked Saturdays and Sundays, the ideal job for a college student.
A few months into my employment, two other guys started at separate times. One of them was Frank, a Czech import, a great dude who lived with his brother here in L.A. He also worked as a custodian at a local school and he liked hairy women. Hairy female arms turned him on. He was also fond of short zippered boots and weird ill-mannered Western-style button-up shirts. I ascribed it to his exotic Eastern European heritage of which I had absolutely no acquaintance, having grown up in East L.A. Frank was a great dude. He was one of two buddies with who I celebrated my 21st birthday at a local watering hole. He had that strange F.O.B. backwoods white fellow vibe. His fluency in English was apparently inversely proportional to his lack of street smarts. Another guy started working in the mail room at this time as well. His name was James. He was a tall, thin, black man, about the age I am now. Back then he seemed so fucking old. He was a smart-ass, trash-talking pimp who wore wide lapels and had that wild-eyed primal look, and in fact, the first time I saw him, I thought he was from Africa. Turned out, nope…he was from the U.S. and he had completed two tours of duty in Vietnam. The 2nd was voluntary. I remember being flabbergasted by this fact. I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to go another round of that hell…just couldn’t wrap my head around it. The promise of instant death or horrific imprisonment there in the steamy jungle. It baffled my comprehension. James was cool but he was a scary bastard. He was prone to intense periods of dark grouchiness; a real moody asshole. Several times he began the day by walking into the mail room and rather than saying “good morning” or “hi,” he immediately launched into a threatening invective: “I’m in a shitty mood and nobody better fuck with me!”
And no one did.
I had watched Apocalypse Now a few years previous and the fragmented images of an unreal and hellish Vietnam still lurked in my mind. James was erratic and borderline berzerk; not sure what his deal was, but the dude was obviously scarred. Perhaps he was a murderous psychopath before his tours, or perhaps his tours turned him that way. He was always on a razor’s edge.

There were about 7 of us in the mail room, all guys, roughly the same age group, 20ish, except for the psycho geriatric. The mail room functioned erratically in spurts of furious activity. We’d receive a large shipment of USPS mail which would eat up a large chunk of time. After we’d processed and distributed the mail in the direction it was intended, we’d find ourselves killing free time, yakking it up rather that using the downtime to work on other monotonous work chores that needed to be done. Nope, we just yakked.

James, in the proper mood, was a big yakker. He talked shit and his favorite past time was puzzling Frank with antiquated African-American folksy truisms which frequently left Frank, the literal-minded ESL victim, confused and comically dizzy. We all delighted in this even though in retrospect, it was pretty lame. Boredom lowers the entertainment bar to subterranean levels, a principle well displayed in our department.

One afternoon, the lazy conversation dwindled and surged in a random roundabout way. The subject was nothing and everything. James was in a crazy-ass mood and he chided us in his gravelly voice (he smoked in the office). The subject meandered to trains and travelling and James was fond of recounting his folksy past and he told us of a train ride. Trains, the threat of the subject of trains branching out into ensuing veins of disconnected subjects lingered until James halted the free-form nature of our discussion and alluded to taking a train to Perris or something like that. Frank looked puzzled. James, smelling blood, and smelling a small profit (he was always looking to make an extra buck), goaded Frank on. Told frank that yes, it was possible to take a train to Perris. Frank, confounded, but not stupid, refused to budge. No way. You could not take a train to Paris. Yes, James said, you can take a train to Perris. “I’ve done it.”

Frank dug his heels in and refused to relent.
James and Frank continued to spar in this oddest and most pathetic of Perris/Paris duels. Finally an offer was laid on the table by James; if he could prove he took the train to Perris, Frank would owe him $_____(I forget the amount). Frank, boldly defiant, and confident in his charming Eastern European fumbling manner, was ready to shake hands on it. None of us knew exactly what James was up to, and suddenly it occurred to me. And I blurted out, “You mean Perris, California?”

The jig was up.

James looked at me with a strange disconnected rage in his eyes.
I had just cost him $_____. I forget what he said as he walked over to where I sat. James was one of those kinds of guys who wears the same facial expression, regardless of the inner turmoil or bliss which happens to live in his present mind. This made him more fearsome. The fucker could have murder in his mind but you would never know it until he twisted your neck. I guess killing gooks in the jungle for two tours does that to you.

The fucker, all 6’3″ of him, strolled over to me nonchalantly and circled his long bony fingers around my throat and began strangling me! He was so casual about it, I thought he was joking. He had to be. He was a gruff joker. And perhaps he was joking, but the choke was on me. Yeah, he began to choke me. His big Negro fingers clasped tightly around my neck like a King Cobra’s tensioning. I flailed like a fish out of water. I was puny, no match for the thin and lanky James. Those tall lanky black dudes are deceivingly strong. James could have killed me. I can only guess that he might have done that if his anger hadn’t been riddled with the humorous element of Frank’s Perris illusion still fresh in his mind. Those few moments of strangulation were horrible and helpless and I don’t think I came very close to losing consciousness but the beginning stages of panic set in moments before James released me. It was difficult to regain my bearings after that encounter. For a few days after, my face became flushed and warm at random moments throughout the day, undoubtedly a physical reaction to the momentary disruption of my cerebral arterial flow I had experienced that afternoon in the mail room.

Apparently, the trauma of strangulation has stayed with me since.

I wonder when the next train to Perris leaves?