Tales of madness are subjective. I mean, what is insanity exactly? If all of your ghastly indiscretions, mental and actual, were strung together, they could wrap this earth many times over, ditto mine, so all of us can easily be deemed deranged, including you, solemn pastor, rah rah coach or prissy board lady. Still, when unhinged behaviors become increasingly pervasive, it’s time we ask if this society is going through a nervous breakdown as it’s falling apart structurally?
From our psychopathic President on down, we’re showing the world, and posterity, that we’re clearly not right in the noggin. Our meaty football players fall in love with chimeric sirens, our grade school children swoon over homicidal rappers, our poets neuter themselves when not sucking up, professorial morons are trotted out as national pundits on all matters, and caged fighting becomes family and patriotic entertainment, while on television, a slurring, chubby girl frolics in a crib with a farting piglet. Or take crime news. Random, wanton, disproportionate or particularly sadistic acts of violence used to be seldom, but now they occur so often, in all parts of the country, that most never register on our national consciousness, or conscience, assuming we still have one, tucked away somewhere. Shocking less and less, senseless acts of carnage merely amuse or titillate many of the angry, bored and frustrated, economically, socially or sexually, whatever, with commentators rushing online just to flaunt their limp, one-line witticism.
With neither will nor strategy for collective resistance against a government that consistently works against us, that ships our jobs overseas and uses our tax money for vampiric banks and incontinent bombs, thus wrecking our communities, we are left adrift and isolated, with the most alarmed among us turning preppers with discount bags of rice, beans, mac and cheese, Ramen Pride and an odd rifle, awaiting the SWAT team and drones. Long conditioned to cheer things and people being blown up, most of us don’t even realize that it’s our turn to scream and be splattered, by the same military, banking and media hoodlums that have long had us, and the world, by the privates. Stay meek, or you can’t move. Yes, officer. In any case, with our pharma-treated skulls well shoved up our IPods’ a-holes, we hardly know how batshit our own cities or towns are, much less the next one over.
In the City of Brotherly Love, all these happened in a one-week span: At the sparsely used Chinatown subway stop, a man in a Trumps Taj Mahal Casino Resorts jacket noticed a woman sitting alone on a bench. Though it was only afternoon, no one else was around. He decided to ask her for a lighter. After she obliged, he paused, sized her up, then lunged forward to push her against the wall. He then struck her face several times, dragged and threw her heavy form onto the tracks, before skipping away with her cell phone. Since no train rolled in, she survived. Two days later, he was captured after being spotted strutting through a subway car.
Missing his bus stop, a man pulled a gun on the driver, so he could get off right then and there. He couldn’t wait 20 seconds for the next stop, less than a block away. I doubt that such mad urgency was due to any doo doo emergency, like what happened to a squatting dude falling between two trains in New York City. (In the US, only baseball catchers squat in public, by the way, and even then, they hedge by not staying flat-footed. Evoking defecation or, Rocky forbid, female micturition, this posture pisses off all brisket bangers or Viagrally erectile Americans.) Also, in 2012, shots were fired into a Philly subway car and bus in separate incidents.
Across the river, a 27-year-old man deliberately shot his 11-year-old daughter in the face, as he was visiting the child’s mom, his ex. Another man then shot him in the buttocks.
A woman, Linda Ann Weston, was convicted for luring, then imprisoning mentally handicapped people in a squalid concrete basement, all to steal their benefit checks. She also subjected her own children and a niece to enhanced stress position techniques. With four accomplices, she chained them to a boiler, drugged them, beat them with a stick or baseball bat, shot them with a pellet gun, burnt them with a heated spoon, fed them irregularly with meager portions of instant noodles, forced them to drink their own urine and sleep naked. She prostituted her female victims. One man had half of his right ear bitten off by a pitbull. Two detainees died. This woman’s torturing spree lasted ten years.
In 2003, eight years before Weston was finally caught, a mother of one victim alerted the city that her daughter, and the daughter’s boyfriend, may have been kidnapped by Weston, but nothing was done about it. Philadelphia ignored all the red flags, for already in 1981, Weston and her sister, Venus, were convicted of beating a man with a hammer and broomstick, then tying and locking him up in a closet, where he was fed just four times in two months, until he died at 75 pounds, and for this, Weston got an eight-year sentence, for which she served only four. In fact, after her release, they gave her back her children, as well as custody of her niece, all of whom she proceeded to abuse.
Though local cops are slow to catch on, torture dungeons for the mentally retarded may be a Philly specialty, for it has already boasted Gary Heidnick. A bedwetting, high-IQ fellow with a peculiarly shaped head, Heidnick was an US Army medic, then self-declared bishop of his own church, catering to the feeble minded. White, he wedded a retarded, black woman, and all was fine until he raped her sister, which landed him in jail. Released, he snatched a Filipino mail order bride, but that didn’t work out either, so he started to lure one black, retarded woman after another, ending up with six, all of whom he kept in his basement, beat up, raped and electrocuted, killing one. Another died after being strung up. He dismembered, then cooked her corpse, chunk by chunk, but when a neighbor called the cops about the ungodly stench, one came, sniffed around outside, but did nothing. Before being executed in jail, Heidnick griped about his treatment, “I resent this kind of shit being done to a disabled veteran.” Too bad Heidnick’s gone, for surely there’s a swell job for him in the CIA, Pentagon or Hollywood.
Back to 2013. Last week, a pill-popping 36-year-old exterminator strangled, hogtied then burnt a 35-year-old doctor, after what he claimed was an argument in her basement. The petite woman belittled him, he explained, and though she was found in just her shirt, the police said there had been no sexual assault. After killing, the exterminator went to another appointment, and was arrested four days later at his home, while watching American Idol with his girlfriend. Many comments to this story focus on the death of the exterminator’s dog, shot by the cops as they were trying to snag its owner.
As of January 26th, Philly has 16 murders for the year, compared to 29 for all of January, 2012, so unless there is a sudden uptick in the next few days, we have made progress, so to speak, since last year, but I’m not just counting corpses here, but trying to limn the increasing alienation and sickness of my environment. As the country tortures, so do its citizens. As it kills for material gains, ego replenishment or just the hell of it, most casually, so do Americans. As it robs weaker nations, its teens swarm stores to shoplift. As the country preemptively attacks its trumped up or imaginary enemies, so do its cheap beer swilling couch potatoes. After murdering a stranger, a man exterminates rats, then drives home to watch TV with his lovely girlfriend. If up for a movie out, they can choose between John Dies at the End, Knife Fight, Texas Chainsaw in 3D, Zero Dark Thirty, Broken City or Bullet to the Head. “Revenge never gets old.” While droning, bombing and starving foreigners, Obama charms on television.
Barely seen by neighbors, because that’s how we like it, we can live, die, torture or be tortured in the privacy of our dungeons. I’ll finish, though, on a cheerful note. In a men’s room of Liberty One, Philly’s tallest skyscraper, dubbed “half an erection” by Robert Ventura, I heard a man sing at the urinal, “It’s a Friday, Friday! It’s a snow day on a Friday! I see snowflakes coming down, coming down!” When you have to wait until late January to get wet snow that doesn’t stick, you might just loose your mind when it finally happens. An aberration during global warming, this cold snap does chill the killing impulse, however. As a Philly prosecutor once told me, “There’s a correlation between ice cream sales and murders.” Enjoy this conditional pause in mayhem while it lasts.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.