Wednesday, February 3, 2010


When Ted Bundy was busy raping and murdering his victims, I was a youth in my salad days. If there was a big media celebration of his fame during his trial, I missed it. By the time I came back from my sojourning in a far-off land, he was just a tidbit of cultural literacy, and it took me, actually, a few years to figure out what exactly he’d been up to. Oh, another serial killer. Ho hum. I display a shocking indifference and lack of curiosity – almost Bush-like … almost Reagan-like – to details that don’t add something to my worldview. What, more evil and chaos? Knew about that already.

But eventually the info dribbled in, and a sort of picture was completed. Here’s what I took away from Ted Bundy. When he was a twelve year old boy, wandering down some country road or alley or some such, he chanced upon a box, filled to overflowing with glossy pornographic photos. He was a twelve year old boy. That means innocent. But he was, after all, a twelve year old boy, and no one was watching, so he did what we might expect. Stowed beneath his bed, perhaps - or in back of the garage – or in a tree. Who knows – but he would return to those images, time after time. Images of a man and a woman, having sex. How interesting. But images, also, that he cared not to look at – disturbing, disgusting, to his young eyes. Two men and a woman, or just women, or just men … or something that resembled but was not sex … or creatures other than men and women. And so on. Disturbing. Disgusting.

But time passed for young Ted, and the familiar images no longer satisfied his eyes. And he looked at those other pictures. And time passed, and those images also were not enough. And he took to the night time streets, peering into windows. Which wasn’t enough. And he entered houses. Which wasn’t enough. And he raped. Not enough. And he killed. It wasn’t enough, but it was all that was left.

It started with a box by the side of a road.

There isn’t anything more fragile, more delicate, than the sexual instinct. It is the most easily diverted of currents. What touch, what word, what look it is that sets it in a new course we cannot say. But it happens, and more and more, nowadays, what with so many words and images and touches in our society. And our interest, as children, which runs for the most part to our playmates – our same gender playmates – has to make a leap across a great and perilous divide, at a certain age. When we ourselves are become fully sexual beings, part of the maturation process is to shift some significant part of our interest away from our same-sex pals, and onto that other sex. If this shift doesn’t happen, we retain our childish interest in our own gender, but that interest now has the added dimension of sexuality.

Don’t like that theory? Well, maybe we’re just born this way.

In any case, sexual energy can be attached not just to genders, same or opposite, but to virtually anything. Leather and rubber and shoes and chains and I don’t even know what all. Not my thing. Ted Bundy fixed his on death.

Let’s shift the scene, away from America and the West, to the Middle East. I recall reading of the fourteen year old Moslem boy who wanted to be a suicide bomber because he wanted the virgins. It’s one of the really sad things I’ve heard. That poor boy. How desperate. Maybe some folks don’t know, but I do, how powerful these instincts are. In his wretched culture, the only hope he imagined he had, to vent this energy, was to murder and die. So, is islamist culture a Ted Bundy culture? I wonder – being me – if his shaving off his pubic hair, in preparation for meeting his virgins, was really a sexual, rather than ritualistic act. Well, again, not my thing.

Again, in August of ’04, the terrorist “Mahdi Militia” gang of Muqtada Sadr took over the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. They got their asses handed to them for two weeks, then fled under a negotiated withdrawal. (I can say “asses,” right?) The point? As Austin Bay reminds us, Iraqi police “found pornographic magazines left by Sadr's men inside the mosque.” I can only assume that these people, these gangsters, think of themselves as the army of Allah. Even if they’re just pigs, they must think of themselves that way. Yet there they are, busy masturbating inside a most holy site of Islam. Couldn’t wait for their virgins, I guess.

We are, all of us, every one, regardless of culture - austere and repressive or permissive and profligate – subject to instinct and its passions. Some have more, some less. Some are born and some made to be eunuchs … I won’t say they’re lucky, but they must have fewer distractions. In any event, it’s something that has to be dealt with. Jesus could still the storm. We have to suffer its surges, calmly or in panic as the case may be.

A final little tale. In 1993, Westley Dodd was hanged. At various times he'd found young boys by the roadside or in parks and picked them up. Raped and murdered three of them - hanged one of them in his closet - kept Polaroids, to aid his memory. Well, he finally got justice. Hanged. No cameras allowed, though. A year or so prior to his execution, I saw a Frontline documentary detailing his case. I watched it with a sort of remote horror. But I was moved during his interview by the deadness in his eyes. People who torture little boys to death have dead eyes. But I, idiot that I am, was moved so much that I sat down and wrote him a letter. Sent it to him care of the Washington State Department of Corrections. Never got a reply. But a few years after his death, I heard about his last words. He said, “I was wrong when I said there was no hope, no peace. There is hope. There is peace. I have found them both in the Lord Jesus Christ.” I wept like a baby when I heard that.

But outside the execution area reporters heard the father of two of the victims release a slow, long hiss. We weep for him, too.

The waters are muddy, you see. Somewhere the Bible assures us that though our sins are as scarlet, we shall be white as snow. White as snow? When so filthy? Dodd loved to be interviewed. Maybe it was just more pornography for him. In prison he took to writing anti-molestation pamphlets. Gee, thanks for the advice, Westley. “I believe what the Bible teaches," he told a reported toward the end. "I’ll go to Heaven. I have doubts, but I’d really like to believe that I would be able to go up to the three little boys and give them a hug and tell them how sorry I was and be able to love them with a real true love and have no desire to hurt them in any way.” How shall we take this? There's something so wrong, so creepy about that image. That he could ever touch them again. You'd think there'd be a restraining order, even in heaven. But no. Forgiveness has consequences, too. In so many ways, forgiveness is the opposite of justice.

No, the story’s not over. A few years after that, I was the guardian of a boy from Juvenile Hall. The most damaged person I’ve ever known. Upshot: in the course of some conversation, I mentioned Westley Dodd. “Oh, Westley Allen Dodd,” he said. A fan, apparently. I told him the story I’ve just related, and he was moved.

What I like to think is that, for all the evil of the world, for all that there are young boys found on roadsides by monsters, and just as there are boys who find on lonely roads boxes filled with images, and in the finding, are lost – so might there be words, mere words that carry within them enough truth and sincerity and love that their memory echoes unceasingly, sometimes soft and sometimes loud, but somehow, finally, sufficient to make a difference. I like to think that my letter reached Westley Dodd, and made a difference. I like to think that my words and everything they embodied somehow eventually made a difference to that boy that I once knew. I like to think that these words, or others in my little blog, might make a difference. But rarely can we know of such an effect. No tragedy, in not knowing. The tragedy lies in not speaking.

Eve was tempted by seeing that the fruit was good to eat. The lust of the eyes. Pictures. We are saved by the hearing of the word. The Word. It’s probably a coincidence, an artifact of my glib mind, this conflict between image and word. But the islamists, like all of us, have the images. And we’ve seen what images do - there is no difference between us and them, in this.

They do not have the Word.

Let the terrorists be saved, and I will weep for joy. But they are not saved, and I do not weep for them. I hiss. Ah. So many tears.


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