Two dollars, please

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On August 23, 1928, Rancid, the butler in the Drake Mansion on old Beacon Hill, reported a rather distressing fact to his employer. “Good Lord Harry,” old Drake cried at first, “is he turning Papist now?” His second question was less rhetorical: “You’re absolutely sure?”

“There is no doubt,” Rancid replied. “The maids showed me the socks, sir. And the shoes.”

That night there was a rather strangulated attempt at conversation in the mansion’s old library.

“Are you going back to Harvard?”

“Not yet.”

“Are you at least going to try another damned alienist?”

“They call themselves psychiatrists these days, Father. I don’t think so.”

“Dammit, Robert, what did happen in the war?”

“Many things. They all made profits for our bank, though, so don’t worry about them.”

“Are you turning Red?”

“I see no profit there. The State of Massachusetts killed two innocent men today for holding opinions of that sort.”

“Innocent my Aunt Fanny. Robert, I know the judge personally—”

“And he believes what the friend of a banker should believe.”

There was a long pause, and old Drake crushed out a cigar he had hardly started.

“Robert, you know you’re sick.”

“Yes.”

“What is this latest thing—glass and nails in your shoes? Your mother would die if she knew.”

There was another silence. Robert Putney Drake finally answered, languidly, “It was an experiment. A phase. The Sioux Indians do much worse to themselves in the Sun Dance. So do lots of chaps in Spanish monasteries, and in India, among other places. It’s not the answer.”

“It’s really finished?”

“Oh, yes. Quite. I’m trying something else.”

“Something to hurt yourself again?”

“No, nothing to hurt myself.”

“Well, then, I’m glad to hear that. But I do wish you would go to another alienist, or psychiatrist, or whatever they call themselves.” Another pause. “You can pull yourself together, you know. Play the man, Robert. Play the man.”

Old Drake was satisfied. He had talked turkey to the boy; he had performed his fatherly duty. Besides, the private detectives assured him that the Red business really was trivial: The lad had been to several anarchist and Communist meetings, but his comments had been uniformly aloof and cynical.

It was nearly a year later when the really bad news from the private investigators arrived.

“How much will the girl take to keep her mouth shut?” old Drake asked immediately.

“After we pay hospital expenses, maybe a thousand more,” the man from Pinkerton’s said.

“Offer her five hundred,” the old man replied. “Go up to a thousand only if you have to.”

“I said maybe a thousand,” the detective said bluntly. “He used a special kind of whip, one with twisted nails in the ends. She might want two or three thou.”

“She’s only a common whore. They’re used to this sort of thing.”

“Not to this extent.” The detective was losing his deferential tone. “The photos of her back, and her buttocks especially, didn’t bother me much. But that’s because I’m in this business and I’ve seen a lot. An average jury would vomit, Mr. Drake. In court—”

“In court,” old Drake pronounced, “she would come before a judge who belongs to several of my clubs and has investments in my bank. Offer five hundred.”

Two months thereafter, the stock market crashed and New York millionaires began leaping from high windows onto hard streets. Old Drake, the next day, ran into his son begging on the street near the Old Granary cemetery. The boy was wearing old clothes from a secondhand store.

“It’s not that bad, son. We’ll pull through.”

“Oh, I know that. You’ll come out ahead, in fact, if I’m any judge of character.”

“Then what the hell is this disgraceful damned foolishness?”

“Experience. I’m breaking out of a trap.”

The old man fumed all the way back to the bank. That evening he decided it was time for another open and honest discussion; when he went to Robert’s room, however, he found the boy thoroughly trussed up in chains and quite purple in the face.

“God! Damn! Son! What is this?”

The boy—who was twenty-seven and, in some respects, more sophisticated than his father—grinned and relaxed. The purple faded from his face. “One of Houdini’s escapes,” he explained simply.

“You intend to become a stage magician? My God!”

“Not at all. I’m breaking out of another trap—the one that says nobody but Houdini can do these things.”

Old Drake, to do him justice, hadn’t acquired his wealth without some shrewdness concerning human peculiarities. “I begin to see,” he said heavily. “Pain is a trap. That was why you put the broken glass in your shoes that time. Fear of poverty is a trap. That’s why you tried begging on the streets. You’re trying to become a Superman, like those crazy boys in Chicago, the ‘thrill killers.’ What you did to that whore last year was part of all this. What else have you done?”

“A lot.” Robert shrugged. “Enough to be canonized as a saint, or to be burnt as a diabolist. None of it seems to add up, though. I still haven’t found the way.” He suddenly made a new effort, and the chains slipped to the floor. “Simple yoga and muscle control,” he said without pride. “The chains in the mind are much harder. I wish there were a chemical, a key to the nervous system …”

“Robert,” said old Drake, “you are going back to an alienist. I’ll have you committed if you won’t go voluntarily.”

And so Dr. Faustus Unbewusst acquired a new patient, at a time when many of his most profitable cases were discontinuing therapy because of the monetary depression. He made very few notes on Robert, but these were subsequently found by an Illuminati operative, photostated, and placed in the archives at Agharti, where Hagbard Celine read them in 1965. They were undated, and scrawled in a hurried hand—Dr. Unbewusst, in reaction-formation against his own anal component, was a conspicuously untidy and careless person—but they told a fairly straightforward story:

RPD, age 27, latent homo. Father rich as Croesus. Five sessions per week @ $50 each, $250. Keep him in therapy 5 yrs that’s a clear $65,000. Be ambitious, aim for ten years. $130,000. Beautiful.

RPD not latent homo at all. Advanced psychopath. Moral imbecile. Actually enjoys the money I’m soaking his father. Hopeless case. All drives ego-syntonic. Bastard doesn’t give a fuck. Maybe as long as 12 yrs.? $156,000. Hot shit!

RPD back on sadism again. Thinks that’s the key. Must use great care. If he gets caught at something serious, jail or a sanitorium; and can kiss that $156,000 good-bye. Maybe use drugs to calm him?

RPD in another schizo mood today. Full of some crap a gypsy fortune-teller told him. Extreme care needed: If the occultists get him, that’s 13 grand per year out the window.

Clue to RPD: All goes back to the war. Can’t stand the thought that all must die. Metaphysical hangup. Nothing I can do. If only there were an immortality pill. Risk of losing him to the occultists or even a church worse than I feared. I can feel the 13 grand slipping away.

RPD wants to go to Europe. Wants meeting, maybe therapy, with that sheissdreck dummkopf Carl Jung. Must warn parents too sick to travel.

RPD gone after only 10 months. A lousy 11-grand case. Too angry to see patients today. Spent morning drafting letter to Globe on why fortune-tellers should be forbidden by law. If I could get my hands on that woman, on her fat throat, the bitch, the fat stinking ignorant bitch. $156,000. Down the drain. Because he needs immortality and doesn’t know how to get it.

Mama Sutra was only thirty then, but she streaked her hair with gray to fit the image of the Wise Woman. She recognized Drake as soon as he wandered into the tea parlor: old Drake’s son, the crazy one, loaded.

He motioned to her before the waitress could take his order. Mama Sutra, quick to pick up clues, could tell from his suit’s wrinkles that he had been lying down; Boston Common is a long walk from Beacon Hill; there were shrinks in the neighborhood; ergo, he hadn’t come from home but from a therapy session.

“Tea leaves or cards?” she asked courteously, sitting across from him at the table.

“Cards,” he said absently, looking down from the window to the Common. “Coffee,” he added to the waitress. “Black as sin.”

“Were you listening to the preachers down there?” Mama Sutra asked shrewdly.

“Yes.” He grinned, engagingly. “‘He that believeth shall never taste death.’ They’re in rare form today.”

“Shuffle,” she said, handing the cards over. “But they awakened some spiritual need in you, my son. That’s why you came up here.”

He met her eye cynically. “I’m willing to try any kind of witchcraft once. I just came from a practitioner of the latest variety, just off the boat from Vienna a few years.”

Bull’s-eye, she thought.

“Neither his science nor their unenlightened faith can help you,” Mama said somberly, ignoring his cynicism. “Let us hope that the cards will show the way.” She dealt a traditional Tree of Life.

At the crown was Death upside-down, and below it were the King of Swords in Chokmah and the Knight of Wands in Binah. “He that believeth shall never taste death,” he had quoted cynically.

“I see a battlefield,” she began; it was common Boston gossip that Drake first started acting odd after the war. “I see Death come very close to you and then miss you.” She pointed to the reverse Death card with a dramatic finger. “But many died, many that you cared for deeply.”

“I liked a few of them,” he said grudgingly. “Mostly I was worried about my own a—my own hide. But go ahead.”

She looked at the Knight of Wands in the Binah position. Should she mention the bisexuality implied? He was going to a shrink, and might be able to take it. Mama tried to hold the Knight of Wands and King of Swords together in her focus, and the way became clear. “There are two men in you. One loves other men, perhaps too much. The other is desperately trying to free himself from all of humanity, even from the world. You’re a Leo,” she added suddenly, taking a leap.

“Yes,” he said, unimpressed. “August 6.” He was thinking that she had probably looked up the birthdates of all the richer individuals in town in case they ever wandered in.

“It’s very hard for Leos to accept death,” she said sadly. “You are like Buddha after he saw the corpse on the road. No matter what you have or own, no matter what you achieve, it will never be enough, for you saw too many corpses in the war. Ah, my son, would that I could help you! But I only read cards; I am no alchemist who sells the Elixir of Eternal Life.” While he was digesting that one—a sure hit, she felt—Mama rushed on to examine the Five of Wands reversed in Chesed and the Magus upright in Geburah. “So many wands,” she said. “So many fire signs. A true Leo, but so much of it turned inward. See how the energetic Knight of Wands descends to the Five upside-down: All your energies, and Leos are very powerful, are turned against yourself. You are a burning man, trying to consume yourself and be reborn. And the Magus, who shows the way, is below the King of Swords and dominated by him: Your reason won’t allow you to accept the necessity of the fire. You are still rebelling against Death.” The Fool was in Tipareth and, surprisingly, upright. “But you are very close to taking the final step. You are ready to let the fire consume even your intellect and die to this world.” This was going swimmingly, she thought—and then she saw the Devil in Netzach and the Nine of Swords reversed in Yod. The rest of the Tree was even worse: the Tower in Yesod and the Lovers reversed (of course!) in Malkuth. Not a cup or a pentacle anywhere.

“You’re going to emerge as a much stronger man,” she said weakly.

“That isn’t what you see,” Drake said. “And it isn’t what I see. The Devil and the Tower together are a pretty destructive pair, aren’t they?”

“I suppose you know what the Lovers reversed means, too?” she asked.

“‘The Answer of the Oracle Is Always Death,’” he quoted.

“But you won’t accept it.”

“The only way to conquer Death—until science produces an immortality pill—is to make him your servant, your company cop,” Drake said calmly. “That’s the key I’ve been looking for. The bartender never becomes an alcoholic, and the high priest laughs at the gods. Besides, the Tower is rotten to the core and deserves to be destroyed.” He pointed abruptly to the Fool. “You have some real talents obviously—even if you do cheat like everybody in this racket—and you must know there are two choices after crossing the Abyss. The right-hand path and the left-hand path. I seem to be headed for the left-hand path. I can see that much, and it confirms what I already suspect. Go ahead and tell me the rest of what you see; I’m not afraid to hear it.”

“Very well.” Mama wondered if he was one of the few, the very few, who would eventually come to the attention of the Shining Ones. “You will make Death your servant, as a tactic to master him. Yours is, indeed, the left-hand path. You will cause immense suffering—especially to yourself at first. But after a while you won’t notice that; after a while you won’t even notice the horrors that you inflict on others. Men will say that you are a materialist, a worshipper of money. What do you hate most?” she asked abruptly.

“Sentimental slop and lies. All the Christian lies in Sunday school, all the democratic lies in the newspapers, all the socialist lies our so-called intellectuals are spouting these days. Every rotten, crooked, sneaking, hypocritical deception people use to hide from themselves that we’re all still hunting animals in a jungle.”

“You admire Neitzsche?”

“He was crazy. Let’s just say I have less contempt for him, and for DeSade, than I have for most intellectuals.”

“Yes. So we know what the Tower is that you will destroy. Everything in America that smacks of democracy or Christianity or socialism. The whole façade of humanitarianism from the Constitution onward to the present. You will turn your fire loose and burn all that up with your Leonine energies. You will force your view of America into total reality, and make every citizen afraid of the jungle and of the death that lurks in the jungle. Crime and commerce are moving closer together, due to Prohibition; you will complete their marriage. All, all this, just to make Death your servant instead of your master. The money and power are just incidental to that.”

“Go on.” Drake was unsmiling but undisturbed.

“The King of Swords and the Knight of Wands are both very active. You could do all this harmlessly, by becoming an artist and showing this vision of the jungle. You don’t have to create it literally and inflict it on your fellow human beings.”

“Stop preaching. Just read the cards. You’re better at it than I am, but I can see enough to know that there is no such alternative for me. The other wand and the other sword are reversed. I can’t be satisfied to do it in symbolic form. I must do it so that everybody is affected by it, not just the few who read books or go to concerts. Tell me what I don’t know. Why is the line from the Fool to the Tower completed in the Lovers reversed? I know that I can’t love anyone, and I don’t believe that anybody else ever does, either—that’s more sentiment and hypocrisy. People use each other as masturbating machines and crying towels, and they call it love. But there’s a deeper meaning. What is it?”

“Start from the top: Death reversed. You reject Death, so the Fool cannot undergo rebirth and enter the right-hand path when he crosses the Abyss. Therefore: the left-hand path, the destruction of the Tower. There is only one end to that chain of karma, my son. The Lovers means Death, just as Death means Life. You are rejecting natural death, and therefore refusing natural life. Your path will be an unnatural life leading to a death that is against nature. You will die as a man before your body dies. The fire is still self-destructive, even if you turn it outward and use the whole world as a stage for your private Götterdämmerung. Your primary victim will still be yourself.”

“You have the talent,” Drake said coldly, “but you are still basically a fraud, like everyone in this business. Your worst victim, madam, is yourself. You deceive yourself with the lies that you have so often told others. It’s the occupational disease of mystics. The truth is that it doesn’t matter whether I destroy myself alone or destroy this planet—or turn around and try to find my way to the right-hand path in some dreary monastery. The universe will roll blindly along, not caring, not even knowing. There’s no Granddaddy in the clouds to pass a last judgment—there’s only a few airplanes up there, learning more and more about how to carry bombs. They court-martialed General Mitchell for saying it, but it’s the truth. The next time around they’ll really bomb the hell out of civilian populations. And the universe won’t know or care about that either. Don’t tell me that my flight from Death leads back to Death; I’m not a child, and I know that all paths lead back to Death eventually. The only question is: Do you cower before him all your life or do you spit in his eye?”

“You can transcend abject fear and rebellious hatred both. You can see that he is only part of the Great Wheel and, like all other parts, necessary to the whole. Then you can accept him.”

“Next you’ll be telling me to love him.”

“That too.”

“Yes, and I can learn to see the great and glorious Whole Picture. I can see all the men defecating and urinating in their trousers before they died at Château-Thierry, watching their own guts fall out into their laps and screaming out of a hole that isn’t even a mouth any more, as manifestations of that sublime harmony and balance which is ineffable and holy and beyond all speech and reason. Sure. I can see that, if I knock half of my brain out of commission and hypnotize myself into thinking that the view from that weird perspective is deeper and wider and more truly true than the view from an unclouded mind. Go to the quadruple-amputee ward and try to tell them that. You speak of death as a personified being. Very well: Then I must regard him as any other entity that gets in my way. Love is a myth invented by poets and other people who couldn’t face the world and crept off into corners to create fantasies to console themselves. The fact is that when you meet another entity, either it makes way for you or you make way for it. Either it dominates and you submit, or you dominate and it submits. Take me into any club in Boston and I’ll tell you which millionaire has the most millions, by the way the others treat him. Take me into any workingman’s bar and I’ll tell you who has the best punch in a fistfight, by the way the others treat him. Take me into any house and I’ll tell you in a minute whether the husband or the wife is dominant. Love? Equality? Reconciliation? Acceptance? Those are the excuses of the losers, to persuade themselves that they choose their condition and weren’t beaten down into it. Find a dutiful wife, who truly loves her husband. I’ll have her in my bed in three days, maximum. Because I’m so damned attractive? No, because I understand men and women. I’ll make her understand, without saying it aloud and shocking her, that the adultery will, one way or another, hurt her husband, whether he knows about it or not. Show me the most servile colored waiter in the best restaurant in town, and after he’s through explaining Christianity and humility and all the rest of it, count how many times a day he steps into the kitchen to spit in his handkerchief. The other employees will tell you he has a ‘chest condition.’ The condition he has is chronic rage. The mother and the child? An endless power struggle. Listen to the infant’s cry change in pitch when Mother doesn’t come at once. Is that fear you hear? It’s rage—insane fury at not having total dominance. As for the mother herself, I’d wager that ninety percent of the married women in the psychiatrists’ care are there because they can’t admit to themselves, can’t escape the lie of love long enough to admit to themselves, how often they want to strangle that monster in the nursery. Love of country? Another lie; the truth is fear of cops and prisons. Love of art? Another lie; the truth is fear of the naked truth without ornaments and false faces on it. Love of truth itself? The biggest lie of all: fear of the unknown. People learn acceptance of all this and achieve wisdom? They surrender to superior force and call their cowardice maturity. It still comes down to one question: Are you kneeling at the altar, or are you on the altar watching the others kneel to you?”

“The wheel of the Tarot is the wheel of Dharma,” Mama Sutra said softly when he had concluded. “It is also the wheel of the galaxy, which you see as a blind machine. It rolls on, as you say, no matter what we think or do. Knowing that, I accept Death as part of the wheel, and I accept your nonacceptance as another part. I can control neither. I can only repeat my warning, which is not a lie but a fact about the structure of the Wheel: By denying death, you guarantee that you will meet him finally in his most hideous form.”

Drake finished his coffee and smiled whimsically. “You know,” he said, “my contempt for lies has an element of the very sentimentality and foolish idealism that I have been rejecting. Perhaps I will be most effective if I never speak so honestly again. When you hear of me next, I might be known as a philanthropist and benefactor of mankind.” He lit a cigar thoughtfully. “And that would even be true if your Tarot mysticism is correct after all. If Death is necessary to the Wheel, along with all the other parts, then I am necessary also. The Wheel would collapse, perhaps, if my spirit of rebellion were not there to balance your spirit of acceptance. Imagine that.”

“It is true. That is why I have warned you but not judged you.”

“So I am, as Goethe says, ‘part of that force which aims at evil and only achieves good’?”

“That is a thought which you should try to remember when the Dark Night of Samael descends upon you at the end.”

“More cant,” Drake said, with a return to his previous cynicism. “I aim at evil and I will achieve evil. The Wheel and all its harmonious balances and all-healing paradoxes is just another myth of the weak and defeated. One strong man can stop the Wheel or tear it to shreds if he dares enough.”

“Perhaps. We who study the Wheel do not know all of its secrets. Some believe that your spirit reappears constantly in history, because it is fated, eventually, to triumph. Maybe this is the last century of terrestrial mortals, and the next century will be the time of the cosmic immortals. What will happen then, when the Wheel is stopped, none of us can predict. It may be ‘good’ or ‘evil’ or even—to quote your favorite philosopher—beyond good and evil. We cannot say. That is another reason I do not judge you.”

“Listen,” Drake said with sudden emotion. “We’re both lying. It’s not all this philosophical or cosmic. The simple fact is that I couldn’t sleep nights, and nothing I tried in conventional ‘cures’ could help me, until I began to help myself by systematically rebelling against everything that seemed stronger than me.”

“I know. I didn’t know it was insomnia. It might have been nightmares or dizzy spells or sexual impotence. But there was some way that the scenes you saw in Château-Thierry lived on and goaded you to wake out of the dream of the sleepwalkers on the streets. You are waking: You stand on the abyss.” She pointed to the Fool and the dog who barks at his heels. “And I am the noisy little bitch barking to warn you that you can still choose the right-hand path. The decision is not final until you cross the abyss.”

“But the cards show that I really have very little choice. Especially in the world that is going to emerge from this depression.”

Mama Sutra smiled without forgiveness or final condemnation. “This is no age for saints,” she agreed softly. “Two dollars please.”