Belmont Club


“Sooner or later,” my wife said, “people will have to face up to the fact that the Internet will allow perversions and twisted ideas which are statistically rare to find each other and gather force. It will become a public safety issue in our lifetimes. Count on it.”

I thought a second before answering, “Well it is a matter of degree is it not? It began with the rise of the cities. Evil which could find no kindred spirit in homesteads found them at last in cities. Alone a perversion might find no resonance and die out. But in the cities the individual sparks could merge into a blaze:  the bigger was the city, the bigger the blaze.”

That conversation came to mind when the Miami Herald reported a naked man had been found atop another naked man eating his face on the MacArthur causeway in Florida. A motorcyclist pulled up and yelled at the man to stop. He simply raised his head to display a grisly mouthful. The motorcyclist called the police. A responding officer fired a warning shot which had no deterrent effect on the man feasting on the victims face. Finally the policeman shot the assailant multiple times.

The question is what the heck was going on? The naked man whose face was being eaten is missing parts of his eyes and face and is therefore unavailable for questioning. So the Miami police are seeking witnesses, hoping to find an explanation for the incident. But what sort of answer do they expect? They may find a reason here and there; they may even find a full blown new sexual preference with a demand for full domestic and civil rights. Whether it will make sense is another matter. We are entitled to answers, but we are not always entitled to sense.

Harlan Ellison wrote a story titled Croatoan about where all the dark things go.

The story’s narrator, Gabe, is forced by a hysterical girlfriend to descend into New York City’s sewers, into which he has just flushed her aborted baby. Arriving there, he finds that fetuses populate the sewers, astride similarly disposed-of crocodiles, and the word “Croatoan”, crudely lettered on a wall near the entrance to the sewer. The story ends with the narrator’s hysterical realization: “I am the one they have been looking for all along….They call me father.”…

Although abortion figures into the plot of “Croatoan”, the issues surrounding abortion are not central themes in the story. In the story’s introduction, Ellison states that the story is neither for nor against abortion, but rather a promotion of personal responsibility (he goes on to say that after writing the story he had a vasectomy).

Where some people have a vasectomy still others will walk as quickly as they can to the nearest open green and there, while listening to the wind and the flutter of birds they will summon reinforcements to ward off what they would not face. For the human mind has many dark rooms, whose owners in most cases turn the lock against what lies within. But there are some who let the lurkers out and through the magic of the Internet, hook up with others delighted with similar discoveries.

It may be no coincidence that pedophilia, all manner of perversion, even the beheading videos enjoyed by those professing a religious revival and — who knows maybe face eating videos — now ride the currents of the global network. Once released from their dark rooms these phantasms travel across the routers, caches, peer to peer networks and encrypted torrents of the Internet. Nor can they even be denounced without danger. Political correctness surrounds them with the protective mantle of tolerance and the injunction against bigotry.

If cities of a few hundred thousand persons have historically been able to create orchards of evil, what exquisite flowers can a Global City of a billions not produce? Of course the tendency also goes the other way: for if evil can muster, why not good?

Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, should be equally famous for his story the Suicide Club. In it, he expressed this very possibility. Prince Florizel of Bohemia and his sidekick Colonel Geraldine go seeking the most extraordinary evil in the city of London in order to oppose it. Nowhere but in the largest city of the world could the greatest evil be found; and nowhere else but there should it finds it match. Jack the Ripper, meet Florizel or was it Sherlock Holmes that did him in? Perhaps that is not the hero’s name. All we know is that the Ripper eventually stopped. Maybe we will find out why when we discover why the Florida man was eating faces.

Interestingly the Steven’s Suicide Club stories led directly to the establishment of the Suicide Club of San Francisco.

The Suicide Club was probably best known at the time for its bridge climbing exploits. The Club, though secretive during its lifespan, influenced many future cultural and artistic endeavors. The Billboard Liberation Front began as a Suicide Club event hosted by Gary Warne in 1977. Author Don Herron’s Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour, the longest lived literary tour in America began in the Suicide Club in 1977. The Chinese New Years Treasure Hunt was created by Gary Warne in 1977 and continues (albeit in a different form) to this day. John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation was a Suicide Club member. The Cacophony Society was founded by ex Suicide Clubbers in 1986. Gary Warne organized San Francisco’s first SantaCon in connection with the Suicide Club, adopted later and spread throughout the world by the Cacophony Society. There are now Cacophony Societies throughout the world. The Burning Man Festival was influenced by Cacophony and many former Suicide Club members were crucial organizers in the early days of the desert event. The “leave no trace” mantra of Burning Man was borrowed from the Suicide Club and the philosophy of Warne.

It is now said to be disbanded, but who knows? And as for Prince Florizel and Colonel Geraldine, I hope they find their way to the Belmont Club, wherever they may be. Perhaps the fate of our reality ultimately depends on the battle of fictions. How strange it has been in the 21st century to discover that ideas, memes and narratives are not insubstantial airy things, but the entities upon which our lives turn.

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