A quick conclusion and rats.

James was drunk and comatose, wrapped in a filthy blanket near the train station, out of view and harming no-one and nothing, except his liver. During his military years James was a dangerous man and had earned the respect of his peers and, possibly, the enemy himself. I think any soldier, despite their political leanings, their nation of origin or their race, respects other soldiers who show themselves to be courageous, quick-witted and unshakable in the defense of his people, even when that other soldier is the enemy.
James must have presented quite a picture to the people of Viet-Nam who he met during his deployment there: Short in stature, like themselves, but possessed of a shock of red hair that set him apart from even his fellow American soldiers. His eyes were coldblue, his voice gruff, his manner controlled and slightly aloof. If you were his friend you were his friend for life, if you were not, well, he wasn't opposed to making new friends, just cautious and...afraid. Afraid of watching another friend die. No friends, no pain. Fuck, war is so much more than just hell. War is the devils way of torturing men before they ever see hell.
James was not uneffected by the madness that erupted around him with such frequency that it may as well have been constant. He was an intelligent man, a sensitive man, a man of heart. But he did his duty for his country and his duty demanded that he set his heart aside and act in a way contrary to his nature. It was a conundrum which has continued to vex him to the present day. He grew to depend upon a mythological/personal construct, a construct devised and embraced by his subconscious mind but active in his conscious mind as well, a construct wrapped in armour and righteousness and the flag; He depended upon this armoured figure to justify his actions. This superior soldier was invulnerable to the bullets of the enemy but even more, it was invulnerable to the protests of his conscience and deaf to the shrill voices of those at home who labeled him a "baby-killer" and worse. Maybe this super-national being allowed James to do his job, maybe this "robot-like" patriot allowed him to spill his brothers blood upon the red clay of Viet-Nam and to do it with purpose and mindfullness but what this cartoon-soldier would never do for James was to allow him any peace after the war. The myth in James' mind ran headlong into reality the day he got his orders for home, his orders to return to his friends and family, his orders to return for Judgment. The armoured being removed the armour and folded the flag which draped him and set it aside and revealed itself to James and, goddamit, it was him. It was James. Murdering bastard. Thug.

Alcohol is a solvent. Things separate in alcohol. James used it to separate himself from himself, to distance his subconscious mind, which knew what he was, from his conscious mind, which couldn't bear the truth. Of course it was a personal truth, a truth peculiar to himself and maybe not true at all when stood alongside the objective "Truth" but it was the only truth he had, the only truth most of us have. Alcohol served his purposes for a time and then it began collecting it's tribute. He fell away, James fell away into a cycle of self-abuse and drunkeness.

James was a dangerous man when it was in the defense of his nation but when he returned home he became a danger only to himself. The years passed and James drifted west and found Santa Barbara. It was a beautiful town full of beautiful people doing beautiful things in the sun; He stayed. Of course he was not able to join the beautiful people in their pursuits, he was only able to continue in his own. He drank and he slept and he ate a little...and he drank. And so it was that as he lay near the train station snoring he was as about as harmless as a person could ever be and it was that harmlessness, I'm certain, that attracted the rats to the place he slept.
The rats were dressed in dark trousers and white t-shirts, some with additional collared shirts, some without. All had shaved heads and a couple of the older rats had the beginnings of an array of tattoos that they had earned or yearned for: Tattoos that implied membership in a culture of courage but, in truth, revealed them as members of a cult of cowardice: Gangbangers. Young boys who voluntarilly submit themselves to a philosophy that ultimately teaches the opposite of what it so openly declares. If there is any good to be got from James' experience it is as an example of what gangbangers are not, they are not courageous men. They are frightened boys who pool their fears and manifest these accumulated fears in the form of violence, drug-abuse, broken families, social failure and, often, early deaths. So much for tattoos, so much for courage, so much for failed manhood. It is a shame and, to a thinking man, a waste. Apparently the older gangbangers, the ones who have seen the failings of this insidious philosophy, are not thinking men, or they are so lacking in integrity that they know the truth and fail to share it because, despite what they must have learned, they continue to foist it upon their younger charges as if it were to their advantage. As long as the older men indoctrinate the younger the cycle continues and therein lies the paradox and the problem: How can an older man, raised upon the lie, know anything but the lie? How can a fool teach anything but foolishness to those who look to him for knowledge? God knows...I don't. I only know that as James slept the rats crept upon him.

James was suddenly awake and knew, intuitively, why. He knew he had been kicked and all of his fears came rushing over him with that knowledge. Another kick rocketed him into a kind of action which is all-at-once instinctive and fruitless: He rolled into a ball and waited for the other kicks which he assumed were coming. These gangbangers were emotionally and physically invested in the attack. It proved something to them, something beyond my understanding but of some psychic value to them. To any outside observer it was a group of young, healthy boys attacking an old sleeping drunk like a pack of jackals. Vicious, without cause or reflection, inexcusable by anyones measure but their own...clearly the actions of a group of frightened people who lash out at the world through violence. To the gangbangers themselves it must have symbolized their contempt of everything not immediately answerable to their muddled codes of territory, aggression and inclusiveness. Little did they know that this mindless brand of contempt knows no limitations and is likely to spill over into their personal relationships eventually: If you can kick the shit out of an old drunk and derive a feeling of manliness from that experience how long will it be before you kick the shit out of your girlfriend? Or your schoolmate? Or your own child? There are no limits to ignorance.
James covered up as best he could and took a terrific beating. He tried to jump up and run at one point but barely managed to get a knee under him before he was beaten back down and kicked into immobility. At this point he became unable to fend off the blows any longer and his body unfolded, exposing his stomach and genitals which became targets of opportunity. The beating increased then, irrational as that may seem, it increased to a frenzy and then stopped abruptly. James lay almost unconscious but aware of voices: the gangbangers voices and others, more distant. Later, James would put it all together and realize that passers-by had seen the brutal beating and began yelling at the young gangmembers to stop, that the police were being called, but just then, as he lay immersed in pain, his body was only telling him that the beating had stopped and his mind was telling him that he might live and that was all he could assimilate outside of the pain. People and things whirled around him and the shouting increased and he rolled over to see if the stars were still there and they were, and then suddenly the sun was there too, the sun flared in his eyes and he experienced more pain than he could bear...and he slipped into blissful unconsciousness.

Can you imagine being awakened by a beating of that proportion and then, when you think it's over, having a cigarrette put out in your eye? No? Well that is precisely what happened to James. The witnesses, the same people who had shouted at the gangmembers to stop, said that as they approached the scene one of the hoodlums had stooped down and said something to James, something about a "present". He had then removed the cigarrette from his own mouth and thrust it into James' eye. Then he ran and all his fellows ran with him...laughing...laughing like mischievious boys who had just been caught toilet-papering a neighbors house...just like that. Boys. Boys who will never be men.

And that is how James lost his eye...

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