GW Recaps–The Book of Joel: Meese, Chapter Five, Six
The quote that frames the chapter is:
George Orwell: Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.
George Orwell invokes Orwellism even in his legacy. Generally Orwellian implies a dystopian future with totalitarianism, and of authorities telling you black is white, up is down. People have selectively quoted him to support one political agenda or the other. He was criticized by the right and the left (in the context of his time, when Communism was not widely understood to be a tool in totalitarian states just as fascism was). Orwell, as best can be determined from his writings, was anti-totalitarianism and pro-democracy and social justice. The fact people have such disparate interpretations and agendas shows how good he was as a writer–and also how people have difficulty with complex ideas.
The quote above is from 1984, his seminal work on how a repressive government can act in control of citizens’ lives. Consider what he said in his essay in the 4/4/1944 edition of Tribune, a British left-wing weekly of the time. “The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits ‘atrocities’ but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future.”
Who controls the past…those in charge can create different versions of history. (See James Loewyn’s Lies My Teacher Taught Me.) Who controls the present…under Stalin’s regime in the USSR, people deemed enemies of the state were literally erased from history.
Applied to this story, I’m using Orwell’s imagery as a metaphor. The abuser as totalitarian. The abuser as trying to control the past. When an abuser or a traumatic incident controls the past, this casts a shadow over the present. The question is…who has control of the present? You cannot erase the past, but you can control it’s effect to all degree possible. With some (not all) survivors, their minds, their psyches are in a gulag of sorts, begging to have a Solzhenitsyn expose the day-to-day survival.
I know of and have experienced the mind trapped in the gulag due to abuse, which is why my book is dedicated to survivors of abuse. It’s why I encourage writing as a means to escape the gulag, escape to freedom.
What Happens in Meese:
Flashback to September of 1993, covering a few weeks into October and November. Joel is a high school student. He does well and even tutors others. He’s also a dedicated comic book reader, with his best friend Tim (particularly Batman).
Joel is aware that a friend of his parents, Wayne police detective Lawrence Meese, is taking a growing interest in him. Meese is one of the few people Ken McFadden respects. Although Gloria is jealous over the time Joel spends in activities like swimming, where he excels, she is delighted that Joel agrees to join Meese’s alleged Police Athletic League group. Meese continues to observe Joel, and see how he is naturally influential with his peers.
But Joel, always more independent than he lets on, has a secret life. Meese picks up when this life is troubling and encourages Joel to confide in him. Joel finally explains that a teacher from another area high school approached Joel and offered to mentor him. At the teacher’s house, Joel engaged in sexual activities with the teacher. Joel was disturbed afterwards by the teacher’s cold attitude, and stole money out of spite. The teacher, Scott Rhodes, is threatening to report Joel to the police.
Meese assures Joel there will be no trouble. He invites Joel to visit Meese on his boat (next to an area lake) and talk about ways to prepare to be on his own once graduating. When Joel visits the following week, Meese coerces Joel to drink a beer (which is drugged) and to describe what Rhodes did with him. Meese says Rhodes filed a report and only Meese can make it go away–if Joel proves he’s Meese’s friend. Otherwise, Joel will be sent to a juvenile correctional facility and disgrace his parents. Meese forces Joel to have oral sex with him.
Joel is in a state of shock afterward, but manages to recover and does the best he can to act normal and avoid Meese. However, Meese insists Joel visit him again. Feeling lost and helpless to the threats Meese has, Joel returns to the boat. This time Meese takes the boat out on the lake, and again sexually assaults Joel. But there’s three other men on the boat. Meese has ‘promised’ Joel to them, and makes him do the same with the other men. Meese tells Joel he has plans for their future, that Joel is “his.”
Joel now focuses on escape. After the gang-rape, when the men are preparing to do more with Joel, he allows Meese to think that he’s subservient. Alone in the bedroom of the boat’s cabin, he climbs through a window and dives into the lake.
Joel makes it to shore and back to his house. Later, Meese attempts to contact him. Joel hangs up. Then one day when he returns home Ken is raging. Meese lied to Ken that Joel has been prostituting himself to adult men. Ken tells Joel to get out. Joel appeals to his mother, who is drunk and angry, and she rejects him. Ken forces Joel out of the house.
Joel contacts Meese to find out what he said. By Meese’s comments, Joel realizes Meese had a plan to convince Ken to turn Joel over to Meese for rehabilitation. But Ken’s impulsive actions preempted this. Meese tries to find out where Joel is, but Joel hides away, and when his parents are out returns home. He collects some of his things and says goodbye to his cat Freddie. He then bikes to the train station and heads for New York City.
This chapter was hard to write, and the recap is hard to write. The important thing is, Joel survived. Joel’s fear over seeing his parents again has been due to having to face what led to his ejectment from the house. Joel becomes a throwaway kid because of his parents’ prejudice, and their refusal to believe Joel about the abuse.
Joel makes choices the best he can for what he knows. He’s still at a vulnerable age, and authority figures can wield enormous influence. Joel’s experience with adults has been erratic, and terrifying. It’s understandable he’d think that no one would accept his word against Meese, or his father.
Meese has said a lot of strange things that will arise again later. Meese uses all sorts of predatory tricks with Joel. Separation (no one else understands you) fear (no one will believe you), lies (even his PAL is a lie) and gifting (lunch, books, and protection).
Outside of the horror part of the story, this is where you can see the strengths Joel has. His ability to separate himself from a situation and think, most of all.
Random Points: Again, survival. But this is the beginning of the gulag. Understanding Joel’s difficulty in relationships starts with understanding the absolute betrayal of his parents, and of Meese. Trust destroyed at that young age is hard to recover. In addition, while he survives and knows his own talents and skills, his self-esteem is subsumed by victimization. “Victim” is another Noh-type mask. It may be covered by other masks. It’s the victim who hangs on to the barbed wire of the gulag, staring desperately at freedom.
Joel’s fondness for cats starts here with his pet cat, Freddie. Freddie was okay, he lived a long life.
Batman. Batman appears in the stories one way or the other, much like how Superman was referenced in Seinfeld.
Trivia: Knightfall—Who Rules the Night did come out at that time. Bane is a fascinating villain, to me as fascinating as The Joker. In the graphic novel series Knightfall, Bane is a youth in prison because of someone else’s crime and corruption. He’s psychologically tortured in his dreams, and forced to undergo torment as a test subject for a strange drug. But Bane is superintelligent from building upon his own skills (including reading). He becomes a criminal force, alternately fighting Batman, and sometimes fighting beside Batman against others. Bane’s struggle in learning and applying his powers for evil, then good, then evil is a metaphor for me of how the past can corrupt one’s present intellectual powers.
Playlist: Pat Benatar, Love is a Battlefield. As an Eighties person and Gen X member, I remember Pat’s video very well. It featured Pat as a young woman being thrown out of her parents’ house, and becoming a, uh, dancer for hire. Later, Pat leads a revolution to overthrow her greasy pimp.
We are young
Heartache to heartache we stand
No promises, no demands
That sort of nihilistic desperation is what Joel feels when he gets on the bus to New York.
The quote that frames the chapter is :
Percy Blythe Shelly, The world is weary of the past, Oh, might it die or rest at last…
Shelly, so dramatic. But he sums up how one may be tired of carrying the past around. And dealing with it can make a person weary. When added to how weary the present world can be, that’s a lot of stress. Perhaps this is why a person may just shove it in a closet to organize later…
What Happens in Chapter Five:
Joel confronts his parents. His mother shows signs of wanting to connect with him, but his father is hostile. Joel tells Ken what he thinks of him, spits at his feet, and leaves. Joel and Gabriel then return to Bob’s condo to unwind, Joel being lost in thought.
John Dell, a police officer in Wayne, is watering his garden. He lives across from Gloria, and is a close friend of hers. John is a veteran, a gay man, and a former alcoholic. He helped Gloria stop drinking, and she relies on him for emotional support. Gloria comes over to John’s house to complain about Ken’s temper and also to tell him about Joel coming by. She wants John’s opinion if she should reach out to him. John says yes. Gloria says Larry Meese told her to go slow. John is curious why Meese who he’s met but doesn’t know (Meese retired from the Wayne PD and now works as undersheriff in Passaic County) would suggest that.
Alex contacts Gabriel to find out if he’s going to look into Mesereau’s situation. Gabriel discusses this with Veronica. Gabriel follows Mesereau without telling Alex. He doesn’t see anything suspicious. He asks Alex if he can sweep Mesereau’s apartment for planted bugs. Alex dismisses the idea and insists that Gabriel find some other investigatory route.
Gabriel visits his bookstore friend Jason Evans. While he talks about their upcoming band gigs, Walter Cleveland comes into the store, looking for Gabriel. Cleveland is a true-crime writer and celebrity in his own right. He wants to write about Gabriel and the Don Mathers case. Gabriel is resistant, but ultimately figures that cooperating with Cleveland lets him control some of his story. Cleveland is very pleased to be working with him.
Gabriel begins watching Mesereau and Aaron Comstock, with Geneva and Veronica helping. Gabriel finds both Mesereau and Comstock meeting with the same man. He finds that suspicious. He asks Alex if Alex verified anything Mesereau told him. He says he followed Mesereau. Before he can give details, Alex gets irritated and tells him to drop the matter.
Joel has Gabriel join him at a nightclub, along with Veronica, Mikki, Danny and Chris. One of Joel’s paintings is in the club (of Gabriel). Gabriel is recognized and given tribute over his recent cases. That makes him both daunted and amused. Travis Churchill, an internet billionaire, strikes up a conversation with Gabriel. When Joel joins the conversation, Gabriel picks up that Joel and Churchill know each other, and Churchill was probably one of Joel’s former clients–although they both pretend otherwise. Gabriel feels that Churchill is paying a little too much attention to Joel. Nonetheless, the evening is enjoyable.
The next morning, Gloria calls Gabriel, looking for Joel.
Joel is, in a sense, triumphant. Joel has made it through the difficulty of seeing his parents, and can go back to his regular life. Joel parlays that feeling to play big shot in Cronos, having fun paying for everyone. Meanwhile, Gabriel is feeling the strangeness of fame–whether it’s Walter Cleveland wanting to team up with Gabriel in writing a book, or being spotlighted in the club.
A little more insight into Gloria’s life. She has admirably given up an addiction, and she has a friend in a person who knows the dark areas of that addiction well. The long tiresomeness, weariness of her life is suddenly punctuated by Joel’s appearance. You can imagine that this offers her all kinds of possibilities of something new, something better, and no wonder that despite Meese’s instruction, she reaches out again.
Jealousy is a strong element in this story. Gabriel has already felt a hint of that with Isabella, now he meets by chance another person connected to Joel’s past. Because Gabriel feels that he is often fighting against Joel’s past, Travis is not a welcome figure.
Confrontation is another. Joel, a man who’d be fine with just being isolated from negative people, has decided that he needed to confront them, just once. In that, he says what he needs to say and leaves. No love lost with his father, but we clearly see there is something deep within connected to his mother when they both touch hands.
As I was told once by a person who used to work in a home for abandoned children, that mother bond, or mother wish, is very hard to let go.
Random Points: Backstory of John Dell, Wayne police detective. Also, Alex’s stubbornness regarding his informant’s situation is very annoying. I have a feeling Gabriel would like to call Alex back, just so he can hang up on Alex.
Gabriel’s cold fury face. There’s a part of Gabriel that can’t be crossed, and came out in his fight with Don Mathers in Two-Faced Woman. In talking to Ken McFadden, the cold fury shows briefly.
Another establishment with a strange name, Cronos, the dance club (owned in part by Joel’s friend who also owned the Goth bar where Joel met Gabriel). Cronos, a Titan, is Zeus’s father in Greek mythology–he ate all his children because he feared they would overtake him as ruler. Zeus was hidden away and Cronos tricked to swallow a stone instead. Somehow, I imagine Ken McFadden can relate to Cronos, as Joel can relate to Zeus.
Gabriel’s in his I-don’t-care-what-I-wear style again, while Joel is rocking the Alexander McQueen.
The apparently numerous paintings Joel has done of Gabriel nude.
The Mathers case, with Gabriel getting more dental work on the teeth Gabriel broke in his fight. Also, the Frontline documentary and Gabriel’s new friend Walter Cleveland. (Call back to Mankiewitz’s article at the end of Two-Faced Woman).
Gabriel is playing with Jason more often in Jason’s band, No Drama. The ladies like Cetera!
Trivia: Please sir, may I have some more? A line from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
“…to be shown off to your audience like fucking Lord Greystoke.” Lord Greystoke is the true name of Tarzan, feral man of the wild. f
“…Bundy, or Gacy, or Ramirez.” Notorious serial killers Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Richard Ramirez. (All dead now).
Gabriel’s quote from Annie Hall is about Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher of communication theory. His ideas are still interesting and worth reading as relevant to media today. In the movie, a would be know-it-all in line to watch a movie tries to explain McLuhan’s theories. Woody Allen’s character then says he happens to have McLuhan there, and brings McLuhan (playing himself) out from behind a poster to tell the know-it-all that he “knows nothing of my work.”
“…Scott Peterson’s, Drew Peterson’s and Michael Peterson’s legal battles. We attended Bradley Manning’s hearings.” All three Petersons were put on trial, and convicted of, murdering their wives.
At the time this story is set in 2011, Chelsea Manning was still publicly known as Bradley, which is why she is referred to by her previous name.
Playlist: It’s all Eighties night in this chapter, as it is Eighties night in the disco.
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going, by Billy Ocean is specifically referenced, when the DJ dedicates the song to Gabriel.
Other songs I deem to be playing that night include: Neutron Dance, Pointer Sisters. The Lover in Me, Sheena Easton. Obsession, Animotion. Poison Arrow, ABC. Goody Two-Shoes, Adam Ant. Don’t Disturb this Groove, The System. Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper. 1999, Prince. Hungry Like the Wolf, Duran Duran. Full Circle, Company B. Supersonic, JJ Fad. Turn this Mother Out, MC Hammer. Billie Jean, Michael Jackson. It Takes Two, Rob Base, DJ E-Z Roc. Only in My Dreams, Debbie Gibson. St. Elmo’s Fire, John Parr. We Built this City on Rock and Roll, Starship. One Night in Bangkok, Murray Head. Wild Wild West, Escape Club. Tarzan Boy, Baltimora. Mickey, Toni Basil. Pour Some Sugar on Me, Def Leppard. Like a Prayer, Madonna. Make it Real, The Jets. Tell it to My Heart, Taylor Dayne. So Emotional, Whitney Houston. Piano in the Dark, Brenda Russell. Eternal Flame, Bangles. So Amazing, Luther Vandross.
Add your own favorite Eighties song to the mix.
You’re Still the One, Shania Twain. It’s an anachronism. Gabriel played upon the DJ’s good graces for a favor to have this song played. The DJ would explain that he was afraid to say no.
The quote that frames the chapter is:
Master K’ung-Fu Tzu, Study the past, if you would divine the future.
Master K’ung-Fu Tzu (his name was Latinized to Confucius by Westerners) used inductive reasoning here–looking at patterns of the past to make an educated guess about what might happen in the future.
What Happens in Chapter Six:
Joel talks to his mother on the phone, in Gabriel’s apartment. It is a difficult conversation. Gloria says she was a different person being an alcoholic, and that she began changing after a DUI. She explains her friend John Dell supports her, but Ken makes fun of her. John had been planning to try to find Joel on her behalf, and then she saw the articles about Joel and Gabriel. She apologizes for how she treated him; Joel is understandably angry nonetheless.
Gloria wants to talk to him more, and has some of his things from his youth. Joel arranges to talk to her at Bob’s condo, a safe but private place. Gabriel meets Gloria outside the condo and takes her in. She and Joel greet each other awkwardly. Gloria has a photo album, and Gabriel is fascinated by the pictures as Joel is scared. Then one photo makes Joel jump up and demand that Gloria take it out. It’s of Larry Meese. Gloria doesn’t understand; she says Larry wants to get in touch with Joel. Joel is angry Gloria spoke to Meese about him. Gloria thinks he means about what Meese told them about Joel before he was thrown out. Gloria says it’s okay now, and Joel tells her to get out.
Joel actually leaves the condo, and Bob goes to help him. Gabriel talks to Gloria. Gloria admits Meese told them that Joel was having sex with men for money. Gabriel knows that isn’t true. He knows Joel has said a cop hurt him, but not how. Gloria doesn’t understand why Joel is in a fury. Joel comes back into the condo in a fury, demanding to know if Gloria remembers what he told her right before he was kicked out. She doesn’t. He reminds her of the awful words she had for him. Gloria still can’t remember, and Joel tells her that Meese lied, but not about what he told her before. Gabriel tries to get him to, but Joel refuses. Gloria says she believes him that Meese was lying, and Joel suddenly calms down.
They go back to the album, and Joel’s old drawings, and Gloria mentions Ken giving her a hard time. Through the conversation Gabriel, Joel and Bob figure out that Ken is hiding assets illegally. Gloria asks if Gabriel will investigate and find out what exactly Ken is doing. Gloria says her health is bad but she wants to change her life. Joel asks if she wants to leave Ken.
Meese is in his garage, going over his fishing equipment. He’s disturbed over a phone conversation with Gloria, in which Gloria says she’s spoken to Joel. Meese doesn’t understand why Gabriel is around Joel so much. He doesn’t believe Joel is in a relationship with Gabriel. He’s very angry at Ken for causing disturbances back then and now.
Gabriel and Joel return to Gloria’s house at her request, to talk to Ken. They try to get Ken to face up to the fact he’s going to be found out, but he’s stubborn and furious. He and Gloria fight, and Joel takes her into the kitchen. Gabriel tries a last time with Ken, then finds Joel telling Gloria to leave with them. Gloria agrees. Ken calls the cops, and Gabriel and Joel talk to John Dell, who comes over from across the street. Ultimately, Gloria leaves with them and Joel sets her up in his loft. Gabriel is concerned about the dynamic between them. Meanwhile, Ken is raving about what happened, and Dell notes he calls Meese to tell him. Dell is suspicious of all this, and plans to look into it.
Meese calls another person and tells him they need to take care of the situation. The other man says he has to do it his way, which Meese accedes to. Meese is watching Joel again, outside his building. He’s outraged by Gabriel being near Joel and feels he has to protect Joel.
Joel and Gabriel go to a storage facility and get into Ken’s locker. They find paperwork showing Ken has been setting up companies to hide money. Joel finds a paper with the name of Meese’s boat, and collapses. When Gabriel comforts him, Joel finally tells him what happened with Meese. Joel then goes to the car to collect himself. Jan points out the similarity in what Gabriel says and what Grace said long ago.
Joel becomes the strongest he has been, in talking to his mother and later, telling Gabriel what happened to him with Meese. Both of these strengths come from talking. The actions he takes are not a problem for him; talking is always the hardest. When a person has been violated, abused, betrayed in some fundamental way, the person may overshare or compartmentalize. Joel compartmentalizes. He needs help to talk to his mom, that’s why he has Gabriel and Bob. He doesn’t have to focus on himself as much. Confronting Gloria, having her back in his life on his terms, allows him to be able to tell someone else what happened. He tells Gabriel, because Gabriel protects him. Gloria has long given up that role. If anything, Joel must now protect her.
Just a little of that strength is shown by Joel getting up and separating his parents, able to talk them both down.
In the meeting with Gloria, talking to her on the phone, the tension is different. Having to talk is a different dynamic than just confrontation. Gloria doesn’t really have satisfactory answers, she can only offer gifts to a volatile god. But the gifts work, and suddenly Gloria is able to change herself, to use the presence of others as leverage to leave a desperately unhappy home. Gloria has never been on her own, her own agent. She has always needed others to engineer life for her.
We see the ripple effect of this. Ken will not allow other people to decide what his home and relationship should be; he’s filled with vengeance. And the ripple effect on him in turn gets Meese planning something disturbing–as he’s still in some hallucinatory idea that he must protect Joel from Gabriel’s evil influence.
Gabriel is once again searched by a cop. In this case, the interaction doesn’t go badly. Gabriel will never be a fan of the police, but he understands professionalism.
For a moment, Joel and John Dell have a tiny reminiscence, until Joel becomes angry and Gloria’s discussing him. Joel has a little jealousy of what affection Gloria has been giving Dell instead of him.
Random Points: The photo album again; this time Gabriel can see scenes from Joel’s past. Remember in The Origin Story recap, an excised scene (but still part of canon) Joel told Gabriel that he had no photos of his childhood. He thought those were long lost and thrown out like he was. But while Gloria acceded to his being thrown out, she kept the photos.
Being followed. Is there’s anything creepier than being followed or watched? It’s the idea that someone is taking an interest in your life without your control, perhaps your knowledge.
What Joel liked to draw when he was young. Maybe he’ll go back to that sort of satire in the future…
Again, Freddie the cat had a good life. As a cat lover, I know cat lovers would be concerned.
The US Attorney in NJ has asked about Ken. That can’t be good.
Meese calms himself down by playing with his fishing equipment. Fishing is a metaphor for what Meese does; for what he did with Joel. But Joel was the proverbial one that got away.
Trivia: I don’t like overuse of slurs. It doesn’t prove much…we know homophobic people are out there. But Ken is the kind of person who must find superiority over anyone, and would use words to try to establish that superiority. He can’t conceive that two you-know-whats could possibly be smarter than he, much less take his wife away. And that the police would support them over him. No, he doesn’t realize Dell is also gay. Ken did himself no favors.
Playlist: Two songs here. The Eurythmics, Here Comes the Rain Again. The Eurythmics were really good at haunting songs, and this is one of the more haunting.
Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
When Annie Lennox sings that, it might as well be personifying Joel’s feelings upon talking to his mother–what stirs in him emotionally.
Here comes the rain again
Raining in my head like a tragedy
Tearing me apart like a new emotion
And emotions can be like a rainstorm, uncontrollable, overwhelming. Joel almost loses himself in anger, and almost loses himself in grief over what happened to him.
Laura Branigan, Gloria. The subject of that song always seemed a bit of a mess, which applies to this Gloria.
Gloria, you’re always on the run now.
Running after somebody, you gotta get him somehow.
I think you’ve got to slow down, before you start to blow it.
I think you’re headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it
Just as Joel was able to get strength from Gabriel and Bob being present when he spoke with his mother in person, so was Gloria able to fight back at Ken with Gabriel and Joel being present. But in that, we can see the fragility of her psyche, trying what she can to continue the bond with Joel.
Copyright 2016 Alex Fiano
Page updated 3/8/2016