After about a quarter of an hour of conversation, Jamsie concluded
that his boss’s eyes were completely closed to him. Jay Beedem
laughed, glanced, conveyed meanings, and questioned him with his
eyes, but all this seemed to be as revealing as images skipping
across a film screen. There is no feeling there, thought Jamsie to
himself. No real feeling. At least, I can’t see any. Each smile and
laugh was only on Beedem’s mouth. He did not seem really smiling or
Jamsie really does not have any fully satisfying answers about Jay
today. In retrospect, he will still say that the vague impression he
had of having seen
Beedem’s face before he met him in the flesh came from the traits of
lookin” face” reflected in Beedem’s face. In fact, one important
element of the
recorded on the tape, has to do with the strange face of Beedem and
Ponto always kept in the background when Beedem was with Jamsie. And
whenever Jamsie approached Beedem for a discussion or for help or
encouragement, he left Beedem in the same sort of inner torment and
turmoil that gripped him during his worst moments with Ponto. The
keynote of that turmoil was panic, the panic of someone finding
himself trapped or ambushed or betrayed.
While it remains speculation, a very good case can be made for Jay
Beedem being one of the perfectly possessed, a person who at some
time in his career made one clear, definitive decision to accept
possession, who never went back on that decision in any way, and who
came under the total control of an evil spirit. It was on this very
suspicion that, in the exorcism, Father Mark felt he must try to see
if there was some link between Beedem and Ponto that was harmful to
But when Jamsie left Beedem that first day, all the problems he
still speculates about today were then in the future. Over the next
days and weeks he settled easily into a daily routine. He loved San
Francisco. He liked his new post. He got on well with his fellow
workers; they respected his abilities and he never let them down
professionally. He had pleasant relations with Cloyd, his producer,
and with Lila Wood, the chief researcher on Cloyd’s staff. With Jay
Beedem his relations were correct and formal. But as time went on
Beedem made no secret of his growing dislike and contempt for
Their colleagues, who noticed the ill-feeling between the two men,
put the whole thing down to a difference in temperament between
them: they just did not get on well together. Everyone else easily
forgave Jamsie’s idiosyncrasies, for he had developed a broadcasting
style all his own, “and it was good for business.” Jamsie was not
slow to recognize that he had Ponto to thank for much of that.
Uncle Ponto would gyrate around him in the studio saying irrelevant
Jamsie could hear. He would produce statistics, figures, facts, and
data which Jamsie
would automatically incorporate into his patter of broadcasting,
keeping up an
incredible stream of banter. It was bright and amusing, a
cheery-beery-bee kind of
prattle full of various irrelevancies about this, that, and the
other, all strung together with “but” and “whereas” and “lest I
forget it” and “as the actress said to the bishop” and “let me tell
you before you forget you ever heard me talk,” until after about
three minutes he would throw in a punch line about a product he was
advertising or a ball game he was reporting or some bit of national
news the station wanted to highlight. This style became his
signature, well known and valued, on the air. For the first few
months in San Francisco, therefore, Jamsie secretly valued Ponto’s
It was only after a protracted period that he saw the first sign of
real trouble. On his way home one evening Ponto, on the back seat of
the car, said: “Jamsie, let’s get married.”
Taking this as just a part of Ponto’s usual nonsensical prattle-of
which there was always quite a lot in those days-Jamsie thought
Ponto would prattle on to something else if he kept quiet. But Ponto
was serious, and he said so.
“Jamsie! I’m serious. Let’s get married.”
Goose pimples started on Jamsie’s arms and legs. For the first time,
Jamsie began to be seriously afraid of Ponto. He drove on in
silence, but his mind was full of a new apprehension.
The next day in the station cafeteria Jamsie was joined at the table
by Lila Wood, Cloyd’s researcher. Ponto was somewhere among the
coffee urns, gazing quietly at Jamsie. Lila, like others, had
noticed Jamsie’s deep depression that day. But, as she says, she
also sensed the grain of fear running through him.
Knowing better than to tackle Jamsie head-on, she said lightly as
she rose after lunch:
“Wanta share a steak tonight with a friend and me?”
It was the first time in a long while that anyone had approached
Jamsie so nonchalantly. He had become accustomed to people avoiding
him socially. He looked at Lila in disbelief. But Lila knew how to
deal with the situation. “Okay,” she said as she turned away
smiling. “See you at 5:30.”
Jamsie stared after her. Her voice, or something in her voice,
affected him. As he said afterward, “It was like a short chord of
beautiful harmony struck in between the squalling of 200 squabbling
cats and ten jackhammers all going at the same time.”
But his reverie lasted a short time. Ponto’s voice broke in with a
new sharpness. “I heard all that. Heard all of it. That smelly young
bitch. Do you know her friend? You will. I do! A balding pig. That’s
him. Isn’t man enough to get between her legs even.”
For just a few moments Jamsie felt impervious to Ponto’s corroding
accents, and it was a very great relief. He just smiled at Ponto.
Ponto’s face twisted in anger; and, with a sort of a leap backward
and upward, he disappeared.
Immediately Jamsie felt a solid lump of agony within him. This was
something new. It started somewhere around his middle. Then it moved
to his spine. One spike of pain hit his coccyx, another pierced his
testicles, a third prodded up through his spinal column; and from
the nape of his neck it seemed to branch outward in two directions.
One stream invaded his lungs.
He grew short of breath and felt
dizzy. Another stream reached upward into his skull and gripped his
brain, as though contracting it. He remained sitting for a few
minutes, his chin in his hand, waiting. It passed.
As he stood up, he heard Ponto’s voice. “You see, pal! You see! You
already belong to me in great part. Watch it tonight!” Ponto was not
visible, but the smell was there.
That evening Jamsie went home with Lila. She had just prepared three
steaks when her friend rang at the front door. Jamsie opened the
door to a stoutish man, completely bald, whose blue eyes looked at
him with an expression of good humor.
“I’m Father Mark, Lila’s friend. You must be Jamsie. She told me
about you. Glad to see you.”
As Jamsie found out, Lila had an ulterior motive for the invitation.
Before the evening was out, Jamsie was talking freely to Mark. Mark’
seemed to know all about Ponto’s behavior. The only thing he did not
know was Ponto’s name; and when Jamsie told him, he gave a short
little laugh and said: “Good God! I thought I’d heard them all.
The two men made an appointment to meet the following evening. Mark
even promised he would make some of his own special mushroom soup
for which he was so well known among his friends.
After that mushroom soup dinner at Mark’s rectory, Jamsie told Mark
his life story, omitting nothing. Mark listened in silence, puffing
a long church warden’s pipe that reeked of tar, and interrupting now
and again with a question.
It was past midnight when Jamsie finished. Mark put down his pipe,
reflected a little while in silence, and looked at Jamsie
speculatively. The silence was not uncomfortable for Jamsie. Then
Mark spent the next hour telling Jamsie what he thought of the whole
Jamsie, according to Mark, was the object of an evil spirit’s
attentions. There were hundreds-and, for all Mark knew, perhaps
millions and trillions-of different spirits. “You don’t number
spirits as you number human beings,” Mark told him. He explained
that in his experience, which was considerable, it appeared that
each kind of spirit had its own characteristics and techniques of
approaching humans. However, a certain kind of spirit-not a very
important one-always sought to become a “familiar” of some human
being, man, woman, or child. Rarely-but it did happen-did a
“familiar” spirit possess an animal.
What was a “familiar”? Jamsie wanted to know. Mark explained that
the key to the “familiarity” which such a spirit sought to obtain
lay in this: the person in question consented to a total sharing of
his or her consciousness and personal life with the spirit.
Mark gave an example. Normally, when you are walking around, eating,
working, washing yourself, talking, you are conscious of yourself as
distinct from others. Now supposing you were conscious of yourself
and of another self all the time, like Siamese twins but inside your
own head and in your consciousness. And supposing that the two, so
to speak, shared your consciousness. It’s your self-consciousness,
your awareness of yourself, and at the same time, it’s the
consciousness, the awareness of that other self. Both at the same
time. No getting away from one another. “Its” thoughts use your
mind, but they are not your thoughts, and you know that. “Its”
imagination likewise. And “its” will also. And you are aware of all
this constantly, for as long as you are conscious of yourself. That
was the familiarity Mark was talking about.
Jamsie was aghast. “My God,” he says now, “I had already gone down
that road, at least part of the way. I didn’t know what to do. I was
Mark answered Jamsie’s panic. He was not lost. He had never
consented to full possession by the “familiar.” He had just been
invaded. But he was going to be more and more pressured to accept
What could happen? Jamsie wanted to know.
“You can be worn down,” Mark said quietly. “You can be taken. Like
any of us.
You’re up against a force more powerful than you can ever hope to be
Then Mark looked Jamsie straight in the eye and asked him directly
if he wanted to undergo Exorcism.
Strangely, Jamsie was speechless. Then slowly he asked in great
concern: “Would that mean Ponto would never return?”
Mark told Jamsie that, if the exorcism were successful, Ponto would
be gone forever. He concentrated his attention on Jamsie’s every
move and reaction. He was only now beginning to be able to measure
how far Ponto had extended his hold on Jamsie.
“Well,” he said finally, with a great effort to appear relaxed,
“what is it going to be? Do you think we should go as far as that?”
He did not want to send Jamsie off half-crazed with fear.
Jamsie was confused. Memories of his loneliness and his having been
deserted by his parents crowded his mind. Was this Ponto affair as
bad as Mark made it out to be? Couldn’t he keep Ponto at a distance
anyway, and still enjoy the exotic character of the whole affair?
Besides, wouldn’t he lose some of that verve as a broadcaster that
was now his great asset?
Mark chatted with Jamsie for a while about all this. He poured them
both another drink. Jamsie was not ready to accept Exorcism. Mark
had to wait for Jamsie.
Very earnestly Mark gave Jamsie some practical advice. The whole
point, he said, was to resist invasion. Enjoy-if that was the word,
Mark said wryly-Ponto’s antics and his stimulation, but resist
invasion, Mark insisted. For instance, if Jamsie were to feel a
strange grip on his mind, memory, and imagination, and he was not
able to resist it, he should adopt a simple trick in order to offset
such a “grip”: spell the name of Jesus out letter by letter, over
and over. It was this stratagem that was to save Jamsie from suicide
at the reservoir later on.
When Jamsie asked if he could use any other name, Mark said with a
laugh that he could, but that he would find only that name
effective. Mark explained the essence of Exorcism-what it meant, and
its effects in the possessed. Finally Mark told Jamsie to call him:
“Night or day. Wherever I am, wherever you are, whenever it happens
to be, I’ll come immediately to you. But don’t delay, if once you
decide I can help with Exorcism.”
When Jamsie got home that night, he could not sleep. But Ponto did
About a month later, when Jamsie went for his yearly medical
checkup, the doctor told him that all was well except for his heart.
He should be careful of too much excitement. The doctor prescribed
some tablets and regulated Jamsie’s diet. The doctor asked him if he
was worried about anything. Was there anything preying on his mind?
Jamsie was surprised at the sharpness of the doctor. Yes, he
admitted* he was very preoccupied with personal matters. The doctor
recommended that Jamsie think about consulting a psychologist-just
to chat over things, relieve the strain a little. He gave Jamsie the
name of a man whom he could personally recommend.
Jamsie thought over the matter for about a week. He could not accept
Mark’s conclusion that Ponto should be exorcised-not because he did
not believe that Ponto was a disembodied spirit, or “anyway
partially disembodied,” he thought wryly, but because he could not
face up to daily life without Ponto’s disturbances.
But then he began to wonder why he liked such disturbances. Because
Ponto’s possession of him had already gone a certain distance? That
was what Mark thought. Or because, as he preferred to think, Ponto
was the one relief in an otherwise bleak landscape-and, into the
bargain, a marvelous stimulus for his work? Or was this precisely
the trap Ponto had laid for him? All the lines crisscrossed in
confusion. And the confusion only got worse when he began to have
all sorts of doubts about Mark’s judgment and intentions. These
priests were always looking for converts anyway, he thought. Yet
Mark sounded so sincere. Perhaps, after all, a talk with a good
psychologist would be helpful.
All that week, Ponto did not appear.
It was when he was driving to his first appointment with the
psychologist that Jamsie heard Ponto for the first time in eight or
“The shrink’s all right, Jamsie. He’s a good man; and you go and do
what he says. But if you would only listen to me and do what I want,
you would need no shrink.” Jamsie went anyway.
The psychologist recommended by his doctor passed Jamsie on to a
psychiatrist colleague. Jamsie spent over 18 months in therapy, but
the results were terribly disappointing.
The therapist started off by warning Jamsie that his psychological
condition was precarious indeed. He needed extended treatment. But
after about six months, the therapist reversed his judgment. He said
he could not find any genuine psychological imbalance or abnormalcy
in Jamsie. All of Jamsie’s accounts of Ponto, the therapist said,
were concocted holus-bolus by Jamsie, were deliberate inventions.
The damned thing was a hoax, and he for one didn’t think it was
funny. Jamsie finally persuaded the man that this was no hoax, and
went on earnestly with therapy for another year.
But finally, when it was clear that there was no appreciable change
for the better,
Jamsie gave up on
During this period of therapy Ponto appeared regularly and with his
usual behaviorisms, but he never really distressed Jamsie. In fact,
Jamsie was glad to see Ponto. He seemed more real than the therapist
and all his analyses. And, as Ponto remarked to Jamsie one day, “You
and I, Jamsie, are one, real flesh and blood; but that shrink lives
in his head. Now I ask you: Which is the better off?”
Toward the end of Jamsie’s treatment with the therapist, Ponto
seemed to grow impatient, as if he had a deadline to meet in
Jamsie’s case. More and more, Jamsie found that Ponto’s thoughts,
reactions, feelings, memories, intentions were present to his
consciousness, even when Ponto was not visible. He began to
experience two sets of thoughts and feelings-his own and Ponto’s. He
always knew which were which, but he literally had no privacy of
Amazingly enough, except for an occasional clash with Jay Beedem,
who always treated Jamsie with marked coldness, Jamsie’s work
continued to be excellent. But by November 1963, internally, inside
Jamsie, life was becoming unbearable.
Jamsie remembers clearly that it was from December 1963 that a new
desperation began to take hold of him. Ponto did not let up. He kept
devising new antics and developed the habit of appearing in Jamsie’s
apartment at the end of the day and not disappearing till Jamsie
went to bed. He chattered on and on, usually urging Jamsie to do
something-quit his job, take a trip, hate this person or that-but’.
most often to “let Ponto in.”
Jamsie remembers one incident clearly. He had returned home one
evening very late. Ponto appeared on his living-room table and spent
about an hour juggling words and phrases and colored lumps of
sound-or so it seemed to Jamsie-in the air. Then, as Ponto grew more
intense, he developed a chant that grated terribly on Jamsie, a sort
of “rhythm and grunt.” He repeated a word over arid over with a
little rhythmic grunt after it each time. “Let me in,” he would
begin, Then over and over and over: “Let-uh! Let-uh! Let-uh! Me-uh!
Me-uh! Me-uh! In-uh! In-uh! In-uh!”. The staccato beat was torture
to Jamsie. He finally screamed at Ponto to stop.
In the months following, Jamsie was treated to repeat performances
along this line,
sometimes once a week. Each time, Jamsie would be to silence Ponto
shouting and screaming in order Neighbors complained regularly about
Very late one particular evening in December of 1963, after having
had his nerves jangled in this way by Ponto for too long, Jamsie
could hardly believe it when Ponto was finally quiet for a while.
Jamsie soaked up the badly needed tranquillity.
But rather soon he began to hear a new sound. He listened intently.
I le could hear Ponto’s voice clearly, but it seemed to be caught up
in a babel of other voices similar to Ponto’s.
He could not tell what was being said. There was a lot of laughter
and many exclamations. But the whole thing reminded him of how
sometimes he used to listen to the radio in his home of the 19305
and get nothing but a rising and falling stream of static together
with indistinct and far-off voices.
As Jamsie strained to hear, there was a pause and silence. Then
Ponto’s mincing voice from the kitchen: “Jamsie, would you mind if
some of my associates and family joined us? After all, we are going
to get married, aren’t we? And soon, eh?”
The babel of voices started again and seemed to be approaching the
door of his living room.
Jamsie froze for a second; then, seized by a blind, rushing panic,
he stood up and dashed out the door, got into his car, and sped as
fast as he could to the Golden Gate Bridge. His mind was numb, but
his emotions were in turmoil. He felt cold, unwanted, persecuted,
desperate. He could not take any more of it. He wanted out. He
stopped in the middle of the bridge.
“It’s no use, Jamsie.”
Jamsie knew the voice. God! He could have cried. There he was,
balanced on the damned guardrail.
“It’s no use, my friend. You and I have much to do before your life
ends. Why do you think I am to be your familiar? So that you die
voting? Don’t be a fool!”
Jamsie turned away. For the first time he had the feeling of being
beaten by Ponto. He made his way slowly back home. There was no
hurry. He did not know what to do anyway. He thought aimlessly of
Mark. But what the hell, the shrink hadn’t helped. What could Mark
do for him?
Ponto did not appear again that night, but it was a very brief rest
for Jamsie. The nighttime had always been a great source of strength
and recuperation for Jamsie; and even though Ponto had been
encroaching a little more all the time, there had always remained
some hours at night when Jamsie was alone, relatively at peace, and
could rest. Ponto had never stayed the entire night without asking
But now Ponto insisted: they had to be intimate. What he meant by
that Jamsie was never sure. But it did mean he would spend nights in
Jamsie’s apartment. And with a significance that escaped Jamsie,
Ponto wanted him to consent. They were going to be married, weren’t
they? They were going to make the whole thing legal, weren’t they?
Ponto said, grinning in his crooked fashion.
After weeks of badgering, Jamsie was ripe to make a drastic
decision. Anything would be better than this torture. Should he
finish it all by suicide? Or would it be better to telephone Father
Mark? Or should he just give in to Ponto and see how things worked
The worst of the badgering sessions with Ponto occurred on February
installed himself in Jamsie’s bedroom. Jamsie spent the night
stalking up and down
his living-room floor, making coffee to stay awake, arguing in a
loud voice with
Ponto, weeping continuously, smoking and drinking intermittently. He
could not get
rid of Ponto. And he could not make up his mind. He needed time. It
was the pressure
on him by Ponto to make a decision that was crushing his
Finally he decided to make time for thinking and analyzing it all.
He would ask for a
leave of absence from the station. During the leave he could go over
all the events of
the last few years, consult with the psychiatrist again, see Father
Mark, and get
sufficient control of I himself to form some decision about a wise
course of action. 1
When he arrived at the station early the following morning and went
to see Jay Beedem to request a few days’ leave, his difficulties
took a new form.
Beedem spoke without lifting his face from the notes he was reading.
Beedem had noticed the increasingly peculiar behavior of 1 Jamsie
over the last few weeks, he said. Beedem did not think a leave • of
absence was the solution. Of course, Jamsie had some overdue
vacation days coming to him. But Beedem felt that, if Jamsie |
continued creating a tension among the other station employees,
there I could be no other alternative but to fire him. •
** The tone
was neither friendly nor unfriendly. Neutral. Very cold.
Jamsie still thought he could get through to Beedem if he could just
give him some idea of the dimension of the personal problem that was
torturing him. But when he tried, Beedem broke in slowly and
emphatically: “If you cannot make right decisions in personal
affairs, you cannot be trusted with matters that involve our clients
and our listeners.”
Then Beedem lifted his head for the first time since Jamsie had
entered his office. Jamsie looked for some spark, any inkling of
hope for himself. Beedem’s eyes were blank. Really blank. No
metaphor. They could have been made of colored glass, except that,
unlike glass, they did not reflect the office or the objects around
them or the light from the windows.
Jamsie knew then that there was no use trying to get through to
Beedem. He said something about catching up on the vacation days he
had missed. Beedem bent once again over his notes.
As Jamsie closed the door on his way out, he threw a quick look
back: Beedem was sitting bolt upright in his chair, eyes fixed on
Jamsie, glaring steadily. Beedem was looking through him, Jamsie
thought. Was that a look of hate and sneering contempt in Beedem’s
eyes? Or was it simply the natural reaction of a harried station
manager to yet another personal problem of an employee?
Going down the corridor to his office, Jamsie tried to remember some
of Mark’s after-dinner conversation with him. He seemed to be the
only one Jamsie had met who was sure he had a bead on Jamsie’s
problem and what to do about it. But nothing was clear to Jamsie
now. He sat down at his desk. He tried to clear his mind. He wanted
to go over everything that had happened to him since he had taken up
work at the station. His thoughts were in a maelstrom. He could not
think logically. Words such as “good,” “evil,” “Satan,” “Jesus,”
“Ponto,” “marriage,” “possession,” “free will” twirled and tumbled
around inside his head. He could not straighten them out. Then
“Beedem” began bobbing up in front of his mind. Beedem? Just like
that, with a large question mark. “Jay Beedem? Jay Beedem? Jay
“Jamsie, I’ve got the schedule for next month worked out.” It was
his producer, Cloyd.
Jamsie looked up stupidly and muttered: “Jay Beedem?”
“Oh, he’s seen it. It’s okay. We’re all set. Wanna see it?”
Jamsie took the schedule. But he could not concentrate on it now.
“I’ll call you, Cloyd,” was all he could manage.
When he was alone, he tried again. It was no use. He could see
Mark’s face, Jay Beedem’s face, Ponto’s face, his own face, Ara’s
face, Lydia’s face, Cloyd’s face. And Jay Beedem’s again, with that
look of contempt and hate. But they were all question marks now.
Slowly Jamsie began to calm down; and he tried to get some questions
in order, at least. Was Mark right, and was he being invited to be
possessed? Was he possessed already? Was Mark just another priest
trying to make a convert out of him? Or maybe somewhere along the
line the shrink had been right? Was he paranoid or schizophrenic?
Making it all up?
Still restless, his thoughts switched back to Beedem. What was he
another stupid, heartless jerk? No, this guy had something else. And
he had it in
spades. Until today, when Jamsie had happened to glance back, he had
never seen Jay
Beedem display an emotion. Nothing from inside. He had never even
seen him really
He started to think more about Beedem as a person. What did he know
of him? Beedem was a natural salesman. He could speak in 10,000
different tongues and tones, so to say, when he wanted to sell
something. He had a vicious wit and could turn without warning on
anyone and cut them down mercilessly in public. He often used
four-letter words as if they were gilt-edged securities to guarantee
the authority and accuracy of what he said. The women at the office
shunned him. Some had slept with him once-but no one ever repeated
the performance. He was either feared or despised, even when he made
Uncle Ponto still never appeared when Beedem was around. Ponto
appeared everywhere else, goddammit, Jamsie thought bitterly. Why
not whenever he was with Jay Beedem? Why not today, when he could
have used a little of that glib coaching?
Some strange edge to Beedem worried Jamsie. He was angry, sure. But
that wasn’t it.
He just couldn’t get it together in his head.
Then all of a sudden Jamsie was distracted from his thoughts about
Beedem. It had
been a long time since he’d worried about it, but now he felt he had
to solve the old
puzzle of the “look,” the “funny-lookin’ face.” Great! As on that
crazy night in
Cleveland, he was sure now he was on the verge of discovering what
he had “been
told about it.” For the first time in years he tried desperately to
get all his memories
together, in order to piece the fragments into a composite robot
sketch. Time and time again, as he sat at his desk, he thought he
had it. His knuckles were white as he gripped the arms of his chair
in the effort. But each time, the bits fell away from his bidding.
He sat hunched up in his chair, laboring at this mental sketch; and
slowly, bit by bit, the fragments started finally to fall into place
and stay put.
After some time, Cloyd stopped by Jamsie’s office again. He found
Jamsie in extraordinary efforts of concentration, groaning and
muttering to himself. When he could not get Jamsie’s attention, he
became frightened and ran for help. He found two station engineers,
and together all three of them watched Jamsie, wondering what they
Jamsie, meanwhile, was totally absorbed in his effort. He Vas on the
very verge, he felt. But, at once, all the fragments fell apart into
a long, jagged line at the end of which were Jay Beedem’s unsmiling
eyes. Then, again in a lightning flash, the line of fragments seemed
to pour out his right ear, make for the window, and disappear up
into the blue midday sky. The last trace he saw of it was Jay
Beedem’s face, for once broken by an ear-to-ear grin, trailing off
at the tail end of the retreating line.
Jamsie clapped his hands to his ears. He was shouting, a tangled,
throaty gust of protest and rage.
Finally he heard Cloyd’s voice coming from a great distance:
“Jamsie! Jamsie! Are you okay? Jamsie! Wake up!” He felt three pairs
of hands on him, and he looked into the frightened faces of Cloyd
and the two engineers.
“What’s going on here?” It was Jay Beedem, calm, dispassionate,
annoyed, and bored all at once. He stood in the door and motioned
with his hand to the others to leave. He told Jamsie almost
paternally that he should take the rest of the day off.
Jamsie felt completely beaten. He had not solved anything. He had
not understood anything. It was idiotic for things to start flying
out of his head again. He had not even gotten a leave of absence.
The rest of the day off! Thanks a lot, he thought.
He stood up drooping and bowed, almost in tears. Jay Beedem stood
aside. Jamsie stumbled out of the office, down the corridor, and out
it into the parking lot to his car. It was Jamsie’s last day at the
station. He would not see Jay Beedem again. But at that moment
Jamsie could not think ahead for five minutes.
The moment he entered his apartment, he knew Ponto was there
somewhere. There was that smell . . .
“Now, don’t be angry, Jamsie,” the voice came from the hall closet.
“I’m going to remain away from you until you call me. Don’t be
angry. Just give the
matter some cool thought.” Jamsie brightened slightly. But fatigue
took over. He fell
on the bed, and in a few minutes was
It was about seven o’clock on Saturday morning when he awoke
quietly. He was sure that some sound had awakened him. He listened
for a few moments. Then he heard a rustling and scraping sound from
the closet where Ponto had been the previous night.
Jamsie grew tense and suspicious. What was Ponto up to now? He
tiptoed over, stood listening a moment, then jerked the sliding door
of the closet aside. What he saw galvanized him with a disgust and
outrage he had never felt before, even in his worst times with
Ponto. Ponto was sitting on top of the old icon, picking away at the
bits of mosaic that composed the face of the Virgin. Already the
eyes were two sightless black holes, and Ponto was working on the
When Jamsie looked in at him, he stopped in a leisurely fashion, one
fingernail curled around a mosaic fragment.
“We won’t be needing this garbage, Jamsie, will we, you and I?” He
smiled self-assuredly. The smell wafted around Jamsie’s nostrils.
“After all, I can’t spend the night with this thing beside me, now,
Jamsie saw red. All the resentment that had piled up inside him
since his early teens-his anger at being frightened, his frustration
about that “funny-lookin’ face,” his disappointment with his father
and mother, his final desire to be rid of Ponto and his
importunings, his perpetual loneliness-all burst out from his inner
self, flooding his mind with a nausea against knowing anything more
about life. In that moment his will went rigid with a firm decision
that pointed him to dying and death as his only release and hope of
For some seconds he stood swaying from side to side, his head
aching. Then he broke into the desperate rage that propelled him
like a wild man, swearing and cursing out loud, as he bolted down
the front steps to his car.
There was nothing very unusual about Father Mark A.’s childhood or
family. Mark is a native New Yorker. His father, still alive, is a
Yankee from Maine
who settled in New York after World War I. His mother, now dead, was
a Kelly from
Tennessee. Her family had come over from Ireland to America in the
century. She had been educated in Kansas City. When she came to New
York to stay a while with relatives, she met her husband. He worked
in a large accounting firm.
Mark was the third of five children. His two brothers still live in
New York. One of
his sisters married a Swiss manufacturer and lives in Zurich. The
other sister, a
missionary nun, was in the Philippines when World War II broke out.
She survived in
a Japanese concentration camp, but she was badly weakened and died
in Manila after
All in all, no one could have guessed that a man of Mark’s normal
and uneventful background would be the one person who could not only
believe, but understand Jamsie’s predicament, or that Mark’s
father’s rather prosaic profession as an accountant would be the
chance link to complete the chain of circumstances.
As a young man, after a year and a half of college, Mark entered the
diocesan seminary. Seven years later, in 1928, along with eight
other men, he became a priest. He spent ten years as an assistant in
four parishes of the New York diocese. He became known as a hard
worker and a very effective priest. He was practical rather than
mystical, an activist decades before that was fashionable, and very
hard to discourage. Those who knew him then recall him as bouncy,
almost jaunty, with clear blue eyes, quick gestures, ready words,
sudden flare-ups of temper and equally quick returns of good humor.
Mark himself tells how in those early years life always seemed to
him to be made up of “scenarios.” Each situation was composed of
people and objects. You assessed the people, got to know the
objects, and plotted your course of action, your “scenario,” for
that situation. Mark shunned any wishy-washy ideas about
“motivations” or any “mystical realities.” To many of his
contemporaries he seemed to have a shallow and brittle approach.
And, indeed, Mark now admits that in those early years it was as
though his inner self was covered with a hard, protective rind that
nothing pierced. He was impervious to any emotional appeal; and he
was not held up or influenced by the intangibles of a situation.
When Mark was about to be moved to his fourth parish, his
ecclesiastical superiors offered him a choice: a parish in the
suburbs, or one in the center of midtown Manhattan. Mark chose
without hesitation to work in the heart of the city. And for the
next two years he experienced a new set of problems, totally
different from those he had been confronting in the outlying
parishes where he had already served.
At that moment in its history, just prior to World War II, New York
was a mecca of sorts, and not merely for those with financial and
economic interests. Serviced by 21 tunnels, 20 bridges, 16 ferries,
6 major airlines, New York received 115,000 visitors on an average
day and an additional 270,000 out-of-town delegates who came to 500
annual conventions. Through trunkline railways, buslines, airlines,
highways, they poured into the city and, as one statistician of that
time calculated, on any one given night the hotel bedsheets in use
would have covered 840 acres of Central Park.
The visitors could stay in any one of 460 hotels with a total of
over 112,000 rooms costing anything from 254: in the Bronx to $50
per day at the Ritz. And, with or without the courteous and patient
help of the eight young ladies in Macy’s City Information Bureau,
they found their way to one or another of New York’s 9,000
restaurants, where they ordered their heart’s desire from Irish
stew, Japanese sukiyaki, and Creole gumbo, to Swedish smorgasbord,
Budapest salami, and Cephalonian afgalimono.
“Hard-boiled New York is just a three-minute egg” rhapsodized the
Visitors Bureau in one of its blurbs. Visitors rapidly discovered
the soft center of that
marvelous city. But Mark discovered that there was also a smell of
human suffering and degradation.
Mark’s parish was in the center of the tourist and hotel area.
Between chambermaids, bellhops, desk clerks, cashiers, stewards,
chefs, waiters and waitresses, and kitchen help, Mark calculated
that there were 50,000 to 75,000 men and women whose hours were
irregular and long. They went to bed when most church services were
starting. Many were holding down two jobs at the same time. There
was no way for these men and women to keep religion as part of
hotel-life schedules. But it was such a hidden problem-or at least
one nobody would normally think of-that it was practically neglected
by every church.
What heightened both the plight and the peril of those neglected
people in Mark’s eyes was the web of organized crime-mainly in drug
traffic, prostitution, and the numbers game-into which many were
willy-nilly drawn. From simple steering of individual visitors to
pimping for one or another of the several madams and their parlor
houses; from simple bet collecting to bet agenting; from drug
running to drug peddling and distributing; the road in every case
was easy to find and too attractive not to try. Even with the
Seabury investigation in 1930 and the breakup of the Luciano
syndicate by Thomas Dewey some time later, there was no real
cessation of this traffic in crime and vice.
Mark’s father, as a certified accountant, handled the affairs of
some major hotels in New York City. When-Mark took up his new post,
his father provided him with introductions to some of his friends
and clients in the area. It was exactly the opening Mark needed in
order to get to know the conditions in the hotels and restaurants,
and to talk often and easily with the personnel. His factual mind
seized on the salient elements, and his priestly experience and
instincts indicated to him what could be done to meet the religious
needs of the hotel and restaurant workers.
By the time his next tour of duty came up for consideration two
years later, he had his mind more or less made up as to what he
wished to do.
In August 1938 he got his chance. He had a long discussion with his
superiors. He had a simple proposal to make: to undertake a special
mission as chaplain extraordinary to the hotel and restaurant
personnel in New York City. As Mark presented the case, it must have
sounded like asking to go as missionary to savage lands. The
superiors were impressed with his analysis of the situation. They
were not difficult to persuade. The decision was made, and Mark went
to live in a midtown parish rectory. He was relieved of all duties
in that parish. It was to be merely his home base.
His new parish actually lay in every hotel in Manhattan and Brooklyn
Heights. He divided this parish into six areas based on a rough
grouping of hotels. The Grand Central area was centered on the
Commodore and the Biltmore. The Penn Station area had the New Yorker
as its center point. Times Square was relatively self-contained. The
East Side was dominated by the Waldorf-Astoria. The Central Park
group centered around the Plaza and the Sherry Netherlands. Brooklyn
Heights centered mainly on the 2,641-room St. George.
But Mark’s beat was not exclusively hotels, and it definitely was
not all first class. He knew restaurants, nightclubs, swing joints,
dives, second-, third-, and no-class hotels. He was as familiar as
the “regulars” in the Paradise Cabaret on Broadway and in the Cotton
Club on 48th Street (where, as he recalls, “50 Tall Tan Girls”
danced to Cab Galloway’s music). He knew Billy Rose’s Casino de
Paree, and was well known at swing joints such as the Onyx, the
Famous Door, the Hickory House.
It was not surprising that Mark got to know some of New York’s best
chefs (and some
of the worst!). Partly as a means to help him reach the hearts and
minds of some of his
“parish,” Mark began to take an interest in cooking. One fine day he
even found he had a genuine talent for cooking and that he had a
real interest in it.
It would not be long before he found that this was not the only part
of his new life that would reach inside and become part of him
Mark was on a late-night call-ordinary for his new beat-when he had
his first close brush with a force that would later become the focus
of all his efforts. It was at the bedside of a young prostitute who
had been found bleeding and unconscious in a vacant lot near Ninth
Avenue and 43rd Street. This and Sugar Hill in Harlem, where the
mulattoes plied their trade, were the cheapest and the most
dangerous areas in prostitution. Mark never went there except on
When he entered the ill-lit room where the girl lay, her mother was
there. She indicated the little cot in the semidarkness of one
corner. The girl was moaning in pain. In the shadows at the foot of
the cot Mark could see the figure of a man wearing a hat and
overcoat, hands thrust in his pockets. As Mark approached the cot,
the man took out one hand and held it up in an arresting motion.
“Who is this?” Mark asked the girl’s mother in a whisper.
She shook her head. “I don’t know, Father. He used to be with her
now and then. He came in a few moments ago. I thought he . . .” She
trailed off helplessly.
Mark was now close enough to see the girl’s eyes in the
semidarkness. They were open and fixed on the man at the foot of the
cot. The little light thrown by the single bulb in the room picked
up the oddest expression in her eyes. Mark’s mind flashed in a
split-second memory to a pet rabbit he had had as a boy. One day he
found the rabbit huddled and shivering staring at the cat that
hovered by its cage. The ugly glitter in the cat’s eyes-its
superiority, its mysterious pull on him, its cruelty and disdain-was
hypnotic. The fear that paralyzed the rabbit was dreadful and
“She doesn’t need you.”
The words came from the man standing at the foot of the cot. The
accent was normal.
The tone was authoritative. There was no hint of hostility, just
Mark fumbled for his crucifix and the little bottle of holy water he
always carried. He had decided in that instant to give the girl a
blessing and to leave it at that. He was not begging for trouble.
Perhaps she was not even Catholic.
“That is enough.”
The same voice again, but this time the tone held a definite menace.
There was an implicit “or else” in those three words.
Mark was puzzled. Perhaps the man did not understand. He turned and
faced the dark figure. It seemed to withdraw deeper into the
“But I’m . . .” Mark began by way of explanation.
But he never finished the sentence. The entire “scenario” as he had
seen it up to that moment disappeared. It all became clear to him.
The hard rind seemed to have been peeled off of his inner self; and
he became wholly sensitive to what lay behind the “scenario” facing
him-the girl, the man, the old woman, the dingy room, and the
peculiar atmosphere enveloping all three of them. He was instantly
aware of multiple relationships stretching taut like invisible cords
among all present.
He drew back almost in shock at what he now understood. He knew that
somehow the girl was in thrall to that man. And he knew it was far
beyond the thralldom of a prostitute to her pimp. Somehow the man
could assert his claim with a brutal authority.
The girl’s mother touched Mark on the arm. They left the room.
Outside, their conversation was brief.
“No, Father,” she answered his question. “He’s not her pimp.” She
looked at him with eyes full of despair. “I thought you’d get to her
before they arrived.”
“They?” echoed Mark with a new sense of shock. The mother nodded her
head and stared steadily at him. He made a move to go back in.
“No.” She laid a hand gently but firmly on his arm. “No. You’re
still young. You don’t know what you’re up against. You can’t deal
with anything like this. Yet.” And then, already moving away from
Mark to the door of the apartment, “Save yourself, Father. She’s
already in their grip.”
She opened the door, and then closed it between them before he could
ask any more questions.
“You can’t deal with it.”
He never forgot the woman’s words. But it took him some months and
many experiences before he began to understand that he was more than
once up against cases of possession. Sometimes the situations
resembled that of the dying girl, but not always.
At the end of the year Mark went to his superiors again and asked to
speak to the official exorcist of the diocese. There was none, he
was told, at that particular moment. But, said the official with
whom Mark talked, if any cases of possession came up, they would
call Mark in. He said this with the jocularity that is so often the
sign of total ignorance. After all, the official added, with what
Mark had been through, and if Mark’s suspicions were true, he
already had more experience than anyone else they knew.
The official’s tone may have been light, but the result of the
conversation was serious.
Mark was now official exorcist of his diocese.
With intermittent breaks in his routine and some trips to other
parts of the country and to Canada, Mark’s ministry in New York
lasted for 24 years. During that time he developed his knowledge and
skill in dealing with cases of possession (real and counterfeit-he
always said that out of every hundred claimants there might be one
genuine case). But, more importantly, he became aware of an entire
world of the spirit about which he had been taught nothing in the
seminary and which seemed to flourish as the dark underside of life
in his beloved New York.
Mark still gave the impression of jaunty objectivity. But now there
was a deep underlay of awareness and shrewdness. And he was open and
sensitive to the slightest trace of diabolism, while highly
skeptical of all claims of diabolical “attention.”
It was a source of some amazement to his close associates and
superiors that he did not go the way of most exorcists. A few years’
active ministry in Exorcism, and the majority paled, as it were:
they seemed to wither in a variety of ways; some by illness, others
by premature aging; others still because they seemed to have lost
the will to live.
“Most of us crawl away and die somewhere quietly,” Mark said as we
talked one evening. I knew he was right.
“Why not you, Mark?”
“Well, you see,” Mark began jokingly, “I have this great pal
upstairs, and when I start into one of those exorcism businesses, he
comes along and holds my hand.” But at the end of the sentence
Mark’s eyes were away over my head and his expression was not in the
least jocular. It was luminous and fixed on some object or person I
could not identify.
One colleague of Mark’s with whom I talked had been a close friend
seminary days. They had always exchanged confidences. But all that
had changed. He
told me he had long since realized that Mark’s inner life had been
invaded by a dimension of which he knew very little and at which he
could only guess.
Mark seemed all of a sudden very old and deeply weary to his friend.
For most priests, as for most lay people, the world of the exorcist
is totally unknown. The toll it takes is incommunicable and can pass
unnoticed for years, even by those nearest to the exorcist.
But in those days Mark was still a young man. He lost most of his
hair before he was thirty-five, but so did his two brothers. His
health remained excellent. He exercised frequently, and rarely
seemed to be affected adversely by his job. For two or three weeks
after his first brush with an evil spirit, he seemed retired into
himself and to be in deep thought. Then he snapped out of it. When
he came across his first case of a “familiar” spirit (the subject
was a pimp arrested for a multiple murder), he was completely
befuddled, as he now admits. “Evil was very hard to trace,” he
And I had two psychiatrists telling me that this was a
classical case of multiple personality.” In spite of the
psychiatrists’ opinions (which seemed to be somewhat confused,
anyway, Mark recalls) and his own puzzlement about the ease, Mark
decided to try Exorcism because of four cardinal “symptoms”: the
physical disturbances accompanying the presence of the pimp, the
pimp’s physically uncontrollable and violent reaction to the
crucifix, to the name of Jesus, and to holy water.
The only type of possession that produced a strange and unwonted
tension in Mark
was what he came to discern as “the perfectly possessed.” His
colleagues learned of
such cases from Mark only because from time to time they sensed a
very unusual in Mark. And occasionally they questioned him, thinking
that he had had
some accident, or that he was in some danger, or that they might
help solve some
problem. What they saw in Mark at such times, as they or some of
them came to
learn, was not a nervous tension, but lather an intense watchfulness
which, his friends felt, was directed even at them. At those times
he gave the
impression of extreme guardedness. He was tight-lipped, gimlet-eyed,
and curt in his
(Malversation. When they finally were able to draw him out, and he
them some idea
of the condition of those who, he found, were
perfectly possessed, they were taken aback by his totally negative
attitude. This, too, was very unusual in Mark.
To all questions as to why there was no room for mercy or hope in
such cases, Mark would try to recount some of his experiences with
the perfectly possessed. But most of all he reflected the reality of
the experience in a stare of such stark and concentrated realization
that no one could pursue the subject further with him.
At the age of sixty Mark asked for a sabbatical. His health was
still good, but something was changing in him. The years had piled
up inside him an accumulation of disgusts and reticences that
finally even he could not ignore.
His preference for a temporary location fell on San Francisco, where
he had many friends and acquaintances. By April 1963, he was in
residence there. He was given little by way of duties in the parish
where he was staying, and spent most of his time in the open air.
But his compassion and his professional interests were aroused when
Lila Wood, one of his acquaintances, talked to him at length one day
about Jamsie Z., whom she had recently met at the broadcasting
studio where she worked, and who not only seemed deeply troubled,
but was more or less politely shunned by everybody.
Mark asked Lila many questions, until she had given him a fairly
detailed picture of Jamsie’s odd behavior. Even from this secondhand
description, Mark was pretty certain that in Jamsie he was probably
up against a case of a “familiar.”
What distressed Mark most in his own first long discussion with
Jamsie was his strong impression that, short either of a miracle or
of Exorcism, Jamsie Z. was on the high road either to complete
possession by his insistent “familiar” or to suicide as the easiest
way of ridding himself once and for all of his misery. Mark knew the
symptoms. And, more importantly, he had acquired over the years an
instinct for the crisis point of “familiar” possession. The instinct
was like that developed by painters for color and hue and chromatic
intensity. That instinct could not be taught, but could only be
learned by experience.
The person harassed by the “familiar’s” advances, in the extreme
stages of that harassment and just before the final outcome,
generally begins to have dim perceptions of some more potent figure
or force, as a greater shadow thrown by the lesser “familiar” or
that which follows on the “familiar.”
After Jamsie Z.’s unmistakable experience at the reservoir, Mark
knew several things:
there was no doubt in his mind that Ponto was totally real; there
was no doubt that he, Mark, would be making a fatal mistake to be
put off by the bizarre and often unbelievable predicament of Jamsie,
or to dismiss his rages and antics as “psycho” behavior; and there
was no doubt that Jamsie had reached the critical point.
The exorcism involving Jamsie Z. and Uncle Ponto lacked much of the
violent, scatological, and pornographic elements that accompany
other types and cases of possession. The struggle was at a different
level, involved a different genre of spirit, and concerned a
possession whose intensity was achieved over most of a lifetime.
Mark had come to know by experience that the degree of intelligence
and knowledge that generally seems to characterize “familiars” is
very low, sometimes approaching the level of half-witted children.
“Familiars” seem to have only a small quantum of factual knowledge
and very little power of foresight or anticipation. They appear to
be bound by cast-iron rules and to be in strict dependence on a
“higher” intelligence about which they talk frequently and to which
Ponto, for example, had to have recourse at every crisis.
The “familiar” gives the impression of a weak mirror reflection, so
to speak, of a greater one. So great seems this dependence of the
“familiar” that it never directly engages the exorcist.
This attribute of the “familiar” spirit in particular complicated
Mark’s efforts. It meant he was working by proxy, or on a secondhand
basis. Jamsie was the only one able to hear and see Uncle Ponto, and
Jamsie had to verbalize it all for Mark. Ponto could hear and see
Mark, but it was only when Ponto’s “superior” took over that Mark
was dealing directly with the evil spirit.
In excerpting Jamsie Z.’s exorcism, the choice fell primarily on
those exchanges that bring out two points: first, the process of
Jamsie’s possession, and second, the extremely complex relationships
implied by this kind of possession-Ponto’s relationship as the
“familiar” to Jamsie as the possessed, on the one hand, and the
relationship of both Jamsie and Ponto to the “superior” spirit, on
the other hand.
Mark’s past experience of possession by “familiar” spirits had
taught him one
principal difference between the exorcism of a “familiar” and that
of the other kinds
of evil spirit. Other types of possessed find themselves almost
completely bereft of
their freedom. They are saved solely by an influx of grace,
channeled through the
ministrations of the exorcist. But the victim of the “familiar”
spirit is quasi-possessed
by the “familiar,” until he gives final consent to the “familiar”
and to a “sharing” of
Even then, the loss of control over one’s inner self does
not appear so deep that contact with the exorcist is to all intents
and purposes impossible for him, as it often is in other types of
possession where the evil spirit “hides” behind the identity of the
victim and responds instead of the victim. In this type of
possession, it is almost as though the “superior” spirit “hides”
behind the “familiar” instead.