Thomas Wictor

My crimes of self-defense

My crimes of self-defense

When I got to college, my punk roommate Joe Cady turned me on to ska. I wasn’t really aware of it. Of course, I knew about reggae because I was a Police fanatic. One of my favorite songs of all time is “Walking on the Moon.” The bass line and tone, the melody, Sting’s plaintive voice, and the poignant lyrics were all very moving. My greatest fear was that I was “wishing my life away,” aiming for things I would never achieve. I hoped desperately that my legs wouldn’t break, and I wanted more than anything to have someone who would take giant steps with me.

In college Joe played me the Specials’ “Concrete Jungle” and “Nite Klub.” I was floored. Horace Panter—a.k.a. Sir Horace Gentleman—became a permanent addition to my pantheon of Bass Immortals. I struggled mightily for weeks until I could play both songs. What got me was how much fun they were to play. I still loved Sting, but Horace Panter’s bass lines made me smile as I played them. On top of that, they were great exercises. I owed much of my later dexterity to those two songs.

During my ska period, I discovered the song that became a part of me for no reason that I could determine. “Mirror in the Bathroom,” by the English Beat. Yes, David Steele’s bass line is phenomenal; I always heard the bass in a song first, and this line was like nothing I’d ever come across. It was billowy and hard edged at the same time. Though only one riff, it never got boring. And it was almost impossible to duplicate.

But the song overall had more of an impact than that brilliant bass line. The drum roll at the intro, the saxophone, the vocals, the dynamics, the break, and the cryptic lyrics were all amazing. One stanza mesmerized me:

Mirror in the bathroom
For all my crimes of self-defense.
Cures you, whisper make no sense.
Drift gently into mental illness.

What did those words mean? Why did they haunt me?

“Mirror in the Bathroom” seemed to be playing at many of the happiest moments of my life. Most are too private to reveal, but one that I can describe is a night in Tokyo when they locked us all into a club for the curfew and played every song that we the foreigners requested. Carmen and I danced until the dawn, and every single tune was one that we loved. Every one. When “Mirror in the Bathroom” was played, we screamed.

That was my best night. I finally had my companion who walked with me on the moon, taking giant steps with me; my friend Steiv Dixon shed his reserve and danced like a fool; and someone chose another song that always eerily cheered me up and hurt, David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.” It was a night of unfettered emotion and perfect optimism. Everything would be all right. All my fears were groundless.


Carmen drove me away, and Steiv Dixon died. I failed at everything, lost what was left, and then became disabled.

But these forfeitures allowed me to understand that my crimes of self-defense were entirely justified. There was no need for me to loathe myself for them. They were inevitable—a perfectly natural response—and they weren’t my fault. I let go of the hatred for the criminal and the anger for the crimes.

And though I drifted gently into years of mental illness, I recovered. The clarity I achieved is a searchlight piercing the darkness, illuminating my way.

My cure was a whisper that makes no sense to a lot of people, which is perfectly fine. It makes sense to me.

“Mirror in the Bathroom” no longer haunts me. That wonderful night in Tokyo is no longer painful to recall. Nothing that came afterward can change what I felt and experienced. Nothing diminishes it. I’ve accepted that the night was real, and it will remain real.

Somewhere in time a twenty-seven-year-old man dances forever with the love of his life and his best friend, overwhelmed with gratitude for his gifts.

Everything is all right.

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