My fascination with the paranormal was kindled long before I started reading woowoo books—hell, probably even before I could read. Mostly, I blame the seventies for my strange obsessions.
It was an era of magic and innocence, of other-worldly spectacle and paranormal possibilities, talking animals and cars, aliens, ghosts and witches intermingling with ordinary humans. Well, at least on TV it was. Like most American kids, I received a large part of my early education while plopped down in front of the tube—an actual tube, an old-school console television from yesteryear.
I loved watching reruns of Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Ed, The Flying Nun, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It seemed feasible that wiggling one’s nose could produce any desired effect—I mean, shouldn’t that be possible? I sure wanted it to be. The Magic Garden and H.R. Pufnstuf, whose creators were clearly experimenting with drugs, planted little seeds of altered reality into my impressionable young mind. And I found an exotic bounty of suprahuman inspiration in The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Wonderwoman, Shazam! and Isis. Really, it doesn’t get much better than Isis—an ordinary chick transformed into an uber-powerful goddess.
As the decade ambled on, new favorites emerged: Mork and Mindy (imbuing new meaning to the term miscegenation) and The Dukes of Hazzard. Can a car really jump across a canyon, land flat and keep driving? Sure it can. Evel Knievel did it on his motorcycle. Anything’s possible, even a clean-cut lip-syncing family traveling around in a funky bus and getting paid to perform.
Those campy, goofy shows were a welcome contrast to the dysfunctional family reality show I was living in. I read some too, but TV watching was often the more peaceful activity at home once we stopped squabbling over what to watch, because there was tacit understanding that television was sacred. All conversations and sibling beatings automatically came to a halt when the commercials ended.
Of course I had a mood ring, a magic 8-ball and a Ouija board. I wasn’t so naive to believe the ring was measuring moods, but I was more interested in the fun and wonder of the thing than in analyzing how it worked. I was simultaneously fascinated and frightened by Ouija boards because I’d been reading accounts of people becoming possessed by spirits with not-so-pure intentions. This was the sort of reading material I enjoyed at age nine—well, that and books about clairvoyance and ESP (extra sensory perception) and telekinesis and how time doesn’t really exist in a linear fashion the way we think it does. That time thing really blew my little mind (and the awe and puzzlement persist to this day).
On rare occasions, I got to go to the old dilapidated movie house in our tiny town where they showed second-run, obscure, or otherwise cheaply acquired titles. (Sadly, it later became a triple-X establishment). Somehow I’d gotten wind of Beyond and Back, a grainy low-budget documentary about people who died, left their bodies and returned to tell about it—in other words, NDEs or near death experiences. I was completely gone—hook, line and sinker. I harangued my mother until she agreed to drop me off for a matinee with two bucks in my hand one Saturday while she ran around town, grocery-getting in her usual grand coupon-queen fashion.
Now, I understand that in the world of film, Beyond and Back is about as crappy and propagandistic as they come. But to my tender sensibilities it was utterly captivating, even as I was aware of its Christian bias. Each of the people “interviewed” in the film perceived an anthropo-morphized image of God that was depicted in a re-enactment with (I’m sure) horribly rudimentary graphics. I wasn’t phased by the subpar quality—after all, this was the era when Atari video games were considered cutting edge. A philosophical floodgate in my mind had been sprung wide open. Thinking about stuff like that energized me, made me come alive, as if I was suddenly a full-color character in an otherwise black and white environment. I never once questioned the premise; it just seemed innately logical that we survive physical death somehow. I was (and am) neither frightened nor particularly affected by it. Then again, I’ve never lost anyone close to me other than a few cats and my 97-year-old great-grandmother.
Aside from notable genetic longevity, my family was fairly typical of mainstream America. Not necessarily religious, we sometimes attended church simply because society seemed to demand it. We kids were occasionally subjected to Sunday school—and the greatest oxymoron known to child, Summer Vacation Bible School—but the motivation on the part of my parents was free babysitting rather than indoctrination. I would later grow to wholly appreciate the areligious and apathetic nature of my upbringing. Much later…