When you meet truly bad people in this world, you might have a hard time remembering their faces.
I don’t remember the face of the child molester. He was a little taller than me, and I was a 5’11” buck at the time, recently out of high school, working at a pizza place to make ends meet and living in my car. The year: 1988. Age: 18. He was white, maybe in his early 30s, maybe some facial hair. He had the face of a spy, someone so nondescript you could watch him rob a bank and twenty minutes later not remember anything more than a generic description.
I never actually saw the guy molest anyone. What I know for sure about him is he was involved in making pornography, child pornography too, and tried to recruit me into the business of adult porn. And I accepted his offer. He lived in the same apartment complex as several friends of mine, and heard about me and my circumstances from neighborhood kids who saw me sleep in my car. That’s how he knew I was vulnerable.
One night I came to work after a couple of days off and was told a man dropped in the night before looking for me. My coworkers didn’t remember much about him, didn’t see his car, could hardly describe him, but they sure remembered what he held: a banana clip: a high-capacity, curved magazine for assault rifles. At the time, assault rifles were exotic weapons for civilians to own. I think he carried it as a psychological trick to obscure what people remembered about him. What you remember about the robber is the gun, not the face. Hold something dangerous or exotic (he could have carried a snake and had the same effect) and that’s what people remember.
We had a fairly busy night at the pizza place. Most of my other coworkers were finished and enjoying an after-work drink when the man walked in looking for me. I was the closing server, which meant I finished up the work and was last to leave. The man asked me to come outside and talk with him. I agreed.
Around back of the restaurant he had parked his van. To understand why I climbed into the passenger seat and listened to his offer, and to understand why I accepted it, you would have to know my circumstances at the time.
Living in my car began as a grand adventure. I lived in a suburb and stayed in daily contact with friends from high school, one of whom sometimes lived in my car too. We had places to go, people to see, beer to drink. I had left home late in my senior year of high school and moved in with a family I’d known since middle school. They gave me until graduation day to figure out another living situation. When that day came I packed my belongings into my old Toyota Tercel and just started driving around town.
The man told me he had seen me around and wanted to use me as a porno actor. If I accepted his offer I would be in Chicago by the next morning, set up in an apartment and immediately making money. I told him I was straight and would only have sex with females, and he replied that I didn’t have to have sex with males.
Like I said, I was vulnerable. Living in my car got old after while. It was a struggle. When you live in a car you see no path to a better life. You think about necessities like safety and warmth and gas in the tank. You can’t invite a girl over for a dinner of fast food in a cramped little car that had been wrecked and resurrected twice. You don’t believe goals like going to college or having a girlfriend are within your reach.
So I accepted the offer, even though I knew nothing about the man and got a creepy feeling from him. I just wasn’t processing the information the way I should have. Necessity overrode everything else. The man came along and offered me a way out of my predicament.
I told him to wait as I went inside the pizza place to tell my coworkers I was going to be in movies and had to leave right away. They were sitting at a booth with a pitcher of beer. Usually, I would finish my work and join them, but instead asked Dennis – coworker, high school buddy, and best friend at the time – to close the service area. I offered him all the tips I’d made that night, around $30-$40, to do it for me. When he asked why, I told him.
Thirty seconds later Dennis locked me in the walk-in cooler with him and refused to let me leave until I promised I would not take off to Chicago. He said we would get an apartment together and figure a way out of my predicament. Dennis was a good friend at the time. He saved my life that night. A month later we were living together with his brother in a cool three-bedroom place, fully furnished. The situation didn’t last, but it bridged a huge gap for me.
I walked back to the van and told the man who made me the offer of a lifetime that I couldn’t do it. I remember him trying to coax me back. He grew angry and sped off.
Dennis told me later that he knew the man was involved in pornography, and suspected he had been recruiting local kids. Yes, kids. I was 18 but looked 16, with blond hair, blue eyes and athletic build. Looking back now, I suspect his offer was a lie to lure me out of town away from any support I had and turn me into something he wanted me to be. I’ve learned a lot about how molesters and sex traffickers work. They never keep their promises.
No, I suspect that soon after arriving in some seedy south-Chicago housing project I would have been fed hard drugs, my identity documents taken, and locked in an apartment with a bunch of other kids – runaways and drug addicts. That’s what usually happens. I would then be sexually exploited, and when I was desperate enough, they would have me on film doing anything they wanted. When my expiration date came – the day I started looking haggard or fighting back – I would be killed or cast off, depending on how much I knew about the operation and how far my mind was gone.
Around a month later, I was driving around town drinking beers with Dennis and another friend along a main drag through our big suburb, Kettering, Ohio. We passed the man who made me the offer. He was driving the other direction in a white, convertible Chrysler LeBaron with the top down. In his hand: a flute of Champagne held delicately by the stem, while the other hand held the steering wheel. In the back of the car: two girls, maybe 13-14 years old, maybe younger, made up to look like they starred in a Whitesnake video, completely vamped out with teased hair, gobs of makeup and skimpy outfits. They looked confused, sad, pretty. He looked like he thought he was King of the World.
I saw all that in a flash. Then the man turned the car around and followed us. I sped up to 60 mph in a 35 zone. He stayed right on my bumper. Eventually I pulled into a parking lot and watched him drive passed, Champagne glass held in the air, glare on his face, never to be seen again.
Thank you, Dennis, for caring. You gave me the opportunity to do something good with my life, rather than sell myself into sexual slavery.
That’s the story of how I met a child molester and almost worked in porn.
Steve is not what most people think of when they picture a shaman. Instead of wearing masks and feathers, he wears jeans and button-downs, although the medicine bag hidden under his shirt gives him away. While people know him as a funny guy from Brooklyn with a Master’s degree in clinical counseling, I know him as the man who helped me lift a generational curse from my family. Before getting to that part of the story, first some background.
Steve does not advertise. You can’t look him up in the Raleigh, North Carolina Yellow Pages under “shaman.” You have to know someone who knows him, a reference. My reference was a lady I was dating who had lost her husband years prior in a biking accident. Her husband’s spirit hung around wanting to make everything right between them (there were unresolved issues when he died), and she needed help, so a friend of hers referred her to Steve. After her good experience, she referred me to him because she suspected, and I agreed, there were deeper reasons for my problems than garden variety.
I was a heavy drinker back then. It caused rifts in our relationship. One morning I woke up at her place with a broken toe, a pissed off lover and no memory of what happened. I had quit drinking before but came back to the bottle because it provided relief from anxiety (at a heavy price of producing more anxiety when I was sober) and opened connections to my feelings. It’s hard to describe how I knew that my drinking was connected to something spiritual. To really get the picture you have to go back to when I was nine years old.
That is when I had my first nightmare about the “Dark Master,” the term my dreams used to name him. He appeared to be a wicked man who had died but did not pass away, the “undead.” The closest I can describe him is he looked sort of like the Cryptkeeper from “Tales from the Crypt,” except he had no hair and appeared a bit more human. In the first nightmare I remember, he chased me around my neighborhood. I got away by hiding under a pinball machine. I had the distinct feeling he not only wanted to kill me, but claim my soul as a prize.
When I was 13 I met him again in a therapeutic setting. At the time I was in a “gifted kids” class. The teacher brought in a dream interpreter as a special speaker. The speaker asked for a volunteer to share a nightmare that had produced vivid memories. My hand shot up.
With my classmates surrounding me to provide an anchor to reality, the dream interpreter put me back into the nightmare, safely, by using hypnotic techniques. He asked me to visualize the conflict behind the dream, and my mind painted a picture of two families in a terrible quarrel. I saw them in a rural area, on what looked like a farm or plantation, faced off as two sides. The dream interpreter asked me to ask them why they were fighting. The characters erupted in an argument, and as best I could tell they were angry at each other over past wrongs. Blood had spilled. People had died.
The interpreter then asked me to try to resolve the feud, so I inserted myself between the two quarreling sides and declared, “Fighting is wrong. Can’t we all just get along?” Yes, it was my Rodney King moment, years before he became a household name. The two sides paused for a moment as my childish logic sunk in. They looked at each other, years of boiling hatred between them, and finally one of the elders stepped forward and said, “The boy is right. We have feuded long enough. Time to end this today.”
Kidding! The two sides did actually pause, followed quickly by another eruption of arguing and accusations even louder and more heated than before. My childish logic could not solve the feud. The scene became dangerous as some of the people turned against me, and the dream interpreter brought me out of the hypnosis before the situation melted down.
I have studied dreams for 20 years and can tell you there are all sorts of ways of interpreting what happened that day. The original nightmare could have been about trouble in my own family. We were barely making it financially at the time. Soon after the experience with the dream interpreter, my parents got divorced. So yes, there are conventional explanations for what happened, but not for why the nightmares continued.
I forgot about the experience with the dream interpreter until many years later when I had another nightmare about the Dark Master (referred to as DM from here on). I was in college at the time and working with another dream interpreter, my mentor Larry. The intervening years had been rough, but I had finally quit drinking (the first time) and began uncovering all sorts of shit buried deep in my mind. In the nightmare, three henchmen chased me around city streets at night trying to capture and deliver me to DM. I was ready for a fight, so I ditched the henchmen and found him at the top of a black office tower. He lay in a glass coffin in the middle of a room. Seeing him set my head on fire, figuratively. I can’t adequately describe the fury, the hatred. It was like I turned into a bolt of lightning, all sizzle and pop.
I reached into the coffin and wrapped my hands around his neck. ‘Squeeze! Squeeze harder!’ The flesh of his neck felt rubbery as my fingers sunk in. I tried to choke the life out of him, but he was already dead. He looked directly in my eyes and seemed pleased.
DM wanted me angry. It diverted me from my true purpose, which is to unite and harmonize, to forgive and heal. Picture Luke Skywalker from Star Wars the first time he fights Darth Vader. He is overcome by anger, and it leads to his defeat. Vader and The Emperor want Luke mad, want to corrupt him and turn him to the dark side. DM had the same thing in mind for me.
That Christmas I was visiting my mom, first time I had seen her in several years. I was on a spiritual trip as well as a holiday one, and for the first time since early childhood felt reunited inside, strong and healthy and clear. We were in the kitchen. I was making breakfast burritos. Mom says, “My mom told me once about a feud between our family and another family. I guess it was pretty bad. People died.”
I froze with spatula in hand. Eureka! I made the connection between my dreams about DM, the family feud I had visualized with the dream interpreter, and my family history. I did some research and found that the story seemingly had some historical connection. My maternal family line descends from the Campbells, a Scottish Highland clan that sided with the British Crown against the other Highland clans. In one of the most famous betrayals of all time, the Campbells sent a militia to the clan compound of the MacDonalds. They convinced the MacDonalds to open their doors and offer hospitality for the night. It was a Highland tradition to give lodging to even hated enemies. They would stop the quarrel for the night, sleep, get up, eat breakfast, then go back to fighting. Those Scotts and their traditions!
Well, during the night the Campbell militia rose from their beds, crept around the compound, found members of the MacDonald Clan sleeping and slaughtered them. Around 50 MacDonald clan members were murdered that night, an event known as the Massacre of Glencoe.
I tell you this so that you know what was in my mind when I walked into the office of Steve the Shaman with a broken toe and a troubled heart. My heavy drinking had plenty of roots in my own experience, but the deepest root seemed to be connected to my family tree. Yes, my father is an alcoholic. Yes, I followed in his footsteps as a heavy drinker. Yes, there is a connection between DNA and alcoholism. However, my younger brother is almost identical to me physically, but he grew up with a stepfather who drank only in moderation, and he never battled the bottle like I did. The causes for my drinking, I felt, ran deeper than personal or even hereditary.
I told Steve about the nightmares, the experience with the dream interpreter and the Massacre of Glencoe. With a combination of levity and amusement he listened, asked a few questions. Then he went into a sort of trance looking for the roots of my trouble, and surprised me with what he said:
“There is something in your family that goes back many generations, but what I see is not related to the Massacre of Glencoe. I see a woman from your maternal line who stole another woman’s husband through seduction. The other woman became insanely enraged and hired a black magician to cast a curse on the women of your family line. They were cursed to marry tragic men, and the power of that curse continues to this day.”
As crazy as it sounds, it made sense. All I really know about my maternal great-grandmother is she married tragic men and had a hard life. My grandmother outlived five husbands, widowed five times over. They were all tragic men, especially my grandfather, who died at age 43 from his third heart attack. My father, as I mentioned, is an alcoholic. My mom remarried a good man, a military officer. Great guy. I really like him and appreciate what he has done to give her love and stability. I think her faith in God broke the cycle of tragedy, but it jumped to me. Before I was born I was aware of it and knew what I was taking on, Steve said.
He pulled more surprises: My mom became pregnant around age 16 with my father’s child but miscarried. The child was female. He said the miscarriage was intentional, in a sense: I knew that body was not equipped to handle the challenges facing me, so my soul abandoned it and waited for the next opportunity. Two years later, my mom conceived again, a boy that time, and my soul knew the body was better equipped for the unique challenges ahead. Because the curse was specifically on the females of my maternal line, as a male I had more distance from it. Mom will freak out if she ever reads this story, but it is the truth as I know it. To understand why I accept this truth, you would have to have been there with me in Steve’s office that day, and in the classroom when the dream interpreter read my mind, and in my head during the nightmares.
Steve’s office was a converted second floor bedroom. He lived in a beautiful, rustic home with his wife, surrounded by acres of Carolina fields and trees. On the walls of his office were posters of the human body and its endocrine system, its meridians, energy centers and circuits. Native figurines displayed on shelves and desktops. Books with topics like spiritualism, shamanism and homeopathic medicine lined bookcases. He smoked organic American Spirit cigarettes, a rare brand for people who know that it’s not the tobacco that kills most people who die from using it, it’s the crap companies put in the tobacco and the heavily fertilized soil it’s grown in. I smoke those cigarettes, too. It was one helluva coincidence, same as Steve somehow knew about the tragedy in my maternal line without asking me. Same as he saw my dreams like they were his own. Dude is the real thing, a real shaman, but a complete Brooklyn boy, too. He is one of my favorite people on this planet.
What happened next is a little fuzzy in my memory because Steve and I went into trance together. I’m not talking about the “spaced out” trance that most people associate with trances. It’s more like a guided meditation heavy on the visuals. Steve had me sit on a short, wooden stool as he put on a tape of shamanic drumming. He grabbed some shaman’s tools including a small drum and a flute-like instrument, stood behind me and began working.
He looked at my body while in trance and saw inside of it, and said there was a black knife made of metaphysical energy buried between my shoulder blades. Dark Master had stabbed me in my heart, and with the blade lodged there it hindered my efforts to improve myself and heal my life, because DM could influence my feelings directly by zapping my heart with negative energy. I had felt it many times before meeting Steve, but had no frame of reference for understanding it.
A scene in the first Lord of the Rings movie reminds me of what it’s like to have a metaphysical knife in your heart. Frodo is stabbed by a Nazgul and a splinter of the blade is lodged in his shoulder near his heart. If you read the book you know that the sliver of blade that broke off affected Frodo throughout the rest of the story (it’s not as clear in the movies). Anytime he got near a Nazgul, the sliver blazed inside him, causing intense suffering and influencing his feelings to make him want to give up the quest to destroy the One Ring. That is what the thing in my heart was like.
Steve removed the blade using shamanic techniques. It was rough; damn thing was buried deep, but it had to come out first or else the work we did together was bound to fail: I might get temporary relief, but with the blade inside me, DM would eventually find a way to blast me with black magic. He would take my life off course.
What happened next is hard to explain. Removing the blade was like peeling off a cold, wet blanket. I found myself capable of “going higher” than ever before, meaning I could go to the mental place where Steve saw me as a metaphysical body. Even with the boost I got, it was extremely difficult. An hour had passed since we started the trance, and weariness grew in me from staying intensely focused for that long. Something inside of me fiercely resisted the work. DM didn’t want to give up, and I had come partially under its power.
Then two things happened that connected everything together. First, Steve reminded me of an image from my dreams: funnel clouds. I had recurring dreams of tornadoes chasing me, which I did not tell him about but he saw anyway as if my dreams were his. He told me the funnel clouds weren’t after me, they were after DM. He told me to look inside the funnel. At the top, kid you not, I saw the All-Seeing Eye. I opened up and allowed the Eye to see inside me. Instead of running in terror when something saw the darkness in me, I was relieved. At that moment I realized I was built exactly the way I was supposed to be. The darkness is to be embraced, accepted, even loved, but also kept at a distance. It is the fire that forges the tool.
Next, I saw a pyramid of white light form around my body. I saw it in my mind, but felt it with my nerves. I’ve been under hypnosis. I’ve gone into trance. I’ve meditated. I’ve tripped hardcore on psychedelics. But never have I seen something so vividly in my mind. Never have I felt it with my physical senses.
The moment had arrived. I would either be rid of DM, or would choose, subconsciously, to allow him to continue having a channel directly to my heart. My life was literally on the line.
When the pyramid formed, I felt a connection open directly to DM like a phone call. I sensed his thoughts, his fear, his hatred. My mentor Larry had prepared me for the battle through conversations about the Star Wars mythology and how it applied to my life. At heart, Star Wars is about forgiveness. In Return of the Jedi, Luke walks into the dragon’s lair and confronts Vader and the Emperor. They think it is the moment of their triumph, but Luke has learned that the strongest force in the universe is love, and love is expressed through forgiveness.
With that in mind, I saw DM as the tragic figure he was – or is. I felt sorry for him, the magician entrapped by his own power. You see, the power of a curse is bound to the one who casts it, even after death. I saw DM as dead but alive because his physical body had perished centuries before I was born, but his soul or life essence or whatever you want to call it was bound to the curse. He was as much a victim of his power as he was victimizer. Karma is a bitch!
After DM went up into the funnel and I was finally free of him, Steve loudly clapped his hands once and brought me back to reality. Around 90 minutes had passed since I first walked in. We both wanted a smoke.
I wish I could say I never drank alcohol again. A few times in the years since meeting Steve the Shaman I have gone through a drinking phase, followed by a reminder of why I don’t drink and a long period of abstinence. I have not had another nightmare about DM or any sense of his presence, although he has become a shorthand for recognizing my personal shadow. When my ego is feeling bruised or I’m getting full of myself, I know shadow is at work. The difference now is it’s manageable; I don’t fall back into the hole, and the longer I stay out of it, the more it fills in. Best of all, I know the curse is gone. My maternal line is free to marry good men and have children free from the sins of the past.
To this day I have second thoughts about all of it, whether I interpreted the nightmares correctly, whether Steve is just really good at helping people act out their issues and find resolutions. If it hadn’t happened to me, I might look at my story as a psychological drama and nothing more, played out in imaginative ways. Either way, judging by the results, it worked.
And that’s the story of the Shaman from Brooklyn, the Dark Master and the Generational Curse.
Magic mushrooms talk to you. The tan and orange fungus with a stem and cap is like a leprechaun, and when swallowed it spends the next few hours – sometimes days – fucking with your head by telling you things about yourself, your life, the world, the universe, like:
You are a spiritual being having a physical experience.
The world is your classroom.
Humans are not alone in the universe.
That is a sampling of what the mushrooms said to me on a night when I rode the magic carpet of psychedelic experience. It made me aware of myself and my environment in ways I’d never known. It spoke and I listened, and it made predictions that came true. Then all hell broke loose and the experience turned sinister. First, to set the scene.
My friend Matt lived in an apartment with a crack house on one side and a heroin den on the other, on a side street close to Bogart’s music hall in the Corryville neighborhood of Cincinnati, a seething mix of university students, urban high school kids, low-income locals, visitors, homeless, opportunists and criminals. A lot of bad shit went down in that neighborhood, and Matt lived in the middle of it. The craziness didn’t usually bother us. We were used to it.
The night we took the mushrooms at his place, the gore-and-screams band GWAR was playing at Bogarts. And, as they say, the freaks were out. Our friend Steve joined us. It looked like we had a normal night of listening to music and hanging out ahead of us, except, of course, we were eating magic mushrooms. Matt at first didn’t want to trip with us, but we badgered him, and like the good friend and addict he was, he ate half a cap to make us shut up.
Bad idea. Never pressure anyone into taking psychedelics. It’s asking for trouble.
Matt’s living room had a couch, portable radio, a table or two, guitar gear, some junk, and not much else except his dog, a black lab mix named Rufus. We listened to music and talked as the ‘shrooms kicked in. At first your body tingles and you feel electric but chill. The fun stuff in the mushroom, called psilocybin, travels from the stomach to the bloodstream and throughout the body, and everything that had been gray is touched with color. Senses sharpen. Perceptions deepen. Body relaxes. Then the psilocybin settles into the brain, and the conversation with the leprechaun begins.
That night it manifested as something trying to get my attention. Matt and Steve were engaged in a heated conversation, as they were liable to do, both strong-willed and stubborn. If they disagreed about something they could go on for hours about it. At some point I tuned out and just enjoyed the exhilaration of the drug. That’s when I noticed Rufus.
Something is up with the dog, said the leprechaun. I noticed Rufus acting sort of like he wanted to go out to crap in the yard, but more excited and even confused. I wondered if he was picking up strange vibes off the three humans juicing their brains, but there was nothing out of the ordinary going on, nothing to set him off like that. We were listening to an LA Guns CD, Vicious Circle, for the first time, and I heard undertones in the music that affected me deeply. But Rufus was used to hard rock and people doing drugs,
Then reality decided to take a high dive from an orbiting space shuttle. Rufus started frantically running circles around us in the living room. We were on the floor. I was laying on my back. Steve and Matt were going on about something. Rufus ran circles counterclockwise. He flew over the couch, the chairs, the junk. He sprang off a chair and did an impossible somersault in the air.
Did I really see that, I asked myself. Did Rufus just do a flip with a twist like a gymnast and bounce hard off the carpet, fly up and continue running in circles?
I looked at Steve and Matt like, didn’t you see that? But they were oblivious, and somehow I knew it was supposed to be that way. When Rufus took another flying leap and they didn’t notice, we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Welcome to Mushroomville, the land of oompa loompas and leprechauns and all sorts of magical stuff.
I’ve known people who hallucinated whole scenes while tripping on LSD or mushrooms, but for me the effects had more to do with color, sound, sense of time, and opening connections inside myself. Never had I hallucinated something like a dog flipping out. What I saw was real. If someone completely sober was in the room, they would have seen Rufus doing flips, two humans paying no attention, and one human (me) with eyes as wide and bright as cream pies.
The mushroom, compared to other hallucinogens, is more of an internal trip. It talks to you about how you see yourself and the world, about what you do and why, about where you have come from in your life and where you are going, about what you believe. Done in a controlled setting it can be therapeutic, but in an uncontrolled setting it can be a bad trip. The mushroom opened me to really feel what was going on around me. Steve, an experienced tripper, was having a ball, while Matt, even though he ate a fraction of the amount of mushroom that Steve and I ate, was trippin’ hard. That fungus was potent. Something strange was in the air from the beginning, and I sensed it before the dog freaked out.
Earlier in the night as the ‘shrooms kicked in, we had the radio on and were talking. Steve and I had a sense for each other like complete opposites do. Enhanced by the mushroom it was as if we were reading each others thoughts. There came a pause in our conversation, and the leprechaun in my head said, “Steve is going to suggest to change the radio station, and you should tell him to turn it to your favorite station. He will then say, “Why were we listening to that crap, anyway?””
A moment later it happened exactly as predicted, down to the exact words. It is one of many instances that night and others when I heard in my head exactly what was about to be said or done, and is why I say that the mushroom talks to you. Because it does. What it told me about why Rufus flipped out is going to sound like some crazy shit, so be ready. To this day I’m not sure what exactly happened, but in later events I had some confirmation of the way I interpreted it. I’ll get to that.
Matt finally noticed Rufus but reacted like it was nothing. However, I felt something in the walls and under the soles of my feet, something deeply wrong. Something very dark. We went out on the porch to change the scenery, and the feeling only increased as I watched people going by, especially the freaks going to the GWAR show. Bad vibes, bad neighborhood.
Then it struck me: something was wrong about the big house converted to apartments where Matt lived. It felt sinister. I didn’t know at the time that the neighbors were crackheads and heroin junkies – found that out later. Besides, they were nowhere in sight. The wrong I felt was like the feeling of being watched from the shadows by a killer.
The mushroom said, “The presence you feel is attacking the dog: Demonic possession.”
Told you it would sound like some crazy shit. A dog possessed? Yup, sounds crazy to me too, but the mushroom had been right about other things that night. I am open-minded about the mysteries of life, so I can accept altered reality. And from scripture I know that animals can be possessed by spirits, remembering the story about Jesus allowing the legion of demons to possess a herd of pigs after he exorcised them from a possessed man. If you had been there and seen Rufus the dog, you would agree that something was up with him. I’d known that dog for years and never seen him act like he did that night. Then for Matt and Steve to not notice was too strange.
So what do you do when your brain is soaked in psilocybin and a voice that feels like it is being beamed into your head tells you that a dog is possessed? Well, naturally, you perform an exorcism!
As soon as the thought crossed my mind, potent energy filled my body. I have been in churches when entire congregations were “possessed by the Holy Spirit.” It is unmistakable. I think people can work themselves into such a state that they make shit happen that is far outside the boundaries of “normal.” What it felt like to me was God decided to enter Matt’s apartment and do battle against the demonic presence, using me as a proxy. That is the best way I can explain what happened next.
Feeling myself filled with righteous fire, I tracked down Rufus inside the apartment and laid a hand on top of his head. I reached my other hand toward the sky and called down the Holy Spirit. With the most powerful voice that has ever come out of my mouth, I rebuked the demon. I was told later that I could be heard a block away over the street noise, and that people stopped dead in their tracks at the sound.
Steve and Matt had done for a walk this was happening. It felt like an hour passed before they came back, but I bet it was less than 15 minutes. I rebuked the demon over and over. I quoted scripture with a voice that sounded like rolling thunder. The dog’s eyes fluttered back, showing only whites. His tongue rolled loosely in his mouth. My hand stayed attached to his head as if stuck by magnetism.
Then it was over. Rufus returned to normal. I felt everything around me with incredible distinction and clarity. Before Steve and Matt walked back into the apartment, I sensed them coming. Before seeing the people gathered outside drawn by the sound of my voice, I knew they were. Most of them were confused, some had an inkling of what just happened, and a few under the influence of darkness were pissed off. How dare I!
At that moment I understood how Jesus felt when he saw the masses of the sick, diseased, infected, and waded into them, his voice crackling, his hands feeling like they’re engulfed in flames, his mind filled with the most powerful light, his eyes seeing everything as it really is. A revelation came to me:
Life is not a game!
Life is not a game!
Life is not a game!
That message was personal. At the time, I treated life like a game. It worked pretty well for me to that point because I was good at games, but when confronted by supernatural reality, that approach suddenly appeared childish, dangerous. In a sense, that night I was initiated into a deeper understanding of why I am alive and having this experience of being a spiritual being in a human body.
Beneath our reality is a template for a perfect universe. Align yourself with it and you too can make things right. You can heal. You can perform what are called miracles, which are not really “miracles” but more like a curtain parting. In order to face what is behind it, you can’t treat life like a game. There is a combination of levity and humor involved. You can’t take yourself too seriously, but you can’t be a fucking joker either. If you go about using your mind to channel perfection into this reality, this dimension, you will butt up against forces that oppose you, and they aren’t here for the laughs. If they can’t stop you by other means, they will try to destroy you, either by driving you insane or setting people and events against you.
I’m open to the idea that everything I experienced was a hallucination. The mind can manifest anything it believes, including a dog doing double flips with a twist. If you haven’t tried magic mushrooms, you night think I hallucinated it – I would think that if someone told me a story like I’m telling you. But I was there and tell you I have never been so lucid and aware in my life. Plus, a month or two later, my friend Matt met the evil presence and had his own battle with it.
What I didn’t know at the time was Matt had started using crack cocaine. He’s a good ‘ol country boy, a hard drinker, smokes two packs of Marlboros a day, but he didn’t seem like a candidate for crack addict because the drug wasn’t part of his culture. Then his work tools and material possessions started disappearing, and I wouldn’t see him for stretches of time, sometimes weeks. I should have known what was up.
One day, very agitated, he showed up unannounced at my apartment. I took my time calming him down before trying to get him to tell me what had set him off, and had to drag it out of him. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told,” he kept saying.
“Try me,” I said. “You know I’ve been through some weird shit.”
So then he tells me that he had just been at home and decided to buy crack with the $20 his grandma had given him for Christmas. His grandpa had recently passed away, and Matt felt guilty (even before getting hooked on rock) about not living up to the old man’s expectations of his grandchildren. He had battled with himself over spending the money the way his grandparents would want on food and necessities, or spending it on what he really wanted. You know which side won the argument.
So he goes looking for the $20-dollar bill in the Christmas card and can’t find it – no surprise, considering the state of his apartment. So like a good crackhead he obsessively tears the place apart searching for it, and instead keeps running across a picture of his recently-deceased grandpa. It didn’t just happen a few times, but over and over and over and over and over. Same picture. He said he would open a drawer in the living room and there it would be, then go look in the kitchen and there it would be, then go look in the bathroom and there it would be.
Even after my mushroom experience at his place, I thought maybe Matt had been unconsciously carrying the picture around, or looking time and again in the same place and forgetting that’s where he’d just seen the picture – knowing him, it wouldn’t surprise me. But what he said next turned me cold inside.
He had gone to the basement where he kept his tools and handyman supplies (he was the maintenance man for that building and several others), frantically searching for the lost money, and found it down there. The basement was right below his apartment, where I sensed something emanating from during the night of my mushroom experience. The money, he said, flew out his hand as if ripped away. Then he felt two presences in the room, God and Satan, fighting for his soul. When it was over, the money lay on the cold concrete floor. He grabbed it and drove over to my place.
I know that people can manifest things in their lives to overcome. They can create battles for their souls. Addicts’ lives are full of drama, and hallucinations even when stone-cold sober are known to happen. In a related way, shamans sometimes discover their abilities out of need because something ails them and conventional treatment doesn’t work. I know someone who became a shaman because the other choice was a short life of physical misery. In a similar way, addicts set up experiences that make them want to get better, sometimes very perilous experiences that bring them close to death. But I did not detect anything in Matt that would lead me to believe he had made his inner drama an outer one. No, I think his drama with crack led to an intervention of the supernatural kind.
I wouldn’t draw that conclusion based solely on what he told me about the battle for his soul, or even on my mushroom trip at his place. Because you see, the battle didn’t end that day; it continued for as long as Matt was hooked. He had done all sorts of other drugs, but none of them made him into a different, darker person like crack. I started to see the changes; sensed the thing beneath his apartment and the oppressiveness of the neighborhood; sensed my friend slipping away. I prayed about it and felt convicted in my heart to do something.
Soon after, I was given a beautiful, sunny day to go find my bro. He worked odd hours and could disappear for weeks at a time, but on this day I pulled up in front of his apartment and there he was on the front steps. After chillin’ for a bit, talking about whatever, I told him there really was a battle going on for his soul, and God was acting strongly to save him. It didn’t matter what he believed in, all he had to do was sincerely pray for help and it would come. Matt had seen me change from raging alcoholic to got-my-shit-together dude, and because I had been there at the bottom where he was, he respected me, and I respected him.
As we talked, I suddenly heard, “Cut that shit out right now.” I turned to see an old black man glare at me then look away as if he wasn’t talking to us, but there wasn’t anyone else around for him to talk to, and his words cut right to the heart of our conversation. Derelicts of all sorts prowled the neighborhood. This guy though could have walked right out the movie Angel Heart. He looked like bad news, and I knew he was there to try to stop me from saving my friend. The man said something else which I don’t remember and hung around in the background – it was a public area and we couldn’t stop him. His presence rattled me some, but I spoke my heart to Matthew and know he listened. It was the best I could do.
Sometime after that, Matt’s living situation changed and he got out of the neighborhood and away from crack, but was never far, if you know what I mean: A part of it and his experiences there went with him wherever he went. And with me, too.
Bob was a homeless guy in my college neighborhood who seemed to be protected by God. I know how that sounds – I’m not the type to see God in everything, but my time with Bob was meaningful in so many ways, and there were so many coincidences, I can’t explain it a better way. Knowing Bob (maybe “experiencing” is a better verb) was like one of those Old Testament stories about angels who walk among us in disguise. Except Bob was an ornery, dirty, sodden heap of a man who could say the meanest things one moment and the sweetest things the next. He was no angel.
Bob had the face of a prize fighter who took too many beatings. During the course of ten years that I knew him, I saw him with bruises and abrasions more times than I can count. Blackened eyes. Busted lips. Nasty cuts. A permanent dent ran across the bridge of his nose – a nose lumpy like a garlic bulb and riddled with broken capillaries. Heavy brows sprouted wild hairs, half-concealing his eyes. Dark gray hair, oily and thick, barely hinted at the rich brown it once was.
I first heard about Bob when he was referred to as “Vietnam Dave” by people in the neighborhood, known by that name because he was a Vietnam vet, two combat tours in the Marines, and it summed up why he lived on the streets. His full name is David Robert Willis. He called himself The Duke and liked to imitate John Wayne – his shtick Whenever Bob pulled out The Duke imitation, his next play was for the change in your pocket. It worked on me many times.
That’s how we met. Bob did his impression, maybe told a raunchy joke, and asked for some change. I fished in my pocket and gave him what I had.
Bob lived in the great wide open concrete jungle surrounding the University of Cincinnati, an area peppered with fast food joints, bars, shops and convenience stores. I’d find him asleep on bus stop benches, sidewalks, door stoops. He peed wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, though unless he was staggering drunk he’d usually find a private corner. He sometimes reeked of urine. A few times I noticed long wet stains on his jeans. And more than a few times I saw him taken away in a police car. He’d disappear for weeks, sometimes months, but always returned to the fertile ground where the city and the university met.
Despite all his misfortune Bob was the luckiest man alive, if you count being alive as lucky. He walked with the Grim Reaper always at his side checking the time and saying, “For crying out loud, how many times can one person dodge me?” Bob would down a few half-pints of Wild Irish Rose – called “shorties” in street lingo – he’d buy with the change he panhandled, then go careening through multiple lanes of traffic. One memorable time I witnessed him buy a shorty, down it in one swig, smash the glass bottle on the sidewalk right next to a trash can, then hurl himself across the street through heavy traffic – and somehow find a seam between moving vehicles. We’re talking about one of the busiest roads in the city, rush hour, in front of a bus stop where buses passed twenty times an hour and impatient drivers barreled through traffic.
The convenience store clerk who sold Bob the wine told me she had seen him heedlessly part traffic like that so many times, she was convinced an angel watched over him. That day she’d sold him 20 shorties and finally cut him off. That’s why he busted the bottle: he was mad about being told no. He staggered down the street to the next convenience store.
Bob was a willful person. He didn’t have to live on the streets – he had a veteran’s pension, maybe collected disability – but chose it as part of his lifestyle. He drank away his pension checks within days after they arrived at a tavern he used as a mailing address, then the rest of the month he relied on handouts. I remember hearing about homeless guys in Paris who made the same choice to live on the streets. They could get an apartment paid for by the government. They chose not to, like Bob.
His willful dark side popped out when Bob had been drinking a lot, and Bob always drank a lot – except when he couldn’t afford it. There were plenty of rainy days and holidays when the streets were mostly empty and the people tighter with their pocket change. I’d see him wandering the streets like a plastic bag blowing in the wind, looking for someone to hit up. One day I encountered him stalking a man on the street who had refused his request for money, cursing, “Come back here you fucking nigger!” I heard him from a distance and quickly closed in.
“Bob!” I said forcefully, “what the hell do you think you are doing? Get out of here. Go!” I pointed down the street, away from the man he cursed at, a well-dressed administrator from the university on his lunch break. Probably an assistant dean. Late 20s. Athletic. Dark-skinned. Bob shambled off in the direction I pointed, and the young man, accompanied by an attractive woman his age, was happy to escape the crazy homeless dude.
I followed them from a distance as they headed back to campus, an uneasy feeling in my gut. The guy suddenly turned around to go find Bob, presumably. He’d had enough time to process the incident and get pissed off. Maybe having the young lady with him made it especially galling to be harassed by a street person. I said to him, “I saw what happened back there and think you did the right thing by walking away. Beating him up won’t do any good.”
The guy fumed, “What right does he have to say that to me? He wants money? Here, I got money!” He pulled his wallet out from his suit pants and grabbed some singles. “I’ll stuff it down his fucking pie hole!”
“You did the right thing,” I said sort of meekly. “Don’t mess it up now.” Realizing that his lunch hour was almost over, the guy put his wallet away and hurried across the street with his girl before the traffic light changed.
Another odd encounter with Bob took place on the morning of a final exam. I walked through a slim sidewalk that shortcut between rows of four-story buildings to get to campus for the exam, and heard noises back in an area where one of the businesses kept trash. There, on a smelly, shadowy, debris-strewn stretch of sidewalk, Bob swept up the mess with a broom. It was early December, a bright, cold morning when at 7:30 the sunlight still has a brittle, blue quality and your breath turns instantly to ice crystals. Why Bob swept the mess, I don’t know. Maybe he was clearing a space to sleep, or a local business hired him to do odd jobs. I think he just felt like doing a good deed.
Another time with Bob I’m pretty sure I was used by his Maker to look out for him. I gave him money sometimes but didn’t always have it to spare. My pockets were empty that day. I walk down a sidewalk across from the university and see Bob reclined on some steps against the emergency exit of a local business. He looks bad. Deep scrapes score his face. His eye resembles a bruised cherry. His head hung between his knees. He looks up at me as I walk nearby and asks if I can spare some change. I look down at the sidewalk and, kid you not, saw a wad of one-dollar bills. People walked by, avoiding the dirty, drunk man with a face like a scary mask. A strong breeze blew through the busy city street. And there was a wad of money.
I handed it to Bob. I’ll never forget his gratitude – to him I was a savior. He grabbed my hand and pulled me in close, creating a bit of an awkward moment, but I’d seen Bob around enough by that time to be receptive to him instead of afraid or disgusted. As our faces came close together I saw he’d been crying. With misery and tenderness he asked me:
“Do you think God hates me because I’m a fag?”
I’d never seen Bob act remotely homosexual, but as soon as he asked, it made sense. Bob had his demons, and his devils, and his shame. Too many thoughts crowded my mind simultaneously for me to say exactly what was in my heart, but I managed a reply. “God doesn’t hate anyone, Bob. You are made exactly as you are supposed to be.”
I found out more about Bob’s background as the years went by and my encounters with him piled up. One night while walking home from a grocery store I saw him sitting on a park bench. With nowhere in particular to be, I plopped down next to him and gave him a cigarette. It was one of those nights when the stars can be seen through the city lights and it feels like the sky is trying to say something profound. Seeing Bob on that bench at that moment just made sense. He started talking like I was meant to be there to hear him. I know I was meant to be there.
“I helped build that building,” he told me, pointing to one of the older university buildings. “Worked on the construction crew that built it. This was after I got back from ‘Nam. Made good money. Had benefits. The school gave my daughter free tuition because I worked for them. Then during Christmas break she was driving home to where our family is from. She stayed over at a motel, and someone raped and murdered her in her room.” Bob’s voice broke like his heart when he lost his daughter. I heard his pain. Hell, I felt it too. Tears moistened his eyes. “I was never the same after that. Why bother?”
Bob lost the will to live after his daughter died. David Robert Willis became Vietnam Dave, another casualty of the war at home. He blamed himself for his daughter’s death because he reasoned that she wouldn’t have been in the situation that led to her murder if she wasn’t attending the university where he got her free tuition. After he was done talking I gave him a dollar and had to hurry home before my frozen goods melted.
One encounter with Bob sticks out among all of them. The time when he followed me into a laundromat. Sometimes Bob would see me on the street and join me like nobody’s business, just two old pals sharing a laugh. He always wanted something, and I didn’t mind. I was comfortable telling him no, or yes.
On this day what Bob was after was heat. The sauna-like warmth of the laundromat contrasted starkly with the fall chill outside. When the clerk saw Bob with me, the ‘get the hell out of here’ look froze on her face. Bob followed me over to the washers, small-talking, and spotted his paradise: an empty row of plastic chairs where he could recline against a dryer and heat up his old bones. He walked over there and noticed a bulletin board plastered with faded pictures – most of them three decades old – of patrons of the laundromat. He said excitedly, “Hey, that’s me!”
He reached for a picture and pulled it out from among the hundreds of faces. It showed a young man with deep brown wavy hair swooped up off his forehead, a ready smile, happiness in his eyes. I couldn’t believe at first it was Bob because the guy in the picture looked nothing like him, but thirty years of living on the streets had chiseled him down a layer at a time. The more I looked at the eyes of the guy in the picture, though, the more I saw Bob.
It’s how I choose to remember him. I wish I still had that picture – kept it for many years and lost it, but I still remember the smiling face of a young man with his life ahead of him, and wonder might have been different if he hadn’t known hell, first in the jungles of Vietnam, then in the jungles of America. Knowing Bob, aka The Duke, made me see the world differently. We are all just people. Appearances don’t change what we are inside. Everyone deserves our sympathy, our kindness.
Bob is the homeless guy who changed me. God bless him.
Ah, the simple cockroach. No other common insect sparks such disgust. Just the sight of one can send people running for their lives. Well, have I got a story (actually two) for you. If you are squeamish, you might want to grab something to barf in before reading further.
I used to work as a waiter at a Westin Hotel. Nice place. Downtown location. Busy, busy restaurant. You will be glad to know that the hotel restaurant is now closed, but I warn you, something like what I’m about to tell you could happen anywhere. First to set the scene:
The restaurant sprawled over a huge open floor plan in an atrium near the central entrance to the hotel, around 85-90 tables total. It was theater season, two weeks before Christmas, and “Cats” was playing, bringing out the high society crowd and culture vultures like children to get a photo with Santa. The hotel was two blocks from the theater and had an underground parking garage, so it seemed like EVERYONE going to the show dropped by our place beforehand. Every night for the past few weeks the restaurant had been slammed by people catching a meal before the show.
It sucked. I mean, the service staff made great money, but no amount of money is worth the shellacking we went through. There was no amount of preparation that could stave off the absolute chaos. Twenty years later I still dream about looking out at the 7, 8 or 9 tables in my service section and watching them all fill up at once. 0 to 10,000 MPH in seconds. Experienced restaurant servers might wonder how the hell one person can be expected to take care of as many 40 diners at once, who all sit down within minutes of each other and are all in a hurry to eat and get to the show, yet want a full meal with drinks, appetizers, desserts.
Welcome to the Westin.
The staff was unionized and made about a dollar-and-a-half more an hour in wages than typical restaurant servers, so the hotel hired fewer servers and expected more work out of the ones they had. Not a bad deal most of the time. The service staff were experienced and could usually handle the traffic. But on theater nights no one no matter how fast and efficient could keep up, because we just didn’t have enough workers.
So now to really paint the scene and get around to the roach part. I had four little old ladies in my section, all dressed in their best for a pleasant night at the theater – the sort of elderly ladies who give grandmas a good name. They had arrived just before the rush so I managed to get their orders taken and drinks on the table before the bomb dropped. I was taking care of like eight tables at once and knew that some diners were going to leave angry at the slow service, but as a server in that situation you have to make hard, practical decisions. It’s like if you have two children both drowning and can only save one. Which do you pick? As a server, you guessed which tables were most likely to leave the best tips and focused on delivering a good experience for them. The others got the leftovers. This happens all the time in busy restaurants and bars. I figured I’d make some bank off the old ladies so I made sure they were taken care of, no hitches.
It comes around time to bring out their dinner entrees and I’m back in the kitchen at the food line. I stack four heavy plates on a large oval tray along with drinks, a bread basket, side dishes, condiments. By this point I am hot, sweaty devil, and the previous night’s alcohol binge is catching up with me like a flu bug. The only way to survive going through hell every night is to drink very large quantities of alcohol afterward. It was taking its toll on me that moment when I heaved a 25-pound load up onto one arm and launched out into the dining room, grabbing a tray jack along the way.
At the ladies’ table I set up the jack and place the bread basket on the table before putting down the big oval tray. The table is in the middle of a dining area as busy as a beehive, surrounded by many dozens of customers at their tables. Just as I’m setting down the heavy tray on the jack, all four of the ladies jump back from their table at once, aghast.
Looking over my shoulder, I see them staring at something on the table. It took a second to spot it: an inch-long roach, the skinny kind with the long antennas, pinballing off the glasses, sugar caddy, and other stuff on the crowded table.
What do you as a waiter in that situation? Before I even got the tray down I could already see the reaction spreading through the dining area as people turned to get a look at the excitement. I did the best thing I could think of: grabbed a salt shaker and crushed the frantic roach right there on top of the table. One quick stomping motion, a little twist to make sure it was dead, then grab some pink Sweet ‘n Low packs and wipe up the guts as I try to make light of the situation.
It’s funny that I forget now what I did with the roach after crushing it, but I do remember that my manager walked by at that moment as if by design. He had just come from another part of the restaurant and hadn’t noticed the commotion. You can imagine the brief conversation that took place: “Uh, yeah, I just crushed a cockroach that sped out of the bread basket like an escaping prisoner, and you might want to talk to the ladies here while I quietly have a nervous breakdown.” I think I then handed him the dead roach wrapped in a bev nap and said good luck.
Mind you, at that moment I still have to serve the food and grab another round of drinks, then hurry on to the other tables that need me. In the restaurant business those moments are known as “in the weeds,” except in this case the weeds were ten feet tall and rumored to eat large animals. I think maybe the manager came along at just the right moment to prevent what happened next from occurring in the dining area.
After getting the food down on the table I left the manager and raced back to the kitchen. Drinks had to be refilled. Glasses of wine had to be grabbed at the service bar. Other tables needed me. So much to do. I arrived at the ice bin with a glass in hand, looked at the frozen cubes, so cold while I was so hot, sweat-soaked, nauseous, flushing, my pulse thumping in my skull. My vision started blacking out, and all I could think to do was to stick my head as deep into the ice as I possibly could.
Which I did.
Relief! It felt indescribably good to pack the top half of my head in that ice. I think I managed to get my whole noggin into the bin for a few seconds before someone noticed. What a sight that must have been! The manager ended up taking over all of my tables for the next ten minutes as I recovered in the back of the restaurant. And the ladies got a free meal. They left a nice tip.
Oh, and I kept that pillar-style salt shaker for years afterward as a memento.
But it doesn’t end there, because I have another roach story that, depending on your taste, might be even sicker. If you haven’t barfed yet, just wait.
A lot of my mid-20s was wasted doing what some young men spend a lot of time doing at that age: hunting for marijuana to buy. One night while on a weed hunt I went with a contact to a row house I’d walked passed hundreds of times but never really noticed. Inside, two women sat on old couches. They were watching something on television when my contact and I dropped by looking for their nephew, the weed dealer. He wasn’t there, but the women said he was supposed to be back soon and invited us to wait. So we did.
There I am sitting on a dingy couch, its floral upholstery pattern obscured under layers of funk, the television belching out reality-show inanity, the minutes dripping by, surrounded by reminders everywhere that the 1980s really happened. The sun had just gone down. I look around the dimly lit place and notice a dark mass of something about halfway up the living room wall behind the couch I am sitting on. My brain can’t quite process what I am seeing. At first I thought it could be some kind of wall art. But it moved. It writhed and wriggled like worms in a can. It was alive!
It was a mass of several hundred cockroaches that had made a nest on the wall
The central mass was about as big around as a large turtle, just thick with wiggly, crawly roaches. The heart of it was apparently where the nasty things procreated, I’m guessing by the orgy going on there. Roach on top of roach on top of roach on top of roach, all trying to fuck each other or feed their young or something. Roaches zigged and zagged into the central mass and burst out of it, with at least twenty of the gross little bitches coming and going at all times.
Seeing something like that is like walking in on your parents having sex. For the first moment your mind just can’t fully comprehend it. Was I really seeing a roach orgy going on a few feet above and behind me?
When I felt one of the roaches crawl over the exposed skin of my hand, I knew for sure, no denying it. No “I’m just seeing things.” I was really sitting in a house with two old ladies, my buddy the weed connection, and several hundred cockroaches visible on the wall.
I didn’t go any further into the house, so I can only imagine what their kitchen looked like. But what I saw in that living was the sickest thing I’ve ever. Roaches on the ceiling. Roaches on the tables. Roaches swarming over old fast food bags and the like. Roaches running over the house’s occupants, who acted like they didn’t even notice. Didn’t. Even. Notice. That’s how used to the roaches they were. I mean, they invited us in to sit down with them without thinking that the living room was a roach motel and people off the street might be a bit, uh, appalled.
As much as I wanted some weed, it wasn’t worth waiting around in Motel Roach a moment longer. I have endured some sketchy situations in the pursuit of bud, but everyone has their limit…except the people living in that house.