Friday, May 11, 2007

A Brush with the Paranormal

Some strange things have happened to me in my day. I remember camping with a bunch of buddies when I was about 18 years old, and long after everybody else had gone to bed, Foley and I were the last two awake, sitting around the camp fire, drinking a few beers, decidedly not singing Save The Last Dance For Me by The Drifters (another entry all together, probably with some title to the effect of: 'Top 5 hilariously destructive things you can do while under the influence'). It had been awhile since any of us had said anything, and I was beginning to get a little tired. And I said as much to Foley. I said, "Man, I just got really tired. It must be close to three o'cl-" at which point Foley's watch made that annoying beep-beep sound, signalling that it was exactly three o'clock.

I have never owned nor worn a watch in my entire life (with the exception of the Ronald McDonald watch I received for three years of service at McDonalds which we definitely don't need to talk about). Not necessarily a huge deal, but it seemed impressive at the time.

About a year and a half ago, we were at the Edleman's on Christmas night. The Edleman's are great people. They are friends of my parents, and they are epic partiers. To give you an example of how much fun they are, one New Year's morning, while sitting hungover around my parents' kitchen table, I asked Uncle Johnny what his New Year's resolution was going to be for this year. He looked at me and, with complete seriousness, said: "I am going to have a drink every day this year". Sure enough, fast forward 365 days, and again we are sitting around my parents' kitchen table, hungover on New Year's morning. I reminded Johnny of his resolution from the previous year, and I inquired as to his steadfastness to this pledge. And he proudly told me that 'yes', he had indeed had a drink every day that year. Multiple drinks, in fact. "Wow" I said. "That's impressive. Exactly how do you plan on topping that resolution?". He again looked at me with that same expression of complete sincerity and said: "I am going to get a blowjob every day this year"... I wasn't present the following New Year's morning to verify whether or not he had kept his promise, but if I were a betting man...

But of course, though this be far from ordinary, I wouldn't exactly classify it as paranormal. What was paranormal, however, was that Christmas night a year and a half ago. My family has a long and storied tradition of making a complete mockery of Christmas. We call it "ruining Christmas", and it is a kind of right of passage, being the one to destroy the sanctity of the holiday for the ones you love. It began with my Grandfather (after a few wee whiskeys during the annual Christmas Eve tour of the neighbourhood) falling off the loft in the garage while attempting to retrieve the presents for his immigrant children, in the process breaking numerous ribs and setting the bar at an impressive height. That tradition was surpassed by my father who once had far too many beverages at work on Christmas Eve and ended up hitch hiking to the wrong church. I'm not exactly sure where he ended up for most of the night, but I'm pretty sure my mom had to wrap all of the presents and hang all of the stockings on her own, trying to convince her children that daddy was helping Santa with the reindeer. She wasn't exactly in a festive kind of mood when my old man eventually got home. And then of course there was myself who, rather than going home for the traditional Christmas Eve of shrimp rings and sausage rolls and Chevy Chase by the fire with my family, one year decided that it would be a good idea to stay at the party I wasn't entirely invited to, eventually arriving home somewhere around 3 in the morning where I slept in the basement and woke in the middle of the night, not to go make sure Santa had safely made it down the chimney, but instead to vomit violently into my sleeping bag (which I had to hide in a corner of the basement for a number of days before ultimately throwing into a dumpster. Sorry mom.). It was on that morning that my sister declared that I had ruined Christmas, the torch having been graciously passed on.

The point of this little anecdote is that, as my family got older, we decided to ruin Christmas together, as one big happy family, by going to the Edleman's every Christmas night to get completely annihilated on beer and Grand Marnier and any other intoxicants that may have been present. It had become our tradition. So it was on one of these nights that someone busted out a deck of cards, and began trying to do card tricks. Of course, when you are as intoxicated as we were, such novelties invariably fail. Thinking it would be funny to get in on the action, I picked up the deck of cards and, without looking, declared: "Ace of Spades", cutting the deck in half and drunkenly holding up... the Ace of Spades.

'What were the chances?' I openly pondered, astounded at my penchant for 'magic'. 'One in a thousand? One in a million?' "I think they're about one in fifty-two" Foley said, "not including jokers".

OK, not exactly George Noory material, I understand, but still... It was pretty fucked up at the time.

And then of course there was the incident with the disappearing-reappearing $50 bill in Buenos Aires, for which I still have absolutely no explanation.

And sometimes I have these weird premonitions. Like when we first moved into the place we're currently living. We have the second and third floors of a house in little Italy, and we were watching Sandra's friend's cat for a week. Sandra was off at work, and I was being the ultimate bachelor by hanging around the house in nothing but my boxers, deciding to make myself a can of Chili for dinner at 10 o'clock at night. I opened the can, poured it into the pot, and put the heat on high, deciding that I'd better toss the can directly into the recycling bin, seeing as it was recycling day the following morning. I walked downstairs in my boxers, and remembering that I couldn't let the cat out, I closed the door to within a quarter inch of snapping shut. The door locks automatically. As I did this, I laughed to myself and thought, 'wow, there couldn't possibly be a worse time for me to lock myself out than right now. I'm in my underwear, I have no phone, no keys, Sandra's at work, the stove is on, and there is an animal in my care. And it is November'. Did I mention that I was wearing nothing but boxer shorts?

Of course, you know where this is going. As soon as I pulled open the front porch door, the air suction snapped my automatically locking door shut, leaving me with no option but to scale the wall of my new house in a neighbourhood in which I know precisely zero of my neighbours, wearing nothing but my underwear in November, and forcibly enterring the premises by way of jarring open a window from my balcony, all in an attempt to keep the place from catching fire because I had the heat on as high as it would go. For the record, the chili was fantastic. And the cat was fine. But there was that inexplicable moment of premonition...

And then there was this unfortunate moment of premonition...

And I can't tell you how many times I've had a song stuck in my head for no discernible reason, only to eventually turn on the radio at some point and have that very song playing, and at the exact part of the song that has been repeatedly playing in my head for the duration of the day, no less.

All of these things can probably be explained in some way or another. Coincidence is the easy one. A memory that projects backwards, making it seem like I had a particular song stuck in my head all day, when really this is the first time the thought has crossed my mind, and it's crossing my ming because I'm hearing the song at that very moment.

The fact that I am a complete idiot is another explanation. Of course it would occur to me to save my work, or to make sure the door doesn't lock behind me when I'm in my underwear and the stove is on high, because really, why wouldn't those things occur to you; the only reason those thoughts stand out is because I was idiot enough not to act on them.

And then there's that whole theory of lives having been previously lived, and deja vu, and your dreams being able to give a vague insight into the future... And then there's the theory of infinity, and the idea that if our galaxy actually is infinite, than there must be infinite planets just like this one that we're currently living on, where everything is exactly the same, right down to the very last molecule, execpt that in that particular world that is like ours in every regard, the idiot typing away at his identical and equally unread blog has spelled the word 'idiot' wrong... but aside from that one difference, every thing else on that planet is exactly the same... Yes, too many late nights tuned into Coast to Coast AM, I know.

But none of those explanations account for what happened to me tonight. I've been trying to figure out the odds on this, and they have to be approximately ten trillion to one. Let me set the scene.

I have a home office. In this office, I have countless books on multiple shelves, old binders full of notes from university, an old van seat that I read in, a big floor lamp sitting on my desk for better light... I also have a bunch of framed photos of me and my buddies. All of the photos of me and my girlfriend are in the living room, but the pics of me and my pals are in my office. Maybe its because she doesn't want them in the rooms where we entertain, but I like to think its because I do all of my creative work in my office, and truth be told, most of my creative ideas come from my friends. Any characters you read about in my fiction are invariably based on the characters I know in real life. For better or worse. This is how I work. All writing is biographical in some way or another, and this is how mine is. That isn't the point.

The point is, about three months ago, I was going through some old photos, looking for some old snaps I have of a deteriorating Asbury Park. In the process of going through these old photos, I found a classic picture of me and my buddy Nate. It was about 6 years ago, and we were up at Skeeter's cottage in Kincardine. It was the middle of winter, there was about 5 feet of snow on the ground, and there was nothing to do up there but to drink massive quantities of alcohol and listen to Sly and the Family Stone albums on a beat up old record player. This is how we passed the entire weekend, and it was grand. Anyway, a picture was taken of Nate and I. It is well after midnight, and we are both drinking Jameson straight up. Nate is in the foreground, drinking Jameson from a white teacup. He has lost a considerable amount of weight since this particular photo was taken. Good on you, Nate. I am sitting beside Nate, wearing a Queen's Golden Gales hat turned backwards, drinking Jameson out of a juice glass. We are not enjoying our beverages. In fact, you might say that we look completely miserable.

It is one of the best photographs I have. There is no photograph that captures the essence of that particular weekend quite like this photograph. I love this photograph so much, in fact, that I took it out of the box of photographs I have and placed it on my shelf, intending to get an appropriate frame for it. It is my favourite picture of Nate and I. That photograph has stood, unframed, in the same place on my shelf for more than three months.

When the weather started getting nice about two weeks ago, I opened the window in my office. It is only cracked open by three inches. I opened the window three inches two weeks ago, and this is how it has remained. Completely untouched. Sometimes a gentle breeze blows through the room, rustling the papers on my desk. It is lovely. I can smell the lilacs in the backyard.

I was doing some work tonight. This is what I do on Friday nights. Sandra works Friday nights, and I have the place to myself. I usually buy a large Starbucks coffee at about 8 o'clock, and I work into the wee hours of the morning. These are my favourite hours of the week. This is what I love to do. (If you want to know what I'm talking about and why I might choose to stay in on a Friday night, read this brilliant article by David Gilmour) And this is what I was doing tonight. Editing a long work of fiction I have been working on for the better part of four years.

As I mentioned earlier, most of the characters I write about are based on the people I know. My friends are characters. There is no denying this fact. I had been working in my office, with the window open (as it had been for two weeks) and the picture of me and Nate sitting on my shelf (as it had been for three months). I had been working for more than two hours. I was on page 8 of 30 of the particular document I am currently working on. In the second paragraph on the 8th page, the topic of discussion in this particular work of fiction is photographs on a refrigerator.

I always write in the first person. This is what I do. I am not necessarily the character in question, but I write in the first person, so it often comes across to people that it is, in fact, me that I'm writing about. But this is not the case. In any event.

As I was editing this particular paragraph about photographs on a refrigerator, I came to the sentance which read:

"One of my favorites was a shot of myself and Sweet Nate -"

- and I swear on everything sacred in the world that at the exact moment that I read the words 'Sweet Nate', I heard something fall off my shelf. When I turned to see what it was, the photograph of me and Nate (the obvious inspiration for the character 'Sweet Nate') was lying face up on the floor.

Is this affecting you as much as it affected me?

I could not possibly make this up. I stopped everything that I was doing and just stared at the photograph. I stared at the photograph, then I stared at my computer, and the cursor bar was blinking at the end of the word 'Nate'. That was more than two hours ago, and I swear to God the cursor bar is still blinking at the end of that word (I am now typing on my laptop, slightly afraid of what might happen if I try to use my desktop). I have absolutely no explanation as to how or why this happened. After two minutes of wondering whether or not I was actually dead and having an out of body experience, I called Nate's cellular phone. I didn't know what I was going to say to him, but I felt like I needed to talk to him. I got his answering machine, and for a not-insignificant-amout of time, I found myself wondering whether or not something bad had happened to him (he has since called me back. He was at the movies and had his phone turned off. He paid good money to see "Blades of Glory", so I guess something bad did happen to him).

I don't know what to make of any of this. Out of everything that has happened to me in my life, I think this might be the strangest. I felt like I needed to write this down, or else I might convince myself that it hadn't happened at all. But it did. And I don't know what to think.