The case of the haunted cassettes

We magicians are a hugely varied lot. We come in all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities, proclivities and anything else you can think of. In fact, we seem to have only two things in common. One, of course, is we’re all skilled and shameless liars. The other is we do not, to a man or woman, believe in psychic phenomena.

When I say we don’t believe in psychic phenomena, I mean all of it. ESP, telekinesis, numerology, astrology, past life regressions, crystal healing, precognition — you name it, we don’t believe it. Why is that? Simple. If those purported results can be faked, can be duplicated by physical (as opposed to metaphysical) means, or can’t be reproduced under strict scientific scrutiny, the odds are overwhelming they’re bogus.

This not to say psychic phenomena don’t exist. They may. But there’s never been any actual proof. Which ultimately doesn’t mean tiddly-doo, since thems what believes in it, will continue to believe in it — scientific objectivity and double-blind studies be damned.

Me, I’m a full-fledged member of the non-believer camp. And it’s not like I haven’t put in my time with The Wonderful World of Alternative Realities, because I — like every other goober who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s — sure did.

I checked them all out. The Bermuda Triangle, the miracle waters of Lourdes, Jeane Dixon (the psychic who predicted JFK’s death, kinda sorta, and mostly after the fact), pyramid power, Carlos Castaneda’s Yaqui yackety-yack, and bringing up the rear, literally, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s levitations.

And if that ain’t enough for ya, how’s about Kriswell’s predictions, Uri Geller’s machinations, Brazilian and Philippino psychic surgeons, ghosts, numerology, and the rest — ad bunkum. I saw them come and go, saw them exposed and debunked, and decided I’d reserve judgment on all extraordinary claims about everything till validated by reputable authorities and objective testing. Of course, the odds of that ever happening are the same as ever seeing faith healers working their “miracles” in hospitals, where the truly sick people are.

But, still, I try to keep an open mind. And that open-mindedness turned my head cross-wise last week, when I had what seemed like an adventure into The Spirit World.

Beware of Silver Foxes bearing gifts

It all started with a call from my pal JJ, the Silver Fox.

“Hey,” he said, “you still listen to old rock and roll, don’t you?”

“Never listen to anything else,” I said. “Why you ask?”

“Remember my friend Joe?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Well, he had a huge collection of vinyl rock and roll which he put on cassettes. Then he had the cassettes put on CDs, and he gave me the cassettes.”

“Yeah, so?” I said.

“So I’ve had ’em for a couple of years, never listened to ’em, and all they’ve done is gather dust in my basement.”

“What a waste,” I said.

“Exactly what I think,” he said. “So I’m looking for someone to give ’em to and I thought of you.”

“Ah, Grasshopper,” I said, “you thought of the right guy.”

And for sure he had. There were 30 cassettes — all pure gold, meticulously labeled and preserved. I felt like I’d won the lottery, only better.

I pored over the tapes and decided the next day I’d take a cruise in my whip and blast tunes to my heart’s content.

Amazingly, the next day the weather gods cooperated. The crappy weather broke, the sun shone in the bright blue sky and the temperature rose to glorious heights. I was in my car with my cassettes in their case, God was in His heaven, and all was right with the world.

This was going to be a new treat for me. Having gotten sick of my same old tapes and CDs, I hadn’t listened to any music in my car since I couldn’t remember when.

I fired up my car, stuck a cassette in the player, hit Play, and peeled off in the sunshine. And when I did, I had a huge surprise: The music was not rock and roll — it was gospel!

OK, no biggie. I can listen to gospel, which I did … for a while. Then it was time to kick out the jambs. I took the cassette out of the player, put another one in and punched it up. And — hells bells — it was also gospel.

I pulled that one out and put in one labeled British Invasion, and dipped if that wasn’t also gospel.

I mulled it over, having no idea what was going on. Finally, I figured it out. JJ’s friend Joe is a priest. A hip, muy cool priest, but a priest nonetheless. So his having a gospel collection and somehow putting a tape in the wrong case made perfect sense.

But then something else happened that made no sense whatsoever. I pulled out the tape, tossed it on the seat, and when I did, the gospel music kept playing.

“The hell!” I yelled.

What was going on? Was there a dybbuk in my tape player? Was my car haunted? Was Father Joe working some fiendish Missionary Mojo in a sinister plot to convert me?

I turned off the cassette player and vowed never to turn it on again. If this truly was a message from The Great Beyond, I’d heard all I ever wanted. Or so I thought, because I hadn’t counted on the power of the subconscious.

Saints alive!

That night, deep asleep, I heard music … faint at first, but becoming louder. Then I heard singing. It was a woman’s voice, but I didn’t know the song. I listened some more and finally recognized it as sacred music of some sort, but that’s all I could figure out.

Then a figure in white appeared. It was a woman and she was the singer.

I stared at her for a while, and then, due to my hobby of hagiography, realized it was Saint Cecilia. I knew she was a virgin saint and martyr from the third century who is also the patron saint of music and musicians, but had no idea why she was paying me a visit in the middle of the night.

She quit singing.

“Lovely song,” I said. “I don’t recognize it.”

“Wouldn’t expect you to,” she said. “It was popular a bit before your time.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to help you out,” she said.

“With what?”

“With the problem you were having with your cassettes,” she said.

“How’d you know about that?” I said.

She just smiled and shrugged.

“Besides,” I said, “don’t you have more important things to do than deal with me and my cassettes?”

“Slow time,” she said. “What with winter over, everyone in the Northeast is pretty mellow.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Except me and my damned tapes, pardon the French.”

“Which is why I’m here,” she said, “to help you solve the mystery.”

“And how do I do that?” I asked.

“Simple,” she said. “PBS.”

“PBS?” I said. “Public Broadcasting System?”

“No,” she said. “Push Button, Stupid.”

“Button?” I said. “What button?”

“The one on your tape deck that says ‘Eject.'”

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“You don’t have to,” she said. “Just do as you’re told, shnook.”

“But, but, but,” I stammered, having more questions.

Before I could ask them, she and the music faded away, leaving me wide awake and having no idea what just transpired. But rather than waste time trying to figure anything out, I did what she said. I threw on my sweats, went out to the car, got in the driver’s seat. Then I hit the eject button on the tape player and — Lo and Behold! — out popped a tape.

I looked at it. It was Volume 5 of The World’s Greatest Gospel.

I looked at it a bit and then realized what had happened.

Several months ago I’d lent my car to a friend. He’d obviously put that tape in the player, forgot it, and it’d been sitting in there, untouched, ever since. When I’d put the rock tapes in the car, they didn’t play, but the gospel one (which was already in there) did. I was just too oblivious to figure it out. And I would’ve stayed oblivious if St. Cecilia hadn’t visited me in my dream.

So how do I, a hardcore unbeliever, feel about being rescued in a dream — by a Christian martyr, no less?

I feel perfectly fine and I’ll tell you why.

My skepticism, cynicism, anti-mysticism aside, if I’ve learned nothing else in my time on Terra, I’ve learned this: I need all the help I can get.


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