Friday, July 24, 2009

Phone Booth Psych

I’m not a psychic. I can’t tell your future, give you winning lottery numbers or read your mind. If I could have seen my future, there’s a hell of a lot I would have changed.

It doesn’t work like that, anyway.

We “read” people and situations, relationships, transactions, all of the time. We observe, catalog and track patterns. First and foremost, we learn social survival. How a cry brings mother, a coo produces a smile, a caress, perhaps a little more food. We observe, analyze and produce these strategies before we learn the words and syntax it takes to articulate them.

We learn these transactions first, and far in front of anything else. Have you ever gone out of your way to impress a stranger, only later to wonder why you even bothered trying? This tracks back to our earliest, most primal survival strategies.

Most of what we would label as “psychic” is nothing more than observation and processing.

Still, occasionally, something else is in play – something that appears beyond the five recognized senses.

For example, when Flo and I were first married, we lived in a tiny third-floor apartment with no phone. We would call friends and family from a pay phone on the corner, a couple of blocks away.

One evening, I was looking forward to a chat with my father. I dressed appropriately for the early fall weather, and on my way to the door, a wave of apprehension and anxiety overwhelmed me. I simply could not make myself go out the door.

This was not something commonplace for me. My relationship with Dad was fine, and I was eager to talk to him. Nor did I feel something was wrong with him. I talked about what was happening, with Flo, and experimented with it for the better part of an hour.

If I stated “I’m not going,” I felt immediately relieved. If I tried to leave, the apprehension hit me again. I could not come up with a plausible “why” – just that my visceral response was strong enough to stop me in my tracks. It was all terribly odd, senseless, silly.

Then, as suddenly as it had come over me, the feeling was gone. Not a trace of it left. I shrugged it off, and left to call my father.

Not far from home, I saw the flashing lights of a police car. A little closer, and I saw a car up on the sidewalk, where the outline of the phone booth should have been.

I asked the cop when this had happened, and he told me, about five minutes before, a drunk driver had hopped the curb and plowed through the phone booth. The driver was in the back of the police cruiser, and while I was there, a tow truck arrived to haul the wrecked car off to the impound lot.

I ran home, loaded my camera, and returned just in time to see the car disappear into the horizon. I snapped the photos below, of the smashed phone booth.

Typically, I stood in the phone booth with my back to traffic, phone pressed against one ear and my finger in the other, to block out the city noise. Also typically, Dad and I would have a lively conversation that often lasted more than an hour. The weather was pleasant, I had been in a great mood, and I definitely would have been in the booth when the driver hammered it.

I can’t explain this away by saying I “heard” the crash or the police car unconsciously and somehow processed the data correctly. The crash occurred at the approximate time I felt that wave of relief.

And, to be honest, I probably would not have believed that this sequence played out exactly in the order told above, had it not happened to me.

To run it back, slow it down and try and make it more clear – what I experienced was an intense physical balking, much like a mule that sits down and refuses to budge. The apprehension, the anxiety, were more of a result of that balking than the cause of it.

Events such as this do pique my curiosity – as to just what we are capable of knowing and doing, outside the constraints of ordinary experience and social convention.

It sure would be handy if I could turn this on when I need it. Whatever “it” is, it certainly doesn’t seem to work that way. “It” seems to assert itself before or during a disaster, but not point the way to things happy or positive, indicative of it being a primal survival mechanism. “It” happens to me mostly in dreams, and when it does, events generally play out according to the dream, without any efforts on my part having any effect. Providing, of course, that the obtuse dream symbolism is decipherable at all to my conscious mind – more often than not, the meaning becomes crystal clear ex post facto. And that can be explained by the tendency to morph the ambiguous to fit the specific.

If there is a point here, it is this: the gypsy with the crystal ball, the dude in a turban with intense eyes, the gifts and curses of gods and demons – the way society has stylized the phenomena and trained us to respond to the strange and the unknown – is functionally pointless, and serves generally to set us up for the astute predator.

Still, we are remarkable creatures who have only recently become aware… adrift in a universe of possibility beyond the best efforts of our imagination.

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”


If I’m lucky, if I’m aware, I might occasionally snag an insight that will be useful to me or someone I care for. You might, too.


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