The Local Lens
• Wed, Oct 22, 2014
By Thom Nickels
Whenever Halloween comes around, I think of my old friend Arthur.
Arthur is a poet and a mystic, and in the 1970s he had some very scary visions of the future.
It all started when Arthur was a parochial school student. He would sneak into the church during recess, stand in front of the altar (with rosary beads) and pretend that he was a statue.
"I remember standing like that, arms extended out and frozen in the air, feet planted firmly on the ground as if I was cemented in a pedestal. I didn’t care if anyone walked into church and saw me, although sometimes I got the feeling that one of the nuns was looking at me in the choir loft."
When Arthur was 10 years old he contracted double-pneumonia and almost died. He was hospitalized for weeks. Out of the hospital, he spent a lot of time in his parent’s bed where his mother looked after him. On the bedroom wall in front of him he says he kept seeing the outline of the Little Flower, or Saint Teresa.
"I kept sitting up in bed, convinced that the saint was appearing to me," he said, over coffee in a Dunkin Donuts. "I kept seeing her outline on the wall. As a kid, I never told anyone about this. I didn’t want them to think I was crazy."
Like so many young people, Arthur had become an atheist by his late teens.
"I believed that spirituality and religion were crutches for the weak, for those people who couldn’t face up to the harsh realities of life. I had no time for people who need fairy tales to give their life meaning. You had to find your own meaning in life. That was the challenge."
Life, according to Arthur, was a meaningless affair. The bad and good things that happened to us were just the random arrows of fate. In the end, it meant nothing. When we died, we turned into dust or cabbage. We might as well have never been born.
Life changed for Arthur when he was 22 and working as a bellhop in a fancy Utah ski resort. At the time Arthur was working with another bellhop, a much older fellow who lived in a tent in the mountains and read esoteric spiritual novels. Arthur dubbed his co-worker a loser, especially when he started to talk about the I Ching, a tool used for divination that is originally from the Western Zhou period of China.
"I mean, here’s this weirdo who lives in a tent, a complete career failure as far as I was concerned, someone who had been defeated by life and by life’s demands; here he was telling me what I should read, and acting like he had some special knowledge to impart. The funny thing is, although I hated his lifestyle, I knew that he knew things that were hidden to me, and so that’s why I said yes the day he offered to give me an I Ching reading."
The words of the I Ching startled Arthur: "You are about to experience a great shock, a shock that will change your life as you know it."
Arthur remembers how the words of the reading sent a chill up his spine yet he still dismissed it as "garbage." After all, why take as valid the predictions of a man who can’t even find decent housing?
Arthur says that soon after the reading he made plans to travel back to his home city of Boston, but that as soon as the plane landed at Logan International Airport he knew that he had made a mistake.
"The city seemed bleak and dreary. There was a feeling of unfriendliness in the air. For the first time since leaving home at 18, I felt afraid, really afraid."
Where was this feeling of dread coming from?
Arthur says he stayed with an old girlfriend but that things were not good. Some time earlier he’d been obsessed with her and now that awful feeling was re-emerging. He put off looking for a job because he didn’t know what to look for or where to go.
"I felt as if I was in new skin. It was almost as if on the plane from Utah I had entered The Twilight Zone," he told me.
Luckily, a neighbor found Arthur a job in a book packaging warehouse.
"The job was hell," Arthur remembers. "Between sorting out my feelings for my friend and trying to do what was expected of me at work, I slipped beneath a crevice. Something in me had changed."
Some weeks before Halloween, Arthur says that he began to see and hear things he’s never seen or heard before.
"I was not doing drugs—I’ve never done drugs, but I felt I could see beneath people’s faces and into their character. One night when I was sleeping on my ex-girlfriend’s sofa, I was awakened by her in a panic. The smell of gas was in the air. She said the gas oven had been left on and that when she came in the smell of gas was everywhere. She asked me if I had turned it on and I said no. I would never want to hurt myself or other people."
A little later, he says he began to hear noises from the radiator that seemed to correspond with his thoughts.
"If I thought something in the form of a question, the radiator taps would seem to answer. I’d ask a question, and the radiator would respond."
Things got even stranger when he began to see shadows on the ceiling. They were vague outlines, hooded figures. Arthur says he even got the impression that a person had hung himself in his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom. He says he saw the shadow of the noose in the middle of the door frame.
His ex-girlfriend assumed he was playing an early Halloween joke on her, but when Arthur insisted he was not joking, they agreed that they should separate.
Arthur found a room in the historic home of a famous Civil War abolitionist, Charles Sumner, on Beacon Hill’s Hancock Street. Hancock Street was off the beaten track, on Beacon Hill’s outer edges. When Aurthur lived there in the 1970s, the Sumner house was owned by a widow who lived there with her daughter. They were an odd mother and daughter pair— the mother was polite but distant, but there appeared to be something wrong with the daughter. The girl had a habit of suddenly appearing from behind doorways and then staring at you. She was also eerily quiet with large eyes and a pale face that made you think that she had just gotten over an illness.
Arthur says he was the only roomer in the house at the time. His room was on the second floor and had one window that faced the back lots of a number of Beacon Hill properties. The view from the window also had an old industrial look because he could see parts of a water tower.
"The year was 1974, but the view from that window could have been one from 1875, and on foggy, overcast days I’d get the feeling that I had stepped outside time," he said.
The furnishings in the room included a large antique closet (which looks like it could have been used by Senator Sumner), a lone sink in the corner, an antique dresser and an elaborate bed with a headboard.
Arthur says he’d come home from work every night, hoping that the daughter was locked away doing homework but more often than not he’d catch a glimpse of her walking from one room to another. He’d pick up his mail on the table in the foyer and then head upstairs.
One night, as he lay in bed relaxing, Arthur started to see "stuff on the ceiling," like an image of himself as the reincarnation of his great uncle, who died in 1942. When he saw his grandmother’s face, he was taken aback when her face turned into a wild kaleidoscope of many other faces, her past lives he assumed. Arthur, who prided himself on his atheism, didn’t know what was happening.
Things started to really roll when he envisioned a vase of roses on the mantelpiece, and watched as they swayed in the direction of the one rose that limped or dropped in the opposite direction, as if sick. He watched as the group of roses would come to the sick rose’s rescue, swaying in its direction until they "pulled" it to health with something like a love vibration.
He saw other things, of course, some of them too strange to list here: the coming of AIDS, the shift of the earth’s poles (that some think is happening now), and even visions of crashing airplanes and terrorists.
Today, Arthur is a fairly well adjusted individual. He works hard at his job, cultivates an array of healthy friendships and has a full life. While he no longer "sees" spirits, he sometimes thinks about that unique experience on Boston’s Hancock Street, when he was "shocked" out of a complacent, material existence.