Posts tagged ‘Uri Geller’

chernobyl

A book tour is wearing enough all by itself. I didn’t need any extra aggravation.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid it. I could tell something was up right away. It wasn’t only that the famous Harmonic Convergence of 1987 converged with my book tour for Chernobyl.

My very first radio show of the tour was on a nighttime program on WGN in Chicago, which also broadcasts the Cubs games. Sure enough, that night the Cubs and the Phillies tied it up in the eighth and went into extra innings. The Cubs managed to lose it in the thirteenth, all right, but by then the airtime for the show was long gone by. So I sat in the studio for a few boring hours and then went home. We never did get on that night.

Then we took to the road, and it was Wednesday, Washington; Thursday, Detroit; Friday, Cleveland — and Saturday, still Cleveland, because the Harmonic Convergence was nigh. It caused all its thunderclouds to converge right over O’Hare airport (so all flights were canceled and I spent the night in a Cleveland Holiday Inn). Then it dumped all the moisture out of those clouds right on my house, a dozen miles from O’Hare (so some books and papers that were stored low-down in my basement were rebound in slime). Nine and a half inches of rain in twelve hours.

It was the worst rainstorm in the history of Chicago, and it was all my own fault, of course. I didn’t remember to say, “ooooom.”

Nor was that the worst of it.

See, I live a pretty sheltered life. I spend most of my time either sitting before the keyboard in my office or in the company of my peers at science-fiction cons. So, although I’ve met a lot of pretty weird people (well, didn’t I just say that?), until this tour I actually hadn’t reckoned on the number of loopies going around in what is, for some reason, called the “normal” world. Every city I visited turned up somebody — my airhead driver-escort in one place, a guy who buttonholed me at the hotel registration desk in another — who was not only certain that the Age of Something was upon us because of the Harmonic Convergence, but could not be stopped from telling me about it.

I don’t like to get into conversations of that kind. The principal reason is that I’m tenderhearted; I don’t like to be a killjoy. It gives me no pleasure to try to convince a transcendental metaphysics addict that astrology is a fraud; Uri Geller is a faker; there were no Ancient Astronauts and every single flying-saucer story I have been able to investigate (which adds up to a lot of them, over the years) has turned out to be a mistake, a delusion or a plain damn lie.

But I don’t have any moral objections to someone else’s beliefs. If it gives them pleasure to have their horoscopes, tarot cards or palms read, why should I object?

So I dislike arguing any subject with a True Believer, but what I dislike even more is sitting silent while I am told that unless I believe in some preposterous fantasy I have doomed my hopes of achieving the Age of Enlightenment, or my aura, or my soul. Probably I should appreciate their concern for my welfare, but the fact is that I don’t.

So after the first few mad dashes from radio station to newspaper office in the company of my temporary in-house guru, I stopped trying to change the subject. I took the bit in my teeth and did my best to explain to the airhead that, see, there are only a certain number of long-distance forces that can allow an extraterrestrial body to influence anything on our planet — electromagnetic and gravitational just about wraps it up — and, really, neither one of them has anything to do with whether or not people on Earth start thinking pure thoughts.

This was a mistake. She was a tender-hearted soul, too. She could not bear to see me lost through all eternity because of my pitiful ignorance, and so all the rest of that long day, until finally she let me out at the airport and my ears began to stop throbbing, I heard why the Grand Canyon, Mount Shasta and the corner of 83d Street and Central Park West in New York were “power points” for the universal energies, and how, if I had any sense at all, I would change my ticket and head for the “planetary Woodstock” at one of them right away.

I argued for a while. Then, when the intensity of her convictions led her to run a red light in heavy traffic, I finally shut up and just let her talk.

Honestly, that was one painful day.

She was the worst, if for no other reason than simply because I had no way of getting away from her until it was time for my flight. She wasn’t the only one, though. Fortunately, most of the other harmonicists I ran into were of the tolerable kind who are at least willing to give up about it when I said I’m wasn’t interested.

Not the chap in the hotel lobby.

 
To be continued.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Science Fiction Chronicle in 1988.
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  • Peddling Books Through the Harmonic Convergence, Part 1, Part 3

I found some notes about Sir Arthur C. Clarke that I had filed somewhere and didn’t have handy at the time of his unexpected death, so they got left out of the things I wrote about him at the time. So here they are:

* * *

Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke
 

Arthur wasn’t a religious man in any usual sense — in the instructions he left for his own funeral, he was emphatic that there be no religious aspects to the services. He thought — as is described in The Last Theorem — that the most valuable function of a church was to provide a Sunday school for you to send your children to, on the principle that exposing them to religion in childhood, like inoculating them against polio, would prevent serious religiosity later on.

He wasn’t much of a believer in psionics or any of the other New Age fads of the 20th century, either; he was a hard-headed skeptic who didn’t believe in anything that didn’t provide good evidence of its reality. But bear in mind his famous declaration that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The obvious corollary to that is that some kinds of magic could perhaps represent a previously unknown technology.

You can see traces of that thought in some of the best Clarkes, like Childhood’s End or the short story “The Nine Billion Names of God.” And he did confess to me once, over a meal at the restaurant next to the old Hotel Chelsea, that he was kind of wondering if it was possible that Uri Geller, the notorious psychic spoon-bender of the 1960s, might really have some new kind of power.

I’m proud to say that I was the one who rescued Arthur C. Clarke from that particular flimflam. Then and there, in the restaurant that evening, I did the Geller spoon-bending trick before his very eyes.

The Amazing Randi

The Amazing Randi
 

I hadn’t been smart enough to figure it out for myself, but I was lucky in my choice of neighbors. One of them was my good friend, the former stage magician The Amazing Randi, who had taught me how to do it.

Unfortunately, I can’t teach it to any of you, because I am bound by the stage magician’s creed not to reveal any other magician’s secret tricks. Ah, but you say, how can that be, Fred, since you aren’t a stage magician yourself? Simple, I say. Randi gave me honorary magician status. He couldn’t really avoid that, since one of his best effects was levitating a beautiful girl. The beautiful girl was usually one of my beautiful daughters, Randi not having any of his own, and the muscle-supplying levitator was my muscular son, so I was going to find out his secrets anyway.

Also, Johnny Carson had just had a magician on his show who was able to order his trained dog to go to any specific person in the audience and take from his or her lap any one specific item — pair of gloves, scarf, handbag, whatever — and bring it up to him on stage. Randi couldn’t figure that one out, but I could: I had read an animal psychologist’s piece in, I think, Nature about how to train animals or pre-verbal children to do something like it, and I had clipped the article. I explained it to Randi, so he owed me.

By the way, if any of you happen to pass near the Hotel Chelsea — West 23rd Street near Seventh Avenue, Manhattan, NYC — take a look at the plaques around the entrance. As I remember they have several, including one for Brendan Behan, the Irish author of Borstal Boy, who stayed there when in New York and wrote some of his works there. Well. Arthur did much the same thing and, I believe, rather expected much the same treatment. What I don’t know is whether he got it.

 
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Sir Arthur and I