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In summer 1992 I was employed by a high-tech firm that manufactured test-and-measurement instruments for university labs, computer firms, and defense contractors. My job entailed data-processing and the nightly back-up of the company’s files on the HP-3000 mainframe. At that time we still used large tape spools, each requiring about an hour to fill. My routine was to insert the first tape, then head out to grab a sandwich to be eaten in the computer room. One night as I was driving back to the site (which probably prefers not to be named), I noticed on my left beneath heavy cloud cover two large, glaring white lights. As an amateur astronomer and fan of all things that fly, I possess good skills at identifying just about anything one might observe in the sky.
The lights were separated by perhaps two or three hundred feet, and at first I thought they were independent of each other. They drifted slowly, much more so than any powered aircraft. I turned onto the long drive that led to the site, stopped my car, and stepped out into a light drizzle. As the lights passed overhead (at an estimated altitude of 1,000 feet) I could see they were not in fact separate, but were attached to some dark, long object. Abruptly, the lights halted, then rotated until they were vertically placed. Beyond the warm drizzle, no sound could be heard. A blimp, I told myself. Has to be. After all, the firm was located about 30 miles north of Akron, Ohio, home to the Goodyear blimps, fixture of many sports events in nearby Cleveland and elsewhere.
What I did not know was that dirigibles (unless covering a sports event) don’t usually fly at night. But even if they did, surely there would be the familiar buzzing drone of engines. All at once cold fear surged through me. I’m looking at a UFO…an old-school cigar-shaped UFO!
Now I understood what witnesses to the unknown meant when they described being “riveted in place.” My heart hammered. The lights slowly, hypnotically, ascended into the clouds and vanished. After a few moments of light panic, I climbed into my car and drove down the dark, pine-walled drive to the company lot. Inside, I wrote in my ever-present journal what I’d witnessed while it was still fresh and alive in my mind. Eating my sandwich, I noticed I could not stop my hands from shaking, and feared being alone. What had I seen? Had it been a genuine UFO? Certainly I was unable to identify the object, and its silence struck me as aggressive.
For what it’s worth, there was nothing in my system stronger than coffee and pastrami. My point here is that the first thought I had was that I saw a UFO. Simply, an unidentified flying object. My fear is evidence that I immediately assumed the thing had to be extraterrestrial, even though, in my intellectual arrogance, I should have known better. But I didn’t. It’s nearly impossible to intellectually control overwhelming emotion.
At home later, I took personal inventory. No “missing time.” No secondary physical effects such as extreme thirst, burning eyes, or feelings of unreality. Caught up in my fear (and, perhaps, desire to see a UFO), I had abandoned all objective reasoning. And I was grateful no one had been there to see me losing it, even though I often wonder, had anyone been in the car, what they might have seen.
Not many people know that military technology is approximately 15 years ahead of what the Department of Defense allows us to see, and read about, in the open literature. Classified, black-ops aircraft often are tested at night. However, as investigator Stan Gordon mentioned to me during a telephone conversation (regarding the huge, triangular UFOs written about by himself and, most prominently, Philip Imbrogno in his Night Siege: the Hudson Valley UFO Sightings), it is illegal to operate classified aircraft over populated zones; though I’m fairly certain this “rule” once in a while is ignored. (On a side note, I am aware that Philip Imbrogno apparently has left the “field,” after accusations of dishonesty regarding facts of his military service and education. Whether Imbrogno faked a few credits is none of my business, and personally I don’t see how, even if true, such regrettable behavior bears on his published material. I do think, however, that in a few of his investigations-—notably the “demon” voice and sounds he claimed to have tape-recorded in 1978-—he could have dug deeper. New to research, though, and much younger, he might have lacked resources.)
So, what did I see? My guess is that the object was not a classified aircraft. Despite what my readers might think, I do not believe any arm of American defense is reckless enough to risk a potential catastrophe—-human and/or legal—-by flying whatever UFO-like vehicles in their arsenal over our cities. Therefore, what I saw either was some very large blimp-like craft or…something else. Though I am not a fantasy-prone type, and suffer no boundary-deficit disorders, I might have hallucinated the incident—-but it didn’t feel that way.
And I behaved poorly by losing myself to self-indulgent paranoia and fear. Had I kept my wits, who knows what I might have seen. Perhaps something more prosaic than a UFO.
Another, much earlier, incident might have been my first experience of a waking dream, or hypnopompic imagery-—though, again, it didn’t (as most claim) “feel” at all dream-like. This, of course, doesn’t prove anything. As John Keel noted in Operation Trojan Horse: “This type of vision is well known to students of psychic phenomena. The immobility or akinesia…is especially common in the ‘bedroom visitant’ cases in which percipients awaken to sense or even see an intruder in their bedroom-—an intruder who melts away after passing along a message or a warning. Psychiatrists tend to dismiss this type of phenomenon as hypnopompic; that is, the vision is thought to be a dream that overlaps into the waking state.”
My experience occurred several years before the “cryptid” sighting I described in Chapter 1, probably 1965. I woke one morning and saw a figure in a long white garment standing with its back to me, leaning over the shelf displaying my collection of plastic model airplanes. I had the impression this intruder held one of my works, and was closely examining it-—then I knew! It had to be my sister in her nightgown, snooping around. I reached for her back, and my hand sank into her as if into fog. I cried out…
That’s the extent of the memory. There was no akinesia, or sleep paralysis. Like my later incident with the strange “bird,” the memory is visually textured with absolute, dead-pan realism. The sun was up, my room bright enough for me to distinguish a solid object from a phantom…for all the good it did in the long-view.
What bothers me, probably as much as not knowing with certainty the source of these experiences, is that many, many others have similar encounters somewhere every day…and due to personal belief systems lock onto one perspective-—for all their lives. I cannot say that about myself, can I? I’m open to several theories regarding my three incidents.
Beyond these, there have been a handful of sightings of “meandering nocturnal lights” too vague to draw any conclusions about, and one striking daylight sighting (with my mother, father, and sister around 1980 driving near Circleville, Ohio, on our way to a cabin at Burr Oak State Park). I have some confusion about the exact date, which may have been earlier, possibly 1978 or 1979. My father had pulled the car off the highway, whether in response to some feared malfunction, or in response to one of us pointing out the object in the cloudless autumn sky. We climbed out, and stood watching a round (as in spherical) object, of some transparent material moving about as fast as a small single-engine airplane. This might have been a balloon, either very large and high, or small and much lower than we thought. What gives the sighting a lingering strangeness is the smooth, precise flight of the object. Balloons, weather and otherwise, bob and pause and react to upper (and lower) winds. I have searched MUFON and sources for reports, but with no success.
I considered not writing about the disputatious topic of mind control, as much of the more questionable material I’ve studied came from that end of the high-strangeness spectrum. Earlier this year , however, I reviewed the entire text of the August 3, 1977 Project MKULTRA: The CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification Joint Hearing Before the Select Committee on Intelligence.
Finely put together by the venerable U.S. Government Printing Office, this document is all anyone could conceivably require in order to be convinced of the reality of such nefarious projects in history and, perhaps, present day.
Now, with six weeks before this book’s publication, I have “secured” and re-read a copy of what many consider the masterwork…Walter Bowart’s Operation Mind Control. Among the most disturbing, unpleasant books I’ve ever read, OMC is nonetheless fascinating, and more riveting than any literary or cinematic thriller could ever hope to be (many of these scoured Bowart’s book for material).
The combined impact of these works convinced me to include a chapter on mind control, and I’m of a mind (ha-ha) that no serious–or even semi-serious–researcher and/or writer on anomalous aerial phenomena and associated activity can with integrity ignore (no matter how tempting) this exceedingly dark topic. Unlike so much else covered here, hard evidence–proof if you will–exists to support the grim reality of behavioral modification programs used against unwitting, unwilling human subjects. Like Walter Bowart, I absolutely endorse “…an exercise in citizens’ intelligence…the need for informed discretion in a democracy.”
Yet a third lengthy document joins those mentioned above; one aware of both, and what I consider the third in an unacknowledged mind-control “trilogy”: Martin Cannon’s The Controllers.
First, though, I’m honor-bound to mention that Cannon has apparently disavowed his thesis, which originally was published as a long paper, and in 1996 a thick book by Feral House. In both works, Cannon’s subtitle is: A New Hypothesis of Alien Abductions. Second, Martin Cannon no longer contributes material to, or commentary on, anything associated with Ufology. The usual rumors are out there, and I bypassed them to write an article seen by many readers, wherein I asked if anyone could enlighten me on the status of Mr. Cannon. To date, I’ve received not a single response.
Ominous? Perhaps. But I doubt it. Cannon wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to turn away in disgust from the Ufology “community” if in fact that’s what transpired.
For our purposes in this chapter, though, we will explore at some length an article Cannon wrote for the premiere issue (Summer 1994) of The Anomalist: “The Numbers Game.” While Cannon’s The Controllers digs deep into mind-control lore–much of it documented–his semi-autobiographical Anomalist piece might very well have illuminated a telling aspect of mind-control operations, and why this particular process might have been employed beginning in the early 1960s.
Anyone reading this book is liable to have heard about the enigmatic “number-reading” and “rapid-fire foreign language” telephone intrusions reported to John Keel in The Mothman Prophecies. Cannon’s “The Numbers Game” shares his own experiences, which occurred during “the Reagan years”–proving the process (whatever its ultimate purpose) was active from at least 1961 (Keel’s first mention of a case in Oregon) through the early 1980s. Whatever the method, it must have been effective to remain–according to reports–essentially unchanged for over two decades.
The article opens with Cannon’s mentioning he occasionally writes about UFOs, and once in a while:
“…someone will ask me: ‘Has anything weird ever happened to you?’
“I always reply ‘No.’ But that’s not quite true. I can bear witness to one minor
but maddening enigma–one which veteran outer-limits researcher John Keel (and
a very few other authors) connect to the UFO controversy.
“In The Mothman Prophecies, Keel writes of a United Nations public
relations officer named Don Estrella, who survived a head-on automotive encounter with
an invisible, impenetrable something-or-other that accordioned the front end of his car.
Shortly after this bizarre accident, a friend of Estrella’s in Long Island received an
odd phone call. The U.N. officer reported that, ‘A voice that sounded very distant
said “Hello, Don.” My friend told him that I hadn’t arrived yet. The voice then began
to recite a series of numbers meaninglessly.’
“Keel knew of many similar incidents. In 1961, a telephone conversation between
two women in Oregon was rudely interrupted by the voice of a mysterious man
who shouted ‘Wake up down there!’ According to Keel, ‘The voice started to rattle
on in a rapid-fire language that sounded like Spanish.’ After this odd locution
ceased, the women could speak together normally once more. At the same time
next day, the women spoke on the phone again, only to ear-witness a repeat
performance by the oddball voice. After the audio interloper speed-shouted
something in a foreign tongue, it began reciting the numbers forty and twenty-five
“In 1967, during West Virginia’s great ‘Mothman’ wave of UFO-oriented oddities,
Keel encountered the phenomenon again. Every night, a young lady in the area was
called by a strange man who would speak to her in an accelerated speech that sounded
‘something like Spanish…yet I don’t think it is Spanish.’
“Now, to paraphrase an old Bill Cosby line, I told you those stories to tell you this
“Because, you see, it happened to me.”
Cannon then describes his personal circumstances: crummy apartment, bad graveyard-shift jobs which on nights off resulted in boredom:
“My brother suggested loop lines.
“He had learned of these from a computer bulletin board…
“The telephone company invented loops to serve some arcane testing purpose which
need not concern us here. The important point is that 99.9999% of the time the lines
lie dormant—officially. Unofficially, they’re a phreak phantasia. Imagine phone lines
connected to no telephone, lines that ‘float’ somewhere in the central office of the
Telco (if you’ll forgive the lapse into phreak-speak). Loops come in matched pairs,
and the numbers usually occur in the upper strata of an exchange. Thus, if you dial
(212) XXX-9977, you’ll speak to whoever might be waiting on (212) XXX-9978.
“Why do this? Basically, it’s networking for nerds: The loops serve as a sort of
lonely-heart’s club, whereby individuals in widely separated cities can compare notes
in the safety of telephonic anonymity. Occasionally, opposite-sex phreaks loop into
each other, resulting in long-distance romances…by using loops one could ‘avoid long-
distance charges.’ In other words: free calls. Phreak samsara…
“Then I heard The Voice.
“Actually, The Voice was preceded by The Tone, a subtle electric buzz somewhat
akin to the sound you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear. This faded away,
gradually replaced by a young, male Voice reading numbers.
“As I recall, the numbers never dipped below 20 or above 60. The Voice did not
acknowledge anything I said to it. Was it a machine? Perhaps—although this was no
simple tape loop. Every so often, the voice would interrupt its strange soliloquy and
shout: ‘Wake up out there!’
“Then more numbers. (Keel’s informants recall the statement as ‘Wake up down
there!’ Since I never achieved a clear-as-a-bell connection, I suppose either reading
“More rarely, I heard gibberish sessions—the odd, sped-up instructions in a
strangely familiar foreign language…
“I had to know what was going on.
“Thereafter, whenever the gods of loopdom connected me with a seasoned phone
phreak, I would inquire about the ‘Number-Man.’ After all, the Telco used loops to
test new exchanges; wasn’t it possible that these strange monologues constituted
some part of the test?
“Negative, the experts told me…
“Had other phreaks also heard these strange messages? A few had. They were just
as puzzled as I. Moreover, the telephone company couldn’t provide any official
explanation—it doesn’t even like to admit that loop lines exist. So if anyone was
going to solve the enigma, it had to be me.”
At this point, Cannon manages to tape-record the Number Man, producing a “greatest hits” cassette that unfortunately no longer exists. This admission, from so staunch an investigator, is hard for me to take–I would have copied the cassette, sealed the original, and locked it away in a safe-deposit box. Events turned yet more mysterious:
“One night shortly thereafter, following a few unsuccessful encounters with my
numerically-obsessed nemesis, I looped into someone even more interesting—who,
I now suspect, may also have played a role in this enigmatic drama. Her name was
Joanne, and her voice was so agonizingly sexy I felt tempted to propose to her the
moment she whispered my name.”
Joanne claimed to be a stripper living in Montreal, and turned up the flame yet more by telling Cannon she wanted to meet with him. After more back-and-forth, Joanne told him she knew he was better and smarter than the men she encountered as a stripper. To his credit, Cannon admits alarms were ringing in the back of his lonely mind, validated when the too-good-to-be-true woman asked him to write a letter describing everything about his life. She provided an address. But Cannon, wisely, never took the next step:
“Nearly a decade later, Joanne’s (admittedly delightful) intrusion strikes me as
deeply mystifying. Was she really just a lonely ecdysiast? Perhaps—but there was
something oddly theatrical about the episode, which seemed designed to fulfill every
aspect of a lonely-guy’s most outlandish fantasy. Joanne was too good. Was I really
so charming a fellow that this pretty young thing felt compelled to meet me after I
had burped out no more than a hazy half-sentence or two?
“One thing’s for sure: She almost received a great deal of information about me.
“Maybe that was the point…
“And yet: I don’t think the answer lies with UFOs. I think we’re dealing with spies.”
I had never heard the Spy Theory before reading it in Cannon’s evocative article, but the more I thought about it the more sensible the notion became.
Cannon goes on to mention William Poundstone’s book Big Secrets, wherein the author wonders whether the number-reading and sped-up voices might be codes used by drug-runners. Poundstone later reported, on tabloid TV program Eye on L.A., how some victimized short-wave enthusiasts had “triangulated the broadcasts to their most probable origin point: The state of Virginia. Which pretty much gives the game away.”
Cannon continues by explaining that the rapid-fire voices might be “screech” broadcasts–sped-up in order to guarantee incomprehensibility if intercepted by the wrong ears. The message is decoded by recording it, and replaying at a slower speed. Cannon wonders whether the flirtatious woman he spoke with might have been a ploy to ferret out useful intelligence from someone who had inadvertently discovered the operation.
The article so far has done a superb job of laying down reasonable “explanations” for the enigma, except for coming to grips with an annoying fact: the apparent randomness of the telephone calls. Cannon thinks some of these might be used to induce telephonic trance, something many researchers in hypnosis do not take seriously. These researchers are wrong.
Released CIA documents from projects ARTICHOKE, BLUEBIRD, MKULTRA–the obscure paper-trail of the mind-controllers–tell a different story (findable in Bowart’s aforementioned Operation Mind Control). One document “unequivocally asserts that telephonic induction of a deep hypnotic trance was successfully tested in the early 1950s.” Cannon notes that John Keel, in The Mothman Prophecies, Operation Trojan Horse and others (probably he meant The Eighth Tower), strongly affirms that “selected” UFO witnesses seem to be affected by some form of posthypnotic suggestion.
This is a troubling thread weaving through Ufology, and even what appear to be “prosaic” phenomena such as hauntings and poltergeist reports, to say nothing of documented official projects to create mind-controlled “sleeper” agents and assassins.
From all accounts, sometimes our minds actually are not our own….
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To label John A. Keel’s 1975 THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES a “classic” is like calling a Jaguar XJ “good transportation.” Across decades, from music-obsessed teen to full-time writer/editor, I have observed the book’s divisive effect on readers. Too, I have noticed another effect: astonishment, mingled with fear.
At 17, many things were working to open my mind, but Keel’s utterly entrancing–and terrifying–account of Point Pleasant, West Virginia’s besiegement by a William Corliss catalogue of anomalies, the winged Mothman as host, detonated my skull. To my much-younger self, residing in northeast Ohio (under four hours’ drive-time from Point Pleasant), Keel’s journalistic deadpan frightened me with its apparently nonfictional descriptions of pure nightmare: Mothman, the 7-foot-tall winged entity with eyes glowing red like bicycle reflectors…sinister MIB whose gushing threats were only amplified by absurd behavior…UFOs studded with prismatic lights, menacing the skies as if scheduled…isolated homes terrorized by the cries of invisible babies in dead gray hours…pounding poltergeists…bizarre telephone calls…and Keel’s dawning dread that someone, or some THING, knew in advance his every move, even mimicked him both telephonically and physically.
I’ll tell you, more than any other book, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES profoundly affected how I viewed the world, at once disturbed me and opened my mind to dark forces churning behind the days. What made the read bleaker still was my recalling–well into it–watching television on 15 December 1967, when network news interrupted to tell us that the Silver Bridge–laden with rush-hour traffic–had collapsed into the icy black waters of the Ohio River.
Decades later, at the 2003 Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, I briefly met John Keel, on his way out of a shop where he had been signing books–LOTS of books. I didn’t then know about his failing vision, attributing his guarded stride to age. How tall he was! I’m 5 feet 11 inches, and Keel had a few on me. His white suit, black shirt, and white tie stood out among the hundreds of attendees, as if Keel were still flipping the bird (pun intended) at his old enemies by presenting as an anti-MIB. Perhaps he was.
I visited Point Pleasant, and surrounding areas, four times more, explored the vast TNT area where once stood the North Power Plant, site of the (in)famous 15 November 1966 Mothman sighting by Linda and Roger Scarberry, and Steve and Mary Mallette. This 3,655-acre range, about seven miles north of Point Pleasant, is also known as the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, and has required over the years much reclamation to restore the ponds and fields and woods from industrial toxins recklessly handled during World War II, when the region was called the West Virginia Ordnance Works and site of explosives production.
Walking and driving in the TNT area (especially at night) is a soul-tweaking experience. Miles and miles of lightless narrow roads, populated with creaking crickets and trees hissing in the wind. It isn’t hard to believe practically ANYTHING might happen, and no one the wiser. Keel described its silent desolation with masterful precision, and during the Mothman/UFO activity spent countless hours alone there. Even local police feared joining him.
Another aspect of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES that chilled me was Woodrow Derenberger’s account of his 2 November 1966 meeting with alleged ufonaut Indrid Cold, on then new Interstate 77 near Parkersburg, WV (not far from where I now live). My family, then living in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Solon, traveled that same highway during summer vacations throughout the 1960s.
I am not a “believer,” in the sense accepted by Magonians and Forteans alike, but do think something occurred in Point Pleasant, some of which might have involved genuine anomalies. But, like the late Jim Keith and still-on-this-side-of-the-ground Andy Colvin (author of the MOTHMAN’S PHOTOGRAPHER series of books, and producer of an 11-hour documentary), I think the town was selected for an ambitious psyops program, perhaps associated with some MK-ULTRA sub-project. After all, Defense Logistics Agency once had a facility there.
It is sad to know how little Keel benefited, financially, from the book’s publication. This would eventually be remedied–decades later–when it was optioned for film production. I have read TMMP many times, referred to it for my own writing–fiction AND nonfiction, and it holds up quite well. Sure, that scoundrel Gray Barker was responsible for a few hoaxes, and Keel busted him for most of them. Even after watching the PBS Gray Barker documentary, SHADES OF GRAY, I find the man’s behavior inexplicable, though do value his very early work.
John Keel, at least in my mind, never was burning so bright as during the writing of TMMP. Hell, he actually gave us two books, as the publisher considered Keel’s original manuscript too thick. Keel published–after additional editing and writing–this “left-over” material as the equally classic (if more sober) THE EIGHTH TOWER, recently reissued by Anomalist Books.
Above all, John A. Keel taught me a dark truth: “The universe does not exist as we think it exists. We do not exist as we think we exist.”
Take that, cynics.
By LEE MUNRO, of Otherworld North East research society.
LEE MUNRO: Quick intro question Bill; which book title most aptly reflects your mood today?
GRABOWSKI: At this moment–12:38 a.m.–that would have to be Ted Holiday’s The Goblin Universe. Why? Because in proofing my forthcoming book, Black Light, I realized that no matter what I’ve set down there, my gut tells me nothing can be more haunted than human beings. Holiday decided not to publish his disturbing, well-reasoned study, but after Holiday’s death Colin Wilson (who I interviewed in 1986) got permission from Ted’s family to publish. This book explored so-called cryptids–i.e. Nessie and others–in a way completely shorn of personal belief, and ended badly for the author. Here was a guy making connections between slippery (no pun there) sightings and the far more troubling possibility that human consciousness might indeed have a hand in such matters. As you probably know, Ted died very close to where he had once had what can only be described as a “man-in-black” incident. He’d seen a guy wearing motorcycle leathers, silent and somehow menacing. A heart-attack ended him literally on the spot of that sighting. I hate such accounts, but they exist. Personally, I think he was so freaked-out by what he discovered it made him terrified of even discussing it. True to the end, however, he had the presence of mind to record the incident, very different from the usual MIB accounts.
MUNRO: As a working writer I imagine you need to wear two hats; a business hat and a creative hat. I’m interested – how does one approach inform the other? Also when, say you ghost-write something, is your “creative ego” put out by not getting recognised for creating (if that makes sense!)?
GRABOWSKI: Glad you asked, Lee. It’s tough having a foot in both worlds. Having worked my share of suit-and-tie jobs in the 1990s, experiencing corporate America just on the cusp of the Internet, I saw brilliant engineers reduced to tears over some project manager’s hang-up with company promotion. Quote: “We can’t have this jerk-off geek pictured on our brochures.” Well, several of those geeks moved on to California and Silicon Valley–and taught me the fine art of balancing business practicalities with creative endeavours. Though it might be–in our present global culture of people too-busy-too-live, a cliche, my old pals showed me that no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. I’ve never forgotten that. The lesson has guided me, in meeting with witnesses of the unknown, never to deny them the common reality of simple human emotion–of the hauntedness of being born into a world brimming with war and strife and mystery. We’re not as smart as we think. I delegate 30% of my work-day to submitting proposals to prospective clients in need of various writerly skills. You’re right to bring up the “creative ego” aspect of ghostwriting, as it often is painful to remain anonymous in the wake of sweating blood over six weeks’–or whatever–spent hammering out a thriller, or what have you, employing one’s best fictive “magic.” Simply put, ghostwriting gives me the financial freedom to pursue projects that would be impossible to write if I had to constantly stress out over paying bills. It can be exhausting, and I carefully structure a set amount of hours each day to such work. Newer writers need to be savvy as hell in learning the art of selling their wares. Social media makes this easier, but is more demanding than in the old days of typewriters and snail-mail. For some arcane reason, clients expect a 24/7 presence. I average about 10,000 words per week keeping up, leaving not much time for my own projects–and sleep!
MUNRO: If you were giving a class on writing, which books or articles would top your essential reading list?
GRABOWSKI: Right away, there is no better guide than William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style. A 92-page bible of what to do–and what to avoid. I’ve worn out over the deacades five copies of this little paperback. My favorite of their advice: “Omit needless words.” Hell yes, brother–I’m all for that! England’s own Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves has also proved an amazingly valuable–and funny–tool I constantly refer to.
MUNRO: Much of your fiction writing seems to have paranormal/Fortean/just plain weird overtones, or as Jim Morrison might have put it, something not quite at home. Are you drawn to these themes because as a writer they allow you to explore a particular essence of storytelling, or are you drawn because of your interest in these topics away from writing?
GRABOWSKI: Cool as all get-out you mention Jim Morrison–a big influence. Mostly on following your “personal” muse no matter where she takes you. What a gifted, tormented, sadly self-destructive soul he was…America’s Arthur Rimbaud. It’s easy to overlook how young he was–how brief his candle burned. That voice! Those lyrics stabbing your soul like a doomed prophet…. His “betters” treated him like shit, and long may they roast along with drug dealers who exploited his sensitivity and chronic fear of nothingness–of crying into a war-filled void vicious and hungry for his next screaming wake-up call, heedless of the cost. His presence haunts me, because he was the first–along with your country’s unmatched Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and a few others–to to embrace everything beautiful and mad and strange about simply being alive in a fragmented world. Man, that was a bit of a long response, eh? In my own fictive works, I wholly embrace the fabulously “weird” ideas of Charles Fort, John Keel, Jacques Vallee, and more obscure writers like Francois Rabelais, Djuna Barnes, Andre Breton (“father” of Surrealism), Celine, Yeats, and that teetotaler Dylan Thomas. Not only for visonary ideas, but for sheer compression of thought. Every writer ought to read poetry, because it teaches how to render both ferocious emotion and sensual delights–and torture. I often wonder what the old surrealists might make of our jittery, attention-challenged global culture, where a guy in Germany can instantly respond to my Twitter reckonings on how best to grow habanero chiles! I’m drawn to constant pursuit of life’s sheer strangeness–to Jean Cocteau’s wondering why we don’t simply dissolve in our bath-water. I guess I would call this an interest–nay, obsession–with why we’re here at all, and what it’s worth. I suppose this is why so much of my fiction explores “monsters” and what they teach us about the most furious, despairing and searching, aspects of our enigmatic lives.
MUNRO: I first became aware of your work after stumbling across your Night Run blog, which I guess chronicles some of your writing and thoughts during the process of composing your book BLACK LIGHT: Perspectives on Mysterious Phenomena, which will be published this year. Can you give a background to the book and what your aim was in writing it?
GRABOWSKI: Black Light is my summation–no sequels–of all things uncanny and/or troubling I’ve experienced that seem to have no logical explanation, so will not have much in common with straight-out books exploring UFOs and other so-called paranormal phenomena. Who wants that? Sure, there will always be an audience for the next Roswell (non)explanation–myself seated front-row. Otherworld’s interview with the amazingly prolific Nick Redfern showed me the folly of “closure” on all things paranormal, a term I have trouble with. Nick might (my opinion only) agree that what we call “paranormal” is simply what we label undiscovered science. Or maybe not. Science does not have all the answers, and is way too reckless in dismissing alternate opinions. Seriously, Lee. I might step outside right now (in West Virginia, 25 miles from where the so-called Sistersville airship sightings of 1897 were reported; and 75 miles from Woodrow Derenberger’s Indrid Cold meeting) and bear witness to…what? A meandering Keelian light? A winged monstrosity with terrible red-glowing eyes? Here’s the thing. Would I dare tell anyone–even you–if I did? I would instantly–perhaps foolishly–approach the “anomaly.” I’d worry about my mental health; my mis-perception of a barn owl–scary damned things, let me tell you. Above all, Black Light is a chronicle of a searcher, one wary of the paranormal, but haunted by early experience with the unknown. Chapter One does its best to play fair with the reader in recalling what might have been an authentic encounter with what Carl Jung termed a “psychically overwhelming Other.” Frankly, I don’t know what I saw, but know enough not to confuse ill-recalled dream imagery with some physical creature outside my 10-year-old’s experience. Memory is tricky, and I hadn’t given the incident a single second’s thought until first reading John Keel’s Mothman Prophecies, where he tells of witnesses in nearby northwest Pennsylvania encountering bizarre (yet organic-seeming) “birds” moving between rows of corn. These unknowns were described as being nearly eight-feet-tall, with straight pointed beaks. The “bird” I saw was nothing like that, a black-eyed “penguin” perhaps two-feet tall. It scared the hell out of me, and I took a few bee-stings standing watching it–my long-gone mother thought some pervert had gotten hold of me. The entire incident, I know, rings of boyish bullshit–but there you go. I was not aware that Ohio was undergoing a UFO “wave” in 1968, nor that a policeman that same year (Dale Spauer) had chased a saucer up to the border of Pennsylvania–and had his life ruined. Worse, he took refuge in the Solon Motel–my home town. I knew none of this until much later in life. I admit this might be a case of connecting unrelated events–but it remains to me suspicious. The incident sparked my becoming a writer, and my fascination with the unknown. I couldn’t have known that John Keel himself investigated the Spauer incident, which I read about much later in his ominous The Eighth Tower. It’s listed under Ravenna, Ohio–where Officer Spauer began his car-chase.
MUNRO: You’ve recently had a post published on the Magonia Blog regarding John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies, and how it affected and influenced you. More than that however, you’ve had feet on the ground of Point Pleasant, talking to people and scratching behind the myth. Maybe a big question, but peeking behind the curtain of common perception, what’s your take on the Mothman events and how the town and its people have been affected by it – either by the events in the story or the attention brought on by them?
GRABOWSKI: What a well-timed question, Lee! I have explored Point Pleasant and the TNT area at length. Boy have I! Everything short of raking the soil–like that would do any good. Up front, let me say I do know the difference between fascination and obsession–or do I? In my mind, all I’ve carried out in Point Pleasant is both. How could it be otherwise? I ask you, how can any seeker of the unknown not be taken with visiting a site so (in)famous? And less than four hours from home? Man, I could go on, but why? My take is only a bit different from much previously written about all things Mothman/UFOs/MIB and other deep weirdness. My forthcoming book, though, delves deeper into the matter. I hung out with older residents, asked some damned personal questions I’m lucky didn’t get my ass kicked, and recorded all I heard. I was astounded by the responses. You probably know of the annual Mothman Festival (created by the incredibly hard-working Jeff Wamsley), active since 2003 in Point Pleasant, WV. The biggest mistake made by cynical cable-TV documentaries (not all, but most) is in assuming the friendly residents are drunken rednecks–what a goddamned insult. Far from the reality of sharing meals with those who lost loved ones when the Silver Bridge fell on 15 December 1967–13 months to the day of the first major Mothman sighting. I choose not to delve into numerological synchronicity–what would that prove? I found locals divided: those who resent the festival, and those who embrace it. The very few folks I met who claimed to have witnessed UFOs are still shaken, but more so by the MIB “visits.” What you won’t read in any other book is that Point Pleasant grew used to the seemingly “scheduled” overflights of aerial machines bright with prismatic lighting–described to me as “diamond pure.” Keel himself had that experience, witnessing a green-lit saucer hovering over a lonely hill I have personally visited–for what that’s worth. Keel was no bullshitter–my opinion. He never once exploited any witness, and made less than $5,000 from publication of The Mothman Prophecies–until this was decades later remedied by the movie-makers. Despite what you might think you know about John Keel, he was frightened by what he found. A farmhouse puppy whose heart had been cut out in a perfect circle. Telephone messages warning against some horrible event–documented in Keel’s personal letters between himself and local newspaper reporter Mary Hyre–set to occur on the Ohio River. Whoever phoned in this prophecy either caused the bridge-fall, or knew who was going to engineer it. No matter–in my opinion–that the bridge was in poor repair. Someone knew, and they dicked around with Keel, who warned Mary Hyre not to speak of it. To me, this is far more disturbing than Mothman or UFOs, and speaks of industrial sabotage. Keel never wrote about the MIB visiting insurance offices, where blueprints for local energy concerns were located. Andy Colvin has written much about about this. It explains the absurd behavior (“What is your time?”) of so-called men-in-black, not to mention the well-dressed man Keel confronted in the TNT area at night, who was talking into a microphone and would only “grunt” at Keel’s questions. This is very telling about human manipulation of what might have begun with authentic sightings of a cryptid. I’ve knocked around desolate buildings (especially the Lakin Industrial Home for Colored Boys across from the TNT area)–since demolished, and can testify to the utter eeriness of the region. Subjective? Of course–what isn’t? And what do we make of the Point Pleasant branch of Defense Logistics Agency, recently shut down? Many red flags. Keel never went public with reports of gone-missing teens in Point Pleasant between 1966-1968. A taboo subject you’ll be hard-pressed to find, even though it’s been reported that reamins were found in shallow caves in the TNT area. This invests the whole Mothman mystery with more than is commonly acknowledged. Thanks for hearing me out, Lee!
MUNRO: We’ve talked previously about some aspects of reported anomalous phenomena and I know you at times have been drawn to, let’s call it a Jungian perspective. Can you say something about how some of Jung’s work might inform approaches to people’s experiences?
GRABOWSKI:I can. While no one can be sure of its importance, Jung did point out–after thousands of sessions–the apparent continuum between dream imagery and how that carries over into waking life. Ideas as dismaying as any paranormal theories–including UFOs and “entities” like Mothman. We should be happy that Jung wrote a book about UFOs, though took them as latent symbols. This to me is an idea almost too scary to bear–that we create our gods and monsters and UFOs. Frankly, I think he hit the proverbial nail’s head. Even a cursory review of Vallee’s Passport to Magonia tells us that UFOs and even ghostly phenomena manifest in accordance with the given country’s culture. Violent “monsters” in South America. Science Fiction absurdities in the USA (oddly aligned with UK sightings). Surreal beings whose clothing and vehicles, luminous blue and violet and green, speak absurd poetry in France, and ice-hacking dwarves in arctic regions, tell a very “anthropological” tale.
MUNRO: Are there other approaches, writers or thinkers whom you think might inform, or at least generate interesting thought experiments when it comes to anomalous experiences?
GRABOWSKI: After decades of thinking about these things, and changing my mind into the Magonian/Fortean psychosocial theory, I’m left alone in what feels like a very sophisticated joke, or test, inflicted upon random people. By “alone,” I mean unpopular. Sure, I’d love nothing more than for the 1950s helmet-headed ufonauts to be real–to care about us. To take us away from daily stress and our awful awareness of Death’s hound sniffing our souls. I’m neither arrogant or ironic saying this, Lee. Simply amazed and afraid that I’m alive at all and subject at any time to an apparent unknown among us. I find it easy to ignore the infantile believers in Grays, etc., but never enough to think they’re wrong and that I’m “right.” Who knows? Not me. I am convinced, though, that we share our world with another intelligence–even one we might create–that is as strange as “God,” and that’s enough to keep me looking. Even if there are no UFOs or ghosts or entities external to us, isn’t that absolutely mind-blowing that we think there are? That we don’t really know who we are? Sometimes I think we get the gods we deserve.
MUNRO: During your time of interest in anomalous subjects, how have you seen the subjects or approaches to them change? Do you see a regression as opposed to progression in thinking or perception?
GRABOWSKI: What a great question! Ever since my uncle Joe gave me Adamski’s Inside the Flying Saucers (poor bastard!), I’ve gone through believing in extraterrestrials visiting us in metal machines, “demonology,” collective human despair (not done with that), right up to what I suppose is called the psychosocial theory. I’m 95% convinced we are actively engaged in creating our evolution–like playful children in charge of watercolors. That remaining 5% is important. We don’t know everything. Probably never will. The whole “unknown” business might very well be in charge–for good or ill. I do–in America–see a regrettable lapse back into “alien abduction” and apocalyptic visions of powerlessness. Very scary stuff, with crossovers into political tyranny and nutty comfort cults. You can’t be involved with this and not feel a bit paranoid–god knows I have my share. And the increasing decay of individual liberties frightens me. We seem poised on living a world worse than that of the Terminator movies, because human-controlled.
MUNRO: We’re both dancers under the spell of the music that moves us. So, I want you to suggest some songs/artists; a soundtrack to a story you’ve written that stands out as a favourite, a soundtrack to accompany you while you sit in the dark in your favourite chair with the lights out holding a glass of your favourite tipple, and a soundtrack to walking around the abandoned TNT plant outside Point Pleasant at 3:33am.
GRABOWSKI: Now you’ve done it! Music is a huge presence–perhaps overly so–in my life. I’ve been a drummer in several Cleveland bands–years ago. My favorites are atmospheric stuff–Massive Attack, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Low (whose “Half Light” graces the movie soundtrack of my pal Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies), Opeth, and thanks to England, King Crimson, Genesis (pre-1980, with Peter Gabriel), REM, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and a lot of Tom Waits. And let’s not forget Mozart and Wagner, those happy tricksters.
MUNRO: What do you have in the Grabowski pipeline? Any new fiction or non-fiction you’re working on?
GRABOWSKI: I’ve been writing a huge novel over the past 2 years, an attempt to convey the reactions of a small town to an enigmatic presence that seems like God. We’ll see…
MUNRO: Thanks for your time Bill. One more question. I know you’re a big fan of cooking. So you’ve invited OWNE around to dine. What the hell – Keel, Vallee and Jung are turning up too (hey, it’s my movie; I’ll script it how I want!). What divine culinary experience would you prepare for us?
GRABOWSKI: I know that Keel (rest him well) and Vallee don’t mind beefy dishes. Same for Jung. I would hope you and OWNE give me warning of any vegetarians…I used to be one. In a perfect meeting, you would be served Chicken Vindaloo, Ghost-Chile Stew, and a sweet ice-box lemon pie. With absinthe.
Black Light: Perspectives on Mysterious Phenomena, which started this blog, is within weeks of final form. Footnotes (no easy task!) have been placed, and John Rimmer at Magonia Blog (London) has recently published a nostalgic article on my first reading of the late John A. Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2014/06/first-read-mothman-prophecies.html
Black Light will be first available as an eBook on 1 September 2014, at Amazon; later (in 2014) as a Trade (over-sized) paperback. I thank anyone who has taken the time to visit The Night Run, and—after an initial thought of quitting—I plan to keep going here. Why? Well…just because. The book itself has been an active project for many years, mostly a journal to remind myself why life—despite personal downturns, discovery that many so-called classic UFO events were lies and hoaxes, and a jarring realization that nearly everything I thought I “knew” about the unknown was based on escapism—is worth living. Something far too subjective to share, unless articulated in a voice stabilized by heeding those veterans who’ve taught me there is value in sharing experience, if only in hopes that doing so might spark others into fresh lines of investigation.
As most of you know, the Internet has had a chaotic influence on anything “paranormal”—idiotic YouTube videos, hateful screeds obviously (and poorly) exploiting beliefs in “alien abduction” in order to recruit those who support reprehensible campaigns not very far removed from eugenics and the seething racism and paranoia behind that insane anachronism. I had, in my ignorance and too-trusting hope, desired to see the whole continuum of anomalous (Fortean, Magonian, etc.) events forever sustained in a poetic (if often disturbing) fantasy of good-will and genuine potential for improving our common humanity. As “innocent” as contactees in the 1950s….
I was, of course, wrong.
Our world is a grim place, yet vibrant still with invention and creativity and humanitarians—some of whom have been subject to vicious suppression. On several occasions, I have been on the receiving end of what can only be called intimidation tactics—I don’t know why. But I decided it’s better to ignore those and get on with what, at least to me, matters. Paying attention, not only to the unknown among us, but to an all-too-“real” world struggling with micro-managed wars, economic uncertainty, political non-events, and what appear to be authentic ruptures in global climate—human-caused and cyclical. As the cliche goes, we’re all in this together….
I thank you again for following The Night Run.
It’s been an extended, strange (you have no idea) trip. Here’s the cover for my forthcoming “philosophical” nonfiction book:
It stalks you. Whether you like that or not, it’s here. Tainting your heart, burdened already by living, enduring the days. Cold creeping news stamping doom onto your soul like a black tattoo. Inescapable, relentless, draining. It names itself News, Info, Reportage—exactly what it is. The punk band Bad Religion nailed this for us all: The Biggest Killer in American History. Bad news. Morbid shit. Vicious disregard for sensitivity, decorum, or consideration of anyone who might—at the moment—be having a terrible day. At age 15, I might have been curious about seeing the facts of murder, suicide, anarchy, and political chaos. Trust me—I was. Until I found what such matters looked like in the so-called real world. Sure, we lucky suburban kids joked about it, how such things never could happen in America. As the cliche goes, we were young, fortunate, and oblivious. Something like that. Close enough. We weren’t privy to personal computers, thank God, because every one of us would have typed “Suicide images,” or “Sex,” or “Death” into some science-fictional search engine. Whatever keyword available before simple, concise, language degenerated into search terms. Between you and me and the cynical “writers” raking in one dollar for 500 words of “content,” I’d like to say that I’ve acquired a fresh recognition of the power of words, of image. Hilda Doolittle’s famous quote, “We are all haunted houses,” rings all too true. A poetic bumpersticker representing everything that’s wrong about our “Zeitgeist.” That rhymes with “poltergeist” to a chilling degree.
My point is simple. The world we inhabit is not so dangerous as daily news would have us believe. The late Michael Crichton wrote a shatteringly poignant novel, State of Fear (Avon Books, 2004), that so eerily prefigured current media manipulation, it’s hard to imagine he did so without some magical tool of prophecy. I read this fat paperback in utter fright—far beyond that of any horror novel, because he described what I was observing every day. Stacked statistics about crime, global warming, terrorism, industrial toxins in our food, and much more. What amounts to proving a truth by its blatant absence. No, the world doesn’t hate us. Nor does life. But if I gauge the chances of emotional well-being for future generations on media-feed, I might just have a really bad day.
I’d be remiss not to admit I’m a fairly “passionate” follower of post-post modern conspiracy theory, much of which never comes close to “theory.” We have plenty of rants, raves, and snarling vows of vengeance. Stone-cold revelations whispered in dark holdouts haunted by suicide; reason and safety stalked by black dogs of paranoia sniffing for logic-bombs. Nightly, the star-frosted sky thrums with machines stabbing down beams aggressively intelligent; watching and watching with infrared eyes. Thermal tongues lapping up secrets. Waiting…waiting…infinitely patient. Scanning thoughts for a nanosecond glitch in your vigilance—your blazing annihilation.
If that doesn’t make you feel better, nothing will.
Even a cursory cruise of a few “edgy” websites will provide a representative slice of what the more pensive observers are saying about the apparently enigmatic fate of Flight 370. These remarks range from straight, journalistic-type reportage, to chilly monographs grim with doubt, flat recounting of the original report, and what I am now calling NFM: Nefarious Fear-Mongering.
While I’m not sure who started this, a famous “alien abductee” is hinting that Flight 370 might very well have been sky-jacked and safely landed on dry ground in some remote location. While he doesn’t clearly explain what might have been done to the 239 people occupying the aircraft, he theorizes it might be used by terrorists, and capable of delivering a 10,000-pound nuclear device to any major city within 12,000 miles.
This might be technically possible, if not probable. But it is a theory—an outlandish one. A little research into how weapons-grade plutonium is acquired, and processed, will put such notions to rest.
What I am confused about is the—at least to my mind—inexplicable failure to locate the aircraft’s Black Box. Media reports claim signals have been detected, but finding the actual site so far impossible. Why? We have classified satellites that can identify earthbound individuals, and more. The NSA, by 2018, hopes to have a computer capable of exaflop speed—1,000,000,000,000,000,000 operations a second. That’s one quintillion. Yes, data-collection is one thing; taking time to interpret said data quite another.**
The Black Box (actually, these are orange for easier detection) is fitted with an Underwater Locator Beacon functional down to 14,000 feet—nearly three miles. The devices have been heat-tested, withstanding 1,110 degrees centigrade for an hour; 260-degree C for 10 hours. They can operate between -55 degrees to +70 degrees C. Seriously tough hardware.
If a signal has been detected, and if every signal has a source, why can’t the Black Box be located?
**Thanks to James Bamford, whose The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (Doubleday, 2008) was crucial to this post.