Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
The Buick roared down Burnside in Gresham. Half an hour shy of eight in the morning, thearea I call blue collar Portland was getting ready for a new work week. On the sidewalk my eye catches a girl. She is several hundred feet away from me and closing, her back is turned towards me. Tall or maybe more aptly described as tallish. I can see her clearly even from this distance. A Caucasian beauty she has short black hair, and a long neck. She is wearing black shorts and a tank top of the same color. I can’t say for sure they aren’t the same garment.
That I notice her at all is only because she appears to be walking away from one of Portland’s ubiquitous strip clubs. The location combined with the way she is dressed causes my Paleolithic and stupid male brain to assume she is an exotic dancer and I wonder why a stripper would be out so early in the morning.
As I cross the side street years of paranoia forces me to briefly glance to my right to make sure that another car is not about to T-bone into me. I don’t know why I do this. I have the right away and it would be too late for me to do anything if there was a runaway car. It took me a nano second to check my flank and when I look back, the girl is gone.
I wish that was the opening lines for my new novel. But it is not, that is what happened last Monday on my otherwise mundane commute to work. I am not afraid of this vision, not in a traditional way at least, in ways this is more an intellectual event than a spiritual or emotional one to me. The only real problem is I don’t believe in ghosts.
I haven’t always been this way. I been called closed minded. I don’t think that is accurate. I think I am incredibly opened minded. The discrepancy comes from what does the term opened minded mean to you.
To me it means understanding a person’s belief. I will go as far as saying that it means being able to describe another person’s belief well enough to them that they can say “Yes that is exactly what I believe.” To others open mindedness means believing with them.
I love the weird, the Fortean and the paranormal. But in general I do not accept the more occult explanations. That doesn’t mean I don’t treat the people who believe them with respect. But at the end of the day, I think Flight 19 was a bunch of World War Two torpedo bombers that got lost and crashed in to the ocean, not UFO abductees. I can’t rationally accept that a greater mammal like Sasquatch can roam the Pacific Northwest and we have not caught one yet. The story that we only use ten percent of our brain is a myth latched on to by Madison Avenue executives to sell soap and satellite TV. To me the supernatural though interesting is fiction.
It is not that I don’t want to believe. I am the living embodiment of the poster that hangs on Fox Mulder’s wall. Don’t you think I want the universe be cool and exciting? I want to have a world view that can accept aliens, ghost and ultraterestrials. But as I grew older I came to the realization, that from my standpoint at least, the universe was a lot more mundane that I wished it was. The day I came to that conclusion was a sad day, but one necessary for MY emotional growth. (I emphasize the “my” in this last sentence because it is not required or even desirable for many other people to come to this conclusion, but it was for me.)
Then I feel in love. And she surrounded herself in a world of mysticism and the fantastic. Which is fine but she used it as a crutch to avoid real world problems. And let real things build into devastating and damaging conclusion. This soured me not on the fantastic and paranormal but on the belief in them. They were fine in folklore and fiction, but I equated believing in something that was not immediately provable as impeding my growth, and well belief in anything not material in nature became painful. Now I completely understand that you should not let one person’s askewed views alter what you believe, but I want you to understand how I got washed up on the shore of the rational and pragmatic.
But now the spectral brunette has challenged my tightly wound belief in the material. So I do what any twenty-first century boy would do and hit the internet. Let’s face it if any town is haunted it is Portland. With it eerie mixture of modern, 1890’s and 1930’s architecture, bohemian lifestyle, open mindedness, and history of diabolical secrets, Stumptown should be the ground zero for otherworldly encounters. And Portlanders are not beyond sharing their supernatural experiences with the rest of the world.
Now I am a pretty good researcher. My major was in history and before that I go an AA in legal assisting, so I know how to do research. I spent three hours on line using terms Like Oregon Ghost girl, Gresham ghosts, Burnside Portland ghosts, and missing Gresham women. And I got nothing that matched my story. Sure I got ton of hits on Portland ghosts. Nina the prostitute who was supposedly killed in the tunnel under what is now Old Town Pizza. The ghost of the transient who was killed at the Burnside Burger King when he was in a dumpster and the trash was compressed by a trash truck, or the haunting of the Benson Hotel. But nothing that resembled what I saw.
In a way that was a relief. Part of me wanted to challenge my preset notions. I wanted to find evidence that unbeknown to me many others had seen this vision and as such I could become part of something greater than me. part of me did not. But in the end I appear to be alone in sitting this specter.
So what did I see? I don’t know. Now there is a possible yet unlikely mundane answer. On one side of the sidewalk she was walking on is Burnside, the other is a steep slant that goes down about thirty feet and leads to an apartment complex. It is possible she could have turned and scampered down that slope. But I was checking the side street latterly less than a half of a second and she would have to been awful quick to do that without me noticing.
This isn’t the first time I have questioned what people’s experience when they see the paranormal. It is the first time I have done it as myself as the witness.
When I lived in Oxnard California there was a weekly county paper called the VC Reporter that I used to read. Along with local entertainment news, Life in Hell comics, and album reviews, there was also a weekly article by Ventura County celebrity ghost hunter Richard Senate. He had an article about how a seemingly normal house wife in Thousand Oaks California, saw an elf on her vacuum cleaner handle and proceeded to have a several minute discussion with the little sprite. Senate went out of his way to say that she was normal in every respect with the exception of her elfin encounter. She had no history of mental illness, she wanted to be anonymous so she wasn’t trying to get money or publicity.
For a long time I thought about this lady and her elf. Since Senate had interviewed her, it wasn’t just urban legend. A story generated on misinformation that gained a life of its own. Senate seemed honest in his investigations so I doubted he made it up. Besides he had people sending strange occurrences to him all the time, he didn’t need to make anything up to fill up news space. So for the longest time I thought that there could only be two possible explanations, she was crazy or she really did see an elf.
Later on I read Mike Dashes classic on the paranormal, Borderlands. He explained altered states of consciousness (ASC). ASC can be maintained by meditation and the use of drugs (for the record no I wasn’t using drugs). But can also be brought on by everyday experiences. In fact it is very common in non-western societies. The person who undergoes this experiences something that is psychological in nature but is to them appears physically real. Often this is their subconscious sharing something with them. But what people who have ASC experiences are not, is crazy. They are regular people who live regular lives.
So did I have an ASC? Maybe? What did it mean? Well I have found that the human race is terrible at self-analysis, but maybe the sexualized nature of the vision might have some clues. How her back is turned to me is symbolic how I feel I been rejected by love. Or maybe she was my version of the genius Loci (a spirit of a place) of Portland a place full of exotic dance clubs and a history of naughtiness. Who knows what she means to me? I don’t.
I am comfortable with the concept that I might have had an ASC. Though I am a little nervous I might have had one while driving a vehicle. I am more comfortable with it than the possibility of me having a spectral encounter.
Some would call me stubborn. That I would not believe the evidence of my own eyes. Some might think that I have deeper issues. Both of which might be true. But I guess my experiences have taught me not to trust either my eyes or heart.