I’ve heard many unusual stories over the years. For instance, a farmer’s wife told me of seeing lightning go through a closed window, pass through her kitchen, through an open door, then out a window in the living room. Another time she told me about a night, not long after her husband died, when she’d been awakened by a bell. A bell he had used to summon her when he was sick. “I shoulda never given him that bell!” Then she felt his side of the bed go down. She asked him to please go—it was very frightening for her—she told him she couldn’t handle it, and he left.


When I sold encyclopedias I met an Episcopalian minister who told me that at one time he worshipped the devil. Back in those dark days he used to leave his body and fly with his friends to an enemy’s house to attack them. He also told me that the devil was very powerful and that he was like a light bulb in brightness compared to us who would be like a match. God, however, would be like the Sun.


A Mankind Project friend, Fred Cheyette, has compiled a book of stories of the strange and inexplicable things that have occurred to ordinary people; things that seem too amazing to be attributed to coincidence. After experiencing many unusual occurrences himself, he would often relate them to others. They, in turn, would tell him of theirs.


Here are some of the stories that will appear in his book:


During a trip to Los Angeles I went to the YWCA and had a massage with a woman named Eve, who I had never met before. During the massage she told me things about my family, which amazed me, because I had not mentioned them to her. Two days later I went back to the Y and asked to set up another appointment with Eve because I was so taken with what she had told me. The clerk said that was impossible to do because she had gone back to Hungary six months before!

In the ‘60s I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts and my brother was living in a nearby town. One night he called me. Since this was before cell phones and speed dialing, he dialed my number manually. However I was not home, but was at a party somewhere in the suburbs. I had come with other people, I didn’t know the house and I had never met the host. At one point I decided to take a break from the party and was sitting alone next to the telephone. The phone rang and on impulse I answered it. It was my brother. I was incredulous. “How did you find me here?” I asked. He didn’t understand what I was talking about. After some discussion, we discovered that he had intended to dial my Cambridge apartment’s number and somehow dialed the number of the house I was visiting.

On September 21, 1938, I was leaving my house in Brooklyn to go to school. I was seven years old and fairly heavy. I closed the front door of the house and walked down the five steps to the landing. As I approached the two steps that led to the sidewalk, a gust of wind picked me up, carried me through the air and gently put me down on my feet on the sidewalk. I looked around and didn’t see anyone, so I walked to school and didn’t say anything about it. The wind that picked me up was part of the most severe hurricane to hit the Northeast in recorded history.

My wife and I were home, sitting in the same room, doing some mundane thing. Suddenly, at the same instant, we both broke out into song. We sang the same song, in the same key and started singing at the same place in the song. It was not a song we had been singing or listening to. It never happened before or since.

His publisher wants him to add more stories to his book before it’s published. If you have a story like the ones I’ve included from Fred’s book (not like mine) and you’d enjoy seeing it in print, email it to Fred at fredcheyette@earthlink.net. Let him know if you’d like it to appear with your byline.

Why did Grandma die, doesn’t she love us anymore?”

When my mother was dying several years ago, we gathered for a week at her bedside, all eleven of us, her children, coming in from all parts of the country, also numerous grandchildren.

My mother’s body was shot, after living with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other maladies, including my father who now had Alzheimer’s. She’d had enough; it was her time to go.

When I was growing up, we went on weekly picnics in the nice weather.  My mother loved to sing; she had a beautiful voice. She and my father, whose voice was not as exceptional, would lead us in the old songs that they grew up with. We would all sing around the fire at night and on all those drives to and from.

So, around my mother’s bed, we sang these same songs. When we got the words wrong she would jump in and help us. Then she died.

I missed when she passed out of her body and briefly burst into tears when one of my sisters said she was gone.

The next day I was hanging out with my nieces. Jana, a very vivacious eight year old, was very sad and angry.

“Why did Grandma die?” she asked. “Doesn’t she love us anymore?”

She could not understand why her grandma, who had held on until everyone had come in from Illinois, California, Connecticut, and Colorado, would abandon her. Jana sorely missed her.

I explained that Grandma’s body was all worn out, that it was very hard for her to stay alive when she was so old and so sick.

I said it was time for her to leave her body and go on to something else like a caterpillar in a chrysalis becomes a butterfly. “Would you want Grandma to stay the way she is, all sick and broken down, just because you don’t want her to go away?”

Jana’s face changed. Still serious, but now a little lighter, she asked, “Is Grandma a butterfly?”

John Gilmore’s Blog

A generous friend, John Gilmore, from my writing group, introduced my blog to his readers by devoting a whole post to me. He compared my writing to a savory type of cheese that deserved tasting. Should I do the same for him? Let me compare his writing to a fine, aromatic Latakia blend that wafts richly off the digital page, yet gets straight to the point! His blog called – The Writing Loft – at http://thewritingloft.wordpress.com is a very well written collection of short pieces on writing and writers. Experience Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont home, the ups and downs of UP, Hemingway if he lived in Bridgeport, CT, and the efficacies of Twitter, stylebooks, and knowing your audience—to open the possibilities.

John has been writing professionally for years. His spy thriller, Cocaineros Duel, coming out in December, is both exciting and full of intrigue. I’ll let you know when it becomes available. In the meantime, you can go to his blog, settle back and enjoy.

Mr. Hernia

Is this too personal an operation to speak to those who know me? Tom Green featured himself getting a testicle removed on national TV. That included the severed organ and vomiting. I don’t know if he has gone in for reconstructive surgery, preferring to remain one of the elite sporting only one ball. There are cases, one is mentioned in the movie, In and Out, and one that entails the main character of J.P. Donleavy’s, The Onion Eaters involving a group of men with three. So perhaps a donor could be found for Tom if he desired.

But getting back to my predicament, I’ve been working too hard with my body for over 30 years—carrying and working with heavy ladders, climbing the same. And then restoring them to the roof of my vehicle, not to mention all the scrubbing, equipment, and  furniture moving and other miscellaneous activities I’ve engaged in. In the past I also had a carpet cleaning business, using a truck mount, an even more strenuous undertaking.

I knew I had one hernia and suspected the second, but the doctor found a third. The doctor, by the way, is known as the Hernia King of Connecticut, because he performs more of these operations than anyone else. And since he has done more than anyone else, this self appellation as King has credence. After all, wouldn’t you want a delicate operation done by the most experienced guy?

To make a long story longer, the appointed day came, and because of  issues with Patrick, my son, I ended up being dropped off at Bridgeport Hospital at the last minute. This made me quite tense and short tempered. I was not too worried about the surgery, having been assured I would not awake from the anesthesia in excruciating pain. I was upset, however, by the prospect of being late.

Fortunately I was dropped off on time. The third floor holding room had a sign telling us, the surgery attendees, to sit tight and they’d come and get us—no check-in; so I was never completely sure I was in the right place. Finally after 45 minutes of waiting, someone came out and informed us they’d be taking us soon, and my doctor’s name, Kenler, was mentioned. I took this as a good sign that I was in the right place.

At long last a couple of us were guided into a room to disrobe and put on “the gown with the open air solution for one’s ass”. My clothes went into a bag with my wedding ring. The nurse assured me that now, I was a free man. So I asked her if she had a wedding ring on—she did and added that as soon as my wife returned I would be asked to don said ring again, since I belonged to her—my window of opportunity closed as rapidly as it opened. I must say, in an aside, that this ring represents one of the most important things in my life beyond my integral involvement with life itself.

Then commenced a wonderful parade of intake personnel: data compiler, robe adjudicator, Indian anesthesiologist, Filipino scrub nurse, shaving specialist who informed me she had to “remove this sweater, but don’t worry it will grow back,” the PA who would assist the doctor, and of course, his lordship himself, the Hernia King, who drew on my abdomen a game plan, discussed risk analysis, and engaged in a brief but harmless badinage about his well-deserved appellation that should be just shortened to King.

One disconcerting aspect of this whole introduction was the PA telling me I’d be out of commission for not just two weeks, as I’d been told might be the case due to the healthy, virile specimen that I am, but six weeks of no lifting more than 10 pounds (then again, one report said 16 and another 20).

That is why I’m writing this disclosure of my medical affair. What else am I going to do? I can’t even vacuum the rug. The upside is the Valium—I am not afraid and in good spirits, just sore. I didn’t really want to go to work today anyway, and the drugs and dictum of having to rest on doctor’s orders, removes the guilt, shame, and fear that are sometimes my constant companions.

If this missive sparks in you, a desire to communicate with me, please write, either as a comment to this post or at larry@optonline.net.

This is my first real surgery. Just as becoming a father had done for me 30 years ago, this is another initiation for me into the human race of which I often observe but sometimes avoid engaging. More than ever, I feel we are all in this together, that I’m a part of you and you, a part of me.

I suspect grandchildren will be the next big thing for me. And finally, my dying will bring it all full circle.

A way a lone a last a loved along the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.     Finnegans Wake

Grandpa and War

My grandfather on my mother’s side (I never knew my other grandfather) was a grumpy, stern man. I can’t ever remember him smiling. Even his wedding picture looked grim. This manner, I always attributed to that famous Germanic humorlessness. As Robin Williams once said, “They killed off all the funny people.”

However, I came to realize that perhaps this brusque, unfriendly manner had its source in something else.

He grew up on a farm in Austria, about 25 miles outside of Vienna. Not far, as it turned out, from my grandmother, whom he met only after coming to this country. My grandparents spoke both German and Hungarian since their territory switched hands so many times in their youth. They acquired English later, here. They both came over on the boat after World War I. My grandfather had been conscripted and fought on the Eastern front on the German side. He was probably 18 at the time. He was captured by the Russians, who, not known for their hospitality towards their enemies, imprisoned him in Siberia for several years. He didn’t like to talk about it. I always pictured an interminable train ride across a bare, forbidding landscape, followed by a long internment in a snowy place far, far from home. I think all he ever said about it was that they cut down trees, and it was cold.

When my giant family (there were eventually 13 in all, including my parents) would visit, we would sleep on a pullout couch, a bed, and cots spread all over the dining/living room of their tiny one-story home.

During the day, my brothers and I would occupy ourselves with riding my parents old balloon-tired bikes, playing wiffleball in the yard, and our all-time favorite, pushing each other in my grandfather’s green wagon with the ball bearing wheels. It was amazingly fast, and steered easily, and we would careen around the tiny sidewalks that skirted his gardens of flowers and vegetables and wended the passageways through his perfectly manicured hedges. It was a blast and we would howl with delight. Grandpa, on the other hand, would yell at us to slow down and watch out for his borders and hedges that we were always crashing into. One time he caught me by the hair, and then shook me by the shoulders after we bashed into and made a serious dent in the front hedge.

In the evening, we would watch TV. My father, who always took over wherever we went, commandeered the recliner. The rest of us would be on the floor, dining room chairs or pullout couch.

One time we were watching a war movie about World War II. My father loved to watch these. He was a signalman in the Navy in the South Pacific during the latter part of the war. However, he was fortunate never to have seen any action.

“Grandpa, why don’t you sit down and watch TV with us?” My father said, with that magnanimous ‘your house is my house’ tone of his.

My grandfather refused, turned around, and headed back to the kitchen. As he left, he spoke in a typically grumpy tone, this time tinged with pain, “I’ve seen enough war.”

[This is the last  installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first  post to read from the beginning]

Tail Ends

I was finally in Minneapolis. I put my pack back together.  The bright sunlight, the proximity of houses and trees whose shadows they cast, cheered me up. It seemed like home—like Michigan where I grew up—after living in California and this ride through the desert, over the mountains, and across the Great Plains.

I hadn’t had much sleep, but I wasn’t tired, just sore from sitting on the Celica’s console for 1500 miles.  I was excited about seeing my friends.  It felt good to be able to stretch, relax and put my stuff back together.  Stuff I thought I’d never see again, like my red pack and down sleeping bag.

It felt good to stretch my personality a little too and not worry about Charlie and Ken disapproving of it.  I had had to be careful.  They were not open to much of what I had to say or feel.  Now I was able to feel anyway I wanted to. Catching a bus for downtown with Kelley’s address and phone number in my pocket, I wanted to surprise my friends by showing up at the door, unannounced.  I only told them that I would try to come.  They weren’t exactly expecting me all the way from California.

I loved these people.  They literally meant “the life” to me.  When I was in school, two of them saved me, and I would never forget it.  Also they appreciated who I was and what I was capable of with my heart and mind.

“Where you going camping?”  An older, rumpled man addressed me.  His jacket and pants were stained.  He was missing some teeth and had a straggly beard.  This was before people who lived on the streets were called “homeless”.

“I’m here visiting friends,” I replied.

The gentleman started to sing, “With a backpack on my back…”

Everyone else on the bus ignored him, but I, as usual, didn’t want to offend.

“You know how to protect yourself from a pack of wolves?”  Not waiting for a response, he continued, “I learned this when I was in Alaska.  You take a knife and you cut yourself with it so’s you get blood all over the blade.  Then you stick the handle in the snow.  The wolves’ll come up to the knife, bite it and cut themselves; the blood’ll drive them crazy.  They’ll attack each other till there’s none left…” he started singing again.

I got up, pulled the cord to get off downtown, at the terminal.

“You remember what I told you, young feller.”  The doors unfolded on his last words.  I was glad to be off the bus.  It seemed I was always trying to escape one uncomfortable situation or another.  I longed to feel at rest, to put away the anxiety that fermented in my chest. I was sure that it was all caused by things outside of me.

I took a bus to the University and got off in an area that looked artsy. Maybe this is where they live.

I called Kelly.


“Hi, you doing anything?”


“Yeah, I thought I’d give you a call.  Is the wedding still on?”

“Yeah, sure.  Are you coming?”

“Yeah, could you pick me up?” I continued speaking very casually.

“In California?”

“No, I’m in Minneapolis.  I’m outside the Riverside Café in an artsy fartsy section somewhere near the University.”

“You’re here?” Kelley registered an appropriate amount of surprise. “The Riverside Café’s on the West Bank, stay there.  I’ll come and pick you up.”  The West Bank wasn’t all that artsy as it turned out.  Fartsy was appropriate, later that year I would have some vegetarian chili at that café.  You paid a donation and you got the meal of the day.

“Here you go, Brother,” the hippie behind the counter said.  It wasn’t very good, a lot of beans and tomato sauce—no seasoning.  It was worth what I paid for it, though.

Across the street was another café. It had the best ice cream sundaes.  They would serve you a bowl heaped with vanilla ice cream and a gravy boat filled with your choice of toppings.

Hot fudge was my favorite, and I would get them on a regular basis in spite of my lactose intolerance.

I hummed with energy.  I was eager to see my old friends, happy to have accomplished my destination, and excited to tell the hysterical story of my trip.

I’ve made it!  No more danger or uncertainty.  Not at least until I had to leave for Michigan.  Next stop was Grand Rapids, a town 30 miles from where I grew up, and where my older sister Cathy lived with her husband and son.

For now, my friends would provide me a place to stay and entertainment.

A beige sedan pulled up near me, “Boy, they’ll let anybody into this town.”

“I know,” I said seemingly astonished. “They let anybody drive too?”

“Fortunately for me.  Put you’re pack in the back.  How you doing?”  He was grinning from ear to ear.

“Well, pretty good, now that I’m here.”

“Tell me about your trip.”  Kelly was a very clever fellow with tight kinkified, red hair and a quick wit. He was at the University working on his Masters. At Notre Dame he had been a good friend and, at times, a mentor. A few years later when I was back in California and he was in New York, he gave my future wife, my address. She wrote to me. We’ve been married over 30 years.

I’d envisioned telling the story of my trip with all my friends in a circle around me, surprised, entertained, and impressed.  If I told it here in the car it would lose some of its impact.  Each telling would steal some of its thunder until it was just a light shower, a passing mist amongst my friends.

“Well, I got this ride across the desert in the back of a pickup truck with a guy who had just spent two years in jail for stealing a Pantera.  He was going to…” I told Kelly the whole story, about the cowboy, the cattle lullaby and the trip from Cedar City to Minneapolis—“I got picked up by a couple of guys who wanted to kill me on their way to joining the two million-man-strong New Zion Army in the Colorado Rockies…”

“Well,” said Kelly, when I finished the blow by blow, “That was a good story.”  He paused and arched his eyebrows, “So, you gonna join up?”

“Join up what?”

“The New Zion Army.”

I thought for a minute and then, with a half smile, said, “I guess I probably should after all that.  What do you think?”

Kelly glanced my way as he drove, “Sounds good to me, but why don’t you wait till after the wedding.”

The End

See Random Roads, an international online Hitchhiking Magazine

[This is the 5th  installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first  post to read from the beginning]

Road to Minneapolis

 I awoke. Grey light filtered through the blinds throwing a pattern of slits on the bed beside me where Ken slept. A line of white light shown under the door.   Sounds of a car door shutting, muffled voices, and the jingling of keys made me aware of life beyond our motel room.

I was still alive.  I lay there breathing slowly and deeply.  The frightening thunderheads of black thought that had engulfed me the night before, concerning my imminent demise, were gone.  I laughed.

“What’s so funny,” said Charlie, apparently lying awake.

“Just glad to be alive,” I responded.

“Yeah, well, we’re burning daylight.  Let’s get going.”

We slowly got up and packed.

“Get your ass out of bed, Ken.”  Charlie threw his pillow and hit Ken in the head.

“Hey, watch it,” Ken flung it back at him.  Then he got up and went into the bathroom.

“Hurry up, I gotta take a piss too.”

The drive to Provo was cordial.  Charlie joked and bragged to, through, and past breakfast at Denny’s.  I didn’t want to spend anymore money than I had to.  Yet I wanted to be sociable after being allowed to live and all.  So instead of eating the salami and cheese in my pack, I ate with them at Denny’s.

We drove together past Provo and joined I-80 for the trip over the Rockies.  It was getting cold.  Once we got in the foothills it started to snow.  Ken drove.  He was scared.  “They taught us to turn into the skids when we were on the ice.”

“When?” I asked.

“When I was training to be a State Cop.  They had us drive on ice at an ice rink in San Bernardino.”

“Why?  There’s never any ice in L.A.”.

“Yeah but we were training for high speed chases and U turns.”

Both hands gripped the wheel, he had his driving gloves on so I couldn’t see whether his knuckles were white or not.  His steely jaw did not tremble, but I sensed his tension.

“I’m thinking we should just drive straight through to Minneapolis,” said Charlie, “I don’t feel like camping in this shit.”

No longer excited about camping with my two “buddies”, I was glad when I saw the snow and heard Charlie’s reaction to it.  I didn’t think they still wanted to kill me, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to see any prairie dogs bite the dust either.

The car wasn’t running as well at the higher altitude.  Sometimes it would slow way down and creep up hill.  Sometimes it would cough and sputter , threatening to die.

Finally it did die.  We had driven through the night.  My tailbone was starting to get sore from the hard console that, in spite of the padding, I could not avoid.  I slept in small stretches as Ken and Charlie took turns driving.  I contributed towards the gas but was not asked to drive.

Finally the car sputtered to a stop just as it came up over a rise.

“Well, shit.  This piece of crap.”

“Hey, that’s my car you’re talking about,” said Charlie.

“Now what?”

“Well, one of us has to get a ride into town to get help.”

“I’ll go,” I said.  “I’ll hitch in.”

There was no disagreement about that.  They were glad to have me do something for a change.  Maybe get rid of me; my money was almost gone.  If I had known I’d be paying for a ride, I would’ve taken a bus.  The only thing is, I would have lost all my earthly possessions.

It was morning; the snow was blowing over the pass, down the interstate.  There were not a lot of cars but I felt confident I would get a ride due to our broken-down vehicle.

I walked and hitched.  The next town was a good 10 miles, and I was trying to stay warm.

A Volkswagen Rabbit with skis strapped to the roof pulled over.  There was a young guy driving, his girlfriend was sleeping on top of all their luggage and coats in the back.

“Hey, how ya doing.”  I recognized the couple.  They went to Notre Dame.  Younger than me, they were still in school, living the dream.  I was hitching across the country, nearly broke, at loose ends.  They clearly could afford a car and a ski trip and school too!

“Hi,” said the driver.

“Hi,” said the girl.

“Could you give me a ride to the next town?  The people I’m riding with’s car broke down.  I need to get some help.”

“Sure, climb in.” said the driver.

“Fancy meeting you out here.  Where you going?” I asked.

“Back to school.”  They looked tired and were not very talkative.  They couldn’t care less about me but they were surprised to see me out of context.  They knew me as a graduating theatre person.  I couldn’t be doing that well if I’m hitchhiking out in the middle of nowhere.  I was forced to compare myself to these people.  The plan, when you graduate from college is, you get a good job, you start a career, you continue climbing up that success ladder.  Everyone expected it of you, everyone is impressed.  I had already gotten off the ladder.

I’m not impressing anybody here, I thought.  I asked them about people they knew and then got real quiet, trying to appear mysterious.  Perhaps they’ll figure there is more to my life than meets the eye.

They didn’t know what to make of me, but they were too tired to wonder why they, of all people, would be helping me, of all persons.

The mechanic from the gas station drove out with me in the tow truck.  “This ain’t nothing.  It sometimes goes down to 40 below with the wind blowing the snow clean through you.”

I thought how there were so many people in the world tougher than I was.  That somehow I was allowed to squeak by unharmed with so many dangers all around me.  Perhaps it was my ability to appear invisible.

“Where are they, son?”

The section of interstate was clear of all cars, not even a moving car in sight.

“I don’t know.  They’re gone.  I’m sorry to drag you out here for nothing.”  I’m never going to see them again.  I started planning on how I would get to Minneapolis without any clothes, food or sleeping bag.  I would hitch as soon as I got back to the rest stop.  Maybe get a bite to eat, but I had to watch my money, I didn’t have much left.

“It’s all right, things are slow at the station now anyway.”

I went into the diner, calculating how much money I could spend.  I was starving.

“Well, look who’s here,” Charlie said.

“How did you get here?  I went back with a tow truck and there was nobody there.”

“The car just started going again, “said Ken, the state cop aspirant, who looked surprised and embarrassed.

“Might as well get something to eat.”  Charlie sipped on a beer.

Cedar City all over again.  I sat on a bar stool and ordered two eggs over easy with home fries and rye toast, $1.75.

“Yep, just started running again.  We kept trying it.  It was getting cold out there.”

“I got picked up by two people I knew.  They’re from Notre Dame.”

“Fancy that,” said Charlie out of the corner of his mouth.

Resigned to finish the journey together, we got back into the car and headed east.  The rest of the way to Minneapolis was uneventful; just a long slow drive at 55 mph.  This was just after 55 mph had been implemented nationally because of the supposed fuel shortage.

The oil companies staged a fake fuel shortage all across the country.  Cars were lined up at the pumps for blocks.  All the while, oil tankers had to sit offshore and wait because fuel storage tanks were filled to capacity.  That was before oil companies became selfless champions of the greater good.

Talk decreased to a bare minimum as the tired cold miles were slowly digested.

It was warm and sunny when we finally hit Minneapolis.  Charlie started making jokes.  “Look at that asshole,” he said, pointing to a bearded, long-haired student standing at a bus stop.  “With all that hair you can’t tell if he’s got shit for brains or brains full of shit.”

Charlie started planning his and Ken’s future.  “We’ll live with my Mom for awhile, get jobs and save a little money.  We could buy a couple motorcycles and ride around together.”

Ken smiled, “Sounds good.”

“Well it’s time to get rid of this asshole,” Charlie laughed.  “I’m just kidding, it’s been nice knowing you,” he winked at Ken while he said this.  “You can catch a bus downtown over at that corner.  Minneapolis has a good bus system; they come every half hour.”

They pulled over and began yanking my stuff out of all the places it had been secreted around the little car.  They put it all in a pile on the sidewalk.

“Take care of yourself.  And listen.”  Charlie’s eyes narrowed, his voice, became serious.  “You watch the news this spring, the Red Chinese are coming, I shit you not.”  He reached his hand out the window and shook my hand.  “Nice knowing you.”

“Yeah, it was a good trip,” said Ken reaching across Charlie to shake my hand too.

“See ya,” Charlie abruptly started the car and gave a slight wave. I waved back, but they didn’t turn to see it. Ken and Charlie were laughing about something as they drove off. It looked as if they’d already forgotten the whole thing.


Next Week:

Tail Ends