"Never breaking stride, he walked up the long aisle between the bunks and took out his swagger stick. He started swinging it over his head in a wide circle, and then, just before he reached my bunk, he poised it for a moment in mid-air, and SWOOSH – he made a sideways swipe that landed a direct hit on my helmet, sending it flying into space. The helmet hit the opposite wall and landed on the floor upside down where it rolled and rolled, making a noise – ping-ping-ping-ping. But Lieutenant Kosmos never looked at it, never broke his stride; he just kept walking, looking neither left nor right. When he reached the end of the aisle he kicked the door open, KERBOOM, and walked out.

"I looked over and saw my candle, still there on the bed, and heard my helmet still rolling on the floor. I picked up the candle and I knew I‘d been given a sign: The helmet is darkness, constriction, closing off. The candle is illuminated, light. God sent down Lieutenant Kosmos to give me my very first message: ‘Follow the light of your mind, don’t restrict it.’  And the best part, the part I REALLY LOVE, is that God did it with a sense of humor. God can tell a joke.”

There were lots more stories, including the one about the blonde, the marijuana joint and the parking lot behind the Gold Nugget in Reno, but finally my notebook got pretty soggy, not to mention my skin, and I said goodbye to Jack Murray, dried myself off, put on my clothes and got in the car. As I was leaving, Jack stood up in the pool and called out to me: “REMEMBER IF YOU CAN’T TELL MY STORIES RIGHT, LEAVE THEM OUT.  DON’T CUT THEM.”

I gave him a thumbs-up, pressed down on the accelerator and did an unintended 180-degree spin in the mud. As I recovered, heart pounding, I heard Jack’s laughter. Then I saw him get out of the pool and start walking toward me so I gunned the motor and this time drove straight out. When I saw him in my rear-view mirror he looked like a tall piece of rhubarb, boiled and soft, just out of the steamer.

The next morning I got up before dawn and drove in the dark 20 miles south on 395. I wanted to get to Bodie, the Gold Rush ghost town, before sunrise. 

Gene in color, without his hat

Gene in color, without his hat

I took the signed turn-off down a dirt road and after another 20 miles I ran into a gate and a booth with a sign on it announcing that Bodie was closed. The ghost town had become a State Historic Park and its hours were 10 to 5.

There was nothing I could do but wait, so I sat on the car and tried to imagine what Jack would do. I wrote a few haikus, did some stretching exercises and tried to see where the lizards went when they disappeared beneath the rocks. Then I sat still and thought some thoughts for awhile, and suddenly the thoughts turned into physical sensations. When I remembered Jack’s candle, my skin started tingling, and when I looked at the sky I discovered I could influence the cloud patterns. For a moment or two, I even heard distant voices, as if someone were giving a party on the other side of the ridge line. 

When I finally did get into Bodie, I found the place strangely unemotional. Its setting was spectacular – a desolate, windy pass – and the 50 or so buildings that had survived various fires were truly ghostly, in a state the Park Service calls “arrested decay.” But I didn’t stay long, probably because I’d already had my out-of-body experience. I took a few photos and moved on.