The most accurate description of the most astounding phenomenon ever presented to the western world came from the mouth of three crows, animated cartoon characters in Walt Disney's Dumbo. If the crows could be believed, they had seen a peanut stand, had heard a rubber band, had seen a needle wink its eye. But, they assured us, they would not have seen everything until they'd seen an elephant fly.
Well, I know that even if they had seen an elephant fly, they would still not have seen everything. They would not have seen the photographs I have seen: photographs taken while the lens cap of the camera was screwed on tight. There was no way for a picture to come through. There was no way for anything to come through. The developed negative is blank, frame after frame, until, suddenly, in the center of the roll, there are two snapshots which have no business being there. The snapshots are of the Israeli psychic Uri Geller. He claims that his mind, not light, exposed the film.
I've read of such things in parapsychological texts. They always make me shrug my shoulders with a mixture of curiosity and resignation. But I can't shrug this off: the photographs were taken with the camera of a skillful photographer, who takes pictures for many national magazines and is completley competent with his equipment. He's a trustworthy friend to boot. True, the photographs turned out slightlty out of focus, showing Geller from an angle that might have occured if Geller somehow had removed, then replaced the lens cap. But our photographer, David Doubilet, assures me that there was no way the lens cap could have been removed. It is a screw-on not a snap-on, lens cap. It makes a horrible scraping sound when twisting off. And Doubilet, like a spy, never stopped watching or listening while the camera clocked. Either way, the pictures were astounding proof of a psychic phenomenon, or proof that a new Houdini has arisen.
I didn't actually see the pictures snapped. When I walked into the photography session, Doubilet was standing by the window, taking ordinary pictures - of a key that had been bent at a 60-degree angle. The key was still bending and later broke in half. The only force that had been applied was the stroke of a finger, the kind of stroke you would give a cat to make it purr.
But by this time I had already seen keys bend - the key to my motorcycle lock had curled up before my eyes. And untouched watches had moved their hands, and telepathic pictures had been projected over the phone. It had taken me only four hours in the presence of the psychic phenomenon Uri Geller to accept the unacceptable, as if it were no more extraordinary than a peacock's feather. Birds fly. Cows moo. Keys bend.
Uri Geller gives you the impression of a living science-fiction fantasy. Not the fantasy of a superman, but the fantasy of the ordinary Joe who happens to have an extraordinary talent and doesn't quite know what to do with it. He may have bent keys a thousand times, but when your key starts bending he jumps like a kid who has discovered how to work a new toy. When the crowd at Town Hall in New York presses in on him after the show, he is horrified that they want to touch him as if he were some god or idol. When he meets a reporter from Rolling Stone, he wants to know who is responsible for getting him on the cover. Under the influence of a scientist colleague, he agreed to have his powers tested at the Stanford Research Institute. Under the influence of a theatrical colleague (who produced the German prodution of "Hair") he took voice lessons in preperation for a possible psychic musical.
In answer to spiritual skeptics who can't understand why anyone with ESP and telekinesis would bother with parlour tricks and nightclub acts he replies that he gets off on the crowds, on answering questions, on showing off his gift and watching people wonder. He appears on the Jack Parr Show and gives interviews with Cosmopolitan: "No one is going to tell me how to run my life, or how much money to make," he repeats vehemently over and over again. And over and over again he repeats, too, that he is no Jesus, no Moses, he doesn't know how he works his tricks, he doesn't even know if he is the one doing the tricks, he's normal, normal plus.
Five of us - friends, and friends of friends - played Fair Witness to his powers at an interview in New York, trying hard not to interview but, to visit. There were David and Ronnie Silver, Steve Diamond, Carolyn Richardson, Uri and I, crowded into a chic sterile room in an East 57th Street apartment. The visit was play - parlour tricks around the coffee table - but this game was for real.
The beggining was a bit uncomfortable. Uri immediately launched into his autobiographical rap, much of which I had already heard in his Town Hall demonstration. Guessing correctly how much his mother won at cards. Discovering as a kid that the hands of his watch bent. Hiding the gifts from other kids. Joining the elite Israeli paratroopers. Modelling professionally. Deciding to make extra bucks showing his talents in Israeli nightclubs. A thousand performances. Then, of to Germany to test his powers and his act in a foreign and cynical clime. Off to America at the urgings of his scientist friend, Andrija Puharich. The Stanford Research Institute gig, sponsored by astonaut Edgar Mitchell. Barnstorming through the states. Growing aware that the powers came not from him, but from outside control.
The man has a charming quality, though, of saying an often repeated monologue as if he had just thrown away the script and had started improvising. He got restless before we did, anxious to try out his talents before he lost his audience. He asked us for something that meant a lot to us emotionally. I offered my house key, but it was a skeleton key, slightly bent, and he rejected it. He also rejected Ronnie's first wedding ring. He finally settled on a key to my apartment but when he tried to bend it, it remained unbowed. An attempted solution was to switch our seating positions, and stand Ronnie and me away from the table, taking the wedding ring with us.
He had no real plan; he was simply changing variables to see if something would happen. The ring didn't bend. Instead, as he held the key in his hand it arched up. He took his hand away and put it on the table. There was nothing underneath the table (it had a glass top), and nothing over it except the ceiling. Ans as we stared the metal clearly continued to bend until it stopped at about a 60-degree angle. I didn't know it then, but I've subsequently discovered the key did belong to something I cared about; my old rusty motorcycle.
We switched to watches. In his stage act at Town Hall, Uri had unsuccessfully tried to start a pile of broken watches which had been brought on stage by people in the audience who had heard about his act. But in the apartment, he tried a different tack. Out of his line of sight, Carolyn set her working watch to 7 o'clock and placed it in the cup of his hands. Then, in his sight we set a clock to 8:30, to give him something to concentrate on. He attempted to turn the dial to that hour.
He failed. When he opened his hands after a few seconds, the watch had not moved forward an hour and a half but backwards an hour and forty minutes. As everyone laughed and gabbed excitedly I kept my eye on the watch. Its hand was now moving forward faster than it should, covering three minutes on the timer in what I estimated to be one minute real time. We all loved the idea that it might be trying to reach 5:30 in order to make a change of 1 1/2 hours.
About 45 minutes later I happened to look at the watch again. I asked if anyone had touched the watch: no one had. It had suddenly become 12:30 on the dial. Uri was delighted but not surprised. Things happened around him without his effort. He cupped the watch in his hand to see if anything more would happen. An instant later, he opened his hands and the time was 3:10.
By this point, Andrew Weil, author of The Natural Mind, had arrived to do a story on Uri for Psychology Today. He had brought along a broken watch which would only tick for a few seconds if you shook it hard. he took it out of his pocket - it was now running fine. And continued to run OK (we set it against another watch) for at least half an hour, after which I got bored checking it.
Toward the end of our visit, which lasted four hours, Uri tried some telepathy over the phone. We called a friend at the Rolling Stone office, a few blocks away, and asked him to draw a picture. Uri began sketching. At first he lightly outlined a crescent moon and bisected it with a straight line. Then, with more conviction, he drew a triangle, and, inside the triangle, an eye. I don't know where he got the moon idea, but our friend at Rolling Stone had sketched a picture taken from the back of a dollar bill: the pyramid under the coptic eye. We were gleeful. Uri elaborated on his picture, saying that he ahd entertained an urge to put lines, like sunrays around the triangle, which seemed to fit with the occult nature of the pyramid. When we walked over to Rolling Stone we discovered no sunrays around the pyramid, but the eye was surrounded by little lines - eyelashes.
The whole thing really was to heavy to handle. For me, and I think the others, the burden of proof has suddenly shifted. Other psychic phenomena I have accepted on a subjective intuition, or waited with anticipation for someone to come along and substantiate the claim beyond a shadow of a doubt. But now, with my bent key in hand, I wonder only if some incredible genius could figure out a way to fake it.
Imagine what it must be like for Uri, who actually does these things. When Steve took aout a packet of English Senior Service cigarettes, Uri asked why he was smoking them. He had noticed the picture of a sailboat on the cover, almost an exact replica of a picture he had drawn in an ESP demonstration a few days before.This for Uri was cause to wonder. It's happened too often to him; he became disappointed when a watch, which had suddenly changed time, had performed this feat because someone reset it.
Like us, too, he experiments and fools around. On hash he has discovered an amazing increase in his powers. He feels he can bend steel girders. When he comes down, however, he receives the disappointment of all reefer madness: the powers are neither more, nor less glorious than when he is not smoking.
He's not immune to the fear, either. He has attempted teleportation twice and it scared the shit out of him. He was lying down, eyes closed, in Ossining, New York, the home of his scientist friend, Adrija Puharich, trying to project himself to Brazil. Suddenly he saw colors flash past him, like the kaleidascope in 2001. When the colors cleared he was on a plaza with wavy inlaid lines: Rio or Brazillia. Not just in his mind, his whole physical body. Inside his head, though, he could hear Puharich's voice: "Bring back money!" A couple was walking towards him, just strolling. He asked for money but of course they couldn't understand his language. Puharich supplied some Portuguese or Spanish words. That did the trick. Uri had no shirt pocket, so he clutched the paper money in his fist. Then he was back in Ossining, New York. Puharich, who had seen nothing out of the ordinary in Uri's behavior, asked what happened. Uri opened a fist holding the cruzeiro currency.
He couldn't relate the other teleportation trip. That information was being saved for a book by Puharich. Uri and his entourage are as careful as a rock band about their publicity and make no bones about it. "Bring back money!" was an appropriate phrase. In any case, the experience was too much for Uri, and he won't try it again soon.
Uri causes one to worry. He wants to assure everyone that not everything about him is peculiar. Asked about his strange experiences during sleep he says: "No, it's very normal, very vey normal, like you or me. Very normal. Actually everything is normal if you condense what we saw here and heard - that's the only thing that's not normal. Otherwise I do things that you and you do." But he's such a package of contradictions: defensive, ingenuous, arrogant, nervous, ambitious, and innocent. (And normal - this alloy of abjectives might describe any number of Israeli's.) The question is, how is he going to make his contradictions cohere?
He's only in his late twenties. And he claims to have floored the Greek Orthodox Archbishop by turning Mateus rose wine into a blood-red liquid that tasted, to the Archbishop, like Manischwitz.
He likes to parachute, scuba dive, and drive fast (even drive blindfolded with someone sitting beside him as his "eyes"). His bravery, though, quavers at certain responsibilities of his gifts. He predicted Nasser's death in front of an Israeli audience ten minutes after it had happened. 65 minutes before Israeli radio announced it, but a year ago he decided he didn't want these things to happen and they have now stopped.
He admits to having looked on occasion into ladies minds to find out their sexual predilictions. And he has bent Werner Von Braun's wedding ring and visited other hotshots in high security catacombs which have filled him with awe: "What am I doing here? This is James Bond."
If his "normal" life is incompatable with his powers, his ideas are even more incompatable with the various petty and peculiar interests of the people around him. He believes that there are worlds within worlds, with creatures of greater powers than ours: a whole universe at the tip of his ballpoint pen is one of his favorite images. And then he has to contend with the people who are sure that the vitamin C pills he pops before performing are the cause for his telepathic gifts. The powers he weilds come from outside him, he says. They are channeled through him for a reason - everything has a reason, according to Uri. Meanwhile a young researcher complained that Uri is difficult to work with because of his ego tripping, and groupies write him batty lecherous letters after creaming over his image on the TV screen.
Geller thinks he's possibly preparing us - or maybe we are all just being prepared - for some future evolution. In the present, though, the professional magicians who packed Town Hall are out to cut his throat and defrock him as a fraud. Uri's wilder ideas are anchored in the old Jewish theory of an all-encompassing God who, through various powers and creatures, is behind the whole design. But spiritualists, like the magicians, groupies, and scientists, are sure to complain. He backs off in horror at pulls of guruhood and expresses amazement and distaste for people like the followers of Guru Maharaj Ji who he observed bowing down to a picture of a human being.
I suspect that Uri is performing in his peculiar mode of showbiz psychic-scientific researcher because it really is natural for him. If you were suddenly faced with death or immortality, or with some strange telepathic and psychokinetic power, you too would probably settle back to do what you do best, what gives you the most human satisfaction, what other people enjoy in you. Your life would still be filled with contradictions, but those contradictions would be familiar, and familiarity breeds security.
You really have to hear him talk, though, gesticulating, shouting, leveling with you, to pick up his infectious charisma as he goes in and out of wild ideas and level-headed assuarances, excited bravado and down-to-earth fireside chat.
"Look, I'm ... Look! I swear ... Look, this is not my watch. It's not a trick ... you see. Here! I don't even have to ... He brought the broken watch. It's running.
"... Don't think now of little green men on Mars or on Jupiter. Our earth has been contacted by these powers, these energies. I really can't say more because I really don't know more.
"Everything id from God, Jesus is from God. I'm not ruling that out. I don't understand this business, 'do you believe in Jesus or Moses.' What is this? I believe in God - Finished!
"People ask me well how come these intelligences that came to earth 8,000 years ago didn't leave us a tool for proof, they just built the pyramids ... Listen: if they could come to earth from another Galaxy ... they're going to dematerialize everything they brought, because it's theirs, it's from them, you understand.
"Now, they are so civilized ... maybe they're not even beings, maybe htey're computers. They can travel 50 billion years into the past. 50 billion years into the future...
"Listen I'm really going far out. I've never talked this way to any magazine because I don't want people to think I'm crazy. But I'm sure the readers ... They're all far out. Aren't they?"
Are they? He is not someone you would like to follow, and not someone you would want to debunk. He is someone to observe with glee and, if possible, befriend.
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