Back in the early sixties, while my high school classmates were getting ready for college and preparing to make their mark on the world, I marched off to join the Marines. I was a rebellious young idealist who dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen to see the world and escape the boredom of an educational system that favored mindless mediocrity over the creative spirit. Well… I did see a little of the world, but, as it happens, was unprepared for much of it—war, for example.
Like most kids from that era, I had watched the televised chronicles of World War II and Korea that were all the rage while I was growing up in the fifties. I had spent endless childhood hours playing “Soldier” with toy rifles and plastic hand grenades; but, in the summer of 1965, when I found myself going ashore at Chu Lai, it was quite a different matter. I soon realized I was not a born killer; I had only played at killing. And I was no hero either; I had only played the hero’s game. But neither was I a coward, so I accepted my fate, marshaled my courage, and did the job I volunteered to do. It must have been acceptable, since my research shows I should have been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, two RVN Gallantry Crosses, and I was one of the youngest Marines ever promoted to the rank of Sergeant E-5, or so I was told.
My unit was ordered to Vietnam as part of the initial military buildup in support of “the police action” and, when we came home a year later, ours was one of the first groups to return. A few months later, I was discharged and flew home to Detroit to take the SAT exam for entrance into Wayne State University. My score was high enough that, despite being a high school dropout, I was accepted for admission.
I decided to get a job and work through the winter, save my money, and start college with the spring term. Life was definitely looking up. I combed through the want ads searching for whatever job paid the most and found one that offered “$1,200 a month guaranteed—no experience necessary.” I went for an interview and was promptly hired to sell books door-to-door for Encyclopedia Britannica. Don’t laugh; I was a natural. I had an innate passion for learning and spent most of my free time in the Marines studying Word Power, German, Japanese, comparative religion, and, most of all, logic and philosophy. I loved the encyclopedias, and my youthful exuberance closed sale after sale.
After a few months, I bought a nearly new Grand Prix, my one luxury, and, since I felt guilty about the extravagance, decided to give up my apartment in the suburbs and moved to the student quarter earlier than planned. I rented a room for $50 a month in a rundown housing complex located a few blocks from Wayne State. Every room in the house was rented to a different student, except for the kitchen and living room; they were common areas. Actually, my “apartment” was the former dining room, which was crudely separated from the living room by a makeshift unpainted plywood wall. It was not much to look at, but I was saving $350 a month on rent, and that was big money in those days, at least it was for me.
I moved my possessions into my new home on a sunny afternoon and was busy putting things in order when an incredible cacophony broke out. I could hear people running around shouting in the living room beyond the partition wall. Then, without warning, a fire axe came ripping through the partition, and, within seconds, the wall came crashing down—followed by a half-dozen police officers dressed in riot gear.
I cried out, “What to hell’s go—” but was cut short when a billy club plunged into my stomach. One of them hit me hard across the side of my head and, dazed, I dropped to my knees. Then another kicked me between the shoulder blades, and I crashed forward, face down on the floor. They cuffed my wrists behind me so tightly it cut off my circulation. I could feel the blood pounding in my hands; the pain was excruciating. My nose was bleeding, and I was only half-conscious. Someone yelled at me to get up, but before I could move, two cops grabbed me, dragged me out of the house, and threw me roughly into the back of a paddy wagon. I was on my way to jail, with a truckload of people I had never met, and I didn’t have the foggiest idea why.
I learned at my arraignment that I was being charged with “loitering on the premises where marijuana or paraphernalia is stored, used, sold…” At the time, I had never tried marijuana. I attempted to explain my situation to my interrogators but was summarily bound over for trial. In the regional judicial system of the day, we were all guilty—had to be—why else would the police have arrested us in the first place?
I was completely bewildered. Only a few months before, I was a noncom-missioned officer, well respected, with a dozen men under my command. Now I was being treated like a common criminal.
After the arraignment, they took me back to the police station for more ques-tioning and made much to-do about my Grand Prix. I told them—repeatedly—about my position at Britannica, but they had it firmly entrenched in their pompous little minds that I was a drug kingpin. So there was no reason why they should go to all the trouble of verifying such a ridiculous alibi. Instead, they decided to soften me up by taking me from the Detroit lockup, where I spent the previous night, over to the Wayne County jail, to be locked away with a select group of hard cases.
My charge was only a misdemeanor, so the bail was set at $500, the maximum allowable. I had plenty of money for bail, but I was in jail and could not access my bank account. My mother, a seamstress, did not have that much cash lying around, so she tried to get a bondsman to post bail. When he called the station to find out my charges, the police told him I was a habitual bail jumper, wanted on outstanding warrants in several states. It wasn't true, of course, but no bondsman would touch me after hearing that.
That afternoon I was cuffed again, driven over to “the big house,” and taken to a detention area. At the entrance to the cellblock, there was a chain-link cage about ten feet square with gates on either side. The burly white guard who escorted me took off my handcuffs and told me to take one step through the first gate and stop—which I did. I heard the gate clank shut behind me. Without warning, the guard reached through the bars, seized me by the collar, and slammed me back against the gate. With his other hand, he reached around and grabbed me by the throat, pulling me tightly up against the bars. Then he whispered menacingly in my ear, “This is an all-black cellblock, motherfucker. You won’t live until morning.”
I suppose I should have been afraid, but I was too shocked to feel much of anything. Slowly I entered the cellblock. It was just a big cage, actually; open space dissected by chain link fencing all around. Before me ran a long, fenced corridor. To my left, there were smaller cages that opened into it. In each of those were two bunks, one over the other, plus a toilet and a small sink. I made my way slowly down the corridor, looking carefully into each cell. Every unit seemed to be occupied. By the time I reached the far end, it was apparent that, yes, all the inmates were black—but that didn’t bother me. What made me uncomfortable was there were no empty beds. The entire cellblock was full.
During my inspection, I made a mental note that, about halfway down the corridor, one of the cells had five or six guys in it, and one of them was huge, easily twice my size. He had to stand six-foot-six and weigh three-hundred pounds, or, at least, so it seemed. In every society, there is always someone in charge, and I figured he had to be it and, if not, he couldn’t be far from it. In any case, I was determined to earn his respect. I turned around, walked quickly into the big guy’s cell, and said to him, “Hey man, what’s the deal here? This place looks full.”
He slowly rose from his cot, a mean icy stare fixed upon me, “Yeah, honky,” he growled. Then, moving menacingly close, his voice dripped with malice while he slowly added, “There ain’t no room for you here.”
As he approached, I felt adrenaline flood into my system. All my karate and hand-to-hand combat training would be of no use to me now. Part of me wanted to turn and run, but a stronger part of me knew there was nowhere to go. So I held my ground, looked him straight in the eyes, and, in the best tradition of Davy Crockett, flashed him a big toothy grin. Then, shaking my head in disgust, I snarled, “Stupid pigs! They probably can’t work it out if there are more beds than they’ve got fingers to count on.” I just dropped the insult and turned to leave. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw a faint smile soften the rigid architecture of the big guy’s face. I knew I would live till morning.
I marched out into the corridor, forcefully kicked the fence a few times, and shouted, “Hey guard, wake up in there! This place is full. Any of you fifteen-watt cretins ever learn to count?”
The guard came charging in, scrambling to put on his riot gear. He screamed at me, “Quiet down, you piece of shit, or there’ll be hell to pay.”
“Hey! This place is full,” I shouted back defiantly. “I don’t have a bed.”
He snapped right back at me, hatred flaming from his eyes, “Fuck you, asshole. Sleep on the floor!”
In two seconds flat, two-dozen angry black inmates were along side me in the corridor shouting at the guard, “You got to give this brother a mattress! You got to give him a blanket! You got to give him a pillow! Michigan State Penal Code say you got to give him…”
I lived harmoniously with my newfound brothers another three days until my mother finally reached a friend of mine who posted bail. It actually turned out to be a rather pleasant stay, all considering: swapping stories, learning secret hand-shakes, and all sorts of male bonding rituals. No one I met was evil. They were just a bunch of screwed-up guys who—to borrow the title of Richard Farina’s book—had Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. It was really quite instructive.
A few weeks later, I was tried with seven others from the student house and acquitted, in spite of the fact that the arresting officer lied under oath. From the witness box, he pointed a bony finger in my direction and swore I “was standing right next to him” when someone in the building sold him an ounce of marijuana. After testifying against me, the detective swaggered past the defense table and winked at me as he passed.
My entire social foundation was shattered. Everything I believed in—truth, justice, and the American way—was all a lie. I was falsely accused and beaten and abused by people who should have respected me and cast into the lion’s den only to be befriended by murderers, thieves, and drug dealers. I didn’t know what to believe, what to do, where to turn. I thought this experience was the worst injustice I could ever imagine, but I was wrong—the worst was yet to come.
It was not long before the Detroit riots broke out. It was a time of mass insanity when people’s pent-up poverty-driven frustrations broke loose, and everybody, black and white, took to the streets in an orgy of burning and looting. It was a non-violent interracial riot, at least on the people’s side of the equation. The police, on the other hand, took off their badges and the license plates from their cars; they taped over the identification numbers on the car doors and ran amuck. I actually watched them drive down a street in the Wayne State student quarter one afternoon shooting randomly into the buildings because someone was playing a stereo through an open window. It was the Youngbloods singing, “It’s time to love one another right now.”
The pièce de résistance, however, was when I helplessly watched from a base-ment apartment window while a policeman murdered an unarmed unresisting, black teenager by bludgeoning him to death with the butt end of a shotgun. After which, two other cops, who were standing around watching, threw the boy’s lifeless body over the fender of their patrol car, like you would a deer, and drove off into the sunset. Granted, he did loot a bag of groceries, but when the police yelled, “Halt!” he stopped, put the bag on the ground, and stood there with his hands high over his head, while the patrolman ran up and crushed his skull. Five other students wit-nessed the atrocity with me, and it took all of them to restrain me. I was determined to drive out to the country where my mother lived and get my guns. I was not some naïve kid. I was trained for this sort of thing. I’d show them what a well-seasoned Marine could do. It took most of the night, but my friends finally talked me out of it.
After that, I slipped into a deep depression. I did not start college; there did not seem to be any point in it. I quit my job, dropped out of society, and lived on my savings until the money ran out. I roamed the streets of downtown Detroit like a half-dead wraith, looking for something—I knew not what. I hated society; I hated life; I hated myself. From time to time, I worked as a day laborer when I could get work. But mostly, I just drifted.
One day, I walked past a Dairy Queen and saw a poster of a foot-long hot dog and a giant shake being advertised for only 99 cents. I had not eaten in days, and that hot dog and shake looked amazingly good. I reached into my pocket and added up my net worth, 36 cents: not nearly enough. Tears welled up in my eyes. I walked around to the back of the restaurant, where some picnic tables were kept. I climbed onto one and sat on top with my feet on the bench, hunkering there, head in my hands, smelling the food cooking inside. A few months before, I was filled with hope and bright ideas. Now life didn’t seem worth living. I began to turn over in my mind various ways of killing myself. Should I walk into a police station with a shot-gun and take out as many as I could before they got me or just quietly slit my wrists out in the woods somewhere? Maybe poison? I considered all the possibilities.
“No,” I decided. If there was any purpose at all for being born, suicide could not be it. I had to do something, but killing myself was no longer an option. Although, if I chose to go on living, I would have to find a way of supporting myself. I knew people who panhandled for food. “That might be alright,” I thought. After all, what did I care? I wasn’t proud. Besides, I was a hungry veteran; why shouldn’t I beg for food? I tried to imagine myself as a beggar. “No!” I finally said, “I am proud; I would rather starve to death than live as a beggar.”
I knew I could always hitchhike out to the country and ask my mother to take me in. I would have a roof over my head and food to eat, but I quickly dismissed the notion as another form of beggary. I left home at seventeen to make it on my own, and I was not going to slink back now with my tail between my legs.
Next, I remembered someone I met who shoplifted food. I rolled the idea over in my mind for a while and began to feel rage. I had no use for thieves. I would rather starve to death a thousand times over than support my life by stealing from others. Neither could I go back to selling encyclopedias to people who could ill afford them. No, if I was going to live at all, I would somehow have to make it by my own wits and harm no one in the process.
Just then, I realized the whole time I was sitting there, I had been staring at a small gray square on the ground in front of me. The entire picnic area was strewn with tiny bits of litter, remnants of meals eaten there before. This bit was odd, however, and, since curiosity is a quality I have always had in abundance, I stooped down and picked it up. It was a perfectly symmetrical, half-inch square piece of paper pressed wafer-thin. Other than that, I could not see anything remarkable about it—that is, until I unfolded it. There in my hand was a dollar bill someone had obviously folded very carefully and placed in a wallet a long time ago. Otherwise, it would not have been so thinly pressed. As I sat there, gazing at it in amazement, I suddenly remembered the story of Jesus being tempted on the mountain after fasting forty days in the desert, and I realized that all the avenues I had just explored, were really doorways into alternate lives I would never live. For if I had gotten up to walk down any of those roads, I would never have seen the path that was staring back at me the whole time. Instead, I gratefully walked over to the window and redeemed my prize: a foot-long hot dog and a chocolate shake.
My mountain was nowhere near as high, my temptation nowhere near as deep, nor my destiny anywhere near as grand, but, nevertheless, my temptation on the mount was every bit as real. From that day on, I have never gone hungry unless I chose to do so. I have traveled throughout much of the world and earned my living as a musician, a goldsmith, an inventor, a scientist, a computer network architect, and an entrepreneur. Five decades have passed since I climbed down from that picnic table to become the man I am today, and a great deal of money has flowed through my hands. But I am totally convinced, the dollar I paid for a hot dog that day was the best buck I ever spent.
Carl Jung wrote at length about synchronicity—an ordering of external events that serve to reveal elements of our internal subconscious reality. When the events of this story took place, I was a card-carrying agnostic: no, make that borderline atheist. From a very early age, I spent a great deal of time playing with chemistry sets, staring through telescopes, and contemplating the universe. I spent long hours daydreaming about infinity and the nature of God. By the time I turned ten, I had pretty much come to the conclusion that a critter like God could not possibly exist. Of course, there is a time-honored flaw in the logic of such thinking: it is no easier to argue the nonexistence of a Supreme Being than it is to argue in favor of one. The inescapable default position was agnostic, and to that, I clung tenaciously.
So, you ask, did the events described in “The Best Buck” convert me to a new way of thinking? Did I suddenly see the light, cast aside my heathen ways, and get religion? Hell no! It would take a whole lot more than the timely appearance of a hot dog to make a believer out of me. After all, I was still the same sixth-grade science geek whose mother marched him off one day to join the local church. She wanted to get me started on the path to becoming a good Christian before all the experiments I was cooking up in the basement with Tesla coils and solid-fuel rockets damned me forever. Under heavy protest, she drove me to the church and waited to make sure I was safely cloistered inside. Okay, I capitulated, but she was bigger than I and wielded a mean hairbrush when sufficiently provoked, so I kept the appointment with the pastor. In the end, however, he wouldn’t have me. Part-way through my pre-baptism interview, he concluded that my cynical wit, sharp tongue, and heretical views would be a bad influence on the general congregation. As a result, he brusquely ushered me out of the rectory—an event I still wear as a badge of honor.
I never could see much value in organized religion. I had nothing against God, provided HeSheItThey did not violate what I could test to be true about the universe around me. For any kind of knowledge to find a home with me, it needed to withstand the challenge of scientific scrutiny. Good science is built upon obser-vation, predictability, and repeatability. You correlate all the known data using careful observation, form a hypothesis regarding an object or process of interest, and make a prediction. Then you design a tightly controlled experiment to prove the prediction. The hypothesis is proved only when the experiment repeatedly yields the predicted result.
Gautama Buddha declared, “One should not believe something merely because I have said it, or because it was written, or because there are many people who believe it. One should only believe something after it has been thoroughly tested to personal satisfaction.” Rigorous testing, whether in the pursuit of science or Spirit, is the only reliable source of wisdom. About wisdom, Buddha further elaborated, “Wisdom is like gold; it gains the most value when it is repeatedly heated, purified and beaten into an ornament that can be worn with pride.”
Antique Egyptian Scarab(New Kingdom circa 1200 BCE)
(18 kt gold, 2 Columbian “muzo blue” emeralds)
So… is there a God, or do we live in a purely mechanical universe? The prime axiom upon which this book was founded postulates that God is real. Hopefully, the Three Empirical Proofs and the body of supporting evidence found in these pages will prove to all but the most brain-dead of Celebrated Skeptics that the universe is what countless generations of yogis have called Satchidananda—consciousness in three forms: existence (sat), infinite knowledge (chid), and love-bliss-absolute (ananda). In addition, a primary goal is to demonstrate that energy and con-sciousness are two ways of viewing the same thing. For if we accept that Einstein’s famous E=mc2 equation is correct, then everything in the universe is energy. Carrying that a baby-step farther, we must also deduce that consciousness is energy. Having accepted that, it logically follows that the energy of consciousness can, and does, innervate and inform all things. Thus the fundamental source of the universe is Cosmic Consciousness. This is why we live in a world where miracles and magic can, and do, routinely happen.