The True Tale of the Unconscious Emissary
Boston, Summer of 1970.
I lived in a communal apartment that we called “The Zoo”. We had little money but plenty of books, art supplies, records, condoms, wine and pot. We ate more macaroni than vegetables or meat. Our dining table was a door resting on milk crates; our most important possessions were our record player and a water pipe made from a one-gallon bottle lashed to a couple of roller-skates. We were several college students and hippies, including one couple, whom we will call Isis and Osiris.
Across the hall from us was an Irish-Catholic family whose son was a heroin addict and thief. We lost our record player in a break-in, but he soon sold us a much better one for an attractive price. Downstairs were a bar, a pepper-steak diner and the crush of pedestrian traffic on Massachusetts Avenue.
Cheap thrills. On warm evenings we’d congregate on the front stoop, drinking wine and watching the evening promenade of tourists, hippies, winos, junkies, college students, prostitutes, Symphony Hall attendees, political demonstrations and the occasional police riot. Across the street was a business college lodged in a high-rise office building. Since it had no outdoor campus, the students would hold their fraternity ceremonies on the sidewalk and chant “We’re number one!”, which we would answer with “We’re number two!”
Another form of inexpensive entertainment was to have “bomber-and-coffee” parties. We consumed “bombers” (diet pills with small amounts of methadrine), washed down with lots of coffee, and then stayed up all night “rapping” incessantly with each other. Long before the Hip Hop connection, to rap was to talk eloquently, to hold forth with style. Once, however, I shut up for a few seconds and realized that there were thirteen people in the room and that we’d been having thirteen separate conversations!
It was a surreal time. The news (if we paid attention) was terrible – a hundred Americans were dying every week in Viet Nam, and among the men, who knew when our draft numbers would be called? So we preferred to ignore the future in favor of cheap thrills and even cheaper mysticism. The talk was so meaningful. Often, we’d walk the late-night streets of Boston, high on LSD, greeting others with “What drug are you on?” – and they would tell us! We were seeking visions, magic, portents, synchronicities and omens. We expected anything from total cultural collapse to the coming of the Age of Aquarius.
Now Isis and Osiris were special beings, prophets, carriers of esoteric knowledge. They quoted from the I Ching and communicated telepathically. They spoke with extraterrestrials, and with Jesus. They were fluent in psychobabble. They resided among us, they said, in order to instruct us about the spiritual planes of existence. They were patronizing and insufferably pretentious. Perhaps they believed the bullshit they delivered daily to us, although it was entertaining. We were all so young then.
And then this happened. After a typical evening of chemical celebration on July 23rd, I received a phone call from someone who identified himself as Karl, asked for me by name and immediately launched into one of those rambling, interminable, uninterruptable “speed-raps,” laced with countless literary, science-fiction and metaphysical references that we knew so well. Indeed, many of us were quite good at this stuff, otherwise known as “mind-fucking.”
But this rap was about me, since Karl clearly knew many details of my private life. It seems that a new age was about to dawn (a common theme those days), with guidance from disembodied beings who watched over us from ethereal planes of consciousness. Significant, world-wide changes were coming, but this spiritual revolution was going to require aid and participation from many Earthlings, including me! Indeed, he told me, I had been chosen for this work many lifetimes before, and soon I would be called upon to step into my destined role. Although I had been, up to this point, completely unaware of any of this, I had always been part of the plan. Indeed, I was an “unconscious emissary.” Karl even gave me a phone number to call in Sweden (collect) to confirm what he was telling me.
Now along with his esoteric references and non-stop chatter, Karl had a curious speaking style. He would reverse the order of some of the words in a sentence. For example, he’d begin speaking with “goodbye” and end with “hello,” which is how he signed off after telling me to wait for further instructions.
I had hardly got a word in edgewise. I was quite stunned and, in my intoxicated state, ready to believe most anything. I had, after all, been to Woodstock. I called the phone number in Sweden and spoke to someone who did indeed confirm practically everything Karl had told me, including that I was one of the unconscious emissaries of the New World to come.
After finishing that second call, I related much of Karl’s soliloquy to the other two people present, Isis and Osiris, who knowingly turned to each other, smiled and told me: It was true; I was an unconscious emissary of the star beings. They had always known this because they themselves were conscious emissaries!
The rest of the evening passed (with copious amounts of herbal help) in deep talk. This was all, as we said in those days, so heavy! My head spinning, I overrode my usual skepticism. I was willing to entertain all possibilities.
I remained in this unworldly state for several days, until another curious event occurred. I was hitchhiking back from Harvard Square with Barney, one of my roommates. A car stopped for us. It contained a couple of typical, long-haired characters, one of whom quickly began another of these crazy (and somewhat familiar) monologues, keeping us laughing, and stoned, all the way into Boston.
As they let us off, he wished us well, finishing his sentence with “hello.” I instantly pulled Barney back into the car and told this fellow that we needed to talk. He was, of course, Karl – and here is a marker of the times we lived in. The fact that he actually had picked us up completely at random never seemed anything other than perfectly normal to any of us.
The four of us then proceeded to spend a long and riotous time in a cafe, where Karl revealed that his phone call to me had been a birthday gag set up by another friend of mine. Did I tell you that July 23rd had been my twenty-first birthday?
So we decided to continue the joke, but this time it would be on Isis and Osiris, who at the time were upstairs in our apartment. We planned it with military efficiency. Karl would call the apartment, ask for them by name and present them with an even better sermon than he’d given me. He would double down on the spiritual bullshit.
That part would be easy. But the timing would require absolute precision. We synchronized our watches to the second, because his rap – the theme of which would be that Isis and Osiris were indeed conscious emissaries – would culminate with him proving the truth of his words with a prediction: Barney and I would walk through the front door precisely at that moment, which of course, we did.
The memory of the faces of Isis and Osiris – who could know that human eyeballs and mouths could open so widely? – has remained with me for 45 years, along with the belly laughs that shook Barney and me for who knows how long.
Eventually, we explained it all, and to their credit, Isis and Osiris enjoyed the joke and even toned down their pontifications and superior air, at least for a while.