The following is an excerpt from “BEST. STATE. EVER: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland” by Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author Dave Barry. You can read more from Barry on his blog.
It’s the week before Halloween, and I’m in Cassadaga, a small, spooky town about 30 miles north of Orlando. Cassadaga’s nickname is The Psychic Capital of the World. As you get near it, you pass house after house with signs that say “psychic.” This is a place where you might have trouble getting a plumber on the weekend, but if you need an emergency tarot card reading, help is only seconds away.
I’m having a reading done by a medium whom I will call Judy, a plump woman in (I’m guessing) her thirties. I arrive at her house, and she ushers me through a kitchen to a darkened living room where candles are burning and New Age music is playing softly. She has me sit on a sofa; she sits on a chair in front of me, with a small table between us.
Judy produces a sheet of paper and says she will be writing down things as she goes so I’ll have a record of our session. She writes my name in large letters on the paper and begins talking. As she speaks, she often looks past me, as if she’s seeing a spirit I can’t see. Sometimes she talks to the spirit. “Thank you,” she’ll say.
Judy says she’s seeing canisters and asks if that has any significance to me. I try to think of canisters that have been significant in my life, but nothing comes to mind. To be honest, I can go for months without thinking of canisters. Judy says it might have something to do with oil or an auto shop, and that “placement” is important. She goes on for a while, talking about the placement of the canisters, but it’s not ringing any bells. I’m starting to feel bad, like I’m letting Judy and the spirit community down.
Judy says she’s seeing the number 76. I wrack my brain, but all I can come up with is the song “Seventy-Six Trombones,” which is a rousing show tune but not one with which I feel a deep personal connection. I shake my head.
Judy says she’s picking up something about bowling balls and brings up “placement” again. I shake my head again; I’m not a bowler. I am totally failing at this.
Judy asks me if I have trouble eating.
“I wish,” I say. This is turning into a nightmare.
Judy says she’s getting something about a woman who maybe has something to do with race cars.
I shake my head again. My wife happens to be a woman, and she is a fast driver, but not of race cars. She’s an SUV woman. I’m beginning to think the dead people Judy’s talking to have me confused with somebody else.
Then Judy says she’s getting something about turkey.
“The bird or the country?” I ask.
“The bird,” she says.
“I like turkey,” I say.
Judy seems pleased. I feel relieved. Finally, we’re getting somewhere!
Judy says she’s getting something about music. I tell her I’m in a band. This is true: I’m in an author rock band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. We are not good at music, but we do attempt to play it.
Judy asks about the name Ron. I tell her my wife’s cousin’s husband is named Ron. We are on a roll now, spiritually. We are 3 for 3.
Then Judy brings up my parents. “Have they transitioned?” she says.
“Have they what?” I say.
“Died,” she says.
I tell her they have, in fact, transitioned. She asks me if I would like to try to contact them via a Spirit Box, which she says is a device that enables the dead to communicate with us. I say sure. She goes to a closet and brings back a small electronic device, which she connects to a tiny speaker. She explains that the Spirit Box picks up radio transmissions, and the spirits “piggyback” on these transmissions to say things to us.
We both listen intently to the Spirit Box, trying to pick out messages from beyond as the box emits static, random sounds and fragments of radio broadcasts. To you, this probably sounds like a load of hooey, but I can state for a fact, as a person who witnessed it firsthand, that you are absolutely correct: It is a large, steaming, fragrant pile of hooey. I have a hard time keeping a straight face. Judy would say, “Did you hear that?” And I’d say, “What?” And she’d say, “It sounded like ‘love you.’ Listen.” Then she’d play a staticky random sound that could have been “love you,” but also could have been “trampoline,” “fester,” “dirigible,” “Neil Sedaka,” “Montpelier” or pretty much anything else, and I’d go, “Huh.”
We do that for a while, Judy hearing my parents telling me that they’re happy being dead and they love me, me hearing static. Finally, mercifully, our session ends. I pay Judy the agreed-upon $60 and leave with the piece of paper on which she has written notes about canisters, placement, etc.
As I walk away, I find myself thinking about my parents. They both had excellent senses of humor, and they would have been immensely entertained by the Spirit Box. So I guess in a way Judy did connect me with them. It was totally worth $60.