I was relaxing at home, minding my own business with my favorite American newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, when a familiar name jumped out at me from inside its folds: Uri Geller.
The famous Israeli psychic, it seemed, had purchased a small island somewhere off Scotland intending to create an independent nation for extraterrestrials. But now he’d embarked on an entirely new diversion: funding and overseeing a struggling Scottish soccer team on the coast nearby.
“I did something highly unethical,” Geller, 75, told the paper, referring to allegations that he once used his psychic abilities to help England beat Scotland in the European Championships. Now, he said, he intended to make amends.
For me, though, the story evoked another life in what now seems like an alternate universe. It was back in 1973 that I first met Geller, then a handsome dark-haired young man performing miracles onstage at an auditorium in Berkeley, California, while I, a neophyte reporter, covered them for a local countercultural newspaper called the Berkeley BARB.
I’ll never forget his show. It began, naturally, with the signature telekinetic bending of spoons for which he was well known. “Please understand,” the young psychic told the crowd of swooning wide-eyed hippies, “that what I do, I do not do myself. It is something that is channeled through me. It comes from out there and it is intelligent, that much I know.”
Then he entered what, for us, seemed like uncharted territory. “For this next experiment,” Geller announced, “I will need a volunteer. Preferably a woman; I find that women make the best mediums.”
What followed was a true spectacle of that unabashed era; hundreds of women frantically raising their hands in anticipation of a romantic moment of fame long before TikTok. “Ok,” he said when he had chosen his lucky assistant, “and now I need a ring. One that the owner doesn’t mind losing.”
And so the air was filled with rings thrust eagerly towards heaven.
After selecting one, Geller carefully placed it in the cupped hands of his chosen volunteer. “What I shall attempt to do,” he said, shutting his eyes and placing his own open hands over her closed ones, “is break this ring open.”
A few moments of tense silence ensued.
Suddenly, the woman shrieked. “It’s getting hot!” she screamed. “Oh my God, it’s moving!!”
“You may open your hands now,” Geller benignly instructed. She did, stared into them for a moment, then, trembling visibly, held the ring aloft for all to see. It was broken wide open, and the audience exploded in ecstasy.
Many years later, after he’d become a regular fixture on TV baffling audiences with his magically bent spoons, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency released a study conducted by agents and scientists charged with identifying the source of Geller’s uncanny powers. Their conclusion: that they couldn’t. The famous psychic, the researchers reported, “has demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner.”
In an interview over breakfast the day after that ancient Berkeley performance, the sweet-talking Israeli had tried to explain how. “You must remember three things,” he repeated. “First, that my powers do not originate with me, but come from out there. Second, it is an intelligent power, and third, the power is beneficent. Of these things, I am certain.”
He took a bite of scrambled eggs and paused before continuing.
“All the time things are happening around me very intelligently,” he finally went on. “I am part of a plan, but not just me. We are moving very rapidly now toward something really big.”
In the decades since, I have often wondered just what that might be. Perhaps a once-obscure Scottish soccer team is about to find out.
David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino,” is due out in January. A former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where he helped write two Pulitzer Prize-winning stories, Haldane is an award-winning journalist, author, and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines. This column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.