I stood on the terrace of my childhood home looking out across a postcard-perfect landscape. Smoky-blue foothills rolled across the eastern horizon. A soft breeze carried the sweet perfume of a dozen acres of blossoming orange trees. Honeybees made a fuzzy murmuring in the purple bed of ice plant at my feet. Together with the warm, fragrant air, their buzzing lulled me into a hypnotic half-dream. A thoroughbred mare called to her colt, her whinny clear but faint across the valley.
It was picturesque all right. The spitting image of prosperity and tranquillity. So when the bulldozers resumed their ungodly grinding, it had the effect of a loud belch in the middle of a diva’s tender aria. Quite rude. Still, I was fascinated. Once the mechanical beasts resumed their relentless annihilation, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Not that there was much to see at this point. The mansion had been destroyed last week. Today they were just leveling the earth.
Then I heard another sound. It came from behind me, the whistling of a familiar tune: It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood … .
I recognized the melody. It was the theme song of a television show from my childhood: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I turned around and recognized the whistler. Albert Chase, M.D. All cleaned up and ready for dinner. Silver hair slicked back, a teal-blue, V-necked sweater pulled over his clean white shirt. Slacks pressed. On his feet, a pair of Teva river sandals, very cool on a man in his sixties and the perfect rebellious touch to an otherwise conservative ensemble. Dad’s eyes were gleaming as he joined me at the edge of the terrace. He continued to whistle the Mr. Rogers theme song, enlivening the tune with a couple of cheery eighth-note flourishes. Across the valley, the bulldozers roared.
The whistling stopped.
“What?” His deep-set eyes were all innocence.
“‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’? Is that any way to honor the dead?”
His steady gaze held no apologies.
“I’ll honor the dead when the last of the looky-loos are gone and I can enjoy the domestic paradise I’ve worked so hard for.” He put his hands on his hips, looked across the valley and shook his head in disgust.
“Of all the places to catch a comet, they had to pick my neighborhood.”
He was talking, of course, about the thirty-nine cult members who had offed themselves—shed their containers, if you will—in the neighboring mansion. It had been months now, but strange vehicles continued to poke around the nearby roads, heads bobbing out of car windows hoping to catch a glimpse of the planet’s most bizarre launch site. In a final move of brilliant desperation, my father and a few of our neighbors had pooled some investment funds to buy the property, raze the place and restore the neighborhood to its former dignity.
The bulldozers surged and growled. Dad continued his merry whistling.
But my complaint lost its steam. In truth, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about Heaven’s Gate either. It’s hard enough to inspire confidence when you work as a psychic investigator. To hail from the site of the nation’s largest mass suicide wasn’t going to help. Maybe I’d just skip the part about growing up in Rancho Santa Fe. I could fabricate a whole new childhood entirely outside of California. Peoria, perhaps.
He stopped whistling and a thoughtful look crossed his face.
“Did you ever have a feeling about it?”
“Heaven’s Gate, you mean?”
I was pleased that he’d asked. It showed open-mindedness. My dad’s a medical doctor, and a fairly traditional one at that. He has a lot of reservations about the New Age. You get that right away when he pronounces the term—he rhymes it with “sewage.” But he’s seen enough instances of my ability to know that I can occasionally see into the future. He also knows that I can’t turn my precognition on and off like a faucet, and that when my vision fails me, I don’t lie about it.
I’d given his question some thought myself.
“No, I honestly didn’t see Heaven’s Gate coming. Thank God.” I stared at the scar on the landscape where the cult’s mansion once stood. “That would have been a cold shadow to grow up in.”
Contrary to popular assumption, psychics aren’t tuned in to every travesty happening on the globe. I think a few people might be, but for the most part, those folks live in mental hospitals.
We fell silent and watched the bulldozers. There were two of them, circling the property like waltzing machines. After a time, Dad spoke again.
“What do you think makes people go to such extremes?”
I’d given this question some thought as well.
“I don’t know. Don’t think I really want to know, either.”
“No interest in seeing what causes fairly normal people to go that far-out?”
“None whatsoever. I wouldn’t go near a cult for all the diamonds in Tiffany’s.”
Ever notice how when you say something untrue, you get this overwhelming sense about it? Almost as if an internal PA system starts announcing, “WRONG, WRONG, WRONG … .” No sooner had the words, “I wouldn’t go near a cult,” passed my lips than a weight in the pit of my stomach told me that time would make a liar out of me. I just had no idea how soon.
I turned away from what was left of Heaven’s Gate and studied my father’s face.
“Let’s change the subject. Okay, Dad?”
“Okay. Looking forward to seeing old Tom McGowan tonight. It’s been a while.”
“Old” Tom McGowan was my thirty-something significant other, who for the most part lived out of state these days. I was looking forward to seeing him myself.
“You and he ever going to get married?”
That’s one of the things I like about my dad. He gets right to the point. My mom, on the other hand, has been trying to ask me this question in a thousand different ways over the last three years. I gave Dad the same response I’ve always given my mom.
“I have no idea.”
That statement must have been true. My internal PA system was quiet.
“Well, it’ll be good to see him again.”
The bulldozers erupted in a final frenzy, then fell silent. We watched the operators—tiny from this distance—get down from their seats and walk off the job site. Our conversation stopped and we stood perfectly still, as if listening for the sound of the shadows lengthening across the valley. Then we heard the humming of an engine, faint at first but growing louder. Next came the hissing of tires on pavement and the gunning of a motor as an approaching car accelerated up the steep incline of my parents’ driveway.
Dad smiled. “That must be McGowan now.”
Copyright © 1967 Sony/ATV Songs LLC (renewed). All rights administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, 8 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. All rights reserved. Used by permission.