Spaceship interview given via Ouija board
Darkness had fallen on North Hollywood. You could no longer even see the smog.
About the people I would be meeting I knew only hearsay: Two years ago a Boston writer told me they had smashed the window of his car. Seven years ago Rolling Stone magazine had gone to great lengths to say they were violent, almost fascistic. But now they had dropped out of sight - evaporated.
Suddenly the house was awash in the glare of headlights. There were voices outside. Would they arrive in a battered Volkswagen - a symptom of whatever defeat had sent them into hiding? I stepped out the door to be greeted by a gleaming, grey limousine.
Two young men were waiting for me in the car. We spoke good-naturedly, as if clandestine rendezvous were the most normal thing in the world. White curtains covered all the limousine windows.
"To keep out prying eyes," he said, smiling.
Finally I had met the Mel Lyman Commune.
"This is our traveling sound system," said Jim Kweskin, one of my guides and a professional musician, ". . . one of the main things we do is play music."
He plugged a cassette into the tape deck and three successive songs throbbed and flowed through the speakers.
"Listen for the harp," said Kweskin in his soft, sometimes almost whispered, voice. "That's Mel."
The harp (harmonica) welled up like a baby crying. It was almost like a human voice.
The car stopped and the door swung open. We were surrounded by quiet - the shadows of huge old trees and a spot-lighted, manicured lawn. A house-high cage containing white doves was bathed in an orange spotlight. A wall of shrubbery blocked out any indication of our whereabouts.
A mansion loomed before us.
In the living room there were red velvet chairs and long-stemmed roses in a vase. A violin hung on the wall. Logs were crackling and popping in the fireplace.
Wearing a white dress that emphasized her tan, Jessie Benton entered and firmly shook my hand. As we all sat down, I asked the group for a history of the Lyman community. When had it begun?
"It started long before this earth was made," said a blonde woman. "We are a race," she said.
"A race - like a race of people . . . We've always been together. We're gathered here on earth. And we were somehow - in one way or another - drawn to the same place at the same time. That was in Boston - years and years ago."
Exactly how many years ago?
"Nineteen sixty-six," said Jessie Benton solidly from her chair by the wall. She is the daughter of artist Thomas Hart Benton.
Someone remarked that the spreading of Mel Lyman's communities to different cities was "protective." When I inquired why there was any need to protect, a mild flurry of cryptic discussion took place among my hosts, then it dissolved quickly into what looked like agreement as they began to nod their heads. A young man said, "Y'know, maybe Melvin can talk to him."
This was the supreme honor. In came a young woman with long brown hair, held back from her face by a gold headband. Her blue dress was a gossamer and a star was at her throat.
She knelt on the carpet before a rainbow colored ouija board which rested on a white pedestal. The ouija board was to be my hotline to Mel Lyman, and the gossamer-gowned lady in blue was to be my interpreter.
Jessie Benton leaned over beside me, "These answers you should probably write down."
The gossamer-gowned medium opened her eyes.
"Melvin is here."
I lost little time in utilizing the opportunity, and asked why, after writing six or seven years ago that he would change the world and found hundreds of communities, Mel Lyman had now chosen to go into hiding. Did he now prefer anonymity?
Said the medium: "I have found - that I can actually - have a greater - effect - on this planet from - an anominous (that is the way she said it) position."
Remembering accusations that Lyman had used racist rhetoric in some of his writings, I asked if his privileged "race" cut across worldly ethnic lines.
The fireplace gave out with a huge, indignant pop, and the lady in blue said, "Of course."
As long as delicate issues had been broached, I asked next about the violence. The Rolling Stone article had cited numerous instances of assault and battery by Lyman's followers on people who disagreed with them. Mel Lyman himself had once written, "I am going to burn down the world."
Said the steady-eyed lady in blue: "I have never advocated violence. It has never been used as - a mechanism."
It turned out that the very reason why Mel Lyman was not addressing me in person was that his physical presence had been detained somewhere else . . . in a space ship.
I rode back from the Lyman sanctuary in that noiseless limousine, listening to a tape of Jim Kweskin's personal friend, Maria Muldaur, singing about Jesus.