My sister used to call our mother a logical positivist, which is a fancy term for supernatural skeptics. As kids, we would run screaming to her if we ever heard a bump in the middle of the night. “Ghosts,” she used to say, her voice dripping with contempt. “Baloney! Be afraid of the living.”
At Flic Spa, clients and staff have shared many paranormal experiences with me. Some tales are hair raising and hardly relaxing, so I steer conversations towards topics that are more spa appropriate -- "spappropriate” if you will -- like lavender oils or guided meditation. I once shared these supernatural stories with my friend Michael. He responded with a loud “Baloney!” just like my late mother. I told him he must be possessed by her spirit.
“Baloney,” he said again.
“The more you say ‘baloney’,” I said. “The more you prove the paranormal.”
One day, at our Cranford branch, I overheard the staff talking about somebody named Ping.
“Who the hell is Ping?”
“Lerrick, it’s the ghost of Flic Spa Cranford!”
“We hear whispers. And that Chinese red door closes by itself. And sometimes an apple left over in the fridge will disappear.”
“Ooh, I’m getting goosebumps,” I lied. “And how do you know its name is Ping?”
“Flic Spa is Asian inspired. We figured the ghost should have an Asian name.”
“Baloney,” said my mother, channeling through me. She was also channeling through me when I threw out the rotten fruit abandoned in the fridge. “Anyway, that red door isn’t level,” I told my staff. “It closes by itself. It’s not paranormal; it’s bad carpentry.”
At first, Oliver didn't believe in Ping. In fact, he doesn’t believe in other people’s ghost stories; he believes only in his own. I tell him he's a paranormal solipsist. One day last year, he confessed to me that he heard a disembodied voice whispering in one of the treatment rooms.
“I think there really might be a ghost in Cranford,” he said, his voice quivering.
“Baloney,” my mother said, channeling through me.
Except that one day, Ping finally made its debut with me. During a massage, I heard a whisper. I asked my client if he said something, but he looked up at me from a deep sleep and shook his head. Suppressing my panic, I told myself OK, your mind is playing tricks on you. After a few minutes of quiet, I heard the whisper again! Covered in gooseflesh and squirming in place, I continued the massage, anticipating the horror about to unfold. Will the door open and close by itself? Will rotten fruit appear on the floor? I closed my eyes and listened closely as Ping’s disembodied voice became loud enough for me to hear its otherworldly message:
“Can you believe Teresa Giudice is going to jail?”
Ping the ghost was obviously a fan of Real Housewives of New Jersey. For you logical positivists, the voice did not come from a ghost, but from the tenant upstairs, her voice echoing through the air ducts.
This wasn’t my first encounter with the paranormal. Our century old house makes strange noises: footsteps, whispers and whistling, all with no verifiable, mundane source. I used to scoff at these mysterious incidents, and swatted away my memories of them, but some events were simply too spectacular to dismiss. I was alone in the house one April afternoon, cleaning the bathroom, when my music box in the bedroom began to play by itself. The song was “Let It Snow”, anachronous for the spring season. Terrified and oddly enraged, I took the music box and threw it unrepentant into the trash.
“No one can touch my stuff without permission,” I told Oliver. “Ghost or no ghost.”
“What should we do?” Oliver asked me.
“Tell it to pay rent. We could use the extra money. And why on earth would a ghost want to stay in Bloomfield? Why not go to heaven? Or at least upgrade to Montclair?”
“This is serious.”
“Aren’t they supposed to ‘go to the light’ or something?”
“This. Is. Serious.”
“Look, nobody got hurt. Hey, let’s ask it to be on a schedule so we can sell tickets. Can you imagine? ‘Ladies and gentlemen, a genuine ghost, every night at midnight! Only $10,000 a ticket!’ There’d be a line outside the door. We’ll be rich! And no commissions!”
“Baloney,” said my mother, channeling through Oliver.
Years before these eerie encounters, I was in Tucson attending a conference for work. During a breakfast meeting, my co-worker Lana was talking about something that happened to her an hour earlier. “So I pick up my robe and walk to the bathroom,” she said, in an off the cuff manner. “I step into the stall and take a shower. When I finish, I reach for my robe. But it wasn’t there. I took a bunch of towels and dried myself off. I walk towards the bed. And there it was.”
“The robe. On top of my bed. Folded perfectly. Weird.”
“Google says this hotel is haunted,” I said to Lana, proud of my early morning research. “By a ghost maid.”
Instead of replying ‘baloney’, Lana whimpered. I felt a sudden, sharp pain on my shins. Two workmates flanking me had kicked me from both sides. They were glowering at me, silently admonishing me to recant. Lana was an anxious person, and a genuine ghostly experience guaranteed a trip to the emergency room of the nearest psychiatric hospital. And I, the moron who pushed her over the edge of insanity, would be obligated to accompany her on the ambulance ride.
“Ha, ha! Got you!” I lied. “You were just groggy. You just thought you brought your robe!”
My laughter would ring hollow later that evening, after our final group dinner, a Southwestern themed party full of salsa, guacamole and frozen margaritas. I drank a little, danced a bit, laughed a lot and when it was over, headed for my hotel room. I changed into my sleeping clothes and crashed onto the bed. I don’t recall falling asleep, but I woke up feeling very, very sick. I bolted out of bed and sprinted to the bathroom. I barely made it to the sink. I will spare you the details, but salsa and margaritas feel better coming in than going out.
I rinsed out my mouth and splashed water on my face over and over until the nausea passed. Panting for breath, I could feel the air grow colder as a steely, high pitched ring filled my ears. The room was dim but not dark, the light from the bedroom spilling a triangle of light onto the tile floors.
I looked up and stared into the vanity mirror. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so my vision was blurry. Yet, I could see a face in the mirror that wasn’t my own. Its skin was a pale celadon, and its eyes – oh, my God, the eyes! – bloody and ringed with a gray border, stared directly at me. I could barely catch my breath, but to my surprise I was able to scream, a primal howl that I never conjured up before.
The image in the mirror howled back! Was it mocking my fear, insulting my frailty, scorning my humanity? I screamed again and again, and the image replied, scream for scream. I felt a mix of horror and humiliation as we engaged in a perverted, paranormal duet. I had no strength to run. I grasped the edge of the marble counter to stay upright. I could feel myself losing consciousness when a sudden spasm of logic coursed through me. Blinking away a mist of tears, I recognized the inhuman visage in the mirror.
It was my own. Too much salsa and frozen margaritas had transformed me into a Korean water ghost. Suddenly, there were three hard knocks on the door. Bang! Bang! Bang! For God’s sake, I thought, this is not the time for a real ghostly event. Bang! Bang! Bang! I hobbled to the door and looked through the peep hole -- it looked like a regular man. Bang! Bang! Bang! With trembling hands, I cracked the door open, but kept the chain on.
“Security. Are you all right, sir?”
“We got reports of a woman screaming.“
“Oh, that. Sorry. Nightmares.”
“Baloney,” whispered my mother, channeling through the security guard.