Many Native American tribes have a deity called “Trickster Coyote,” who plays pranks on people in order to bring them enlightenment. From reading so many letters, I can attest that the Visitors often do this to people. Whitley himself has been caught up in this at times.
In Whitley’s family there is a long tradition of playing practical jokes, which is why, when he first published Communion, a lot of his old friends thought he had played the ultimate practical joke on them. Personally, I think the visitors have a sense of humor, too, which is part of the reason that they picked him in the first place. It’s a sort of joke on the joker to put him in the position of having to tell a truth that most people think is a joke.
My favorite practical joking story is about a joke he didn’t intend to pay on a world-renown religious leader. He didn’t set out to do this, but it’s what ended up happening.
At the time, he was friends with an elderly single lady (I guess you could call her a “spinster”) who was quite wealthy, which gave her the freedom to travel far and wide in her search for enlightenment and the secrets of life. She enjoyed talking with Whitley and would take him to lunch about once a month at her exclusive women’s club in New York City.
One day she called him up and said that she had heard rumors about secret incantations that went on during sexual acts in Middle Eastern harems. She wondered if Whitley could use his contacts with the CIA (which were nonexistent, except in the sense that a couple of school friends were in it) in order to obtain a cassette tape of these chants, which she assumed to be a kind of Islamic Kundalini.
The New York Pacifica radio station WBAI used to play an extremely eclectic mix of music (which they still do) and one evening Whitley heard heard some Inuit (Eskimo) “throat music” which sounded like heavy breathing with a definite sexual rhythm to it. One of the songs had a refrain which sounded like “Mecca, Mecca, Mecca,” and it gave Whitley an idea for a joke he could play on his friend.
He recorded it, then called this lady back and said that he had managed, after much struggle and many favors called in, to obtain a copy of the chant she was looking for, which had been recorded using a tiny tape recorder placed under the pillow of a Sheik. She immediately invited him to lunch and pocketed the tape.
Whitley forgot all about his joke until weeks later, when she suddenly called him in the middle of the day and said, “Get down here NOW!” Whitley was in the middle of writing and didn’t want to stop and put on a coat and tie, but she insisted.
When he arrived at her club, instead of meeting her at a cloth-covered table in the restaurant, sipping a cup of coffee (as she usually was), she was waiting for him with at the door with crossed arms.
She had played the tape for a man who is the next thing to the pope, in terms of religious fame, telling him that it was this secret ritual that they were both curious about. In the middle of it, one of his retainers (who was obviously also a WBAI listener) said, “Excuse me, Miss X, but I believe those are Eskimos.”
As Whitley walked up to her, she said, “The embarrassment was FANTASTIC!”
Typical of him, he’d forgotten all about it. But when she reminded him what he’d done, he had to conceal what later became gales of laughter. He said to me, “She described the embarrassment as fantastic–as in so extreme, it was literally hallucinatory.”
When Whitley’s dad was alive, there were “Karl Strieber Stories” along these lines all over Texas, such as the one about the time that he herded some cattle out of a parked truck in a small Texas town and into the basement soda fountain of a local department store.
Many a Texan has heard a few “Whitley Stories” in this generation. And his brother is just as bad.
I’m going to try to get Whitley to record some of them for posterity because they are hilarious. All three of them–father and both sons–have created a legacy that should not be lost, but which their victims probably believe belong in a trash can, along with the pranksters.
At the Dreamland Festival, some people were sort of treating Whitley as a guru. Better be careful, because that’s a surefire way to bring out the Trickster Coyote in him. He is a master, no question about that, but his mastery consists of forcing people to keep things–including him–in question!
Despite all his joking around–and having lived with him for 40 years, I can assure you that there is a lot of it–one area of his life that is taken very, very seriously is his contact experience. It’s a wonderful–and typically visitor-style–joke on him that he, a horror novelist, would end up having to come out and say hey, the goblins are real–and that it would be no joke!
Here’s the story the lady told an incredulous Whitley (who was struggling not to laugh): when she played the tape for this religious leader, one of his acolytes, being a WBAI listener, recognized it and said, “Excuse me, Mrs. X, but I think those are Eskimos.”
So that’s the story of how Whitley, in his role as a Trickster Coyote, played a practical joke on one of the world’s most famous religious leaders.
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