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I’ve kept this troubling secret for decades, long enough that I should probably explain some background. JFK, my teen and college years idol, had been assassinated in a way many found to be suspicious if not downright conspiratorial. An atmosphere of mourning, uncertainty, and suspicion was ripe for a climate of serious distrust. Imagine your writer as a U. of M. sophomore with an inquisitive side. Why wouldn’t I take heed of the nice lady who was a regular part of the casual Dinkytown setting? There was nothing at all radical or strange to be found anywhere near D Town. We were idealists and studious academics weren’t we? Of course we were. Why not assume the very same for the nice lady who’d routinely hail (I could have written accosted) us on the streets of D Town or outside the rooming house door? The woman had, to be sure, a few odd mannerisms I couldn’t help noticing, but her most memorable trait was the ardent sincerity that came out in fogbank depth if you took the opportunity (or made the mistake, depending on your view) to give her so much as a moment’s ear. A seasoned fisher of students, the nice lady was intent on hooking anyone who gave her bait the slightest nibble. Once she had you she’d hang on for life. Her memory being sound, she indelibly printed her quarry for the future. I am quite sure of her ability to spot at 300 yards any soul who’d shown the slightest interest and rush in to reengage as if the previous conversation had never ended. I got in the habit of slyly peering out of the rooming house before heading to classes. Returning I used The House of Hanson (she’d been banned from the place) as a protective blind to avoid her.
I can’t and won’t say anything mean about a sincere soul who was intent on saving humankind, especially those impressionably of college age. If she could alert us to the danger we faced there might be a hope for our struggling kind. On the face of it her warnings focused on a typical cult conspiracy danger no one in authority spoke of and of which we were largely ignorant and expected to stay that way. The danger (I heard it reeled off more than once so I’m confident of its facts or her truth) facing us was esoteric glass. Sinister forces of big government, the military, corporations (Nazis, monarchists, Marxists, and others could be named instead if wished) were using esoteric glass to influence and manipulate our minds. The exact nature of esoteric glass was too well kept even for her to know its full secrets, but that it was widely spread in the environment so we’d walk on and breathe its influence. She was adamant that esoteric glass looked benign and innocent like any sparkly little bit found on a sandy beach or container of dime store glitter. That was a big part of the danger. Esoteric glass could be spread everywhere and no one would be alarmed or hardly take notice. Most of the esoteric glass, she believed, was spread by planes passing overhead, but she was certain (based on having observed suspicious things in the area) that students were a special target and there were squads of esoteric glass spreaders posing as street sweepers or delivery people who were targeting [laces where we university students lived in order to bring us ever further under the control of these outside forces. It was scary stuff. She was very convincing as well, though on many areas of exact detail you simply had to believe or take on faith her version of two plus two equaling a confounding number.
One of the best and worst things about a conspiracy is its secrecy. Accepting something as a secret means you go in not expecting either to have a full level of awareness or access to all the proofs or evidence you’d look for if you were, say, comparing automotive MPG figures. A secret figure would be the most intriguing to find and the most difficult to get at. Being secret (I will bet you never heard of it before this, see?) as was esoteric glass the way to the truth of the matter was all adventure and a commitment to keep an open mind. Unlike the ex-sailor who’d done a year at the South Pole and dismissed her as “a nut,” I wanted to be open minded and judiciously kind in my assessment of the woman and the threat she warned of. I could find no proof for her claims (perhaps as a Liberal Arts student I wasn’t the best suited to do the kind of analysis needed) but in equal measure I couldn’t disprove them either. From me she got the ever true and always useful benefit of the doubt. Oh, maybe when I did a class in physical geology I paid a little more attention to sparkly bits in rock and soil, but with a fifteen power hand lens it was not possible to do a particularly close or in depth study. I considered there might be more sparkly in soils near the University, but exactly to what extent that might be true of how the sparkles got there I could not say other than ruling out any sprinklings from Tinkerbelle.
Over the years I’ve been reminded of the esoteric glass lady on many occasions. She and her cause serve me as useful reminders. But over the years things have not stayed stagnant. My views are not the same as they were. Young, I listened to well-intended warnings about esoteric glass from a position of suspending judgment that is not after decades of experience as open to speculation as once it was. Part of me now thinks listening seriously to her warnings was a case of healthy or reasonable skepticism being set aside out of consideration for another. I’m glad I had that much compassion in me and that over time I’ve seen ways for its use. What value is life’s journey if it lacks constructive compassion?