STEVE VOLK tries to recreate a British author's paranormal awakening--and succeeds in failing.
For his troubles he obtained a new worldview, an Amazon sales ranking of 229,770 in the U.S. and the nagging feeling that some of his colleagues "think I'm mad." He also developed a deep and abiding respect for the man he calls "the very, very brilliant Lou Gentile" on his acknowledgements page.
"You'll see," Storr tells me. "You'll see when you go out with him."
|Bye-bye Byberry: The grounds of the former psychiatric hospital lured many Philadelphians to go exploring.|
"We were taking her around to some modeling agencies," says Gentile, gazing at her face appreciatively. "People told us we should. Just look at her."
Anyone investigating Gentile's claims that ghosts and demons exist will wonder how much money he's making. But Gentile's yet to write a book. He's been a radio host covering paranormal topics for eight years. But these days he broadcasts on a paranormal channel on the Internet called 1 FM, sharing airtime with such out-there notables as Whitley Strieber, fiction writer and self-proclaimed UFO abductee.
"There's a lot of bullshit in this field," says Gentile, who tosses guests off his two-hour nightly show (find it at www.lougentile.com) if he thinks they're "making shit up."
Gentile is contentious by nature. One of his promotional photos features him flipping a righteous bird at the camera. And his listeners sometimes treat him with outright hostility. "My fans are great," he says, lighting up a cigarette in his kitchen. "But I think I let some of them in too far. I got too close."
Gentile's wife sometimes serves as his on-air foil, and some fans have targeted her with nasty chat-room messages. "Just when you think you know people," says Gentile, "they bend you over--without lubrication."
Gentile often seems wounded by what he perceives as the scientific community's failure to take the paranormal seriously. But up close the truth or falsity of his claims may be less important, or at least less instructive, than the bare facts of his existence.
Most people come home from work, eat dinner with their families and perhaps run a few errands before watching TV or retiring to bed. Gentile, on the other hand, offers himself up as a societal shaman at a time when America treats such figures with ridicule and contempt. Time spent with him is both funnier than hell and a valuable window into another time.
In keeping with more ancient religious traditions, the story of his involvement in the paranormal revolves around sacrifice. For many years he's begun his most strenuous efforts after the workday ends. Sleepless nights pile up behind him like cords of wood behind a lumberjack. Even the family bathroom speaks of a man whose attentions are drawn off-premises.
The cramped little room--with a shower, sink and toilet all within arm's reach of each other--requires massive repairs. There are holes in the wall so large that people passing through the hall can peer inside and see ... everything.
"It's embarrassing," says Gentile. "But right now we've just decided there are more important things."
Among them, fighting demons.
Gentile's interest in the paranormal started early. As a child he says he saw apparitions and heard voices. He says his siblings later admitted they too had experiences in their old house. The chief difference between them and Lou was that he couldn't keep quiet about it.
Many years later, in the fall of 1997, he drove to an event in York and watched the recently deceased Ed Warren speak. Warren had burst into the public consciousness with the Amityville Horror case, which from this vantage point would seem a mark of disrepute. But Warren maintained some form of haunting took place before the home's owner George Lutz spun more fanciful tales of ooze emanating from the walls and a demonic pig named Jodi.
"Whatever happened there," says Gentile, "I saw and heard things working on cases for Ed Warren that completely changed the way I saw the world."
Gentile tells incredible stories: He's seen objects fly across the room and people levitate. ("It's not their back arching," he says, dismissing skeptics. "Their whole body floats in the air.") He's watched the possessed, during exorcisms, speak dead languages or reveal the deepest, darkest secrets of their persecutors. Once, working on a case for Warren in Connecticut, a sudden movement caught his eye.