Goody

 

I first met Gudrun (Goody) Cable at 5:20 PM on May 28, 1971. 

 

It was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and my day as basic training company commander was officially over as of 5:00 PM.  Responsibility for the battalion had been turned over for the night to the Officer of the Day (OD), a Lieutenant Hendron whom I knew to be a very sharp, very capable officer.

 

My first sergeant had already departed for the weekend and the barracks was quiet.  All was in order and in good hands.  I was looking forward to three days of peace and tranquility with my little family.

 

As I headed out the door of my office the phone rang.  I hesitated: go back and answer it, or simply leave.  No one should have been calling me at that hour.  Curiosity got the better of me.  I picked up the receiver and recognized the voice on the other end as Hendron’s.

 

“Captain, I’m here at headquarters.  There’s a problem.  It involves someone in your company and I think it’d be best if you come here and handle it.”

 

“Hendron, I’m off duty.  You’re OD.  You handle it, whatever it is.  I’m going home.  Enjoy your weekend.”

 

“No, Sir, I really think this is something only you can handle.”

 

“What is it, Hendron? “

 

“I can’t describe it, Sir.  You need to come over here and see it for yourself, Sir.”

 

I couldn’t imagine what it could possibly be that Hendron couldn’t handle.  But again, curiosity.  I walked over to headquarters, stepped into the building and called out to Hendron.  No answer.  There was no one in the staff room where the OD normally spent his time when not making rounds.  I checked the XO’s office and the sergeant major’s office—they were empty.

 

I walked around the outside of the building but didn’t see Hendron.

 

I went back inside and made the rounds of the offices again, this time peering into the colonel’s office, which was off limits for any of us of lower rank.  There, in a visitor’s chair, sat a young woman nursing what was obviously a newborn baby.  This had to be without a doubt the first time a situation like this had ever occurred in the colonel’s office.  Hendron must have placed the woman here.  I’d have to deal with him later.

 

“Hello, ma’am.  Can I help you?”

 

“I’m here to see my husband.”

 

“You husband… and who might that be?”

 

“Douglas Cable.”

 

Oh God.  Private Douglas Cable was a trainee in my company.  Now it was clear why Hendron had called me, and why he had then disappeared.  We were only a week into the training cycle and the troops were in isolation[1], but that wasn’t the thing that made me wince.

 

Not only was Cable one of my trainees, he was one of my biggest problems.  He was a rich kid whose father had influence over his local draft board in Los Angeles.  Daddy had worked a deal where if Cable went through basic and advanced infantry training he could spend the rest of his military obligation in the California National Guard and there would be no possibility of his being sent to Vietnam. 

 

Cable should have been grateful that by the circumstance of his birth, he enjoyed privileges denied those of his fellow trainees destined for the war zone.  But no, he had to brag that he deserved his special treatment because his superior intelligence was needed at home.  After a couple of fights in which he was seriously outnumbered, my sergeants gave him their version of rich boy “special treatment”: they placed him on almost perpetual KP duty.  That’s where he was this Friday afternoon when I met his wife and newborn son in the colonel’s office.

 

I explained to Mrs. Cable that the Army had its strict rules and that there was no way she’d be able to see her husband.  I asked where she’d come from.  Portland, she said—she had driven alone for two-and-a-half hours to get here.  It dawned on me that I had just been handed a many-faceted sharp stick:

 

I felt the least I should do for her, since she had come all this way, would be to let her see her husband briefly.  I called over to my company, told the sergeant on duty to find Cable and tell him he had ten minutes to get himself cleaned up and report to battalion headquarters.  My intent was to give Mrs. Cable five minutes with her husband and then send her on her way.  Even this much was a serious breach of Army regulations.  I was really sticking my neck out for these two.

 

While we waited for Cable I stayed with her, less out of concern for her welfare than that someone might find her in the colonel’s office with no legitimate reason for her being there. 

 

To pass the time I asked her a few questions.  I learned where she and her family were from and that this, her second child, had been born the week prior.  It was a delicate exchange because she was on the verge of tears the whole time. 

 

To divert attention from the immediate while she was nursing her baby, I inquired about some of her personal interests.  Somehow the conversation came around to classical music, something we discovered we both enjoyed.  We were well into a discussion of Mozart’s music when I glimpsed Cable running across the quad with his shirt tails out, trying to tie his tie on the fly.

 

When he arrived I told the two of them they had five minutes to say their good-byes and then Mrs. Cable would have to depart.  I left them alone, with the baby, in a grove of trees.  Their tearful reunion made it clear just how difficult it was going to be for me to send Mrs. Cable back to Portland that night.

 

When their five minutes were up I told them something had come up that required my immediate attention.  I’d be back in about ten minutes. 

 

I walked back to my office and called Kathy at home.  “How would you like some guests for the weekend?”  When she heard there was a newborn involved our weekend’s agenda was immediately set.  I was now up to my eyeballs in this very problematic and illegal entanglement.

 

I rejoined the couple and told Cable that under no circumstances, under pain of federal imprisonment for many years at hard labor, was he ever to disclose to anyone what we were about to do.

 

As it turned out Kathy and I had a wonderful weekend with our unexpected guests.  Our two girls loved the opportunity to play mommy with the baby, we adults enjoyed a weekend full of leisurely and engaging conversation, and those three days and the following weeks passed without serious consequence.

 

When Mrs. Cable, now Goody to us, returned home to Portland after the holiday she told family and friends about the wonderful time she and Doug spent with Doug’s most un-military-like company commander.  One of the many people she told was a writer for The Oregonian newspaper. 

 

The prevailing public sentiment at the time, which was both encouraged and reflected by the press, was anti-war and anti-military.  The story Goody told became an article in the Portland paper, but with a twist.  Instead of detailing an idyllic respite for mother and child, the writer painted Goody’s time with us as torture at the hands of a domineering military monster who abused her ceaselessly for three whole days.  When Goody called me to apologize in hope that I wouldn’t be in trouble with my superiors, I laughed and told her that, in the highly unlikely event that the story would ever reach Ft. Lewis, I’d probably be hailed a hero for having been so uncivil to a war-protesting civilian.

 

When I left the Army three months later, Kathy and I settled in Corvallis, 85 miles south of Portland.  We continued our friendship with the Cables and our family was treated as special guests at a series of Saturday night live music parties that Goody hosted at her house[2].  We would drive up to Portland Saturday mornings, help prepare for the party, stay the night afterwards, and spend leisurely Sundays together.  Our daughter Christina and their daughter Marya became best friends.

 

Goody’s parties were always attended by at least fifty of the most interesting and well-connected members of Portland’s political, social and arts communities.  At one party I was sitting so close to Goody and several of her friends that I couldn’t help but participate in their conversation.  They were talking about a recent incident where one friend’s mother suddenly had fallen gravely ill.  It happened in the middle of the night, and in her distress the friend called Goody.  Their entire conversation (so they claimed) went like this: 

 

Even before Goody’s phone rang she picked it up. 

 

On the other end her friend said, “It’s my mother.  I’m taking her to the hospital.” 

 

Goody said, “I’ll meet you there,” and hung up.

 

The premise of their story was that they were both so telepathic they didn’t need the cues most of us require to communicate with each other.  Goody knew the phone was about to ring and had picked it up just as the friend finished dialing.  The friend never told Goody she had called for an ambulance to take her mother to a hospital.  Yet Goody had shown up at the correct hospital simultaneously with the ambulance.  When I expressed skepticism they insisted that that’s exactly how it happened.

 

I asserted that as a pragmatist and an engineer I was highly skeptical of the existence of extrasensory perception.  They both claimed these things happened to them regularly, that they were both what they called “good receivers”. 

 

Goody said she suspected I might be a strong sender; we should try an experiment to see whether I could send something that she could receive.  I saw this as an opportunity to expose this for the fraud I knew it to be, so I played along. 

 

Goody thought that since we both liked classical music I should pick a movement from a symphony—a less well known one (to her) to reduce the possibility of coincidence—and that I should play it in my mind so that she might receive it. 

 

We agreed that I would send something at five o’clock the next Tuesday afternoon.

 

On that day I was driving south on Highway 99 toward home in warm late-Spring sunshine when the five o’clock news came on the car radio.  I’d already determined the symphonic piece I was going to send: the fourth movement of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony—“The Organ Symphony”.[3]  I turned off the radio and in my mind played the piece from memory.

 

A week later Goody and I met for coffee in Portland and I asked her about Tuesday.  She said a funny thing had happened the Monday before.  She was riding in the car with her dad when a symphony she’d never heard before came on the radio and her dad said, “This music reminds me of Dick.”  She said the symphony was strange to her because there was an organ in it and she didn’t think that was ever done.  Then she said she heard that same music in her mind at five o’clock on Tuesday.

 

I said it didn’t really prove anything since by coincidence she had heard the piece with her dad.  Despite our experiment having been contaminated I was curious—maybe there was something to all of this, and maybe I should be trying this with her dad.  We agreed to run our same test again the next Tuesday at five o’clock.

 

Again on Tuesday I was driving south on Highway 99 with the radio on and the windows open.  Again it was a beautifully warm afternoon, but this time I had forgotten all about our agreement.  When the five o’clock news came on and it dawned on me that this was the time we’d agreed to do the second test, my inner voice shouted, “Oh SHIT!  I forgot.  I’ve got to send something.  What should I send?”

 

After thinking for a moment I decided this time I’d really put this whole ESP nonsense to the test.  Goody was expecting a movement from a symphony; I decided to send something very different.  She hated Richard Wagner; I’d choose something from one of his operas.  I settled on the Pilgrims’ Chorus from his opera Tannhäuser.[4]  There’s no way she’d be expecting that.

 

I began to sing the chorus as I was cruising down the road.  I’ve never been good at singing and in this case not only could I not hold a note, I couldn’t even find one.  Although I was alone in the car I was so embarrassed by the sound of my own voice that I rolled up the windows; I was afraid if I didn’t, cows grazing by the side of the road might start a stampede.  Even with the windows closed I still couldn’t stand my own sound, so after a bit I stopped singing.

 

Then I remembered that the Overture at the beginning of Tannhäuser had the same musical theme as the chorus but without the singing, so I played the Overture in my mind.

 

So again, the sequence of events was: (1) “Oh SHIT…”.  (2) Sing the chorus painfully for a bit then (3) mentally play the Overture.

 

We met the following week for coffee and I asked her how it went on Tuesday.  I was somewhat surprised when she shook her head and said, “You were right.  It doesn’t work.  I didn’t get anything….”

 

I could tell from her halting denial that it wasn’t really a case of her not getting anything.  It was more that she’d experienced something she felt embarrassed to bring up. 

 

I persisted.  “What happened?”

 

“Really, it was nothing.  Nothing happened.  Let’s just change the subject.”

 

“I can tell something must have happened.  Why don’t you just tell me about it.  Maybe you did get what I sent.  We may never know.”

 

“No….  Well, OK….”  Long pause.  “Well, I had forgotten all about our experiment.  I was at the kitchen sink washing dishes when I heard a word in my head that I’ve never said in my life[5].  It was so loud it shocked me.  I looked up at the clock and it was exactly five o’clock.  Then I remembered our arrangement so I turned off the water and listened.  I closed my eyes and concentrated…”  She stopped and again shook her head.  “No.  I really don’t want to talk about it.  It didn’t work.”

 

“C’mon, humor me.  What happened next?”

 

Again, a long pause.  “Well, I heard a terrible noise.  It sounded like an animal in serious pain, like a screech.  It went on for about half a minute.  It was just horrible, but it finally stopped.  Then I heard music, but it wasn’t like something from a symphony so I knew it wasn’t anything you might have sent.”

 

“Really?  What makes you say that?”

 

“Well, it sounded like something Wagner might have written for one of his operas.  But he didn’t write symphonies and I knew you were sending a movement from a symphony, so what I was hearing couldn’t have come from you.”

 

I didn’t have to say a word.  My smile said it all.  She had nailed it perfectly.  Wow!

 

I’m now convinced this ESP business is for real.  How it works I haven’t a clue, but given the remarkable success of our experiment I’m convinced that it does work.  And, I imagine, the most sensitive among us are probably the best at it.

 

So if you want to try for yourself to see if you’re a “receiver”, I’ll be happy to do my part and send you a message.

 



[1]   Since in a typical basic training situation the trainees would have arrived from all parts of the country and could be bringing with them localized, exotic diseases they might have built immunity to but to which others might be susceptible, it was Army policy to keep each training company isolated from all other companies and any visitors for the first two weeks of training.  On this Friday we were only halfway through the mandatory exclusive incubation period.

 

[2]   Goody proved to be a most innovative entrepreneur.  In the years to follow, her music parties became too crowded for her home so she purchased a SE Portland house in 1980 which she remodeled and managed as the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House.  Four years later her entrepreneurial inclination led her and a friend to purchase an old flophouse in Newport which they transformed into the Sylvia Beach Hotel.  Both enterprises remain very popular and successful as of this writing.  Discerning readers will note the puns in the names of both.

 

[3]   If the reader is not familiar with the Third Symphony, it’s a masterful work of tension-release throughout. An organ blast begins the fourth movement. It was this fourth movement that I sent to Goody.

 

[4]   Again, if the reader is unfamiliar with the music, here is the Tannhäuser Overture.

 

[5]   Goody had taken a personal oath when she was a teenager that there were three things she would never do:  she would never smoke, she would never drink alcohol, and she would never utter a swear word.  This is why hearing my expletive was such a shock to her.