Still a pleasant and picturesque Midtown destination, standing tall in skyscraper shadows, the New Yorker draws Tesloids from many lands -- myself and Dash! The Dog-Faced Ham included. We recently retraced the Maestro’s footsteps in search of ectoplasmic cross talk, hoping to snag some wireless Hints and Kinks from the Other Side.
At check-in we requested an upgrade to Tesla’s suite. The clerk replied that the accommodation was currently under renovation and due to the large number of requests, even quarters in close proximity are not casually available. However, a nice room three floors down might suit our needs, at a very good rate.
We accepted the alternative, on the theory that three floors down from Tesla’s digs was close enough for ghost hunting, given the New Yorker’s propitious Deco ambience, as well as the diverse bank of vending machines but steps from our room.
Once inside our base of operations, Dash! fired-up the flat screen and turned down his duvet in preparation for a subconscious-cleansing nap, leaving me to deploy our EVP rig.
For readers with jobs, families, and other petty distractions, these initials refer to Electronic voice phenomenon, a contemporary term of art for that which is intercepted by means of tape or digital recorders, computers, radios, TVs, cell phones and similar devices. It boils down to social networking with dead people. And while to this point I've had no such direct experience, I reasoned that operating QRP might facilitate a lot fewer distracting contacts with mortals, allowing us to better focus on Tweets from Tesla.
I attached the 5 watt MFJ Cub to an all-band folded luggage rack antenna of opportunity, fortuitously arrayed at the foot of my bed. At that moment, the Dog-Faced Ham's snoring peaked so loud it knocked me unconscious, into a similarly contemplative state for the next couple of hours.
About 1645 I woke with a start, eager for nightfall. While Dash! slept on, I scanned 40 meters for signs of Tesla’s ghost. There was none. Nothing breeched the noise but clots of annoying Oceania DX and the exotic whine of a travel hairdryer transmitting from the room next door.
At last my slugabed sidekick surfaced with the plunge of the sun. By day we had a room with a view, but by dark it kicked up to a view and a half. Big city lights lifted our spirits, so to speak. Shuffling to the window, Dash! prepared to pull the curtains wide, unprepared to see Tesla’s ghost hovering on the other side of the window wearing a strangely familiar grin.
“Hi Fellas!” greeted the amiable eidolon.
Dash! quickly composed himself and scuttled under his bed. I also composed myself, yet Tesla’s ghost looked too much like a sappy childhood acquaintance to merit any sudden motions.
“I see you’re an wireless enthusiast!” Tesla’s ghost pointed at my Cub as he lazily drifted through the double pane. “I invented that, you know. And your flat screen. And your iPod. And…”
Talk of electronic playthings always drew Dash! out of his shell or from under his bed.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” reassured Tesla’s Ghost, “I’m just another ham, pretty much the same as you guys.”
Point taken, Dash! and I observed that he wasn't the ham we expected. We were counting on a tortured wraith, bitter and betrayed by society, stuck on some hideous rubber chicken circuit of a hereafter, damned to suffer posthumous praise. Still, I had a hunch that we could goad him into pitching a fit.
Dash! piped-up, “Love your Coil, man! So many science fairs, so many Tesla Coils!”
“Oh those. You know, I don’t mean to come across like the Electrical Boss of Everything, but I was robbed.” A little cloud crossed the mustached ghost’s cheery countenance. “Remember giant 4-track cassette tapes?
“Vaguely,” Dash! replied. “RCA, 60s, big flop, right?
Thanks to Sarnoff!” spat Tesla’s Ghost, as he reached into the wrinkles of his sheet and ripped out the patent illustration we reproduce here.
"I perfected giant cassette tapes when The General was still in short pants. Think of it! Stereo tape, amplifier, speakers, cigarette lighters, all powered by a simple twist of wrist!
"So every giant cassette was its' own boom box," marveled Dash. "All this, when Edison was scratching out records on giant waxed toilet paper rolls. Hey, you was robbed!"
Tesla's ghost hunched over, muttering. "My patent application, my prototype, my proprietary giant pencils -- all but this drawing, pressed to my chest, disguised as a mustard plaster -- was borrowed with extreme prejudice in the dead of night by rogue Pinkertons. Who knows how many kingpins had their paws on my plans? Feh! Fifty years of reverse engineering and RCA invents an Edsel.”
“Funny you mention Edsel,” Dash! observed. “You know what they say…”
"I know only too well what they say, but my wireless car was so much more than an Edsel. Unlimited mileage. Breakneck speed. Yes, Ford ripped it off and never got it right!" Pulling another sketch from his wrinkled sheet, Tesla’s Ghost waved it in our faces.
"This is what we disguised beneath the body of a 1931 Pierce Arrow. Tell me now, does THAT look like an Edsel?”
“A little,” Dash! cautiously replied.
“Copycats!” snorted Tesla’s Ghost.
“Looks more like a SKYWARN bumper car,” I offered.
“Did it have an Orgone glove box,” Dash! hopefully queried?
“No, our glove box accumulated White Castle sacks” boasted Tesla’s Ghost. "White Castle hamburger sacks are exponentially more therapeutic than Orgone, which, by the way I also discovered when Wilhelm Reich was still in nappies!"
Ordinarily, the suggestion of little square hamburgers alone was enough to launch Dash! on a White Castle run, only blocks from our hotel. But reference to Reichian Technology, Aye Chihuahua, in the same breath sent the old fat DFH out the door double time, quicker than you can say Alternative Holistic Modalities..
That left me and Tesla’s ghost, who was now wearing thinner than door-to-door shoe leather. “So,” he demanded,"who is this MFJ, this imposter who made your puny radio?”
“That stands for the maker's founder,” I replied. “Martin F. Jue, a real ham entrepreneur. Perhaps you invented ham radio sir, but MFJ Martinized it!
“I fail to see…” Tesla’s ghost sputtered.
“My point exactly!” By way of explanation, I made a sketch on hotel stationery.
“Do you see now? Did you ever apprehend such genius when you could still see yourself in a mirror? Perhaps, just perhaps Grasshopper, could you have missed a trick or two? Allow me to introduce our Contemporary Poobah of all Amateur Merchandisers, ham radio's very own Ron Popeil. His bare boned ads have sparked us down deep for so long, irresistible as an old novelty catalog touting X-ray glasses and live horned toads."
"I invented X-ray glasses when Roentgen was still sucking Zwieback" dismissed Tesla's ghost. "But mail order horned toads, I suspect that's an invention of yours.
"Sorry Nicky, you and me both should be so clever." I pointed to Dash's well-thumbed, dog-eared copy of the Johnson-Smith travel edition lying on the nightstand, open to the item in question.
"Safe, Live Delivery Guaranteed." I paused for effect. '"Runs like lightning. Watch it pounce on flies. Amusement by the hour." I licked the tip of my finger and touched an imaginary barbeque between us. "SSST!" I spooked the ghost. "SIZZLE, Nicky! Ya gotta sell it! Johnson Smith, MFJ, they didn't start the grill , but ya better believe they cook with gas! And if you had just a speck of their SIZZLE, electric bills might have been rendered obsolete long ago by a joy buzzer in every basement."
Tesla’s Ghost moaned and clanked invisible chains, awful as any Marley shook at Scrooge, at which point I remembered to shiver and shake.
“Gimme the pencil!" shrieked the shade, who whipped a lightning sketch back at me. "Do know Hugo?"
Was he kidding? Once every weirdo on Earth knew Hugo. Back in the earlier 20th century he sold stone age radio parts and moved on to publish pulp magazines like Short Wave Craft and Amazing Stories. "Sure, I know Hugo Gernsback."
"You don't know Hugo." Tesla's ghost replied flatly. "You know a Golem, an Android, a hundred pounds of clay, thirty pounds of magnet wire and an infinite supply of hyperdimensional Moxie."
"You mean you invented..."
"That was a long time ago, Nicky."
"I know," rued the ghost. "Actually I created two monsters. See, I kept a spare Hugo in cold storage, in a sub cellar of his old EICO building on Fulton Street." From a fold in his sheet, Tesla's ghost extracted a dingy handbill.
Was it possible? Could we take the word of a ghost? "That end of Fulton is twice buried and long gone with Radio Row, Nicky."
"Those sub cellars go deep," he sighed, "Very deep, where some say Radio Row yet sleeps like Hugo II -- on standby if you will -- waiting for who pray tell? Two hapless hams like yourselves, stumbling down a secret passage? In the name of Amateur Radio what could be more absurd?"
Dash! The Dog-Faced Ham burst back in the room wearing his customary meat-eating grin. "Oh...you're still here," he remarked to Tesla's ghost. "Want some fries?"
"I surrender" replied the exasperated ghost. His eyes rolled up into his sheet, which withered to a glowing spot like that of a snuffed CRT, his voice receding to whispers. The secret passage is in the subway. The Cortlandt Street station. The mosaic. Lean against the tiles under the letters and press inside the O. I'm warning you guys. Like they say, it all happens very fast. Fast as life itself.
Nikola Tesla spent his last days on the 33rd floor of the New Yorker Hotel.
My ear barely caught signals coming in regular succession
which could not have been produced on earth...