I got an excited call from a long time friend, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. I had left a small town in eastern Washington for the larger metropolis of Tillicum in western Washington. My friend wanted me to visit and experience what sounded like an old time revival meeting. She was just curious and wanted my opinion. I hadn’t visited Yakima in sometime, so I agreed.
Yakima is hot and dusty much of the year with lots of wind and rolling hills. My buddies and I used to float down the Yakima river on inner tubes and then finally graduated to larger blow-up boats that held four or five people . . . and a case or two of beer. The river cuts through the landscape and flows to the Columbia River and on out to the Columbia. When it’s not hot and dusty, Yakima is just plain cold and windy.
It was late April so the passes over the Cascades should have been fairly clear. They were, but I had chains in my trunk just in case. I left Friday morning and would be returning mid-afternoon on Sunday. I pulled up to her house. Soon we were hugging while we both had masks on. We assured each other we were clean and already had a double dose of Anti-COVID shots. She showed me to the guest room. I threw my travel bag on the bed and joined Sandra at the kitchen table.
We chatted and caught each other up on our activities and then she told me why she had asked me over. We had tickets for a chautauqua-type meeting for Saturday afternoon. A chautauqua is a cross between a Ted Talk and a religious revival meeting. The talking would be done by “Willy Jo.” From what she described, Willy Jo seemed to be a combination of P.T. Barnum, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, Mohamed Ali, and Donald Trump. When I said, “A sucker born every minute . . . and two to take em?” Sandra said, “Could be . . . probably. But . . . (she looked down and slowly shook her head and shrugged her shoulders) . . . I don’t know.” My advice is, always follow the money.
For the rest of the evening we talked about old times. The next morning we had breakfast and then drove around town and finished up visiting Thorp Road, which runs just below Rattlesnake Ridge. The ridge was slipping dangerously. Just looking up at the peaceful ridge is almost like looking down into a live volcano. Something is going to happen, we just don’t know when. People left their homes in fear and then later came back. A network of cracks on the hillside has grown and the rate of rockfalls keep increasing. It would drive me crazy to live in any of those houses beneath the ridge. Maybe it was just me. The feeling of impending doom felt like an oversize, loaded backpack on my shoulders. We stopped in at a Mexican restaurant for lunch. “Mexican” restaurant in Yakima is almost redundant. The largest Yakima racial/ethnic groups are White ( 47.9%) and Hispanic (45.7%). Nice people and great food. I would return for the tortillas, alone.
I had figured we would be in a Grange Hall of some sort of senior community center, but no. We went to the Red Lion. Willy Jo’s meeting was in the West Coast Ballroom, which accommodates up to 300 people in a theater format in non-COVID times. This time people were spaced out, figuratively. A long line of socially distanced people went from the stage out of the auditorium and circled the room via the hallways. I rolled my eyes and Sandra laughed. “I’ve got someone in line waiting for you to tag up.
I got in line, perhaps twenty back and watched the entertainment. Behind me, I’m guessing a fairly recent immigrant spoke to me and smiled. I couldn’t understand a word he said, so I just smiled. He returned the smile and nodded excitedly. I think he was quoting from the Bible. Willy Jo looked to be about his mid-twenties. He started out very folksy, wishing people well, and talking about our Earth and the connection between people, fate, and the great spirit. I kept waiting for a drum circle to appear with Native Americans softly thumping and pounding out a heartbeat. Willy Jo explained how we are all connected . . . all brothers and sisters . . . all the same people . . . with all the same needs . . . and problems. “I can’t heal you, but I can feel you . . . and find your pain . . . it doesn’t always work, sometimes we lose the way, but sometimes, just sometimes . . . we gain.” He went on explaining that he would touch each person as they came forward. “Perhaps we will connect. I will touch each one of you and wish you well.” As each person stepped up to the stage and walked towards Willy Jo he put on a new pair of white cotton gloves. He asked people to close their eyes. With his left hand he gently steadied the person from their back and with his right hand he would touch their foreheads, their chins, and sometimes their collar bones just below their necks. He would then tell them they were at peace with the world and he would give them the pair of cotton gloves he had worn when he touched them. Each person would smile and thank him, then walk away. At the end of the stage was a large container marked “Donations.”
Later I saw many people with their white gloves. Wearing them like a badge of honor or perhaps daring the fates. Who knows. People are strange sometimes.
With the fourth person he touched, the routine changed. Willy Jo closed his eyes and then looked down for what seemed like ages, but in reality was possibly only fifteen seconds or so. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I think you have cancer. I can’t be sure, but I wish you well and please, please, seek professional help. Visit your doctor soon for their opinion.” No one on stage walked away but I could see five or six people on the floor step out of the line and leave. By the time Willy Jo got to me he had connected with three others: cancer, COVID, and prostate.
I stepped forward. He touched my forehead. It seemed like his hand stayed there for an hour, but it had to have only been a few seconds. The same for my chin and then a day and a half on my chest. He then held my hand and said, “I think you should have a colonoscopy. I believe you have cancer.” If a cane had been within reach I would have grabbed it for support. I walked across the stage and Sandra met me at the stairs and helped me down. I leaned on her all the way to the car. I felt like I was in another world.
We sat in silence and then finally, Sandra said, “Do you have a family doctor?” I nodded my head. “I saw him last week. Willy Jo was dead on.” Her mouth opened, but made no sound. We drove back to her place. I spent the night, but left early for home on Sunday morning. The drive home took forever and yet I can recall nothing of the miles or scenery. There had to be some other twist involved. A claimed reception of information outside of the recognized physical senses was impossible . . . I was pretty sure. However, Willy Jo never claimed that. There had to be something I was missing.
I checked out my pair of white gloves and did some other research. The gloves were just plain gloves. Cheap cotton gloves. If they had been more, he wouldn’t have given them away. The thought passed through my mind that sometimes people use gloves to hide their hands. The gloves had to be a miss-direction or perhaps hid something else. On the net I found images taken by his followers and other pieces of information not so widely known. Willy Jo, was William Joseph and a member of the Nez Perce nation. Did Willy Jo reach out to the spirits of his ancestors? He had attended MIT, perhaps he was reaching out for something else. The photos showed his gloved hands and an ID bracelet on his right wrist. The bracelet had what appeared to be four gemstones. In different photos, the gemstones sometimes glowed individually. My brain began to light up. Everything came together when I was reading a recent tech magazine. The headline that caught my eye was “Disease-Sniffing Device Rivals a Dog’s Nose.”
I knew that dogs were being used to sniff out various infirmities and diseases and that dogs and bees have been used to locate drugs, but I didn’t realize we were ready to hit some problems right on the nose. In covering the net I also found out that fruit flies, mice, pigeons, and rats can also be used as super sniffers. Researchers at MIT have developed a system for detecting chemical and microbial content . . . “In the near future, we may soon be able to just use our cell phones and find out what problems our bodies have in store for us.” Willy Jo might have been one of those people, but I’m guessing he borrowed the findings and did some work on his own. There must have been some sort of sniff receptor in his right hand that triggered a response based on smell with each symptom and lit up an identifying light on his bracelet. There was no claim of anything and there was no hand of god involved . . .
This discovery of a scientific sniffer-outer is something I can live with. It should give us a better and safer world . . . and produce some hand over fist profits along the way. I’m fine with Willy Jo making a few dollars while saving lives, even if some people think a higher power is involved. Like I always say, “Follow the money . . . or rather sniff it out and follow the money.”
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.