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Walking Through Walls

Philip Smith

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 04, 2017
Category: Memoir

Ever read a book, love it, but come away shaking your head, not sure what to believe?

That’s a picture of me, after inhaling every word of Philip Smith’s memoir.

A week later, I was just as baffled.

In my twenties, rebelling against rationality and science and the limitations of the real world, I had a big infatuation with other ways of “knowing.” Remember Carlos Castenada and his cactus-stoned sorcerer, Don Juan? And “Seth,” the spirit who spoke through Jane Roberts? And Gurdjieff, Charles Fort and the Tibetan magicians? I read them all. I consulted mediums, had charts done, tossed I Ching coins, watched the Ouija board.

And then I put all that away and had a career.

Lew Smith did it just the opposite way. In the 1950s, he had a great career as an interior decorator — “the only heterosexual decorator in Miami” — with clients ranging from the Old Guard in Palm Beach to dictators in the Caribbean. His wife was stylish. Philip, his only son, was happy.

The cracks in normalcy start early in Lew Smith’s story, when he moved his family to an area known as “unincorporated Dade County. This jungle on Miami’s fringes featured snakes, undrinkable water, no phones — and very weird neighbors. “Sometimes I saw Mr. Carter leave the house in a shimmering white gown as he headed off to his Klan meeting,” Smith writes, recalling his childhood. “There was a lemon-yellow trailer parked at the rear of the property. Presumably, this was the spaceship that brought these aliens down from Loxahatchee or whatever hick planet they were from.”

In 1962, as his son worried about the Cuban missile crisis, his father shared a different concern. “I have sanpaku,” Lew announced. “There’s too much yang in my body.” And it wasn’t just him, he said — his wife and boy were also toxic.

A macrobiotic diet followed. And homeopathic medicine.  Soon Lew was into yoga, reincarnation, Krishnamurti and Madame Blavatsky, kundalini and Atlantis. Philip, in contrast, was into escape: “I wanted a complete brain job that would remake my life free of the supernatural influence. I was hoping that there was some sort of magic pill that could suddenly turn me into a normal kid, something I simply did not know how to be."

But a normal childhood was behind him. A paranormal one beckoned. “If you control your thinking, you control your reality,” Lew said. “Change your thinking, and you change your reality. It’s that simple. Our physical world is nothing more than a manifestation of our thought energy."

And to prove it, Philip recalls, Lew punched a hole in a cloud, using only his mind.

Bet you never read a memoir with sentences like this:

“My father rushed by us, lost in thought, carrying a two-foot-tall wooden crucifix.”

“Pop suddenly developed a nice little sideline of performing exorcisms free of charge.”

“With great regularity, my father used the blast furnace of the sun as a dumping ground for anything toxic.”

“Pop would hold the pendulum [his preferred tool of divination] over a pile of cantaloupes and ask out loud, ‘Is this melon perfectly ripe, and will it provide optimum nutrition for my body?’”

“Over the last year, my father had been busy making tons of new friends — invisible friends….All of a sudden he was on the A-list party circuit for the deceased.”

And I bet you never read a memoir in which a man who has Dean Martin and Walt Disney for clients makes a midlife transition into a creature of magic — able, says his son, to read minds and heal at a distance. That’s the story of the last part of the book, and it’s electrifying reading. [To read an excerpt, click here. To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Is it “true”?

The reality-based powers — law and medicine — would shout no. As Smith writes,
“The FDA sent agents to harass and hopefully jail him, the police were constantly knocking on our door with complaints of ‘voodoo and witchcraft’ and doctors had him thrown out of hospitals and threatened to have him arrested for ‘practicing medicine without a license’ even though he never charged a dime for any of his healings. He felt that he given a special gift that was meant to be shared and not used to line his pockets."

Smith suggests that “the best way to really understand my father was to simply accept the fact that he was three hundred years ahead of the rest of us.” And here’s the thing: Philip Smith is no flake — he functioned quite nicely, for a while, as managing editor of GQ magazine. He’s a noted artist. (To see his art, click here.) His father’s decorating projects are first-rate. And his other-worldly work is richly documented: tapes, journals, public appearances. You may not agree with this book, you may resist everything it says, but it would be very hard, I think, to claim it’s a hoax, a fiction.

So what are you going to believe? I don’t mean now, before you’ve read this book, while your own experiences and views are clear. I mean after, when you’ve got to decide where common reality ends and extraordinary reality begins — or if the extraordinary is right here, waiting only upon our perception of it. Or if “spirit guides” and all that are pure hokum.

Me, I’m torn. But I’m sure of this: “Walking Through Walls” is a lot more enjoyable than all those books I read when I was a younger seeker.