Jailbreaking the Matrix (Part 1)

{In which I am stranded in the simulation by aliens and decide to make a run for it.}

Halloween Day, 1997

As the plane accelerated along the runway, a book slid out of my bag and lodged between my feet.

My grandfather had couriered it over and I had hurriedly stuffed into my carry-on without looking at the cover. Now I saw it, an ancient-looking thing titled COURAGE with the subtitle The Story of Sir James Dunn. Surely another story of yet another Canadian industrialist to remind me of where I come from.

As I reached down to pick it up, something slipped out of the pages and I felt my stomach drop –  and not from the pilot’s sudden gunning for take-off.

It was the folded glossy pages of a recent profile done on me in a magazine called Toronto Life. Actually, ‘profile’ is a generous way of saying hit-piece / psychological deconstruction titled ‘The Channeler’. Above the fold, an askew full-color image of my wide deer-in-headlights eyes and shaved head. Beneath the fold the text that I had hoped my grandfather of all people would never see:

Voices spoke to Stephen Marshall in the desert, prophesying that he would manifest a global television network. They’d told him not to worry that he didn’t know anything about television. So he didn’t. Floating in a stoned haze in a swimming pool in Belize, he came up with the name Channel Zero. And the name was good. And soon the high priests of television were at his feet, from CNN to NBC to the stalwart CBC. When he told them he could see the future, they believed.

My family was not unaccustomed to press coverage of our business exploits. My pioneering grandfather Welsford and his brother, CD, had built a succession of small family steel businesses, bridge-by-bridge and mill-by-mill, into a mainstay of the Canadian fabrication business. But then came my father Jeffrey, who was of that generation of industrialist scions who went for quick double masters (in his case first-in-his-class engineering and then MBA) with an eye on vastly expanding the family business.  

Which he did with a vengeance while I was growing up in Montreal during the 1970s. 

It didn’t take long for him to feel constrained by the Canadian industrial manufacturing vertical, so he started looking at acquisition deals which would get Marshall Steel into new markets. It was the early 80’s and hostile takeovers were driving the American big business narrative. Dad saw himself playing on that field.

There was one target in particular that really got him excited. It was the the century-old retail steel business named Drummond McCall – founded in Montreal in 1881 – with operations in nine provinces and the Northeastern United States. The fact that there was ‘history’ between our families – specifically, the firing of my grandfather from the CEO job at another of the cornerstone Canadian steel companies – only fueled his passion. So he and the brilliant young securities attorney Ed Waitzer holed up in the Montreal Ritz Carlton and conducted a very public run at the exponentially larger firm.

This essentially meant splitting the two families – the Drummonds and the McCalls – to exercise a share purchase that would get my father majority stake. After months of public and acrimonious wrangling, he got it on the last attempt and acquired Drummond McCall. But the timing proved to be disastrous as North America was headed into one of the worst recessions in history, which triggered a ban on all steel imports to the US, our largest market.

My father spent the next five years downscaling the business he had just risked everything to buy, all-the-while hemorrhaging money from the well-performing family business he already owned, before selling Drummond McCall in 1987. But the damage was done.

Marshall Steel never recovered from the massive debt it took on to buy Drummond.

It was a testament to dad’s prowess in crisis management that the family business survived into the early 90s – our last two projects were the high-profile Mies Van Der Rohe TD5 and the new CBC headquarters, both in downtown Toronto. But karma is a bitch and after a desperate battle to find a buyer, he lost the company in a less-public but no-less-hostile forced sale to another family competitor, Cecil Hawkins.

Ironically, it was a final act of grace that saved me, the eldest Marshall of the next generation, from having to fill in the role of successor. Something I had resisted – to the great ire of my father -all of my adolescent life. But with that destiny scrubbed, and dad epically transformed from the dumpster fire of his reality, he encouraged me to ‘get out of the country’ before the takedown. An inspiration that led to my Cairo-to-Cape Town overland trip and began my process of radical depatterning that opened an entirely new realm of experiential reality.

But that is another story altogether. For the purposes of this moment, all you need to know is that my stoic and salt-of-the-earth grandfather, despite the loss of our family fortune, still had high hopes for me. And surely this article in the widely-read July edition of Toronto Life about his crazed grandson did not bring him comfort. A message he was sending in his typically forthright but poetic style.

But love and respect him as I did, I didn’t have the capacity to hold his feelings at that moment; as the plane ferried me across the country he had helped to build.

It was late fall of 1997, and I had just been forced to retreat from my extended couch-surfing safari in New York – during which I tried to sell the wildly futurist home-shopping-to-fund-the-revolution TV channel proposal that CNN’s Chairman Tom Johnson had solicited after my keynote appearance at the NewsWorld Conference in Berlin only 10 months prior.

[Also another yet-to-be-written part of this story, which is however captured in my IG posts.]

It’s a testament to how delusional I was that my ‘plan’ depended on charming the secretaries and assistants to then-broadcast titans Barry Diller, Sumner Redstone and John Malone and then getting them to deliver personalized boxes with uber-designed (and aborted) Channel Zero/CNN channel proposal.

Which, just to ensure it was weaponized for maximal alienation, was titled The End of Broadcast Television

After 2 months of surviving on nothing but pocket change and wild idealism – which was enough to enlist a network of supporters around the city – the closest I got to a ‘success’ was the near-closing of a book deal with Broadway Books for a Plato’s Cave themed first-person journey into the heart of the broadcast beast. But when that fell apart too, I jumped on a flight back to Vancouver Island, where my mother now lived, to recalibrate and figure out my next plan. 

The reality was that my mental state was a shambles.

In the last 36 months I’d done two around-the-world guerrilla video-shoots, launched and lost a media company (or more brutally: raised and blown through nearly $2M in investment), got hooked on some pretty vicious narcotics, and orchestrated one of most extreme high-wire crash-and-burn spectacles in Canadian media history; which started with the Naomi Klein hit-piece This Marshall has lost his message (as a response to the hyperbolic Village Voice article which compared my Channel Zero vision to Marshall McLuhan) and ended with the ultimate humiliation ritual: that 8 page full-color psychological deconstruction in Toronto Life.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that it all started with an alien encounter in Sedona?

(Because that context is critical to understanding everything that happens next.)

<Part II>

Jailbreaking the Matrix (Part 2)

Rewind to February of 1994 and my first gig as a videographer. A good friend David Griffiths was an early convert to the living foods/holistic health movement and offered to pay for a stay at San Diego’s Optimum Health Institute if I filmed him doing a one week fast. Always up for an adventure, I agreed and signed up for the fast and a week’s worth of colonics. We emerged with glistening clean bowels and decided to ride our natural high through Sedona, Arizona to visit a couple of self-proclaimed Pleiadians that David wanted me to meet.

Zo-de-Ra and Zo-de-Ja were two twin-like women – definitely in the category of they/them’s in modern gender parlance – who had short, blonde, mulleted hair, elongated heads, and huge blue-grey eyes… and a house filled with very trippy art which they described as channeled Pleiadian messaging.

They also claimed to be cosmic chefs and practitioners of an ET procedure called sixth-dimensional brain surgery. Of course, I wanted to try it. So after watching me gobble up a special meal – scanned with a gold-plated orgone generator – they began to perceptibly tinker with my brain, moving me into a quasi-hypnotic state through which they facilitated the recognition and visualization of my dominant matrix programming: fear of abandonment.

Then they led me through the process of cutting the primary chord that was binding ‘3D Stephen’ – my behaviors and experiential reality – to that fear.

At that time I was 25 and still very much the product of my elite, WASP/patriarchal, multi-generational industrial/capitalist upbringing. So I had never experienced spontaneous emotional catharsis. But there it happened and in such a profound and ego-shattering way, that I was fundamentally altered. The Peiadians seemed very pleased because, as they relayed, I had some important work to do here that was connected to building communications networks for the 5D ascension of our species. (At the time, I had no idea what they were talking about.) They also taught me how to continue the chord-cutting on my own and then sent us on our way.

The next night I was snowed in at O’Hare on my way back to Toronto and had to sleep on the floor of the airport. All the more time to do some more 6th dimensional chord-cutting! Which I continued to do with what, in hindsight, could be seen as reckless frequency. By the time I landed back in Toronto and burst excitedly through the door of my west-city studio, I found my wife with her boss rushing around in a shocked and guilty two-step.

My immediate reaction was total joy.

Deprogrammed enough from the chord-cutting to longer be accessed by the cuckold-victim role play, instead I had the instinctual recognition of a reality-shifting, freedom-granting opportunity. The fact was, the marriage had largely been a need-based response to the simultaneous and epic demise of the Marshall family steel business and dissolution of my parents’ own marriage. A deep, intrinsic part of my self had known the relationship was massively dysfunctional from its start, but I had been powerless to remove my self from its gravitational pull.

Realizing this was the direct – and wildly immediate! – manifestation of my work with the Pleiadians, I calmed the confused lovers and told them not to worry. To take their time and that I’d be back in a few hours. A response that only made my wife – who was an amazing artist and one of my best friends, and a victim of her own familial programming – try to keep us together. But I had tasted something that was so new and liberating, I knew I had to unravel the contracts and relationships made from my ‘old’ conditioned self.

Fast forward a few months and I was now the sole occupant of that studio, spending my daze lying in bed, voraciously reading through a stack of books by Barbara Marciniak that I had suddenly ‘found myself’ in front of at the local bookshop. They were billed as channeled materials from Pleiadians that – in a non-sophisticated style – essentially explained spacetime reality as a kind of intermediary experiential platform which was:

a) engineered,

b) designed to inhibit its occupants’ grasp of its mechanics and origin,

c) alterable based on the individual’s mastery of energy and intention, and

d) permeable by ‘higher’ or extra-terrestrial agents who could exercise interventions on behalf of certain individuals who were here for more than merely existing.

Even in the Marciniak material’s woo-hoo style, the message was connecting at some deep level with my awakening self. Blasting me with successive A-HA moments that rolled across the frame of my consciousness like an infinite set of tidal waves. By the end of the first book I was unable to leave the studio, unsure if I wanted to experience the fake cardboard cutout reality that lay beyond the door. So I just kept reading and letting the words slowly rewire my neural framework. Until it became too uncomfortable, both physically – I had an unrelenting, pounding headache – and psychologically – I felt like my reality had become unglued from the worldly world. 

I had no way of reaching the Pleiadians in Sedona and no one in my life with whom I could share the information and its impact. Then I saw – taped to the fridge – a number that had been given a few months earlier, of a person who was supposedly an ‘energy healer’.  His name was Don Chef.

I left a rambling message, explaining his situation. A few hours later the phone rang and a deep gravelly voice acknowledged my voice message. He said he was doing a quick ‘scan’ and that he was able to see the problem and could be do an ‘adjustment’.  

There again were the healing touches in my head. Loosening something… and perceptibly releasing the pressure. This shit is real, I thought.

‘Indeed’, Don responded. ‘Do you feel better?’
‘Do you have access to a car?’, Don asked.
‘If you come and see me I can do more for you, I am limited by remote viewing.’

Sure, anything.

The next day I drove to 40 minutes north to Barrie to see Don in his office, where he had a small practice performing a wide spectrum of healing arts – massage, reiki, and yes, channeling. As I lay on the table while he moved his fingers to different points on my head, I told him he didn’t have a lot of money.

Don smiled and said, ‘I will never charge you because you helped me a lot in the pyramids.’

I didn’t even know how to respond, but that is how I began my relationship with Don Chef. It was the spring of 1994 and, over the next three years, I would see him nearly a hundred times, during which I was treated with what are generally considered premium but super-New Age healings. Don essentially picked up from where the Sedonan Pleiadians left off, working through the inception and materialization of Channel Zero (CZ), through its insane rise and rapid fall, right up until I bolted from Toronto in August ’97 to try (and fail) to land the network in New York.

It’s worth noting that by the time CZ was launched and I was gathering the hype-ridden media artifacts from the Canadian and US press that would eventually lead to a 1.5M investment from one of my dearest childhood friends, my work with Don had reached a level of intimacy that normalized a process of orgasmic-kundalini inter-dimensional travel, in which he would bring up my sexual energy (yes, that way) and then use it to open portals for me to travel through to gather objects and intelligence that I would need for my ‘work’ in spacetime.

[It is a process that I still use today. Though without a guide, I am relegated to using it to blast kundalini energy into my pineal gland for my health and 5D-perceptual benefits.]

Thus the ascendance of Channel Zero ran in parallel with near-weekly sessions with Don (and the prophecy from the Sedonans), which placed the project and its successive dizzying milestones in a totally cosmic, ET-assisted framework. I saw my self less in the role of some media wunderkind and more as a interstellar secret agent who was helping to usher in a new paradigm.

You can see why the crash to reality came so hard.

Flash forward to 1997, a cold and rainy December on Vancouver Island, where I have been camped out for months in small cabin that my 10-year younger brother Christopher and his college mates were renting. My daze now spent reading books and smoking a lot of weed, trying to make sense of just what the fuck happened to my life. But my mother had had enough. After watching her son sink deeper into what objectively looked like a profoundly self-pitying depression, she finally told me to get my shit together and find a job.

Of course, at this stage of my (r)evolutionary spiritual ‘awakening’ the idea of putting a single joule of my energy toward anything that would edify the matrix and its system of determinist economic enslavement was tantamount to treason. A betrayal of everything I had been taught and experienced since that chance encounter with the aliens in Sedona.

Of course there are many ways of judging this attitude. The product of extreme privilege is the most obvious. But there was something much more… psychotic… happening. Somehow, somewhere during the last three years, I had acquired an unyielding mystical fundamentalism that was now going to rear its uncompromising militancy.

Because I knew she was right. My time in that state of stoned wallowing had come to an end. And my disposition at this point to all 3D adversarial forces was to go full aikido. In other words, to take the energy of the system impulse and move with it toward some action that would expand my own learning and power.

Even if it risked safety and sanity.

The solution did not take long to surface. I had been reading Hesse’s Siddhartha and one section had stuck in my mind: this exchange between Siddhartha and his employer about the value of transcendental experience:

“What is it that you’ve learned, what you’re able to do?”
“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”
“That’s everything?”
“I believe, that’s everything!”

I can think. I can wait. I can fast.

I kept hearing those three sentences in my head, on a loop. Except I had somehow taken the middle part and replaced ‘wait’ with ‘walk’.

And then it hit.

I would test Siddhartha’s maxim and in so doing, simultaneously force the invisible hand of the sentient terrestrial simulation. To see if it would blink in the face of my denial of (its subdomain) the matrix’s power to determine human actions through fear of economic hardship and social judgment. I was very clear that if I conditioned the ‘psychic territory’ of my mission with the right intention that I would maximalize the potential of the effort.

So I cast my alms and stated my game to the Pleiadian guardians. And then announced to my mother that I was heading south to a warmer climate.

“But you have no money, and I’m not giving you any,” my mother protested.
“True. But I can think. I can walk. I can fast.” I assured her.
“What does that mean?”
“I am going to hitchhike south and see what happens.”

This conversation repeated itself for about an hour before my poor mother grew very agitated. Not the kind of distress that arises from frustration with a stubborn child, but rather that of a parent discovering they may be autistic or bi-polar. The fact that this was happening on the edge of my thirtieth year probably wasn’t any more reassuring, but she had no choice. I had been given the plan and set the departure date for December 14.

As the day neared, she made a final attempt to gather me close and begged that I at least stay for Christopher’s birthday dinner on the 15th. I acceded and, on that day, went to her place to wash clothes and pack. As I was walking in the door, I had a psychic hit to check the mailbox. Which was weird because I hadn’t ever done that before; no one knew I was there to send me mail. But do it, I did. And there was an envelope addressed to me in an elegant handwritten scrawl.

I tore it open and unfolded a letter from my aunt explaining that the estate of my uncle Ian had bequeathed $5000, which was included as a check. This had potent implications because my uncle, Ian Stephens – my mother’s younger brother – was in many ways my artistic and rebel inspiration.

A vanguard of the 80s indie rock and 90’s spoken-word scenes in Montreal, Ian was gay, gorgeous, and wildly promiscuous. He died in 1996 of AIDS-related lymphoma, which he beautifully and brutally documented in his writing. One of my first real gigs as a music video director was shooting shorts for some of the spoken-word tracks from Ian’s book/album Diary of a Trademark.

So, I saw this as an omen. A conferral from the otherworld for my journey. My mother saw it as two months rent.

The fact that I was claiming it as some sign from the otherworld – and her own deceased brother – that I was meant to do this only exacerbated her frustration.

And strengthened my resolve.

If there had been any lingering doubts or compassion for my mother’s anxiety about spirit-jumping into the matrix, this demolished them. The sheer sense of elation I was riding was one of the most magical sensations in my life.

Of course, the reductionist materialists would say, this was a coincidence! It doesn’t have to mean anything. And they are absolutely right – it doesn’t.

But I was a late subscriber to the (legendary neuroscientist and psychonaut) John C. Lilly perspective on coincidences: phenomena he connected to E.C.C.O. (Earth Coincidence Control Office) and the ET agents who work on the behalf of self-selecting individuals inside the simulation to accelerate their learning.

In the Lilly context, the recipient of the uncannily-timed coincidence must apply the fullness of their courage and effort to making the most of the kismetic gift.

And that is exactly what I did.

<Part III>

Jailbreaking the Matrix (Part 3)

It is important that I acknowledge as much as possible the degrees of ‘insanity’ that I was operating under during these episodes of my life. Because I was, at the most fundamental level of socialized behavioral norms, ‘out of my mind’.

And while there is (hopefully) a modestly entertaining – and maybe even aspirational – aspect to all of this, I am in no way trying to normalize or even suggest that other players should allow themselves to get to these stages of psychic rebellion against the matrix and its status quo conventional wisdoms. This is high-takes gaming. And there are people who never make it back.

I know some of them.

Brave, turned-on journeyers who got the full-on accelerational download which just cracked them to pieces which they were never able to reintegrate. [Think of that next time you pass a homeless woman on the sidewalk screaming sensical half-truths in ebonic code.]

So it is critical to understand that no matter how virtuous or courageous or well-stated the intention, there is absolutely no guarantee that a player is going to regain a level of operational ‘sanity’ once they have fully crossed the line in their intellectual and spiritual denial of the authority of the ‘reality’ that is being generated for the matrix control system.

That said, the tough thing about actively – as opposed to theoretically or philosophically – breaking out of the ‘game’ system is that it requires that the player to do exactly that. The norms and rules of the system must first be denied and revoked at the cognitive and spiritual ‘levels’. Only then can the physical adventure of jailbreaking the matrix on the material plane of spacetime be undertaken with any hope of success.

That is because: to ‘successfully’ get to the other side of the chasm that opens up once a player breaks free cognitively, they need to inhabit – and be inhabited by – a new kind of conscious awareness which exists to guide them through the most dangerous facets of the journey.

This is the most amazing part of all of this: that when you earnestly undertake this kind of a mission (and later, a lifestyle), the entire ‘world’ becomes a kind of immersive game platform. In which every object, every person, every movie, every song that suddenly comes on the radio, every weather pattern, and yes even the arrangement of the planets and stars, become set-pieces on some boundlessly complex and incomprehensible ouija board that exists to facilitate your journey out.

[Think Logan’s Run meets The Truman Show.]

It doesn’t come fast or easy. In fact, at the beginning, the signs and miracles come barely at all… or, at least, they come at the last possible moment. And in almost imperceptible packages. Designed for those who have attuned themselves integrally to the signals and specters that flicker through the barbed wires of the system fortress. And only just at that moment… before the player is about to give up hope.

Which is exactly the point. To illuminate the limits of their faith.

. . .

It was gorgeously temperate northwest coastal morning as I boarded the Coho ferry to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I stood on the deck the whole way, letting the salt water whip against my face.

The feeling of absolute freedom that I got from heading into an uncharted oblivion with no sense of a destination or timeline was a kind of absolute freedom that I had never felt before. Well, maybe once: during my year-long overland Cairo-to-Cape Town trek after college. But even then I had a very structured idea of ‘the journey’ and a fixed channel to family and friends.

On this quest I was willfully disconnecting from all lifelines and timelines, just heading ‘south’ until the money ran out. I knew that that was when the real mission of my quest would kick in: to see if I could force the simulation into some kind of a ‘response’. Until then, this was all a gifted vacation from the universe, funded by a ghost. I was going to milk it for as long as I could.

When I landed in the harbor of Port Angeles, I walked off the boat and decided to get a bit of distance from the dock before throwing up a thumb.

My only previous experience with hitch-hiking was during family summers on Nantucket island, when we would hitch along Milestone Road between the village of Siasconset and town. We might as well have been riding in golf carts at Disneyland.

But this felt as natural as hiking in the woods.

I definitely did not look like a typical hitch-hiker. The only clothes I had were leftovers from the exotic Channel Zero daze and on this morning I was dressed in an oversized purple chinchilla top and black snowboarding pants. As I got further from town along the 101, the logging trucks whipped up spray so I pulled a multi-color felt joker’s hat over my ears and hugged the tree line to keep dry. Before an hour had passed a small covered pickup pulled over and a hand waved me over.

I could hear familiar strains of Grateful Dead coming through the cab. A friendly face greeted me with a conspiratorial glint in his eye.

“Where you going?”


“I’ll get you a little bit down the road. Jump in.”

Gary was an electrician and handyman who was heading home to Discovery Bay for his lunch break. It was only thirty minutes down the road, but after we got talking he asked if I wanted to smoke a bowl. I had been clearly instructed not to bring or buy any drugs on this journey but there hadn’t been any directives around accepting kind offers from strangers. So I happily accepted. My ‘trip’ was off to a wonderful start.

A few moments later Gary pulled off on a dirt road and parked under towering redwoods. He loaded the pipe and lit up.

As we sat under the dripping trees, the live Dead (concert) bootleg continued to play on crackly speakers, permitting a comfortable silence between two acknowledged heads. When the band broke into Cassidy – a song about Neal Cassady, the legendary Beat writer and troubadour, and the holy ghost in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road – Gary used it as a segue to ask me where I was going. I deflected the question by telling him I had hung out with the song’s lyricist, John Perry Barlow, a few times in New York. Which took the conversation into easier tributaries.

By the time the tape finished, we had finished chatting for a half hour. Gary asked again:

“Where you headed?”

“Just going south, to warmer weather.”

“You in some kind of trouble?”

“No, I just… hit my limit with consensual reality. Testing out some spiritual theories.”

“Kind of like… a vision quest. Just not in the woods.”

My glistening eyes told him, you get me.

Gary smiled and announced he was taking the rest of the day off to drive him as far as Olympia, if I wanted.

“There isn’t much except trees and loggers between here and there, you’ll get some good traffic once the freeway breaks after Olympia.”

I gently reminded him he wasn’t in any kind of a rush, but told him I’d be grateful for an hour of road.

“Then I know just the place to drop you. A good omen for your travels.”

So Gary left me at a shoreline rest stop/campground with an offer for some weed for the road. I was amazed at the unhesitant thanks but no thanks that came through my mouth; I had been smoking pot pretty much on a daily basis since Channel Zero went down, and was glad to see some deeper part of myself done with that unhealthy reliance.

I smiled at the sign that revealed itself when Gary drove off. I was standing in Potlatch State Park, which considering my mystical and possibly karmic relationship with the shamanic narratives of northwest coastal tribes, just made too much sense.

I whispered a blessing to Gary and was happy to be on my own again, resuming my slow walk down the misty 101, my lungs taking in the moist atmospheric alchemy of ocean and redwood.

I’m not going to profile each of the rides I got on this early leg of the trip. These were easy days; the easiest of the journey.

And for a reason.

Dressed like a happy jester and throwing off vibes of zero-fucks in the world, I was in one of the most profound flow states of my life.

In this way, maybe I was medicine for the people who came to ferry me down each part of this unfathomable expedition. Each in their own way, perhaps, seeking a reminder that there was always a choice in their lives, a solitary but liberating path away from the structure and heaviness of the worldly world.

If they could unhitch themselves from their self-crafted yokes.

My next ride was a woman named Janice, who stopped and bolted twice before coming back. Unrolling her window she nervously offered:

“I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker before. Especially not a man. But you seem ok.”

I was more than OK.

Being out there, in that frame of mind, conferred profound symbolic and metaphysical meaning on each driver that stopped. This was medicine for me as well.

Being in that position of the grateful passenger, one is not required to speak and, in fact, quietly thanked for not filling the space and time with idle words. This freed me from my wild thoughts and devastating losses. Seen through fresh and unfamiliar eyes, I was a new person, with no past to qualify or quantify.

Before I found the check from my uncle Ian, I had been prepared to sleep in the forest and under bridges. And to fast until I was either offered or found food; I’d even bought a book on foraging, just in case. So these pick-ups were all magic, and with just under 5000 dollars in my possession, I knew he would always find a warm motel bed when that day’s rides had closed out.

There was a system of grace out there on the road and I finally understood why hitchhiking is romanticized as a metaphor for life.

After Janice were the two boys from Olympia who stole their parents car to go overnight mushroom picking in Oregon. A truck driver who blew a tire in the middle of a traffic jam in Portland, a Mennonite family in a van. A traveling salesman. And one man who didn’t say a word and just dropped me at a Motel 6 in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night.

But that first leg with all its wonder and ease came to an abrupt end on the fourth morning of the trip, when I walked out of that dingy Super 8 just outside of Bakersfield, CA. There was a pronounced shift in the vibe of the road and I felt exposed and vulnerable under the beating sun.

Things were about to get weird and hard, whether I was ready or not.

<Part IV>

Jailbreaking the Matrix (Part 4)

When our experience on Earth is viewed through a sharply reductionist lens, we perceive our world and its phenomena in its most ‘atomized’ component parts. Nature, the stars, and other people are like the gears and springs in an exquisite but purely mechanistic clock. It will always reliably tell us the time, but never offer insight into the origin or meaning of Time.

Reductionism was a critical evolutionary development for Science. And a huge relief for those humans who viewed life as a dire, existential struggle against a dangerous and chaotic world. Starving from drought or dying of skin-ravaging plagues were real dangers for the majority of our evolution and our autonomic nervous systems are epigenetically programmed by these legacy terrors. Terrors that drove scientists to explore, map, and codify the complex systems that animate every aspect of Earth and its biological organisms. We finally became masters of our environment – and our own bodies – so that we could move on to more important things and no longer, as the great polemicist Christopher Hitchens once scolded me, ‘die of our teeth’.

A consequence of this progress was that interactions with nature and other humans were necessarily reduced to random, singular events that do not form a part of a larger narrative or system of meaning.

And for good reason.

Science was responding to, and mostly disqualifying, centuries of theocratic teaching. A process which, up until recently, was a very dangerous pursuit; punishable by exile, torture, or death. The only hope for the apostate astronomer, chemist, or physicist was to develop themselves into extremely precise and persuasive pitch-men, with friends in high places.

So naturally as Science emerged from the dungeon laboratories to become the dominant religion of the modern era, it evolved into a highly academic, proof-based practice that drew fiercely competitive players who had to defend each thesis that was under consideration by the Academy. There was zero-tolerance for mythological interpretations of non-typical events (aka miracles) – the supernatural wonders that ‘made’ the prophets who went on to inspire all the modern mainstream religions.

But there was a baby-and-bath-water facet to all of this.

Because while there can be no dispute about challenging Biblical or Koranic authority on a Dark Age sky-god’s edicts around astronomy and human biology – let alone punishments for routine acts like stealing, adultery, or homosexuality – Science’s militant rejection of all mystical experience spawned a reactionary fundamentalism (known as Scientism) that also negated the so-called animist or, more primordially, shamanic experience which operationally perceived ‘the world’ as a sentient and communicative realm. One in which every object from tea leaves to flocks of starlings to the constellations, became active talismans on a 3D immersive ouija board. But only for those who had undergone the rituals of initiation and preparation to gain the vision and sensitivity to decipher and interpret its messaging.

Harrowing stuff that was far out of the geek domain for bookish men and their magnifying glasses. Those big brains for whom my leap into the unknown could only be classified as a fool’s errand.

So it was that when I stepped out of the Motel 6 outside Buttonwillow, California that morning, I could sense that the currents had shifted. Gone were the lush, womb-like forests and gentle flow of traffic in the northwest. Here I felt exposed and solitary, under a blazing sun and zooming freeway traffic; the kind of down-on-his-luck hitchhiker that I had never once stopped for in my entire life.

But I was still living the dream and traveling light – besides my clothes, all I had was my passport, my slowly depleting $5000 in a mix of cash and an Amex credit card with a freshly cleared 2K max, and a map of the US.

In no hurry.

So I tightened the straps of my backpack and started walking south along the freeway. After an hour I crossed toward a gas station to buy some water.

As I came out, I could feel eyes on me and turned to see a dilapidated Chevy station-wagon awkwardly parked beside the air tanks. The windows were filled with clothing and books and appliances. A hoarder’s car by any definition. The passenger door swung open and a man (who clearly belonged to that car) waved his arms.

Shouting across the lot in a hoarse voice, “where you heading to?”

I kept my eyes lowered and shook my head, suddenly wishing I didn’t look so much like I needed a ride.

The man stumbled out of the car and ambled toward me.

“You going to LA?”
“No, definitely not LA,” surprised by my certain tone.
“I saw you come down the southbound side. You don’t want to be hitching on the south, man. Every ride worth getting from here on in is to LA.”
“Appreciate that.”

Good to know. I scanned the freeway, and saw a sign for the 58 heading east to Bakersfield. The man was now limping in lock-step beside me.

“I’ll make you a deal. You pay for gas and I’ll take you wherever you want. My name’s Dave. Good to meet you.”

Destiny Dave.

The words just surfaced in my mind like the name of a book I’d once read but long forgotten.

It was one of those exchanges just seemed so weirdly out-of-place and yet perfectly of-that-moment. A sign for sure that there was something in this for me.

Dave’s offer was loaded with a kind of karmic inversion.

I was in the middle of nowhere, had money and no ride.
Dave was in the middle of nowhere, had wheels and no money.
I was willing everything to destiny.
Dave was leaving destiny to a stranger’s will.

Destiny Dave. Why not.

“Ok, I’ll try one tank. What about we head east and see how far we get?”

“Sounds good. Can you help me with a push?”

A few minutes later I was riding with my feet raised on a pile of books and trash, my bag stuffed into the back seat, windows wide open to force a circulation of breathable air. Within the first few seconds of being in the car I knew it would be a short ride. If Dave’s car made it to an eastbound freeway, I’d consider the price worth it.

Destiny Dave was a ferryman, I was a passenger. Might as well have been crossing the river Styx.

Dave was a mumbler and a self-talker, which was fine because I was lost in thought. His warning, and my instinct, not to head to Los Angeles had shifted me out of wonder mode and into something more… solemn. Practicality had shouldered its way into my musings and the impulse to make some kind of plan took me over.

As we cleared the outskirts of Bakersfield and settled into a sputtery momentum through the arid expanse of the I-10, it suddenly became clear that this journey was not about hitching in circles around the United States, avoiding large cities.

I also knew I was definitely not heading back north into the dead of winter and Christmas eve. That left south and east. I pulled out the map and traced my finger along the 10 to the Florida coast.

Our family had owned a house on a small Bahamian island called Eleuthera that we lost in the forced sale of the steel business. But I knew the islands well and felt my hopes rise with a vision of working on a trade boat that crossed between one of the Florida ports and the archipelago. The thought of Eleuthera evoked a deep somatic memory. I spent some of the best Christmases of my childhood on those white sand beaches, under the crystalline blue skies.

Before the traumatic destruction of my nuclear family.

I suddenly thought of that scene from Contact where Ellie (Jody Foster’s character) is transported by aliens to a beach in Pensacola, Florida she once sketched as a child. There she encounters her father, who died when she was very young. The aliens use the emotional familiarity of the scene to place Ellie in a receptive state – where she will not be freaked out by the strangeness of ETs – to deliver their message about when Earthlings will be ready for contact.

For the first time, I acknowledged the pull of a deep driving desire to find my own alien contact. A silent recognition that maybe, beneath the archetypal framing of this journey as a mystical experiment to test the simulation, this was all a frantic prayer to those beings – who had set me on this otherworldly quest that had so separated me from my friends and family – to come rescue me.

The desperation of it hit me hard and I pushed it away.

I looked over at the crazy man in the driver’s seat. And I knew, he was me. Or, at least, a fragment of me that I had to accept and integrate if I was going to move past this quagmire in my life. This marooned state of paralysis and confusion and sadness. That much I had learned from my spiritual teachers.

Seeing Dave in that framework, and knowing that he was sent to force that recognition, offered an immediate return to a security in the meaningfulness of this journey.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was on message.

So I sat there, sending covert pulses of love and compassion for this manifestation of the deeply cracked part of my self. And when Dave started muttering about the heat and the tires and something to do with some other place he needed to be, I tapped him on the shoulder.

“We’re good Dave. You can let me off at the next gas station and go on your way.”
“You sure? We still got half a tank.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. You got me where I needed to go.”

And with that I watched a subtle wave of relief wash across his permanently furrowed brow. The recognition of his own gift from the universe, as rarely as they probably come to a man in his stage on the road of life.

I was filled with gratitude to be in a position to be that channel for another human being. And ready again to resume my own treasure hunt for the other lost unintegrated parts of my self… waiting for me out here in the Middle of No Where.

<Part V>

Jailbreaking the Matrix (Part 5)

Midway through my fifth day on the road, I was in a surly mood from the hot sun, lack of food, and terrible luck with rides.

So much for zen and the art of hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.

I could feel the edge of distemper rising like steam in the roiling heat, the stern voice of reason (oh that poor neglected thing) berating its irrational counterpart for letting Destiny Dave get away. What had happened to that Siddharthian On The Road ethos that had originally got me off Christopher’s couch? I knew, of course. It was the gift of easy money from the spiritual dimension. I had been here before and knew how quickly hard times triggered the critic of my cosmic predestination.

But it was not without merit.

After leaving Dave I had made the rookie mistake of setting off along the 58 freeway, without consulting my map. Energized by the omen that he represented, I didn’t need to know where I was going or what lay ahead. After all, I was willing my self into a new destiny and when I was ready, the right ride would come to take me there.

But after three hours of walking and not seeing another living thing on that scorching road, the wonder started to flag. My extended thumb suddenly felt like a ridiculous gesture in the face of cars and trucks tearing past me at 100 mph. When I finally pulled out the map I saw that I was at least 20 miles from the next gas station. Based on my pace, I figured I had another five hours to go. I could just make it before nightfall. Or turn back.

Never one to retrace my steps, I decided to gut it out. But first I needed to eat. So I sat down on my pack to lick a melted Snickers bar out of its wrapper and drink the last of my water.

Stranded in this temporary Wasteland brought me into visceral awareness of just how fucked I would have been without that death money from my uncle Ian. It was one thing to play merry prankster on the logging roads of the temperate northwest, but down here in the desert bowl you could viscerally feel the mortal threat of exposure to the elements.

I could hear Bowie’s Changes in my head: So I turn my self to face me, but I’ve never caught a glimpse, of how the others must see the faker…

And then the quick response from that 5D part of my mind, that energizer bunny of positive self-reinforcement: Back off. The money came because you went all-in on the call. Stay in the magic.

Those affirmations helped bleed the toxicity out of my royal snit and I got moving again, settling into a steady trudge. Happy again to be alone and anywhere but in my former reality.

Right on time for Carl James to swerve his spotless maroon Caddy off the freeway. As the dust cleared, I watched with cautious hope as his huge torso leaned over to open the door for me. I was a sweaty mess and was sure he would balk when he saw my state, but ‘CJ’ was not one to doubt his marks.

“You out here doing research or something?” he asked after I had basked for a few minutes in his ice cold air conditioning.
“You could say that,” I laughed. “Why?”
“There are Greyhound buses that travel this route. By the looks of you, you could afford one if you wanted.”
“True,” was all I could muster. He didn’t press the point.
“I’m headed to Bullhead City, a few hours away. I can drop you there if you want.”

I didn’t have to check the map because I knew exactly where he was going. Over lunch I had had plenty of time to mull over my route to the Florida coast, which required that I drop down to the I-10. There was a southbound junction right around the turnoff the Bullhead City.

I-10 was a straight shot to the coast

“Can you drop me at the Junction near Needles?”
“Sure thing.”

He gave me a long look and caught himself as he started to say something.

Oh no, I thought, this is the moment I get asked if I’ll turn a truck stop trick.

But CJ just gave me a wistful look and turned up the volume on his CD player to cut the silence. A soft, gravelly male voice was talking about the mathematics of gambling, specifically a set of rules for hitting-and-standing, doubling down, and pair-splitting in blackjack. I had been making risky bets with my business life since my 20s, but never did any actual Vegas-style gambling. I immediately found the subject fascinating.

CJ picked up on it.

“Edward Thorp. Kind of a guru. Wrote the book on probability theory and card counting.”
“Huh. Do you gamble?”
He nodded with a hesitancy that required a confession.
“I’m on the road a lot.”

Again, his eyes rested a little too long on my face like I was evoking some lost memory. But it wasn’t an unsettling feeling. Somehow I felt an immediate comfort with him, in his massive plush car, and smiled inwardly at the speed which realities can shift and with them, my mortal moods.

Ed Thorp continued talking, seamlessly weaving lessons about gambling with investing and the game of life itself. It wasn’t cheesy stuff, he came off as scientific in his applications of data to risk-management. Then he said something that returned me to that sense of being in the pocket of some all-powerful experiential dealer, who could manipulate the artifacts of spacetime to suit specific contexts of my inward journey:

I wondered how my research into the mathematical theory of a game might change my life. In the abstract, life is a mixture of chance and choice. Chance can be thought of as the cards you are dealt in life. Choice is how you play them.

Ed Thorp

Chance and choice. Destiny and will. That theme again. It was my turn to gaze off into the desert, possessed by the background inventory that my rational mind was incessantly conducting. In an effort to reconcile the madness of it all with some semblance of procedural linearity.

This happened then this and then this and then this.

Ed Thorp’s gambling metaphors forced me to reckon with the incredible degree of chance that had dealt me the hand of Channel Zero – with my amazing team, the crazy series of breaks and insane PR, not to mention a million-five in cash. It was like I had been dealt straights and full houses but instead of playing it safe, each time I pushed them back and asked for 5 more cards. And threw all my chips onto the table. Betting it all on…

Aliens and channelers and prophecies of 5D revolutions.

I’m telling you, no matter how committed or seasoned the player, these moments of revisionism never stop doing your head in. Especially when hearing it from the perspective of a savvy gambler-turned-investor who had learned to game the system and won big.

With calculated risks.

I too had tried to game the world. But there was no calculation in any part of my method. I was running purely off emotion and instinct, buying into a belief system that said this whole thing was a played-out theme park… that a true player could exit entirely. And now I had bet it all on this last run of the table.

How is that going for you? I heard the rational mind query from the depths.

And again, out of that 5D part of my consciousness, came that quiet but authoritative voice, reminding me what I knew in the deepest part of my self:

I never had a choice. There was no will involved. I had been locked into this play from the moment the Pleiadians had fed me their orgone-scanned chicken breast and 6th-dimensionally unhooked me from my fear of abandonment.

And there in CJ’s awesome ride, a small but critical distinction washed through me like a spiritual enema.

My liberation wasn’t from the fear of people abandoning me, it was me abandoning people. Which I had done with wild abandon. Like some newly-initiated member of the Wizarding world who could no longer suffer the low-vibe trappings of Muggledom and its unwitting inhabitants of a paper-thin simulated ‘reality’.

A reality that has engineered its obedience through the precise application of one terrorizing possibility:

That if you didn’t fucking behave, you would end up right where I was now:

Alone and disavowed and heading into some uncharted oblivion because of a voice that keeps telling you to step further out on the edge.

Both 1) the literal definition of madness and 2) the critical instrument for the matrixian jailbreaker who must at some point escape the gravitational pull of consensual reality to have any real chance of success.

Of course the line between those two is essentially non-existent.

Which is exactly the point. That’s the high stakes game we are playing. And there are pitfalls and trapdoors everywhere for the earnest player.

For me perhaps especially.

Because there was more to this story than me ham-handedly middle-fingering the worldly world with my careless ET/5D prophecy disclosures. Along the way I had also thrust a dagger into the umbilical chord that connected me to one of the most – if not THE most – vital connections to my terrestrial life. The kind of cut that can be extremely dangerous psychologically and materially for the player if executed too early or from the wrong mindset.

And that is the severing of tethers to our earthly parents.

Jeff and Stephen, circa 1977

You see, in the 26 months between my return from the Cairo-Cape Town trek and the launch of Channel Zero, I had watched my father become increasingly distant and unable to summon even token support for my newfound path. Granted it was pretty erratic. In that time I had applied and been rejected by law schools, become a bike courier, run off to Vancouver Island with my erratic girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife to become a writer (transforming again into a salesman at a high-end indigenous art gallery), only to return to Toronto and suddenly switch to self-taught videographer/editor and globe-trotting channel launcher.

[By which point we had become so distant that he was spared hearing any of my ET narratives.]

Suffice it to say, in his own Icarian plummet to Earth, his once-exuberant exhortations to seize the moment and the world on my own terms had retreated into a deep concern that he may not have adequately prepared his eldest son for the world outside the enclave of our all-providing family business. But I took it all personally. Perhaps even more so because I felt so much of my newfound courage to break the family programming had been directly unleashed by his sanctioned year away in Africa.

Add to the mix the work I had been doing with Don Chef on reclaiming my childhood, one fraught with unpredictable type-A CEO stress eruptions and authoritarian disciplining sessions – a carbon copy of what he had been subjected to in his own adolescence – and, in the shadow of his approval (and the wake of my growing repudiation of all things terrestrial), I started to develop a narrative that tied my father’s psychological abuse and parental neglect to the demonic forces that were running the matrix.

An accusation I leveled at him at the end of a lunch I had initiated in a crowded restaurant in downtown Toronto.

I know that’s a lot to dump on the reader out of the blue and in a few short paragraphs. So you can imagine how he felt. There’s actually more to it that can’t be reasonably relayed here without derailing this current thread of the story. But all that matters is that once I was done with my way-too-calm prosecution, he staggered out of the restaurant and did not talk to me for several years. A reaction that fueled my righteous disavowal of him and the elites who were consciously or unconsciously protecting the current order by sabotaging the bodies, minds, and spirits of its (r)evolutionaries.

Like me.

[Probably not the first time a prodigal son has misdirected his repudiation of sky gods towards their worldly fathers, or visa versa. As above, so below.]

When George Emerson – the journalist who wrote The Channeler article – discovered my family background and the loss of Marshall Steel, he used it to psychologize the episodes of quixotic and unhinged behavior he selectively catalogued from Channel Zero’s quick rise and fall. And found in my estranged father an expert witness:

Excerpt from The Channeler (Toronto Life, July 1997)

And so – without any context for our fractured relationship – the entire origin story for my ethos and radicalized worldview was landed squarely in the pattern of my own father’s road to ruin: unresolved anger at our family’s enemies and the impulse to avenge our financial wounds.

By that time, it was fine with me. Better than alien contactee with daddy issues.

This was the psychic topography I was lost in as CJ pulled the caddy over at the Needles junction.

“This is you,” he said, with a tone that almost sounded like regret.

And then, after I thanked him and opened the back door to grab my backpack:

“I have a son your age who I haven’t seen for a long time. You reminded me so much of him when I saw you walking on the side of the road, I thought you might be him. Glad I picked you up anyway.”

I was too. And while the synchronous experience of riding with an estranged father while thinking of my own broken ties was not enough to inspire an attempt at reconciliation from the road, it did plant a recognition in me of the integral pain a parent can feel from the loss of a child. And the instinct to throw them a lifeline, no matter what the circumstances of their disaffection.

Because when the time came, I was going to need it.