In the weeks before President Richard Milhous Nixon handed the reins of a multi-billion-dollar deficit administration to fellow Republican Gerald Ford, William Thomas Hellanback was struck dumb while on a jewelry-selling trip to Los Angeles.

In an instant the cosmos fell into perfect day-glo computer-image symmetry, aligning points, connecting experience. Hellanback was overwhelmed by the instantaneous profusion of functions performed by his mind/soul/spirit -- the three became one -- and the certainty that the experience was somehow key to his salvation. He recognized himself as a small, confused creature of flesh beset by a world of desire and conflicting conventions. The First Cause, Ordainer of molecular structure, Establisher of the laws of physics was Reality, all else was a dream.

Now it could have been God -- some might argue it was Satan -- that bolted through Hellanback's befuddled being like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse; whatever, it marked a rebirth, his life entirely changed. A seed was sown, sprouting a beanstalk, which Hellanback began to climb toward either -- dependent upon which spiritual entity sowed it -- perfection or imperfection.

Hellanback was unable to articulate the seed with the logical precision he felt it deserved. In terms of life on earth, the best he could express the experience was in the idea: "To be free one must possess nothing" and the question, "Is 'time' life or is 'time' money?"

Upon regaining control of his body, Hellanback first removed the watch from his wrist and threw it away. Next he took a roll, five thousand-odd dollars, from his pocket and threw it away. Then he discarded several pounds of jewelry he was wearing, and finally every stitch of clothing. Naked, he stepped onto a street in downtown L.A., was promptly arrested, and thrust into the bowels of the L.A. jail. He was unable to speak coherently. Jail officials stored him in solitary confinement. Through every moment of the night, with a focus long unfamiliar, Hellanback's mind labored to classify a deluge of thoughts and emotions, to understand his numbing experience, to analyze actions bizarre even for him.

By morning he had a few answers and was able to talk his handlers into letting him out of solitary. By afternoon he'd been to court, pled guilty to a charge of indecent exposure, began serving a two-week sentence, and trying to figure out how to explain what he thought was the Will of God to prim, practical, Catholic Donna. It seemed futile to try communicating with his wife by phone or letter.

During his imprisonment he consumed only water. When he was released it was with the decision to abstain from meat, fish, drugs, especially alcohol, and even smoke and caffeine. When he called Donna she said that the auto rental company had reported his rental car stolen because no one knew where he was. Donna, very worried, insisted on flying to L.A.


The drive back to New Mexico took almost a week. The car was still full of jewelry, and Hellanback mechanically traded in Kingman, Flagstaff, Two Guns, Grants, Gallop, while he tried to communicate his experience to Donna. Two things became apparent: he lacked knowledge, and his former insensitivity to his wife's beliefs had become a formidable barrier to communication.

IN THE BEGINNING =============>>