October 25, 2010

iPhone Apps and Horse's Asses

So far, I have had more than 2000 people on my tours this month with very little problems.

The 10pm tours on the weekends are always the worst because I'll not only having drunk people walking by yelling at the tours, but drunk people ON the tours as well. Some people actually turn the tour into a drinking game and hide booze in their sodas or coffees. After one tour these girls told me they had decided to take a sip anytime I said 'witch', 'ghost', or 'orb' - so you can imagine they were pretty wrecked by the end.

Asking business owners around town I am hearing that everyone's numbers are WAY up this year. The people over at Destination Salem (whose website was never completed this year because they apparently spent too much time on their new iPhone App) are saying, in all so far, the amount of tourists coming into the city has gone up 12%, but I think those numbers are only based on who visits the Visitor's Center, and many tourists never go there so we can assume it's higher.

Some people don't even know why they come to Salem in the first place, they just kind of come here based on herd mentality. I had these two dudes in their 20s come up to me and start asking about the tours because they could tell I was their age and would tell it like it is. One of them looked at me 100% seriously and asked "Is the tour scary?" and I couldn't help but laugh.

I said, "Scary? You are grown men. Unless I pull a knife on you I am not going to actually scare you. The history is messed up and disturbing and that leaves paranormal energy behind." Because I approach the paranormal in such a scientific way, nothing really scares me and I don't see why it should scare anyone else. The truly frightening part is reality. For instance, did you know one test for witchcraft in 1692 involved putting a pipe in a horse's butt and lighting it - and someone was killed based partially on the results of said test? Sounds pretty scary to me.

Another scary thing is all the street hustling ghost tour rip-offs in town this month trying to rope in tourists. One company that has a joke of a haunted attraction and has never done a ghost tour before suddenly hired and got licenses for more than 25 kids based on a Craigslist ad they put out. 25 tour guides for just the month of October, none of which are from Salem and most of which are still completing high school. How can they possibly be qualified or even trained remotely adequately? The haunted attraction this company has is a two-minute walk through two black-lit rooms while teenagers in drug-store Halloween costumes jump out and say "boo!" for eight bucks. I can only imagine how bad the tour is.

This year is the most crowded year since I have been a tour guide. There are literally DOUBLE the amount of tour groups vying for space this year than last year, many with unlicensed guides and many of which trespass WITH the tours. When my boss and I complained about it to an officer he said "We can't do anything unless someone calls," which is a complete contradiction from the letter every tour company in town received this summer from the Salem Police stating that if tours kept trespassing on private property we would all be brought before the city council in order to have our licenses revoked. Well I don't want my license revoked, I follow the rules, and I am going to be punished for these horse's asses that only operate during high tourist season anyways?

Plus, the stories these other groups tell people, and the gullibility of the average person is disturbing. Based on a ridiculous photo in which a tourist claimed to see the shape of a face in some stones, one tour company now stops directly in the path of my tour and encourages each and every person to put their hand on a door to feel for a dead little girl or something. Seeing the looks in the people's eyes as the touch the door is just amazing. They want to believe so much that they are being lemmings.

Truly fascinating. It's things like this that encourage me to study anthropology/sociology.

October 5, 2010

Hoax Adventures and Seasonal Witches

"Who is that? The guy from American Idol?" I hear a young woman on Essex st ask.

Nope. That slick-haired celeb with the camera crew and boom following him while he walks down the street swinging his arms and popping his hips extra casually is Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures mugging for the camera and stopping for photo ops with his biggest fans - little girls.

Even if I were to accept the flawed science on the show, I truly hate paranormal investigators that taunt and provoke in order to get results. It is not only a cheap and showy way to build excitement and energy, but just plain disrespectful. A paranormal investigator should show the utmost respect for the history of any place and the people that were once there. I bet during their filming in the witch house (see how they painted it black back in the day to trick tourists into thinking it is spooky?) they really play up the old legend about how some of the examinations of suspected witches may have taken place there, which has been mostly proven completely false.

Just a quick Youtube search results in countless amateurs casually debunking their "paranormal" activity. I wont even waste any more time talking about them.

One of the best things about Salem in October is seeing people I have never seen before swoop into town and represent the city as if they are locals. I say 'best' because I know they will be gone in November, but it does get a little annoying. On Saturday afternoon I counted EIGHT different people passing out flyers on a 1/4 mile stretch of Essex st and EVERY SINGLE ONE was a girl dressed like a stereotypical pointy-hatted cartoonish witch. And I may be wrong, but it seemed like at least HALF of those people were employed by the self proclaimed "Howard Stern of witchcraft". Give it a rest! I am so sick of seeing all the litter scattered everywhere ALL being from the same two shops: HEX and OMEN. Aren't these supposed to be the newest coolest shops in town? What's with the saturation campaign? Shouldn't their awesomeness speak for itself? Clearly not.

Honestly, I feel bad for all the seasonal October people. Most of the time they have no idea what they are getting themselves into. This one guy who is an awesome and funny magician who is doing shows for my friend's shop said "I'm used to renaissance fairs, so [Salem drama] is nothing compared to that." Haha, so true. But still, most intelligent enemies make sure you underestimate them! As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, "...rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's coming, but on our own readiness to receive him..." Then there are the people who my boss yells at for handing out our competitor's flyers in front of her ticket office... Some don't even know what they are handing out. All they know is that ten bucks an hour to bother tourists is a great way to make beer money.

Oh and I have to mention... My 3pm tour goes by Salem City Hall right around closing time and I saw the mayor talking on her cellphone while driving as she pulled out of her parking spot onto Washington st! LMAO They JUST made that illegal in this state so I will give her a break, but my tourists were all dying laughing. It was pretty funny.

[Edit: I realized after I wrote this that it was TEXTING while driving that was made illegal. As far as just regular talking Massachusetts law states "
Drivers can use their cell phone while driving as long as it does not get in the way of the vehicle's operation and one hand is on the wheel at all times." So, I was totally wrong. Sorry Mayor Driscoll! But just so you know I would love you even if you did break the law!]

September 28, 2010

October Insanity -or- Celebrity Salem

My gods October is going to be insane.

So far, we have had the infamous Shaq debacle, which began with the newest Celtic casually visiting Salem with some family members and ended up with hundreds of people waiting for him to show up at the Salem Willows based on a rumor posted on the Salem Facebook page. Talk about a witch hunt! That's some good old-fashioned historical relevance for you there folks!

So many celebrities and TV shows are rumored to be coming to Salem this year.

So far, the guys from Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures are confirmed which I am not so excited about because of their image. Scientific methodology and skepticism aside, ads for the show look more like a Nickelback poster than a show about true paranormal investigators. Just look at a Google image search of the lead dude on the show Zak Bagans. Clearly these advertisers know their demographic is comprised mostly of impressionable (and horny) women. LOL Come to think of it, the older and nastier dudes over at the SyFy channel show Ghost Hunters asked at the same place and were turned down. Wonder if the person who makes these decisions for the Witch House is a single woman ;)

The Nightmare Gallery, a movie-monster museum whose owner is a fan of Salem Witch Wiles (hey, dude!), has some horror convention style celebrity autograph sessions set up which is going to be awesome. This weekend it's Tony Moran, the guy who was the face of Michael Myers right at the end of Halloween when Jamie Lee Curtis removes his mask! Wicked cool. But also they're going to have William Forsythe later on in the month who has been in a million movies but, to me, is most memorable for the wicked messed up parts he gets in Rob Zombie films! Haha, check out the quotes from his character in the newer Halloween on imdb - it takes a REALLY talented actor to say such massed up lines with such conviction!

So many more things going on that I don't want to speculate about though, too! Suffices to say that this October is going to be busy. XD

September 9, 2010

The Suits of our Labour

I have lived in Salem for about a decade. I have been a local historian and tour guide for the past six years. I am usually a respected member of the community, but, because of my appearance, am often treated like a lower class citizen. This type of thing happens to me too often to fully document here, but I feel like I should mention a few instances.

Yesterday I had a group tour with about fifty kids from Spain. It ended up being a great tour and the kids were really cool, it was what happened beforehand that bothered me.

I was smoking a cigarette before my tour so I was standing out of view of the kids because I don't want to be a bad influence (I always do that). I was around the corner from the Visitor's Center on Essex st standing in front of some offices for the Peabody Essex Museum. A man in a suit watched me out the window for a minute and slowly walked out the door while staring at me, a long-haired and bearded guy, standing there wearing a backpack smoking a cigarette.

"Can I help you?" he said.

"Nope, just smoking a cigarette before my tour and I was standing where the kids couldn't see me because I didn't want to be a bad influence," I responded.

"Are you a local?" he asked.


"A student?" At this point it was becoming clear something about me bothered him and he was trying to casually express that.

"No, like I said I am a local tour guide and historian," I was beginning to get annoyed.

And here's where it gets interesting: "Well, you're on camera."

I looked at him very confused but still giving him the benefit of the doubt and said "Yep, they're everywhere downtown nowadays."

He looked at me angrily and said in an accusatory voice "Well, we are always watching you, just so that you know," and walked away in a huff.

I yelled after him "Yes, as a local I am GLAD there are cameras and I like that the museum puts them around," but I don't even know if he heard me.

So.... How dare he? Seriously, just because this guy answered a Craigslist ad for a security position at the museum and they gave him a suit and tie doesn't make him better than me. The security guards at the PEM don't even actually do security, their job is to stand near displays and say "Please don't touch the displays" all day.

I doubt this guy has worked in town very long and can assume that he probably doesn't even live in Salem, or only has a little while, if he has never seen me walking around with my tours. I am out on the streets downtown leading groups of people around at least four nights a week and usually three or four days a week during the daytime tours. Anyone who spends any amount of time on Essex st usually knows me. That ignorant old fart.

I mean, am I not a member of the same community as he? Am I a lower life form?

There are so many other stories I could tell, like the time a man accosted me and yelled at me to "Leave that poor woman alone!" as my wife and I sat on a bench waiting for a train. We weren't arguing or anything, just hanging out, but because she is all pretty and normal looking and I am a freak the guy just assumed I was a bad guy messing with her and it was his knightly duty to defend the fair maiden. I had to actually run away from him to avoid being attacked.

I know that if I shaved my beard and cut my hair and stopped wearing weird clothes people would treat me differently, but this is who I am. I am not some rebellious kid trying to be different - I AM different, and I AM a member of this community whether people like it or not. I live in Salem and I love Salem - I rep Salem, I live and breathe Salem. No one is ever going to make me feel unwelcome here... Ok actually, they totally do. I guess that's why I am upset.


If you would like to know more about my feelings on suits and conformity just watch my favorite music video by one of my favorite bands, The Faint: Agenda Suicide.

August 31, 2010

Vandals, Wizards, and Fake English Accents

There are some weirdos in Salem this summer.

Anyone know what's up with the guy who says he's a priest and walks around doing exorcisms and chanting incoherently on benches downtown? What about the other guy who is putting up flyers everywhere with his personal cell phone number that say "Salem Wizard"?

The past two months, while looking for a permanent place to live, I have been staying on my friend's couch and it is a ridiculous party house. I have been sleeping very little and having to deal with so much crap that the drama downtown has been tame by comparison.

Actually, there was the lady that flipped out. That was nuts... Based on a misunderstanding, this woman who has owned a shop in Salem for years now ran down in front of the museum during the Essex st Fair and started flipping over tables full of merchandise, the podium, and our signs while screaming about "NO ONE FUCKS WITH MY SON! I DON'T CARE IF I GO TO JAIL!!!" She then cornered Mollie inside the museum and was flipping out on her while Mollie was just like "I have no idea who your son is, what the hell are you talking about???" Well, apparently, business owners can do whatever they want, because what I would have been arrested for and charged with assault and destruction of property etc. this woman got in no trouble whatsoever. The police showed up and took statements and then left. When Mollie asked about it a few days later they said they couldn't arrest her because it was less than $250 worth of damage!!

So remember that, everyone: If you ever want to assault someone and trash their museum, it's cool as long as you do less than $250 worth of damage! Sweet!

Also, the guys over at the tour company that give us problems have been being so childish. All of their tour guides have been instructed to talk extra loud and try to stand near our groups and disrupt us during our 8pm. I talked to one of the guys and he apologized and said he was just doing what his boss told him. Well, just because someone tells you to do something doesn't mean you have to do it! On top of that, these guys keep going into this parking lot that we have been being told to stay off of for about three years now. When people see a tour group breaking the rules they don't think "Oh that's just one company spoiling it for everyone," they think "WTF, why wont these tour companies stop being such losers!" and it makes us ALL look bad.

And, as an actor, (nay, as a thespian! :p ) the idea that these guys dress in period clothing that anachronistically clashes with itself and use modern colloquialisms is just PAINFUL to watch. It's like the guys who dress all up in a cloak and a hat and have a walking stick and look all dressed up but you can see their white sneakers... MORONS. Either be in character or not, half-assing it is an insult to theatre in and of itself. Stupid tourist trap garbage.

July 16, 2010

Street Hustlers and Drug Dealing on Essex St.?

I love Salem and there are a lot of great tourist attractions, businesses, and pagan shops, but, as you can see from my last post, sometimes people can get on my nerves.

I often complain about the new tour company in town and their shenanigans, but recently they have really begun to bother me to the point where I can't take it anymore. Something has to be done. They have crossed the line to the point where I am actually afraid for my safety. All because of business competition.

See, the tour company I work for has been the only ghost tour in town made up of actual paranormal investigators for about a decade now. We don't just tell stories about Salem's history you can get in any museum or talk about myths and legends, we get to the root of the causes of the paranormal activity by discussing not only the history and legends but the science of ghost hunting itself as well as our personal experiences.

So, this new tour company opened up in town a couple years ago and started doing historic tours, but slowly over time has become a doppelganger of our tour.

First they decided they were going to start calling themselves a 'ghost tour' and changed the name of the company to "THE Salem Night Tour" and started putting up signs everywhere that just say SALEM GHOST TOURS. They used to meet their tour groups down the street from us, but now they have purposely moved directly across the street from where me meet! Now, a lot of tourists get confused by this because a company should have an actual NAME. It would be like going to Vegas and opening up a casino on the strip next to Caesar's Palace and naming it "THE Las Vegas Casino" and putting up signs everywhere that just say "GAMBLING HERE!". That casino is going to confuse a lot of people into going in and they are taking advantage of tourists not knowing the area.

Worst thing is that they have their website promoted through Google with "BEST" as a keyword, so any idiot that types "What's the best tour in Salem?" or "Salem's best tour" is going to get their site. They also took the domain Salemghosttours.com (and this other company in town followed suit by snagging ghosttoursOFsalem.com) Smart business move or underhandedly taking advantage of the non-tech-savvy? My opinion is implied. Anyways...

After a while they even started claiming to be paranormal investigators. Well, I guess it's true... they have the equipment that the guy buys in bulk online (the dude's selling $15 EMF meters for $40 and calling them "Ghost Meters") that anyone needs to do an investigation, but anyone can get that stuff. Sure they are actual paranormal investigators - AMATEURS.

They tell tourists that pictures of dust are paranormal activity, and that the reflections of lights in windowpanes are the faces of the dead. They tell a few stories that are legends as if they are fact, and they do their entire tours in a fake English accent. They dress as historical figures, but SUCK at staying in character. So many tourists take more than one tour in town and complain to us about how bad these guys are.

All of this I might be able to ignore if it weren't for the personal attacks. When I heard what this guy was saying about me it made me want to run to the police station right then and there and file a report for defamation of character...

The guy that runs the place, who we call FToS, is a hustler that gets in tourists faces and is way too pushy with his hard-sell tactics and solicitation.

A friend of mine worked for him last year and just last week I was talking to him and he said "Wait, you didn't used to work for FToS?", which confused me a lot because I have been a tour guide in Salem for six years and this guy only for two.

"Of course not. That guy's running a tourist trap," I said.

"Well," my friend said as a look of confusion and concern came over his face, "He told me that you used to work for him and he fired you for selling drugs."

WHAT!!! Not only have I only had TWO face-to-face conversations with the guy so yeah I never worked for him, but selling drugs?? How DARE he come out of no where with such a baseless accusation. Maybe it's just because I have a beard and long hair (see photo LOL) he thinks he can spread a nasty rumor like that about me? I asked my friend where he heard it from, thinking the information might have been mixed up, but he insisted he heard it straight from FToS himself!

This really bothers me because I care about my reputation in this city - I love it here and I love everything about it. This trash-talking hustler's fly-by-night business will be gone within the next few years and I will remain. I have to live with whatever rumors he spreads long after he is gone.

[Photo courtesy of Clinton D. Williams; It's me, Tom the Tour Guide, with my afro wielding friend Adam when we played drug dealers/doers as part of the cast of the hippy rock musical 'HAIR!' put on by Salem Theatre Company in June. It was SO much fun.]

May 20, 2010

The Wiles of Witches -or- Why I'm Not in a Coven

In the world of modern witchcraft there are many paths to take. Some people believe witchcraft is something it's not, and many witches have their own interpretations that may differ from even each other. Many witches believe that to fully study the craft you must be apprenticed to someone, or have an elder - a teacher. I would be inclined to agree if such a thing were available to someone with no money.

See, after practicing the craft for around six years now I have noticed that there is no such thing as free information. Even if you are just hanging out with your friends and talking about the books you've read - the books cost money.

But I love books... The main problem I have is when witches sell classes, but don't offer any for free. I live in Salem, MA. You'd expect that there would be something like that, but no. I have checked out every coven and witch organization in town and there isn't a single one willing to teach a willing aspirant without some sort of monetary compensation.

At first I figured it ends up working out better in the long run because by getting all my information first-hand from books I would be getting a varied perspective from which to base my own opinions on. This, I believe, truly is the case, but the problem is that other witches will often not take me seriously if I don't belong to a particular coven or have a single main elder that guides me.

This, to me, is economic discrimination - a form of classism. To disrespect a knowledgeable person simply because they can not pay for a title?

Most witches notice this after a few years and learn to cope. Solitary and eclectic practitioners are often either not taken seriously, depicted as evil, or even mocked by other witches that belong to covens, but most of them get over it and learn to ignore those trying to disavow them. Some of the coolest witches I have known don't belong to covens, but they often lack the time and resources to help teach or guide others.

Those who don't learn to cope will often take another path. A path that, to them, may seem like the only one to take: follow the example of these other people, creating images, selling classes, selling a lifestyle - an image. I mean, if they can do it, why can't you?

... And this is why it seems every witch on the internet is trying to sell you something.

For instance, making candles or incense is very easy and can be learned from many books about beginner's witchcraft, so why are there so many people with online shops? The problem with this sort of thing is that there IS a market for it. The problem is sometimes what people want is not a spiritual path, but an image. So the online candle shop that does the best is the one with the best image - not the one with the most heart or the best product, the products are exactly the same.

Creating an image doesn't take heart. It doesn't take knowledge. You don't NEED to be a good person to create something sell-able if all that it needs is a pretty package.

This is true with many covens and witch organizations. They are an expensive pretty package full of the same information you can get anywhere. You are paying for a title that secures your spiritual image. Sometimes most of the members of the coven are customers and clients of the elders - not students! I have nothing against most of the covens in Salem, they are generally good people with good intentions, but I will never fully trust any of them until they start offering free classes.

The whole thing is just eerily reminiscent of the church in the middle ages, what with indulgences and tithing etc. I really think witchcraft is beyond that by now.

April 3, 2010

Was Han Solo a Wiccan?


Walking down the streets of Salem lately it is very clear that tourist season is back in full swing. Spellbound has had tours every night since the 1st and our competitors are back to their old tricks.

Speaking of old tricks, there are a few new businesses in town this year. Firstly, the "most controversial witch in Salem", Christian Day, is opening up a psychic parlor in a new space on Essex st where there are already a few businesses that do readings right near by. Some people in town are pissed, but you know, competition is good for the economy (as long as he doesn't start doing walking tours, lol). My boss hates that guy, but I find wiley folks to be an entertaining and important part of any tourist industry. Even if he has erroneously described witches as "magical mercenaries". The new place is called OMEN and his shop is HEX. Kind of makes me want to open a competing store named "FLUFFY" because, for real, where are the hippy witches supposed to go? hahaha

There are also these new guys in town that seem pretty promising as far as nerdy witchcraft is concerned. They call themselves The Witch School and have a huuuge online following where they teach people just about everything about witchcraft. I guess they used to be located in Illinois. They're opening up a museum down on Pickering Wharf called The World of Witches Museum (looks like they only have a Facebook page so far: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/WorldofWitches?ref=ts) that will only be the second tour in Salem about real witchcraft and where it comes from. The best part about this is that the other tour in town about real witchcraft is NOT owned and operated by any real witches, just some greedy businessmen that hire young kids and pay them very little. So hopefully these guys will be able to represent in an enlightening and entertaining way. *crosses fingers* The only thing that confuses me about them is that they say they practice a form of the craft called "Correllian Wicca" that I am not too familiar with. There is very little information about it online besides a few places that describe it as a very open-minded and inclusive form of the craft. Most searches end up with a lot of pages about the Corellian star system (with one r)- a system famous for the planet Corellia where notable freedom fighter Wedge Antilles and space pirate Han Solo were born.

I'm going to go check out the museum soon and I'll post an update here about how it was.

February 17, 2010

Ice Sculptures, Chocolate, and The People of Walmart

Salem puts up a bunch of ice sculptures every year around Valentine's day and I made a video of some of them:

Also, my good friend and fellow Salem tour guide Mike, who works at the country's last traveling freak show, was just found on the People of Walmart site with a clown!:

Just A Juggalo
He's on the right, click the picture to enlarge it and see him. Stupid blogger cuts off the side of everything.

January 12, 2010

More About Racism??

All the politicizing of racism in the news lately is bothering me very much. People will never unite if we live in a world of polarity and duality. Democrats vs. Republicans, right vs. wrong - our mindset is that of separating and analyzing things in segments rather than as a whole. It's an archaic remnant of paranoid thoughts ingrained subconsciously. And oftentimes consciously enforced by those around us.

I was hanging out with a friend with his dad who says somewhat racist things every once in a while, and personally, I think the instructive quality of his statements was the most messed up part. When there are no minorities around a racist white man isn't just telling jokes and acting superior - he is actively advising and warning of some sort of impending war that is always inevitable to them.

It's absolute insane nonsense and it takes all the patience I have to keep my mouth shut out of respect to mutual acquaintances. I find it satisfying and effective to explain intelligently to those people how stupid they are, but sometimes you are not in a situation where that is possible.