Saturday, July 20, 2024

Ford on Fridays: ghost hunters and the panic-rationalize response


I consider myself a pretty rational guy. I’m also a bit tightly wound, though.

Those two forces are often in conflict in my brain. For example, when I’m startled by something I can’t immediately identify, it’s like my mind goes into rapid run-time as it rapidly burns through every irrational possibility before it arrives at something less-threatening.

For example, if I’m out walking late at night, and someone in dark clothing suddenly rounds corner ahead of me, my brain will usually go:





Oh wait, they’re just carrying a bag.


Not unless bodies are lightweight and highly compactable, no.

Guy: “Evenin’.”

Me: *flinches* “Hello.”

You get the idea. I’m simultaneously a panicky individual and a hard-science type. Which brings me to ghosts.

The inner conflict I experience around Halloween, with its spooky times and inherent sexyness, does cause my panicky/rational brain some consternation. Because while I’m pretty confident that ghosts are not a thing, the freaky-deaky side of me is very, very open to the possibility.

You can imagine my surprise, for instance, at encountering ghost hunters on two different occasions.

The first time was less of a personal interaction and more a byproduct of my writer-brain permanently being engaged in eavesdropping (yeah, be careful what you say around your writer friends, folks; it could end up in a book). I was riding the street car in Toronto, a couple rows behind this 20 or 30-something guy, when he answered his phone.

Through a few key phrases — “You should leave the house. Did you see a shadow? Take the cross, etc.” — I was able to discern this man, a perfectly ordinary-looking person who, I’ll be blunt, I would have been far more likely to place in a nightclub hitting on teenage girls, was actually a ghost hunter.

Observing this, I internally rolled my eyes. Here, thought I, was a badly aging millennial scam artist bilking some poor sap for all they were worth. But then he did something that banished my initial judgement.

He called his team.

No joke, the moment he got off the phone with his client, this dudebro ghosthunter leapt right the eff into action. What follows is an approximation of what I overheard:

“Chad?” (let’s just assume his partner’s name was Chad; it helps paint a picture of this guy’s bearing and appearance)

“Chad, bro, I just got off the phone with them. They’re seeing all kinds of weird sh*t now. She says she brought home some cheap-ass dollar store candle, and I was like ‘bruh, what the hell, no wonder you’re seeing sh*t,’ disrespectful crap like that. Let’s get the cameras and cold spot detector and roll.”

I swear I am not making this up. It was amazing. The sincerity with which he immediately sprang to action swept away my preconceptions that I was observing a masterful con game. 

He. Was. ALL. IN.

In a way, it was like my brain’s panic-rationalize system had also processed him, jumping first to a false and judgmental conclusion before being put back into reality.

I had a similar experience a few years later, while working for a theatre in Calgary.

This theatre, known for putting on mystery plays, had decided to expand their repertoire to gothic horror — shows like the Woman in Black, The Haunting, etc. were quickly becoming a fixture. As part of that shift, the Artistic Director decided that for our regular one-night-only Q&A, which usually featured a member of Calgary Police Services, we should also have… a ghost hunter.

I was skeptical.

I was made further skeptical when the Artistic Director admitted he had never met this person in the flesh.

I was made increasingly skeptical when I saw the ghost hunter’s website, which appeared to have been made by someone in the 90s who had a strong fondness for comic sans and bouncing javascript text.

The night of the post-show Q&A came. The ghost hunter, it turned out, was a perfectly nice looking gentleman who wore a clean brown suit to the show. During the performance, I noticed him taking notes.

And then the Q&A followed. An audience member asked the ghost hunter what he thought.

“Here we go,” I quietly murmured to the universe at large.

“Well,” the ghost hunter said. “I think actually, the main character was poisoned, and was hallucinating the whole thing.”


Yes, yet again I had allowed my prejudice to get the better of me. In fact, this ghost hunter prided himself on being a skeptic, eliminating every possible scientific explanation before even considering the supernatural. Leaky pipes, old foundations, etc. etc. and, in this case, the idea that the whole action of the play took place in one of the main character’s heads.

Two for two, these ghost hunters surprised the heck out of me.

So this Halloween, I urge everyone: the ghoulies that frighten and surprise you may in fact be some of the friendliest, most interesting people you will ever have the chance to meet.

Still. Watch out for werewolves. Or gorillas.

Even in this climate.

Tim Ford
Tim Ford
Digital staff writer with Victoria Buzz

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