Eugene Dean is a pleasant, good-humored man who lives alone in a small apartment tucked away in a corner of Santa Monica. He is tall and trim and has most of his hair, a combination which makes him look about 20 years younger than his seven decades would suggest. Although he wears a hearing aid, his health is excellent. A retired salesman, Dean is active, happy and wants for nothing.
Then why, I hear you wonder, write about Eugene Dean? Because he used to be an Egyptian slave. In his prior life.
Those of you still with me no doubt recall Bridey Murphy. She was a Denver housewife named Virginia Tighe who, back in those madcap 1950s, revealed under hypnosis that she had also lived between 1798 and 1864 in Ireland as the aforementioned Mistress Murphy.
A book about her reincarnation was a runaway best-seller during that period of time when we had little else to occupy us but Nixon's dog and Eisenhower's Famous Smile.
There were Bridey Murphy parties (come as you were) and parents who, on first view of their newborn infants, were known to greet them by saying, "Welcome back."
But then Bridey Murphy, like the hula hoop and the Nehru jacket, faded from public interest as we were forced to confront more pressing matters in the turbulent '60s. Bridey and Virginia returned to Denver and, as far as I know, remain good friends.
Eugene Dean is not exactly a Bridey Murphy, but he's close. He believes in reincarnation and in fact knows of at least a dozen lives he has led, including the one as a shackled slave to an Egyptian queen.
I met with him because he is a member of the Assn. for Research and Enlightenment, which recently sponsored a packed-house seminar in Marina del Rey. The topic of the seminar was "Remembering Your Past Lives" and was attended by a good many of the local singles whose other intellectual pursuits include astrology and the Margarita happy hour at T.G.I. Friday's.
Dean became interested in reincarnation during that period of mid-life when one begins to wonder what it's all about and whether it's still all about what it used to be about. He was, and still is, by the way, happily divorced. His words.
Dean read first about someone named Father Joseph, a levitating priest who could float up to the altar and hover over the candles.
"I believed it all right," he said the other day, "but so what? Levitation is of very little value to me."
There is a high, reedy quality to his voice, like the chaplain in the old "MASH" series. The series, incidentally, is in re-run, which is television's answer to a second time around.
Dean read next about reincarnation and came to accept the notion that the past life theory offers answers to who we are in the present. A modest example:
An acquaintance who was an ex-Marine was abandoned by his girlfriend because he wouldn't marry her. She then began pursuing Dean.
"I had no interest in her and couldn't understand why," Dean said, frowning. "She was quite well put together."
That night, he dreamed he had been married to her in a prior life and that shortly after the wedding she had been seduced by the ex-Marine.
"It fit the real life situation, don't you see?" Dean asked, leaning forward in his chair. "It was why I was rejecting her!"
"Oh," I said, which is what I say when I am at a loss how to respond. And "Well, well" and "Hmmm."
Dean, of course, left his bride in the prior life and decided he would not repeat the same mistake in this life. He avoided the advances of the ex-Marine's former girlfriend. He never gave her a reason. Why open old wounds?
In the Egyptian dream, he saw himself in Middle Eastern robes in a large tent. He was a recently shanghaied slave.
"The queen said to me, 'You came willingly, of course?' " Dean recalls. "I was about to shout 'Hell, no!' when I woke up. But I know the dream was saying to me that I did have a life in Egypt. Why else would I dream about Egypt?" Why indeed?
Dean doesn't generally discuss his theories of reincarnation in public. "Once in a while I'll throw out a line like, 'That must have been due to a prior life,' but if they don't respond, I don't pursue it." That's probably best.
I talked about reincarnation with Al Seckel, who is chairman of the Southern California Skeptics, an organization composed of people who don't believe in anything they can't dip in tartar sauce and eat.
"Funny you should call," Seckel said. "I had another call this very morning from a man who said our weather is caused by extraterrestrials from the 11th dimension."
Need I add that Seckel doubts the Bridey Murphy theory?
I'm not sure how I feel about reincarnation. I try to remain receptive to new ideas. I already believe in werewolves, vampires, zombies, trolls, ogres, witches and the economic validity of cost overrun.
Who's to say that Dean is wrong? As ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, through his dummy Charlie McCarthy, once remarked, "You only live once. Twice at the most."
But I'm going to straighten out this life before I worry about a past life. First things first. Or second, anyhow.