burnished bright

An American in Olyphant

Olyphant's faux train station, built in the '90s and but one example in a town where many things are not as they appear.

Olyphant’s faux train station, built in the ’90s for a town with no access to passenger rail service, is one of many things in the borough that are not as they appear. (This photo is way too nice to have been taken by the author.)

I’ve spent a lot of time in my hometown, Olyphant, Pa. And I’m still here. I used to think of Olyphant as the nonpareil among Lackawanna County municipalities—until about seven years ago when I read in the paper that police had ferreted out a crack house a few blocks from my home (at least we never had a meth lab like our neighbor to the south, Throop).

Still, Olyphant is a pretty special place. When I took my friend Ed to see the town, he observed with excitement that it had a main street. He had never seen a town with a main street before, he told me. How quaint.  Ed’s hometown of Laurel, Md., was just “suburban sprawl,” he told me, dotted with housing developments and shopping centers amid undeveloped land—clusters of buildings connected by a network of winding roads.

Indeed Olyphant has a main street. And we have two pizza shops, an art studio, a first-rate music store, a flower shop, a factory, a bank and a copper bust of a beleaguered coal miner. We also have what I like to call the “traffic lights to nowhere.” (More on that in a another blog or Facebook post.)

Olyphant is also known for its heavy artillery. The borough of roughly 5,000 has a WWII-era cannon in one of its parks, and there’s a decommissioned tank, which looks like it was from Desert Storm, on the side of one of the roads. (Ed tells me it’s pretty alarming when you go around a bend and spot a tank on the side of the road. For my part, I’m inured to the sight of heavy artillery alongside busy thoroughfares. It’s normal, a fact of everyday life.)

We also have a large number of churches and bars, with a church-to-bar ratio that suggests we’re perhaps more plastered than pious.

Oh! I almost forgot: Olyphant is also, putatively, the center of the universe. You, the reader, may not be aware of it. This may be your first time learning this secret. I envy you.

Yes, Olyphant is the seat of power in our vast, unfathomable world. Olyphant is everywhere (and nowhere?). The universe is replete with Olyphant, shot through with Olyphant. Olyphant is being. Being is Olyphant. Or Olyphant is nothing? I’m veering off into terra incognita. Sorry. This sort of stuff is not in my baileywick.

This sort of speculation is, however, the province of people like John Peruka, who claims to have unearthed aboriginal secrets about the town and its centrality within the cosmos. The town is saturated in occult symbolism, he claims. His theory involves ancient Egyptians and aliens. In short, this man was an ancient alien theorist before it was cool.

In a YouTube video I discovered today, Peruka debates Justin Vacula, of the NEPA Freethought Society, and Kenny Luck, author of the book “Nepatized,” about the origins of the universe and the definition of matter—lofty questions for the local big box bookstore, Books-a-Million.

Peruka contends that matter is constituted by “pyramids of light.” But don’t take his word for it. “It’s on the Internet” is Peruka’s constant refrain (I think, however, that he put it there, so maybe there’s some circularity in his argument). I do enjoy that in the video he’s dismissive of the mere “earthlings”—Vacula and his ilk—who can’t grasp his theories. And I do like his populist leanings when it comes to scientific fact: If a large number of people believe a notion, it is ipso facto true, he asserts. Although, I must admit, he is a bit equivocal on this matter: He possesses the secret knowledge, the gnosis, because he was preordained by God to do so, but the veracity of his ideas is born out by the large number of hits he gets on his website (truth by democracy). The scientific establishment, on the other hand, has ignored Peruka’s claims, he says. I must admit, this man’s arguments are often hard to parse.

He and Vacula talk past each other for the most part, probably because their views are incommensurable, coming from two diametrically opposed standpoints.

I do agree with Peruka about one thing: The perimeter of Olyphant, when traced out, resembles a sphinx. My father and I were aghast when we discovered this one day at the University of Scranton Library. He was right, we exclaimed.

The sphinx in Olyphant is Olyphant, he says in the video. This idea strikes me as akin to one of Borges’ ideas about the relation between map and territory. Borges argues that the most accurate and detailed map of a territory is the territory itself. The signifier and the signified are one and the same. Mind blown.

Peruka might be more interesting if he wrote fiction rather than peddled his ideas as fact. I am impressed that among the legions of people proffering these so-called crazy ideas, his ideas get a lot of traction. Why? My theory is that he’s a relentless marketer. I’ve heard so many anecdotes from people who have been accosted by a man who wants to talk about the mystery of Olyphant. If you Google, “mystery of Olyphant,” your search will return a surprisingly large number of results relating to Peruka’s theories. Even the borough’s website has a page devoted to the mystery.

The beauty of ideas like his is that they’re not falsifiable, which means we can’t disprove them—despite the vigorous efforts of those indomitable NEPA freethinkers and their counterparts around the world. These people think they can use science as a bludgeon and beat competing metaphysical theories into submission. Well, they can’t—because Peruka’s claims are not within science’s purview, so science cannot prove or, more importantly, disprove them.

John Peruka 1. NEPA Freethinkers 0.

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6 comments on “An American in Olyphant

  1. Erin
    February 23, 2013

    Like this? I LOVE this! In fact, I enjoyed this so much that when we sell our house, I am contemplating moving “up da line” to Olyphant. Exeter? Why would we move to Exeter? It has no Main Street and, though I hate to point it out, there is a gross absence of artillery randomly decorating the streets of that fine town. Additionally, my best college friend is from Olyphant (Marla) and my godson’s best college friend is from Olyphant (you). I know, too weird to be a coincidence, right? I agree.

    Please keep blogging for those of us who do not have the pleasure of living in the center of the universe – yet – so that we can live vicariously through you, my friend.

    To Olyphant!

    • burnishedbright
      February 26, 2013

      As long as you stay away from one block of Jackson Street — the closest thing Olyphant has to a ghetto — you’ll love the down. I recommend checking out the music store, Magdon Music, and Luigi’s Pizza — and the copper bust of a beleaguered coal miner.

      It’s funny to hear someone talk about going up da line. My people — Olyphanters (?) typically talk about goin’ down da line.

  2. Jason Brian Merrill
    February 26, 2013

    this guy is completely incoherent. he is more of a confused poet than anything. Cheers for Vacula for actually attempting to talk to him.

    • burnishedbright
      February 26, 2013

      I agree that Peruka doesn’t seem to present a terribly coherent case, but what’s amazing to me is that he has garnered so much attention from other people. I’ve heard about the mystery/secret of Olyphant, and several people I know have run into this man. He’s an indefatigable promoter — or maybe something more like a proselytizer.

  3. HabeebJ
    March 3, 2013

    This is kind of surreal, but I grew up in Olyphant. Played for the Olyphant lions football team and everything. Who are you? Lol

    • burnishedbright
      March 3, 2013

      Even more surreal: We went to school together and graduated from Mid Valley the same year. We had English class together senior year. Gerard is my name!

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