Many years ago while in my late 20’s, I held a Special Projects Specialist position at a community services non-profit agency in Phoenix, Arizona. The Director was a former Jesuit Priest. One day he came to my office, sat down and said that he had something he wanted to share with me. The Director said, given my background, that there was an interesting man he knew that I would like to meet and that it was non-work related.
I was given the time off from work to meet with the person. Curious, as always, I agreed. The only stipulation by the person, he added, was that the meeting must take place that day at Church’s Chicken in Phoenix, Arizona.
I wondered who this was and why he insisted on meeting at Church’s Chicken fast food restaurant which I had never visited. When we met, the man introduced himself to me as Aleksei (not his real name), and it was clear by his name and thick accent that he was Russian. After a hardy handshake with both hands, Aleksei immediately said that he was defecting to the United States as he watched to see my reaction.
It was clear that this was going to be an interesting meeting.
Initially, after we ordered and sat down at a small table, we each briefly shared some of our backgrounds although he was more interested in talking about himself which was fine with me as I was becoming more interested. He stated that since I was a Vietnam Veteran, I might find it fascinating that he was a motorboat Commander off Vietnam in international waters.
We talked about the Vietnam War, each from our perspective when he calmly said that during the war he almost fired three armed nuclear missiles at a United States Navy destroyer but decided that it would unnecessarily escalate the Cold War. I recalled having read something about that after I returned from Vietnam.
Later, Aleksei said he was a trained hypnotherapist and also studied parapsychology I believe at the Russian Academy of Sciences A.A. Kharkevich Institute where he was involved in parapsychology experiments. One experiment he shared dispassionately, consisted of recording a mother cat’s reaction to experiments on its kittens in a submerged submarine. He claimed that the mother cat was reacting real-time to the effects on her kittens. Certainly not a pleasant thought for me, a wildlife photographer and friend of all animals.
Throughout lunch, we discussed philosophy, politics, science, the Soviet Union, and parapsychology for a few hours while he consumed several orders of chicken which I was expected to purchase. My time with him was such a fascinating experience talking with him that I felt it was well worth the financial cost. Nonetheless, it was the last time I ate at a Church’s Chicken.
Given the current geopolitical news, I thought about my meeting with the Russian defector, and I decided to post this brief reflection. Aleksei is one of the numerous interesting people that I have met with over the years. In another post, I’ll share about my meeting with a noted physicist and the drawing he showed me of an extraterrestrial propulsion system.