Friday, April 19, 2013

EPISODE 302: Cigar Bar Spirits/ Child's Play

The adventures of the extended Zaffis Clan have taken me to many points across our nation and even as far west as Hawaii, but ironically it took us three seasons to get as far east as Boston.  We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in Ohio and Connecticut, so it was a real treat to visit Beantown and experience a major city I had never been to.  "Never been to Boston before??", you might say.  How is it possible that a movie nut like myself has never been to the setting of Cheers, Good Will Hunting and The Departed?  I've never been to the moon or Middle Earth either, so sue me.  When I got into my hotel room, as is my custom, the first thing I do is set my luggage down and turn on HBO.  What movie was on?  Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.  Ironically, it was a scene where they were racing through Boston, over a bridge...I look out my window and I see that very bridge, sans Cruise and Diaz, of course.  But that's not what you came here to read...allow me to get to the case.

The journey continues
 • There is so much famous history in Boston and especially the North End, where our case was located.  Honestly, I was surprised about the layout of this part of town.  Having been in countless cities and towns over the past three years I just assumed Boston would be more of the same - hell, even Maui had a Taco Bell and a WalMart within its borders.  But I found it to be very European, with thin, winding side streets barely wide enough for a single car, bistros, bakeries and bike riders everywhere.  The chain stores and restaurants I was used to seeing were nowhere to be found and that was strangely comforting.  I was forced to go outside my norm and try different Boston Clam Chowder, for starters.  Because of the parking situation around the case, we had to walk to and from the hotel each day, which was just fine with all of us.  My path took me through the Paul Revere Mall (not a shopping center), past the Old North Church, by an old graveyard and over the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge (not the easiest name to remember).  Corny as it sounds, I really could feel the echoes of the past reverberating off of every brick in the road, every tree that swayed in the wind.  Be it factual or the result of my thinking about it, it made my time there so much richer.

That's damn right
 • Our first day there, we were slated to film the opening introduction, where John says, "Welcome to..." wherever we were.  Here, it was to be shot at the Paul Revere Mall, the walkway you see in the above main cast picture.  But seemingly minutes before we were to start shooting, a protest group came along and covered much of the area with tomatoes.  The funny thing was that no one saw it happen, they just all showed up - one minute the mall was empty and then it wasn't.  To my knowledge we hadn't angered the Tomato God so I didn't know why his minions were marching on us.  The producers grumbled and retreated into an emergency meeting to decide how this would be handled.  In the mean time, Jason and I noticed a guy lurking across the street - he was connected to this somehow.  Perhaps he was a familiar of one of the Tomato Lords and was staying behind to make sure the troops remained undisturbed.  We decided to corner and question him.  It was then that is was revealed that this was a protest against some agricultural company involved with the city.  Our production schedule was an unfortunate victim of collateral damage by this particular protest.  We were assured that this would all be cleared away by the end of the day, pushing our intro back to the last day of shooting.  We got the scene in the can, but it was ultimately cut.

Collector's Paradise
 • While I'm on the subject of cut scenes, one thing you will notice about Season Three is the absence of the baseline sweep.  I bitched about that from the moment I found out they were not being used to this day.  Chris and I spend so much time canvasing each location and finding logical explanations for much of the reports that I feel it's important to show even some of it.  That and the fact that for many viewers, if they don't see it, they assume it has not been done.  Let me assure you, I have done plenty this season that will never see a final cut.  At the cafe, we checked out the reports of cups and dishes flying off the shelves, the spinning wheel of the coffee grinder as well as the tommy gun encased above the back steps.  There was so much to see and so much to check off the list there, I can understand why much of it got cut, but I would love it if even a montage of the baseline was put back in, just to show the scope of what was done.

To the producer's credit, we bitched enough about wanting extra content and cut scenes shown that they began posting them on last season.  Here is one from the Cigar Bar:

Extended family
 • I feel it's something I've answered many times, but it warrants repeating here.  I get asked all the time how much John sells the items he removes for, or why don't they get compensated for the removal, or a million other finance-related inquiries.  I instantly get heated when I hear these questions...not because I don't encourage questioning, but it's the fact that money is the first thing that pops into everyone's heads.  None of what we do is for the money.  Yes, we're on a TV show and we get paid to be on it, but the only people making out like fat cats here are the production companies and the network.  It's all about advertising dollars for them.  For us, it's about the investigation, the evidence and helping those who asked us for it.  When John removes an item, it's not for personal, or financial gain - it's to help the victims.  People who have been tormented by negative activity are like addicts in many ways...the chance for relapse is very high in those early days after we remove the item.  The item itself is not an expensive trinket with a dollar value, it's a representation of pain or discomfort and many of the people we help are very eager to see those items go.  There are those who complain down the road, but it's usually by those who were looking for something other than help...and I'll leave it at that.

The cases in this episode were flopped in production.  That is to say, the Wappingers Falls case was filmed before the Boston case.  It was our third case back and it already felt like an old glove.  The team fell into their roles comfortably and all the old jokes became funny again.  After this one we were headed to Boston and then home for Thanksgiving, so already there was a feeling of, "We're going home soon..." in the air.  Three of our first four cases were in New York so for me, I was never far from home.

Local Support
 • The week this episode aired, The Poughkeepsie Journal did an article about our time there.  Unfortunately, the paper is a smaller one and they no longer have the full article online.  It's nice when local news outlets are interested in us and our show.  Being from NYC and not being on one of the two "Big Shows", I'd have to kidnap a politician's pet or leak a sex tape to get any press around here.  To make the waters even muddier, there was a sort of de facto block on the media with us.  Any time a news crew or reporter would show up, we'd get herded into holding, as if it were a quarantine zone.  Personally, I feel the more they write about us, the better - let's get the word out there, even if it's one small, local paper at a time.  When it comes to press and our producers, I'd rather ask for forgiveness than permission.

The Everman Ethan
 • The audience is very inquisitive when it comes to procedure and how long we spent in a place; did we try X or Y, or why didn't we show A or B?  Maybe one day we'll air a 26-hour long episode of Haunted Collector and then they'll be sorry!  Seriously though, I have to give a huge amount of respect to the unsung (yet well paid) cameramen who make us look like rock stars every week.  For every EVP session that does not get shown, there is a cameraman, a sound tech and a producer in the area, sitting in silence, letting us do our thing.  Usually only the cameraman is with us, so that means if we're getting responses or craziness coming through, they are there with us for all of it.  At the Drahos house, Chris and I spent a lot of time in the basement - with Ethan, the third man to our A-Team with us the whole time.  So why are certain things cut when they seem so important to the case?  To let the editors off the hook for a moment, I will say that in the basement a lot happened - but not a lot of it was captured on camera.  What do we say all the time?  Paranormal activity does not occur on command - there is no "action" call for the supernatural, it happens when it happens.  Down here, it happened almost exclusively when Ethan was running out of tape or battery life.  If I recall correctly, he went through three tapes and two batteries while Chris and I were in the basement.  Psst...just to let you know, the tapes record for 45 minutes.  Much of the, "holy crap" moments occurred as he waited for someone to bring him fresh assets.  Some things we can redo, such as reactions, other things we cannot.  C'est la vie, Collector.

Condensation confusion
 • Let's discuss the casket plate for a moment.  Of all the cases we've been on and all the items we've discovered, I was the most confused by this one.  We've gotten errant readings on the thermal before that have alerted us to items being charged with energy of that unknown type, but this time is came complete with condensation!  In the past, it's just been a reading and it typically seems to be an inverse one...if it reads very hot, it tends to actually be cool and vice versa (although a warm object being paranormal seems to be rare given the energy it would require to heat it up).  Never before has there been a secondary indicator - now with the casket plate, the condensation was the cause of the reading, but what was the cause of the condensation?  Nothing else on that wall was affected.  John brought the item to an expert and a possible solution was arrived at, but in my mind, I'm still at the top of those stairs, wondering what the hell caused the condensation!  I remember last season while we were on the road we had four cases in a row that each had something to do with the four basic elements of the earth: air, fire, earth and water.  I also remember asking John if an elemental could be responsible for any of them, or possibly a djinn.  He didn't actually answer me, he just raised an eyebrow, gave me that patented John Zaffis Mystery stare and ran his fingertips through his beard.  I've come to learn that when he does not answer me, he's deep in thought and whatever I've said has put him into archive mode, as he searches for the answer in a past case.  Now I'm not saying that there is a water elemental at the Drahos House, I'm just considering all of the possibilities since I have so little to go on.  officially, on the record, I still consider that portion of the case very much open.

Miss Fanny's Party House
 • One of the common questions I'm asked is, "Of the cases you do, how many are residential and how many are business?"  For the show, it's about 50/50.  The top of this episode was the Cigar Bar, a business and even though Julia runs events at her house, it is still a residence.  Because of that, I can safely say that the place will never be totally free from activity.  I just hope that us being there helped reduce the negative activity there.  Given that it's not too far from me, I may have to stop in again in the future and see how things are there for myself, when the cameras are off.

So that was episode two of Season Three.  It's weird to refer to it that way...those were times of my life where I learned, I laughed, I lived.  To boil it down to a unit of reference, to be packaged on the shelf and indexed feels...sterile.  If I could only hook my brain to a USB port and share with you all that colored those days you'd see so much more.  But, that's why I started this blog, to give you guys even a sliver of that extra stuff, be it from the case or from my perspective during it.  Now if the other five would do the same, we'd really have a compendium of craziness at our fingertips!  See you next episode, "Ghost Behind Bars/ Haunted Brothel".


  1. Brian, you seem to be a wonderful writer. I really look forward to reading more of your insights on the show, on the paranormal and on yourself. It's so great you recognize the production team that travels with you; I am sure they appreciate it.

    I invite you to visit my blog as well, which you can find on my web site Haunted San Diego ( Thanks and best wishes!

  2. I love these blog posts because you let us see more behind the scenes than a clip ever could. Your writing style is so difinitive, that it is almost as if I can hear you telling your story. Thanks Brian!

  3. I like the look of Miss Fanny's party house, and Bunker Hill must of been cool to see, my dad would love to see that being a Marine he loves battle lol..the tomato that you talk about reminds me of Killer Tomato's attack of the killer tomatoes lol I know I watched it...I don't know how John can have all the stuff he collects from places, I think I would be up all night looking out the window and have it all covered with crosses, but you know what is funny I go to 2nd hand stores at times and I love to buy old I just found a cool purse to hhehe, and the cool thing was I found money in it and I needed gas, God has his moments:) and some laugh at me for going to them places I laugh back lol..great blog again Brian, be safe out there on your adventures..keep the blogs coming when your just laying around hehe..