Essays · Music

The Ghost Of Toto

by Tod Goldberg

I have a student who believes that Jeff Porcaro, the late drummer of the band Toto, is haunting her house. She states this as absolute fact, as if it isn’t even a remote possibility that the ghost is John Bonham or Keith Moon. It is Jeff Porcaro and that is that.

“Did you know him?” I asked. We were sitting at a campus eatery dining on bagels and drinking coffee just like normal people might do, except that one of us was having a Poltergeist experience of the prog-rock variety.

“I’d never even heard of him before we met on the Ouija board,” my student said. “I’ve found subsequently that I don’t really care for his music.”

By day, my student is a corporate concierge, which means she spends most of her sun-lit hours doing soul-scorching tasks such as arranging hotel rooms for visiting mistresses, procuring tickets to Carrot Top shows and generally acting the role of in-house bitch for the corporations that use her services. In the evening, however, my student likes to read books on out-of-body experiences, enjoys a raucous round of Ouija-ing and is prone to lay out the tarot whenever the, ahem, spirit moves her. So if anyone were ever fit to be living in a haunted house, it would be her.

“Did he live in your house?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “He just sort of moved in about six months ago. He’s very pleasant.”

“Pardon my ignorance here,” I said, “but just how exactly do you know that the ghost living in your house is the dead drummer from Toto? Does he leave cryptic messages about the `rains down in Africa’ on your mirror while you’re showering?”

My student took a sip of coffee and considered these questions for a moment. She’s an older woman–I’m not sure of her exact age, though I’d suspect 40 came and went fairly recently–and her face is pale in a healthy way. She knew I was teasing her but opted instead to answer me seriously.

“Well,” she said, “one night about a year ago my friend and I were talking on the Ouija and we came across a spirit who told me I was sick, that I had a tumor and that I needed to visit the doctor. I thought it was just some crazy thing, like how we sometimes got a spirit who claimed he was William Shatner, even though William Shatner is alive. But it just kept repeating the same thing over and over again until it really started to freak me out. It wouldn’t stop until I agreed to visit a doctor. I felt fine, though, so it just seemed weird to me. But I’d promised, so I went for a general checkup.”

I’ve only known my student for three months, but none of this sounded off-kilter. If anything, it sounded perfectly normal in comparison to other tales I’d heard. But when she said the checkup produced some odd blood results, it seemed more than a little odd. When she said that doctors later discovered a malignant tumor beneath her left breast, it made goose pimples crawl down my back. After a successful surgery and a long convalescence, my student finally got the energy to return to the Ouija.

“Right away,” my student said, “the board says `I told you so!’ and we start chatting and the board tells me that his name is Jeff and that he was a drummer in a famous band called Toto and that he died in 1992.”

I opted not to argue the relative merits of the word “famous” in relation to Toto and instead said, “Well, okay. But how does a ghost opt to set up shop in someone’s house?” My student exhaled in exasperation. “You’re being na•ve. He’s my guiding light now. He watches over me. He simply saw that I needed someone and so, when he felt I was ready, he left the board and appeared in my house. He’s not there every day. You could come over and not notice anything.”

“How do you know when he arrives?”

“He turns my overhead fan on and off.”

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Jeff Porcaro from Toto lives in your house as a spirit and his big trick is that he turns on your overhead fan?”

“Drummers play in the background,” my student said. “It makes sense.”

I’ve experienced a number of weird paranormal things in my 32 years on this planet–including the time I shared an elevator with Pauly Shore–but none of them was nearly this interactive. I’m not sure what I believe about the afterlife (I’m not even sure what I believe about this life–especially since I now have Scientologists sending me sophistic hate mail) but I can’t help but wonder how, of all dead musicians, my student ended up with Jeff Porcaro as her personal ghost. I asked her if she had any idea.

“Maybe he just likes my fan,” she said, “but he saved my life.”

I couldn’t find an argument for that.

(originally published in the Las Vegas Mercury)


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