A chance encounter in an antiques store has left a local man with an uncanny ability that scientists are struggling to explain.

William Schell, 27, was browsing through “Ye (Spelled with a Thorn, not a Y) Olde Antiques Shoppe” on Twenty-Ninth Street last November when he came across an old hurricane lamp.  As it was rather dusty, he rubbed it to get a better look and, he claims, wound up face to face with a genie.

“I didn’t take it seriously at first,” Schell said.  “I mean, go figure.  Who really expects to find a genie in a hurricane lamp?”

As one of his customary three wishes, Schell said he wished to become an oil magnate.

“I don’t think it heard me quite right,” Schell reflected.  “It said something like that couldn’t happen overnight, so I didn’t think anything else about it.”

Until the strangest things started happening in grocery stores.

“I do my own cooking, and I needed some salad oil,” says Schell, describing his first discovery of his unusual power.  “I reached for the bottle, and it was like it jumped into my hand.”

A couple of weeks later, he says, bottles were jumping off the shelves, lemming-like, as he passed.

By the time a couple more weeks passed, bottles of oil were jumping off at his mere approach.

So far three local grocery stores have taken out court orders forbidding him to walk down the aisles containing salad dressing and cooking supplies.  A fourth has tried to be more accommodating, but has taken the precaution of moving all its glass bottles to the lowest shelves.

“We thought it was vandalism until we actually saw it happen,” said Tom Randall, manager of one of the grocery stores.  “As novelties go, it’s an interesting trick, though a messy one.  Until he starts walking past the olive oil.  Then it becomes an extremely expensive novelty.”  Mr. Randall declined our request to let Schell demonstrate his powers in his store.

And it wasn’t just in grocery stores.  Trips to places like AutoZone and PepBoys also became problematic.

Over the Christmas holidays, Schell went with his family to see the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.   What happened next “was just plain freaky,” he said, without providing any further details.

Scientists with the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and several major oil companies, are attempting to understand what is causing his strange attraction for oil.  They also hope to learn if his unique talents can be used in furthering oil exploration, encouraging greater production from marginal wells, and cleaning up after spills.

One thing Schell says he has already learned from his ordeal is the importance of proper enunciation.  “If I mean ‘magnate,'” he says, “I’m going say:  ‘magNATE.'”

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