We’d been dating for only a few weeks. She was lovely.Eager. Earnest. Fun. It was time for us to get deeper, emotionally. This is usually the point at which quirks are revealed, peccadillos. I’d meet HER friends. Thinking nothing of it, she said these particular friends hosted unusual parties.
Her circle was largely college educated, upper middle class folk. They’d be the people in dressed audiences. They’d be educators, manufacturing professionals, engineers, and so on.
The first aspect of a person most notice is clothing. It might read trite, but it’s an obvious way to discriminate. This IS what she chose to walk out of the house with that morning, after all. It was among the conscious choices she’d made for the day. Nothing too revealing, either in terms of skin or in tells with regard to personality. She was neat, tidy. No giveaways. Jewelry is a common sign: overt religiosity, even social class can be revealed through trinkets and doo-dads. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. She took pride in her appearance. Nearly elegant is how I’d describe her, if pressed.
She was noticeably excited and nervous at this next step, this me meeting her friends. Combining worlds is always dangerous. She’s probably wondering what I’ll think of the kinds of people with whom she associates. She very surely is curious at the reception I’ll receive. And it’s true: nothing gives a clearer impression of a person than to see them around others. It places your love in a decidedly new light. I’d wager many a relationship blossomed or failed on this intangible alone. For many women how a man holds up next to her friends, her family, her closest confidants, is of the upmost importance.
In the car on the way over, she explained what about this particular party would make it unusual. Her friends were “in” to New Age experiences, Eastern philosophy, and things of that sort. She didn’t know me well enough yet. Most guys just go with whatever is thrown at them in pursuit of culo. You’re spiritual? Of course, I am spiritual too! You like that Perry chick’s latest song? Me too! I let her continue to outline the night’s event. No editorial on my part.
The best of the night will be the activities, she gleamed in my passenger’s seat. I smiled in a way that didn’t let on to my mild discomfort at the thought. I am not twelve. Activities? Jesus Christ on crutches. They’ve hired a psychic, Reverend [name changed to protect anonymity] Paul. Oh, and you MUST be in the room when they approach the Ouija. It’s eerily fascinating.
If my life had drops, sound effects you’d hear on those obnoxious morning radio programs, a shrill scratch of a phonograph needle’s dragging across its wax disk would fog the cabin. Fuck a duck. I didn’t want to offend her, and so I didn’t inquire further. There’s nothing wrong with fun for fun’s sake. Messing around, using events and surroundings as a springboard to neat conversations can be fruitful.
It was something in her tone, however.
These ideas, psychics and boards used to communicate with the Great Beyond, seemed to be a serious pursuit of hers. It was early enough for me not to really know, but she seemed to BELIEVE this shit. Like, uh, the kind of belief where she’d make LIFE DECISIONS based upon whatever perceived knowledge she’d gained from living or inanimate oracles.
I let it go and drove to the party as she yammered.
II. SOCIAL INTERCOURSE
We arrived. Typical party. The hosts were a married couple, and they warmly welcomed me into the fold. I met her coworkers. Nice people. All the usual questions like what I did for a living, the latest topical pop culture events, etcetera, were politely exchanged. Social intercourse was going well. She looked great on my arm. She was pleased to be with me, and when she wasn’t near me, and we caught eyes, I could tell she was happy I was around. I liked these people. I liked her.
You remember Chappelle’s Show? The skit where Charlie Murphy recounts his goings-on as a member of his brother’s entourage? The one when Dave dresses as a stand-in for the Rick James story? Dude looked EXACTLY like Chappelle as Rick James. My first thought, honest to god, was, I’m Rick James, beeeaatch!
He was a lighter-skinned African American man, on the tubby side. Average height, he walked with what can only be described as unearned swagger. Kind of like when ALL the kids got First Place trophies after a soccer season, in an effort to prove the adults were so evolved as to not recognize difference in ability (because THAT would be elitist!), … and you knew YOU’d scored twice as many goals, … and, yet, here was the laziest kid on the team with the same goddamned trophy? Yeah, he had THAT kid’s chutzpah. I’ve always marveled at such specimens. I am envious, honestly. WHERE does that delusion come from? I want some.
In any case, he made his way to me and my date by way of our hosts. This is Reverend Paul, you two. He’ll be doing our readings this evening, the wife informed us as Reverend Paul dutifully nodded in our direction. On closer inspection, I noted the whiff of halitosis, and the bolo tie was not helping matters. WHO WEARS A BOLO TIE? Must all standards be overturned? I digress. His eyes were vacant, and more than a little red. His smile was too easy. Each finger, ringed. Like every finger. Oh, and his roped locks were beaded, beeeaatch!
With our hosts and the Right Reverend out of earshot, I leaned into my date.
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck, I whispered. I knooooooooooow, she gave back generously to me, I could feel his power!
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck, I whispered. I knooooooooooow, she gave back generously to me, I could feel his power!
What, like the power of his breath? Power! Good lord almighty, were we on different planets?
I subtly recoiled. You’re impressed, huh?, I asked. Oh, yeah, she swooned, he is going to be great. I cannot wait for the reading.
III. TONGUE BITING
Look, people interpret happenings differently. Even the SAME happenings.
One time, when I was in a New York City subway terminal, exiting, an Italian man caught the button affixed to the back of my Yankees cap: THE DAYS OF THE WHITE MAN ARE NUMBERED. Black background, white lettering. I was so smitten with the button, I bought it off a Nation of Islam goon in Brooklyn for a couple of bucks (to the horror of my then-honey). She laughed and laughed, asking if I was really brave enough to wear it. Snap. Not only would I wear it, but prominently on my head. The Italian man read the button aloud, pausing as I turned around to acknowledge him. He said exasperatedly, Nooooo shit, man. No shit! Two ways to look at it, for sure.
The night was becoming a Rorschach test for our budding amor.
I bit my tongue. In a way I couldn’t wait for the reading either. I was going to learn a lot about this babe, and we weren’t even naked.
At some point, the dreaded Ouija was brought out. Our hosts plunked themselves down at the table, and began the retarded process of divination. My gal snatched my hand and pulled me over to the scene. I stood at the back of the crowd. I didn’t want to offend anyone. I just wanted to be a spectator, but sometimes we’re thrown into situations without warning. The husband and wife daintily moved the triangular cursor about the board, weaving over the half-mooned alphabet lettering in astonishment as neither would admit to causing movement of the seer device's plastic casters.
It took EVERY ounce of my being to not roll my eyes. I was a champ, and I was for her. My date was absolutely enthralled. Mesmerized. Something in her clicked. She was in her element. I went with it.
Then I heard my name.
I heard my chick’s name.
The couple was asking the ghosts and goblins of the ether about our romance. Are they in love? the wife asked. My girl smiled widely at me. Her cheeks went flush. I kissed her neck to offer reassurance and to hide my growing disgust. YES! the husband read the board’s answer. Clapping. Oooooooooooohs and awwwwwwwwwwes. General approval. She yanked at my arm as if THIS was the confirmation she needed.
I even let THAT go.
With positive reinforcement from the assembled cult, the married couple continued their cajole. My name again. Her name again. Questions of marriage, of children, of ultimate happiness. All of it, a lifetime’s worth of vignettes, revealed with YES!, YES!, YES!
At each answer, my date moistened. She was giddy. Delirious even. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was flattered she thought so highly of me, and it’s not like I am a great catch. It was all just so, so, so premature. So arbitrary. WHAT IF THE FUCKING BOARD HAD ANSWERED NO? Is everyone insane?
Hey, I broke in loudly, it’s time to stop. Move on to a different couple.
IV. THE BARBIE ORACLE
The room spun around and glared at me. Rather than take my advice and be sensitive, the married couple bullied their way into even MORE personal territory. Would I make a good husband? Would our unborn children (plural!) go to good colleges? All of these asked, AND ANSWERED, with intensity.
I am an even fellow. I don’t anger easily. I don’t scare. I’ve seen enough of life to know when to assert myself. I know right. I know wrong. I never, ever give-in to bullying, even tacit bullying.
Time to strike.
I walked with purpose, leaving my girl for the moment, and approached the sitting couple. Looking back, they seemed frightened. Clearly no one dared do what I was about to do. With my right hand, I held the triangle thing, and with a sweeping motion of my left hand I turned the board over.
Mattel, I announced, M-A-T-T-E-L! You cannot contact the spirit world via the same company Barbie shares. My left hand’s index finger tapped angrily upon the toy manufacturer’s logo in an effort to better illustrate my point. I dropped the plastic triangle back onto the overturned cardboard.
When I rejoined my date, there was an unspoken chasm between us. She said almost nothing about my outburst. The crowd’s only reaction, besides hush, was to part a path allowing me leave, unmolested, and return to my chica.
Sorry, I offered to her in excuse for my display, but that was getting stupid. And I did ask them to stop.
She felt extreme pity for me, it was obvious. She looked upon me as though I’d had Asperger’s Syndrome or a terminal disease. You’re afraid of our future, she answered assuredly. You have trouble committing. You have trouble with happiness.
It was wonderful to have a perfect glimpse into her thinking. I’d made attempts previously, but I’ll admit to having trouble getting beyond the superficial. Time, that’s all. We just needed time to flesh this out. Whatever you look for in a mate, you look for (and maybe you don’t even so much look as take what’s available – not me, I am VERY picky). It was crystal clear she wasn’t for me. Sure she is a fantastic person. She will have a life of her making, but it is not one I want. Friends? Of course. More than friends? No. Partners? No. Build a life together? Get the fuck out of here.
There isn’t any excuse to not be a gentleman. She invited me to meet her friends. It was my duty to finish the evening, her evening. I made my decision and kept it to myself.
We ate. We drank. We talked about a whole lot of Nathan – that is, nothing. Pleasant. Silly. I enjoyed her. Didn’t hurt she was gorgeous.
The living room lights dimmed, catching our attention. Ooooooooooooooooh, she squealed, Reverend Paul!
Rick James. Yeah, right. During the scramble for seats, I was lost in the temporary confusion, and I went to the married couple privately. I asked they inform Reverend Paul to NOT include me in his reading. No verbal answer came, but the looks on their faces gave assent. They were not going to trifle with me again. I watched as they went to Reverend Paul and pointed me out. Good. Done.
Reverend Paul held court. Wow. Charismatic guy, if you’re down with his business. I could not process his lack of grammar, his illogic, and general trend at hucksterism. But he was leaving me alone, and I was a guest. When in Rome.
VI. HORSE SHOE
He was lousy with confidence. Swimming in it. And that made for compelling entertainment.
The party arranged itself organically, sitting in horse shoe form. She and I were squished together, and I loved the way she smelled. An ever-so hint of an older perfume, White Linen, as I remember, wafted about her. She rested her head against my shoulder, entranced by the doings of Reverend Paul. From time to time, as he’d make a claim I found ridiculous, I’d look over and down at her face. For someone so incredibly beautiful her credulity pained me. Seriously. It was close to physical pain. Okay, so maybe I am exaggerating here, but I was taken aback for sure.
An anxious couple waited for his insights. He’d always begin with the female. She was having issues with her father. Shock from the female. Head shake from her male companion, amazed at the Rev’s penetrating analysis. Receiving the necessary cue, Reverend Paul dove straight into her. This or that paternal issue, shaded in generalities of course, would be resolved in the woman’s favor. As if she were part of a dramatic one act, the woman, at the exact right time, would then tear up and bury her face in her dude’s breast. This happened, in one form or another, again and again. General, vague and supposed oracular vision, gushing emotional response. Rinse, repeat.
With the males, Paul would dance around pets, best friends, and lost siblings. When he’d err, which happened slightly worse than chance (yes, I was counting), he’d miss because he’d gotten too specific. He was so very fast it was hard to pick up, but with focus it was obvious. Dude was a perceptive guesser, and he’d stumble on right guesses (hits) less than 50 percent of the time. The males were not as emotionally responsive. Well, they weren’t in the same way, anyway. They too were actors, good ones, and they’d put on brave faces when confronted with a hot-button personal issue. But the sheer strength of a hit manufactured itself inside the person – so much so they lost all reason and rationality. Candy from a baby.
You can probably anticipate what comes next.
Our hero the Reverend Paul spies. Evidently, he’d forgotten about the party hosts’ warning. I widened my eyes and arched a brow in an attempt to trigger his memory. Fucker took that as an invitation. I inhaled deeply, causing my date, for the briefest of moments, to see a break between the play of pretend. I think she could feel the tension. I was in no mood.
I looked away and at the married couple. TELL THIS FOOL, I tried to say with my eyes, TO JUMP TO SOMEONE ELSE. No dice. They’d forgotten too.
You’re a skeptic, he said dismissively, rhetorically, not waiting for my response. The group suddenly remembered me from the Barbie incident, and all eyes were on me and Paul like a tennis match. Heads to him, following the stinky words shot to me.
He wasn’t starting with the female this time around.
VII. TENNIS, ANYONE?
I am skeptical of your skepticism, he continued, very, very pleased with himself.
They were now completely his audience, and the entire group laughed softly in relief, including my sweetie. I didn’t respond.
My date knew next to nothing about my past, but she did know some things. Both my parents were deceased, and they’d died at relatively young ages. The circumstances were tragic in both instances. I shared these facts with her begrudgingly, and only in the course of normal conversation. It just could not be avoided. So, she knew that much.
Up for a challenge, and used to meek participants, Reverend Paul began his quest to get me in line.
I am sensing great trouble with a parent, he purred, waiting for me to hand him a sign. Nada. It could be your mother or your father, or maybe both.
Ashamedly, I did, at that point, roll my eyes. And my eyes, upon coming back down to earth, found my date confirming Paul’s hunch with a solemn nod.
He had his in.
Seizing upon this tidbit, he began to paint a sordid picture. He was saying nothing, really. My date could give him no more. As the tennis crowd swiveled back and forth between us, I could tell even his cadre of new followers were wondering where the guesses were heading because I wasn’t giving up anything to help. Finally, I spoke.
Uh, I cracked, maybe you should go to the next person. You haven’t gotten anything right about me.
THAT’S NOT TRUE! my date shouted, surprising even herself. Both of your parents are dead.
Paul’s rotten mouth gaped at the fortunate happening. His followers now had their Aha! moment.
I sipped from my drink, petted her head, and gave her a look that could only spell betrayal. That wasn’t for her to share with anyone. He hadn’t come anywhere close to guessing correctly, and any rational person would’ve understood that to be a HUGE miss.
Paul tried to speak some in response, but I raised my hand and silenced him. First, I’d have to deal with my date.
Baby, I said calmly, everyone has parents. Everyone has issues with their parents, even the best parents. If you actually listened to what he said, he claimed I had parents. He claimed I had issues with one or both. That’s not psychic phenomenon, those are genetic facts and part of the human condition. He’s a charlatan as are all psychics, as are all people who claim supernatural powers.
She let go of my arm. She wasn’t the least interested in taking my point. She was disgusted. Flabbergasted. Not amused.
Dealt with, I put my drink down and moved from her to our antagonist, Reverend Paul.
He tried to preempt me. Calling me a charlatan won’t erase the great pain you have in your heart, he counseled as if I were a mental patient. Enthusiastic nods of approval and empathy from the assembled horde.
I was fuming.
I said enough, I began, and I don’t want to further offend the good people at this party. Why not just read another person and leave this be?
And, then, dear reader, Reverend Paul did what no one should ever do when given an out. Rather than taking the exit, he overstayed his welcome in my life. Poor choice.
Reverend Paul began lecturing me, but mostly the crowd, about the grave responsibility he has to impart spiritual gifts to the unwashed. I was the unwashed. People like me. He would not stop.
I broke back in.
How much are you being paid? I asked.
He bobbed and darted, but eventually answered a standard rate.
Why aren’t you a zillionaire? I asked further.
He waxed about the poverty of the spirit when tainted by money. It is, of course, the root of all ills. This impressed his audience.
No, what I mean is, if you have this power to see the future, why aren’t you making bundles of cash on markets and the like? I waited to see if he’d take the bait. He did.
He gave a non-answer, deploring the material excesses of everyone – everyone, of course, except for himself. He was, when all was said and done, not in it for the money but to help the world.
Alright. Granted, I continued. But why not use your gifts, make a ton of money and solve global poverty?
He didn’t seem to be speaking to me anymore. I was like a voice from the walls. He was speaking to the group. It was much more important for him to keep them on his side. He said I was preoccupied with money and wealth. He was purposefully missing the point.
Okay, you won’t answer coherently. What about war? I insisted.
To his credit, he did look about to go to the next person, but I wasn’t going to let him off the hook now. Motherfucker. He asked me what I was getting at with this new line of questioning.
If you know the future, why aren’t you trying to prevent the next war or natural disaster? Why aren’t you warning people, saving lives? Why is your ignorant ass HERE, humping for a hundred bucks? Now I was the one pleased with myself.
He wasn’t ruffled, not in the slightest.
He ignored me and began reading another couple.
VIV. THANK YOU, AND ADIOS
The ride to drop her back at her place wasn’t comfortable. I felt like a douche, but only because I was a guest. I don’t like being rude.
When we finally arrived, I kept the motor running, assuming she would rush out.
By complete accident she complimented me. She said I was unlike anyone she had ever dated. She appreciated my honesty, but she could not understand my hostility toward the inherent goodness of a man like Reverend Paul. This, she confided, caused her to not trust me.
I listened, and mostly because I knew this was difficult for her. I let her come naturally to her own conclusion. I don’t always need to have the final word.
She didn’t think this was going to work out.
I smiled, knowingly.
And I mean it.
And I mean it.
Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things