On a visit to New York City in 2009, I performed for a party of journalists at a Thai restaurant. I was booked to perform at their convention, and did a closeup show the next evening for some of their leadership. They were fascinating and accomplished people.
One of them was a lovely Delaware journalist whom I’ll call Linda. She was blonde, athletic, and absolutely lovely. Better still, she was smart and didn’t seem to have an attitude about any of her good fortune. She was there with her boyfriend, who was the president of the organization that put on the convention. They looked like the ideal couple, but he was a bit of a prick. He so liked to win, that was his big problem.
At performances, I like to get a read on people. I stand next to them, become internally quiet, and see if I feel anything. I didn’t pick up any mentalism vibes from him, but I did from her. So after performing my standard show, I decided to follow my instincts. I asked Linda to think of a friend from childhood.
“Okay,” she said.
“It’s not a common name, is it?”
“No,” she said.
“Okay, that’s a good start.”
I looked into her eyes for a while, but nothing was coming. The whole room was silent. Finally, it started coming to me one letter at a time: H. E. R. B.
“Yes, that’s it,” she said.
Everybody else was impressed, but she wasn’t showing it.
“Can I got one step further?” I asked her.
So I placed my hand over Linda’s head. I placed it over her shoulders. I placed it over her upturned palms.
“Would you take off your shoes?” I asked her.
She paused. “No,” she finally said, a little indignantly.
Later, Linda told me that she had been walking all day around Manhattan and that her feet were stinky. To top it all off, she was among colleagues and didn’t want to look ridiculous.
“Well, would you just place your feet where I can place my hand over them?”
Reluctantly, she placed them on her chair. I placed a hand over one shoe, then over the other, then lowered my hand.
“I can’t tell which foot it is,” I said, “but when you were a child, did you injure your foot? I’m getting that you stepped on a broken bottle.”
Linda shook her head no. But then gradually, she began to remember.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes I did. I forgot that. I stepped on a broken Budweiser bottle while playing softball.”
“And did they rush you to the hospital?”
“And on the way to the hospital, I’m getting an aroma,” I said. “Is it…I’m getting Old Spice.”
The whole room was silent. There was an author who had written a book about fountain pens, and he was rendered silent. There was a self-help author who had written 13 books, and she didn’t say anything. There was a journalist for the Star-Ledger, and she was quiet. Linda’s face didn’t crack, either, but I could see her eyes start to water up, that she was fighting emotion.
“Yes, my father rushed me to the hospital,” she said. “And he used to wear Old Spice.”
The reaction in the room wasn’t applause, but a kind of silent alarm. I think they were waiting for somebody to explain it to them, because these were extraordinarily talented people who were used to being able to figure things out, but really, there is no explanation, because explanations miss the point.
The next day, Linda told me that if her colleagues hadn’t been there, she would have cried. I don’t mean to make people cry, but sometimes, I step on land mines.
I kept in touch with Linda over the next couple years, and it turned out the boyfriend didn’t last long. He asked her to move in with him, but she didn’t want to. After 20 years of marriage, she was enjoying her freedom. He couldn’t take the rejection, so he broke it off.
“I wasn’t saying I wanted to end it,” she said.
“I can’t be with a woman who doesn’t want me,” he said.
“I didn’t say I don’t want you.”
“Yes you did.”
“What I said was that I didn’t want to move in with you.”
But he was a hurt little boy, so it was over.
At the Thai dinner, I didn’t tell her that her relationship wouldn’t work out, even though I knew. But really, anybody with two eyes could have told her that.