I don’t even know where to begin with the story of my night in Santa Rosa, where I spent last evening watching a clairvoyant communicate with the dead.
Ansel, my number one rehab gay and I met way, way, WAY up north to see Lisa Williams, a sassy Brit who has “the gift.” Lisa and her spiky, spunky hair give readings on television and in person, connecting members of her audience with their loved ones who are … well, dead.
While certainly maintaining his sense of humor about the whole thing (he is a homo, after all), Ansel does take Lisa and her work very seriously. More importantly, Ansel lost his mother to cancer when he was just 17. So for the past few days, Ansel’s been instructing his mom to show up in Santa Rosa and say hi.
“Is there anything you’re desperate to know? Do you have any questions?” I asked him over manicures at the Santa Rosa Plaza Mall beforehand.
“Not really.” he confessed. He’d brought with him her ring and a framed photo of the two of them together. In the photo, 17 year old awkward, gay, Midwestern Ansel is leaning beside his tiny mother in her hospital bed, tubes coming out every which way in what is clearly her last months.
She was 43.
I made Ansel bring the photo with us.
Other than my beloved grandparents, all of whom lived to ripe old ages, there was no one I was desperate to hear from. Tonight’s focus was on Ansel and his mom and I committed myself to being the best clairvoyant hag I could be.
Arriving 30 minutes early was hardly an original idea. The place was packed. And here’s where I start buying my ticket to hell.
The crowd was filled with mostly women, all of whom wore elastic waist pants and hadn’t bothered to get their roots done in 8 months. There were lots of barrettes in grey hair and Disney-themed apparel, if you catch my drift. It’s probably safe to say every handicapped seat was taken as well.
Ansel’s always down to people-mock with me, elbowing me with the old, “Oh, you’re terrible” while obviously agreeing with me. But last night he was distracted. We had a purpose. And Eeyore sweat pant comments would have to wait.
We were seated in the middle of the orchestra section, surrounded by excited ladies on either side. In front of us sat a gay man and what was obviously his mother. Ansel and I decided they probably lived together and watched Lisa Williams on Lifetime.
“Let’s befriend them!” I said.
Ansel rolled his eyes and Midwestern accented me, “What do you plan to say?”
“I’ll say,’Hi! We’re Beth and Ansel. We met in rehab. We want to be your friends!'”
Ansel fumbled with his Blackberry in his lap as hundreds upon hundreds sat down around us. On stage sat a table, a huge bouquet, a director’s chair and a massive screen hanging from the ceiling. And on the screen was Lisa Williams’ previous television appearances.
All of them.
At one point, the screen started projecting a game show.
“What is this?” I asked Ansel.
“Deal or No Deal.” He deadpanned.
I turned to the woman sitting next to me, who was there with her (practically dead anyway) Grandmother. Turns out, they’d come last year. Everyone was talking about “last year.”
“Last year, Lisa was just so incredible. My God, if this year is anything like last year…”
I did manage to find out that Lisa rarely ventures into the audience, staying mainly on stage shouting out information from beyond.
Finally, the lights dimmed and Lisa was announced.
Just picture Sharron Osbourne and you’re there.
When Lisa walked on stage, the crowd erupted into applause. Approximately 30% of them stood, their autographed Lisa Williams books clutched under their arms as they feverishly clapped and hooted.
Lisa! It’s really her!
Ansel and I were right with ’em. We could barely contain our excitement. Lisa! Lisa Williams! From TV!
Lisa went on and on with her cheeky self about the way this whole thing works. We were instructed not to be shy. Basically, if you think Lisa is talking about your dead friend or relative, raise your hand and make some noise. Eventually someone will bring you a microphone. And without further ado, she started.
Lisa talks to the empty space next to her, like ALL the time. She kind of turns her head, gets a message, sasses the dead a little and reports back to us. It was EXACTLY like Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost, right down to the “What have you done with your hair?” routine.
“Okay, I’m getting a Steven. Steven and a white truck.” (verbatim)
4 or 5 people seemed to know either a Steven or a white truck. There was a Tom in a white truck and a Stephanie in a blue truck. A woman in my row had a son named Stephen who shot himself in a truck, color unknown. Everyone had a tragic connection to either a Steven or a white truck. Finally, a woman in the balcony had a boyfriend named Steven. He died in a white sedan 6 weeks ago.
With further prodding, Lisa decided she was talking to the right person.
“He says he owes you a big apology.”
The woman in the balcony laughed.”He’s goddamned right he does.”
The audience then nervously giggled and applauded.
“He was cruel to you. You keep finding stuff. Bad stuff. He doesn’t want you to remember him this way. He’s so sorry.”
Steven was starting to sound like a real asshole, but Lisa was doing pretty good.
“Your mother is still mad at him. It was drugs, yes? Yes. It was not on purpose. He likes the website you made in his memory.”
The woman in the balcony gasped into the microphone.
Lisa continued. “But he hates the music.”
The woman in the balcony burst into laughter and tears.
I got the chills.
After every reading, an usher presented the read-ee with a single red rose I found this incredibly cheesy, like a convenience store rose is supposed to make you feel better that your douchebag boyfriend died and is apparently really sorry for treating you like shit while he was alive.
Over Lisa’s 2 hours, she did about 10 readings, spending 10 minutes on each person, interspersed with British banter with the space beside her. Often, she’s say, “Your grandfather is standing behind you, madam.” And then that was it about the grandfather because some distant aunt had some shit to say about the way you’re adjusting her meatloaf recipe.
The woman who had earlier mentioned that her son had killed himself in a truck was eventually pulled forward by some of Lisa’s clues. We then heard from a stepmother and father and grandfather as Lisa provided tiny details that seemed to shock her.
“What about her son?!?!” I hissed to Ansel. “Hello? An hour ago, she told us all that her son SHOT himself. Why the hell are we talking to her stepmother?”
“I don’t know.” Ansel said. “But she’s wasting my time.”
Each time Lisa would start a new reading, some invisible voice a foot away from her providing clues, our hearts would fall when they didn’t apply to Ansel.
Big fat man in suspenders with diabetes?
Little girl who died in a car accident?
Golden Gate Bridge jumper?
NO! While interesting for sure, none of these people sounded like Ansel’s mom. While such few number of people got readings, the nature of Lisa’s gift meant we got to hear a lot of tragic information.
“I have the name Mary and breast cancer and clothing with tags on them.”
Well, someone’s sister Mary had breast cancer. Another grandmother, Maria had breast cancer and clothing she never ended up wearing, the tags still hanging from them. A third had a brother named Marius who died of lung cancer, but owned a clothing business. Everyone was desperate for Lisa to be referring to their loved one, Ansel and myself included.
At one point, Lisa asked if anyone had a tiny stuffed animal collection and a grandfather.
My grandfather used to buy me tiny stuffed mice dressed in period clothing. I kept them in this weird frame on my wall. I’d completely forgotten about those mice. But tonight, my heart skipped a beat. Would my “Da” think of my childhood and remember the mice he used to buy me. But then the people around me started screaming out, “Turtles? I had stuffed turtles!”
“Wait! I had teddy bears. My grandfather made me teddy bears. I buried him with them!”
Ansel kept nudging me. “Say something.”
I was just about to shout, “Mice? Could it be little mice in outfits!?!?!”
But then Lisa said, “I think it’s monkeys.”
A gasp came from across the theater.
Lisa looked out and said, “Stuffed monkeys on a keychain.”
The gasper just about fainted. Her (dead) son had stuffed monkeys on a keychain. He died in a car accident. Lisa, jumping back and forth from jovial to serious, asked, “The seatbelt broke?”
Yes. The seatbelt broke.
I kept jumping back and forth as well. Half the time, I thought this whole thing was a big bag of bullshit. Other times, Lisa seemed to genuinely be communicating something. The talking to the invisible people was difficult to get around, as was Lisa’s ensemble.
“Oh you, hold on!” She’d say to the dead, then look at the audience member.”Your father won’t shut up!”
The two hours passed quickly and really, the whole thing was fun and interesting and at times, heartbreaking. One family had just lost their mother a few weeks ago, the deceased’s daughter and sister laughing and crying as they clutched each other and Lisa detailed tidbits like, “Chapstick. She always had chapstick. It was a joke, almost, she had so many tubes of chapstick.”
Tears, laughter and a single red rose.
But no Ansel’s mom.
Finally, Lisa began to wrap it up, addressing what we all were thinking. “I know many of you are disappointed. Obviously, I can’t get to everyone. But I hope you come away from this experience with something you can take home. Like the pennies.”
Apparently, whenever you find a penny, it’s the dead saying “what’s up?”
We were also supposed to get headaches on our way home from all of the energy in the room. Everyone then stood up to leave at once. There were no standing ovations, no starstruck whistles. The whole experience was emotionally exhausting. As we slowly filed out, I noted Janet Reno’s twin in front of me. She was holding a giant wooden mallard.
Obviously, Janet had hoped to speak with the owner of the mallard. And quite frankly, I would have loved to have seen Janet with this mallard in one hand and a red rose in the other. But she was just like everyone else, like me with Ansel’s framed photo tucked away in my handbag.
Suddenly everyone looked like desperate lemmings carrying around junk that should’ve gone to Goodwill before rigor mortis’d set in.
Ansel and I walked to our cars, deciding against the huge line for autographs. We didn’t want to buy Lisa’s book and we didn’t want to be the mallard lady anymore.
“What did you think?” Ansel asked me.
I couldn’t decide. Does Lisa really have some gift she’s parlayed into a cruise ship routine because she’s British and spunky and is a capitalist just like the rest of us? Or is she fucking with the often painful and raw memories of those us willing to believe what might easily be a cruel joke. I mean, they were selling bedazzled Lisa t-shirts.
But then again, she was on Oprah.
I asked Ansel what he thought.
“I want a private reading.”
“I bet that costs a fortune.”
Ansel stared straight ahead.”I don’t give a shit how much it costs. You and I are flying to Los Angeles and I’m getting my reading.”
Fair enough. Obviously, I’m in.
I cannot imagine losing my mom.
And I really cannot imagine being a 17 year old gay kid in a red state and losing my mom.
While I’m still torn on Lisa and her gift, I couldn’t be more certain that wherever she is, Ansel’s mother is so proud of him, so thankful he’s keeping her memory alive and still with him every day, in one way or another.
But if my number one rehab gay wants his single red rose, a reading he shall get!
“What if it’s like, a thousand dollars?” I asked Ansel.
“Visa.” Ansel said.”It’s everywhere you want to be.”