A few weeks ago, Sylvia Browne came to Boston. I didn’t realize it until the day before, when my friends and I were chatting about her and one of them happened to take a look at her tour schedule online. The seats ranged from $35 to $75 depending on where in the convention hall you wanted to sit. Surprisingly, the seats that were closer to her freakish clown face were the more expensive ones. They were all sold out — possibly by the masochistic and blind — leaving only the $35 back-of-the-house seats, which the web site said would be available one hour before showtime at will call.
Of course I had to go. I had to do . . . something. There was no time to organize an effective protest of any sort, so instead I adopted the opposite tactic of going undercover. Again.
Before you get excited, there were no big confrontations. I was unable to get close enough to her to throw a pie, and had I the opportunity, I may have chosen to eat the pie instead since I didn’t have any dinner. Plus of course the pie would have only improved her horrific countenance and provided her with more fuel to continue her growth cycle.
I showed up and walked to the door of the convention hall. A security guard was standing just outside, so I asked him where I could buy will call tickets. He pointed inside and said I should go to the back of the room where the book table was. I walked in and saw the stage to my left and rows upon rows of chairs, split up into three sections by wristband color – purple, green, or blue. To my right, the book table was doing big business, surrounded by people wheeling and dealing. There were no ticket sales to be seen. I sat down in a middle section.
I had come straight from work, and it’s a lucky thing that my work outfit that day consisted of a long-sleeved hoodie, under which I had a recording device strapped to my wrist with duct tape. Sometimes I like to dress like that. It’s my thing.
I looked around but was unable to find any non-disclosure agreements. I did find a big box of white wrist bands with spiritually encouraging words written on them, available for a suggested donation of $1. I took that suggestion into account while I snapped a few up.
The show began with cold reader “psychic barber” Gordon Smith warming up the crowd with a big steaming plate of bullshit. He moved through the crowd doing standard cold reading junk, some of it more despicable than the usual. Then Sylvia came out and did a “lecture,” which was like an hour of ramblings from your demented aunt your mother makes you go see once every other month. I was half expecting her to offer us hard candies.
Then she led the crowd through a collective meditation. They played new age music while Sylvia talked in a soothing manner . . . well, as soothing a manner as she can get I guess. Imagine being sung to sleep by a mutant bullfrog. Then the bullfrog bites you on the eyeball. It was like that, only much, much worse.
After we all woke up refreshed from our journey into our inner consciousness, Sylvia called wristband numbers to choose who got to ask a single question of her. At this point, I was very sad that I had no wristband. She actually chose a lot of numbers, so my chances of getting a hold of the microphone would’ve been pretty good. At one point I got up and walked over to the line forming behind the mic, hoping to blend in. That’s when I saw a woman making her way down the row to check bands, so I slipped back out.
On a purely professional level, I must admit that this tactic was brilliant. It’s like cold reading, but the other person doesn’t even get a moment to respond. For those who aren’t familiar, cold reading is a method that magicians and “psychics” use to throw out names or ideas at a person and judge his reaction. It’s why psychics always start out a bit general (“I’m getting a ‘J'”) and then work their way in to the specifics they pick up off their subjects. In this case, though, Sylvia can say anything and get away with it by just moving on to the next person. At one point she told a man to eat less carbs. When he objected and said he didn’t eat carbs, she laughed and told him to stop lying to her, she’s psychic. The audience laughed and applauded and the next person began asking her question. There were even two different microphones, one on either side of the stage, to facilitate this. Brilliant.
My friend Robert Lancaster recently launched a site called Stop Sylvia Browne. I told him about my experience the day after it happened, and I let him know I’d give him a transcript of the three-hour show. It has been more than a month, and I have not done this. It’s not just that I’ve been busy. It’s not just that it’s difficult to type all that out. It’s that listening to that soul sucking harpy spew her garbage at one person after another, one poor, deluded and fragile victim after another, is just way too much for me sometimes.
I’m going to try to do a bit at a time, which I’ll post for your horror.