Archive for June, 2008

Is Hypnosis Real?

June 26, 2008

Now why in the world would anyone write about this subject?  I do so because, several years ago, I became a certified hypnotherapist through classes at the New Orleans Gestalt Institute.  I did not wake up one morning and think, “I should learn hypnosis.”  On the contrary, my wife and I were attending classes being taught by a psychologist/friend who, as a part of the class, wanted to illustrate how people move their eyes when they are lying.  We started the exercise and I told several whoppers at which point the instructor responded, “I don’t understand, your eyes are not following the normal pattern.”  I responded proudly, “That is because, as a magician, I am a professional liar,” putting myself in an elite group with many salesmen and most politicians.  Later in a private conversation, she said, “You should study hypnosis.”

So I did.  I went to the Gestalt Institute for several weeks where we learned how to apply hypnotic technique within the therapy framework of neuro-linguistic programming.  If you are not familiar with NLP, it is way more than I can share here, but in essence it deals with how the brain learns and processes information.  Hypnosis is simply a tool to get past the conscious mind to the subconscious.  My initial goal was to become a hypnotherapist.  In fact, I did work with a few people for a short time doing behavior modification, such as smoking cessation and eating disorders.  But, having had several years of experience working in comedy clubs, I found it tedious.

What I did learn is that behavior modification can be a lot of fun at parties.  My daughter was 12 at the time and I had done magic at several of her birthday parties.  So that particular year she asked, “Can you do anything else?”  “Why, yes I can!” I answered gleefully.  I had not yet attempted hypnosis for fun or public humiliation, but this anxious group of pre-teens afforded a golden opportunity.

I would point to my recliner and tell them, “Everyone who sits in this chair goes into a deep trance.”  “Really?  Me first, me first!”  They were halfway there already.  I told this girl to relax, listen to the sound of my voice, stuff like that.  Then I suggested that, when she awoke, she would be a lion.  I woke her up and, just to make sure I did not seriously screw her up, I asked, “What’s your name?”  Blank stare.  I asked again…nothing.  I was getting a little worried when I remembered, lions don’t talk.  So I yelled, “GET OUT OF THE CHAIR!”  She went, “ROAR” and crawled over the back of the chair, skulking down the hallway on all fours.  Possibly even more fun than that was the look on the other eleven girls’ faces! 

After awakening her, it was time for number two.  For the next girl I suggested that she become a Chinese waitress.  She would understand English but she would only speak Chinese and, when she did, she would say, “Yin yang, yin yang.”  I woke her up and did the check of asking her name and again, no response.  So I said, “Waitress!”  She popped out of the chair and looked at me like, “What do you want?”  “That lady wants to order,” I said, pointing to my wife, who was sitting there with her mouth wide open.  Apparently she had never seen me do this before.  Oh yeah, I had never done this before.  But, being the cool professional liar that I am, I acted like I was in complete control.  So she walked over to my wife as if she were holding a pad, and my wife looked at me like, “What do I do?”  “Order something,” I said.  She asked. “Do you have Moo Goo Gai Pan?”  “Yin yang, yin yang,” the girl said and made a note on her “pad.”  Then I said to her, “That lady wants to order, too,”  pointing to a very shocked mom that had hung around for the spectacle.  She ordered egg rolls or something and the game went on.

Now, was this real or were they just acting out to fool their friends?  Let me answer with the most unbelievable event of the night.  One girl had been trying to do a split earlier in the evening, and she could get down 85% of the way, but that was all.  So I hypnotized her and suggested that, when she awoke, she could be anyone she wanted to be.  I woke her up and asked her name, and she said, “Miss Barbara.”  Since that was not her name, I said, “Great, what do you do?”  “I am a ballet teacher,” she responded.  This was getting good.  “Can you give us a demonstration?”  “Sure,” she said and started to dance all over the living room.  But no one was as impressed as when she went into a split and literally bounced off the floor.  No pain, no problem, it was a full split.  Now, how was this possible?

I have thought about that over the years and this is what I believe happens.  Under hypnosis, the body reacts to what the mind tells it is true.  That is to say, she was always capable of doing a split but her mind told her she couldn’t because it might hurt.  But under hypnosis, she was not herself, she was Miss Barbara, whom she knew was fully capable of doing a split.  So when she made the attempt, the body relaxed sufficiently to allow the muscles and tendons to stretch enough to accommodate the move she knew she could do.

I have heard of people under hypnosis being blistered by a pencil eraser.  This is how I believe it works.  The subject is shown a pencil and told, “See this cigarette?”  Notice they are not told, “This pencil is a cigarette,” because that creates a contradiction.  But if they are told it is a cigarette and they believe it, then the body is prepared to react to the reality it perceives.  So, if I point to the eraser and say, “See the fire glowing?” and they go, “Uh huh,” then I can touch them with the eraser and it will raise a blister.  Why?  Because the blister is not the result of fire, it is the result of the body’s defense mechanism against a threat regardless of whether that threat is real or perceived. 

Please, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!  All of this is simply to shed insight on a couple of issues.  One, hypnosis is real, just ask the guy under the dental drill with no anesthesia.  And two, now we know why my daughter is the way she is after having me around during her developmental years.  Poor girl!

Be Careful What You Wish For

June 22, 2008

Remember when you were a kid?  I am having more and more trouble doing just that, but sometimes a memory bursts through the fog created by the 70’s and I have a flashback to childhood.  One of the memories that haunts me the most is remembering how I wished I was older. 

You know what I mean.  You can’t wait to be tall enough to ride the cool rides at the amusement park.  You can’t wait to be old enough to drive.  You can’t wait to be old enough to drink legally.  That particular goal of mine was tarnished considerably by Florida law.  In the 70’s (wait, I can almost picture it…there it is) the legal drinking age was 21.  Upon the occasion of one’s 21st birthday it was traditional to gather a group of your closest friends, go out and get trashed; behavior that is a lot of why the memory is increasingly vague.  My birthday is November 2 which is very close to election day.  In 1973, as I anticipated my right of passage, Florida was voting on a bill to change the legal drinking age.  As luck would have it, the day before my birthday the legal drinking age was lowered to 18.  So, was I supposed to go out and get stupid in the company of a bunch of high schoolers?  In protest I went and gorged myself at the local Baskin Robbins.

 I was as guilty as anyone of wishing I was older than I was.  In retrospect I should have been hanging on to the simplicities of youth.  The time before jobs, taxes, kids of my own wishing they were old enough to get out of the house.  And parents, don’t believe that myth about “empty nest syndrome.”  Don’t waste time wishing they were still around because they WILL move back in.  All I can say is continue to treat them nicely because they are the ones who will be picking your nursing home, and it ain’t gonna be in the back part of their house, either.  I am not sure I want that anyway.  Who wants their kid telling them, “Wake up, sleepy head.”  “I don’t care if you don’t like tofu, there are plenty of hungry kids who would love to have what you have,”  “Where did you leave your teeth this time?”

As often as I wished I were older, I very seldom find myself wishing I were younger.  Oh, there are times.  Like playing softball (yes, I still play softball), except now I have to hit a triple to get to first.  I still play second base and I still go to my left very well after that hot grounder, but it is tough making the throw after falling down and rolling several times.  I recently played a game against a church at which I had volunteered with their music program for 10 months, so we knew each other well.  “Come on, old man, you ain’t got nothing.”  So I went four for four and, each time I got to first, proudly called out, “Courtesy runner.”  Kinda takes the sting out of the hard liner to left.

But for the most part, I am content with my age.  I was at a store the other day and someone was giving out samples of some antioxidant, energy drink that was supposed to extend your life by 10 to 15 years.  I told him, “Why would I want that?  I have a reservation at the banquet table with the King of the universe.”  I’m not sure I want to put that off for another 15 years of living in the nursing home wondering where in the world my teeth are this time.

Black Coffee

June 19, 2008

coffee shop in AustinMy wife drinks her coffee black.  Not just black, strong black, and with chicory, when available.  Now that’s just fine with me, except I drink mine with cream and sugar.  Which is fine as well, except for the occasional kidding I get from her about how her daddy drinks his coffee black, and this is so good black, and why don’t I try it black.  Truth is, I rarely drank coffee at all until I made a couple of trips to Brazil. 

In Brazil they drink locally grown coffees and each region has its own label.  One I found particularly good was “Cafe Bom Jesus,” or “Good Jesus Coffee.”  That was not actually a spiritual proclamation, that was the name of the region in which it was grown.  “O Cafe’ Para Quem Gosta De Cafe’, the coffee for people who like coffee.”  I’ll tell you this much, I began to like coffee while in Brazil.  It was dark and strong and they served it with plenty of sugar and scalded milk.  They literally would heat milk in a pan until it formed a skin, then use a plate to hold the skin back while they would pour the milk into your cup.  And the milk constituted about half the total amount, which was good considering how strong the coffee was to begin with.  The closest thing to it I have ever had in the U.S. is the “Cafe’ au Lait” you get at Cafe’ du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

By the time I got home I was finally a coffee drinker.  I now make pots of it, dark and strong, which delights my wife.  She tells me black coffee is an acquired taste.  If I recall correctly, that is the same thing I heard about bourbon and cigarettes.

I tried a cigarette a couple of times when I was a kid.  Besides nearly hacking up a lung, I could not get the taste out of my mouth for the rest of the day, which was not the most pleasant childhood experience I can recall.  Later during my college years, I was fishing with a redneck friend who chewed tobacco.  “Give me a chaw of that,” I said, wanting to prove I was every bit as much a redneck as he was.  I gave it about three chews before I spit the entire wad over the side of the boat into the St. John’s River, resulting in a large aggregate of dead fish floating to the surface.  Plus, it took TWO days to get that taste out of my mouth.  Okay, tobacco is apparently not my vice of choice.

When I was a kid my dad was a home builder.  Contractors spend a lot of money on building materials, so sales people are eager to bribe builders into buying from them.  And the bribe of choice around Christmas time was liquor.  And not the cheap stuff, either.  I’m talking Crown Royal kind of liquor.  Now I don’t ever recall seeing my dad drink more than a couple of times my entire life.  So we ended up with this huge stash of alcohol in the pantry.  I’m not sure what he was saving it for, but there it was, taking up most of a shelf.  One day I was feeling particularly brave and I asked my dad, “What does liquor taste like?”  Instead of giving me a lecture on the evils of alcohol and how I would go to hell for drinking it, he grabbed a bottle of 12-year-old Scotch and poured me a shot.  “Try this, boy.”  So I tossed it down only to discover why it is called a shot.  I would not have felt worse if I HAD been shot!  It tasted bad, it burned, and that was the last time in my life I have ever had Scotch. 

These days I drink black coffee occasionally.  And, although I seldom admit this, my wife is right about how you get a better sense of the true coffee flavor without additives.  About the only time I will drink my coffee black is when I’m having it with a dessert.  But in the morning with something salty, like a big plate of bacon and eggs, please do not lecture me.  Just let me fix a pot of Bom Jesus, complete with sugar and cream, and I will be just fine.

TV Show and Movie Knock-offs

June 15, 2008

Being keenly observant I finally noticed how, when someone has a good idea for a movie or TV show, someone else rips it off and tries to come out with theirs about the same time.  In 2007 two very similar movies, “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige,” premiered at nearly the same time.  Both were period pieces set in the late 1800s and each dealt with magicians.  Much earlier, “Antz” came out the same month as “A Bug’s Life.”  This has apparently been going on for years, so I did a little research and discovered some lesser known look-alikes that premiered in conjunction with better known classics.

  • “American Idol”   Debuting the same year was “American Doodle.”  Contestants were cartoonists and caricature artists.  Judges would critique their work as they tried to doodle their way to fame, hoping to get past a degrading remark from judge Simon Scowl.  The program ran two hours, but the contestants seem to have very little trouble drawing it out.  It was cancelled that same year.
  • “What Not to Wear”   Released the same month was a similar show, “What Not To Watch.”  The more popular show is about women with fashion disasters.  The look-alike started similarly, but the plot twisted when a test audience of men were shown grabbing remotes and channel surfing for 30 minutes trying to find ANYTHING else to watch featuring balls, cars or sweat.  It was cancelled that same year.
  • “So You Think You Can Dance”   Premiering one week later was “So You Stink When You Dance,” a show featuring amateur dancers from around the country competing in front of a panel of judges.  The best dancers were sent to work in Las Vegas casinos while the worst would advance to the finals.  The “winner” would get a contract to dance in a Beijing restaurant for Anthony Bourdain, who had no reservation.  It was cancelled that same year.
  • “House”   This very popular show about a bad-tempered doctor was paralleled with the release of “Louse.”  A man with a bad attitude worked as a veterinarian diagnostician in a prestigious animal hospital.  In the season premiere, Louse acted like a horse’s butt while examining a horse’s butt.  It was cancelled that same year.
  • “Bones”   A knock-off debuting the same week was called “Boners.”  A woman with a position as a forensic anthropologist made mistake after mistake while trying to solve crimes with her partner, who worked as a detective for the Keystone Cops.  It was cancelled that same year.

This phenomena was just as prevelant in the movies.  Consider the following:

  • “Legally Blond”   Released one month after this classic was “Illegally Bond.”  This movie opened with secret agent 007 receiving an assignment to infiltrate the headquarters of Al Qaeda and assasinate Osama Ben Ladin by using his wits, charm and an exploding poodle.  Bond, looking at the plan over a martini (shaken, not stirred) responded, “Whatever!”  This movie immediately went to DVD and is a hard-to-find cult classic.
  • “The Incredible Hulk”   This has been a comic book, a TV show and three times a movie.  But many people missed the 1966 knock-off, “The Incredible Bulk.”  Those crazy Cosby kids, Bill, Donald and Mush Mouth, band together to stop a rampaging child who, when he gets mad, turns into Fat Albert.
  • “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan”   This comedy, featuring Adam Sandler, was immediately followed by “You Don’t Mess With the Zoloft.”  In this movie the main character, played by Robert DeNiro, takes massive amounts of the mood-altering drug Zoloft to help him deal with depression from watching a 16-hour Adam Sandler movie marathon.  Interestingly, the marathon also featured two knock-offs:  “Unhappy Gilmore,” the depressing story of game show host Bob Barker being beaten in a golf tournament by a hockey-loving goof, and “The Water Buoy,” a movie that spent two hours showing a water buoy bobbing up and down, which was every bit as entertaining as “The Water Boy.”

The Cricket Bag

June 11, 2008

“A man in a tuxedo walks into a bait shop…”  This must sound like the set-up for a joke.  But no, this is the true story of my first encounter with crickets as bait.  My wife and I were spending the weekend with two other couples at a place on the Tchefuncte River.  My friend James had brought his bass boat, and Glen had a canoe.  There was a dock and a place to swim, so altogether this had the makings of a great weekend.

Glen was a prolific beer drinker.  That Saturday night, after a long day of Glen’s heavy drinking, I was awakened by the sound of him getting up and walking to the bathroom.  I heard a loud bump and a louder “&%#!!”.  I giggled a little at his plight, and noticed my wife had awakened as well.  Being in a small cabin it was not hard to hear the waterfall as he vented the day’s drink.  But he went on, and on, and on.  I started to laugh, trying hard to hold it in.  But my wife started to laugh, too, and we both lay in bed shaking violently as we tried hard not to laugh out loud as the waterfall went on, and on, and on.  Finally I said as quietly as I could, “Why are you laughing?”  She said, “No wonder he braved whatever he bumped into, he REALLY had to go!”  “That’s why I’m laughing, too!” I said, and we both exploded into loud guffaws.  Fortunately Glen was oblivious to our laughter.

Sunday I had to do a magic show in town.  In those days I wore a tuxedo, even for a kid’s party.  James said to me before I left, “There’s a bait shop in Madisonville.  Why don’t you stop and get some crickets and we will bream fish when you get back.”  Sounded like a plan.

I did the party and, as I was driving back to the cabin, found the bait shop right where James said it would be.  I walked in still dressed in my tux and, as the proprietor eyed me suspiciously, I asked for 50 crickets.  He promptly served them up in a small, brown paper bag which I stuffed into my pocket as I headed back to the cabin.  After arriving, I changed into jeans and a T-shirt, transferring the cricket bag to my pants pocket and I went to find James.

He asked, “Did you get the crickets?”  “Yeah, I have them right here,” I said, pulling out the bag.  He said, “They didn’t give you a box?”  “Were they supposed to?” I responded, genuinely confused.  I had never fished with crickets and did not know about the now familiar box with the two small holes and revolving top where you could release them one at a time, then close it off so more would not escape.  “Well,” he said, “we’ll have to make do.”  So we headed down to the bank for the boat.

“We’re just going over to the other bank,” he said, “so let’s take the canoe.”  So we got in with me in front and James in back.  We paddled to the other side and it was time to bait up.  As carefully as I could, I opened the top of the bag and grabbed the first cricket that crawled out, handing it to James.  The second one I grabbed for me.  The third and fourth jumped past me into the bottom of the canoe before I could close the bag.  Oh well, a little less bait.

For easier access I laid the bag in the bottom of the canoe.  As often is the case, the bottom of the canoe had a little water in it and before too long the bag was wet.  The next time I tried to get a cricket, the bag broke and crickets went everywhere!  James was yelling at me because the bait was now all over the place, but I had a much greater concern.  One of the crickets had made his way up the leg of my jeans and was headed north.  As he passed my knee I was slapping and yelling as the canoe started tipping back and forth.  “Sit still or you’ll tip us over,” James yelled.  But that cricket was on the move and I was determined to stop him before he reached critical mass.  I finally was able to grab him through the denim and smash him between my fingers.  By that time, most of the rest of the crickets had jumped over the side so we paddled back to the shore.

We caught no fish that day, but I think in the end James found the experience profitable, judging by how many times over the next twenty years he would chuckle as he said to me in front of our construction worker friends, “Jimbeaux, tell ’em about the cricket bag!”