The Seventh Ritual: a race for survival
Definitely a page-turner
This book arrived when I had a lot of work to get done. However, once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down! I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting until midnight. This compelling and haunting story unfolds through two parallel voices which skillfully spin a dramatic and hardcore reality hitting both light and deep notes. One to remember...
-- HC, Barcelona, July 2009
(Chapter One) excerpt
THE STARTING LINE
I was so overly eager that even my fingertips got hard. The plastic, painted-over doorbell I’d intentionally passed by so many times at the corner of Bleecker and Seventh in lower Manhattan was finally staring me in the face. The time had approached to press it. What was she going to look like? What was she going to say? How much was she going to charge me? This was my first time. Perhaps it’s only natural to feel a little afraid.
The crimson curtains behind the angelically glass-stained windows had opened and closed without me even being able to see who’s in back of them. With no sneak peek at my destiny, the door flung open and there she was. How normal- and unadorned-looking, not at all what I was expecting. She still had an exotic kind of beauty, yet her expression appeared a little tired and worn. “I rewind. My husband return,” was her greeting to me, while she carried her cordless phone with her right hand and an unlit, unfiltered Camel in her left.
“What? Excuse me,” I said at the same time as I popped a Velamint into my mouth to cover up the oniony Gyro I’d just scarfed down.
“No, I talk to the Blockbuster. You come in.”
I stepped in and looked everywhere I could for any other living soul, but I somehow knew that she and I were alone.
As I questioned apprehensively with my hands where I should place my warm winter jacket I had just taken off, the late-twenty-something woman asked, “Upstairs or down?”
“Where you want to do this?”
“May I look up—”
Seeming as if she’d worked this room more than a few times before, the woman said, “Sure, sure. Everybody like to get it upstairs.”
I could tell that continuing the conversation with the video store was vitally important to her. Forgetting to rewind certainly does come with a price. Walking up the stylish metallic spiral staircase with its period 70’s shag-covered lemon yellow steps was like entering a scene from Shaft. But as soon as I heard Don’t Wanna Lose You by Gloria Estefan, I knew it wasn’t necessarily going to be as mystical and other-worldly as I’d imagined. Easy listening had always been like an aphrodisiac to me. The upstairs, composed of three posh black leather couches, red satin pillows, a few chairs and a multi-woofered Bang & Olufsen sound system was more than impressive.
As she came nearer to me, wearing baggy gray flannel sweat pants and a shoulder-length, dishwater-blond braided pony tail, I told her, “This is fine. Let’s do it here.”
“Sure. It doesn’t matter to me.”
“So, you got the problem with your video worked out?”
“They always do this. Tell me I don’t rewind Die Hard 2. I hate that. My husband watch it after I rewind, then he don’t rewind. Is not my fault. Is my husband problem. Why—”
Not having much spare cash on hand, I didn’t want to waste my time with small talk, so I interrupted her by asking, “How much is this going to cost?”
“What you want?”
“Gosh, I don’t really know. What do you have?”
“Psychic reading is twenty. Aura is thirty. Tarot is fifty.”
“Well, I think a psychic reading is fine. May we just do that?”
Without further delay I made myself as comfortable as possible in the middle of New York’s Greenwich Village. I took a deep breath as my fingers clenched the arms of the red velour-covered seat I was in, while my unclenched butt felt as if it was getting ready for a Loew’s bargain matinee to begin.
“What is your God name?”
“My God name? I’m not really relig—”
“No. Just tell me your name.”
“Paul Anthony Jacobson.”
“October twenty-eighth, 1957. Oakland, California. But now I live in San Francisco.”
“Just date. Don’t tell me rest.”
Hearing my brief bio. made the woman’s eyes shut deliberately. This gave me time to study her up-too-late movie-watching face in depth. But, as soon as I began concentrating on her dangly plastic purple crucifix earrings that looked like they might have been fashioned for extra credit by a home ec. freshman, the phone began ringing. I thought the Blockbuster-rewind problem had already been solved. What’s up now? Her eyes remained closed. Someone else answered the phone.
“You are a good person. What do you think of when I say the initial J?”
“Yes, who is this person that make you so sad?”
I was beyond startled. How did she know such a thing? “That’s Justin. We…well, I decided not to—”
“I don’t need to know that either. This man make you very unhappy for the past two weeks.”
“Yes, that’s why I’m here. How did you—”
“I know these things, I am fifth-generation psychic. You have been thinking about him and that make you unhappy.” Then, looking as if she’d heard it broadcast by Tom Brokaw on the nightly news the woman opened her eyes widely and said, “You have always been like this. Extremely sad on inside.”
Oops, her first mistake. “Well, I don’t know about that. I only want to know if Justin and I are ever going to get back together.”
Immediately, without needing time to ponder, she said, “Juspin will come back to you, but it will be your choice. You will decide if you will be friends or more than that.” Then, the instantly-absentminded woman seemed to run out of words for a second or two. “Who is this person who is extremely jealous of you? M?” she said, with a sour wrinkled-up face.
“Jealous? M? I have no idea.”
“This person meditates against you daily. Extremely jealous.”
How in the world could I even respond to that? How absurd. “Michael?” I wondered out loud.
“No. A woman.”
“Let me concentrate better.”
“Well, maybe we should just get back to Justin.”
“No, nothing will happen with him…until you can get rid of this negative.”
“How about acting? I’m thinking of giving it up, and maybe doing something else.”
“You are good at this. You are creative and you like to help people,” she told me while looking even more constipated.
“So, I will be doing something else? I will quit acting?”
“I’m not seeing this. I see no future,” she answered with a blank expression.
“Well, maybe you’re still thinking about Die Hard 2. Maybe if you concentrated a bit more.”
“No, nothing will change. As long as this negative is in your life. Nothing.” Then, in an instant, it’s like this woman with her dangling crucifixes below her holy earlobes and what looked like leftover muesli from breakfast still stuck in between her braces, gave up. “Nothing. I’m not seeing it.” Then, in her white Keds with candy cane-colored shoelaces, she stood straight up.
“But, I’m not finished. I have a few more questions.”
“Nothing will change. Everything you know is false. You must change. And you must do this very quickly.”
“Change? Oh, but I am changing. I started going to therapy.”
“No. Who is M? Nothing will change. Nothing good.” After a pause, Madame X said, “I will find who this person is, so you can do something about it. I am very, very busy. But for you, I meditate on this for days, weeks, if I need to. You’re good person. I do this for you.”
“Well, thanks. Because, right now, I have no idea.”
“It is much work. But for being nice person, the cost for you only is five hundred dollar.”
In a flash, whatever fear, anxiety or apprehension I may have been feeling had vanished and instead I became completely enraged. Furious. I realized I was being scammed, robbed. I couldn’t even reply. I just stared at this woman with my normally optimistic clear brown eyes now only being able to see negative. “No. I don’t have five hundred dollars. I’ll figure it out on my own.”
“But you must do this.”
“That’ll be my decision. I’m done now. Thank you,” I said as I reached into my pocket to give the woman her twenty dollars for my first-time reading.
“You’re not understanding what I’m telling you,” the woman told me with a fierce sincerity exuding from her bloodshot, baby blue soothseers.
“I said I don’t have five hundred dollars.”
“Money for you, in future, is never going to be a problem. You can give this to me. I will meditate for as long as I have to, no matter how tired it make me, to help you.”
“No. I’ve got to go.”
All the woman could do was watch as I bolted towards my downward spiral. She disgusted me. I thought, how could my closest friend, Jenna, have recommended this far from reputable crank? Someone who’s such a blatant con?
To my incredible disbelief, the woman followed me down the stairs, almost chasing me. Then, calling me by name she said, “Paul Anthony, you’ve got to. You must to discover the cause of your unhappiness before the end of this year…or you will not live to see the next. I’m not seeing future. 1992 is almost here. Less than two months remain…you must to hurry.”
What amazed me more than this latest outlandish prediction was the look on her face as she uttered my death sentence. She appeared to be genuine, concerned. Even tugging at my arm tightly, jerking me back, and preventing me from going down any further. For a moment, while I took my last step before touching ground, my new New Balance running shoes began to lose theirs. The woman’s behavior was startling. If I had closed my eyes, and pretended this woman was not a psychic scam-artist, I maybe would have felt like this was a confidante of mine, someone actually trying to help me, someone who really cared.
From one seasoned actor to another, I told her with stage presence and my best diction, “I’ll think about it,” and I waved my hand goodbye. Of course I was never going to think about it. How absolutely ridiculous.
Although it would be one of the shortest and easiest of my training, my two-mile run through fall-foliaged Central Park was turning out to be one of the most challenging. Every little uphill incline was like a Swiss Matterhorn climb for me and my legs. It wasn’t the physical discomfort I was feeling, it was everything filtering down from my brain. The training I had done for my past marathons went smoothly every time. I always knew I would finish each one well, based on the by-the-book and precise preparations I had accomplished with little problem beforehand.
Who is this M? What garbage. Why did I have to hear all this weirdness just two days before the marathon? And the date. Why before December thirty-first? Absolute nonsense. In addition to my crammed-full head, I was also developing a headache. The timing of everything couldn’t have been worse.
If only I could begin focusing on something entirely different, everything would become clear again, I thought. Nature’s brief oasis amid the manmade mayhem intrigued me. Although the humidity lingering outside wasn’t doing my brown wavy hair any favors.
The hyperactive and, most likely, horny squirrels running around on the ground as
fast as possible then back up the trees again. The other runners, many of whom I could tell would be chasing each other in the marathon now only two days away. So much was out there to occupy my mind. And, my sensitive ears seemed to be picking up every single baby’s cry in the park. I had passed by several in strollers, and others being held lovingly in their mother’s arms. Each one of them screaming as if they were all in intolerable pain. I guess teething does that to a person.
Just as my mind reverted back to the peculiar expression on the lady’s face when she delivered her proclamation of doom, I was almost knocked down to the pavement by a dread-locked redhead high-speed roller-blader. “Sorry, man,” was all he was able to offer in a barely post-adolescent voice. Then, he whisked away from me with no regard for my feelings whatsoever.
It’s ridiculous to believe I deserved to have some sort of accident or fatal misfortune coming my way. Perhaps I should just be more careful, I thought. Look both ways. “Better safe, than sorry,” my mom always told me.
A hot, generically-priced Walgreen’s-brand aloe bubble bath had always worked for me and whatever mood I was in. Everything was in perfect order, all planned out. I could tell my mind would get back to normal once I had finished my most favorite ritual of all.
Just having scrubbed off my Queen Helene’s Mint Julip masque from my freshly-exfoliated face, I grabbed for my custom-ordered Keanu Reeves mug filled with Chamomile tea, milk and honey, and I carried it to my bath. The bathwater temperature wasn’t too cold or too hot, it was ‘just right,’ perfect should Goldilocks pay a surprise visit.
Staying for free in my friend Tracy’s apartment in Astoria, while she was away in Iowa directing a play, was such a money-saver. Although a closet fag hag, Tracy’s a natural nurturer to both gays and straights alike. Being two Cal theatre alums, Tracy was the only one smart enough to remain offstage after graduating. She loved Manhattan but couldn’t afford its prices apparently. Since I’d never known that much about Queens, specifically, the borough of Queens, my stay ended up being a very Italian-American learning experience.
Putting my newly, lightly-buffed big toe with its allover tan into my makeshift spa as a test was a success. A well-deserved A for effort. Transporting myself into such needed tranquility was going to be heavenly. Total relaxation. Total abandonment. At a time when I needed it most. My closed eyes felt like they were meant to. Alone. Quiet. At peace. Then the phone rang.
While not wanting to drench the clean floor, I did my best to take it slow while still hurrying to get to the phone in time. I wasn’t expecting a call from Tracy for another hour or so. Why was she calling me so early?
After picking up the receiver, hoping I wouldn’t become electrocuted to death by the ‘stepping out of the shower-touching anything electric’ myth, I caught my breath and said, “Hello.”
“So, are you still doing your training runs?” my mother Barbara asked while I knew she was picking at her face with her right thumb and left forefinger.
“Of course, Mom.”
“And make sure to eat three bananas right after the race. If your legs cramp too often, you’ll wind up with varicose veins.”
“Yeah, I’ll make sure to do that.”
“I’ve told everybody to watch it on TV. Did you get the Oakland A’s tee-shirt I sent you? Canseco on the back? That’s how they’ll be able to tell it’s you.”
There’s no way I’d ever wear that. Well, only if Jose Canseco’s bulges came with it. “Yes, I did. Thanks. I still want to wear something I’m familiar with though. Worn in.”
“Paul, that’s my favorite team. It’ll bring you good luck.”
“Mom, no one’ll ever be able to see me. There’s nearly thirty-five thousand runners.” Not really understanding her reasoning that entirely well, I still appreciated my mother’s support.
“Well, at least promise to call me after you’ve finished. After all, I’m your biggest fan. I’m always thinking about you.”
Never in a million years would I ever admit to anyone that the TV show that made me laugh the most was Mama’s Family. It’s just too dumb. But, it’s one I could watch over and over again, if only to hear Mama, Thelma Harper, say, “Well, what the…?” as she smacked her son Vint senseless with a folded up copy of the Raytown Bugle. I loved every easily-predictable second of it.
Just as I became deeply engrossed in the plot’s climax, Mama with a slight limp, returning home from the Raytown National Bank after slipping on a roll of quarters, my phone rang.
Hearing my petite five-foot-one best friend say, “Paul. I just wanted to wish you well,” meant the world to me.
“I’m glad you called. I’m a little nervous. So much has been on my mind.”
With her two dogs that flunked out of obedience school barking uncontrollably in the background, Jenna asked enthusiastically, “What about that psychic I recommended? Did you go? Are you and Justin getting back together?”
“Jenna. Are you kidding? That woman was a joke. Why’d you send me there?” I asked while scrutinizing the paradox that lives within her, her great intelligence combined with her faithful belief in this crap.
“Why do you say that?”
“She was nuts. She told me that I needed to get rid of my negativity, to figure out why I was so unhappy, by the end of the year…or I was going to die. Before January first.”
“You’re not surprised? And what? She told me Justin would come back to me, but it’s my choice if I want him in my life or not, or something like that.”
“Jenna. What? It was laughable. OK. And, she told me that someone named M was meditating against me daily, someone who’s extremely jealous of me.”
“You didn’t tell her you knew me, did you? You never mentioned my name?”
“When I was there she’d told me the same story. Someone thinking negative thoughts about me. She told me the jealous woman was my mother.”