Last week, while visiting New York, I went to a restaurant in my old neighborhood near St. Marks Place. My friend Jamison met me there, and as we were finishing up our potato pancakes, a girl walked over to our table.
“Hi,” she said, sweetly, and with a slight Eastern European accent. “I’m so sorry to bother you, but my friend, he works here, and he said you were here, and I’m a really big fan.”
“Oh, thanks!” I said. “It’s so nice to meet you.” She smiled, and asked if she could take a photo with me. I looked at Jamison, who gave me the go-ahead. Not only is he endlessly patient, but he’s someone who’s known me since we were both fifteen, so he’s seen this happen before. And it’s not as if I’m immune to getting starstruck: eight years ago, in the very same neighborhood, I ran into Jane Lynch at a coffee shop. She was polite and gracious as I went up to her table and gushed about how much I loved her in everything I’d ever seen her in. (I met her for real at a benefit a few months ago, and mercifully, she did not remember.)
We took the photos and she thanked us graciously. While Jamison went off to wash his hands, I went to the front to pay.
“Are you the actress that played Matilda?” The tall man in glasses behind the counter asked me.
“Yes,” I told him, and he nodded.
“My friend wanted to meet you,” he said, explaining that he was the manager. Immediately, he seemed like a familiar type: one of the offbeat, slightly eccentric characters that once ran the East Village. St. Marks Place may be nowhere near the punk playground it was years ago, but it’s still full of characters. At least once a week I think of the middle-aged man in sunglasses I saw a few years ago on Second Avenue, yelling to a friend that he was “still waiting on my check from the Italian government!”
“So,” he said to me, “Can you still move things with your mind?”
Maybe I was wrong, I thought. Maybe he was just a typical guy. That’s one of the most predictable questions anyone can ask me. It’s so expected that I now have a canned, jokey answer for it: “No, I’m not telekinetic anymore. Now I’m just telepathic.”
I thought he would laugh, but instead, he got a very strange smile on his face.
“I am psychic,” he said.
OK, not a typical guy. I didn’t know what to say to him. I am, at most, agnostic about the idea of psychic powers. It’s not that I think self-described psychics are all delusional or lying: some people do seem to have a very clear, strong intuition, which can lead to pretty precise inferences about human behavior and the future. That intuition is a kind of power in itself. But it’s not the same as seeing the future.
“Oh,” I said, finally. “Are you, really?”
He nodded, smiling wistfully. “It’s something I’ve been experiencing for a long time, but I didn’t know what it was. Now I know, and I’m learning how to deal with it.”
He sighed a cathartic little sigh, as if this were something he was relieved to finally get off his chest. It felt as if he had just come out to me, or told me he had just fallen in love, or just accepted Jesus into his life. I could see Jamison approaching, ready to leave, but suddenly, I felt full of guilt.
“I’m glad you figured that out,” I said. “Just so you know, I… I was joking. I am not really telepathic.”
He laughed, and now it was time for his canned, jokey response.
Stuff I Did This Week: I had a wonderful, deep, intense discussion about gender and sexuality with the brilliant Ruby on JOY 94.9’s Triple-Bi Pass! I am also very much looking forward to the Melbourne Writers Festival! If you are in or around Melbourne, Australia this week, please come see me talk about my book, talk about empathy and the internet with my dear friend Jonny Sun, and share a letter and a new piece about my childhood!
Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Let’s Not Talk About It