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People Are Talking
The capacity audience is restless, eager. This isn't just any TV show. These people seek more than entertainment. They want answers.
The excitement is palpable as the lights brighten, and the theme music goes on. The studio audience stomps and cheers without prompting as the ebullient host, Ross McGowan, announces, "Today we have with us the internationally known psychic, our own Sylvia Browne."
The rotating stage moves on cue, stopping with a sudden jerk to reveal a Junoesque woman with warm brown eyes that seem to dominate her entire face. There's a burst of spontaneous applause. In the trade, Sylvia Browne is known as "good TV" because the ratings invariably zoom when she appears.
Ann Fraser, the attractive blonde co-host, steps forward. Scanning the excited audience, she asks, "Is there anyone here who doesn't believe in psychics?"
A tall, dark man raises his hand defiantly. "There's some kind of dairy farm that you'll be going into," Sylvia tells him. "You have two sons, but are raising two other boys as well." Her smile broadens at the familiar look of astonishment. Then she adds, "You should check the transmission on your car and see a doctor about that left knee."
The man stares at her, surprise and confusion apparent on his face.
"Does any of this hit home?" Ann Fraser asks.
"I wish you'd go to someone else. This is kind of spooky," he answers.
"What do you mean `spooky'?" Ann persists.
The man talks so softly that he has to be urged to speak up. "I just learned last night that I'd inherited a dairy farm. I took my car into the garage this morning and was told that the transmission's shot. My knee has been hurting a lot these days, an old football injury acting up. I have two sons and those other two boys--well, I'd rather not talk about them."
And so it goes for voyeurs at home as well as for the studio audience. People wave wildly for the microphone, eager to discuss their tangled love lives, their rare diseases, their finances, their neurotic families. Sylvia's mobile face plays at martyrdom, her eyes rolling comically. Her presence is large and maternal, her style fast and frequently profane. Even skeptics are drawn to her warmth and compassion.
An older, gray-haired woman stands, her arms almost hugging her chest. "Some of what you say seems kind of general to me," she accuses. "When you tell someone they're going to move--couldn't that apply to anyone in California?"
"Possibly," Sylvia concedes. "But suppose I say to you, `You moved last month into a white stucco house with blue trim.' Is that general? Of course not. General is, `You're moving from darkness into the light.'"
The woman's jaw drops. "You--you're right," she stammers. "I did move, that's my house."
"It was a good move," Sylvia assures her. "You're going to be happy there."
"One thing you can say," the woman conceded, "it's certainly good show biz."
"Yeah," Sylvia agrees. "There is little entertainment in what I do, but most of it is `heal fast and make well.' I'm a fast-food psychic. Fast food means you come in, you get what you need to get healed, and then you walk out the door. It's a kind of battlefield situation. Life is a kind of battlefield."
The audience oohs and aahs as the TV show continues, but this is the easy stuff. The information Sylvia divulges can be verified instantly. The real work comes when she goes into the future precognitively and talks about things that are beyond present awareness. The subjects shake their heads doubtfully. "Me, another baby! I'll be 45 in December. No way!" Or, "Move to Minnesota? You've got to be kidding. It wouldn't matter how good the job was." The verification will come later, sometimes much later. Sylvia will receive a call and be told, "Remember me, I was the one you said ... Well, I just wanted to tell you ..."
The local CBS-TV show is aptly named People Are Talking. People are talking about Sylvia Browne. But more precisely, they come to talk about themselves--their hopes, their fears, sometimes even their secrets. It's not new. The questions asked of this modern seer are identical to those placed before the Delphic oracles thousands of years ago. Only the delivery system has changed.
A pretty red-haired woman stands up, waving eagerly at Sylvia. "I'd like to ask something for my girlfriend and myself," she says. "My friend's 30 and wants to get married. I'm a little younger; right now I'd be happy with a meaningful relationship. Do you see anyone coming into either of our lives?"
"Yes," Sylvia nods emphatically, "but you'll marry first."
"Ooh! Me first! Is it the guy I met on the cruise--blonde, a little taller than me?"
"No, hon, someone else. A big, tall guy, handsome."
"Mmmm, sounds good." The young woman sits down smiling happily.
"He sounds good to me, too," Sylvia says as her eyes brighten mischievously to the color of warm sherry.
The girl stands up again. "My friend--"
"Yes, hon, she'll marry too, but not for five years."
An older woman raises her hand timidly and then, encouraged by Sylvia, begins slowly, tentatively. "I lost a baby three years ago," she declares. "It was a crib death. Why did it happen?"
"The timing wasn't right for either of you. Who are we to question that? The entity came through briefly to help you with your spiritual perfection--someone who was close to you before. The two of you made an agreement to be together for just a little while."
"But I want another child. Will I ever--?"
"What day is it?"
"I think I could be ... maybe ..."
"That's what I'm saying. You're already there."
The woman virtually shrieks with happy excitement. The whole audience is clapping wildly. When the noise subsides, Sylvia informs her, "It'll be another boy."
Ann Fraser looks at Sylvia in surprise. "She didn't say the child was a boy."
Sylvia laughs. "She didn't have to--remember me, I'm psychic."
Sylvia uses the same telepathic shorthand in the next question. "I was in a bad accident a year ago--" a short, stocky man begins. A medical problem is anticipated by everyone, but Sylvia knows better. Before he can frame his query, she has interrupted him. "Yes, you'll come out well on that," she predicts. When the man pauses in surprise, Sylvia encourages him. "Your lawsuit. You'll do very well. Don't change lawyers. The one you've got--the tall, bald guy--he's very good. Keep him."
Sylvia's manner is frequently flip, funny, often suggestive of a stand-up comic, but underlying it all is a warmth and compassion that draws skeptics and believers alike. Sylvia always speaks in specifics and shoots from the hip. Now looking about the studio, she spots a woman sitting on the aisle near the back. "You're concerned, aren't you? About something that may even approach blackmail," she suggests. "Don't pay it. None of what's happened is as it appears to you now. He's playing on your fears. Call him on it and he'll drop the whole business." The woman's face brightens. Her relief is obvious. "Thank you," she murmurs.
These are the happy, easy answers. The more traumatic ones are harder to deal with, especially on television. Often the messages Sylvia delivers are carefully couched. "I see two pregnancies this year," she tells a young woman who hopes to conceive a child. "Don't feel bad about the first. The second will be a girl--born early next spring." The word miscarriage isn't used.
But other times Sylvia is more direct. "That new red sports car you're so crazy about--get rid of it right away," she warns a glitzy brunette.
Eventually, there are questions about Sylvia herself. "It sounds like you believe in reincarnation," a man ventures.
"I don't believe," she answers. "I know. God is an equal-opportunity employer. Do you think he'd give us just one chance?"
"How long have you felt that way?"
"Always, I guess. When I was three, I'd insist that my father taste my food first. They tell me I'd sit very patiently watching him chew, waiting. When nothing happened, I'd dive in--I've always had quite an appetite. It must have been hard for me to wait, but I did. Apparently I had a strong memory of being poisoned in a past life and wasn't about to make that mistake again. Maybe I sensed even then that I had lots to accomplish this time around."
Most children are born with past-life recall, Sylvia believes, but they can't pass on the information available to them for lack of vocabulary. Impatient or skeptical parents compound the problem, so unfortunately much valuable information is lost forever because, as we grow older, we tend to forget.
"What's it like to be psychic?" a young man calls out from the back of the studio.
"What's it like not to be psychic?" she asks, shrugging. "I've always known things without being told. When I was only five or so, my father took me to the drugstore and sat me down in front of some picture books while he went off somewhere. Suddenly I had a very clear picture of him in my mind, talking on the phone. I could see the person he was talking to as well--a pretty blonde woman whom I didn't know. Poor Daddy! When I got home, I told the whole family all about it. The silence was deafening--at least while I was present. The next day Daddy started out the door with his fishing rod. What a little fink I was! `He isn't really going fishing,' I told my mother. `He's going on a trip with his girlfriend.' That afternoon my grandmother, who also had the gift, gave me a long lecture on psychic etiquette."
This was only the beginning of a rapidly unfolding drama, as some of the fans in the audience already know. "What about your spirit guide?" someone asks. The questioner is a scholarly looking woman in a far corner. "What about Francine?"
Even the regulars lean forward expectantly. For them it's a familiar but still fascinating story. "I was eight when Francine first appeared to me," Sylvia explains. "I can't remember when I didn't hear messages that others couldn't, but they were always far off in the background, almost like a soft whisper that could be ignored. Francine was something else entirely. One night I was lying in bed playing with a flashlight when suddenly I saw this Indian woman.
"`Don't be afraid, Sylvia, I come from God,' she said. Don't be afraid! She was as close, as real, as--as--Ann Fraser," Sylvia insists, pointing to the woman sitting beside her. "And there she was standing right in the middle of my bedroom. I jumped up and ran out screaming. Fortunately--is there really such a thing as fortune or chance?--my psychic grandmother was staying with us. She was very ho-hum about it all. And that was reassuring to me. She explained that we all have spirit guides who are assigned to us as helpers. The only difference was that she and I could see ours."
Sylvia's guide is a South American Indian whose name in life was Iena. "That was a little too bizarre for an eight-year-old," Sylvia remembers. "I liked the name Francine, so that's what I rechristened my new friend. She didn't mind; in fact, she seemed to know exactly the sort of things that would appeal to me. I lost my fear of her completely when she taught me to play `What are they saying downstairs?' You can imagine the stir that game created, but it was a nice stir. Francine, like Grandma, was and is the quintessence of psychic etiquette. In the beginning, she seemed very old to me--she was about 30, and there she remains."
It was difficult at first to accustom herself to Francine's thought patterns, Sylvia says. "She's so literal compared to us, I'm still sometimes surprised. For instance, if I were to ask her, `Can you describe yourself?' Francine would just say, `Yes,' and stop there. In reply to someone's question about a forthcoming holiday, she'll just say something like, `I see you going to the high country to hook animals.' We'd interpret that as a fishing trip in the mountains."
Ross McGowan asks a question for the audience. "Don't you sometimes feel that what you tell people robs them of their free will?" he inquires.
Sylvia shakes her head. "Absolutely not. If I get it, you're supposed to know. I believe that what I receive comes from God, just as Francine told me long ago." She laughs good-naturedly. "I'd hate to think it was coming from me!"
Specifics are essential, she believes. "That's what mediumship is all about. I wouldn't be a professional if I told people all that Mickey Mouse stuff about going from darkness into the light. Anybody can say something like that, but what good does it do? You can't help someone without giving specific information. Francine comes through when I'm in the trance state and tells people about their soul work, what their mission in life is, their themes and patterns. I stay with the now, the gritty soap opera of life."
Sylvia is able to tune into the "blueprint" within each of her clients. Although she prefers to do one-on-one predictions, she has acquired a national reputation for general-interest forecasts. "It's really no different," she tells the audience. "I just sit down and ask myself questions. What about the economy? What about the president's health? What about earthquakes? What about--"
"What about my report card?" a small boy cries out.
"Something's dragging and it's not P.E.," Sylvia warns him.
Though she has scant interest in sports, Sylvia is always in demand to predict winners. Her success rate here is amazing. "I don't think I was even aware of the Super Bowl until people began asking me about it," she admits. "Now I've picked the last five winners in a row. A few years back, I announced that the Oakland Raiders would be moving. Then they did. People were outraged. You should have seen the letters I got. You'd have thought I did it myself." She shrugs her shoulders in a familiar gesture of resignation.
"But how do you do it?" Ann Fraser asks.
"I don't know," Sylvia confides. "I really don't. I just open myself up and it comes. I don't analyze. Like once I told a woman that she was going to start a worm farm. Yes, a worm farm! If I'd thought about that I wouldn't have said it, but I didn't think, I just opened my mouth and out it came--exactly what I was receiving. The woman wasn't surprised at all. `Yeah,' she said, `I always thought that would be an interesting way to make a living.'"
An older man rises to ask one last question. "What about you, Sylvia? What's in your future?"
Sylvia shakes her head, the honey-blonde hair gleaming under the TV lights. "I never know. The gift isn't meant for the medium herself. If I weren't doing the right thing, it would all shut down. People ask me if I ever get bored answering the same old questions. The answer's no, I certainly don't. If it's important to you, it's important to me. People are funny, though. Once I told a man he'd be starting a new job on April 5th, and he called indignantly to tell me I was all wrong--it had been April 6th."
`But don't you ever see anything for yourself?" the questioner persists.
"Very rarely," she answers firmly, "and I'm glad it's that way." For an instant, Sylvia's face clouds as her thoughts turn unbidden to a tragic love affair long ago. There had been a warning.
Ross signals. It's commercial time. A brief windup and the show is over. Sylvia is smiling again at the audience as the revolving stage moves her backward into the shadows.
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