You Were: The Secretary

August 31, 2010

In 1950, one of the richest men in New York kicked the bucket. A hermit for much of his life, he left no children and fewer friends. Still, a handful of distant relatives hurried to Manhattan to hear the reading of his will. Each hoped he or she would be leaving town the next day with suitcases stuffed with cash. But as it turned out, the gentleman had bequeathed every last cent of his fortune to an individual by the name of PT Scattergood—a person none of his relatives could recall meeting. A person who hadn’t bothered to attend the reading of the will. A person some  suggested might not exist.

You were PT Scattergood.

A few months later, your name could be found on the door of a nondescript office on the top floor of the Chrysler Building. Every day, the most powerful and influential people in the city showed up to grovel for cash. They needed money for environmentally-sound business ventures or pet charities—to begin artistic endeavors or to fund political campaigns.

When your guests arrived, they would be asked to take a seat in the small waiting room outside your office. There, a young woman would hand them a form to sign. The form stated that they were not to disclose anything they saw, heard, or learned while inside your office. The penalty for doing so would be ten million dollars. Anyone who couldn’t agree to your conditions was asked to leave immediately.

Once their signatures were on the form, your guests were forced to wait. Sometimes for an hour. Sometimes for two. A few guests sat on the couch for an entire day. One slept there overnight. They never suspected that it was all just a test. Or that the young secretary typing away at her desk was the person they’d come to see.

Okay. Perhaps I should explain.

For two years before your benefactor’s death, you had been his private nurse. The morning he died, you’d discovered an envelope on his bedside table. Your name was on it. My fortune is yours, the note read. You’ll know what to do with it. And somehow you did. You set aside a bit for yourself. (A tiny percentage of the overall fortune, but enough to keep you in Dom Perignon for the rest of your life.) Then you set out to give the rest of the money away.

But you needed a test—a way to determine which people were worthy of your financial assistance. Sometimes it was obvious. You gave hundreds of millions to children’s charities. You single-handedly saved the whales. Your money was responsible for a non-toxic pesticide that put an end to New York’s bed bug plague. But all those good deeds barely put a dent in your fortune. So that’s when you decided to open your office.

There’s never been a better test of character than making people wait. Most barely made it an hour before they shouted at the poor secretary (you in disguise) or started taking their frustrations out on the waiting room magazines. Nearly every visitor cracked before they reached the five hour mark. But those who didn’t—those who showed patience, persistence, and humility—received a handsome reward.

It took five years, but eventually you reached the end of your fortune. You tossed the wig you’d worn to work everyday in the trash. Had your name removed from the office door. Traded your secretary glasses for sunglasses and caught a plane to Montego Bay where you lived in great comfort for the rest of your days.

Back to Business

August 30, 2010

Hey everyone. I’ve been a bit under the weather, so I’ve fallen behind schedule. But there WILL be a past life reading later today. Unfortunately, I’ll be traveling for the rest of the week, so I might fall behind again soon. I’ll catch up eventually!

HOWEVER, if you live anywhere near Decatur, GA, be sure to drop by the Decatur Book Festival this coming weekend! I’ll be there on Sunday, September 5th sharing my thoughts on butt-kicking heroines.

According to today’s Times, 25% of Americans–including Julia Roberts–believe in reincarnation. (And women are more likely to believe than men.) Despite its fascinating subject, the article is rather dull. The most interesting tidbits (in my opinion) involve Dr. Jim Tucker’s work with children who claim to remember past lives.

From the Times . . .

Dr. Tucker studies American children and in one case found a young boy who started to say, around the age of 18 months, that he was his own (deceased) grandfather. “He eventually told details of his grandfather’s life that his parents felt certain he could not have learned through normal means,” Dr. Tucker wrote in Explore, which calls itself a journal of science and healing, “such as the fact that his grandfather’s sister had been murdered and that his grandmother had used a food processor to make milkshakes for his grandfather every day at the end of his life.”

You Were: The Florist

August 25, 2010

(We have a very interesting victim today, but I shall maintain my policy of secrecy and allow her to divulge her own name if she chooses.)

You’ve always possessed excellent communication skills. That shouldn’t come as a shock. But you might be surprised to discover that you haven’t always relied on words to spin your stories or make your point. For five full decades of the nineteenth century, you used flowers instead.

These days, the language of flowers is all but dead. In fact only a few history buffs and a handful of Kiki Strike blog readers are even aware it existed. But throughout the Victorian era, it was the secret tongue of love-struck swains, randy aristocrats, and scorned women. And you spoke it better than anyone.

You owned a small shop in the Mayfair district of London. You employed no workers, posted no ads, and walk-ins were never welcome. The only way to purchase your wares was to request a personal appointment with the owner herself. In your business, discretion was of the utmost importance.

When your rich, aristocratic, or royal clients would arrive at your door, you would quickly whisk them inside. They were offered tea (or whisky) in your flower-filled workroom and invited to spill their hearts out. Sometimes you were forced to listen for hours. In all your days in the business, no one had ever requested a bouquet that simply said, “I love you” or “I’m sorry.” The emotions people needed to convey were always infinitely more complicated.

As your clients spoke, you pulled handfuls of blooms from the hundreds of buckets that lined the workroom walls and assembled them into stunning—and meaningful—arrangements. A bouquet of yellow roses and chrysanthemums was a brutal accusation of infidelity. A few lime blossoms tucked into vase of orange roses told the recipient that one’s intentions weren’t entirely pure. Striped carnations were a polite, “no thank you” that could let a suitor down easy. Morning glories were a humble acknowledgement that one’s love was in vain.

Your flowers said more than your clients ever could, and they always departed feeling relieved and unburdened. But over the years, your shop became so popular that you had little time left for a life of your own. Oddly enough, you barely noticed. You were content to tell other people’s stories.

Then one evening, only a few minutes after you’d arrived home at your modest apartment, there was a knock at the door. Outside stood a small lad holding an enormous bouquet of lavender roses. You must have gasped. Not because of the message they sent (love at first sight) but because you’d spent weeks desperately searching for roses. It seemed every greenhouse in Britain had been invaded by a rose-munching fungus. Even the flowers on the continent hadn’t been spared.

And yet they kept arriving at your apartment night after night. Light pink roses (passionate love). Red roses (true love). White roses (eternal love). Even blue roses (mysterious love). For the first time, you understood how it felt to receive one of your own arrangements. It was the most delicious torment you’d ever endured.

Finally, when you couldn’t stand the suspense anymore, you chose not to answer your door. Instead, you let the tiny delivery boy leave the bouquet on your doorstep. When he turned to go, you followed behind him. All the way to Hampstead.

He finally ducked into the servants’ entrance of a rambling mansion a stone’s throw from Hampstead Heath. You snuck around the side of the house and discovered an enormous greenhouse lit with gas lanterns. Inside, a rainbow of roses was in full, healthy bloom. And tending to the fragile blossoms was a familiar young man. He had come to your shop only a few weeks earlier to purchase a bouquet for his mother. (Heliotropes for devotion.) Considering the simplicity of his statement, he had stayed much longer than most. Still, you’d hated to see him go. He knew a great deal about flowers, and he had the most wonderful laugh you’d ever heard.

Too shy to say hello, you were just about to make your escape when he looked up and spotted you watching him through the glass.

You wore peach blossoms to your wedding.

You Were: The Traveler

August 23, 2010

(Today’s victim/volunteer is the girl peering over the edge.)

In the 1970s,  you were the star of a Soviet acrobatic troupe. Your specialty was the trapeze, and you could hurl through the air like perfectly aimed bullet. Everyone assumed you were fearless. The truth was, you had always been terrified of heights. But you were the sort of girl who refused to be ruled by her fears. (And you’ve always been a extremely hard-headed.)

Every year, your troupe toured the Soviet Bloc. Your death-defying act grew so famous that Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev himself caught your show when you passed through Moscow. It’s a little known fact that Brezhnev had once fallen in love with a trapeze artist, and you reminded him a great deal of the girl from his youth. So when he greeted you backstage after the show, he decided to grant you a wish. You told the Chairman of the Communist Party that you’d like to visit the United States.

A statement like that could have gotten your butt shipped to Siberia. But to your great surprise, Brezhnev thought it was a splendid idea. How better to showcase the athletic superiority of Soviet youth than to send your fabulous troupe on a tour of America?

Of course, just because he thought you were cute didn’t mean you got to skip the mandatory KGB background check. For weeks, agents eavesdropped on your phone conversations, read your letters, and interviewed your friends and family. The one thing they never uncovered? The black market copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road that you kept hidden inside your pillow.

It wasn’t your favorite book. You didn’t even think it was particularly good—certainly nothing compared to the works of Russia’s great writers. But On the Road had scared you in ways you had never expected.

As a star performer, you had always enjoyed a cushy life. You were given good food and an apartment with all the modern amenities. But your days were planned to the minute. You always knew exactly where you’d be in a week, a month, or a year. And the truth is, you’d grown comfortable in your routine. Too comfortable. And when you’d first cracked open On the Road, the idea of setting out on an endless journey with no destination scared you to death. So you decided that was exactly what you needed to do.

When your troupe reached Chicago, you checked into a hotel downtown. Your room was eight stories above the street and a guard was stationed outside the performers’ rooms. Neither of these proved much of a challenge. As soon as night fell, you dressed in black, stepped out on the room’s balcony and climbed over the rail. A swing, a flip, and a couple of leaps later, you were on another balcony four floors below. You borrowed a few items of clothing from the businesswoman asleep in her bed (leaving the last of your rubles behind on her nightstand) and hit the road.

Chicago winters are notoriously harsh, but to you, the frigid weather felt almost balmy. You had no money. No friends in America. No idea where you were going or how you would survive. You were scared senseless. And that was just the way you liked it.

I’d tell you all about your travels, but I have a feeling you’d rather set off on new adventures than read about old ones. But I hope you haven’t lost the desire to scare yourself  silly. It’s the secret to leading a well-lived life.

You Were: The Pet

August 21, 2010

You were a Roman aristocrat in the days before the city met Caesar. You belonged to a filthy rich family that had produced ten senators over two centuries. Five of those men had been poisoned. Two were found floating face-down in the Tiber. And one simply disappeared on his way home from the baths. The people responsible for the murders weren’t political enemies. They were the men’s wives, sons, brothers, and mothers. It was widely remarked that being a member of your family was the most dangerous job in Rome.

After your father died fighting for Rome, your older brother inherited the family’s sizable fortune. He was assassinated when you were eight. Your next oldest brother immediately went into hiding. But no one ever worried much about you. That’s because you were the brightest member of the entire clan. And the only one who knew how to play dumb.

You resembled a cherub well into your teenage years—curly golden hair and big blue eyes that watched the world with a vacant stare. (You’d managed to perfect this look early on by imitating the lemurs your mother collected.) You showed no interest in anything but lavish feasts, exotic creatures, and beautiful togas. Your mother (who’d had her eldest son murdered) considered you more of a prized pet than a child.

But behind the scenes, her pet was making arrangements.

With your one trusted servant acting as your agent, you had begun building a private army of soldiers. They were never given the name of the person who paid them in gold each month, only told that they would be contacted when their services were needed. Who knows what they might have thought if they’d discovered their mysterious employer was a cherubic young boy. But they were shown such generosity and kindness over the years that you slowly earned their unwavering devotion.

Meanwhile, on a tiny island in the remotest corner of the Aegean, a palace was being constructed. It boasted lush gardens, a private zoo, and baths that were fit for the gods. The only thing it lacked was a means of escape. The island was the most beautiful prison on earth.

You tried for years to locate your older brother, hoping he could be persuaded to return to help banish your mother. Unfortunately, she found him first. When word arrived in Rome that your brother had died, you took official possession of the family fortune. Your mother was thrilled. Her “pet” would never question her spending. She could empty the coffers while he lounged on his lazy butt, drinking wine and flirting with the slaves.

But that very night, your private army was called into action. They pulled your mother out of bed and rounded up all of her cronies. While Rome slumbered, the most despicable members of your family were loaded onto a boat  that sailed at once. The men at the oars had each been given a fortune in gold and told never to return to Rome.

In the morning, the citizens of the city were surprised to see a serious young man strolling through the forum, dressed in simple but elegant robes. His face was familiar to all, but only a few recognized him at first. When at last his name had reached every ear, a hush fell over Rome, as if the whole town were to shocked to speak.

That stroll was your only announcement that your family had changed for good. And it was the only announcement that was necessary. Five years later, you were one of Rome’s most respected senators. You never married—though your life was certainly not without love—and made your wisest nephew your heir.

Before you died, you told him a secret. Should any members of your family be born with your mother’s murderous genes, there was still a lovely private island that was waiting to receive them.

OK, Explain This

August 20, 2010

This is a three-year-old boy reciting a thirty-line poem by Billy Collins. What’s most interesting is how he seems to understand much of what he’s saying.

Tell me this kid wasn’t a poet or professor in a previous life.