When I was a senior in high school, a traveling hypnotist visited my home town. He was the kind of person who was regularly engaged by groups of fearful parents to entertain their progeny after events like Prom and graduation so that the evils of fornication could be overcome, but he touted himself as an “expert” and a “healer.”
A few days before his arrival, posters emblazoned with his face showed up all over town, plastered to telephone poles and homemade cardboard signs. The posters promised that the hypnotist (who looked a hell of a lot like Bob Ross on a four day cocaine bender) could cure any in his audience of a host of problems ranging from obesity to drug addiction to alcoholism through the power of post hypnotic suggestion.
In other words, he was a complete quack.
But my hometown is small, and consequently lacking in entertainment for bored teenagers, so my mom and I decided to check out his Saturday morning session. She wanted help with kicking her tobacco habit, and I was mildly interested in seeing if this guy could suggest ten pounds off my flabby ass just in time for graduation. Mostly, though, we just wanted to see the crazy hillfolk come down out of the mountains, away from their chickens and stills for the day. Because even if ole Bob Ross wasn’t interesting, these people definitely would be.
We showed up at the Days Inn where the session was being held about fifteen minutes before it was scheduled to start. The place was packed. Men wearing overalls without shirts mingled with women in Chanel, all of them eager for an easy solution to their problems.
We stuffed our five dollar ‘donations’ into a nearly overflowing Folgers can and found two of the last remaining seats near the back of the audience. Our proximity to the door afforded us a quick escape in case of riot or hypnotically-induced orgy. It also kept us downwind of the chickenshit stink that emanated from the gamiest guests.
At 9:00 on the dot, the lights suddenly dimmed, and Bob swept onto the stage, which looked like it had been a raised dais used for hangings in a previous life. He launched into a spiel about how it took a completely clear, open mind to be hypnotized, and that some would be suggestible than others. He told us that the session we had paid for was a group session, and that everyone would receive “treatment” simultaneously. In order to do so, he wanted us to mentally identify what we sought treatment for so that when he used the blanket term “PROBLEM” we would all automatically make the association on our own.
He told us to all relax, and led us through a series of deep breathing exercises. My mind automatically drifted back to an episode of Real Sex where another Bob Ross lookalike helped a group of naked hippies use deep breathing to induce full body orgasms. The image of all those full-beavered women and their equally furry companions quivering around on the bare ground in the throes of passion while the shaman sparked a big greasy doob didn’t exactly put me in the most relaxed state of mind.
Instead, I found myself surveying the other members of the crowd. I wondered what kind of problem everyone had, and if they really believed one three-hour session with a traveling snake oil salesman would cure them. I imagined that the women in designer suits had problems with cheating husbands and tax fraud, but had a hard time picturing what the simple, humble hillpeople had to worry about. Maybe that their hogs would quit escaping, or that their grow operation on the back forty would avoid detection by the DEA until it was time to harvest again.
When I was able to pull my thoughts and part of my concentration back up the front of the room, Bob had taken off his suit jacket and was preparing to put us under. “It may take a while,” he said, “but trust me. This will be more refreshing than eight hours of deep sleep.”
And then he started chanting in a monotone voice. Soon, people’s head lolled to the side or onto their neighbor’s shoulders. “DEEEEEEEE– SLEEEEEEEE–!” Bob commanded, but my own mind remained stubbornly closed. I looked over at my mom. She looked bored.
“Now I want you to -icture your refrigerator at home,” Bob said. “-icture the color of the outside. The texture of the door. Where it’s located in your kitchen.”
Our refrigerator at home sprang to mind. Not a very taxing task, because it had been a source of near-constant annoyance since the lightbulb inside had burned out earlier in the week.
“DEEEEE– SLEEEEEEEEEEEE–. Feel yourself relaxing, deeeee-er and deeee-er.”
The way Bob was truncating words with the letter ‘p’ was starting to get on my nerves. But I forced myself to relax a little. I saw the refrigerator. I pictured its smooth, white surface. I–I needed to pee.
“Now I want you to o-en the refrigerator. The light comes on, and you reach down to -ick up a carrot.”
The seat beside me was shaking. I looked over, and my mom was convulsing. For a second, I thought Bob had somehow caused her to develop epilepsy, but then I realized she was laughing. Deep (er, deeeeeeeeee-) belly laughs that she could barely contain. I elbowed her in the ribs. “Mother!” I hissed under my breath, “Calm down.”
A bubble of laughter broke through her lips. “The light,” she said in between strangled breaths, “the damn light. Won’t. Turn. On!”
The image of our cold, black refrigerator flashed into my mind. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t picture the light coming on. Then I started laughing. And I wasn’t quiet about it.
Needless to say, Mom and I escaped through the back door when Bob was just hitting his stride. Before the double doors slammed shut, I saw a very large bearded man (who may or may not have been responsible for every single sasquatch sighting in the area of the last fifteen years) slump over onto the empty seat beside him.
The light in our refrigerator burned out tonight. As soon as I saw it flicker and die, I thought of my mom. In certain circles, we’ll forever be known as the laughing idiots who got kicked out of the Bob Ross’s hypnotic mind fuck.
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