You don't pass up eggrolls with a professional psychic. When that opportunity arises, the answer is yes. It has to be yes. You do not pass up eggrolls with a psychic.
The professional psychic in question is John J. Oliver, a former Richmonder with a direct line to the spirit world. John is a frequent flyer on the astral plane. The world vibrates for him in ways that I can't fully comprehend. He is basically a supernatural superhero.
I knew this wasn't going to be an ordinary lunch.
Browsing John Oliver's Web site, I couldn't help but feel intimidated. John is a medium who specializes in hauntings and criminal investigations. He teaches seminars in ESP. He's a black belt in Taekwon-Do who runs a martial-arts school in Charlottesville. He also talks to dead people.
On television he stars in two paranormal-crime reality shows: Haunting Evidence on truTV in America and FBI: Psychic Investigators in Japan. In Haunting Evidence , he's paired with two other paranormal investigators and sent to uncover the elusive truth behind high-profile cases like the JonBenet Ramsey murder or Natalee Holloway's disappearance.
I get to the restaurant early to look over my questions. We don't have much time, so I know there's no way I'll get to all of them. I decide not to quiz him on the week's winning Pick 3 numbers. Forget about asking him to pass along a personal greeting to Ed McMahon. But I'm holding out hope there'll be time for him to help me find my missing DVD remote.
Oliver arrives dressed in black. His assistant Villiam is with him, carrying a rectangular bag low to the ground. I swear I see it move. This could get interesting. John removes his sport coat like a cape and drapes it over the back of his chair. He asks Villiam and The Bag to come back in an hour.
At first glance, John looks like any of a hundred movie actors whose name you can't remember. He's clean-scrubbed with a deep dimpled chin, blackish hair and piercing dark eyes. When I shake his hand, I expect to feel a spark or tingle. I thought our brief skin-to-skin contact would reveal the location of a shallow grave filled with human remains. No such luck.
Our conversation started innocently enough, with some talk of travel and traffic. But after 30 seconds, I felt that he was reading my mind.
I became intensely aware of my facial expressions, my body language and the random thoughts flashing through my head. Suddenly, I was having lunch with a human polygraph machine.
This could have been my own paranoia. But then again, maybe he really was trying to pick the lock on my cerebral cortex. I decided to kickstart my own intuitive, extrasensory powers. Two could play at this game.
Before I asked him about what it's like living in New York City with all of its paranormal activity, I had a very strong feeling he would say it's just like the movie Ghostbusters except a hundred times scarier.
"There are a lot of homeless ghosts in New York City," he said. "It's very sad that there's not much difference in the manifestation of a homeless ghost and a person without a home. They already behave in many of the same ways that a ghost would. And sometimes when they die, you see ghosts on the doorsteps of cathedrals and churches who don't know that they've died."
OK, so my feeling was wrong. Big deal. But as soon as I predicted he would order the Tofu with Asparagus and he went with the Tofu and Eggplant, I realized I was outmatched. I stuck to asking the questions.
Then he ordered a pot of hot green tea. I was just thinking I really wanted some tea. Weird. This guy is good.
Q: I read that when you were young you saw dead people. Do you still see them everywhere? A: When I was a child, I saw them quite frequently and phenomenally in front of me. Now it's more of a feeling like there's someone in the room.
Q: What is that like? A: Just like you see in the movies. The movies Ghost or The Sixth Sense are good examples. The movie The Others … that is exactly the way things usually are. You could have the home functioning as it is today, but you tweak the frequency on the receiver and it's still as it was 200 years ago. There are people that don't know they've passed away and you are the others, you are the intruders. That happens all the time.
Q: You have a rule that you only get involved in criminal cases if the police come to you. Why don't you work for the families? A: The problem with taking cases from family members is it's technically illegal to work on a criminal investigation unless you have jurisdiction. And if the police ask you, then you become a special agent to the police and you have authority to give them information. And it also tells me that the police want help. I don't want to be responsible for someone going crazy based on information I give them. That's why I privately work with the police.
Q: You keep pretty busy, so the police must be happy with your results. A: This is what I keep asking the skeptics: "Why do they keep coming back?" You can criticize it in any way you want, but we have cases that are getting solved. Now, not all cases get solved … I don't want to say that, because some cases can't be solved. Because a psychic is a psychic, not a magician.
Q: Do you need something to back up everything you say? A: I want everything backed up. When I'm doing a case, doing a reading for the police, I go for it. I try my best not to hold back. I say, "This is the reading … now you have to go out and prove it. "
Q: When you investigate haunted houses, don't you ever get scared? A: Because I've seen ghosts and dead people all my life, I'm not that afraid of ghosts. A ghost is just someone who has lost their way and got stuck; they don't know where to go.
Q: Do you come across things that seem dark and … I don't know, mean? A: I've met more dark and mean people than I've ever met dark and mean ghosts. It's my experience that in the hauntings that I've investigated over the years, the fear generated by the people experiencing [the haunting] makes it into this thing that it's not.
Q: But do you believe in evil? A: Evil is due to fear. Evil as an independent source, operating for its own sake? I don't know about that.
Time runs out, and Villiam the Assistant returns with The Bag. The Bag, as it turns out, contains a black-and-white chihuahua named Angelina. The check is delivered with three fortune cookies that spill onto the table between us. I know this is important. This means something. I don't get served fortune cookies with a professional psychic every day.
"I feel like I need to ask you which one of these I should take," I said.
He told me his philosophy was to always take the cookie closest to you. I grabbed it, tore the plastic and cracked the cookie in half. I bit a piece and unfurled my fortune.
It read: "Never pass up eggrolls with a professional psychic."
Oh, man, this guy is good.