A Charming Evening with Uri Geller
by Dotson Rader
The dictionary has a word for it. Incredible
Dotson Rader is a contributing editor of Esquire. His new novel, The Dream’s on Me: A Love Story, will be published by Putnam’s in May.
For some months I have wanted to meet Uri Geller, the bender of unbendable metal, the superpsychic, the man who has appeared on television all over the world to demonstrate his strange “powers.” The result of this massive publicity has been intense controversy involving scientist and layman alike. Many people who have witnessed Geller’s public demonstrations have become convinced that there is indeed something authentic and scientifically verifiable in psychic phenomena. Others simply dismiss Geller’s work as that of a clever magician, a conjurer out for publicity and money. Professional magicians are especially upset with Geller. They say he downgrades the craft of magic by claiming his effects come from supernatural sources.
I did not want to meet Uri Geller to find out if he were legitimate or not. God knows, he has been rigorously tested and retested by scientists in controlled laboratory conditions in the United States and Europe, and this has produced very little in the way of definitive conclusions as to the nature of his powers. Uri Geller’s powers are still debatable. I simply wanted to see if I liked Uri Geller. I wanted to know what it was like to spend time informally with him. I wanted to find out what he was all about. And that, it turns out, is the problem.
How are you going to believe what I will write of my meetings with him? I didn’t ask him to do any tricks or to prove or demonstrate anything. In fact, quite the reverse is true. I asked him to have dinner with me – and to let me interview him about himself. Perhaps he hypnotized me or something like that. I do not believe that he did, but how can I be certain? I can only tell you exactly what happened during my time with him – as best as I can recollect it from notes and tapes. I realise that you may believe I was fooled or duped, whatever. It cannot be helped. What I am not is a liar. And this is what happened.
I met Uri Geller in the lobby of the luxury apartment building in which he lives on Manhattan’s East Side. He wore black Lee jeans, round-toed Italian boots, and a brown leather jacket. He smelled of Acqua di Selva, an Italian cologne. The impression he makes is that of a highly successful fashion model, which he was in Israel, or a movie star, something he badly wants to be.
I suggested that we go for dinner to the Brasserie, a French cafe in the Seagram building on Park Avenue.
In the taxi, Geller said, “I just did experiments in the Foch Laboratories in Paris. And at the University of London.” He sighed, seeming very tired.
“How did they go?”
Which meant, I presumed, that they were successful, since the considerable scientific testing he has already undergone in Europe and at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park has been very convincing to an impressive segment of the scientific community. All of which has made him world famous and quite rich, no small feat for a man born twenty-nine years ago to a lower-middle-class family in Tel Aviv. Five years ago, Geller was working as an imports manager in Israel. Today he has two apartments in Manhattan, an apartment outside of Cannes, and another in Israel, in which his mother lives, and closets full of expensive clothing. He is also about to fulfill his movie-star dream. His autobiography, My Story, has been bought for the movies by Robert Stigwood and it appears that Geller himself will play the lead.
We took a small table at the back of the restaurant. I sat on the banquette facing into the room, and Geller sat to my side on a chair directed away from the room.
We talked a moment about Israel, where he had been recently, and about his forthcoming book, The Geller Papers. And then he reached out and touched the gold-link bracelet I was wearing on my right wrist. He did not look down as he touched it, but rather he stared at me, a slight, ambiguous smile on his face. His eyes were very compelling, his expression intense. It embarrassed me, made me self-conscious. I looked down at the table.
“Where did you get that?” he asked as he touched the gold links with his finger. “From an older woman, yes?”
“And that also?” he asked. He was referring to a watch I was wearing, also a gift. “That is a very beautiful watch,” he said, “very delicate. Something is written under it. An inscription? Yes. But not written to you.”
“That’s correct.” There indeed was an engraving under the watch, and it was not about me but another man.
And then, as Geller was talking, I noticed he was holding my bracelet in his hand, delicately pinching it with the very tips of his fingers, holding it in front of him like a pawnbroker examining a hock. He swiveled around, turning his back to the table, holding the bracelet in the light. It was odd; I had not felt the bracelet being taken from my arm.
“She is an actress, yes?” he said, indicating the woman who had given me the jewelry. “I know that I am right. I can tell you much,” he continued, studying the bracelet dangling between his long, white fingers, staring obsessively at the piece. I watched him a moment, and then my attention was diverted. A crystal saltshaker with a silver-plate cap was moving determinedly by itself across the white tablecloth toward the edge of the perfectly level surface. It was like watching a tiny bishop wearing a silver miter shuffle across a snowy field. I watched it travel for a moment and then, a few inches before it reached the table’s edge, I moved my unbraceleted hand and picked it up and returned it to its accustomed place at the center of the table. I was aghast, but Geller appeared not to notice the incident. He continued to examine the bracelet and to tell me very private things about myself and the woman who had given me the jewelry. I was surprised at what he knew, since we shared no friends in common.
He turned back to me, handing me the bracelet, smiling at me. “Your father, does he have powers?”
“He’s an evangelist.”
“Ah, I am right! I believe in faith healing very deeply.” He was excited. He leaned toward me across the table and touched my chest. “I think it is possible. In the future your body will be healed by your mind. In a thousand years we will be totally immune from sickness. . . .” He rambled on for a few minutes, and I was convinced that he believed what he was saying, but his excitement seemed forced, as if he were in fact disinterested, having given the same musings on sickness many times.
I ordered a martini. I asked Geller if he cared for one. He refused. He does not drink or smoke, except for an occasional cigar, and he uses no drugs.
“Israelis don’t really drink . . . I’m not Jewish. I don’t believe in religion. I’m Israeli. . . .” He said the last emphatically. “I believe in God, oh, very much,” he said, his soft baritone beginning to rise in pitch with his excitement, the tempo of his speech increasing dramatically. “I’m fatalistic. Whatever happens has to because it was planned ages ago. The present, the past, the future are happening at once . . . there is no distance or time. . . .” His speech went faster and as it did his Israeli accent became more pronounced. “There is no death!” He tweaked his nose. Geller’s hands moved almost constantly. He couldn’t sit still. He shifted nervously in his seat.
“The country I feel safest in is America. Europe I don’t trust. They shot at me in Hamburg. I have a certain power, and there are nuts out there who think my power comes from the devil. I had to cancel a [lecture] tour in England because I was threatened. I take caution . . .” He leaned forward and whispered, “The other is a big, unknown thing that is constantly around me.” He sat back, smiling enigmatically. He looked like a small boy who had just told me a naughty secret. I had no idea what he meant, but I nodded agreeably.
Later, after dinner, he turned his back to me and asked me to draw a simple figure on my note pad. I was not to let him see what I drew, for he, writing with a pen on a napkin, would duplicate what I had drawn. I sighed but, intrigued, drew a tree, which he could not see, and he had me draw it again and again in my mind, and then he turned and tossed the napkin at me in a kind of bored way. There was a similar tree. We did this a number of times; each time I drew a different form and each time there was no possible way he could see what I had made. And each time he duplicated it more accurately. After a while his accuracy reached the point where his drawings of various things were almost carbons of mine; You could lay one on top of the other and practically match the lines.
Then he wrote a number on a small slip of paper. I did not see the number. He shoved the paper in his pocket.
“Think of a number,” he said suddenly.
I thought of the number fourteen.
“Do you have it?” he asked.
“Now double it.”
I doubled it in my mind.
“Do you have it?”
I nodded. “It’s twenty-eight,” I said.
He took the slip of paper from his pocket and dropped it on the table. On it was written “28.”
I finished my coffee and worked on not being impressed.
We returned to his apartment around eleven o’clock. It is a large place, three bedrooms, full of stereo equipment and television devices and lots of electronic gadgets that seem especially fascinating to Geller. On the walls are forty-two framed magazine covers from around the world, covers on which he appears. There are also a number of paintings on the wall by Maria Janis, Gary Cooper’s daughter and the wife of the pianist Byron Janis. The Janises are Geller’s closest friends. He believes Janis is the reembodiment of Chopin.
In the apartment, Geller showed me two television tapes. One of an appearance he had made on the A.M. America show. Another, in hour-long documentary on him done by the BBC.
During the course of watching the films, he would make various comments. He said he slept with a lot of girls, but that he couldn’t bring them to his apartment because his two secretaries, Trina and Frida, shared the place with him. So he kept a small apartment upstairs where he took his women guests.
I asked to see that apartment. He didn’t want me to.
When the films were over, he finally agreed to take me upstairs. I would tape his interview there. All that happened while we were there was taped.
The upstairs apartment is rather small. It consists of a living room off of which is a terrace. A small dining area. A bedroom with an enormous bed, a mirrored wall opposite the bed, and exercise equipment. A bathroom and a kitchenette. The place reminded me, in its cluttered disorder, of a college dormitory suite.
We sat in the living room; I was seated on a sofa. On either side of my sofa were end tables. On one was a lamp and near it a life-size, carved, solid-mahogany hand, its middle and index fingers raised in a V salute. The floor was carpeted in brown with bluegreen highlights. On the beige walls were various abstract paintings, and one, not so abstract, of a Venus landscape with a U.F.O. flying through a fiery chasm. All around, on various tables, were papers and magazines and clutter, a tape measure, a small radio, books and so forth.
I placed my tape recorder on the coffee table between us and turned it on. Geller lay on his side on a black bearskin rug. He seemed to be in a very playful mood, and it was difficult to keep his mind on the interview. I asked him when he first realised he had special powers.
“It was telepathy with my mother, like the ones I did with you. She would think about something, and I would always know. She would play cards, and I would know.”
“Whether she won or lost?”
“Uh-huh. You like this smell very much?”
He pointed to a scented candle in a silver holder on the coffee table.
He smiled and resumed what he was saying. “I thought everyone could do these phenomena. But when I grew up and started going to school, I saw that the kids were nagging me to do more, to bend this, to do that. Then I realised that not everyone had this power. But I never felt any different.”
“When did you realise that there was commercial value in your power?”
“About eight years ago.” He seemed irritated by the question. “When I was wounded in the Six-Day War.”
“No, I meant where were you wounded in your body.”
“Oh.” He stood up. “Over here on my hands.” He displayed them. “And I have deep scars here.” He showed me his arm. “It went through my arm,” Geller laughed nervously. He seemed embarrassed in talking about the war. “A sniper opened fire on us. And later, about this time, I started getting in the newspapers because I could bend things and stuff. . . .” He trailed off. It was then that it began to get warm in the room.
“I wanted to be a movie star,” he said, quietly, bashfully. “Since I was six years old. As a matter of fact, I wanted to become a horror-film movie star. I wanted to be Lon Chaney number two, or a Christopher Lee. This type of an actor. I always loved to dress up as a monster. I used to order, when I lived in Cyprus, all the horror masks from America. I just loved that!”
“Okay. But we’re dealing with the Uri Geller who has . . .”
“Powers.” He said it, bored. It seemed, after talking about it since he was four, that he had grown tired of explaining and defending his power.
He sat up. “I’ve got to know where the hell these powers are coming from. I’ve seen things dematerialise. I’ve heard voices. I’ve seen U.F.O.’s. I know all this seems like the realm of fantasy, but to me it’s real. And it happened. Now the danger here is that if you know too much your mind will explode. You might become a vegetable. You might go berserk!” When he said “berserk” I realised that he was shouting. “Yes! I don’t want to know too much.”
It was getting warmer in the room. I was beginning to sweat. I removed my tie and unbuttoned my collar. In addition to the heat, there was a kind of indescribable oppression in the atmosphere, as if the room were losing oxygen, a sense of growing threat, a kind of menace. That feeling grew the longer I stayed that night.
“I’ll tell you a story,” Geller said. “One day in Israel I had V.D. And I went to a doctor. He was an old man. He was very charming and he gave me an injection and I bent a key for him and all that. And he says to me, ‘You know, Uri, I have this clinic here, but I do other things also.’ And I said, ‘What do you do?’ And he said, ‘I’m the manager of a madhouse. Would you like to come there and see these mad, crazy people?’ And the idea fascinated me. And this we did. When we walked in, I saw one of the most shocking scenes I had ever seen in my life. It was this dining room, and there were these, all these mental patients, and they were . . . I just looked at them. Then he said, ‘Now come after me, and I’ll take you to the hard cases.’ So we had to pass through a gate. Because these people are already dangerous. [At this point on the tape there is a series of knocking sounds, sharp reports like a fist banging on a hollow block of wood. I don’t remember either of us hearing the noise.] They were not allowed out. We walked into this yard. There I saw a scene I will never forget in my life. I saw this guy sitting and just moving his head, another guy totally naked – he just threw off all his clothes. He cannot wear clothes. And a woman holding a football. And another man just turning his hands. And another man just rolling on the floor. Awful! Awful scene! The doctor turned to me and said, ‘Now, Uri, can you help these people?’ And at that moment the craziest idea struck me. I thought, ‘My God! These people know too much! This is what happens to them when they know too much!'”
He was shouting again. He stood up and began to pace the room. I wanted to ask him to open a window because I felt hot and the air seemed stifling. It was difficult to breathe. But I did not ask because I did not want to interrupt his monologue.
“Why do you think there’s the term ‘mad scientist’? ‘The mad doctor’? ‘The mad professor’? The professor doesn’t care how he looks. He is dirty because all he does is work. Because those people are entering with one foot into the unknown. They are preserving too much data in their minds. And minds cannot accept all that data!” He swiveled around and faced me, staring hard at me, shouting, his voice high, almost hysterical, too theatrical. “Minds cannot bear that! And they can go berserk!”
He was quiet again. He fell back against my sofa. “It’s hot,” I said.
“Are you hot? I am cool.”
“I open the window.” He moved to get up, but I gestured him down. I asked him why he caused such controversy.
“All right! I tell you. But I cannot answer you ultimately. I can answer only one step before the ultimate. One day [at this point there is a rapping sound on the tape. I do not remember hearing it, although it is quite noticeable on the recording of the interview] there was an explosion. An explosion! All the cosmoses.”
“All the cosmoses, all the infinite cosmoses exploded, and in that explosion, when it calmed down, billions and billions of worlds were formed and life started. Now I don’t know how life started. That is the mystery of the universe. Then there was an intelligence somewhere that picked up a fire.” Geller’s voice became soft, as though he was awed by what he was telling, and his tone grew reverential, almost prayerful. “And then this intelligence started to think. And it made things. It made cars and machines and airplanes. And then it started to think more. And it started to develop into evolution and it became more intelligent. And this started going, they started changing, they started losing their physical body. Because it was so highly intelligent they didn’t need their physical body anymore. Then suddenly they became pure energy. Then! Somewhere out there in the universe, somewhere out there in the cosmos, out there in outer space, this intelligence scanned our universe, our solar system, and said,” Geller slapped his hands together (that sound is reassuringly on the tape), “Let’s pick up earth! Maybe they drew a lottery. I don’t know why they chose earth. And then they said, ‘Look at those human beings. Let’s test them. Let’s see what happens.’ And so they suddenly threw a puzzle at us, and that puzzle is suddenly in my room.”
“Now that is one explanation. It could be right. It could be wrong. Maybe that is where my powers come from. Now there are other explanations why. I will give you a more common one, a down-to-earth one which everybody would like to believe. When I was young I might have fallen and hit my head. And when I hit my head, my brain might have moved in my head. And a little molecule inside, something . . . that triggered [he shouted the word] another part of my brain! Which ordinarily we don’t use. So what is happening? Maybe I’m using a part of my brain that you don’t use because some molecules were triggered in a fall. So I can do these things, bend these things. But we all have the potential. But we can’t all go banging our heads on walls to bend forks. So that’s another explanation for my powers. Do you understand? There are endless explanations. This is why . . . I mean, I can’t believe anymore! I cannot comprehend more! How much can my human brain expect to know! Because I do these weird things does not mean that I understand more than you! I understand little.”
He seemed sad and unhappy.
He then sat up abruptly. “I keep seeing fire from you.”
“What?” It startled me.
“In New Orleans. I see you and fire. I see you running from fire.”
I laughed. “Well, I’m never going to goddamn New Orleans again.”
“I will tell you something.” And then he stopped. He was irritated about something. “Why are you thinking about a statue of a fish when I am talking?”
My mind had wandered. I was thinking about a wine bottle made like a fish that I had seen at a party the night before. “I wasn’t thinking of a statue.”
“No?” He grabbed a piece of paper and drew the fish-shaped bottle. “That is not a fish statue?”
“No, it’s a wine bottle made to look like a fish.”
He tossed the pad aside, still annoyed.
And at this point, I swear to you, the wooden sculpture shaped like a hand suddenly flew across the room, hitting the opposite wall and falling on the floor. It frightened me. Geller appeared annoyed. He went over and retrieved the hand and put it back on the table with a bang. I looked at him, incredulous. I found it difficult to believe what I had seen. He looked at me, “No, no,” he said, “it is nothing. It happens all the time.” He smiled, trying to reassure me. He patted my shoulder, “Don’t be scared.”
“It’s so goddamn hot in here. I can’t breathe.”
Then I heard another clank; a spoon had flown into the room and bounced against the wall onto the floor near the door to the terrace. Geller seemed irritated with the interruption. I stood up, as did he. I was afraid to walk toward the spoon or anywhere, for that matter, and yet I felt menaced, not by Geller but by the atmosphere in the room, the intense, dizzying oppressiveness. Geller appeared totally unaffected. He walked over and picked up the spoon. And as he did, the spoon melted in his hand, curling over onto itself.
“I must have air,” I said. “I must.”
“The spoon jumped. And that’s it.”
I stared at him. I found it difficult to conceive that he did not share my panic, that he could take what was occurring – objects flying about the room, spoons melting – with an equilibrium that was touched by annoyance.
“Don’t you have any tranquiisers?” I asked.
“What’s a tranquiiser?”
“Something to calm my nerves.”
“But these things happen.” He stepped toward me, smiling.
“Don’t come near me! Stay away.”
He stopped and then looked hurt and embarrassed, as if I had said he was unclean and foul. The fact that I was now frightened perplexed and offended him. “Things fly in rooms all the time. I do not make them fly. I don’t want them to damn fly.”
“The window, please.”
He moved past me and walked to the window. As he was opening it, there was another loud clunk! and a rock, seeming to fall from the ceiling, landed on the carpet in front of me. I gasped.
“What is it?” he said. Then he saw the rock. “Another one.” He was definitely irritated. Enough’s enough. He didn’t like having me, his guest, upset, and I was extremely upset.
“Don’t be afraid. Relax. It’s something . . .” He was coming toward me. I backed away, putting my hands in front of me, attempting to ward off some kind of injury or blow I was expecting. “Okay . . . okay,” he said, dropping his hands to his side, cocking his head, smiling kindly at me, embarrassed by my distress, his smile an apology for my discomfort.
“Don’t be scared. It’s all right. It happens all the time. You’ll get used to it,” he purred comfortingly.
“I don’t want to goddamn get used to it!”
Bang! Something else hit the ceiling and then bounced against the wall. “Oh, my God!” I shouted, terrified. “Oh, that scares me. They’re not going to believe this.”
“Now what?” Geller was finally fed up. He sounded like a frazzled housewife whose kids are constantly breaking things every time her back is turned.
I stood at the side of the room. I couldn’t move. I was afraid if I moved something would come flying at me. I very badly wanted to get the hell out, but I was too scared to move. It was becoming nightmarish to me. My sense of physical reality had broken, the rules I believed governed physical objects – gravity, for instance – no longer seemed to apply. And it made me feel vulnerable and near panic. My insecurity was compounded by my physical discomfort, the heat and oppressiveness and difficulty in breathing. And Geller, because he was connected in some mysterious way to the phenomena I was witnessing, and because he too plainly did not share my anxiety but rather seemed mildly put out, as if the “intelligences” were wildly overdoing the old objects-fly-across-the-room routine and it was time to stop, because his attitude was so dissimilar to my own, more, as I said, like a mother with an unmanageable, if unseen, child making mischief in the house, more like that than a person experiencing an extraordinary occurrence, because of that Geller seemed suddenly foreign to me, unlike me in some essential way. He seemed the enemy, and my paranoia focused on him. It was unfair, but I felt trapped and threatened, and I could not tell him why.
What had hit the wall was a steel tape measure. Geller picked it up and put it back on a shelf.
“What makes this happen?”
He shrugged. “It’s a phenomenon. It happens. You want to know the truth? I believe intelligences are doing this.”
“I feel very . . .”
Geller nodded, seeming to feel badly about what had happened. “Yeah. You feel like you could cut the air.”
“I feel a great … I feel surrounded. I feel like … I feel like suddenly there are tons of electricity in the room. I feel paranoid.”
“You shouldn’t. Please. You . . .”
“I feel paranoid and cornered. I feel surrounded. I feel . . .” I went on, trying to describe my feelings. He knew what I was feeling.
“You’re afraid for me, of me! No, no, you shouldn’t.” He smiled, speaking quietly, soothingly, reassuringly. “Look, relax. The girls [his secretaries] see this every day. This happens every day, every day this happens to me.” He said it as though he were explaining an infirmity to me, some defect, but he hoped, since we liked each other, I would excuse him it, that it wouldn’t get in the way of our friendship because he couldn’t do a damn thing about it in any case.
And then suddenly, in a matter of moments, the oppressiveness left the room, the temperature seemed to drop dramatically, and my anxiety, my sense of being threatened, passed. I sat down on the sofa. Geller made me a vodka and water. We talked about his movie. He called his car, a Cadillac limousine, and drove me to my apartment. We stopped at my door. As I was about to leave the car, my door key in my hand, he touched the key. It curled.
I had to borrow a key from the doorman to enter my apartment.
Two days later, still not having comprehended all this, I stopped by Geller’s apartment. He was in the apartment upstairs. I hesitated a moment in going up and then I thought, “What the hell?” For some reason, I wasn’t frightened.
Geller was dressing when I arrived. He went into the bathroom. I sat on the sofa. The carved hand that had flown across the room two nights before was again standing on the end table. Perhaps because I did not want it to start flying again, I took the hand and shoved it under the sofa cushion and sat on it.
Geller came out of the bathroom. We were going to grab a drink outside. I walked him to the door. He undid the three locks. We walked down the hall to the elevator. And there, standing in front of the elevator doors, was the carved hand I had shoved under the cushion.
“Damn,” Geller said and went back into his apartment to return the carved hand. He was both irritated and embarrassed. Irritated because he had to unlock the locks and return the thing. And embarrassed because be did not want me to get upset again. And, strangely, I wasn’t. It seemed the most normal occurrence in the world.
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