Friday, July 08, 2011

Exorcism for fun and profit

It's not just for priests anymore!

There are two good ways to tell if a psychic is a fraud: (1) They all are. (2) They don't cringe at the name of Steve Rubenstein.

Who is this Steve Rubenstein, you ask? He writes for the San Francisco Chronicle. He has an engaging just-the-facts style that might seem out of sync with New Age woo, but his wonderfully deadpan reporting deflates all pretensions in a delightfully effective way. Have you heard the one about the swordsman whose blade was so sharp his opponent didn't realize he had been decapitated until he turned his head and the whole thing fell off? That's Rubenstein.

He sent some heads rolling in the July 6, 2011, edition of the Chronicle with an article titled “What's in your closet?” Read the whole thing on the Chronicle website (where its title was changed to “Cleaning houses with psychic Sheldon Norberg”). Below I present some choice excerpts for your delectation:
What's in your closet?

Steve Rubenstein

There had to be a reason why a perfectly nice $1.7 million Marin County house wasn't selling. Maybe it had something to do with ghosts.

If so, it couldn't hurt to call in an expert. And there is no greater expert in persuading stubborn and obstinate ghosts to leave a haunted house than Sheldon Norberg, 48, a slender man with a shaved head who has been driving demons, devils and negative energy from Bay Area houses for the past two decades, at $1,200 per dwelling.

“I'm not cheap,” Norberg said, sitting quietly in a lawn chair by the front door to get a feel for what he would soon be facing inside. “But selling a house is a million-dollar transaction. Why take a chance?”
How true! I mean, his remark about not being cheap. The $1200 fee seems really clever—not such a round number that it seems arbitrary. Sheldon put some thought into that!
He sat with his eyes closed, his palms upturned, to enhance reception. At last he declared that this particular three-bedroom house, on a shady corner on the banks of Lark Creek, was by no means hopeless. True, there was negative energy on the top floor and in the basement. But nothing he couldn't handle.

“We are vibrating entities,” he said. “Realtors don't like to deal with these things. They think it's all woo-woo stuff. But prospective buyers get a feeling the moment they walk into a house. If there is anger, or sadness, or unresolved feelings inside, you have to handle it.”
Please tell us, Sheldon: At what frequency do we vibrate? Is it best measured in Hertz or kilo-Hertz? Perhaps even mega? For some reason, they never tell us. The “woo-woo stuff” is apparently really hard to measure.

Although Norberg neglected to inform Rosenberg about any specific frequencies he might have detected, the self-proclaimed psychic was otherwise ready to demonstrate his powerful talents to the Chronicle reporter. The house in Marin, it turns out, was full of anger and sadness. What's more, Norberg knew where the anger and sadness were centered!
[The house] was being sold, Norberg said, because the owners were getting divorced. After two months on the market and no offers, it was time to find out why. He headed upstairs, to the master bedroom. There he closed his eyes once more and declared the room to have been the site of conflict and sadness.
Okay, folks. You have to give Sheldon this one. His awesome sixth sense has manifested its supernatural acuity. He could tell the divorced couple experienced anger and sadness in the master bedroom.

As a professional psychic, Sheldon knows enough to pretty things up a bit with some Eastern mumbo-jumbo while he's at it:
This could be, Norberg said, because of the feng shui of the room, and its orientation on the north-south axis, its proximity to the nearby creek, the lack of sunlight and the heavy crossbeam that ran across the middle of the ceiling, cleaving the energy flow.

Also there was the divorce. Perhaps that had something to do with it too, he said.

“There is anger here,” he said in a soft voice, calling on his store of psychic powers.
We scoffers must stand in awe of such a demonstration, faithfully and reverently documented by the Chronicle's ace reporter. Who can doubt Sheldon Norberg now?
The owner of the house, a young woman named Rosemary, pulled up in her Lexus to check on Norberg and see firsthand what she was getting for her $1,200. (She had already paid $10,000 to a real estate stager to make the house look nice, and that had bought her a few bowls of decorative seashells and plastic lemons, so another $1,200, she opined, was just the cost of doing business.)

“I never used a service like this before,” Rosemary said. “But if it works, it's not really that expensive.”
Oh, Jiminy Christmas! The “real estate stager” has an even better gimmick than the psychic. For a $10,000 fee I would have supplied real lemons! For an extra $5000, I'd even toss in a few limes!

Although Norberg had already demonstrated his skills were almost up to the level of the real-estate stager, he continued to strut his stuff. Rosemary was there to provide first-person validation of the psychic's amazing insights.
Norberg stood in the bedroom where Rosemary acknowledged that she and her husband had themselves some pointed misunderstandings, and the psychic announced that he was feeling chest constrictions, emotional sadness and compressed energy. Rosemary nodded. Then he descended into the basement, a dank windowless storage space with a lot of junk lying around, and said it was not the most cheerful room in the house, either.
Speaking just for myself, I have to admit that I have always regarded dank, windowless basements as cheerful places, but I guess that's because I'm not psychic. Sheldon's preternatural powers can penetrate mere fa├žades.

To ensure that Rosemary could see that she was getting her money's worth, Sheldon banished the basement's oppressive miasma.
He proceeded to sit down and close his eyes. The psychic said he does his best work with his eyes closed. It concentrates the energy.

“I feel the Earth shifting with the relation to the rotational planes,” he said at last. “The magnetic field has changed.”
There will be scoffers, I know. Skeptics will demand to know what the heck “rotational planes” are supposed to be. People who are not entirely ignorant of science will point out that magnetic fields can be detected and measured. The absence of appropriate electronic gear suggests that Sheldon Norberg prefers not to document his psychic manifestations with hard data. It's probably because any trace of doubt is exceedingly harmful to psychic powers. I'll bet Rubenstein had to be on his absolutely best behavior.
Norberg sat motionless for three hours, until the psychic heavy lifting was done and the house, he said, was clear. Afterward, Rosemary said the house felt pretty much the same to her as it did before, but maybe that was because she was “not in touch with the major energy channels.”
Rosemary is an absolute jewel, isn't she?

I'll admit, though, that Sheldon is starting to impress me just a bit. While earning $400 per hour while sitting stock-still may sound easy, just give it a try. You'll get the fidgets within minutes. Sheldon is earning his fee. (I'll bet the entire time he was thinking about the advantages of going into real-estate staging instead.)

And now—quite obviously—it's time for the happy ending! No newspaper puff piece would be complete without it.
Two days later, her real estate agent threw open the doors to the public for an open house. Rosemary had high hopes. Seventeen couples toured the newly energized property.

“But nobody made an offer,” Rosemary said with a sigh.
I'll bet Rosemary forgot to bury a little plaster statue of St. Joseph on the grounds. You need to bury him upside-down, for some reason, but it always works. You can get one for just a few bucks from your local Catholic bookstore. (I suspect that many Catholic bookstores are surviving on the margin provided by hordes of superstitious real-estate agents.)

Well, if the story can't have a happy ending, could it at least have a twist? Rubenstein digs deep into the story behind the story and comes up with a precious nugget:
Perhaps her optimism in Norberg was misplaced, she acknowledged, and perhaps her optimism in the real estate market was, too. According to the comps, which is real estate lingo for please-get-your-head-out-of-the-clouds, the house was worth not $1.7 million but $1.4 million.
I am not a real-estate expert. Neither, probably, are you. However, I have it on good authority that it is difficult to sell a house that is overpriced by $300,000. Imagine that!
“Hiring Sheldon, I was just covering all the bases,” she said. “It's good to have the positive energy. But we might have to lower the price just a little, too.”
You think? (Evidently not.)


ShadowWalkyr said...

At what frequency do we vibrate? Is it best measured in Hertz or kilo-Hertz? Perhaps even mega?

Well, I suppose that would vary by temperature.

Zeno said...

An excellent point. I guess I should have stipulated standard temperature and pressure.

Tualha said...

Rosemary is an absolute jewel, isn't she?

Well, considering that "jewelry" in German in "schmuck", I'd have to agree...

Karen said...

Rosemary is indeed an absolute jewel, but Norberg is the real prize. I am genuinely impressed. Perhaps I'm just an optimist, but I'd like to believe that having no scruples is a difficult-to-develop talent.

OT: my word verification is "teding". Does that mean we'll someday see Zeno giving a TED talk, perhaps on the art of teaching?