Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ringing the Fern

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet

Recently, I went to a meditation group to check it out. I am not saying I am enlightened, or am seeking, enlightenment, or am even some kind of Dharma Punk. Yes, I still like my music faster and louder and yes, rock’n’roll made a man outta me, as the Dictators proudly posited, but it was pleasant to sit still and just be for 40 minutes. Perhaps I am old enough to appreciate it, but that was not always so.

In the early 1980s, my friend Jim Downs was dating Dr. Gerri Leigh, who was both a high-end professional psychic and deep into what is then known as the New Age movement. For the unaware, New Age was a nearly cult-level belief system in the healing power of crystals, pyramids, charkas, and usually being vegetarian (if not vegan). The followers were as avid as the punk straight-edgers of the same period, except a whole market came out of it worth millions of dollars, including scents, charms, and especially books (it pretty much started the whole glut of self-help writing that even thrives today). Whole gatherings and expos were devoted to the methods of “betterment.”

Gerri was, as I stated, deeply entrenched in it, for that was her main client base as a professional psychic: upper middle class (and higher) whites with disposable income, who were looking for some kind of piece of mind, no matter what the cost. Back then, Gerri’s service was $100 per “hour” (50 minute sessions). Using various methods, she would tell her patrons whether the time was “right” to enter business deals, if they would find love, or when they would reach some kind of happiness or success.

She offered to “read” me gratis a few times, but I always refused because not only didn’t I believe it, even if I did I wouldn’t want to know. I liked Gerri as a person; hell, she even had worked for Joe Franklin as a producer on his show before her full-time New Age gig. But I didn’t believe in her psychic abilities, and felt her talent was as a great listener.

One thing Gerri did do for me was set up a date with her assistant, Fern Ring. Fern was a pretty avid follower of the New Age psyche, more so than even Gerri, and believed in Gerri unquestionably (as far as I could tell). For example, Fern would “do” her tarot in the morning, and if she had a “negative” reading, she would stay home.

On our first date, we went out to eat at a vegetarian restaurant (her choice) and then came back to her apartment on the Upper East Side. It was just about 11 PM, so we sat on the couch to watch The Honeymooners – and she promptly fell asleep. I woke her when the show was over, and went home.

Fern was a smart woman, having graduated Cum Laude from some upstate college, but she was also unassuming and claimed it was no big deal. At the time, my ego didn’t understand that attitude, but I respected it.

For full disclosure purposes, I must admit that I was a bit strong headed and somewhat closed minded about some things at that time in my life, especially toward the whole New Age thing. While I still have problems with some of that mentality – much as I do with fervent straight-edge – I am much more open minded to try new things before “poo-pooing” it.

There were signs right from the start that things with Fern would not work out, and not just because I was on the rebound from another relationship. For one thing, my humor escaped her completely. For example, the phone went off and I said, “Oh, I think I hear the fern ring.” Not only did she not find it funny, but also it led to our first argument.

Fern was a strict vegetarian. In that period, vegetarian food was not as interesting as it is these days. In fact, I found it awful. Seemed that almost everything was either green or gray: green if it was raw, gray if it was cooked. With my life-long very limited sense of smell, the food was also so bland that I was bored after a few bites. Or, if it was very spicy, all I tasted was the spices and not the object. Obviously, Fern liked vegetarian restaurants, but I kept pulling for places that served meat as well (or, as I crudely put it then, “I hope they have some dead animal flesh”).

Gerri made the rounds on television since New Age was a populist fad, showing up as a frequent guest on The Joe Franklin Show and other news magazine kinds of programs. Once she was even featured on a segment of The Morton Downey Jr. show, which was an “expose” of New Age. At one point, Fern was at the Loudmouth podium shilling as one of Gerri’s clients, but not identifying herself as Gerri’s assistant. She did the same on some feature news program segment about Gerri.

Toward the end of the short-lived relationship, I went with Fern to one of Gerri’s parties. Gerri threw them occasionally for her clients, essentially for them to bring their friends, hoping to farm new clients. In my punk, stripped-down attitude, I was not impressed with this navel-gazing crowd. Here are a couple of true conversations from that party:

Woman: What’s your sign?
RBF: Lobo, the Wolf [a Bugs Bunny reference for those who don’t get it]
Woman: No, really.
RBF: I’d rather not be judged by when I was born, but if you guess, I’ll say so.
Woman: [five guesses later] Taurus?
RBF: Yes, May 10th.
Woman: I knew it!

Man: How do you know Gerri?
RBF: I’m a friend of her boyfriend.
Man: Has she ever done a reading for you?
RBF: She’s offered to do them, but I said no.
Man: How much did she ask for?
RBF: Nothing.
Man: [Angrily] Nothing? I see her three times a week [meaning $300 per week, $1200 per month, in early 1980s dollars] and she offers them to you for free and you turn her down?!
Then he stormed off in disgust, though I’ve never found out if he was mad at me for turning it down, or her for offering it to me for free. Either way, he kept seeing her.

One evening after a dinner, we were getting cozy, when the phone rang. She went to another room to answer it, and when she came back, she said, essentially, I just don’t do it for her, so goodbye. A bit shocked by this turn of events, I left and never saw her again. While hurt, I was not heartbroken. And it truly was for the better of everyone involved. It certainly was good she realized it early.

Jim soon also split from Gerri, and eventually married Denise Nadvornik. It was a lovely wedding. A few years later, Gerri went into the “next big thing,” channeling, which was popularized by JZ Knight / Ramtha. When I heard that Gerri passed away in 2003 of cancer while in her 40s, I was saddened by the news. She worked with 9/11 survivors, and I wonder it that may have been a factor. Here is some info on her:

As for Fern, the last I heard anything about her was in the late 1980s. This is the story as I heard it, which sounds plausibly to me: seems she was dating an acquaintance of a friend of mine. The guy was mugged one afternoon, and Fern got mad at him, demanding to know what he did, on a karmic level, that caused him to get attacked later in the day.

Yet as strange as all that was to me, Fern was at heart a good person who was devoted to her beliefs and definitely well meaning. I wish her well.

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