{ John Edward Wants to Teach You How to Read }
Margaret Emery
photo courtesy scifi.com

I file death certificates to pay the bills—two hundred to eight hundred lives a day. The day they were born, the day they died, their survivors, and how much money they saved up for a coffin all stamped by a local rotary, stapled to a facsimile cover sheet and bound up with a rubber band in a manila folder. Manila folders are just one of those little triggers that makes me lose it.
   Everyone has a trigger like that. For some people, it's the American flag, especially after 9/11. For one friend, it's that Billy Joel song, "Only The Good Die Young", which always makes her think of her father who died in a car accident. For my dad, the smell of overcooked canned vegetables makes him think of his mom who died, and for my friend Irene Gould who lost her husband two years ago, it's rocks. John Edward has built a career on being able to relay trigger messages, like rocks and vegetables, between the living and the dead. Every day between five and six in the evening, millions tune in to his syndicated television show, Crossing Over, to see what personal messages he will bring to audience members. He has a newsletter, three books, dozens of Web sites and a SNL skit devoted to him, not to mention a sold-out tour. It's hard to define whether the attraction comes from the true belief that he's actually relaying messages from the beyond, or his hokey lingo and sometimes absurd segments.
   Mario Rossero and Dana Horbath's opinions of the show differ greatly. Dana can't get over how Edward's mouth is shaped funny, but Mario's a genuine believer.
   "I just watched Rosie O'Donnell and Christopher Rice, Ann Rice's son, was on. Rosie and Chris Rice went to talk to him," he said, "Chris Rice said 'he told me something about a friend who died, and it changed my life' so I think he changes your life." For many people, the show is a goof more than anything else. On one show, Edward talked about smoking pot and a hose. In another episode, he did a reading for an actress from Roswell where he channeled a pet turtle. In his private reading for Roma Downey from Touched By an Angel, he said the spirits were acknowledging the healing work that she did, so Edward assumed she was a priest. His readings are so ridiculous, even people who have never seen the show know something about him, like Mike Damico.
john   "You know that Haley Joel Osmond [sic] guy? He saw dead people. John Edward sees dead people, he talks to dead people, he talks to the family and he makes a living off it. He kicks Haley Joel Ormond's [sic] butt. John Edward's the real deal."
   After the group Mike was with made several jokes about John Edward crossing over ass cheeks, he added, "And he knows that 'you have a motherly figure who has a name that starts with an A or W. She might not really be a mother; she may just be a homeroom teacher. But still, she's looking down on you, assuming that she's dead, and she's very proud of you, and she regrets that she cannot be there for your bar mitzvah. Are you Jewish? No? Okay never mind.'"
   It's hard to take the show seriously, especially since there's a quickly flashed disclaimer at the end of it. But all of the audience members in the gallery wrap-up say he was right on the money, every single time. To compound it all, Crossing Over airs after Springer on Fox.
   One Friday, I watched the show with Sarah Glascom. It was her first time watching. The big things the dead people wanted to talk about this time were family jokes about smoking pot. Sarah was having a hard time believing it was a TV show, let alone one with a psychic. "I don't know what the hell is going on. He's talking to this family, is he channeling? And there's this post show wrap up in black and white. Now he's in the gallery, what does that mean? Do these people know what they're in for? Do they tell him anything before hand?"
   Then Edward flashed across the screen, saying, "I don't mean to offend you, but was there a joke in your family about you smoking pot? Because they're telling me about you smoking pot, and it's coming through like a 'ha-ha' funny kind of thing." In the post gallery wrap up, the woman confirmed that she had been caught smoking pot once.
   "It seems more like an infomercial than an actual show," Sarah said. "There's no writing, no credits. But there are two on-set grief counselors, so I don't know if that means it's real."
   The editing is what nagged her the most.
   "Part of me is thinking, well maybe he makes a lot of mistakes, so maybe the way they edit the show together [makes him more believable]. He might say all this ridiculous information, but the one thing he does say that has some sort of relevance to people is the part they keep in the show. He is the executive producer, so he's not going to show his shortcomings."
   Jen Lawton, who watches the show regularly, was skeptical at first, but now isn't as sure.
   "I was suspicious, because if they didn't have something to hide, why would they flash [the disclaimer] so fast."
   Lawton added, "It is set up like [an infomercial], but maybe it has to be that way so that they can fit it all in. It has to be edited. Another thing is people will try to say something, and then he'll cut them off. It's a skill either way."
   One thing I couldn't get anyone to talk about was how he or she felt about John Edward and psychics helping grieving families. It was clear that people thought his show was entertaining and fake on some level. But there weren't many comments on if and how Edward helped people in mourning. After all, there are two on-set grief counselors. Not everyone goes on his show to make fun of him. After watching the show every day for about a month, I wanted more and started reading his book, One Last Time. There had to be something more to this guy than the stupid psychic workbook section in the back of his book—there is and there isn't. At a particular point in the book, he started talking about karma and how crossing over to the other side is similar to graduating from college, completely belittling death, making it sounds like the theme song from The Jeffersons, like people moved on up after life, not crossed over.
   I nearly threw the book against the wall after that, thinking of the three people in my life who had passed in the last year. It sounded too simple. Then he said other things that made sense, like the part of the book about dreams. According to him, when people dream of dead loved ones, they aren't just dreams—they're visits from the other side. I've had several dreams about my father's father who passed last March, but I've never had dreams about my mother's parents who also passed last year. My dad's parents lived in Pennsylvania, about three miles from my house, but my mom's parents lived in North Carolina, and I never saw them much. I always felt bad about not being as close to them as I was to my father's parents, and after they died, I also felt bad about having reoccurring dreams about my dad's father and not my mom's parents. I felt like I was ripping them off somehow, keeping them away in their death purposefully, even though I had nothing to do with not seeing them much growing up.
   Edward's book reminded me of a dream I'd had the night before. I was in a store with my dad's father, and we were card shopping for some made-up person's birthday. He kept showing me cards with writing already in them—some were from aunts and uncles, and some were from cousins, and all the cards were for different family members. I kept telling him I wanted a blank card, and he got mad and left.
   When I thought about the dream as a message, I figured out that Grandpa was trying to show me messages from my mom's parents, and that I didn't have to feel guilty. That's why he was getting so mad when I wouldn't read the cards. My parents didn't get the story, but I didn't care because my grieving was lessened. I don't think that Grandpa's spirit flew in from the "other side" to make the connections between Edward's book and my dream for me. I just felt better.
   After that, I started reading the book and watching the show in a different way. Every time I watched John Edward do a reading, I thought about what it was like to learn to read. Whenever he did something that just seemed so dumb, like the reading for the woman from Roswell with her dead relative's pet turtle on the other side, I thought about the dancing letters on Sesame Street. Maybe death is so intangible and unfamiliar that people need to learn a new language to understand it. Maybe Edward is giving us the Jim Henson puppet version of death.

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