Alexander George isn’t a psychologist, but he’s quoting Sigmund Freud to me from across a small table in the Alumni House. He’s a philosophy professor here at Amherst, but he moonlights as a mentalist. So now he is going to try, again, to read my mind. More specifically, what he’s explaining is that he’s going to read my “tells”—the tiny, involuntary movements of my face and vocal chords through which I will inevitably reveal what’s on my mind.
At this point, George, the Rachel and Michael Deutch Professor of Philosophy, has already shown me two card tricks, in both cases ultimately guessing my card correctly. Or, in the second one, had he, with carefully chosen questions and instructions, subtly guided my thoughts toward the card he had picked in advance? I don’t have time to puzzle it out right now; I have to stay focused on this third trick.
At his prompting, I have cut a deck of cards, moved it down under the table, cut it again and placed one ostensibly random, secret card on my knee. It’s the six of hearts. I’m pretty sure the professor can’t see it, nor can either of the two cameras pointed at us by the College’s video producer, Marcus DeMaio. I honestly can’t decide whether I want George to succeed at guessing my card again. Success will make for a better article and video, but I also want to put his mentalist skills to a genuine test—if that’s even within my power at all.
“Your card could be a red card,” George says slowly, “or a black card.” I try to keep my face stony as he scans it for a reaction to either of those possibilities.
Who am I kidding, though? Even when I’m not on camera, I tend to be self-conscious about my face and my body and the great many things they reveal about me. Family and friends have teased me since toddlerhood about my formidable and expressive eyebrows, how they rise in surprise and furrow in concern. I talk to myself so much that I have to check to make sure I’m not doing it out loud when others are around. When I interview people for the articles I write, as I will interview George later on, I catch myself bobbing my head and making too-frequent affirmative noises to assure them I’m paying attention. And I have cerebral palsy, so precise control over muscle movements is not exactly my forte. If I am to believe George that this trick really does hinge on his ability to read my physical signals, I’m not going to be able to hide anything for long.
“Your card could be a red card,” George says slowly, “or a black card.”