I was Christmas shopping at a store in Woodland Hills yesterday when the clerk, a heavyset woman with a tendency toward exasperation, sighed loudly and said, "Well exactly what color do you want?"
I was there to buy a coat for my wife and couldn't remember what color she has told me never to buy for her. It was either red, blue, green or pink. Maybe yellow.
Sales clerks intimidate me. I can't think in their presence. I used to feel that way about priests. "Well, young man," they'd say sternly, "what have you been up to today?"
At age 12 I was never up to anything significant, but I felt dirty and guilty anyhow, and knew I was going to end up in Hell. So I quit the church and ended up in L.A. instead.
This time, however, I was ready for the clerk's exasperated attitude. While she waited with her hands on her hips, I began to imagine her naked.
This was not a moment of lust but of self-improvement. You can't be intimidated by a naked fat lady in the middle of a department store.
It is a technique I learned from a friend, Michael Aharoni, who is a psychotherapist and hypnotist. When you strip someone of their clothes, you strip them of their power.
I stopped cringing and smiled. "I want a blue coat," I said powerfully.
"Blue?" the clerk said.
Her gaze was penetrating. I didn't mind that, but then she began to smile. I recognized the look. It was the Aharoni Stare. My God, she was imagining me naked!
"Are you sure ?" she said, her voice tingling with power.
"Well, I . . . that is . . . er . . . uh."
I covered my nakedness and headed for the door. To hell with the coat. I'd buy a toaster instead.
This probably isn't the kind of column you expected in these critical times of The Panama War and The Art Buchwald Trial, but I think it important for you to be aware of the Aharoni Zap. When in doubt, hallucinate.
That's probably an oversimplification of a very important way to conquer one's fears and save one's sanity, but then that's what I do for a living, oversimplify.
I met Aharoni when I came to town 18 years ago. He was part of my L.A. Package. I hired an agent, a shrink and a c.p.a.
Mike and I have remained friends despite his inability to quell the mad dog growling inside me, and occasionally he calls to tell me of a breakthrough in his field of endeavor.
"It's guided imagery," he said the other day in his Encino office. Much of America's psychic energy emanates from Encino.
"Most people give away their power. I use hypnosis to help them get it back. I teach them to hallucinate. The word has a bad connotation, so we say guided imagery instead."
He told me about a woman writer who had anxiety attacks at staff meetings of a television series. She'd choke up and couldn't talk.
Mike hypnotized her and told her to imagine the executive producer naked. This so amused her, she loosened up at the meetings and thereafter contributed vastly to the success of the show and is a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Episodic Television. Nice going, Mike.
In another case, a man was terrified of earthquakes. Certain he would be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Big One came, he spent much of the day under a table and otherwise avoided structures he felt were unsafe.
Mike had to begin his therapy in a park because the patient wouldn't come to his fifth-floor office.
"His real fear was of death," Mike said, "so I had him imagine himself dead. He wrote his own eulogy. After that, we were able to move from the park to the lobby of the building.
"Then I had him hallucinate his own funeral. Having 'died' once, it was no big deal anymore. He stopped being afraid of death and lost interest in earthquakes. We moved out of the lobby and into my office. It was a lot more comfortable there."
I told Mike I was afraid of public speaking and asked: Could he hypnotize me into believing my audience was naked? He said he'd try. Under hypnosis, I was told to imagine anything I wanted.
I imagined myself tall and swarthy. I am presently short and swarthy. I imagined some of the audience naked and some headless. Naked people are vulnerable and headless people don't talk back.
Mike said to use the technique whenever I felt threatened. I used it on the clerk, but she used it back, neutralizing me. God help us if the Aharoni Zap ever fell into the wrong hands.
"Power lies in our imagination," Mike said. "Use it!"
I marched back to the store. The naked clerk was gone. I bought the coat. It was black.