Images via Phil Stafford / and JStone /

Cool meaningful friends and hot meaningless sex

by Wendy Hammers

In 2002, I ended my 14 year marriage and began the rest of my life.

A life I imagined filled with warm, meaningful conversation with old friends, and hot, meaningless sex with new strangers. I envisioned reinvention and a fresh start.

Oh, and bills. I envisioned bills. Piles of them. For rent, for food to put in my child’s mouth, for clothes, car insurance, medical coverage – ya know, the little things.

After all, I was 41, suddenly single, with primary custody, no child support, and no real steady income. I needed work.

Enter James Van Praagh. James professed to be a world renown medium. For those of you not born in California, a medium is a person thought to have the power to communicate with the spirits of the dead or with agents of another dimension. Where I grew up in South Jersey, we had a different name for this kind of person. They were called  psychics. Or, if you asked my neighbor Sal, “phony scumbags.”

Phony or not, I needed James Van Praagh. Because even though I was no psychic, I could clearly see unpaid bills in my future.

James was to be the star of a new reality show, Beyond with James Van Praagh. The production company hired me to do audience warm up. I have been doing this kind of work for years, having warmed up 30 episodes of Mad About You, countless sitcom pilots, hit series starring Garry Shandling, Jason Alexander, Richard Lewis. I had warmed up everything from dog competitions to my boss’ coffee. If I could work with divas like Star Jones, how hard could it be to entertain people who wanted to talk to dead folks?

These were hungry people, people who had flocked in droves to be in the same room with James. Mothers, fathers, widows, widowers, grieving uncles and aunts, orphaned sons and daughters. They waited outside in the early and depressing Hollywood morning air, bound together by their need for answers, closures and hope.

Someone had left them too soon. They missed their loved ones and felt guilty they were still here without them. James would set them free, one by one.

They were seekers looking for permission to move on with their lives. As a recent divorcee, this I understood. I too wanted to move on. And James was their ticket to the closure show:

I see your husband, he’s sending good wishes. He wants you to know he’s seen the man you are dating and he approves. Go be with him. Let him love you. He wants you to love again. And be happy. He’s telling me, go be happy and have your life. I’m fine over here.

I’d watch as the woman’s eyes would open wide with wonder and disbelief and then, finally, relief.

I’d witness others exhale deeply, many of them for the first time since they lost their precious loved ones. The sadness would start to lift and I could see in their eyes the glimmer of possibility of a life beyond loss. Of a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Four mornings a week, I would arrive at Hollywood Center Studios in Hollywood. My call was 8:45 AM. That would be, by the way, in the morning. And I would be, by the way, a stand up comic. So, essentially, I was to be doing my nightclub act in the morning to mourners and no one was serving alcohol. Good times.

Here was how it would all go down:

At 9:00 the audience would load in. It was my job to turn 120 strangers into friends and create a community. I was to transform the grieving searchers into joyful partygoers. That summer, Pink had just released “Get This Party Started” and we’d play that as folks walked in. We’d play Donna Summer, Patti LaBelle, Michael Jackson. And I’d dance with them as they were entering the room, shake them literally out of their sad reveries, at least temporarily.

Then I’d start my schpiel…

Hi, I’m Wendy, your warm up gal! I’d remind them to sit up straight, turn on their smiles and turn off their cell phones. I’d make them laugh, toss them candy, lead them into a meditation, and then intro James. Oh, and I had 15 minutes to make it all happen.

This gig was equal parts sassy mouthed comic from Jersey and woo woo gal from L.A. – a dream job for me.

The money was great, they loved me up and down, and I was wrapped by 2. I did this four days a week for over a year of my life.

I watched a lot of transformation. I witnessed healing. I knew what he was doing was powerful, important and necessary. I also wasn’t convinced it was real. But ultimately, it didn’t matter.

If someone professes love and you receive it in your heart, and the world around you has a sunny hue as a result, then, well, that’s about as real as you can get.

As for me, I got closure, cash and I did move on. And although the job ended after about a year, I continued to grow. To practice really honoring the days and moments we do have. Like this one.

Do I believe in James Van Praagh? Did I believe he was real? It was a reality television show.

Are you asking me if reality TV is real? Oh my goodness, no. Who knows?

Do I even believe in the afterlife? I’m just sure I believe in this one.

Wendy Hammers

About Wendy Hammers

Wendy Hammers is an actress, stand up comic and author who is currently touring the country with her solo play Ripe. TV appearances include Curb Your Enthusiasm, Oprah, and the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Hammers lives in Santa Monica with her husband Garth, her son Griffin, and their cats, Shecky and Petunia. Find Wendy on Facebook. Please follow Wendy on Twitter: @wendala6.

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