I’d like to take this opportunity to say a few words regarding Madame Bhagavati Aster. Although I have not met her and doubtless never will (I am most certainly not a millionaire) I have come to know a few things about her life prior to fame and fortune which, though not far-removed in time, are not commonly known.
Now, of course, Madame Aster has become one of the wealthiest and most sought-after women in the world, as well as perhaps the most famous psychic of all time. The world has grown enamored of her bright red bouffant, of her sweeping rainbow-swathed pigeon-toed gait, of her close-set blue eyes so keenly penetrating. (Only the envious say beady.)
Master Aster is known to all, though few indeed will ever have the privilege of an audience with her: the chance to be subject to her all-seeing vision and her curious methods. For Madame Aster looks not into the eyes, but into the ears, and what she sees are not visions of the future, but your very most hidden desires.
Personally speaking, I admit that to me this just seems unnerving. If I was the person delivering her green tea soy latte and gluten-free macaroons I might well show up wearing earmuffs. Yet nowadays people will do almost anything for the chance to spend fifteen minutes with Madame Aster. Nowadays if you ask people what they want most in the world, they won’t even hazard a guess. They only say that what they want most is for Madame Bhagavati Aster to look into their ears.
Those who have been present at an audience say that Madame Aster really peers in, with a gaze like a Q-tip. She gazes in as though she were peering down a hole a mile deep. For a minute or two she stares, then nods her head. That’s it. You can get her to bless you if you want (that’s optional) and she does it by tapping her long sparkling silver-blue acrylic nails on your head. Then you go back to the receptionist.
You wouldn’t think such a simple service would be worth a million dollars, but people pay it. Nowadays they pay even more. The people who paid two million dollars go in front of the people who paid one million. And still they have to wait for the folks who paid three million. Three million, plus maybe they threw in a yacht. People say that they love Madame Aster but, if you ask me, it’s just ordinary desire, which nowadays takes ever-stranger shapes.
Anyway, you go back to the receptionist and she verifies your contact information. (The payment has already been received.) Two to four weeks later (eight at the most) you receive a card in the mail. Naturally people are always in a hurry. They want a call or an email; they want to hurry right in at once. But that’s not how it works. It has to be a card. You must wait for your card in the mail.
There is some disagreement about what happens next. (Is there, anywhere in the world, a group of people more close-lipped than those who have been to see Madame Aster?) Of the few accounts that have been given, and the fewer still that may be considered reliable, most describe being led, by a very tall and aloof man in white gloves, to a door. The door is said to be balsam green, of the traditional cross and bible design. The doorknob is antique white porcelain, perfectly smooth and subtly luminous, like a pearl.
The few accounts we have tend to go on and on about that damned doorknob, about what it’s like to stand there and wait, to try to steady your breath, before –
They say nothing more. You turn the doorknob, push slightly, and enter at last into your desire, your deepest truest one, which you could not possibly admit to anyone, which you do not even dare to think.
I don’t know anything about what goes on behind that door. (Sorry!) But I do know a little about the life of Madame Aster, before she was the wealthiest and most sought-after woman in the world.
Hard as it is to imagine now, this was only about three years ago. Three and a half. Four at the most. Back then, Madame Aster wasn’t yet an icon. She wasn’t famous. Actually hardly anyone knew her. She wasn’t the sort of person anyone seemed to notice much, or consider all that important.
A friend of mine knew her during that time. His name is Stan. Back then, he was a poet for hire on Pearl Street in Boulder – on the pedestrian mall. Actually, he’s still there. For five dollars he’ll write you a poem on any subject. (You should give more if you can and, frankly, you should.) He’s a really good poet. Sometimes he’s downright remarkable.
For awhile Stan seemed to me a romantic and semi-tragic figure. We’d been roommates twenty years previous. I worried about him. Worked on the street, lived on the edge, even though neither of us are all that young anymore. Then it occurred to me that, if Stan makes twenty dollars a day on his poetry – and he’s been given as much as a hundred dollars for a poem – then, statistically speaking he earns more for his poetry than 99.9% of the poets in America.
Enough about Stan. (If you see him, tell him I said, Hi!) The point is that he knew Madame Bhagavati Aster. No doubt it was her, though her hair wasn’t brightly dyed in those days. (Stan says it was still reddish, and not nearly so tall.) Of course back then she wasn’t swathed in Hermes scarves and flanked by Scandinavian attendants.
Her name was Deb. Or Debbie. Anyway that’s what people called her. Regardless of what she said her name was. Please understand. Everyone in Boulder has a name that was given to them on a mountain top during a fire ceremony by a lama, shaman, or countess. And it was the most beautiful-amazing-spiritual thing ever, and there was a total double rainbow, and they got a new name, which they will translate for you, and you will never be able to pronounce.
If you want to stay sane in Boulder, you must ignore all these names.
I asked Stan if it was evident, even then, that there was something very, very special about Madame Bhagavati Aster.
“No way,” Stan said. “As psychics go, she was totally Boulder Standard. Everything wrong in the world is wrong because of Mercury in retrograde and mono sodium glutamate. You always get the same advice: follow your bliss, buy organic, and take Vitamin C powder till it gives you the shits.”
Please excuse Stan. Like all interesting poets, he is a complicated mix of courtly sublimity and unabashed earthiness.
I asked, “But wasn’t it obvious that she had second sight?”
“Nope,” Stan said. “She got it wrong. Even compared to the other crystal-wearing, patchouli-wafting ladies. She was even more often than usually wrong. She was always telling some chick with a buzzcut a prince would come soon for her. She talked about dogs to people who were very obviously cat people.”
Actually, it is well-known that Madame Aster does not see the future. She admits as much herself. What she sees is desire, and she sees it in the ear.
It is said that she discovered her gift entirely by accident. (I don’t know this for a fact, but I imagine this happening on a bench, in the shade, on the Pearl Street pedestrian mall.) One day a friend had an earache and asked her if she could see anything. And Madame Aster found that not only could she see something, she could see everything.
Madame Aster is now perhaps the richest and most famous woman in the world. Certainly she is the most mysterious. Little is known, either, of the staff which surrounds her and occupies her vast estate, the monumental walled compound which now encompasses nearly seven square kilometers between Swanton, VT and the Canadian border.
It is presumed that the staff has some role in the enabling, staging, and construction of the fulfillment of desires, as dictated to them by Madame Aster.
Critics assert that Madame Aster has given rise to unbridled licentiousness – as though that blue-eyed red-haired lady is to blame for all she sees. More than a few assume that it’s an orgy all the time, a frolicking free-for-all on the party grounds of Madame Aster.
This is the best some wan imaginations can concoct: a sordid procession of identical twins, trained pets and downy pubescents. That has to be what’s really going on – the reactionaries are convinced – it has got to be a enormous international pedophile sex scheme!
For these ugly accusations, so oft-repeated, no basis has ever been found. Not the slightest. As for allegations of a sexual nature – it is true that the few staff members in public view are exceptionally attractive. Breath-taking is the word. I do not contest that they are utterly stunning.
But then again, you’ve got to figure that they are presumably the best paid office staff on the entire planet. Their discretion is unrivaled and, thus far, entirely unbroken.
Those who have been through Madame Aster’s door say nothing. Most make another appointment at once. Although it is true that there have been high-profile cases of financial ruin – can the lady herself fairly be held to blame for that? Particularly considering that the millionaires reduced to beggary remain cheerful and steadfastly insist it was totally worth it?
Other than that, what can be said? Who has right to condemn? No one has complained of mistreatment. No one at all. No children have gone missing. The critics and cynics, naysayers and misanthropes, aggrieved fathers and sleepless mothers, members of the clergy, have nothing whatsoever on which to base their accusations besides the highly predictable fantasies found in the shallows of their own minds.
Who can say what is there behind the door?
I do not know. Do you?
What do you really want? What is your deepest desire -- most secret, dark and true? Can you name it? Could you call its name in the street? Would you recognize it, if it suddenly showed up at your door? Would you embrace it, or slam shut the door? Is your deepest desire the same as mine, or are there many? What is there, in the depths of our minds? As D.H. Lawrence wrote, “It takes some diving.”
Those of us who are not millionaires can only dream and guess.
All right, one more thing from Stan.
(Full disclosure: this was the deal, between Stan and me. Stan granted me permission to write this story. In return he asked that I include the following message, since this article will presumably have an extremely broad audience, which may even come to include Madame Bhagavati Aster herself.)
Stan asks me to say that, since he’s an old acquaintance of Madame Aster’s (“I’d like her to know that I consider her a friend,” Stan says), since he knew her back when she was Deb, he hopes that he might receive a free, complimentary session. Better still, he suggests, he could pay with poems. After all, who but a poet could transmit the experience? Who but a poet could reveal what’s on the other side of the door?
Stan mentioned he delivered a tall green tea soy latte to Deb’s folding table on several occasions. At least once, he’s pretty sure, she never paid him back. (“Totally cool with me”, says Stan, “True friends don’t keep track.”) Stan and I agree that there ought to be fair play and evenhandedness for poets, for poets who have given their life to poetry and are even actually good poets. At least once or twice in human history, there ought to be justice for poets.
OK, Stan. I delivered your message.
As for Madame Aster, I have a theory of my own. And I do not doubt that whatever I can imagine is only the dullest, driest, nth-percentage, namby-pambyish simulacrum of whatever is behind that door, that yearned-for green door with its old-fashioned pearlescent porcelain doorknob.
My best guess is that joy of Madame Aster’s paradise does not lie in having your fantasy fulfilled. Not primarily at least. The rich, after all, can have whatever they want, excepting only freedom from old age, sickness and death.
My best guess is that the joy of Madame Aster’s paradise lies not so much in the fulfillment of desire as it does in not having to ask.
On the other side of Madame Aster’s door, it is not necessary to inquire. You need not request, admit or beg. The sad soft belly of longing and craving need not be exposed. You will not be made to feel humiliated. You will not be held responsible for hungers you never sought and can’t appease. The depth of famishment need not be spoken of or admitted. No measurements will be taken: neither of the intensity of voracity, nor of the volume of emptiness.
Instead you will be comprehensively understood without explanations – a thing which is more commonly known by the name of ‘love’.
Imagine that. It might well be worth a million dollars. More.
You may turn the knob and pass through the door without a word. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to be ashamed.
Madame Aster knows what you want.