Most people don't realize it, but names really have an effect on kids. I once read that there is a special place of eternal punishment set aside just for those who give their kids weird names like String or Leaf or Flypaper.
Louis, of course, is not really a strange name. There are a lot of wonderful people named "Louis," from musicians Louis Prima and Louis Armstrong to economist Louis Rukeyser and novelist Louis L'Amour.
But I always hated it. First, what do people call you? "Lew-is?" "Lew-ee?" Nobody knows. And believe me, when I was a kid, they used to call me "Lewwwww-eee!" like they were calling a pig. "Soo-ee Lou-ee! Soo-ee Lou-ee!"
For a while, I told everyone to call me "Lou." This was better until re-runs of a certain show became popular on TV. Then everybody started to sound like Mary Tyler Moore wailing, "Ooooh Lou!"
So mix my given name with the fact that I was awfully scrawny as a kid and not good at any sports and the result was I was unpopular. I'd get invited to parties and end up sitting in the corner, drinking sugar-drenched "punch" and eating Chex Mix with nobody to talk to. Sometimes, the next day at school, people would tell me "You should have been at the party last night." I'd just smile, not admitting to them that I was at the party last night. My self-esteem was somewhere below a caterpillar's toes.
Over the summer vacation last year, I decided to use my middle name, John. I ran over several versions of John and finally settled on "Johnny." I liked that. When school started (I'm a senior in high school), I insisted that everyone call me Johnny Hammond, even my teachers.
Finally, after all those years, nobody made fun of my name. It was great. My self-esteem soared. That is, it soared until the first party of the year. Then I was back to where I had begun, sitting in a corner getting a sugar high and pigging out on salty snacks.
Even though I'm not sure my parents always know what they're talking about, my mom sometimes has some great answers. Finally, I sat down and told her what was bothering me. I ended by asking, "What can I do to be more popular?"
My mother smiled and said, "The best way to get people interested in you is for you to be interested in them. Ask them questions. Show them that you're interested. They'll become interested in you. If you know something that another person likes, ask them about it."
I was a bit unsure about the answer, but I figured I'd give it a try. At the next party I asked, "So what do you think of the next basketball game...our geometry quiz...playing the trombone?" I directed these questions to a basketball player, a girl in my geometry class, and a guy in the school band, respectively. The responses from them were all the same: a quizzical sneer and a quick cold shoulder, as if asking who I was and what right did I have to ask them a question? Sorry, Mom, but this wasn't working at all.
At 10:30, feeling dejected, I left the party and headed home. As I drove home, I started thinking that maybe my mother hadn't been right. I thought about it, and maybe what I needed was to be able to give people information about themselves that they didn't already know. That way they'd need to come to me for the information.
But how do you get information about a person that they already don't know about themselves?
As I continued home I passed a mall and noticed a big bookstore that was open until midnight. I pulled into the parking lot and went into the bookstore. I had no idea what I was looking for.
I wandered from aisle to aisle. On one shelf a bunch of books were facing outward and the reddish color of the cover caught my attention. It was a book called Palmistry: Quick & Easy by Peter Hazel. The back cover seemed to say that this might be what I was looking for:
"Your hand is a map reflecting your personality, your past, and your personal potential. This book's unique illustrated and interactive format is designed to give you instant access to the ancient art of palmistry. As you answer a series of simple questions, you'll discover how easy it really is—even the novice can begin reading hands immediately!
"You'll learn how to interpret the length of the palm and fingers, the four hand types, thumbs, marks on the fingers, the lines, fingernails, the mounts, timing in the palm and even the meaning of rings."
"All you need to start reading palms is this book and a desire to learn."
Well, I realized this might just be hype to sell the book, but I started having a vision of people surrounding me wanting to have their palms interpreted. The book was pretty inexpensive, but I don't have much money and was short about forty-five cents. I went back to the car and started feeling between and under the seats. As a result of my safari to unknown territory, I was not only able to buy the book, but ended up with an extra twenty-seven cents.
Frankly, I thought that this book would just be filled with cute stuff, sort of like a fortune cookie, was I wrong! It begins by explaining the different ways lines of the hand can appear. I didn't even know about most of them. Some lines have islands in them. These are little ovals that interrupt the line and "are generally a negative sign and represent split energy. They usually signify a difficult period, often of change." (p.8)
There also may be dots on a line that "indicate a distinct interruption to the flow of energy. They are traditionally considered to be a sign of crisis. They certainly represent significant events." (p.9) Bars are small lines that cross a major line and "are blockages and often represent influences that arise outside the personality." (p.9) There are also breaks, crosses, squares, triangles, and stars.
I thought reading palms just meant looking at the lines on the hand. Wrong again! Virtually every part of the hand is interpreted. There are zones, or areas, of the palm to look at, the relative lengths of the fingers, the shapes of the palms themselves, and more. At first, I thought I was going to be totally lost with all of these things to remember. Luckily, the book is written in a way that allowed me to train myself.
By using the directions, I determined that I had a short palm with long fingers. This combination is called an air hand. "This is known as the intellectual hand. It is the sign of a clever, interested personality, with a curious mind and a love of study. This person is intellectual in outlook, very analytical, systematic, and conceptualizing, and in possession of good communication skills..." (p.30)
I started to realize that reading a palm was very much like a computer database system. Measure the palm. If it has certain characteristics, read from entry A; if it has other characteristics, read from entry B, etc. I realized that this could really be easy.
Is the hand soft and spongy to the touch? Are the fingers flexible? What is the color of the hand? Are the hands proportionate to the rest of the body? Is the hand covered with many lines? What are the shapes and curves of the fingers? The book asked the questions, I answered, and then the book revealed the meanings.
Next, the book goes into the major lines of the palm. The first was the life line. It starts between the thumb and first finger, then curves around the base of the thumb. I looked at mine and almost dropped the book. My life line didn't curve at all! It made an almost straight line down toward the wrist. Did I have no life line—and no future—at all? More than a bit scared, I continued with the book, only to read that this is not uncommon (whew!). The technical term for a line that moves like this is that it extends toward the percussion. "Wanderlust, restlessness, and travel are all indicated... [as well as] disliking routine and seeking change. This can also indicate spiritual leanings." (p. 75) I looked up at the walls in my room. They were covered with posters of famous tourist sights from the entire world, places I wanted to visit some day. The accuracy of this was getting stronger and stronger.
I went through the rest of the book, learning more and more about myself with every page. When I finished the book, I realized that this was not just a book to be read, it was a guidebook and a reference. The only way I was going to learn this system and memorize the meanings was to practice on lots of people.
And that gave me a great idea.
That Friday night my friend Peter was having a party at his house. I took my now well read copy of Palmistry: Quick & Easy with me. It just so happened that Belle, a girl I know from one of my classes, was there. She's very pretty, and I'd been too shy to talk with her in the past. I figured her for more of a "I only spend my time with the 'in' crowd" type. She was sitting with a group of her friends and I decided to talk to her. I thought to myself that this was going to be the bravest thing I had ever done.
I took a deep breath, walked over to her, and said, "Hi, Belle. I was wondering if you or one of your friends could help me. I'm learning how to read palms and I wanted to try it out on some people."
"Really? You read palms?" she asked, her eyes sparkling. "I'd love for you to try it on me. Is it okay if everyone watches?"
"Sure," I said. Five girls turned to face me as I sat next to Belle. Not only did I sit next to her, I also got to hold and touch both of her hands! I was in heaven. I already had memorized a lot simply by practicing on myself. I didn't try to pretend that I knew everything, but I knew where to find everything in the book. And those "good communication skills" somehow let me be rather fluid and smooth as I went through her hands. I was focusing so hard on her and her hands, I didn't even notice how nervous I was, or had been.
When I finished, she said that it was just great. "That was so right on," she told me. "Do you think as you become better you'll be able to tell me more? When can we see each other again?"
I started to answer but couldn't. Another girl, Sara, held out her hand and said, "Not until he reads my palm." I looked up and saw no less than fifteen people surrounding me! They all wanted to talk. They all wanted to share. And they all wanted me to read their palms. I was the center of the party and ended up getting home fifteen minutes late. My dad grounded me for a week.
He must have been surprised when I gave him a big hug and said, "Thanks dad!" I was so happy nothing could bring me down. In fact, I was so excited I think I must have floated above my bed that night.
Saturday and Sunday can be a long time. By Monday morning, I was back to my old insecure self. As soon as I got to school, that all changed. Several people were looking at me and others were pointing. A few came over and started talking to me. It wasn't about anything in particular. Finally, there was only me and Carlos, one of the most popular guys at school. I hardly knew him, and was surprised when he asked, "Johnny, man, can you read my palms at lunch? That would be so cool if you could." I told him I'd be glad to.
During the day, people who just sort of knew me and hardly ever even looked at me outside of class would come over and talk with me. I was worried that this new found popularity was only because I could read palms, but we were talking about all sorts of things. I read palms at lunch and everyone had a great time. For the first time in a long time I began to feel good about myself at school. My peak surprise was that Belle, maybe the most beautiful girl in school, asked me to go to a party with her. "To read palms?" I asked.
My last class of the day is physics. Sometimes I'm sleepy or tired, and that makes having this class at the end of the day rather difficult. Still, I try to do my best.
The teacher, Mr. Felger, is really quite smart. One day last week he said that we were doing well enough that he could talk about some other things that day. He ended up talking about hoaxes and frauds and things that were proved to be untrue even though people still believed them. Some of the things he described—like electric belts for vitality and eating baby tapeworms to lose weight—were pretty weird and funny. Finally, the class bell range and we got up to leave. "Mister Hammond," he said, "would you please stay after class? I'd like to talk to you for a moment."
When everyone had left he said, "I hear you're reading palms for everyone."
"Well, I'm just learning, Mr. Felger. I'm not that good at it."
"Hooey, Mr. Hammond. Don't you know that's all a bunch of hooey?"
"I don't know, sir. People are telling me it is pretty accurate."
"That's hooey, Mr. Hammond. You just tell them things that could apply to anyone."
"I don't know," I replied. "Some of the people I've tried reading for have told me that I had told them things about themselves they knew were true but had never told anyone else."
"Prove it." he said, holding out his hands. "Prove it with me."
I could see a bunch of kids looking through the window in the door to the classroom. I had a feeling that if I failed now, my new popularity would vanish in seconds. I pulled Palmistry: Quick & Easy from my backpack and started the reading.
Every time I looked up during the reading he appeared unimpressed. I finally came to the heart line (that's the major line going across the palm and that is closest to the fingers) and noticed that there were two clear breaks in it. I looked this up in the book and saw that it said this "May indicate disappointment or disillusionment in love; can indicate, quite literally, a broken heart." (p. 93)
On a hunch, I jumped back to page 15 and looked at the way to judge time on a line. Finally, I said, "It looks like when you were about twenty or twenty-two, and again when you were about twenty-eight or twenty-nine, you had your heart broken by someone you loved." What followed was something I had heard about before but never seen, Mr. Felger's eyes grew wide and it looked like every drop of color drained from his face. He hands got colder and kind of clammy. "Are you okay, Mr. Felger?" I asked.
He leaned back in his chair and said, "You may go now, Mr. Hammond." I left the room and everyone who had gathered around the window asked what had happened. As I looked at my teacher through the window, I saw his eyes. He had an expression on his face like he was thinking about something far, far away. I knew I couldn't tell anyone what had happened.
"Oh, we just talked about palm reading type stuff. Nothing special," I said. When I turned looked back again, Mr. Felger's head was down and his body was slightly bobbing up and down. I realized he was crying from remembering something. "Let's get out of here," I said, before anyone else noticed what was going on.
The next afternoon, Mr. Felger had more energy that I had ever seen him have before. His eyes were clear and he was more relaxed than ever, too. He even joked while giving us our regular lesson. I'd never seen him do that before. He called me after class, again. He leaned back in his chair and thanked me for letting him remember some things that had happened to him. "Just remembering what had happened somehow let me take a huge weight off my shoulders. It freed me. Thank you, Mr. Hammond. Shall we go?"
Teachers, of course, tend to use briefcases rather than book bags. He opened his and put in some papers. Actually, I think he wanted me to see the contents of his briefcase. There was a new book in it—Palmistry: Quick & Easy.