About 20 people sit in a large, plush dining room high above the Las Vegas Strip. The lights are dim, so as not to compete with the glittering vista below. People smile at each other over their wine glasses, yet the mood is strangely subdued—as befits a Dinner With the Dead.
No, it’s not a meal for fans of zombie TV shows or classic jam bands. It’s a five-course meal where psychic Thomas John “reads” the guests at House of Blues’ Foundation Room. John has been on Entertainment Tonight and featured in New York magazine, but tonight is for a smaller audience. Far from the taciturn, black-clad stereotype, he’s an affable, smiling man in a beige sport coat who just happens to be able to “hear” those who are no longer with us.
John moves around the room, “picking up” spirits trying to contact people in the room, like a radio that keeps spinning channels, hitting stations mid-song. “Apple …” he says, “Apple?” Then another voice apparently comes through, “Betsy … Betty …” A woman whose mother was named Betty speaks up. John talks about a kitchen and a dog, and her eyes shine with recognition.
Suddenly, he focuses in on me, albeit with his eyes closed. “You’re wearing something that belongs to someone who’s passed on.” True: I’m wearing my great-aunt’s ring. He then mentions my grandfather: “He’s a very smart man, very smart man …” which is also true, he was a brilliant engineer, but a lot of men are smart. “I’m getting two last names—the two last names are important to him.” When I got my first byline a million years ago, I decided to use my grandfather’s last name along with my own, something that always pleased him tremendously. But still …
“Who is Ted?” he suddenly asks. That is my grandfather’s name. Weird.
John drifts out of the room for a break as everyone tucks into their entrées. The atmosphere is still rather quiet—some discuss what they’ve heard or who they hope to hear from. Others gaze pensively out the window or contemplate the golden Buddha presiding over the end of the room. John returns and stations himself at another corner of the table, the better to “read” different dinner guests. He catches one ethereal visitor telling a woman that there will be “some big changes in your life in the next two years.” Grinning, he tells one man his visiting spirit “says you don’t believe in this shit anyway.”
“Apple,” he says. “Why do I keep getting apple?” He pauses. “Applebee.”
“That’s my great-aunt’s maiden name,” I blurt out. The woman whose ring I’m wearing.
“I’m seeing New York … upstate New York. Why is …? She’s showing me pictures of Vassar College.” And even after giving me two specific names and identifying her ring, this is my true “Holy shit” moment. A shiver runs over my shoulders.
“She … she was an infirmary nurse at Vassar College for decades.”
I don’t know how Thomas John talks to the dead but, however he did it, he heard my Aunt Evelyn.
Dinner With the Dead
Feb. 17, 7 and 10 p.m., $325, House of Blues’ Foundation Room, Mandalay Bay, houseofblues.com/lasvegas