Kreskin was just a boy of 9 growing up in Montclair, N.J., when he realized there was something special about him. In third grade, his teacher suggested playing a game of “hot and cold,” where someone would leave the room and the class would hide a beanbag, then clue the student in to the whereabouts of the object using “hot” or “cold” directives.
Kreskin was upset he hadn’t been chosen to find the beanbag, so when he got home that day, he told his brother to hide a penny in his grandmother’s house and he would try to locate it. Only after discovering it behind a curtain rod in his uncle’s bedroom did he realize his brother hadn’t provided any verbal clues.
The next year, he became the star of schoolroom show-and-tell and, at his teacher’s behest, he would read the minds of his classmates, identifying the last movie they had seen. By the ninth grade, he was performing regularly up and down the East Coast at schools, synagogues, churches, fire halls and private banquets, wowing audiences with sophisticated card tricks and his ability to divine their thoughts. When he headed to Seton Hall University to study psychology, he was a seasoned performer with a travel schedule that left little time for attending class full time. He earned his degree, but it took eight years.
Back at the restaurant, Kreskin has been talking for more than an hour. I’m still skeptical of his ability to read minds, but I gird my thoughts just the same. When he suggests an order of fish and giant prawns for lunch, I’m startled. I don’t eat red meat. How would he know that, I wondered, especially when the waiter was pushing the meat lasagna and veal?
Intrigued, I call for a test. Kreskin pulls a pristine deck of cards from his jacket pocket and hands them to me. “Think of a card,” he says. Just as I’m envisioning the ace of spades, he follows up with: “But not the ace of spades.”
Amused but not yet convinced, my mind reshuffles the deck before settling on the seven of diamonds as a second choice.
“Got it?” he asks. I nod. He hands me a slip of paper on which he has written the number six in pencil and directs me to take six cards off the top of the deck.
Four, five, six … and there it is, the seven of diamonds. So much for girding.
I needn’t have worried; Kreskin says he reserves his gift for performances or on occasions when authorities have asked him to help solve a case. (At current count, he has assisted on some 84 cases.) He learned early on that people don’t always welcome intrusion. “The phone would ring, and I’d pick it up and say, ‘Hi, Shirley’ or ‘Hi, Ed.’ There would be a pause. I realized that people aren’t comfortable when I zero in on them.”
It’s not always comfortable for him, either. “I’m not doing it all the time because I couldn’t live with it,” he says. “The only thing we have left is the privacy of thought.”