It's a wintery Saturday night in Hollywood, and I am having one of those quintessential L.A. outings. Sitting in the dank, stonewalled basement of the landmark Magic Castle, I am watching psychokinetecist David Gamliel move objects with his mind. Our well-dressed group stares at the short, intense, balding, goateed Israeli as his hands hover over a pair of eyeglasses that sit on a green felt table. His hands begin to make slow circles in the air, and soon the glasses levitate and circle, mimicking his hands' movements. There is an audible sigh. He never touched the glasses -- we all watched.
"These magnets cost a fortune," Gamliel jokes, easing the tension of the moment, and allowing the glasses to fall back onto the table.
"He's a mutant!" one woman exclaims.
Later, Gamliel tells me he prefers to think of his abilities as a gift. Other tricks up his sleeve that night included spoon-bending and hypnosis. He says he's always known he was different, even before he discovered his gift nine years ago.
"As a small boy, when we used to play hide-and-seek, I was able to know where everybody is," he says. "I always thought it was a natural ability; that other people can do it."
After 25 years in this country, Gamliel's slightly broken English is still spoken with the hint of an accent. Maybe it's that Israeli charm that does it, or that ever-elusive charisma, but there's something about Gamliel that makes you want to believe. He backs up the talk with his act, too. Watching him bend a spoon with just his thumb and forefinger, or levitate a fork, it's impossible to discern the trick -- if there indeed is one.
This draw has taken him as far as Japan, and as close as the last bar mitzvah you attended: "I'll start in the lobby while they serve hors d'oeuvres for about half an hour, then I go and do tables."
He also performs Thursday nights at Cafe Belissimo, and every couple months at the Magic Castle.
In the six years he's been performing, Gamliel's had his share of nonbelievers. But, as he puts it, "I always have arguments with people that study physics or psychology. But it brings us back to the fact that all they study is wrong and they don't like it."
In truth, it seems the jury is still out on the reality of psychokinetics. Probably the most famous Israeli spoon bender and mentalist, Uri Geller, acquiesced to have his powers studied by Stanford Research Institute back in the 1970s. But the controversy surrounding his claimed powers has never really been settled.
And though too late for a ride on Geller's proverbial coattails, the 53-year-old carpenter-by-day seems unconcerned. Gamliel enjoys his regular gigs, and says his eventual goal is to be able to use his abilities to help people more. Party tricks aside, he lists hypnosis, healing, mind-reading, psychic predictions and conflict resolution among his powers.
"I want to apply to be an adviser to our new governor," he says. (As I cynically wait for the punch line, I realize he's being sincere.) "I think I can help him out to make the right decisions. I can do predictions."
It was during a visit with his sister in Holland that he realized he had these gifts.
"We were sitting in a restaurant and waiting to be served and I just started playing with a fork, and I noticed that the fork is acting really funny," he says. "It started moving inside my hand and it started getting warm. I remember this vividly. I came home to L.A., and I started calling people because I wasn't sure what it is."
Gamliel says he eventually found a man who could explain it to him.
While he says he was scared by his own powers at first, he's learned how to harness them and today has chosen to embrace them.
"My favorite thing is to make peace between people -- between family members or between neighbors," he says. "I don't know how I do it. I just talk to the people. By talking and showing love, they can change their opinions about each other and I make them understand that there's no need for animosity or rage."
Maybe it's just me, but I'm surprisingly touched by the warm and fuzzy spoon-bending mentalist. If it's not real, I'd rather not know anymore, and so I have just one more question. Doesn't all that silverware get expensive?
"I'm a regular customer at Denny's," he says with a smirk.