Page 5 of 5   <      

Voodoo Economics: A financial planner turns shaman to manage his clients money and their souls

Video
As a successful financial planner, Larry Ford helps his clients manage their wallets. But as a shaman, he also helps them tap into their spirituality. Video by Pierre Kattar/washingtonpost.com

"After yesterday's market, I don't want to look," Laurie winces.

But by age 46, Larry has learned when to look and when not to. A decade ago, he was married with two kids, two boats, two maids, two Mercedes, a swimming pool, living in Connecticut across from a golf course and the Long Island Sound. In 1996, he was named "Member of the Honor Guard" for Travelers insurance companies, and later, a "Top Ten Producer" for Tower Square Securities.

"You got a good life, Lar," his childhood friend Fred Wynne recalls telling Larry, as they sat out drinking beer in Larry's stone hot tub, dubbed "the boardroom." Larry, raised in a quiet Massachusetts town by a schoolteacher and electrical engineer, loved the way his heart pounded on Wall Street and his adrenaline surged when he clinched a deal.

Fred was right; Larry's life was good. Except for one problem.

"It felt like an illusion," Larry recalls.

Larry couldn't escape the feeling that the life he was leading was false. Ever since a near-fatal car crash in ninth grade -- "I was in the passenger seat up front, laughing and the tunes blaring. Next thing I knew, I was thrown under the car . . . the stink of rubber, the screech, the front tire spinning right at me" -- Larry had struggled to find the reason, the "higher purpose" for which he had survived.

One evening, sitting on the edge of his bed at age 36, after a New York City day of calculated handshakes, Larry looked down at his palms. They itched.

At first, there were red spots. By morning, they'd prickled to bumps. Over the next several days, his palms blistered so badly, he says, that it hurt to hold his briefcase. He pressed his flesh against the cool metal bars on the New York subway, hoping to ease the strange, fizzing energy he says he felt. He tried hydrocortisone, udder cream, an ice pack, hot water, and he sought advice from a friend with eczema.

Larry had become a businessman who couldn't shake hands. A dermatologist might have prescribed an ointment if Larry had asked, but Larry says that he sensed his affliction was mystical rather than medical.

Then, weeks later, Larry was consulting an associate, "taller, suspenders, thin hair, very serious," about leveraging technology to help brokers. They were talking in a conference room, when Larry reached out, on impulse, and grabbed the man's right thumb.

"I got a rush of feeling, a rush of his sadness," Larry says. "I pulled back a little from his emotion rushing into me. The guy looked at his thumb and wiggled it up and down. He said his thumb had been hurting him for years and -- it didn't hurt anymore. He asked, 'What the hell did you just do?' "

Larry wasn't sure. He rode the evening train home from Grand Central Station, slumped in a gray suit, his take-out sushi untouched, staring at his hands. For the first time in more than a month, Larry says, his flesh felt relief. "I thought, This is crazy; who the hell wants their hands to bubble up, and to touch someone, and it gets better? But I couldn't dismiss it. This was my gift. I made a deal with a higher power to do more healing work, and the bubbles would go away."

The blisters disappeared over the next two weeks, he says, as he healed more people. Henry, a wealthy neighbor, was so arthritic that he slept on the floor. "His wife walked over and dragged poor Henry. He looked like a dog on a leash," Larry recalls. "She said, 'I don't know what it is that you do, but if you can help Henry, please.' Poor Henry's standing two feet behind her, like, I'm not going in with that freak."

Larry enrolled in a three-year course at the Institute for Healing Arts and Sciences in Bloomfield, Conn. He studied physiology, psychology and energy medicine. He tried a sweat lodge and quizzed his tai chi master about cultivating his "life force."

After agonizing about uprooting his family, he decided in August 2003 to leave the mainstream and the mainland, moving them to St. John in the Virgin Islands. He gave away 50 neckties. ("I felt a surge of fear and joy . . . as I sorted through each one; I had flashbacks of times I had worn them, and how hard I had worked and how much energy I had spent making money.") A truck hauled off the life-size dollhouse he'd built on the lawn for his daughter.

Larry's business mentor who had funded one of his consulting companies, Benedict Silverman, recalls telling Larry, "I have seen self-destructive behavior in my time, but this one takes the cake."

Before Larry left for St. John, he soaked in his stone hot tub with his friend Fred until 3 a.m., chatting quietly. Larry described the healing energy in his hands.

Fred recalls: "I'm thinking, How do you prove that, How do you know? But he's my buddy. I was point guard; he was the forward on the high school basketball team. I'm along for the ride." Squinting at Larry through the ripples of steam, "I'm like, 'Is this really real?' "

It was, to Larry. The feeling "was like when your parents' car went over a big drop in the road." In St. John, his marriage fell apart. His consulting business withered because it was hard to keep clients from such a distance.

In 2005, he took a month-long trip to Nepal, where he and a group of shaman students learned to invoke deities. He gave flower offerings at temples. He drank curdled yak milk, waved away prostitutes, showered in yellow water and used a bag of bricks for a pillow.

For days, he sat on the dank, cement floor in the home of a raven-eyed shaman named Ama Bombo. Larry watched Ama Bombo chant over a girl in a lace dress who was vomiting green bile, and grab the hair of an old man and kick away evil spirits. Finally, it was his turn with Ama Bombo.

"I am blessed with good health," Larry recalls telling her. "I am here to ask for power, so I can give back more in my life." Larry says Ama Bombo put her pawlike hand on his head and proclaimed him a shaman. Kali, her god, would be his god. She shook, sending tremors through his body.

Under the full moon, in the lunar Hindu month of Saun, following shamanic tradition, Larry would undergo initiation. The Nepali tailors had trouble sewing his white, priestly robe; they had never measured a 6-foot-2 shaman. Ama Bombo tried to teach him the intricate hops of the shaman dance, but Larry had always been the shuffling guy at the prom, hands in his pockets. She jumped and shuddered, practicing with him on the rooftops, laughing at Larry.

"Dance, dance, dance, shaman, dance," Larry recalls the Nepali children cheering on initiation night in the moonlight.

Larry danced, wearing a crown of peacock feathers on his head. His shaman dress billowed, then grew heavy with sweat. Through muddy alleys and around temples, bells jingling on his shoulders, he beat a drum down to the holy waters where he hoped to gain new healing powers.

In the morning, Ama Bombo blessed a string of gnarled seeds. She gave the mala beads to Larry and sent him off. He uses them to this day.

Last summer, Larry moved back to Connecticut with Yvette, whom he met in St. John. He wanted their children to go to American schools and to live near grandparents. With four children to help support, Larry is rebuilding his investment business, his main source of income. Several times a week, Larry sees shaman clients, who come to him through word of mouth. He charges $0 to $250 per session, depending on their ability to pay.

He is negotiating increasingly complicated days. Recently, Larry drove to a New Jersey insurance office for a shaman appointment with a business contact. Before Larry got started, he let slip to the man's colleague, "I help people come into their power and get through blocks in life." The colleague blanched and ushered Larry to the exit, past brokers and agents in turmoil, Larry's brass chimes clanking in his shaman bag.

And just yesterday, the two investment advisers with whom Larry shares office space, Mike McCabe and Mike Nobile, learned about Larry's spiritual side.

"In my other life, I'm a shaman," he told the two Mikes.

Mike McCabe burst out laughing. He didn't believe him, McCabe recalls. McCabe threw Larry a friendly guy-punch, which Larry evaded with a martial arts bow and a friendly jab to a chest pressure point.

"I kinda knew something was going on," Mike Nobile says, over the harried voices of analysts on CNBC. "He's eating salad at 10 a.m. He ruined my coffee machine with his green tea bags."

Larry says he sometimes pats Nobile on the back: "I throw him some energy. He looks at me like, What the heck? Now they're probably like: We've got a freakin shaman in our building. What is he, gay, too?"

But to Laurie Deane, Larry's investment client at 9 this morning, Larry offers assurances in a time of financial uncertainty. Peering through reading glasses, Larry suggests ways to diversify her portfolio. Larry passes several forms to her.

"Sign here," Larry says. "It basically means we're going to move your money over."

Laurie signs and glances up, reluctantly, at her account summary projected on the screen. Larry updates her retirement plan with current market values.

"We need to put in some numbers," he explains. His gaze is fixed. "So we can be dealing with reality."

***

At 1 p.m., Larry is at the New Haven train station buying a business-class ticket to Manhattan. A man in a brown trench coat runs up to the ticket window and shoves in front of Larry.

"I need a train. I need it fast!" the man yells at the Amtrak agent. "New York! Fast, fast!" The man sprints for the track.

"It is absolutely insane today," says the Amtrak agent rolling her eyes as she prints Larry's ticket. Passengers are grabby, panicky. "The craziest morning ever."

"Why do you think that is?" asks Larry.

"The moon," the ticket agent says. Last night the moon looked like a perfect circle. "I've had enough." She pulls down the shade and shutters her window.

Maybe the full moon is making people crazy, Larry's seatmate suggests to him as the train beats south. Or maybe, she says, it's the 401(k) statements she's been throwing, unopened, in her drawer. They pile up in the dark, insisting on existing.

Larry checks the Dow on his BlackBerry and leans back on his headrest, considering the fear he has seen today: "Fear and greed is a reality -- not only what drives the market, but what drives most of us in everyday life." It drives people apart, he says, separates them. He thinks of Brian, the Hartford vice president at the 7:30 shaman session this morning. Brian had called the fear "massive."

But Brian had also spoken of something else, the message Brian's aerospace engineer father had brought from the other side, after he'd flat-lined and then revived. Brian recalls: "It wasn't like my father was crazy when he came back. He was a man of science. He saw a different dimension and came back with hard facts. He said, 'Boy, I was completely wrong.'" In the world beyond, Brian's father had seen a different reality. Which reality is true?

Larry's train arrives in New York, where he hails a taxi in the light breeze. He has a string of shaman appointments over the next two days. He rides to the first one in Greenwich Village. The radio in the front seat announces, "On Wall Street, another grim day," while the TV in the back seat blares, "The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."

Larry is on his cellphone, answering questions from an investment client, a 63-year-old widow: "It's okay, call any time. These are not normal times." He takes out his Ama Bombo mala beads and winds them around his left wrist.

In the Village, in the high-ceilinged living room of Susan Powers, 66, Larry unzips his black shaman bag. Susan, an elegant, silver-blond clinical psychologist, collapses in a chair and moans:

"The pain, the pain."

"It's heavy," Larry says, weighing the city's mood.

"The terror," Susan says. She sees it in her therapy patients. "And it's connected to people's childhood terror. People who had parents fighting over money. People are re-traumatized by the crisis."

"I'm here to give you some of my good juice," Larry says, massaging her shoulders. " 'Cause I know how much you give back to people." He lights cedar twigs inside a coconut, holding the hot shell at the edges. "Stand up, and I'll smudge you."

This is Susan's third session with Larry. Her first was at a spa in St. John.

"Let's do a little shaking," Larry says.

Susan exhales, flailing slender arms, creaking the hardwood floor.

"I carry a lot of people," the psychologist says. "With everything that's happening, people just want to be safe." She emits a little cry.

"Let it out," says Larry. "Good, Susan. Let it go."

Susan sighs. "I'm thinking what it would feel like to not carry anyone around. My last session: This woman was working through her financial insecurity. I kept saying, 'You're safe. You're safe.' Safe is your deepest need. Deeper than hunger. Deeper than thirst. Her parents would fight. Her father would walk out of the room, and she thought it was the end. 'You're safe. You're safe.' "

As the psychologist talks, Larry raises a jeweled, silver-inlaid conch to the side of her head. He brought it back from Nepal, he says, to consecrate space. He puffs air through it, lightly.

"Visualize all the bad stuff coming out of your ears," he says. Larry's own ears turn red with concentration.

Afterward, Susan smiles. "I feel," she says, "unburdened."

Larry scatters a pinch of uncooked rice on her windowsill. The window is cracked open. It is an offering to the gods -- of all faiths.

"Some people would say I've absolutely lost my rocker," Larry says. (When his business mentor Benedict Silverman found out recently about Larry's other profession, he praised Larry's business acumen and then groused: "What the hell is a shaman? Crazy voodoo doctor. In my world, we would call it flakiness. My background is based in reality.")

"Clinically, people can say it's psychotic material," Susan tells Larry of his shamanism. "But it's not. You have a gift. I deal with emotional healing; you jump-start the spiritual."

Larry believes the true practitioners of self-deception, the suspenders of disbelief, are Wall Street traders: "What is cuckoo, you tell me. My little yak beads, helping people as a shaman? Or creating intricate financial vehicles to perpetuate greed and corruption, and they're so distant from reality, they don't even realize they're hurting people? They're caught up in their own paradigm."

The market is real because people believe in it, Larry says. As real, perhaps, as the safety that Susan's patients are seeking. Or as unreal. A few years ago, Susan's own "dark, dark sweetheart" daughter died of an overdose of heroin.

"We're all walking on air," Susan says, sadly. "You just have to be a good air walker."

The breeze stirs through the opened window, crackling sidewalk leaves.

***

Tom McOsker, 25, is walking along the sidewalk, in the fading light and gathering wind, his back knotted with tension. Make the rent. College debt. Friend at Lehman Brothers fired.

It is 6:15 p.m. Tom is coming home from his second week at an asset management firm, a job he cannot afford to lose. Before that, Tom was a financial analyst and portfolio specialist at Morgan Stanley.

His mother, a fan of alternative medicine, thought Tom might benefit from seeing a shaman. Tom figures it has to beat last night when he was stuck at his desk on the 57th floor -- What am I doing? -- working late, glimpsing Brooklyn, back-lit by the full moon.

Tom calls his girlfriend, Sarah Smith, 23, at their West Village apartment. He met her six months ago, at a happy hour.

"I'll be home in 20 minutes," Tom says.

Larry has already arrived, unfurling his peacock feathers, unpacking healing crystals in Tom and Sarah's minuscule, fourth-floor walk-up. The Yorkshire terrier, Snickers, is sniffing Larry's leg.

"You're a little economic refugee," Sarah coos, rubbing Snickers's stomach. The dog belongs to Tom's ex-girlfriend, a British citizen who lost her visa when she was laid off by Goldman Sachs. "It's a bit awkward for me to take care of her pet," Sarah says. It keeps the ex-girlfriend, now in England, in their lives. "We use Skype on the computer; we put Snickers up, so they can bark at each other."

Tom trudges through the door, his back aching.

"How was your day?" Larry asks.

"Long. Subway was packed." Tom swings into the tiny bathroom to splash his face. "There's a reason they call it a depression."

All week, thanks to job anxiety, Tom has been fighting with his girlfriend. He also skipped a gallery opening, passed on a guys' poker night and has stopped calling friends.

Larry picks up his peacock feathers.

"I'm going to dust you, so all that stress, all that gunk goes away," Larry says. "This is the chill zone. Man to man."

Sarah leaves for dinner at a neighborhood cafe. The two men sit cross-legged opposite each other on the cramped living room floor. The lights are out. Tom turns his face sideways, as if he doubts he wants to do this head on.

"I'm going to help you with my guy energy," Larry says, shifting into what he calls "a different consciousness." Larry reaches out with his size-XL hands. "Let the energy from my hands -- whatever that means -- move into your body."

In St. John, Larry kept a journal of his healing sessions. He wrote, in one entry: "NYC hedge-fund guy, carries huge burden on his shoulders . . . As my hands moved, he jumped and energy popped through his shoulders."

Larry grips Tom's shoulders. Tom squeezes his eyelids shut.

"I feel a greatness in you and a level of anxiousness," Larry whispers.

"I have a filing cabinet full of ideas," Tom says. "I'm working on a hedge-fund idea."

"My gift to you is to teach you how to find peace," Larry whispers. "In your world, it's all do, do, do. While everybody's doing, you can spend a few minutes being."

This is the core of Larry's philosophy: to create "a life of purpose." The spiritual goal is forming a perfect circle, like the full moon. Inside the perfect circle there is "oneness, where everything is connected." It reminds Larry of Brian, his earlier shaman client, and of the message Brian's father had brought from the beyond. At first, Brian resisted his scientist father's change. He had always been so logical, Brian recalls: "My father said, 'Sit down, and listen to what I'm telling you.' I said, 'Dad, you're sick.' This was so different than how he was usually was." But Brian's father was determined to share what he saw.

"Be in the moment," Larry whispers to Tom. "It's a place totally not revered by your tribe. The first step is to be still. It terrifies guys at work. If they slowed down, they'd have a heart attack."

Tom fidgets. Snickers watches from the couch, crunching on a bone.

"Breathe slowly," Larry whispers. He guides Tom through 20 minutes of meditation. "Hold this purple crystal in your hand. Carry it like the image of your core rock power through all the backstabbing, all the attacking, to stay connected."

He slides around behind Tom, and tips him forward. He pats Tom's back like a mom firmly burping a baby.

Tom's eyes snap open.

"Your homework is to take this piece of energy to work," Larry says. "How did that feel?"

Tom pauses. "Different." He stands up slowly, uncertain. "Waves of warm and then really cool." Tom wonders, Is this real?

Many nights, especially when the rent is coming due, Tom and Sarah lie in their bed in their little room. They light fat candles and dream out loud.

A big house on a beach.

A big kitchen.

A big yard.

A great big library.

Eight bedrooms.

A wine cellar.

A handyman.

A housekeeper named Helga.

Helga is Sarah's idea. "The ugliest matron name," she jokes. The dreams Tom and Sarah kindle by candlelight keep them going.

"We're so sure we'll make it," Sarah believes. By believing, they will make their dreams real.

***

Overnight, while Larry sleeps, the valet at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel steam-presses Larry's black Armani suit. At 9:30 a.m., with his BlackBerry in one pocket, eucalyptus oil in the other, Larry meets a new shaman client named Dave Rabe.

Larry's childhood basketball buddy, Fred Wynne, persuaded Dave to see a shaman. Fred drove Dave in from New Jersey.

The three men are now looking out over Central Park, standing at the window in a guest room on the hotel's 39th floor, admiring the Boathouse Cafe and the Central Park Zoo. Cold air streams in around them.

"Futures are down," Larry says to Dave.

"I checked the price of oil," says Dave, 46, a health-care business owner. "Big impact on shipping costs."

"Is your phone on stun?" Fred asks Dave.

"Yeah," Dave says. It's on vibrate. "So when my business goes under while I'm here, I won't know about it."

Dave is wary of shamans. Will demons be involved? "I'm a committed Christian," Dave says. "This is not my world."

He eyes the crystals, chimes, ostrich feather and beads laid out on a table like surgeon's tools. "Do I get a lollipop in the end?"

"If you're good," Larry says.

"Define good."

Larry begins by asking Dave to remove his belt, wallet and keys, and to stand, legs spread, prison-style, so that Larry can pass burning sage between Dave's legs. Dave looks down at Larry kneeling: "Talk about blowing smoke up your . . ."

Larry tells Dave to lie face-up on the bed, on a yellow spread printed with pink flowers. A church bell in the street below chimes 10 a.m. Larry says: "Visualize energy coming from God into your palms. Vibrancy." Gong. "Health." Gong. "Peace." Gong.

Fred sits watching, no longer wondering -- "Is this real?" -- as he did in the hot tub days. Since then, Fred's wife was diagnosed with leukemia. In the hospital, Larry performed a healing ritual on her. She went into remission. Now Fred is hoping that Dave will be blessed with remission. Last February, Dave, a father of three, lost a kidney to cancer.

Larry bends over Dave. "You've got a double challenge," he says, "the economic challenge and the health challenge." Dave has just completed chemotherapy. Shamanism grates against his nature, but if believing in it might cure him, he will try.

"Let your mind float, that this completely crazy wacko visualization could be something real, that it could help your body," Larry says, drawing Dave into a trance. "Fake it till you make it."

An hour and a half later, Dave sits up.

While in the trance, Dave had felt Larry brush his face with feathers. "What, did I have a duck on my head?"

Larry pats Dave on the back. "God and the angels, you had the whole gang here," Larry says. "Drink a lot of liquids today."

Dave says he's feeling both strong and shaky. "Back to work," Dave says, threading his belt through pant loops. "Back to reality."

But for Larry's 1 p.m. client, Joe Carroll, 52, a barefoot music producer wearing a Miro T-shirt, it is the turmoil in the business world that seems unreal. "I was at a reception with investment bankers," Joe says. "One guy just bought a painting at Sotheby's. Another's building a house in Aspen. No one said, 'I have to sell my boat.' Maybe it means the meltdown is all fake? It isn't real."

Larry shamanizes Joe in his Upper West Side high-rise with windows opened to drafts that hoot like spooks, "Wooo! Wooo!"

"It's time to clean out the damn fridge," Larry tells Joe, springing from the den, leading Joe to the kitchen. Crosswinds slam the bedroom doors.

Joe's mother, who lived here, died earlier this year. Larry opens Joe's freezer to a stack of plastic trays. Joe's mother had come to the shaman in a vision, Larry says. She told Larry that Joe should throw away her old TV dinners.

"Time to let them go," Larry says, and then he leaves.

Visits from spirits are hard for Larry to explain, even to his fiancee. "You mean, he just talked to you in your head?" Yvette asks, when Larry calls between meetings and tells her that Brian's deceased father had been in the room with them during the 7:30 a.m. shaman session. Larry explains it like this: "It's not hearing or seeing. It's knowing."

As Larry dashes across Columbus Circle to his next appointment, his cellphone buzzes. His assistant back in Connecticut left a message: "Larry, things are crazy . . . Things are just falling apart . . . Get back to me right away." Larry's stomach lurches as he dials his office. "Did I forget something?" he wonders about the forms and filings to shift clients' funds. "Did we get Laurie Deane's paperwork out?"

Larry answers investment client calls, bounding through traffic on Central Park South. He weaves between black limousines and piles of horse droppings. "I'm turning it off!" Larry promises, waving his BlackBerry at Annette Irving, 46, a lively credit restoration expert and a former vice president at Wachovia Bank who is wearing pink lipstick and a gray business suit.

Larry has a drive-by, 15-minute shaman session with Annette at Central Park and Sixth Avenue, up against the park wall. The wall smells like urine. Tourist cameras flash nearby. Annette has just come from a business strategy session with a funeral home. "Encourage 'pre-planning' discounts," she told the funeral directors. "Throw in prayer cards for free."

Standing close enough to whisper, over the groan of bus brakes, the whistle of bellboys and the clop of horse hooves, Annette says to Larry, "My clients are in crisis." They are defaulting on car loans and losing their homes.

"I have to be thoughtful, plan-oriented. I can't become rattled," she says. "But I'm human. Can you feel my pulse? It's going chaw-chaw-chaw."

This is their second session. Larry knows what Annette needs. He wraps his red Tibetan scarf across what he calls her "fertility zone."

"In the middle of all this hurriedness, let me get your back," Larry says, one hand rubbing the base of her spine, the other holding her abdomen. In their last session at a law office conference room, Annette told him about her wish to have a son: "Business clock, tick, tick, tick. Have a baby, tick, tick, tick. So rushed. Here come the gray hairs."

Larry leans in closer, whispers to her womb: "Fill this spot with life. Healthy, beautiful, vibrant life."

"The ticking is getting louder and quicker and more insistent," Annette says.

And then the session ends. They're out of time.

***

It is late afternoon, and Larry is heading to Wall Street. He stops in Midtown to see how Tom, the young businessman, is doing at work after last night's shaman session. Tom waves and runs from his office building across Rockefeller Plaza to Larry, the tall man by the skating rink in a pinstriped suit and yak beads.

"Hectic?" Larry says. The wind is clanking the flagpoles.

"Crazy. Servicing clients. Trying to keep the money we have."

Tom has five minutes. Larry puts his hand on Tom's chest and gives him "a little zap." Tom is feeling better today. He decided that "despite the crap going on and the malaise in the city, I want to remind us how beautiful a place this is." He has ordered a stretch limousine to collect his girlfriend at their tiny walk-up. He's buying champagne. He's going to take Sarah for a sunset helicopter ride tonight to celebrate six months together.

"Go get 'em!"Larry says, as Tom sprints back to his office.

Larry is feeling elated, all the way down through the greasy metal smell and bumping elbows on the subway to the financial district. "In some small way, maybe I can affect something," Larry says as he walks, buoyant, rounding the corner to Wall Street.

Then, all at once, the pink of the sunset evaporates to gray. Wall Street is shadowy, narrow and cold. The bluster knocks hopping sparrows off their feet. Men and women in suits shrink into their collars.

"It feels like a cavern," Larry says weakly. "Just empty. Dark, panic."

At the corner of Wall and Broad streets, as evening falls, police officers in flak jackets and black boots glower. Basiru Gbadamosi, whose business card reads "Pastor and Prophet," shouts to the hurried, indifferent crowd: "People are troubled! Especially here! People only think about money! The Holy Spirit is the answer! Christ comforts!"

A few traders linger in front of the closed and barricaded New York Stock Exchange. "At close, we're 400 off," a man says into his cellphone. "But listen, I got a little bit of insight about a deal . . ."

Larry listens to the man and frowns: "Insider trading."

"I feel the separateness. Divisive," Larry says. "It's very sad." He sits down on a cement bench and drops his shaman bag. He cannot heal this greed. His power, he says, feels drained. The chill turns his nose red. "Isn't it nuts?"

Sitting beside him, Emily Keinz, 22, a passerby who works for an investment company commiserates: "Everyone's separating. It's so cutthroat. Everybody's out for themselves."

Maybe Brian's father was wrong. In his shaman session yesterday, the Hartford vice president had said that his father discovered the truth about life when he journeyed temporarily into the afterlife. His father said he saw people floating -- his own parents, his mother-in-law and faces he'd never seen before -- who greeted him, elated, loving and cheering. They were all connected.

"Everyone is connected," Brian's father had said. He saw it with his own aerospace engineer's eyes. "It's your ability to understand this that will give you peace. Everyone in your life comes in and out for a reason." Three months later, the old scientist was back in the hospital. He held Brian in his arms one last time. His 7-year-old grandson, whom he was especially close to, told him, "Pa, it's okay." And he died.

He left his message: "We are all connected."

Larry would like this to be real. But he doesn't feel it here, facing the six stone pillars and the Corinthian capitals of the stock exchange. He gets up to leave, turning away.

As he turns toward the subway, he bumps into a stranger in a black business suit. The man, Kerry Ancheta, 37, has just pressed "send" on his BlackBerry, an e-mail to his money manager: "I want to review our strategy. Good time to review where to invest." Kerry is walking home to his Broad Street apartment for dinner with his wife. The kitchen window, on the 28th floor, directly faces the giant American flag that drapes the facade of the exchange.

Kerry looks at Larry. Larry's red and orange shaman scarf is flapping in the wind; his beads from Ama Bombo manacle his wrist.

"What do you do, talk people off the ledge?" Kerry says smiling.

"No, I'm a shaman."

"You going to bless me?"

Larry looks down.

"I need it," Kerry says.

"It feels a little heavy here," Larry says, shaking his head. The vibe is negative, the energy bad.

But Kerry is still standing there smiling, quizzical.

Larry says tentatively, "Do you mind if I give you a little bit of juice?"

"I need some juice."

Larry closes his eyes, places his palm on Kerry's unfamiliar heart: "Feels like you've got a lot to give back in this life, even with all this bad stuff happening. Remember that, as you walk through all the heaviness."

Kerry says that when Larry touched his heart it felt, "electrical, strange." Oddly, though, it is Larry who feels his power surge.

"Right here is the hope," Larry says brightening. "Here is a man -- open-hearted." An open heart! Living across from the New York Stock Exchange. Larry claps Kerry on the shoulder. He opens his shaman bag and pulls out the silver-inlaid conch.

"I use it to call on spirits," Larry says, lifting the shell.

Kerry's eyes widen, "Primitive."

The shaman brings the conch to his lips, takes a deep breath and blows three times. Police officers jump. Commuters stare. The three magical blasts echo off the financial district's walls. The trumpet of spiritual healing reverberates on Wall Street.

Larry and Kerry laugh. And then, they hug. Two strangers in business suits, sweaty from work and worry, connecting briefly under the rising moon.

Before they break the circle, Larry says, "Hey, man, pass it on."

Laura Blumenfeld is a staff writer for the Magazine. She can be reached at blumenfeldl@washpost.com.


<                5

© 2008 The Washington Post Company