About ten times a month Rose Meyers will receive a letter from a stranger detailing what's often a pretty weird problem.
"I feel like I am being lit on fire from behind," a recent one
said. "It's horrible. I can smell my flesh burning, and my backside gets
hot. Sometimes I can hear my hair sizzling."
Each letter arrives with a check for $8 and the hope that Meyers one-woman Zeek Sheck Care Company, will alleviate the problem.
Believing that most troubles stem from sociocultural "brainwashing" and that advice often falls on deaf ears, the 24-year-old musician and performance artist offers help in the form of what she calls "rebrainwashing."
Meyers lives in an old Schlitz tavern on the near west side. Tangled computer cables and disassembled stereos plucked from Dumpsters hang on the walls of her bedroom, which doubles as a recording studio where she considers her clients' ills. Sometimes, if their letters are vague, she'll phone them for more information. "Everything seems solvable if you think it out," says Meyers, who works as a secretary and has no background in psychology. When she's satisfied she knows what's best for them, she'll record a personalized tape meant to be played night after night as they sleep.
Though Meyers plays several instruments, her tapes consist strictly of monotonously spoken counsel. Since she believes stress exacerbates problems, she'll always include a soothing directive -something like "All bodily stress and turmoil will be released into the sky, and you will wake up feeling relaxed and rejuvenated."
The idea for rebrainwashing came to her several months ago, after Meyers, a self-described "horrible listener," got fed up with friends obsessing about their troubles. "I hate it when people complain," she says. "They tell you their problems over and over and don't take your advice." So rather than repeat herself, she started handing out tapes. "I think that when you're trying to change yourself you really do need someone to say something to you over and over again. You know when you're trying to remember something when you're studying, you have to read it over and over again. But why should you have to bother someone else to do it for you? Why don't you just have it done at night when you're sleeping?"
Soon Meyers says, her friends found themselves breaking old habits; one no longer felt compelled to wear a bag as a hat, another stopped grinding her teeth. About three months ago Meyers branched out, soliciting problems from the public under the pseudonym Zeek Sheck. Her clients learn about her service from her ad in Lumpen, by word-of-mouth, or at her performances, where Meyers, inspired by infomercials, gives an enthusiastic and lengthy testament to the effectiveness of rebrainwashing, appearing both as the afflicted and Zeek the savior. After the show she peddles premade tapes for relaxation and deconstipation and encourages audience members to fill out a form describing their "deleteable problems in full." In a theatrical vein--and because "you never know what someone's going to want"-the form offers an added bonus. Would you care for advice delivered in the voice of a high-pitched squeaky girl, God, a priest, your mother, an auctioneer, or a growling dog? No problem. Check the box. "I'm versatile," Meyers says matter-of-factly. So far, though, no client has requested the dog growl, a good thing, since-if a recent demonstration is any indication-Meyers tends to interrupt her growling with fits of laughter.
But she mostly approaches the business of rebrainwashing with decided seriousness. "It's a big responsibility," she admits. Her inspiration is her deceased mother, whose visage appears on the covers of the rebrainwashing cassettes. "She cared for a lot of people," says Meyers. "I don't think of this [company] as just one person. I think of it as a company founded by her."
With money from her mother's life insurance, Meyers purchased the tools of her trade: recording equipment, a computer, and software that enables her to alter her voice by manipulating pitch and echo and adding other effects. She edits the recordings on screen before sending them out. Meyers considers herself qualified to tackle most problems because she's "caring" and "logical" and evaluates the situation from an objective distance. "As an outsider you always see what they should do immediately."
Take the guy who thinks he's combusting. "I told him when it happens to him just realize that it's not real. Obviously he's not being lit on fire. You have to deal with him being afraid of it, cause it's sort of like a cycle-if you're afraid of something, it's going to happen more; if it happens more, you're going to become more afraid. "
Meyers realized the limitations of rebrainwashing when she received a letter from a client who seemed suicidal. "If someone's going to kill himself, he needs someone to talk to; he doesn't just need some tape, you know." She referred him to a long list of more professional sources for help. After all, she says, "I don't want to be responsible for having someone die in my care."
For more information on Meyer's rebrainwashing write to Zeek Sheck Care Company, 1958 W. Walnut, Chicago 60612; or call 773-243-1227.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Rose Meyers by Randy Tunnell.