In sixth grade, my best friend and I each paid $3 to a woman wearing a size-too-small horse sweatshirt for palm readings at the state fair. She ran her long, fake fingernails along the lines of my palm, informing me I loved music and would marry a man in uniform. My mother later scoffed at this news, asking, "Who doesn't love music?"
Mom was a believer, but of the discerning variety. She had taken me and my brother to see a man with ESP years earlier. He had audience members use a variety of blindfolds and masking tape to cover his eyes, and then he would read aloud from books by running his hands along them. He hypnotized a shy woman to parade around as a chicken. He didn't make predictions, but he obviously had something special that we marveled at.
I did not have that special skill, which is why it's so astonishing that I briefly worked as a phone psychic.
I'd heard about the job through a friend of mine, who worked in Human Resources for one of the most prominent phone psychic companies in the world. She knew that I'd learned to read tarot in college and that I often booked events and comedy clubs. Sometimes I was accurate, but mostly, I was entertaining. Once, at a New York Fashion Week party in SoHo, I read the cards for a nonbeliever who edited what many fancy fashion folk refer to as "the Bible." He was making fun of me when I leaned in and whispered, "Don't cheat on your wife."
He confessed that he'd just shared a cab with the potential mistress and they were planning to tryst within the week. Thirty minutes later, he'd emptied his pockets and placed all of his cash into my tip jar. The event planners paid me $200 an hour and I made even more in tips. Later, I brown-bagged a beer taken from the party while waiting for the subway, feeling like I'd fooled them all.
So I applied to the phone psychic job, more curious than optimistic about landing the gig. For my first "interview," I received a phone call from an older woman. I was supposed to tell this complete stranger about the life she was currently living and where it would take her. I shuffled my cards while she concentrated, wondering how the hell such a connection could occur over my iPhone. I told her what I'd told my friends and party guests: "Imagine I'm winding a music box. When it feels ready to play, tell me to stop."
"Ooh, I like that," she cooed.
I don't know why reading tarot worked well enough for people to pay me, but I imagine it's because the human race loves fiction.
I learned to read tarot using the Celtic spread, which offers interpretations on the recent past and near future. I flipped over the Disc and Cup cards, and told the woman over the phone that a Capricorn man was sucking her dry. This was the strongest detail I'd provided and it absolutely dazzled her. At that point she broke her character as interviewer and revealed that a Capricorn man had, indeed, drifted in and out of her life over the last 30 years. The next day, she approached my friend in HR and said, "You're so lucky to be friends with someone like Angela."
I was dumbstruck. Reading tarot is a combination of looking at the cards, their placement, and using intuition. I don't know why it's worked well enough for people to pay me, but I imagine it's because the human race loves fiction.
In my second interview, I read for a man. I laid out his cards and interpreted a blonde woman who was about to completely fuck him over. After years of reading strangers for quick cash, I knew better than to tell someone that a person he cared about was going to take advantage of him. So instead, I described a blonde woman who was very strong and all business. He excitedly told me, "That's my partner!"
Being a half-ass psychic, I wondered whether he meant business partner or sex partner. He soon revealed she was both—and they were starting a company together. My intuition/magical powers told me this woman was about to leave him high and dry, but common sense told me that news might offend him and blow my chances of landing this job. Fortunetelling has no solid ethics, so I told him what I believed he wanted to hear. And I got the job.
The company that hired me boasted they only hire two out of 100 potential psychics. I felt excited, nervous, and mostly terrified I'd be exposed as a fraud. I was confident enough dealing with strangers at parties whom I'd probably never see again, but now I had an entire corporation to report to. They let me pick my psychic name and I did my best to choose something less stripper, more gypsy (which I'd love to reveal but cannot due to an ironclad NDA).
I was collecting $1.99 per minute to tell them what I saw in the cards, which was, by and large, bullshit.
My first shift was on Valentine's Day, which was like learning how to Parkour without first learning how to walk. The service would link to my personal phone with the caller from their 800 number, so I was able to work from home. That night my phone rang constantly with needy, single callers. The majority of these lonely hearts asked about people they hadn't even met yet from online dating sites. They were spending $3.50 a minute to obsess over someone they'd never even kissed. I was collecting $1.99 per minute to tell them what I saw in the cards, which was, by and large, bullshit. They were never going to meet, let alone, love these strangers. By the end of my evening I felt infected with desperation and insanity (which makes sense considering my employers had classified me as an "Empath," a skill that was added to my profile).
After Valentine's Day, it only got stranger. Callers asked about lost jewelry and I'd instead tell them about their children or partners, which only pissed them off. HR called and told me to stop doing that—if someone wanted "remote viewing," I was to tell him or her to call a psychic who had that skill listed on their profile. I was, and still am, impressed by how seriously my employer treated "real psychic powers" instead of just racking up minutes. But I also noticed that bad reviews never made it to my profile or anyone else's, which sickened me.
Minutes turned to hours easily, thanks to a few regulars. My favorite was an eccentric opera singer in her mid-60s who believed she could still give birth, and bragged that every young man she encountered wanted to put that bun in her oven. She often asked which of her priceless paintings she should sell to cover the bills. I dangled a rose quartz pendulum over a circle surrounded by the answers "yes," "no," and "maybe." I listed the titles of her artwork to "my spirit guide," a term I loathed but the callers loved. The crystal swung back and forth and I would report the answers to her as minute after minute robbed her of valuables. Several times, I told her I needed to hang up because we'd already run an hour over the end of my shift. She seemed so eager to blow her inheritance on the sound of my voice when a Magic 8 Ball could've delivered comparable results. She and several other clients invited me to visit them and suggested over and over that we exchange real phone numbers.
Most of the callers were terribly lonesome. They didn't want to know their futures as much as they wanted hope. I started the job feeling like a therapist and ended it feeling more like a prostitute. Except instead of sex, there was crying. Instead of revelation, there was blabbering. I was a pay-per-minute substitute for what might actually fill their voids. There was no way I could give them what they needed. I encouraged some to seek therapy or go to church, but HR told me to stop pushing therapy on people who were seeking a psychic. Eventually, we had a mutual termination of my online psychic profile.
It's been about five years since I've taken money for telling someone his or her future. If a friend asks, I'll read their tarot for free because that's really what I think it's worth. I can't tell you dates, I can't see faces; I'm no good at finding lost treasures or interpreting your dreams. I can only ever provide about five to ten minutes of interpretation and the rest of the time is spent fluffing the info, teasing it out of each person to appear larger than it actually is.
Maybe that's because I believe I've seen the real thing in a few people, one of whom I visit every few years. I won't go to her more than that because she gives so many specifics that it almost takes the fun out of life. She's told me I'm with one of my soulmates (which I found quite tolerable—this idea of several soulmates for each of us) and she's also said I'm an Indigo Crystal Child, which is her explanation for what makes me psychic.
I googled "Indigo Crystal Child." It's a nice idea: spirits from other worlds coming to this planet to save it. It sounds like the sort of well-illustrated children's book fantasy you could buy for anyone's baby shower, no matter their faith. But of all the things my trusted psychic has said, this one shook my faith in her. Maybe I just lack self-esteem. Maybe my third eye is cloudy (as she has insisted). Maybe I should drop this aversion and take more yoga, try another juice cleanse, reread The Alchemist, until I can look you in the eye and say with pride, "Hi, I'm Angela. I'm an Indigo Crystal Child, and I'm one seriously legit psychic."
But probably not.
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