Have you found out how long you have to live yet?
I used to be a phone psychic. That's right, I was one of those people on the other end of the line when you called Dionne Warwick's psychic friends or Miss Cleo's band of clairvoyants. No, I had no special or supernatural powers, nor did I believe that I did (even though I told my boss otherwise). I was just some guy sitting in my apartment, answering the phone, using the alias Mannix, and telling poor desperate souls on the other end of the line that one day they'd own a carpet store, or that they might be married 21 times. Fantastically, everyone seemed to take me at face value.
That was five years ago and just a fun way to make a little cash on the side. Naturally, however, I'm drawn to see how some other people have perfected this craft. Since the Atlantic City Boardwalk seems to have funnel cake in every pot and a physic reader on every corner, I decided to try my luck with the roulette wheel of self-professed prophets and mediums.
Fortune telling is not a new art form. History traces it back to ancient Egypt, but the craft must have undoubtedly stretched even further back into the past. While the Boardwalk psychics do take notes from this ancient form of divination, the tradition comes from the carnivals and circuses that traveled around Europe and North America during the past few hundred years. It's the stereotype of the gypsy fortune-teller who brings special powers from exotic lands that the Boardwalk psychic is more often than not using to seduce beachgoers to part with $10-220. Usually $10 gets just one of your palms read, an art form fortune-tellers call "palmistry," in which the natural lines in your hands supposedly hold the secrets of your personality and future.
Two hundred-twenty dollars gets you what one sign on the Boardwalk called a "full life reading." Not one psychic could adequately explain what exactly a "full life reading" was, except that it involved examining the entire life of a subject and parting that subject with $220. If that's a little steep for you, half-life readings are available for $110.
Say what you want about the honesty and accuracy of these readings, going to a fortune-teller can be a lot of fun - if not a little wallet draining. But really, what isn't in Atlantic City these days?
My adventure began near Kentucky Avenue at Readings by Sabrina. Sabrina was not exactly a teenage witch, but she wasn't exactly an old hag either. I expected a huge room full of crystal balls, incense, and bead curtains, but the small lemonade stand-sized area with two chairs would have to do. I looked over the menu and decided to go for the two-palm reading. Sabrina asked me to close my eyes, make two wishes, and then lay out both my palms.
Sabrina's menu included palm readings, face readings, tarot card readings, Egyptian tarot card readings, and a host of other things. According to Dr. Joe Nickell, senior research fellow at CSICOP (the Center for Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal), these are all just various props for a method fortunetellers use called "cold reading." It's called "cold" because the fortuneteller has no previous information about the subjects before they walk in. Nickell has over 30 years experience as a stage magician and paranormal investigator, with a multitude of books on his resume debunking the powers of psychics and mediums. Knowing all the tricks of the trade, Nickell says the cold reading begins with the fortune-teller sizing up the subject based on several factors.
"Threads you're wearing, what kind of car you drive, or whether or not you're wearing a wedding ring," he says. Then the fortune-teller asks a series of general questions about why someone would come to a psychic. Love life? Finances? Luck? The fortune-teller then looks for a few subconscious tells from the subject.
"The fortune-teller might say, 'many people come to me to ask about love,' and if you frown, he moves on to issues of finance," says Nickell, "If your eyes light up, the fortune-teller then directs the reading there."
My eyes must have lit up on luck, because that's where Sabrina took my reading. Apparently, my luck is not very good right now, but that will change - sometime in November. That's a good thing to know in case I want to hit a casino around Thanksgiving. For Sabrina, I was playing the part of the skeptic, trying to be as quiet as possible and not give her any cues for the reading. Of course, she picked up on this and boiled down all my problems to not being open-minded enough. Or perhaps, not open-pursed enough. My reading came to an abrupt end after I refused an "offering." Sabrina was offering me a special crystal that would improve my luck, perhaps before the benchmark of November, and open my mind - and part me with $50. I thanked Sabrina. It was fun, but I was wondering what other psychics had to offer.
The next stop was Mrs. Dee down near Tennessee Avenue. This time, not only were my palms being read, but also my face. Amazingly, these readings were eerily similar. I was going to have a long life, no health problems, and my energy was a little drained by old romantic relationships. My luck wasn't so good right now, but that should change around October.
Something must have happened during my walk, because the horizon of good luck was getting closer.
Unlike with Sabrina, I played along a little more with Mrs. Dee and got a more in-depth reading. Mrs. Dee didn't offer me any healing crystals, but she did notice a few things. I am an old soul and have some bad karma from my past few lives. This has caused, according to Mrs. Dee, some spiritual blockages in my third eye and my solarplexes. When I said I didn't feel all that blocked, Mrs. Dee assured me that I am absorbing the negative energy of those around me. She, however, noticed how crestfallen I was and offered to help me with a few spiritual cleansing sessions at $125 a pop. I thought a moment, and figured that my blockages would go away by themselves like that nagging toothache. I don't have to worry, though, since Mrs. Dee will light a candle for me and she can foresee that I will come back.
Down the Boardwalk a bit, near Texas Avenue, was Psychic Readings by Miss Ava and Tina. I still hadn't found my incense and bead curtain. This place looked more like a nail salon than Professor Marvel's campsite. So, for Miss Tina, I again put my wall of skepticism up and got surprisingly curt treatment. Although my aura was strong, Miss Tina sensed I was holding something back. After a few minutes in which I learned about the long life ahead of me and about how no health problems will get me down, Miss Tina practically pleaded to give me what she called a deeper reading.
I had a little experience with this, trying to keep people on the phone line for a few extra minutes, and realized I'd have to dig deeper in my pockets for such a reading, I politely refused and was hurried out of the store. Miss Tina was apparently doing what Nickell says all fortune-tellers do with skeptics, quickly get rid of them.
"They're looking for you to provide information and play along," says Nickell, "If you are just skeptical and cross your arms and say 'why don't you tell me what I'm thinking?' they'll just brush you off and move on to the next person."
My last stop was Psychic Readings by Gina and Teresa near Belmont Avenue. Tarot cards were something I had not tried yet and since Gina was having a $10 markdown on card readings, it was a natural way to wrap up this informal investigation. For the uninitiated, the tarot is a deck of cards many fortunetellers use as a tool for divination. The most popular form of the deck dates back to 15th century Italy and, like contemporary playing cards, comes in four suits: cups, swords, wands and pentacles. Oddly enough, the original tarot cards had nothing to do with psychic phenomena, but were used for a game called Triumphs. Only later were the cards somehow connected to ancient Egypt and occult fortunetelling.
Gina had me shuffle the cards three times - no more, no less - and choose which side of the cut deck she would read. Like a blackjack dealer, she poured the cards onto the table and the mysteries of my future were revealed. There must be something to this, because I'm still going to have a long life and my health is fine, but either Gina has a little more trouble seeing my aura than Miss Tina does or it really is looking a little bit dingy.
On a positive note, that good luck change has now moved up to just around the corner in late August.
" I respect the skeptics. I just ask that they respect what I do and come and have the experience before you actually judge me. Not everybody needs closure. Not everybody has unresolved issues. Everyone’s messages are different. But when you witness a reading, spirit talks about such specific details."
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