By R.E. Mahoney
I was a skeptic. Okay, cynic is a better word. Psychics were either fakes or rip-offs. Then I saw this ad for "Robert-First Reading $10." I decided to give him a call. I wanted a reading but first I had questions...lots of questions.
I called and told Robert I was a writer who might be interested in a reading. Could I interview him and decide if I wanted a reading? "I have no time limits," he said. "You want to do it over the phone or in person?"
"What, a 900 thing?" I asked.
"I don't DO 900 lines," he said tersely. "Just call."
"Wait a minute. How do you get paid?"
"I give you my address and you send me the money."
There had to be a catch. "I want it in person," I said.
"Fine." He gave me directions to his Plaza apartment. I emptied my wallet of all cash and credit cards. The only thing I was bringing was a pen, paper and ten bucks.
"How long have you been doing readings?" I asked, sitting down at his table.
"I've been reading Tarot since I was 14. I've been professional for about ten years."
"Have you always been psychic?"
He gave a laugh. "It may sound trite, but we are all psychic. If you are asking, did I wake up one morning and find I was psychic? No. Just like any talent, it takes time, study and experience. Anyone could be a psychic. Even you.
Yeah, right. "How did you get started as a fortune teller?" I inquired.
His eyes narrowed slightly. "I am a psychic counsellor." His features softened. "It started at my birth."
"You were born psychic?"
"I was born September 23, 1955. That date is right on the cusp of Libra and Virgo. I had to read both horoscopes in the paper. Libra would say, 'Go out! Meet people!' and Virgo would advice, 'Stay home, avoid strangers.' When I was 14, I was at Macy's with my mother. They had a Tarot deck on the clearance table for $7.00. That's exactly what I had. I asked my mother: she said 'fine.'"
"Your mother gave you permission to become a fortune..." Robert cleared his throat loudly.
"A psychic?" I finished.
"Just if I could get the cards."
"What happened then?"
"I took them home. It came with a booklet; I read it. There are 78 cards. When I did readings I had to look at the book a lot."
"Who did you do readings for?"
"Anybody. The one I remember most was my best friend. For three months, he had been looking for a part time job. The cards said he'd get a job in one day. The next day, he got two job offers."
"That's when you started doing readings," I said.
"Nope. I thought it was a fluke. I joined the Navy. Mom threw my cards away."
"How did you get back into this?"
"About a year after I got out of the Navy I got involved in community theater," he explained. "I got insecure and bought another Tarot deck."
"That's when you started doing readings?"
"I did readings for friends. You can ask them. I missed some big ones. No readings for money."
"When did you turn professional?" I asked.
"About ten years ago a friend of mine was doing a psychic fair for charity. She knew I did Tarot and asked me to read. I did, and it was fun. People did ask for my phone number. I could not imagine people paying me to do this."
"But they did."
"Yes," he said. "They did, and the rest is history."
"How does 'psychic' work?" I asked.
"Very well, thank you for asking."
"Are you interviewing me or investigating the paranormal?"
"I see a lot of figures, candles and such on and around your table. Do you do magic?"
"We all do magic. Praying or casting spells, it's all the same," he said. "Psychic is passive: I see and I tell you what I see. Magic is active: if I do magic for you, I'm interfering. I don't do magic for clients. Beware of those who do. That's free psychic advice."
"I see a crucifix on the wall," I observed. "And an open Bible and a statuette of the Virgin Mary on your table. Are they for show or do you believe in God?"
"I believe there are constructive and destructive forces in the Universe. If you wish to call them God and Satan, so be it. The side we choose is up to us. It's called free will. I believe my gift is from God. I tell you this: If you make someone or something suffer for your beliefs, that's evil."
"Let's look at the bottom line," I said. "How much is this reading really going to cost me? I only brought ten bucks-just like your ad says."
"How many times have I heard that? 'I'm only paying ten dollars!' Good, that's all I want," he said. "I'll give you some more free psychic advice: If a psychic is charging over fifty dollars or lives in the 900 area code, find another psychic. My first reading is ten dollars. You don't like my reading, my beard, my cats, you're out ten bucks. I don't tell or ask my clients to call or come back (a few I asked not to come back...no I TOLD them not to come back). If you do come back, the next reading is thirty dollars. Flat fee.
"What do I get in the first reading?"
"There is no difference between your first reading and any other reading. It takes about an hour."
"Who will be our next President?" I asked.
"How would I know that?"
"You're supposed to be psychic."
"In my opinion," he said, "making predictions for the press/public is egotistical and silly. It would be the easiest way to ruin my reputation as a psychic by misusing my gift."
"How accurate are you?" I asked.
"Last year I did 251 readings at my home, 155 of those were either repeat clients or referrals. As I said before, I don't ask or tell my clients to call or come back. If I wasn't accurate, they would not be coming back or sending their friends and I would be out of business."
"One more question."
Robert sighed, "Thank God."
"Do I pay you before or after my reading?"
He put the cards in front of me. "After."
Reprinted with permission from Parapsychology Quarterly.