This week's feature story in the dead tree edition of New Times gives you a crash course in the world of fortunetelling fraud. Inside, you'll get a basic field guide on the emotional games, legerdemain, and mindfuckery used to convince otherwise rational folks to willingly part with their money.
Sure, from the peanut gallery, it seems head-smackingly stupid for someone to throw cash at a stranger just because of a "curse." It's kind of like watching a slasher flick when the main character tiptoes into that one menacingly, obviously-bad news dark room - how can they be so dumb, right?
But, trust me, it's a whole different show when you're sitting across from a psychic. I know. While reporting the story, I spent time hanging out in fortunetelling shops, often submitting my own karma to a psychic strip search and prognosis.
Right up front, I'll say there are a lot of good people out there running fortunetelling outfits, many who either see the work as just good fun or as a needed release. That said, the first time I visited a fortuneteller in Broward, ten minutes hadn't passed before I was teed up for a scam.
It's not hard to find these joints in Broward. There are so many filling up anonymous shopping centers, they become another blip of scenery - pawn shop, gun shop, massage parlor, bail bonds, tarot cards. I pulled off a busy thoroughfare in Fort Lauderdale at about 3 p.m. last month. The sign outside offered palm readings. I knocked on the bolted glass door. A woman answered.
We'll call her "Ms. Jasmine." She was about 60, her face a moonscape of wrinkles and ridges, the voice coming with a slight Eastern Bloc-ish tinge. After hearing I wanted a reading, she led me through a front room furnished with leather couches and a large flat screen television into a small, un-air conditioned back room.
The space was splashed with a confused hodgepodge of religious iconography. There was the kind of Jesus headshot you'd see framed on the wall of your spinster aunt's hallway. An illustrated poster of the human body pointed out the chakras. Numerous rhinestone statutes of Egyptian Pharaohs were situated on shelves and a coffee table.
Ms. Jasmine and I parked down in a pair of facing wicker chairs. She explained the pricing structure: $20 bought me a peek at the past; $40, the past and future; and $60 paid for a full tarot reading.
I went with the middle option. The psychic then zeroed in on my pink, clammy mitts.
Out the gate, she started unrolling the good stuff. She could tell right away I would live a long life. Nice. I was a good person and I'd be happy - not rich, but happy. I'll take it. Ms. Jasmine said I was the quiet type who said what I meant when I spoke up. "I see that you will own your own business," she said. "You are not meant to work for someone else." Bonus.
But then, her face bent into a concerned frown. "But relationships," she said, dragging out the words. "They don't work out for you. I sense a negative energy there."
I grunted. She stared at my sweaty palm. The seconds felt long.
Finally, Ms. Jasmine laid it all out: there was some negative energy in my life, blocking me not only from success in the romantic realm, but holding me back from being where I was meant to be in life. "The negativity has you walled off," she said. "Look, you're tired. You don't sleep. You don't get up in the morning feeling good."
The negative energy, she added, might not have come from anything I did. I might have inherited it from family.
She did have an answered. My chakras needed to be cleansed - boot the bad energy out. Ms. Jasmine would need to get her hands on special crystals, which then would be rubbed over the body to release the negative energy. The process requires three consecutive days of rituals. I couldn't eat meat during the time period. Now, as far as pricing, if I wanted to grease Ms. Jasmine with a little something for the work, that was one me. The crystals were another story. They would cost $350.
"We need to bring you up to 2013, because right now you're four years behind where you should be," she said. "I know that if you do this cleanse, you're going to be alright."
As the psychic laid this all out for me, I was staring at the floor, grunting here and there. Inside my head, I was spinning: for the last month I'd been talking with people conned by fortunetellers with a similar set-up; now, here it was happening to me at my first reading.
It was obvious how Ms. Jasmine was reading me. First of all, there's no ring on my finger, so obviously it wasn't a stretch to guess relationships hadn't worked out for me.
Also, here I was, an unshaven young dude coming through the door in the middle of the weekday, when functioning adults were gainfully slogging away. My hair wasn't combed; Vegas-odds were the t-shirt I was wearing hadn't been laundered in the last lunar cycle; I was wearing Crocs. Basically, not exactly a snapshot of a functioning participant of society. More textbook twentysomething scrub, you could have plucked me off the couch of a Judd Apatow movie -- just the kind of space-waster who might eagerly tune-in to a plan of how to get his shit together. Ms. Jasmine marked me as a live one, desperate for some good news.
Gonna have to think about the crystal thing, I told her. "Honey," she said. "You can do whatever you want to do."
I went home and did laundry.
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