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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shows Me Here


Although saddled with a less than stellar reputation, storefront psychics, like most other fields of endeavor, span a range of expertise (or perhaps more accurately, familiarity) with the arts of fortune telling.

In the 1970s, the niece of a friend was rather determined to get a psychic reading, so we obliged. After all, what was the harm of few dollars spent for her satisfaction and our amusement? And, to be honest, I had always been curious myself. So, off we went to find a Gypsy/Roma fortuneteller. This was a simple task - several hundred psychic shops dot the boroughs of New York City, and we knew of one just around the corner.

What we hoped would at least be an entertaining small indulgence turned out to be a disappointment. Our companion chose palm reading as the road map to her future. The psychic held her hand, palm up, and began to go through a list of questions. Each question/answer/prediction was embarrassingly simplistic and formulaic. "Do you want to be married?" Our companion answered, "Yes." The psychic pointed to a very general area in the center of her palm and said, "Shows me here you are going to be married."
"Do you want to have children?" "Yes." "Shows me here you are going to have children." Every one of the psychic's predictions was prefaced with "shows me here" while pointing to the same vague area in the center of our subject's hand. No effort at all was made to even remotely use the elements of palmistry. No life, head, heart, sun, mercury or fate lines.

Clearly we had not found our way to the top of the profession, but, like many disappointing experiences, a sense of humor can turn these incidents into comic material for years to come. "Shows me here" became a private catchphrase, and when popped unexpectedly at an opportune place in a conversation, it never failed to elicit laughs from our coterie of insiders.

I was always puzzled as to how psychics working alone could possibly even afford storefront rents, much less make a living. I was surprised to learn that, according to a 1999 New York Times article, fortune tellers at the time made an average of $200,000 per year. How? By reigning in clients, telling them that their problems require special treatment to remove curses or other negative influences. That costs money. Some victims have paid as much as several hundred thousand dollars over a period of time.
Actually, this activity, practiced this way, is illegal, and the police department has stepped up enforcement. From the Times article:

Fortunetelling is legal for entertainment -- like hiring someone to read tarot cards at a party. But the penal code calls it a misdemeanor when a person ''holds himself out as being able, by claimed or pretended use of occult powers, to answer questions or give advice on personal matters or to exorcise, influence or affect evil spirits or curses.'' Those who extract large sums are often charged with larceny, a more serious crime.

We all like the comfort of any easy repair of life's problems. However, I am sad to report that it "shows me here" that the local fortuneteller is probably not going to be the fix :)

Other Related Postings: Comin Up, Fit-ty Fi.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

A true visionary once told me that one is not supposed to make a profit from their gift of sight. To do so is unethical.

It's alarming how a curse can magically be cured by buying the medium a fax machine.

Anonymous said...

A true visionary once told me that one is not supposed to make a profit from their gift of sight. To do so is unethical.

It's alarming how a curse can magically be cured by buying the medium a fax machine.

Lily Hydrangea said...

shows me here, so very true!

Anonymous said...

Did you ever read "Up In The Old Hotel" by Joseph Mitchell? He wrote for The New Yorker from the late 30s until the early 90s. He has a couple of fascinating stories about gypsies: King Of The Gypsies; and The Gypsy Women. You should check them out.