Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Flashback 1990: Psychic-deli—We have seen the future, several times, in fact

The Fortune-Teller, by Georges de la Tour (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
If you look closely, you'll see why it encapsulates my view of psychics.

     I read with interest freelancer Aaron Gettinger's article in Monday's Sun-Times about psychics. Not so much because I wanted to know how the industry, to use his term, is faring post-COVID. But I was curious how he would treat the frauds-fleecing-the-gullible aspect of palm readers and swamis. The short answer is, he didn't. He spoke to mediums and their patrons without ever questioning their premise, and I wondered whether this was the right call or not, and whether it was in keeping with, or despite, his own views.
      Using my special abilities to actually ask authors about their intent, I queried him about this. "They're all frauds," he replied, plainly enough, adding that "to do a piece about how there’s no such thing as psychic readings would have been a completely different piece."
     No argument here. That makes sense. The Sun-Times prints an astrology column every day, without adding a big notice that it's nonsense for nincompoops. Sometimes a realm can be explored on its own terms, and readers trusted to reach their own conclusions.
      Gettinger is a reporter on staff at the Hyde Park Herald. We talked for a while — he is a graduate from Stanford, with a masters from the University of Chicago, and seems a man with aspirations. He's 29, and I remember that I addressed the same subject when I was almost exactly Gettinger's age. I dug it up to see how I handled the charlatan aspect. It's worth noting that I wasn't a columnist when I wrote this — that was more than five years in the future — and it strikes me as having quite a bit of voice for a general assignment reporter. Then again, those were different days.

     August is a time to look to the future, to harken to the murmurings of fall and all that lies beyond.
     Because it's National Psychic Week through Saturday, I enlisted the help of professional prognosticators — traffickers in the occult sciences.
     I was curious, not so much in the details of my life to be, which I will find out eventually, but whether these mystics could predict a major event — to wit, my pending marriage, set to take place with Busby Berkeley-like restraint at the Babylonianly-splendid Hotel Inter-Continental on Sept. 2.
     I figured, with 200 people across the country preparing to attend, not to mention the intense psychokinetic aura streaming from a woman who has dated a guy for seven years and is finally getting her due, forseeing the event should be a piece of cake.
     Here are the results of three Chicago soothsayers, selected at random (call ahead, many are booked for weeks):

     The seer: Miss Ruth
     The site: North LaSalle Street. First floor. A nondescript kitchen, free from any incense, crystal balls or goat heads. Miss Ruth's grandchildren played around the table and had to be constantly shushed.
     Technique: Without any subtle questioning, Miss Ruth asked me to hold my fee ($22) in my right hand and make wishes. I told her one (regarding publication of a book) and she began flipping cards. The juxtaposition of the cards, and whether they were upside-down when flipped, seemed to mean something.
     Accuracy on marriage question: Poor. She got that I would be married, but said the marriage would be in 2 1/2 years to a wealthy woman I hadn't met yet. This worried my fiance.

     The seer: Steve MacDonald
     ("Palmistry over the Phone")
     The site: My kitchen phone. My fiance's cats, Anna and Vronsky, mewed in the background, and I was afraid Steve would grasp their deeper significance.
     Technique: Steve asked me to draw my palms and fingers over the mouthpiece, then place it over the spot between my eyes (my "third eye"). Then, to his credit, he instructed me to not give him any verbal encouragement, but to listen to his barrage of intuition, most of which was completely wrong ("someone near you attended Vanderbilt University") and some of which struck me as utter truth ("You are a talented person.") Still, for an introductory free reading, it was not bad.
     Accuracy on marriage: Hard to say. He didn't mention weddings or romance at all. He did say I would apply a coat of paint to a door.

     The seer: Rochelle Bates
     The site: Her office, a small, pleasant, new-age sort of room.
     Technique: Coated palms with printer's ink and made prints. Studied prints for a moment, then reeled off a portrait of my personality that couldn't have been more accurate if she was reading from my resume. Her prognostication contained lots of useful health and lifestyle tips, some of which I took to heart. The encounter left me facing two equally unpalatable choices: either a) I had a streak of gullible dupishness heretofore unrecognized; or b) people's lives, past and future, are recorded in the lines on their palms.
     Accuracy on marriage question: Good, at first. She said that I would marry between the ages of 30 and 32 (correct). But, to my cynical relief, she added a bit of psychic prediction and conjured up a dark-haired East Coaster (my fiance is a strawberry blond born in Chicago) whom I would meet perhaps in five years.
     That's a nice summer thought to end on. Some mysterious dark-haired Easterner showing up at a family wiener roast in August 1995. Maybe she'll agree to have a frank and a cold one and the three of us can sit around the back yard, marveling at the beautiful interplay of stars, fate and struggle that brought us to our benighted state.
         —originally published in the Sun-Times, Aug. 8, 1990


  1. Q. If they're psychic, why aren't they rich by investing in the stock market?
    A. Because they're all frauds!

    1. Presuming that accumulating money would be the goal of a mystically enlightened mind.

      Q. If they are psychic, why aren't they predicting terrible disasters and thereby preventing them?

      A. Because they are frauds.

  2. Yes, that first sentence with the "harken to the murmurings" seemed to assume a receptive audience, such as the one for this blog, rather than the hopeful offerings of a journeyman journalist to a likely dubious reader. "Act like a winner" seems to have worked quite well.


  3. “… not to mention the intense psychokinetic aura streaming from a woman who has dated a guy for seven years and is finally getting her due…”

    I’d be curious to know what your wife thinks about that turn of phrase. (Not that I’m entitled to know!) Although I imagine she must have a good sense of humor.

  4. Quite a bit of voice for a general assignment reporter? Just a hint of the force we all enjoy now. Regarding the "frauds-fleecing-the-gullible aspect" of psychics, perhaps we should apply the "nonsense for nincompoops" warning on faith based articles as well.

  5. There is too much entertaining language here to list it all, and at least one band name.

    I've been hearing that psychics are doing very well these days and I have many thoughts about this phenomena, mostly that so many people are crying out for help these days.

    "Therapists and mental health practitioners, meanwhile, have described astrology’s utility, alongside things like tarot, as they continue gaining popularity. Negative character traits can be identified with a Zodiac sign, allowing people to talk about and work through their issues without pathologizing them. Someone can explain his issues with boundaries that he needs to work on because he is a Sagittarius, for instance — not because he is a bad person." https://www.wbez.org/stories/chicago-psychic-mediums-use-telehealth-coworking-spaces/c472d7b1-9ac7-4c84-a4be-a3467ae7eca0

    There is value to what some of us consider magical thinking as far as mental health outcomes, though I agree it would be better for people to be well educated, logical, and discerning. But who am I to say?


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