Today is my first day on my new job. I’m a little nervous as I dial the phone.
“Welcome to the network psychic line. You must be calling from a touch tone phone to interact with this service. Please enter your personal identification number,” a computerized voice commands.
I flash back to the challenging test I was given to determine if I was a good enough psychic to get this job. It consisted of one question which penetrated to the very essence of my understanding of metaphysics and the paranormal. “What’s your phone number?”
I took a deep breath, plumbing the depths of my soul for the answer. “288 0960,” I responded.
“You’re hired. Here’s a toll free number to call with your password. You’ll be paid twenty-five cents a minute and must keep your callers on the line for an average of ten minutes or you’ll be fired,” my boss warned, and without imparting any further instructions hung up. My guess was he figured I wouldn’t need any guidelines from him since I was now a professional psychic and would already know them.
I enter my password and hang up. Immediately the phone rings. It’s showtime.
“Hello may I help you?” I ask in my best professional manner.
“Why does me and my’s daughter always be gettin’ pregnant?” my caller asks.
“Because you don’t use protection.”
“I’s got me a dog!” she replies indignantly.
“Ma’am you don’t fuck the dog...”
Click. She hangs up.
My intuition tells me I may need to refine my bedside manner if I am going to have a ten minute average. Thankfully I don’t exactly need this gig to survive because I haven’t worked long enough to qualify for unemployment benefits – and from psychically checking the want ads there aren’t too many job openings for laid off telepsychics. However since I have no psychic abilities whatsoever I could be wrong.
I put the telephone down and express my self doubt to my wife. “You’ll be fine. You’ve never been qualified for any job you’ve ever held,” she reassures me.
Unfortunately she’s right. I graduated from an Ivy League university in the mid seventies and embarked on a career in the music business. I wanted to be a rock and roll star but I had lousy hair and could sing on key, so after much frustration I realized I wasn’t going to achieve stardom because I just wasn’t qualified. After failing in that pursuit I decided to become a record producer. To be a producer one should either be conversant in the arcana of engineering or have a deep knowledge of music theory. On a good day I can sometimes get my VCR to work, and I only understood the barest rudiment of music theory which is that if you are in a successful rock and roll band you will get laid by supermodel groupies no matter how much of a geek you are in real life. Despite being nothing more than a charlatan I was able to bluff my way into the studio with a few bands and somehow managed to produce records which sold over twenty million copies and bought me a nice comfortable home in Beverly Hills with two Mercedes in my garage. This is when I made my biggest career mistake. I paid attention, learned both music theory and engineering and began to truly understand my craft. As a result my record sales dried up faster than the bar backstage at a Mötley Crüe concert, and I was forced to find another method of supporting myself. After considering and rejecting careers in teaching (I knew nothing worth teaching), fast food distribution (I could master asking, “would you like fries with that sir?) and yelling obscenities at passersby (extremely tempting, but I couldn’t figure out how I could be adequately compensated for this fulfilling work) I opted to become a novelist, despite never having previously written anything longer than my name.
Somehow I managed to get published. But my daydreams of having Michael Ovitz calling begging to become my agent and Hollywood mega-producers trying to lure me into giving them the book’s screen rights in exchange for Louis Vuitton duffle bags full of cash quickly evaporated when my publisher went belly up the day after my novel’s publication.
But like Martin Luther King, I had a dream, and I was determined to achieve success in my new field of endeavor. I just needed a unique and interesting subject to write about and it would be dead easy to get my plans back on track. For the next month I ensconced myself on the couch and sought inspiration from watching television while fending off my wife’s continuous sarcasm, “What does watching the Stanley Cup playoffs have to do with you achieving your dream?” A few days later she poked her head in and sneered, “How do you expect to get Michael Ovitz beating down our door by watching a double episode of Cops?”
The following week she ventured into the den during a particularly salacious marathon of Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones and Jerry Springer and finally pushed me into action, “In an attempt to be helpful I went out and bought a matched set of Louis Vuitton luggage in case the only thing holding up your Ovitz scenario was his not having the requisite luggage to dump the cash into; and, by the way you really should get off the couch and get a job because I’m pretty sure the spider in the middle of the cobweb forming under your ass is a black widow.”
The spider wasn’t a black widow. But, while simultaneously contemplating writing a sure-fire best-selling autobiography entitled, “I was justified in killing the bitch” and regaining my breath following my setting the world’s record for the highest jump from the reclining position, I had an epiphany.
It wasn’t one of those run of the mill “you can see Jesus in the crack running across my ceiling – so all you pilgrims can take a haj over to my place and while you’re here admiring this miracle you can stock up on some of our official souvenir ‘Jesus came, and this time He turned the water into beer,’ T-shirts and beer mugs” epiphanies.
No this epiphany didn’t come from heaven. Instead it originated straight from the bowels of Satan’s empire. I found myself transfixed watching a commercial I’d managed to ignore the first hundred thousand times I saw it. Dionne Warwick was extolling the virtues of talking to telephone psychics for the low price of $3.99 per minute. A little voice inside my head instructed me to pick up the phone; all I had to do was take less than one minute, ask the right question and I would know what to write about. Isn’t that a bargain for only $3.99?
Thankfully that is when the epiphany hit the road and my brain kicked back in. My first clear thought was how could anyone in their right mind hire Dionne Warwick, the washed up diva who for the last thirty years has been asking if anyone knows the way to San Jose, as a spokeswoman for psychics? If she can’t even find a map to San Jose, how the hell is she going to know where the future lies? This was immediately followed by my wondering what sort of person would call a telephone psychic. Even if I believed in the existence of psychics, which (my brief moment of insanity notwithstanding) I don’t, I doubt there could be more than a handful of clairvoyants around the world, and certainly not enough of them to staff a nationally advertised operation twenty-four hours a day. My intuition told me there was some sort of heavy fraud going down, a feeling which was not assuaged by the sudden appearance of a legal disclaimer in small print superimposed over Ms. Warwick’s navel saying that “this service is for entertainment purposes only.” I speculated on what necessitated this language. Were they sued for bad psychic readings and as part of the settlement their high priced lawyers formulated this denial of authenticity?
It was then by happenstance, or fate for those believers in the metaphysical, that my friend Alex, a guitarist with whom I had once worked, called.
“Have you seen those ads for telephone psychics?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve been doing it for the last few weeks,” he replied, “my telephone has been ringing off the hook.”
“What do you mean by ‘you’ve been doing it’?”
“I’m working as a telephone psychic. It’s how I’ve been supporting myself since our record company dropped us and our singer went into rehab.”
“But you’re not really psychic are you?” I inquired.
“No, but no one from the company cares – and more importantly it pays my bills. I’m making more than I would earn delivering pizzas.”
“But, don’t you feel guilty? I sure would if I went around deceiving gullible people into believing something that wasn’t true.”
“Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Aren’t you the one who foisted Poison on the world? I’d feel a hell of a lot more guilty about that,” Alex reminded me of the hair-tosser band I discovered in the eighties.
I admitted that I had slightly more to feel ashamed about than he did. Alex confirmed my suspicions by telling me there was a nationwide shortage of phone psychics, “my boss, Sydney, will hire anybody who has a pulse,” he explained, “and he’s paying twenty-five cents a minute.”
We discussed the phone psychic racket a few more minutes before Alex demonstrated his acute psychic ability, “I’m sensing you’re interested in becoming a phone psychic.”
“It’s intriguing.” I confessed, “I’m sensing it might be something interesting to write about.”
“See you’re already talking like a psychic! I guarantee it will be an amazing experience. You’ll make millions,” Alex predicted.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m psychic aren’t I?” he answered.
“I hope you’re really good at your job. Let me convince my wife that this is a good idea and I’ll get back to you.”
I hung up and went into the kitchen where she was busy slicing carrots. I’m not sure exactly why but her holding a knife has always inhibited the free exchange of ideas between us. So I elected to wait until she finished before broaching my prospective venture.
“Why are you hovering around with that weird look on your face?” she looked up from her work, “are those delusional fantasies of Claudia Schiffer and Rebecca Stamos fighting over you kicking in again?”
“I’ve never dreamed of Claudia Schiffer and Rebecca Stamos fighting over me,” I reply honestly since my dreams actually involved them working in harmony. “I’ve got this job opportunity…”
“Good. Will you be able to support me in the style I want to grow accustomed to, so I can retire?”
“Not exactly. I’ll be making all fifteen dollars an hour, and I’m going to give all of it to charity.”
“You’re going to use your college education to take a job that pays less than a garbage collector makes and then give it all away? Have you gone mad?”
“No I’m perfectly sane.” I describe my plan to become a telephone psychic and write about it. “It’s going to be interesting to see what sort of people are gullible enough to pay $3.99 per minute to call a telephone psychic. I’ll write a social anthropological study, kind of like a modern day Margaret Mead, except I won’t have to go to Samoa. Ovitz will be beating our door down as soon as he hears of my plans.”
“I’ll leave the door ajar…I wouldn’t want him to hurt his hands; and you still haven’t explained why you’re going to give the money to charity.”
“For me to write this book I am going to have to lie to innocent people to convince them I’m psychic. I can’t accept money for lying.”
“What’s your problem with taking money for lying? I went to Columbia Law School for three years to learn how to lie, and I get paid $400 an hour for my skills. Just promise me one thing.”
“What?” I ask.
“That you’re not trying to drive me out of business by lying pro bono.”
“Do you mind if we put this in writing just to be on the safe side?” she asked picking up her pen.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
If I am going to be able to stay employed long enough to finish my study I am going to have to do better than my first call so I figure I better learn enough to bluff my way through astrology. I steal my wife’s new issue of Elle and rip out the horoscope page. Now I will be able to authoritatively tell my callers what sign of the zodiac they are and, if I can’t think of anything to tell them I can always plagiarize their fortunes from a magazine which I sense is not on the average psychic caller’s reading list.
I’m feeling somewhat prepared for the next ring of the phone.
“Hello, may I help you?”
“I wanna know if my wife’s been cheatin’ on me,” says a voice with some sort of southern subtract-one-hundred-points-from-your-IQ accent.
“Before I can answer I need to know your birthday,” I demand.
“I think I’ve already had it,” Forrest Gump’s stupider and drunker brother derails any attempt of mine to use astrology.
“Where are you calling from today, sir?”
“Texarcana, Texas,” he slurs.
“And what makes you think your wife is cheating on you?”
“’cause she’s pregnant,” he answers in a monotone.
“How pregnant is she?” I ask giving the caller a hint that he may not be talking to the fully trained psychic promised in the advertisement.
“’bout four months.”
“How long has it been since you had sex with her?”
“’bout six months.”
“Well sir I have to tell you there is a 99.99 percent chance she has been cheating on you; however it is my duty as a psychic to remind you that the millennium is approaching, and the second coming is due, so there is a slight chance she might be carrying the next Jesus Christ.”
“I t’ain’t never been that lucky.”
I have to hit the mute button on my phone, because I’m laughing too hard. I regain my composure and ask the caller, “You drink a bit don’t you?”
“How long have you been drinking?” I ask, figuring this guy is so pixilated that he won’t suspect my lack of psychic abilities.
“This time, or in my life?” he asks.
“’bout two years.”
I hear some what sounds like a cash register in the background as I inquire, “Doesn’t this cause you trouble at your job?”
“Well what do you do for a living?”
“I work at a gas station.”
“Doesn’t your boss mind?”
“I own the gas station.”
I talk to this drunk for about fifteen minutes about nothing more than the weather in Texarcana, the price of gasoline, Hostess Ding Dongs, and how many copies of Hustler he sells from behind the counter (usually 25 copies per issue). Finally he starts to bore me so I ask him if he is aware that the phone call is costing $3.99 a minute.
“Well I don’t want you to think I’m ripping you off sir, so I want you to do both of us a favor. Every minute we’re on the phone I want you to take four dollars out of the cash register and place it on the counter in front of you, so you know how much you’re spending. Will you do that for me?”
“Okay,” he says, opening the register and taking out four dollars.
We talk for a minute about how many customers buy condoms each day. At the end of this enlightening minute I ask him to take another four dollars out of the till. He does, and we talk more about nothing. Another minute passes, and I instruct him to extract more money from the register.
“All right,” he says, opening the cash drawer.
We talk drivel for seven more minutes. Each minute is marked by the opening of the cash register and his removing four dollars and placing it on the counter.
At the eight minute mark I prompt him to extract the next installment from the register.
“Oh shit,” he panics.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I’m out of singles,” he answers. Before I can tell him to make change from the pile on the counter I hear him asking a customer, “hey mister, you got change for this here twenty?”
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