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Crystal Clear

So What do Psychics Really Know? And What About My Love Life?

By Michelle Gienow | Posted 9/17/1997

I've never really believed in psychic powers. Fortune tellers, mediums, prognosticators, and all readers of minds, palms, and tarot cards-I regarded them as just so many con artists, trading on their carefully staged performances and our all-too-human desire to know (and therefore, we suppose, control) the future. Despite being raised in a home where the Ouija board lived on the coffee table and my mother taught us about reincarnation as a matter of course (which later got me into a lot of trouble in Sunday school, but that's another story), the whole world of psychic phenomena seemed ridiculous to me, fodder for Leonard Nimoy's self-serious stentorian exploration of parapsychology in the TV series In Search Of . . . .

Such cynicism, however, does not stop a whole raft of people from seeking the services of psychics. Putting my money where my skeptical mouth is, I decided to check out some of Baltimore's psychics and avail myself of their services, asking each one I visited about the same three subjects: love, career, and real estate.

The love one was a trick question, as I am happily in love (engaged at the time, married as you read this); I wanted to see if any of the psychics could suss my state of bliss (I left the engagement ring at home). As for career, I am genuinely curious about what I'll do "when I grow up," so that's more an essay question. And, finally, I wanted to ask about Baltimore City's future and real estate seemed the most concrete issue around which to phrase the question. (Actually, what I really wanted to ask was if there is some kind of curse on my small electric appliances, which seem to be self-destructing all around me, but I figure that's more a matter for practitioners of, say, voodoo or Santería).

Thus, my three questions were purposely vague: Is there love in my life? Will I find success in my career? Should I buy a house in the city? That determined, I needed only to find someone to answer my questions; the next step was to pick my lucky psychics.

There are certainly enough psychics from which to choose-the current Greater Baltimore Bell Atlantic Yellow Pages lists 24 in the area, under the headings "palmists" and "spiritualists." My favorite had to be the Pyramid Psychic Spiritual Stress Reduction Self-Enlightenment Center-that one sure covered the waterfront-but I decided to start simply, with a visit to the Palmer House.

This venerable downtown restaurant has certainly slipped since its heady heyday, when it was a favorite place for movie stars and sports figures visiting Baltimore. Their fading photographs gaze upon the less-glamorous patrons who now visit the aptly-named Palmer House for palm and tarot-card readings by freelancing psychics. With my mother in tow, I spent a recent weekday lunch hour there interviewing a psychic.

We were hustled to a table and informed that one psychic already had eight people waiting; another one, we were told, would be available immediately. Not wanting to spend an entire day in the grimy gone-to-seed confines of the Palmer House, we chose the path less traveled and signed up for Lena (her motto: "The Available Psychic!"). We ordered lunch, since a $5 food minimum is part of the deal for the readings, and then Mom was summoned to Lena's table. I picked at the edible parts of my Palmer House Salad, a distressing bowl of wilted lettuce, salami bits, and pinkish croutons-folks sure don't go there for the food-until it was my turn.

Lena turned out to be a pleasant-looking and nicely attired middle-aged woman with a strong Eastern European accent. She and I huddled in a booth trying to hear one another over the large and lively lunch party at the next table and the crashing of dishes in the nearby kitchen. Lena placed a stack of tarot cards in front of me and ordered me to touch them and then to shuffle the deck. "Let the cards get to know you," she said. "Let your vibrations go into them. Have foreplay with the cards."

Startled, I did what she said to do (except for the foreplay part). After I cut the cards, Lena inquired if I had any questions for her. I hit her with the big three, and she began laying out tarot cards face-down in a complex pattern. Turning them over, she explained what the location of each card signified-for example, the first one was a kind of spiritual baseline card; the next, a representation of my current situation. I was less than thrilled when my current situation card was the darkly illustrated, scythe-bearing Death card. Lucky me.

Lena hastened to explain that the card did not literally mean death, then proceeded to interpret the rest of the cards, and gave me a fairly bland prediction of my future that could have fit anyone's future. If I heard her correctly-between Lena's thick accent and the waitress refilling the ice chest behind her, sometimes it was hard to tell exactly what she said-I would find love soon; she saw me meeting someone, if not in 1998 then definitely in 1999. My career had been stagnant recently but things would soon improve. And as for real estate, the cards said to go for it: Buying a house in the city was in my future.

A little disappointed, I rejoined my mother and we compared notes. She felt the same way-her reading had been generic and not perceptive or revealing. We paid our $15 each to Lena and left to search for revelation elsewhere.

The next psychic we tried was selected purely on the basis of her great neon sign. We visited her modest brick house on Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn, the front bay windows of which glowed with a giant sign reading mrs. miller: reader and advisor and promising tarot and palm-reading services, no appointment necessary. We rang the bell and were immediately ushered by Mrs. Miller into her living room, which was furnished in a weird mix of gypsy caravan and suburban splendor. Not one to beat around the bush, she immediately gave us the lowdown on her services.

"Palm reading is $10 for one palm, which tells half your life. Both palms are $20, that's your whole life. A psychic mind reading is $25; that's where I read your name and your aura. A tarot-card reading is $35-and I've got a full deck," she informed us.

Mom went for both palms but, intrigued, I picked the mind reading. Mrs. Miller escorted me to a small alcove where, I was happy to see, she had all the accouterments of her trade-crystal ball, candles, bottles of ointments and unguents, and plenty of mystic-themed art on the walls. She asked me to write out my full name and date of birth on a piece of paper; she took it from me and studied the writing on it, then drew a five-pointed star and worked the numbers of my birth date around it, eventually taking a bonus peek at the palm of my right hand.

"I see you are a good girl," she began. "You have a lot of friends and you like to go out and have fun with them." I loved listening to Mrs. Miller talk; she had a slow, hypnotic voice that was very soothing even when she told me alarming things such as that there were two jealous people in my life who were wishing me bad luck and holding me back, and that my recent work frustrations and setbacks were not my fault, but came from these evil-wishers. She also told me I was tired of working and wanted someone to take over for me, and that she saw for me a strong, silent dark-haired man who loved me very much but was unable to tell me his feelings.

Within the next two weeks, however, Mister Tall, Dark, and Silent and I would take a romantic weekend trip and come back ready to plan our future together. "But," she advised, "keep to yourself your business. Don't believe what bad things your friends say about this fellow." Eventually, she concluded we would marry and have one child, a boy, "because that's what he wants, this man."

With that, my reading was over-and I was totally confused. Lena said my problems were my own fault, that I held myself back through worry and by not reaching high enough. Mrs. Miller, on the other hand, divined that there were those who wished me ill and worked against me (a problem that she hinted she could solve, if I wished to return for a more in-depth, and expensive, session).

Frankly, I felt as though both women had handed me a load of generic hooey, predictions and pronouncements that I could interpret any way I wanted. But the things these psychics said about me were so vague they could just as easily apply to anyone else-I mean, who hasn't felt frustrated at work at some time during the last six months, or never met a dark-haired stranger who had problems communicating? I was out 40 bucks and had no enlightenment to show for it.

My mother agreed our experiences were dissatisfying and suggested we visit a psychic she knew in Frederick County. "She's the real thing," Mom told me. "People come to her through word of mouth because she gives good, accurate readings. And she doesn't need neon signs to advertise."

That's how I found myself sitting in the kitchen of Brendella's neatly kept trailer, and once again having my palms scrutinized, tarot cards laid out on my behalf. I was comfortable with Brendella, a compact, no-nonsense 50ish woman in a T-shirt. I asked her my three questions about love, career, and real estate and she proceeded to give me a lengthy reading that was part prognostication and part counseling. We talked a great deal about my career aspirations; she told me that the cards said I would do very well at whatever I set my mind to, but it seemed to her I wasn't really sure what that was. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" she asked me-the same question I had jokingly asked myself while preparing for this assignment.

The clincher, however, was when she busted me on my love question. She read in the tarot that there was a very gentle and supportive brown-haired man in my life who, the cards indicated, was my life's partner. Later, studying my palms through a large magnifying glass, she asked me, "Are you sure you're not involved with anyone? This indicates you are in a good, stable, long-term relationship." We talked about a few more things that I thought were just between my fiancé and myself-and now, apparently (blush) Brendella.

It's difficult to explain, but I felt the things Brendella told me were very accurate. Perhaps some parts of her reading-"There is conflict in your life that will soon be settled"-were sort of vague, but there were definitely other things that she, having never met me, should have had no way of knowing.

I came away very impressed and, yes, a little spooked, but most of all ready to admit that maybe there's more to this psychic stuff than tea leaves and Leonard Nimoy after all.

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