When I Was Unemployed And Starving, I Worked For A 1-800-Psychic Hotline

Throughout my teenage years, I spent many hours at the local occult store where I would purchase healing crystals, runes, pendulums, dream catchers and sage (lots of sage), and eventually my own deck of tarot cards.

Fortune-telling quickly became a favorite pastime among me and my friends. Anything and everything that could unlock the secrets of what our futures held—tea leaves, dream interpretation, palmistry—immediately held our attention until the next thing that promised an even better future came along. It was kind of like playing the board game, Life. We would continue spinning the wheel until we landed on the right job (a movie star!), the right guy (a rich doctor!) and the right car (a Jeep Cherokee!).

Unfortunately, our wheel of fortune stopped spinning when I predicted my friend Kara would end up living in her parents’ basement married to a janitor named Barry with a Ford Taurus.

If I were to believe what the very best of all of my fortune predictions told me, then I was destined to become an Oscar-winning actress, live in NYC, marry a tall, dark-haired man and pop out three kids: two girls and a boy. Since I had been accepted to NYU and also had never found blonds or redheads remotely attractive, I figured my predictions didn’t seem unreasonable or outlandish; they seemed downright doable.

I brought my tarot cards with me to NYU and then to every apartment I lived in afterward.

“How does John think about me?”

“Let’s ask the cards.”

“Will I get the job at the gallery?”

“Lemme throw down some cards and have a look-see.”

“Am I pregnant?”

“I’ll do a card reading and let you know!”

Other than my Kara fiasco (which, for all I know, actually happened because we lost touch after high school), I was good at reading people’s fortunes. Not Sylvia Browne good, but I thought I was at least Miss Cleo good.

So it’s not totally surprising that when I was 26, unemployed and starving, I found myself working for a 1-800-psychic hotline.

I was living in New York City’s West Village at one of those “recession special” apartments with two other roommates. It was summer, and I had recently been fired from three restaurant jobs in three months. The first fired me for not being blonde, the second for my refusing to clean the pastry case with a toothpick, and the third for, well, my not really giving a shit.

Needless to say, I was depressed and confused with my life’s direction. My friends back home in Toronto all seemed to be doing “stuff”; the kind of stuff that Facebook statuses are made for. “We’re engaged!” “I need a vacation from my vacation!” “I paid a fuck ton of money for this condo but it was so worth it!”

My "stuff" involved living off of $2 hot dogs that I would bum from my friend, Kevin, who worked at a take-out counter around the corner (also known as the place where I gave zero shits) and avoiding my mother’s “I think you should come home now” phone calls. I didn’t want to go home. Going home felt like failure, and I didn’t want the burden of returning home with my tail between my legs to add to the feeling of uselessness I already lived and breathed. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with acting, but I also wasn’t sure how I would make money to feed myself and make rent; I only knew that I never wanted to serve tables again.  

So for the first time in months, I unearthed my deck of tarot cards from my trunk to seek answers.

The cards showed me the Tower and the Ten of Swords, which is basically bleak shit worthy of jumping off a tall building, so I called my friend, Arlene, instead.

After venting about my penniless existence and lame-ass tarot reading, she asked, “Why don’t you read for people?”

“You mean, like, become a psychic?”

“Sure. You can just do it on the Internet.”

Arlene was right. Within moments, I found a number of sites that were looking for psychics, and credentials weren’t even required for many of them. I clicked on the one that requested “quality” psychic because I liked the sound of calling myself “quality” anything.

For this particular website, one’s “quality” psychic-ness was measured by two live test readings, which would determine whether the network took you on or not.

“I sense…California…” I told Derek, the first representative from the website designated to test me, who called me a week later. “I get an impression of Hollywood. Maybe trying to make a go of it in the movies?” In front of me was every method of divination imaginable: tarot cards, runes, my pendulum, even a deck of coffee-stained playing cards. But my hit on California didn’t come from those; it actually came from my gut, and I decided to go with it.

“Wow. You’re right,” Derek said to me. “My girlfriend’s in L.A., and I’ve been thinking about going out there and taking a screenwriting course.”

I was shocked. I got it right? Was I really tuning into a greater force that could predict people’s future? But “quality” psychics aren’t surprised at the accuracy of their predictions, they just know. So that’s what I said to Derek.

“I know.”

After I hung up from Derek, I started to think of a brand new future for myself as a “quality” psychic. I imagined guest stints on TV talk shows and phone-ins, a book tour, my own collectible mug and T-shirt. I allowed myself to believe this could be my true calling.

Then Janet, the site’s other rep, called to test me the next day.

“Uh, nope,” she said to me within minutes of our call, after I’d just told her that I didn’t think Bill was ever going to propose to “Jan”.


“Yeah, no. I don’t think you have it.”


“The quality. The ability. You’re not it,” she said.

“Well, nothing’s a hundred percent in life—“

“Our psychics are,” she huffed. “Sorry, but we don’t think you’re a good fit.” She promptly hung up.

Undeterred, I searched for other psychic sites online. I was pretty sure Janet’s slight was personal; it was obvious that she was the “Jan” in question and didn’t appreciate someone pointing out the obvious fact that Bill was, obviously a philandering douche. Besides, for the first time in a long time, I felt purposeful and I was determined to be something of quality—remember?—even if that happened to be a 1-800-hotline psychic.

I quickly found a website that didn’t require an evaluation. Psychics were asked to create an account online and do their own marketing. That didn’t seem too hard.

As I was setting up my account and coming up with snappy headlines and details about myself, I forgot how easy writing came to me. Writing had been something I loved since childhood, but since college, I had put it on the back-burner to pursue the Oscar-winning actress future I had predicted, and desired, for myself so many years ago. The same gut instinct I had felt with my California prediction with Derek suddenly hit me about writing. Something urged me to pursue it, but then I thought of my mother telling me to come home, and that thought was more than enough to disregard the whole thing.

Within 24 hours of setting up my psychic account, I already had my first appointment with my very first client: Wanda, a middle-aged woman who lived in the Midwest. Our appointment was for 2 p.m. As I watched the clock count down to my first-ever professional psychic reading, I didn’t feel well. It was more than nerves; it was a sense of uneasiness, a sense of suffocating something that was boiling beneath the surface.

My cell phone rang at 2 p.m. sharp, but I didn’t pick it up. I let it ring until Wanda, poor Wanda—who wanted to know how she would find success and happiness—finally hung up.

The obvious truth was, I wasn’t a quality psychic. I wasn’t a quality anything at that moment, and I didn’t feel right about guiding someone to achieve success and happiness when I couldn’t even do that for myself. But this time, I didn’t want to rely on cards or runes to determine my fate; I wanted to create my own destiny. And, now—thanks to plain ol’ gut instinct —I had an idea on how to start it.

The next call I made was to my mom.

“I’m coming home,” I told her. “And I’m going to start writing.”

Because finally I had a feeling that I could be “quality” something—a quality writer.  It didn’t seem outlandish; it seemed downright do-able. 

I’m still waiting on that tall, dark-haired man, though.


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