I'm rolling west in my unheated van, make a right toward the ocean on prospect. It’s a crisp Monday morning and downtown La Jolla is already too crowded. I poke around Silverado and Girard seeking the offices of Miss Kay,“Psychic Spiritualist Consultant.” I had called earlier and made an appointment. I’m amazed to find that Miss Kay operates out of a big house on the corner of Cave and Prospect, the precise edge of downtown. This is a big, two-story house, painted in a discreet Day-Glo pink. There are several garish signs on the lawn and inside the windows to let you know that, yes, this is palm-reading headquarters. I park, stroll onto the walkway, climb three steps. On my left is a red-brick handicap ramp.
I enter the house, swing into a spacious living room. The area is 30 by 20 feet, very clean and sparse. A white-gray throw rug sits in the room’s center, a large couch along the west wall, before it a substantial coffee table. Alone on the table is a vase of fresh yellow daisies. The room has two unmatched easy chairs placed on either end. On the north side, a man sits in one of the chairs, beside a big-screen TV tuned to TNT. The feel is 1950s therapist holding pen, done up by someone who buys carefully at thrift stores.
I take the empty chair and wait. Five minutes pass and a woman in her mid-40s, blonde crew cut, almost a military burr cut, five-foot-ten, oval face, no makeup, wearing a white blouse and a tan denim jumper enters from a side door. She asks if I was the man who called.
The male sitting across the room folds his hands. He is perhaps 45 years old, dark hair, clean-shaven, wearing purple sweatpants and a blue polo shirt. We sit in silence. There is nothing to read. The TV is on, showing a Yogi Bear cartoon. The toon is set at Christmastime, and it’s all about how Mrs. Sunter is going to sell her mountain lodge to make room for a freeway, unless Yogi and all the chipmunks and forest animals trick her into having such a good time at the Christmas party that she’ll give them the joint for free. Mrs. Sunter arrives at the lodge, and the forest creatures begin to torture her, drop heavy kitchen appliances on her feet, slop food on her new dress, tie her up in Christ- mas ribbons.
Miss Kay appears again, motions to the man. He gets up and follows her into the hallway. The door is closed hard. I lunge at the television set, grab the remote (which is tied to the unit), attempt to change the channel, hoping to find the Oregon/Oregon State game. Idiot appliance won’t function. Sigh, return to seat, another Yogi cartoon begins. This time Yogi is on a sleigh and the forest animals are singing about how he’s never had a Christmas because he was always hibernating, so Yogi doesn’t know about kisses under the mistletoe and Christmas carols and getting presents and gorging oneself at Christmas dinner and being insulted by relatives.
After ten minutes the man reappears and then leaves the building. Miss Kay re-enters the living room, says, “One minute.” Yogi is standing next to a Christmas tree surrounded by chipmunks, raccoons, a dog, and a deer. They’re all telling Yogi what a jerk he is for sleeping through Christmas.
Miss Kay reappears. “Please come in here.”
I follow Miss Kay into a very small room, maybe six by six feet. We take chairs sitting opposite each other; our knees almost touch. She speaks with a low, indistinct Scandinavian accent. Miss Kay lists her services: palm-reading, tarot, and so on. I eagerly interrupt, “I want the crystal ball reading.” This is, of course, the most expensive item, 45 bucks. Miss Kay nods her head, removes a large, jagged crystal from a nearby window sill. I feel disappointment; I want the big, fat, round crystal ball.
Miss Kay passes the crystal to me and says, “I want you to hold this in your hand and concentrate on two wishes.” I take the rock, close my eyes, and wish for money and health.
Miss Kay begins each sentence speaking quite loudly, then trailing off into a tiny whisper, like riding a roller coaster or sitting next to the ocean. It is soothing, reminds me of my mother reading me to bed. “Whatever I sense in your reading, if it’s good news or bad news, do you want to hear it?”
“If I tell you something and you don’t understand it, just ask me.”
“Okay.” I take another deep breath.
“You are a man that I feel will have a very long life.” (All right, that’s a good start.) “It’s a very long life, but not too much health. Nothing serious, but I do feel a weakness, perhaps some medication ahead of you, but nothing major.” (Hmm...would prefer something a little more robust.) “You’re a very sensitive person; you have hurt feelings very easily. You don’t like to show your feelings to other people. In the past you’ve had a lot of faith in people, a lot of trust in people.” (How true.) “Now, over the years, your faith has died down. Your friends, and your own family, have let you down.” (Yes, that’s unfortunate, that’s very sad but true.) “At this time in your life you’re sorting out people in your life.” (Actually, that is true.)
“You are a very old spirit, a very old soul, which means you’ve had many, many past lives. You’ve had very high positions, positions of strength.” (I knew it. ) “You’ve guided other people many times. You’ve done too much for others. Now is the time that you’ve got to do for yourself. Start sorting out those people in your life from your past, open up new doors, close old doors.
“Three years ago back, your life had a major change; you’re not the same person anymore. Three years ago back, you took a new direction.” (Three years ago, what the hell was I doing? Writing a story on tugboats, riding around the bay, drinking coffee in the wheel house with the captain... )
A family member of yours, I see, will have a major surgery. When the surgery occurs, you will be very concerned about that. It will be successful.”
Miss Kay’s voice rises to a crescendo. “I also feel a change of homes for you, a change in residence. Where you live right now makes you very frustrated, you’re getting very fed up, change is good.” I’m still holding the rock, leaning forward with eyes closed, feeling like an idiot, wondering what Yogi is doing.
“Someone next to you, I see gossip. This gossip has a lot of sharp teeth to it. You have not heard of this gossip at this time, but you will very shortly, and you will be very hurt by it, very concerned about it. But I’m going to advise you to close your ears to it.” (All right, I can do that.)
You work hard toward your goals, ever since you were 14, 15 years old.” (That’s right. Life hasn’t been a day at the beach for me. I have — hold it just a second. Actually, I was a lazy kid and a lazy adult. I was well past 40 before I learned how to work. In fact, I never had a job until I was 28. ) “You work hard to reach your goals, but today, in your heart and in your mind, you haven’t reached them. Spiritually, financially, there is a struggle within your life.” ( Life is a constant struggle, that’s very true.)
Miss Kay’s voice climbs the mountain and jumps off. “You have good luck from God, never doubt it. You’ve had recent financial losses, losses that have not been from the mistakes of your hand or decisions that you’ve made. But next year will be a very good year for you financially.” (All right, good.)
Miss Kay leans forward and takes the crystal from my hand, returns it to the windowsill. I look into my caregiver’s eyes. “I also feel very strongly through love, relationships, you’ve been hurt.” (Right on the button...people, occasionally, do not understand my more subtle, generous qualities.) “Someone you put a tremendous amount of faith in, someone you’ve put a tremendous amount of love into, has mistreated you. And today, your heart and mind are troubled about a compatibility with a woman. I see from the past you’ve tried to open up emotionally, and yet you haven’t succeeded. You think something will come to fix it, but it hasn’t worked.
“There are some trips and travels overseas next year. There is a reason for these trips. They are not pleasure trips, they are business trips. Travel on water will be soon.” Miss Kay pauses, a neutral look appears on her face. “What worries you, what are your problems?"
I stammer, gulp, and begin to lie. “Well, uh, I’ve just come from Alaska. My wife ran off with another man. Been with her nine years, and she just run off one night. So I came down here. Didn’t know anybody, thought I’d spend the winter somewhere warm. Now I can’t find any work — I sit around drinking too much, thinking bad thoughts.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I work out of the Laborers Union.” Which is mostly true; I did work out of the Laborers Union in Alaska, and if a woman didn’t run off on me, well, a lot of them thought about it.
“How long have you been here?”
“How long since you’ve heard from this woman?”
Miss Kay muffles a shout, “She’s not the woman for your marriage! She is the woman I see who will try to come back into your life. I don’t see marriage.
“You have good luck from God, never doubt this. You were born under a very lucky star. Many people are jealous. Last year, this year, has been a very strong struggle in your life. No matter how much effort you give, it’s not enough. You have a dark cloud around you.” This one hits home. I have a vision of a bygone lover walking along the beach with me in Santa Cruz. The winter sun is setting and we are arguing again. She swirls around in a rage, glares at me, blurts out, “You black cloud son of a bitch!”
“And yet you never did want nothing from no one. I see you’ve always done, always comforted people. You have accomplished much, but still today, in your heart, in your mind, you have not reached your goals. And yet there is a darkness, in your presence, all around you. Tell me, do you believe in God?”
“I don’t know.”
“A superior being?”
“We have many religions, but one spiritual light. You could walk into a room of strange people, and some would hesitate to talk to you. There’s truly a presence around you that is dark.”
Miss Kay has found a portion of me I try to hide, the one quality I wish, above others, that wasn’t me. A long while back I was a graduate-student talk therapist, had my little nest of SSI clients, and I know that seeing people’s bullshit is the easy part. It’s getting them to change, that’s where the work is. Jesus, five minutes and I’m taking her seriously. Forever a sucker. “There is a lot of block- age there. Are you willing to have some spiritual guidance? Don’t doubt it.”
I ask, “When you say spiritual guidance, what do you do?”
“Meditation, the body, the chakra, the spiritual life within you. In my prayer, I don’t charge you. Only for the sessions, $45. You’ve got to have $90. This $90 I ask from you is not going to make you rich. I’ll guide you. You come back and see me, two or three more sessions. How far do you live?”
“I live in El Cajon.”
“If I start to work for you, will you be able to collect this $90?”
I love the “collect this $90,” as if it’s a quail or a rabbit or an antique porcelain bowl. I reply, “Not yet, rent is due.”
“I want you to think about what I said and come back. Next year I see changes in employment. You’d do better to work for yourself. Remain in this area. Think of what I said, and try and see me again.” I fork over $45, back out of the tiny room, and exit the house. Total time before the crystal ball, 13 minutes. I have come, in middle age, to regard the entire therapeutic “community” as a particularly noxious white-middle-class hustle whose true purpose is to destroy the English language. But I must own that 45 bucks for 13 minutes has put Miss Kay on top of the food chain. Although the talk-talk may not be much better with a shrink, at least you can get legal scrip and make the wretch listen to your boring life while you’re at it.
“Now, you do want the crystal ball, right?”
Speaking is Madame Ruth, “Spiritual Psychic Palm Reader.” Madame Ruth is more outwardly exotic than Miss Kay. She has a dark tan — Mexican ancestry, I guess — stands 5 ́6 ̋, maybe 45 years old. She has dark hair, brown eyes, a sharp nose. One thinks “Gypsy.” One thinks, “Where is my wallet?”
I arrived at 60th and University to find a small, 40-year-old, one-story, slap-up California house, oddly set alone in the middle of a busy retail district. The front door was open so I knocked on the door frame. No one answered. I placed my nose on the screen door, shouted, “Hell oooo .” I could see through the living room and into the kitchen where a young, heavyset blonde woman was holding a baby. She frowned, then hollered back, “Wait out there.”
Beside me, on the cement slab porch, are two ancient, rotting lounge chairs. I take a seat and brace myself against the cold wind as it blows off University Avenue. Within two minutes Madame Ruth arrives, walks past me, and opens the door to a tiny room. The room has a chair for clients, a small desk, and a desk chair. On the desk is a statue of the Virgin Mary, a handful of large inch-in-diameter brown candles, and a white, leather-bound Holy Bible. Behind the desk, on the wall, hangs what appears to be one of those Tijuana velvet tapestries of the Last Supper.
Madame Ruth places a small crystal ball on the table’s edge. I feel another pang of disappointment. I wanted a large crystal ball, a very large crystal ball with smoke and stuff inside. This one is maybe three inches around and sits on cheap, gaudy, yellow metal legs. I also want the hand movements. Want Madame Ruth’s hands to do magician stuff over the crystal ball while her eyes go oggie-boggie.
I get nothing.
Miss Ruth speaks in what I take to be a border Mexican accent, although I’m not sure. Hers is a low, firm voice. “Now, what I want you to do is put your hands on top...[ of the cheap crystal ball ]...and I want you to make two good wishes for yourself.”
Try for health and happiness this time.
“Now, if I tell you things that are bad, you’re not to have any kind of hard feelings. You understand, Patrick?"
I nod my head.
“The first thing that I can see for you is that you do have a very long life to live. You do have many things that seem to be concerning you at the present time. You seem to be smiling in your face, but in your heart, I see you being very unhappy, very unsatisfied. Ever since you have been a very young person, you have worked hard all of your life.”
Madame Ruth has a point there. Of course, when I mentioned earlier that I didn’t land my first job until I was 28, I forgot to mention that it was a part-time job, three or four months a year. I didn’t have a full- time job until I was 40 years old. But I’ve been a working fool since then, you betcha.
Madame Ruth studies her tiny crystal ball. “These past couple of years you’ve worked very hard.” ( That’s true. ) “You were very much lucky to make money” (Boy, is that true.) “but you weren’t quite lucky to save what you wanted to save.” (Well, yes.)
“You are a very good-hearted and a very good-natured person, but it seems like people always like to take advantage of your good nature and of your good will.” (God, yes.) “At times you’ve been a little quick-tempered, but only for your rights.
“I also do see for you that there is somebody around you that is a little bit sick or a little bit ill, but there is going to be better health for this person. You’ve also lost somebody not too long ago. It doesn’t mean it has to be through death, but could be a relationship or both. I do see that you will be making changes in your work, but changes that you will be making are going to be something for the better. There will be three changes for you in the coming year. Things will be better in health, happiness, and success.” (That would be quite nice.)
“I also do see travels for you, but travels that you do make will be safe journeys. There will be money coming for you, but you will have to sign some kind of papers before you receive this money, but there is money coming to you. I also do see that there could be some kind of investment opportunity coming your way in the middle of ’95. There will be three lucky days coming to you in the middle of May: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.” (Okay, I’m liking this now.)
“Now, into your love life. I can see for you that there is one woman that loves and cares for you. Sometimes you feel as though she loves you, sometimes you feel as though she doesn’t, but I can see that someone loves and cares for you, and yet there seems to be many doubts you have with her. There is another woman who also cares for you, but you do not think too much of her.
“In your love in the past, you’ve had many disappointments, you’ve had many heartaches.” (Yes, oh God, yes.) “Now with the woman who you do love and care for right now I do see some type of a distance between you. You seem to be a very strong person spiritually, you continue to help others, but not being able to help yourself. You seem to have lost a lot of faith and a lot of confidence in yourself. There are times when your mind is so con- fused that you just want to run away and leave every- thing behind. I can see that people have been trying to put you down all of your life. You’ve had people jealous and envious of you.” (Yes, yes.) “There seems to be people around you who are creating a very heavy energy that seems to be draining you spiritually, physically, mentally. Do you understand that?"
I stare deep into the crystal ball, muster a weak “Yes.”
“I can see for you that there are times that you question God and ask Him to come. What did you ever do wrong to deserve all this hardship that you’re going through?” (Well, actually I have done, perhaps, one or two things that some people might say were wrong. ) “There seems to be a lot of bad karma around you from your past life. In your past life you suffered a great deal through drugs and through drinking. And there was a woman there in your past life who totally destroyed you as a man, and your feeling as a man. This woman was very, very abusive, verbally, towards you, made you lose self-confidence. What kind of work do you do?”
“I work construction out of the Laborers Union. I was living in Alaska and my wife run off on me, and I came down here to get away and find some work.”
Madame Ruth brightens. “Okay, now, that’s the woman in your life who has put you down as a man also, you understand? Now there seems to be a lot of spiritual draining around her also. How long had you been together with her?”
“And at the time that you and her were having difficulty, did it seem like you and her were strangers at the end?”
“Oh yeah, it was like living with a mongoose that had been eating low bush berries all season.”
“Okay, and at that time did she tell you that she didn’t have nothing to feel for you or there was nothing there anymore in your marriage?”
“No, not a word, she just snuck off.”
“Did she ever call you since then?
“Never called you, never told you where she was?”
I shake my big head left to right.
“What brought you to San Diego?”
“I wanted to go someplace warm, someplace where I didn’t know any- body. Ever since I got here I’ve been laying around watching television, mostly Yogi Bear cartoons, and drinking too much.”
Madame Ruth studies the crystal ball. “I can see that there is someone else who is trying to brainwash her, and I do see there is another man.”
“A Roto-Rooter man, if you can believe that. She ran off with a damn Roto-Rooter man.”
“Hmm. Roto-Rooter man. Do you have a picture of your wife with you?”
“No, I tore them all up.”
“I can see there is another man there, and he is trying to make her destroy this relationship. Right now she’s totally confused. How long since she’s left you?”
"Do you feel that something happened to her other than running away with another man?”
“No, she seems to be doing fine. I’ve heard that from other people.”
They have seen her?”
“I can see that this person that she’s involved with, he has brainwashed her. Is he a younger guy?”
“Yeah, ten years younger. Wears a big gold medallion pierced in his left nostril. Yodels for the German American Volksbund.”
“It seems like he does not want, really, to make a commitment to her. Do you understand? He’s a very evil man, and he’s out to destroy her and destroy you as well.”
“I can feel that. What’s worrying me now is that I can’t get work here, don’t know if I should go back to Alaska or not.”
“Why can’t you get work here?”
“There’s no jobs coming into the union hall.” “I see. You left everything there and just came here.”
"Yes, I was confused.” I squirm in my chair, starting to feel like a big, fat chicken dumpling.
“I can see you going back. Right now try to relax yourself and try to get things cleared up in your mind. There are times that you feel that you want to take your life. There are times that you feel there’s nothing for you to live for. Some times you think you’re about to lose your mind.”
Madame Ruth glances at the ceiling, then down to her crystal ball. “I can see that there could be other women that could come into your life, but you seem to be shutting out everybody else, because your love is too big for her. Do you understand?”
I nod, sadly.
“I can see that there are many times that you’ve tried to seek help in many different ways. How have you been trying to help yourself?”
“Well, just trying not to think of her, watch a lot of Yogi Bear cartoons, like I said, order pizza, drink some Johnny Walker, shoot my pellet gun at the refrigerator, that kind of stuff.”
“Have you ever gotten into prayers and meditation?”
“No, my life is a French black-and-white movie.”
Madame Ruth nods her head with great under- standing. “See, you have the strength to help others but not yourself. I can see that this is maybe the reason why the Lord has brought you here. Let Him help you. Because right now, I feel that this is going to be a long, drawn-out thing between you and your wife until she learns her lesson. And then she’s going to come back calling to you. What is holding her back is this negative energy, because this man is pretty strong, and he’s working negative forces against her and against you. I feel it’s a fatal attraction. She’s just too naive to realize the fact, understand? You need spiritual help. Do you want me to help you?”
“How do you do that?” (Golly, Mr. Wolf, you know a shortcut through the forest?)
“Through prayers and meditation. God has given me the gift to help those who cannot help themselves. I’m able to go into your past life and cleanse your past life. What you’re going through right now, you went through in a past life. If your past life is cleansed spiritually, then your present life, you don’t have to go through that testing. And I will cleanse your past life through my prayers and meditations and clear whatever darkness that’s surrounding you from a past life.
“But you’ve got to have faith and belief in this or I can’t help you. You’re the one that will have to go on waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and go through all that testing because in a past life, it took a man up to two years before this relationship ever came back together.”
I’m getting into it now, feel a wave of resentment. “I’m not sure I want her back. I mean, she’s a disloyal, contemptible slut. She ran away, for God’s sakes, with the Roto-Rooter man.”
Madame Ruth’s face resets to a determined expression. “I can see the future. You seem to love her now more than ever.”
I bend forward, place my nose close to the crystal ball. “How would that work?”
“I work through a life, and the life, then, is my candle. This is where I put my strength and my power to do my prayers and meditations.” Miss Ruth points to a cluster of large brown candles, each an inch, inch and a half in diameter. “This is where I have my protection as I go through your past life so I don’t get affected from it. This will lighten all the darkness that is surrounding your past life.
“In my work you’re going to have to have nine candles because we do believe in working with nine other spirits. These candles do not burn for one day or two days. These candles will burn through the rest of the year for you. Whenever you got anything troubling you, anything worrying you, you just have to see me or call me. I will be your spir- itual guide. You don’t have to make a move without calling me or asking me. You’re going to be going through a lot more diffi- cult things right now, because of the holidays. And I guess that’s why God brought you here because He knows you need all the strength you can get.
“Right now your wife and that man are not secure because they know as long as you exist out in the world they can never be settled. He will try to destroy you. But I do feel that God brings a soul to me, if you’re will- ing to have the faith and belief.”
“How much does it cost?” I figure a hundred bucks.
"You’ve got to have nine candles. If you go buy these candles yourself, they’re, like, $100 a candle.” “Wow.”
“But through our church you can make a proper donation of $50 a candle. These are 10-pound candles of pure beeswax, and we burn them for all the rest of the year for you.”
“So that would be $450.”
“What do the candles do for me?”
“They give you strength.”
“Yes, they do. They give you strength. What you are looking for is spiritual strength, and peace of mind most of all. I will be burning these candles; this is where I get all my information. God only gives you, once in a lifetime, a chance to help yourself. Now is the time. Don’t hesitate, put everything else on hold, but you cannot put God on hold. He guides you to help yourself, and he brought you here for that reason.”
“It’s just the money, it’s a lot of money.”
“Well, if you can’t do all of it, just start.”
“I see, I can do one or two, sort of like...”
“You can start with any number of them, you understand.” Okay, I’m down to 50 bucks, lower than Miss Kay. We could be talking deal. “How long does it take?”
“Before you start feeling different?”
You probably start feeling different within the next nine days.”
“Nine days, that’s great!”
“Or sooner. You’ll feel things that you’ve never felt before. Trust me, the energy you will receive will strengthen you. I’ll be giving you strength through prayers. Peace will be given to you. Why don’t you let me get started for you now?”
I reach into my pocket and dig out $65. Madame Ruth is a little bit more expensive than my psychic spiritualist in La Jolla, but she went longer, 16 minutes, 3 minutes more than Miss Kay.
“I really got to think about the money.”