Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Psychic or Psyched Out?

In the course of my daily activities I was compelled to motor to the city’s sprawling southwest side to run a couple errands, including the purchase of some over-the-counter cold meds for my long-suffering bride.  Half-listening to some blabbermouth with a very Irish-sounding name on the radio, my ears suddenly perked up when I heard a commercial for the “Psychic Connection” or some such.  Based in California, according to the ad, and with a staff of “carefully screened professional psychics”.


This sort of stuff always reminds me of my first cousin once removed (some would call her a “second cousin”) who made a pretty penny back in the 80’s working as a telephone psychic for one of the many such outfits that thrived in southern California back then.  Matter of fact, it pretty much paid for her education at Cal State Fullerton.

She and her family, relatives on my mother’s side, lived in the Orange County community of Garden Grove - or, as it was called in 1987, “Garden Nam”, because of the proliferation of VietNamese families and businesses that had put down roots there.  It was conventional wisdom that along the city’s main thoroughfares, Garden Grove Boulevard, Euclid Street, Brookhurst Street, Chapman Avenue,, if the business sign was written in VietNamese and English, anybody was welcome to do business inside; if the sign was in VietNamese only, only native speakers of the language were welcome.  Or so my cousins told me.

As usual, I digress.

My wife (V 1.0) and I had motored down to Garden Grove from our digs in Palmdale to spend a weekend with the cousins, and after a measured amount of truth serum (80 proof) had been administered, I noticed that the cousin in question was nowhere to be found.  Her father looked at his watch and said “she’s on her shift”, which I came to discover referred to her six-hour shift as a telephone psychic (8 PM to 2 AM).  She worked out of her bedroom in the family home, using a moderately elaborate phone system which allowed her to take calls from a central number and dispense psychic advice.

The next day, she showed me the set-up, and said the Saturday evening 8 to 2 shift was “prime time” for money-making (they were paid per-call-per-minute); and the next shift, which started at 2AM, was referred to by the insiders as “the desperate hours”.  She had some seniority, and was good at it, so she got first dibs on the shifts available.

Did she have psychic talent?  Of course not.  She explained to me that she’d answered an ad, gone to an interview, and was selected to get 16 hours training in “how to be a psychic”, and given a fairly large ring-bound manual (which she showed me)of instructions and tips on everything from how to use the phone hook-up, to how to listen carefully for conversational clues to feed information back to the caller to seem “psychic”, to tips on how to keep the sucker (err…customer) on the line as long as possible to rack up the dollars.  She was a smart kid (in her late teens at the time) who picked up the con quickly and made good money fielding phone calls and doing “training sessions” with new hires.  She did it all through her college years, got her degree, and went on to a more conventional career.

Every time I hear an ad like the one I heard on the radio this afternoon, or that I see on late-night TV, I chuckle and think of my cousin, dispensing psychic wisdom and revelations from her bedroom in Garden Grove, and the desperate people who so wanted to believe what she was telling them.


  1. If they were really psychic, they wouldn't have to ask for your credit card number.

  2. If they were REALLY psychic, they'd win the lottery.

    I feel bad for people who go to psychics for advice. I suppose really it's only one step lower than writing to an advice columnist. There's a spectrum of advisors, maybe, from very good at the one end down to "Teenage Psychics in California" on the other, with probably "Snapple Caps" at the farthest end.