While running a few atypical errands in Queens yesterday, I saw an arresting advertisement for an astrologer. I’ve been to two astrologers in the past decade, my last reading was almost two years ago, and I was due for an update.
I followed the arrows through a door and down a flight of creaky stairs, ending up in the basement of a fabric store. There was a family of four hanging out on some couches. The matriarch asked if I needed some tailoring. “No thanks,” I said. “Where’s the psychic?”
I was hoping that she or one of the smiling daughters would be the psychic. But the astrologer turned out to be the dad, and he led me into a small, ostentatiously-decorated back room. After draping himself with a shawl and lighting some incense, he used some old newspapers to slowly clear off a large pile of uncooked rice from the middle of the table. He asked me how much Hindi I spoke.
The vibe in the room wasn’t one that I wanted. I was terrified that he was going to tell me something really bad about what was in store for me. I’ve been told that no psychic would scare a customer with anything too shockingly distressing, but this guy seemed like a rebel who didn’t believe in standard practices or sugarcoating the truth. He seemed way too much like me, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle it.
There were a couple of fuzzy allusions to God: “God’s around.” Or it could have been: “God’s coming.” Or maybe it was: “God has left the building, but will be back real soon.” He told me to place something on a neighboring table. I thought he was asking for my fist; but he was saying “fees.”
I wrote my name and date of birth on a piece of already-used scratch paper, and he started scribbling underneath the information. He gave me a handful of ceramic cowrie shells and asked me to throw them down on the table. “Again,” he said, after I did. “Again,” he said again. In between throw-downs, he continued scribbling away on the scratch paper. He asked for my left palm. When I showed it to him, his eyes lit up as he half-gasped/half-chuckled before giving me the thumbs-up sign.
That reaction was more animated than what I’m used to, but I wasn’t moved. All fortune-tellers are impressed with my palm – I’ve got good lines. And this one didn’t tell me anything interesting or that I haven’t already heard from the others. One of his first pearls of insight was that I lead a very independent life. Holy crystal ball, we have a Prophet Laureate - his powers really are special. I had just sauntered into his sketchy basement with an unsilenceable American accent, carrying an oversized “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” bag (with the top of a 10-pound burlap sack of basmati rice sticking out of it) over my shoulder in a neighborhood that views the English language as an afterthought. It took the incense, palm lines, and shell-throwing drill to conclude that nobody owns me?
Less than 15 minutes later, I was unceremoniously dismissed. No “thank you for coming” or “have a nice day” or “keep that million-dollar palm clean.” He suddenly lowered his eyes and became uncommunicative. When I turned around to say goodbye, he had come out of his pseudo-trance, graduating to contemplative humming.
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