Psych Out

Psych Out

by Sophie Beck
illustration by Molly Crabapple

So there’s this psychic. And he is the subject of animated conversation one afternoon at my hairdresser’s. As it happens, my hairdresser, his protégé hairdresser-in-training, and the client in the chair next to mine have all visited this psychic and come away with profound insight into their respective pasts, presents and futures. “Gifted” is the word of the hour—this man is gifted. His name is Keith. He has been dead right about every possible aspect of the lives of my hairdresser, the protégé and the fellow beauty patron.

One time, Keith told someone that her sister needed to be checked for breast cancer. So her sister went to the doctor and she did have a lump and they were able to treat her and, frankly, the fact is that the psychic saved her life. Another time Keith said that this woman was going to meet the love of her life the following week, and she did.

Keith has some kind of kinetic thing going on. He has to hold an object that you keep with you much of the time, like your watch or your car keys. This facilitates his reading. My hairdresser informs me that a woman who once visited Keith was disappointed with her reading. We’ll call her Fran. Keith kept talking about a long-haired brunette, which Fran interpreted as meaning her sister, but none of the details seemed to fit. Fran went home and told her boyfriend all about the frustratingly errant reading and, on hearing about the long-haired brunette, the boyfriend blanched. All came out in the wash, as it apparently is wont to do, and Fran discovered that the long-haired brunette was, in fact, someone that her boyfriend had been seeing on the side. Our poor misread Fran had been driving her boyfriend’s car on the day of the reading and had unthinkingly given Keith the boyfriend’s keys to hold.

Salt, Pennies and Water

Naturally, after this dramatic tale of mistaken celestial identity, I have to pay Keith a visit. I have to pay Keith a visit precisely because I think it is all complete and total garbage. Or at least, I sort of think it is all complete and total garbage. I say sort of because I am willing to give credence to the unverifiable. For instance: I feng shui’ed my house. I have bells on the back door and wind chimes hanging from the eaves in order to promote my health and wealth. I have my desk just so. My bed just so. I have little urns of salt and pennies and water in odd corners of my home for the express purpose of turning away negative energy.

Yup. Feng shui. Astrology, too.

I found a website, astrologyzone.com, which will tell you whether the person you’re dating is a good match for you from an astrological perspective, and what issues you are likely to encounter. The site has fields for each sign, “I am a Taurus, my lover is a Virgo. Match me!” And if you type it in in reverse, you get a completely different version of the same general idea. “I am a Virgo, my lover is a Taurus. Match me!” Some matches are awful and the site will tell you as much. Some matches are fabulous and the site gushes over your romantic potential.

This began as a lark, but I engaged in furtive belief just the same. How odd that we can readily be of two minds about a subject such as astrology, so that it is perfectly possible to scoff at oneself even as the horoscope is eaten up with curiosity and delight.

So, what I’m saying is, I’m not closed off to that which is mysterious, irrational and otherwise beyond the explanatory powers of modern science. Nonetheless, the suspicious mind churns on. My friend Nina suggests that I attend my psychic reading wearing very plain clothes and no jewelry. Don’t even bring a purse, she recommends. If he is really a psychic, he can work without a net. And if he isn’t really a psychic, he will have to be a very astute reader not of the psyche itself, but of its myriad little manifestations we wear about like a patchwork mantle. I could minimize my hints so that he could only work with physiognomy and unvarnished fingernails, a few cues from my demeanor and bearing but no gimmies. If Keith was there to grift me, he would have to earn his filthy lucre.

Either way, I want to be awed. I want to be stupefied by an alien collection of skills, whether they are paranormal or simply predatory. Naturally, if he sees my plan of sartorial minimalism for what it is, he can readily give me a reading that holds me accountable for my mistrust and suspicion. He can read me for the yearning skeptic—the skeptic who would be most pleased if she were wrong. After all, does the truly unshakeable skeptic pay $55 for a reading?

This psychic thing starts to gain momentum. I tell everyone I know that I’m going to visit a psychic named Keith who gave a willy-nilly reading based on the cheating boyfriend’s keys. And I find that two things are happening. First, I am curiously noting my friends’ reactions to the psychic concept. Some are intrigued. Some are veteran psychic-frequenters eager to share complex tales about when their own readings have been eerily correct. And some scoff with that delight that comes from being given something scoff-worthy to scoff at. Second, I am starting to really look forward to my reading. Despite telling myself that I don’t actually believe in psychics and that this is a kind of social experiment, I secretly hope for a jaw-dropping, unbelievable, how-the-hell-did-you-know-that, warp-your-whole-take-on-rational-reality-as-we-know-it type of reading. As you know, the words “don’t get your hopes up” do absolutely nothing to control your hopes. I want Keith to blow my reality wide open.

The Case of the Putty-Printed Keys

Naturally, this is a tall order by the time the appointment arrives.

But Keith, as it turns out, is very tall. He’s a very large man who keeps a frilly one-room office in a mansion that has been converted to a maze of one-room offices. It is a rabbit warren of boutique alternativeness—massage, acupressure, rolfing, energy balancing and the peddling of various herbal supplements. In Keith’s office, the furniture is white-painted wicker and the cushions are floral. A Laura Ashley bomb has exploded all over Keith’s digs.

As anticipated, Keith needs an object so that he can channel my psychic currents… or something like that. He asks for my keys, and I hand them over because I am being open and nonjudgmental; I am having a new experience. My keys get buried down somewhere in the depths of Keith’s big hands and the big chair cushions that envelop him. I don’t see the keys again until he hands them back a half hour later.

Keith tells me that if he isn’t always looking directly at me as he speaks, it’s because he’s looking at my aura instead. Then he tells me… absolutely nothing of consequence. He says I’m considering a career change and am in a period of transition. Since nearly everyone I know is at least considering a career change a great deal of the time, this doesn’t knock my socks off. He says that I will have important turning points in my new relationship in June and in October—or pretty close to that. He says that if I’m still in the relationship by October, then I’m going to know if it’s a go or not. It could go either way. Once again, I find this irritatingly vague—I might or might not be in the relationship by October and by that time, I might or might not decide that I want to stay in it. Naturally, he has a more circuitous way of saying this, but I’m a cut-to-the-chase kind of girl. After a few more open-ended proclamations such as these, I realize that I am clearly not in the presence of greatness. Neither great acts of paranormal channeling nor great acts of con are occurring. He says nothing of my past that inspires drop-jawed how’d-you-know, and nothing of my future that suggests an arresting certainty of vision.

He asks me questions that make me want to call him out for cheating. “I’m sensing that you’re going to take a trip in late May. Are you planning a vacation in May?” I tell him no, but that I’m planning to attend a wedding in California in early June—June eleventh, to be precise. At this point, I’ve developed a desire to help him out, to give him more information and see how he spins it. I want to help poor Keith hobble through to the finish line. I feel guilty for not wearing personality-indicative clothes. I’ve handicapped a mediocre performer.

I write Keith a check and escape, feeling slightly blue and out-of-sorts. I chide myself for wanting Keith to kick a warp into my whole belief system. Why was it that I wanted so much to be knocked right out of my skepticism? Why was I so disappointed to be left in a regular reality, one without trap doors?

The following day, I have an arresting thought, which is that it is entirely possible that I’ve been had. I realize that Keith has had my house keys in his possession and out of my view, that I’d paid him using a check with my address written on it, and that I’ve told him precisely when I would be out of town. I finally call a locksmith and have the locks changed on my house. I can’t quite bring myself to tell the locksmith that he is performing this work due to the fact that I visited a psychic who probably isn’t preparing to break into my home. But I can’t let go of the suspicion. The fact is that I’d be less worried if he’d been a better psychic.

The locksmith costs one hundred and seven dollars, which means that my dabbling in the paranormal now has a cumulative price tag of $162. I tell this to friends who laugh at me and say, “What? So, you think he pressed your key into a piece of, like, putty, and took an imprint so that he can duplicate it?” Clearly, we’ve all seen the same heist and crime flicks, because that is exactly what I think. Only I don’t. Because I don’t really believe the psychic is going to break into my house. Except that I believe it enough to get the locks changed… so I guess I sort of believe it just a little bit. Is there a pattern here? Is this so different from sort of believing in psychics to begin with? If any buried truth is emerging from my visit to a psychic, it is the fact that I am, in fact, predictable.

But my goodness, what a pulsing and colorful possibility that is, just dangling out of the reach of the rational, skeptical mind. Just imagine a world full of people coated with a film of possibility—an assured destiny ever keeping time with them as they move about in their daily activities. And then, add a handful of people with the strange and unnerving gift for seeing that oily substance, for accessing images of the future. Don’t you want to believe there’s something to it, something there? Is it just a bit reassuring that someone could see who you are and where your path is leading simply by holding your key ring? See me! Know me! Guide me! I want the world I can’t quite believe in, the predictions I can’t quite have. I want destiny just as much as I want the elbow room of free will. I want to be free and cradled by certainty all at once.

Maybe I need a tarot reading.

Hunt down Sophie Beck’s other Kitchen Sink essay in KS13 (under the name Sophie Moore). She also has pieces coming soon in Post Road and River Teeth. Thanks for reading!

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