Photos by Michael Wichita and Jonathan Padget
We consider ourselves a pretty modern, no nonsense society when it comes to forward-thinking. Low-tar cigarettes, tap lights, Viagra. Problem? Solved. That's the American way. But as otherworldly beliefs have been sacrificed one by one at the altar of Progress -- lock up the mall on Sundays? Puh-leez -- the sidewalk psychic has steadfastly endured.
After seeing psychics ensconced throughout our favorite hip 'hoods for years now, curiosity finally got the better of us. We just had to see what the psychic hype is all about, so we took a weekend dash through Washington's own network of psychic friends, and we've applied a bad-to-great rating scale of one-to-five crystal balls to clue you in on what we found.
Psychic Readings by Elaine1608 17th Street NW, Apt. 1
What I Got: Two palms read for $20.
Gaydar: She waxed ambiguous and diplomatically sidestepped the gender pronouns, referring instead to a vague "special person." Heads she wins, tails I lose. Hey, it's 17th Street. She knows what she's doing.
Right On: A telepathic triple-axel and she sticks the landing with the assertion that my job involves music. Perfect ten.
No Way: She tells me I'll move out of my house this winter, but she sees no destination. I hear the cardboard boxes under Key Bridge are lovely in December, but not bloody likely.
Be Afraid: A friend of mine is confusing me, and I need to eliminate him or her from my life. Hmm. I'll have to review my acquaintances and blacklist someone. Elaine said so. I'm sure they'll understand.
Warm Fuzzy: A career windfall within three years. And when does Tom Brokaw retire? That's right, my friend. 2004 will be the Year of the Doig. NBC Nightly News, here I come.
The Big Picture: Elaine versus the little old Poltergeist lady? Elaine's good, but when it comes right down to it, she's staring at hands in a ground floor apartment in the gay ghetto, while the old lady's saving kids from scary monsters. If I were Carol Anne, I'd choose the old lady. But it would be close.
What I got: Two palms read for $20
Gaydar: Ahh, yes. The baseline for any gay psychic services consumer. You don't have to be a mind-reader to know I'm a big ol' Friend of Dorothy, so if you market yourself as a psychic and can't figure that out, I'm whipping out the Magic Eight Ball and heading for the door. Elaine played it safe by asking the name of my love interest, so she at least gets some points for tact.
Right on: She honed in on my career at first, saying how mismatched I'd been for several years, but how I now loved my work and couldn't be happier. You go, girl.
No way: I'm not in love with the right person, and I should explore other options, though keep my current relationship in the meantime. Oh, you mean cheat. Uh, no thanks.
Be afraid: D.C. is where I'll live and work for just a few more years. What's next? Atlanta. Yikes. I was troubled by the possibility of such a purgatorial sentence, then I realized I was wearing a t-shirt from my boyfriend's alma mater, the University of Georgia. Oh, Elaine. How very Professor Marvel of you.
Warm fuzzy: I'll never have to worry about money. Isn't that nice? Completely untrue to date, but nice.
The big picture: Elaine's personality is quite engaging -- a little brooding, with an exotic, sensual edge. If I was into psychic counseling, she might get a return visit.
Psychic Gallery1605 Connecticut Avenue NW
What I Got: Tarot card reading for $25.
Gaydar: Never came up, but Alexis' slinky, black dress seemed geared toward extracting money from male clients. Better luck next time, sweetie.
Right On: Her psychic powers are about as honed as Miss Cleo's Jamaican accent. She knew that "there are currently things in my life that are bothering me and that I wish would go away." Wow. Now that's just eerie.
No Way: According to Alexis, my life is teetering on the brink of a bidet that's about to be flushed. But there's hope! She can help me, and all I have to do is…
Be Afraid: …fork over ninety-five bucks so that she can spend the next twenty-four hours concocting some potion from beeswax and herbs that'll save me, and if I don't give her the money I'm royally screwed, and when I tell her I don't have a hundred bucks to blow on something that essentially came out of the ass of a bee, she offers me a sort of Blue Light Special on salvation -- a green rock which I should tape to my stomach for four days that I can buy for the low, low price of $52 (a rock she claims to have bought for $250, which doesn't sound like a real solvent way to run a business). So I tell Alexis thanks but no thanks, and…
Warm Fuzzy: …get the hell out of there, which gives me my first comforting feeling since I walked into this creepy tourist trap in the first place.
The Big Picture: Where do I begin? She snapped her gum throughout the reading, used the word "confusement" and basically kicked me to the curb when she realized I wasn't going to buy her rocks or her wax. I'm not seeing Alexis in my future, and she's not seeing anything but her next sucker.
What I got: Two palms read for $10 by another psychic while Will was in with Alexis.
Gaydar: Let's see, I'm to be engaged twice but married only once, and produce two children. Hmmm, where did I put that Magic Eight Ball?
Right on: I have to make a decision soon -- one that's not too big, but not too small -- and I'll regret it. You mean like the fact I'm supposed to give you ten dollars when this is over?
No way: There's no one serious in my life right now. I guess the boyfriend I live with doesn't count. Oh, and I hate my job too.
Be afraid: My reader must've been all of thirteen years old. I guess they didn't want to risk me bolting once I heard about Will's beeswax and rock pitch.
Warm fuzzy: I'm to live a long life, well into my eighties. Woo-hoo -- Leisure World, here I come!
The big picture: Just an icky, shady ambiance overall, combined with the accuracy of a WorldCom balance sheet.
Mrs. Susan2435 18th Street NW
What I Got: Two palms read for $20 by Nancy while Jonathan was in with Susan.
Gaydar: Nancy was about twelve years old and she saw a wife and three kids somewhere in the palms of my hands. Kind of sweetly naïve, but did that Nickelodeon special on queers do nothing for the gaydar of America's youth?
Right On: Again, saw music as being part of my daily life, although this one says it'll make me rich and famous.
No Way: But she was assuming that I make music, when actually I just write about it. She said my music hasn't made me successful yet, but it will happen. Though it couldn't be further from the truth, it's fun to imagine that I give off a starving artist, Rent cast member vibe. Go me.
Be Afraid: See "Gaydar" response.
Warm Fuzzy: Besides being rich and famous, I'll live to be very, very old. What a relief to finally get that guarantee under my belt. Anyone got a Marlboro?
The Big Picture: When I did finally tell her I'm a writer, she told me my future will involve pencils and paper. Ain't that cute? Bottom line, Nancy will tell you what you want to hear, and that may be just what you're looking for. But future-wise, she's got too much of her own in front of her to possibly know anyone else's. Rich and famous? Not that it couldn't happen, but I know when my butt's being smooched. Flattery will get you everywhere, which makes me think that maybe Nancy knows more than I originally thought.
What I got: One palm read for $15
Gaydar: Susan didn't even blink when she told me there's a special young man out there for me. Let's hear it for psychic pride.
Right on: I've been hurt in love, and there's a family member I'm estranged from. How right you are, Susan. Me and 99.9% of the world's population -- but still, how right you are.
No way: I desperately want to be in a relationship, but I just can't find anyone who'll stick around for more than a few dates. Sorry, Susan, no dice.
Be afraid: What I need right away is a Love Chart, requiring my name, birth date, six hours, and a hundred smackeroos. I was intrigued by what I might have to do for six hours, but Susan explained that no, it takes her six hours of meditation in an isolated sanctuary, blah blah blah. All that's required of me is my name, birth date and the hundred bucks. Nice.
Warm fuzzy: I'm still headed for Leisure World, plus I'll have no major illness or tragedy to deal with along the way. Whew!
The big picture: Susan's very perky and pleasant, but falls too easily into canned, melodramatic sales pitch mode if you seem like a sucker.
Psychic Reading by Laura1752 Columbia Road NW, 2nd Floor
What I Got: Two palms for $20.
Gaydar: She's from a generation for which gay didn't exist, so I don't think it even crossed her mind. I could have been wearing ruby slippers and a mesh muscle tee and she probably still wouldn't have noticed.
Right On: She told me that the last three months have been difficult for me, which is true. She also told me I've got a lot on my mind, which seemed like a bit of a copout. Like I'm going to say, "Nope, totally empty." Tell me what's on my mind and color me impressed.
No Way: I care only about the well-being of others? Tempting, but no. I'll help an old lady across the street if she looks like a tipper. Otherwise, hope that walker's got wheels Betty.
Be Afraid: According to Laura, I've got nothing in my future to worry about. Just clear skies and smooth sailing from here on out. Sounds great. Now when exactly does this future begin?
Warm Fuzzy: I'll live to be 83, which seems comforting, although knowing the exact year I'm going to bite it doesn't put me at ease so much as make me fixate on the clock.
The Big Picture: Laura's a sweetheart, and her age lends her more credibility than Nancy's pre-pubescence. Her digs in Adams Morgan, filled with amulets and talismans, certainly make you feel like you're getting the real deal more than, say, Alexis' TV and loveseat.
What I got: One palm read for $10
Gaydar: She didn't ask. I didn't tell.
Right on: I feel strongly about helping others, and though many have tried to take advantage of my kindness, I've learned how to stand up for myself. Preach it, sister!
No way: Laura was a bit too vague to go too far off track...
Be afraid: ...and I don't think she has an alarmist bone in her body.
Warm fuzzy: Again with the long life, at least to the age of eighty-one. That's fine. Maybe my dream of always getting a seat on Metro will come true one day after all.
The big picture: If I wanted to explore more expensive, involved services, something tells me Laura would be a pretty good bet.