A Visit to a Psychic Hotline

If you’ve watched TV for longer than ten seconds, you’ve no doubt seen commercials for psychic hotlines. These things are very expensive, but they get you by offering free minutes. You can call and get a little sample, and hopefully you’ll be hooked and keep calling back.

I wanted to try the free minutes. Couldn’t hurt, right? I learned that the free minutes are legitimate, but it’s up to you to hang up when you hear the beep telling you your time’s up. If you don’t, they start charging you, and if necessary, they’ll send guys to your house to collect the money.

The hotline I called offered three free minutes each time you call. A good 90 seconds of that was taken up with being on hold and then having my psychic ask for my name and address so they could send me junk mail. (I gave them your address, so be watching for it.)

I talked to three different psychics, and I occasionally told some half-truths (and lies) in order to prove their non-psychic natures. Here are some snippets from the conversations, with my lies clearly marked.

SANDRA: Is there anything in particular you’d like me to focus on in this reading, Eric?

ERIC: Yeah, actually, I’m wondering what’s up with me in my love life. I’m not seeing anyone right now, and I’m getting to the point where I’d like to be getting married. I’m wondering if you see anything ahead for me.

SANDRA: OK, do me a favor, while I’m focusing, could you say your first name for me three times?

ERIC: Say my first name for you?

SANDRA: Mm-hmm.

ERIC: Eric, Eric, Eric.

SANDRA: I see you dealing with a lot of people who are incompatible with you. There are people and relationships out there, they’re just very incompatible with you. I’d almost say you’re in the wrong place.

ERIC: Riiiight. (I hear the beep.) Sorry, gotta go.

ERIC: My name’s Eric.

LITA: What’s your last name?

ERIC: Snider.

LITA: I think that I talked to you before, didn’t I?

ERIC: No, it was Sandra I talked to last time.

LITA: Oh, your name sounded familiar. (Great psychic work!) Did you have a problem that’s sort of on your mind tonight?

ERIC: Well, yes. I’m sort of at a crossroads in my life, I think. (beep) Was that my time up already? When do the three minutes start? I’m supposed to get three minutes free.

LITA: You’re supposed to get five minutes free. (She’s wrong. It’s three.)

ERIC: Is it five? Well, I heard a beep.

LITA: If you heard a beep, that means your time is up. (“If” I heard a beep? Come on, Lita, you’re the psychic — did I hear a beep or not?) Did you call 1-900-737-7793?

ERIC: No, it was 1-900-370-4892. (Poor Lita’s batting zero tonight.)

LITA: I think a turbulent time is about to come to an end.

ERIC: That’s good to know. Hey, can you communicate with deceased people?

LITA: Who, me? No. Have you had someone come to you after they had passed away?

ERIC: No, it’s just that my grandma died a few months ago, and I was wondering how she’s doing.

LITA: I think you’re about to have a realization of a sought-after prize or goal. Something you’ve been looking forward to. A goal, or something?

ERIC: Well, I’m about to get married. (Not true.)

LITA: That sounds like it, then!

ERIC: Wow. You must be psychic.

LITA: I’ve had tarot card readings for myself, and this may sound strange, but I put them under my pillow.

ERIC: Does the tarot card fairy come and take them?

LITA: No, I wrap them in a silk scarf. It’s supposed to help protect them.

ERIC: I have a scarf, but it’s a cotton-poly blend. (I guess it’s more of a bandana, really.) Will that work?

LITA: I don’t think that would work.

LITA: There’s some sort of a trial or a choice involved with your wedding.

ERIC: Well, her parents aren’t too keen on the whole thing.

LITA: Uh-oh. There’s your trial, I guess.

ERIC: I had something that was concerning me that I wanted to ask somebody about.

RON: Can I ask what you do for a living before we start?

ERIC: Oh, sure, I work for a newspaper.

RON: You seemed like an intelligent man.

ERIC: Thanks. (Finally, they got something right!)

RON: Are you college-educated? (Not a very bold “psychic” statement to make, since nearly everyone in the newspaper business has been to college.)

ERIC: Yeah, I’m in college right now. … Here’s the thing I’m worried about, and being, as you say, an intellectual sort of person, I’m kind of embarrassed to be worried about this, but it seems like there’s a guy following me. I walk to work, and I walk home, and it seems like there’s always this guy following me. Do you see anything about that? (None of this is true.)

RON: As you know, Eric, there are 78 tarot cards in the tarot deck… (I didn’t know that, actually). There are nine divisions… (blah blah blah; he goes on and on).

ERIC: Are you gonna use the cards?

RON: Do you want me to?

ERIC: Well, I just wondered if you can help me figure out who the guy is or what he wants.

RON: I’m picking up that there are other things you’re worried about.

ERIC: Other things? Well…

RON: How’s the love life?

ERIC: The love life’s pretty good. (Lie.) I’ve just ended a relationship, but I feel pretty good about it. (Not true.)

RON: Did you care for this woman?

ERIC: I did, but I don’t think she cared for me very much.

RON: Was she a little cold to you?

ERIC: She was. She could be a little bit cold sometimes.

RON: OK, I want you to sit back and relax, and let the cards answer your–

That’s where I hung up, because the time was up, and because I didn’t want to get the tarot cards involved.

So I guess by now it should be apparent that these hotlines are a waste of money. But it probably doesn’t take a psychic to figure that out.

I got many comments about this article, more than almost any other up to that point, all of them positive. Some people couldn't believe that it was for real, and thought I had made everything up. I think that ruins it; half of its humor comes from knowing that it all really happened.

Several months later -- in April 1998 -- I got an e-mail from a woman claiming to be Lita, quoted in this column. I reprint it here just as I received it:

Hi Eric, this is Lita. My physic brain tells me that you need to get a life, and a girlfriend. Knowing you from all your fun little articles you write, getting a girlfriend will probably be impossible. So, go ahead and tell the world what an idiot I am, and how many mistakes I made in my letter, it obviously makes you feel better about yourself, and being a physic, I want you to feel better about yourself. Well, good luck getting married, the cards tell me you'll need it.

I responded with this e-mail:

"Lita" --

I'm guessing you're not really the Lita I talked to when I called the Psychic Hotline, for the following reasons:

1. Your e-mail is "MPKarren," none of which sounds like it could stand for "Lita."

2. If you were a psychic, you'd probably know how to spell "psychic" (you spelled it "physic," several times).

Thanks for the amusing e-mail, anyway!