"Just tell them tarot is your specialty. They just want help and advice," she said, adding, "Keep them on as long as you can. I think that's it."
Sandy gave me the main number to call and the four-digit extension I needed in order to get callers routed my way. I followed the prompts and found I'd already been entered into the system as an expert on "love"—they were psychic! I recorded a message for callers in which I explained I was "Natalie" and that I would use tarot to answer all their relationship questions. ESP Net's online guidance site had a page-and-a-half-long, exceptionally sincere opening we could use on our callers: " … as soon as I heard your voice I saw the most beautiful aura around you … I felt immediately that you are one of the world's very special people … This is one of the most exciting readings I've done in a long time … I am the one person you needed to talk to, to receive the answers and the help you need in your life at this critical time. …" The true beauty of the introduction was that it would eat up the caller's three free minutes and get us on our way to meeting the company's 15-minute-per-call minimum.
Forty-five minutes after I logged on, my psychic line rang.
"Hi, this is Natalie. How can I help you?" I asked, unable to give the recommended opening for fear it would be held against me in my next life. "Hi Natalie," the caller said. "I want to see what's going on in my relationship in general." I asked "Cindy" to think about her boyfriend while I shuffled the cards and did the spread. Things looked bleak—among her cards were the devil and death, and the final outcome card was the 10 of swords, described in my deck as the card of "ruin." I wondered how to break this to Cindy, particularly since I hadn't a clue as to what was really going on in her relationship. I blithered for a few minutes about her concerns that she was investing a lot in a relationship she was worried was going to eventually hurt her. Then Cindy started talking. She said her relationship was very good, and they've been talking about marriage for two years, but according to her boyfriend, the time was never right. It soon became clear that she didn't care what the cards said; she just wanted someone to talk to.
After about 15 minutes, our call was interrupted with a recording saying she had one minute left. Then a recording said she had added more time to her call. I had done some Web searching to see how much my potential callers were paying for my advice, and my best guess was that it was about $1.99 a minute. Cindy came back on, and we talked for 15 more minutes. For her $59.70 I told her that she had conceded all the power in the relationship to her boyfriend, and she had to find a way to make the decision whether they would marry more mutual. I realized that she wanted confidence from me—I remembered how much I disliked wishy-washy psychics.
Not long afterward, I got a call from "Claudia." She wanted to know if things were really over with "Tom." She explained that she and Tom had been together on and off; he had been abusive in the past, but he came back this time promising that she was the one. They were supposed to go out that night, but when they were talking about their plans, Claudia asked Tom if he was really committing to the relationship. He responded by saying he didn't want to see her anymore. From the way she recounted the story, I could tell that as soon as she hung up with Tom, she had called me. Claudia wanted to know if she and Tom were really kaput.
When she mentioned that there had been abuse, I decided I didn't care if every love card in the deck turned up—the answer was going to be that the relationship was over. Fortunately, the reading was stink-o except for the last card, the ace of disks. That card meant the beginning of good fortune, usually related to finance or work. I told her that Tom was going to bring her nothing but misery, that she had to completely free herself from this relationship because there was a happier future for her if she did. After 10 minutes, we got the signal that her time was almost up, so Claudia re-upped for another 10. After I finished putting a stake into Tom, she asked about someone at work, "Phil," who seemed smitten with her. That could explain the ace of disks, I realized! But I was worried that Claudia would hop into the sack with Phil if I told her things looked promising. I just said I couldn't tell if Phil was the one, but that freeing herself from Tom would allow her to slowly find someone better.
After Claudia hung up, I waited fruitlessly during the next hour for another call, then finally disconnected. For the next few days, I logged on at least two hours a day. Often I would have no calls, but sometimes there would be a spate of them. "Roxanne" wanted to know if she should ditch her boyfriend and go to a new guy. The cards said "No." "Helaine" wanted to know if the guy who broke up with her five months ago was going to come back. The cards said "No." "Nina" wanted to know if the guy who dumped her three weeks ago might change his mind. The cards said he might, but it would just cause her more pain. "Darla" wanted to know if the guy she had been seeing on and off for 40 (yes, 40) years was going to get serious this time. The cards said he wasn't capable of being serious.
Then I got a call from "Denise," wanting to know if she is going to get enough money from the insurance company for being rear-ended because she needs the money desperately. I wanted to say, "In that case, hang up the phone!" as well as explain to her that I was an expert on love, not claims adjustment. I laid out the cards anyway. I realized I really didn't want to give this woman advice, so I hemmed and hawed, and she let her time run out at five minutes.
Finally, a man called. "Carl" wanted to know if his former girlfriend of eight years, who was now involved with another guy, was going to come back to him. I told him the reading said no.
"I don't understand," he said. "I call a lot, and I've heard all sorts of things. The last time I called I was told we were going to get married and have a kid."