I was a telephone psychic.

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
June 5 2003 12:30 PM

My Life as a Phone Psychic

Callers are paying $2 a minute for a supernatural adviser. They're getting me instead.

(Continued from Page 2)

Oh, dear. I explained to him these were just tarot cards and that no one who reads cards for him has the answer. I asked if he had any reason to think his former girlfriend was interested in getting back together.

"Sometimes she gives insinuendos like that," he said, coming up with an inspired neologism.

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After he explained the situation a little more, I suggested that maybe she liked stringing him along while she saw whether her new relationship worked out. He sighed and answered with a small voice, "Yeah, that could be." Then he said, "I don't want to get cut off without saying thank you."

I knew the company had taken him for $59.70; for that money I hoped I'd done him some good.

Later I talked to a friend about my guilt over participating in this scam when most of my callers would be better served by seeing an actual therapist. "Not necessarily," she said. "Sometimes you just want someone to give you an answer. Therapists don't give you an answer. Haven't you ever been to a psychic?" When I confessed that I have, she said she had, too.

The next day I was about to go back to my phone re-inspired when I checked my e-mail and found one from ESP Net. "I am sorry to inform you that your Psychic extension will be deleted … as you have not been logging in and/or not working the required amount of hours to keep your extension." I had been working for the company for four days.

My third eye popped open, and I realized that while I had been worrying about exploiting callers, ESP was exploiting me. I was just someone churning through the system, generating hundreds of dollars in calls for them while never being able to meet the various minimum "talk time" requirements that would result in getting paid.

During our interview, ESP's manager "Sandy" told me I would make $7 an hour. (The contract indicated I could make as much as $12 an hour.) But it turned out the "per hour" meant not how much time I was logged on but how much time I had callers on the line. Various places in the contract and the guidance site indicated that during a "pay period" of uncertain length, I had to have talked for 30, 120, or 600 minutes in order to qualify for a paycheck. I realized I could make more money if I set up a card table in front of my house and asked for donations for readings.

It turns out, however, that the company is so disorganized that as of this writing, I can still log on and take calls—it would be volunteer work, of course. So if you want an earnest adviser who can tell you whether that special someone who just dumped you is going to come crawling back, start calling psychic hot lines and asking for "Natalie."

******

Is there something you've always wanted to do but were too scared or embarrassed to try? Ask the Human Guinea Pig to do it for you. E-mail me your ideas at guineapig@slate.com.

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