Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fortune Teller's Web

One day a young woman called Sherlock Investigations from a payphone in Penn Station, where she had been sleeping for the past two nights. Before that, she was sleeping in Kennedy Airport.

The destitute woman proceeded to tell me a horror story. Wanting to hear the story in person, I agreed to meet her at a bar in Times Square.

This is the short version of the story she told me:

A recent graduate of a four-year college in Florida, with a degree in architecture, she landed a job in New York. Walking around New York on her first weekend here, she spotted a sign that said, "Fortunes, only $10."

Naturally, a new college grad, with a new job, and just starting out on her career, she wondered what the future had in store for her.

Something the fortune teller told her struck home. (Gypsy fortune tellers, experts in human psychology, know how to say something that will strike a chord.) She wanted to know more. The fortune teller said that she could tell her much more, for $100.

The young woman went for it, and by now she was hooked, but didn't know it. The next day she went back for another reading.

The fortune teller told her that she was too materialistic, and that she had to cleanse herself of the evil of money. Gradually, the fortune teller began to help her with this, by taking her money.

She employed many fortune teller tricks. One was the famous trick of asking the client to purchase an egg at a market and bring it in. Using slight-of-hand, the gypsy switched the egg with a specially prepared egg with a small snake in it. Upon cracking the egg, the snake crawled out. This would amaze anyone who didn't realize what was going on.

The gypsy slowly led the young woman into her web of deceit. Pretty soon, she was afraid to make a move without consulting the fortune teller. One day, the gypsy told her to go out and buy her a Rolex watch. The young woman did, and turned it over to the gypsy.

This went on for a year. Soon, she was unable to pay her rent, even though she had a good job. The fortune teller was taking all her money.

The wintry night that I met her she was dressed in a thin jacket against the cold. Most of her possessions were put in storage by her landlord because she couldn't pay her rent.

On successive nights, I spent hours with this woman, almost convinced that I could not break her of the "spell" of the gypsy. However, the woman knew the truth, and that she had been had. Finally, she got angry, and went to the police and filed a criminal complaint.

Then we went out looking for the fortune teller. She apparently moved to Florida before we could locate her. We still look sometimes, but she knows that she's wanted.

Today, the young woman is back on her feet, successful at her job, and well-adjusted.

Now when I look at the expensive store-fronts with neon signs these fortune tellers have all over the city, I know where they get their money. There are a lot of suckers out there, ready to be relieved of their money.

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