I was 13 when my mom dragged my brother and me to a "psychic." We were visiting family in Malaysia and somewhere amongst a few palm oil plantations was the house of an old woman who claimed to be able to channel Buddha. My mother was enthralled during the hour-long ordeal, during which the woman basically rolled her eyes often so the whites were showing, dropped her voice a few octaves, and made astonishingly mundane statements that could've applied to anyone (examples: our house had ants out front; my grandma was old and having some health problems). Combined with my love of Harry Houdini (who spent the last few years of his life debunking psychics and mediums) and teen angst that made me hate everything my parents liked, the experience left me convinced that psychics were con artists who separated vulnerable and desperate people from their cash in exchange for poor acting.
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I dug them out again this spring for a foray into a career as a phone psychic—the latest installment of “Human Guinea Pig,” a column in which I am supposed to explore intriguing corners of life, but in which, so far, I mostly humiliate myself. (Like here, for example.) Locating openings for my extrasensory services was easy. I went to an online job site and typed “psychic” into the search engine. I sent e-mails to the three companies listed, and two—I’ll call them ESP Net and Chakra Con—sent me back contracts to fill out.