My first shift was on Valentine's Day, which was like learning how to Parkour without first learning how to walk. The service would link to my personal phone with the caller from their 800 number, so I was able to work from home. That night my phone rang constantly with needy, single callers. The majority of these lonely hearts asked about people they hadn't even met yet from online dating sites. They were spending $3.50 a minute to obsess over someone they'd never even kissed. I was collecting $1.99 per minute to tell them what I saw in the cards, which was, by and large, bullshit. They were never going to meet, let alone, love these strangers. By the end of my evening I felt infected with desperation and insanity (which makes sense considering my employers had classified me as an "Empath," a skill that was added to my profile).
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.
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.
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.