June-July 1998 Articles:
I'm not really a writer, but somehow my article is showing up here. Ending up in strange situations like this seems to be a common occurrence for me. I'm not a corporate asskiss, but somehow have a job at one of the largest corporations in the country. I'm also not a psychic, but somehow wound up telling fortunes to people paying $5/min for one of the largest phone entertainment networks in the country.
My "day job" is working at the business office of a Baby Bell company called Ameritech. Each demoralizing day, I take calls from pissed off customers with "fraudulent" charges on their phone bill ranging from overseas sex calls, to overpriced calling card plans, to 900 psychic networks. Many deny the charges at first, but most usually end up with some story involving a combination of mental retardation, a confused elderly person, a Christian household, their kids, a babysitter, or relatives visiting for the holidays.
In addition to working my glorious dayjob, I also have a record label. Putting out records costs money...a lot of it. Therefore, to add a few more dollars to the promotion pool, I decided to pick up a second job that I could work from the privacy of my own home. My girlfriend had done phone sex on occasion to supplement her graduate studies, so I immediately thought of doing the same. The next day, I signed on with a local company doing gay phone sex. This turned out to be a real mess for a number of reasons, so I finally got fed up and quit after only a few weeks.
A couple of weeks later, while sifting through all the jobs even worse than mine in the local employment paper, I ran across an ad looking for experienced fortune tellers to work from home for one of the country's largest psychic networks. I'd seen a similar ad a year earlier and had requested more information on it, so I knew the basic drill. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I called to apply.
The next day I got a call from Sabrina. After explaining the position to me, I told her it was just what I was looking for.
"Great!" she said, "Now I just have a few more questions for you."
She went on to ask me more details about my psychic ability. She wanted to test me out. Was she a blonde or brunette? It was obvious to me that this wasn't a joke for her, but why give me such an easy question? I told her that I was used to giving readings in person and would have to get used to picking up psychic energy over the phone, but I got the sense she was a blonde. Luckily, I was right...or was I?
The questions followed. What kind of readings did I give? Did I prefer Tarot cards, crystal ball, or Astrology? I didn't know shit about any of that stuff and started to get a little nervous.
"I prefer dream interpretations," I said. "I feel we are most in touch with our inner self during dreams."
"You'll be perfect," she said. "Before you can start, I'll need you to fax me your tax forms as well as get you an extension on our 900 number. I'd also like you to give me a sample reading. I've got to go now, but how about this weekend?"
"Sure thing! We'll talk then," I said before I hung up the phone.
Not knowing what to do next, I hauled ass down to the local occult bookstore. After sifting through tons of books, I found what I was looking for...a "Dream Dictionary." It works pretty much like a regular dictionary except you look up the stuff in your dream rather than words you don't know. I also picked up an "Introduction to Numerology" for $2.99 at the impulse purchase rack by the cash register.
After looking up a few things in the dictionary, it was obvious that this wasn't something I wanted to do with Sabrina. To give you an idea of the definitions in one sentence--everything that is shaped remotely like a cylinder is a phallus and everything shaped remotely like a circle is a vagina ... and it wasn't just for my dreams either!
I picked up the numerology book and read it cover to cover. Coming from a musical background, I actually found this easy to believe. Everything in the Universe from music, to nature, to anatomy, is mathematically based. I learned how to do the charts and analyze the numbers. I started giving readings to everybody I knew in order to practice for Sabrina. It was amazing how accurate it was.
The big day came. I explained to her I just didn't feel I could get the psychic energy over the phone for dream interpretations and that I'd like to try something more exact like Numerology. She seemed thrilled at my enthusiasm. I got her full name and birthdate and took it from there. I'm not sure how accurate my reading was, but she agreed with it enough of it to put me on the payroll. I'd be making $.20/min. That's right! $.20/min or $12/hour ... while they charge $5/min or $300/hour. I know advertising isn't cheap, but where was all the extra money going? Somehow I felt like I was going to get screwed as much as the callers were. I kept thinking about my goals for the label though and that kept me going.
I logged into the network the next day. My phone rang almost immediately. I gave the standard "Thanks for calling the Network!" greeting and asked for the caller's name and birthdate. According to network policy, I also had to ask for the caller's address in order to send them a free copy of our psychic newsletter. I later found out this step served an extra purpose--to cover our ass if the charges were disputed.
Call after call came in. The network was heavily advertised during tabloid television shows like Jerry Springer and Hard Copy as well infomercials on networks such as BET and Lifetime. The commercials were often very deceiving, implied that there was no cost for this service, and that calling would make good things happen to you. "GET A FREE CRYSTAL! THE FIRST TEN MINUTES ARE FREE! FIND YOUR LOVE! CALL NOW!" Did these people realize what they were getting into? It was obvious after the first night that the network was targeting women, minorities, the lower class, and people without the education to know better. I was in desperate need for cash to fund my label, but I wondered how how much longer I'd be able to earn it like this.
I decided that I was going to be positive and try to get people motivated to better themselves. Didn't have a high school education? I'd tell you to get one. Looking for lucky numbers? I'll tell you to invest your money rather than playing the lotto. Always wanted to get out of your town? I'll tell you to go for it!
Unfortunately it wasn't that easy. Sure, there were the "typical" people who believed in the ads about us bringing Mr. Right into their lives, but a lot of the calls were serious. One lady was being sexually harassed at work, one was being beaten at home, and another was a single mother, pregnant with her sixth kid. It was obvious that these people just needed somebody to talk to and obvious that I wasn't cut out for this job after all .. not when they were paying $5 a minute. A lot of times, my reading would consist of a help line number with the advice to get a 900 block on the line. Did these women have the skills to follow my advice? Who knows...
Of course, there were the other callers which I hated. The guys who wanted to know if they'd gotten a girl pregnant or whether they'd be found guilty on an upcoming court date. These people pissed me off and I kept them on for as long as possible giving them all kinds of bullshit about the stars and numerology while making them chant parts of old R+B or heavy metal songs. Sometimes I'd even record the conversations for my friends.
Day after day I'd go to Ameritech and work with people to resolve billing problems where somebody had called a 900 number from their line without their permission. Night after night I'd go home to the psychic network and literally beg the assholes to stay on for just one more minute so I could earn another $.20 for the record label that would take me away from both jobs. All of this while trying to get the truly desperate people to the appropriate help lines.
What if I was wrong though? What if my prank call to an asshole was really being funded by the girlfriend that he got pregnant? There was no way to be sure. It wasn't like I'd be giving up a lot of money or a great job, so after a few weeks I decided to hang up the phone on my psychic career. I had good intentions, but it was obvious that the company I was working for did not. Of course, that's the way it is everywhere in Corporate America.