[posted 03.16.2002]


HE’S SHUFFLING A NEW deck on the dark marble table, the firm cards making a distinct crackle. I’ve never gotten a Tarot reading in New Orleans. The locals who directed me here said he was a little crazy. A little different.

“He was once giving a Tarot reading to a lady and figured out she wasn’t taking it seriously,” one person said. “He swatted the cards off of the table and was like, ‘Look, this is gonna happen and that’s gonna happen and then this is gonna happen. That’s it.’ Her behind ran out of the store crying!”

I can handle it, I said. I’m not a punk. Anyway, I’m an occultist myself — and, as one hustler put it, how are you gonna play a player?

So here I am in New Orleans, arguably the occult capital of America, and I’m watching a master do his work. His quick hands move like those of a veteran Vegas dealer, manipulating the cards like they were a part of his body.

“Is this your first time to New Orleans?” he asks. His voice is a strange mix of Liberace and Justin Wilson — I gua-RON-tee! — though his small, sensitive frame makes him lean more toward the pianist than the former Ruffles salesman.


“Ah, you must like it here. We’re really laid-back folk down here.”


The booth starts to seem smaller than it did at first, as if the pulled black curtain behind me has become a fourth wall, and the wave of lifeless brown curls on his forehead is starting to scare me. I feel anxious.

The fortysomething medium shuffles some more and tells me what this reading will be about: Love. When I am going to meet her. How. What she will be like. He starts going through the deck like a dealer on Card Sharks, so fast that even with my Tarot experience I don’t know what’s going on.

He turns over my sign, Libra. Then he reveals my past, Deception. Then he starts going crazy — he’s flipping this way and that way and I feel like I’m starting to sweat, but the sweat hasn’t had time to develop…and the smell from the Mardi Gras beer is creeping in, but it is a week old and inappropriate for the early afternoon…and I don’t like it. What is he doing?

“Ahhhhhhh.” He smirks, as if he’s just as surprised as I am that he stopped. “August.” He pauses as though the sentence is complete. “...of this year, love will find you.”



“Hmm,” I say, unimpressed. “Wow.”

He senses my suspicion, or apprehension, or whatever. He starts talking like a guest psychologist on Oprah. “See, you just need to let things flow. You’re going through all these different maneuvers to make things happen and control things. Then the universe says, ‘I don’t think so!’ Whatever is supposed to happen happens easy.”


“But in the month of August you’re going to a birthday party and this girl is going to be there. She’s very nice, very effeminate; she has long hair. She looks like a model, but is not. Not married — no garbage, no children.”


“Yeah, she’s a little younger, a little older than you, but things are going to work out. Uh-huh. She’s very pretty — she’s not a flirt or nothing like that — and is a very sincere young lady, came from a sheltered environment. This woman will love and adore you, and be in your life because she wants to be.”


“She is a soulmate.”

“So, do you get only one soulmate?” I know what I think, but I want to get his opinion.

“No, you have many soulmates. In fact, you don’t get along with many of your soulmates.”

“I think I’ve experienced that.”

We both start a brief laugh.

“But with this lady you will get along really well. Things just fit — as companions, sweethearts, lovers — things will just fall into place real easy.”

He bows his head and starts looking at the table, half-speaking to me and half-speaking to the cards, repeating, “She’ll make a good wife. And a mother to your children. You will have a great connection….” I’m waiting for him to jump up and claim the Holy Spirit.

Suddenly the friendly ghosts tune into his frequency. He has a name.

“Her name is Joy.”


“Yeah,” he says in a tone that normally would be followed by “Of course it is, silly!”

“I never met a Joy.” I suddenly burst into a deep laugh, which usually gets other people laughing. He isn’t.

Maybe he understands that my laugh is more in disbelief than in anticipation. I’ve been to a lot of psychics and have been studying the occult for almost a decade. There are, in my opinion, two steadfast rules. First, do not make the querent feel helpless, as in, “You’re going to die next week. Any questions?”

Second, and this is a biggie, never say something will happen. And now he’s telling me when and how I’m going to meet this girl, and giving her name. I quickly begin to give him some slack, mainly because I don’t want to find it false and have to make a trip all the way back to New Orleans to get him.

“Is it more that her name starts with a J….”

“No.” His voice is as sharp as the edges of the Tarot deck.


“Joy. Her first name is Joy.” He’s looking me straight in my eyes. Now my sweat is pouring. Is he about to slap the deck off the table? Am I about to start crying? Am I a punk?


He starts to cool down. “Yeah, she has a very short name, like Joy ‘umph,’ you know, like three or four letters. And that’s it. It will be very easy to recognize and…” — slapping his hands together — “that’s it. About as easy as eating a piece of pie and not half as dangerous.”

His attempt at humor falls on deaf ears this time. I just nod my head. I’m taking what he says seriously. He indulges my suddenly contemplative mood. “Life can be so simple and uncomplicated if you allow it to be. Don’t get me wrong, I laugh, cry, bleed, have likes and dislikes just like everybody else.” He starts waving his right hand, like he’s trying to swat a fly. I crack a laugh. “But I just let the universe take care of it. I don’t worry about it.”

I nod again and we wrap up the session. I lightly threaten that I’ll contact him if the reading doesn’t come true. He doesn’t blink an eye — so much for dry humor. He wishes me well and, the next day, I’m on a train back to Chicago.


Summer weather in downtown Chicago is usually unbearable, but today it’s pretty mild. I’m excited just to be spending my first summer here as a journalist. I have a feature I can work on, but it’s July, it’s Friday, and I don’t have a schedule, so I’m hitting one of the Michigan Avenue bookstores on the way to the train.

I take the stairs to the occult department, located in the middle of the basement floor. They always keep my favorite section near the magic and sports books, which I guess occultism falls right between.

The area, between two bookcases slightly shorter than I am, is already occupied by someone down on one knee straining to read the book titles. She’s a tall woman, which I can tell even in her bent position, with auburn red hair pulled back off her forehead, shamelessly showing its black roots under a set of one-inch bangs. However, instead of being tied into a neat ponytail, her hair is parted in the middle and flows outward toward either side of her face, like a bob that doesn’t quite come back to the inside.

She’s wearing a powder blue top with spaghetti straps, its innocent color contradicting her exposed midriff and her form-fitting blue jeans. She has a long-stem rose laid down on the rug, still in the water-holding container it was bought in.

I have a strange feeling that the rose wasn’t from a boyfriend.

I’m not in the mood to approach anyone, but she’s hitting a sweet spot. An attractive lady around my age looking in the occult section. While carrying a rose. In mid-summer. Just meeting someone who doesn’t run and hide when the word “occult” is mentioned gives me goose bumps.

But, like I said, I’m not in the mood to approach, so I’m going to talk to her to see if I can give some assistance to her quest. Really.

“Did you need help finding something? I’m an occultist and I’m pretty familiar with the different books out there, if I can help….”

She responds while still looking at the bottom row. “I’m looking for books on love and the different signs.”

“Oh…well there’s a great book called Love Signs by Linda Goodman. That’s probably a good place to start.”

She starts looking at the higher shelves, but doesn’t leave the ground. “Does it give information on each sign, like if I wanted to learn about a specific sign?”

“Well, it gives you info on how two signs get along — you know, like in a relationship?”

Her face, still toward the books, crinkles a little. “I’m actually not looking for books on relationships with other people, just info on me in general….” She starts to stand, slowly becoming erect, and I realize that she’s well above the top of the bookcases. My five-foot-ten frame feels as petite as the body of the New Orleans medium in front of this six-foot-two woman. I’m genuinely impressed with her looks, particularly her curves, which would be attractive even as a silhouette through a shade.

My guess, though, is that she isn’t a model.

I chime in. “There are books on specific signs, but not a lot of good ones on how they love in general. What’s your sign?”


“Hmm. Let’s see.” I look over the books with her, pulling out a few here and there, but none satisfy both of us. Finally I concede. “Yeah, there isn’t much. What kind of information are you looking for specifically? Maybe you can find it in other books.”

She sits on the rug with one of her long legs fully outstretched toward me like she was in her own apartment. “I just had a breakup with someone, so I feel like I need to go within myself and figure some things out, like how I love.”

She says she split with him this morning and that she got the rose to make herself feel better. She explains how she wants to gain insights into the relationship choices she makes. I suggest that she visit a medium if she wants to get some dynamic feedback.

“I already have a regular one in my hometown.”

“Good — maybe you can see him when you go home. Readings can give you a lot of insight…. Hey, if you’re going to be in town for a little while maybe I can give you a Tarot reading while you’re here.”

“You give readings?”

“Sure. I’ve been doing them for a few years.”

“Do you have a deck with you?”

I give her a funny look. “Uh…no. But I have some at home if you wanted to meet somewhere later.” She says she has plans, and I say I live too far away to come back that same afternoon. Then I remember that the bookstore sells decks.

We both comb through the store. After two minutes of scrambling we find, at the end of an aisle, a glass case with five or so decks. “How about this,” I say, feeling suddenly empathetic, “Why don’t we go half-and-half on a deck, I’ll give you a reading, and you can take them home so you can do your own readings.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah. I just really enjoy doing readings, and it sounds like you really need one.”

“Okay, but only if you let me take you to lunch. Do you have time?”

Do I have time? Screw the newspaper deadline. “Sure. We can do that.” I try to hide my smile, but it sneaks out the corners of my mouth.

I suddenly remember the obvious. I extend my right hand. “By the way, I’m Damon.”

She smiles for the first time. “I’m….” Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! I swear a million things are flying through my head as her peach lips form the letter “J.” I didn’t meet her at a birthday party…but she’s a Cancer so her birthday just passed…and she looks like a freakin’ model…I saw her in the damn occult section…. What the hell is happening?!


“Hi, Jewel.”

“Hi, Damon.”

— —- – —- —

Part Two: The message in the Tarot cards is clearer than ever before, but she doesn’t want to see it.

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damon brown is a chicago-based freelance writer. interested in anything unusual that he can sink his teeth into, damon pens exploratory features, slice-of-life vignettes and humor pieces for, the source and