(Eric Shansby)

I once was asked to choose a single adjective that least describes who I am. I considered “fastidious,” and “sculpted,” and “dapper” and “conservative,” but eventually settled on “spiritual.”

I don’t want to offend the many perfectly nice, earnest simpletons who believe in astrology or numerology or crystal therapy or feng shui or geomancy or, say, the healing power of labyrinths, but I myself scoff at that sort of magical thinking. I believe that if the human race doesn’t extinguish itself first, everything one day will be explainable on a scientific basis (with the possible exception of the enduring popularity of those word searchpuzzles).

In short, I have managed to churn through the many days of my life without ever even considering consulting a psychic. That changed one day recently. I got suckered in by an ad.

It was a professional-looking sandwich-board sign on the sidewalk. This is what it said, verbatim:

Grand Opeing!

Psychi Readings

By Monica. $5.

The bargain price was definitely a factor, but that wasn’t the deal closer. What got me were the casual, dreadful misspellings. If I was going to invest in a psychic, I wanted to be amused. I wanted a cut-rate psychic with spectacular inattention to detail.

(Initially, I had read it as “Opieing,” suggesting an appealingly transformative process to return to a simpler time, and a fishin’ hole.)

Monica’s pad was at the top of the stairs, and her studio didn’t resemble what I imagine a psychic’s lair to look like. There was no dim lighting or hanging draperies or crystal balls. There were kids running around. We went into her brightly lit consultation room, and she asked to see my right palm, which she held. She said she was going to read my energies.

Monica was young and pretty, and I think I was partially wrong about inattention to detail because she favored the sort of decolletage that might distract some more distractible male clients from noticing any errors that might happen to occur, such as when she immediately nodded at my hand and said, “Four children.”

I said no, I have two.

“I know,” she said. “But you were meant to have four children.” She said this in a meaningful way, as though she was disappointed I had not lived up to my cosmic fecundity.

She spoke very rapidly. There is cancer and diabetes in my family.

True enough! My mom died of cancer and my father was partly blinded by diabetes, however I must note that based on health statistics I have just pulled up, and doing some actuarial computations, it turns out the odds of both cancer and diabetes existing somewhere within, say, three generations of anyone’s extended family is roughly four in five. Still.

Monica assured me I am going to live into old age, which I strongly doubt inasmuch as I have half a liver, intemperate habits and generally slothful, sedentary behavior. However, at 61, I arguably have already lived into old age, so maybe she was just noting the obvious.

She continued: I work hard but think I am not accomplishing as much as I am, I should travel more, and almost everyone I know who is not my family is my enemy.

Wait. What? She had just thrown this in at the end of a sentence!

Yep, she said gravely. They are all envious of me and wish me harm, and I must be very careful that they do not take advantage of me. Be particularly wary, she said, of people with an M or a J in their names.

That was it! The end of the session. I ponied up a $10 bill and told her to keep the change.

It was only when I got back into the street that I realized: “Monica” begins with an M.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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