Barnes and Noble at the Grove is packed to the gills on Saturday night. I’ve got two hours of free parking, and I found a twenty-dollar bill in the garage, which I could probably save for groceries, but should use to buy my friend Hannah’s new book that came out over a month ago. I still haven’t read it, which means I can’t email her until I do, and the longer this goes on, the lower I’ll fall in her estimation.
I’m almost at the YA section when I’m stopped by a woman pushing a stroller.
“Excuse me,” she says. “I just have to tell you that you have beautiful energy. I feel like there’s a reason we’re meeting tonight. Have you ever had a psychic reading done?”
I have two problems preventing me from just walking away:
1.) I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost a decade, but buried underneath the tan, the heart of A Nice Midwestern Girl is still beating in earnest, and Nice Midwestern Girls are incapable of walking away when someone is addressing them directly.
2.) I’m too superstitious to piss off anyone who claims to be a psychic.
So instead of saying “Not interested, lady, move it along,” I launch into a story about the time I got my Tarot cards read at a Harry Potter arts & crafts fair.
From there, it’s off to the races.
Jasmine is gorgeous by anybody’s definition. Dark hair pinned up in a sleek bun, intensely sea-green eyes ringed heavily in kohl. She’s rocking some serious post-baby curves and big dangly earrings. And she is confident as all hell that I need to buy what she’s selling.
Which is guidance towards finding the love of my life.
We hang out next to the Employee Recommendations shelf, and she explains to me that right now, my energy is extremely open to possibility and promise and we absolutely have to begin the journey between midnight and six. She’ll go home tonight, perform some candle work, and meet up with me tomorrow to give me a bottle of scented oil that I can rub into my forehead to open my third eye. There’s a man who’s trying desperately to bring love into my life, but that stupid third eye is squeezed shut and I’m blind to his presence—a close friend, perhaps? A coworker I’ve spurned? A man who truly believes I’m indifferent to the flames of his passion? And isn’t that knowledge worth parting with at least a little cash?
There is a depressingly large part of me that’s thinking “God, totally,” even if I’m also about 92 percent sure I’m being hustled.
Still, there’s that eight percent of superstitious panic that’s saying But how could she have known you were single?! Besides, you haven’t posted anything politically ranty on Facebook for weeks and you’ve lost a bunch of weight from job stress, it’s totally possible somebody’s fallen madly in love with you in the last couple weeks! I mean, I’ve paid money to be on Match.com, so really, is asking a psychic I met in a bookstore to chant for me over some burning candles that much more of a long shot?
“I don’t have any cash on me right now,” I tell her, and that’s when she whips out her iPhone.
“No problem,” she says. “I’ve got an app that takes credit cards.”
“I’m not sure that’s a great idea,” I say, because even the superstitious part of my brain has now been silenced, finally aware that we’ve wandered into a Shut it down, Lemon situation.
“You don’t need to worry about the money,” Jasmine assures me. “I promise you, absolutely none of it is going to me personally. It’s all going towards the supplies that I’ll use for your work. There’s a reason we met tonight, Molly, I know you can feel that, too. I know it feels like a risk, but finding the love of your life should feel risky, don’t you think? You deserve love. You deserve this man.
“The thing is, my financial situation isn’t – “
That’s when the questions get little more rapid-fire, a little more urgent. When do I think I’ll be back at the Grove? She’ll accept a small down payment since she feels so strongly about helping me; we’d just have to arrange a meet-up over the next week for her to get the rest of the money. There’s this ritual she can perform that’ll keep my energy open over the week, the window doesn’t have to close at six a.m., because she knows how seriously I take this. “You deserve love,” she tells me, very firmly.
The phrase “Nigerian prince” is a punchline in and of itself, but once upon a time, those emails worked.
Somebody offered to help a Nigerian prince out, somebody forked over their credit card numbers in an email, and somebody lost a lot of money thinking “high risk, high reward.”
This is a lot like that, only the Nigerian prince is actually standing in front of you, talking in a sweet, persuasive voice. Dignified and never desperate, and promising you that he can make something really, really amazing happen for you if you just trust him.
The baby makes a fussy little noise, and Jasmine starts pushing the stroller back and forth, soothing her. She’s tiny, and when I comment that she must be very new, Jasmine tells me all about a health problem her baby had when she was first born.
It’s probably most definitely another hustling move, but even if it is, even if Jasmine and her baby undoubtedly came to this densely populated tourist hot-spot on a Saturday night to pick out easy marks specifically like me… well, the baby’s real. This much, at least, is undeniably true. This tiny baby with the possibly-made-up health problem is the reason her mom’s out here, talking to strangers about candle work and third eyes and minor down payments.
I’m not working right now; I’m not in a position where I can afford to hit the ATM, take out sixty bucks, and hand it to her in good faith. I don’t even donate to legitimate charity organizations; all I ever do is email my friends things like “Good luck at that 5K! Rooting for ya!” when they race to end alopecia or whatever. It’s not like I feel great about this; it’s just one of the things that happen when you decide to go work in TV. There’s a lot of uncertainty and instability, and while it turns some people into cheerful Pollyannas who live for the moment and worry about the credit cards later, it turns me into a Scroogelike miser who begrudges every single penny I have to fork over for anything.
So I don’t know why I’m considering giving Jasmine anything at all. Somewhere in Chicago, I’m sure that my dad just shot up in bed, knowing somewhere in his gut that his daughter is considering giving money to some random in return for a promise to light a couple candles.
This is an obvious, rehearsed, practice scam, and I can’t really identify what it is that’s preventing me from calling bullshit and walking away. I don’t know why I’m still here. I don’t know why I’m still listening to it. I’ve seen the Anderson Cooper special.
By now, my heartstrings are tangled up in my wallet. I’m here long past the point of good judgment or logic, I’m aware of it, and somehow, I’m still getting coaxed into it. I’ve never considered myself to be particularly weak-willed, either.
Maybe it’s just harder to say no when it’s a real person, looking you in the eyes. Maybe it’s that politeness is ingrained in us so deeply that once the conversation goes past a certain point, it starts to seem like incredibly terrible manners to cut and run.
“Well….why don’t you come with me to the cashier?” I finally suggest, deciding I’ll just give her the ten bucks left over from buying my book. Ten bucks is better than nothing, right? It’s found money, anyway – I’m not really taking a hit here.
Jasmine shakes her head in disapproval that I’m spending any money on a book at all when I could be running into the love of my life’s arms by this time tomorrow, but she and the baby accompany me to the first floor. While we’re waiting in line, she asks me, “Why don’t you just put it on a debit card, get some cash back, and give me that?”
I don’t really have a good answer for this, which is probably why she adds “Because I want to give you a discount on my candle work, so how about we say three hundred and fifty dollars right now and the rest when we meet up again?”
I’ve got to give Jasmine credit for one more thing: She finally gave me a way to gracefully, maturely extricate myself from the situation.
“Hang on one second,” I tell her. “I think my phone is ringing and reception here really sucks.”
After I run all the way to the parking lot, I decide to spend the money on groceries after all.
Molly Shalgos’s third eye still remains stubbornly closed. She lives in Los Angeles and has contributed to the Center for Women In Psychology, The Hairpin, and HelloGiggles