4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic

If you've ever been awake and drunk in front of a television at 4 a.m., you know that most of the programming is American flags waving in slow motion and phone psychic commercials. We've all wondered what kind of gullible soul calls those places -- but have you ever paused to consider who answers that call? We at Cracked spend a lot of time nursing a jug of Carlo Rossi alone in an apartment without basic cable, so obviously we jumped at the chance to sit down with a telephone psychic and hammer him with a barrage of drunken questions. Here's what we learned:

You First Have to Pass a Psychic Interview (This Can Be Done With Basic Lying)

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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My career as a phone psychic started the same way as most part-time jobs and regrettable sexual liaisons: Craigslist. I saw an ad saying "psychic wanted." I sent an email, they got back to me, and we scheduled a phone interview. I received a call 45 minutes later from an old woman faking a Miss Cleo voice. She asked if I had psychic abilities. I said something like, "I have as many as any person does." (That'd be zero, for reference.)

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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"And I don't mean to brag, but there's no one better than me at shooting lasers out of their eyes."

She said, "That's great! All people have psychic abilities. Can you tap into them?"

"Sure," I said.

So, drawing upon my long psychic internship, which consisted mostly of watching The Mentalist, I asked her for three colors and a word. Then I said something like, "Sometimes when you're at a party, you don't mind being the center of attention, but occasionally you'd rather just hang out with a small circle of friends." If you find yourself agreeing with that statement, you belong to an exclusive club called Everybody. I also told the woman that she had a lot to be proud of, but that she also lived with a nagging doubt keeping her from fully embracing life. I told her this doubt was "likely financial or romantic," because those two things sum up roughly 100 percent of problems in the universe.

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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The universe then revealed to me that she enjoyed movies, music, and thought she would've gotten further by 35.

She said, "Yes, financial!" and lauded me on my psychic abilities. Shortly thereafter, I was hired into the realm of professional psychics. Sadly, I was not taught how to psi-blast, nor issued a cape.

Being a Phone Psychic Can Be Insanely Lucrative

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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There are all kinds of downsides to this sort of work: No 401(k), having to lie and exploit the gullible, the medical bills incurred after psychic duels -- but at least the hours are flexible. You're expected to work 40 hours a week, but which hours are up to you. Here's how it works: you dial in, and your number goes green whenever you get a call, just like suicide hotlines. They monitor how long you spend talking to each client, and you keep taking calls until your personal well of bullshit dries up. You know those "work from home and make $5000 a month" ads that get plastered around college campuses? This is what that's about.

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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Still seems kinda light for a workplace where half the staff should be able to predict the lotto numbers.

But to make that kind of wage, you have to keep your callers talking. Extending the duration of the call is key. How you do that varies: you can pause a lot and put gaps in between clusters of words. You can feign shitty reception with the spirit world:

"I'm getting the signal now ... hold up ... wait ..."

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"The light is at the end of a tunnel; shitty reception is a given."

They're going to hang up on you eventually if it's just 10 solid minutes of you going "waaaait for iiiit." So at some point you need to some psychic-ing. You can learn a lot about a person by their area code and the sound of their voice. Pair that with a few basic observations, and you're golden: older women calling psychics tend to be single; they're either divorced or they've just lost their husband. They also tend to have a pet: cats if they're from the East Coast, or dogs if they're from the west. The goal was to fit your caller into a rough category so you could impress them with your "insight" into their life. They're predisposed to believe, and a few accurate predictions hook them in for longer calls.

It's those long calls where you make the most money. The first five minutes were free, but after that my customers paid $9.26 a minute, and I got a solid 40 percent of each call. Obviously you wanted to keep them on the line as long as possible, but if they broke an hour your cut bumped up to 55 percent. Meet those criteria, and you're making $280 per hour. The median wage for a nuclear engineer works out to about $50 per hour, and most of those poor suckers probably have to put on pants.

People Call Psychic Hotlines for Astoundingly Dumb Reasons

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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One of my favorite calls was somebody who wanted a psychic reading of her cat. It had been throwing up and she wanted to know why. I hemmed and hawed, "It feels like a stress around something involving morning or evening ... is she being fed regularly?" Eventually it became clear that the cat was really sick and unfortunate enough to belong to someone who thought psychics had more training than veterinarians. The call ended with me saying, "I think the cat wants to go to the vet, and throwing up is the sign she's giving you."

In fairness to me, I'm pretty sure that prediction was true.

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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True or not, I absolutely went on to add "pet psychic" to my resume.

One woman called wanting advice on which flowers would bolster her garden's psychic energy. I wound up Googling some pretty flowers and said, "Chrysanthemums look nice; they heighten your psychic abilities, and you want to plant them on the left side of the garden." I expounded on that for 45 minutes, and while proud may not be the right word for what I felt, it was definitely a significant achievement. At least the devil might be impressed, when I tell him in hell.

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"Nice job working the whole "left thing" in there."

I once had a college kid call who wanted me to figure out the answers to a test. That call lasted maybe 10 minutes before I said, "You're not focusing enough on the specific teacher; do you have any other class stresses?"

"Yes ..."

"I can't focus in on just one of them, because there are so many."

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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I didn't need the "spirits" to tell me the "fog" on his focus wasn't metaphorical.

I don't know how that kid wound up doing on his test, but hopefully he learned that studying is more effective than the word of a phone psychic. That seems like a lesson worth about $50.

Phone Psychics Operate by a Strict Moral Code

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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Here is that code:

"Don't advise them to do anything illegal."

That's it.

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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It may not have the grandeur of other creeds, but at least ours fits on one tablet.

Literally anything else you do to gouge your fellow man is totally aces. But I'm a human being with what I like to think is a good set of morals, and I started feeling bad about it. In fairness, the callers believed that psychics both: existed and that they plied their trade over the phone rather than winning lotteries or manipulating the stock market. Somebody was going to take advantage of them. Still, though, it's kind of a shitty thing to do. And it wears on you.

I had a four-hour call once. It was almost the entirety of my shift for the night, and I wound up being the one who cut it off. I made some sort of claim about needing to "recharge my powers," but I was really just completely emotionally drained. This elderly woman was going to die soon, and she wanted to check in on all her departed friends first to get a preview of what heaven would be like. She was basically asking me to act out a whole high school reunion full of people I didn't know. I actually thought it was sweet at the time. She said, "I know I'll be in heaven soon, and I want to touch base with all these people, and I need to be sure I'm going to see them there." Of course, I pretended we got in touch with everybody, because the first rule of psychically contacting somebody's dead loved ones is never pretend they're burning in hell. I know you have a great devil-voice impression; this is not the time to use it.

4 Bizarre Realities of Life as a Phone Psychic
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Save him for telemarketing, where he belongs.

I distinctly remember the call that made me quit: a young guy was calling because his parents had just died in a car crash, and he was contemplating suicide. I just couldn't respond. I said something stupid along the lines of, "I see something good for you coming in the near future." Then when the call ended, I looked his number up online, called the local police department, and warned them. Work snapped at me for violating his confidentiality.

That guy wound up pushing me over the edge. I started dropping phone calls because I just couldn't work up the energy to lie. My paychecks were getting smaller and smaller, so I resigned and never made another prediction.

I'm still exactly as psychic as I was when I started the job.

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