The freebie box in the foyer of the Sonoma Valley Library is a repository for the most unloved and unreadable books ever written. If these titles are worthy of being read, surely they would be shelved rather than moldering in a box, yes? Having been bargained binned myself on occasion, I peruse these musty literary enclaves out of professional curiosity, which is how I discovered Fortune Telling for Fun and Profit. The title appealed to me because it speaks to questions key to the human condition: what’s next and how much can I get for it?
Now, I’ve never been one for parapsychology, I have enough trouble with psychology in and of itself, namely my own, that I needn’t spruce it up with a prefix. I file notions of the supernatural, ESP, palmistry, astrology, Tantric sex et al, in the portion of my mind that was vacated when the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny split town after trashing the place with memories of bloody baby teeth and unfound Easter eggs. I have little use for fortune telling – I’ve seen the movie, I know how it ends – but I have to admit, I’m always keen to have a leg up on the suckers of the world, I suppose from fear of becoming one myself.
As a shifty-eyed boy growing up in the SoCo suburbs, I dissected magic kits to reveal the molded plastic innards of their chicanery and knew, dubiously, that the purchase price of a child’s soul was a two-headed coin. Likewise, I was enamored by the ads on the back of comic books that hawked wise-ass trinkets like hand-buzzers and X-ray glasses (which I finally purchased from the Tiddle E. Winks Vintage Five and Dime on East Napa a few weeks ago and promptly used to diagnose a hairline fracture in my denial mechanism).
Such notions inspired me to become a self-styled con-kid, a proto-Ricky Jay, fleecing the neighborhood children with all manner of grade school treachery. I once goaded the gullible into putting their lunch money into a slot carved into a “magic” cardboard box I pulled on a wagon, out of which would tumble a ten penny tchotchke. In retrospect, it wasn’t the prize that was worth the little handfuls of coins, but the experience of participating in something unexplainable and mysterious. It was a set-up that capitalized on my marks’ need to believe. The box, of course, contained more kid brother than magic, but the con proved an object lesson in faith, which we know can fuel anything from rapture to war.
Fortune Telling for Fun and Profit was published in the mid-80s and a brief thumbing of its pages suggested the tome lived up to its title – but then titles aren’t set in philosopher’s stone are they? A little online bibliographical research revealed that the book was originally published as Fortune Telling for Fun and Popularity, which presumably was too socially cloying for the then emerging “Me” generation. Besides, all a fortune teller has to do to win friends and influence people is to tell everyone how filthy rich they’re going to become (which is rather like buying friends with Monopoly money, isn’t it?).
For a moment, I considered absconding with the book and becoming a secondhand psychic myself, but alas, I can hardly divine my own next move, let alone some else’s. Later, I regretted forgoing the future and returned to the library to fetch the book. It was gone. My only recourse was what has come to be termed the psychic’s salvo: muttering “I knew that was going to happen.”
Originally published in the Sonoma Valley Sun.