My mother once told me, "Never pass up the opportunity to learn a skill -- you never know when it could be useful." When I was 19 my father lost his job and it became clear that if I wanted to go to college I'd have to pick up some skills real quick. So I cleaned houses, worked for answering services, was a chiropractic assistant, was a personal shopper as well as a "mystery shopper." I have waitressed, I have done telemarketing and telesurveying, I have worked in a movie theatre; I have babysat, I have cut up vegetables for a salad bar at 5 a.m. and I have addressed wedding invitations in calligraphy.In college I learned more skills. One of these was how to read tarot cards.When the country club I was working for full time recently decided that my salary was an "unneeded expense" they'd rather forego, I dug into my bag of skills and went to work looking for a new job. I needed full-time employment, but was willing to accept almost anything in the interim. That's when I saw an ad in the Weekly. It promised me that I could make $300-$500 a week as a telephone psychic for a famous network. The image of hanging out in my room with my tabby cat and a couple of good books floated through my mind. I could be painting my toenails deep bold coral and waiting for the telephone to ring, and getting paid for it! I could pay off some of my plastic bills without having to temp, or even to babysit. I could make $10 an hour in my pajamas!In my interview my supervisor told me that it was OK if I had no experience. They seemed more than willing to train. "Overall, these people are lonely and just want someone to talk to," she said. She told me that only 20 percent of the job was the actual tarot card reading. "You will find that more of it is after the reading. They will ask questions and they will tell you what is wrong, what concerns them." Though my supervisor was more interested in my ability to keep someone on the telephone to rack up profits than she was in helping someone, the Network covered all its bases. "If you speak to a woman whose husband is beating her, I want you to encourage her to seek professional help," I was instructed. To back this up, each "psychic" was given two sheets of hotline numbers -- everything from domestic violence numbers to poison control centers to a service that runs background checks on babysitters.My toenail polish fantasy soon died when I was informed that I would be paid by the time I had a client on the phone. "Once you are good, the time between calls will lessen to a minute or even just half a minute, and you will have no problem putting in enough hours," she assured me. I was required to be on the line a total of 20-25 hours each week. Incentives were given for obtaining a caller's full name and address and enrolling clients in a psychic club. But there was more. "If you go to the kitchen to get a soda, if you go to the bathroom, you need to log off the system so you will not receive telephone calls," I was told.This job was not looking as easy as it first seemed. Similar to working as a real estate agent, I would only earn what I could manage to bring in. The company would rake in $3.99 a minute after the first few minutes, yet I would only receive $10 an hour. Putting in 40 or even 50 hours each week would not qualify me for benefits, such as health insurance. I would work as independent contractor and deduct my own taxes. So instead of earning $10 an hour, I figured I would really be earning about $7 an hour.But I needed all the cash I could get, so I got rid of call-waiting on my telephone. I spent $10 photocopying the log sheet, bought an astrology book and prepared myself. And soon, whether it was three in the morning or three in the afternoon, the calls all began to sound the same.9:30 a.m. Get up and eat breakfast. Shower and dress in sweatpants and alma mater T-shirt. Do a 15-minute meditation on the seven chakras and grounding my energy. This is supposed to clear my personal issues from my head so that I am able to read best for my clients. Fill Weight Watchers tumbler full of ice, lemons and water. 10:00 a.m. Log onto system. If you dial my telephone from the outside world you'll get a busy signal. The Network will now be keeping me occupied.10:10 a.m. - 10:44 a.m. "Thank you for calling the Network, this is Tabitha at extension 10485." (I got a kick out of the irony -- Tabitha was the half-witch, half-human daughter on the TV show Bewitched.) My caller says good morning and I write down the time of the call and her first name. "Judy" sounds a little young, so I ask her date of birth, making sure that she is at least 18. "Tarot card reading or astrology?" I ask her, feeling more like a waitress than any sort of mystic. I shuffle my cards and ask her to take several deep breaths and to try to concentrate on what she wants answered. I do this for two reasons: It makes them feel involved and it keeps them from interrupting my concentration as I interpret the cards. All looks pretty average, but I do see the "Death" card in her near future. "I see new beginnings for you Judy, in the next three to six months." Looking to the next card in her layout I see "The Empress," so I continue with, "You are entering a period of positive changes in your friendships and I see a long-lasting positive romance." She tells me about her friends in school now and we decide that she needs to join an extracurricular club in college. Her last card is "The Moon," so I ask about her relationship with her mother. "I see this has been a stressful time in your relationship with her -- are you arguing about everything?" Judy laughs and tells me several stories. I encourage her to try to see her mother's side of the story, that from what she has told me it sounds like she is more concerned about Judy's safety than about not letting her grow up. "You're so good, Tabitha. I mean, really, really good," she gushes. I take down her last name and address to enroll her in our psychic club. She takes down my extension in her address book to call me later on directly.Thirty-four minutes. I sigh because I have at least another four and a half hours to go today -- its our minimum requirement.11:03 - 11:16 a.m. "Am I pregnant?" The woman on the other line doesn't even care what method of prediction I use. I encourage her to see her doctor no matter what I tell her. "You are the most powerful source of your own intuition in your life." I tell people this all the time -- it is the truth -- yet few want to believe it. "I am not showing a child in the next year for you in the cards," I say. Scanning the hand quickly, I start to ask her another question. She cuts me off. "You dumb bitch, I am pregnant!" She calls to her husband, who is watching TV -- I can hear the roar of televised sports in the background. "See, these people don't work! I told you!" Her husband yells at her to hang up the telephone. The receiver slams down in my ear. She just spent almost $80 to tell me that I am an idiot.11:18 - 12:10 p.m. Sheryl from North Carolina is calling me. "Should I leave my husband?" she asks hesitatingly. "I mean, is it a good idea right now?" Several questions later it turns out that she is calling while packing boxes. The moving van is coming tomorrow. She was just on a cigarette break and saw one of our commercials on television. There's nothing like professional psychic advice when you need it.12:11 p.m. I log off to eat lunch.12:15 - 1:00 p.m. I open a container of mixed-fruit yogurt and pour a glass of grapefruit juice, thinking about my new position. I figured I'd save a lot of money, but between faxing in my log sheets and calling in my hours to my supervisor each day, I'm practically making negative dollars. I even had to buy a new deck of tarot cards because the first one tore to pieces (they really aren't made for daily use). I do a couple of yoga stretches and take a 15-minute walk around the block. I come back home and open a window for fresh air. I hope that the noise won't distract clients.1:01 p.m. I log on.1:05 - 2:00 p.m. "Another psychic on your line told me that there was a whole bunch of money hidden somewhere in my house and I want to know where it's at!" Monique gives me her former psychic's name and extension number, asking me to transfer her to Patricia. "If you dialed her extension and you were put through to me, that means Patricia is not on right now," I explain. As I listen to the rest of what "Patricia told me," I figure she just told her a lot of this to keep her on the telephone. After all, we're paid by the minute; the Network doesn't care what we say as long as it's entertaining and keeps people calling back.2:05 - 3:00 p.m. A male voice. I perk up because this is unusual -- nearly all of my callers are female. However, the voice has feminine inflections and when I ask for a name I get "Sheila." When I read for Sheila the most prominent card in her hand is "The Sun." I smile to myself because this is a very masculine card. Sheila is concerned about the two men in his/her life. I tell Sheila to make them realize that she may love their company, but she doesn't need them. "You are stronger than even you realize, and you need to make them realize that you can have others on your dance card if you want to."3:10 - 3:55 p.m. I get a 20-year-old female who spends the entire time telling me all about her boyfriend's mother. "She said like three words to me at his birthday party," she says, obviously upset. "So does she like me? Or no?" Sometimes a caller only needs a sympathetic listener. I give what my customers want.4:00 - 4:55 p.m. Another male voice. It's "Jim" from New Jersey and his main concern is legal matters. Upon further questioning it's revealed that both of his ex-wives are suing him for child support. Jim has five children and his argument for not giving anyone a dime is weak. "Why should I send all this money there?" he asks me. "I ain't over there no more." I take a deep breath and remember my own parents ugly divorce. Using my newfound powers for good, I do a reading telling him how successful his children will be as adults. "Your children are all going to remember what a good father you were and how grateful they were for your help during childhood," I say. Score one for the sisterhood (though I'm not sure that Gloria Steinem would approve of my methods). I don't know if Jim's first son will become a lawyer, his next a department store manager, or any of the rest of it. But I do know that they will eat this month and have new sneakers for summer camp.4:58 - 5:35 p.m. A woman refuses to give me her name but wants to talk about her soul mate. Four different psychics from different networks have all told her about this one man. We discuss where they will meet and decide it is at her sister's wedding. She is going to wear her lilac dress that is off-the-shoulders and have her hair done in an up-sweep. We spend about 40 minutes trying to nail down as many specifics as we can, and then she says to me, "What will I do if he doesn't show up? What if all of you are wrong?"5:45 - 6:35 p.m. A caller tells me in her first sentence that she is "Debbie and I live in a trailer," sort of like an AA introduction. She wants to start her own pottery business and wants to make sure that her ex-husband is going to leave her alone. She has five children. I give her several hotline numbers from my Network booklet and her lottery numbers.6:36 - 8:30 p.m. I log off to eat dinner. I watch the local news and a Mad About You rerun. Then I put Friends on while I drink more water. I walk around the living room, feeling like an animal in the zoo -- trapped in my own habitat. With this job it looks like you will have a lot of freedom, but you actually arrange your entire life around the telephone.8:30 p.m. Log on.8:32 - 9:07 p.m. I have a "callback." "This is Karen," she says. "Do you remember me?" I assure her that of course I do. She lost her job today because of downsizing and we both agree that companies are doing it everywhere. Karen has a very nice telephone voice and for a moment I even think of referring her to the Network. But she is so enthused about how accurate I was the last time that I don't want to blow my cover. It's like my Grammy once told me: "People hear what they want to, not what you tell them."9:15 - 10:10 p.m. "It's Beth." She is a committed Star Trek fan and works in a casino in Atlantic City. She starts talking the minute I pick up the phone and it's like stepping into a river: You have no idea when it's going to end. No advice, no predictions, just a $258 charge on her phone bill next month.10:10 - 10:40 p.m. The phone is silent. If you had called me I'd have $5 by now.10:45 p.m. Log off. I decide to take a nap. There's a Danielle Steel movie on tonight and I figure that more women are watching that than dialing the phone. When you're in the entertainment business it's best to know the competition and when you are beat. I set the alarm for 1 a.m. because my boss told me yesterday that she needs more people logged on at that time.1:00 a.m. The alarm goes off and I log on. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.1:15-2:10 a.m. A real "hotline." Rebecca is crying and eight minutes go by before I even get an idea of what's wrong with her. She's just left her violent husband and her mother wants her to go back to him. No children. I get my hotline numbers out again. She stays on the telephone; she wants to talk to me. So I let her. I used to feel guilty about this, until my boss told me that if they just tell the telephone company they didn't make the call we write off the charges. The telephone company can't disconnect your service if you don't pay for a 900 call, either.I hear a beep on my line, which signals that a call will reach its limit in five minutes and I should push for the psychic club enrollment. I just repeat the hotline numbers for her, hoping she will call back. She never does.2:15 - 3:07 a.m. I get one of the "Is he cheating on me with her?" phone calls that I hate so much. This one has a twist because he is cheating on his mistress with his wife.3:07 a.m. I log off. Sleepytime now that I have had several nontraditional bedtime stories. I set the alarm for 7:30 a.m.7:30 a.m. Get up. Do Kathy Smith aerobic tape and then eat breakfast.8:30 a.m. Call several jobs I saw in Sunday's newspaper. All four say that they will have someone get back to me. I sigh, knowing that I will be on the psychic line when they're trying to reach me. I leave a friend's number that has an answering machine and remind myself to check the tape when I break for lunch.9:10 a.m. Log on again. Another day of false hopes begins.I decided I had been a part of the Network far too long when I began to receive callbacks from people I had spoken with my first week.Whether lighthearted or serious, all the callers had one thing in common: They all wanted to feel that hope was in order, that good was coming to them. Most just needed someone to talk to. But they did not need me sitting in my bedroom trying to keep my cat from chewing my tarot cards, or mastering the art of opening a Diet Pepsi can with minimal sound effects. They needed a friend, a counselor, a priest, or even a 12-step program. Yet, without fail, these people all went for the quick fix -- that pot of money hidden in their house. They did not want to figure out how to solve their problems realistically. After a few short weeks, I just couldn't go on deceiving people for a so-called living. I quit.My psychic friend Lorena told me that she saw a job in a travel agency. I think I see some job interviews in my very near future. Maybe even a typing test.