Card Sharks 

Why are tarot-card readers drawn to the intersection of Telegraph and Channing? Must be in the cards.

Page 4 of 5

"This card, this is a reminder card that tells me, there's someone out there you think is better than you. It's not true, though. No one is better than you, but for some reason you think they are. This card is reminding you -- you don't have to think other people are better."

Grant continued to chew gum, but now he'd crossed his arms.

"Now, this Chariot card is telling me you're ready to take your true path. At the same time, it's in the air, and these guys down here" -- Charles pointed to men on the ground attempting to corral the chariot with ropes -- "they're the ones trying to hold you back."

Again, Grant and Jenelle traded glances, surely thinking of friends who were destined to stay in Martinez.

From there, Charles repeated variations of the same theme: Grant was ready to make important decisions, and he'd need to leave some people behind if he wanted to follow his true path. After ten minutes, Grant and Jenelle thanked him and headed up Channing to find their car.

The two were hardly impressed. "He kept repeating stuff I already knew," Grant said. "He didn't tell me anything I didn't already know."

Jenelle was more disappointed. She'd persuaded Grant to come to Telegraph for a reading, and now they were returning without an experience.

Jenelle said she hoped the "other guy" would be out here. "He's really good," she said of Wizard. She tugged at her boyfriend's waist. "He told me I was about to get into a relationship ... and the next thing ..."

It took nearly a week, but Wizard finally returned. On the afternoon after the presidential election, he wore his familiar velvet top hat and was found sitting legs crossed, hands in his lap as usual, but in good spirits. Experience told him that the Halloween weekend, oddly enough, didn't bring much business to his table, and the wet and cold weather wasn't helping, he said. On a recent Friday, he'd been hired to work a Cal alumni banquet, where he did twenty readings in two and a half hours.

"People had fun," Wizard laughed, aware that his role at the banquet was more for schmaltzy entertainment value than serious prognostication. "I put on my cape, my wizard's hat, the whole bit."

Wizard chuckled at Charles' belief that he'd gotten depressed recently. "It's not that I get depressed," he said. "It's that I understand the flow out here. If I feel like it's going to be worthless to sit out here, I won't."

About thirty minutes later, one of his regular customers arrived, a secretary from Cal. She comes about every two weeks and pays him $20 for a reading.

A few days later, on a Sunday afternoon, Wizard sat on the eastern side of Telegraph, not in his usual spot. The previous day the Cal Bears had hosted the University of Oregon in a nationally televised football game, packing eighty thousand souls into Memorial Stadium, and many of them spilled onto Telegraph. Regardless, a day after the game, Wizard was still frustrated -- he hadn't flipped one card on Saturday. Earlier, a passing teenager had heckled, "Hey, what's my future?" and Wizard responded coldly, "You got one."

This day, Wizard admitted he was fed up, and now his immediate goal was just to make it to June 2, 2005 -- his 35th anniversary on Telegraph, a date he remembers easily because it happens to be his mother's birthday. He was hoping to do gangbuster readings in the coming months so he could save up money and purchase a vending license to make and sell jewelry and get off the streets for good, his perpetual goal.

But business had been so slow, he'd been forced to lower his price for a reading to $10. He dropped the idea of a "donation" for now, and wedged a small yellow cardboard sign above his table to announce the new price.

"He's killing me," Wizard grumbled, shrugging a shoulder in Charles' direction, who happened to have a client at his table. "He doesn't even need to be out here. He's on disability. ... As far as I'm concerned, the guy's a butthead."

Wizard eyed his competitor and pulled an already half-smoked cigarette from his coat pocket, then launched into a monologue about how others on the avenue are ripping off people. There's a woman down the block who does psychic readings over the phone; there are gutter punks who hold out a cup for change, and use the money to get drunk all day long; there are the cops who don't ticket the punks and let them get away with it.

"I'm not out here putting curses on people or telling them what's in their future," Wizard insisted. "I'm a businessman making an honest living, helping people, giving them advice and genuine insight into their lives. I'm not doing it just for the hell of it, or just for fun. You have to gain a certain amount of credibility with people, and I've got that because I've been out here day in and day out for nearly 35 years. I'm not someone who's going to flip over a few cards, take your $10, and take off for eight years."

Then Wizard complained about Ali, a reader who sometimes shows up on the weekends, and how that weekend warrior had "one person right after the other, practically lining up," on the day of the football game. He chalked up Ali's wealth on the day of the game, and Wizard's lack of business, as a surge of energy that went Ali's way.

"The energy fluctuates day to day," he said. "The energy was on that side of the street yesterday."


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