We used to go to the occult section at the bookstore and look at the decks. My standard for a “good” deck was that it was pretty. They keep tarot cards locked up in cases in bookstores. I guess people will steal them. Or steal cards, one at a time? I bought a deck. The cards had gold backs and the drawings had not a whiff of cartoon. It was called “medieval,” I think, and they looked as mystical as I thought they should.
Death was a svelte skeleton striking a dance move atop the ocean. There were some heads floating in the ocean. They looked peaceful, though, like, Oh, well, these things happen. The Star was a naked Botticelli blonde woman crouched by a stream. The 10 of Wands showed an s-shaped path, a donkey with his masters behind him, approaching, though he can’t quite tell, robbers in the bushes.
Once I paid to have my palm read. I was wandering around New York and it suddenly seemed like something to do. The woman had a narrow storefront, with a curtain behind that suggested she lived there, too. The palm reading was cheaper than the tarot. That’s why I chose it. I could not afford to throw away $20, but I could afford to throw away $10. She held my hand and told me to beware of an olive-skinned man. She asked if I wanted more of her services, and I firmly declined. I needed train fare.
I was left with acres of years to wonder about skin tone. Women might know about these things since they buy makeup, but all I knew was that I did not have anything like olive skin. Makeup told me I was pale, but not deadly pale.
A booklet came with my tarot deck, explaining how to set out the cards, what the different positions represented, what the different cards represented. When we would sit on the floor of a dorm room or at a kitchen table, I believed that reading someone’s tarot was a nice way to get a new angle on a problem or get to know someone.
I’ve never felt myself the slightest bit intuitive. In fact, when I’ve had a Very Bad Feeling, it comes to nothing. More often than not, I’ve had no particular feeling about meeting someone who would become significant to me. In the moment, I think, I can tune in, to the feeling in a room or inside myself. For the future, though, I have nothing.
There’s a new fortune teller on Main, by the knife shop and the furniture store. New neon is up in the storefront. At eighteen, I wanted to know my future so desperately, to know that it would be all right, like my blurry fantasies of it. Now I don’t want to know. I have too much power or pride in my choices and my efforts to want to know.
The human brain creates patterns where there are none, and, in most of us, is foolishly optimistic when imagining the future. This is what the brain does. It’s nothing personal.
One of our lessons last Sunday was the Prodigal Son. Sermons on that lesson usually focus on the poor older brother and how he should get over being annoyed at his spoiled younger sibling. Let’s face it: the people in church are likely to identify with the good kid.
Completely left out of the story are all the most interesting parts, that is, what the Prodigal did on his bender. We get “he squandered his property in dissolute living,” which could be anything from lots of cocaine to lots of buttered popcorn. According to the good brother, Prodigal has “devoured… property with prostitutes.” I’m not sure we can take good brother at his word.
What I liked about the story this time is that no one tells the Prodigal, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Not Dad, not even older brother, who is merely pissed that he hasn’t gotten his own party. Sometimes people need to go Prodigal. Maybe it’s not good. Maybe it is. You’re going where you’re going. Which is not to say that I’m a fatalist, just that human nature lead to certain inevitabilities.
Sometimes you have to go too far to know where too far is. No one can tell you that with a map or by looking at your hand.