My wife and I often take long evening walks around Burbank. Usually we're strolling under street lamps on the quieter side streets of the city, but occasionally our path takes us past restaurants and businesses, often past the bright neon lights of psychic shops around town.
Was it the neon lights that drew me in? I don't know, but I wanted to understand how one makes a living being a psychic. Unsure where to start, I consulted the closest thing to a psychic I know — Google. Whether it was Google or fate itself, my search led me to Alma Carey.
“[They were] gruesome, I mean just eww-type dreams. That isn't the sort of thing I dream,” Carey recalled.
The next morning she met up with her mother, who told her she also had dreamed of despair and illness. After speaking with hotel management, they were told that during World War II, Nazi sympathizers used the hotel for torture.
Psychic ability or coincidence? It could go either way, but if my mom and I started having the same dreams, I know I'd be a little freaked.
Her intuition has affected her relationships, for better or worse. Carey says a boyfriend in New York could pick up on her thoughts while on his commute home, finding himself stopping by a deli to buy butter for no other reason than Carey thinking they needed some. Her second husband wasn't as enamored with her “ability,” and after the divorce, Carey decided to go into business helping people as best as she knew how.
“This was an ability that could be put to use; I didn't think this was such a big deal,” she said.
The service one buys from Carey is counseling. She's also an ordained minister.
At the core of her business is an offering you might expect from a life coach, someone to help sort out problems and offer an outsider's perspective. She's garnered three reviews on the consumer website Yelp, all positive.
I was expecting — something else. Someone eager to provide proof, to instantly validate what she did as “real,” to come up with something that would blow my hair back. I was waiting for the crystal ball to come out, or more new-age mumbo-jumbo, at the very least.
“That's why psychics get bad reputations — you get dingbats left and right,” she said.
While the stereotype of a psychic may be that of Professor Marvel going through Dorothy's bag while her eyes are closed and “reading” her future in his crystal ball, that is not always the case. Often, you run across someone with stories that, taken together, add up to maybe one or two too many coincidences to be easily brushed off.
For skeptics like me, the trouble with people claiming to have ESP is that the ability cannot be scientifically measured and tested the way a person's hearing or sight might be tested. Yet people like Carey will walk into a home or business they have had no logical reason to ever have visited, yet come out knowing weird details about it or the people who inhabited it. It's a measurement in a different way.
Carey has performed such investigations with her friend Don Woodruff, of Glendale.
Woodruff says they will visit a space on someone's invitation, and will experience swings in emotions that are somehow connected to the space. At Raleigh Studios' Soundstage 5 for example, Carey and Woodruff told an employee they felt like someone was gravely injured there, and were told that someone was killed from a collapsed catwalk there in the mid-1920s.
My psychic friend Google can also relay that story by quoting page 157 of the book “Haunted Hollywood” by Tom Ogden. And in that, psychics will always have an uphill battle, to which Woodruff is always ready to respond.
“I'll confront doubters — if I'm doing a reading and I sense someone doesn't believe me, that's OK. [I tell them] their skepticism will be rewarded by knowledge eventually,” he said.
Bolstering his case is the recent rise in popularity of television shows that explore the paranormal. Shows like TLC's “Long Island Medium,” Travel Channel's “The Dead Files” and “Ghost Adventures” and SyFy Channel's “Ghost Hunters” have brought the ideas of psychic abilities and paranormal activity into people's living rooms.
There's a lot about the paranormal that logic can explain. I left my phone conversation with Carey feeling good that the stereotype doesn't always prevail, that there are people out there taking a pragmatic approach to ESP and the paranormal who can understand the skepticism. They know what they know.
Before we hang up, she asks me, “Are you going to see your wife now?” Until then we hadn't spoken about her, or my plans for the day.
That was a weird thing to ask out of the blue. I was just about to pick her up from work.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn't trying to guess winning lottery numbers, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.