When your heart gets broken, you can either stick around and suffer through it, or get yourself gone. Alyson Mead decided to move from New York to Los Angeles to take a job as a phone psychic after a bad breakup. But as she struggles so accept her gift, while dispensing love advice to daily callers, her own dating life proves to be less than glamorous.
Searching for Sassy tells the true story of how a professional psychic healed her heart and got back on track, while learning to claim, appreciate, and develop her gifts. It's a rare and humorous behind-the-scenes look into this billion-dollar industry, in a way few have ever seen. Mead's path to healing may have been different than most. But this book is for anyone who's ever felt a little different, and maybe a tad challenged in the love department.
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SEARCHING FOR SASSYAN L.A. PHONE PSYCHIC'S TALES OF LIFE, LUST & LOVE
By Alyson Mead
BALBOA PRESSCopyright © 2012 Alyson Mead
All right reserved.
I am (re)born.
How did I get here? Who is responsible?
These are some, but not all, of the questions I ask myself as I park my stuff at a desk that defines nondescript, its beige prefab contours blending seamlessly into the slightly darker beige (yet fully carpeted) walls of my new home—a cubicle at AstralPlanet. I am just thirty, in full possession of my faculties, with an advanced degree from an ivy-beset eastern university. I am fit, attractive, vibrant and alive. A little hungry, but I noticed a taco truck on my way in. Maybe it will still be there when I get my first break.
What am I doing at a psychic line?
New York City, my former home, had begun to close in like those spiky death walls in Batman, in the weeks following my breakup with Lonny. Five years is a long time to spend with someone so clearly not interested in a long-term future. But that's fodder for some future rant. Note to self: never again form or maintain a long-term relationship involving shared friends. In the all-too-real event of your demise as a couple, these poor souls will have to choose. And unless you want to spend all or most of your time lobbying them for support, you will most likely be the one who loses out.
Speaking of walls closing in, I'm doing my best to listen as my new boss takes me through the rules of the job. His name is Martin. He's tall and dark, with feathered hair and a decidedly Baby Boomer attitude. He oozes enlightened masculinity in a Peter Coyote kind of way, touching my arm repeatedly as he illustrates how to operate the phones, how to transfer information to the call sheets we're given.
"Your phone will ring when one of the managers sends you a reading. You'll pick up, preferably on one ring, two at the most, and state your name."
I look at him doubtfully. The breakup has made me gun-shy, but he doesn't have to know that.
"You can make up a name, if you like. Lots of readers have a psychic name they use."
"Anyway, you'll get their name and date of birth, which goes here ... from that, you can tell if they're old enough to be on the call. If you get anyone younger than 18, tell them they have to get permission from a parent or guardian to have a reading."
I must be looking fuzzy, because he asks, "Am I going too fast?"
Not that it's beyond my comprehension. But all I can smell is incense, and hear the whirring of the copier right outside the door. The incense is something dark and cloying, and makes me a little swoony.
"No, I'm fine," I say.
"All right, then. The most important thing to remember is this: they'll have one question they want to ask. But your job is to keep them on the phone, so you'll want to ask them, 'What else can I answer for you today,' or 'Do you want me to look more deeply into that' ... something along those lines."
"You want me to keep them on the phone?" Oh silly girl.
"You're being paid a base salary, per hour, but your salary includes an additional ten cents for every minute you can keep a caller on the line. There is a caveat, though."
"As a rule, you don't want to go past twenty minutes, so keep an eye on the clock." Here, he indicates it, as if I'm a three-year old. Der, a clock.
"Twenty minutes," I say, noting it on a pad.
"We've found that if a reading goes over twenty minutes, people tend to complain to the phone company."
I smile weakly at him. Time has never been my strong suit.
He touches my arm again, soft as a rubber hammer, and gives me a smile. "You're going to be great," he says.
When he leaves the room, the phones start ringing again. A coincidence? I don't know yet.
Mercy is the manager on duty. A short blond with a wide-open corn-fed face, she radiates health and wellbeing. I know her already. She's how I got the job in the first place. Having spent the dough from a recent screenwriting assignment and finding myself with no real prospects, I spent my last twenty bucks on a tarot reading in an aromatherapy shop near a movie theater I attend frequently.
As the reader on duty, Mercy told me general but positive things about the future. But I have forgotten about the future. Los Angeles, which has seemed like sex and freedom covered with whipped cream and angels since my high school days spent worshipping the Doors, now feels spread-out and unfriendly. I know just a few people after two months in town. And the city's strange beauty, seen on postcards and television screens the world over, seems hidden from my view. All I see are fancy cars, unhappy faces and strip malls. Ugly indeed.
Mercy is sunny today, a regular weather system unto herself. I wonder if she ever has rainy spells. "Hey, great to see you, Chica. You found your desk all right?"
"Yeah, it'll work."
She laughs. "It's usually pretty quiet in the afternoon," she says, "But later on, you'll probably get more readings. I'll just switch off with you and Katie. I'll do one, then give you three or four in a row. That way, you'll make more money."
She turns to a woman on my left, another blond, with dark streaks throughout. "Have you met Katie?"
"No," I say, turning to her.
Katie's a few years older than I am, with bright blue eyes and a guarded air.
"Hey, I'm Alyson." I stick out my hand; it's what I was taught to do.
She looks at my hand strangely, and then reaches for it. But not to shake, as I'm assuming. Instead, she turns my palm up to face her. "Look at that life line," she says, turning to Mercy. "Have you ever seen one like that? It goes clear over the Mound of Venus."
Mercy takes my hand, too, twisting and turning it in the low light.
"It's the Love Line that's broken. You'll have to tell us all about that ..."
I try not to seem mortified. Is it that obvious, that I'm challenged in the Love Department? I imagine a bright red siren, beating out a tocsin from my heart.
The phone jangles, and I jump. I would say saved by the bell, but you knew that already.
Cancer, the 4th sign of the zodiac. The nurturer, the homebody, the mothering, sensitive one. I've been reading tarot cards for eight years now, since the summer after I graduated from college, but I need to brush up on my spotty knowledge of astrology. I'm sitting at my desk, waiting for my first actual call to come in:
Cancer in love can be a lovely thing, since this water sign wants to merge with others on a deep level. However, as the crab on the card's face attests, this sign can sometimes be too sensitive for its own good. The crab has a protective shell, and like this sea-going animal, Cancer natives may need to retreat from time to time to recuperate from intense emotional exchanges. Because you value love and family so much, you make a wonderful mate, providing a shoulder to cry on for your significant other when necessary, and creating a homey atmosphere around you.
I think of New York, the sun-baked pavement on the day I left. I think of how tired I have been, trying to work 12-hour days, packing at night, worrying about money and the solo drive across the country. I think of the possessions given away, stuffed into dumpsters, left on the sidewalk—the slow dismantling of my old life. I think of the promise of this western city, its sparkling beaches and movie star homes. I think of the guy I left behind, issuing vague warnings of my inability to find anyone I'd love as much as him, and the one I thought there was a future with here. He, too, broke my heart, just days after I arrived. He's a Cancer.
I find a red pen in my bag and cross out what's written, adding my own opinion in the margin:
Cancer in love can be a ridiculous thing, since this water sign wants to stay away from anything scary and pretend it's all good in the 'hood with the old status quo. Though the Cancer native may want to feel deep, it's anything but, as it prefers personality deficits, fake tits and a complete lack of ambition to anything real. As the crab on this card's face attests, this sign can sometimes be so sensitive, it's fucking annoying. The crab has a protective shell, and you'll wish you had one, too, as this sign loves to break promises, dates and hearts like there's no tomorrow. Like the sea-going animal, Cancer natives may need to retreat from time to time, or maybe forever, from your life. Because they value love and family so much, they make wonderful mates for other people, not you! You provide endless opportunities for crying one's eyes out, and create a homey atmosphere around you, as long as home means an unending emotional hell.
Necessary? You bet.
All right, all right. A tad on the bitter side. Whatever.
It's my paperback, and I'll deface it if I want to.
I look around the room. A few psychics with their heads down, murmuring into their phones, reading, filing their nails, dreaming hard. Mercy's tilted back in her chair, staring at the ceiling tiles. When the phone rings, she picks it up without breaking her gaze, takes the information she needs and points to me.
Bronwyn is the psychic name I've come up with, a nod to my Welsh heritage. "AstralPlanet," I say into the receiver. "This is Bronwyn."
"I want to find out about ..."
"Let me go ahead and get your name first."
"And your date of birth?"
"June 26th, 1972."
A Cancer. Of course.
"Great. What can I help you with today?"
"Like I said, I wanted to find out about my girlfriend."
I shuffle the cards and lay out a quick Celtic Cross. The missionary position of tarot. Quick, simple, not very original, but it gets the job done.
"It looks like you had a girlfriend, but she's not around anymore."
An image forms in my mind. A gray cloud around him. Darkness on the walls, almost like his world is coated in motor oil. I can practically smell him. "She was looking for something else. Something you didn't have, or maybe didn't feel comfortable—"
"I got a job at Domino's, I told her. A good job ... wait, I gotta put more money in."
I can hear the coins, a small universe of them, chunking against the metal of the payphone.
He doesn't wait until the noise subsides, so I only hear part of his next salvo. "... you gotta look like the New Kids on the Block or something. Everyone's prejudiced against people who don't go to college, you know?"
I dart a glance to the clock. Just three minutes have passed. "Yeah," I murmur.
"I mean, it's like you get a better job or something if you go."
"Well, college does—"
"So my girlfriend's not coming back?"
"I don't see that, no."
Remembering my training, I venture, "Do you want me to—"
"Another psychic told me something traumatic was going to happen to me. Is that true?"
I hate being interrupted. I fucking hate being interrupted. It's like this guy has found and pushed one of my biggest buttons without even trying.
I throw a few more cards down, and another image appears. A loss of virginity, of innocence. Somehow getting noticed for a weird talent he has. I see him writing a pamphlet with a unique perspective. Something military? No, it's a militia, with white supremacist elements. A doomsday prophecy, sketched out in a bunker.
"No, I don't see anything traumatic. You're going to be fine."
He hangs up the phone without a thank you. Seven and a half minutes has passed. I round it up to eight and update my sheet.
We all have to lose our cherries sometime.
The taco truck is indeed there when it's time for my break. I emerge into the blinding sunlight, low on the horizon. It bleeds orangey ooze everywhere as I squint to make sure my car is still parked where I left it, on the outskirts of the industrial park where AstralPlanet is located. The landscape is flatter than the plains here, and even the buildings seem to squat on the edge of something sandy colored and benign.
I order two chicken tacos that will hopefully respect my digestive tract. I have gotten used to eating street food in Manhattan, at lunchtime, coming home from clubs, and can't seem to find much of it in L.A. thus far. Hot dogs, knishes, hot pretzels and roasted chestnuts when it's freezing outside. I miss these things fiercely as I sit on the steps and try to open a Diet Pepsi with a broken pull-tab. I forgot they even made those anymore.
Finally, I stab it with a pen and it shoots like a geyser into the air. I water the plants in a trickling brown fountain. They look like they could use a drink.
I can smell the ocean when I get out of the car in Venice. Wanting to get as far away from New York as I could, I've taken a small apartment a block and a half away from the beach. If I walk down one block, I can see the place Jim Morrison used to live, now named after him, and I swear this was not by design. I didn't even know it was there when I rented my place—I just needed a place to live. But it feels somehow right and I am a little surer of my place in the world.
The manager of the apartment building is Rose, who's been around since the '60s. She tells me that the postman served in Vietnam and has flashbacks sometimes, forgets to deliver the mail and instead dumps it into the Pacific. More than once, she has comforted him with tea and more, before sending him back out on his rounds. She has told me not to go down by the beach at night, that homeless guys, some of them violent and withdrawing from meds, will knock me on my white ass to steal anything they can sell or trade for drugs.
Though I'm in the mood for some romantic ocean viewing, I'm inclined to follow her advice for now. So I check the mail (nothing there today—should I be happy or worried?) and head upstairs. Fish, a guy from a popular local band, lived in my apartment before me, gifting me with a drawer full of tools, nails and fuses before he left. He's also left behind an enormous graphic painting on my door, which I've refused to have painted over in his honor, though Rose was kind enough to offer.
I let myself in, nodding to my neighbor across the way, and plop down on the uncomfortable-as-shit futon I bought at Ikea a week or so ago. It's big enough for two average sized people sitting side by side, or three if they have very small asses. My apartment is barely decorated—just a few postcards picked up from my cross-country road trip tacked up over my computer, and I still have to determine how to handle the kitchen area, part of the living room, really, which is delineated with a foot or two of press-on vinyl tile butting up against the indoor-outdoor carpeting.
I hate television, and have yet to hook up my VCR, so I assail my boom box with a mix tape given to me by a friend for the trip—a mix of punk rock, psychobilly and old classics keeps me company as I do the dishes. For someone who doesn't eat a lot, and not very much at home, I can accumulate some serious dish build-up.
Something about the repetitive motion of hands on dish, the soapy water, the smells rising to my nostrils, makes me think about New York again. Maybe it's because I haven't been gone long enough, or been here long enough, to have any real sense of where I belong. I didn't have mixed feelings about moving here when I left. I knew what I wanted, and moved toward it, even if it scared the crap out of me.
I'm here, I think, now what?
The phone rings, the way it does in movies, not my real life. I reach for it without drying my hands, daring electricity to shock me.
It's my friend Felicity, who's known me since we both lived in New York, and has been in L.A. for three or four years now.
She is breathless with excitement. "I met this guy at the dog park. And he's perfect for you."
Felicity takes care of animals, walks dogs and manages to act in a few movies, TV shows and commercials every year. No mean feat. The dog park is like her second home.
I am doubtful. "What's he like?' I ask.
"Tall, dark. He's into music ... just the way you like them."
I have a love-hate relationship with guys in bands. I love them for awhile, and then I usually hate them. "I may be swearing off musicians."
"You're a liar," she says, laughing. "The last guy you went out with was in that band—what was it called?"
Excerpted from SEARCHING FOR SASSY by Alyson Mead Copyright © 2012 by Alyson Mead. Excerpted by permission of BALBOA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was made even better when this reader learned that the author loosely based the novel on her own experiences. This novel will make the reader laugh out loud and shake his/her head. The author really connects with the reader and will feel like someone the reader might have as a friend in real life. The story itself if not necessarily new, but the surrounding dialogue and quirky characters make it seem like a new story. The main character is witty and smart, hard not to like. The other characters vary. The reader will enjoy some of the while others will become the antagonists. The book does have mini-lessons that, if the reader pays attention, are good to know. The reader will get a sense of how colleagues affect relationships and the good vs. bad of dating to name a few. The author's tone in the main character and throughout the story is very evident. Overall, this book is written well with a strong storyline, recommended to adult readers.