Crossing the tracks

What does this malarkey I’m about to charge into thumbs-first mean?

This is the question I grapple with five minutes after making my first-ever appointment with a palm reader. For the five minutes subsequent to hanging up the phone, I debated what to wear. Seriously. I wondered whether disguising myself – as a super-Hippy, a postal employee, an international spy, or combination thereof – might trick the palm reader into giving me a reading different from the one she would give to me dressed as me. More than one car salesman – and they read people for a living, too – have told me I come off as a hiker. “Oh, this vehicle is you,” they say. “It’ll be perfect for driving around in the mountains. You like to hike, am I right?” Sure, I like to hike, but I also like to surf, collect vintage aprons, and bastardize pop song lyrics to incorporate my dogs’ odd behavior traits. What kind of car do you want to sell me now?

The palm reader and I agree to meet at a pagan bookstore in Old Town Kern, Bakersfield. I am early for the appointment, which is a good thing, because I have to wait for a train to pass. As I sit in my air-conditioned pickup truck, I watch as a string-haired, snaggle-toothed woman pushes a shopping cart filled with a patchwork sleeping roll, plastic bags, a white radio, and an old TV antenna across the intersection, parallel to the tracks. Fever-hot sun reflects off the train as it zumbles by, its signal whistles wailing. As if in communiqué with the zumbling steel monster, the shopping cart woman raises a skeletal hand to wave. Then she, her cart, and her withering shadow disappear behind a weed-whiskered wall. Ding ding ding, and up go the detaining arms. Time to cross the tracks.

It is so so hot when I finally step from my pickup onto the sun-beaten sidewalk in front of The Altar Bookshoppe. The shoppe faces the tracks and is only open Friday through Sunday. It’s a Tuesday. The door is locked, but an orange cloth curtain with mandalas on it waves inside, as if by mystic breeze. 

When I knock, I hear a kachingle at the door. As it swings open, the breath from an oscillating fan welcomes me into the unlit space, as does a smiling, full-figured woman. A copper-red ponytail perches atop her head as if sprouted there. She hands me her card:

Circle of Light – A Universal Life Church

Sandie Hancock, HPs, ND

Not Madame Sandra. No exotic Gypsy-esque name. Just 5-foot, 2-inch Sandie Hancock and her Circle of Light. She must be 60+ years old because she tells me one of her sons is 40, but she looks younger because everything about her seems buoyant. The HP on her card stands for healer practitioner; ND, for naturopathic doctor; and the Universal Life Church embraces all spiritual denominations, including Wicca, of which she is a practitioner. But I haven’t come to Sandie Hancock for ministering, healing, or naturopathic doctoring. I’ve come to have my thumbs read.

Beehive Yourself

Originally uploaded by oybay

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