Ministry of Truth


WHEN READING PERIOD descends, complete with icy winds, slushy streets and finals--your basic January in Cambridge--it's time to find a sense of humor. And the first step is to get out of Cambridge.

Heeding this commandment, I recently visited one of Boston's several tea rooms (all elbowing for preeminence, not unlike the seven Ray's Pizza in NYC). A year and a half ago, just before taking time off, I had pilgrimaged to this same tea room at the urging of a friend. On that visit, John, the tea leaf reader, greeted me with the warning, "I feel that you might leave this region. That would be a mistake, a big one. I see money problems in the next couple of months if you leave. It will be very hard. I feel you should stay here." Terrific, My lease expired in a couple of days, I was going to New York City for a week before heading West without any specific plans, and John tells me to stay in Boston.

Needless to say, I went anyway and did not encounter dire catastrophe. In fact, John was completely wrong about the whole thing. But it is reading period so I decided to forgive John's first miss and see him again. Besides, having your tea leaves read is sort of like reading your horoscope--you don't believe it or change your plans because of it, but it's nice to hear an objective evaluation (albeit an inaccurate one) and some authoritative guidance for one's life.

The tea shop strikes you at first by its altogether workaday decor; it looks like a tacky, run-down coffee shop, with signs advertising "water vibrations, spiritual hearing, tarot." When I was there, Christmas Muzak was being played. The several tea leaf readers go from table to table talking with people and dumping tea cups upside down to decipher the leaves.

The longer you sit there, the more pathetic and foolish the shop seems, and you with it. The plants and gaudy red flowers on all the tables are plastic. The eyes of the older woman reader, with heavy make-up, arched eyebrows, gypsy rings and long red dress, dart about like those of a nervous crank, making sure the other readers don't take her customers. She offers such wisdom as, "you have a dog who loves you very much [the man is blind and has a seeing-eye dog next to him]. I see a woman coming into your life. You will be healthy and happy together. Your wishes will come true. She will have a dog too [will she be blind also?]."

By the time you notice the engulfing sadness, the tea comes, warming you.

Finally my old acquaintance John comes over, says hello, and once again dumps the teacup over. He asks me to silently ponder a question while he stares at me, picking up the cosmic vibrations. At first he talks about funds again, assuring me my shortage, will be relieved soon, and I won't have any problems in the next month or so. My guess is that he started with money again because I was wearing a tattered shirt and an old dirty coat much too light for the freezing winds. But he changes the subject soon, perhaps sensing my boredom with money, the topic on which he had been so misguided the first time I saw him.

John moves quickly to relationships and friendships--undoubtedly a common topic for readers and the most interesting ones for their clients. (It is, in fact, the question I pondered in the beginning.) So he told me about how I pull friendships in here and there, but that there would be a time soon when I would become discouraged with them. But resist any urge to leave Boston, he counselled, because here I would find a relationship with someone whose energy would mesh well with mine. He visualized a tantalizing set of initials: S.J.N. Anyone out there? Here's M.E.F. hanging around, waiting to mesh energies with S.J.N. Especially if you can help relieve my funds shortage, and, by the way, are connected to cycles of 4. (John would be great to go over personal ads with, he'd know immediately who, in the back pages of the free press, had energies per excellence).

SOON JOHN got onto the subject of another fortune tellers staple: He asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up, and I groped for stock phrases we all keep in our memory recall for our relatives: maybe journalism, maybe community organizing or something. "Yeah," he said, "I see journalism becoming more sure for you in three years, you'll have a solid direction by then. And later, the journalism will play into the community endeavors. Also, somewhere in there, you'll learn and use the Law." Here, I began to protest. "Not necessarily law school," he amended, "but you'll use it and it'll help you in what you do." I relaxed--perhaps John prophesied a career reviewing TV shows like Perry Mason and Drag- net for local community papers, while I settle down with rich S.J.N.

Leaving the tea room, I regretted not having a car, so, like Mick Jagger, after having been assured my "prayers would come true," I could "run twenty red lights in his honor." You see, knowing your future is liberating. And besides, it's reading period.