When I told readers on Facebook and Twitter I was going to have lunch Friday with a psychic, a message appeared in my inbox. It was an invitation to a meeting of "Alaskans For the Advancement of Critical Thinking," a group of self-described "skeptics."
"I happened to see your status about the psychic and am wondering if you would like to do a story (for balance, I suppose!) on the skeptic organization I and a few of my colleagues started in April of this year," wrote Pete Broady, the group president. "We basically want to challenge Alaskans to think critically about psychics and such."
They were having their regular meeting Thursday night at Rumrunners Old Towne Bar & Grill. Psychics, coincidentally, were among the things they planned to scrutinize, he said.
"Oh, really?" I wanted to write back, but thought better of it.
I found the skeptics later that night in a back room at the bar, which was decorated for a Halloween party. About 20 of them sipped beer and ate appetizers in silence, their teeth glowing under a Halloween black light. Ron Holmstrom, secretary/treasurer, took the floor for the psychic presentation. He said he'd spent years debunking psychics and other paranormal claims. He has determined that all psychics "are either greedy and after your dough or they're self-deluded."
They make general statements, they flatter people, they fish for clues from their clients, and home in on small details, he said They prey on vulnerabilities and grief. The skeptics were not skeptical about Holmstrom's presentation. But I was.
"What about vibes?" I asked Holmstrom. Some people just give you a feeling. Creepy people. Angry people. Sad people. Maybe psychics were just really good at picking up vibes.
"Then they aren't really psychic," one of the skeptics told me. "They are picking up non-verbal signals."
People believe in psychics for they same reason they believe in religion, the skeptics said. It's comforting. But it's make-believe. Then we got off on the topic of Santa Claus and a woman complained that her sister was still upset that she told her Santa wasn't real.
"It's like she's mad that she knows the truth," she said. The skeptics nodded.
I left unconvinced. I tend to give witchy stuff the benefit of the doubt. I come from a family that includes table-knockers, palm-readers, aura-see-ers, Feng Shui-ers, pagans, and past-life regressors. I've also been told that Old Doc O'Malley once diagnosed a case of cancer just by smelling someone's breath. I appreciate all that. Could it all be bunk? That seemed so, I don't know, un-fun.
On Friday, I met psychic Donna Seebo at Fletcher's in the Captain Cook Hotel. She was neatly dressed with a neat, short haircut. She had a warm, grandmotherly smile.
Seebo lives in the Seattle area, but she has been coming to Alaska for decades, she said. She used to do segments on the old Herb Shaindlin radio show. Now she speaks and does a daily online radio show. She has a few thousand client contacts here, she said.
She first figured out she was psychic in her 20s. It was a dark time, and she went to see the neighbor of a friend who was a dream interpreter. The neighbor became her mentor. She's not a fortune-teller, she said, she gets impressions from people. Sometimes things don't come in totally clear.
"I don't call it magic," she said. "I call it perceptiveness."
I asked her who she thought would win the Senate race.
"It could be a big surprise toward the end. I don't expect it's going to be a predictable as you would think," she said.
I asked her if she could tell me what impression I was giving her.
She said I should improve my public speaking skills.
"You should join Toastmasters," she said. "It's a very supportive group."
She saw me investigating things, reporting, working in a courtroom, she said. Not much of a stretch, I thought. I would go to Europe, but not for a while, she said. I really want to go to Italy, I thought. I would stay in a villa, she said. There! They have villas in Italy! I would write a column about it, she said.
"Your eyes are giving you problems," she told me next, looking into my glasses. My eyes did feel a little dry. I needed computer glasses, she said. She could see them. They had a pink tint. Not yellow. Yellow would be bad.
Earlier I told Seebo that my cousin's psychic told her that her son would have an accident in the water. After that my cousin got really weird about pools.
"No swimming pool accidents?" I asked, joking
"No," Seebo said, not joking. "You don't spend enough time around pools."
I had my suit, swim cap and goggles in the car. I decided not to mention it.
She had to go prepare for her online radio show, so we said goodbye. I walked to my car, thinking about public speaking and computer glare. Was she legit? A skeptic would say no, but I decided not to make a ruling. Maybe I was looking at the world through rose-colored computer glasses, but I prefer to believe there's at least a little mystery out there, somewhere.