“You have to want this and you don’t. You’re too tough to read. Go.”
The voice startled me and I froze for a second. That was all the time the old woman needed. She sensed that I was easy prey for a gypsy fortune-teller. And she was right.
“Call me Miss Luba. You are Chuck, no?”
“No,” I said, “Mike.”
“Yes, yes, Mike. That’s what I said.”
I had been walking down a side street that ran off Leavenworth when I noticed the faded and crackled sign for ‘Ling’s Linen Service’ painted on a plate glass window in orange and black letters with shadow detailing in gold leaf. The photographer in me was drawn to the sign and the narrow storefront that hadn’t seen a coat of paint since the Eisenhower administration.
I popped my head into the partially opened door and wondered if there was enough light from outside to take a few interior shots without using a flash. I certainly didn’t expect an old woman to be sitting in the shadows. She had apparently been watching the pedestrian traffic through yellowed venetian blinds.
Miss Luba wore a terrycloth housecoat and thick wool socks on meaty feet that she kept elevated on a torn Naugahyde La-Z-Boy. When she struggled to her feet, she revealed a frame that was no more than 4’-10”. I couldn’t detect any grey hair, and while it wasn’t even obvious that she washed said hair, much less colored it, her wrinkled face put her at about 75. To her credit, I thought, she had the moustache of a 15-year-old Iranian boy.
So this is what happened to Momma of ‘Throw Momma From The Train,’ I thought.
“For you, I use special machine in back. Come.”
I sensed that it was in my best interest to follow her orders when she squeezed my hand like it hadn’t been squeezed since I first met the late NHL’er John Ferguson. She led me down a darkened hallway, through a purple curtain and into a room that was even darker than the front space.
I strained to survey my surroundings. At the far end of the room was some industrial metal shelving. Against the right wall were several 50-gallon drums of embalming fluid, in the back left corner, hanging from a sadistic looking metal contraption was a pale, headless torso.
It was at that point that I began to panic.
“You won’t open up and let me see inside so I have to use machine,” growled the older woman in a thick Eastern European accent.
As she pawed through a small cloth bag that she had been carrying, my eyes adjusted to the few rays of light that infiltrated the room from a stairwell at the back. I realized the drums probably contained dry cleaning chemicals and the ‘torso’ was actually the inflatable fabric form on a shirt-pressing machine. I had allowed my imagination to get the best of me, I guess.
Miss Luba motioned for me to sit down on a rickety old press-back chair. What at first appeared to be an antique oak writing desk was actually a turn-of-the-century fortune-telling machine.
“Put your right hand on plate and press down.”
Oh no you don’t, I said to myself. I was sure this was the point where one of the old bag’s grandchildren would pop out of a trap door and the little urchin would scamper off with my money and credit cards.
“My right hand has too many scars,” I said. “Better use my left.”
She bought it.
With that she fished a quarter from her bag and dropped it into a slot on the side of the machine. With the picnic ham that passed for her right hand, she firmly pressed my left hand to the machine. It started to whirl and I could feel dozens of smooth metal pegs undulating through a perforated brass plate.
When I realized what was happening I decided to play along but only by my rules. “I only want to know two things,” I announced. “Will something special happen on Saturdays and what will I do at the end of my two-year trip.”
“Don’t talk. Let machine do job.”
The machine kneaded my palm for another 15 seconds before it fell silent.
“Ten dollars, you pay me,” she said, motioning to a slot on the front of the machine.
As she rose and hobbled back to the front room to get change for my $20 bill, a printed card emerged from the slot. I instinctively grabbed my iPhone, set the flash to ‘automatic’, and fired off a couple of shots before sticking the card and iPhone back in my pocket.
Miss Luba returned, handed me my change and showed me to the door.
“Mulţumesc mult,” she muttered as the deadbolt slid into place and the green neon “Same Day Shirts” sign went dark. Ling’s Linen Service was officially closed.
As I walked down Leavenworth, fingering the still unread card in my pocket, I remembered the comments I’ve made to friends and family who’ve gone to fortune-tellers and so-called psychics.
“These shysters simply pick up clues while you babble away and adjust their predictions based on what you’ve revealed, consciously or not,” I’ve told my sister and others. But how would Miss Luba manipulate what was obviously a pre-printed card? She couldn’t, right? And like I said, I was only interested in two things: “Will something special happen on Saturdays and what will I do at the end of my two-year trip.”
The stoplight turned red so I pulled the card from my pocket and read it while standing at the corner of Leavenworth and Post.
Thank-you, Miss Luba. Thank-you, very much. Mulţumesc mult.