Unless you’re an Immortal from the Highlander franchise, being alone can be pretty tough at times, and nowhere is one’s loneliness more acute than in a city teeming with busy, socializing people, a city like the mythical island of Manhattan. People cope with the isolation and loneliness of living in Manhattan in all kinds of ways, some (getting parakeets) better than others (dressing up as Chewbacca and looking for people who look like Harrison Ford circa 1980). The criminal trial of a Manhattan-based psychic, however, is a particularly harrowing glance into the lengths to which people will go just for a little metaphysical reassurance that life isn’t just one endless subway ride around a city whose smells always fall somewhere on the spectrum between peanut oil and stale urine.
Manhattan psychic Sylvia Mitchell is currently standing trial in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of grand larceny for having allegedly “defrauded” two women out of a lot of money. It is right and just to sequester “defrauded” in quotation marks because the women who testified Friday against Mitchell didn’t really, truly believe that Mitchell had “the sight” — they were just looking for answers after particularly harrowing romantic escapades.
According to the New York Times, competitive ballroom dancer/dance instructor Debra Saalfield gave the psychic racket a chance back in 2008 when she had a job with a Manhattan dance company and a marriage-material boyfriend. But then the economy happened (or didn’t happen) and Saalfield, a Florida native, lost everything — job, boyfriend, and affinity for the bright lights of the big city:
Ms. Saalfield regularly walked past Zena, the opulent psychic shop on Seventh Avenue South that her boyfriend had warned her about. “He told me it was a bad place and never go in there,” she said. In part to spite him after the breakup, she did, and met Ms. Mitchell.
“I chose the cheapest thing on the menu, some sort of reading,” Ms. Saalfield said. That cost $75, and a second reading, $1,000. “She said that I was dealing with a past life, that I was an Egyptian princess,” and had a problem with attachment to money. Ms. Mitchell suggested that as an exercise, Ms. Saalfield write a check for $27,000 that Ms. Mitchell would hold and return whenever she wanted, Ms. Saalfield said.
Ms. Saalfield took money that she had intended to use for her daughter’s wedding, wrote the check and felt misgivings almost immediately, she testified. Over the years, Ms. Mitchell has repaid about half, she said.
A second woman, Singapore native Lee Choong, dropped $10,000 on a psychic in SoHo before visiting Mitchell for psychic guidance about how to cope with her unrequited crush on a co-worker at the investment firm she worked at. Choong ended up writing checks totaling $120,000 to Mitchell, all in the name of trying to figure out what the fuck life is all about.
Clearly, though, there’s only one culprit in this whole mess: Manhattan, an island that can isolate and weaken the unsuspecting transplant, creating a market for a psychic even among skeptical clients, people who know better but just can’t get over the fact that life is tremendously absurd.
Image via AP, Gene Blythe