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For astrologer Dana Haynes, timing is everything. "Astrology is all about cycles," she says, "and everything works with timing."
So Haynes, who has a comedian's knack for it, has selected a Thursday evening two weeks after Thanksgiving, when Christmas lights are up and seasonal shopping is well under way, to suggest who killed JonBenet Ramsey: Santa Claus.
Now, she won't go into detail. She won't say why. Or how, or even what, exactly, her cryptic remarks mean. She knows, of course, but the information is privileged.
"This is what I can tell you: I can tell you the parents didn't do it," she assures her audience. "I've looked at their charts."
Haynes is at Griff's, which is a restaurant, although the name suggests a muffler shop or maybe a package-liquor store. In fact, Griff's, which is just off the lobby of the Hilton Scottsdale Resort and Villas, is named for the hotel's owner, Hollywood mogul Merv Griffin. For about six years now, Haynes has advised him on everything from travel plans to property deals. Recently, he hired her to give readings over dinner at his hotels in Scottsdale and Palm Springs -- a concept they call "Dinner With the Stars."
Haynes is a personable, straight-ahead woman of middle age, with blond hair and an astrologer's requisite long skirt, although she certainly hasn't attempted a costume for this evening's Dinner With the Stars. (She has worn costumes in the past, she tells me later, referring to the practice as "that whole witchy-poo thing.")
She has been a professional astrologer for more than 35 years, and a successful one: A favorite on television and radio, she can also be found on the Internet, and she says her talents are sought "across the world."
Most telling, though, is her claim that she has never needed a day job. For this accomplishment, she credits her "reputation for accuracy." But other qualities have undoubtedly helped her along, including an astute sense of observation and a talent for telling people what they want to hear. (Would-be musicians and artists, take note.)
"I am not a psychic," she says. "I can show you exactly where I get my information. I don't just pull it out of the air."
(In a later interview, Haynes says that she does have psychic abilities. However, she is adamant about the distinction between astrology, which she says is a by-the-book discipline, and psychic readings. "I do not promote it," she says of her sixth sense. "I can't afford to operate from a psychic feel.")
Haynes claims that astrology is actually the earliest science, predating Newtonian physics by centuries. But modern science, particularly quantum physics, is now "proving" some of astrology's tenets, she continues.
Haynes blames chemicals in our air, water and food for certain societal problems, including making our children more violent. And she takes a shot at genetically modified food, too.
At this point, the Dinner's patrons take a moment to contemplate their own food, which they're eating all the while. (Haynes dines beforehand.)
Not certain whether my own meal contains these "Frankenfoods," I am sure of the fact that it's not very good: My chicken is too dry, the rolls are slightly stale, and the mashed potatoes are uninspired. My companion's rib eye, which he ordered medium-rare, is as well-done as the chicken. For the price ($15.95 and $21.95, respectively), the entrees are a flop. But no matter. This is a cultural experience, not a culinary one.
Concluding her presentation, Haynes moves on to individual tables. She says she tries to make Dinner With the Stars "as personal as I can. If it's a busy room, I spend more time on the mike, since I know I can't get to every table. Otherwise, I try to talk to people one on one."
But there are only eight tables tonight, so everyone has the opportunity for a complimentary personal reading. Apparently, most people have come for just that reason (they certainly didn't come for the flan).
"What I do in the room is very, very quick," Haynes says. Consultations, which last 90 minutes and cost $250, "are very detailed." In either case, Haynes asks for her client's date and time of birth. With this information, she develops an astrological chart that predicts personal cycles: of luck, of creativity, of emotional highs and lows.
"I try to help them make the best decision," she says of her clients. "I don't tell them what they will do. I just give them information. It's up to them to use it."
Of course, not all of them do. But when they don't, they usually have reason to regret it, as Haynes, who does readings for herself, knows firsthand.
"Once in a while, I don't follow my own advice, like my clients, and I get myself into hot water," she admits.
Haynes, who is based in Palm Springs, has been flying into Scottsdale every week to conduct Dinner With the Stars on Thursday nights. However, beginning this month, the schedule is being cut back and Haynes will be coming to Scottsdale every other week or once a month.
"We still have to work out the timing."
Elan Head is a freelance writer who is entering a 14-year cycle of creativity. She is working on a novel which, according to Haynes, will be a big seller unless "it's just a really bad novel."