Psychic Sally Knows Why People Choose to Live Next Door to Businesses

I went to a psychic the other day.

Not because I happen to believe that there are people who can see into the future or can tell you the names of your dead childhood pets simply by looking at the palm of your hand. Because I don't. I didn't go to Psychic Sally (I swear, that's her name) because I wanted to know if I'd been, in a past life, a girl or a china shop owner, which is the only possible explanation for my obsessive dishware collecting.

I went to this psychic to ask her to clarify something that has troubled me since I was little, something that no one has ever been able to adequately explain. Why, I've long wanted to know, do people live in houses that are oddly situated close to things no one should live next door to?

This question has haunted me ever since the '60s, when a row of houses near the grade school I attended was leveled to make room for a strip mall. All but one of the houses, that is. The southernmost end of the mall butted up against the remaining house, its bathroom window looking directly onto a cinderblock wall no more than a foot away.

I was captivated. Who lived there, and what was it like to live inches away from a Kwik Kopy? Did the lady of the house do her marketing at the deli at the far end of the mall? I would have, even if it meant never again eating Cap'n Crunch, which I was certain a deli wouldn't stock. Did the kids who lived in the house hang out at the appliance store two doors down from their front porch? The possibilities were endless and a heck of a lot more exciting than living next door to John and Lucille Brown, the nice old people who were my neighbors at the time.

I started noticing this strange trend all over Phoenix. The dentist office where I had my teeth capped in 1969 is still standing, but sometime in the '80s, an apartment complex got wrapped all around it. I think that's weird. Convenient for anyone who lives in that apartment complex and happens to be obsessive about dental hygiene, but still weird. After high school, I managed a record store that had once been a house and that stood next door to the only remaining house on the block, in which a little boy who was obsessed with Diana Ross lived. I asked him once what it was like to live next door to a record shop, but he only shrugged and said, "It would be better if you carried more Supremes albums."

I knew Psychic Sally would know why people live next door to businesses and retail shops not because she has special insights into the world, but because she works out of a house that rests snugly in the parking lot of a gigantic condominium complex at Colter Street and State Route 51. The Biltmore Square Condominiums, built in 2003, is my favorite example of this close-proximity thing. For years I've been eyeing the little ranch house, the only one left from an older subdivision, beside and behind which towers this gigantic complex. The house has no backyard; it's literally surrounded on all sides by the macadam parking lot of the condos that practically embrace it. One drives past the kitchen window and carport of the house as one enters the complex's parking lot, which bumps right up against the house's desert landscaping. Every time I drive by this impossible living situation, I become dizzy with confusion.

I tried calling Biltmore Square, but I got nowhere. A very pleasant property manager named Wendy just kept repeating, "The psychic next door is not at all affiliated with us. We do not offer psychic readings as an amenity of our rental community."

So when I recently noticed a neon sign in the window flashing the words "Psychic Readings," I saw my chance to finally get to the bottom of why in the world people live next to weird stuff. I booked an appointment with Sally, who ushered me past her super-tidy living room and into a bedroom fitted out with a big desk and framed images of Christ and Barack Obama.

We sat down on either side of the desk and Sally asked what I do for a living. "Shouldn't you know that already?" I asked. "You're a psychic." She rolled her eyes, took my hand, and squinted into my palm for a while.

"You have a woman in your life with cancer," she finally said, and I thought, Okay, but who doesn't? I can name six! But instead of saying that, I asked, "Is there anything in my hand about dishes?"

"No," Sally replied, "But I can tell you you're going to meet someone named Jonathan in March. Also, there's a woman who loves you and you're keeping her at a distance," to which I replied, "Well, don't tell my husband!" And then I held up my other hand to show her the ring Todd gave me 12 years ago. She didn't laugh.

It went on like this for a while, with Sally offering up inevitabilities such as how I'm going to go on a long journey (true — I'm going to France later this month, but please!), and how I'll soon reconnect with someone from my past. "On Facebook?" I asked. "Because that kind of happens every week or so with me."

Sally shrugged and asked me if there was anything in particular I really wanted to know.

"Yes," I said. "Why do you live in a parking lot?" I pointed out the window at the three-story condo building looming only feet away. "Wouldn't it be nicer to have a garden rather than 130 parking spaces?"

"It's very quiet here," Sally said. "The people come home and they walk in the little gate out there and they lock the gate and go to their homes and I never hear from them. Maybe someone living in a house next door wouldn't be so easy."

Isn't it kind of a drag to live wedged between an on-ramp and a giant condo complex? I asked. What if she wanted to have a dog one day? Or a barbecue?

"I never thought about any of these things before," she said. "Usually people want to know how come I don't have a crystal ball."

I asked Sally if she minded whether I wrote about what she'd told me, and she said, "I don't care what you do," and then she sat back, which I took to mean that our session was over. I'd been there 20 minutes, and although there was barely a single thing about my past or present she'd gotten right, I left Psychic Sally with precisely what I'd come for: an explanation of why people live right up against shopping centers and freeways and big buildings.

It's because they're crazy.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela