LONG ISLAND JOURNAL; A Psychic Channels Real Life Into a Novel
By MARCELLE S. FISCHLER (NYT) 1562 words
Published: February 13, 2005
EVERY morning Miriam Kaminsky climbed the back staircase to the north wing of her old Tudor in Great Neck. Wrapping her corkscrew curls around her finger, she sucked in her breath, and on the exhale, chanted a long ''Om.'' When the phone rang, an image flickered. Though she had never met the person on the other end of the line, it was, she said, as if ''our noses were touching.'' The pain of her client's broken heart was palpable.
Miriam is the main character in Rochelle Shapiro's plucky semiautobiographical first novel, ''Miriam the Medium,'' which was published last year by Simon & Schuster. It is a heartfelt and amusing tale of a distraught housewife from Great Neck who, like Ms. Shapiro, just happens to be a telephone psychic from Great Neck.
Writing is similar to psychic work, Ms. Shapiro said: ''You sit down, you write, and the characters start talking to you, and you start seeing things in your mind, and you start getting memories of characters that aren't your memories.''
Ms. Shapiro, 57, said she had spent most of her life walking around like a satellite dish, indiscriminately picking up the secrets and dreams of strangers. To reduce the psychic static, she schedules readings only by appointment, at $150 for 30 to 40 minutes.
Sitting in the dining room of her apartment just off Midde Neck Road, ignoring the ringing telephone and insisting she knew who was calling without checking the caller I.D., Ms. Shapiro explained that psychic abilities are innate. ''It is a brain function,'' she said. ''It's like walking in the night and suddenly walking into a spider web, and you can't really see it, but you can feel the strings.'' Before she learned to compartmentalize her psychic abilities, Ms. Shapiro said she would brake for accidents that didn't happen until the next day. She said that as an 8-year-old in Far Rockaway, Queens, she got into trouble when she visited a friend's house and blurted out that the friend's parents were going to get divorced. Six months later, they did.
Having a mind that works like a stylus on a Ouija board, Ms. Shapiro said, is like walking a tightrope. ''Some people's lives are predicated on a dream and an illusion,'' she said. ''What psychics are gifted at is picking up people's unconscious wishes and feeding it back to them. Do you know what a disaster that can be?''
Until she published her novel, Ms. Shapiro was a closet psychic and advertised under the name Bubbe Meiseh, a Yiddish expression meaning ''old wives' tale.'' She didn't want to be a social pariah.
''If you tell people that you even think you're psychic, they'll worry that you'll know they bought their little Dior number in Filene's,'' she wrote.
Ms. Shapiro told all but her closest friends only that she was a writer. Once others found out that she was a psychic, she didn't get a chance to talk about anything else.
Ms. Shapiro said she inherited her clairvoyant abilities from her paternal grandmother, Sarah Shapiro, a immigrant from Russia who suspected that her granddaughter shared her gift. Rochelle Shapiro said that when she was 4 she announced that her mother's cousin Bertie from London was coming on a ship and that the cousin showed up, without any other warning, at the dock.
Ms. Shapiro tried to pursue other careers. She has a master's degree in fine arts from Brooklyn College. She worked in public relations and taught math in middle school.
''Every time I did something else, it ended up with psychic readings anyway, just like the characters in the book,'' she said. Ms. Shapiro said she wasn't even writing when, 25 years ago, Vincent Ragone, a well-known clairvoyant, predicted that she would write a novel that would be published by Simon & Schuster. ''It seemed too preposterous at the time,'' she said with a hearty cackle.
Twenty years ago, she enrolled in a poetry class through the Great Neck Adult Education program. Later she started keeping journals of her readings. It took her seven years to complete the novel, which is ultimately about self-acceptance.
In it, Miriam is desperately trying to save her husband's business, the Mirror Pharmacy, but his patience with her psychic attempts is running short. Her daughter, Cara, is an overachieving teenager embarrassed by her mother's powers.
''Life was lonely with a husband consumed by work, a daughter full of shame, and clients as disembodied spirits on the phone,'' Ms. Shapiro wrote. ''Great Neck was lonely with its castles and manicured lawns and dogs named Baron.''
Ms. Shapiro moved to Great Neck 27 years ago but said she never felt she fit in anywhere. She has two children. Her husband, Bernard Natt, is a pharmacist.
Clients sometimes expect her to be a sharpshooter, but it's hard to tell, Ms. Shapiro said, just how accurate she is.
''I'm like a controller at an airport,'' she said. ''I'm sitting there, and I am just watching things arrive, arrive, having to interpret them. For me to know anything is a miracle.''
But her descriptions of life in an affluent Long Island suburb hit a bull's-eye. ''When I reached the next corner, another blond woman dashed out of Paradise Salon, her hands up as if she had just been robbed,'' she wrote. '''Help!' she called out to me. I rushed to her. Then she held a quarter out to me in her outstretched palm. For a moment I was insulted. 'Would you put this in my meter?' she asked frantically. 'I just got my nails done.'''