(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)
January of ‘79, I prepared for the coming year in Morocco.
Problem: there were snakes there. But I reasoned that I would not be alone. I’d made some Moroccan contacts on my previous recon trip. I could avoid the snakes by walking behind someone.
I’d given my address to nobody, because I didn’t have one yet. I completely understood those dudes who joined the Foreign Legion, fleeing some failure or dishonor at home, to get as far away as possible, preferably the ends of the earth where no one would notice if you fell off. I would be beyond the reach of show biz, without even a telephone. In the North African desert, chances were good that you wouldn’t run into your ex-lover, agent, producer, editor, or someone asking, “Whatever happened to that show you were doing?”
I had no desire to be around Caucasians of any kind. I wanted to meet Arabs.
My fascination with them dated way back to the first time I saw “Lawrence of Arabia,” which is, in my view, a movie without flaw. However, after my recon visits to the Emirates, Yemen, and Tunisia, I’d found that Arabs were a fairly private lot. One’s home life was hidden behind green doors and high walls. One’s self was screened as well. An outsider had to grope through infinite layers of veils.
What could get me invited inside? That’s where the Tarot cards came in.
I first started learning Tarot from Frank Andrews because I wanted to be psychic, too: to know, to feel, to “see” events and details in another person’s life; to acquire that certain spookiness. Although I didn’t get those powers, when I practised reading people’s cards I did notice something curious. First of all, they really enjoyed being the sole object of attention. Then, if the reading turned up something personal, even secret, they were fascinated and disarmed that I’d seen through them: there was an instant intimacy. At that point, the mask would fall away, and they started confiding things they would ordinarily never tell a stranger. And for a writer, people’s stories are paydirt.
The awkward part of the reading was when it came time to predict the outcome. Sometimes the answer was obvious, and not necessarily positive. Was it such a good thing for them to know in advance? I had the option of lying, but then the prediction would be wrong, and I hate like anything to be wrong.
One time (1980) when I was staying at a hotel in Haiti I read for an American entrepreneur who was about to buy a big parcel of land for sugarcane and the manufacture of his own brand of rum. All his money would be tied up in the venture. He asked if his investment would turn out well. The outcome cards were familiar; I’d seen them before when I’d read for the hotel owner’s wife. I told him to back out of the deal; there was a time of huge upheaval ahead. I stopped short of the word catastrophe because I could see how upset he was by my answer. He went on a three-day bender and then bought the land anyway.
Years later, I ran into the hotel owner’s wife in New York. They had sold the business and ankled Haiti before dictator Baby Doc Duvalier sowed total chaos; all the hotels eventually shuttered and foreign investors fled. She said she often remembered my prediction. I wondered if that businessman got out with his skin.
One time in the mid-80’s I had a job rewriting the script for “Nine and ½ Weeks” and the director Adrian Lyne asked me to read his cards. Shooting hadn’t begun but already the project had been through the wringer. Tri-Star Studios had cancelled production only three weeks before start of principal photography; some higher-up had actually read the script and freaked out that the studio was on the hook to make a porn film.
The producers raced around Europe, slapping together the money from foreign distributors while Adrian suffered through the suspense. He was fresh off the monster success of “Flashdance,” and to have his next movie cancelled was humiliating. In the eleventh hour, the money arrived, production could begin, but Adrian was already a nervous wreck.
He asked me to tell him how the film would turn out. I hesitated. “Are you sure you want to know before you’ve even begun?” I asked.
“Sure.” Adrian was nothing if not reckless.
I had him shuffle and cut the deck. I laid out the six cards which would give him the answer. Even now I remember three of the cards very well.
I said, “Be very careful of your physical well-being, or you’ll totally deplete your energy.” (Eight of Pentacles.) “The critics will beat you up” (Nine of Swords) “but the movie will make huge amounts of money” (Ten of Pentacles). Adrian only focused on my forecast of the critics’ reaction; he got very depressed and was heartily sorry he’d asked.
During the shoot Adrian was hospitalized for nervous exhaustion. When the movie came out theatrically in America, the reviews were scathing and no one went to see it. In Europe, on the other hand, it was a massive hit, an instant classic, played for years, made buckets of money, and when it came out on video in the U.S. it was a cash cow all over again.
I wasn’t all that good at Tarot, but sometimes the cards were dead clear.
And so I packed my things for my year in North Africa: my Olivetti Underwood typewriter, a ream of yellow paper, three pairs of shoes, a small wardrobe of entirely pink clothes (for some reason I’ve forgotten, this was part of my forging a new identity), and my Tarot cards, which would serve as my key to the inner lives of Moroccans.
How would it all turn out? I wondered in my excitement to get gone. I gave myself a reading, even though fortunetellers are notoriously bad at taking their own advice.
Seven of Pentacles: a long trip. The World: abroad. I pretended not to see the third card, the Six of Swords: a stern warning against recklessness. Like Adrian, I wanted to know but I really didn’t.
Causes Sarah Kernochan Supports