On a hot August morning in Van Nuys, Dolores Cardelucci — former restaurateur, former owner of chiropractic and X-ray clinics, writer of pilots for Kelsey Grammer, and for most of her almost 76 years a psychic who also runs spiritual workshops — is about to give me a reading. In a fabulous whiskey voice, she’s prepped me over the phone to bring a watch (because she reads through jewelry) and/or a significant person’s photo, handwriting sample or business card. Dolores’ specialty is business reading (most of her clientele, to my surprise, is male), but I’m not there for that. In fact, a more recalcitrant skeptic than I would be hard to find. I’m a happy unbeliever in fate, former lives, afterlives (my vital organs are DMV-ready for harvesting) or indeed any life other than the arbitrary one I’m leading. Like Grace Paley, I’ve always thought that everyone deserves the open destiny of life, and I’m far from sure I want to know my future, as if such a determinate thing exists.

Which is why, waiting on Dolores’ patio for a client to leave, I wonder why I’ve chosen my shiniest, dangliest earrings and made myself up with more care than usual, and why my stomach is misbehaving to beat the band. I have come dressed to impress, and what’s up with that? More important, what does she make of that? I dally in fact-checking preamble designed to persuade at least one of us that I’m there for purely professional reasons. Brisk and grandmotherly in matching yellow top and pants, Dolores outlines her philosophy and practice, a formidable brew of spiritual conviction and adaptive business smarts. During the ’60s she was part of a small group that did “past-life work,” for which there’s less of a market now. Though she considers the word spiritual “over-rated,” she’s a believer who doesn’t believe it’s possible to be spiritual without religion — but she’s quick to say she never tries to change other people’s belief systems. She’s also sure that we’re all psychics. “We all have intuitive sense, but people don’t believe in their intuitive sense.”

People like me, for example — a loyal but unbelieving, rationalistic Jew, emphatically iconoclastic to the core. So emphatically, in fact, that I’m all too easily unsettled when we get down to business. Dolores impounds my watch and exits briefly. Back in her chair and holding onto the watch, she asks for my date of birth, does some impressively rapid number work on a pad, and then tells me a lot of accurate things that, I tell myself nervously, any astute observer of first impressions could figure out without much trouble. That I’m divorced (no ring) with a child (odds of better than 50 percent). That “someone I know” has problems with their digestive tract (she wouldn’t be the first to say I appear tense on first acquaintance). That she hears something about a new car, so if I don’t have money to buy one I had better be an alert driver. That men named Chris, Steven or David will exert a positive force in my life (who of us doesn’t run into names like that in the course of a year?). That a relative is ill and will probably die soon (not unusual in the family of a middle-aged person). That I’m “good inside” but I could “use a good experience” (couldn’t we all?).

Only, while I’m hanging onto my guard like a stubborn terrier, I’m also thinking, as most novices do, how the hell does she know all this concrete stuff about me? Dolores may be a canny psychologist and entrepreneur, but she’s also a Presence — discerning and sympathetic but pulling no punches on the gloomy stuff, and absolutely sincere. By the time she sums up with the news that 2007 will give me a “breather” on most fronts, I am thoroughly and contentedly in her pocket. Whether she’s just a shrewd judge of character and human desire or knows something I don’t, Dolores, like any therapist worth her 50 minutes, has made me feel what few of us are made to feel most of the time — respected, attended to, comforted and hopeful. When she is done with me, I get into my car and drive home — very, very carefully — wondering all the way when Chris or Steven or David or all of the above will show up to make my day.

Dolores Cardelucci (818) 902-0884

LA Weekly