|"Silence, please!" the wild-eyed,
bearded man exclaims. "Prestidigitators such as myself require absolute
silence." A hush falls over the darkened room, leaving only the faint,
tinny plink of harpsichord music in the background. The man holds up a
small bundle wrapped in a red silk and unwinds it, revealing a deck of
tarot cards. He hands the deck to the solemn-faced woman opposite him and
commands her, in low, thrilling tones, to shuffle the cards. Two candles
burning on the table sputter as he speaks. When she finishes, he takes
the cards from her, deals them onto the table, and begins to read her future.
You might think this is a tableau from a Victorian novel or an old Vincent
Price movie. It's not. The scene occurs regularly in the most mundane
of places, a small apartment located in Queens, New York City. The "prestidigitator" is
Christopher Czajka, theater educator, PBS employee, and part time mystic.
For Chris, psychic performance has become a "perennial parlor trick." "Once
word gets out that you can read tarot cards, everyone wants you to do
it," he says, sighing dramatically. The cards come out nearly every
time he gathers with friends, and lately he's begun telling fortunes
at charity galas and fairs.
Chris' interest in the paranormal first stirred around age 11. A native
of Rochester, New York, he was fascinated by a newspaper article about
the Fox sisters, a pair of local siblings who launched the nineteenth-century
craze for spiritualism. A search at the local library turned up only
one book that featured the Fox sisters. It also included a chapter on
the tarot. Chris devoured the book.
"Somehow, I had developed the notion that tarot cards were something
... dirty. Very adult. Nice people didn't have them." He put them
out of his mind. That following summer, while vacationing in Toronto,
he was stunned to discover tarot cards for sale in a perfectly normal
store. "Imagine that!" he exclaims. "I bought them right
Chris also purchased a handbook to teach himself how to read the cards,
and a silk cloth to wrap them in. "The book said I needed a cloth,
so I found one." He still uses the same deck, cloth and book today.