PARSIPPANY, N.J. -- For expatriate urban dwellers who have long believed that the future was in the suburbs, now comes evidence that this is true, perhaps beyond their wildest dreams.
And like most things in the suburbs, the future is available at the mall. Nothing flashy, no thunderbolts, no Steven Spielberg. Just a few tables, perhaps booths for privacy, and eight or 10 astrologers or psychics to help the earthbound see beyond the horizon.
But like most good malls and anything as vast as the future, organization is needed. And organization ultimately means office space, which must be leased.
Which is how Adcom Inc., an advertising and marketing agency run by Vincent and Shirley Tabatneck, became Adcom Inc.-Psychic Fairs. That was 15 years ago, when they organized their first psychic fair at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, N.J., and, it goes without saying, they never looked back.
"Willowbrook was one of our accounts, and at lunch one day we were talking astrology and metaphysics," Mrs. Tabatneck said. Willowbrook's response was, "Oh, what a great idea! A tearoom for mother."
So Mrs. Tabatneck, a one-time astronomy student at Fairleigh Dickinson University who turned from telescopes to charts, parlayed a lifelong study of astrology into a labor of love.
The future, then, truly begins not at a mall, but in a pleasant if non-descript office park just east of the 24-hour Par-Troy diner on Route 46. There, in a small suite of several undecorated offices, just beyond a tiny waiting room where, curiously enough, most of the magazines are at least a year old, the Tabatnecks keep tabs on a loosely knit nationwide registry of psychic consultants, each of whom must fill out an application and provide evidence of experience as a reader of minds.
Mrs. Tabatneck also does private consulting there, but note the absence of beaded curtains, burning incense, crystal balls or the sound stage gypsy trappings.
Mrs. Tabatneck is no Madame Arcati seeking communion with blithe spirits. She is as comfortable speaking the lingo of stockbrokers (many are clients) as she is speaking of the cosmic effects of a retrograde Mercury transit. (No it's not a car, it's a troubling planetary sign that means stay away from business deals for the present.)
"I'm not a fortune-teller," she said. "Fortune-tellers can be psychics." But too often, she said, "they are the type of people who would tell you anything you want to hear, and cast out the evil spirits and have you bring water from your faucet."
This is not read-and-run, Ms. Tabatneck said. "Sometimes a person doesn't hit it off with a reader. After a few minutes, that person can decide it's not working and try another one." No charge for the one that didn't work.
Ms. Tabatneck said psychic fairs have fallen off a bit during the recession, and now Adcom has established a 900 number for readings by phone.
Because there is no national association of clairvoyants, the Tabatnecks weed out the fortune-tellers through a word-of-mouth network of several hundred psychics who they believe to be reliable.
But the questions persist: Is this entertainment or something more complicated? And who's to judge?
"The malls don't want to take a stand on this one way or the other," Ms. Tabatneck said. "Some states have laws that say it has to be advertised for entertainment purposes."
If it entertains, so be it. The Tabatnecks are true believers in the power of the cosmos, and they take their parapsychology seriously.
After Willowbrook came Livingston and Menlo Park and Paramus Park and Nanuet and Cross County, as well as Florida, California, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
At grand openings, grand re-openings or white sales, Adcom has been there with tables of perhaps 10 psychics, prepared to consult the stars, read palms or decipher tarot cards, for $15 a quarter-hour.
But if the future, in fact, is in the suburbs, does it stand to reason that the future also comes with a suburban tinge?
No, says Mrs. Tabatneck. People, wherever they are, still care about the same things: love and money. But she has noticed some interesting changes recently.
"People are talking about going back with their ex-husband or ex-boyfriend. Everyone is into resuming relationships right now, and it's the strangest thing." Instead of planning divorces and affairs, people want to get back together, she said.
"It's the AIDS [acquired immune deficiency syndrome] situation, No. 1, and No. 2, it's the economic situation in the country," she said. "They also realized that the reasons they broke up in the first place were not real. It was a fantasy and they didn't want to take their chances again on those kinds of fantasies."
Taking chances, though, is something most people are poised to do when they visit a psychic. The question is: should they take it? Of late, some visitors have been politicians.
"They ask if they're going to make it," she said. "So far the only ones I've advised have been the ones I told were not going to make it. Although they are going to make it in the future. "
And then there is the case of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York.
"I feel he's going to run. I feel he's really, really worried and really nervous about it. I still feel Bush is going to get in."
Phil Simms or Jeff Hostetler as the New York Giants' first-string quarterback?
Shifting in her chair, with a sensation of discomfort in her back where Mr. Hostetler suffered some broken bones against Tampa Bay, she said: "I think it will be Simms."