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The Amazing Kreskin

Pick a god, any god.

The Amazing Kreskin is on the phone, and the parlour-trick performer and sometime predictor is riled up. "Something has happened in our culture," he says, calling from New York. "Years ago, whether you were Jewish or Christian or just brought up well by your family, it meant something when you gave your word. But people don't have as much guilt today."

Kreskin – born 79 years ago in New Jersey as George Joseph Kresge; the name on his credit cards is now "T.A. Kreskin" – has been asked about spirituality. If religion feeds on the fear of the unknown and the wonder of an afterlife, who better to seek guidance from on the matter than the mesmerizer whose press sheet bills him as the Nostradamus of the 20th century?

"My entire my life has been based partly in the belief of the hereafter," he continues. "If this is everything in the universe, then we're in trouble."

But if society's sense of morality has degenerated so greatly, aren't we doomed anyway?

"Lying today is so rampantly common in our culture now that nobody feels self-conscious about it any more," says the professional paranormalist, who minored in religious philosophy at Seton Hall University, way back when five cents bought a cup of joe and a collection-plate nickel bought even more. "I'll just say that I feel we are responsible for our deeds."

It is one thing to guess the number that an audience member – we've never met before, am I right sir? – is thinking. Or to predict the end of communism in Cuba (as Kreskin earlier this year forecast). But it's quite another to prognosticate purgatory.

Are we are all going to hell?

"I've never been asked that before," Kreskin says, ramping down. "It's a beautiful question."

Over our rambling 40-minute phone call, Kreskin is asked many questions, only some of which he answers. You don't make a living as a mentalist without controlling both sides of the conversation. Is he legitimate? I can only say that his absent-minded evasiveness caused journalistic frustration, and that if he actually knew what I was thinking as he offered his many "by the way" non sequiturs, Kreskin would have shuddered and likely hung up.

But if he answered questions not posed, things were learned anyhow. For example, that Kreskin has three cats, and that if he didn't gig so often – he appears throughout this year's Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto – he'd have five pooches too.

"Dogs make the best friends," he says, "because unlike people they wag their tails, not their tongues."

Kreskin says he's only home four days a month, and that it has been estimated that he's flown more than three million miles over his career.

"The real challenge today is luggage," he says.

"Who would have ever thought that airlines would charge extra for a suitcase?"

Well, you'd probably need to have been a Kreskin to have seen that coming. Hey-o! Indeed, Kreskin's name is now part of the generic vernacular for envisage – a pop-culture development which must be a satisfying legacy. "I never dreamt it would come to that point," he says with a laugh, but not at the irony of his failed foretelling.

Back to air travel, what about the age-old lost luggage? One bets that Kreskin would have no trouble deducing the whereabouts of missing Samsonite. "I am not a psychic," he says. "I deal with the thoughts of my audience."

Speaking of thoughts, Kreskin, whose Polish-Sicilian family wished him to become a priest – can you imagine the confession-booth hilarity involved with a mind-reading pastor? – has interesting ideas on guilt.

"I think one of the irresponsible abuses that psychology has taught is that guilt cripples lives," says Kreskin, who believes that polygraph machines are now useless because people no longer feel shame or blame. "The bottom line is that you rise above your inadequacies, and that you improve yourself in spite of them."

So, what do I glean from my chat with Kreskin? That the mentalist is a sentimentalist, and that if he despairs over the direction of modern society, he doesn't see us as doomed, hell-to-pay notions aside.

The forecaster is asked if he's heard Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop, a rosy anthem about tomorrows being better than before. He hadn't, but he offers Johnny Mercer's classic song about positive reveries instead. Kreskin is crooning over the phone that things are never as bad as they seem, and that one should always dream, because they just might come true.

Kreskin sounds amazing – better than Bublé – and who would have ever seen that coming?

The Amazing Kreskin appears on the Variety Stage at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition, Aug. 15 to Sept. 1.

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