The local astrologer wonders out loud.
"What's stupider than a horribly discriminatory city ordinance?"
She answers herself.
"I'd say a horribly discriminatory ordinance with a loophole you could drive a truck through."
Romi Sink, who is president of the Astrology Association of St. Petersburg, was appalled when she heard about a city ordinance that requires a business permit for fortune-tellers. Her jaw dropped when she read the description: Anyone working as "a phrenologist, astrologer, palmist, soothsayer, fortune-teller, character reader, spirit medium, absent treatment healer, or mental healer, or any occupation of similar nature" must be fingerprinted, pay a $44 fee and have a background check. She remembers thinking: Is that any of the government's business?
"The way it is written makes us feel like gypsy, fortune-telling con people that the community has agreed to grudgingly accept," says Sink. "We are honest people who contribute to society. I feel like we've gone back 200 years to witch-hunting. And society has come too far for that."
Enter the loophole. The ordinance exempts "ministers of any faith." Including ministers ordained for $20 online. Or who answer an ad in the back of Rolling Stone.
Sink says she will not get a quickie ordination to get around the city ordinance because she thinks it cheapens the value of being a real minister. And because it confuses the public.
Charles Eminizer, 68, who hires himself out as a psychic entertainer under the name Dr. Shane, can take the loophole. Look at him out of the corner of your eye and he seems to fit the profile. Think Dumbledore meets Chong. This is the face whoever wrote the fortune-teller ordinance had to have had in their head as they searched for words. But as a minister of the Universal Life Church, which charges nothing to register online, Eminizer is unaffected. He also opposes the idea of the city singling out fortune-tellers.
"Who are these people who are fortune-tellers? They're people trying to make a living the best way they can," he says. "This is just another way to hold poor people down."
The fortune-teller ordinance was put on the books in the 1950s, and sat quietly for decades until it popped up on the City Council agenda this month. The council removed a provision that requires applicants to provide five references of "good moral character," but left the rest unchanged.
To Sink, they missed the point. "The way it is written, someone practicing astrology is guilty until proven innocent by a background check. Someone who blatantly commits a crime is innocent until proven guilty," she says. "They are singling us out and putting hoops in the way of people who just want to help other people."