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Madame Zora, a 40ish mother of four, usually works behind a card table in Balboa Park. "I had to get a license downtown," she tells me, "which I did not know at first. I just went [to Balboa Park] and started telling fortunes, and some man with a badge said I can be arrested for loitering."

She says she didn't need certification as an astrologist ("I'm self-taught"), but she did have to file for a business license, file a fictitious name announcement in local papers, and pay local taxes from her earnings. "They check my license all the time," she says, referring to tax equalization authorities as well as park patrol officers.

"I know there's a law about how loud [a performer can be], but they don't seem to enforce that." She cites instances where amplified musicians are performing near her. "The music, it's terrible, and it ruins my business. [My customers] can't hear what I'm saying, or they don't even come.... The music scares them away."

Madame Zora plays her own CDs while doing readings. "If they're young, I play Enigma. If [they are] older, I have movie soundtracks...2001 (A Space Odyssey) and something, I think it's from The Exorcist."

Though the park musicians annoy her, she doesn't mind telling their fortunes if they have $10 for palm reading or $15 to $20 for tarot cards ("I decide what to charge by what they look like"). She admits having trouble keeping her bias in check. "I told a violin player he had no future in music, that it would ruin his life. Really, it was ruining mine, but he must have heard I am very powerful and have many believers.... I have not seen him since I told him this."

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