Some seers and stargazers promise that a great earthquake will devastate Southern California tomorrow . . . or on Tuesday . . . or before the 15th of the month . . . or maybe by Christmas . . . or sooner or later.
The impetus for this latest rash of quake forecasting can be traced to the purposely vague ramblings of a French astrologer who has been dead so long that people remember only one of his names.
On this particular issue, Nostradamus (1503-66) has been quoted, misquoted, misunderstood, interpreted and reinterpreted until just about anyone with a passing interest has been convinced that there is an imminent, catastrophic earthquake headed our way--or convinced that one isn't.
The debate has raised earthquake consciousness throughout Orange County. It has been a boon to a couple of age-old trades--psychics and astrologers. It has also given more than a modest boost to a spanking new line of work--earthquake-preparation supply.
Nevertheless, Shirley Curl, a Fullerton "biofeedback therapist" and self-professed psychic, casts a little doubt on Nostradamus' credibility.
"He predicted a lot of earthquakes and he's only been right on a 35% scale," Curl said. "That's pretty hit and miss."
Curl is also not real keen about psychics hopping on Nostradamus' bandwagon by the wagon load, each with a different understanding of what it was the 16th-Century seer really saw.
"You could drive yourself crazy," Curl observed. "Will it be May 6, no May 10? Los Angeles? San Diego? Allowing yourself to buy into what some psychic is saying is giving away your power."
Curl cautioned, however, that "our minds are powerful." Therefore, she feels, if everyone dwells on the likelihood that the ground will rattle, it can create such bad vibes that we will virtually think ourselves into an earthquake.
"We're creating this," she insisted. "The more I worry about it, the more I create it. So I choose not to create it."
Costa Mesa astrologer Laura Rose Des Jardins not only thinks about it, she thinks she has the date pretty well nailed down.
"There's a potential it can come between the first of May and the 15th," Des Jardins said on the fourth.
"Due to the Saturn-Uranus conjunction in the sign of Capricorn," she explained as one would explain two-plus-two to a child. "Capricorn moves the earth and the land . . . and when you put those two planets together it's very, very powerful."
Of course, just in case, Des Jardins has a second choice: "If it doesn't come now, then another time is December."
The scientific community has not taken all this lying down. Since the recent television rerun of "The Man Who Saw Tomorrow," a 1981 movie depicting the life of Nostradamus, the telephones have rung off the hook at places like Caltech in Pasadena, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and fire stations in Orange County.
According to his interpreters, Nostradamus was trying to tell us that quake would come in "New City" (perhaps a common 16th-Century misspelling of Anaheim) when all the planets are aligned.
One drawback, according to the Griffith Observatory experts, is that the planets won't be aligned this month and even if they were, their combined gravitational pull would be to earth as flea bites are to elephants.
Moreover, critics point out that the movie which advanced this prophecy lifted Nostradamus' predictions out of context, mixing bits and pieces of different quatrains, the poetic verses in which he wrote.
"It is out of context and it is taking the quatrains and splitting them up and taking a couple different quatrains," fessed up Des Jardins. "He (Nostradamus) deliberately tried to be deceptive. He didn't want the average person to understand; he wanted astrologers to understand.
"At that time it (astrology) was still considered a very sacred science. You wouldn't just give this knowledge to the average person."
Des Jardins said Nostradamus didn't want to scare anybody, although it is difficult to imagine just how much panic there might have been in France in the Middle Ages had the typical Frenchman on the street suddenly discovered that there was going to be a big earthquake in Los Angeles 400 years hence.
There has, however, been a bit of uneasiness, ranging up to mild hysteria, among the local population in recent weeks.
"Any astrologer or psychic who makes a prediction that an earthquake is coming is going to be right sooner or later because we live in earthquake country," according to astrologer Elayne Manago of Laguna Niguel. "I think these are sensationalism-seeking astrologers and psychics, and they are getting the population all upset."
Fear of the impending quake reportedly has sent many people out of state to the safe confines of places such as Arizona and Nebraska. Manago is leaving town, too, but she insists that it is not because she is afraid of earthquakes.
"I'm going to Italy and Switzerland and have planned to for five months," she said.
Kathy Gannon is not going anywhere. She is too busy.