By ANN BARRY The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) - For Larry Bress

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By ANN BARRY The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) -- For Larry Bress, owner of a Norfolk pawn shop, the stars can tell him the best day to sue a debtor or the best month to buy a car. "It might be a bunch of bull, but I like to go with the odds," Bress said. Virginia Beach modeling agency owner Lawrence Steinhart said an astrologer's advice de-mystified a pain in his stomach and helped him get a book published. "I consider it advice with a difference," he said. Astrology seems to have shifted from spooky to pragmatic over the last 10 years. Noel Tyl, a Harvard University psychology graduate, author and consultant, said more and more people are viewing astrology as a problem-solving tool rather than as a weird science. "It used to be only women with blue-rinse gray hair, too much time on their hands and a bad marriage, going down the street to a lady with a crystal chandelier," Tyl said. "Times are getting faster. People just over the age of 26 are starting to feel pressures in life," he said. "Businessmen and women are seeking help and guidance and finding that it can be profoundly, strategically rewarding." In New York, astrologers are hanging out shingles in neighborhoods populated by young professionals and giving consultations in restaurants where businessmen congregate. In Hampton Roads, astrologers say their clients include realty agents, doctors, salesmen, developers, lawyers, mothers and even young children. Their questions range from what investments to make to when a teen-age daughter will find a sweetheart, astrologers say. The planets follow certain cycles through the heavens and, astrologers believe, each person plugs into that cycle the minute he is born. The very minute is important because the stars shift every four minutes. They said that is why daily horoscopes based on birthdate, often printed in newspapers, are often inaccurate. People are too intricate to be placed into only 12 groups. Carole Devine Carroll, a Virginia Beach astrologer, said that as the planets interact, "they trigger opportunities, blockages and different things you have to deal with. How you deal with them is another matter." "In romance and finance," said Ted Sharp, another Beach astrologer, "forewarned is forearmed." Membership in the American Federation of Astrologers has grown from about 4,000 to 4,700 in the past three years. New national groups, including the National Geocosmic Research Council and the United Astrology Conference, have sprung up as well. Even computer companies such as IBM, McIntosh and Apple are jumping in, offering software to aid astrologers. Nearly 100 astrologers attend monthly meetings at the home of Virginia Beach astrologer Vicki Greene. Seven are full-time, professional astrologers who charge between $10 and $50 for consultations. Only Ms. Greene and Ms. Carroll are listed in the Yellow Pages. Some participate in a monthly psychic fair at the Fellowship Center in Virginia Beach. Most only take referrals from other clients. But one astrologer hands out gift certificates to increase business. What they do should not be considered fortunetelling, they insist. And their clients said they consider signals from the stars to be guidelines and inclinations, not fate. "May -- that's one of the biggest words in astrology. You may be an adventuresome person, you may have trouble with your girlfriend," said Richard Kline, a Virginia Beach astrologer. "There is one thing I want to underline, and that is I am not a kook who runs to fortunetellers and psychics and astrologers," said Steinhart, owner of Talent Management of Virginia Models Inc. in Virginia Beach. "Anything that smacks of fortunetelling sort of gets my hackles up." "Astrology does not rule my life, OK?" said Larry Bress of Bress Loans. "I rule my life. If I am indecisive, she (the astrologer) can help me, but I am not a robot. If I have a strong feeling, I'll do what I want." Still, several clients said they find that their astrologers can counsel them with uncanny accuracy. "In 1978, she told me not to buy a car," Bress said. "I did it anyhow and I had nothing but problems the whole time," The car was pale yellow -- "lemon yellow," he said. In 1973, Steinhardt said, he was trying to publish a book on health and beauty after 14 years in the New York modeling industry. "I had trouble reaching my agent," he said. "He was busy. I left a message. This went on for at least two or three weeks, and it was enough for me to get very anxious as to whether we were going to go ahead with the book contract." He said his astrologer suggested calling the agent at a specific time. "I telephoned at the exact hour that she told me to call and was put through immediately, and everything worked out perfectly," he said. Ellen Payne, an agent with Active One Realty in Virginia Beach, said astrology has taught her how to handle different clients. She knows, for instance, that she should show a customer born under the Leo sign a big, flashy house. A Virgo, on the other hand, won't be inclined to buy a house unless it is super clean, neat and "looks just right," she said. Anything can be interpreted by an astrologer -- even municipal affairs. In 1985 Virginia Beach City Manager Thomas H. Muehlenbeck chuckled over a newspaper article quoting Greene as saying March was the worst month the city could have chosen for its $122.8 million bond referendum because Saturn was passing Venus, and people would be more conservative with their money and more disgruntled in general. The referendum failed.

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