El curandero (Or: The Day I Believed in Magic)


A friend of mine in the desert used to be very superstitious regarding his less-than-legal “distribution business” at the time, so every year he’d have a friend of his from sur de la frontera bring up a companion. A curandero.

From the countryside. To determine the current state of the house, its overall health and what or who threatened it.
My friend asked me if I wanted to meet him. I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. My friend — dressed up — which I thought was funny. My friend’s buddy comes in first. “Hey, ____? How’s it been?” Big hugs. Good guy. Would do anything for a friend.
Behind him was a man, and someone I knew was capable of unexpected things from the moment I saw him. His stance was slouchy but relaxed, he had few mannerisms, you could point somewhere and he would only look where he wanted. It was not an critical advantage he wanted. He just wouldn’t look in certain places or in some directions. (My buddy thanked him for coming.) He introduced me. I looked at the tall curandero’s face and I saw a historical, geologic tale unspinning on his face, as if just looking at him imparted a feeling or “knowledge” that was not an option. It simply was if you looked at him. His piercing blue eyes. But they weren’t piercing.
They were not threatening. But man, they looked like you could skip a stone in them.
Windows to Tierra del Madre? No idea.
But when he looked at me, he gripped my hand tighter, smiled. And then smiled differently, as if he had just learned something.
He wouldn’t go less than six feet away from a large room-dominating rubber plant in the living room. Neither would I after this inspection. Neither would I.
He walked around the house, pointing at dressers and asking for certain items to be removed and put outside the house. During this, ____ and I are dragging a 200 pound rubber tree plant out the front door. Freaking huge. I hated that thing.
After my friend had done what he asked (half-dozen removed objects/plants — others included a clock that stopped at exactly when he had left and wasn’t working before he got there). His eyes, I said, to my friend. “Es Cristo.”
My friend, however, is in sustained but regulated panic, which I give him credit for. We had both seen a lot of things. A lot of things happen. And a lot of things we’d wish we’d never seen. But man, he could just shed any subtleties and just FINISH — whicd cannot be hyped enough.
Fuck starting. Or startups. Or shooting stars.
Finishing. Wall Street. Black market. At a bingo parlor.
And as my friend was talking to ______, I said goodbye to the curandero. He grasped both my hands, squeezed them, looked off in space, half-shook his head, threw down my hands out of his, and shook his own as if they were cold or wet or poison.
And he wandered into the backyard — I thought by mistake at the time — and I remember thinking this would be a cool time to talk to him. Ask him some important questions. I had already come to the conclusion this man knew things I would *never* know. His vibe was nothing short of mystical. He was hearing things the rest of us don’t.
I looked for my cigarettes for maybe 30 seconds, then headed outside toward the magic man. As I came around the jumping cholla cactus outside the door, I see the curandero standing there, his back is to me…there is a CROW or RAVEN on his shoulder, the house Rottweiler is on his right, something else is on his left.
And a monarch butterfly is buzzing his head.
“Quieres agua, mi amigo?” I said.
As he turned the crow stayed put. The Rottweiler (who I knew) did too. And
from his left side turned, looked at me and then scampered away was a coyote.
He called the coyote some pet/cute name as it disappeared. Something with “-ito”
at the end of it.
The crow itself was freaking me out. It was a big bird. It’s head looked huge.
He asked me if I was afraid of birds in broken Spanish. I barely could speak spanish then, but neither could he. It probably was not his first language.
He lowered his arm, the crow looked him, began inching down his arm, and the mystic motioned at me, to extend my arm with just his eyes. So I did. (And I don’t like birds, man. Especially wild big-ass scavenger birds. The fucking bird hopped on my arm and — I swear on my mother — started singing. Not chirping. Or squawking. But singing. Like a bad singer, singing. Like a fucking crow that shouldn’t do requests, singing karaoke to please a business associate.
I started shaking as I watched the curandero pick a fucking snake off the ground.
A king snake. Not really a popular snake in southern AZ. I was losing my mind.
So the crows sings for at least a minute. It was horrible. I was shaking so much, the pitch from the crow changed as my arm began to give out and his head was going up and down. Finally, I couldn’t take it and yelled at the crow to get off of me. It didn’t budge.
I look to the curandero and he’s letting go of the king snake not far from my feet. It disappears. He then walks over to me, says “adios” and smiles, picks up the crow from my arm and walks back the cholla and a minute later I heard _____ ‘s car start and they motored away. When I walked in my buddy’s house, he was holding two pairs of work gloves and throws a pair at me.
“What are these for?”
“The shovels.”
“What shovels?”
“The ones I’m bringing to bury the rubber tree plant.”
“THE rubber tree plant?”
(Like half a Christmas tree in size.)
He opens the front door. Looks at me.
“Yup. You’re helping me right?”
“Yea, of course.”
“He says it might be ‘too late’…”
“For what?”
“The rubber tree plant. Covered with bad voodoo…”
“You believe him?”
He raises his eyebrows, looks at me.
“Don’t you?”
I pause. The “CAW-CAW” of a crow passes above us.
“What else did he say? He talk about me?”
“He said you are trustworthy but reckless.”
I said, “That sounds about right.”
“And that _____  (his dog) wants his favorite ball back…if you’re not using it…” He squints. “What ball?”
I had house sat for my friend 6 months before. His dog usually fetched tennis balls. I got him some baseballs that were a better fit for his huge mouth. I lost two of the three I bought before my stay was done. The Rottweiler — on my last day — came up to me before I left and rolled the last baseball to me by the front door. I bent down, rolled it back.

And he did the same to me.

I smiled and picked it up and brought it home with me.



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