Have you read Castaneda’s books at all? The first two are really interesting. That guy Don Juan, he’s one of these Mexicans. Uneducated, brilliant. I lived next door to one down there once. He got me so good. This guy, he was an Indian, a completely uneducated man – a peasant, a peon, he doesn’t even have a home. I had this little villa on a lake – in fact she wrote about it, Sybille Bedford, it’s right in Xicotepec, on the west end of Chapala. I had rented this place for a few months. And I would see him once in a while; there was some acreage next to me on the waterfront. He had a little hut made out of grass and sticks, and once in a while I’d see him at the water’s edge, and I wondered how he lived, though I didn’t want to get to know him. Someone in the village told me that he was a witch, and that made me curious. Because he was like a little Indian guy, ancient.
One time I saw him digging a hole in the ground to get some water from the lake so the children there, little ragamuffins, could bathe. I went down to that place with a friend of mine who was visiting. I told my friend, “Here’s my camera, I’m going to talk to him, shoot a picture that you see is interesting.” So I go and I’m talking to him, and he’s very deferential, very humble, soft spoken, not a man of words. And I’m asking him a few questions and Joe, my friend, can’t make the camera work, He’s telling me in English, “I can’t get the camera to work.” I didn’t want to make a big thing about it in front of the old man – Don Jose – so I say, “Let me try it. You talk to him.” I took the camera and it wouldn’t cock. Then the shutter worked – but not when I was pointing it at him. Finally I got it to work, and I said to my friend, “Here, try it.” And Don Jose says to me, “You trying to take a picture of me?”
He was barefoot. “Here, cross this line,” he said. He goes like this, in the sand. So I cross the line, and he says, “Now tell him to take a picture.” Click – it worked.
Then I asked him in Spanish, “Tu eres un brujo, verdad?” You’re a witch, aren’t you?
And he said, “No, I’m not a witch. The witch lives up on the hill, in the jungle. Look what he did to me.” He opened up his shirt, and there was this horrible burn scar across his belly. I don’t believe in witches, but I’m fascinated by this guy. He’s got this warmth, this intelligence on his face. I liked him. So that was that. I would see him once in a while, I’d wave at him, but we don’t talk.
When I got back to civilization, I had the film developed: it was all black. But that’s not the story.
It’s the night I’m leaving, and the whole trip has been a disaster. I was trying to write and it wasn’t working, it didn’t work at all. I had used all the money I had, and it was the last night. I was sitting in front of a Smith-Corona, and I started to cry. I had my face in my hands. I wanted to die; I wanted to kill myself. I’m thinking, I can’t go back to California. I have nothing. I’m in despair. And it’s, like, twelve o’clock at night.
Now, Don Jose goes to bed when the sun goes down, in his little hut. But I look up and through my window I seem him on the other side of the foliage, and it got me – what’s he doing awake? He was turned away, I could only see the back of his head. I went to the window, and he was just standing there. I went outside and I said, “Don Jose!” And he looked at me, and he was stricken. His face looked terrible. I said, “What’s wrong?” and he says, “I’m nothing, I’m shit!”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“What does your father do?” he asked.
I said, “He’s a doctor.”
“He’s a doctor, he went to school. Has he got a car?”
“Oh yeah, he has a car – he has two.”
“Has he got a television?”
“Yeah, he’s got a television.”
“He’s got a home?”
“He’s a doctor. He’s a great man.”
“No, no, no. He’s not a great man.”
He said, “Well, he’s something. I’m nothing!”
I said, “Don Jose, you are wrong! You are one of the greatest people I’ve ever met. My father… my father is a drunk.” He would commit suicide a year later. I said, “My father doesn’t know who he is. He can’t live. You have knowledge, you have wisdom, you understand everything, you understand the earth, you see things, you see through everything, you’re brilliant.” And I kept talking to him, and he goes like this – “Really? Is that true?”
And I said, “Oh, Don Jose, you’re so lucky not to have a television.”
And he said, “Oh, I think I can sleep now – thank you, thank you!” And he went into his little hut. And I was transformed. I felt fine. I felt like a million bucks! I went back into the house and it hit me: he did that. He saw, he knew I was in trouble, and he knew how to get me out of it. He knew that if he could get me to love something outside of myself, to love him, I’d be okay.
- Hampton Fancher