1996 - Los Angeles Magazine - Carlos Castaneda Interview by Bruce Wagner


Version 2011.07.09

Los Angeles Magazine - May 1996

Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles, May 1996
Authors: Wagner, Bruce

Part I of II

ON THE PLANE BACK FROM MEXICO CITY WITH CARLOS CASTANEDA. And I'm wigged, because there is no fucking peyote. None offered; none smelt or dealt -- no child's-size button or gill-thin slice in evidence. No drugs! No mescalito! Only those cloying, silvery zip-locked honey-coated peanuts and a pallid fangy stewardess with purple-glossed Anistonian pout ("It's called'Manic Panic,"' she says. "I got it on Melrose.") who, upon seeing the outre fire-engine red CAA script in my lap hovers; a warm and fizzless 7-UP away from asking "what's shooting in Mex-hee-ko?" Seems she worked the Sundance shuttle and it really gave her the show-biz; bug. I'm tempted to say Dr. Castaneda and I are teaming on a Tim Burton or, "something with Drew." Or how's about we're headed for the famed Churubusco Studios to do a rewrite on the $38 million Honey, I Shrunk the Boundaries of Normal Perception (Touchstone)? Nah, she's 23 and wouldn't know Carlos Castaneda from a hole in Werner Erhard. After all, CC's no Learning Annex cover book. Suddenly, I'm mugged by that hideous L.A. Times movie promo, the one with the sexed-up rappelling location scout. (Director: "Where's my river?") It's all over me like a cheap Joan Osborne jingle -- in my personalized version, Purple Lips is the scout, and me the hairy, arrogant genius boy: "Where's my peyote?"

Sheesh. I had hoped a workshop in Mexico with Don Carlos was going to be my sinfully mystic moment; I'd expected nothing short of flying monkeys and a brand-new brain. The idea was to frolic through the spookily high-concept, coyote-strewn chaparral of those famous book covers, time and terrain collapsing as I duked it out with 18-foot shape-shifting allies, then morphed into a crow flying over an IMAX diorama of Sonoran sky, feeling what it's like to peck the shit out of some trippy little jackrabbit. You can't always get what you want.

Even stone-cold sober, I have to say Mexico was kicky. The archbishop decried "the pseudo-religion of the New Age" (you know, the kind that promotes una falsa vision de la realidad), while the smog-socked metropolis, oblivious to His Bunuelian imprecations, descended on a private club a thousand-strong to attend Castaneda's "Tensegrity" seminar, profits of which were donated to local orphanages. How retro! On line, the curious, the faithful, the fateful and the just plain media, fingered excerpts of CC's forthcoming book, Readers of Infinity, an exeges "from the world, as interpreted by sorcerers." For those who've followed the elusive nagual and his global peregrinations, Tensegrity is the heart of the big artichoke of his teachings: a mysterious set of physical movements, "magical passes developed by Indian shamans who lived Mexico in times prior to the Spanish Conquest."

Whoa.

THE CABIN SPASMS THROUGH A tunnel of turbulence; my cue to lurch to the loo. I'm forever fleeing to the washroom when I'm with the man -- I get morose and skittish, like a fucked-up Jimmy Olson. CC once told me bathrooms are dangerous places. If one gets "silent" enough on the bowl, a crack in the world opens up. One minute you're braced against the $600 ergonomic seat of your Snyder-Diamond toilet-bidet combo; the next you're shimmying through that pesky Third Gate, the one he talks about in The Art of Dreaming, where you find yourself staring at a sleeping snorer who turns out to be ... you! With a shudder, I stare at the 37,000-foot-high black rubber hole and ruminate on Dr. Castaneda's sorceric toilet-training riff.

"We're taught very carefully how to view the world -- and how to 'handle' it," he had said a few moments earlier, as a beastly dip jostled the stewardess into the easily bruisable arms of a stunned retiree. "The social order commands us: How to blow our nose, read a map or interpret the gesture of a stranger -- 'practical actions.' We learn so well, even a psychotic uses the toilet instead of the planter in a hotel lobby." He adds coyly: "Most psychotics. You have to learn a new set of 'practical actions' if you want to see that the world is not the way your mother described it." I'd told him that in order to break those boundaries, I need drugs -- I'm not talking Prozac or Percocet Nation. None of that Brentwood caca fo me. I'm talking Datura inoxia. I'm talking Lophophora williamsii and Psilocybe mexicana. Isn't that what his books were about (the early ones anyway)? UCLA student working on thesis seeks out expert on hallucinogenic plants, unwittingly meets Yaqui Indian brujo, Don Juan Matus. Don Juan tells him we are magical beings, exquisite animals, true perceivers -- now fallen, toothless lions, caged and flea-bitten, with no awareness of the meaning or majesty of our lives or deaths. Castaneda yawns at brujo. Don Juan napalms him with psychotropics until CC sees, writes bestseller and lands on cover of Time. Becomes cultural icon and so-called godfather of the New Age. Well, I've been trying three [...?] he wants me to know drugs are unnecessary(*) --"Yes, they shift the assemblage point, but in an unstable fashion."

STRAPPED IN MY SEAT NOW, NURSING drugless wounds and sending the stewardess those righteous Don't-Ask-Me-Anything-About-the-Business vibes. As we begin our slow, drug-free descent, I think of how I came to meet CC. I was working on a script for Ixtlan (Oliver Stone's company; we're all journeymen here), when I heard OS and the legendary shaman had broken bread. How slick! Hats off to wily, clowning, dharma-bumming, decade-foraging pop ethnographer Oliver, I thought (cumbersomely). Hmmm. Too good to pass up; I should do a little weaseling myself. I'd read all CC's books, had all the big-time apprentice/accidental-tourist fantasies.

If I could just finagle a dinner, a lunch, some time under the volcano, so to speak, then get on with it: write the definitive David Foster Wallace-size bio and get Annie Leibovitz'd for the New York Times Magazine cover ("Bruce Wagner's Warrior: On Shamans, Castaneda and the Elusive Art of Biography").

I'd met Billy Wilder through Oliver easily enough. But OS was off scouting in Thailand, as is his wont -- Where's my delta? -- so someone in-house put out feelers. Nothing happened. Gelson's sushi- and caffeine-sodden days blurred into weeks blurred in months; projects kindled, flared, sizzled, flickered, smoldered and died; scripts winked like horny burn patients from the ICU of their IKEA shelves. Still, all quiet on the energetic front. Finally, a San Rafael hippie source called to say CC was to speak at the Phoenix Bookstore in Santa Monica. So there I go an there he is, and it's weird! Because he's "diminutive" and gregarious with a broad, rubbery smile, and he's talking phenomenology, intentionality, sorceric intersubjectivity; Brentano, Husserl and Heidegger -- and then he's effervescing about ... Hollywood! Castaneda, at'70s studio pitch meetings! Reminiscing about all the suits who wanted to make movies from his books! And he's flat-out, obscenely, Orson Welles ? funny -- I say that because I used to drive Welles to Ma Maison in a limo, and Welles was the same conversational way, with those unexpected scarily au courant, trenchant tummy-roiling references. (We chauffeurs kept a board in the trunk to slide the custom-shod, ascoted elephant seal in and out of the car; did that with Larry Flynt, too, when we brought him to Martin Luther King hospital for rehab.) Between yuks -- CC says his jokes are a "dissonance" to soften people up so they'll suspend judgment -- he talked the oddest shit from his books that everyone there had of course read but kind of temporarily forgot with the shock of seeing the obsessive mythic diarist before them, in the flesh. I got the feeling half the group was trying to make sure it was him -- still uncommitted, not wanting to be Don Juan Barnum'd. After all, he's never been photographed, recorded, et cetera. When the crowd warmed up enough, he said things like

(1) We've been seduced into perceiving the world as a place of hard surfaces and finalities; (2) The universe is only energy-no good and no evil, only energy; (3) Definition of a sorcerer? Someone who "sees" that energy as it flows; (4) We're electromagnetic beings: When a sorcerer "sees" a man or woman energetically, they resemble "luminous eggs;" (5) Each luminous egg has an "assemblage point." Sorcerers learn to shift that assemblage point so that - That was all I could take.

NEARLY ON THE GROUND NOW. Under the trembling, mucousy wing rivets, Hollywood Park looks like something out of Toy Story -- impossibly big, bright, fun and dumb. The lurid stewardess faces us, from the safety high chair that flaps from the wall. She's definitely turned on me. Serves me right for traveling under CAA cover.

"The sorcerer's idea," says Castaneda, "is to venture to a place where socialization and syntax no longer rule. To dream, for a sorcerer, isn't to be the hero -- that's the 'lucid dreamer,' obsessed with self to the end. To dream oneself someplace else takes tremendous discipline. One dreams when there's nothing left: no desires or debts, anger or happiness -- only silence. Then, boom! Don Genaro Flores said that was the sound of the world stopping. When you stop the system of interpretation, that's what you hear: BOOM. At that moment, all of you goes to that other place -- hair, pocket money, shoes."

For now, that other place was Customs. We're back in L.A. I can tell, because it's the only airport I know that comes with paparazzi.

A FEW MONTHS ago, I got a call from the wife of an old friend, felled by a tumor in his head. Boom. A tousle-haired jock with a weed growing in the garden of his skull for what doctors guessed was the better part of a decade. They said it sat on the brain like a skullcap, but I saw it more like a man-o'-war gently riding cerebral fluids. This was the kind of bud you'd grimly joke with if it happened to someone else. How could it be? I saw him at Cedars after surgery, and he told me about a dream. He had dreamed a passel of ghouls. The ghouls, polite ones at that, asked in best ghoulish voice if he'd be so kind as to be the "official spokesperson for the disembodied." That gave me a chill. My friend went on to say he had agreed -- in the dream, that is -- "because now I had some time on my hands."

Jesus. That was one for Oliver Sacks -- or Carlos Castaneda.

"DEATH IS TOO SHOCKING," CC says, as we scan the lobby of the Chateau Marmont. "We prefer to be King of the Hill." His manner is casual, offhand. "Ten thousand years ago" he came here to visit a writer working on a screenplay of The Teachings of Don Juan. We walk pass the front desk on the way to Sunset Boulevard. Is that Judy Davis entering the lift?

"The sperm count of man is dropping -- did you read about it? It's below the level of hamsters. They blame it on migration to the cities, but that's absurd. The bats will win -- their sonar systems have become inconceivable. While the bats hone themselves, what does man do? He eats. He fights. He fucks. He defends his ego. Man is truly an insane ape! He has his holy men -- the special chair the guru sat in is on display. 'This is where Baba sat,' they say during the tour ... They've wrapped his feces in plastic. That's the New Age. I'm the Old Age!"

CC and I stroll into Bar Marmont. The hip setting lends a hallucinatory whiff to his juxtaposition, but he seems to be enjoying himself. I point out notables: Michael Stipe, a table with Abel Ferrara and Steve Buscemi, Paul Schrader and Bridget Fonda, a UTA agent with the super-model.

I think they call Shalom (a peace in any language). All in all, the perfect moment to ask about the luminous egg.

"Okay, let's say you, uh, see Michael Stipe standing before you. I mean, energetically."

"Michael Stipe would appear as a luminous sphere."

I'm into it now; the shadow-boxing apprentice is getting his see legs. "You've said that such luminous spheres have a bright spot called the assemblage point."

"Roughly at the height of the shoulder blades," he demonstrates, "an arm's length back. That's where perception is assembled and interprete The old sorcerers saw that the assemblage point is in the same position for all men -- that's why we view the world, this world, in such uniformity. The assemblage point is displaced when we dream -- and when that happens, new worlds come together, as real as our own. The sorcerer's art is to willfully displace that assemblage point, then fix its new position. That's the art of dreaming."

My energetic Everlasts torn, I rush back to my corner for solace and stitching -- the bathroom again, to sit on my stool. I think I understand what he's saying, but it makes me fucking uneasy. I stare at myself in the mirror and try to conjure the luminous egg ... so cogent one minute, outlandish the next. The world has always been extravagantly improbable; how, then, do we go about choosing what is or isn't so, personally? Is it merely a question of context?

I splash water on my face, grounding myself in the soothing petty paranoias of Film World. Edgily, I muse: Hey. Doesn't Stipe have some kind of "overall" at Miramax? He's probably already rushed over and introduced himself to Castaneda -- handshaking a deal right now on The EagI Gift. A little feature ... something around 7 to 10 -- with Buscemi as the brujo Don Juan. Schrader's already joined them, cobbling together a second act on a napkin, while hot-and-bothered UTA shoehorns Shalom as a Species-like Sonoran ally.

Castaneda is alone when I return, nursing his hot water. He's always drinking hot water. By the time I sit down, the luminous egg and its assemblage point are absurdities again. My attention span is sucky; maybe a little Ritalin would help me crack the energy code. Disconsolately I tell him I've been mulling those tricky shamanistic concepts but can't seem to suspend judgment. My ego's in id-lock.

"You're thinking too much, that's all," he says. "We're all ponderers." A scarily obese person lumbers toward us, then floats from view like a leaky barge -- today? factotum? publicist? "That's us: dying to be fat and useless. The difficult part about Don Juan's world is that you have to experience.

If all the pondering is properly examined, it's revealed to be meaningless. Pondering -- the obsession with linear response, with cause and effect -- is fallacious. There's no way to explain anything. We've been trained to believe we're curious to know the why of things. We think we can arrive at an 'understanding'; 'noble' intellectuals, totally unaccustomed to action. We pretend to seek answers, but our desire is to debunk. We're all Grand Inquisitors-I have met Torquemadas in my time! We hunger for the Big Question and we're enthralled by the Inadequate Answer, so we can go back to Seinfeld. The truth is, we're not curious at all."

PART II of II

AS WE WALK ALONG SUNSET, WE pass an enormous mobile home; pinch-faced men and women in black scurry about with garment bags. There's some kind of Vogue shoot going on in the Chateau garden, and we take a look. Helmut Newton is straddling a supermodel, six feet of pale, thrift-store Prada. It makes CC think of Fellini, who came to see him once in L.A. Il Maestro wanted to make a movie of his books; more to the point, he wanted to crash that Third Gate, swept through on the muscular black-tie arm of mescalito.(**) What a dream-date And, oh! How I sympathized with the dead, extravagant fish-mouthed auteur!

MY MOOD SWINGS LIKE A HAMMOCK in the caressing Santa Ana. I'm melancholy and mention my friend, he of the erstwhile tumor.

"We are beings who are going to die. That's exquisite -- think what can be accomplished by a being who knows he's going to die, who's fully aware. That's not morbid, that's a triumph. But we don't believe it, that's the flaw. Your friend, is he okay?"

"Yes. He seems to be recovering."

He brightens. "Ah! It's possible to reject all kinds of things. But then we need proof and assurances -- guarantees we're in remission. The doctors want to test endlessly. We are compulsive fatalists. I have a friend whose father e-mails him writings about his prostate; Daddy got the Big C and wants to make sure the son's on schedule. 'Cancer's just around the corner -- watch out!' We've been slated for conventional defeat, conventional death; we know how the end will come. For him, the prostate; for her, the breast. We hedge our bets with investments: retirement funds, pensions, vacation plans. The 'hot' hotel in Lanai is on the horizon! We want to know -- everything. Against that immensity out there, we know nothing! How could we? We cling: If only we could really know, like Leonard Nimoy."

I do the Vulcan spit-take. "Please explain."

"An Argentinean once wrote me a letter. 'My dear Carlos,' he said. 'For whatever it's worth, you must be aware of one thing: Leonard Nimoy knows."'

THE WORLD IS MAD, OF THAT much I'm certain. But is Carlos Castaneda? He believes we're magical beings; only the worst of cynics would disagree. He asserts our electromagnetism; the scientists nod. He wishes to replace the inner dialogue with silence; Buddhists wouldn' have a problem. He desires to navigate in the unknown with something called the double, or "energy body." Oh shit.

We meet downtown at the Pantry, where he occasionally came with Don Juan. If sorcerers dream of diners, surely they dream of this one. There's a quintessence-of-eatery about the place: burnished, vaguely haunted, perfectly distilled -- the diurnal bookend to Hopper's Night Hawks.

"I wanted to ask you about the double."

"We call that the 'energy body' or'dreaming body.'

"It's different than the luminous egg?"

"Yes, the double is something else. It's a counterpart. We all have one, but we're separated from it at birth -- like Spy magazine says. What sorcerers do is call back the double. They use it to navigate ... out there."

I get that urge again and quickly scan for bathroom egress. For the hell of it, I decide to break an old pattern and stay put -- what sorcerers call a "not-doing." This, then, will be my men's room not-going. Instead, I inquire about the crux of his recent seminars, the series of strange movements taught him by the legendary brujo -- "magical passes" never mentioned in any of his books. He calls this lost art "Tensegrity" and says it is essential to gathering enough energy to "cancel out our inherited view of the world."

"The magical passes were discovered by shamans of ancient Mexico during dreaming navigations. They were intensely secretive -- I never wrote about them because they were just too personal."

"But were Don Juan's explanations enough?" My not-going has left me feeling feisty. "I would think he business about dreaming navigations was a bit on the abstract side -- this was probably early in your apprenticeship, no? Weren't you more curious about the movements' origins?"

"Certainly! I wanted to know everything, to arrive at an 'understanding.' Oh, I ached to ponder. But Don Juan discouraged that particular discussion. Just as he discouraged me looking into a mirror or videotaping myself while dreaming."

"How freakish." Though I wasn't sure what he meant, I found the prospect genuinely unsettling.

"I assure you 'Mr. Nightmare'was more inquisitive than Geraldo -- or Mike Wallace." He laughed so hard he practically coughed up his porterhouse. "That's what Don Juan called me: Mr. Nightmare."

Cleargreen -- the company that sponsors CC's worldwide Tensegrity workshops -- recently announced over the Internet that "due to circumstances related to energy flow," L.A. would now have Castaneda's special focus. When I ask him to elaborate, he suddenly seems far away. Not nostalgic, just remote. "I'll never catch up to Don Juan. How beautiful! How much more beautiful than the shitty sadness I carried around for my parents and their fate. There isn't much time; I'm the end of Don Juan's line. Being here, in Los Angeles, is very real. You know Don Juan had a place of 'predilection' -- a valley around 60 miles north of Mexico City, near the pyramid of Tula. For me, he said that place of predilection was Los Angeles."

AT THE BUFFALO CLUB (WITHOUT him). On the way, I thought I hit a bird. Which alarms me because Castaneda had told me that was a standing joke back in Don Juan's time -- "Everyone was always nervously saying, 'I think I hit a bird."' Bad omens rising.

I sit at the Buffalo bar and drink. Steve Buscemi and Steve Bochco and Frank Stallone and Michael Stipe and Cameron Diaz and Lauren Shuler-Donner and Paul Schrader and Eric Idle and Traci Lords and Spike Jones and Bob Shaye and Shalom and Michael Mann and Elisabet Shue and Helmut Newton and Abel Ferrara and Dominick Dunne. None of them were there! Must be an off night. I imagine my friend with the excised tumor sweeping in, darkly Dolce & Gabbana'd, an insectoid Foreign Legion pin on lapel denoting Official Spokesperson for the Disembodied.

Over a martini, I review my crib notes: (1) We're magical beings, not just assholes; (2) We've been taught to see the world in a certain way; (3) We can temporarily cancel out what we've been taught and experience new worlds, real as our own; (4) There are no words to describe those new worlds; (5) Those worlds can be accessed during dreams, when our ironclad perceptual grip relaxes; (6) We use our birthright -- the double, or dreaming body -- to navigate; (7) To do that takes a shitload of energy; (8) Energy is accrued by shutting up the inner dialogue and doing strange, ancient physical movements; (9) Energy is accrued by "intent"; (10) Intent is a natural force, like gravity. (Sorcerers say dinosaurs intended to fly, so grew wings. If man is to evolve, so must he intend the abstract wings of freedom.)

I see Kim Cattrall and run the 10 points past her while her boyfriend, Daniel Benzali, the Murder One guy, visits the head. I ask what she thinks, and she says I sound PMS. I tell her about my erstwhile-tumored friend, and this opens the morbid floodgates: She mentions someone who got shot and I mention Elisabeth Leustig, the casting director mortally hit-and-run in Moscow. Regrettably, my mind, always looking after its own, segues to the novel I just wrote, the galleys of which arrived this morning in a torn FedEx package, the back of each page stamped with massive tire tracks. Bad omens rising!

I walk them out. A few pasty, subdued Baader-Meinhof types push colored pens and notebooks at her -- glossies from Bonfire, Star Trek and Masquerade. Kim talks to them in fluent German, but all the starstruck autograph hounds can muster is "Zuper!" While she signs, Daniel, having overheard my energy rant, references John Cage, then asks about Castaneda's idea of "silence. " He's gracious, trodding delicately -- the way one is around the emotionally challenged.

"He says that once you shut off the inner dialogue, you become empty. And that opens you to all kinds of bizarreness."

"And what was that you said about colors, Bruce?"

"When you're empty -- I mean, this is what Castaneda says -- you see a kind of sheet on the horizon. And it's lavender! He says there's a point of color on that sheet: pomegranate. He says the pomegranate point expands, then bursts into an infinity that can be'read."'

"As in literal text?" Kim asks.

A pause. She had me there. The charitable Daniel winces a goodbye.

FOUR A.M. HUNCHED AT THE MultiSync, surfing unofficial Internet newsgroups like alt.dreams.castaneda, Spanish poems -- Gorostiza, Vallejo, Neruda -- and tango lyrics exchanged. Advice to the love- and energy-lorn. Seems to me my tumorless bud will have to unseat incumbent Bill Gates -- the real spokesperson for the disembodied (you only vote by absentee). I ask the ether if Infinity can be read as text, an someone says, Yeah, that's how CC writes his books. Upcoming workshop gossip. Speculation about possible attendance of Blue Scout, a stellar wild child introduced in 1994's The Art of Dreaming. Names of passes dropped: "Preparing to Cross Over," "Stabbing Energy in Search of a New Position of the Assemblage Point," "The Female and Male Winged Being," "The Stellar Hatch." Someone says the latter draws on "the energy of dead stars," which provokes more queries: Do trees have assemblage points? Where is L.A.'s "power spot"? (Hint: Not Drai's.) Are there worlds where hues have scents? And what is the color of discipline?

THE WORKSHOP AT UCLA. Five hundred seekers, choreographed on the shiny wood court in a shamanistic half-time show. In keeping with the weekend's theme -- " Warriors on the Run" -- the passes seem speedier, more propulsive than those in Mexico: qi-soaked eruptions that resemble kung fu; then, sudden filigreed handwork akin to tai chi. But what the hell do I know.

"Tensegrity isn't a'fighting form,"' CC tells the group. "It isn't competitive. In the world, one thought competes with 10 others. We have to try and leave the world behind." The magical passes are'maneuvers designed to isolate and enhance what sorcerers call the'energy body"' -- not necessarily the goal of your average storefront dojo for savage young white boys. Someone asks if the movements were performed en masse in the days with Don J. "Not then -- because the passes were injurious. The movements taught to myself were solely for me, to balance my energetic conifiguration and purge its obsessive nature. You see, our idea is that the men and women who discovered these movements were a little dark, a little ... ominous. Those qualities had to be removed before the passes could be shared."

I DO 20 MINUTES OF TENSEGRITY in my living room; oddly, my limbs seem to remember one of the longer sequences. I imagine my dreaming body floating toward me like a ghostly pet at chow time. Then I lie down for one of the Silence exercises: Calves dangling, I place a weight on my belly, applying pressure to the top of the rib cage with my fingertips. I shut my eyes and transcend the lids, focusing somewhere far on the dark horizon. After flirting with silence, I swig down some Kahlua and dream liqueured inanities.

Awaken at four a.m. Turn on the television. Ping-pong between Bravo, CNN, VH- 1, Cops, IFC, Court-TV. On the latter, a compendium of trials: war criminals on the stand in The Hague; in Atlanta, a divorce attorney divorces his wife, herself a former client; a woman abandons her Alzheimer's-stricken father at an Idaho dog track. (A trend. The media calls it "granny-dumping.") Press the mute and drift ... What if Castaneda's right? hums the refrain in my vaguely nauseated head. What if, in fact, this Bosnian Citywalk reality we're so cockily possessive of turn out to be some Twilight Zone joke (the one where the drunken couple awakens in what turns out to be the dollhouse of an extraterrestrial little girl). What if the whole seductive bankrupt Barneys world is one shamelessly imposed -- not merely the imposition of laws or learned social niceties but, far more insidious, the dictator of how we perceive, tyrant of the way we watch the very things in front of us (it has our eyes) ... and, uh, if it's really true we've been mugged at birth, robbed of even the shitty amount of awareness it takes to see some kind of wonder beyond its well-worn, leeching inventory -- well that's, uh, like jail. Huh? A snakepit of dysfunction and fatal surprises for most of us -- and for the rest, well, kinda cushy really: a well-kept, well-lit federal jail with Burke Williams massages, AIDS walkathons, nec plus ultra cel phones, Internet lecheries, successful surgeries, successful adoptions, successful hardworking antidepressants and Four Seasons brunches with smiley omelet chefs in big puffy hats -- like one of those Tijuana prisons I read about, where money buys you a sort of brownstone and you can have weapons and whores and heroin and the family over for BBQ. What if it's really true that ... BOOM! As they say.

THE GETTY LOOMS AS WE PULL onto the 405. A cruddy promontory for a $750 million building, what with the freeway and the circular hotel and the garbage dump nearby -- talk about Your funky feng shui. But who am I to say'? I ask about local power spots, and CC mentions somewhere in El Monte.

"Do you actually go there?"

"Visiting those places," he says, "is something one does in one's youth -- it's not for me. I'm focused on the horizon.

"Does that mean," I ask, 'with the power spots and all, that the earth is aware? If it is, then it must have an assemblage point." My chest swells. Groovily conversant, I work the wild, newfound lingua franca.

"The earth is a conscious being," he answers. "It has a very weird pull, When you get a little hysterical, lie on it with your stomach -- it'll cure you. The earth absorbs; it holds us. Then, at a certain moment, it has nothing left. It tells a warrior,"You may go."' I glance over; he shivers. "The earth as a conscious being -- a superior mother-cuts the roots to let him float. 'Go!' she tells him. How gorgeous."

We embrace at the terminal. I wonder just where the hell he's going, flightwise. It isn't Mexico -- so one of his colleagues said. I wasn't about to press. A giant cop, shooing away the naked and the double: parked, works his way toward us. I linger, repeating what I had read the night before in Journey to Ixtlan:

"Don Juan said there was no way for you to go back to Los Angeles. 'What you left there is lost forever."'

"True. Very true. But he also said the feelings in a man don't die or change. 'The sorcerer starts on his way back home knowing he'll never reach it, knowing no power on earth, not even his death, will deliver him to the place, the things, the people he loved."'

Then he's gone and the cop is here, welcoming me back to the world.

(*) I'll be glad to see the end of the'90s: Can it be that even sorcerers aren't immune to the long arm of the Twelve Steps? "I came to believe I was powerless over the Social Order ... " What have things come to?

(**) In Sorcerers Anonymous, the secret handshake query is, "Are you friends of williamsii?"

Copyright Los Angeles Magazine, Inc. May 1996