I even visited a psychic to ascertain the meaning of the dog-in-the-forest conundrum. I went incognito for fear a friend or someone from work would spot me. To her credit, Tabitha picked up right away on my apprehension, even before I walked through the door of her office-cum-living room. Indeed, her extrasensory perception impressed me at first. For instance, she understood instinctively that I was not normal and that I desperately sought answers to deep questions. Her psychic prowess was also on display when she figured out I was wearing a disguise—to wit, a knit cap and my dad’s Clark Kent glasses. Her easygoing nature got me giddy enough to make a joke about it. “Yeah, well, I usually go in drag when I see my therapist.” As Tabitha chuckled, I couldn’t help but stare at the layers of fat on her neck and face wobbling to and fro, practically hypnotizing me. Even her jowls had psychic powers, I quietly observed. At long last I was going to get the answers I had so ardently sought. And yet I would walk out disappointed yet again.
I’m not as naïve as I look. When my friend Howie proposed the idea of consulting a paranormal specialist, I had reservations from the get-go. So I decided to have a game plan. Instead of inviting her to interpret the meaning of the dream or divining its import for the future at the outset, I had her do what they call a “cold read.” I pretended that I had forgotten the details of the dream and it was imperative that I remember. I wanted to establish her credibility as a psychic, you see.
First of all, she got the dog wrong. She came up with a Boston terrier, as if an ugly square-faced pooch would haunt the forest of my mind! I nodded my head slightly and widened my eyes, as if amazed that she had nailed it. Then, Tabitha got the setting off—way off. This Boston terrier was leading me out of a New York subway. Convinced that I had become convinced by her psychic read of me, she ran with it, now empowered with the belief she could guide my memory as she saw fit. Thereafter it was the Boston terrier this, the Boston terrier that. It got to the point that I’d give anything for her to stop saying Boston terrier. As she was telling me that I would meet an attractive 20-something woman from Boston, Massachusetts in the coming months and that we’d live in her New York flat overlooking the Hudson, I got up, stuffed a few bucks in her jar to be nice, and started to walk out. (I had taken off my wedding ring to see if her extrasensory power could discern my marital status; she erroneously pegged me as a single guy.)
Tabitha realized she had gotten it wrong or, to be more precise, she knew I knew she was not on the mark. Whatever paranormal ability she possesses must have kicked in as I walked out, however, because she wised up to my ruse without me having to explain it to her. Seeing the disappointment in my eyes, she said I didn’t have to pay either the service fee or the appraisal. It’s not my fault that her diabetes has been acting up, throwing her psychic powers off. She told me her real name is Charlotte and that she’s been a psychic reader for less than a year. As she spoke these words, I pulled off my knit cap to scratch my head. It was probably a half-conscious gesture as well: if she’s identifying her real self, the least I can do is take off my disguise.
She’s still learning the trade and likes the flexible hours and the comfort of working at home. She also has aspirations to get her associate’s degree. Her mind was probably too preoccupied with a sociology exam the next morning. Adding to her stress was an argument she had with her mom over the phone regarding a guy named Ed, as if I would know who this is. I could tell she was grasping for excuses. Oddly enough, I didn’t mind; most psychics never concede their mistakes.
Intrigued, I sat back down and asked her how she got into this business in the first place. Her mom had been a palm reader for many years and almost helped the police catch a serial rapist in her more recent work as a psychic detective. She trained Charlotte in tarot cards, tea leaves, palm-reading, runes, crystals, even séances. I asked if the gift is hereditary. “Um, yeah, I guess so.”
She gave me a cash refund and told me a bit about her life, I presumed, not so much because she possessed the gift of gab—which she did—nor because she didn’t need the money—which she did—but because she was starved for companionship, living alone ever since her chain-smoking psychic mom had left her to watch the place while she shacked up with a truck driver almost half her age. She didn’t expect her mom back soon because Ed had a nice place at the Oakdale Trailer Park. Feeling better after our heart to heart discussion and sympathizing with her lot in life, I set her up with my younger brother. “He’s even better looking than me!” I made her laugh again, partly to show no hard feelings for the faulty psychic read and partly to watch her neck wiggle again. I was pleased to make a new friend and give my brother something to do next Friday, but alas, I had wanted answers to that confounded dream and instead went home none the wiser.
I would be amiss if I didn’t make brief mention of another encounter I had during my search for the dream’s meaning. I’m terribly embarrassed about it and with great difficulty resisted the temptation to leave it out of my account, especially since you might be inclined to think, understandably, that I’m a nutcase for having consulted a psychic. On the recommendation of a friend, I scheduled a meeting with a Guarani shaman from the rainforests of Paraguay. Please don’t judge me or my wife, who likewise considered it a good idea at the time. With 20/20 hindsight, you’d think I’d learn my lesson for seeking the magical arts; I was like the proverbial dog returning to its vomit.
Karen brought up my dream during a friendly chat we had with Nikki at Starbucks. A friend of ours from college days, Nikki is one of those granola-eating Peace Corps types who majored in cultural anthropology and has traveled extensively to exotic places like Amazonia and Indonesia. She’s a blast to hang out with and rarely in town, so Karen and I spent an hour or two talking about old times and our half-baked plans to save the world. We never tire of hearing about her escapades and scrapes with “fascist authorities bent on environmental destruction and political oppression.” She lives the life I once aspired to and yet I’m glad I don’t. But Karen and I always found her perspective refreshing, no matter the topic.
To Nikki my ecstatic state, as she called it, sounded like an omen and she urged me to see a friend of hers. “Healing is his bread and butter, but his passion and expertise is augury.” Not long after telling us about her friend the shaman, Karen beat me to the punch. “Sure,” she said sarcastically, “we’re going to get on the plane tomorrow for South America!” Nikki quickly explained that Manny, the name he now goes by, lives in the Twin Cities area. Seeing our expressions, she swore he’s legit, the real deal. Manny was not only a professional; he was a famous healer in his country. Let him perform the ceremony, Nikki attested, and I’ll not only unlock the mysteries of the dog in the forest but also attain a healthy sense of being.
I agreed too readily to check him out, both of us did, and we’d kick ourselves later for not having asked more questions. Karen went with me in case this guy turned out to be a psycho; there’s strength in numbers. He’s originally from the rainforest, I reasoned, and my dream takes place in a forest. Maybe he can help.
Because Manny speaks only Spanish and Guarani, Nikki made the arrangements ahead of time. When we met the petite man at his apartment in St. Paul, he welcomed us with hand gestures and wasted little time in proceeding with the ceremony to decipher my dream, or so we had thought. Manny’s teenage son spoke English, Nikki had told us, and so he might be able to assist in translation, but he wasn’t there when we first arrived. The place smelled like herbs and spices, and we could hear a pot boiling on the stove.
We found it a bit unnerving not being able to communicate, but Manny seemed calm and collected, as one would expect a master shaman to be. First he fed me a concoction of medical plants, herbs and berries after grounding some of these ingredients on a stone slab. It tasted bittersweet, if not foul. Meanwhile, Karen’s loquacity and nervous personality must have put Manny ill at ease, because he motioned for her to have a seat on the couch during the ceremony and not get in the way. Evidently he put some kind of hallucinogen in the “stew” because I was starting to get dizzy.
He laid me out on a table stripped from the waist down, took out a thin twig hollowed out like a straw, and proceeded to blow smoke on my forehead and exposed privates. He uttered a series of chants and prayers in between puffs. I turned my head toward Karen for comfort, but she couldn’t help giggling like a demon-possessed schoolgirl. She was surprised by the look on my face and deemed it the most hilarious thing she’d seen in 12 years of marriage.
Out of nowhere a teenage boy with a backpack full of books burst through the apartment door. We begged Manny’s son to explain what exactly his father was doing, but the boy spoke to his father in Guarani and appeared to ignore us. We realized the speed metal he was blasting on his iPod was drowning our voices, and Karen motioned for him to take off his ear plugs. He told us the goop consisted of guano mixed with shellfish urine, plus a mixture of plants and herbs including tobacco, sage, various nuts, and chopped up slices of a fleshly root called a yuyo—all of which was sweetened with the addition of Hershey’s kisses and acai berries. Karen and I glared at each other. What the hell is going on? The purpose of the herbs and plants, he continued to explain, is to put me in an ecstatic trance. “You’ll get crazy dreams and shit.” The potion would knock me out shortly and, he added, the jaguar shouldn’t alarm me—that’s his dad in animal form. With that the son disappeared into his bedroom to do homework. I was freaking out, but Karen tried to ease my fears with off-color jokes about me being a naked tribesman.
The shaman’s son didn’t speak too soon. I fell into a deep sleep, or, as Karen described it, a trance-like state. Suddenly, I was emerging from a thatched hut only to come across a jaguar attacking an anaconda. No German shepherd, no meadow. I was halfway conscious of being in an altered state. Then, I chanced to see my image at the water’s edge, that of a red-faced uakari monkey, and felt a burning sensation in my loins. I also espied a literal demonic schoolgirl atop an overturned Brazil nut tree; she was in a Japanese squat and had the face of Linda Blair. As I came back into consciousness, I could hear the shaman’s son cranking Metallica in his bedroom, the harsh tones of distorted guitars commingling with the fading growls of the jaguar-shaman.
Long story short, Manny did not give me any help with my dream, he couldn’t if he tried. Why? Nikki had miscommunicated my situation to Manny: he was performing the ceremony to cure prostate cancer! Needless to say, we were ticked. She doesn’t have the facility with the language that she led on. When Karen and I met her again at Starbucks a week later to vent our steam, she managed to gloss things over with her wit and charm. She regaled us with stories about climbing Victoria Falls in Zambia, but not before lamenting deforestation in the Amazon by rapacious lumber companies with ties to U.S. congressmen. We had practically forgotten all about the prostate ritual and let bygones be bygones.