VOODOO BEING A SERIOUS BUSiness, Ernest Bratton -- Dr. Buzzard to you -- has a code of ethics. He will not, for example, kill anyone, even though he knows exactly how to. All he needs is the horn of a certain bull, some graveyard dirt and a lemon. Then give him 72 hours and the targeted human will cease to exist. Dr. Buzzard could do this. But this voodoo man won't touch that job. No, sir.
From his Alexandria apartment, Dr. Buzzard -- veteran of 46 years in the business, star of his own new home video "Voo Doo, Hoo Doo, You Do" -- prefers to use his gift to do good. He prefers to save, not sicken.
Seated behind his desk, surrounded by withered claws, red skulls and tiny vials of oils and elixirs, Dr. Buzzard lectures his video audience on his readiness to cure AIDS, find missing people, win lotteries, get jobs and solve crises of the heart.
All for a price, of course. Like any responsible professional, Bratton has a price list. Cure AIDS, $21,000. Get an innocent man off Death Row, $21,000. End financial woes, $1,500. Solve sexual problems, $750.
This is not money tossed to the wind, Dr. Buzzard promises. This man gives guarantees. And there are no secrets. All is revealed on the video, $24.95 plus postage (sales already more than $500,000, he says).
Let's say you are a senior citizen looking for love. Get yourself a red wax skull and dress it with olive oil. Burn that thing after 7 p.m., while reading the 27th Psalm, for seven nights in a row. After 27 days, your lover shall appear before you.
But Dr. Buzzard, where is the proof? Can your gift possibly be perfect? Does the magic work every time?
"There's no doubt about it," he says. "Living proof."
Have you never failed?
"One time," he concedes. It was a love problem, a woman who needed her man returned to her. Dr. Buzzard charged $1,200 and guaranteed success. "I brought her husband back to the lady, but he died on the way. At least she got the body. And she was happy with that. She tipped me $500."
Bratton, who says he "was never graduated from a school," is the son of a South Carolina voodoo man. "I knew I had the gift when I was 6 and I could see visions of dead people. From 10 to 15, I was extremely gruesome, killed a lot of animals."
But over time, Dr. Buzzard decided to clean up his use of the spirits. He became socially acceptable. He started wearing a suit. He made more money. He got on TV. "I have been on Tom Snyder, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, 'Pittsburgh 2 Day,' 'AM Detroit.' It is my main success in life to be on TV."
Bratton has discovered a considerable market for practical voodoo. People will pay to know that you can halt the ravages of cancer by giving your cancer a name, like Nancy or Jim. Or prevent sexual diseases by carrying around a sack of brown- skinned onions and eating one immediately after each encounter.
The Dr. Buzzard Diet is guaranteed to make you drop those extra pounds. Get down to the Safeway and get yourself a case of sauerkraut juice. Suck down a glass morning and night, all the while continuing your normal diet of Whoppers, doughnuts and Bud. "Any type of weight you want to lose will automatically start deteriorating off you," Dr. Buzzard promises.
As much as he has sanitized his voodoo, Dr. Buzzard will still rev up the darker spirits on special occasions. He has a neat little wooden figurine he calls the "Seven Steps to Hell." It is available if you have someone whom you have come to dislike rather intensely, perhaps an ex-lover or a pesty neighbor whom, as the good doctor puts it, "you want to put in a wheelchair. Well, you just burn this, and that person will never bother you again in your life."