To fit in at the New Age extravaganza, I wear a "man-dress." To fit in further, I go by the pseudonym Chakra Kahn. Once inside, my first reaction is to wonder how goddamn long it will take to spot some buffoonish guy with dreadlocks playing a drum. Wait! That's not very open-minded! Besides, all I would need to do is look in a mirror, for I've brought a drum (and already have dreadlocks).
To avoid the $15 cover charge, I simply walk in. (I don't even have to sneak, because there's a serious lack of security at the door.) As I make my way through the convention's exhibits, my open mind is delighted to find practical things on display. There are therapeutic massages (once I had a bad back, and a massage really helped me out!), herbal medicines (on several occasions, echinacea has prevented me from catching a cold!), and nice vegetarian food (who doesn't like hummus?!).
Then my open-mindedness is put to its first test: For $99 an hour, a Dutchwoman says she will paint my aura. The constantly smiling Dutchwoman explains that she does it by "channeling angels." I glance over her display of aura paintings. All are splattered-paint compositions that look like they were done by a chimp using its foot for a brush. They're akin in artistic dexterity to Fisherman's Wharf caricatures. These auras should have big heads and tiny bodies with Alcatraz in the background.
Intrigued, I point to the aura paintings labeled "John Lennon" and "Elvis Presley."
"Did those guys come in and get their auras painted by you?" I ask, making an excited face.
The smiling Dutchwoman explains that they didn't; this is merely what Lennon's and Presley's auras would seem like if they were alive today. Squinting, I give a hard look. The aura of the Elvis Presley of today would resemble, it seems, a mild-mannered tax accountant's. To clear up my apparent confusion, the smiling Dutchwoman explains further, "There is a lot of creativity coming from the auras of John Lennon and Elvis Presley!"
"Can you see my aura?" I ask. The smiling Dutchwoman stares intensely at me and then at my hair.
"I see a lot of red, for creativity," she proclaims, looking at my drum. "Are you a musician?"
"Yes!" (Actually, no.)
"I see a lot of yellow. You're very spiritual, and there's a lot of healing in your music."
"Uncanny." (Actually, I don't play an instrument.)
"And people like to hang out when you play your music."
"Wow! It's like you have a movie camera watching my life!" (I have no musical ability whatsoever.)
I'm beginning to enjoy the freedom of my man-dress (it's less constricting than pants) as I contemplate the signs on exhibitors' booths I pass. They bear slogans:
"Realize the power within you!"
"Reach beyond 100%!"
"My life will change when I change!"
"Emergence of the pure self within!"
"Create the life that you truly want to live!"
Perhaps New Age people, though spiritual seekers, also want a quick and easy solution to life's problems, like one of those fitness contraptions that promise rock-hard abs without exercise. Lay down money. Buy prescribed gizmo. Reap spiritual benefits.
"It's a rapid-eye technique, and it provides an excellent release of hidden trauma just by blinking," explains a woman at the blinking-therapy booth.
"That's great, 'cause I really want to reach beyond 100 percent, perhaps to the 105 percent-to-109 percent range!" I say, vigorously nodding my head. My interest in blinking attracts other exhibitors, who descend upon me like spirituality-dispensing flies on spirituality-seeking shit.
"When you wear one of these," interrupts a robed woman, showing me her necklaces, "you get the power of thousands of monks! Your life will change!"
"Terrific!" I reply, trying one on, just to know what it's like to have thousands of monks dangling from my neck. "I could use this at one of my upcoming Aryan Nation meetings!"
"I'll let you in on a secret," confides an older man, swinging a dowsing pendulum. "I use this to vote!"
"Me, too!" barks a woman with a well-mounted forehead bindi, excited to find someone who shares her voting technique.
"But what if it tells you to vote for David Duke?" my open mind inquires as I adjust my ever-slipping man-dress.
The man explains that the swinging pendulum channels inner energy. When you ask it a question, it will swing one way for "yes" and another for "no," just like a Magic 8 Ball, except it's used by an organized society that has its own newsletter. I give it a try.
"Do I want a foot surgically attached to my forehead?" I ask aloud, letting the dowsing pendulum swing. Unfortunately, it tells me "yes."
Time to make a surgery appointment!
It occurs to me that the worst thing in the world for many men would be to get dumped by a girlfriend for a guy in a ponytail who teaches a New Age seminar. Putting this thought in my head is the sight of a blond guy jumping on a minitrampoline to demonstrate "Cellercise." I remind myself to remain open-minded.
"DON'T EXERCISE -- CELLERCISE!" the guy announces, his fists clenched, his legs moving up and down like a hyperactive rabbit's while he instructs an overly attentive, middle-aged woman. I note that the blond man is a certified cellologist, but before I can figure out what, exactly, Cellercising is, loud harp music plays, and I'm drawn to an array of New Age artwork: poorly painted pictures of dolphins, unicorns, angels, and, my personal favorite, a mermaid in a passionate embrace with a hunky man sporting a ponytail. (An artist's rendition of the Cellercise guy, perhaps?) It becomes clear that one can be open-minded and still hate bad art.
The harp music leads to a glassy-eyed man with a bowl haircut who's wearing a blue outfit, possibly of his own construction, and ... yes, it's ... a man-dress! He goes by the name of Da Vid and heads the Light Party, a holistic political group dedicated to health, peace, and freedom for all. In 1992 Da Vid announced his write-in candidacy for the presidency of the United States of America. Da Vid did not win. He lost to Bill Clinton. These days he's circulating a petition to support his plan to build a Global Peace Center on Alcatraz Island.
"We're trying to set up a meeting with the mayor," explains Da Vid. (I think at one time his name was actually David and he changed it. If that be the case, call me "Ha Rmon.")
The vision came to him during a Celestial Healing Festival on the top of Mount Tam, and he's been struggling to realize it ever since. Open-mindedly, I look at a drawing of the Global Peace Center. It consists of a small glass pyramid and a big golf-ball-shaped dome sitting dead center on Alcatraz Island as a beam of light shines down from the heavens. Da Vid smiles and says, "By converting what was a place of pain and suffering into a 'Jewel of the Light,' they can unleash powerful forces for cooperation, reconciliation, and healing!" Given the sagging tourism industry, I'm sure that Gavin Newsom will be tickled to hear of the plan to tear down and replace perhaps the city's No. 1 tourist attraction.
A multitude of signs around the convention hall trumpet, "Cash and Credit Cards Accepted." New Age spirituality is big business. So is aura photography.
"You put your hand on the aura spectrophotometer and smile," the aura photographer, fists brimming with wads of cash, tells a long line of people waiting to fork over $15 a pop for aura Polaroids. "When the picture comes out, it will show the colored aura that surrounds your head!"
Counselors are on hand to help us interpret what the colors of our auras mean. I'm skeptical, in an open-minded way, until I see celebrity aura-photo endorsements from the likes of LeVar Burton, Uri Geller, and Late Night With Conan O'Brien's "Andy" (I suppose they mean Andy Richter).
If I were less open-minded, I'd be reminded of those old-time snake-oil salesmen who peddled miracle cures. Handing over my $15, I place my hand on the "aura spectrophotometer."
I grimace. One minute later my photo is ready. I see my frowning face with some blotches of light around it. "See the white? It's like a halo," explains my aura counselor, who's wearing a turban.
She goes wild with prediction, based on the aura photo she's taped to my shirt: "Your next opportunity is in music."
Why are the predictions at these New Age fun fairs always positive? Doesn't a good amount of negative stuff happen to people in a little thing called "reality"? ("Your aura says you're going to choke on a chicken bone at a dinner party!")
"But I don't play an instrument," I try to explain.
"Well, then it's going to be in designing a CD cover!" she says.
Man-dress or no man-dress, it takes all the open-mindedness I can summon just to say, "OK." As the old joke goes, I just got back from a New Age convention, and boy is my third eye tired.
See Infiltrator live in TV Pirate at 8 p.m. Fridays (through Dec. 17) at the Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth Street), S.F.