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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Apr 30 1997
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Every year, thousands of people in search of potential miracles converge on the Concourse Exhibition Center for the Whole Life Expo, a massive gathering of purveyors of "natural health, personal growth, spirituality, and global change" that encompasses three days and 60,000-plus square feet. This weekend's 15-year anniversary offers the usual assortment of belly dancers and tasty vegetarian grub. The sprawling annual "marketplace of new ideas" includes 300 exhibitors -- everything from natural air fresheners to reflexology massage -- 200 speakers, and a diverse crowd of nearly 25,000 consumers who are willing to try just about anything.

"[I'm] heading for the sound and light machines," says Franz Cardinal, a 23-year-old mohican with blue hair. "They're really cool. They kind of make you all hyper." At the booth presented by Brain Storm Technologies Cardinal sits down with three other curious people: a 32-year-old law student, a 53-year-old nutritionist, and a 17-year-old model. Each puts on a pair of headphones that emits a series of low-frequency tones and a pair of dark goggles with small, rapidly blinking lights fixed on the inside of the lenses. The equipment is thought to stimulate certain brain waves that can relax, energize, and heal. (It cannot be used by people prone to epilepsy or seizures.)

Observed by a nonpartisan bystander, the Expo resembles an elaborate set out of The Road to Wellville. It is a collection of harebrained schemes, newfangled gizmos, and bizarre ideologies. At the Magnetico booth, a group of people lie flat on their backs, hands at their sides, with heavy, gray disks resting across their eyes -- apparently testing the advantages of "magnetic sleeping pads." It looks like a strange death cult plying their trade, but everyone leaves smiling and murmuring about relaxation. At the Kiss Ear Candle booth, two middle-aged ladies in cashmere cardigans lie on their sides with candles burning in their ears -- a process that is supposed to clear up sinus problems, headaches, and allergies. At another booth, a heavyset, leather-clad biker named Rolph sits quietly as two small women run crystals over his body. Nearby, a machine with six gigantic crystals protruding from a row of large, stainless-steel sockets pulses in a beautiful array of multicolored lights. This 1970s-era sci-fi contraption supposedly focuses and strengthens the power of the crystals, a great benefit for anyone lying beneath it. Other booths prey on common, and not-so-common, fears: Sable Laboratories has developed a patented "hair farming" program that alleviates baldness; the Awareness Corp. asks the age-old question, "Are you clear of parasites?"; and the Q-Link can neutralize the effects of EMFS (electromagnetic field-related stress), which has been linked to breast cancer.

"The world can be a scary place," says Felice Chaigon, a dark-haired child therapist who often discovers helpful tools at events of this kind. "It is important to take control of your health and to always look for new approaches to old problems, while maintaining a sense of humor." She turns her attention back toward a video screen, which displays people in blindfolds wiggling around to world-beat music -- a class in "trance dancing" presented by Natale Institute International. Around the corner, a group of men in tank tops and shorts practices "flow technique" by swinging long slings filled with water. The undeniable humor in all of this only increases as I make my way past Aura Vision, which boasts a photograph of Deborah Harry's aura, and New Vision, which pinpoints your spirit animal and then depicts it on your own personal "power shield" keepsake.

In the more practical area, there are water filters by Brita and a special hyG Ionic Toothbrush, which removes plaque naturally and effectively. While examining this must-have item I am approached from behind by a small Tibetan man who places a giant, golden pyramid on my head. Before he can pass me a "sacred geometric vajra," I scamper away toward the Bodywork Pavilion, which offers any and all imaginable massage techniques. The most intriguing is Acro-Sage -- a gravity-assisted acrobatic massage system that involves hanging upside down from your masseuse's feet while he adjusts your spine and whispers "surrender" in your ear. Despite an irritating herbal mist that he sprays in my face toward the end, the 15-minute session is the physical equivalent of an hourlong traditional massage, and the intense but pleasurable pressure building in my head keeps me from noticing the 300-or-so people who stop to gawk at me from the sidelines.

The end of this experience calls for a little quiet time in the Meditation Room, where skaters, hippies, and yuppies commingle on padded carpets in tranquil silence. But it is at the Center for Intuitive Arts that I discover the true reason for attending the Whole Life Expo. My psychic -- a barefoot woman with freckles -- tells me that I am not happy with my job and that a quirky love interest with family money will be entering my life soon. My tarot reader, on the other hand, tells me that I love my job (which involves entertainment) and that there won't be a man in my life for at least three years. The palm reader caps it off by saying that I don't have a job, but if I would learn to apply my talents, I might make something of my life. Each of them says that I shouldn't drink so much; and they end the reading by stating several things common to all fortune-seekers: You are creative; you will travel somewhere soon; spirituality plays a large role in your life. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor

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