What do you do when someone invites you eat magic mushrooms with them in a fourth dimensional forest? It sounded too good for me to pass up.
Haia Ted BerkWithin my first week at Wired, during a party at the Sound Factory, I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of a certain Haia Ted Berk, a certified San Franciscan freak and one of the most distinctly spiritual people I have met.
I was alone on the dance floor, shakin' my stuff to the techno beat when I noticed an man with a halo of white hair radiating from a bald spot dressed in an array of colourful clothes draped in jewelry and waving a horsehair wand in circles above his head. Conversation was inevitable, and began when he passed me a joint he had been sharing around. I asked him about his garb, and as it turns out, he had been asked by the people throwing the party to dress up as Saturn. I was excited, because I had been studying Saturn a bit as a result of the fact that it played a large role in the chart of my girlfriend Chandra. He told me that he was actually a venusian, his body having been touched by venusian rays while he was being born. He was, in fact, in contact with a venusian, Orthon, who would tell him things and give him latest scoop on the stars. We talked about the upcoming comet attack on Jupiter, and the effect it would have on my heavily Sagittarius chart.
It wasn't long into our talk before he invited me to visit the fourth dimensional forest with him that weekend. My curiosity piqued, I let him explain the details. A visit to the fourth dimensional forest to visit the little people (elves and faeries and the like), facilitated by magic mushrooms, taking place on the side of Mount Tamalpais. If you leave yourself open to it, the little people will come and show you some pretty cool shit.
What the hell, I'd go to the forest with him. I sensed a peaceful, benevolent vibe from him, and this sort of thing doesn't happen every day. If he had ill intentions, I figured I could outrun him in a pinch.
Next Saturday, I awoke early and rode the bus downtown to meet him. We boarded a connecting bus and rode to the midway point of our journey, where we were to switch buses again. There we strolled around a little open air market, looking at Marin county cast off trinkets. We talked easily, conversation just flowing, it seemed like we were old friends. We got on the last bus and rode all the rest of the way to the mountain. There was a guy on the bus who was talking to us about speed, and listening to Haia respond to him I got the sense that Haia had a lot of experience with drugs. I questioned him as we hiked down the side of the mountain and what unfolded was the tale of a man who had been deeply immersed in the quest for altered states in the heyday of the sixties and the seventies.
Years spent traveling in the mountains of South America, eating mushrooms and yage. He had been in London, as a Hari Krishna, even staying at the house of John Lennon when John was into that sort of thing. Born a Jew in Grand Island, Nebraska, Haia became an ordained liberal-Catholic minister.
Listening to all these stories was overwhelming after a while, the mushrooms made me want to sit down and achieve tranquillity. Haia has a showman side to him, a fast-talking Jewish comedian/story-teller persona that he slips into. You can tell when he closes his eyes, faces just a bit away from you and begin talking a mile a minute. I began feeling like he was putting on a show for me, whipping out on strange totem after another, followed by a bizarre story and a sort of interior monologue while he tried to figure it all out.schizo
I tried to break through all that by confronting it, by interrupting his monologues with questions and answers. What I discovered is that Haia had a lot to teach me. In my life, growing up largely without a father, I often grope about for a sense of myself, and for a sense of acceptance. That day with Haia, he helped me along on that path, I got a view into the mind of a man from another planet - it helped fill in my picture a bit. As a homosexual, and a schizophrenic, Haia may not be the quintessential male role model. But he did have a sort of earthy wisdom, as well as a sharp mind that you couldn't take for granted. You never know who the next person to help you find yourself will be, and what guise they will be wearing at the time.
As it turned out that day, I didn't really meet any little people. I met Haia, and that was pretty cool too. Perhaps he hoped to pick me up, but I let him know I wasn't interested, and it wasn't a problem.
Maybe in the real world they would call him schizophrenic, but who am I to say that there are no little people and that they don't have things to say to him? If it helps him understand the world, maybe there's something to be learned there.
Haia knows that he has problems. He can talk pretty candidly about it all. He has been through a lot of treatments and a taken a lot of different drugs. After returning from the Korean war, he was put up at Letterman Army Hospital and was one of the first patients in this government's Ritalin experiments to right his mental wrongness. His "Ritalin Journals" are buried deep in our government's archives. A host of anti-depressant medications have proven pretty useless as well. It is with psilocybin mushrooms that he has found most of his answers. I think it is a holistic view, he is who he is, with the brain chemistry he has, so he just goes ahead and acknowledges the presence of the little people in his life. Fortunately, living in tolerant San Francisco, and having a walking messenger job, he can lead his life without this interfering too much. Haia has managed to integrate his schizophrenia pretty well into his life. It seems to give him a perspective on the world that most of the rest of us leave behind when we are children.
And he is definitely aware of the world around him. I got the latest updates on the OJ Simpson trial from him, as well as the inside scoop on all sorts of mystical modern media theory that emanates from his little studio.
In his bedroom, he has a shrine set up around his TV set, with candles and all manner of little people - rag dolls, porcelain dolls, statues. Above the TV is enshrined a beautiful Tibetan silk mandala detailing lives of the Buddha. The walls are covered in an eclectic mix of tributes to the divas of our age - Jackie Kennedy, Lucille Ball, Liz Taylor, pictures of the San Francisco 49s, Joe Montana, as well as posters of the Indian deities and wise looking Tibetan monks smiling serenely. He lives with two cats, yellow kitty, Elf, and gray kitty, Sam.
Haia's always showing things. His lyrics, that friends have recorded, as well as recordings of him singing. One of his friends made a videotape of Haia, talking measuredly about mushroom induced beachfront alien landings.
Haia has been keeping dream journals since the sixties. While we were up on the mountain together, he read me portions of them. Whimsical, mystical. Downright weird.
Haia is, as he would say, a strange being, a mutated creature. He can be a wonderful antidote to the sane, sanitized digital world in which I live work and breathe. Like anything extreme, he can be overwhelming, but he has a lot of wisdom to offer, fluid wisdom in touch with things beyond the realms of computers and typical American culture.