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by Mallika Rao, Huffington Post
Johnny Podell, the agent behind Cream, Alice Cooper and other iconic rockers, knows all about getting high. His career flamed out in the '80s when he became so addicted to cocaine, he hocked all of his platinum record plaques to fund his habit. On a recent brisk spring day in Manhattan, Podell, since reformed, led the charge to sample a drug of a different sort. The supplier, a Croatian man known to followers as Braco (pronounced Brah-tzo, the Croatian word for "little brother"), pushes hope.
"Last night, I was as high as I've ever been," Podell told a crowd gathered in the Crystal Ballroom of the New Yorker Hotel. People hollered in agreement. A leather jacket hung from Podell's skinny frame, and sunglasses shielded his eyes from the light of the chandeliers. "Eight bucks -- not bad! I wish I'd known about this 30 years ago," he continued, cackling. "I would have saved a lot of money."
Ever since the psychic Edgar Cayce birthed the American New Age movement in the early 20th century, there's been no lack of men and women selling miracles to the crystal-pendant set. Braco, though, may be the smoothest salesman yet. His cult of personality has no personality. He's said to do it all -- everything from shrinking tumors to casting love spells -- without saying a word or touching anyone. All he does, to the delight of his followers, is gaze at them.
The cross-section of Braco believers streaming into the New Yorker lobby that weekend could have been mistaken for a United Nations tour group. The variety was staggering: Midwesterners in sweatshirts and sensible shoes, pale young Balkan men, Indian couples sporting shawls and turbans, a large contingent of middle-aged black ladies. Some were, in fact, U.N. employees, converts since 2012, when Braco gazed at them in a church down the street from their Manhattan headquarters. That time, the Croatian ambassador and his wife showed up.
Semi-celebrities were in attendance, too. In the front row sat Tracie Martyn, a self-described "facialist to the stars," and something of a magician-healer herself. Martyn's website quotes Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon, both clients, swearing by a facial Martyn delivers with an electric wand. That day, a band of her clients joined her, among them Podell and Christine Baranski, the Emmy-winning actress from "The Good Wife." ("I felt like a dolphin swimming in beautiful water," Baranski later enthused.) They sat in reserved seats at the front of the packed ballroom.
This was day two for most, including Podell. "I had to come back for more. After all," he grinned, "I am an addict."