Celebrity Centre International, Los Angeles
Dumped on the streets of Los Angeles in December of 1973 with nowhere to go by the Scientology Celebrity Centre, after being forced to stay up for three days doing "amends" to the great and powerful Sea Organization because of a kangaroo court known as a Committee of Evidence, I realized I knew no one but Scientologists. And they wouldn't talk to me because I'd been cast out and was in a "lower condition of Doubt." (Like the crap I'd been through wouldn't put anyone in doubt about a so-called spiritual organization.)
With nowhere else to turn, I called my mother long distance in Alabama, reversing the charges. She and my stepfather had put me on the highway with nowhere to go prior to my joining Scientology, but maybe she'd help me now. She wired me $50 via Western Union, I bought a ticket back to Austin, Texas where I'd come from the year before, and landed there with only $5 in my pocket, knowing only one friend to see. Luckily, he let me sleep on his couch for a few days until his live-in girlfriend protested.
I visited the University of Texas student bulletin board and, God on my side once again, found a couple of girls looking for someone to take over their large room in a boarding house on Whitis Street. I moved in, meaning I had two weeks free rent and two meals a day until I had to come up with the next month's rent. Walter Cronkite had lived in the house while attending UT, perhaps the very same top front room of the two-story house. I considered this an omen, given my aspirations of a media career.
In a couple of days I found a job working for Superior Dairies as a door-to-door delivery man. I was 23 years old and hadn't had a girlfriend for three years. The best offer I'd had at my ten-month stint at Celebrity Centre was a sneaky homosexual proposition from a Celebrity Centre student akin to the one proffered Mark Wahlberg by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Boogie Nights. Like Dirk Diggler, I turned it down. (It was eerily similar, having taken place in the Mount Olympus neighborhood of the Hollywood Hills.)
When I started delivering milk, I had sexual visions of horny housewives needing a special delivery. I'd seen too many Hollywood '60s movies, I suppose. Nothing ever happened.
As an early morning diversion, driving along empty streets, I practiced trying to mentally change stoplights to green, the way I'd been told Yvonne Jentzsch, the Commanding Officer of Celebrity Centre, could do at will. Finally, I realized they were on a timer and were changing only because I was driving at the posted speed limit.
I bought a bicycle to get around, which came in handy when home delivery was cancelled and I was switched to a big truck, delivering to restaurants and stores in the Austin area. I got a second job running the midnight shift of a 7-Eleven store on Congress Avenue south of the Texas state capitol building. I needed extra money to buy a car, but also to pay off my $1900 "freeloader debt" from Celebrity Centre. You see, despite making only $5 a week for almost a year, working 12 hours a day, though put on the street as a penniless scapegoat, I now had to pay for all the auditing (counseling) and training I'd done while there, because I hadn't completed my billion-year contract.
Sound insane? Of course it was, but at the time I had been brainwashed as all Scientologists are into thinking Hubbard truly had found Heaven's highway, and I'd simply fallen into a ditch.
Speaking of the Sea Organization, I figured something out in Austin. One day at the capitol building I noticed a giant state seal of Texas on one wall. It was almost identical to the Scientology Sea Organization symbol, the one that bore the logo "We Come Back" (suckering in past life believers like me). Given that Mary Sue Hubbard, Ron's wife, was from nearby Round Rock, Texas (I'd delivered milk there), I wondered if "the Commodore" had seen the Texas state seal and been "inspired." But I didn't write him and ask, because I was, after all, Scientology persona non grata, being a debtor and all.
With no car, my self-esteem was shot. I made payments on my debt, worked on my writing, and never asked a single woman out on a date. Then one day I got a letter from Jan Stone at the Celebrity Centre, who asked me to call. When I did, she said, " Yvonne wants you back. She thinks you're a valuable staff member and you got a raw deal."
I told Ms. Stone I'd think about it. This would mean no debt, another shot at the "big time" in L.A., and being surrounded by the highly interesting people who came through the doors of Scientology's entertainment business experiment. Plus, I knew that the sexual mores of Scientologists were pretty loose. For a young, horny 20-something, that was a powerful lure.
The bait got heavier one hot August night on the 7-Eleven night shift. I was reading the magazines with no one else in the store when in walked Dolph Briscoe, the governor of the State of Texas, all by his lonesome. I recognized him when I looked up after exclaiming, "Holy shit, that's Kathy Moore!" He said, "Who's she?"
Bread and milk, that's all he wanted. I took his money while explaining that the cover and the hot "Classic Form" layout in the August issue of Penthouse magazine, with its lovely full frontal nudity, featured a course supervisor I'd known back in Los Angeles.
The governor glanced over the pictures approvingly. "Well," he said as he pocketed his change. "In that case, what are you doing here?"
Amen, Governor! I called Jan Stone back and, like a damned fool, was soon back on the bus for L.A. with a new Martin guitar, my old reliable Olivetti portable typewriter, and a suitcase full of clothes (better than the backpack I'd had the last time).
After getting situated in the attic of a Celebrity Centre house on Beacon Street, I went to the facility to find out what I'd be doing. I was immediately corraled by Christine Macdonald, a lovely married brunette I'd much admired in my previous stay on staff. She put me to sweeping up an empty room. Apparently, Yvonne hadn't figured out the perfect staff position for me in advance. I noticed Chris staring at me intently — was it sexual? I asked what was on her mind.
She asked if it was true what she'd heard about my being a certain famous author in a past life. Obviously, confidentiality of auditing folders wasn't what it was purported to be; I'd never said anything about my assumed past life outside of "session." But to make a good impression on Chris, I said yeah, I was pretty sure that was the case.
"Perfect!" she exclaimed gleefully, then barked at me to keep sweeping up. She hurried off.
I mused that once again I'd probably been snookered by Scientology but like last time, had little money and nowhere else to go. I thought it might be karma. Maybe I'd known Yvonne in my former life and owed her something. I was fairly certain she'd been a close friend of Cecil Rhodes, whom L. Ron Hubbard continually crowed about having been. Until, that is, someone pointed out to him that Rhodes had been a flaming gay; then he shut up about it.
That evening, however, I learned that even being a celebrity in another life had its own cachet at CC. The head of the communications office, a tall, auburn-haired, voluptuous woman named Samantha, came up to me and declared that she wanted to "have a 2D" (second dynamic relationship) with me. That was Scientologese for "I want you in my bed, now!" And that night, my drought was over.
Unfortunately, Sam wanted me for the long-term, the big haul, marriage and forever, after that one night. It freaked me out, and I turned her down. After all, I thought, what if Kathy Moore was available? I thought my male reluctance might mean I'd be put on the street again but no, I was simply berthed back in the attic and — to my great delight — given a job as a "letter registrar" writing letters of procurement to people in CC's Central Files, to get them to come in and take another course or continue moving up "The Bridge to Total Freedom."
Wonder of wonders, I would be making a living as a writer!
The next day, I ran into Kathy Moore, who always walked around with a ballerina's posture and a clipboard clasped under her ample bosom while supervising her course.
"Hey, Kathy!" I said cheerily, walking up with a smile. "Skip Press. I'm back on staff. I saw your layout in Penthouse — that was really special!"
She turned red, frowned, glared at me, turned her back, and stormed away. Apparently, she didn't like the fact of her getting buck naked for all the world to see openly discussed in a space where she was supposedly a supervisor of aspirants moving toward advanced spiritual enlightenment.
And so it began again. In the year to come, I would learn that sex (and easy sex at that) was as much an interest at Celebrity Centre as anything else. I had Catherine Bach, long before she starred as "Daisy Mae Duke" on the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, come in after I complimented her on her beautiful cursive handwriting. She asked me to give her a tour of CC, all the while draping her arm around my waist like I was her long-time lover. I didn't pursue her — she was "public" and I was "staff" and that was taboo. (I soon learned few other staff followed such rules.) I witnessed Rock Hudson come in to try out auditing at the recommendation of his Scientologist manager, Flo Allen, only to bolt from the session when asked a question about any secret he might be "withholding" (like homosexuality). The auditor, Carmine Terra, had recently been in trouble for sleeping with a married woman he'd been auditing. He'd had to work his way out of a "lower condition." In any event, pretty soon a whole lot of CC staff knew about Hudson's gayness long before his AIDS made it known to everyone.
When a few months went by, I moved in with a pretty lady named Cheryl Curran, thus getting out of a berthing situation of sharing a small room with two other guys. Celebrity Centre was becoming more popular, as evidenced by John Travolta being brought in by actress Joan Prather after they appeared together in the movie The Devil's Rain. I'd admired Joan back in Dallas on an afternoon dance show, and thought maybe, just maybe, I'd have a chance when she dumped Travolta after getting him into Scientology, but it wasn't to be. I had talent, looks, and a funny personality, you see, but I didn't have money.
And money, I quickly learned, was what Scientology and the Celebrity Centre were really all about. Pity that it would take me far too many years to fully learn that lesson...
(To be continued with the David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars and other wild notes...)