In October of 1967, dressed in a hippie smock, appleseed beads and sandals, I stepped off the airplane into the bright, glaring sun of Los Angeles. Clutching my suitcase, I caught a bus bound for downtown L.A.
Jenny had given me an address for Celebrity Center, a Scientology center especially for artists and celebrities to which I had been consigned because of my piano playing. Celebrity Center was located at the corner of Burlington and Eighth Streets, in a low, one story ramshackle building just off the seedy MacArthur Park, home to hundreds of L.A.'s homeless and alcoholic population.
I didn't pay much attention to the neighborhood, however. I was here in search of salvation of emotions and soul.
When I got to Celebrity Center, I was met by an attractive woman in her forties named Yvonne, who welcomed me like a long lost friend.
"Welcome, dear," she hugged me. "We're so glad you're here. Jenny has told us all about you."
Then she led me into the main room of the Center. I looked around. Approximately twenty students were seated in the dark room at long tables set in the middle of the room. The room was silent except for the sounds of pages turning and some low whispers. A young man with a clipboard was walking slowly through the room, occasionally stopping to hand out a sheet of paper to a particular student.
I noticed various posters on the walls, and at the end of the room was hung a huge photograph of a smiling, fleshy man, dressed in naval attire. This, I assumed correctly, was L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
Yvonne directed me to a small table on the side of the room and introduced me to a small, smiling man seated at the table.
"Mario, this is Margery, Jenny's friend. She's just arrived from Michigan." Jenny had told me all about Mario, that he was a concert pianist and that it was he who had introduced Jenny to Scientology.
"Welcome, Margery," Mario smiled. He seemed to be an extremely good natured person with a wide grin that seemed to spread across his whole face. I liked him immediately.
I sat and talked with Mario, as it was Mario who would oversee my progress in Scientology. He had been assigned to me as a sort of mentor. As we talked, the conversation turned ever so subtly to money. Mario wanted to know how much I had brought with me.
"About five hundred dollars," I confessed, not at all suspicious.
"Then you will be able to start on the Dianetics Course," he told me, smiling. "That is exactly how much the course costs."
"But where will I live?" I asked him. "And what about food?"
"Don't worry," he assured me. "Everything will be taken care of. We'll find you some housing. You can start the course tomorrow."
So, reluctantly, I handed over to him all the money I had brought with me, and he helped me to sign some paperwork enrolling me on the course.
Then Mario handed me a small, blue handbook which I was to sit and read in preparation for the course I was to start the following day.
"Preclear's Handbook," the book was titled.
In this book, I learned that I was now considered to be a "preclear," or one who is on the way to becoming "Clear," an exalted level in Scientology. Once I was Clear, I would be rid of my reactive mind through auditing, and it was supposedly the reactive mind that had been causing me so much trouble.
Clear was not the end, however. Above the level of Clear, were the secret "OT" levels, which stood for "operating thetan."
A "thetan" was the Scientology name for the soul, that which one was. A person in Scientology was not considered to be a body. Instead, he or she was a thetan who possessed a body. And the purpose of auditing was to make one more "at cause" over one's body as well as over the world around oneself.
The purpose of auditing, the handbook explained, was to locate and remove electrical "charge" that surrounded a person's body. The charge was stored in the person's mind in the form of "engrams," or memories of painful events from one's past.
Once the charge was cleared away, not only would the person be Clear, but he would also be able to leave his body at will and travel with full perceptions to anywhere in the world or, for that matter, in the universe. This ability was known in Scientology as "exteriorization."
I tried to comprehend everything that I was reading. It was so different from anything I had ever studied before.
"Clear," I thought. "Free of my reactive mind. Free of the hated panic attacks forever." Well, this is what I had come for. I couldn't wait to get started.
It was decided that I would stay in the house right next to the Center, a two story house on Burlington Street. I was shown to a room in which there were three beds, and I chose the bed nearest the window.
I looked out the window at the bottlebrush plants outside and the clear blue afternoon sky. It was all so beautiful. Lush and tropical, a new world.
Suddenly, from nowhere, I heard my voice being called. It was a man's voice, and it seemed like the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. It was, of course, a hallucination, but at the time I took it to be an omen that I was in the right place.
I ate dinner with some of the other occupants of the house: Glynnis and Geoffrey, a young couple, another young couple with two small children, and Robert, who was a violinist who lived upstairs.
I went to bed early, but was awakened in the middle of the night by a tanned young man who came into the room and got into one of the other beds. We talked briefly. He told me his name was Lance and that he was in the Sea Organization. He had just come back from the ships.
Lance told me all sorts of things about myself, about my parents and about the hospital. "How do you know so much about me?" I asked him.
"I know because I am OT," he answered. I accepted that and lay back in the dark, thinking. There were so many new things to think about here in this magical place.
The next morning, after a hurried breakfast, I appeared at the Center promptly at eight o'clock for "course."
"We have a new student," Yvonne introduced me to the others. "Let's welcome her."
There was a hearty round of applause. I felt welcomed.
Next I was handed a hard backed copy of the Dianetics book, the "Bible" of Scientology, as well as my "course pack," a thick packet of papers all printed in red ink.
In front of the packet was a checksheet. I was to read each item in the packet, then I would be "star-rated", or quizzed, on each item by another student. Each of the articles in the packet was called a "bulletin" and they were all written by Hubbard.
I started to read.
The first bulletin was called "The Aims of Scientology," and it was written to welcome me to Scientology:
A civilization without insanity, without criminals, and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where Man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology.
First announced to an enturbulated world fifteen years ago, these aims are well within the grasp of our technology.
Non-political in nature, Scientology welcomes any individual of any creed, race or nation.
We seek no revolution. We seek only evolution to higher states of being for the individual and for Society.
We are achieving our aims.
After endless millenia of ignorance about himself, his mind and the Universe, a breakthrough has been made for Man.
Other efforts Man has made have been surpassed.
The combined truths of fifty thousand years of thinking men, distilled and amplified by new discoveries about Man, have made for this success.
We welcome you to Scientology. We only expect of you your help in achieving our aims and helping others. We expect you to be helped.
Scientology is the most vital movement on Earth today.
In a turbulent world, the job is not easy. But then, if it were, we wouldn't have to be doing it.
We respect Man and believe he is worthy of help. We respect you and believe you, too, can help.
Scientology does not owe its help. We have done nothing to cause us to propitiate. Had we done so, we would not now be bright enough to do what we are doing.
Man suspects all offers of help. He has often been betrayed, his confidence shattered. Too frequently he has given his trust and been betrayed. We may err, for we build a world with broken straws. But we will never betray your faith in us so long as you are one of us.
The sun never sets on Scientology.
And may a new day dawn on you, for those you love and for Man.
Our aims are simple, if great.
And we will succeed, and are succeeding at each new revolution of the Earth.
Your help is acceptable to us.
Our help is yours.
After reading this, I had the impression that Hubbard was a nice man and that Scientology was a Good Thing. And that it could help me.
I continued to read.
In the following bulletins, the idea was reinforced that there was only one way out of one's problems, and that way was Scientology:
In all the broad universe there is no other hope for man than ourselves.
In fifty thousand years of history on this planet alone, Man never evolved a workable system. It is doubtful if, in foreseeable history, he will ever evolve another.
Man is caught in a huge and complex labyrinth. To get out of it requires that he follow the closely taped path of Scientology.
Scientology will take him out of the labyrinth, but only if he follows the exact markings in the tunnels.
It has taken me a third of a century in this lifetime to tape this route out.
The whole agonized future of this planet, every Man, Woman and Child on it, and your own destiny for the next endless trillions of years depends on what you do here and now with and in Scientology.
Did I know that I was being brainwashed? The answer is no. I didn't even know there was such a thing as brainwashing. These are just small samples of all that I read that morning, and in the following days.
In all the propaganda of Scientology, there are four themes that predominate:
The main problem posed by Hubbard is the imminent danger of nuclear war. And it is only Scientology that has the potential to thwart this danger:
We are the only people and the only organizations on Earth which have the technology and the ambition to attempt a clarification of situations which in other hands are considered entirely out of control, to wit, the atomic bomb and the decay and confusion of central governments.
The use or neglect of this material (Scientology) may well determine the use or neglect of the atomic bomb by Man.
The mission of Scientology is not conquest -- it is civilization. It is a war upon stupidity, the stupidity which leads us to the Last War of All.
The primary race of Earth is not between one nation and another today. The only race that matters at this moment is the one being run between Scientology and the atomic bomb. The history of man, as has been said by well-known authorities, may well depend upon which one wins.
There was more, much more. I carefully read the bulletins and got the required checkouts. But my head was spinning.
Each morning we had a fifteen minute break from class. I walked out into the bright L.A. sunshine and sat down on a curb next to another girl on the course named Keithe.
"Wow," I said to her. "This is quite a trip."
"Oh yeah," she answered. "And it gets better and better."
"Is it all for real?" I asked her. "I mean, do you really believe this is the answer to everything?"
She gave me a knowing look and smiled. "You haven't seen anything yet," she said. "Wait until you meet a few OTs. That's where it's really at." She was referring to the people who had done the secret upper levels of Scientology.
"When you're an OT you can do anything. You can read people's thoughts, you can move the clouds and control the weather, you can travel outside your body. I can't wait to get there."
"How long does it all take?" I asked her.
"It just depends," she answered. "The fastest way is to join the Sea Org. That's what I'm going to do. Join the Sea Org and be an auditor. Just as soon as I finish this course."
I began to think. A billion years. Helping to "Clear the Planet." I decided. If they could really cure me of my anxiety attacks, I would do just that. I would join the Sea Org. Did I have anything better to do with my life?
The answer, I decided, was a resounding no. Everything that Hubbard was talking about in the bulletins, making the world a better, safer place to live, helping people. That was all I ever wanted to do.
I felt like I had finally come home.