My reacquaintance with the world of L. Ron Hubbard commenced sometime around 1965 on a subway platform in Manhattan. A young lady I knew from a ballet orchestra job (I'll call her "Joan Porter") called over from the opposite platform, "I've found it! Scientology! It really works!" Further knowledge of what she had found was cut off by the downtown express.
The next time I ran into Joan we went to a coffeeshop on upper Broadway. She started talking about Scientology right away, crediting it with her new-found abilities to communicate, solve her personal problems and play her cello better. Scientology was apparently L. Ron Hubbard's update of Dianetics, and of course this mention of Hubbard immediately recalled to me my frustrating late-teens auditing experiment.
Now talking to Joan, Scientology was a further letdown even than the book Science of Survival, a further corruption of Dianetics. At least Dianetics had been simple, understandable and inexpensive. Joan had to pay cash in advance for her auditing, at local Scientology headquarters, a suite of rooms in midtown Manhattan called by the strange-sounding abbreviation "the org." During her sessions Joan was hooked up to a small electric box called an "E-meter" which the auditor used somewhat like a lie-detector to locate hidden problem sources, or "areas of charge." A science fiction note had crept in. Auditing, or "processing," as it was now also called, tended to bring subjects back to "past lives" -- perhaps on other planets. Such incidents were duly "dated" and "verified" on the E-meter. Hubbard had replaced the relatively straightforward routine of running people through traumatic incidents to a state of "clear" with an elaborate-sounding sequence of "Grades" and "Releases." Joan didn't mention "clearing" -- if in fact it was still part of the scheme of things. Instead she spoke of the "thetan," Hubbard's term for "soul."
Clearly, Hubbard, not satisfied with the royalties from Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, had changed the name of his product, thrown in some new gimmicks and started a pseudo-therapy mill. The name "Scientology" sounded phoney, contrived to impress sloppy thinkers that something precise was being administered at the "org." The whole thing gave the lie to Dianetics -- which had obviously never worked. Nor would Scientology work either.
However, I was curious about Joan's cello playing. Here was something tangible. But as it happened, when we got together a week or two later to play duos, I thought Joan played just as well as ever but she seemed more concerned about how she was doing than what she was doing, her chief music-making problem since I'd known her. I heard nothing that day to substantiate the exciting breakthrough she claimed she owed to Scientology.
Not long after that, I discovered that another old acquaintance, Morton Morvis, had "found it." Like Joan, Morton was fascinated by the electrical device. When he was being interrogated with the E-meter, he told me, he felt compelled to reveal to the auditor his innermost thoughts, no matter how outlandish or self-incriminating they might be; and strangely, rather than feeling embarrassed, he relished these exchanges, especially when the auditor happened to be an alluring young female (for some unknown reason he always seemed to get that type of auditor at the New York Org).
Morton was also enthralled by the powerful personality of L. Ron Hubbard, as transmitted to him via lecture films at the org. To Morton, Hubbard was a self-made man, the supreme pragmatist who would succeed at any endeavor and who had drawn on many fields of knowledge to create Scientology. Hubbard was indeed something of a magician, who reached into the air and grabbed fistfuls of physics and engineering with which he plotted the human mind with scientific precision. For all his prodigiousness, Hubbard was down to earth and seemed to speak directly to Morvis, who described Hubbard's presence on the screen as that of a "combination pro football coach, corporation executive and Roman Emperor," who chatted like a Dutch uncle about the whole universe.
Another aspect of Scientology made it, for Morvis, even more enticing than the "processing" with an electrical apparatus -- which made the org sound a bit like a meat-packing plant. He enjoyed entertaining me with tales of the auditor's training course he was taking. One of the skills a prospective auditor had to learn was how to keep a straight face when confronting a "preclear" (one not yet clear). An auditor had to have the self-control not to flinch at the most preposterous irrationalities issuing from the preclear's "reactive mind," Hubbard's older Dianetics term for the part of the psyche that housed the trouble spots. To help the trainee acquire this ability, Hubbard had devised a drill in which a coach played the role of a preclear, rampant with reactive mind and out to shake up the auditor in any way possible. Hubbard called the drill "bull-baiting."
Many coaches tried to make the auditor-in-training laugh. Morton described to me one such session. He and his coach sat in chairs facing each other, the coach almost on top of him with his knees tightly pinning Morton's together. The coach then set out to find Morton's "buttons" -- subjects that would break him up and divert his attention from auditing a preclear. He began with the premise that Morton had a "Jewish button" that needed "flattening" (it happened that most Jewish people had such a button).
"Mister Morvish," crooned the coach, "mosht pipple leff at me ven I szing, but you von't leff et me ven I szing, vill you, Mishter Morvish?" With that, the coach cleared his throat and went into repeated choruses of "Tzum golly golly golly." Other trainees around them took up the refrain, until the tune reverberated in various voice registers, throughout the room. A basso did the "Tzums" like a bullfrog out on the lily-pads; an ingenious girl added as counterpoint Theme from Exodus: "Dai dai ... dai dai ... dai dai dai dai dai DAIEE ..." The org resounded with the music and Morvis' gasps of laughter. Just when he had calmed down a little, a newcomer stepped into the room and announced, "I've just come from the planet Ginsberg in the galaxy Sholom. Did you ever see a thetan wearing a yarmulka?", and they were off again. All told, it took six hours to "flatten" Morvis' Jewish button.
The sexual side of life was often a heavy button also, and this gave Morvis his chance to get back at the young lady who had sung "Theme from Exodus." She couldn't keep a straight face when he bull-baited her with, "I'd love to run my tongue around the area between your cunt and your asshole," the remark delivered with appropriate licking motions. She had the last laugh however -- or, rather, he did -- when she got another turn to bull-bait him. She found that he still had an "unflat button" -- flatulence -- and kept him in convulsions for several more hours with a vocal assortment of blasts and repercussions.
It developed that Joan Porter and Morton Morvis knew each other, either from the org or from the music business. The three of us got together several times, and their relationship intrigued me as much as their stories about an orgful of spaced-out Scientologists breaking each other up with their own training rites. Joan considered herself a more serious and dedicated member than Morton, who was taken above all else with the zanier antics at the org. She thought him frivolous; Morton, in turn, teased her for being uptight, with an "unflat button on Scientology itself." Their semi-playful poking at each other's supposed weaknesses was like a bull-baiting session carried outside the org, with an added element of flirtation. There was something new also in their attitude towards me. Though it was for the most part unstated, I knew they thought I needed auditing (true, along with every other "preclear"), and that it was only a matter of time before I joined them at the org. They would say, "You'll never understand Scientology until you've experienced it." Silly souls! It was inconceivable that my old friends had become regimented -- brainwashed; they were just going through a stage. I would touch fleetingly upon something newly different about them. The next moment they would be quite the same people I had known for years.
Several months after first hearing of Scientology, I knew little more about it than I had before.
Through Joan I met Felicia Lancia, a professional auditor. Joan took me to her apartment one night, after convincing me that Felicia had other interests besides Scientology and wouldn't harp on the subject. Felicia Lancia was a slender attractive woman with magnetically compelling eyes. She and her husband Renzo were also musicians and we hit it off immediately. The Lancias impressed me, in a quiet way. Neither of them was irritatingly demonstrative about Scientology; in fact, Renzo was much more caught up in his composing. Felicia, though more enchanted with it, had kept her balance, I felt, better than Joan Porter had. The Lancias seemed to get along well together, despite Felicia's deeper immersion in the group.
True to Joan's word, no great pressure was put on me to join, though Felicia didn't try to hide her interest. When I played the Lancias' piano, she discerned an esoteric message in the performance and used still another term, "ARC," for the vibrations she received from it. Clearly she meant this as a compliment. Joan called my attention to the luxuriant growth of the plants in the apartment. "Plants need to be Validated the same as people," she said. "Give them plenty of ARC -- Affinity, Reality and Communication. Touch them, compliment them, and they'll flourish for you." I thought this made sense. However, "ARC" sounded a lot like plain old "TLC" -- Tender Loving Care.
Felicia had me try a drill in which I imitated motions of her hands. Only a severely handicapped person would have flunked it. Then she had me direct Joan to walk around the room and touch walls and objects. I was to acknowledge Joan's obedience each time she carried out an order with a "Thank you" or "Good." This quickly got boring. The young ladies thought I did very well at these drills and would make a fine Scientologist someday. I left the Lancias' thinking that if it wasn't Scientology it would something else.
The next week, Felicia asked me to meet her at the New York Org. As soon as I entered the place I was directed to Reception, a stunning blonde whose job, I discovered, was to get visitors to sign up for auditing and courses. Reception wanted me to start immediately on the Lower Grades. As she fixed her gaze unyieldingly on me, I began to get squeamish and tried to avert my eyes from her consuming stare. I told her I wished to hold off for a while to think it over. Hearing that, she launched an attack. It was obvious, she said, that I had problems I wasn't facing up to. Scientology was the only way to Total Freedom and I was sinning against myself by waiting.
I was repelled by her. Breaking away from her penetrating eyes, I located Felicia and took her downstairs for coffee. "I never should have brought you here," she said, smiling. "You're too individualistic for them. Don't blame Reception -- she gets extra credits for anyone she signs up. But it does get to be a bit heavy at times. I'll audit you privately at our place, away from the gung-ho fanatics."
I didn't accept her offer. As much as I liked Felicia, I just wasn't interested in Scientology. I still didn't really know what it was; my friends had never given me a coherent explanation of how it brought the claimed results. Since my Dianetics experience, my mystic leanings had been more towards Eastern thinking, and I had learned to indulge them at little cost in an easy chair at home with the radio on and a paperback by Krishnamurti or Suzuki. Scientology was my friends' elaborate toy. If they felt it helped them, fine. They didn't push it the way the org folk did. As long as none of us tried to impose our own trip on the next person we all got along beautifully. I started seeing the Lancias regularly.
In the fall of '66 I began six months of bus touring with a musical production. It was the worst job I'd ever had. I returned to New York feeling washed-out, not sure what I wanted to do. At that point Felicia reiterated her offer, this time making it more attractive. She would audit me through one grade, which she called a "release," at a lower price than the org's, on an approval basis. I was to continue only if I felt benefit from it.
This might be just the diversion I needed. "Grade 0 Release" would take only an hour or two, she said; and since I had saved money from my last few music jobs, $125 (the org's price was $150 for the grade) would scarcely make a dent. Further, the fee would go to someone I knew and liked, not to the org, poetic justice for the bad time Reception had given me.
There was a muted note of sexual excitement in the prospect of being audited by Felicia. I was to take the passive role in a game of "doctor-and-patient" -- in this case an attractive female doctor -- the feeling of childlike conspiracy heightened by my anticipation of unusual happenings during the sessions. It would be a piquant, novel form of intimacy, with Felicia acting as ringleader. I had no naive hopes of working out my life, solving problems and gaining abilities through auditing, no intention of going beyond the one initial "release." Primarily, I wanted to be a good sport. It would be a lark.
It was April, 1967, perhaps two years after I had first heard of Scientology on a subway platform, that I agreed to let Felicia audit me privately, a harmless little pact that set me apart, I imagined, from those whose involvement with Scientology had been swift and total.