Saturday, May 17, 2008

Chapter Five: Crash and Burn

The Sea Org's European Station Ship Athena, 1971

A single work light hung on the railing above us, illuminating the side of the ship and the misting rain that was falling around us. But it didn’t seem to penetrate the cold, black water of Copenhagen’s harbor, swirling underneath our small boat. We were pitching up and down alarmingly, making it difficult for me to get a purchase on the side of the hull with the power wirebrush. Every time I tried to press the sander to the hull, the boat would slide away backwards.

Marcus and I had a simple task to complete. All we had to do was sand one side of the Athena’s hull, getting rid of any rust spots, and then paint the hull, first with the rust-preventing primer, then with white paint. Our deadline, or "time machine" in Sea Org parlance, was to have it done by dawn. Captain Bill was holding a special training exercise for all Sea Org staff from the AO, and the ship had to be ready. It was about two in the morning, and we had to hustle.

"This is getting nowhere," I told Marcus. I sat down on the gunwale of the small boat, my back to the Athena’s hull. "Here, hold on to my legs."

With Marcus holding my legs, I bent backwards over the gunwale, with the wirebrush over my head. Coming at the hull from underneath, I could just keep enough pressure on the side of the ship. I worked away at the rust doggedly.

It was summer, 1972. Marcus and I had been on the Athena’s Deck Project Force for about six weeks. I had spent a little over a year as Commanding Office of Pubs Denmark, and it had been a disaster, a nightmare of stress and pressure. I was glad to have the break, working at mindless tasks as a part of the Athena’s deck force.

There was no Rehabilitation Project Force in 1972, only a Deck Project Force. Here, "failed executives" like me and Marcus would mingle with new Sea Org recruits, all of us working together and studying Scientology in the evenings in a course room below decks.

Ironically, thirty-two years later, in 2004, when I was being proposed to be Books Executive International at the Int Base, a review would be done of my record as an executive, and I would be told that my stint as Commanding Officer Pubs was considered to be a success. I would express disbelief, as I remembered it as a complete nightmare. Not so, they would inform me. I had handled the debts incurred by Doreen Casey, and had amassed decent financial reserves for the Org. I had stabilized the place, and had increased the income slowly and steadily.

Well, that may have been, but "slowly" and "steadily" were not terms that were to be applied to Flag Executive Briefing Course graduates. We were the whiz kids, the wunderkind. When we arrived on the scene, statistics were supposed to rocket up vertically and keep climbing to astronomical new levels. Anything less than that was just not acceptable. Our heroes, our role models, were people like Alex Sibirsky, Kerry Gleeson and Bill Franks. Sibirsky in fact had spoken to the FEBC students while I was there. They had "boomed Boston Org" and were heroes. Stories abounded about their "take-no-prisoners" attitude – demanding production at any cost, keeping staff up day and night to meet targets, locking public into rooms until they wrote a check for their next service. Being "unreasonable" was considered a compliment – it meant you didn’t buy into any "reasons" for non-production. Executives who listened to staff "excuses" or cut them any slack were condemned as "worker-oriented" – a crime in Hubbard’s playbook.

When Tina, Lance and I arrived back in the Org in June, 1971, I thought maybe I could be that kind of tough, unreasonable executive. After all, we were trained in the latest Hubbard technology and audited on the confidential "L" Rundowns. We had been transformed into super-executives. We could rocket the stats just by force of will, by running roughshod over anyone who got in our way.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t wired that way. I’ve never been good at dominating people, or threatening them, or intimidating them. In the zeitgeist of the time, where such behavior was considered a strength, I began to think of my own inability to behave that way as a weakness. Maybe I wasn’t really strong or ruthless enough to be an exec.

When we first hit the org I tried to play the part. But all it took was a lifted eyebrow or a slight smile from Tina, and I would feel like a pompous fool. That wasn’t my style, that wasn’t me. I decided I would just be myself and run the org in my own way, and if that wasn’t good enough – well, I would have given it my best shot.

When we arrived, there were still some staff living in the "Dexion Hotel." We made sure they were getting enough pay and found them apartments to live in. Tina was great on finance lines, and put in some sensible financial policies that she administered with an iron fist. We sent two staff off on a recruitment tour to get more people on staff, and set about training the ones we had. We got the Address list cleaned up and put in order, then started sending out some sensible promotional mailings. It was nothing heroic; all just basic measures that we knew would improve the scene.

Me and Tina - happier days

But these were all measures that would take time to bear fruit. It was like helming a large ship – you give the rudder a few degrees, and then you wait and wait, and nothing seems to happen. Gradually the ship responds. And I knew the org would respond. But we were being watched. We had to report our "stats" every week, and the expectation was that the stats would begin rocketing up the minute we arrived. When that didn’t happen – and weeks went by without that dramatic stat miracle - the telexes became more and more demanding. My seniors had no qualms about being "unreasonable" with me.

And it seemed I had two seniors. The Sea Org had established a European Liaison Office in Copenhagen, headed up by Bill Robertson and his wife, Joan. "Captain Bill" as he was always referred to, was already famous in Scientology. He was known as Hubbard’s go-to guy whenever there was a challenging Sea Org Mission or an Org that needed a strong Commanding Officer. His mission as CO EULO was to expand Scientology into all of Europe.

Bill and I never quite meshed. We were, in many ways, polar opposites. He was a big, blustery man with close-cropped hair and a military bearing, while I was thin and long-haired. He got things done by force of personality – and he had plenty of both force and personality. Where I tended to be quiet and unassuming, he dominated the environment with his size and booming laugh.

"Captain Bill" Robertson

And yet, there was something about that laugh, that almost fanatically intense persona, that had an edge of madness in it. He loved to talk about Marcab, the Galactic Confederation, and all the rest of Scientology’s "whole track" mythos. Many years later, of course, he would split off from the Church of Scientology and form his own "Ron’s Orgs," heavily based on his own "whole track" visions. But that was in the future. Now he was the golden boy, and if he was mad, it was a very acceptable kind of madness in the world of Scientology, and staff hung on his every word.

He loved to tell a story about the early days of the Sea Org, when Ron himself had been teaching them celestial navigation one night on the deck of the Avon River (later to be the Athena). After the lesson, he paused, staring out at the stars, his eyes narrowing as if he could see far beyond this small planet.

"This is not the first time we have been together," he intoned.

Bill ate that sort of thing up, and so did his staff. It wasn’t just a job; it was a whole track, intergalactic adventure.

As Pubs was in Copenhagen, Bill considered that we were under him. But I had been briefed by CS-2, before leaving the Apollo, that we were under her, not under EULO – as we were international. This led to rather strained relations between me and Captain Bill right from the start. Whenever he came over for an "executive inspection," which was once a week or so, we edged around each other in a polite dance. He would "make suggestions" as to things that he thought should be done and I would tell him what a good idea it was and that I would take it up with CS-2 right away. As a man used to direct action – and used to being obeyed – I am sure my attitude frustrated and annoyed him.

About this time I got to know another well-known Sea Org Officer, Ken Delderfield, or "Deld" as he was commonly called. He had been fired on a mission to Europe to "make Policy broadly available." Policy, in this case, referred to Hubbard’s issues, printed in green ink, laying out all of his administrative and management "technology."

Ken, I was to learn, was a maverick, and the closest thing to an entrepreneur in the otherwise top-down, heavily authoritarian Sea Org structure. He did things his own way. He was supposed to make Policy available, so he devised a scheme whereby he would publish them in hard cover books. This would require a whole editorial, typesetting and publishing operation, so he set about establishing one. He recruited a number of staff, including his wife Rosemary, who had been the LRH Communicator Pubs. To fund this unit, he actually went around selling staff members the future books. Those who "got in on the ground floor," as he put it, would get them at a fraction of the final price. I bought a set of the volumes, as did a lot of other staff, and with these funds, he purchased IBM typesetting equipment – the kind where you had to hand-code the formatting as you typed. He set up his whole operation in the back of Pubs. He kept "The Commodore" briefed on what he was doing, and the "Old Man" was pleased as punch.

Tina and I continued our struggle to get the stats up. We were making some progress, but it was slow. There was no sudden vertical boom. One day I came into our Exec Offices and saw Tina reading the Flag "Orders of the Day." Since we were Sea Org Members on "Garrison Mission," the ship would send us the OODs, as they were called, which gave us an idea what was going on at Flag. We had to keep them confidential. All of a sudden Tina turned white and said, "Oh, my god."

"What is it?" I asked.

She showed me the item, something Hubbard had written in his "Command" section of the OODs:

"I saw that Action Bureau was about to send a mission to Pubs Denmark," he wrote, "however when I checked their stats, they were up. It’s important to always check the stats before firing a mission."

I went cold – and raced to check the stats. They were, thankfully, still up. But I realized what a razor’s edge we were living on – any serious dip in stats and we could find a Sea Org Mission on our doorstep. We were on a very short leash. Life became a week-to-week nightmare. Our stats – as with every Scientology Organization – were calculated every Thursday at 2pm. That was the "cutoff." The stats had to be up by then, so on Wednesday nights, we were often there late.

But outside of Wednesday nights, we didn’t work the crew around the clock. We made sure they went home and got sleep, and that they had time for their training. One day, after a very good week, Tina and I let the crew have a day off. We decided to see if we could run the whole org by ourselves, just the two of us. We had a ball, starting out in the morning invoicing the orders, packing them up and getting them shipped.

The Sea Org station ship Athena had moved from Helsingør and was now docked in Copenhagen harbor. As Sea Org Members, Tina and I were sometimes invited to go on weekend cruises on the Athena, where we would do drilling with other Sea Org Members from the Advanced Org.
The AO had also moved into town, so that it could be centrally located for public coming in by air or train. They were now both and Advanced Org (delivering the OT Levels) and a Saint Hill Org (delivering the Saint Hill Special Briefing Course). They were called Advanced Organization Saint Hill Europe – or AOSHEU for short - and had taken over the upper floors of a building on Jernbanegade, just off Town Hall Square and close to Copenhagen’s famous "Walking Street." When the second floor of that same building became available, we jumped at the chance to move Pubs out of its dockside warehouse and into the center of the city, close to the AO and the Athena.

Tina and I inspected our future premises, and they were a mess. The place had been a night club, and the walls were painted black, with graffiti-like squiggles in neon colors painted on them. Strange backdrops and props littered the space, looking like a bizarre circus from a drug nightmare.

We set about cleaning out the place over a weekend, leaving a skeleton crew to man the org delivery lines. We brought in two large roll-offs and stationed them in the building’s central courtyard. Then we just started tearing out all the weird furniture and backdrops, breaking them up and tossing them into the roll-offs. Then when the entire place was emptied out, we painted the walls white and laid down grey carpeting throughout the space. On Monday, the landlord arrived and we showed him what we had done – he was impressed, and we had a friend and ally. We then moved all of the book stocks, desks and equipment over, and got set up for business in our new home. Deld staked out a section in the back for his Policy book operation, and we set up our exec offices in the front, near the key dissemination and sales areas.

And that is where our attention was increasingly focused. The stats were slowly, slowly rising, but it wasn’t enough. We needed to create a boom. We needed to make more money, sell more books. My attention became increasingly riveted on the sales staff who were making daily calls to the orgs to get them to buy more books. I was always trying to figure out how to sell more books. I remember walking over to EULO, head down, not even seeing the city around me, just thinking and worrying and figuring about how could I sell more before Thursday at 2pm. Day by day I got more depressed, more desperate. My "ethics handlings" at EULO didn’t seem to provide an answer; they just increased the pressure, the desperation. Tina was feeling the pressure too, and more and more we were bringing our work and our worries home with us, spending out private time together talking about the org. The stress was taking its toll on our marriage.

Finally a Flag Mission arrived. The senior Missionaire was Tina’s brother Fred, an old-time Sea Org Officer. The other Missionaire was Sandy Stevens, an attractive young woman who was also an auditor. They tried to rally Tina and me and get us to take some strong actions to get the org going, but we were, by then, burned out. Both of us confessed privately to the Missionaires that we no longer wanted our posts.

The next morning, we dragged ourselves into the org to find a muster already in progress. Ken Delderfield was at the front, addressing the crew as the new Commanding Officer. We were hustled out of the org by the Missionaires and over to the Athena, where we were assigned to the Deck Project Force.

My friend Marcus Lanciai was already there, busted off of CO Stockholm. We had gone to the ship together, trained together, and now here we were, busted together. But after the constant nail-biting pressure of Pubs, being on the Athena was great. It was summer, we were working out in the sun, sanding, caulking decks, painting and varnishing. At that time, there was no RPF, it had not been invented yet. There was just the Deck Project Force, and we were all there together, failed execs and raw new recruits. It got a bit surreal at times – I was still signatory on the Pubs accounts, so once a week, I’d hear the click-click-click of heels across the deck as some Treasury staff member brought me the checks to sign, and I’d sit there on the deck, asking questions and signing checks. I’m sure the new recruits were wondering why a deckhand was signing checks!

I got tan and grew a beard. I learned how to operate the steam winch, and loaded and unloaded cargo and stores. On weekends, we took the ship out for cruises up the coast, and I learned how to helm the ship. Once on a warm summer day we dropped the anchor somewhere in the North Sea and dived overboard for a swim. The water was icy cold.

I enjoyed the present, and tried not to think about the future. I didn’t want to be an exec; I felt shame at having failed as an FEBC graduate. It seemed like I had betrayed the Org, my fellow FEBC students, and the Commodore.

Another casualty was my marriage to Tina. The mutual stress had taken its toll, and Tina wanted a divorce. I was in no mood to fight it.

I was informed that I would be posted as the Flag Banking Officer of AOSH EU. They had me studying finance Policy Letters. I had no idea who had decided this, but it seemed insane. I was an artist, a designer, and here they wanted to put me in Finance? It sounded like pure torture to me, crunching numbers all day.

Deld came to the rescue. He negotiated with EULO and convinced them to return me to Pubs Org, where he put be back on my old post of Production Secretary.

"I couldn’t see wasting your talents in Finance," he told me with a wink.

I moved into a dormitory in the staff house, which was about 20 minutes walk from the org, on Sankt Knuds Vej. Although we were divorced, Tina and I remained friends, and I would still see Gwennie every day. I would walk home for dinner, and when I got about half a block from the staff house, I would see Gwennie running out to meet me and give me a big hug. It was the high point of my day.

I immersed myself in my work. As Production Secretary, I ran a print shop which produced course packs and booklets. I had a printer, Tony, and a Dutch guy, Dirk, who did binding, but I learned all the machinery myself so I could do anything needed. The tape copying area was also under me, run by a tall Englishman named John Waterworth, and I was also over the Shipping Department, which was handled by a Scot, Neil Lumsden.

I handled Printer Liaison myself – "held from above" as they termed it. I liked that part of my job, because it allowed me to get out of the Org. I would go see printers all over town, traveling by bicycle. There was a freedom about cruising through the streets, the wind blowing in my hair, breathing the crisp, cold air.

One of my suppliers was Anderson Printing. Mrs. Anderson, an older Danish lady, had taken over the business when her husband died, and was having a terrible time trying to keep it afloat – she didn’t know the first thing about business. That became obvious the first time she submitted a quote to me – it was way too low. I sat with her and reworked the quote, showing her how to do it. She told me years later that if it hadn’t been for my patience with her, the business probably would have folded. She returned the favor –when I’d fall asleep in one of her chairs after a series of "all-nighters," she’d just let me sleep, and I’d find a hot cup of Danish coffee sitting there when I woke up.

One of my main printers was Mr. Permild. He had a very large shop and I did most of the book printing with him. He liked me to come over on Sunday and we’d sit around in his empty shop over Tuborg beer and pastry and plan out the next week’s printing.

The Translations Unit moved from Tangier in late 1972 and became a part of Pubs, so that function fell under me as well. It was headed up by a young Swedish woman, Anna. We had an on-and-off secret affair over the next few years – she shared a room with another woman and whenever the other woman was gone, I’d visit Anna. In those days, affairs between unmarried staff weren’t punishable by RPF assignment, as they later became. They were tolerated if you weren’t too obvious about it – other staff tended to wink at it.

But I was really adrift, just carrying on, day after day. The work was challenging, I was learning a lot about printing and production, but personally I was just drifting, marking time. Where did I go from here? What did I want to do with my life? I didn’t want to stay in Europe forever, and I didn’t want to just dead-end in a mid-level job at Pubs. The winters were long, cold and brutal, with snowdrifts piling up on the streets and the icy wind blowing into the city from across the Sound. In midwinter, you never saw the sun – it was dark around the clock. The summers were brief and warm, and in June the sun never set – you could go out at 3 in the morning (as I often ended up doing), and the deserted streets were bright as day. The Danes enjoyed their summers with a frantic abandon, and the parks and beaches were crammed with sunbathers – the women going topless. But before long, the cold winds were blowing again, and we were in for another long, grey winter.

We continued to hear about the terrific expansion in Europe. Captain Bill was sending missions out all over Europe and establishing new organizations. These were the heady, gonzo days of "anything goes" to get the stats up. "Postulate checks" became the rage, where a registrar would get a public to write a check for their services with no money to cover the check – based on the "postulate" that they would have the money in place before the check cleared. Of course, the checks bounced, but that was someone else’s problem – the executive or Registrar had already reported the "up stats" and was already a hero.

It was in this atmosphere, in early 1974, that two Missionaires arrived from Flag, with orders to boom Pubs by selling books to the rapidly expanding orgs in Europe. Frankie Freedman, the head Missionaire, was a real wheeler-dealer type, and his Second, Bruce Wilson, also seemed to be a fast-talker. They got onto the phones, and soon we were hearing about "big book deals" that were in the works, like 20,000 books or more. As Production Secretary, I was given a "heavy traffic warning" to gear up for massive book production that would have to be pulled off in record time.

I notified my printers to get ready for some large orders. They told me that paper was going to be the main problem as it could take weeks to get that much paper in. I was panicked – that kind of delay would not be tolerated. I told them to go ahead and get the needed paper in now.
The orders started to come in – 40,000 copies of The Fundamentals of Thought in German, 20,000 copies of Evolution of a Science in French and so on. I started the presses rolling. The org was in a state of frenzied excitement. I was up day and night getting the books printed and stacked on the shelves ready for the massive orders that were on their way.

And then, just as soon as it started, it was over. Frankie Freedman disappeared, back to Flag for "ethics handling." No money was coming through. The "big book deals" were mostly hot air. I was left with several tons of paper on the floor of various printers – none of it covered by purchase order. In other words, I was personally liable for it. So for the next few weeks, I became a paper salesman, getting rid of all "my" paper!

Bruce Wilson stayed. He ended up marrying Tina and he and I became good friends.

With the completion of his Policy books, now called the Organization Executive Course (OEC) Volumes, Deld had gone back to Flag, and a new Commanding Officer arrived from the ship, an old friend from the Edinburgh days, Judy Ziff. She was now divorced from David and was calling herself Judy Graham. She was a practical, no-nonsense leader who genuinely cared for the staff and the org.

With the printing I’d done for the "big book deals," we were now heavily overstocked on translated books. Judy decided to put me on as Dissem Sec, to put some steam behind our promotional and sales actions. I began producing a volume of promotion. I was a one-man band, acting as designer, copywriter, photographer, illustrator, platemaker and printer. I even supervised the Wednesday night stuffing parties to get the mail out every Thursday before the 2:00 pm "stat deadline."

I befriended a Dutch guy, Stefan, who was a photographer. I was training him up to be the Editor of the Auditor Magazine, which was also under me. On one of our days off, he and I traveled out to the country, Stefan with his camera and me with a sketch pad. We found an old farmhouse and he photographed it from many angles while I sat and did a sketch of it. Later that day I did a painting from my sketches. When I brought the painting in to the org the next day, Judy loved it and bought it from me straight away.

I still had no girlfriend. The affair with Anna was long over. A brief, torrid affair with a fetching Scottish girl, Helen, had ended badly the previous year. Stefan and I decided to remedy our mutual problem of lack of girlfriends, and went to a party for area staff hosted by the Advanced Org. There I met a Danish girl named Elin. She worked for the Guardians Office Europe. We hit it off right away, and I ended up spending the night at her apartment. A few days later, I moved out of the staff dormitory and into her flat. In those days you could still do things like that in the Sea Org.

It was an interesting relationship – neither of us could pronounce the other’s name. I called her "Ellen" (she insisted it was pronounced "ay-leen"), and she called me "Yeff." Sometimes at night I would stop by the GO offices to pick her up, and I started talking to the Deputy Guardian Europe, Alan Juvonen, about possibly joining the Guardians Office. The fact was, I was bored stiff at Pubs. I wanted to do something different, go somewhere else, maybe even back to the US. Maybe the GO was my ticket out.

But that was not to be. One day in mid-1975, Judy called me into her office.

"Look at this," she said, handing me a copy of the Flag Orders of the Day and pointing to the "Command" section.

I read the entry. Hubbard talked about forming up a dissemination unit on the ship, and, at the end, specifically said to "get Hawkins from Pubs Denmark." I felt a thrill run through my body. The Old Man had called for me personally. This was the ticket out I’d been waiting for.

"Obviously, it will take some time to replace you," Judy said. I could hear the hesitation in her voice. She wanted to stall for time, try to keep me there.

"I don’t think so," I said quickly, and named a possible replacement. "I can have him trained in a week." Judy grudgingly agreed to my plan.

It was hard telling Elin, but she understood. One didn’t ignore a personal summons from LRH. I suggested she come to the ship too, but I could see that wasn’t what she wanted to do. She was Danish, and this was her home.

A week later, I was at EULO, being briefed on my journey to the ship’s confidential location.

"Will we be going through Madrid?" I asked.

"No," said the officer. "You’ll be going via New York."

The ship had moved – across the Atlantic.


GSM said...

The plot thickens. 1975 - I know where we're headed now!
Great writing as usual, Jeff!

Unknown said...

Great story and writing, Jeff.

Alan Juvonen - well I met him as an Flag registrar.

They got rid of all these Guardian Office staff apparently...

Dead Blogger said...

This is like watching a cult movie for me (my cult!)
You've kept me out of my bed all night.
Really enjoying this. Cathartic.

Dead Blogger said...

Wow. It's just hit me. YOU were creator of the ADVANCE Magazine....I'll bet...probably illustrator too. For us at AOSHUK arrival of a new issue was a Major event! (Apart from when we had stuffing parties because our stuffing machine had broken down - as usual - especially when we had to insert price-lists, etc!) Bet I'm right.

Anonymous said...

I've got to sit an exam tomorrow and should be getting ready, but I was mesmerised by your story - just had to keep on reading, couldn't help it. Damn you, Jeff... ;-)

LightPath said...

@HarryHamster - I just blew off a minor doctor's appointment to keep reading!

Excellent writing as always, Jeff! Your girl looks adorable from the old pics. I can't wait to get back to reading!

All the best,