The “Cult Years” (part 1)

I Have My Opinions on Religion and Spirituality…

…but they have absolutely nothing to do with this story.

To protect the innocent and to keep hurt feelings to a minimum, this cult of which I speak will not be directly identified. It will be referred to from this point forward only as “The Cult”, with my sincerest apologies to the 1980s British rock band of the same name.

The way I found The Cult is a story unto itself, so let’s start there.

I had just left Brooklyn for Las Vegas. The money I landed with was running out and I was renting an apartment at this point, so I had to find a job. I moved to Vegas specifically on the recommendation of a Brooklyn drummer friend who preceeded my by just a few months. Neither of us could find a job in New York City. The economy was in one of those now-familiar 10-year “recessions”; but, reportedly, Vegas was booming. I found this to be true.

Now Las Vegas is a strange place to look for work as a new arrival. Every scam that ever walked the Earth learned to walk in Las Vegas first. That fact, combined with down-and-out gambling losers and transients lured by the gambling-subsidized low cost of living made Vegas natives a very suspicios and cautious bunch.

Consequently, my first attempt at gaining employment was fraught with red-tape and layers of precaution on the part of the employer. We are talking about a $5 an hour car wash job here, yet the employment process started with a 3rd party employment pre-screening company at which I was to appear dressed for success. I put on my lucky suit (a 3-peice navy blue pinstripe that served me well in cold call sales in NYC) and set out to walk the seven miles to make the appointment.

Yes, even I knew walking seven miles in the desert in a 3-peice suit was ridiculous. Luckily, I had made some acquaintances in my apartment complex and one of them offered me a ride. We made it there in minutes, so now I was about 3 hours early.

Well-dressed and with time to kill, I was looking for shade and a place to sit. It would be just plain silly to walk around in the sun for 3 hours after getting a ride! That’s when I spotted something familiar from my days walking about the streets of midtown Manhattan. It looked like a Christian Science Reading Room, well-known as the kind of place where a bit of bible talk might take up an hour (at least) and probably result in an offer of coffee and possibly a donut (donuts!!!). Without paying any closer attention to the sign on the door, in I went; utterly content to play this innocent scam on what I thought were some well-meaning Christian sect members.

It was not a Christian Science Reading Room. It was THE CULT!!! Even back then The Cult was notorious, but not nearly as much so as they would later become. Many folks had heard of it, but not most.

The only people manning this “church” were a young married couple, replete in their standard slightly paramilitary uniforms reserved only for inner-circle hyper-dedicated church staff members.

They were SO friendly and kind and cheerful! We spent all the free time I had talking about The Cult and its founder and perusing some of their basic books and cosmological dialectic. I was impressed with their knowledge and, honestly, the material I was reading was intensely interesting. I was genuinely curious.

When they asked me to come back to talk some more I assumed that they were impressed with me, too. Nope. She was pregnant as can be and the two of them soon departed The Cult, never to be seen or heard from again. Their last task was to replace themselves on staff…with me.

Yes, I joined staff. I figured I had little to lose (I never even got that stupid car wash job). It was explained to me that The Cult’s exorbitantly expensive training and services were available to staff members for free. I wanted to know more and wasn’t quite done scamming them yet!

The question may legitimately be raised at any point in this tale: Exactly who was scamming whom? In the end, I think I won the scam wars. That’s hardly the gist of this story, though.

Let’s move on….

I had started as a staff member, and also got a job delivering flowers. I moved from my apartment to a much cheaper weekly room nearby both The Cult’s little storefront “church” and the florist who paid me.

Needless to say, The Cult’s staff members were only paid if the little storefront “church” made lots of money (it didn’t) or if I sold lots of The Cult’s books (I didn’t).

About this “church”: The Cult claimed to be a religion (they aren’t) and the IRS agreed. They opened hundreds of similar little storefront, low-rent operations all over the country. They were no different from any dry cleaner, comic book store or tattoo parlor in appearance. These little operations were supposed to send paying customers on to larger more visually appealing operations for advanced services and so on. A cursory look into these services reveals that there is literally no end, no graduation, no point at which you “did it”. Eventually, I disovered the only form of “graduation” from The Cult, but more on that later.

Meanwhile, my drummer buddy from Brooklyn was a frequent visitor in my cheap little room, primarily because he had become homeless through a flaw in his own vastly inferior scam (relatively speaking). The last time I ever saw him, we jammed some music. I played my 73 Fender Strat unamplified while he played a beat on a Las Vegas phone book with his only remaining pair of drum sticks. We smoked the last tiny bit of weed we had between us, then said goodbye.

The next day I was being sent, all expenses paid by The Cult, to a huge sprawling training “church” in Southern California. Over the next couple of years I would spend quite a bit of time there. For now, let’s just say my first visit was…inauspicious.

(to be continued…)