It was September 12th 2001 when myself and my Irish mate Lewis were walking through central Brisbane, discussing the apocalyptic state into which the world had fallen just the day before.
Talking also of our desires for a new direction away from our respective quarter-life crises – we were just two young lads strolling around a street corner, when an attractive girl, of similar age, handed us a pamphlet. ‘Have you thought about your future?’ she asked, with an easiness that stopped us in our tracks.
Lewis and I exchanged a cross-examining look.
The pamphlet was almost entirely blank, except for large pink type reading – Free IQ and Personality Test.
‘Have you ever wondered about your potential?’ she asked in a tone digging deeper, ‘and the things you could accomplish if it were tapped into?’
I could almost physically feel the seduction begin. ‘So how does it work?’
‘Just as the pamphlet says, it’s a test to determine your IQ, your personality type, and in what direction you should invest your energies.’
‘And it’s free?’ asked Lewis, any good Irishman resistant to taking his wallet for an excursion outside his pocket.
‘Yes, free,’ she said.
Lewis and I swapped a fleeting look, revealing our mutual bewilderment of the timing and sheer relevance of this encounter, and spontaneity being the religion of our kind – the backpacker – we agreed we could think of no better way to gamble our day.
‘The centre is just around the corner,’ she said, ‘the address is on the back.’
I turned the pamphlet over, sighting above the address a nameless logo I’d never before seen. It concerned me little at the time.
We arrived at the main door of the centre just minutes later. ‘Welcome!’ bellowed a group of some twenty people as we entered the main room.
‘Ahhhr… g’day.’ I said, tentatively. ‘We’re here for the IQ test?’
‘Then you’ve come to the right place!’ said a nicely dressed lady in an oddly robotic tone.
She led us to a large fluorescent-lit room off the main room, far too classroom-like for my preference, and Lewis and myself sat next to each other like strangers at the start of school year. ‘Are we going to get the strap if we flunk?’ he asked as he settled into his seat. ‘If so, I hope it’s from that lass that gave us the pamphlet.’
The robot-lady placed two booklets on each of our desks. Lewis picked up his, and had a casual flick through its pages. ‘You know, I swear I’ve seen this logo before..’
‘Gentlemen, before you are your IQ and personality tests. You’re encouraged not to cheat, as cheating will just produce inaccurate results. You have thirty minutes for each test, and are free to do them in whichever order you prefer. Any questions?’
‘Yes,’ said Lewis, ‘I was wondering why we’re the only two takers present?’
‘It’s been a quiet day. Your time starts now.’
I remember the contents of the tests very little, but I do remember the robot-lady, sitting in the corner, and keeping a keen eye on us throughout.
Some time passed before I put up my hand, feeling almost nervous to do so.
‘So am I,’ said Lewis.
Looking almost disappointed, she swanned over, swooped our papers, and exited the room with military-type urgency. Perplexed, Lewis and I exchanged a look.
She returned some twenty minutes later.
‘Which one is David?’
‘Me.’ I said.
‘You stay here with me, and you..’ she looked down at the papers, ‘Lewis, you take your papers into the next room and an assessor will run through your results.’
With a parting glance, Lewis upped and left, making the silence of the room that bit louder.
‘So, David,’ she said, ‘I’m happy to report your IQ result was 125.’
‘Is that good?’ I asked, my ignorance probably bumping it down to 120 by default.
She handed me a pie chart, on which I was happy to learn I dwelt in a dignified slice.
‘But your personality test, well!’
‘Well, let’s just say that you’ve got some serious work to do!’
‘You’re a walking disaster, young man!’
‘Unresolved, agitated, overly passionate..’
‘Could you be more specific?’
She continued to chop me into a platter of critical pieces, and I found the look of disappointment on her face, as I proceeded to agree, exquisitely empowering. She then went on to explain that the good news is they can help me. (I guess one of two reactions occur: folk laugh it off and walk, or fall to their knees at the prospect of someone offering assistance. I was, I guess, somewhere in the middle. I gave little thought at the time, too, as to whom exactly were they).
She led me back out into the main room, where Lewis was waiting.
‘How’d you go, mate?’
‘IQ result, 128.’
I was positively wounded to be beaten.
‘Somehow I suspect they’re trying to flatter us.’ I said.
‘So do I, but they’ve balanced it nicely with the personality test, I’m told I’m a focking train wreck.’
‘Me too, mate.’
‘Perhaps that’s why we get along?’
‘Gentlemen,’ said the robot-lady, interrupting, ‘cynicism is merely testament to your healthy IQs, but please be reminded that we can help you.’
‘How?’ asked Lewis, his tone split perfectly with suspicion and curiosity.
‘We offer two-day counselling courses that will have you both walking away as new men!’
‘I see.’ I said, quite open to psychotherapy, yet aware of the extortionate charges that come with it.
‘So how much?’
‘No, $14.99 for the two days.’
Lewis and I exchanged another passing look, revealing our bafflement at the lack of expense.
‘Well it’s not like I’ve got any plans for the next couple of days,’ he said under his breath.
‘Me either, I guess.’
‘Excellent,’ said the robot-lady, in her trademark detached tone, leading us into a small office where our personal information was tapped into a computer. ‘We’ll see you tomorrow morning then, 9am sharp! And gentlemen, whatever you do, don’t be late.’
The next morning came, and like colleagues already fed up with the job, we found ourselves barrelling through the streets of Brisbane at a mighty pace.
In a flustered mess, we arrived at the centre at 8:57am. ‘Welcome!’ bellowed the usual group of people as we entered, before we were escorted into the same fluorescent-lit room as the day before.
The room was, on this day, however, packed with students, all seated and full of solemnity, and standing at the front was an older and emaciated man, so pale and heavy-eyed that one could fair assume he’d spent the last few decades glued to the toilet with the runs. On his desk was a sign, Henry – Senior Instructor, and with a polite, yet firm eyeball, he instructed us to take our seats.
‘Christ,’ said Lewis under his breath as he lowered himself down, ‘your man Henry looks like he could do with a bowl of solids to get him in good stead.’
‘Counting down,’ started the instructor, ‘10, 9, 8…’
‘We off to meet Neil?’
‘7, 6, 5…’
‘3, 2, 1, eyes down!’
The class obeyed his command with machinelike accuracy, obliging Lewis and I to do the same, in turn feeding my suspicion as to what – and who – exactly we were falling in with.
On my desk was a different booklet to the day before, titled – The Analytical and Reactive Mind, and, oddly, a dictionary. I turned to page one and skimmed the first paragraph, but when I looked up, old Henry came barrelling over at breakneck speed.
‘Which word did you get lost on?’
‘When someone gazes up from the page, it typically means they’ve encountered a word they don’t understand, hence have lost their way with the intended meaning. They become bored. This is why they look up.’
I was sceptical, but with Henry making me read the paragraph quietly to him, and quizzing me on the likely problem words throughout, I realised he was right. That, much like a car taking the wrong turn, at any juncture I didn’t understand a word, I was completely off course as the reader.
‘Hence the dictionary?’
‘Hence the dictionary,’ he said.
Regardless of Henry’s desperate lack of sex appeal, it made good sense. He left me to it, and I continued reading, using the dictionary each time I hit a literary roadblock.
I soon came to a section called – The Two Minds: The Clear. It had a picture of a young man walking past a Labrador on the street, and in the thought bubble above it simply said – ‘Labrador’. Its point eluded me.
The next page was titled – The Two Minds: The Pre-clear. It featured the exact same image, but in the thought bubble above it had a knock-on chain of negative thoughts, not dissimilar to the rabbit hole down which most do our cerebral processing. ‘Labrador… I remember that time when I was bitten by the neighbour’s dog when I was eight… and Mum got angry and forbid me to play there anymore… and the kids at school picked on me for being a wimp and excluded me from the group… and this… and that…’
I looked up, taking a second to digest what I found to be quite interesting, to which of course Henry came darting over. He pointed at the word Labrador. I assured him I knew its meaning.
We broke for lunch soon after, at which time Lewis, along with his booklet, was taken into a separate room. I wished to follow, but got the feeling it was a strictly private meeting.
I walked towards the kitchenette, noticing that next-door to it was what appeared to be a large office. It was the personification of stateliness, with plush red carpet, a mahogany desk, and a giant world globe in the far corner. Mysteriously, though, it was cordoned off like a crime scene.
The robot-lady, from the day before, was in the kitchenette.
‘Hello,’ I said.
‘Hello,’ she returned, with a tone that suggested she had zero memory of me.
‘I did the testing with you yesterday.’
‘Time is all around us,’ she said.
‘I see. So I was wondering about the office next-door, it’s very fancy.’
‘That’s for when Elrond returns?’
‘El who?’ I asked, my mind turning to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien.
‘So he’s away?’
‘Yes, you could say that.’
‘And is he back in today?’
‘He could be back at any time.’
Lewis and I – and the host of grey-faced others – reconvened in the classroom shortly after, at which time Henry – a man who with every hour looked more and more in need of a slice of bread and cheese – reprised his Nasa countdown. ‘3, 2, 1, eyes down!’
I pressed on through the booklet, getting to a section called – Auditing. It had a picture of two people sitting opposite each other, performing a sort of intense face-to-face interview where one person (the Auditor) fires deliberately provocative questions at the other (the Pre-clear). I found the subject immensely interesting, and simply had to look up to summons Henry over for more info.
‘Which word did you miss?’ he asked, having nearly tripped over himself.
‘None. But I’m curious about auditing.’
‘Good!’ he said.
‘So what is it exactly?’
‘It’s a process that brings to the surface unconscious memories that may inhibit the subject’s natural state.’
‘Quite the opposite, in fact. Man is asleep, our objective is to wake him from his stagnation.’
‘I see,’ I said, still wondering who exactly formed the word our.
‘And this is how we become a Clear, right?’ asked Lewis.
‘Yes,’ he answered, kneeling down between our two desks. ‘I think you boys are ready.’
‘Ready for what?’
He led us to a tiny room, perfectly empty but for two plastic chairs and a small lamp in the corner. ‘So boys,’ he said, switching on the lamp, ‘this is where begins the day from which you’ll never look back.’ There was a small part of me that was excited, but a larger part that was desperate for answers. ‘You’ve both read the chapter on auditing, so audit away!’ he said, closing the door behind him as he departed.
Lewis and I broke into the laughter of two ten year olds holding in a conjoint fart.
‘So what do you make of this joint?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know, but it’s a bit like Fantasy focking Island!’
‘And why did they usher you off at lunchtime?’
‘They offered me a job.’
‘You’re kidding me on?’
‘For real! They didn’t talk pay or specifics, but they reckon I’ve got a mind for this stuff.’
‘Perhaps I should be offended! So do you reckon you’ll sign on?’
‘I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure out what this stuff is.’
‘Me too, I can’t tell if it’s complete frog shit or genius. That bit about the Labrador was pretty sharp.’
‘It was, and seeing they said we’ll be new men within 48 hours, I guess we’ll be Clears by end of play tomorrow.’
‘I guess, but I didn’t know we were qualified auditors.’
‘Neither did I.’
‘I feel like two kids left to fly a 747.’
‘Should we fock it off and go for a pint?’
‘Let’s have a fly first.’
For the next three hours we sat in that cell-like room talking the sort of total, complete, and utter shite that led us as much to a state of enlightenment as having a wank upwind. Our deadline to be Clears was fast approaching; yet the speed of our progress was a very contrasting matter.
The next morning we arrived at the centre, disastrously, at 9:15am. The usual greeting from the door choir was replaced with hostile looks, and the robot-lady, looking well keyed up, was quick to mince over. ‘It’s my duty to inform you that unpunctuality is considered a breaking of The Code!’
‘What code?’ asked Lewis, defensively.
I felt myself getting hot with concordance.
Henry then appeared, dismissing her from an answer, and with his firm and heavy eyeballs looking even firmer, he sat us down in a corner of the main room. ‘Now, I’m expecting big things from you boys!’ he said. ‘Have you ever wondered about your potential? And the things you could accomplish if it were tapped into?’
Feeling that his homily sounded strangely familiar, it was then that I noticed an older lady, sitting in the opposite corner, being grilled similarly by a different grey-faced subordinate. She was crying openly.
I turned back. ‘Henry, what exactly is this place?’
‘Look,’ he said, gazing down at my papers to check my name, ‘David, we’ll get to that, but every path, no matter how epic, must be travelled one step at a time.’
I was as equally impressed by his poetry as I was insulted by the deflection.
‘I think maybe we should do the bolt,’ said Lewis, standing up. I stood up also.
‘No!’ said Henry. ‘Maybe it was premature of me to leave you boys to attempt auditing on your own yesterday.’
‘Henry, it’s been emotional, but we’re off.’
‘But you want to become Clears don’t you?’
Lewis and I met eyes, momentarily.
‘How many times do you even need to do the auditing before becoming one?’ he asked.
‘Why don’t the three of us go back into the small room and ‘ll get you started,’ answered Henry, deflecting again.
As though arriving at the same disgruntled conclusion, we exhaled forcefully. ‘Well I suppose we want our $14.99 worth,’ said the Irishman.
Henry took us into the same tiny room as the day before, flicked on the small lamp, sat himself down and invited Lewis to sit in the chair opposite. Like a lower ranking cop in the interrogation room, I stood with arms crossed in the corner.
‘Hold these,’ he said, handing to the Irishman two silver probes hooked up to a small machine.
‘It’s an E-meter.’
‘Like a lie detector?’
‘Something like that.’
Lewis looked up at me, genuine fear having risen in his eyes.
‘I’ll count down from ten before commencing the audit. As I do I ask that you not break eye contact with me, and that when I reach one you close your eyes. 10, 9, 8…’
Although I was glad it wasn’t me in the sacrificial chair, I felt suddenly like a coward that it should be my mate.
‘What?’ snapped Henry, glaring upwards.
I diverted my attention to Lewis. ‘Are you sure you want to be doing this mate?’
‘I’m Irish. I have no fear of the bender; liquid-kind or otherwise.’
He swallowed hard as Henry recommenced, ‘10, 9, 8…’
I guess I had the best seat in the house.
‘3, 2, 1…’
Lewis closed his eyes.
‘What is your name?’
‘Your full name?’
‘Lewis Jacob Kelly.’
‘Where were you born?’
‘What year were you born?’
‘What year are you in now?’
‘What is your earliest memory?’
‘What is your earliest memory?’
‘What is your earliest memory?’
‘I have several, I don’t know which is the earliest.’
‘Do you have any siblings?’
‘One older sister.’
‘What is her name?’
‘Do you love her?’
‘What is your earliest memory?’
‘Ahhhr… Janice is arguing with my mother.’
‘What year is it?’
‘1977, I think.’
‘What are they arguing about?’
‘She’s telling my mother she should stop babying me.’
‘Babying you how?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘How do you feel?’
‘What’s happening now?’
‘My mother is pointing at her with a kitchen knife.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m crying and reaching up.’
‘And what are they doing?’
‘They’re both reaching down to me.’
‘Who do you go to?’
‘Was this your preference’?
‘Then why did you go to her?’
‘Fear of what?’
‘And what is Janet doing?’
‘She is leaving the room, crying.’
‘Do you love her?’
Henry leant back in his chair, as though happy with his work. ‘Open your eyes.’
Lewis opened his eyes.
‘What year are you in now?’
‘And what is your name?’
‘Lewis Jacob Kelly.’
Henry stood up from his desk. ‘This is but a slight example of auditing, and is the mere tip of the start of things.’
‘Come with me.’
He led us back out through the main room, walking at an excited pace that left us behind.
‘I’m not sure what to make of that, mate, but it was pretty trippy to watch.’
‘And even trippier to experience. I feel pretty elated I guess, but no more so than after a good whinge with a mate at the pub.’
Henry took us into what appeared to be a small viewing room. It was dark, but for a faint glow coming off the large screen on the back wall.
‘It’s time for you boys to know.’
He pressed several buttons on the console and the screen awoke. It read – Testimonials.
‘I’ll be outside.’
For the next 20 minutes we sat, just the two of us, watching a range of individuals claim how ‘the centre’ had saved their lives. Every sort of person seemed to feature – Mike the plumber. Denise the engineer. Susan the nurse. Alfred the mechanic. John the actor. Most were in plain sight, and others were in silhouette. It was as tacky as it was tedious, and we passed the time by giving an unflattering commentary to each. It held our attention little, until, that is, at the end of the video something happened that we didn’t expect; for along with the nameless logo that we’d come to know from the pamphlet and booklet, rose in big golden letters – The Church of Scientology Welcomes You!
‘For fock’s sake!’ said Lewis, ‘we’ve stepped on the web!’
‘This is a focking cult!’
‘Call me old-fashioned, but what’s Scientology exactly?’
‘What? Do you live up your own arse? How have you not heard of them? Tom Cruise! John Travolta! That’s who those silhouetted fockers were!’
‘But why the panic?’
‘Did you ever see that Koresh fella at Waco strutting his stuff? Well this lot make him look rational! We’re in the lion’s focking den!’
Lewis barrelled for the door.
‘Wait!’ I said.
‘It might be best that we don’t go out there with guns blazing!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘As in, the more shocked we act the more they’re going to try and contain us.’
We stood there chewing on our fingernails and brewing on our options, when the door opened from outside and standing there – his wilted look seeming to now make more sense – was Henry. We put on our best faces and proceeded to walk past him.
‘Well?’ he asked, putting a hand on my shoulder. Lewis kept walking.
‘What did you think?’
‘We’d like to get going, Henry.’
‘We’re not big on people leaving early for the day.’
‘We’d like to get going regardless.’
‘You can’t just go.’
‘Because he disapproves of impulsive thought.’
He smiled, the first time I’d seen it in two days.
‘You mean, L. Ron Hubbard. A truly brilliant man.’
‘And he’s coming back in today, right?’
‘He could be.’
‘He’s been gone for some time.’
I shook my head and exhaled. ‘So where did he go?’
‘We don’t know where, we only know how, which was through a stroke.’
‘So he’s dead?’
‘No! Definitely not. Just in transition.’
This was all sounding a lot stranger than your average fiction, only increasing my desire to head for the door. Lewis was standing just by it, but was cornered by the robot-lady.
‘So has he ever even been in this office?’ I said, gesturing towards it.
‘No, but in every Scientology centre is an office set up for his return.’
‘Henry, can I ask you a question?’
‘How long have you worked here?’
‘So you’re a Clear, right?’
‘No, not yet.’
‘How, if you’ve been here for that long?’
‘It can take lifetimes to become a Clear.’
‘I was under the impression we’d achieve it by the end of the two-day course.’
He smiled again, temporarily masking the deep sadness I could sense from this man. Although he was far from young, I wondered if his parents even knew of the path their kid had strayed on to.
‘But working at the centre is a huge asset!’ he said. ‘All members get free auditing, and there is much work to do on all of us.’
‘Fair enough, and so how many days a week do you work?’
‘I see.’ I said, hiding my astonishment of the possessive power of a promise. By my observation, old L. Ron, not dissimilar to the Nazi camps, had set up a system run by the very people it oppresses.
‘Well it’s nearly 4pm, so it’s time to get going.’ I said.
‘Will you be back tomorrow?’
Like trying to back out of a disastrous date follow up, I found myself genuinely scared to answer.
‘If you’re having doubts, we’d be obliged if you’d at least conduct an exit interview.’
I was less than interested, and intended to politely decline, but it was then that Lewis walked over with the robot-lady by his side. ‘It’s a sticky old web this,’ he said under his breath, ‘we’re going in; best get your story ready.’
Escorted by our personal bodyguards, we were taken into a large room at the back of the centre, where, low and behold, sitting there was the attractive girl that had given us the pamphlet on the street. As though summonsed to the foot of Galadriel herself, she signalled us to sit opposite. Reluctantly, we obliged.
‘So,’ she said.
‘So,’ we returned.
‘Welcome to the Church of Scientology.’
‘Do you not think you’d do well to let folk know exactly where you leading them before you point ‘em this way?’ said Lewis, with a discernible amount of heat coming off his head.
‘I understand your frustration, but we find it more effective to guide our people in small steps.’
‘Guide them where, exactly?’
‘Only at the completion of each level, are our people exposed to the learning’s of the next.’
‘So how many levels are there?’ I asked, unsure whether it was a forbidden question.
‘There are eight known Thetan levels.’
‘There may be others, but we’re unacquainted until he exposes them.’
‘Who? L. Ron?’
‘And are all of them $14.99 each?’ asked Lewis.
I smiled in response, always a fan of Irish wit.
‘No, the graduation level, which is conducted on the Flag Ship, requires a payment of $100,000.’
‘I’ll take two!’ said Lewis, inspiring in me, in that moment, a feeling of true love for the man.
‘Can I ask a question?’
‘Is this place a ––’ I stopped myself.
I was sweating with anticipation; unsure whether what I was about to ask would result in two men in white uniforms cow-prodding me from behind.
‘Is this place a, ya know, cult?’
Henry coughed, while the robot-lady became demonstrative enough to actually make a tutting noise.
‘He forbids us to say that word.’
‘But he ain’t here..’
‘Oh yes he is.’
It was then that an older, and much fatter man, appeared in the doorway. He had blonde hair and was dressed in a sharp suit.
‘Is that him?’ asked Lewis under his breath.
‘Are we making progress?’ asked the man in a loud and authoritative voice.
‘Yes Sir,’ said the girl, ‘they are both asking the relevant questions.’
He turned and departed.
‘Who was that?’ I asked.
‘That’s Brian; he’s the centre’s manager. Regardless of your initial struggles, we continue to be impressed with both of you, and would like to offer you both full time employment at the centre.’
Henry looked over; giving a self-conscious smile that seemed split with welcome and an air that warned against treading the same path as he.
‘And what would we be paid?’ I asked.
‘$49 a week.’
‘Thanks, but no thanks. I have commitments in Melbourne.’
‘And me in Sligo.’
‘But they don’t matter anymore,’ said the girl.
‘I’m afraid they do.’ I said, as the two of us finally stood up, turned and headed for the door.
‘Wait!’ she said, ‘have you ever thought about your future?’
We kept walking, and never went back.
For the next ten years – having foolishly plugged my personal info into their database on day one – I was bombarded with enough of their propagandist mail to make even the Dalia Lama do his nut. I rang countless times, demanding they cease, but sensing my agitation through the phone, I received not their cooperation, but their unsolicited advice; ‘Sir, we can help you with that anger!’ It was as utterly frustrating as it was self-perpetuating, and it continued for years until eventually I got a young kid on the phone that obliged. It was a strange phenomenon too, that where before the Brisbane-gate experience I’d never so much as heard of Scientology, from that day forth they and their flashy logo seemed to be everywhere. I’ve seldom told anyone about the experience, I guess through fear of being regarded as one of the infected, but my desire to write this article was motivated, in part, by a need to purge it. I have, perhaps nostalgically, remained mildly curious, and I’ve watched at a positively safe distance, learning startling quotes by L. Ron, such as this little beauty from 1980; ‘You don’t get rich from writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, start a religion.’ Is it any coincidence that an ex-science fiction writer worked into his doctrine the theme of aliens over the hill at Thetan Level Eight? I’m not so sure. I’m pretty open to things that promote self-realisation, and flushing the mind and body with consciousness in order to disempower physical and mental ailments (which is essentially the goal of meditation), but at the price of systemised ownership? Perhaps not. I was astounded by how methodically – and, misleadingly – the Scientology seduction machine was tuned; tell someone they’re a walking disaster, offer inexpensive help, and that’s them having stepped on the web.
A couple of years ago, purely to test consistency, I mustered the courage to walk into the Scientology centre in Melbourne.
‘Welcome!’ bellowed the group of minions by the door. ‘What is your name?’
‘Count Von Rothbart. Can I speak to L. Ron, please?’
‘Ahhhr… he’s not here at the moment.’
‘And is he in later today?’