NewDayNews Recovery Forum
est part 9: Absolute Power
Date: Saturday, 20 May 2006, at 2:36 p.m.
In the time since my friend Barbara had started talking to me about est, it seemed like everything about my life had changed.
I moved away from home into my own garage apartment. I made the decision to leave college, thus ending my formal education. I was dating again after avoiding women completely for two years. I started Roadshow Players, and we were doing shows all over Southern California. I had gotten my SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) card after being picked out of a crowd of extras on a movie shoot. I had completed my romantic relationship with Barbara, and started a new one with Jane.
It seemed as if the miracles were non-stop, and at this point, I believed that it all had something to do with est. After all, before I heard about it, nothing seemed to be happening in my life, and now everything was happening in my life. Looking back now, it seems reasonable that things would change no matter what at the point where you finally leave school. But, it really did appear as if est had some kind of magical quality.
Five people I knew, including my Mother had either taken the est training, or were about to. At first I had wanted to walk away from est, but with these non-stop miracles, and everybody I knew jumping into the training, I was in.
Now that I had my SAG card, I needed an Agent. I hired a Manager to introduce me around town to his Agent friends in hopes of getting signed. He took me to the All Talent Agency in Pasadena, where I met Ron Yates. Ron had been a top voiceover man for years, and had recently started his talent agency. When I came into the room, he was interviewing another actor right out in the open:
Ron: You really can create miracles in your life. You need to keep your word, follow instructions, and take what you get. Do you get what I’m saying?
Actor: Yes, Ron.
Ron: Tell me that you got it.
Actor: I got it, Ron.
I couldn’t believe my ears! Had I created an Agent in my space that had taken est?
Ron called for me to come up, and started throwing out all kinds of est jargon. Finally, I stopped him and said:
Joe: Ron, have you ever heard of a guy named Werner Erhard?
Ron: YEAH! Have you taken the training?
I was signed on the spot.
Meanwhile, back at the sign shop, we had moved into a huge building in City of Commerce. The sign shop was now almost as large as the whole warehouse had been at the Burbank shop. A new salesman had come on board and brought the company another million dollars in business, and Ray and I were working lots of overtime, and making big money for two guys just out of their teens.
We bought these cheap wireless microphones that would broadcast over an FM radio. At night, when everyone else left the shop and we were there alone printing signs, we would put on our mics and pretend to be training each other, as our voices echoed through the empty warehouse:
Ray: Create the ink being on the type in an even manner! I’m talking to you JOE! Or, more accurately, I am speaking to that which is called JOE in the physical universe!
Joe: I got it! Now create printing a sign with the type which I have created being perfectly inked!
Ray: Joe, this perfectly inked type, which you have created in this universe is that which will make a difference at the trade show. Are you aware that even though you have used black type, that this sign will always be RED? (Ray used a typical est play on words, the word for the color “red” sounds like the word for when we “read” something).
Joe: I got that! This is truly a miracle that you, Ray, have created, and I acknowledge who you really are for that.
We would go on like that for hours. When we got tired of training each other, we would pop a Werner tape into the cassette player.
At the seminars you could buy tapes of seminars Werner had conducted. One night we were listening to one about relationships and making them work. A woman took the microphone to share:
Woman: Oh! Oh! Oh! WER…..NER! I LOVE you! I mean, I really REALLY LOVE you! (giggle giggle giggle).
Werner: I got that!
Audience: (clap, clap,clap).
Ray shut off the tape and turned on his wireless mic:
Ray: (in a high pitched voice) OH! WEIN…ER! I love you Weiner!
After that, whenever one of us got a nice surprise, we would gush, “Oh WEINER!”.
Of course, the name Werner Erhard, got morphed into Weiner Airhead over time. Anything that happened at work was because “Weiner said…”.
Once in a while Ray would “do est” on some unsuspecting fellow employee. One guy was grumbling about how his wife wouldn’t get a job, and asked Ray what he thought about that. Ray, just looked at him and said, “The problem is, you’re an asshole, and that’s why your wife doesn’t work”.
The poor guy looked at me confused, and I handed him a pamphlet titled “Questions people ask about the est Training”.
I might have gotten even more sucked into est, but Ray made the whole thing so funny, I was sort of able to see how stupid it really was. In a way it helped me keep at least one foot on the ground.
A friend of mine from high school named Nick was about to get out of the Marine Corps. Around that same time, my parents told me that a rental house they owned was coming up vacant, and they asked if I wanted to rent it from them. It was a small two bedroom house in Sunland. I called Nick and asked him if he wanted to share that house with me and we could be roommates. He accepted.
Nick had not a clue about est when he arrived back home. We moved into the house together, and I started working on him about the training. Nick was an artist, and Ray and I were so busy in the sign shop we hired him to help us making banners for the shows. He became a captive audience for Ray and my nightly comedy shows about est. It wasn’t long before he signed up too.
Some nights, after working late in the sign shop, I would go and visit Jane, who was living with her brother and her two children. One morning, Jane asked me to come and look at something the baby was doing. I looked at the little girl named Gretchen, and she was twitching. I told her that it didn’t look normal to me, and maybe she should talk to a doctor about it. She said she had, but the doctor just told her it was a normal reaction to being startled, like when we are almost asleep and feel like we are falling and jerk awake. It certainly didn’t look like that to me.
I asked Jane if she and the kids would like to come and spend the night at the new house, and she accepted.
They ended up staying for a few days, and then Jane announced to me that it was probably time for them to go back home. I said, “Why?”. I liked having them there, and it was nice to come home and have her there. We hadn’t made any kind of relationship commitment to each other, but we both seemed to like being together. I remember clearing out one of the drawers in my dresser and telling her it was hers.
I was aware by now that Jane was in a cult. She had kind of come in and out of my life between 1979 and 1980, vanishing off to go back to the cult. At some point during all this, before we started into our relationship, I had seen an article called “God’s Whores” in a men’s magazine. It was about The Family, and the cartoons reprinted from cult literature looked just like cartoons in religious tracts I had seen at the house Jane had been living.
Kevin and I had gone to ask Jane about The Family, and if it was the same cult as in the magazine. She told us it was, and that what was written in the magazine about Flirty Fishing was true.
I remember just “getting it”, and trying not to judge and evaluate it.
Not long after that, Jane told me that she was going to take the training. I was shocked. I hadn’t even tried to enroll Jane, because I knew all the money she had went to support her two kids. I told her that I would ask at the est center about a scholarship.
I had assumed that Barbara paid for the $50 scholarship I received from her, and was ready to do that for Jane. But, the staff member at the center told me that the scholarships were just coupons that est gave out from time to time. I told her that it was for a single Mother of two on welfare. She pulled one out of her desk and gave it to me.
I felt a bit strange that it was the coupon that basically pushed me off the cliff, and that I had believed Barbara paid for it. But, at the same time, the entire training was an admitted “joke”, so in that context it didn’t seem that shocking anymore, that the scholarship was just a coupon like you would clip out of the paper and take the supermarket.
I’m not sure how Jane got the money together, but she did. She would be in the next training in the Valley.
I was still actively assisting at the est Center in Van Nuys. I had started on a phone team, calling graduates and talking them into taking seminars. I was trained to attack any reasonableness the graduates gave me. A typical call went like this:
Joe: Hi! This is Joe from est! Do you have a moment to talk?
Grad: Uh… I guess.
Joe: Great! I’m calling about the graduate seminars we have starting up here in the Valley. We have a “What’s So” seminar starting next week, and I’m calling to sign you up for that.
Grand: What does it cost?
Joe: Fifty Dollars. Do you have a credit card you would like to use?
Grad: Fifty? That’s more money that I really want to spend right now.
Joe: Money? We have an “About Money” seminar starting in two weeks. It sounds like you would get more value from that seminar. In “About Money”, you transform your relationship with money so it stops being what you put between yourself and producing the results you want to create in your life.
It didn’t matter what they said, no matter what the reason was, I had a seminar that was the cure. I was highly effective on the phone team, and next est asked me to become a phone team captain.
As the captain, I would train and motivate the team. I was directly supported by the staff members who were, at the very least, graduate seminar leaders. The folks at the center had noticed that I was signing up people for both the training and graduate seminars by the dozen. They liked my results and took me under their wing.
In one conversation with a staff member, I revealed that one of my goals was to assist in the training as a Presenter. The Presenters were the zombie people who stared into your eyes during the Danger Process. I was told that the first step was to assist as a Body Catcher, and if that went well, I could be trained to be a Presenter.
I ended up being a body catcher in Jane’s training. To be a Body Catcher, you just had to stand behind the platform, and if someone fainted, you were to grab on to them and follow them to the floor, breaking their fall. I didn’t catch anybody, but it was interesting to be back in the training, standing there with my gold nametag, and a blank stare.
The Presenters and Body Catchers were expected to help reset the room while the trainees were on dinner break. The Training Supervisor (who was Nami in my training) was the boss. All chairs were stacked and put to the sides of the room. The platform was reconfigured from square to rectangle. The exact center of the room was found and marked, and everything was built out from dead center. We used string like you would use to fly a kite to find the center, and then put tape marks on the floor. Each tape box for the trainees to stand on the platform had to be an exact number of inches wide. We used the string to line up the chairs so they were absolutely in straight lines. Everybody had a specific job in the re-set of the room, and everyone did it quickly and accurately.
When the training supervisor came in to check the room, it was either declared to be conscious or un-conscious. A chair out of place was un-conscious. The person who’s job it was to put it in it’s correct place might suffer the wrath of the Training Supervisor. This whole process was conducted at a very fast pace, and we did look like robots zipping around the room. When the Training Supervisor was happy with the row, or the platform, or the room, it was “complete”.
The whole thing about the zombie look was explained to us. We weren’t supposed to look like zombies, we were just supposed to not have an expression. We were to leave our “bullshit” outside the room, and come into the training to give space to the trainees, and support the trainer. If we looked happy or sad, that was a story, and it was off purpose, and un-conscious.
Back at Roadshow Players, we were performing at a lot of libraries. I started giving each actor a job in the setup, and instructed them to do it quickly and silently. I walked around like the training supervisor finally declaring the room “complete”. Then, we would go outside for a “clearing meeting” where I would ask, “who wants to share?”. Roadshow Players was starting to look a lot like est, and I was starting to act a lot like Werner.
So much was happening in my life at this time, that I would look back at a week ago, and I couldn’t believe it was that short a time. Weeks felt like months because I was doing so many new things. The job in the sign shop, the new home, the new relationship with Jane, assisting at est, directing plays for Roadshow Players, going out on auditions as an Actor…. it’s almost exhausting to write about now, but I felt not only great, I felt powerful.
Nick came to a Roadshow Players rehearsal. I was directing a scene and finished and told everyone to take a break, that it was 2:14, and they should be back and ready to start rehearsing again at 2:29.
Nick was fresh out of the Marine Corps and was amazed by the discipline I had put upon our old friends from high school. I told him that they would do anything I asked them to do. Then, I illustrated to Nick what I was talking about. An attractive young female was standing on the stage area:
Joseph: I would like for you to turn around for a moment. Great! Now, shift your weight to one side. Great! Now shift it to the other side. Great! Now, roll down along your spine, keeping your legs straight, and place your palms flat on the ground. Now, go down on all fours and arch your back! Great! Thank you! That’s it.
Basically, I had this girl turn around, shake her ass, then bend over, then get on her hands and knees and arch her back. She never asked me why, and I never gave an explanation.
I looked at Nick and said, “These guys just want somebody to tell them what to do. I’m that guy.”.
Not long after she finished the training, Jane told me she had decided to leave The Family. I asked her what needed to be done in order to accomplish this. She told me she would just stop sending in her tithe, and she would be out. I was surprised that it was that easy to actually leave a cult. We joked around about est being a cult, but I don’t think I really believed I was in a cult, but I did believe that Jane was in a cult. I wondered if cult members would show up at the house in black robes with torches. Jane promised me that it wouldn’t happen.
Mike and Terri were friends I had met in high school. Both were involved in Roadshow Players. When they got married, Mike asked me to be the best man at their wedding.
I enrolled the two of them in the training. A few weeks later, Terri showed up at the door of our new house. As a result of the training, she had made a choice to leave Mike and end their marriage. She asked if she could stay at our place for a while. It was okay with Nick and Jane, so she moved in.
Nick was sort of an oddity among my friends in that he was still a virgin. He had even made it all the way through the Marine Corps, including being stationed in Hawaii, and never gotten laid. Terri changed all that after living with us for a few nights.
So, there I was, living in a house full of est graduates. I don’t think it even dawned on me at the time that I had become the Southern California answer to Barbara’s boyfriend, Bruce.