“Look, I work for the media, I’m a writer, and if I don’t get out of here real soon there’s going to be a lot of people missing me."
She was different. It would be difficult to define that any more precisely. She wasn’t dressed in any of the latest fashions, but she was dressed well. Her hair was pulled up into a bun at the back and coiffed with immaculate precision, not one dark auburn strand out of place. A pair of narrow, wire-rimmed glasses sat well back on the bridge of her nose, with the slim silver material playing subtle counterpoint to the prim white blouse she wore beneath a forest-green sweater that surmounted — of all things — a plaid skirt. (I didn’t even know anyone wore plaid skirts anymore.)
But there she was anyway, walking in my general direction at an 8th and Broadway bus stop. With about ten paces to go before the inevitable contact, I realized what it was that made her different — her eyes. There was nothing behind them. I concluded that if the eyes are, indeed, the windows of the soul, then either she had her shades drawn or nobody was home.
“Hi,” she said, coming to an abrupt halt about half a foot in front of me and flashing a quick, calculated smile. “I'm taking a public opinion survey, and wondered if you’d like to answer a few questions.”
“What kind of questions?” I asked, noting that she already had her forty-five-cent Mead notebook firmly in hand, a pen poised expectantly above.
“Oh, just questions about your view of the world, life, that kind of thing.” Again the smile.
After a few more questions, it developed that she wanted my response for inclusion in a compendium of attitudes on the state of the world and civilization as we know it, which was being compiled by her group, the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles. CARP, she called it. The interview then proceeded unhindered. Well, somewhat unhindered.
“How would you evaluate the current state of the world?”
"Fine, unless you’re into survival.”
"If you had the chance, how would you solve some of the world’s social and political problems?”
"Well, for starts. I’d invite Idi Amin to America, throw a cocktail party for him. and have Ted Kennedy drive him home. ” It was my best line. Result: nothing, not even a flicker of an eyelash. She just nodded, considered the matter gravely for a moment, and then asked another question.
I decided to take another tack and began giving serious, contemplative answers to her interrogatories. It was my feeling that I was being set up somehow — taken, if you will — and wanted to check the hypothesis. So a few minutes later. I asked her to read back my answer to question seven. “I want to be sure I phrased that right.” I explained.
She looked uncertain for a moment, then flipped nervously through the pages of her notepad. “I’m sorry,” she said at last, “but I can’t seem to find it right now. We’ll have to come back to it later.”
“Then how about number eight?”
She fumbled her way through that one, too. My theory was being validated in true scientific fashion, through observation and replication of the event under study. She wasn't paying the slightest attention to anything I was saying. But I decided to let it slide. This was getting interesting.
The friendly interrogation came to an end at about the same time I saw my bus coming. Thanking me for my help, she pulled a yellow slip of paper out of her pocket and handed it to me. “We’re having a little dinner this evening at our center,” she explained. “It’s our way of thanking people for their help. I’d really appreciate it if you could stop by later on. Maybe we can talk some more.” Again, that smile. But there wasn’t time to consider the proposition. My bus had pulled up, leaving me with just enough time to mutter a weak obfuscation and jump aboard.
As the bus pulled away, I unfolded the slip of paper. Written in flowing, feminine script was the name of her organization, their downtown San Diego street address (Sixth and Beech), and another name, written in much smaller print: Unification Center. 1 stared down at the paper, only distantly aware of the downtown scenery rushing past. The Unification Center. Suddenly, it all made sense. She was different, all right. At least, that was one word for it. There were, however, others — Moonie, for instance.
I stuffed the paper into my shirt pocket and looked out at the now-darkening streets, ticking off each street light that said one more block toward Normal Heights and home. I knew, of course, that to take her up on the offer would be silly. It was wholly unnecessary, and the entire matter of the Moonies and their doings wasn’t any of my concern anyway. Not going back was the reasoned, rational thing to do.
Having come to that obvious conclusion, I pulled the buzzer, got off the bus, dashed across the busy street, and caught another bus going in the opposite direction, back toward the downtown district. I have never been reasoned and rational.
The dinner was pretty much as I had anticipated it would be. The provisions were modest, spread out on a bare wooden table in a utilitarian, functional room otherwise filled with folding chairs, books, bookcases, a small chalkboard, and an interesting variety of participants. Like myself, a few had been lured by curiosity. For others, though, the offer of a free meal was the principal attraction. These were the street people, the people of dusty clothes and worn knapsacks, who spend their days lying on the grass in Horton Plaza, watching the world of nine-to-five mundanities parade by, and who pass the nights trying to survive in the diametrically altered universe of hustlers, hookers, and switchblades shining in back alleys. After all, a meal here, a meal there ... it all added up, and they were willing to put up with a little benign missionary zeal, if that was what it took to gain entrance to the kitchen.
“So, what brings you here?” The question came from a tall, moderately thin fellow in a plain white shirt and nondescript pants. My response was a shrug. “Just curious. Thought I’d see what all the commotion was about.”
“You mean all the terrible stuff the media’s been saying about us,” he said, nodding wisely. From his expression, it was a topic with which he was intimately familiar. “There’s no truth to any of it. They’re all lies, fabrications. The unfortunate thing is that these rumors lead people to stay away from us and the things we can give them.”
“Such as?” I asked, passing up a tray of egg salad sandwiches in favor of a carrot and some apple slices.
He smiled. “The answer. You see, the main problem with people today is that they’re torn loose in an immoral society, a society that doesn’t meet their inner, spiritual needs, and that doesn't give them the answers they’ve got to have in order to fulfill themselves and their roles on earth.“This opening naturally segued into an encapsulated version of the Reverend Sun Myung Minin’s doctrine, referred to as the Divine Principles, and which put forth two primary points: first, that a prophet appears at regular intervals to guide the world to spiritual fulfillment, and that Moon was the most recent of these prophets; and second, that the crucifixion, upon which most of Christian theology is based, was actually a mistake, a glitch in the cosmic blueprint, and that the only course open to any sane, sensible person was to try and correct that ancient error. How?
“We’d prefer to explain that to you during our weekend workshop,” he explained. “Here, we don’t really have the chance to give you a thorough breakdown on the Principles. There are too many distractions, and the complete understanding of what Reverend Moon teaches requires honest and sincere attention.” He paused at that point, obviously awaiting some sort of direction from me. I let the silence continue for a moment longer, thinking it over. There was no compelling reason to go any further with this unofficial investigation. and besides, there was plenty of unfinished work at home demanding my attention. To continue with this unwarranted expenditure of effort would be a quantum leap in illogic.
“When’s your next workshop scheduled to begin?” I asked.
“This Friday evening. ” He smiled once more. “May I take that as an indication of your interest in the weekend workshop?”
“You won’t regret it,” he said, passing back the plate of carrots. I wondered if that meant anything.
Friday afternoon found about a dozen of us gathered at the Unification Center. Departure was set for about four-thirty, and we stood lounging around the pea-green van as the two drivers loaded up the back with stationery, books, and other supplies. The passenger run was apparently part of a supply cycle, which transported various goods from the downtown center to the weekend workshop, a campground in the San Bernardino mountains called Camp Mozumdar. Leaning up against the wall to my right was a tall, lanky young man named Jim, whose long, tangled brown hair was kept out of his face by a red bandana. I asked him how many times he had been to the workshop.
“Oh. three, maybe four,” he said. “I lose count. They’re all pretty much the same, and after a while it’s kinda hard to tell ’em apart. But what the hell — it beats sleeping in theaters or the park.’’ He scratched at the thin mustache that drooped limply over his upper lip. “Don’t know if they’ll let me come much longer, though. They don’t mind giving out a free meal here and there, but after a while they want something in return, you know what I mean?”
I admitted that I didn’t.
“I mean, after a while, they want you to join them. Otherwise they’re just wasting their time and all. So far. I’ve managed to put ’em all off. Don’t know how much longer I can keep on doing that, though. After all, like I said, these guys may be kinda strange, but it beats sleeping in the park.” He took a long moment to look me over a little more closely. “This your first time up?”
I nodded. “I’d heard a lot about the Unification group, and just thought I’d see for myself what all the flak was about. So far, they don’t seem nearly as inaccessible as I thought, or as close with themselves. Getting invited up to Mozumdar seemed pretty easy, actually.”
“Getting in is never hard,” Jim said as the driver approached. “It’s getting out that’s rough.”
Before I could pursue this line much further, we were piled into the van, squeezing into the cramped space as best as we could. A few minutes later the van finally pulled away from the center.
No matter how you look at it, a highway is a highway, and the long haul up to San Bernardino wasn’t exactly exciting, not that our escorts didn’t try to relieve the tedium. The co-pilot, John, led the group in as many sing-alongs as he could summon up from some distant memory of Boy Scout nights around the campfire. For the record, his memory was extensive, and what began as a cute diversion soon became a rather tiring irritant. The clapping didn’t help. John loved clapping, and took every possible opportunity to indulge, often without waiting for the appropriate beat in the music. After a while, I began to doubt that he could even find an appropriate beat.
We finally stopped at a gas station for a rest stop, about midway between San Diego and San Bernardino. After attending to the requisites of nature, I began poking around the vending machines. Not knowing what was ahead, it seemed a good idea to stock up on a few incidental provisions — in this case, an arm load of white-sugar confections. When I turned around, I found John standing behind me.
“We’re leaving in five minutes,” he said. “I hope you can finish all that before we start up.” He obviously noticed my look of confusion. “From now on, you’re our responsibility. We’ll take care of you. Don’t worry, you won’t be needing that stuff.”
"Is this your way of saying that this isn’t allowed?” He nodded. “And if I choose to take it along anyway?”
He shrugged. “It’s a long walk back to San Diego, you know. Besides, we’re only doing this for your own good. It’s all for the best. You’ll see. Trust me.”
It was already dark when we began the drive up the San Bernardino mountains toward Camp Mozumdar. The road weaved its way through thick expanses of pine trees, the scenery punctuated only by the momentary intrusion of passing headlights, or a brief glimpse of stars and moon through the dense stand of trees.
When we finally arrived at the first sentry post signaling our approach to the camp, we were all pretty well exhausted from the long confinement. After exchanging a few brief words with our driver, the sentry waved us through, giving further advance notice of our arrival through the walkie-talkie at his side. I remarked to Jim about how efficient — almost militaristic — the sentry’s behavior was. “That’s nothing,” he said. “Believe me, you haven’t seen anything yet.”
With that, we came through a break in the trees. Before us stood a large wooden lodge that was surrounded by a number of cars and vans parked above a trail that led down to a volleyball field. “Welcome to Camp Mozumdar,” the driver said as we pulled up in front of the lodge. A few lights were burning in the building, which long ago had been painted some shade of white, and the occasional sound of laughter was carried to us across the crisp night air. We’d barely had the opportunity to step outside the van and stretch when we were herded up a flight of stairs onto an old wooden porch that led into the meeting hall — a large dining area that, for tonight, had been transformed into a film house.
On the movie screen was, of all things, a Disney short feature entitled Bongo the Bear — the story of an animated bear who becomes lost and wanders into another group of bears who, for reasons never made entirely clear, tend to show affection for one another by slugging each other. Bongo, of course, finds himself confused by all this, particularly when the lady-type bear for whom he has professed his affections turns around and, heart pounding romantically, smacks him into next Tuesday. In time, however. Bongo catches on and returns the favor.
The meeting hall was full of people, many of them obviously transients and street people, by their appearance and manner of dress. Some of them looked bored, others distracted and wishing they could sneak away for a quick smoke, while a few were taking in the exploits of Bongo with all the joy and undisguised enthusiasm of a pack of five-year-olds. Sandwiched in among them were a scattered handful of nervous, birdlike, and frequently bespectacled spectators who looked as if they’d really rather be home, carefully ensconced behind a textbook. Perhaps they had been expecting to mingle with a more familiarly middle-class crowd. They understood the wholesomeness that was (allegedly) Disney, however, and the film generally helped to put everyone in attendance into a relaxed, receptive frame of mind.
At the conclusion of the film (it had a happy ending), a camp spokesman arose amid the applause and welcomed everyone to the camp, including the latecomers (this meant us) who had missed an earlier film on the good works of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. “It’s our hope that here, at Camp Mozumdar, you can find the answers to the questions that brought you here. Many of you have lost control of your own lives, and the spiritual has withered away within you. But we, through the trust and belief in our Father, have found a direction and a purpose for our lives, which we hope to pass on to you.” With that, he smiled and led the group in a long — and I mean long — invocation to the Father.
“Listen real close,” Jim whispered to me, “and you’ll see that when they pray, they only use the word ‘Father.' Do you know who they’re referring to?” He answered his own question. “Moon, that’s who. But they don’t ever say that, at least not at first. That’s so the people don’t know and assume it’s the kind of thing they’re already used to. Then when they do find out, they’ve already been doing exactly what the group leaders want them to.” He smiled grimly. “Slick, isn’t it?”
“Keep it quiet,” John said, shooting us a sharp look. Jim gave me a knowing glance and then returned to his reverential stance.
When the invocation was concluded, a late dinner (it was ten o ’clock by then) was dished out, which consisted mainly of vegetables and something that appeared to be fish. Taking in the bleak prospects, I began to wish I’d followed up, however surreptitiously, on my white-sugar death wish. At the very least it would have been quicker. Throughout the meal, Unification group leaders mingled with the visitors, who had apparently been brought in from San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and other places, as well as San Diego. Besides their unfailing, almost vacuous politeness, the other feature of the group leaders that stuck out was the fact that many of them, a clear majority in fact, hailed from a variety of foreign countries. While many of them were from Korea — Moon’s country of origin — there were others from Germany, England, South America, and elsewhere.
I asked the group leader assigned to our San Diego contingent — Wolfgang — about the cultural melange. “We believe that it is important to free the individual from the environment that has corrupted him and led him into a sinful life,” Wolfgang said in a pronounced German accent. ‘‘When someone becomes a member of our group, we do all we can to free him from these restraints, from the agents of Satan who might try to interfere with his dedication to the Father.” And how does one become a member? “After the weekend workshop,”, he explained, “you have the option of staying on for a week-long retreat, followed by a full month of training in the Principles. Then, if the person is willing to make a total commitment, we do everything we can to relocate him, if possible, to another area, where his training and growth can continue uninterrupted.”
It wasn't until well after midnight that we were led out of the meeting hall to a large bunkhouse — a five-minute walk downhill from the lodge. Between the long rap session and the trying drive, everyone was sore and bleary-eyed; at that point, a straw mat would have been just as welcome as a suite in the Sheraton Universal. As we plodded on through the darkness, I noticed a number of sentries patroling the area, laden with flashlights, walkie-talkies. and dogs. Big mean dogs that were held tightly on a short leash.
“What’s with the dogs?” I asked.
“There are many people who do not like us,” Wolfgang said, “who would do anything to destroy what we are trying to accomplish. We need security to protect ourselves, and dogs make excellent alarms. Their main purpose is simply to alert us to intruders. Otherwise they are quite harmless.” As he spoke, a passing sentry’s dog — a sizeable Doberman pinscher — yawned, exposing a set of teeth that would do credit to a great white shark. I decided at that moment that skipping my usual evening walk might well be a discreet move.
The bunkhouse was exactly that — a large wood-and-concrete structure filled with row upon row of bunk beds built on steel frames. Running along the east wall was a double row of windows; a communal shower room yawned open at the far end of the building. I chose a lower bunk in the middle of the row on the eastern side, and Jim took the upper bed. We were each given shower supplies for the next morning (there wasn’t time enough tonight, they said), and lights-out was declared for twenty minutes later, just time enough to stow our gear and get into the narrow beds. There was to be no smoking, and after lights-out, no talking. They had no argument from me there. As soon as the lights were doused, I followed Jim’s lead and rolled my wallet up into my jacket and then, using it as an additional pillow, collapsed into bed. Not too long afterward, just on the furthest perimeter of sleep, I thought I heard someone on the other side of the bunkhouse crying, softly. I never did find out who it was.
Shortly before dawn, one of the group leaders paraded down the aisle separating the two rows of bunks. “Wake-up time in ten minutes,” he said. Marvelous, I thought. He's waking us up to tell us that in ten minutes he’ll be waking us up. Deciding that it might be a good idea to beat the rush, I arose, picked up my towels and other supplies, and staggered toward the communal showers. The room was painted a dull white, with a long mirror along one side and a row of shower stalls along the other. Stripping down, I reached inside one of the showers and turned on the hot water. I’d barely had time to blink when suddenly a large rat ran out from the shower stall directly between my legs. As a hardened reporter and writer, I reacted to this new development with calm and quiet dignity. “Rat! ” I shrieked as I attempted a vertical run up the shower wall. “Rat, rat, rat, rat, rat!"
The group leader came into the room. “Something wrong?”
“Rat!” I said. “Ugly, disgusting, dirty rat!"
“There arc no rats in here,” he said. “What you saw was probably a squirrel, or at worst a small field mouse.”
“Squirrel my ass,” I said, feeling my skin start a three-step pilgrimage from my feet to my neck.
The group leader shook his head and left the room, obviously unimpressed by my admittedly hyperbolic reaction. So with no other option open to me, I summoned up the macho I always kept on reserve for such occasions, ordered my skin to stop crawling, and stalked into the shower. It was definitely not starting out to be one of my better days.
Matters did not appreciably improve thereafter, for it was now time to pay for our meal ticket. The hour of indoctrination had come. In the wee hours of that Saturday morning, we were collectively paraded into the meeting hall, where a lengthy invocation was begun, again enlisting the support of the newcomers in a supplication to a vague Father. Many of us, stomachs making audibly clear their desires, were expecting breakfast. But we were informed at the end of the invocation that we were not to be fed until later. For the time being, we were to be separated into small groups, with each group taken into one of the areas set aside for instruction.
Our group — about twelve altogether — was taken into a small, windowless, white room directly below the meeting hall. The room was stuffy and dreary, with several rows of old wooden chairs lined up in front of a chalkboard. We were seated quickly and informed that no questions would be allowed unless specifically solicited by the group leader, that we would not be allowed to leave to use the restrooms, and that we would receive breakfast when we had reached a satisfactory point in the lecture. With that, the group leader launched into a lengthy, point-by-point analysis of the Divine Principles as revealed by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
One hour passed. The creaky wooden folding chairs, which were at first only a mild discomfort, grew more painful with every minute. But we were not allowed to stand, and whenever someone’s reaction caused a momentary break in the group leader’s lecture, he would back up and start again, emphasizing that every such delay would only result in more time passing before we would be fed. Another hour passed. His speech seemed to run together in an endless stream of words, the chairs had become an agony, and the single thought uppermost in everyone’s mind was just to get out of there somehow.
We entered the third hour nearly numb. People in the group who had at first voiced opposition to some of the leader’s points of theology were now nodding simply out of the tired wish to get this thing over with. I even found myself unconsciously doing the same thing. Anyone found nodding off was quickly reprimanded, and that much more time was added to the length of the lecture.
By the time we were finally allowed to limp wearily out of the room, eyes slowly readjusting to the bright light outside, the sun was nearly at high noon. We were told that we had done well and that we would now be fed. On hearing that, I flashed back over my collegiate training in clinical psychology, and the many instances we were required to train a white rat to exhibit the bar-press response, using food as the principal inducement.
Even lunch — for that’s what it now was — did not come without a price. Another invocation was pronounced, and this time the references to Father were less vague. Although the name Moon was never mentioned, there was little doubt that it was indeed to him the invocation was directed. Other changes, subtle differences, were also noticeable. Gone now were the smiling faces and the strained gaiety. Although politeness and courtesy, when possible, were still the order of the day, there was now a grim determination. There is, after all, little time for play in the business of conversion. In this case, they emphasized, occasional harshness was only for our own good. I now saw the reason behind the showing of Bongo the Bear. Psychological swatting was their way of showing concern. and was really all for the best, though we might not recognize that fact at the moment.
Following lunch — again a slim mixture of vegetables and a bit of fish — the idea of getting some rest, even if only for a few minutes, was a matter of some gravity. But this, too, was not to be. As soon as the last of the meager fare was finished, without seconds of any kind, an exercise period was declared. Everyone was required to participate, with no exceptions. Some were drawn off into a volleyball game, while the rest of us were taken on an hour-long hike down around the lodge and past a small creek that ran alongside it.
“How’re you holding up?” Jim asked.
“All right,” I said. “I just wish I could sit down. I feel as if I could sleep for a week.”
"That’s the idea,” he said. "They want to wear you out. This makes you a little more open to what they say.”
I had to admit that it was working. It looked as though some of our group were ready to listen to anyone or anything, provided that they could sit down in the process. 1 was beginning to feel a bit dazed myself. Still, I consoled myself with the thought that it couldn’t possibly get any worse.
I was wrong. After returning from the hike — sore-footed and bone-weary — we were led back into the instruction room again for another session. This one lasted even longer than the first. It dragged on late into the afternoon, without a break. This time, however, we were required to participate more fully. We were told to recount episodes which emphasized the futility of our lives, to point out where other hopes had abandoned us and left us alone in a hostile world, to describe in detail our own inadequacies and inabilities. then to contrast them with the seeming opportunities offered by the Unification movement. Many of the group offered such information readily, almost eager to please, if that was what it took to get a positive stroke and possibly an earlier exit. It did, in fact, result in a brief, five-minute break. But this was then followed by yet another lengthy period of indoctrination. When one speaker tired, another was called in to continue, often picking up in exactly the same place, and continuing in virtually the same style and point of view.
In time, one speaker blurred into another, and amid the eye-straining, backbreaking weariness, a message began to emerge — that the crucifixion heralded in Christian theology was a mistake, that humanity had fouled up again, that the only way to set matters right again was to send a new Messiah, that the time for the Messiah was now, that he would come from the East, that he would be a preacher and a holy man. that he would acquire political power, and that he would come from Korea. Korea. Moon was from Korea. The leader stopped, letting the group come to the intended conclusion on its own. Korea . . . Moon . . . Moon was the Messiah, the Son of God incarnate, come into the world in flesh.
That was the first conclusion. The second conclusion I made on my own: 1 wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. The persuasive techniques they were using were good, too good. I could see several members of the group beginning to weaken, and this only in the first day. Between the hopelessly inadequate food, the attempts at mental and physical exhaustion, and the constant indoctrination, I could see a classic pattern of persuasive conditioning — brainwashing, if you will — and I wanted no part of it.
After we were finally released for a light, late supper, the portions of which seemed even smaller than before, I asked Jim how things were on the second day. “Worse,” he said. “A lot worse.”
“Then why do you do it? Why do you keep coming here, if it’s as rough as you say?”
He thought about it for a long moment. “Lots of reasons. There’s fresh air and food, for starters, and even though they can get pretty tough at times, at least they don’t knife you for ten cents. It’s not your money they want anyway. This is what they want,” he said, tapping his forehead. “So for me, it’s kind of like a contest, me-versus-them, a game to see who’s the stronger. It’s sorta like playing chicken with a train — if you win, it’s great.”
“But what happens if you lose?” I asked.
He smiled a crooked smile. “Those are the risks, man. You pays your money and you takes your chances. Anyhow, I haven’t got anyone or anything out there,” he said, indicating the world outside with a jerk of his thumb. “So you tell me. Where else am I going to go?”
He had a point.
As soon as the dinner period was concluded, I tracked down one of the group leaders. “With all due respect to yourself and your organization,” I said, “I think I’ve seen pretty much all that I came to see.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible,” he said, cutting me off before I could go much further. “The only way that you could understand us and what we are trying to do would be to spend the entire weekend.”
“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe not. But if it’s all the same to you. I’d really like to leave today.”
“To leave now would only be to hurt yourself.” He was getting emphatic now. “It is in your own best interests to stay. If you go now, you will only be hurting yourself.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
He looked at me almost as though he hadn’t heard a word I’d said. “Besides, leaving today is impossible. There are no more vans leaving for San Diego until tomorrow night.”
“That’s not true.” I turned around to the source of the comment, and was surprised to see Jim standing behind me. “There’s always a supply shuttle that leaves late Saturday evening to bring fresh vegetables down to the San Diego office. ”
The group leader chewed on his lower lip for a moment. He obviously didn’t like getting caught in a lie, and the very fact that he would deliberately lie about the van made me even more concerned than before. “All right,” he said at last. “I’ll see what I can do. Meanwhile, wait here.” Then he was gone.
Several hours passed while I waited in the meeting hall. From time to time, one or another of the group leaders would sit down at the old wooden table and take a well-aimed shot at changing my mind. None succeeded. Finally, long after dark, I was led down the stairs that ran along and below the porch to a small, sparsely furnished room — painted dull white, like all the rest. There were a few of the same folding chairs scattered around at one end of the room. At the other end was a desk and two chairs. Sitting at the desk was a stern looking member of the organization, a woman who appeared to be very good at her assigned job — debriefing. There were also a few others in the room, people like myself who wanted out at the first opportunity. One of these — a Hispanic fellow in his mid-twenties — was already being interviewed as I was led to a nearby chair.
Their conversation was quite audible from where I was sitting. "So,” she was saying, "you can’t take it.”
"That’s not it at all,” he said. "I just wanna go. What’s so wrong about that?”
’’Nothing,” she said. "I’m just surprised, that’s all. When you first got here, I thought you were strong enough and smart enough to take what we wanted to give you. You sure acted that way. But I guess I was wrong. You can't take it, can you?” She was starting to bug him. "Hey, listen, I can take it just fine. You think this is so tough? Well, I’ve been through a lot worse, let me tell you. A lot worse.”
"Then prove it,” she said, leaning in. "Talk is cheap. If you’ve got the guts to stay, then stay.”
He thought about it. "All right,” he said. "I’ll stay, but just one more day. Then I’m out.” With one quick move, he was on his feet and out of the room, a look of angry determination on his face. Behind him, the debriefer wore a satisfied expression on her face, which was immediately submerged as she turned to me. "Yes?” she said.
I explained my situation to her, and then paused, waiting for her reaction. “You know,” she said, “you seem like a pretty smart person. I know you could come to really understand Reverend Moon’s work if you gave it just another day. Do you think you’re capable of staying with it that long?”
“It’s not a question of what I’m capable of,” I said, seeing what tactic she was taking. “I’ve made my decision. I want to leave and that’s all there is to it.”
“You know, rejection of the truth is one of the greatest sins of all,” she said. “To reject the truth is to throw away your own life, to encourage the enemy, and to help to defeat the work of Reverend Moon. ” She shook her head. "I really don’t see how we can contribute to that by helping to deny you the access to the answers that you need so badly, whether you know it or not. I just don’t see how we can allow ourselves to do that.” She let the sentence hang there for what seemed an eternity. While the thought that they might actually try to prevent me from leaving was still distant, it suddenly became less a possibility and more a probability. I realized that I might very well have only one card left to play, and that I’d better use it fast.
“Look,” I said, the words rushing out in a frantic verbal cascade, "I work for the media, I’m a writer, and if I don’t get out of here real soon there’s going to be a lot of people missing me and wondering where I went and asking a whole lot of questions that I really think you could do without.” I took in a long breath. “So . . . do I get out of here or not?”
She was visibly perturbed. Apparently, she was used to dealing with rootless transients who had few friends who would notice a prolonged absence. She tapped her pencil on the desk, thinking it over, and then turned away from me. "The van leaves at eleven o’clock exactly,” she said as she went back to a pile of papers. “It picks up supplies right in front of this room. If you miss it, that’s your own responsibility.”
“Believe me,” I said, "I won’t.” Noticing a lack of response, a sure sign that the conversation had officially concluded, I walked out of the room and into the cool night air. I realized then that I had been shaking.
True to her word, the van was ready to leave at exactly eleven o’clock. This time, the load was considerably smaller — just myself, two drivers, several cases of vegetables and other foodstuffs, and a quiet, exceptionally nervous girl who wasn’t saying anything to anyone. She had apparently stayed for most of the week-long session, and wanted out even more than I did. Lots more. You could see it in her eyes; she looked scared.
As the drivers packed in the last of the vegetable cases — allocating just enough room for myself and the girl, if we scrunched together tightly — I noticed Jim standing nearby. He waved to me. “Jim,” I called, “are you coming?”
He shook his head. “Not today,” he said. “Not this time.” He smiled in the same crooked way, but this time he looked even more tired. “I may even stay for a while,” he said at last.
“Why?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Like I said, man, where else am I gonna go?” With that, he waved again and, turning, walked up the stairs into the meeting hall, where the process of enlightenment continued. At the base of the stairs, a sentry’s walkie-talkie crackled noisily for a moment, and then was swallowed up into silence.
We pulled into San Diego about three in the morning. The girl and I were dropped off without much ceremony, and less talking, at the Fourth and Broadway intersection. Horton Plaza. Somehow, it seemed appropriate. As the van pulled away, she turned to me, smiled briefly, and said, “Good-bye." It was only the second word she had spoken to me. The first was “Hello,” but that had been years ago. Or so it seemed. Then she crossed the nearly deserted street and began walking north along Fourth, hoping, as I did, to catch one of the last outbound buses before they stopped running. For a long moment I watched her, the cold predawn air seeping into my jacket, and then started off in the opposite direction.
Postscript: During the intervening period between the time this article was written and its publication, an interesting development occurred. The Sixth Avenue Unification Center, also home of the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles, was shut down and its operations — allegedly — moved back up to Los Angeles. Despite this seeming cessation of activities, however, CARP solicitation activities have continued, most notably on the San Diego State University campus. Which brought several questions to mind: Why the move? Where is their new base of operations? Do the weekly runs up to the San Bernardino campground continue?
Answering these questions proved to be difficult. What emerged was a CIA-like security blanket over the entire subject, imposed by the Unification Center staff. I contacted the Los Angeles office of the Unification Church last Friday. “Hello?” the voice on the other end of the line said guardedly. (They never announce their organization at the start of a conversation.) I expressed my interest in the church and made reference to my prior experiences with the local group. “There is a new San Diego office, but I can’t give you the phone number or the location.” Did he have either of them? “Yes, but I can’t give them to you. ” Instead, he gave me another phone number.
The response at the second number was the same, with the addition of a question: “How did you get our number?” I explained, and the answerer relaxed a little. “1 can’t give you the phone number either,” he said. “You’ll have to get clearance for that through the local [Los Angeles] CARP headquarters.”
Another call. Another guarded reply. Another request for a reference. Apparently, two-way security clearances were required. Unless the correct reference was provided, the next step in the informational trail would not be given. Then, finally, came the phone number for the San Diego chapter. “But that’s all I can give you. You’ll have to call them for the address and clear everything through them.” Why the move? “Our other office left us too open to media harassment. Besides,” he added, “we feel that there are times when the best way to do Reverend Moon’s work is not to be too obvious about it.” Having finally gotten through to the San Diego office, it took a considerable amount of diplomacy to get the spokesman, who at the time would only identify himself as John, to provide the street address: 5050 Zion Avenue, near Waring Road. It seems that the shift in location was also designed to give the CARP branch greater freedom to step up its campus activities, which include not only proselytizing, but the process of advancing the politics and policies of Reverend Moon. During the preceding week, in fact, this had led to a shouting match between CARP and the Committee Against the Draft on the SDSU campus.
“We are trying to move our emphasis to the college student,” John said. “We’d like to establish ourselves on a campus like UCSD, since they’re a little brighter and richer over there, but for now we’ll have to settle for the San Diego State crowd.” As for the weekly excursions to the Camp Mozumdar workshops? “Oh, sure, they’re still going on. We’re always interested in finding new people for our seminars. And the people are always there. Sometimes I use our newspaper, the World Student Times, which is distributed on college campuses throughout the country, as a tool to meet them and talk to them. But one way or another,” he said, “we always do manage to find them.”