This is number two in The Joy of Clutter series
Last time out, I described the stable of new age writers that I helped support in my first job out of college. Since spiritual teachers tend to hold themselves apart and above the material world, it’s fun to look at their all-too-human foibles: Ram Dass was a sex fiend who found inspiration in mediocre pop music; and Rajneesh didn’t just have a Rolls, he had a stable full of them—just to name a few.
But at one point, things took a turn to the dark side. And, as usual, these things sneak up on you because of mental clutter when you’re not paying attention.
I need to take a second to explain that my chief responsibility as editorial assistant was ghost writing Bill’s correspondence. He’d read his incoming mail, scrawl a phrase or two in the margin, and I was supposed to expand that into a genuine-sounding letter.
He must’a thought I was psychic or sumpt’in.
I barely knew Bill. My desk was in a hallway twenty yards from his office—and his door was generally closed. And I certainly didn’t know his clients. Anyway, somehow I managed to reassure Ram Dass that the New York Times wasn’t being fair in branding him as a high-volume Fleetwood Mac junkie. (Who knew the “paper of record” would stoop to such mean tricks?)
Another author that Bill believed was being treated unfairly was Ira Einhorn. Einhorn was known as a hippie guru, an environmental activist who was the emcee and, possibly, a founder of the first Earth Day rally in Philadelphia in 1970. Heavy-set, bearded, hairy, and sweaty, when he’d come to the office, Rebecca (Bill’s much more competent previous assistant) would walk around with her eyes open as wide as they could go saying, “Iiiiiiiiiira. Iiiiiiiiira’s here,” in a breathy, stoned-out voice. I don’t think I ever actually met him. Just saw him down the hallway one time going into Bill’s office.
One day Bill plopped a sheaf of photocopies on my desk. “Take a look at these and let me know what you think.” It was a stack of notes that Ira had made. They weren’t for a book project as far as I could tell. They seemed more like preliminary research into mind control weapons that the Soviets (this was around late September/early October 1977, remember) were developing that could paralyze leaders of foreign governments from any distance. There were also repeated mentions that the CIA was persecuting Einhorn because he knew too much about these “psychotronic” weapons.
I told Bill that I thought Einhorn’s notes sounded either paranoid or the stuff of science fiction or both. He wasn’t too pleased. But he asked me to type up a letter saying he thought it was terrible what Ira was being subjected to and that Bill supported him completely.
What I didn’t know at the time—because I never really followed the news–was that Einhorn was being investigated for the disappearance of his girlfriend, Holly Maddux. Her body was later found in Einhorn’s apartment. She’d been beaten and shoved into a footlocker, where her mummified body shrank down to only 37 pounds over an 18-month period. Einhorn was arrested, but got out on $40,000 bail provided by “Seagram heiress” Barbara Bronfman.
Einhorn fled to Europe and lived incognito in France until 1997. It took until 2001 to extradite him to the U.S. for trial. Even in the courtroom, Einhorn continued to use the “mind control defense,” claiming the CIA framed him because he knew too much about its psychotronic weapons programs. The jury was less open-minded about such claims than Bill Whitehead or Barbara Bronfman. Einhorn was sentenced to life in prison, without possibility of parole, in October 2002.
So that was my little brush with infamy. I’m glad I didn’t get any closer. I was certainly an inexperienced and often oblivious young man. I went along with this garbage-in-garbage-out work (GIGO) process, albeit reluctantly. (I promised Whitehead I’d stay a year, and that’s exactly how long I stayed—to the day.) The job market in the ’70s was similar to the one now for young people out of college. When you study for so many years and then find it’s almost impossible to get a job with your lack of skills…you either go back for better training or you start making compromises.
In hindsight, all but the most paranoid conspiracy theorists among us can see that Einhorn was a classic sociopath—a glib talker with a charismatic personality on the surface, and violent compulsions underneath. He styled himself “The Unicorn,” which was a pun based on the translation of his name into English. It should have been a clue. Except for children, reasonable people don’t believe in unicorns.
Next time, I’ll talk about the origin of the tin foil hat—and why we need them more than ever.