Just a hello from Warren Schroeder, Bethel:
5/79 to 10/82. Over the years I lost touch with some common friends and was
looking for a couple of names which I found through the ex-JW sites. I live in
the East Village with my dearest wife, who teaches at NYU. We sometimes
think we're the oldest people in the neighborhood... I just turned 53. We
can't imagine living anywhere else.... well, we can imagine, but not any
time in the near future.
I think back to my years at Bethel with
great fondness, even though many of my closest friends were dismissed and
treated badly during the "purge". I made many good friends in and out of
Bethel. Many of us knew we were part of a significant movement inside
Bethel which also found its influence into a few small local NY groups
outside of Bethel. The powers seemed to tolerate the loose and liberal talk
for quite a while. The Towers and Squibb construction was complete, or near
complete, and the Bethel population was growing very fast. It was buzzing
and alive. Bible reading groups and bible commentaries were popping up
everywhere. Construction and spending money, including new 4-color presses
and faster bindery equipment, was foremost and took priority with the
"management". Dealing with the heretics was put on hold a bit, at
least until the great property grab in the Heights was completed.
There were a couple new books published
that were nothing like the typical FWFranzesque prophetic calculus manuals.
These books were not typical fare, and you could see the puzzled looks when
they reached the book study groups and meetings. Biblical commentary within
scriptural context, with applied critical thinking, was a daunting task for
the star-struck and lobotomized organizational faithful.
There was a point when the committees
finally started their inquisitions. I had a total of 3, 2 of which that
included Don Adams (twice), John Booth, and some Bethel elders I don't
remember, and finally a one-on-one with Karl Kline in his writing department
office (this was likely due to my relationship with R. Lengtat, who I had
studied with for about a year).
The Karl Kline meeting was most memorable.
Karl got quite fired up, doing all the talking, and began drooling on
himself. He always seemed to have a slight speech impediment. He had 2
open books in front of him marked on various pages that he read passages
from and stated the heresy of the ideas and how opposed these ideas were to
"Freddy's". He named the authors, clearly mentioning Ray Franz and
Rinehardt Lengtat. The books were "Commentary on James" and "Happiness".
I do not recall the particulars of the discussion now and which were
the problem passages. It was an event to watch him so animated when he was
simply sitting slouched in a chair.
As far as the real purge, guilt by
association was easier for the elders to deal with than figuring out what
you really believed. I knew how to answer the "what do you believe"
questions since I was primed by Chris Sanchez and Nestor Quilan, who I had
met with once, during their series of meetings with Bethel elders, and
again, right after their liberation from Bethel.
In the beginning of the purge, who I knew
and talked to would be problematic. I was certainly "small potatoes"
but the committees wanted information about others. I got away with mostly
saying I didn't know anything about how any person believed on specific
doctrines. The first committee I met was easy because it was early in the
hunt, and the inquisitors were a bit lost as a group by not being very
focused on anything in particular. The 2nd committee was a few months later
and made me sweat a bit more. They had their people lined up and their
questioning fine tuned, mostly with one person asking all the questions.
Overall, the meetings were short and, for me, ended with a little talk about
bad association and reading worldly bible commentaries.
This is all so much water under the bridge
and much more since. I was never disfellowshipped and never resigned as a JW
(with some criticism by a few others that I should do so). By 1984 I never
thought to attend a Kingdom Hall again out of my own volition. I have never
looked back with regret, or that my unpaid work at Bethel were a waste of my
time.... I was a little later than many in getting my college education
and attaining other economic benefits, but it was an irreplaceable learning
experience, being a progressive free thinker inside a closed minded group,
and surviving relatively unscathed.
I look back and retell the story for an
interested audience. I reflect on who I am today, very different than who I
was as a young JW. Bethel was an important turning point in my life. If
it could have the same results I could only wish the experience for others.
...so, Randy asks Warren to cough up
some more stories...
It would be a book to discuss
all the details of the studies inside and outside of Bethel. Greg, Randy
Mangels, and myself studied with R. Lengtat and his roommate Mark, through
79 until it became too precarious for Lengtat. Inside the Writing Dept.
Gene Smalley focused and did what he could to subvert RL's position in the
Writing Dept. Lengtat described Smalley, Klein, and Schroeder as the kind
that would read newspapers all day just to pluck some morsels that would
support the existing endtimes doctrines. Karl Klein absolutely idolized Fred Franz,
which was most apparent when I was called into his office for some
Lengtat was the wunderkind who
had the respect of R.F and E.D for his scholarship of scripture, ignoring the
Fred Franz calculus that had shaped JW doctrine for so long, and this
association would also become problematic for him when the dissention came
to a head. In his room he had drawers jammed full of documents of
commentary on Daniel, Ezekiel and the prophets, and whatever. In
particular, I remember reading several chapters of Ezekiel in some of the
readings. I believe that Greg was the only person he trusted to hold some
of the commentary to copy some parts. Greg very likely still has his large
print referenced NWT, in which he wrote into every margin and
crevice comments from our studies with RL. (Too bad RL didn't read Benedict
Spinoza's critique about revelation and Ezekiel's writings... rightfully
calling him insane).
RL would carry documents on his
person at all times. He was always seen clutching his leather briefcase
to the side or chest. It was speculated between our small group that
whatever it was it was in there was probably his quiet ticket out of
Bethel. It did prove to be something, since he was not publicly disgraced
on his exit from Bethel and was actually awarded a stipend, in the name of
"Special Pioneer" when he left for Seattle. His father was living there and
he moved in for a short period. WT may have needed his help to complete
some research, I'm not sure, and I didn't ask since he was completely
paranoid, and maybe rightfully so.
RL and I stayed in contact for
another 3-4 years, but it began to slow when he and I both realized that I
was moving farther away from the things that he was still interested in
studying and believing.
We also had several Bible
readings inside Bethel which included outsiders like Connie Ingargiola,
Laura Driscoll, Mario DeCuitis, Donna Fried, Michelle Tessa, and Ron Leeds,
from Long Island. We also met outside in their homes. There was also
another group from WT Farms that I knew but did not stay in contact with.
The Watchtower Farm individuals were more connected to the Long Island group and we met mostly on
ski trips and other recreation.
I also did readings with Cris,
Norma, Nestor, and his wife (name?) a couple times in my room. It was
getting closer to their demise and everything just stopped between us. Near
the end I made a visit to see them in Spanish Translating (Bldg #1). I had
quite a bit of liberty of movement through the factory as an electrician,
and I was becoming better known with all the supervisors and was able to go
just about anywhere without question. At that time, I knew something was
wrong as Cris said he could not talk to me and had a meeting. He and Norma
would be gone within some hours or days.
So much chatter for now.
I've attached a picture of Sherry (my
wife) and myself from 3-4 years ago.
I also had brain cancer surgery at the end
of February. I'm ambidextrous, so the surgeon needed to be concerned about
how my brain would react to cutting in certain locations. This required me
to talk to the surgeon while he probed and cut my brain. I became more
famous afterwards when he told me that I have a rare and special brain. I
asked what he meant and informed me that I was cross-dominant, and in his
words, said it was a DaVinci brain. Well, cool then. He could only remove
45% of the GBM4, which left a lot of questions about my survival chances.
I've been through the radiation and chemo and a recent MRI shows
the tumor gone, which is amazing. I am in a clinical trial at NYU, which
apparently works, and will continue with some more treatments of chemo and
Avastin. I have regained quite a bit of my energy since the radiation
terminated about 5 weeks ago. I posted a picture on the net which shows my
zipped up head.
(ADDED 6/18/08) after
Great... now I'm a star.
I will tell you a couple
stories you will appreciate as a pressroom member. I created some
serious havoc in the pressroom on a couple occasions, and interestingly,
it was indirectly related to my "punishment" by my department overseer,
Steve Furnas, intended to isolate me from the other members of the
electrical crew. Steve was a good guy, but it didn't save me from my
very first committee (factory committee) meeting to address some liberal
thinking that I expressed to a workmate about the 144000. This was
around the middle of 1979 and they essentially told me to keep my
thoughts to myself. I have no special training in schmoozing, but
whatever I said at these interrogations, including more to come, seemed
to have plenty of grease on them. As my wife tells me now, it's because
I'm tall... :-)
My isolation job
lasted almost a year with them assigning me to light-rounds for all 4
factory buildings. That means I had to check, and repair as necessary,
every single light bulb, lamp, and light fixture, in all the factory
buildings. That gave me access to every department, and nook/cranny of
the buildings. Believe me, some of those buildings are like dungeons in
the basements. (only one place worse... doing night watchman clocks at
the Squibb buildings). I got to know and befriend a lof of really great
people, and gradually make my own schedule of places to be and go.
Don't get me wrong, it was a generally boring deadhead job.
I was checking out the lamps
in the Building #3 Electrical Service Room. As I was doing my job
checking and replacing lamps I leaned against one of the large
disconnect switches, and heard a quick bang. I looked around to see
what might have caused the noise and saw nothing. The handle of the
switch had not moved, so I concluded that it was something else and I
should not be concerned. I then continued on to the corner stairs to
replace the small 25W bulbs, of which all were replaced each month
whether they needed it or not.
Later that morning, I found
my way back to the electrical department. Steve Furnas called me in and
then asked me if I was working around any of the electrical rooms. Uh
oh, what happened? I replied that I had replaced a couple lamps in the
Bldg3 electrical room. He asked me had I touched anything? I knew
something was about to be bad. I lied and said no. He asked me if I
was sure... I again said no, and then asked why the questions? He told
me that Harris #1 (maybe #2) had gone down and they didn't know why. Of
course, there must have been a huge mess when the press shut down at
high speed and no brakes. I had watched many other times when the
pressroom was waist high in crumpled up masses of white paper. The
electricians also spent more hours investigating why the event happened
before they could repower and restart the press. Generally, any further
press production for the day was pretty much over.
By my examination of the
electrical room at a later date I saw where I must have bumped into a
small red button on the large Pringle switch. It's a release of the
spring loaded switch mechanism inside. Being a newboy electrician, I
had no clue at the time. I suppose this has remained a mysterious
secret for some until today.
Working in the MAN pressroom
on light-rounds I noticed that one of the 8 foot fluorescent lamps above
a press was burned out. The press was running. I had seen the pressmen
walking the upper catwalk often while the press was running, so I got
the idea that I could go up there to and take out the old lamp. It was
no problem making my way to the top and grabbing the lamp, and even
started making my way to the metal ladder, when the lamp decided to bump
the handrail. Only a small part of the 8 foot glass lamp broke off but
a few small pieces of the glass fell onto the speeding paper web. I
watched the glass bounce and skate on the paper for a couple seconds and
then disappear into the machine to wherever.
I continued down the ladder to the
floor and saw the pressman frantically looking at the copy coming off
the press and then started touring the press. They saw me on the floor
holding the lamp in my hand and asked me if I was working near the
press. I said yes and told them the story about the small glass
pieces. Actually, it was sigh of relief for them.... at least they
understood the real reason. While upset with me they explained that
there is so much pressure between the plates, paper, and rollers and
anythings will mess up the print on these letterpress machines. They
showed me some of the print copy that showed clearly the large blank
areas in the type.
I learned from Steve Furnas that the
downtime and fabrication of new plates was going to be very costly. All
I could say was sorry and it was dumb move on my part. I really thought
it was end of my Bethel career, but it turned out to be my savior. I
was taken off of light-rounds for good from that day and they "promoted"
me in charge of electrical operations for Building #3!!
Realize at this point I still have
about 1-1/2 to 2 more years in Bethel before I would leave. After this
point my story is possibly one of the more unique as a factory worker.
I would, until I left Bethel, not be allowed to work on group projects
again, especially the new MAN conversion project that was just
starting. Within a few months though I would be allowed complete
autonomy as a electrician/engineer. Permission from the top, maybe
Wisegarver (not sure), was that I would be given my own area and
workplace to pursue my own designs which I had recommended earlier to
resolve some downtime problems with the bindery equipment. Also, there
was a new move toward electrical energy conservation and I had
recommended the design of some new programmable devices. My department
overseer and his assistant would only walk by and ask how I was doing.
Nobody understood a thing I doing.... and I mean nobody, except Bill
Hunkins, and only maybe. Bill was a real electrical engineer from Iowa
and cared less about what I was doing. He was a factory elder and I
think he was asked to look over my shoulder from time to time to report
to the overseers, who weren't comfortable being clueless about their
subject or what he was doing.
This, in itself, is a whole other story
to tell. (how I and the factory mechanic's overseer, a genius
mechanical artist, together would create a state-of-the-art machine that
would be later called the 'Starship Enterprise' by not so creative
bindery workers). This period proved to be the most productive and
fascinating of my stay at Bethel. In fact, my final year at Bethel, I
never spent an hour in Field Service and rarely showed at my
congregational meetings, except Sundays mostly, in Lindsay Park,
Brooklyn. I had an excuse due to my "special" Bethel work. Finally,
the elders had a meeting with me in the summer of 82, which I thought
was to say they were going to put their foot down and report me for my
non-existence. Instead, they wanted to let me know that they were
recommending me for elder.... only that they hoped I would put some time
in for field service. I told them that I wasn't finished with the
"secret weapon" yet and needed a bit more time, and therefore
declined... for now.
Cheers for now,
A few questions were asked which I can address here.
There were plenty of overseers to manage the whereabouts of their workers.
There were factory departments that some workers would obviously be out of
place, like an inked-up, sleeveless, stud from the pressroom wandering the
graphics department. You generally needed permission to leave your work
area, and there was little to no time to even think and breathe past the
productivity push on a machine.
Yes, I am Greg's brother. He started at Bethel in 75 or 76 I believe, and
left by 80, the year he married. Steve Lupo was my roommate for most of my
stay at Bethel. We were in a 4-man room in the Towers. We had no problems
missing the worst meal of the day, supper. Steve would always bring food to
the room in the evenings.... the good food. He had a fixation on Pink Floyd
and the new Wall album. Since I played guitar (also played in a great family
night production) I knew all the songs. To this day I don't I would miss a
note after nearly a 2 year daily brainwashing of the same music. Steve and I
suffered the most when they clamped down on "satanic music". I think he got
his "bad" albums back home. I wasn't so lucky. I hid my "blacklisted" (some
specifically ID'd... like Led Zeppelin) under some things in my closet. They
were fine there for a while until I got a letter in my room that stated that
I still had music that was not approved. You see, all music albums were to
be in the open, for whoever, to decide which ones should go. Then I knew
there was no privacy in the Bethel rooms. Between housekeepers, spies, and
service department police, the "while you were out" crews were plenty busy
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