My Story part 1:
Surviving My Youth and the Early Bethel Years
|Randy at 15 with Moe |
(Santa Ana Canyon)
|Randy at 17 as a member of Associated Vans|
in Newport Beach, Calif.
|High School graduation|
Villa Park, Calif. 1970
I was conceived in New York City by design. My mother and father, Joy and Ken Watters, decided that having a 6 year-old beautiful little girl was not enough; they needed a boy. As my parents later told me, it was to help hold the family together. My mother prayed so hard that she told the Lord if she had a boy, she would give him to the Lord, like Samuel of Bible times (1 Sam. 1:11). This act of faith was destined to color the outcome of my life as you will see. I was born in Oklahoma City in 1952.
I prayed as long as I can remember. Being brought up Baptist, I really didn’t like church at all, but was interested in God. When the Billy Graham Crusade came into town when I was about 9 years old, we went. When the call came to “come down and give your life to the Lord,” I was strongly moved to go. I have never regretted that decision.
Nevertheless, I still couldn’t stand going to church. It all seemed such a strange departure from ordinary life. The last church I went to in my youth was the Garden Grove Community Church in So. Calif., as my mother worked as one of Dr. Robert Schuller’s secretaries. Although his church is now more famously known as the Crystal Cathedral, back then it was the only drive-in church in the world, converted from an outdoor movie drive-in, with car speakers and all. That was just too much for me, part of the polyester world of Orange County, California. I grew up next to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. Teenage Terror Being typical Okies, we loved the country and my dad bought a small farm when I was in my teens and we raised all kinds of animals, including horses, dogs, cats, chickens, a raccoon, a goat, rabbits, snakes, quail, and much more. I also had guns and went hunting with my dad on occasion. The horse was later replaced by a motorcycle to terrorize the hundred miles of dirt roads behind our house. I could forget about church… this WAS my church.
I “broke out” in my junior year of high school, finally becoming proud of being me. Although we lived in a rural area, we had lots of kids my age and we were vandals and did crazy things, like holding a shopping cart next to the car, accelerating to 40 mph and letting it go down the street or into a trash bin. I got drunk at 12 in Ensenada with a buddy on a surf trip for his older brother. My vices started early! In high school I used LSD and hashish, and went out with the guys drinking beer on weekends.
Yet I was able to be a near straight A student all the way up to my Senior year, when I then refused to do homework and got by on Bs and Cs, but of course I passed and never wanted to see a school again. I worked with my dad in a Ford agency and rode all kinds of hopped-up cars, ending up with two exhibition of speed tickets from street racing. I always had two cars: a good one and a beater that I would pick up from the wholesalers who came around for $50 and just beat the crap out of it in the back woods. I double-dated in high school for my whole senior year with another couple, and yet managed to remain a virgin (but only technically). Gayla was my second girlfriend, having dated a much wilder girl in my Junior year in Las Vegas.
By the time I was out of school, I moved down to Newport Beach with the hippie crowd, and my hippie girlfriend moved into an apartment on the beach that I shared with two long-time buddies. Renee was her name, and Edgar Cayce was her game. She was reading books by the Rosicrucians, and got me interested in it as well. This was 1971, and Russia was the big nuclear threat of annihilation, so I wanted to be on God’s side should I leave this earth!
Randy at 17 smoking and being generally ornery
My Insecurities Led Me to the Witnesses One day I visited my folks and found a little blue book called the “Truth That Leads To Eternal Life” in their drawers, that my mom had bought from the Jehovah’s Witnesses just to get rid of them. I quickly read it and showed it to Renee, who also showed interest. It seemed to have all the answers, which the churches didn’t. So we actually looked up a Kingdom Hall nearby and asked someone to study with us! Renee soon moved to Florida and became a JW, also.
I was always looking for a sign from God. So this next one got me in trouble. I was sitting in the den, reading the “Truth” book. I just had so many reservations, so I said to the Lord silently, “If this book is true, let that cat (who was standing in the doorway disdainfully looking at me)… and before I could complete MY THOUGHT the cat jumped up into my lap, fulfilling the wish and scaring the HELL out of me! I decided it was too weird to be a sign from God, but I became a Jehovah’s Witness anyway. I was hooked.
This happened in Canoga Park in 1972, a year before all JWs were to give up smoking or be disfellowshipped. I smoked a pack a day and tried everything to quit, without success. I realized that I LIKED smoking, and that was my problem! So one day I was sitting in the driveway and just started crying, because I could not quit. I put my heart in the Lord’s care, as I gave up trying. I couldn’t even ask for a miracle.
I got one, however! The next morning I woke up and didn’t grab for a cigarette. I DIDN’T WANT ONE. What?? This was too weird. This happens to NOBODY (none that I ever heard of, anyway). The Lord actually TOOK AWAY THE DESIRE to smoke, and to this day I haven’t had the desire at all and haven’t smoked once either.
Dodger Stadium Assembly days
I got baptized in 1972 at an assembly and soon was appointed as magazine servant in the Canoga Park Kingdom Hall, where I lived at that time. I went door-to-door with the pioneers, often doing unworked territory in Topanga Canyon where all the hippies lived, and locked apartments that we conspired to sneak into. We developed sneaking into an art! It wasn’t too long before I asked my dad if I could work part-time at my job at Valley Park Ford as a tune-up man, and he set it up so I could work 3 days a week while I pioneered. We would put in 140 hours a month like it was nothing.
I must say the best thing that happened to me as a Witness was breaking out of my shy cell and learning to speak to people, even those who hated me. I was soon giving public talks. I felt very confident after a while, and felt like I could go door-to-door in the middle of the night in my underwear if I had to, it would not embarrass me. (I didn’t do it.)
Randy and Helen "special' pioneering
By 1974 I was a card-carrying TRUE BELIEVER in the WT as being the only true religion, and all others would be destroyed soon at Armageddon. I used to take camping trips up north and leave “Truth” books all over the place, even hiding them under rocks and in strange places for people to find. I canvassed Los Angeles Airport on several occasions and gave away hundreds of magazines in one hour. But this was not enough. I loved the high of being so “in control” in my life that I wanted to have more responsibility. I took a trip up the California coast in 1974 to ascertain where I could pioneer where the need was greater. I found one congregation in San Luis Obispo that had only a couple of pioneers, yet had a whole town of 30,000 to cover, of which 15,000 were students. I went out 6-7 days a week and knocked on almost every door in San Luis Obispo in 6 months, and ended up with 6 “Bible studies” that got baptized from my efforts.
In late 1974 there was a Kingdom Ministry that sent out a call for Bethel volunteers to serve a minimum of 4 years in the Big House for $14 a month. Now, this was a real test for me. I hated big cities, and was scared to death of New York City, especially the cold and hot extremes of weather. (California boy here!) Not to mention that back then New York had about the worst crime rate in the nation (Now that is probably Compton, about 5 miles from where I live!).
girlfriend Renee in 1971
Let’s Go To BethelTIME IS SHORT! I felt that, with the fear of world events that seems to draw so many into the JWs and other cults. We all want to live in a secure family, and some of us prefer to lose our identity in something much larger than life. It does wonders for any insecurities!
Fortunately for me, one of the elders in the San Luis Obispo congregation had recently returned from Bethel, and told me all about it. All the fights, the smoking, the crime, and the idiosyncrasies of the old men who lived there. For that reason it was no surprise to see these things when I got there in November of 1974. I came in with a class of over 100 “new boys,” all of whom signed away their personal lives for at least 4 years (by the end of the first year over 50% of them had left prematurely, with a black mark on their record). One fellow who joined me from Hawaii en route to New York on the plane was a young man named Dennis, who after his first year, was caught visiting the brothels of 42nd Street Manhattan and was disfellowshipped and sent back to Hawaii. The next day President Nathan Knorr “had him for breakfast” in front of 2000 fellow Bethelites, outlining at the morning text discussion exactly what Dennis had done. Within an hour, half of the Witnesses in Hawaii knew what Dennis had done and the poor man was in ruins. This was common treatment for anyone who dared to embarrass Knorr and his New World Society. I knew that would never happen to me! I would rather be DEAD.
In front of Twin Towers circa 1978
Linwood Congregation youth in my Bethel room
Out of the 100 brothers who came to Bethel in my class, only two were assigned to the pressroom, where books and Bibles were printed. Myself and Lewis Williamson. Lewis was from a holler in Kentucky and because of my okie background we became close buds. We even took out across the country in a car for summer vacation one year, visiting his family and friends and seeing much of the United States. We camped in Yosemite National Park with my nephew Kenny, and I would love to scare Lewis with bear stories. He carried a big stick with him the whole hiking trip!
Lewis and I both ended up working on the big MAN web presses that printed all their Bibles as well as anything on the fancy Bible paper (which is really the same paper used to roll cigarettes). There was no air conditioning in the factory, and we would run those big presses in the summer with 100 degrees outside and 110 degrees inside, sweating our butts off and breathing the heavy ink that the presses spewed out constantly. For my first year of Bethel I had a constant sore throat just from all the ink in my lungs! But we both became press operators in less than a year. I was also the only one in my group that I know of that got assigned to room with a Bethel “heavy,” Milan Miller, who traveled around the world setting up the MAN presses, which were worth about a half million apiece at the time. In addition to sharing a great room in the 117 Columbia Heights building, I learned a lot about the Society from Milan, a kind little man that I respected a lot. The rest of the new boys got assigned to live with up to 4 or 5 others in the Towers Hotel, which had been newly purchased and renovated for housing. Try sleeping with 4 others in one open room, who come in from their congregation meetings at all hours of the night, and many of them were fond to drink! Not fun. But I had lucked out.
Every new boy is assigned to a Bethel table and is expected to show up at least every morning for breakfast and the daily text discussion with Knorr or Franz or some other Bethel overseer. Four on each side of a long table, with a table head on one end and a table “foot” on the other. The table head was a Bethel Elder (a step above a regular elder, more on that later), and the foot was usually the same or a regular elder who could take over if the table head was missing. Food was passed from one side and if you were #10 you may not get too much to eat! Most all the food was grown on several farms the Watchtower owned in the New England area, including livestock, fruit and vegetables. That’s how we could live on $14 a month. It was virtually a commune.
At my table, they had one of only two single sisters that I knew of at Bethel. Her name was Judy Martin, and as far as I know she is still at Bethel, as I see her picture, slightly aged, in some of the publications to this day. I grew to love this girl secretly, but didn’t tell her for a long time. When I finally did, she was not at all interested. I was crushed. But I was lucky it didn’t work out, for she never would have left the Watchtower.
Sex is always on the mind of most all young men my age, but for me it was not. Although still technically a virgin, I had sexual experiences with girls so I was no prude. Yet I was so insecure, and so afraid of even the SLIGHTEST THOUGHT leading me astray from Jehovah, that I did developed certain thought-stopping techniques that actually still help me to this day. One of them was not allowing an “impure” thought to take hold in my mind. With such control I never even masturbated once in the 8 years of being a Witness! It was almost scary. Needless to say, I kept myself out of trouble, not an easy thing for a young man living in New York City surrounded by Satan. (When I first arrived at Bethel I went up to the tower top at 124 Columbia Heights and looked around all of Manhattan, saying to myself, “This is the only safe place in New York City!”)
I quickly gained a lot of experience in the Pressroom, running several presses and even becoming a press mechanic for a few months, and was then put on a special project. We were testing new nylon plates for the MAN presses that would save much time and end up with better quality printing. We were trying to get away from using lead plates with raised type on the presses, which was time consuming and the quality was not good. This eventually led to the Society purchasing a huge 2-story press from Wood Hoe which had never been tested, for $1.6 million. It had printing cylinders 6 feet long and 4 1/2 feet in diameter. Each revolution of the cylinders would produce 4 complete “Truth” books, and create about 100,000 of them a day, with a elevator that shot the unfinished books upstairs to an automated bindery.
This machine was a monstrous joke! It had failed to work properly for three experienced press mechanics, so I was assigned to get it working if it was possible. The biggest problem (aside from causing the entire building to sway and shutting down the lathes in the machine shop below us, as well as installing the massive rolls of paper every 35 minutes without stopping the press), was the untested quality of the plate cylinders themselves. The cylinders, while huge and very heavy, were made up of thousands of laminated rings of metal, some of which were magnetic to hold the new nyloprint plastic plates onto the press without special clamps. What the big problem was that as temperatures inside and outside the metal changed, the rings became like the different layers of a laminated wood table all moving or sliding against one another so that they were no longer smooth. The results were that the press printed books that looked like they were printed with rubber stamps, with light and heavy spots. After finally getting the other mechanical bugs out, I ran 100,000 books that were so bad they had to be recycled. Max Larson, the factory overseer, took me off the project and declared it a lost cause, eventually selling the press to China or something. I still have a copy of one of the books, that was sewn together but not yet bound, but which was improperly cut by the upstairs bindery into the shape of a perfect tombstone, and I wrote R.I.P. on the front to keep as a souvenir.
From that time to the day I left I was a floor overseer in building 3-6, in charge of all the Bible printing. (The day before I left I was appointed Assistant Floor Overseer, more on that later.) That gave me time to learn how to work with the brothers in a personal way, as an overseer and a big brother in a sense, because they were all so young and inexperienced, and Bethel caused a lot of turmoil for most guys in one way or another. Taken away from home and all former friends, you work in New York City 5 1/2 days a week, make $14 a month meaning unless you have your own money you can’t go anywhere much or barely even see a movie. You have to eat in 20 minutes and walk through the snow or heat to the factory twice a day, only to come home and often not even have enough time to eat dinner because you were assigned to one of the 280 congregations in NYC and the subway might take you 45 minutes or more to get there (in suit and tie), so you would be late for your 3 meetings during the week if you sat down at the table after work. Then on weekends you were expected to go out in service and be a ministerial servant or elder or something in your local congregation! No time to think for yourselves, all the thinking was done for you.
Often the brothers would be assigned to one of the black congregations all over the city, and that was my fate. It turned out to be good, as I loved black people and I lost my identity among them and ate and did things with them, even taking canoeing trips with the local young brothers who had never set foot in the country before. I remember one hilarious trip where a teenager named Junie stood up in the canoe and it capsized! Then because his sleeping bag was wet, he slept in it next to the fire and it caught on fire during the night! I felt like I was in the prime of my life, and loved it. Five of my six years at Bethel were very enjoyable, despite the “boot camp” atmosphere. The last year was intriguing to say the least, but often uncomfortable. That story starts in the next chapter of this miniseries.
The Linwood congregation in East New York (Brooklyn) is a 45-minute ride on the #2 train or the A train, depending on the night you were going, and was located in an all-black (well, 5% Hispanic) run-down neighborhood that had the highest murder rate in New York City at the time. It wasn’t particularly dangerous for a JW in a suit, however, because they seemed to respect Witnesses if they were not too “green” to the city. You walked fast and did not look around. You carried a bookbag and kept your nose in the Watchtower magazine. You DID NOT EAT on the subway. Hopefully, your skin was not New Jersey white, either!
One young brother from New Jersey named Glenn was assigned to my congregation, and I was assigned to get him settled into Linwood. Glenn did not belong in East New York. On our first subway ride, the locals could tell right away he was green, and his skin was as white as a ghost! Two locals started a fire on the floor of our subway car just to see what he would do. As we got out of the train, two guys brushed him hard and tried to start an incident. Glenn had his mouth open, looking around as we walked with fear and amazement. It didn’t take long to educate him in “hood” manners!
I was pretty lucky because I was only robbed once by 13 year-old kids with guns. (After they got my watch and $10, one came back to apologize because his mother went to church!) Back then, most of the violent crimes were committed by young thugs, as they couldn’t be easily prosecuted because of their age. We would walk through the projects and sometimes bottles would be thrown at us, but I stayed at Bethel for 6 years, going out to Linwood several times a week and often alone late at night, and I never got harmed. I attribute that to being street-wise and to PRAYER.
Although Linwood already had 7 elders, they liked me so much they pushed the issue of my becoming an elder without me knowing it. Policy was you had to be 30 to be an elder, but they had recently made some exceptions for 25 year-olds IF the congregation elders pushed the matter, and they did. I was one of two of the first young elders to be appointed at Bethel at that time at 25 years old! I was pleasantly surprised, and within a year, due to the friendship of Tom Cabeen and others in the pressroom (Tom was my overseer), I was appointed a Bethel Elder.
Just this last year of 2006, Bethel no longer appointed this position, probably due to mistrust and jealousy. Why? Because a Bethel Elder, who was a regular congregational elder that was valued also as a leader at Bethel and nominated by one’s overseer, had an unusual amount of authority, much like a circuit overseer, only better. You were trusted more than a circuit overseer, because you worked at the Big House and knew what the old guys really wanted of you, and you were daily accountable to them. You knew their cultspeak and all the hidden rules that the local elders didn’t know. You knew when to keep your mouth shut, and how to report certain problems within the congregations.
What privileges did Bethel Elders have? For one, they became table heads, could give comments at the family Watchtower study, could deal with moral or emotional problems with Bethelites, and were allowed to attend special meetings with the Governing Body members (this was to later be providential in allowing me to sit in and hear Bert Schroeder rail against the wicked apostates in 1979). But more interestingly, they were allowed to act as weekend circuit overseers in a sense, visiting congregations within a 200-mile radius of NYC for a special Friday night talk, Saturday field service and meetings with the local elders, and a special talk on Sunday. I did this every other weekend, and got to see Boston, Philly, New Haven, Mahwah, Ebbetts Field, Mystic, Wilmington, Bel Air and countless other New England cities. The Society paid my travel expense.
What was a real learning experience was to see all the problems in the congregations that you didn’t see in NYC. I never gave manuscript talks from the Society, I made up my own. I had three slide talks that I liked to give. One of them was called, “Growing Up.” After giving it to a congregation near Watchtower Farms in upstate New York, I was pulled aside by one white elder who complained about an interracial slide in my talk. They just happened to have a young couple, the boy was black and the girl white, and they had been trying to discourage them from dating. Apparently I made them mad! Hypocrites! I learned so much at Bethel.
In the next installment, I will lay the groundwork for the Ray Franz Incident that occurred in 1979, which was the greatest shakeup the organization had seen in decades, and would lay the groundwork for the coming demise of the entire Watchtower organization as we know it. I will reveal the final days of Nathan Knorr (3rd president) and his resistance to the Governing Body arrangement, the outspokenness and strangeness of Fred Franz (4th president) as well as his demise, the writing of Aid to Bible Understanding and why it is no longer in print, along with another book that dared to change doctrine under their noses, and the rise to power of Ted Jaracz and his cronies who are still in charge.