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I recognized the face immediately. The chalk-white, acne-scarred skin.
The poof of Bob Dylan-style hair (slightly modified for the ’90s). But
mostly it was the eyes. I’ll never forget those eyes. They were dead as the
moon.

It had been almost 10 years since I’d seen the face, but for some reason
I remembered it in detail. Now it was looking back at me from the pages the
National Examiner — one of the sleazier of the tabloids. The headline that
ran above the photo read: NEW AGE GURU COMMITS SUICIDE TO JOIN HIS DEAD
DOG.

The article went on to explain, in lurid detail, that Frederick Lenz
(sometimes known as Dr. Frederick Lenz, though indeed Mr. Lenz never
received his doctorate), New Age guru and best-selling author — who had
been grief-stricken ever since the death of his pet Scottish terrier, Vayu
— had decided “to follow his pooch into the hereafter.”

On Aug. 23, the 48-year old “guru to the stars” was found floating in 20
feet of water in the ocean behind his $2 million mansion in Old Field, Long
Island, NY. When Lenz was pulled from the sea, clad in his usual all black
outfit, detectives noticed a bizarre touch; wrapped around Lenz’ neck were
his beloved dog’s collar and an out-dated rabies tag.

“I miss Vayu so much I haven’t wanted to be on Earth since he died,”
Lenz reportedly told his girlfriend, 33-year old model Brynn Lacey, before
downing 150 Valiums. Lenz proceeded to feed 50 Valiums to each of his two
remaining dogs, then turned and began to walk towards the dock behind his
four-acre waterfront estate. Lacey told reporters that she decided to join
her mate in the “next life,” so after downing the remainder of the Valiums
(with a rum chaser), she headed outside. Lacey arrived just in time to see
Lenz push the two dogs off the dock before he jumped. Lacey followed suit.

However, all didn’t go as planned. Somehow, both Lacey and the dogs
washed ashore alive. But Frederick Lenz — New Age Guru, self-proclaimed
Hindu God and (some say) cult leader and shyster extraordinaire — had gone
on to meet his maker.

It had been nearly 10 years since I’d met with Lenz, but the memory was
as clear as day. Back then, he wasn’t known as Lenz. He’d gone by the
moniker “Zen Master Rama.” At the time (1986), I was heavily involved in
investigating destructive cults; so when I saw the ad in the paper that
read, ”A ONE EVENING INTENSIVE WITH ZEN MASTER RAMA,” my antennae
immediately went up.

On a cool Monday evening, I joined a massive line waiting to get into the
Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles. Inside the auditorium, a sign read,
“NO SMOKING. NO CHILDREN. NO LOWER OCCULT ENERGY.”

The people in the audience that night were a fairly well-heeled lot. No
fringe-clad Deadheads in this bunch. However, the most distinguishing
feature of the crowd was that a large portion of them had that peculiar
waxy-faced, glassy-eyed look that is common amongst New Agers. I also noted
that the crowd included a preponderance of homosexuals.

A rather, bland, upbeat instrumental track filled the room. It had a
strange numbing quality to it. Approximately ten minutes later, the lights
went down, and a figure clad entirely in black appeared onstage. It had to
be. And indeed, it was. …

Zen Man had arrived!

A hush fell over the crowed. Zen man began to speak in a strange,
toneless voice. He told the audience that they’d be going through “lots of
different experiences” as he guided them through “the 10,000 states of
mind.”

For the next hour, the music (written and produced by Zen Man himself)
played, during which time the audience was instructed to close their eyes
and “meditate.” Meanwhile, Zen Man simply sat onstage in the lotus position,
occasionally making little swooshing motions with his hands.

After a few moments, I stole a glance around the room at the entranced
crowed; I almost laughed out loud. These witless nincompoops had paid $15 a
pop to sit here and do nothing! Somehow the sheer preposterousness of
the scene filled me with a strange and terrible sense of glee.

Moments later I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see a man clad
all in black staring down at me. “You’ll have to step outside, sir,” he said
coldly.

I followed the man out to the lobby, where he was joined by several more
all-black clad individuals. “We noticed you have a tape recorder,” one of
the Zen Goose-Steppers said. “Tape recorders are not allowed.”

Giving my best Jack Nicholson sneer, I pulled out my press pass, and
informed them I was “on assignment.” I then said that I’d like to do an
interview with Zen Man after the show. The black clad minions appeared to
grow nervous. They convened momentarily.

“You must personally request an interview with The Master,” I was
informed. “However, if you want to come back inside, you need to leave your
recorder with us.”

I did as I was bid (I had a backup mini-recorder stashed in my bag) and
went back inside. The crowd, still entranced, sat silently while onstage,
Zen Man was going through a series of karate-like moves. The music droned
on.

When the evening was over, I headed for the lobby. After looking around,
I finally spotted Zen Man, who actually appeared to be hiding in a far
corner of the room. I went over and introduced myself. After shaking a cold,
clammy hand, I told him that I was a reporter, and that I’d like to do an
interview. There was a long silence while Zen Man’s eyes — cold, blue and
dead — seemed to penetrate my skull. Then he asked me for my card, telling
me that one of his “people would get back to me.” As I turned to leave, one
of the Zen Zombies handed me a promo package, featuring a heavily
air-brushed photo of Zen Man on the cover.

Driving home, I remember thinking that for someone who claimed to have
attained the highest possible state-of-consciousness (Zen Man’s promo
package stated that he was the reincarnation of one of the ancient Hindu
Gods … I forget which one), something wasn’t right.

It was that face. It was a face bereft of anything resembling love,
peace, or even friendliness. But it was the eyes that really spooked me.
There were stone, cold empty.

Nobody home.

I never heard back from Zen Man, so I did a little poking around. My
research turned up his real name: Frederick Lenz, a native San Diegoan who
had graduated from the University of Connecticut and taught English there
before hopping onto the burgeoning “guru circuit.” Lenz’ father had once
been the mayor of Connecticut. But things didn’t get interesting until I did
a financial background check. This cat was loaded! At the time, Lenz was
renting a $10,000 a month pad on the beach in Malibu, which he shared with
an inner core of his “followers.” The garage was full of classic cars,
including his favorite, an black Porsche Carerra. I uncovered numerous bank
accounts, all under various “corporate shell” identities. Lenz’ estate was
well in excess of several million dollars.

OK, so Lenz was loaded. And it was clear by now that he was the leader of
what appeared to be a cult. But the going got rough when I tried getting any
of his “devotees” to talk to me. Finally, I turned up a few ex-Lenz
followers, and the story broke wide open. People told of being dosed with
LSD as an “initiation” into the cult. They talked of being forced to turn
over their life’s savings. And there was more … including allegations of
rape and torture (performed by Lenz) against two female cult members.

Once the dam had broken, more people started talking. One individual
related an incident where Lenz had choked a puppy to death in a rage of
anger. Another told of him waving a loaded gun at several cult members who
were threatening to defect. Moreover, Lenz had been linked to the suicide of
one of his “students,” as well as the mental breakdowns of two others. And
something even more chilling: several cult members had mysteriously
“disappeared” — never to be found.

I filed my story, but it ran on an inside page of the paper and didn’t
garner all that much attention. A month later, the L.A. Weekly, (where I had
been the entertainment editor) ran a full-blown expose on Lenz, complete
with all the sordid details.

Several weeks later, Frederick Lenz did a Houdini. The rented Malibu
mansion was abandoned. The phones were cut off. Bank accounts were closed.

Yep. Zen Man had vanished.

Over the years, I’d see his name pop up every so often. A couple of years
ago, a book entitled “Surfing The Himalayas,” turned up on the New York
Times best-seller list. The book’s author was Frederick Lenz. It was
followed by another, “Snowboarding To Nirvana.” I read both books standing
in the bookstore (they were both very “thin”…both in length and
depth). As I suspected, it was the same old recycled New Age garbage.

But the depression only came over me as I gazed down the aisles of the
New Age (sometimes referred to as the “Self-Help”) section of the bookstore.
Lenz was now in the company of literally hundreds of other so called
“experts,” all hawking some version or other of the same poppycock.

So now Zen Man had decided to “leave this plane.” As I read the tabloid
article, I must confess I didn’t feel any sense of loss to humanity.
However, several nights later, while watching a “Dateline” special on Lenz’
death, I experienced an unexpected emotion. As I watched Lenz during an
interview he’d conducted a year prior to his death, I studied his
countenance. On the surface, Lenz was his usual smug, arrogant self. But it
was the face that got to me. It was the face not simply of a monumentally
unhappy man — it was a face that was literally haunted. A face of someone
who was totally empty. Soulless. And as I started at that face, despite
myself, for the first time I felt genuine pity for the man called Frederick
Lenz.

We’ll never know what went into the making of that face. Just as we’ll
never know if Lenz actually committed suicide over the death of a dog.
(Somehow I kept thinking, “Nah, it’s gotta be a publicity scam.”)

But the real issue here isn’t Frederick Lenz — or the hundreds of other
so-called “enlightened” folk — from trance channelers to mystics to
psychics — who hawk their wares on the New Age book/lecture circuit. Some
of these people have become extremely wealthy (which isn’t a crime). Others
— like Lenz — become leaders of destructive cults, and, in the course of
dispensing their “teachings,” do great harm.

But the truly haunting question remains: who are the devotees of
these people? How could anyone totally, unquestioningly give over
their hearts and minds to follow the world of one man? Any man! We’ve
seen it a million times … from Jim Jones to David Koresh, to the recent
mass suicide by members of the UFO cult in California. It’s almost
commonplace now.

When you see followers of the various cults on TV — and I’ve interviewed
dozens of them — they look like, well … like you and me. But something’s
got to be dreadfully wrong when you forsake your common sense — your
ability to question — and put your life in the hands of any so-called
“expert” or “leader.” I don’t care who he is.

Zen Man is gone. But there are dozens more in the wings — ready, willing
and able to take his place. Even worse, there are thousands more Average
Joes — just regular ‘ol folks — who are ready to jump onboard and follow
them.

I wish I had an answer — a remedy — but I don’t. For these people —
men and women who’ve drifted so far from God that they’ve become victims to
the numerous “false Gods” out there. … I’m afraid all we can do is to
pray.

THE “FAIR GAME” MAILBAG: Unfortunately, I must amend my promise
regarding answering all my email. Last week I received almost twice as much
as I did after my first column. (Wow, is my ego ever huge now!) So here’s
the deal, guys. I’m still going to answer email — subject to some
discretion. In other words, there are certain categories of email which I
will not answer. These include: 1) Email whose only goal is to goad
me into an argument. (You’ve gotta understand, people; I love a good fight.
But I can’t waste my time with rank amateurs. It’d be like Mike Tyson
getting in the ring with some wimpy little Golden Gloves wannabe); 2) Email
where the writer is trying to show how clever he is; 3) Email from people
who want to tell me their life story; 4) Email from people who use the word
“I” over five times; 5) Email from humorless individuals; also from people
who evidence a decided shortage of brain-cells. However, re the latter, I
intend to start a section on my website “Incredibly Stupid
Email.” So for those of you who write me hoping for a little piece of the
limelight, or just wanting to see your name in print, don’t lose heart! …
Conversely, I will give a priority to answering email that falls into any of
the following categories: 1) offers to finance any one of my many and sundry
projects, or offers from anyone who is interested simply in acting in the
capacity of my personal “Sugar Daddy”; 2) offers to send me pre-paid,
round-trip tickets (plus a $200 a day per diem) to appear on radio and/or
television programs; 3) Email from people telling me that I’m the greatest
thing since chopped liver! (I’m in the process of starting my own cult, and
you guys will be the first to go on my mailing list!).

So with those caveats in mind, folks … fire away!

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