Taxi! Hailing the drama of a lifetime
By Philip Adams
As well as Egyptian Mummy cases, hate mail, and book matches, I collect taxi drivers. After a few minutes in the killing jar of memory, they are ready to be pinned for display with outstretched arms. The most extraordinary people drive cabs; among my rarer specimens, a university professor in Prague sacked by the Stalinists...a massive KGB goon filling in the fronts seats of a tourist taxi in Moscow...a kamikaze pilot hurtling through red lights and back alleys of Tokyo...an old guy in New York brandishing what he claimed to be a blood-stained spanner... and, last week, the tormented giant who drove me down the coast to Mascot.
In Australia, as elsewhere. the most exotic species come out at night. It is then that you find yourself being driven by drug-crazed ratbags or by some sullen brute who refuses to turn down the Gregorian Chant of his radio dispatcher...or an impassioned Palestinian with his story of dispossession in Jerusalem, raging against the Israelis on the Tullamarine freeway.
Given the local habit of sitting in the front seat with the driver (politicians do the same in their Commonwealth cars so as to advertise their commitment to democracy) a taxi trip imposes a strange intimacy, particularly at night, and most men want to tell their stories.
Last week an emergency had me driving down the coast of New South Wales to Sydney to catch a last flight to Melbourne. And the young man at the wheel, the whole 6 ft. 5 in. of him, never stopped talking. It was a remarkable performance from someone whose marriage had just broken up "because I couldn't communicate with my wife."
"I was about 20 when I arrived in Sydney from the bush. I remember wandering around feeling so bloody lonely. After a week or so I was getting desperate when a couple people walked up to me in the street, all smiles. They were very nice and sympathetic, and they took me to a flat in Newtown where there were more of them. They put their arms around me, said they loved me and that I was welcome to stay.
"And I did, for a couple of years. They were the Children of God, followers of Moses David. Thirty of us living in a one-roomed flat at Newtown. Six people sleeping in the front hall, a few in the bathroom, a couple in the kitchen and about 20 on mattresses on the floor and bunks against the walls.
"Because I'd just joined, I was called a Babe (a ft. 5 in. Babe!) and the people who ran the place were called Shepherds. Occasionally we would be visited by a bishop for the region, or an arch-bishop would come down from South-East Asia. We lived in that pig sty and sent all our money back to Moses David in America. We thought the money was being used to spread the word of God.
"Moses David used to be called David Brand Berg. I think it comes from Brandenburg. Anyway, his parents were Jews and he became a Christian pastor. But he said he was too radical for the Christian church, so he started a church of his own. Around that time there was a comet – he said it was a sign. Anyway, he became very anti-semitic and he said that the Jews were not the chosen people at all. We were the chosen people, the Children of God.
"It was the Cogs, that's what we called ourselves, who would go into the wilderness when Moses told us to. Who would go up into Heaven. The Jews were the Antichrist who would destroy all the Bibles, so we had to memorize a lot of things. Not only things from the Bible but Moquotes. They're the various things he said.
"He started out with Jim Jones in San Francisco. The two of them were close friends. But they went their different ways, Moses David saying that he was the End-time prophet that's talked about in the Book of David and in Revelations. He believed that America was the Whore that had to be destroyed by nuclear weapons, and that Gadaffi was God's instrument. He was very thick with Gadaffi for awhile. Although later on he prophesied that Gadaffi would also become the Antichrist. I never really understood all that.
"I was very innocent then. There was a lot of sex going on but I didn't realize it. Anyway, I was a bit busy brainwashing myself. Because that's what you do, you brainwash yourself. I was memorizing all my Moquotes and stuff. Even when you went down the dunny some one would be talking to you about Moses David under the door. It was relentless. And you weren't allowed to listen to the radio, television or read anything else. So all you knew was what the Cogs believed. And everyone was so sincere. They really believed they were doing God's work.
"It was strange though, how mixed up you became. On the one hand, you felt special because you belonged to the chosen people. On the other, you felt less than dirt because they were always putting you down. If you wanted to question something or argue about a belief, you were told not to think for yourself and just to memorize things.
"And I never got promoted because I didn't have the gift of the gab. The people who could talk a lot and smile a lot became Shepherds, not me. That's why I left for the first time and went to Queensland.
"No, they didn't attempt to stop me. It wasn't like some of those cults where you are threatened. If you left you just became Satan, and were described as terrible and evil. Personally I couldn't understand — how someone you had loved became a monster as soon as they left the group. Anyway, I did leave for awhile and took my ordinary again. Didn't I tell you? We all had names from the Bible. Mine was Zacharia.
"But I couldn't make it out in the world so after awhile I drifted back. And they took me back to the commune and I lay on the pillows with some of the girls and we screwed each other. I now began to realize how much sex was used by the Cogs. Do you know about the Hookers for Christ? Moses had the girls organized in brothels and they'd screw wealthy businessmen, try to get them emotionally involved. They would play them songs on the guitar. No, they didn't want them to join. But they wanted them to be financial supporters. It was the major source of income for Cog.
"It was about then I met my wife, Joan. She was from Los Angeles and had been thinking of joining the group but she wasn't quite sure. Anyway, she came to the commune one night and we lay on the floor together and screwed. We were married a few weeks later and then had the first of our kids. Yeah, there are a lot of kids around the commune growing up as Children of God — they have never known anything else.
"One of my closest friends had been a Cog since he was 14 and he has got no hope of escaping, of getting away. Where would he go? What would he possibly do? Well, you can imagine how it will be with kids who are born into the communes.
"Joan and I were happy for a while. But then we started hearing about Moses David's wealth. When I went back to the commune at night I felt like a dog returning to its vomit. And he was living in luxury while we lived like pigs. It didn't seem right. Jet planes and mansions.
"Then something terrible happened with a close friend of ours who was kicked out of the commune. He gassed himself in his car. Once again I decided to leave and talked Joan into coming with me. I got very sick with the tension and anxiety. Because I find it very hard to express emotions I get all knotted up inside and get terrible pains in my guts. I've been in hospital a lot having operations. Joan got a job writing for a pornographic magazine. She had always wanted to be a journalist. She reckons that porn puts women down and she was writing porn that didn't. At least, that's what she believed.
"The marriage got into terrible trouble. I was sick a lot of the time and then she had to have some lumps taken from her breast. I was terribly worried about her but didn't know what to say. And because I didn't say anything, she thought that I didn't care. When she finally left me a year ago, she was full of bitterness. She said she didn't think I loved her at all. Well, I loved her very much, but didn't know what to say. I couldn't find the words.
"I was very different with the kids. I could talk to them and do things with them. When they were babies I used to bathe them and change their nappies and all that. I'm worried about the children because I only see them on Sundays. I've got to find $60 a week for maintenance and there's very few jobs up here on the coast.
"So I scrounge a bit of work by mowing lawns and doing odd jobs and driving the cab three nights a week. But its costs me $50 in petroleum just to get down to see them. So I'm falling further and further into debt which makes my guts ache all the more. When the kids come to see me, it's terrible. They are so desperate for affection that they won't let me go. If I climb into the shower they hang onto my legs.
"I'm completely out of Cog now. Play the Irish drums in a bush band. That's about the only relaxation I get. When I was with Children of God I played in a band called The Wild WInd, named after the spirit Moses David talks to. My music is the only thing that relaxes me. When I'm feeling tense and knotted up I'll go out and play the drums under the starts. And the band I play with are marvelous blokes, even if they don't believe in God. I think I still believe in God, but not the way Moses David wanted me to. If they don't believe in God, what's that matter? They're still good blokes.
"More than anything in the world I want to get back with Joan and the kids. I'd get a flat somewhere with separate bedrooms, just to be with them. But she still hates me so much. Do you think I could try and write to her about it? Tell her I feel? I can never find the words when I am with her, but perhaps I could write everything down. It is a year ago next week that she left me.
"I'm not sure I could stand the tension of Sydney. Just thinking about it now is giving me pains in the guts. I'd be better off with a bit of land. I've got a couple of angora goats and If i could get a small block I'd plant an herb garden.
"Moses David? The last I heard he was kicked out of America. Living somewhere in the Mediterranean. And he changed the name of the organization. It's not the Children of God anymore. It's The Family of Love.