International Writers Magazine - Our 19th Year: Manhattan Curio - From our Archives
John M Edwards
Manhattans "Hells Kitchen," John M. Edwards
tours a Church of Scientology, feeling like a cultish soul survivor
from Dantés Inferno
years ago I was shooting up in an elevator to my first-ever Star
Trek Convention (Yay!) when the door opened and on deck I spotted
Uhura and Sulu signing autographs in the distance. An avid sci-fi
fan and cultish Trekkie in the past, I prepared myself for a damned
my neurotic galpal had a panic attack at the steepness of the entrance
fee and grabbed me by the arm: "John, Lets get out of here!"
Later she told me she was "scared" of the pimply teens sporting
shirts with the Starship Enterprise insignia and Halloweeny Spock ears,
who "smelled like dandruff."
Having missed my opportunity to join the Cult (I even named my greedy
cat "Kirk" when I was a kid), and now with a new Star Trek
movie out, I feel as angry as Raskolnikov in Doestoevskys Notes
from Underground, being snubbed and ridiculed by his high society
friends at a St. Petersburg salon. Or, real vengeful like The Dwarf
darkly imagined by Swedish Nobel Laureate Per Lagerkvist.
How could I make this up to myself?
Just the other day I was eating brunch at the French/Greek Café
Athenée on Restaurant Row, when I noticed out their enormous
glass windows down the street a sign that dwarfed all the competing
signs for off-Broadway musicals and ethnic eats:
Aha! All I really knew about Scientology was that it was the mastermind
of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and involved brisk sales of
his huge bestseller Dianetics. I had one friend in New Jersey, Derek
Kueter, who was a Scientologist and amusing conversationalist, but he
was merely mum-is-the- word about the cult. Tom Cruise claims that Scientology
cured his dyslexia, John Travolta asserts it really helped with his
film comeback, and Kirsty Allie probably allies it with her ambivalent
battle against blubber.
More important, Scientology is illegal in Germany.
Intrigued, I decided to enter the forbidden zone. Whence I was immediately
greeted by a stunning woman with long black hair and wide friendly eyes
who acted like a member of an evangelical church welcoming a walk-in
with a rhubarb pie.
So I bought a hefty "King James Bible"-sized paperback copy
of Dianetics, then was quickly ushered into a private screening room
where I watched an introductory video all by my lonesome. After the
signature Big Bang explosion, the deadpan narrators informed me that
the purpose of life, is, to "SURVIVE!"
Then they paraded a bunch of troubled wrecks past us, holding their
flashback-prone craniums as if they had Excedrin headaches, and speculated
on how they could be helped. Experts with powerful "Voice of America"
alien intonations lectured me about the difference between the "analytical
mind" and the "reactive mind," and introduced me to the
novel subject of "engrams" (where life memories, both good
and bad, are stored). The gist: Get rid of the bad memories using Mr.
Hubbards mind-over-matter techniques and you can once again live
a happy and healthy life.
I was surprised by how commonsensical and down-to-earth the philosophy
seemed. Then I was taken to see their honchos. The first thing the elderly
interviewer said was "Have you heard any bad things about us?"
"No," I fudged. "I have a Scientologist friend who said
I should come check it out."
The old biddy then told me with an anachronistic Brooklyn accent that
Scientology was both a philosophy and a religion. Brushing off a series
of pointed, invasive questions with vagueness, I finally asked a leading
question myself, "Does Scientology have anything to do with the
Unsure what I was implying, the official said, "No, were
not saying there is no God or anything, but we dont worship any
known deities. We are about the spirit."
"So, like, mind and body alignment?
"Do you consider L. Ron Hubbard a prophet?"
An embarrassing silence ensued. I was hoping L. Ron Hubbards Cupboard
(over 18 books) had something to do with flying saucers and space aliens.
Neat stuff like that.
Again, she unleashed a barrage of very personal questions. I wondered
when the "brainwashing" would start and whether Id blow
my bank account rushing to be included in the fold. "No drug addicts
allowed!" was one of their tenets.
After I mentioned I was a writer, she suddenly didnt seem so keen
on inducting me into their science-fiction cult, so I, too, quickly
lost interest and said goodbye. Still there were some hot babes walking
around their high-tech premises looking professional with clipboards,
my real reason for nosing around in a way wacky cult in the first place.
Hence, I wandered outside in a daze, mind wrestling with conflicting
subliminal messages and larger issues such as whether the new Star Trek
film was going to suck dick. Turning on to Times Square I spied an even
larger sign: "MAMA MIA!"
Maybe the "Norse" Cult of ABBA was more my speed?
Only in Midtown.
Only in Midtown.
Only in Midtown.
© John M. Edwards May 19th 2009
Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus),
with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking in Thailand to being
stuck in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in such magazines
as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape,
Endless Vacation, Condé Nast Traveler, International Living,
Emerging Markets, Literal Latté, Coffee Journal, Lilliput Review,
Poetry Motel, Artdirect, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Trips, Big World, Vagabondish,
Glimpse, BootsnAll, Hack Writers, Road Junky, Richmond Review, Borderlines,
ForeWord, Go Nomad, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review,
and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel
Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative
Essay Contest) Award, a Road Junky Travel Writing Award, and a Solas
Award (sponsored by Travelers Tales). He lives in New York Citys
"Hells Kitchen," where you can eat ethnic every night
with soul survivors from Danté's Inferno. His indie zine, "Unpleasant
Vacations: The Magazine of Misadventure," went belly up.
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