Driving from downtown New Haven to the the sole Scientology outpost between New York and Boston, you will have already passed the actual “church building” by the time you see the edifice pictured above. When you do see this building, pull in somewhere nearby to park. It’ll be just a short walk to the second story office suite where the real live scientologists trying to clear New Haven can be found. This is a quiet neighborhood of small mom-and-pop shops and empty sidewalks. Parking was easy to find.
You will have to modify your “mental image picture” a bit–there are absolutely no signs or symbols on the actual two story brick building pictured. My companion and I turned around in the lot, and since we were actually seeking out the Hubbardites, I would certainly have seen the conspicuous markings supposedly present.
The image, by the way, is found on a 4″x3.5″ refrigerator magnet, “please take one!”, within the scientology stronghold just down the street from the actual vacant, unadorned brick building. Ideal indeed. Since the image was clearly modified, one would think removing the Mini Cooper from it would have been considered, perhaps even just by getting the owner to move it before the shot was snapped. All I can think is that some policy letter supports its inclusion in a marketing piece. For some reason. They clearly got the “make it big” memo on refrigerator magnet propaganda.
Once parked and walking on Whalley Avenue, finding the New Haven org was fairly easy–a paper 8.5″x11″ sign, just text, taped inside a glass door directed us up a flight of stairs covered with worn and stained institutional carpeting. There was a certain, smell, shall we say, in the building. The only possible description of that odor: decay. At the top, behind another glass door, we found Hubbard’s group, crowded into a space perhaps better suited to a small insurance agency or call center.
My impressions of the people and products in that space will perhaps have been colored by the fact that I had eaten some THC candy that morning (I am a legal, registered user), but my eyes were wide open, if a bit red. As someone who has been reading about/watching the group for twenty years, the opportunity to see actual believers in their natural habitat had me in high attentive mode, THC notwithstanding.
As mentioned, I am a long-time student of the scientology movement. Martin Gardner’s review of Book One in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science had been my entry point into one version of Hubbard “tech” sometime in the mid 90s. Since that eye-opener, it’s now easier for me to list the books by critics and ex members that I have not read. (Why hasn’t John Duignan’s The Complex been released in Kindle version?)
Of course, I have also read a greater number of HCOBs, PLs, auditing procedures and assorted Hubbardiana than may be strictly good for me (locate a body you could be, cognite, note it down). Even with all that, I’ve still not been able to word-clear all my MUs to finish the death march that is DMSMH. Too steep a gradient, perhaps? In any case, the excerpts about constipated, mouthy, adulterous, self-aborting mothers and abusive, misogynist fathers are well known to me. The whole book is just too difficult to be born(e).
A smiling but reserved young man with a beard greeted us just inside the door. He did a brief “pre-qualification” sort of patter by gauging our interest in and knowledge of his wares. He ascertained that we were employed. We told acceptable truths, me claiming that my only real connection to the topic was seeing those volcano commercials while in college in the eighties. My companion made some small comment about “all the celebrities”. Eric, a student at the center, scientology-style glare fully in force, jumped into the conversation by asking which college I’d attended. I told a true truth and Eric faded away to the courseroom area off to the right of the reception area. Our bearded friend asked if we had time to watch a film, to which we readily agreed after confirming it would take only “twenty to twenty-five minutes.”
Deposited in a windowless room dominated by a full-wall screen, we settled into two of the cheap, stackable chairs arrayed in two cramped rows in the makeshift theater. None of the chairs were what could be called clean, but one in the back row appeared to have the sort of stain that results from someone’s suddenly voiding the liquid contents of either bladder or bowels mid movie. We had plenty of time to note the carpet stains as well, since at least ten minutes were taken up by the the efforts of the young man to make the AV theater system function. He innocently told us that sometimes things (several of them, judging from his exertions, stepping on chairs, opening wall panels) needed to be rebooted when not used for a while. He replied to our compliments on the set-up by saying all churches have a theater set up like New Haven’s for sharing information with newcomers.
When he finally got things rolling, our bearded friend chose for us a film on the (S)ource, making and success of the infamous book one, Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health. I’ll not offer an extended review of the film, but just a few notes:
-All the shallow, golden glitz of scientology is on full display–overpowering sound track better suited to a dazzling, sweeping saga from the forties, gilt lettering for the text overlays, over-the-top emoting, abysmally bad dialogue and just enough of a truth foundation to erect a completely fabulous (literally) retelling of a simple book being published–And it was REALLY LOUD in that little room
-Readers really demanded this work of Hubbard, based on his brief descriptions in the Explorer’s Club journal (I’ve read that too) and in Astounding Science Fiction (Campbell’s magazine, ditto on reading that)
-The “narrator” (viewers are to believe he’s no actor) puts forth a claim I’d never heard or seen elsewhere: He’d been a longshoreman in the seventies, fallen on a hook, and only regained the ability to walk after dianetics auditing provided by Hubbard himself (somehow during the days at sea, hiding in DC and Queens and overseeing the takeover of downtown Clearwater–if you trust calendars and history–certainly before Hubbard lit out for California, as the “narrator” worked New York’s docks)
-Straw-men monsters we call the AMA and APA clearly established as threatened, sniping, vindictive virtual gangsters out to stop any real “advancement”
-Essentially, as my companion later noted, the whole film amounts to a long-form commercial designed to inspire a “I gotta get me some of that Dianetics” frame of mind in the viewer. In other words, for all its production values, a crude and rather transparent pitch
-Particularly loved the Hubbard stand-in–Some red-headed actor in a stiff looking brown suit, filmed exclusively from behind so that all we can see is the slicked back hair on a inexplicably thin “Hubbard”–No dialogue from this “character”, and he didn’t smoke even once(!)
At the film’s conclusion, the not-so-wise beard man joined us again and did a basic patter about how “just the two of us” could use the information in Dianetics to start our journey ridding ourselves of past traumas. Neither he nor the film used the “technical” term engram, but that’s what was being discussed. How an engram “removal” helps one walk after his thigh is impaled on a longshoreman’s hook is not ever addressed–but hey, that narrator is clearly walking on film!– The implicit and extra-legal medical claim features heavily in the film. I commented that a women being audited in the film, pictured on a couch in “reverie”, seemed like looking in on Freud at work in his Vienna office, but with an audience added instead of a one-on-one. This psych bait was not taken.
At this point, student Eric poked his head in and asked if my college was in a certain town. I corrected him and he disappeared, replaced in the doorway by Debbie. Beard man said nothing else, and by degrees, gradually faded from reassuring nods and assents to absenting himself from the new pitch being made by Debbie, resident Dianetics auditor. (Her comments about the kind of auditing/counseling she could offer helped me determine her job at the org–she didn’t announce any sort of title or formal role.) Debbie’s real goal was to get my companion and/or me alone (“it’s really very personal and individualistic”) so that she could help each of us determine our needs, and the kinds of help she could provide. This bait was, also, not taken.
Instead, I pushed to see more of the org, asking about the courseroom, rows of books and other students who might be present. Debbie acquiesced, and showed us an elaborate and expensive-looking free-standing grade chart, and row upon row of shrink-wrapped books and DVDs. (What’s with those clam-shell covers? Oh, yeah!) My companion then asked a bombshell question about another scientology movie–The Master. She did not recall the title, and Debbie played decidedly dumb. When she finally pulled out her phone and looked up the title on IMDB, my companion shared the information with Debbie. If it was possible to play even dumber, Debbie did, claiming no knowledge, and saying even if she’d known, she would not have seen it. Ignore-tech in practice.
It’s at this point that Debbie’s story began to match that shown in the film: Scientology had some powerful enemies based on its strident and public stands against the evils of psychiatry, drugs and crime, and that these stances had certainly caused some groups to “hit back” (her words). My companion, a pre-school teacher, shared a story about children as young as two being medicated by parents. Debbie lapped this up, agreeing wholeheartedly about such practices.
Debbie was all love-bomb, all the time, still angling for those one on one meetings. She was, my companion later noted, full of agreement (affinity?) for almost everything we said, and eager to share that she and all the Hubbardites she knew were generally more “aware”, and tended to be seekers, as she was on first encountering scientology. She’d met a man, dated him briefly, but later stopped seeing him after he’d introduced her to Hubbard-world. Can you say FSM, students? Debbie can, or could if she stopped to think about that brief dating/scientology-intro relationship for a hot minute.
The story about two-year olds being routinely drugged was, by the way, a complete fabrication thrown out by my companion. No such things take place to her knowledge, or mine, and she’d know, considering the upscale community in which she works. She’d sussed out the overwhelmingly affirming nature of Debbie’s interaction with us, and that particular comment was meant to elicit a reaction from Debbie. Her eyes shining with need-to-be-removed cataracts, Debbie readily obliged. Bait taken. Debbie also wore glasses hanging from her neck. I have to assume she has not gotten to the throw-your-glasses-away stage in her ongoing scientological processing.
For my part, I was a bit stoned, so playing the slack-jawed naif came naturally. I nodded and smiled, mentioned those commercials from the eighties again, asked if they had a couch like the one “Hubbard” was using in the movie for auditing. I did not receive an answer, and just looked around a bit as others talked. There was a “snack shop” with bags of chips clipped to a wire rack (such as one would see, dust-covered, in some off-the-beaten-path service station), one well appointed vacant office that had “Ron’s place” written all over it (metaphorically) and, in the bookstore (glorified storage closet), yet more shelves of neatly arranged books, sealed, not ready for any close inspection.
At around this time, as we were headed toward our brief tour of the course area, I saw the bearded young receptionist in a small side office behind the greeting area. The only light in the room was that from a computer monitor, illuminating his face as he sat behind the desk. I heard him refer (about himself?) to a “tech sec” during his phone discussion, and heard him asking his interlocutor whether the Telex (!) was totally down for the day. Seriously.
In the course room, we briefly shook hands with the C/S who was monitoring the progress of two students who were listening to (likely taped LRH lectures, of course) recorded material on headset. In the glass-walled room next over, we saw the friendly Eric doing Objectives processing with an auditor. They stood very close to one another, pointed, stroked their chins and wagged their tongues, inaudible to us. Debbie pointed this out as “auditing” as well, but different from the type she practiced.
While we were reviewing the clay demo table, a student studying from a binder at a table nearby introduced himself. His FULL ON TONE 40 delivery and EYE CONTACT prevented me from retaining his name, but his FIRM handshake and clear fervor will not easily be forgotten. I turned back to the relatively meek Debbie just as quickly as I could. My pre-school teaching companion could not but help notice the lameness of the oft-used clay pieces in the various baskets. It’s clear that demo-ing means simply re-combining curiously uniform clay bodies and pre-made, taped on a toothpick pennant-shaped piece of paper signs in yet another basket. Zero-level creativity in terms of gaining that mental mass understanding.
This was a Saturday a little after noon in February. I counted six staff members, a severely stoop-shouldered old man more likely a volunteer, four students and one person who was clearly the Missionaire on site. As I smelled the unappealing lunch someone was clearly heating up in the unseen kitchen, I began the patter that would allow us to escape–we were hungry! As we looked over the take away materials (I took two DVDs and some predictable printed propaganda), I saw the Missionaire speaking with another recruit, a fifth public. This new member was being routed onto the Purif (the sauna and vitamins must have been squirreled away behind one of the many closed doors) and at last felt the stirrings of the rage poking through my THC shield. She looked unhappy, very unhealthy and withdrawn. On the purif candidate’s head was a large woven hat, and underneath, it was unlikely there was any hair. All I could think was “chemo”.
As we walked back down the shoddy stairs, under a taped-up paper sign promoting WISE business consultancies, the anger that had welled in me was still present. And with it came sadness. For the sick woman likely trying to sweat out cancer, for the well-meaning Debbie whose good-intentioned seeking ended at Hubbard’s doorstep, for the stoop-shouldered old man sidling around noiselessly and without apparent purpose.
These were not bad people, I thought. I could not in good conscience have enturbulated them–though I could easily and happily have debated them for hours. I knew, though, that my words would not be heard, just as I knew Debbie would never ever see Hubbard’s analog as portrayed in The Master. They walked up those stairs, seven worker bees and five paying drones, and nothing I could say would make them come back down for the very last time.
We’d been asked to fill out visitor’s forms before leaving and did so. I used my real name and email address, forgoing both physical address and phone number as I was “between things”. My companion subtly altered her details to avoid the inevitable squall of junk mail she knew would otherwise be forthcoming. I’ve received no emails. We’ll count as some stat for that day, but letters out will never be among our scientology stats for New Haven.
Thanks anyway, New Haven scientologists. And call your families. They miss you.