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The International Writers Magazine - Our 19th Year: Manhattan Curio - From our Archives

Hubbard's Cupboard
John M Edwards
In Manhattan’s "Hell’s Kitchen," John M. Edwards tours a Church of Scientology, feeling like a cultish soul survivor from Danté’s Inferno

Several 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 good time.

Unfortunately, my neurotic galpal had a panic attack at the steepness of the entrance fee and grabbed me by the arm: "John, Let’s 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 Doestoevsky’s 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. Hubbard’s 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 supernatural?"
Unsure what I was implying, the official said, "No, we’re not saying there is no God or anything, but we don’t worship any known deities. We are about the spirit."
"So, like, mind and body alignment?’
"I suppose."
"Do you consider L. Ron Hubbard a prophet?"
An embarrassing silence ensued. I was hoping L. Ron Hubbard’s 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 I’d 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 didn’t 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,, 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 City’s "Hell’s 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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