Four years ago, I was flown down to Clearwater, Florida for a modeling shoot. The photographer picked me up from the airport. As we drove into town, we passed several small groups of pedestrians, all wearing identical blue shirts and khaki pants, and identical vague smiles.
“Who are they?” I asked.
“Scientologists.” He shook his head. “They own this town.”
At the time, I didn’t know anything about Scientology, but the photographer was clearly unhappy with their overwhelming presence. In his former career as a traffic-light repair person, he told me, he was often called to the scenes of car accidents. “Before I could even get there, they would be there with cameras, snapping pictures.” But the Scientologists’ strange fascination with wrecks was by no means the most unnerving thing about them. Some years earlier, he said, a young woman had been in a minor car accident. She wasn’t hurt, but she took off all of her clothes in the street, and was taken to the hospital for evaluation. The Scientologists came and got her, took her to a hotel, tied her to a bed, and starved her in the course of their “introspection rundown” – Scientology’s alternative to the Great Evil of Psychiatry. By the time she was finally brought back to a hospital, she was dead.
Suddenly, the vague smiles on the uniformed packs looked a little sinister.
I didn’t think much about Scientology after that – didn’t have any reason to – until I moved to Los Angeles. I discovered soon after moving here that Hollywood is, in a sense, Clearwater writ large. To my knowledge, in the City of Los Angeles alone (not including the Valley, Pasadena, Orange County, etc), we are blessed with: The Church of Scientology on L. Ron Hubbard Way, The Celebrity Centre, The Mission on Melrose; The Mission of Los Feliz, and at least three buildings dedicated to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. The last time my parents visited, we took them on a little tour of all the Scientology landmarks in town.
I’ll admit it right now: I’m a little obsessed. We’re talking about a church founded by a science fiction author, possibly started as a bet, which maintains a private naval fleet, teaches that everybody on earth is infested with aliens, engages in celebrity mind-control and infiltrates public schools in the guise of an anti-drug program. And here I am, right in the thick of it!
So you can imagine my excitement the other day when I was contacted about a photograph I took at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which I had subsequently uploaded to Flickr. The person writing the Wikipedia article on Dianetics wanted to use my photo! to illustrate! the article!
Small pleasures truly make life worthwhile.