Monday, March 31, 2008

Not quite science

I had a run in with the "church" of Scientology today. I read audiobooks for a living and had been asked by the person who runs a recording studio called Mad Hatter Studios to audition for various parts in L.Ron Hubbard sci-fi books. I did not know then, but subsequently discovered, that the studio is a scientology owned business. I am told that Hubbard is/was a dreadful writer. I have no clue one way or the other. I read lots of less than good books and my fee is the same. Here's my analogy - my dad made forms (in England it's called shuttering) for construction concrete pours. My dad never once asked if the building whose foundation he was pouring was going to be pretty or ugly. He did his work with exquisite precision regardless. So, I have no problem recording Hubbard's work. I'd record his Scientology books, why shouldn't they be available for anyone who wants them? I'd record the Bible. Some good stuff in there. Anyway, I get to Mad Hatter Studios - which I already love because it's a five minute drive from my house - and I am immediately presented with a two-sided form. The woman at the desk made sure I knew it was a two sided form. This woman, like all the women - odd that I saw only women - wore black pants and a lime green short sleeved shirt. Yes, all of them. Lime green. Now, for those of you who do not live in Los Angeles or who live mercifully oblivious of the goings on at the Church of Scientology, let me explain as best I can a little of the sartorial hierarchy of Scientology. I speak entirely from ignorance which I find is always the best place from which to arrive at the Truth. If you pass the headquarters of Scientology, a large blue-painted building on Fountain Avenue in Hollywood, a former hospital, as I do every day on the way from my child's school, you will notice the "church" members wandering about or seemingly doing chores and the like - weeding I believe seems to be high on the list. They all wear black pants and blue shirts with epaulettes. My wife, who designs costumes, could tell you the precise shade of blue, but I lack precision in that department. I have been told that these blue shirt wearers are the lowest rung of "church" member. I have also been told that these weeders, sweepers etc. are in fact on punishment detail. What transgressions they have committed I cannot say. Speaking ill of Tom Cruise's acting? Of Kirstie Ally's weight? Of Isaac Hayes's sunglasses? Or, more likely, having failed to pony up sufficient money to warrant decent treatment. As a complete aside, did anyone notice that John Travolta's hair at the oscars looked as though it was flocked - you know, like the velvety stuff on wall paper?

So, there's a hierarchy to the clothes one wears at the "church". I should add, and I will be taken to task for generalization, painting with broad strokes, creating a stereotype, that the blue shirt wearing peons seem to be entirely made up of all those people at school who you knew would have trouble in the larger world. Some of these soon-to-be-troubled kids, of course, end up running the world. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, that guy who invented bittorrent, David Katzenberg. I'm not talking about the artsy crowd, I'm talking about the really socially tortured ones who don't know how to write computer code. That's who is weeding the big blue Scientology garden. Please note that I feel for these people. I understand how hard it can be if you haven't the skills to cope with adult life. I went to an all boys Catholic boarding school, I know what they are going through. Of course, if you go to an all boys Catholic boarding school there's a much higher chance of sex at a young age, it's just that it's with a priest. The Catholics have uniforms, too, but not after secondary/high school.

I feel as though I have digressed, but surely that's the point. The lime green shirt people at the recording studio. Yes, yes, them lads. Lassies, actually. They do not have the air of socially awkward people. They smile a lot. I am always uncomfortable with people who smile a lot. I grew up in England. We had very bad dentists. We do not smile alot. I reckon the dentistry has improved since I was a kid because you just don't see the kind of damage you used to. Oh, the lime green people. The form. It's two sided and there's another odd thing. I have to fill it out before I audition. For those who go on real interviews for real jobs this is probably normal. For actors it's not. They will ask you for a contact - an agent or somesuch - and for any conflicts you might have with dates for filming/recording/performing, but they don't want your address etc. The Scientologists do. I was worried they would ask my shirt size. The front of the form is name, telephone, address, nothing too weird. I turn it over. It asks if I would sign non-disclosure agreements - standard in the recording world where publication dates etc. are key to selling, advertising etc. , they don't want you giving the ending away (trust me, Harry Potter does not die). I have no problem, I sign them all the time. Then comes the interesting bit. There's a paragraph that requires all those who work there, all those who are present at Mad Hatter, to refrain from using street drugs or psychiatric drugs. I have no problem with the street drugs stipulation because if you are using street drugs you are probably not functioning well, though it's none of Mad Hatter's business whether I used them yesterday. As for the psychiatric stipulation, I paused. Scientology hates psychiatry. They call it the Industry of Death. Sure, fine. The Jews and the muslims hate pork, the Catholics hate almost everything, pick a pet peeve. However, these people are asking potential contractors/employees to divulge private medical information. Besides the fact that your common or garden schizophrenic really does need his Dimazipan. If that's even a real drug. Sounds good. Besides which it's silly because the woman - ever smiling - said they had no objection to people using these drugs on other days. I don't need to explain that one, do I? Did I mention that we are sitting in alcove shaped green velvet armchairs, full arch over each of our heads? I really did disappear down the rabbit hole. The woman scurries away when I ask if I will be allowed to work there if I don't sign. I learn when she returns that she has been speaking to "Legal". Why do they say that? "Legal". It sounds like some large creature that once failed to destroy Dr. Who. Legal. I imagine her standing in a controlled climate room, bowing to some immense blob, "Oh, great Legal, I have a problem." Legal then answers in a dark, menacing tone straight out of Oxford or Cambridge - Speak, my child. Or maybe Legal has one of those creepy whispery voices that all world dominating figures seem to have. Back to the green velvet armchairs. They just want to be sure that they are "covered". "We have a lot of musicians around here, you know". How's that for painting with broad strokes? She's right, of course, musicians are disgusting hedonists with no morals.

It comes down to this. I won't sign, does that mean I should leave? Yes, unfortunately, despite the young woman's smile, my time at the "church" is done. I give back the clipboard with the two-sided form, I look at the two women, one behind the desk whose head is framed by a really bad painting depicting some demented Scientologist's notion of the Mad Hatter, rather a demonic character, and the woman in the green velvet chair opposite me who is still smiling. "You know", I say. "if an organization requires you to wear a uniform, you should run like hell". Then I am out the door into the surprisingly sane world of Los Angeles where the air is unbreathable, the budget is billions in the hole and we have an Austrian action figure for a governor. No one, however, is wearing a lime green shirt.

Now, one question. Should I have signed just so I could spend some time in the wacky world of Ron Hubbard?

Friday, March 28, 2008

I had this thought the other day - many conservative Christians will never allow their children to watch, say, Mean Streets or Goodfellas or even the Terminator movies but would not - in fact do not - think twice about heading to church on Good Friday for a good old knees up around the whipped, thorn-crowned, nailed and crucified (admittedly fictional) Christ.

Another thought. Hillary Clinton. The folks around HC insist that "the process must be allowed to finish. We cannot have a nominee decided before the votes from all the states are in." Now, correct me if I'm wrong - and I know you will - but isn't the nominee almost always decided some time in April, often earlier, and are not most of the states entirely excluded from any formative role in the primaries? is this not the precise reason that we are now "punishing" Florida and Michigan, because they finally wanted in on the real voting? So, because it is the supremely entitled Clinton clan we have to drag this out while they claim, entirely erroneously, that the process, as always, must be seen through to the end. Or did I misspeak? And, by the way, do Dems really have to use phrases usually employed by Cheney? I vowed never to vote for HC because of her war vote - and I know some were with her on that one but I actually have a conscience and some understanding of the Middle East - but I did not dislike her at all and thought - and still think - she would make dust of McCain in three minutes. However, I have such a loathing for her now it is almost inexpressible. The thing I like, or liked, about both Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama is that neither has a voting record that shows any backbone or identifiable leanings. The thing I now like about Obama is he may actually have some philosophical leanings with which I agree and still have no fixed political principles. I like this.

I do not love this country. Loving a country is absolutely idiotic. It's like loving a unicorn. Well, yes, you can love a unicorn as a notion but if you actually met a unicorn you would find that it stinks like a horse and shits all over your field while demanding an endless supply of carrots. After all, it's a horse with a horn. I love my daughter. I love my wife. They, too, demand an endless supply of carrots and require me to go to the ends of the earth - or at least the West Valley and Palos Verdes, the Bev Center and the back of beyond in and around Los Angeles - to earn the gelt to buy the carrots, but they are substantial and funny and loving and infuriating and they do not demand that I stand and swear silly oaths - well there were those marriage vows and I did stand in a courtroom, my daughter being adopted and all that and swear to bequeath all I have to her - but, again these are not notional things, these are real and tangible. Loving a country is simply stupid. I love the work of Edward Albee and he is an American. I love the work of Caryl Churchill and she is English. I love the Bill of Rights which was written by men. What we have done with it has been tortured and twisted but it is still worth loving, or admiring and adhering to. I hate George Bush and Cheney and Powell and Rice and Rumsfeld because they do not admire the Bill of Rights. They do not adhere to its tenets nor honor it either in spirit or letter. They are scum.

I love Rhapsody in Blue and Barber's adagio and Part's Fratres and I love Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton and the Sex Pistols and Robert Johnson and Son House and there's a cafe or two on certain canals in Amsterdam and there's a curry house on a street near my parents' house and even though they got rid of the fluorescent lighting and started giving us knives and forks I still love it. I do not love the USA or the UK. My parents are Irish. I do not love the Republic of Ireland. Patriotism is a disease. We are dying of patriotism.

Just a few thoughts.