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?


Mitch Plessner said...

Mr. Lee,

You did the right thing by walking away. I would avoid L.Ron Hubbard like the plague.

Enjoying your blog so far....


P. said...

just say yes John
exploit all possibilities
lots of good material there.

P. said...

and for the uniforms....
I like that " I work for an airline in the 1950's"
thing they've got going

Deke said...

John, you can't let your principles get in the way of a good blog sequel. You must ask your long and still suffering wife to knock you up one of those nice blue shirts, of the appropriate shade, complete with epaulettes, and some black pants. Suitably attired, you go back to see Miss Green Shirt, and beg that, for not signing the form, and for any other transgressions which you can not now remember you humbly ask pardon of Ron. Sign the form, both sides, do the audition, get the gig, get the cash, write the blog! Your adoring fans expect nothing less. I for one want to be a fly on the wall when you, reincarnated as Mr Blue Shirt, revisit happy little Miss Green Shirt. I wonder if there is any Legal precedent for this, it could cause meltdown in the inner sanctum. You may be whisked away by JT in his private 707 to a blog free fate in a place where only those lower than blue shirts go.

Jean V in Seattle said...

I worked for a consulting firm run by a group of "science" folks. That's how they'd talk in front of me -- in quotes, like actors playing secret agents in a very bad film:

'Mary is going to her "science" workshop next week.' Ahem. Wink. Nod.

Every one of them was barking mad, utterly raving looney-tunes.

You got one really great blog out of it, sugar. Don't press your luck!


Anonymous said...


Couldn't resist repeating the fact that phrase 'Church of Scientology' strikes me as an excellent example of the oxymoron concept.

Great blog.


Anonymous said...


Of course you should have signed. How are you ever going to climb the career ladder to the dizzy heights of Tom Cruise's arse double now?

Martin McGowan-Scanlon (couldnt be bothered signing up for yet another account hence the anonymous tag

Anonymous said...

You realize, of course, you've just flushed your chance to be a clear right down the toilet.

Michael (couldnt be bothered signing up for yet another account either hence the anonymous tag

Max Post said...

Ah, yes, johnlee, before reading you I had no idea that sarcasm could soak up and transport that weight of contempt. Delicious. Rich earthy bouquet, fine ruby color, a high enough sugar content to offset the refreshing acidity … thank you.

(That the C of S is a church is bad enough (all churches are bad enough), but "scientology"? What does that mean? I suppose it means that science, unequal to the task of studying the universe, must itself be studied and "helped along" by these clowns.)