What Do You Think?


Scientology and the insanity clause

 Everyday it was the same people or at least beings who looked the same, stared at you the same way and asked you the same thing in the same annoying animated monotone, where each word was punctuated with exactness attached to the same mechanical facial gestures. 

They were maddening, always staring at you, their eyes almost all pupils, asking you to come in and change your life (I was nineteen, I didn’t have enough life yet to change), but the worst thing about them was that they were in the building right next to the Art Institute Of Boston. They were to us the “dreaded,” Scientologists.

Now, had they been the (not yet and not so insane movie star) Tom Cruise, and (disco King of Brooklyn) John Travolta I might have signed away my life savings which at the time was a fringe jacket and my body organs. The robotic pests that buzzed around our school’s front door had none of their star power and all the allure of a dying black hole.

I had a lot of guilt free fun in art school. I worked with the maintenance crew (in exchange for tuition and my parents new appreciation of art), which was run by the head of the photography department, Charlie Hartwell.  Charlie was well over six foot; with a beard the guys from ZZ Top would have insisted on being trimmed.  He always wore cowboy boots that somehow, no matter how filthy or difficult the task was, never managed to get dirty, scuffed or free of luster.  He had a deep inside-out laugh, that he usually exited his mouth combined with an “I can’t believe you did that,” smile, and his head nodding in Timothy Leary wonderment.

As a charter member of the maintenance crew which consisted of myself, Charlie and two or three other students, I had keys to every door and draw in the school.  I had access to all the paper work and would fill in attendance records for friends and myself.  Not to mention the ability and sound judgment to correctly change a grade here and there.

My closest friend was Bill Pitcher one of the strangest, and I mean this as a compliment, guys I met at art school (except maybe for Kurt, who, when we shared a loft didn’t believe in cleaning his plate; he just put it in the freezer and would take it out to eat off of again).   Bill always wore a brown floppy hat, and a cowboy kerchief around his neck.  He’d stay awake for days painting, drawing and building fish tanks, where he’d keep some of the game fish he caught or found trying to escape the Charles River.  When Bill fell asleep nothing could wake him up (not even a Tiny Tim ukulele solo), which allowed us to, of course, tie him up, put him on the top shelves in closets, or stand him behind a refrigerator.

There were other’s that were almost as crazy, like my roommate Gary, who had a long blonde confused Afro and ways always smiling, thus he was nicknamed Smiley.  But if you looked more closely you could see it was a smile of someone who was protecting himself, because the cosmos must have mistakenly heaped on him the bad karma of all those that were kicked out of Ganges Kahn’s army and for war crimes.  On the way to his own surprise party Gary, to save a few minutes, convinced a cab driver to take him through a bad neighborhood, only to be robbed by the cab driver, then finally entered the apartment through the wrong door, couldn’t find the light, tripped over the plastic garbage bags in the hallway, then got up and was so angry he kicked the bags, which were filled with dirty cat litter, slipped and got a face full of the smelly stuff.   

Then there was my other roommate George who was a big good looking guy, who resembled Cat Stevens and he’d pretend to be if it meant getting a woman, which he had many.  Sure my roommate Gary and I were jealous, but we are also disappointed not in ourselves but in a woman’s ability to believe the outrageous lies of a good-looking guy.  If a woman lied to Gary or myself we didn’t consider them lies to get us in bed, as much a lies to convince themselves we were wroth it.   Outside George’s door he kept count of the women he had water bedded with notches in the woodwork.  Our sensitive hippy souls found that cruel and tacky and also a number way beyond our reach.    

Bill, Gary, and I were huge fans of the Marx brothers and had their faces painted on our lockers, which we had several on different floors, since I had the run of the school.  While Bill and I were Groucho men, Gary was a Harpo man (maybe because with his curly hair he looked like him).  George was whatever helped him get a woman, which could even be Abbot or Costello man. Most of our time in the school itself (especially for Bill and I) took place at night, where we’d paint and of course rob the coke machine.  We’d do that by sticking a hanger in certain place and then pulling it free while kicking the machine until it puked up the money. 

After months of the being emotionally masticated by squadrons of Scientologists, who, no matter how far out we acted, either naturally or chemically induced,  would not step aside but amp up their pitches; we’d finally had enough.  It was time to fight back.  Art students by nature, and nurture are externally passive, but inside they’re nation building against their own will.  Bill, Gary, George and I discussed different ways to return the ire and finally we settled on one inspired by hero worship.  After a few phone calls we found out where we could buy a hundred-and-seventy-five Groucho Marx disguises, whole sale, super cheap, especially priced for starving art school students and ethereal idiots.  We could have asked our fellow artists to share some of the cost of freedom, which members of the Fine Arts department would be willing to do, except that in order to chip in we’d have to borrow from each other, thus ending up with the same five bucks being passed around. We didn’t even bother approaching the advertising students for money, that would be like tying to stop an alligator from roaring by holding its tongue.  The photography department was too small and too busy finding social significance in subjects whose skin were wrinkled enough to almost scare away Scientologists.  So there was only one thing to do and that was earn the money by robbing the coke machine for a few straight days (most of that money coming from the advertising department repeatedly) and to use my Mustang as battering ram to knock down parking meters, which we smashed open by dropping out windows, until we had enough cash. (I hope there’s statute of limitations on felony parking violations.)

Bill and I took the T (called subways in real big cities) to the combat zone.  That was an area restricted to strip clubs, hookers, heavy drinking, hard drugs, all the places and things that most of their clientele would spend their hard earned stolen cash.  No, not Bill and I, we were law biding (other than mugging coke machines and harvesting parking meters) Marx brother men.  Groucho was the secret word that got us safely into a building that was definitely not living up to the architect’s drawings, unless he was paying back gambling debts by designing the place around a dozen or so bodies that were conveniently kept out of sight (in the walls and foundation) for a few hundred years. .  

I’d like to say it was a big evil nearly bald guy full of thorny tattoos, or a nodding mobster who combed his hair follicle with an oil spill that greeted us at the door, but instead were greeted by a little man, who’s crumpled face looked like it had just come out of a hamper (an art schools photographer’s dried up wet dream).  We didn’t have to tell him who we were and what we wanted; he was a fool- proofreader of fools.  He recognized us immediately. We also knew he was the man we wanted to speak to because he was wearing one of the Groucho disguises. I don’t know if he was going for laughs, mocking us, or thought it improved his appearance, which it might have, had he covered his face with all 175 disguises.  He told us to follow him into the backroom. After a slight ten-minute hesitation we did.  The place was dark, with only a few dirty dimming light bulbs hanging from the ceiling like they were trying to kill themselves.   Sitting on a table was a cardboard box, which the old man opened and started to count Groucho’s, when I said, “We trust you.”  Then I handed him the bag of money, which he counted.  It took awhile, we didn’t mind since he spared us insults about the nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies.  When his counting ended exactly on the agreed up amount, he nodded and tossed the Grouch disguise he was wearing into the box and said, “You can have this one too. What the hell am I doing to do with it?” Slightly improve your retired test dummy face, I thought to myself.

We anticipated some difficulty with the next part of our plan, which was getting our fellow art students not only to wear the disguises but to organize a march into the Scientology building/church/brain-washing brothel.  Aspiring artists are not an orderly group; the remains of a tornado look anal retentive to us.  We started to hand the disguises out in the morning, which much to my body clock’s surprise was actually morning, in our gullible fine arts department with the help of its always slammed wide open minded teachers and ending with the humanitarian, “We’re all in this together and I want more than my share in writing.” advertising department.  For some reason there were more girls in the Ad department so George helped us out there.  Of course, that morning there wasn’t a nude model drawn that wasn’t wearing a Groucho disguise and not necessarily on their faces.  Bill, Gary and I with Charlie Hartwell’s help, got all the students, models, and Fine Arts teachers to agree on parading into the Scientology building at lunchtime.  

So at noon or thereabouts we all funneled single file into the Church Of Scientology on Beacon Street, in Boston, Mass.  I guess the staff, priests, pharos, clan, soldiers, militia of whatever you call them at first only saw a few of us and nearly smiled, which didn’t last long enough to loosen a muscle fiber on their tungsten masks when they saw the other hundred-and-seventy-two of us. 

I thought they’d get angry and toss us out on our rubber noses and eyebrows, but instead they took us for a flock that needed their guidance. At first they just popped up from their chairs like well-lubed pistons.  No sound surfaced from their faces but we knew could see syllables clinging to their lips like they were trying to keep from falling off a cliff.  Their dead eyes died again. Suddenly the room burst into a choir of spinning phone dials and whisper’s that basically said, “What the F… should we do?” The word must have come down from near the top, not Mr. Hubbard of course, the sensitive soul he was probably too busy making sure his error prone followers weren’t churned up by his boat’s propellers.  Scientologists are taught to drown with dignity, I suppose.  Loose lips can’t sink ships if they are dumped into the abyss.   

The Toligists (as us in the know call them) all hung up their phones at once and then moved in same direction simultaneously like they were plastic players on a foosball line.  Finally the leader of the local chapter of the cult (not yet declared a religion by the IRS deities) told us to please take a seat.  We were art students so we did as we were told our way, we turned the chairs backwards, sideways, some upside down, some us even sat on other’s laps. In Art school, back then, gays, women, and blacks were treated as equals something kept hidden from our free society for the good of us all.

I guess the orders from the big man’s, big man’s, big man were to act as if we were your everyday Groucho impressionists without disguises.  One by one, yet some how all at once, they sat in the chairs across from us and started to ask questions.  Lets just say most of our answers were not standard issue, although some students answered sincerely, which through Groucho masks lost its earnestness.  Bill and I replied doing our Groucho Impressions, which encouraged most of the group to do the same.  I did a pretty damn good Groucho and I didn’t get a laugh or a chuckle, or even one of their members doing a half ass Chico back to me.  We didn’t even get a disgusted stare from the boulder faced Scientologists.  I don’t think they would have reacted even if I had an L.Ron Hubbard dummy on my lap (unless I had it talking gibberish and drinking boos like the head honcho himself).  Now it was us G-men against the Church Of Scientology (as I stated, not yet church there were not enough pedophiles to qualify as a religion) 

Who was going to crack first the insane in denial (them) or the proud to be infantile (us)?  The next step was the big “S” one, the first lesson. I’d heard about it before and told my G-people the drill.  We were determined to get them to kick us out before we finished the lesson.  They took as many as they could fit in the rooms, and made us stare at fellow Grouchos sitting opposite us and to do that without even flinching or even spouting out one “Say the magic word.”  It was complete silence, well, it was supposed to be.  A full-fledged put your money where we want your mind to go lesson lasts one hour, but the introductory lessons last ten or fifteen minutes.  Well, for introverted art students it’s only a difficult thing to do if your empty stomach is complaining about it’s lack of attention (especially after smoking Acapulco Gold or Columbian red) , but when the guy or chick across from you has on a Groucho disguise, whether your stoned, tripping on acid or their not wearing clothes (with or without skin), that’s nearly impossible, not without laughing or at least performing dueling Grouchos.  After about five or ten minutes I knew this wasn’t going to work, when everyone out of boredom, or as I prefer egged on by inspiration started doing Grouchos in rhythm until one of us starting singing  “Whatever it is I’m Against it.” If on a stuttered cue most us then broke into a combination of every dance routine the Marx Brother’s ever did, Bill, Gary,  George and I doing uncoordinated version of “This Country’s Going to War. ”  Charlie Hartwell’s plastic eyebrows rose in admiration.  A few hundred Grouch voices filled the room.  It was a heavenly sound, I must admit, and it was fun, but not what I was looking for. I wanted to get through the entire first lesson, or have the Scientologists’ give up, which it didn’t look like was destined to happen.  They hardened like the Tin Man after a failed heart transplant.  At some point, Gary gave me a discouraging look, which gave me an idea.  I knew how to beat them.  When I got up to leave I woke Bill, Gary rose, George left a woman Scientologist thinking that she had almost enlisted Cat Stevens and, of course, my church of Grouchos were overjoyed to follow us out the door.  These Scientologist’s had never been given the opportunity to get 175 new converts, not only in one day, one week, or one month, but in one lunch period! L. Ron would have let their family members open their windows and let them see the sunlight the iron bars. The Toligists started screaming at us to stay, finally pleading.  One of them even displayed a second of emotion and began yelling out what he mistakenly thought was the magic word, “get back in you dickheads,” That’s when I took it upon myself to yell back.  “Don’t worry, we’ll be back! I could have given them the long finger but instead I just pretended to flick my cigar and left. 

We needed to crack several more coke machines and parking meters for enough dough to pull this off, but two weeks later we came back with the tool to beat the Scientologists at their own game of silent chicken and this time it only took 13 members of our cult.  Yes, a bakers-dozen of our disciples arrived in full Harpo Marx mode complete with trench coats and horns.  The horns were the trick, after seven and a half minutes of pulling weird things out of our pockets, like hammers, screwdrivers (from the maintenance department) Slinkys, mechanical mice etc we started our celestial chorus of chaotic honking and the fledgling Hubbards were losing L. Ron’s mind and were soon to be history.  The Marx brothers didn’t care about boundaries or attaching limits on chaos, neither did we and thus began tarring up Scientology flyers doing the Marx brothers Insanity Claus bit! Now, they unanimously wanted us out, gone, disappeared, or dumped overboard.

We left all right, but only after they promised never to bother anyone from The Art Institute Of Boston again. Truth be told, I would have agreed to let them swarm the advertising students.  Then again, maybe, I blew a real opportunity.  I should have insisted they kidnap the whole dam department.  The Scientologist elite were obviously not as Clear (a Scientologist term for nirvana, enlightenment, or a lithium stupor) as they pretended to be, because they didn’t notice that behind them stood Charlie Hartwell, the head of our photography/maintenance department, armed with an unlocked and loaded fire extinguisher!  I wish Charlie had brought along his camera I would have painted over all my Marx brother lockers and even lowered my grades for the opportunity to show L. Ron Hubbard a film of his disciples running from a 6foot 4 inch Harpo like they were about to be audited (a Scientology method for making a person Clear while acquiring black male material) by the entire Marx Brother family including Zeppo or worse yet, the stoniest of stone faces, the unflinching and “dreaded” Margaret Dumont!  

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