Scene One: Winter, 2011.
It was winter. The sun was setting earlier on those days. The orange light dull, dipping west, barely illuminating the intersections.
Pedaling through downtown, we were stopped by a passing couple.
A young man. A young woman. Both no older than twenty.
The devotees seemed to travel in two’s, always a representative from each sex.
They asked about our bikes. Our pegs. Our small sprockets.
The young man was unusually in tune to the “extreme” and cliched colloquialisms.
“I used to rollerblade,” he mentioned with a thick accent, “That shit is crazy, man.”
Holding us in conversation, this must have been a break from the odd route he and his followers traveled, in droves, ducking and diving out of trap doors speckling the sides of buildings.
Those buildings, transformed, maybe intentionally, reminiscent of the eastern bloc.
On his shoulder was the badge I had read about. The wreath. The bent palm trees.
He was fresh on leave from the Sea Org: from what I learned, the church’s cruise ship for their monetary elite.
This young man, his bright eyed submission under the guise of psychological despots, was one of their indentured servants.
Scene Two: Spring, 2013.
The historic, architectural tour led us into their new stronghold.
A recruitment center, commandeered from the skeleton of an old cigar factory.
For no other reason than being part of the tour group were we here.
Inside, subtle images of erupting volcanos inlaid behind lists of visual mechanisms identifying and pinpointing human whoas.
Our universal sense of debilitating ennui.
From what I gathered, the recipe for human vulnerability.
I scanned their twenty-one commandments.
Eleven more than the Christian ten. Their extension, even more rational, even more common-sensical.
It was a list of human notions jimmied to retrofit the 21st century, digital man.
Followers invested their life’s savings for guidance to comprehend.
To access some sort of magical key.
Cut into a corner of red brick, was an enclave.
A mock up, with hulking leather chair, a battleship sized desk with surrounding couture in wooden, outdated paneling.
This was the office of a omnipresent Robber Baron, having been quoted many times that “the way to make a million dollars is to start a religion.”
Was it right here, I wondered? This office?
The center of their universe where HE perpetually pens books. New copies belted out each year, signed with his initials, written from the grave, twenty five years after his death?
Scene Three: Winter, 2009.
He had been following us for blocks.
On bikes, a dozen of us, pedalling, searching for a handrail at a retirement home I remembered from over a decade ago. It was near the beach.
I could see it in my head: the handrail, attached to a ten story block building, painted in white and blue stripes, an architectural dinosaur from the fifties.
The rail served as walking support for those geriatric folk strolling out into the afternoon sea breeze, the warm light, resigning slowly on those oppressively hot days.
That was before they were kicked out.
Their building, in a sea of other low slung facades, all of them, slowly scooped up by the church of self help.
We zig-zagged from corner to corner, yet somehow, when paused to regain our bearings, our pursuer was just yards behind.
As he approached, I knew his motive from the color of his fatigues: dark navy pants, white button-up shirt, and golden, templar like cross shadowing an asterisks.
That symbol, almost glowing, embossed on every one of their formal name tags.
“You guys looking for something?,” he asked.
“We, are actually…” I had said, in quick retort, not ever being the first to step towards an accusatory question.
“We’re looking for L. Ron Hubbard?”
His slight pause gave off what I perceived to be an understandable annoyance at a farcical question.
I expected, almost welcomed his agitation.
But instead, his response was hauntingly sincere:
“He doesn’t live here.”