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Los Angeles — The city of dreams. The destination for anyone who wants to make something of themselves; a metropolitan hub in which anyone can achieve their wildest dreams. But where there are dreams there are also nightmares, and LA has more than its share of nightmare fodder. I’m not just talking about traffic and long lines at brunch places caused by an over-saturation of social media influencers filming the yolk coming out of their Eggs Benedict for their Instagram stories. No, I’m talking about a much scarier type of nightmare: Scientology.
When I moved into my trendy, East Hollywood apartment, I was hyper-aware that I was a mere few blocks from LA’s Scientology Center. I took the risk, though, because I wanted to be in a neighborhood where I could run into Cole Sprouse hitting a Juul at a bar and roast him for his flavor choice while I pretended not to know who he was or care at all that he was famous, because apathy is LA’s second-biggest unspoken trend (behind Scientology).
When I say a few blocks, I’m not exaggerating. I don’t mean it’s a few miles away, I mean the big ass building where inductees are groomed is entirely too close to home for comfort. And that’s just the main building! There are satellite facilities all over town, so I’m surrounded on all sides.
Full disclosure, I’m the person that would die first in a horror movie because my desire to disprove the existence of the antagonizing force would lead to my certain death. A skeptical yet curious mind is a dangerous thing in this town, so what’s frightening about Scientology isn’t its existence or the fact that Scientologists treat the ravings of a science fiction author as doctrine. Both are, at best, somewhat bizarre, but stranger things are out there. What is unsettling is how covert their marketing strategies are, as though if I were a shade less careful I might just fall in. After all, many of their buildings are remarkably opulent, and it’s no secret that I will wander into almost any building if there’s a promise of vintage crown molding inside.
At first, I thought I was being overly-dramatic. As an actress and a writer, I have a tendency to abuse hyperbole. But as time has pressed on, I’m starting to think what I originally wrote off as hyper-caution may be justified fear. Since I’ve moved in, several billboards have been erected around town, the closest of which is visible from my front door. It’s harmless at first glance, emblazoned with the words “Curious? We know you are…stop by for a free stress test today!” And then in purposefully smaller font underneath, “The American Scientology Center.” I’m very curious and would really like to stop in for a free stress test, but curiosity killed the cat and I already know my stress level is equal to. Plus, I don’t want them to know how to find me ever again after, and that doesn’t seem like part of the deal.
My first noteworthy run-in happened at a friend’s apartment which is near the menacing-looking Scientology Celebrity Center. We were leaving as a neighbor of hers was returning home in a flight attendant uniform. My friend said, “Oh! You’re a flight attendant, that’s so cool! My mom is, too,” you know, making small talk with the neighbor.
The neighbor gave her an austere look and said, “Um, I’m a Scientologist. This is my uniform.”
We scurried away, humiliated and a bit frightened. Why are they being told to dress in flight attendant uniforms? Do they all dress in flight attendant uniforms? Surely not. I’ve never seen Tom Cruise in a flight attendant uniform, not even in a movie. I’ve since come to the conclusion that they have a team of fake flight attendants planted at LAX to telepathically send subliminal messaging about Scientology being super cool to newcomers. It’s the only logical explanation.
Recently, I was taking a pleasant stroll down the Sunset strip at 3 o’clock on a Saturday, full of hope and breakfast tacos. Two identically dressed, decently attractive young women approached me, handed me a pamphlet, and walked away before I could look at it. Despite getting some vague The Shining vibes from these seeming twins, I assumed it was one of those “Find Jesus” pamphlets so I didn’t think much of it. I’m not religious myself, but I respect religion so I refrained from handing it back to them. When I looked down at the pamphlet, I understood why they left in such a hurry. Like the billboard, the front was relatively run-of-the-mill, titled “The Way To Happiness.” Shit, I like happiness, so I flipped it over, only to be confronted with a chilling realization: the fine print on the back said “L. Ron Hubbard.” Shocked and appalled, I sought to drop the pamphlet instantly, as though I may burst into flames a la Hereditary if I held onto it for too long. My fear was overcome by my desire to not litter, so I found the nearest bench and set it down politely before hightailing it away from that intersection. I think it still counts as littering if it’s Scientology literature, but it was the best I could do.
The final and perhaps most unsettling close call I’ve had has to do with a very famous LA bar called Tiki-Ti. Tiki’s next-door neighbor is the Scientology Media Productions building, one of the aforementioned satellite centers that’s even closer to my apartment than the main one. It has some serious 24-hour security that I often speculate is more to keep the people in than others out. When passing by, I noticed some aggressive barbed wire between the two places, but I didn’t think much of it until I went for a drink. Only then did it occur to me that the Scientology building hadn’t put up the barbed wire…Tiki-Ti did. The barbed wire was on the Tiki-Ti side of the wall, which is a serious statement coming from an establishment that seeks to get people in Hawaiian shirts very drunk. It was almost as if Tiki-Ti was fearful that someone with a grappling hook might suddenly swoop in from the Scientology Center and dump their creepy Kool-Aid into the Tiki Punch when no one’s looking. So naturally, I don’t drink there anymore. Can’t put anything past an organization that has a Special Ops team of fake flight attendants.
I was scared to write this article. I almost didn’t. As much as I love Tom Cruise’s movies, I don’t want him to show up at my door and yell at me (unless it’s accompanied by a job offer) or worse, lock himself in my closet. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take because you all deserve the truth. If no one hears from me after this, though, please recognize the sacrifice I made in the name of honest journalism, and tell my parents I love them.
As I finish writing this, I’m gazing out the window at the Los Angeles skyline twinkling against the night sky, and the big ass light-up Scientology emblem looming in the distance like an ominous lighthouse trying to misguide me home. If I stare long enough, I am fearful that I might end up at one of their Sunday brunches that’s as notorious as it is lavish, muttering about needing to clear my thetans. .