Saturday, December 09, 2006

they have landed...

...and now they dwell in the tunnels of New York City, like the fabled alligators of yesteryear.

Aliens? Perhaps. And they want you to take the express train to Xenu. We're talking Scientologists. Peddling "Dianetics," walking up to people who are alone and therefore perhaps lonely, and putting the schpiel on them like a black widow puts on the silk.

"Can I ask you a couple of questions" a member of the opposite sex (in this case, a young woman) coos, disarmingly? She isn't unattractive, but she lacks elan vital.

"Sure," says a middle-aged man leaning against the armrail, gazing contentedly at the way-cool slideshow being projected onto the ceiling and walls of the main concourse of Grand Central Station. "The Nutcracker" is playing. The effect is peaceful and contemplative; one that someone in a melancholy frame of mind might find ...melacholy. Ideal conditions for the psychological predator to stalk her prey. "Why?"

"I'm trying to market a book," she misleads.

"Oh. You're own?"

"No," she said, dismissively. "He took me at my word," she must be thinking. "What a piece of cake this will be." She fires off a meaningless query of psychobabble, designed only to elicit emotional responses. "What thing do you associate with contentment?" It is a line so wooden it would make a carnival barker flush with pity. But the target has her number immediately. "Oh, 'Dianetics,' then?"

Her response is remarkable for its lack any discernable life. Perhaps he detected in her eyes a glimmer of fear and delight mixed; perhaps it was only that he expected to see them. "Yes," says she.

"Sure, know all about it. Dated a Scientologist, worked for two Scientologists, lived down the road from the Ft. Harrison hotel for nearly 20 years. Ever been to Clearwater?" [Clearwater, Florida is to Scientologists what Mecca is to al Quaeda.]

"Oh, yes." If she feels like she's in over her head, she's covering it like a pro. Or a cadaver.

"Hmmm...what thing do I associate with happiness," he repeats, gazing at the Chrysler Building snowflakes on the ceiling, giving her a little breathing room. "A cross," he finally replies, as he pulled the one that hangs around his neck from inside his shirt and showed it to her. She nods, and feigns interest because that's how you disarm people and win their confidence. The music is delightful.

"It's a cross, not a 'Thetan' symbol," he said.

She takes a milisecond to reload. "What thing do you associate with family?"

"Family," he ponders aloud, allowing himself a moment of reflection, thought not unguarded. "A nativity," he says at length, to a blank, 20-something face. She gives a slight, impatient, "winning by intimidation" shake of the head. "A nativity" he annunciates patiently. He's growing incredulous. Her face exudes as much vitality as did his laptop when the screen became a monochromatic sea of gray. Stylized snowflakes of kaliedascope taxicabs whirl across the walls of the Main Concourse like soft gears. He allows her a moment to reboot.

He tries again: "A creche?" Her eyes register a test-pattern. "Where are you from?" he asks.


Well, he reasons, that does explain some of it. One more try. "A manger scene. You know, Jesus, Mary and Joseph? The little animals?" And only they know for sure whether her "aha" mime was entirely a charade.

"Thank you," she said, as she walked off, the next, hopefully easier target already in her sights.


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