Vinyl Atrocity: Stuart McLean on Literary Landscape

Dave Currie’s run on CKCU’s Literary Landscape is known among the scarce, hardy folk who know Literary Landscape intimately for its occasional outlandish concept episodes. This past May, Dave and I sat down to write an episode featuring the Vinyl Cafe’s Stuart McLean. “McLean” in this case was code for my braying, Jimmy Stewart-cum-Brunswicker impression. The story is our spin on McLean’s classic Dave & Morley stories, but it goes a little sideways somewhere in the middle. The bit is a little long, but we had a lot of fun putting it together, and the one piece of complaint mail we received accusing us of “usury” made it well worth the time. As of December 2014, the show is still available to listen to on demand here: http://cod.ckcufm.com/programs/109/16131.html

But if you’d like to read and reminisce, here is the full story from the show.

[Vinyl Cafe Intro]

“STUART

Dave woke up on a beautiful Tuesday morning, with a hopeful spring in his step. It was five thirty in the morning. He opened the front door and walked down his uneven driveway to fish the morning paper out of the birdbath where the Stevens’ boy had carelessly tossed it, as he did each morning. As Dave slapped the bagged paper on his thigh to dry it, he became aware of something out of the ordinary. A turd. More specifically, a turd on his driveway, with a footprint in it. It was early, so things weren’t coming to Dave as quickly as they might’ve done at another time. He looked around, wondering, who had been walking on his property so early? The Stevens boy rode a bicycle, a fixed-gear with his little sister’s streamers streaming from its handles. They may not always have been streaming, but Dave had only ever known the bike as a blur, a shout of, “Sorry Mr. D!” trailing after it. Dave shrugged and turned back toward his house, eyes half-closed, already dreaming of the microwaved cup of last night’s strong dark brew Morley had made, as she always did before bed, waking up in the morning complaining, as always, of not having slept well. Dave had long ago stopped suggesting she cut out her late night cup of Joe, though he always thought it, and suspected that she could hear him thinking it.

As he walked toward his house, he noticed that his springy steps were not so springy as they had been only minutes before. In fact, they were downright spongy. Dave knew then, without need for further inspection, what had transpired. He glanced over at the neighbour’s yard. Mrs. O’Toole’s chocolate lab sat panting happily on her porch, still wearing its orange service dog vest. She looked at him with what Dave knew, admittedly irrationally, to be a profound canine pleasure. Dave grit his teeth, but decided that he would let it go. Ms. O’Toole had been blind since the big eclipse of ’84, when Darryl Murdoch had offered her 12 jujubes to stare into the corona of the obscured sun, even though she had been warned by numerous sagacious individuals, including her parents, teachers and even her crossing guard (a Ms. Hilde Thompson) that her vision could be seriously affected. It was clear that she had enough on her plate.

Since being moved to the neighbourhood, Ms. O’Toole had been the very model of civic pleasantness, always having misshapen cookies to sell at the community bake sales and plenty of wide, toothy smiles for everyone, although, Dave could never be sure if her smiling was for him or not, as she was understandably general with her orientation.

Behind the wheel of his Ford Prius, a Virtucar he shared with the faint nicotine smells and collective butt-imprints of untold dozens of ghostly fellow econo-sojourners, Dave reflected on the whirlwind that had consumed his and his family’s comfortable life these past few months. Dave had been the proprietor of a record store for as long as he could remember, a problem he thought he should address later. As he had been attempting to balance his accounts one night in April, he’d found himself obsessing over the echocardiogram of slight upticks and less-slight downticks in the yearly revenues. While these might have been mere distortions, the unpredictable waves and eddies of a small canoe in the heaving seas of capital, something about the hour of night and the restless anxiety that comes of long years of middling comfort in the midst of an uncertain economy had Dave convincing himself the fault was due to gentrification, the hipsterization of his beloved vinyl niche. Just down the road, two new record shops at opened, one called Hell Pees and the other something neither my mother nor CKCU would be comfortable with me saying on air, and Dave feared he could not compete with their astutely curated selections of younger-skewing genres like the hip-hop music, the urban music, and the rap music.

As he chewed at the nib of his pen, rubbing away the “Mc” from McClure Dental, he found himself wondering how he could make his record store stand out from all the other record stores. He glanced around his office, his second home, at his cherished mementos. A gold LP, given to him by the great Canadian rock band April Wine, for helping them out of a dust-up in Peterborough. One of fine Canadian songstress Rita McNeil’s spangled blouses, worn on many a CBC Christmas Special, still bearing her signature scent of lilacs and horse sweat. An original 8-track by the Canadian powerhouse Trooper – now wait a minute. As Dave stared at the faded, rectangular art it seemed almost to shimmer, the colours growing more vivid, the smell of old incense wafting toward him. He could make his record store different by not selling records! By selling a format more obscure. More, desirable if you will. More, dare I say it, hip. The lost art of the 8-track… cassette?

The store made its triumphant sea change in July to moderate fanfare.

By September, he found himself back on the job market for the first time in he didn’t know how long, again a problem he would have to address later. Specifically, when he sat down at his Smith-Corona to peck out a new resume. He’d asked Morley, but she’d just scowled and pulled on her tight, Creamsicle-shade uniform. Dave losing his job meant Morley was forced to become the sole provider for the family. Unlike Dave, she still retained some of her old skill at securing employment. Within a week she was serving up cool drinks and piping lukewarm burgers and fries at that venerable neighborhood eatery, Hooters.

Morley’s figure was perhaps not quite as it once was, but middle management seem to suit her, and she maintained a strong appeal with a niche clientele, in her orange hotpants stretched over brown nylon stockings (the stockings an optional piece of company apparel but, Morley felt all the years considered, the less exposed skin the better), a niche composed primarily of men she went to high school with. Dave, in his heart of hearts, resented these men, though he would never have breathed a word of it to Morley. Worst of these was Jack “Flash” McGoohan, who had always been able to unduly (in Dave’s opinion) impress Morley by striking matches off his rabbit-like front teeth. He still did this trick, all these years later, though the friction of so many strikes had left his teeth grey and grooved as Dave’s driveway in the February slush. Dave was a quiet support of women’s liberation, but he felt strongly that he needed to get Morley back in the house as soon as possible, or at least, down to one job.

Dave’s daughter Stephanie offered to help her father set up an account on Monster.ca. Finally, all those summers of Computer camp were providing the sort of return the 8-track shop had failed to do. Feeling anxious, Dave’d decided to take a walk. He’d walked and he’d walked and he’d walked and when he finally stopped, he stopped with a start. Right in front of the record store he had been driving to for all those years. It was then that he saw it. There on the lamp post only ten steps from his failed business was his salvation. A help wanted poster, requesting a maternity leave replacement at a local animal shelter. Dave knew this was a sign, just like that turkey from all those years ago.

Dave had always liked animals, from the guinea pig, to his recently deceased dog that again Dave could not remember the name of, to his sister’s cat, the sister who was the pianist and was supposed to be a play piano for the queen once but didn’t. So he drove, in his communally-owned Prius, and he parked it at the animal shelter, which was called Pawsome Gently Used Pets, which was a portmanteau of “Paw” and “Awesome,” and he asked for a job, and they gave it to him. His confidence was at an all-time high. He was less confident when Gina, the office receptionist who appeared to be the sole employee, handed him a ballpeen hammer and pushed him through a robin’s egg blue door covered in construction paper cutouts of cat paws, into a room of lazy eyed, mange ridden or otherwise slightly defective kittens.

When he arrived home at the end of his work day, much later than he had ever arrived from the record store, Morley knew there was something different about Dave. His eyes were a little deader, his appetite a little smaller. And despite the celebratory mess of green beans coated in pure Canadian maple syrup, leg of lamb and New Brunswick’s own potatoes she’d managed to whip up in spite of her own exhaustion from fending off the Flash McGoohans of the world, Dave didn’t manage to eat more than half his potatoes, a quarter of his green beans. Of the lamb, he ate none at all. Morley collected up the still-crowded dishes, a little glumly, and looked around for the dog to leave the leftovers, whose name she remembered was Stanley, but who, she had just then forgotten, was no longer with them.

When Morley tried her special night ritual, Dave reacted as he had to the lamb. He instead crawled out of their warm bed, and went downstairs to wind down a little in front of the television. The Toronto Maple Leafs were out of the hockey playoffs, hadn’t even got in in fact, and the Toronto Argonauts were not yet playing Canadian football. Dave had never really got basketball. He flipped through the channels, adrift, until he came upon a pristine view into the wilderness, a glowing porthole to the Serengeti meant only for him. The Discovery Channel. Dave had never noticed how beautifully, appropriately named that DCI-subsidiary truly was. And as he sat there, he finally stopped wondering how he could bear another day shuffling animals off their furry mortal coils, let alone a career (or at least, a job until Shelly’s twins were reared enough for their mother to resume a less bloody occupation), and he just watched, watched for hours, his tired eyes not tired now, now wide open, even glistening. He watched the noble elephants drawing water up their long, wrinkly grey trunks till it seemed the rivers would become dry as the gulch behind his family’s home in Cape Breton, watched their stamping, their snorting, their mating. He watched the cheetahs, blurred like the Stevens’ boy’s bike, lazing in the sun, mating. The flamingos, Bazooka Joe pink, wading in the water, launching into arching, surprising, graceful flight, mating in the sun like amorous skydivers. Dave had always wondered how animals in their multitudes, in their constant mating, could become extinct, but now it seemed as though they were smooth rocks at the end of a private curling sheet all for him, and Dave for once in his life, held the hammer. Dave sighed, surprised to find himself contented, and creaked out of his chair, slipped on his slippers, and slid between the teetering towers of boxed 8-tracks that had consumed his den, padded past Stephanie and Sam’s rooms so as not to wake them, and woke Morley up with his own special night ritual.

Arriving at work the next day, Dave was told to murder some squirrels, squirrels that had become inconvenient to the local elementary school. No tools were provided for him, his hands were enough for these critters. As he windmilled the last of them by its tail over and over against the monkey bars, he caught sight of his son, Sam, staring at him from his classroom window. Dave waved cheerily, but Sam just turned away quickly, pretending not to notice. “Too cool for dad, I guess!” Dave said to himself with a wry shrug. The day after that it was old dogs, adoptable sure, but Gina said she didn’t want the paperwork. He was handed a rifle and told to go to town. Dave had heard stories of sled dogs being put down by shooting after the Vancouver Olympics, of businesses being shut down. But Gina was Dave’s superior and he was too new to make waves. He shot those dogs dead. All seventy-eight of them. That night in bed with Morley he howled.

He strangled ferrets after lunch, he stepped on rabbits and broke rat necks with a bottleopener. Every time Dave killed a small animal he thought of Morley, he thought of his children, he thought of how proud they would be that he was making money, how he was providing for them. Every time Dave killed a larger animal, he thought of himself and his pride grew three sizes, at least. He planned to ask Gina if he might take home a few mementos, nothing obvious or gauche, just small reminders of the work being done that fulfilled him in ways pushing LPs of the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions on impressionable college girls never had. It was all going well, that is, until the day the police raided the Animal Shelter, which in truth was no shelter at all for animals, a shelter only for Dave.

Dave was eating a sandwich, ham and Swiss. That very day, he had been so proud to be standing in line at the deli, at the deli with the other breadwinners in his furry smock, no longer reduced to eating Hooters leftovers brought home by Morley. Truth be told, Morley wasn’t having much to do with Dave these days, his manner too estranged from the boy she had met all those years ago, too long ago for Dave to remember (but he’d worry about that later), at that rock and roll concert in Providence, Rhode Island, he thought, probably. At least that Jack McGoohan wasn’t having much to do with Morley either.

The raid came swiftly, a real testament to the efficiency of the men and women in the City of Toronto’s crack Animal Cruelty task force. Gina, who was playing online poker at the time and was, it must be said, black, was immediately clapped in hand cuffs though she wasn’t struggling, in fact looked rather bored. Dave, in sharp contrast, was immediately introduced to a trauma councillor, who along with the very, very convincing testimony by Morley as to Dave’s change in personality and history of seizures, was helped to secure a large settlement from the Shelter.

Dave used the money to buy back his record store. He threw out all the 8-track cassettes and even put in a small compact disc bin, his concession to the bright, digital future of physical media.

Months later, Dave woke up on a beautiful Tuesday morning, with a hopeful spring in his step. It was five thirty in the morning. He opened the front door and walked down his uneven driveway to fish the morning paper out of the birdbath where the Stevens’ boy had carelessly tossed it, as he did each morning. As Dave slapped the bagged paper on his thigh to dry it, he became aware of something out of the ordinary. Blind Ms. O’Toole was standing in her doorway, pawing at something swinging in her doorway. As she felt at the still sunwarmed fur, comprehension beginning to dawn, a low sound beginning in her throat, the Stevens’ boy on his way home from his paper route in record time, looked over and cried out at the sight of the chocolate lab he had been forbidden to pet hanging from its twisted orange service vest over the spinster O’Toole’s porch. He caught his bicycle on the lip of the curb and flipped head over heels onto the lawn, streamers finally not streaming. Dave smiled bemusedly and scratched at his sleep-bedraggled hair and turned back toward his house as the cries rose from next door. Dave hadn’t been so happy since he couldn’t remember, he’d worry about it later. Maybe he’d ask Morley.

The End.

DAVE

That was really long.”

JM’s JaM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7wfkDBOraY

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Passion: Poetry Mystery

Sometime between the hours of 5 and 7am, I finally fell asleep after a long, uncharacteristic night of intense writing. At 8pm, I had felt an incredible torpor that pinned me where I lay, but afterward it relaxed and it seemed as though I was dreaming awake. It felt very new to me: writing, everything.

So I was surprised when I finally opened the front door to check the mail just prior to 3pm today to find this.

passion poetry ottawaIt is a battered copy of Passion: Poetry Volume II, a young Ottawa-based lit journal stuffed under one leg of my stoop’s chair as if to both pin it in place and to stabilize the chair for sitting.

My roommates swear it wasn’t there in the morning. Between 10:30am when I woke up, and 3pm when I stepped out the door I heard no one knock. But someone put it there, perhaps even sat awhile in the chair to take in the view of the empty schoolyard across the street.

I examined the magazine more closely for clues.

passion poetry ii closeThe magazine is crinkled and dirty; I thought at first that it might’ve been lightly burned, but it looks more like it has been dropped in a muddy puddle and let dry in the cold air. The weight of the chair leg has bored a hole right through the cover that continues on in gradually smaller holes through several pages, like Xenomorph blood through decks.

"Now it is more accurate: // where my eyes were, / every - / thing appears"

“Now it is more accurate: // where my eyes were, / every – / thing appears”

This suggests that the book was placed under the chair while it was still wet. I should have noted whether the paper tore as I lifted the chair to retrieve it, or if was split open with the metal leg of the chair as the person who left it fixed it there with slightly more violence than was strictly necessary.

There is unintelligible scribbling on the lower right-hand corner.

passion poetry scribblesOther than that, the book is empty of obvious messages. I know only three contributors to the magazine, as well as, in passing, its editor. My best and only guess was Dalton Derkson, former Punk Prince of Ottawa Poetry and Hurtin’ Crüe Press impressario. In the past I have discovered little things from him in my mailbox, the way a cat leaves headless mice on its human bud’s doorstep.

A younger, still sleazy Dirty Derkson.

A yearbook-lookin’, still sleazy Dirty Derkson.

Only, Dalton moved to Toronto and, what’s more, says he didn’t do it. So that leaves me at square one.

I realized I hadn’t heard anything about Passion: Poetry in a while, though that’s not unusual for indie zines, so I decided to visit their website where, back in September, they’d run a small contest. Only now it seems that their website has been pulled down and the Facebook page has disappeared. Mention of it has also been removed from its editors’ personal profiles. It happened recently enough that the magazine’s page still shows up in Google’s search results. Here is the cached result: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:BhFB4PNh-BsJ:https://www.facebook.com/passionpoetrymag+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca

As far as mysteries go, the one about what happened to Passion seems a minor one, and easily solved since I can just ask the people I know point blank what’s going on with it. The mystery of who left the zine there and why will ultimately resolve itself too I am sure. But while I am here right now in the middle of not knowing, and still riding the wave that follows getting some good work done, it can hardly help but sparkle with significance. Do I even want to know the what and why here?

JM’s JaM: Wire – Strange

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Broken Pencil review, Small Talk and other bits

Popping in to mention the folks at Broken Pencil were good enough to review a past issue of my zine, Nightshift. Cool! Of course, publicly posting the email address I use to manage the mountains of queries I get from captivated readers has meant said address has become a lurid scumhole of spam messages, but what can ya do?

Did you know jwcurry’s room 3o2 books is back in commission? curry has one of the largest collections of micropress publications and ephemera in Canada. He was my primary source for the P.cob_ piece in Nightshift #3 BP’s reviewer mentions in the review. Ottawans check out his new store at 28 Ladouceur St on the west side. Click here for the ad and contact info.

Had a poem in Bruised Tongue records’ monthly event listings zine few months back. You can read it in the online archive they have here (issue #11, page 4).

Also In/Words asked me for a poem to do as a free limited run broadside. They did another of mine about a year ago, an ugly poem called “The Gelding,” so this time I gave them one called “Tiger Shark” that explores the softer side of animal mutilation. Find it free wherever In/Words have a merch table (this coming Wednesday when my dear friends Matt Jones and Rachel Gray read at the Series?).

JM’s JaM: No Joy – Ignored Pets

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An Alternative Ottawa Tour Guide (Or Some Things That Don’t Suck Here, from YOW! Zine)

Ottawa zine YOW!

YOW! Zine (Ed. Lily Pepper)

Local zine linchpin Lily Pepper recently put together a compilation zine of writing by Ottawa writers about this selectively remarkable town; it’s called YOW! There’s a bitter/sober bit calling Ottawa a third-place city and comparing it to winning a set of steak knives (I like this one); a fascinating piece on the history of the Byward Market from a draft dodger-cum-fishmonger who worked there in the ’70s; a sappy lil bit by me; and lots of other stuff. There are also some fun lists of recommended places and eats by cool locals, so I’m excerpting some of those below as a teaser/SEO bayte.

Five Places to Get a Vegan Burrito in Ottawa: The Good, the Bad and the Taco Bell (Ratings + Research by Sadboy)

Burrito Gringo, 9/10 (566 Bronson)
Burrito Borracho, 10/10 (105 Clarence Street)
Bar Burrito, 0/10 (176 Rideau Street)
Ahora, 3/10* (307 Dalhousie)
Taco Bell, 5/10 (who cares)

* I think this is totally off, by the way. Ahora inspires a sombrero full of drool in all right-thinking peoples of Earth. 😉

"Broom, Broom" by Brecken Hancock (Coach House: http://www.chbooks.com/catalogue/broom-broom)

“Broom, Broom” by Brecken Hancock (Coach House: http://www.chbooks.com/catalogue/broom-broom)

5 Ottawa Poets to Read (according to me, if you are a person into zines)

Jeff Blackman
jwcurry (fascinating flickr account)
Brecken Hancock
Jenna Jarvis
Shane Rhodes

Several Cool Ottawa Events and Cultural Things (me again)

Ottawa Explosion Weekend – 60 punk/garage/power-pop/lo-fi/hardcore/thrash metal/everything bands destroy downtown one weekend a year for cheap.
VERSeFest – Drop a little money down and marathon through some of the world’s best poets each winter/spring. Some of my favourite days of the year.
Ottawa Zine Off! – People make zines on a thirty day deadline and trade ’em. Save your own life, not paper. Quarterly.
Arboretum Fest – Good bands, good vibes, good food.
In/Words Reading Series – Carleton-based poetry n’ prose reading series. Most fun poetry events in town, for my meager money.
Fryquency (FREE-quency) – Cool regular indie/punk/experimental concert series at Mugshots Jail Bar.
Small Talk mag – Free events calendar/alt. monthly run by the Bruised Tongue tape label. Find at cool places around the city, but not at uncool places.
Kid-Scissor Hybrid – Weird online zine where meat machines meet machines that talk in beams of light.

OTTAWA EXPLOSION WEEKEND

Good Places to Be Alone in Ottawa (List by Brittany N.)

Restaurants

Saigon Pho (232 Bank) – pho (obv.)
Govinda’s (212 Somerset E) – $5 all-you-can-eat veg Indian buffet
Wei’s Noodle House (726 Somerset W) – pho
Horn of Africa (364 Rideau) – Ethiopian

Coffee Shops

Bridgehead (various), Raw Sugar (Cambridge N & Somerset), Pressed (Gladstone & Bell), Ministry of Coffee (Elgin)

Movie Theatres

These are obvious right? Bytowne and Mayfair.

Book Shops

Black Squirrel Books (1073 Bank) and All Books (327 Rideau)

Parks/Green Space

Strathcona Park, McNabb Park, Canal Locks near Parliament

Not pictured: people being the hell alone. Photo by Maurice Li.

Not pictured: people capable of being the hell alone.
Photo by Maurice Li.

Five Dollar Stores of Ottawa (by Alanna Why)

Dollarama – 183 Rideau

Verdict: Commercial, out-of-season, but good selection of cheapie junk. Infested with parrots.

Dollar It – 297 Bank

Verdict: The best one, it sounds like. Go buy the sad Diana Krall memoir.

Dollar It – 1090 Bank

Verdict: Used to have Slushpuppies. Now expensive and shitty.

Dollar Tree – 3732 Innes

Verdict: Haunted by the ghosts of managers past, or their shrill voices on walkee-talkees. Deeply, deeply depressing.

*     *     *     *     *

Oh, and if you gotta half-hour, check this documentary, The City That Fun Forgot? Its director is also interviewed in YOW!, which you should buy on Lily Pepper’s etsy, or at one of the zine racks she curates at Pressed or Gabba Hey! here in Ottawa.

JM’s JaM: Bonnie Doon – Pizza Shark

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Nightshift #4 taster

I’m forever spending way too much time creating backgrounds for my zines which I then cover over completely with blocks of taped-on text. Here are a few of the weird collages I made for the new issue to give you a taste of what might be inside. I’ll have copies ready for tomorrow’s Ottawa Zinesters Read! event.

collage of Rock of Ages

the great antonio eyestalk

the way the map

istock terrible stock photos

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My Fun Day at the Church of Scientology (from Nightshift #2)

The Ottawa Zinesters Read! event is coming up July 22 at Pressed, and I wanted to provide a little sample of my zine writing for those who haven’t picked up an issue of Nightshift (or Night Shift, I go back and forth on this). This is a short story about visiting the Ottawa Church of Scientology I put out last year.

One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand, or
Xenu, Mon Amour:

A Visit to the Church of Scientology, Ottawa Branch

Rideau St., perhaps one block from the mall, an unassuming doorway with a sign offering a free personality test. The Church of Scientology, Ottawa branch.

Having walked by it on my way literally-anyplace-but, I’d often been curious what lay inside. I imagined sinister machinery. Yuppies in sweatervests or corduroy, white certainly (although… Will Smith…), imports from California, perhaps, miens plaster and smiley as Travolta’s latest face. I’ve worked with Alberta Mormons before, a mostly insular group of beautiful, fair-skinned, oddly diminutive hotel keepers; maybe I just applied my one experience of cultishness to the general pop. Anyway, the other day I decided to go see Scientology for myself.

I arrived dressed demurely so as not to cause alarum (i.e. no t’s with the word FUCKED written in caps, though my toenails did still have traces of red and purple polish). Two girls stood outside the door looking into the lobby at the posters inside; I ‘scused past them, feeling weird-as-all-get-out, and stood around a minute while they talked about what BS Scientology was and openly stared at me. In spite of myself, I flashed a sarcastic grin toward the propaganda, which I hoped would tell the stranger girls I wasn’t a cultist; then I remembered the point was to look like a potential cultist. Off to a good start.

Beyond the lobby is a narrow stairwell with blandly painted walls. At each landing there are Scientology posterboards describing their study methodology, the electropsychometer (a machine which looks like a cross between a polygraph and a Geiger counter) and, most amusingly, a chart of the array of moods a person may experience, each illustrated with photos ranging from Hair Band Music Video Extra (bad) thru Glamour Shots Mama (great!). I made my way up slowly, hesitating at the door helpfully labelled “PULL.” Opposite this entrance is an unmarked door with dozens of envelopes wedged into the crack underneath. Not at all disconcerting.

e-meter scientology

The Church’s main foyer is surprisingly cramped. Several stuffed bookshelves, each dedicated to one of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s many texts. Their cover designs look like what would’ve happened if Ayn Rand wrote airport novels. Hubbard’s doughy visage is literally everywhere; on the covers of a display of RON magazines for which he is Ms. January thru December; in serene, framed photographs on the walls; even in a large bust of the great man’s head and shoulders around the corner in the study area. Next to the bookshelves is a very comfortable leather couch and in front of it, a large, if slightly old flatscreen television glowing with the toasty, inviting flames of an Intro to Scientology DVD menu. Underneath, a small collection of DVDs with titles like The Golden Age of Knowledge for Eternity and Orientation. Also Bring it On, the Kirsten Dunst cheerleading movie (???). Behind the TV is a massive display unit holding hundreds of colorful pamphlets; it has a kind of ‘70s futuristic-Greek column-look typical of the Scientology aesthetic, and is clearly designed for a much larger space. In its cramped corner of the room, it appears comically oversized.

There was a young-ish (by which I mean, slightly older than me) black girl with earbuds in putting books away. She greeted me with a hesitant but genuine smile. I told her I had often been curious about the Church and decided to have a look around inside. While I thumbed through the telephone-bookish Dianetics we struck up a conversation. She had been a Scientologist for less than a year, and had like me come in as a curious walk-in. She had not before been religious, though her parents had a religion she chose not to follow. I gently steered the conversation toward the advertised personality test and before long I was sitting at a desk near the entrance with a list of 200 questions and a Scantron sheet. Each question could be answered as +/M(aybe)/.

(To be clear, I wasn’t there to troll the Scientologists. Even though this is the same organization which conducted the largest infiltration of the US government in history (read up on Operation Snow White, or if you prefer, the Church’s explanation) and threatened to sue South Park, I wanted to know what the average person could expect coming to the Church off the street. I answered the questions honestly, albeit under a false name.)

Here are some examples of the questions from the Oxford Capacity Analysis (note: has nothing whatsoever to do with Oxford U):

  • Are you a slow eater?
  • Are you aware of any habitual physical mannerisms such as pulling your hair, nose, ears, or such like?
  • If we were invading another country, would you feel sympathetic towards conscientious objectors in this country?
  • Do you consider the modern “prisons without bars” system doomed to failure?
  • Are you in favor of color bar and class distinction?

In general, the questions varied from general personality test-type questions we’ve all taken in fits of boredom online to the outright what-the-fuckery excerpted above. (You can take the test online, BTW, but you have to come in to the local Church to get assessed, natch.) When I finished, another lady came in and introduced herself; she put on a ten minute film about The Life of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard for me to watch while she helped the other girl enter my results into the computer. I was oddly stunned that they had to do this manually, as I’m guessing even the Raeliens at least have a Scantron machine.

Things I learned about LRH from the Video:

  • America’s youngest ever Eagle Scout; got 21 merit badges
  • One of his nation’s greatest pilots
  • Traveled Asia and “witnessed wonders modern science could not explain”
  • Innovator in the field of nuclear physics
  • “Master of Any Vessel on Any Ocean”
  • Set San Luis Obispo, CA Red Lobster record for cheese biscuits eaten in a sitting

(Okay, all of those are made up, but only the last one by me)

When it was done, she took me into her office, a repurposed broom closet taken up almost entirely by a desk and a shelf of Hubbard texts. A tiny framed picture of the Great Man gazed at me placidly. She told me that whatever the results indicated, they were what I was telling her through my test answers, not her opinion. Apparently what I told her is that I am severely depressed, that I do not apply myself enough and that I am unable to relate to others.

Yeah but.

Even the aspects where I tested positively, such as my sense of certainty about myself, were spun to mean that I become angry when my conclusions are challenged (#@$%!). She was not unkind in handing out this damning analysis; when asked I told her where I thought the reading was right and where it felt off. I spoke honestly of my tendency to ruminate on past failures, my difficulty finding satisfaction with life, my fears.

My results (click for larger image)

My results (click for larger image)

What I needed, she announced with a smile, was to take the “Overcoming Ups & Downs in Life” course at a cool $55 + tax and, most importantly, to purchase Dianetics in print and on DVD for a mere $22 each. Scientology could fix it all.

I once washed out of an aggressively mediocre sales job hawking high-priced cookware in a matter of days, but I was there long enough to know a close when I see one. Instead, I asked her some questions about her own experiences with the Church, how it had affected her personal life (tough at first, but now they respect and appreciate it), how it fit with her prior beliefs (she remains a Buddhist). Finally, I asked whether she believed that Scientology has a supernatural aspect. After some dancing around, she admitted her ability to project her consciousness out of her body, to leave her tiny office to roam around the building as a spirit. It did not matter to her that she could not prove this to me, she said, only that she knew that she had done it many times. After a few more questions, I politely excused myself. She made no effort to hinder this, asking only what I thought and offering to screen Dianetics for me if ever I wished to return. On my way out, I saw five or six happy people perched all over the couch watching the television.

I stepped out of the office, and looked at the dead letters bulging out of that opposing door for a moment. Then I went home, taking a pamphlet and a copy of my assessment home.

My experience of the Ottawa Church of Scientology was that, like most fringey groups of churchy people I’ve met, it tends to appeal to the disenfranchised, those seeking community and meaning. It reduces life to a series of tests which can be mastered; if life is contained in those tests they have mastery over it as well. If believing that allows them to be fitter happier, so be it. Only do try not to look too closely at all those $22s and $55s flowing up the proboscises of the parasites squatting over it all, the squalid ugly enterprise which has survived even the deaths of L. Ron and his weird gods.

This piece originally appeared in Nightshift #2, a zine I made with Abby Kashul.

JM’s JaM: Gary Numan – Only a Downstat

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Thanks for Nothing, Sunshine (A Dave Currie Film)

Here’s the director’s cut version of another short film I helped my friend Dave Currie make. Also stars Chris Johnson. Hope you enjoy:

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