Angels and Scientologists


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St. Patrick's Day in New York City is a day to be avoided at all costs. It has nothing to do with the Irish: they're no better or worse than any other ethnic group in this town. It has to do with the fact that, like New Year's Eve, the occasion serves as an eldritch sabbat for a teeming, gibbering horde of drooling amateur drunks, their hideous batrachian forms shambling from one dimly lit tavern to another, puking and picking fights at every opportunity. As a professional drunkard, I find these festivities deeply insulting and often threatening, so I usually stay home.


This year, I decided to break with tradition and venture out to partake of the celebratory spirit. I carefully selected two venues that I thought showed promise and arranged to pick up my date at 6 p.m. sharp. Having spent the morning hours recuperating from an indescribably painful migraine headache, I was well-rested if a little shaky when I picked her up. Fortunately, she had rolled a couple of joints, so the possibility of a relapse was unlikely, and we headed downtown to party. I found a great parking space on 47th St., just west of 8th Ave., and we smoked a joint and shared a couple of bottles of beer in the car before debarking and making our way over to the Church of Scientology on W. 46th for the belated celebration of L. Ron Hubbard's March 13 birthday.


We were warmly received by our friends there and escorted through the large but very polite crowd to our front-row seats in the auditorium. After a few introductory remarks by Jerry Indursky, executive director of the church's New York foundation, we were treated to a big-screen presentation of a live feed from Los Angeles of David Miscavige addressing the assembled membership worldwide via satellite.


David Miscavige is an interesting guy. He grew up in the church, and rose swiftly through the ranks, starting as a minister and an auditor and working his way up to becoming chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center, which maintains the integrity of the copyrights and serves as the final authority on quality control within the church and its affiliates. He's telegenic and possessed of an extraordinary charisma. He comes across through the screen like a cross between Miguel Ferrer and David Bowie in his prime.


It was mainly an in-house affair. My date and I were among perhaps a half-dozen non-Scientologists in the room, which held somewhere between 500 and 600 people. Lori Alpers from the Celebrity Center kindly translated some of the more arcane references for us, but most of it was pretty easy to grasp. The Scientologists are actively engaged in a wide range of secular activities aimed at helping to solve such pressing social issues as drug addiction, criminal recidivism and illiteracy. Their enthusiasm for these projects is amazing, a buoyant, friendly, nearly irresistible optimism coupled with an intensity of focus that understandably unsettles those whose lives revolve around cheap thrills and loose ethics. It's a very results-oriented group effort. It's Hubbard's church, but the whole event had a very Robert Heinlein feel to it, and the history of the church reads more like Don DeLillo than Hubbard. My affection for them stems from their emphasis on ethics, their commitment to community service and my belief that they are the last and greatest of the buccaneer communities.


My date and I hung around for a while and chatted with our friends over a nice spread that was brought out after the broadcast, and then we split to head downtown to the John St. Bar & Grill, where the Hells Angels were throwing their St. Patrick's Day bash. We got there just before midnight, smoked the last doob and headed inside.


We grabbed a couple of beers at the bar and wandered through the crowd. I'm not big on bars. I prefer to do my drinking in quiet, residential settings. It was a big crowd, and it was the best-behaved crowd I've ever seen in a bar. People were dancing, everybody was mellow, there wasn't any evidence of any unpleasantness at all. The floor was clean. Midnight on St. Pat's in NYC, and I'd be willing to bet that the John St. Bar & Grill had the cleanest linoleum in town. Nobody bumped into me, and nobody gave me any shit about the fact that I was wearing a tie. My date commented that she'd never felt safer in a saloon.


People don't really get the Hells Angels. The Angels don't care, as long as nobody fucks with them, but founder Sonny Barger is a man's man and a true survivor. I got a sticker for the car that reads "Support 81 NYC-LI" with a nasty-looking fanged skull on it that should keep a certain category of miscreant from swiping my hubcaps, and my date got a nifty cloisonne pin with the same message. They've got a website that the women handle where you can get all kinds of cool HA swag. It's at www.bigredmachine.com. Their block on 3rd St. is widely known as one of the safest blocks in the city, and they are an asset to the community.


It was my best St. Patrick's Day in many years, maybe ever, and it all had to do with choosing the correct venues. Life is short, and it's not about what you do or how much you make: it's about who you're with. My only complaint about the Scientologists is that they don't smoke pot, so they never have any. I have no complaints at all about the Hells Angels, and if I did, I'd keep them to myself.


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