Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scientology Camp

So a few weeks ago a colleague and I (we'll call her "J") were sent to a training for work. Now, I have traveled copiously for work over the years and this quickly became one of the most bizarre and memorable forays into the business travel realm.

First, I must explain that where we were sent was a former convent isolated on 100 private acres in the middle of somewhere near St. Louis, MO. We arrived there in the rain in the dark--driven by a man who texted the entire drive and then inexplicably darted across the road at the last moment (you know, when you see someone deciding and then they commit too late and pull in front of you and you have to slam on your brakes) in front of a rapidly-approaching car in order to enter the compound. And, I almost forgot, but when he met us at the airport he had no sign or other signal in place to alert us that he was our ride--in fact, J had to ask HIM if he was from the place. Confidence was high at that moment.

After miraculously arriving in one piece, we were greeted by a dark, abandoned building and a giant black man. (He was very tall.) We were escorted to our room where the lights failed to come on at the flick of the switch. We were advised that the bedside lamp should work. J fumbled in the dark for the lamp and we were rewarded by a warm glow revealing two of the tiniest beds I've ever seen--they were like toddler beds. We were sharing! Since my last sharing experience was with a brain-dead whore, I was less enthusiastic than my colleague. (Although J is in no way close to either brain-dead or whore. As she once quipped, "It's okay to act like a whore--but with only one guy!")

We put our bags down and rushed out to the dinner that they had "saved" for us. Dinner is only served between 6:00pm and 7:00pm, and since we arrived too late, they had to set some aside for us. We entered the cafeteria area and found some sad, shriveled pizza and a wilted salad bar waiting. We were starving and grateful for the meal, but as we swallowed our first bites we felt (and heard) our tummys start to recoil. This would become our post-eating ritual for the duration--gurgling and bubbling abounded.

While we ate, we had whispered dinner conversation. To emphasize the point, let me just say that basically EVERYTHING about me was too loud for that place. We were given forms to fill out and then told to meet the big guy at the front desk. When the forms asked for our home addresses and phone numbers we balked. I put my former address, and since the post office has messed up my forwarding order twice, I figured I was safe.

After turning in our papers we were given a sort of scavenger hunt and told to wander the building and grounds to identify all of the items on the list. Before setting out on our grand adventure, we stopped by our room and discovered that it only locked from the outside. We had a key, but the keyhole was on the outside of the door. We could not lock it from the inside. This freaked us out. Rooming together was looking much better at this point. When I mentioned this to Gabi on the phone she said to push a chair under the door, and Terri's advice was to call a cab, go into the city and get a hotel room.

J and I began our scavenger hunt for (hold your breath!) the linen room, the laundry room, the ironing room, the lounge, and then it got much more convoluted. We entered various rooms and were instructed to notice five things. We were sent to the different first, second and third floors. As things progressed I kept thinking we'd found where they would kill us and hide the bodies, but then we would end up somewhere much better suited to killing and hiding--and it went on.

In the morning, after I had kept J up all night between my horrid coughing and subsequent snoring, we partook of breakfast (served promptly between 8:00am and 9:00am only) and met the big guy to begin our training. An interesting fact: all the people who work at this place also live on-site. They also (nice as they were) seemed like members of some special work-release program for either a rehab or insane asylum. The best of the bunch was the big guy and he remains our favorite.

"This is in no way associated with Scientology," were the opening words of our orientation. Big guy continued to take us through the life and discoveries of L. Ron Hubbard (the creator of the training we were about to endure) and then ended with rousing testimonials by both John Travolta and Tom Cruise. I just think if you're going to try to avoid association with Scientology, you might want to consider getting different spokespeople.

The next eight hours were spent sitting up as straight as possible, smiling, looking alert and moving through various exercises that seemed designed for, well, people somewhat more "special" than we considered ourselves to be. We had to use random objects to demonstrate how we walked from one room to the next (J graciously saved me from this exercise--she was much better at it than I). We had to define words like "symbol" and then look them up in the dictionary if we took more than one second to answer. Once we defined the word, we had to use it properly in a sentence.

And my favorite--We had to use clay to make a model of "someone thinking about someone drinking a cup of tea." We sat down at the clay table and J immediately set to work making a perfect model of a shapely someone thinking about a slightly smaller, but otherwise identical someone else drinking a cup of tea. I am somewhat intimidated by activities like these--especially when alongside an undiscovered Michelangelo. I did the most logical thing: made a stick figure man thinking about another stick figure drinking tea. However, when reviewed by the work-release instructor, I was told that mine was wrong. It wasn't three-dimensional. My natural instinct was to point out that nowhere in the instructions did it mention the dimensions that were required. However--J and I had made a pact--we would NOT rock the boat. We would follow all instructions mildly, obediently, and in all other ways against our natural rebel natures. (We are both quite outspoken and willing to share our views and, therefore, our colleagues who had gone to the convent before us were taking bets on who would get kicked out first. We were determined to prove them wrong!) Even as the words left my mouth, I started destroying my lovely two-dimensional stick figures and got with the program.

Well, to make a long story slightly less long, we survived and finished a three day program in around 10 hours. We were, much to everyone's surprise, told that we were the best group they'd had out there from our company--AND we should have been in a more advanced class. Yup. That's right. The two wild card trouble makers showed everyone else up. Hey--that's what happens when you add highly competitive and wanting to be the best at everything to the mix. (Not mention a fear of Stockholm syndrome setting in and losing our identities forever!) After being handed our certificates of completion, and handing them back to our instructor so he could hand them back to us in front of the rest of the inmates who work there, we risked life and limb by getting back in the van and racing to the airport to try to get on an earlier flight.

Saturday afternoon (we got home Friday), after returning from the doctor with a diagnosis of sinus infection and strep throat, I received a text from J: "Are you as glad to be home as I am?" I sat there coughing, with a fever, on 2000mg of antibiotics and prescription cough medicine and thought, "Yes. Yes I am."


Kellie said...

How bizarre! Why does your company send people there?

Mister Fweem said...

"This has nothing to do with Scientology." That would have been my cue to fake a heart attack.

Monica said...

I love, love, love your stories!!

Mom said...

Too funny!!!

Cindy said...

Okay, so I loved this. My favorite was the third to last paragraph. I am glad to know that you ‘got with the program’.

J said...


(And I was at work this morning laughing out loud, alone, in my cubicle)

Erin said...

AWESOME! I can totally see this!