Scientology's LA Celebrity Center
"Ya! Dieter Lietershvantz... has arrived!" I strike a pose with my guitar.
"Yes, Mr. Lietershvantz. We've been expecting you," says the smiley woman behind the front desk. She goes into the office. I decide to make sure everyone feels my presence.
"Mr. Lietershvantz is here!" I yell.
I'm looking for a place to put my cigarette out. A fat smiley man comes out of his office. I learn that his name is Leonard.
"Hello, Mr. Lietershvantz," he says while offering his large, sweaty hand. "Let me show you to your room."
Though everyone is smiling, I feel an undercurrent of tension. Sweaty Leonard asks me where I'm from. I tell him Flusserberg, Germany. There's plenty of time for small talk as we take the slowest elevator ride known to humanity.
"Are you a Scientologist, Dieter?"
"No, I'm a musician." I point to my guitar. "The manager of Nein! Nein! Nein! thought Dieter should stay here." I pat my chest.
This makes Leonard happy. "Many people in the entertainment business stay here," he says. "John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley."
"Wasn't she dat maid on Gimme a Break?"
The elevator gets to my floor.
"This hotel was built in 1927. Many legendary celebrities visited here. Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn..."
"How 'bout Helga Wassenstein?"
"German actress. Very famous in my country."
"Not that I'm aware of."
"Helga is, maybe...da Kirstie Alley of Germany!"
He laughs. We reach my room, and Leonard leaves me with my personal valet, a woman called Beatrice. I've already been introduced to three people in the first five minutes, all with similar smiles. Beatrice enthusiastically explains how the room works. "The TV is turned on this way. And this is the shower... blah, blah, blah."
Beatrice is a woman of some nondescript European origin. She questions me on my accent.
"Where are you from, Mr. Lietershvantz?"
Guess what? The third person I meet in the first five minutes can speak fluent German. She starts rattling off German faster than a beer hall frau. "Ich Bin Ein Shvant Fchuv...et cetera."
I let her finish, then pause for a moment and clutch my heart.
"Aah! So good is it to hear German again!"
I look misty-eyed and practically hug her. It's like they know the intentions of my Scientology ruse and have programmed Beatrice to foul me up. But how could this be? I watched four episodes of Hogan's Heroes to perfect this accent.
Before leaving, Beatrice smiles and reminds me that I can get a complete tour of the Scientology Celebrity Center by going to the front desk. I tell her danka shane.
After eating all the complimentary fruit, I go to the front desk. A grinning woman called Lillian greets me. I pout because she doesn't recognize a pop star of my magnitude. She takes me to an office where I meet a large, identically dressed, jovial woman named Rosemary. Now it's just Rosemary and me in an office that looks like a gift shop. I feel like I'm in one of those science-fiction movies where I open the door and find out everyone has been replaced by robots.
"So you're a musician, Dieter? What kind of music do you play?"
Rosemary seems confused but keeps smiling.
"Oh. That's just great." "I will remake `The Safety Dance.' Do you remember `The Safety Dance'?" I sing a few bars. She smiles but says no. Rosemary's eye contact grows stronger. "Many entertainers are involved with Scientology. John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley... "
"Ya, the woman from Full House!"
"No, Cheers. "
I slam my fists on the table.
"I do not know who she is!"
We leave the office and commence the grand Celebrity Center tour. I follow at Rosemary's heel, mumbling in fake German. She shows me everything from the weight room to plaques engraved with L. Ron Hubbard's philosophies. Strangely, I'm not the only one walking around with a guitar strapped to his neck.
"Who suggested Scientology to you?"
I'm caught off guard.
"Aah...Lyle...Lyle...Wegger. He's from Achtung Records."
We now reach a vacant hotel room on the fourth floor. Uh-oh, this is where it's going to happen:
Scenario #1: I walk into the room. The door is locked behind me. A blanket is thrown over me and Scientologist Thugs come out of the closet and start beating me with large sticks. When I come to, I find myself chained to the bed, wearing weird pajamas. A life-sized L. Ron Hubbard hologram is cursing my name. I am not released until I refer to him as "Mein Furor"; or...
Scenario #2: I walk into the room. The door is locked behind me. Large, jovial Rosemary immediately disrobes. Jumping into bed, Rosemary says, "All this can be yours if you give yourself to Scientology."
Instead, we go to a fancy, roped-off office on the first floor. There's a large desk, a book shelf, and a lot of pictures of boats on the wall.
"And this is L. Ron Hubbard's office."
"The actual office used by L. Ron Hubbard?" This is like being in Jesus' room.
"No. Each Scientology center has an office for L. Ron Hubbard, decorated in a way he would like it."
"Oh, so the office was used when he was visiting, ya?"
"No. He died before this hotel was refurbished."
Someone should mention to this lady that dead guys don't need offices. Especially an office built for a dead guy after the dead guy is dead.
We return to Rosemary's office/gift shop, where she introduces me to the E-Meter (a religious artifact devised by L. Ron Hubbard, only to be operated by a Scientology Minister, except I saw one earlier in the Scientology Holiday Catalog for $5,400).
"You hold the two electrodes, and your mental state is checked on the E-Meter."
Rosemary hooks me up. I hope this doesn't erase my memory of the past Harmon Leon.
"Recall a traumatic experience."
I think about puppies and rainbows.
Rosemary points to the E-Meter. "Look! You can see the traumatic experience registering here. Our courses can help eliminate the pain caused by that memory. Now think of a pleasant experience."
I imagine a nuclear holocaust.
"The E-Meter records how you are content with that thought. Now let me give you the personality test."
I'm handed a 200-question quiz.
"Maybe you would prefer to take the test in German."
I'm caught off guard. I almost laugh.
"No, English is fine."
When I start the test, I get the uneasy feeling that Rosemary has gone to my room and is looking through my stuff. I fear in 10 minutes she will return holding a file with my name on it, screaming, "We know who you really are, Mr. Lietershvantz! Or is it... Mr. Leon?"
I hurry to finish the quiz before the jig's up. The questions are set in a way that if you answer incorrectly, you will be branded a socially and morally corrupt person.
They include: "Would you use corporal punishment on a child, age 10, if it refused to obey you?"; "Do people enjoy your company?"; "Do you often feel depressed?"; "Are you in favor of class distinction?"; and "Are you a slow eater?"
Halfway through, Rosemary returns. She is hiding the fact that she just searched my room. The test is becoming tedious. I raise my hand.
"Ya! Dieter would like to complete this exam in German!"
She hands me a version written in German Moon-Man language. I quickly finish. Rosemary inserts the results in a computer. While waiting, I tell her my career goals.
"Dieter shall be bigger than David Hasselhoff!" I bang my fist on the table.
The results are ready and she shakes her head. I raise my arm and point to the ceiling.
"Dieter's `Safety Dance' will be No. 1!"
"Why don't we go in here and talk about your results."
We enter a tiny room, just large enough to fit a desk. Rosemary closes the door.
"Dieter, this is the lowest personality test I've ever seen."
I feel slightly honored.
"This section of the graph determines that you had a very traumatic childhood experience. Dieter, what was that traumatic childhood experience?"
There's a large box of Kleenex on the side of the table. I guess they expect you to cry as they relish playing on your insecurities.
"My mother... "
"She was crushed... "
According to Rosemary, I'm still holding that emotional baggage with me. It shows on the graph.
"Also... never was Dieter allowed to watch television!"
This gets less of a response than the mother/anvil trauma. Rosemary explains that I'm unstable, depressed, and withdrawn.
"Dieter, is it true that at times you are not considerate of other people's feelings?"
I roll my eyes.
"We have courses which can help you deal with your childhood traumas and depression," she says.
"But Dieter's music is about childhood traumas and depression. Listen to the album A Coffin Is Home."
"Our courses can make your music that much better. You'll find yourself writing about brand new things."
"If Franz Kafka were not depressed, would his writing be just as good?"
Rosemary's smile grows. She thinks she's going to gain ground in her argument.
"I think his lyrics would be even better. He would have a whole list of new things to write about!"
I tell her to listen to his latest album, The Metamorphosis.
Rosemary's eye contact becomes more intense. She goes back to the chart.
"Is there someone you feel is holding you back in your attempts to reach your goals? Perhaps you feel like you're under their thumb?" She pushes her thumb again the desk to emphasize her point.
"Ya! It is my manager!" I make an angry face.
"And what does he do?" She's still pushing her thumb against the desk.
"He wants the name of my band changed from Nein! Nein! Nein! to Ya! Ya! Ya! He says I should be like Falco and record upbeat love songs."
Rosemary thinks it's time to meet someone else. We go into yet another office occupied by a smiling woman named Karen, who's wearing the same outfit as Rosemary. I assume Karen is an important Scientologist, because her office is almost as nice as the unused L. Ron Hubbard office. Karen asks who told me about Scientology.
"Aah... Glen Turner."
Rosemary pipes in. It's the first time she's not smiling.
"Didn't you say it was Lyle Wegger?"
I have to keep these fake names straight. Rosemary leaves. I'm positive she's going to send out for the Scientology thugs. Now it's just me and Karen.
"So, Dieter, you're a musician."
"Many entertainers have come here. John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley... "
"Aah, from Cheers, right?"
"Correct," Karen says, pointing at me.
No more kidding around. They brought Karen in for the hard sell. Her eye contact is more intense than Rosemary's.
"Do you do drugs, Dieter?"
She nods. She knows my type.
"Do you do coke?"
"What drugs do you do?"
I rip apart a Kleenex. "I take aspirin... nicotine...Oh yeah, and heroin." Karen explains about courses that help purify the body of toxins. Toxins can only hold you back! Then she goes on to explain about many, many other courses in great detail. She doesn't blink once during her explanation.
I'm starting to get delirious. My German accent is going in and out. I believe I am hypnotized.
I soon find myself standing next to Karen, in front of a wall of books. Several are being put into my hands. Large hard-covered books with large price tags. Scientologists are smarter than Christians. Christians only have one book to sell.
"...and this is a self-evaluation book... "
Everything is starting to get blurry. I might snap soon. They'll find me in the middle of the night, nude, in the middle of L. Ron Hubbard's imaginary office. I need to make my excuses and leave. Panicking, I point to the clock on her desk.
"OH, NO! It's after 7! Dieter does aerobics every night precisely at 7!"
Karen is sensitive to this and comforts me. I tell her I'll come back tomorrow. She tells me to come back later tonight. In the meantime, she'll have a movie put on the cable station in my room. I thank her, give her my autograph, and leave.
Waiting for the elevator, a smiley man approaches me. "Would you like a tour of the Celebrity Center?" I fake like I can't understand English.
The next day I take a break and go down to the street to visit the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition, which illustrates the extraordinary life of the man who made himself god of his own religion. The one-and-a-half-hour tour is located in one of three buildings the Scientology Church owns in Los Angeles. The building is completely empty except for a tiny, grinning woman behind the desk.
"Ya, can I help you?"
Wait a minute. This woman speaks German like me! I don't believe this is a mere coincidence. She is called Helen and is from Switzerland. I make a quick persona switch to Knute Johnson, the famous New York accordionist.
I cough up a fiver. The tour will begin when some other people show up. I learn a few things while waiting. Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, owes her whole career to Scientology. Also, L. Ron Hubbard was an adventurer/explorer/writer/humanitarian.
Finally, a Danish couple shows up; now the tour can begin. The tiny Swiss woman is relieved from her duties behind the desk so she can take us into "The Hall of Hubbard." It starts with the early years. Here are a few trivia facts:
Ron Hubbard was once America's youngest Eagle Scout!
Ron Hubbard sailed the Far East at age 16!
Ron Hubbard once scaled an erupting volcano!
Ron Hubbard wrote Hollywood screenplays for gangster and western serials!
The tiny Swiss woman shows us hundreds of pulp-fiction novels which L. Ron wrote in his early years. He even once used the pen name "Remington Colt." A grand irony occurs to me.
"Helen, isn't it weird that L. Ron Hubbard wrote pulp fiction, while Scientologist John Travolta starred in the movie Pulp Fiction?"
The tiny Swiss woman laughs.
"Yes! Yes!" She has no idea what I'm saying.
Helen then takes us to some second-rate artist's rendition of the entire life of L. Ron Hubbard. The portraits lead to a small theater. A curtain opens, and the four of us sit in the dark, watching a medium-sized imitation volcano erupt. A screen drops from the ceiling and we watch a film on Dianetics. It's filled with plenty of bad acting by people with blotchy skin. Wait a minute! I've seen this film before. This is the same movie they had playing in my hotel room, the one Karen had turned on in my room. I turn to Helen.
"I've seen this movie before!"
She seems pleased.
"Oh good!" Helen says, patting me on my shoulder.
The second half of the tour consists of propaganda promoting the Scientology Church. We see an exhibit on the history of the E-Meter. We see a short film on the dangers of drug abuse. We see a wall of numbered photos about which says "20 Ways to Live a Scientologist Life." A beautiful song called "Ways of Happiness" starts playing in the background.
I find a flaw in the numbering system. Number six is "Do Not Do Anything Illegal," while numbers 11 and 16 are "Do Not Steal" and "Do Not Murder."
"Helen," I ask, "aren't numbers 11 and 16 merely subsets of number six?"
Helen doesn't understand but assumes it is a joke. "Yes! Yes!"
After packing my suitcase with all the complimentary Scientology soap, shampoo, towels, and pillow cases, I am now ready to end my Scientology charade. I give the room a once-over, in case I overlooked any other complimentary items.
Just as I am putting a complimentary shower robe in my suitcase, the phone rings.
The person on the other end sounds a bit confused.
"Yes, is this Mr. Lietershvantz?"
Whoops! I forgot to put on my persona this morning.
"Aah, no. This is his manager. Hold on."
I put the phone down, count to seven, then pick it up again.
"Ya! Dieter here."
"Mr. Lietershvantz, Karen mentioned that you would like to meet with her this morning."
This is starting to get on my nerves. Blatant rudeness ensues.
"Scientology is not for Dieter!"
I hang up the phone. These people are like religious used-car salesmen. They're very pushy at trying to sell their snake oil.
I'm now ready to leave, but it occurs to me that this room is probably bugged (in the complimentary fruit dish, most likely), so I unpack the complimentary sheets and blankets and check out.
Because I stayed and didn't convert to Scientology, I feel like I'm skipping out on paying my bill at a restaurant. And if caught, they'll make me do the dishes.
I get to the front desk and there's fat-boy Leonard.
"I hope you had a wonderful stay, Mr. Lietershvantz. Will you be back to the Celebrity Center soon?"
"Dieter will not return!"
Luckily, my ride is waiting for me. I ask my friend to snap a few photos in front of the Scientology Celebrity Center sign, for posterity's sake.
While striking a rock-star pose with my guitar and cigarettes, I'm approached by a Scientology thug. He's speaking into a walkie-talkie. He's smiling.
"Are you guys Scientologists?"
The thug is clean-cut, well-dressed, but in an outfit different from the others. I've given up on my accent.
"No, I was a guest here at the hotel. I want some photos to show my grandma."
He speaks softly into the walkie-talkie.
"Oh, you're Mr. Lietershvantz, the German musician!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's me."
We take our pictures and leave. I'm glad to be out of the Scientologists' spell. I am now far out of reach. I sit down, ready to relax in front of the television. I turn it on. There's Kirstie Alley! It's an episode of Cheers! They know!