I woke up every day in the same bed, in the same house, and in the same town of Maspeth. I don’t think my daily routine was any different from anyone else who lived in Maspeth. I would have breakfast with the family then run off to catch the B-58 on Grand Ave to Queens Blvd where I would get off just past Mid Wood Farms delicatessen, where you could get the best roast beef heroes on the planet. I would walk to the train station steps in front of J.A.D.S candy store where I would enjoy a fresh and warm buttered roll with coffee.
The train ride was simple, only two trains to Manhattan’s 5th Ave where all the ad agencies were located. I was working for a company that did magazine photos for wine, perfume and food along with storyboards for upcoming TV shows and not-yet-seen product commercials. I was in training, and felt that I was part of a group, which was good.
One day I met a friend from the neighborhood for lunch who worked downtown. He knew a side-street sandwich shop that had great pastrami packed a mile high at a great price. We finished lunch and were talking about moving out of Maspeth and into the big city, when he showed me a paperback book entitled Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. It was a mostly yellow book with a fiery volcano on the cover. He said, “Read this book. It will make sense why we are stuck in Maspeth.”
Every time I saw him, he would ask, “Well, did you read it yet?” It took me at least a week to read it, and when I did, I found that I could not put it down. It made complete sense regarding mental health and why we do what we do, both knowingly and unknowingly. It had to do with pain and unconsciousness from birth up to now, and how the subconscious “Reactive Mind” would come up with decisions that were wrong, causing people to be stuck in life and unhappy. The goal was to become clear, free of the reactive mind.
The day after I finished reading it, we met for lunch. This time I went downtown to meet him, and once again, he found great food at a great price. The guy was a food guru. I started to tell him how this book made sense in many ways, and why we were stuck in a small town like Maspeth, along with all our friends and family. He told me that he had started classes at The Church of Scientology and I should meet him there after work. I told him that I wasn’t interested in any weird church stuff, but he assured me it wasn’t like that at all, and to trust him.
I met him at 32nd St and Broadway in front of a rundown hotel – The Radisson Martinique. I asked him if this was a joke, and he warned me not to judge a book by its cover. We climbed the long staircase to the front double doors that opened into “Scientology of Manhattan” where a very cute blonde girl introduced herself while taking me by the arm. I noticed my friend smiling while waving, and he said, “May you never be the same.” She led me over to a young man around my age – 20, 21 – he was a registrar. We talked about how the book was spot on. I bought a cheap course for $10. It was lots of fun, and the instructor was a natural comedian.
In time, I had purchased two other courses for $100. I had met many scientologists and we became friends, and I was now a part of their group.
I was spending less time with my other friends in Maspeth, and more time talking both the town and them down, but as was usual for me I would either break or bend the rules. I would skip courses and hang with my Maspeth friends who would rib me about Scientology vs Maspeth and how I was slumming with them, and say things like, “What happened? Did your city friends kick you out?” Yet they never turned their backs on me or were judgmental about Scientology, politics, my hair or my clothes. We always agreed to disagree while having a great time together, from parties to pizza.
As time went on, they sent me to “Ethics” for skipping courses and questioning what I read and what I was reading. It started to become clear to me that this was all faith based. I realized that the people I now called my friends were not “true” friends the way my friends in Maspeth were. I felt that so long as I agreed with them and the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, then we were friends. This was the turning point for me.
I was luckier than many that got caught up in this cult. I got out. I like to believe I got out because of my family, friends and Maspeth.
Maspeth had people who knew each other for decades. Neighbors who cared about each other and married childhood sweethearts. Neighbors who kept an eye out for the elderly and cared when the summers became too hot for them, and when winters rolled around, made sure they had heat and groceries. Agreements and disagreements played no part in it. It is the spirit of Maspeth, and countless small towns across America.
I loved the city and spent 5 years living and working uptown and downtown, but Manhattan never had the warmth, simplicity and loyalty that Maspeth had.
It has now been 40 some years since I dabbled in Scientology and those “friends” I had back then are gone. I have had no contact with them. Most of my true friends from Maspeth remain friends. We still talk long distance, text, Facebook, making a point to stay in touch. These friends came to my wedding in 1994. As for that guy who gave me the book, he had the same realization I did, also got out and continues to be my friend all these years later. I shudder to think how things might have turned out for us if we hadn’t been from Maspeth.
Paul DeFalco grew up in Maspeth.