March 30, 2005

There are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade . . .

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They’ve become, over the last six months, one of those bothersome things New York’s subway riders have learned to put up with: proselytizers for the Church of Scientology, “stationed at red-clothed tables in Times Square and several other subway hubs,” where, “In addition to using their ‘e-meters’ to compute the electrical resistance caused by traumatic thoughts, the Scientologists offered, for a ‘suggested donation’ of $8, copies of their textbook, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.” Except, as Andy Newman observes in a New York Times report, “when a reporter presenting himself as a stressed-out New Yorker took the test and suggested a donation of considerably less than $8 for the book, the tester, a young man in a striped tie, balked. ‘It’s a fixed donation,’ the man said. ‘The money is just to recover the cost of producing the books.'” But Newman gets an estimate from a “major paperback-book printer” of a per-copy cost of only $1.58. Meanwhile, yesterday, “Plainclothes detectives determined that the books were being sold, not given in exchange for donations, in violation of New York City Transit rules against unlicensed vending,” and they ejected the Scientologists from the Times Square station. Says a Scientology spokesman, “Even if the guy doesn’t buy a book, we’ve gotten him to take a look at his life and see what’s troubling him. That’s a service in itself. We’ve had guys sit down who are thinking of committing suicide. I’ve had people who killed other people. Just by doing the stress test they realize, ‘Hey, this is something I need to handle.’ “

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives

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