How Hoop Almost Got Us Brainwashed
Saturday was Hoop's 31st birfday. To celebrate, I rented a hotel room in Tampa. Or, as Hoop calls it, "Florida's armpit". So why did we choose to vacation there? Because this hotel just so happened to be having a comic book and toy convention on Sunday. Am I not the coolest fiance ever? When we arrived at the hotel Saturday evening, we immediately asked the guy behind the counter how to get to Ybor City. The clerk made a face and then reluctantly showed us a map. "What's wrong with Ybor?" Hoop asked.
The clerk, a young black guy, explained that Ybor City wasn't safe anymore. "...Not unless you're in a gang." Then he flashed us some signs I'm pretty sure he learned off a CBS special. "You know, it's gone hip hop." Hoop stared at him for a second to see if he was joking. He wasn't. "Oh. Oh-kay." Hoop replied. "But I guess it could be cool if you're a biker or into that alternative lifestyle," the clerk continued. "You guys would probably have more fun at Channelside." We got directions and then headed out.
"I don't believe him," Hoop said when we got in the car. "Ybor used to be a really cool place to party." "How long ago was that?" I asked. "Nine years ago." "Exactly." We drove to Channelside first. "Are you kidding me?" I laughed when we got there. "Why did he think we would like this?" The place was painfully yuppie. "To Ybor!" Hoop replied triumphantly. This time I didn't argue. I was a little nervous when we got to 7th Avenue, but my fears were quickly squashed. There were families walking around, families with little kids.
I don't want you to think that Ybor is Disneyland though. The city IS pretty dirty. The surrounding neighborhoods are project-style apartments and old rundown houses reinforced with metal bars and cages. You wouldn't want to go past the strip, night OR day. But if you stick to the shops and bars you'll have a good time. They have a Coyote Ugly Saloon there and the original Columbia Restaurant. In short, it looks like a really fun place to party. I just wouldn't want to live there.
Shortly after we arrived, Hoop and I came across a building with a banner draped across the side. "Life Improvement Center. Free Stress Test!" There were two young people sitting outside. They looked normal enough. Maybe the boy was a little too thin. He instantly jumped into his sales pitch. "Would you like a free stress test, sir?" Hoop, who was feeling pretty adventurous, said yes. Meanwhile, I was being distracted by the young girl, who was commenting on my shirt. So it didn't hit me where we were right away.
My first thought was, "Why are there racks of books everywhere? Is this a bookstore?" Then I saw the words on the wall. SCIENTOLOGY CENTER. "Oh shit." I stopped walking. My palms broke out in a sweat. I immediately tried to figure out how to run away. There was a girl standing behind me, blocking the door. Hoop was already in the room, too far away to grab. "How did this happen?!" My brain shouted. "I don't know!" I shouted back. I walked toward Hoop, trying to signal to him with my eyes. "Have a seat," the guy replied.
Hoop and I both sat down, unsure of how to get out without making a scene. I looked around quickly. There were about ten people in the building. They were all watching us without trying to be obvious. "Hold on to these," the guy was saying. He handed Hoop what looked like two metal cans. They were attached to a meter. My brain felt like it was fluttering around in my head, trapped. "They're auditing him!" It yelled. I'd studied up on all this crap about eight months ago out of curiosity. I never imagined I would actually USE the information though.
"Think about something that has been causing you stress," the guy said smoothly. I held my breath. "My brother died two weeks ago," Hoop answered briskly. The meter jumped. "Obviously that has effected you strongly. Has the stress gotten worse since it happened?" Hoop's eyes narrowed. "What would you say if I told you we could make that stress go away?" The guy asked. Hoop handed him back the cans. "I don't WANT to forget my brother." "Oh- Oh NO, that's not at all what I meant." Hoop and I got up to leave.
"Here, just watch this video." Then the boy disappeared. "Let's just leave!" I hissed at Hoop. "Shhh, he's standing right behind us." My arms broke out in goosebumps. We pretended to watch the video, which threw around the word "Thetan" a lot. Finally the film was over. The guy, who saw how obviously unreceptive we were, showed us to the door. Hoop and I didn't even wait until the building was out of sight. We ran as soon as we got outside. When we eventually stopped, Hoop turned to me and said, "Oh my God."
"I know!" I shouted. "What the hell was that?" We walked in silence for a minute. "Do you think they brainwashed us?" Hoop whispered, looking behind us. I stopped and tried to think of the most anti-Scientologist thing I could think of. It finally came to me. "I hate Tom Cruise. I hate Tom Cruise. I hate Tom Cruise." I repeated mentally. "No," I finally said to Hoop. "I think we're OK." He exhaled loudly. "Well, you let me know if you start feeling funny, OK?" "Yeah, you too."
...To Be Continued.
P.S. I'm going to be out of my office all day tomorrow. My WWC submission will be set to auto-post. I'll check on everyone's entries on Wednesday.