BOSTON CONFERENCE, CBS INFILTRATION, AND THE CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS
Just flew back to the US of A: West Coast Edition yesterday afternoon from NYC, and boy, do I wish I hadn't.
Things I miss: summer HEAT(!!!), cheap seafood, better beer, good conversation with state politicians, Rick Moranis, the American Association of Nude Recreation, smiley Christian Scientists and having them shower me with free copies of their newspaper, seeing "M" and Marie, real pizza, Central Park, Dean and Deluca cupcakes, reverence for JFK, Mike Wallace's office, opera singers from a neighboring music school faintly belting it out across the street from my friend's house.
Things I am happy to not miss at all: counting rats in the subway and contemplating if Manhattan's rat population could ultimately destroy all human life on the island, schmoozing with awkward state politicians, "continental breakfast", humidity, holier-than-thou Williamsburg kids. As you can see, the things I miss greatly outnumber the things I don't.
I'll back up: I was sent to Boston to attend a conference for state legislators during the week, then I went to NYC to visit a friend for the weekend. The first day of the conference I played hookey, opting to sneak onto a tour bus headed towards the JFK Presidential Library. That was a beautiful experience; it almost made me teary-eyed revisiting his exhilarating campaign towards the Presidency, reflecting on the founding of the Peace Corps, and musing on the glory days of Camelot.
Below the quote, photos of public spaces dedicated to JFK around the world
The next few days were spent attending lecture sessions about things like redistricting, water resource policy (actually the most entertaining), immigration, educating the future workforce, etc etc. My favorite part was the massive general sessions though. On one day, pop historian David McCullough spoke about the importance of history, another, Nancy Pelosi talked about something inane (I missed that one), as did Skeletor (I mean, Michael Chertoff), and Jimmy Orr, the "brains" behind the Whitehouse's "Barney Cam", who discussed how morons such as himself are given top positions in the White House communications department. I remember, one morning, telling the cabbie that I was about go watch Michael Chertoff speak. He replied, in a very strong Indian accent, "What is wrong with him? He looks like a cancer patient or demon." I concurred, the man is sickly--of both mind and body. And he's out to destroy He-Man!
Anyways. I had some insightful discussions at lunch and on the bus, among other places. A legislator from Nevada told me about water resources and the frivolity of Lake Las Vegas, an Australian politician from Canberra talked about the value of compulsory voting and the importance of not worrying about campaign fund raising, and a lawmaker from Kansas told me about her daughter living in Tehran.
And then there was the exhibition hall. I decided to alleviate the boredom that plagued the booths of certain lobby groups and non-profits who seemed greatly stigmatized by most attendees. For instance, I had a fine chat with the Nude Recreationists--I asked them if they felt uncomfortable in their business suits. They did. They also said they were angry about being referred to as a "colony"--they weren't ants!
The medical marijuana group and the progressive drug policy people seemed to be extremely bored--most of the legislators seemed to stick to the far outskirts of an imaginary bubble surrounding their booths. So I chatted them up and got some free statsheets. Yes! Statsheets!
There was actually some great swag items to be had. My favorites were a C-Span tote bag (to be worn for a hot night out on the town)and a super-cool gadget from the NRA. Yes, I know I know, I didn't want to go near those NRA folks, what with their creepy pictures of Charlton Heston and swathing groups of children. But I got the best toy ever. It's a whistle, a compass, thermostat and flashlight all in one! For those Deliverance moments that NRA-lovin deer hunters must fall prey to all the time.
On my down time, I kept walking over to the Christian Science Plaza, which holds the Mary Baker Eddy Museum and the mother church. I have this obsession with the Christan Scientists because I feel their belief system holds the key to how a publication can achieve the very best in journalistic integrity. I fucking love the Monitor. That's all.
The interior of the church is amazing, with one of the largest organs in the country, and a very impressive rotunda, while the outside is cold and strange, like the outside of the Willy Wonka chocolate factory. I kept thinking, 'Nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out!' while strolling the grounds.
Speaking with a tour guide really helped demystify some of the misgivings of the religion. Turns out that modern-day Christian Scientists don't really condemn those who received medicine or surgery. They just like to emphasize the natural healing principles that Christ Jesus (as they call him) practiced. They rely upon spirituality to overcome psychosomatic tendencies, but are by no means extremists about it.
The Mary Baker Eddy museum, on the other hand, was a little freaky. It definitely gave off the strangeness of Scientology. I ventured into the Mapparium,the interior of a huge stained-glass globe constructed in the 1930s, as well as the "Hall of Ideas."
The Hall of Ideas
I'll stop writing about the Christian Scientists now. My friend "M", who I stayed with in Manhattan over the weekend, was really sick of hearing about it. My time with her was spent flashing her CBS ID all around town to get into museums and shows for free, watching her dance like Michael Jackson, seeing Spamalot (kinda overrated--not really worth mentioning), almost meeting Rick Moranis at a coffee shop, and visiting the offices of 60 minutes where I took an inordinate amount of time photographing Mike Wallace's office.
Now's the part where I tell you what I learned on my summer vacation: Summers in San Francisco blow compared to New York and Boston. But then again, for the entire remainder of the year, nothing beats it.
Masha Gessen is the author of *The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia*, which will be published in October. In the July issue of Har...
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