Monday, October 30, 2006

With Apologies to Unitarians

If you're from some place like San Francisco or Seattle, Chicago or New York City, you probably get used to seeing your town mentioned in various media. But when you are born and raised in a town in southern California of about 75,000 people (now up to 95,000) called El Cajon, you are kinda surprised to see the place in print. I mean, the city isn't exactly a destination of any kind. It sits in a valley about 20 minutes east of San Diego. Everyone goes to San Diego. No on goes to El Cajon unless they live there or know someone who does or have to stop for gas on the way to the mountains. In summer it gets hot. In winter it gets frost now and then and once, before I was born, it snowed. Imagine, then, my surprise and delight when El Cajon shows up in the first chapter of The Devil is a Gentleman. Apparently the town where I was born and grew up has the dubious distinction of being the home base of the Unarians. Their meeting hall is the Star Center and I know exactly where it is because we drove by it on the way to the public library when I was a kid. Who are the Unarians? They believe that the Muons from the planet Myton will come land on a a couple of acres outside the city, bringing a "spiritual renaissance of logic and reason." Unfortunately, the prophecy said the Muons were going to land in 2001. They didn't. Now the group is struggling with coming to terms with the failure of the prophecy. It is interesting that it took a book like The Devil is a Gentleman to finally help me figure out who the Uniarians are. You see, while growing up I knew about the Unarians. The adults made lots of jokes about aliens and space ships and when I was in kindergarten my best friend's mom dressed up in an elaborate space alien costume for Halloween. My mom asked her if she'd been visiting the Unarians. The Star Center has a mannequin in the window who turns out to be Nikola Tesla, a Hungarian-born "pioneer of alternating current, whom the Unarians had adopted as the kind of scientist that could get them past the whole problem of traveling faster than the speed of light." To my kid mind she was a gypsy fortune-teller and since my best friend's mom got her costume there, the Unarians must be some kind of costume shop/theater group or something. A few years later my mom straightened me out. She told me the Unarians were crazy weirdoes who thought space aliens were going to come and take them away. I actually thought that was pretty cool and imagined leaving our staid Lutheran church for the obviously more exciting Unitarian church. For years I secretly wished I could be a Unitarian. Was I ever disappointed when I got to see inside a Unitarian church and saw no UFO paraphernalia, only the usual Jesus and crosses. My mistake dawned on me slowly and I can't say when or how I actually figured out the Unarians and Unitarians were not the same. But even to this day I associate the two and have to make a conscious effort to keep them apart. Now that I have read about them in The Devil is a Gentleman I don't think I will have anymore confusion problems. And next time I am visiting my parents I might have to drive by the Star Center just for old times' sake.