Mornings in the cult started early. If you didn’t get up in time, all the good bagels would be gone. And the flavored cream cheese, like the blueberry type I liked, would be used up because Janice, the one who usually had bagel duty, only ever bought one tub of it, even though everyone liked it the best.
Breakfast was served in the stripped down kitchen with the dingy, peeling wallpaper. In addition to bagels, there was usually some juice. Whatever was on sale at the Marrow Family Market down the street – grapefruit, apple or sometimes the fruit punch, which was pretty gross and too sugary.
After breakfast, the cult members would typically gather in the backyard. It was a pretty private backyard, which is important in a cult house. You don’t want random people seeing what all the cult members are doing in the backyard. Next thing you know, they contact the media and you have crazy cult member wannabes hanging around.
This yard had a couple high concrete walls and a chain link fence on one side that was covered over pretty well with vines. The problem was this chain link fence was only about seven feet high. So some of the neighbors on that side could look over if they really wanted to and stood on a table or a chair or something. We had to be careful, if we were going to do anything extremely cultish, to hang some tarp from the tree on that side of the yard.
But usually our morning routine didn’t require so much secrecy. Darryl, our ‘charismatic leader’, would come out on the concrete-slab of a patio and blow his whistle to command attention. Darryl was a decent leader, as cult leaders go, but he was severely lacking in the charisma department. That’s why I put the phrase charismatic leader in quotes just now.
For one thing, he didn’t have that commanding, theatrical voice that so many natural, true charismatic leaders possess. You know, that room filling, sonorous tone. Sort of like the guy who does the Darth Vader voice. Instead, he had this kind of scratchy, low-volume voice. That’s why he needed the whistle to get everyone’s attention. It also didn’t help that he had some bad facial scars due to severe acne problems in adolescence. While that maybe added to his cultish rage, it didn’t do much for the charisma factor. And then there were the clothes. Darryl usually wore some kind of thrift store, JC Penney-style, plaid, long-sleeve shirt and loose, unflattering jeans. He could’ve used a sharp jacket, or some cult jump suit, if you want my opinion.
But, you had to give the guy credit. Even though he didn’t fit the usual bill of a cult leader, he worked hard at the job. He was good at some things through sheer effort and stubbornness. For instance, he had a pretty good piercing gaze he could basically silence anyone with. He’d gotten this down to a science over years of staring at his pet cat and neighborhood children. Another good quality he had was a fiery temper that could break out in random, unexpected flares of violence. This was very effective, since it always had the effect of intimidating cult members who got out of line, especially new members who’d never seen Darryl flare up before. Although usually the violence wasn’t very serious, but something more like throwing a half-eaten piece of cake on the floor or ripping an old curtain off a bedroom window.
Our usual backyard routine started with Darryl’s morning pep talk. He didn’t really call it a pep talk, since that didn’t have a very cultish sound, but that’s what it boiled down to. He gave some reminders of our purpose in the cult, and shout outs to members who’d accomplished something in the last couple days. This could be any kind of accomplishment, such as posting an especially creepy blog entry, cleaning out the refrigerator or writing a poem that praised Darryl’s more admirable qualities. Then there was a sort of physical routine we did that was a mixture of yoga, tai chi and some less strenuous moves Darryl developed on his own through a close study of dogs and grey squirrels. Finally, there was a berating, where Darryl called out a member with unsatisfactory performance and publicly berated them for their shortcomings in front of the entire assembly. Some people took pictures during this part and posted the photos on their Facebook page, which always made it even more humiliating.