As a lifelong cultist who’s working towards psychological recovery, I sometimes get down on myself about my pattern of getting sucked into cults. Like, how do I keep falling for the same shit, over and over and over?
But if there’s anything I’ve learned from doing the work of recovering, it’s that we need to spend more time giving ourselves credit for the times we do well at recovering, than we do criticizing ourselves for our mistakes.
So as a pick-me-up, I’ve decided to write about two times when I didn’t join cults that tried to recruit me. Apologies in advance if my humor comes off as mean-spirited. I’m just being silly 😉
The Glitter-Faced, Jewel-Toned, We-Talk-to-Flowers Now-Come-Sing-in-My-Basement Cult
Once, about 3 years ago, I was working the late shift at Terri Vegetarian. It was just me and my coworker, Kevin.
Now, the Terri crew had this ongoing joke about how the weirdest customers only seemed to show up when I was on the clock, as though I was a weirdo magnet. Like the guy who, upon finding out I was a writer, pulled out a pocket-size notebook in which he was “collecting unusual words,” and insisted on reading them all to me as I worked. Or the woman who spent about fifteen minutes gushing to me about how much she LOVED our green power smoothie, and asked for my input on writing the perfect Instagram caption about it.
But my penchant for attracting weirdos was no more obvious than on this particular night.
At some point, when the store was empty, a group of about seven very pale, very blonde people walked in. Right away, I could tell something was off. They had colorful, glittery markings on their faces, like spirals under their eyes. Their clothes were bright jewel tones, like amethyst and carnelian. Each of them cradled a potted plant in their hands (???). And they were all smiling from ear to ear. About what, I don’t know. But it was creepy.
The last to enter Terri was a rather large man, dressed in a similar way, without the facial markings or potted plant. He came straight up to my register and ordered food on behalf of the whole group.
If I didn’t know any better, I would have said they were off-hours circus performers, or performance artists, or something. But the energy of this man, and the way the other people answered him in unison and seemed mystified by him, had my cult senses tingling.
Anyway, at the time, I had a habit of singing everything instead of just saying it. I sang his order back to him, I sang the cost, I sang the change as I counted it.
He looked intrigued with me. “You sing?”
“Oh yes, I love to sing.”
His eyes lit up. “Would you like to sing for me? I record meditation music.”
“Is that what your group does?” I motioned towards the rest of the group, who were currently cooing to their potted plants the way one might gush over a cute puppy or baby (??????????).
“No, they are… for… something else.” He didn’t explain any further.
“Where do you record music?”
He smiled. “In my home. I have a recording studio in my basement.”
I stole a glance over at Kevin; his face had drained of blood, leaving him white as a ghost.
The man was now staring at me with unnerving force, smiling that creepy smile. I had a feeling that if I tried to tell him no, he would only get more pushy. And the group was now looking at me, pointing and giggling.
So I told the strange man to write down his address for me, and he slid it across the counter, telling me what day of the week I could meet him and his group there. Of course, I never showed up.
The 3D-Printing, Fashion-Will-Save-Us Doomsday Cult
Then there was that time I was approached by a very, very strange duo.
At the time, I was part of a vegan/animal rights club at Hunter College called P.A.L. We regularly set up a table in the hallway of the 3rd floor, in order to hand out pamphlets and answer questions about veganism.
As I sat there with another club member, two people came up to the table: the woman was rather small and somber-looking — almost completely dead in the eyes, in fact, which immediately concerned me. The man to her left was huge, and if that didn’t draw enough attention to him, he was also decked out in a pricey-looking velvet suit, a bowling hat, and carrying a gold-tipped cane.
“What’s this table about?” the woman asked demurely.
“We’re here to teach people about veganism,” I said.
I gave the standard reply: “We think veganism is the solution to global climate change.”
“And how many people have you recruited?”
“Recruited? Ahhhh… um, I don’t know about recruited, but I know 6 people that went vegan because of me.”
Her eyes got wide, and she turned to the man beside her. “She recruited 6 people.”
(WHY DID SHE KEEP USING THAT WORD?!)
The man smiled. “I hate to say this to you, young lady, but veganism is not going to help anything.”
I glared daggers at him. Because, you know, I was a rather uh, dedicated to the cause, and I didn’t appreciate him dismissing veganism like that. “And why is that?” I grumbled.
He smiled mysteriously. “Do you know what 3D printing is?”
Huh? “No, I don’t.”
“3D printing is the latest frontier of technology. It’s been used to create prosthetic limbs, furniture and artwork. Right now, they are experimenting with 3D-printed food and human organs for transplant patients. Very soon, this technology will take over every industry. 3D printers will create our food, our clothing, all our necessities! There will be no jobs left for human people. This spells devastating economic collapse.” (As he spoke, the woman nodded at each point he made. The word “obedient” came to mind as I watched her.)
The man continued, apparently failing to notice the utter disinterest on my face: “Do you know what will save us?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, what?”
“Fashion.” He motioned to his snazzy suit.
“But you just said 3D printers are going to take over the fashion industry —”
“No, young lady. I don’t mean clothing. I mean individuality. Innovation. We need these things to think ahead of the 3D printers, before they take over everything.” He then waxed poetic about how FASHION! sets all the cultural trends in the world, and FASHION! is the manifestation of humanity’s creativity and intelligence, or something profound like that.
When it became clear that they weren’t going anywhere until I pretended to agree with him, I doled out flat statements like, “How interesting” and “That sounds cool.” Finally, the woman wrote her number down on a piece of paper, and told me, “Call us — we can help you.”
When they finally left, the other P.A.L. club member turned to me and laughed, “What the fuck was that? CJ, you are way too nice! You let all these weird people just talk you up!”
While I do have more stories of cults trying to recruit me, they weren’t nearly as weird or dramatic as the examples given above.
I look at these experiences and feel an unusual version of gratitude. Because in these instances, I was able to recognize red flags before getting sucked into a dangerous situation. That means I’m making progress, and educating myself about cults is paying off. (*throws ten-second party for self*)
Before I sign off, I just want to clarify: I am in no way making fun of anyone who has joined these cults (or, groups-that-appeared-cultic-to-me-personally [<– that’s my legal disclaimer]). Because considering the illogical things I used to believe when I was in my past cults, I’m really in no place to judge people who believe different crazy things. Sometimes, humor helps make memories a little less uncomfortable. I mean nothing personal by it.
That’s all! Thanks for reading ❤
Oh, and if you have any funny(ish) stories of your own, feel free to share in the comments!