My Cult

You probably don’t know this about me.  I’m in a cult.  I never mention it.  I try to keep it on the down low.  It’s been almost 10 years now since we formed.  We do call ourselves The Cult.  My son Oliver is the one who coined the name.  He saw this photo of a woman in our group and she was in an eerie graveyard with drapey, Indian-type clothes.  A mist hung in the air.  Each day, as he saw us passing hundreds of emails back and forth he said, “So, that’s your cult leader?”  It just stuck.  We all thought it was hilarious.

Here is how we found our way to each other.  Sometime around our 30-year reunion from high school there was an AOL online group of 50 or more peeps from our school chatting away about our upcoming fiftieth birthdays.  Some were just observers and some were the ones doing all the talking.  I was in the latter group.  I know, surprise.  The bigger group was getting annoyed at how much we liked to communicate.  They might express it directly or they might say something like “take me off the list.”  Yet, there were still the lookie loos.  One day, the cult leader grabbed our core group of 10 or so and formed a smaller group.  You had to be tech savvy to move over, and I wasn’t, so she did the work for me.  Now it was official, we were a cult.  Trendsetters that we didn’t know we were, we may have been the original social network.

I think the reason our group formed was a need to unite. There was a common denominator — each of us was going through a major trauma.  One had serious eye issues.  Another was raising his two boys alone after his way too young wife died of a heart attack.  I was suffering from toxic mold exposure (long story).  Another was isolated in North Carolina, suffering a recent divorce, not living with his daughters.  And one was isolated in a bad marriage in Mississippi.   A few of us were dealing with mental illness in the family.   Quite a happy crew.  But we were each other’s salvation.  We would talk it out every single day.  It became an online support group.  Each night before we went to sleep, we’d sound like some oddball version of the Waltons: “Good night, Doreen … good night, Fredde … good night, Jim … good night, Other Jim.”  We were aware of each other’s routines.  Everyone knew I wouldn’t be reading my e-mails until late morning.  Some had already signed off for the day by then, but would check back later and respond to my response.  One person always responded too much and I would, and still do, give her shit about it.  “Don’t answer each and every one!” I’d bark, control freak that I am.  Then we might have a spat in front of everyone.  I was finally given the moniker, The Director.

A couple of unhappy marriages would end during our ten years together.  New marriages and relationships would begin.  Grandchildren would be born.  One of those grandkids was produced by the unwed 16-year old daughter of a cult member.  People would be “thrown off the island” for not behaving well.  Some who didn’t participate enough would be eliminated.  But, the core group remained.  We still talk each day.  Especially, hardcore Doreen and myself.

The cult members really do care about each other.  If someone’s in need, the others come to the rescue.  When Diana, living in Mississippi, didn’t have enough money to take trips out here, members chipped in to buy her a round trip ticket.  We talk a lot about our collective memories of childhood and living in Beverly Hills (long before the Facebook group You Know You’re from Beverly Hills).  Doreen mentioned that unlike most of us who had the coveted Schwinn Stingray bicycle that we all drove to Newberry’s, she had been humiliated by her ghetto version from Sears.  Ben, the one member of the group that didn’t seemed to fit, in that he wasn’t suffering anything traumatic and lives a really glamorous life, had a newly made retro version of the banana boat bike in cherry red.  We presented that bike one year to Doreen for her birthday.

We use shorthand.  We write 10 when something is very funny.  We say the word “flagpole,” which means no one will show up.

It’s very hard to have a “cult” get-together.  Too hard to pinpoint a day and time that so many can meet up… Truly, it’s not that we don’t want to see each other live and in person.  Years ago, when trying to get together, we thought meeting at the Beverly High flagpole sounded like fun.  Only, no one showed.  So, now, we just say flagpole, cause we know it’s not happening.

On my actual fiftieth birthday, many cultists did make it there.  Some flew in for my party.  I should say our party because we were also celebrating Diana from M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.   One thing we had often talked about were the autumn leaves in Beverly Hills, the crunch of them under our feet as we walked to school.  So, on that day in October, I drove around the old neighborhood and collected leaves from each of our former homes.  Leaves from the different trees for which many streets there are named — Elm, Palm and Maple.

At the party, in what must have looked to some like a Jonestown Kool-Aid-drinking ritual, I gathered my fellow cult members and ceremoniously emptied the huge bag of leaves, telling everyone where they were from.  Then we all stomped through them, savoring a small moment that propelled us back to our youth.

Enjoy some songs.  One from our collective youth and one from the year we graduated High School

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Diana Boos lived in the south for a long time.  She makes this amazing salsa.  Here is the recipe.

Throw all of these ingredients in a food processor.

2 Medium to large tomato’s quartered

1 small red onion, rough chopped

2 cloves garlic, rough chopped

1 small handful cilantro, no stems

1 Tablespoons fresh lime juice, add more if you like

1 Jalapeno pepper, rough chopped ( and one habanero if you like it hotter )

salt to taste, at least one teaspoon

fresh ground pepper, at least one teaspoon

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

pulse to consistency that you like and add any more ingredients you might like to your personal taste

Diana Boos and her grandchild, Blaken


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12 Responses to “My Cult”

  1. Valentina says:

    Fredde, this warms my heart… I remember those “in celebration of turning fifty” exchanges. It’s coming around again, for sixty…

  2. Mitch says:

    Growing up on Maple, I learned early on that you can’t get maple syrup out of a sycamore tree, and that you can catch hell for trying to tap one of those trees with your dad’s drill bit.

    Thanks for bringing back those tree memories, Fredde.

  3. Nile Hight says:

    LOVE! Flagpole. Leaves. Schwinn gift. Round trip ticket.

  4. cat says:

    being the cult leader, how come i am not in that photo???
    every time i hear about Play Misty for Me i get really grossed out.
    it ended so wildly…pboy and das and all….
    anyway….now we’ll be doing the 60 thing.
    and yes….very flagpole….oxoxox

  5. cat says:

    who is directly above you fredde…the woman next to dDickter’s face.?? and is that shula in the middle?

  6. cat says:

    it is probably the ThankGoddess…the Silent One. aok.

  7. peter Hoover says:

    Pretty cool young blood. Two thumbs Aloha: Hoov

  8. Janet Petkin says:

    I remember when Doreen asked me to join and I lasted 1.5-2 weeks lol.

    I just recall about 200-400 emails a day arriving and I couldn’t make head nor tails of them.

    Just like high school I didn’t catch on at all. I didn’t know it was a trauma unit with 24 hour interaction. ha ha ha ha ha .. I just said to myself this isn’t for me.

    I love people but in a measured way. Like getting a group a gals together for a lovely lunch and that’s it.

    I think you had to be an absolute RAMBO to survive all of those emails and figure it all out.

    And then you guys had code, nick names, intrigue, 35 different stories going on at once and me being the simpleton that I am absolutely wondered what you all were doing ha ha ha ha…..

    And then when I couldn’t figure it out I quit. Ha…Well Happy 4th of July and I am glad that

    ALL’S WELL ENDS WELL FOR ALL OF US—-even though I missed the plot and most of the chapters!

  9. gari smith says:

    fredde what a delightful story!! i loved reading about all of it and related to all of it! you never stop bringing a smile and a giggle to me~i love all your stories~i still remember how wonderful the milk shakes were at newberry’s and what a treat it was to have one and the chocolate and cherry cokes~life was a lot simpler then~i also had a schwinn bicycle but when my mom bought it she wanted to get me a pink one so the only one in pink they had was way to big and i had to wait like a year or at least it felt like that to grow into it~good memories~you have just made my night fredde!! thank you~

  10. JT says:

    Nice story Ms. Duke, but what does it have to do with your being a food critic?

    Also Janet is right – what the Sam Hill do all those emails mean?

  11. Diana Boos says:

    I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this piece Fred! Don’t understand the Cat or Janet comments, but then again….? We’ve had a hell of a ride for the past 9.5 years. Hard to believe that this much time has passed. Thanks for posting the recipe. I hope most enjoy it as much as I do, but you described us to a tee. Another testament to your wonderful writing abilities and drawing one into the story of “US”….:-) Great JOB!!

  12. Christel Chesney says:

    If there ever is a opening in your “cult” put me on your list. I am sure there is a waiting list. I could be the new kid in school or something like that.

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