Orwell accidentally becomes a cult leader
While trying to financially support his ill parents, Orwell stumbles into a strange career. He becomes the leader of a cult. He becomes Richard (Dick) Pickman.
"Becoming Cultish is one of the funniest books I've ever read. It's up there with Pratchett, Moore, and Douglas."
And again, Yogi Spunktrumpet said, “Breathe in the future and exhale the past as you see the brilliant golden light enter your nose…”
I’m a twenty-first-century guy, but how the fuck do you breathe in golden light? Where does this golden light come from? While I hate to brag, I’m so twenty-first-century that I agreed to go on a first date at a yoga studio. But when I sank into warrior pose, followed by Yogi Spunktrumpet commanding me to breathe golden light into my heart energy center, I snorted. Loud and hard.
Thin strands of Spunktrumpet’s brilliant white hair danced side to side as he walked towards me. An elastic pulled his thick beard into a perfect cone, the tip of which pointed at me. Slow and steady, he approached with a gaze full of needles. I stared back because I really wanted to out-asshole him.
We were only fifteen minutes into downward dogs and camels. Still, I knew that it was time to admit one simple fact: my date stood me up at the world’s weirdest yoga studio. I knew that agreeing to this date was a bad idea. Let’s look at the facts. One, I found her on a shady dating app. Two, she looked like a supermodel. Three, she had a comedienne’s wit. In essence, she touched perfection, which was the only reason that I agreed to a first date at a yoga studio. She thought that it would be a funny place to meet. I agreed. Now, only one of us is laughing.
Continuing the world’s longest warrior pose threw gasoline on the lactic fire that spread throughout my legs. The yogi, still staring at me, effortlessly moved into a better version of the same pose. He gets credit: the dude is at least twice my age, but goddamn, he’s in good shape. Then, he sank even deeper.
Not to be outdone by a sixty-something-year-old hippie who forgot flower power died decades ago, I slid my back leg further. Let’s see him hit a hundred thirty degrees in the lunge. Let’s see how he handled the burgeoning charley horse that brewed in my hamstring.
Swear to god: Yogi Spunktrumpet sank lower and lower until he ball-buffed the ground. From there, he pommel-horsed into some position that looked like a push-up but without any feet on the ground. It looked like he floated. I mean, his hands must have been on the floor – or at least I hoped so.
Then, he spun around like a beat boy, pushed out of the footless push-up, and came back into warrior pose. Now, he was parallel to me. If it wasn’t for the cramp ripping through the back of my leg, I’d be impressed.
He whispered, “Is there a problem with breathing light-energy into your pose?”
I couldn’t handle the pain anymore. I stood straight so that I could stretch out my leg. I looked over at Yogi Spunktrumpet for a minute before saying, “No problem. It’s just that light-energy is my drug. I prefer to snort it.” I tried to sound smug; maybe the wince sullied my performance.
Yogi Spunktrumpet regained piercing eye contact and grinned with some ancient secret. “We inhale the future and exhale the past,” he said.
The studio became a hive of bees; the drones repeated in unison. “We inhale the future and exhale the past.”
What the fuck was that? My head snapped from side to side. Was there an audio recording cued up, or did I discover a yoga cult? I scanned the studio for a sacrificial altar or a purple Kool-Aid fountain. Nothing. Just a bunch of people in warrior pose.
Still locking eyes with me, he said, “What you think, you become.”
The chorus echoed, “What you think, you become.”
He said, “What you feel, you attract.”
They replied, “What you feel, you attract.”
He said, “What you imagine, you create.”
They replied, “What you imagine, you create.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Pain does not exist in this dojo.” I waited. Sadly, no echo. “No mercy?” I pleaded – still nothing. “Sweep the leg? What, no Cobra Kai fans?”
Yogi Spunktrumpet shook his head. “This is a place of joy and acceptance. Sarcasm is a tool used by joyless weaklings.” He seemed to ponder his own words for a moment. “I think it is best if you leave.”
I couldn’t agree more. This place was getting weirder by the minute. Besides, it appeared that my date wasn’t going to show up. So, really I lost twice. Once for being stood up and once by a sixty-something-year-old-hippie. Yogi Spunktrumpet, I bow to your superior intellect.
My parents were Winston and Julia Jackson. Ironically, they called me Orwell. I say ironic because neither of them had read Nineteen Eighty-Four. According to them, it was all a coincidence but c’mon, what were the odds? They claim to have found the name in a magazine. I assumed it was from an article called: Top Ten Names to Avoid Calling Your Children.
Regardless, I get to laugh last. Both of my parents were in the middle stages of dementia. Neither of them was ill enough to be in an extended care home, but they were getting there. In the meantime, I played jokes on them. My favorite was replacing pictures of my brother and me with Michael and Tito Jackson throughout their house. I told them that these were their kids. Sometimes I’d go as far as to convince my parents that they were black. I know it sounds horrible, but it was all in good fun. They agreed when they were lucid. My parents had that kind of sense of humor; they did the same types of things to me growing up.
While I joke about their Alzheimer’s, seeing them like this nearly kills me. I knew what lay ahead and could never think about it for more than a few minutes at a time.
Anyhow, very few people called me Orwell. Most went with Jackson, while my parents preferred OJ. I’m not a fan of OJ. To be clear, I do like orange juice. However, the name reminds me of that douchebag football player who murdered his wife and some waiter. Sorry, I should say Orenthal James Simpson was accused and acquitted of murdering his wife. I’ll keep the opinions to myself.
But speaking of bad names: Orenthal? That sounds like a mouth-gel. Buy Orenthal: it gets rid of your canker sores and herpes. Brought to you by Pfizer, makers of Viagra and Preparation H. Stay hard without the pain of rectal varicose veins.
But I digress. I always digress. That’s something people around me get used to. If it wasn’t for the constant digression, I’d probably be quite successful. I’d have completed any one of my three college degrees. With a little more effort, I might have had a successful business or two. I might even be in a meaningful relationship.
Instead of a career, I work at a call center for an online shopping super-giant. Let’s call it de Nile. Instead of a real relationship, I went on first dates with women I met through an online dating app. The last date was a success. Okay, maybe not a success. There was no way to spin my evening of being stood-up at the Branch Davidian’s Yoga Studio with Yogi Koresh as anything but a failure.
We inhale the future and exhale the past. The words bang around my head for a while. Empty fucking platitudes that mean nothing. The kind of phrase that acts like a fingernail scraping my brainstem until it hits the nerve bundle that sends bursts of anger that curl my toes. Is that what kids call being triggered?
What were the other ones? What you think you become. What you feel you attract. What you imagine you create.
I imagine myself being pulled on an inflatable rowboat by a team of dolphins. A brunette on one side of me and a blonde on the other, the World’s Most Interesting Man hands me a Dos Equis and narrates, “Dolphins give him a ride out of respect. He speaks to them in their own language.”
But guess what. When I opened my eyes, I was still on the goddamn Ben Franklin Transit, route one-ten, heading to the river. Sir Poop McCrapney just released his latest record: The Brown Al-Bum. I didn’t like the tune. It smelled like teen-spirit: shame and shit.
At last, I made it to my destination. Not a moment too soon, either. I could sense Sir McCrapney preparing for an encore. But not to worry, my new-found joy for life would quickly be crushed when I entered the ranks of cubicles in an effort to soothe angry customers who purchased faulty electronics from de Nile. Mostly, these were from third-party vendors, but shoppers were unable to make that distinction.
To their surprise, and maybe this was pointed at one caller in particular, paying ten dollars for a hundred-dollar laptop battery didn’t amount to such a great bargain. Even reading a couple of reviews would have uncovered the truth about Spark-o-Life. But no, instead, genius-level customer installed the new battery, which quickly heated the laptop to temperatures well beyond the manufacturer’s recommended maximum of one hundred forty degrees Fahrenheit. As toxic smoke poured out of the keyboard, this person decided the best way to investigate the problem was to place his hairspray-soaked head as low to the machine as possible. I cannot attest as to why this person chose that particular action. Maybe the sound of melting plastic was soothing; maybe the apartment was cold, and this person tried to warm his face. Regardless, the laptop burst into flames.
It’s been a long time since I’ve taken the OHSA certification course. Still, I do believe that the red diamond with flames indicates that a product is flammable. And I don’t use hairspray; yet, if I recall correctly, hairspray bottles display that label. I can only imagine that he looked like a flaming Q-tip caught in a frantic chicken-dance trying to find his bathroom. Accordingly, he dunked his hair in the toilet. I guess the toilet because, well, I’ll give him this one. I’d imagine rational thought is difficult in the heat of the moment.
Immediately after putting out his hair, this person called de Nile to complain. Of course, I was the lucky recipient of this call. I sat and politely listened. I even, somehow, stifled my snickers like a good human being. I showed empathy. “I’m very sorry to hear about this incident. The best I can do is offer you a refund. Ultimately, the third-party vendor is responsible for the defective product.”
Suddenly, there was a lot of clatter in the background, followed by yelling from somewhere in the distance. He shouted, “I’ll call you back.”
Later, I learned that instead of putting out the fire, he chose to call de Nile. I guess his anger erased rationality. After only a few minutes into the conversation, his desk, made out of medium-density fiberboard, was set ablaze.
Then the room went up.
By the time the phone cut out, I believe that the fire had spread throughout the apartment complex. According to the Kennewick Action News, most of the twenty-unit building burnt down.
Postscript to this story: the guy ended up suing de Nile for damages. There was a court battle that lasted for as long as he could afford a lawyer, but in the end, it became too expensive for him to pursue. As a show of their commitment to customer support, de Nile settled out of court. The guy received a refund for the faulty battery.
I swiped my card and moved through security. I’ve passed by this sign that said, Teamwork: working together is success at least a couple hundred times. That day, it bothered me. A lot. More empty platitudes. I considered ripping it down, but before I monologued myself into a frenzy, Hendrix caught up with me. If people grinned while eating shit, that’s what was on his face. A grin, not shit. Although, with his dirty-Sanchez of a mustache, you never know.
“Hey,” he chirped.
“Hey,” I said.
“How’d last night go?” he asked.
I stopped walking. I needed to think for a moment. I didn’t tell Hendrix that I went on a date. I never told him when I went out unless we were making plans. And he had never asked me about my evenings before. Never.
“Great,” I said to him. He was obviously waiting for some kind of reaction.
He burst out laughing. “Bullshit!”
I blinked. “What did you do?”
He stuck out his hand, “Hi, I’m Vanessa. I’m pleased to meet you.”
I slapped his hand out of the way, “Fuck you.” I kept walking. I wasn’t entirely pissed. In fact, the way he pulled it off was quite brilliant. I can usually smell a catfish from miles away.
Hendrix caught up to me, “I heard that yoga studio is pretty messed up. How bad was it?”
“You mean Jonestown? You might say it was a little out of the ordinary.”
“I bet it was. Sullivan wanted to go and take some pictures of you in your tight yoga pants. I talked him out of it.”
Of course, Sully wanted to do that. He’s a prick. At least Hendrix had some decency.
“Anyway,” he continued, “you coming to my gig tonight?”
A shot him a dirty look. “You still think we’re friends?”
He smiled. “I don’t care about that. I just need you to pay for the cover charge. And bring Vanessa.”
I shrugged. “Sure, whatever helps fund your oxy habit.” Truth be told, he did kick an opioid addiction a few years back.
“Asshole,” he nodded, still with a smile. “I have to get back at it. Have a good shift.”
“I’m sure I will.”
Actually, it’ll be nice to get out. I needed to wash away the previous night’s insanity. Plus, I had a second job that would require all of my free time over the next two weeks. I did piece-work for a studio as a voice-over artist.
Usually, I read independently produced audiobooks, but I wasn’t picky. Whatever the studio sent me, I was happy with. I wish that the work was more consistent because it paid better than my regular job and I could go at any time.
I needed all the money that I could get because my parents sucked at saving theirs. It turned out that they loved me enough to put me through various college programs, which I did not finish. As a result, they were poor but not poor enough to get all the coverage that they needed. Hence, my second job.
Alzheimer’s medication was relatively cheap, at only two hundred dollars per month, but I had two parents with the disease. On top of that, my dad’s blood pressure medication and their other medical bills piled up. If I didn’t help them, they’d have to choose between having a home and staying alive. And that’s if they remembered to pay rent or buy meds. If left to them, it was a fifty-fifty gamble each month.
My brother was in jail, so he didn’t have the means to help. I’m not sure if he would help, even if he could. Regardless, making enough to eke out the cost of the medication didn’t suffice. Alzheimer’s drugs only help to slow the gravitational pull towards a cognitive black hole. It was a race to save enough money for the costs of assisted living once they were too sick to be on their own. I knew there wasn’t much time left, but they needed to hold on as long as possible.
Even the most basic care will cost three thousand dollars per month for the two of them. I’ve been saving for a few years now. I have six months covered. That’s it. Six fucking months. At least my upcoming gig, which is my highest paying voice-over job to date, will add another month to that. I figure that if we’re all lucky, they will last another year without assisted living. In that time, I should be able to save up for three or four additional months. I didn’t want to think about life for Winston and Julia after that.
I sat in my cubicle and put my head on the desk for a moment. I needed to take a deep breath. It’ll all work out. Believe you can, and you’re halfway there, right? With the power of empty platitudes, anything was possible. I raised my visage to slide on the headset. I pressed the button to open up my phone line.
Another deep breath. “Thank you for calling de Nile. How can I help you?”
About the Author...
Dylan Callens is a writer and educator living in Sudbury, Ontario.
His debut novel, Operation Cosmic Teapot, was a resounding success. Since then, Dylan has written a number of other books, including Becoming Cultish and The Haber Effect.