Mysteries of Life: The cult problem in America

I’m not a cult hunter, no way.

A fully licensed cult hunter is usually someone sensitized to cults through a close relative or ex-mate who’s been inculcated and spends his/her days lurking on street corners pushing pamphlets into the unwilling hands of passers-by. While smiling oddly.

Even when I’m devoted to what you might call a cult — love of football games or Wagner’s Ring Cycle, for instance — I do not don the uniform, or wear a home-made tin foil horned helmet during the Ring’s 15 hours at the Met Opera. As do some of my fellow Ringers.

But my acute peripheral vision can identify signs of cultism, i.e., team-color face painting or Valkyrie paraphernalia. So I’m aware of cults, even if I don’t hunt them down.

Trader Joe’s is a cult.

Over the past eight years, I’ve been in a Trader Joe’s three times.

  1. I intended to make blinis for some friends who loved blinis. But none of my markets at the time sold buckwheat flour, the sine qua non of blinis. (Any other flour and you’re making pancakes.) I went to Trader Joe’s where I found buckwheat flour. The next time I made blinis, I found buckwheat groats at my local market and ground them into flour with a mortar and pestle, rather than go to Trader Joe’s again.
  2. Propelled by one neighbor whom I now recognize is a TJ cultist — she raves about things she finds there and how low the prices are and her eyes have a suspicious shine to them — I entered my local TJ via a down escalator. I was greeted by an inordinately cheerful and bouncy young TJ man who said, “The lines move really fast!” I myself judged the lines. They snaked around the entire floor. I left.
  3. One day, feeling rather exploratory, I entered that same TJ’s. The line was not long. I realized quickly the store doesn’t sell everything a shopper wants and needs. It sells what it gets hold of from wherever it picks things up. I picked up a bunch of scallions and indeed they were maybe 29 cents less than scallions at Citarella. What a deal! I gathered a few more things I could use and got onto the line. In the half hour it took to reach the cashier, the woman in back of me kicked her basket into my ankles three times.

I have witnessed people walking through the city carrying paper bags from Trader Joe’s, many blocks from what passes for our local Trader Joe’s. I’ve witnessed people on the subway with bags from Trader Joe’s. I’ve witnessed people carrying Trader Joe’s bags waiting for the city bus that stops in front of the store. People travel distances to get scallions for .29 cents less at Trader Joe’s.

I view these Trader Joe’s bags as a cult signal, similar to one I spotted many years ago when a coterie of very tall, blond men wearing black clothing, large crosses and a cast on one arm were out on the streets chatting up pedestrians. I do not know what god they were selling but they were selling one.

But most significantly is the Trader Joe’s line. Not the line to the cashier, no. The line to get into the store. And this line existed even before COVID-19. Indeed, I suspect it’s a permanent fixture of Trader Joe’s.

The line runs from the store entrance around the corner and a quarter of the way down the block. I estimate as many as fifty people wait on line in hot sun and liquid precipitation for the privilege of being permitted to enter a store which sells nothing that you can’t get elsewhere for a bit more money.

Do not argue with me. Trader Joe’s is a cult.

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