So you come home for a visit and your mom is hovering at the door, tears ringing her red eyes, cheeks stained with mascara, and she’s crying, mumbling about someone from church seeing you on the interwebs and calling to tell her, not wasting any time about either. Your dad is scowling four steps behind her, white-knuckling it, his lower lip quivering the way it does when something real bad has crawled up his ass and died. He’s serious as about it. But what?
Your mom says, “We love you, you know we do. Nothing will change that. Not ever. But we worry about you.” And your dad, he nods; you kind of think maybe he doesn’t want to. He’s rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, studying the vinyl floor tiles. He doesn’t seem to be breathing.
You don’t say a word. Neither does mom. He’s working up to something. It’s best to wait it out.
You look at your feet: Birkenstocks. Shit–should have seen this one coming. “It’s not a cult.”
“I know a cult when I see one.”
“It’s a band. It’s a Rock and Roll band. I play bass. You paid for the lessons.”
“Don’t try to turn this around on me, mister. Led Zeppelin was a band,” Dad says. “The fucking Knack was a Rock and Roll band. You’re in a goddamned cult.”
Mom’s face brightens slightly. She says, “Hall and Oates.”
You and dad both swing around and gawk, in elegant symphony, the sort of uncanny lunar coordination that makes Aunt Jenny cluck and remark about chips off the old block and spitting images.
“What?” You both ask.
“Hall and Oates was a band.” She starts humming the tune of “Rich Girl.”
“It’s not a cult.” You say, remembering that look on Dad’s face when Daisy-Petunia Wenglikowski screeched into the driveway, skidded right off the concrete into the lawn. Panicked, you caught your toe on the shoulder strap of her gym bag as you stepped out, too scared to even peck her cheek goodbye, and tripped and fell on your face as you scrambled from the side doors of her vintage microbus, her black polka dot panties still warm in your back pocket.
“One free pass,” he’d growled. “If you ever come back to this house stoned like some cheese-eating high school boy and you’re done. Hear me?” You nodded, grass between your teeth, and not the kind your dad was all hellfired up about.
“And tell that hippie not to drive on my lawn or I’ll turn give name to my buddy on the vice squad.”
Your dad didn’t know anyone on the vice squad, and you weren’t stoned that day. Daisy-Pete was a cheerleader, for the love of god, and her banker father had paid upwards of ten grand for the restored bus.
And you didn’t join a cult.
“If it looks like a duck,” Dad rasped through hyperventilation, “And if it quacks like a duck….” Dad shouts.