One of those pieces I forgot I wrote and now repost almost every year, by request (from July 3, 2006)
“Anchoress identifies source of world’s problems”
Against all sense, and my own better judgment, I today took a trip to the local Costco in order to buy hamburgers, chicken legs and marinade in the mass quantities needed in order to entertain guests on the Fourth of July.
It was there, in the teeming, steaming rotisserie chicken section of the store that my senses became heightened and my consciousness got raised. I had an epiphany.
The problem with the whole world, and everything in it, is fruit. Specifically strawberries and pineapples. And melons of all variation. But mostly, it’s the strawberries.
This understanding came upon me not in the light breath of an angel’s song, but in the crash of one shopping cart head-on into mine, the spilling of a recently taken-from-the-spit chicken (and its bubbling hot juices) onto my sandal-clad foot and the unmistakable sound of a Long Island woman out of control. “Oh, my Gawwwwd, I’m so sooooooaaaawry! Ah you awriiiiiiht? I was just tryin’ ta get ta them strawberries! Oh, my Gawwwd, I feel so baaaiiihhhd!”
Let me try to do justice to the way this singular creature (she exists nowhere but on Long Island and in 4 of New York City’s 5 boroughs) pronounced the word “strawberries,” because – as Captain Queeg will tell you – the strawberries are key to the revelation.
For the purposes of this narrative, anytime you encounter the word “strawberry(ies)” do not imagine “straw” to be pronounced, as it is west of the Rockies, “strahh.” Nor may you take it to sound like a Kate Hepburn mid-lanticish “strahw.” No, in order to find enlightenment – in order to understand what I came to understand as I clutched at my greasy, burning foot, assured the woman that all was quite alright and bade her to please hurry along – you must in this case imagine “strawberry” to be heard thusly: “Stru-auorwwwberries.”
Elongate the “au” sound until it resembles the sound you made in college after too many boilermakers and add an “oar-w” to it, and you begin to do it justice.
This lady was not the only person behaving badly over summer fruit.
Now, I generally avoid fruit. Aside from Fuji Apples, Bing Cherries, grapes and watermelon and an occasional naval orange, fruit and I do not hang together. I find most fruits (and fruit juices) to be indigestible company and they burn my tongue, besides. When I encounter fruit, my practice is to make a detour toward the breads. This is probably why I did not understand until today the enormous impact fruit has on the world and the people in it. Corralled fruit-side by the pre-holiday crowd of shoppers, I found myself surrounded by peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes, mangoes, bananas, troubling red seedy things I could not comprehend, and pineapples and strawberries.
Most of the fruit seemed perfectly respectable, laying there in all innocence, not really impacting the world. The troublemakers were the strawberries and pineapples who were – quite tellingly – isolated together in one aisle, a snobbish little clique, and they were inciting a riot.
“Ohmigawwwwd,” a man cried to his wife. “Stru-auorwwwberries! Hon, we gotta get struauorwwwberries!”
He sounded, my hand to Gawd, like he’d been clued in to the mysterious and mystical powers of the berries all his life, and had thus far been denied access to them.
His wife was equally starry-eyed, but her prostrations were meant for another. “Lookit the poineapple! Oh my Gawd, LOOKIT the POINAPPLE! I gotta get dose!”
Lowly grapes were cast thoughtlessly cast aside. Plums, proudly showing off their darkened summer curves, lay unmolested by the most determined fruit-squeezers. People were falling all over themselves for da stuauorberries and da poinapples. Even the lovely, quiet Indian lady in the sari, with whom I’d co-incidentally been traveling through much of the store, lost her reserve upon sight of the berry. “Gopal!” she hollered to her son in a voice surprisingly like a claxon horn. “Strawbeddies! You get the strawbeddies! I’ll get the (insert Hindu word for foul, scratchy, acidic, tongue-burning fruit, aka pineapple)” She then motored over to the pineapple like a small, decorative Sherman Tank and began elbowing (gently, but firmly) people away from her chosen pineapple – the one pineapple to rule them all – and she clutched it to herself and made off like Gollum with his Precious.
Fruit, I decided, makes people lose their minds. That can’t be good.
I checked out and made my way to my car, mulling over the problem of fruit and its impact on the world. I watched a boundary-challenged father allow his insistent five-year old daughter to haul a watermelon from their wagon and into their SUV. She nearly dropped the thing; and her knees buckled and her back bent under the weight as she doggedly clutched the enormous, seed-filled seducer to her chest before launching it haphazardly onto a pile of hamburger rolls. “Aw, look what you did,” the stupid father moaned, “you crushed the bread with the melon.”
“That’s because she should not have been allowed to carry a giant piece of fruit, you melonhead,” the crabby mother opined, and family fun-time began in that car.
Having hastily packed my own purchases, I pulled out from my parking spot and spied an attractive blonde woman in my rear view mirror. She carried a pineapple and a pack of socks, and when I tell you that she was gazing upon her pineapple with a look of fascinated awe, I do not exaggerate. Entranced by its thorny lure, the woman seemed completely unaware of her surroundings, and I hastily jammed on my brakes.
She walked into my car. Yes. Carrying a pineapple, the woman walked. Into. My car. Head-on. Her abdomen and boobs went boinnnnng!
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, laughing at herself, “I didn’t even see you! I was looking at my pineapple.”
“Yes,” I smiled, cringing inwardly and begging God and all of the angels in heaven that this woman would not now find it necessary to file a police report and sue my ass for having the temerity to be in her way while she was walking amid moving cars and admiring her tropical fruit. “I saw you looking at your pineapple.”
“Isn’t it huge?” she asked proudly, reminding me of a former sister-in-law showing off her engagement diamond.
“It’s just lovely,” I offered as she happily walked away. She was beaming. Simply beaming. A big pineapple had completely stolen her brains and replaced them with some sort of happy-soma thing. You could have fed her soylent green, and she would be beaming, still. She had a pineapple. All was right with her world.
The frenzy of the fruitlovers disturbed me greatly. In the space of one hour, I had seen fruit inspire two accidents that could have resulted in injury or – were I or others the litigious types – lawsuits. I had seen fruit cause people to knock other people aside. I had seen it rattle their priorities. Fruit had caused people’s eyes to glaze over, their jaws to go slack, their reason to flee. My experience at Costco has given me a glimpse into the core of universal behavior, and the core is rotten and has far too many seeds.
Fruit, I now understand, causes within people a diabolical disorientation, and that disorientation spreads into every aspect of humanity. Fruit captivates the attention and leads to painful mishaps.
Fruit causes aggression, which leads to war.
It inspires prostration and adoration, which leads to idolatry and misplaced allegiances.
Fruit flummoxes a man’s ability to reason, impacting his marriage and his daughter’s self-esteem and future lumbar health.
Fruit maketh a woman into a blithe-and-brainless spirit, content to bounce from car-to-car like a well-flicked pinball.
These people go out into the world! They write books. They teach. They govern nations. They program network television. They make editorial decisions in news departments – all while distracted and disoriented by a small red berry that is, in my opinion, useful only as a delivery system for dark chocolate, and a scratchy yellow thing that is neither a pine nor an apple.
No wonder the world is in the shape its in.
But I make you this promise. I will never succumb to the lure of the fruit. I will never allow myself to become disoriented and possessed by this diabolical controller. When you come here, you are safe. Me and my Cheez-its, we swear it.
Aside: I have had an email or two accusing me of antisemitism in this post, apparently because the reader attached a Jewish persona to the typical Long Island accents I’ve tried to draw here. Since my impression of the woman with the chicken was that she was as Irish-American and freckled as I am, and the rest were largely “generic” impressions I got, I can only assume that if someone wants to think of any of these folks as specifically Jewish, then that’s what they’ll do. Before accusing me of antisemitism ask yourself, perhaps, why you assigned a Jewish persona to the accents. Meanwhile, clearly, conveying accents is not something I write well. I’ll have to work on it!
Happy Fourth! Be Safe!