The Stories

Shock the Monkey – Part 6: An Okra Happenstance, A Baltimore Dance, and Romance in the South of France


Click here to read this story from the beginning.

Brief Re-Cap: Dallas is in the middle of an icy snowstorm. I’m in the middle of a grocery store aisle, trapped between a duo of irresponsible shopping-cart drivers at one end and an addled woman at the other end who has accused me of snatching her spread…


  While Medusa wails away in the background about thievery and sandwich components, the two women with their belligerent carts suddenly close ranks again, blocking my escape from the aisle. They glare at me as if I’ve just slapped a nun on her birthday during a very important religious ceremony involving palm fronds and incense.

  I hold up my jar of mayo, waving it at the Doubting Duo. I point to the duplicate jar in the hands of the bitter crone back yonder. See? Same thing. And P.S.? She’s crazy. I suggest you not breathe anywhere near her or she will accuse you of stealing her oxygen, because she has issues and has clearly decided to ill-advisedly go off her meds once again. Now, can you lower the gauntlet so I can go anywhere that is not here?

  They both eye me a bit longer, pondering the potential implications of their next action. On the one hand, it’s very possible that I am indeed a psychotic killer with dark intentions in mind. We see this on the news all the time, where one day you have a kindly neighbor who always waves and has lovely potted begonias on his front porch, then the next day the same man has burned down an office building and done inappropriate things with livestock.

  On the flip side, my accuser has somehow lost interest in potentially wrecking my life and is now having a conversation with a bottle of pickled okra. She has apparently determined that the okra’s name is Bill, and she is questioning Bill about whether or not he has fed the cats. Bill must have had a very long explanation about why he did or did not attend to the felines, because she has her head tilted toward the okra in rapt attention, her manic eyes sparkling in the cheap fluorescent lighting.

  The eyes of the two women clutching the shopping carts go from Crazy, back to me, and then flip back over to Crazy, basically believing me, but a little piece of them does not want to leave a sister in distress, if that’s really the case. When Crazy suddenly bursts into laughter at something the okra just said, they really don’t need to ponder any more.

  They both give me a sheepish look and quietly roll their cars apart. I thank them and shoot through the gap. Meanwhile, Crazy thinks she recognizes a bottle of tartar sauce as someone she once dated in the south of France. She shoves Bill back amongst his sibling jars and races to snatch up Gerard, lighting up a clove cigarette and uncorking a bottle of wine in preparation of reminiscing with her former lover. Gerard initially doesn’t say anything (Perhaps he’s a mime?) but maybe they can work things out.

  On to the onions, the next item on my short list.

  Now, some people have ridiculed me for the fact that I buy my onions (whenever possible) already chopped. They think such a purchase is ludicrous, convinced that I’m overpaying for my onions because I’m lazy. This is simply not the case. Chopping onions is a thankless task. When you do it yourself, it takes forever, you end up wasting half the onion, you are temporarily blind for at least thirty minutes and nothing smells right for at least two days.

  Besides, at Kroger, it only costs two bucks for this nice, sturdy plastic container with enough chopped onion to last several meals. Why would you NOT go for this public option? It’s a little treasure from the produce aisle, a gift that brightens my day. Except when Kroger is out of the chopped onions. This is a devastating discovery, and it’s emotionally overwhelming.

[Editor’s Warning: And at this point, we have another example of the unfocused author suddenly transitioning from present to past tense. Some people never learn.]

  So, when I breathlessly raced up to the “specialty section” where they normally store the little cups of onion jewels, and I was confronted with an empty shelf, I had a slight anxiety attack. How could they be out of chopped onions, after everything I had been through to get here?

  In a panic, I scoured the immediate area for a store employee. A short distance away, I found one of them, an apparent 12-year-old with a Kroger smock, half-heartedly attempting to spray down some vegetables with one of those water hoses that look like dental instruments on steroids. He seemed to be startled that anyone would even want to talk to him, so the conversation was rough-going from the start.

  Me: “Do you know if they have any more chopped onions in the back?”

  Spritz Boy: “Chopped onions?”

  Me: “Yes.”

  Spritz: “In the back?”

  Me: “Yes.”

  He processed this request for a bit, then his eyes wandered to the bins of whole white onions, and he pointed. “Ain’t them onions over there?”

  Me: “They’re not chopped.”

  Spritz: “Can’t you chop em?”

  I took a deep breath. Try to be nice. “I’m not sure I’ve seen you before. Did you just start working here?”

  He brightened. “Yes, sir. I started this week. This is my first job. I keep things wet.”

  “I see. That’s very interesting. Now, could you do me a favor? Would you mind going in the back and finding somebody, maybe your boss, and see if they have any more chopped onion? In these little plastic containers?”

  He nodded his head. “Yes, sir. I can check.” Then he just stood there.

  “Could you maybe go do that… now?”

  “Oh. Okay. Be right back.” Then he wandered off and banged through a set of silver swinging doors. Two seconds later there was a crash that caused something to roll up against something else metallic. I don’t know if these two events were related but Spritz Boy’s mission may have been a bit overwhelming. I’d probably never see him again. His boss might never see him again. They’d have to find somebody else to keep things wet.

  But I really wanted chopped onions, and I was willing to wait a bit. So, I stood there outside the doors, clutching my hand basket with the one lonely item rolling around inside. There was more commotion from the storage area, but it didn’t sound like it had anything to do with chopped onions and nobody was coming out to present me with any.

  Out of boredom, I started to peruse the refrigerated display case to the right of me. Lo and behold, wedged in between some plastic bowls of cubed honeydew melon and an array of shitake mushrooms were three containers of the chopped onions. They totally didn’t belong there, with the shelf label indicating that I should instead be viewing organic habanero peppers. For once, I was grateful for the incompetence of unenthusiastic employees who would shove anything anywhere without concern for the needs of customers. I grabbed one of the containers and I ran.

  Now I just needed eggs. After the trauma I had experienced in obtaining the first two items on my list, I fully expected chaos and mayhem on the third leg of my journey. Perhaps there would be an unexpected and mysterious explosion just as I was reaching for a carton of Jumbo-sized eggs, leaving me paralyzed and causing disharmony amongst the folks waiting in line at the fish counter, just wanting a nice cut of albacore tuna. Maybe suicidal terrorists would drop from the ceiling in front of the dairy section, demanding a political change in their tiny, unknown third-world country. I was prepared for anything, despite my life-long track history of never being prepared for anything.

  Surprisingly, I was able to simply locate and open the appropriate refrigerator door, grab the first package of eggs sitting on top of a towering stack, flip the top open to confirm that all twelve huevos were in pristine condition, and then place my selection in the basket. Nobody died or threatened legal action that would prevent me from living a quiet, uneventful life.

  The ease with which I was able to obtain my final item slightly unnerved me. That was too uncomplicated. Surely I had overlooked some travesty of personal shame or humiliation that was about to derail my quest for a simple life. Was there another shoe about to drop?

  Well, yes, there was. I grabbed another couple of basic food staples (After all, we were in the middle of a snowstorm that was completely unknown in these parts. We could be trapped in our homes for days.) and then I headed to the front of the store. Rounding the corner to the row of checkout lanes, my jaw dropped open.

  There had to be at least a hundred people in the various lines, most of them sweating and huffing as they shoved along shopping carts filled to the brim with enough food to feed the city of Baltimore for a week. This process was going to take forever. My survival instincts kicked in, and I immediately shut off most of my sensory receptors. I went into auto-pilot mode and quietly queued up with the shortest line I could find, one that was still long enough that the population was larger than some entire counties in our state.

  Hours later, I regained consciousness as I was swiping my credit card and the frazzled cashier barely had the strength to hand me my receipt. We made eye contact, and we shared a brief moment of lifelong misery, and then she was distracted by the customer behind me who was already screaming about her coupons not being accepted even though not a single item had been scanned.

  I shuffled to the first exit door, where my yearned-for escape from this retail hell was rudely halted. There was a small crowd at the front of the store, unable to move forward because yet another insane woman in the entry vestibule was demanding an audience with the store manager. This obnoxious human being was offended that it was snowy and wet outside and yet no store employee was offering to carry her purchases to her car.

  Seriously, that was her beef. This is Duncanville, Texas, sweetie, not Park Avenue. You carry your own crap to your own car. How did you ever even get it into your head that there would be some type of concierge service at this grocery store? What is wrong with you? And slap your over-indulgent parents while you think about your response.

  Luckily, because I was only carrying two comparatively miniscule plastic bags instead of shoving along behemoth metal shopping carts bound for Baltimore, I was able to weave through the stalled traffic and work my way to the final exit door. (There was a briefly tense situation wherein I was nearly decapitated by the insane woman making this odd, windmill-based, arm-flailing gesture of dismay, but some wise instinct prompted me to duck and roll at just the right moment. Perhaps I learned something after all during those soul-killing rounds of dodgeball in high-school gym class.)

  I clattered out the door, finally able to breathe air that did not reek of staleness, human sweat, desperation, dirty diapers, burnt tuna singed by terrorists, pickled okra, clove cigarettes, mimes, and false accusations that hinted at stolen mayo that wasn’t. I took a second to compose myself, then I hurled myself forward across the parking lot.

  The temperature had dropped a bit. The gritty soup covering the pavement was now gritty jello. I was still stomping through icy nastiness, and the going was a little bit harder, but it was fair to say that I hadn’t had any sensation in my feet for the last hour anyway, so it really didn’t matter.

  I waded to my car, threw the grocery sacks into the back seat, hoisted myself up into the SUV, slammed the door, turned on the engine, and then simply waited for minimal amounts of feeble warmth to wisp out of the vents. I made a mental note that the next time this happened, with life-altering snow falling from the sky, that I would stay at home for as long as possible, gnawing on downed tree limbs for nourishment if that’s what it took to keep me from interacting with humanity.

[Editors’s Second Warning: And now we fumble our way back to present tense. Have I mentioned that the writer is unfocused?]

  Eventually, I put the car in gear, make my way out of the parking lot full of the lowest life forms on the planet, and thirty minutes later (instead of what should have been five minutes later) I pull into the driveway of our home. I stumble into the house, shove the door closed, and drop to my knees, kissing the shiny wooden flooring that we had insisted on installing a few years ago, despite the immediate depreciation in value. Scotch the cat looks at me with bewilderment. Daddy’s being stupid, and he doesn’t know why. There might be an impact on the treat-reward system this evening, and he’s concerned.

  I stagger to my feet and glance out at the impromptu patio-table snow-measuring device. There’s at least ten inches of snow on said table, and it’s still coming down. Dallas rarely sees anything like this. We are about to experience several days of not-good, intensified by the mindless ineptitude of many citizens who are still confused by the “rain” being “white and flakey”.

  Partner arrives home shortly after that, his face in a rictus of horror after driving all the way from his office in north Dallas. At first, he is only able to speak in a series of grunts and monosyllabic utterances. It was bad, that’s all I know.

  Shortly, though, he thaws enough to make a statement that strikes fear in my heart. “We’ve probably lost the satellite signal for the TV.”

  Me: “What are you talking about?” (Said calmly, but anxiety is bubbling.)

  Partner: “The snow. The satellite dish is caked with it. The signal is not going to get through.”

  I make an involuntary yelp. “But ‘Survivor’ is on tonight. It’s the premiere. I’ve got to blog about that.”

  Partner, who is not as invested in this whole blogging thing as I am, does not share my trepidation. “Well, let’s just check the TV.”

  He marches over to the 47 remotes that we own, and he begins the intricate launch procedure that is required to fully ignite all electronic devices in the house that have some stake in our television-watching experience. This process has mystified me for some time. Partner is the local network guru, and I’m just along for the ride.

  He performs his magic, and the wide-screen TV blossoms to life. Well, “blossoms” is a stretch. What we basically have is a giant blue screen with the words “Searching for Signal.” We have lost contact with the world.

  I whimper, then whine. “I need to watch Survivor tonight.”

  Partner: “We can watch it tomorrow, on the CBS website.”

  Oh no, no we can’t. “People are expecting me to blog about this within hours!” (Okay, ONE person is expecting me to blog about this.) “I can’t disappoint my fans.” (Okay, I can’t disappoint my one fan who might check the blog if her satellite TV is also out.)

  I have got to do something about this signal interruptus. I turn and race down the hallway to our bedroom, where I frantically change back into the soaked jeans I had been wearing during the Kroger calamity. This time I actually put on some footwear that is more appropriate for trudging through tons of wet snow, as if my couture matters in any degree at this point.

  I thunder back through the house, throw open the sliding glass door, and scamper out into the night so I can check the status of the satellite dish. I don’t quite close the door all the way, so there’s a thin slice of outdoor air seeping into the room. Scotch the cat seizes this opportunity and runs up to the door, breathing deeply of the forbidden outside air that smells of a place that he is not allowed to visit. Then Scotch looks up at his other daddy, with a questioning look on his furry face.

  Partner: “Dude, he is just so many kinds of wrong right now.”

  Scotch nods wisely, then turns back to look out the sliding glass doors and wait for my return…


To be continued…

25 replies »

  1. It is amazing how people go from marginally odd to outright insane when the weather even so much as threatens to turn bad, when it actually does, it is best to forget all thoughts of wandering forth into and joining the madness. I would rather do without than be surrounded by those who discuss with the products if it is “cold enough for you?”. But I can recall watching my now late husband taking a broom to our ginormous satellite dish to clear away the snow so he could watch some program or other that he has probably already watched at least twice.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Agreed, the easiest way to survive most inclement weather conditions is to simply not BE out in that weather. Many people are just not right, and the not-rightness escalates during times of crisis, whatever that crisis might be…

      It’s interesting that mention using a broom to… well, just keep reading… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • We had a relatively bad snow for us one year. Of course being we rarely get snow, any is bad but this was a bit worse. I had to drive around a big hill with the grandiose name of mountain. As I came around a curve to a flat level area, there were cars everywhere. In all manner or wrong direction, some were, yes, doing some off roading down the embankment. I managed to thread the needled and get through. It did not appear anyone was injured and I just wanted to get to work. I was one of the few who made it in, but I was there and I wasn’t leaving until they made me. Yes, many people should not be out in poor weather much less storms of any sort. I’ll be reading..

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I had to banish an unsavory thought as I began to read the first paragraph of this installment. Warning! I’m groggy (for no good reason at all, and I feel vaguely like a cold is coming on. From WHERE I’m not certain, as I loathe going ‘out there’ fully as much as you do. All those PEOPLE fer Chrissake. Ughh) … the unsavory thought had to do with ‘snatching her spread’ (which you were absolved of doing thank the lords of greasy condiment spreads). If you rearrange those words a tad, well let us say a mental image might emerge which would shrivel the soul of even the horniest being on this planet or any other. I disgust myself sometimes, but the mind goes where the mind goes..” Congratulations on surviving your own personal version of “Survivor” (they ought to keep you on their island, you’re creative about survival). You got home again too, without further encounters with idiotic baby mamas who never heard the word ‘contraceptive” and who might just be convinced they’ll go to hell if they use such things. Now as to the satellite dish. Dude. You just needed to relax and assimilate. Didn’t that freakish snowstorm teach you that resistance is futile? (Plus I’ve tried clearing the dish off when it snowed here and it doesn’t help..all that seems to happen is I knock the damn thing out of alignment and then have to call Customer Service and hope they send someone in the next decade. That of course, was ‘in the day’ when I actually used a satellite dish and didn’t rely on my Wi-Fi streaming me something commercial-free. It’s very freeing out here in Rebel land..

    Liked by 3 people

    • First Confession: I was fully aware that my choice of those three words to end the opening would have certain reverberations with certain people. Sometimes I can be a tad bit naughty…

      Second Confession: Even though I responded to Peggy (above) that I would probably be the first contestant voted off of “Survivor”, I probably would manage to play a decent game in that situation. (I can be rather sly about my deceptions, and that’s a critical skill if you want to triumph.) My only hurdle (and it’s a big one) would be the physical challenges. 10 years ago? No problem. Now? They would have to airlift my gasping ass off the island after every challenge…

      Third Confession: Having worked in the telecom industry for umpteen years, I know and knew that one shouldn’t mess with the satellite dish. Did that knowledge have any impact in the upcoming developments in our saga? Well, we shall see… 😉

      Like

    • Pickled okra is definitely an acquired taste. I’m not a big fan of okra in its “natural” state, with the exception of a good Nawlins gumbo. But pickled (especially on a salad) or fried (especially when dipped in ranch dressing)? I’m all on it… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m aamazed that the grocery store had everything in stock. Around here, where we are used to snowstorms, as soon as an upcoming storm is announced the grocery store is packed and the shleves are soon empty…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Typically, our grocery-store shelves are quickly decimated when bad weather is due. But in this particular situation, the forecasters got it a bit wrong. There was a chance for a dusting of snow, maybe an inch. So most people were still trapped at work when it became clear that, oops, this is a big one and we didn’t know it. I was working from home, so I lucked out in that area. In the avoidance of bad examples of humanity in a social setting? Not so lucky…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I used to make my famous, famous macaroni and cheese. For years, I would slice off fingernails, skin and whatever else, while trying to shred cheese. I finally decided that I would make it, but someone else had to shred the cheese. Now….I see that you can buy shredded cheese! Who knew? But…I no longer make macaroni and cheese. LOLOL

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My mind also twisted Melanie’s way. Wordplayed!
    Also, present, past tenses, go where the whimsy takes you. The last time I bothered with tenses was swotting to get through an English test whilst enduring another one of Mr French’s (bastard!) interminable detentions, whiling away the long suffering hour in a productive manner. Hey, it happened occasionally. The studying, I mean. French’s detentions? All too often. Bastard.
    Onions. When I was but a child at her knee hanging around her kitchen like an annoying fly, Old Mother Obbverse told me, in no uncertain terms, while sweating over a steaming cauldron of potatoes to feed the poor famished family; ‘Son, ya chop onions- red, not white, mind- just before use or the goodness, juiciness and flavour dissipates.’ I took this on board, especially since she was pointedly waving the vegetable cleaver at me at the time. That tended to drive home her point, metaphorically speaking.

    Liked by 3 people

    • First, the spread-snatching line just spoke to my addled spirit. I simply had to share…

      Second, I’m an admitted grammar geek, so changes in verb tense still make me itchy and I feel compelled to atone. But I’m getting better at ignoring such. You should write what’s in your head and, apparently, there are no consistent tenses in my brain, just an amazing amount of clutter and trivia…

      Third, Mother Obbverse is right. It’s best to slaughter an onion mere seconds before use, if you want the best flavor. But the allure of the pre-chopped, sparing me the stinging eyes and the potential loss of a finger during my whacking exuberance, is a very compelling concept…

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m just glad to know that I’m not the only twisted “sister” in the crowd. I was furtively researching “Perverts Anonymous” and seeing if they had a meeting here soon. ‘Course the whole anonymity thing would be ruined. This is small-town America and everybody knows everybody else’s business. That whole onion thing is and will remain a mystery. Onions and I never did get along. That whole stinging eyes and stinky hands no matter how thoroughly you wash ’em is not for me. Even though I also was press-ganged into chopping the vile vegetable now and then. Those cleaver-wielding parents didn’t play!

      Liked by 2 people

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