Insurrection in the Aisles

The Havarti cheese occupied an undistinguished position in the cheese section at the Fresh Space Grocery Center on the East end of Fortuna Bay. It was a niche product, not in any way because of any especially distinct flavor it possessed, but because of the regional interest it carried for those with Dutch origins or ancestry living here in America, or for others looking to up their multi-cultural perimeter game. I don’t know if you knew this, but there is a social pecking order between different types of cheeses. No, I mean among the cheese themselves. It doesn’t require any special qualifications for items of grocery to aspire for social mobility, and most Havarti’s seemed to have such aspirations. That general proclivity, along with the foul, enfranchised attitude of a particular block of Havarti cheese, inventory unit 005AD4003222, made it inevitable that trouble would percolate up. It only really required an occasion and a direct reason for the conflagration to occur.

3222 was making somewhat guarded conversation with Havarti 8413 one day. “What do you get when cross a jar of mustard with a bottle of ketchup?”

“I don’t know. What do you get?”

“One mussed-up ketchtard.”

If you were expecting skilled humor from a grocery store item, that would be a false hope, for they do not possess the basic equipment for it. A stalk of cauliflower, even though it may somewhat resemble a human brain in appearance, is not the same thing, and in no way close to par with a human brain. Therefore, the mere attempt to make humor itself, whether it be from a can of coffee, a tube of toothpaste, or even a set of nylons, is in that setting and social context considered successful.

Having now cleared the way at least a little to the right expectations of behavior for what we style “inanimate” things, let it be clear that any lack of animation perceived in them is only a politically correct way to think in a society that is mostly prejudicial towards empirical facts, and not the reality of what any Havarti cheese or other grocery item is actually capable of.

The target for 3222’s ire, and really, social snobbery, on that day was an item of Limburger cheese. The aspersions that were cast on Limburger inventory unit 007GB000766 that day certainly landed on Limburger cheeses in general, but this was Havarti’s opportunity, at least in theory, to apply the needle directly to one particular block of the smelly stuff in the normal fashion of bullying that everyone has seen on a thousand different playgrounds.

Saying, to no one in particular, “Wow, 766 is dressed to kill in that tight shrink-wrap he’s wearing today. It must be tough, though, to know most of world finds you thoroughly disgusting and avoids you like the plague”, 3222 began in one of his rants that the others had become somewhat accustomed to.

Most of the other cheeses just kept minding their own business. They didn’t really like 3222’s antics but felt that to even pay any attention just fed his own overbaked sense of importance and would only prompt him on to more and more of the same. There were, truthfully many private complaints made about him, and disparaging comments about him had even circulated out some into the neighborhood. But that discussion never got any further than the wine section. It just wasn’t juicy enough or truly provocative enough to circulate any further.

A block of Cajun-blackened cheese, however, did take exception to Havarti’s comments. Inventory unit 010RT010002 was thoroughly tired of this. This own progeny came mostly from Louisiana and the New Orleans area. It seemed, contrary to the others, that a smart mouth needed to be shut down, and not just ignored. Perhaps the rules were different in a more freewheeling culture like New Orleans, and that the rules had to be different where there seemed to be greater incidence of things like bullying and brawling.

10002 didn’t pull any punches. “You’re a horse’s arse, you know that Havarti?”

“Say what?” Havarti answered protectively. He wasn’t used to being challenged. The comeback was instinctive, not at all thoughtful or measured with a plan of action to follow through in an effective way in this beginning of a confrontation.

Perhaps it was the collegial feelings Cajun had for Limburger that drove him determinedly on to carry his challenge as far as he needed to. He realized, very perceptively, that a hunk of cheese that tasted somewhat provocative, like him, was a near cousin to a cheese that smelled provocative (Limburger), and although his own standing in the general acceptance of the population was more mainstream, who was to say whether Limburger might not someday himself ascend socially? There are a whole lot of other factors at work here than what Cajun could conceive at the time, but again, we should not expect a hunk of curdled dairy to have the conceptual awareness of higher life forms.

“I said you are the bee-hind of a horse. You are a loser, and you need to shut your big mouth so that your stupid ass doesn’t keep hanging out and flapping in the wind.” There was finality in 10002’s words that even on a human scale was able twenty percent of the time to quell an out-of-control situation in New Orleans or in Texarkana.

It only inflamed Havarti. If he were to shut his mouth, it would end the small notoriety and attention that he received from the others. And to Cajun’s credit, if someone had at the very first completely put him in his place, he very likely then would have responded in a more compliant way. Because no one did shut him down, he developed a feeling of license and he liked the freedom it gave him to say what he wanted to say whenever he felt like it.

This thing of someone actually challenging him was not something he was prepared for and he was too much of a real coward to try and match this curd for curd. Desperate to keep himself in the limelight, and also wondering briefly how the lime had garnered the adjective “limelight” as a memorial, he took a new tactic. Like David did in the Bible when he sought refuge among the Philistines, and for similar reasons, Havarti feigned madness. He began to belt out a mad chant, the first thing that came to his mind.

“Glum-do-wah. Glum-do-wah. Megporonto stalin!” He repeated this same thing over and over again with great animation (we’ve already cleared the air about “inanimate objects”). He did it with a mad look in his eye over and over again. And also, in a somewhat predictable rhythm he would make a rude gesture in the signal way that only a rectangular hunk of cheese can and did all this with a very crazed look in his eyes.

Cajun did not know exactly what to do. This was so contrary to any kind of counter-punch he had expected that he sat somewhat frozen and dumbfounded. There were I’m sure crazies too in New Orleans whose memory had somehow made it into his own DNA, maybe through some residue in the cheese vat where he was manufactured and carried somehow into his own personality, but it was of no help to him now.

Havarti’s new tactic was very effective in frightening most of the other rinds of cheese around him. While no one was really too concerned with his immature traits evidenced before in the language and manners of a bully, there now was some panic among the cheeses about the prospect of a real madman in the cheese bin. In general terms, irrational fear is a signal characteristic of grocery products whose length of lifespan is somewhat undefined. Commodities like eggs and milk had no real problems with fears of mortality because everything was very cut and dried. Your shelf-life was short, everyone sort of knew the rules and didn’t get too worked up about it. For cheeses and other items that could be gone quickly or could be around a longer time, there was this extra sort of angst that they were all somewhat prey too.

In the meantime, the whole community of Limburgers were finally coming to terms with all that had occurred this afternoon and were discussing it amongst themselves. As background, certain boxed unrefrigerated dairy products that it would be hard to call cheese in the strict sense of that word had introduced to the others the idea of legal action as a possible route of redress to certain things that might be causing discontent among them. The idea of civil action especially intrigued the Limburgers at this very juncture. They discussed together if they had now landed upon a situation where this idea of using law to help them seemed at least worthy of consideration.

There is so much more that could be said about the various things going on that day, other factors that might also have in some way contributed to the disarray that was to immediately follow. I have not even accounted for things like the sudden burst of air that launched from the furnace directly through the vent at the end of deli area unto the circular display table for oranges, and did not mention the small, almost imperceptible rumbling or shaking effect from fracking operations in nearby Oklahoma. What I brought to light instead where these other not inconsequential disturbances, these disruptions, these telling signs of other activity that may offer a more psychic explanation. I am not putting this forward to try and state anything with causal certainty. I am only really acting as a reporter does in surveying a scene and letting the reader or listener make their own judgements about everything.

Anyway, the Fresh Space management had put on display a whole bunch of oranges in a huge mound on a fairly low round refrigerated display table next to the cheese section across from the deli. You’ve all seen these kind of displays. A massive amount of oranges had mistakenly been shipped by the distributor and Fresh Space needed to unload them fairly quickly. A one-time display was set up, the oranges were piled high in this huge mound, which was actually very attractive visually and was already being depleted by customers because of the special price management had placed on the items. Someone had not quite reckoned with the physics, however, of the downward weight of the remaining oranges at the top and the force that was being exerted against the perimeter of the pile which wasn’t exactly contained by any guardrail or anything. Actually, those physics were not the whole problem. It was that combined with the changes that occurred in the pile as customers removed specific oranges not on the basis of keeping the pile together but because of the attractiveness and suitability of the individual orange they selected.

If customers were not only thinking of their own existential need to eat a luscious orange and had even considered the possibility of other life forms and their attendant psychic needs this may also not have happened. As it is, oranges spend the whole growing season in close proximity with only a handful of other oranges on the tree, and so the tight physical closeness that they often feel in a fruit sack or now in a large mound had a generally pleasing effect on them, giving them a stronger sense of community. They are not really tactile beings like humans, something acquired mostly in the infancy of an adult child, but they did certainly like the sense and ideal of tight community. This is all just a very long way of saying that the slow depletion of their comrades too way was introducing into psychic milieu certainly imbalances that were not helpful to the overall state of things, as they had to deal with the slow erosion of that tight community. Now, they couldn’t help but be affected by the social tension in the nearby cheese bin.

Right near the height of these various dynamics, without any other known precipitating factor, the oranges suddenly breached the perimeter of the table and started falling rapidly. Once the first few fell, it all had a cascading effect as gravity pushed everything down and out. Some of the oranges were ejected with quite a bit of force and rolled a considerable distance in a paradoxical state of animation that only an experienced “inanimate object” knows how to perform, and much more skillfully done than how most humans would play a game of “statues”.

The other main effects on that landmark day had to do with two store employees, and later with one nurse named Julie. Logan was the first impacted by the sudden dumping of a few hundred oranges onto the area around the display table. He had just turned the corner and, being an overly caffeinated and uptight individual anyway, did not react well to what was happening. Not really observing his fellow Fresh Space employee Walter on a ladder reaching to put up a display banner concerning a special on Fryers at the same and in the same general space, Logan stupidly recoiled sideway as if being touched by some falling oranges would cause leprosy or something, banging into Walter’s ladder, launching Walter airborne.

What Logan did was almost the equivalent to “friendly fire” in battle. There is nothing really friendly about causing your friend and work-mate to have several serious fractures in their leg through your own lack of poise and attention, but Walter being the kind and gentle and understanding soul he was took it without even a single bad thought towards Logan. It was the combined awkwardness of the way the ladder fell, the height from which Walter’s body weight pushed down on his leg, the weird angle of his leg as it shot down to the floor, and then finally the fact that this all came down upon the very uneven surface of moving oranges that cumulatively caused the serious fractures and trauma to Walter’s leg. That is not a precise explanation of what exactly caused those phenomena that showed up as several noticeable discrepancies to normal bone contours and connections in the x-rays, but it gives you the general idea.

Not to steal any thunder from the cheeses and the oranges or to distract your attention too much away from them, but I guess you could say that Walter and Julie were the beneficiaries of what all that happened that day. For it was Walter who had the good fortune to be assigned a hospital room under the watchful care of a kind and good-hearted nurse named Julie. And it was due to some of the complications of the procedures that were done to fix Walter’s leg that the stay was extended, giving Walter and Julie time to get to know each other better. And some kind of romantic magic happened during that time that brought these two very well-suited individuals together in what would be an interesting story in its own right.

If only Mr. Havarti cheese, inventory unit 005AD4003222, could have seen in Walter and Julie how individual kindness and vulnerability can give one entry to a much more satisfying world than any of his lame power-grabbing moves could ever achieve, then maybe he would have been put on a better pathway.

Those are the facts but let me register a few personal asides and then be done. I can imagine that there may be some of you with a skeptical mindset, who wouldn’t want to give any credibility to what I just reported, grocery store items with social mobility, talking, thinking, feeling as if they were “alive”. I did it because I do believe in the animation of inanimate things, but let me tell you this: I do not have enough religious faith to believe that inanimate things can become living things. I am somewhat in awe of those of you who do believe that, and many times have wished that I could make that jump of faith, but I just never seem to get there. Why, that inanimate things are animate, all it requires from me is to believe that I can press the next key on my keyboard, and it will show up animated. I know with certainty that such things do verily live. In no way do they “become” alive. They were already living, it is more a matter of making them visible. But to believe that a cell can really start rocking in its own space like a hunk of Havarti cheese and then decide that it kind of likes it and wants more of the same, that squirrels are going to repeatedly jump out into space and one day catch a good air draft and presto, flight and a bird is born, why, I don’t have that kind of faith.

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