In Defense of Broccoli
Rabbi Joe was on a mission. His wife Ruth asked him to stop by their local market to pick up some broccoli for her signature knishes. It was a personal joke between them, ever since Ruth served him his favorite dish wearing a garter belt, silk stockings, and his Brooks Brothers shirt. She was a vixen, making him watch her cook, taunting him, all because he said he didn’t believe in luck. He could hear her words, “Now do you believe in luck Joe?”
He stopped in the middle of the street, shocked by the scene. The express line wrapped around the produce section at the entrance and out the front door of Fairway Market where customers holding grocery baskets under their umbrellas stood in line in the rain. It was the day before Rosh Hashanah and the store was buzzing. Outside the temperature was heading for the nineties and the humidity was oppressive.
Customers were agitated from the swamp-like heat that pushed its way into the market through the exit door that never closed, and the checkers, notorious for being the most ungracious in the city were especially irritable.
“Numba ten, Numba ten is OPEN!” screeched across the intercom. The aisles on the main floor were like a madhouse. Every corner was packed with fruits, veggies, snacks, condiments, meats, and cheeses, with employees replenishing as quickly as customers depleted shelves and bins. Entitled Upper Westside mothers dressed in designer yoga wear with professionally blown out hair toting sugar-free iced soy lattes were taking up expensive real estate, cluttering the aisles with double-wide strollers alongside elderly residents from the assisted living center nearby whose lack of hearing resulted in high-pitched voices booming across the store.
A blonde thirty-something woman wearing a salmon colored “Rosé all Day!” Tank top was fussing over her daughter who was wearing a “Feminist in Training” pink t-shirt.
“Blythe, this is Mommy’s “Supa Dupa Greens” juice. Drink your coconut water honey.” It was one of those moments that could have gone either way, but the mother was oblivious, zig-zagging, forcing her way through the throngs of customers. She pushed her stroller through the backed up express line to reach for kale and riced cauliflower as if she were at a sample sale. The soles of her tennis shoes squeaked like chirping birds, momentarily distracting her daughter.
Rabbi Joe’s face fell as he watched a stocky black man whose head morphed into his shoulders without much of neck reach for the last crown of broccoli. The man grabbed it by its stalk and turned it around in front of his eyes, examining it closely. His movements were large, but graceful, defying his size. He looked like a black Telly Savalas in a lab coat. With the broccoli in one hand, he used his other hand to answer his phone. Rabbi Joe hovered, ready to pounce on Fairway’s last stalk of broccoli should the stranger relinquish his hold. Leaning in, he heard the man speaking into his cell phone.
“He’s my new sous chef. I found that mofo with a bottle of Jack Daniels asleep in my office.” A look of agitation crossed the man’s face. He flinched. “What the hell,” he said turning towards the mom and toddler duo, who just jabbed his leg with her stroller.
“BABY ON BOARD. BABY ON BOARD,” barked the mother. The man turned full frontal.
“VIETNAM VET ON BOARD. VIETNAM VET ON BOARD.” he bellowed. Waving his hands holding a menacing stock of broccoli, with his eyes bugging out and one eyebrow up he reminded the rabbi of Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest.” Someone was yelling, “Call the cops! Call the cops!” Most of the strangers in line were pecking away at their phones too busy to be bothered with panic or pandemonium.
The future feminist began shrieking from her stroller. Rabbi Joe froze. His eyes followed the broccoli spear back and forth like a dog following a piece of steak. What should he do? Get involved? Step away? But all he could think of was Ruth in her lingerie. Customers were crouching down and a few brave patrons were stepping back slowly looking like they were ready to duck from a hurling broccoli spear, or worse, a crazed mom.
“Take this,” said the man, as he handed the rabbi the broccoli. “I’ve got no time for this crazy-ass nonsense. I’m outta here.” Rabbi Joe laughed. He wished he could live his life in his own laughter. And for a moment, all eyes were on him. Laughter came again, like it had been in his body incubating, and spread through the crowd like a contagion. He could hear Ruth’s words, “Now do you believe in luck Joe?
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