Her name was Martha. Martha Shaws.
I’m not sure what it was that first caught my eye. Perhaps it was her coconut bikini, or her hot pink lips. Or her lilting dance, freely floating between the $5.99 bouquets of geraniums and shelf of transfat-free Ritz biscuits.
I could blame it on a moment of insanity, the build up of 2 months of intense soul searching after passing quals, on the stressful lives of PhD students and the pressure to constantly perform and polish a veneer of perfection everyday. But I will not.
I cannot remember what happened in that moment. I don’t remember the squeaking of carts in the international aisle next to me, or the muzak playing in the background. There is a vague sense of my (vegetarian) colleague standing next to me with the salad he had thoughtfully composed just a few minutes earlier from the salad bar. I believe we stood there, simply taking in her glory for a while.
Was it seconds? Minutes? Before my hand reached out and pulled her near via the single cord by which gravity anchored her to the linoleum floor. She wafted down toward us, her torso jiggling lightly against inertia. My eyes tenderly scanned her over as I whispered, “Where’s the price tag?”
It was an answer to my query that would change the course of my life. That would catapult me from the straight and narrow road to the wide road filled with sultry monkeys waiting on the wayside to seduce unsuspecting passerbys, a road which some say leads to perdition.
He said, “Well, if you turn left and keep walking right now, it’s completely free.”
It was a simple statement, but I knew what he was truly implying. Left, were the escalators to the great world outside. Escalators which kept churning with no stopping, unhindered and free, until you touched down on ground level. Right, was where average folks like you and me donned aprons and then extorted $3.83 for 0.52lb of Pink Lady Apples (sticker #4038) from downtrodden and upright citizens who, really, just need a snack.
I tightened my fist on Martha’s cord, and turned right.
Some ask me to this day, had I planned on doing what I was going to do? Was it a random stroke of spontaneous genius? Or was it an intrinsic criminal streak that decided to surface upon the alignment of circumstances, vis-à-vis the Swamp Thing emerging from its swamp? Sidenote: In reality, the Swamp Thing fought to protect its home against human intruders, and therefore should not be considered criminal, since it was merely acting out of self-defense.
I walked past the aisles of canned goods. Peanuts, almonds and trail mix. Then, potato chips – I would comment on the different flavors they had, but I was too busy scanning the horizon for idle apron-donning extortionists who might be tracking my every move. Finally, when I reached the rack of pre-cooked Rotisserie chicken, was when everything clicked.
Calmly but boldly, I walked up to the ice cream box and withdrew a Snickers ice cream bar. And then in a surprising sleight of brainpower, instead of going through one of the human checkout counters, I approached the self-checkout kiosks, paid for my ice cream, and walked straight out of the glass sliding doors into freedom with Martha!
At this point, the colleague had performed the necessary legal transactions to procure his salad, and magically appeared at my side, repeatedly whispering “Just keep walking” as if he suspected that I was about to, for no apparent reason, start tap dancing while belting Queen before reaching the sliding doors. Sidenote #2: I will concede that based on our regular interactions in the office, my bursting into spontaneous tap dance and loud obnoxious singing would not be a completely unreasonable expectation on my colleague’s part.
And there we were. 15 min before, just two hungry students. And 15 min after, two hungrier students with an illegally owned monkey balloon.
Was it stress? The rebellion of youth, to society’s expectations to constantly strive toward an unattainable perfection? The release of twenty-plus years of identity, thrashing against imposed morals to be freed and defined?
No. No, my friends. The answer is simple:
Damn those vegetarians. What bad influences on us.
Note: The author in no way endorses criminal activity, and will also attest to having many vegetarian friends which have been good influences on her. She postulates that how bad of an influence a vegetarian is might depend on other factors not covered in this article, including but not limited to whether or not the said vegetarian consumes veggie patties and “fish on occasion”.