All we ever hear about are the manifest benefits of organic foods. More nutrients. Better for the environment. Easier to meet Phi Mus. But is anybody reporting on their hidden dangers? I fear that once again the heavy burden falls to me. Looks like Urgent — my killer app that delivers clever pick-up lines using only Foreigner lyrics – won’t be commercialized anytime soon. Perhaps it’s just as well. You’d think the suits at Atlantic Records had never seen a license agreement before. Feels like the first time, indeed.
The unreported danger I see is mostly a failure of marketing. The organic food industry believes its message is reaching everybody, but if believing were enough, I’d be jacking fastballs out of Fenway Park. In their zeal to corner the coveted 18-to-34 demographic, they’ve completely forsaken the 68-to-84 year-old cohort. Until industry leaders run their commercials on the History Channel or during PGA Golf events, Big Tomato will continue to miss this sizeable segment. Men who’ve heard everything there is to say about reverse mortgages and erectile dysfunction, but know absolutely nothing about organic food. Men like Stan.
There’s been a lot of talk about how I came to know Stan. Some even call me a hero, but I say that word gets thrown around too often. Truth is I’m no hero. I’m just a guy who was in the right place – a high-end local grocery — at the right time. Instinct took over, and I ran toward the sound of danger when I heard the call over the intercom: Old-Timer Down on Aisle Two.
By the look of things I arrived on the scene not a moment too soon. There he was in the dairy section, collapsed on the floor. I’d say late sixties, in khakis, sensible shoes and a golf pullover from a silly-sounding track like Forgotten Elves. Over him stood organic shoppers more comfortable in the setting: juicers, beekeepers, glassblowers. Difference in appearances aside, underneath it all was a common humanity. Like guests at a dinner party none of whom want to play Jenga, each of them desperately wanted to say something, do something to help. They just didn’t know what that something was.
As for me, I’d seen enough. This man was up country without coordinates and desperately needed my help. I knelt down and cradled his Clubman-scented head in my arms. In his left hand was stationery with Barb Sez inked in felicitous cursive across the top and eggs and milk handwritten below. I noticed his lips were moving, scarcely a whisper at first but then growing louder.
Man Down: So many eggs … So many eggs.
Me (leaning in): What’s that, friend?
Man Down: Brown, white, omega 3, cage-free, free-range. Barb just wrote down “eggs,” but there are so many eggs. What do these words mean?
He deserved an answer, but what could I say? I suppose brown and white have something to do with feather color, but cage-free and free-range? Barnyard mixed martial arts for all I know. I can’t even say for certain that roosters and hens get busy in the traditional, Marvin Gaye way. It was then that I noticed all the broken eggs around him. He must have dropped two dozen, each falling to the ground with him like a sack of hammers. And the milk. The carton withstood the drop but barely, jackknifed like an 18-wheeler slowly leaking fuel. And not just any milk, almond milk. His disorientation was starting to make sense. I braced his shoulders and carefully moved him up to a seated position.
Me: What’s your name, anyway?
Man Down: Stan. I … I don’t know what happened to me. I had a few belts over at the Elks Lodge but … I must have blacked out. This place is so … strange.
Me: Listen, Stan, we’re gonna get you out of here. You and your almond milk.
Stan (rubbing the back of his neck): Almond milk — that’s the last thing I remember before hitting the deck! Barb just wrote milk, but when I was leaving she yelled “get the almond kind” from the sun porch. I thought she was pulling my leg. I mean, how do you even milk almonds?
Me: Let’s not say that too loud until we get out of here, okay Stan?
I got Stan to his feet and walked him out into the sunlight. As his Buick Regal faded into the distance, I knew two things for sure. First, that right-blinker of his would be on the entire way home, and second, I’d never see Stan again. And that’s what scares me. What happens a year from now when, out with his grandson, he sees lactose-free ice cream for the first time?