The Food Fight

Your turn

The Junior High cafeteria was ringing with a fresh cacophony of hungry and jumpy new students; a droning epicenter of raging hormones, frantic emotions and awkward social behaviors. The newly minted seventh graders had collected in the far corner of the cafeteria to wolf down their lunches before the upper classes would converge on them and dispense a wide variety of adolescence justice on their pimply ilk. The ninth graders, on the opposite end, were separated by an isthmus of eight graders who knew their days of harassment were over and were more than happy to allow roving bands of ninth graders safe passage through their area to embarrass and browbeat the newest members of the school.

The ninth graders, now the ranking royalty, could finally ascend to their thrones and mete out class-specific punishment at will. As the first lunch of the year began, one of the ninth graders began picking at his food, and discovered a large black olive within the nether regions of his taco salad. The olive was much larger than a standard food service offering and was a fascinating result of the schools first attempt at taco salad. Industrial food services rarely stray outside the standard fare and the use of black olives was considered revolutionary. However, since the olive was feared as a contributory factor to a potential choking incident, the salad olives were chopped to a safe and uniform size equivalent to a quarter of a Cheerio.

To no one's surprise, schools purchase the smallest (and thus the cheapest) olives available. Literally referred to as “bullets” in the olive business, they are chopped into oily piecemeal mulch and then shoveled into the warm mélange that made up the foundation of the taco salad. The cooks, ironically schooled in the art of mass food preparation would rarely, if ever, see a large or colossal size olive. However, through a series of undetermined circumstances, a super mammoth olive appeared in the middle of the ninth grader’s bowl. Covered by chunks of iceberg lettuce and irregular clumps of government cheese, the impressive vessel was not discovered until he was halfway through his lunch. By this time, the novelty of the new south of the border menu item was revived only by the finding of this impressively large, inky and beautiful organic warhead.

The pitted olive’s cavern was smooth and uniform and easily accommodated any of his fingers. The ellipsoidal shape was blissfully attractive with its rounded top and bottom as it quietly whispered to the upper classman to ponder its other offensive uses. Instinctively and without forethought, the young man began to fill the void with salsa. Once filled, he loosely capped the surface with a disc of cheese; and the olive was transformed into a condiment grenade. The newly created ordinance, weighing it at an impressive twenty-five grams, was begging for tactical deployment.

As he scanned the cafeteria’s horizon for options, he was continually transfixed with the orb’s silhouette and tactile texture. Armed with what was ostensibly an onyx football, sans laces. He teed it up on his tray, his index finger instinctively bending and rearing back, just like a digital personification of Lou Groza. Without thought of consequence or target, he automatically launched the olive towards the seventh grade table. The arc of its launch was beautiful; it did not stray or wavier from its maiden flight. As its slow rotation and complimentary downward glide drew down on the seventh grade table, its target became clear, a young man that leaning back in his chair, quietly content with the conclusion of his first junior high school meal. The olive hit his sternum and exploded all over his white shirt. The force of the olive combined with the surprise of the attack, knocked him from his chair and sent him clattering to the floor with extreme prejudice.

The site of him falling down was initially owned only by the attacker but as he noisily hit the ground, and as the bright red salsa emblazoned his chest, the entire cafeteria engaged in a mass head snap muted by a communal shock. As he stood up, with the crimson remnants directly in the middle of his shirt, the crowd took a momentary pause to make sure he was indeed safe. The sight was chilling to the lunchtime masses as it appeared that he had been shot to death. However, the absence of a gun shot combining with whispered accounts of an initial attempt to stand vertical; he was greeted with waves of merciless laughter when he finally stood erect.

The projectile’s general direction and line of flight was known only to the sender and receiver. He looked up a direct line to the upper classman and locked his eyes. He said nothing and excused himself to clean up both himself and his lunch dishes. The super mammoth olive, with its superstructure still enact, was picked up quietly by the seventh grader. He knew his assailant but he decided any immediate retribution would be foolish. He intelligently decided to bide his time and think about his next moves. When a teacher came over to determine the situation, he sheepishly blamed himself and continued cleaning up the mess. Later that hour, when he returned to the playground, only minutes remained before returning to his class. Scanning the playground with a distinct but noticeable faded red stain in the middle of his chest, he was seeking his attacker. He was comfortable to have the other students blame his own clumsiness as the truth was known only by two living people but only one knew what the next step was going to be. The upperclassman, couldn’t believe his luck of neither accused or caught, finished his taco salad and left through the far door and disappeared into the halls. He stayed out of public for awhile, still amazed at his own digit strength.

Several years later, in the early summer of the high school sophomore’s education, he held the chosen cherry tomato in his hand. Its patina was yielding and only a few hours away from natural implosion. The golf ball size fruit was surprisingly heavy yet fragile due to its advanced state of ripening. Chosen from hundreds of worthy candidates from his private and secret garden in the woods, the tomato was almost perfectly circular with a very small vine indention. The sophomore checked his watch and packed the tomato into his instrument case. At the last moment, he withdrew the tomato and added a degree of assurance ballast, by filling the tomato with a syringe of mayonnaise. The added weight would help to assure accuracy and the combination of fruit and dairy made a nice return package to complete the legacy of retaliation. He had practiced the attack trajectory countless times and was quietly confident as he left the house.

As he assembled his instrument, he had made sure he was in the far, rear corner of the band, technically parallel to the band’s perennial outcasts, the percussionists. Suffering the loss of half the band due to graduation, many sophomores were conscripted into the varsity band to allow the graduating band seniors to chance to stand down and enjoy their graduation. The lack of authority at the last gig of the season allowed for members to sit wherever they wanted; friends sat together as the large brass intermingled with reeds, flutes played with the trombones and baritones shared music stands with the clarinets. As the class filed into the football stadium to the grinding musicianship of the newly assembled band-like entity, the seniors was oblivious to both the crowd and situation. Only one senior, the class president, had a speech to give to the assembled and his pre-occupation with the events made him an easy target.

The tomato, now placed in the wrist-supported slingshot, was safely cradled awaiting deployment. The sophomore was directly in front of the target and approximately seventy yards away. He was pleased that no one was behind him and confident that no eyes were on him so he aimed his arm almost straight up and released his payload. The class president stood, resplendent in his cream-colored gown, to survey his audience. He paused dramatically and began his practiced speech with the excitement of being aggressively amplified and full of raw adrenaline. Just as he began, a reddish spherical object descended directly from above and splattered a creamy red lotion across his entire torso and face. His reactionary and grunted obscenity echoed through the stadium as he clutched his chest and dropped his mortarboard and papers on the stage. The crowd was silenced momentarily with surprise but began an inelegant roar of apoplectic laughter when the reality became apparent.

The tomato’s landing angle was almost directly from above so no obvious launch line existed. The sharp rate of descent gave the impression that it came literally from the heavens. Once the crowd gasped, the sophomore slipped the slingshot assembly into a hidden compartment of his band case and gasped along with everyone else. The target, stunned with the waves of ceaseless laughter and general surrounding chaos, just gathered up his property and left the stage. The graduation ended twenty minutes early and the only thing that was being discussed was the fruitful attack from the heavens. The seniors clustered together after the ceremony saying goodbye and still laughing about the tomato. The now ex-President said goodbye to a few close friends and made a quiet vow never to come back again. As he walked towards his car, still picking remainders of tomato out of his collar, he saw the sophomore quietly loading his instrument in the back of the band bus. He knew where the attack came from but he said nothing. Their eyes locked for the second time and just as quickly unlocked. They were going in opposite directions.

The newlyweds were awash with adoration from the atrium; their wedding was just the start of a wonderful life together. In one week, they had both graduated and still metaphorically clutching their B.A.’s, culminated the month with their wedding with the social upper crust of the city. Their wedding party was loud and raucous, full of youthful energy and mint juleps and the venue was inspiring; the upper lobby of the city’s nicest hotel. The upper lobby was a brief escalator ride from the front desk, and was an island onto itself. The revelers could see the bright stars through the impressive skylight that made up a surreal ceiling, supported by fifty floors of the hotel as well as the lobby floor below. The balconies of the fifty floors above uniformly lined up above the people, like cooperative layers of freshly dealt concrete playing cards.

The wedding party was at the head table, looking down at their friends, family and assorted minions dance and revel in the couple’s happiness. The new wife was a prototypical southern belle, raised on cotillions and flagellating social obligation, saw the marriage as completing exactly one half of her lifelong goals. The second goal was producing several children and spending the rest of her life bossing around the hired help. However, this night she was radiant and complete with her ambitions and she was progressing well on her second goal as the wait staff were sweating through their tuxedos and working like coolies to satisfy a constant stream of demands of this wedding party.

The sixteen ounce paper cup was filled almost to the top with a bright orange combination of Roquefort and French dressing. The dressings were whipped by hand until all the chunks of bleu cheese were completely mixed into a vivid, brilliant puree. Once blended, more French dressing was added to brighten the concoction to an even more robust persimmon color. The cup had a nice heft and a consistent base that would give the third year Law Student the confidence that it would drop straight and true. But by taking Sir Isaac Newton on as a theoretical co-conspirator, he was confident that the speed of the cup, aided of gravity would combine elegantly with the distance between the upper lobby floor and the mezzanine to send a thickened miasma of orange dressing easily into a circle with a diameter of twenty feet.

As the groom approached the middle of the dance floor to begin his obligatory duties, the room grew quiet. He graciously thanked the guests, his new in-laws and then his bride. The spotlight hit him and as he grabbed the knife to initiate the cutting of the cake, the glint of the knife’s blade provided the final coordinates to the Law Student as he let the cup head downward. The groom’s attached microphone recorded a beginning of yet another compliment to his new wife as she began to walk to the center of the room, towards the cake and her new partner for life.

Just as he began to form the second syllable of rehearsed extemporaneous yet adoring remarks, the cup hit the edge of the cake table, just missing his head. The subsequent explosive release of the orange mixture completely coated the bride and groom, the cake and had plenty left over to ruin the collective tips of the bridemaid’s white satin pumps as well as all surrounding tablecloths. The payload formed a perfect circle around him and as everyone recoiled in confused horror, the room grew very reluctant to help make the orange go away. Since most of the wedding pictures were yet to be shot and that the vandal was never caught, the bride felt the best thing to do was to salvage her good name by replicating the entire reception all over again at a place and time yet to be determined. The party ended early and as people descended into the main lobby, no apologies were given by anyone although they were assured that the second reception would not require additional gifts. She was given points for poise under significant duress but the tragedy was viewed by the group as a many chaptered affair.

The law partner’s Bentley convertible was secured in the building’s private parking area. As requested every Friday morning, the car was hand detailed and fully checked out per the owner’s instruction. With the pressure of personally billing over eighty hours a week and directing a platoon of toady associates, the pleasure of hopping into his car and speeding out onto the highway was seemingly the only true fruit of his labor that he actually could enjoy. His car was a refuge from known cell phones, paperwork and the miscellaneous whining of employees and assorted family members. The light colored car, buffed to a high sheen was fully gassed and tuned to maximum performance, waited for him patiently as he tossed his briefcases into the ecru leather back seat directly behind him. It was Friday and he wanted to get the hell out of there.

The weather had been spotty all day; clouds threatening, dissipating and threatening again. He would leave the friendly confines of the secure parking area and make his weather determination once he got outside. The car, a limited edition, had a futuristic roof deployment system and he had both soft and hard top options. Since it was still late summer, the soft top remained nestled in the trunk area, ready to be fully deployed and locked down within ten seconds of a button push. Both roofs were engineered to fly out of the back portion of the car and the whole process was a crowd pleaser and he felt like a combination of James Bond and a fighter pilot when the car literally sealed in around him.

As he ascended to the street level, he felt several water droplets hit his face and saw several more land on his windscreen. As soon as he cleared the ramp, he would hit the button to lock down the ragtop. The timing of that move pleased him as he would be in a prominent location in which hundreds of pedestrians would see his car lock itself down and let him peel off into the evening like a vision of coolness and confidence. As he arrived at the street plateau, he looked around to assure many eyes fixed on him and his car. He was the man and it was time for the people, especially the ladies, to see that enlightening fact right now. He smiled and pushed the button for the roof to make its move.

He, at first, did not see or feel the substance as his only clear memory as the smell of the condensed Manhattan clam chowder. However, the smell became a secondary sense when he did not feel a corresponding substance consistent with that of soup. This substance was more similar to a semi-firm filling as it lacked water as it continued to fall from the suede folds of the roof in random, congealed clumps of red soup pudding. Not as well known as its non-red New England cousin, Manhattan-style was a hearty enough soup to support significant amounts of clams and other ingredients from the sea. Of the approximately thirty gallons of chowder which now collected in the upholstered crevices and deep piled recesses of his car, his briefcases and in his suit pockets, the passenger seat was still pristine and not soiled. The delivery of the concentrated soup was targeted only at him and his possessions. He remained confused and it was the laughing of the growing crowd of onlookers that brought him back to his soupy reality. He looked up skyward and was not surprised when no clues were apparent so he pressed the button to retract the roof, put it into gear and drove away, leaving small pools of tomatoes and clams as his only legacy of the day.

The convention hall was a busy place on the first day of the conference. The great hall was well-lighted, all the technology had been tested and all presenters had rehearsed earlier in the day. The keynote speaker was a hotshot computer founder who had correctly predicted the wild ride of the Internet. His wisdom was harvested from many sources and his predictive and prolific messages were peppered with qualifications to position him as an industry expert. In the last ten years, his voice was one of the only consistent messages and as a result, was a very sought-after speaker. His fees were high but his attendance guaranteed the organizers a standing-room only audience. The large room was getting ready to accept several thousand attendees and large standing fans were strategically placed throughout the hall to deliver necessary air flow to the front of the dais. The large fans could move impressively amounts of air with their large blades encased in chrome wire housing. The fans worked quietly and just before the doors opened, two large fans with four foot diameters were placed with an angle pointed directing at the podium.

The keynote address was heavily advertised and as soon as the doors opened, the room quickly filled with Fortune 500 attendees and industry press. The people slowly took their seats, with vendor-supplied bottles of water, neck credentials and bags full of logo-emblazoned crap. The moderator came out to tepid applause to set the convention housekeeping rules and to bask in the rapt attention of huge crowd of technology professionals. He smartly kept his remarks short and began to build his voice to match the emotional momentum of the crowd. The speaker had requested surprisingly strict security rules about uncredentialed guests, random bag searches, equipment inspections and related activities. Initially the requests seemed out of sorts but as the moderator viewed the crowd, he felt the speaker had good reason for the requests: this was a big room.

He introduced the speaker, shook his hand and strode off to stage right. The speaker was alone on the stage; a large image of his head and shoulders were being displayed on both sides of the hall with the live feed streaming out to the Internet. Standing on the stage in his light suit, the backlighting gave him an ecumenical appearance and his disciples loved it. He smiled, checked his notes and took a drink of water to kill time until the applause subsided. The crowd finally settled down and the speaker took his notes and gave them one final stacking motion. He paused, smiled and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen.”

Before he got to the seventh syllable of his speech, a bowl of chili was thrown into the intake side of the large fan facing the speaker. The bright red color of the chili was quickly converted by the filthy and dusty fan blades into a red-gray spray of clinging, sticky meringue which acted like an aggressive nine-foot high atomizer. The uniformly gelatinous chili assured an elegant, consistent thick mist of the delivered product, much like a paint sprayer but with far-filthier ingredients.

The image of speaker, covered completely with a gray-red spicy discharge bounced from one side of the lecture hall to the other. Images of the chili baptism were beamed across the Internet and the audience was silent due to complete and utter surprise. To a person, no one said anything; the hall was silent and the multitude transfixed with the image. The founder of all things technical instinctively took off his glasses to clean them and once the image of a raccoon-eyed man leaped onto the screen, the place went nuts. His eyes were masked with a viscous beany veneer, complete with matching hair, neck and cheeks. He appeared to be the personification of human fondue. The crowd laughingly roared with the energy known only to the focal point of two thousand voices.

He supposedly smiled through the chili masque and dutifully completed his speech. At times, he would grab one of the many wet towels that had been quickly placed within his reach and attempt to wipe yet another layer or two of the concoction off his face. When his skin color became evident, a smattering of applause was actually given by the crowd. By the end of the speech, a majority of his face was clean enough to pick out facial expressions and an occasional freckle. However, a strange calmness was evident in his tone to the point it appeared he had done something like this before.

Once concluded, he left the podium to very little applause because whatever audience that remained, had no recollection of this remarks. Most people had left the hall to call friends and tell them that they had actually seen the attack. The main ingredient, chili, was known to several astute noses in the front rows but it took awhile to inform the entire conference of the genesis of the main ingredient. Several people asked him to comment, which he chose not to do. The conference security director contacted him off stage to see if he wanted to seek the arrest of the attacker but again, the speaker declined and assured the security director that whoever was behind the attack was gone immediately after the chili had hit the fan. For the rest of the year, digital images of him doused in pulverized chili were passed from person to person until the populace, thankfully grew bored with the matter.

Roughly ten years later, outside the U.S. Supreme Court building, an attorney was about to make the big time with his appearance in front of the court. However, the case, woefully boring and without passion by anyone, had trudged itself up through the appellate courts and it was seen as necessary case for the Supreme Court to deliver a technical decision. No one cared as it was still a Supreme Court case and this was this attorney’s first time in front of the bench but this decision was never making the papers.

The court reluctantly agreed to hear the case to establish a system of criteria to establish the Federal Communication Commission as the legal entity to resolve these issues once and for all. The courts needed this case as a precedent and without its boring but required findings of facts; they would have to suffer numerous times when it would be dragged into similar issues due to a lack of clarity on specific government responsibility. This case was going to establish the rules and the process and thus, had to make it up to the Supremes for a brief discussion.

As the time for the afternoon presentation grew close, the attorney bounded up the steps of the Supreme Court building ready to make some history. Once at the top of the steps, looking down past the Washington Monument, towards the Lincoln Memorial, he was overtaken by two factors: his own awe-inspired journey that placed him moments away from the highest court in the land and a ball of filo dough filled with ketchup. The condiment grenade was full of moist, red ketchup and was dropped by unknown means from some contraption hanging from one of the pillars. It struck the attorney squarely in the back; he noticed the familiar feeling of yet another tomato-based weapon but was surprised that the ketchup was chilled, thus giving it a consistency of loose nougat.

The devastation caused only the second granting of a continuance by the High Court when several of the clerks witnessed the attack and ran in to notify the justices. The entire group of decision-makers within the Judicial Branch huddled around office windows to see the aftermath and instructed their clerks to watch the cable channels for any taped replay of the incident. One pool camera had caught the final stages of the attack with the filo opening up along its patterned edges upon impact, much like a flower, as it showered the attorney with its tangy, red insides. One of the justices told friends later that day that the filo was roughly the size of a “croquet ball” and the “poor fellow appeared to be covered in ketchup within a split second.”

A note was passed down to the parties that the Supremes would see them tomorrow and they (the Supreme Court) hoped that the attorney was all right. The legacy for this case was not the verdict, as no one remembered the specific arguments, but the working title of the decision, ironically called the ketchup verdict by the legal insiders. The attorney’ name would be inextricably attached to the case findings for time immemorial. The verdict was unanimous and the ruling clear except no one remembered anything about the case except some poor attorney got schooled by a ketchup bomb.

Over the years, the attacks continued in an alternating fashion with the two combatants switching between the hunter and the hunted. Neither man ever felt to share the contest with friends or family; it was an unsaid issue just between them. On the youngest man’s fiftieth birthday, he returned to his hometown after many years traveling abroad. He liked to constantly travel as he aged but still liked to visit and reconnect in his hometown. He visited the library and spent a few days catching up on the local news while quietly trying to gain intelligence on his adversary. During an afternoon session, he was reading a recent edition of the local newspaper when an obituary jumped out at him. Evidentially, a former senior class president, two years his senior, died in from an apparent heart attack in some small town in Spain. The news shocked the slightly younger man; he had wondered why there had been no retaliations for several years but it hadn’t mattered because when it wasn’t his turn, he resigned himself to generally wait for it to happen. But it appeared now that he could finally relax. He doubted his adversary actually relaxing in Spain as their collective love for the tomato was well documented. He imagined him sitting at a street side café, drinking coffee and puckering up each time a car would backfire or some local livestock wandered too close. How he died was not important; the game was over.

He politely returned the paper to the reference librarian, made a few quiet inquiries via the phone, stopped off at the store and then headed towards the town’s cemetery. He found the headstone easily and placed some flowers at its base. Then, after looking around, reached into his pocket and took out a plastic bag with a large, black olive just purchased at the nearby grocery store. He placed the monstrous olive on its end; resting on the top of the stone like a regal, oblique accessory. As he began the slow walk to his car, he looked back at it and was pleased that it looked like it was a natural protuberance to the stone. Once at the car, he smiled back at his adversary for a final time, he took a deep breath and sat quietly for a moment. He looked back at the years with no regret, paused and finally turned the ignition key. As he pulled out of the shade, a large blast of bird shit strafed the car’s windscreen. As he looked up, he saw a cardinal streak away; he then smiled again, the game was still afoot.

Back to Short Stories