Saturday, April 8, 2017

42 - Food SLAM!

“I can't believe you made this all happen,” said Bartholomew, his words almost drowned out by the repeating phrases of a sound-check.

“It wasn't me. It was 'Rissa,” replied Claire.

Bartholomew gawked at a banner above the stage at one end of the cavernous auditorium that read “FOOD SLAM! - Save the Garden” and had images of vegetables scattered in the background. “How on earth did she pull this together in one week?”

“You can ask her,” said Claire as she pulled Bartholomew by the arm toward a woman in her thirties with a scarf tied around her head holding back an avalanche of brown kinky hair.

“Hey, Claire. Is this Bartholomew?” asked 'Rissa.

“Yeah, Bartholomew, this is 'Rissa.”

“Hey, Bartholomew. Way to go. I love that you were growing your own food. That's great!”

“Thanks, 'Rissa. And thanks for pulling this... SLAM together. This is amazing! How did you pull this together in only one week?”

'Rissa turned to instruct someone how to collect tickets. Turning back she smiled at Bartholomew, “This? This was easy. All you need is a big room, a great cause and space for people to speak their mind. Everybody wants to say something. Can't stop 'em.”

People started to filter into the auditorium. A small group found their way toward the front seats, stopping at the sixth row.

“You can sit all the way up front,” encouraged 'Rissa. “We don't bite.”

The group of people moved up to the second row and sat down. A second group of people entered and found their places near, but not next to, the first group. More people entered and in fifteen minutes the auditorium, though large, was more full than not. Minutes before the show was to begin, the seats were almost full. Bartholomew's eyes became wet realizing these people were here to help save his garden.

“Yo, Bartholomew,” someone yelled. Bartholomew and Claire turned to see Topping coming down the aisle. Bartholomew rushed to meet him and gave him a hug.

“Where’ve you been?” pleaded Bartholomew.

“I've been busy lately. Uncle Cy has had work for me and I started another job, too. Rent is a bit expensive without Charlotte there.” Topping looked Bartholomew in the eyes, “It's good to see you Bartholomew.”

“You, too.”

“Bartholomew,” someone else yelled. Bartholomew looked past Topping to see Charlotte coming down the aisle.

Topping stepped out of the way as Bartholomew gave her a hug. Charlotte and Topping spoke a polite “hello” to each other.

“C'mon, Claire and I saved some seats down front. Sit with us.”

The four sat down with Bartholomew on the aisle and Claire in between Topping and Charlotte. The air was a little tense, but Bartholomew was happy to have his friends together again.

Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine walked up to the foursome, said hello and sat down in the two remaining seats.

“If only Ned were here,” Bartholomew said out loud.

Claire made a face. “I doubt you'll see him here,” said Topping.

“Why's that?” asked Bartholomew.

“He's working for Gerald now.”

Topping was surrounded by gasps. Claire's gasp was one of disgust.

“Yeah, I ran into him the other day. He's working for Gerald as an accountant. He even cut off his dreds.”

Bartholomew sat stunned.

The lights dimmed. The crowd quieted and then applauded as 'Rissa headed down the aisle toward the stage.

“You ready?” asked 'Rissa as she came to Bartholomew

“I can't believe these people are all here to help me. Who could have imagined one small garden could mean so much?” Bartholomew wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“Well, Bartholomew. Sometimes, one small thing can have a whole world inside it.” 'Rissa put her hand on his shoulder and headed to the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for coming here tonight,” 'Rissa spoke into the mic and the people cheered and clapped their hands. “We are here tonight to help save a garden that was organized by our friend Bartholomew.” The crowd cheered. “We are also here to encourage our city administration to develop a community garden policy, wherein we all can have a place to grow our own food.” More cheers.

'Rissa paused for a moment while the crowd began to chant: “FOOD, FOOD, FOOD!”

“All right, all right, settle down,” 'Rissa laughed. Her beaming smile encouraged them to chant even more.

When the auditorium became quieter, she looked out at the audience as if to talk to each and every soul directly. “Some of you may know, some of you may not, that I lost my mother three years ago during an outbreak of salmonella. Meat being sold at Donkey Burger was the culprit. After laying my mother to rest, my family and I filed a lawsuit against Donkey Burger. It is still unresolved, even though the owner of Donkey Burger said he would take care of the people who were hurt by the incident.” The crowd booed and whistled.

'Rissa did not take the time to feel any of her hurt and continued, “This incident, though heart-breaking, made me see that there is a need for us to take back the production of the food we eat. We need to produce our food closer to home. We need to eat whole, healthy food. We cannot let the established food system fill our food, at best, with fillers and empty calories, at worst, with toxins or bacteria. Tonight, we start down a road toward making change. Three years ago, after my mother died, my family talked to Mayor Dick and Senator Jane about the need for healthy safe food. Believe me, they do not see it like you and I do. They are friends of the bad side of the food industry.” Boos and jeers emanated from the mass of people in front of her.

“If you believe that what happened to Bartholomew is wrong, if you think the city should allow opportunities for its people to grow their own healthy food, if you think the food industry has allowed greed to get in the way of providing tasty healthy food, there is a petition for you to sign. Bartholomew was able to appeal Mayor Dick's decision. Don't fool yourself, this was Mayor Dick's decision. Bartholomew will be presenting his situation before the city council in one week. We want to bring this petition before the council, and we need as many signatures as possible. You can also sign the petition online at And I want you all to be there in the council chamber next week to support our friend, Bartholomew.” A cheer filled the room.

“But that is the business side of tonight's events. Let's get started with the expressive side of tonight's events. We have some people tonight who will be sharing themselves, their hearts and their lives through the medium of spoken word. Some will share through song and others will speak. We are recording this all and will give a copy of this presentation to each council member and Mayor Dick before next week's council session. So let's begin. We are starting tonight with a spoken word performance by a student of mine and a close personal friend of Bartholomew's: Claire.”

Claire stood up, smiled at Bartholomew and headed to the stage. He hadn't even considered that Claire would be performing and was touched by the gesture. Then he remembered her last performance and was touched with a sense of dread. Even in the dark, Bartholomew could see Topping's and Charlotte's knuckles turn white as they gripped their armrests in preparation for Claire's poetry.

Claire calmly adjusted the microphone and smiled, again, straight at Bartholomew.

    “Friends are like vegetables. They're good for you.

    Friendships grow and ripen with the season, like
         Brandywine tomatoes.

     This sounds simple. But it's not. Just as a vegetable is not

    You cannot simply wait for a sweet pepper to grow. You
        cannot simply wait for a friendship to grow.

   You cannot wait for the soil to be fertile. You must work the

    The more muscle you put into it, the better the structural
        foundation. The more time you spend, the better the chances
        at success.

    You cannot wait for the rain, it may not come. You must
        water regularly and adjust to what is happening naturally -
        not too much, not too little. You have to give what you have
        without overwhelming or under-nourishing.

     Sunshine is the final key. If you don't let the sun, that
        positive life force, shine down on your prized possessions, all
       will be lost. We have to trim away the branches that block
       positivity and growth.

     I have learned this all from my friend, Bartholomew.

     I had never thought about what I was eating, and couldn't
        imagine what it might be doing to me.

     Then I gardened this summer at a little big garden.

     It was a little garden because it was never too much work,
         it was never a burden.

     It was big garden because it was BIG

     And even though it has shrunk in size recently, it is bigger
         than ever.

     It is now as big as this whole auditorium. As big as this
         whole city.

     We must tend this BIG garden.

     We must build a foundation of trust and transparency,
         putting our sweat into the foundation so we can be strong
         until the harvest.

     We must share ourselves, our lives, our hopes, our dreams
         and our talents. We must share these in a way that is
         mindful of others, adjusting to what is happening naturally,
         so that all may make it to the harvest.

     We must prune away our fears, shortcomings,
         impulsiveness and anger so that nothing but a strong
         positive life-giving light can shine on this city.

     And if we have done all this we will harvest, and we will
         harvest, and we will harvest, and we will harvest, and we
         will harvest, and we will harvest. We will harvest!

     Friends are like chickens. They comfort you.”

Claire, realizing she had made it through her performance without creating a disaster, wiped sweat from her forehead. The auditorium erupted into cheers and applause. Claire gushed, blushed and then rushed to her seat in the front row. Bartholomew, Charlotte and Topping gave her a group hug.

“That was great!” yelled Bartholomew over the noise of the crowd.

“Awesome!” yelled Charlotte.

Topping beamed.

“All right, all right,” said 'Rissa as she quieted the crowd. “Claire, that was perfect. Welcome to the club.”

Claire's soul was afire, she could barely stay in her chair. She made an expression at 'Rissa that can best be described as “I couldn't have imagined!” She wiped tears from her eyes for the next several minutes.

The event wound its way through the evening with spoken word artists and musicians sharing their experiences with food - good and bad. Bartholomew was quite impressed when Tony Curtis slipped “glyceryl monostearate” into a poem. The four friends and Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey sat like sponges soaking in everything.

'Rissa finished the night with a very personal poem about her mother and her final days. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

“That's it folks,” said 'Rissa. “What a wonderful evening. Please remember to fill out the petition and show up at the council meeting next week. A big thank you to all the performers tonight, to Gabriel's Grocery for the food and support and especially to Bartholomew for bringing an important issue to our attention. Let's build on this, people. Peace and you take care of each other.”

As the crowd filed out the doors, Bartholomew turned to Claire. “Wow, I don't know what to say. Thank you for talking to 'Rissa and helping pull this all together. This was an amazing night!”

“No really, I didn't do much. I mentioned it at the poetry slam and everyone picked up on it right away. The club and 'Rissa did all the work.”

“Still, thanks,” said Bartholomew as he gave Claire a big long hug.

It felt good to Claire to be hugged again after her unpleasant split from Ned. Even if the hug was just from a good friend. Claire decided to let Bartholomew hug her as long as he wanted. She wasn't going to end it.

After several seconds of hugging, Bartholomew noticed that Claire was not pulling away. He thought she was great and would hug her as long as she wanted. He wasn't going to end it.

Finally, Topping interrupted, “Could you two get a room?”

Both Bartholomew and Claire immediately blushed and pulled away from each other – far away.

“Ha ha, Topping,” said Claire. “You're such an idiot. We're just friends.”

“Whatever,” said Topping and grinned a grin that can only be described as “I can imagine everything.”

Charlotte held Topping’s arm and grinned, too. Topping, feeling her touching him for the first time since their break-up, scanned Charlotte's beautiful face. Her grin turned into a thankful smile. His muscles relaxed. He was home.

“Let's get something to eat. My treat,” said Uncle Jeffrey.

Six tired happy people shuffled toward the door, not knowing what the future would hold, but happy with what had just happened. No one, especially Claire, could have imagined what would happen at the council meeting next week. If she could, she might not have hugged Bartholomew so long.
Written by Mark Granlund 
Illustrated by Meghan Hogan

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