Rabe Against the Machine

“Everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food. Therefore, everybody is in the market. Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.” — Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court during the Court’s hearings on the health care reform law.


FBBI AGENT (outside a Manhattan supermarket): Federal Bureau of Broccoli Investigation, Ma’am. I need to inspect your groceries.

SHOPPER: Oh, honestly! You people always stop me for these random searches.

AGENT: Sorry, Ma’am — I’m just doing my job. 

SHOPPER (pointing at another shopper leaving the store): Why don’t you pick on him — that guy who’s practically running down the block? He only has that one little plastic bag, and I’m carrying these three huge reusable totes. And I just missed the bus, thank you very much. 

AGENT: Ma’am, if you would just put down those bags for a minute, so that I can…

SHOPPER: You know that guy is a lurker.

AGENT: A lurker?

SHOPPER: What is this — your first day? They wait inside the store until the FBBI agent stops someone else and then they make a run for it. 

AGENT: If you’ll just put those bags down, we can…

SHOPPER: I have broccoli — just take my word for it. And I have to pick up my kid from school in fifteen minutes.

AGENT: Please put the bags down.   

SHOPPER (putting bags down): There go three more lurkers! You can tell by the regular shape of their bags that there couldn’t be any broccoli in there. It’s all Honey Nut Cheerios and Texmati and V-8 and juice-boxes and Cracker Barrel and…

AGENT (leaning over and poking through bags): Did you say V-8?

SHOPPER: Yeah. What of it?

AGENT: I believe V-8 has broccoli as one of its ingredients.

SHOPPER: This must be your first day.

AGENT: It is. But that doesn’t mean…

SHOPPER: Tomatoes, beets, celery, carrots, spinach, lettuce, watercress, parsley, and that’s it. You think we don’t know from ingredients with this law? You’ve got a lot to learn out here, buddy. You’ve got your tokeners, we call them — they pinch off a floret in the produce aisle, jam it under the plastic wrap of a ground-chuck package, and you can’t do anything about it. You’ve got your bringers — they take old, spoiled broccoli with them to the store and then put it in their bags when they leave. Then there are the fakers — they walk around with rubber broccoli toys and ornaments in their purses and stick them in their grocery bags after they leave the checkout line and hope you FBBI guys just look and don’t smell. And the Direct dodgers — they order online and get around the law…

AGENT (still searching): Ma’am, I don’t see…

SHOPPER: Speaking of smells, did all of Congress buy Gas-X stock before they passed this law, I’m wondering. I tried to get some when it went into effect, but the price was already through the roof. And how are you going to settle the Rabe Question? R.A.B.E. is planning demonstrations outside your offices, you know.

AGENT: R.A.B.E.? Ma’am, I’m afraid I don’t see any…

SHOPPER: Rabe Against Broccoli Exclusivity.

AGENT: Well, maybe you’re right — I do have a lot to learn — but that won’t put broccoli in these bags. I’m afraid I have to write you up.

SHOPPER (takes out a head of cauliflower from one of the bags): What do you think this is?

AGENT: Cauliflower. Don’t tell me you’re going to try to pull…

SHOPPER: You bet I am. Brassica oleracea – the exact same species as what you federal vegetablists call broccoli.

AGENT: I don’t want to arrest you, but you’re making this unnecessarily…

SHOPPER: Cauliflower United v. United States Senate. The case is pending. Go ahead and take me in. I say it’s broccoli, and I say the hell with it. 

Daniel Menaker is the editor of Grin & Tonic.

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