Whole Foods, Half Truths

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“Rahodeb was an online pseudonym of John Mackey, co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods Market Inc….For about eight years until last August, the company confirms, Mr. Mackey posted numerous messages on Yahoo Finance stock forums as Rahodeb. It’s an anagram of Deborah, Mr. Mackey’s wife’s name….Rahodeb expressed pride in the CEO’s work. ‘While I’m not a “Mackey groupie,”‘ he wrote in 2000, ‘I do admire what the man has accomplished.'” — The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2007

No official reaction has been issued by the Unauthorized John Mackey Fan Club or its officers (president Jonathan McKey, vice-president Mack Johnny and treasurer Johnny Mack Brown). The issue has not been raised in the club’s very active online discussion forums (most popular thread: “What Do You Love Most About John Mackey?”).

Fact-checkers are advised not to rely on Mackey’s personal Wikipedia entry (currently locked to prevent further editing), which has, on various occasions and without citation, described the CEO as “handsome,” “too smart for MENSA,” “really good at Monopoly” and “consistently underestimated and underpraised by family, friends and competitors.”

Amateur investors may want to reevaluate their reliance on the “Supermarket Spotlight” blog — updated daily by “produce enthusiast” Deb Raho — which has named Whole Foods Market its “Retailer of the Week” for the past 93 consecutive weeks.

Readers should not be excessively influenced by comments posted to the “Supermarket Spotlight” blog by “R.H. Adobe” (the site’s only commenter), including, “UR so right about Whole Foods!” “Waiting in line is just part of the experience!” and “I’d rather shop at Whole Foods than do just about anything, except eat the delicious food I buy there!”

Customers have flagged as “unhelpful” a number of product reviews on Amazon.com, written by “Top 1000 Reviewer” B.D. O’Hare, that mention Whole Foods or its products favorably (e.g., “Justin Timberlake and Timbaland are a delightful team, as fruitful as the partnership between Whole Foods and Jamba Juice!”).

Local authorities are investigating a series of pizzas ordered over the telephone by “Herb Ado” and delivered to the home of former Wild Oats Markets Inc. CEO Perry Odak on several Friday nights this past winter (always with a topping of locally-grown wheatgrass, at an additional $6.50 per pie).

Human Resources departments at several major corporations are questioning the authenticity of a reference letter from Professor Jack Yame, recommending Mackey “in the strongest possible terms” for “any job for which he might apply” — despite Mackey’s failure to complete his college degree, which Professor Yame says “would have been an empty formality, in this case.”

Journalists have called attention to several comments on Mackey’s MySpace profile, complimenting his facial hair (“Nice ‘stache, bro! Wish I had one!” from “HoleFudsboy”), “Books” selections (“I luv The Little Prince too OMG its so amaaazing,” from “Deb Rules”) and management style (“You are the best boss to work for! I tell everybody! They are so jealous they don’t work for you too! But I tell them they should move to Denver where your store is hiring part-time employees! I tell them interviews are held between 9 and 11, Monday thru Wednesday! And they should bring 2 copies of their résumé! Whole Foods is an EEO that does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion or sexual orientation! TTYL!” from “Mack the Knife”). Further investigation reveals that all of these comments come from users whose profiles list “Whole Foods CEO John Mackey!!!” under “Who I’d like to meet.”

High school classmates of Mackey’s cannot vouch for images in his “Prom Memories” photo album — including those captioned “Posing with my date,” “Crowned King and Queen!”” and “One at a time, ladies, one at a time!” — which closer inspection reveals to be composites created using craft paste, an X-Acto knife and back issues of Seventeen magazine.

Permanent record files at Mackey’s grade school offer no explanation for a third-grade report card on which someone, reportedly Mackey’s teacher, wrote “Grate job this year!” in suspiciously amateurish cursive.

The members of Whole Foods Market, Inc.’s board of directors have been asked to disregard an anonymous letter sent to their homes, signed “A Concerned Silent Partner” and insisting that Mackey’s actions are “probably not illegal,” “really quite shrewd, when you think about it,” and “certainly not the sort of thing that should inspire a vote of no confidence on your part.”

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Think Outside the Pot

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Every morning, as I wait impatiently for my coffee to percolate, I study the warnings printed on the side of the coffeemaker’s glass carafe. “Do not bump, scratch or boil liquid dry in this carafe. Do not use on open flame. Do not hold over people.”

Sure, they sound like simple demands, but I often wonder: Do these product safety warnings always have consumers’ best interests at heart, or might they be attempts to make us conform to some arbitrary notion of ideal behavior? Before you answer that question, consider the following samples of dialogue, all concerning imaginary situations in which it might be wise to ignore the warning printed on the side of my coffee maker’s glass carafe, “Do not hold over people.”

DOMESTIC

(Setting: the average home.)

Woman: I’ve cleaned everything in this kitchen except for the bottom of the coffee carafe, and I’m not sure whether that’s dirty or not. I hate to waste good cleaning fluid on a not-dirty surface.

Man: Well, turn it over and look.

Woman: I can’t! It’s full of coffee, and I don’t want to waste good coffee, either.

Man: I see. Well, then, hold the carafe up high, and I’ll stand under it and look.

Woman: (elevating carafe) Is this high enough?

Man: (standing beneath carafe) Perfect! And you’ll be glad to know, it’s spotless. Your cleaning is over!

Woman: I’m glad you suggested that I hold the coffee pot aloft. Otherwise I might have stood here all day, trying to decide whether to clean it or not.

Man: And instead I simply had to stand beneath the pot for a brief, not-at-all dangerous period of time.

(Both laugh.)

LAW ENFORCEMENT

(Setting: John Adams middle school faculty lounge, suspected of harboring a dangerous criminal. Police officers kick down the door.)

Police Officer #1: Attention, John Adams Middle School faculty members! Freeze! Now, slowly raise your hands above your heads, without stopping to put down any objects you might be holding.

(A teacher, in the midst of pouring coffee, freezes. He is clearly torn between obeying the orders of the police and the rules printed on the carafe.)

Police Officer #2: You, with the coffee pot! That means you, too!

Teacher: (raising coffee pot above his head) Don’t shoot, officers!

Police Officer #1: Well, we were going to, but now that your hands are above your head, we won’t.

Teacher: How fortunate that I was able to maintain enough clarity of thought to choose the greater of two competing authorities.

Police Officer #2: (brandishing gun) Shut up!

Teacher: (still holding coffee pot) Yes, sir.

PROFESSIONAL

(Setting: A hair salon.)

Hairdresser: I’m thinking a high bouffant would go really well with your wedding veil.

Bride: Well, I don’t know. I’ve never really worn my hair up. Just how high off my head would it be?

Hairdresser: Oh, about five and a half inches or so? I assure you, it will really accent your cheekbones.

Bride: Five and a half inches? I’m afraid I still can’t picture it. If I just had some way to visualize how high that is . . .

Hairdresser: (looking around room) It’s about the height of . . . that coffee pot! (Grabs coffee pot and holds it above Bride.) Now look in the mirror. Your hair would be just that high off your head.

Bride: Wow, now I can picture it clearly! I think that will look great. I’m so glad you thought to hold the coffee pot over me. I’ll be giving you a big tip.

DOMESTIC #2

(Setting: the average couple’s bedroom.)

Woman: Good morning, honey! Boy, did I sleep well. . . . How long have you been awake? And what are you doing standing by the bed like that?

Man: Well, when I woke up I realized it was raining, and there’s a leak in our ceiling, just above your bed. I didn’t want to wake you, and I couldn’t let you get all wet, so I ran to the kitchen and grabbed this coffee pot.

Woman: And you’ve been holding it over me ever since? Aw, honey, that’s so sweet! I’m going to give you a big kiss.

Man: Just let me put down the coffee pot first!

(They laugh merrily.)

LAW ENFORCEMENT #2

(Setting: a roadside diner.)

Detective: Ma’am, we understand that the notorious mafia don we’re pursuing is eating in this diner right now.

Waitress: That’s right, detective. He’s one of my regulars. I heard him admit to killing those poor men just yesterday.

Detective: Well, we appreciate your cooperation, but we certainly don’t want to put you in any danger.

Detective #2: I wonder if there’s a way you could indicate which one he is without pointing or making any other obvious gesture.

Waitress: How about if, when I refill their coffee, I just hold the pot over his head for a moment?

Detective: Perfect! We’ll be watching from here, and when you’re clear, we’ll move in and arrest him.

Detective #2: I know it seems like a small gesture, but simply by holding the coffee pot over that man’s head, you will be contributing to the safety of the entire community. We salute your bravery.

Detective #1: Yes, not everyone would be willing to set aside conventional safety rules in order to confront a dangerous criminal.

Waitress: Hadn’t we better put the plan into action, before the gangsters decide to leave?

Detective #2: Good point! And ma’am, before you go, can I get some more decaf?

(They all laugh, although the waitress seems to be forcing it.)

SELF DEFENSE

(Setting: the average home.)

Man: (looking out window) The zombies! They’re scaling the walls!

Woman: Quick – take the coffee carafe! It just finished brewing.

Man: (Brandishes full carafe.) They’re climbing back down! They’re running away!

Woman: And you didn’t even have to pour the coffee out of the carafe!

Man: No, just holding it over them was enough.

DOMESTIC #3

Woman: (holding full coffee carafe over man’s head) Are you sleeping with that blonde woman?

Man: Yes, I am. What are you going to do about it?

Woman: (Pours coffee on man’s head.)

Man: Auuuuugggghhhh!

(The woman laughs.)

*****

These are just some of the situations in which it might be advantageous to break Mr. Coffee’s rules. Sure, we’d all like to “avoid breakage or injury,” as my coffeemaker puts it, but at what cost? Is it worth sacrificing the potential for self defense, domestic tranquility or revenge that may present itself at any time? The lesson is clear: You don’t have to be an obedient drone just because you enjoy a home-brewed cup of coffee now and then. Don’t let your appliances trump your common sense!

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Greetings from Parma — Wish You Were Dead!

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“[Parmalat chief financial officer Fausto] Tonna appeared in no mood to co-operate when he arrived for interrogation yesterday. He turned to journalists to say: ‘I wish you and your families a slow and painful death.’”

— Financial Times, January 6, 2004

MOTHER: Fausto, drink your milk before you leave the table.

TONNA: [grumbles]

MOTHER: Now, Fausto, what have I told you about wishing for people’s deaths?

FATHER: You can’t go through life that way, son.

*****

BANK TELLER: Excuse me, sir, but there’s an error in your addition on this deposit slip.

TONNA: Oh, is there really?

BANK TELLER: Yes, sir, see, in the billions column…

TONNA: Well, then, Mr. Smartypants Banker, why don’t you go somewhere with your family and die, slowly and painfully?

*****

RADIO ANNOUNCER: There’s a three-car accident blocking all the inbound lanes, so you commuters might want to find an alternate route into the city today.

TONNA: I hope you and every one of your relatives are diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses on the very same day, and you all spend every day of the next three years attending each other’s funerals.

*****

WAITER: I’m sorry, sir, but we’re all out of lemonade.

TONNA: In that case, I wish for you and everyone you love to be buried alive in a landslide, along with all your most precious family heirlooms. And can I substitute fries for the baked potato?

*****

CAT: [scratches sofa]

TONNA: Gordo, I have told you repeatedly that I don’t want you scratching the furniture, and now I hope you contract cat-leprosy and die licking your painful lesions.

*****

CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE: Good afternoon, Mr. Tonna. Do you have time to respond to a brief customer satisfaction survey?

TONNA: No, but you’ll have plenty of time while you’re dying from the long, drawn-out illness that I hope will afflict you.

*****

CRITIC: “I’m With Her” is one sitcom you can afford to skip.

TONNA: May your tongue be covered with boils and your eyelashes fall out overnight. I love “I’m With Her.”

*****

DOLLY PARTON: [sings] I wish you joy and happiness, but above all this, I wish you love.

TONNA: Why, thank you, buxom American country singer. I’m afraid I still wish you a painful death, but perhaps I will make it a quick one in light of your kind thoughts.

*****

WIFE: Fausto, how do you feel about roast beef tonight?

TONNA: How do you feel about dying a slow and painful death?

WIFE: Okay, I’ll make chicken. Jesus.

CAT: [meows]

WIFE: And stop cursing the cat!

*****

BRIDE AND GROOM: Thanks for coming to our wedding, Fausto!

TONNA: It’s my pleasure, and may I be the first to wish you both a very slow and painful death together.

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Kevin K.’s Halloween Story:
A Literary Analysis Of A Found Document

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Lying where it fell outside the elementary-school door, the worksheet looked juvenile enough — it was crossed by even, far-apart lines (designed for pre-cursive printing) and bordered by smiling spiders. One of the spiders had been scribbled over with an orange crayon, which added just enough color to give the paper an authentic Halloween look. The other spider was left naked: black and white.

The words on the page were what grabbed me. Instructed only to “write a Halloween story,” young author Kevin K. had printed, in blunt number two pencil, a gripping masterpiece of brevity and horror:

“One there was a Vampaimer that came to poelpes houses and there was a littel boy his mom tuun off the light but the vampamer came in his room he took the littel boy haet. The vampame went to the next the littel girl got into a pot of fire the Vampamer lagh Ha Ha Ha the girl died.”

What a find for a literary critic! In our electronic age, such breathtaking, Joycean creativity is seldom seen in handwritten manuscript form. I was instantly impressed with Kevin’s choice of a stock Halloween character, the vampire, to be his villain (or hero?), and how he subverted the obviousness of this choice by consistently altering the spelling. How fresh a familiar figure seems when our expectations are challenged! What does the added letter “M” do to our fear? And how do we cope with the shifting reality of “Vampaimer / vampamer / vampame / Vampamer”?

This, of course, is only the most basic of Kevin’s innovations. The scene in which the “littel boy” (a figure of the author?) is abandoned by his mother is a heart-wrenching echo of the universal experience of childhood. The mother knows nothing of the threat. The boy does not cry out. The Vampaimer is not held at bay. He enters, welcomed by the darkness, bringing, perhaps, enlightenment. “He took the littel boy haet,” Kevin writes, using an Old English, Beowulfian vowel combination to invoke his story’s profoundly traditional roots. Is it an accident that “haet” is an anagram of “heat”? It is, in fact, a clue to the climax of the story, grim foreshadowing hidden in an enigmatic sentence. We are left wondering what exactly the vampamer did to the littel boy — and as Kevin knows, the soul of terror lies in the unknown.

The story’s pacing as it builds to its climax is flawless. Kevin’s transitional sentence, “The vampame went to the next,” dangles like an inhaled breath cut off before it can manifest itself as a scream. Even the word “vampamer” has been truncated, almost carelessly (but with what care!), by a mere letter and yet by an entire syllable. At the eleventh hour, Kevin introduces a new character — or is it an old one? Is the littel girl just the littel boy’s mom, seen through different eyes? Or is it the littel boy himself, emasculated by his encounter with fear? (What exactly has the vampame done to the boy he “took haet”?) The littel girl, whatever her origin, does not wait to be acted upon. She “[gets] into a pot of fire” under her own terrible agency, thereby embracing illumination and reversing the initial act of the anti-Promethean mother who tried to extinguish the light.

The stark, existential ending of Kevin’s story is shocking, even haunting, in its cruelty. “The Vampamer lagh Ha Ha Ha the girl died.” There is no rescue for the girl. We have not yet learned to love her when she is stolen from us. The capital letters spike violently into space, towering over a chaotic, unpunctuated world.

Kevin K’s work is a prose poem of disturbing, exhilarating insight. No other Halloween coming-of-age tale has ever explored such explosively iconoclastic territory. My attempts to track down the author have been unsuccessful. For weeks I sat outside the school each afternoon, awaiting the final bell, but none of the children who poured through the doors bore any visible mark of genius, and the parents I questioned were brusque and unhelpful. The fliers I posted on the playground (“Don’t hide from your genius, Kevin K.! Let me understand you!” followed by my contact information) were torn down within hours — by the reclusive author himself? A jealous classmate? So I can do nothing but look forward to reading more, and hope that this exciting young writer drops another worksheet soon.

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Duck, Duck, Greatness

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An eager gaggle of schoolchildren sit cross-legged on the gravelly ground, holding their breath, half-praying, half-dreading that they will be called to compete. Around the perimeter stalks Justin Maloney, chanting a steady mantra: “Duck. Duck.” He pats each child’s head with methodical precision, never faltering. “Duck,” he says again and again, as the children squirm impatiently. Finally there is a barely perceptible break in Justin’s even rhythm, and as his hand comes down on a neatly braided head, his lips speak the fateful word: “Goose.”

The chase is on, but Justin’s pursuer doesn’t stand a chance, and she knows it. Still, she grins as Justin takes her spot in the circle: to be “goosed” by Justin Maloney is a distinct honor, one she will boast of at the dinner table tonight. Only six years old, Justin is already a playground legend, with a record that tops even the most aggressive third-grader’s. He is a duck-duck-goose prodigy.

A popular schoolyard legend claims that Justin Maloney is the only child in the history of P.S. 217 never to have done time in the Pickle Jar. “Most kids hit their D.D.G. peak at eight or nine,” says phys-ed teacher Otis Reynolds. “But Justin is special. He’s invented a whole new goosing technique. There’s no telling where he could go from here.”

Such a remarkable gift with all its attendant fame is a considerable burden for a kindergartner. Justin’s parents are struggling to meet the challenge of raising a son whose greatness is so widely admired. “We try to keep him grounded,” says mother Krista Maloney.

“Not, like, stay-in-your-room-all-weekend grounded,” her husband, Larry, clarifies. “Just down-to-earth grounded.”

Both are pleased to see their son sharing his gifts with his less-advanced schoolmates. “He always volunteers to start off any game of duck-duck-goose by being ‘it,'” Krista observes.

“He has to,” adds Larry, “or he would never get to play at all. That’s the funny thing about being a duck-duck-goose prodigy. You mostly just sit there.”

Because of his advanced skills, Justin runs the risk of aging out of the playground circuit before his seventh birthday, but Krista says she is not concerned that her son will grow up too fast. “A few weeks ago some eight-year-olds tried to turn him on to freeze tag, but Justin decided he wasn’t ready,” she says proudly. “He knows how to set limits.” Still, the Maloneys are actively seeking other outlets for their son’s energy. “We are planning to set up a few duck-duck-goose clinics in underprivileged neighborhoods, where Justin can tutor kids who haven’t had his opportunities,” Krista explains. “We want to use our power to really make a difference.”

Funding for outreach programs like the one Krista describes would come from Justin’s commercial sponsorship deals, which the Maloneys are currently negotiating. “We’re not at liberty to discuss his sneaker deal with Keds,” says Larry, “but we are looking to offer his services to other, water-fowl-themed corporate entities. I think footage of Justin playing duck-duck-goose could make a wonderful ad for AFLAC. Or Canadian tourism.”

What does Justin think of all this attention? “Duck-duck-goose is fun,” he shrugs, squinting up at me. “Your nose is full of boogers.” Then he is off and running, gathering his friends into another circle. “Boogerface!” he shouts, when he sees that I am still watching. The other children look on in adoration. They know they are in the presence of greatness.

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Super-Condensed Classics

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Who hasn’t had the experience of plodding through a “classic” novel, longing for some action? New Super-Condensed Classics preserve the excitement of well-known stories without all the filler — the substance of literature without the starch. The result is an exciting short story that’s the perfect length for today’s busy reader to digest!

*****

Jane Eyre

(based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë)

“Oh, sir!” I heard myself exclaim, with controlled but undeniable passion. “I am so plain!” He seemed not to hear me, so fierce was his concentration as he violently unlaced my bodice. I tried to remember his name — we had been introduced moments ago, just before he shooed the housekeeper and my young charge from the study and bounded up the great staircase to his bedroom, with me in his arms. Edgar? Mr. Robinson? My mind was a blank. “Jane, Jane!” he cried, like a wounded animal. He knew my name; that much was clear.

He was rough and passionate, and perhaps to another woman he might have seemed ugly, but so intoxicated was I by his presence that I scarcely noticed that the bed was on fire — literally aflame — until my employer’s shirtsleeves caught fire as well. “Oh, sir!” I exclaimed again, and suddenly he was tearing about the bedchamber, calling for water. I heard someone cackling in the hallway, and for a moment I was transported back to my childhood, with its scenes of cruel torment and red furniture. Meanwhile, my secret lover was plunging his immolated head into the washbasin in the corner of the room.

“Is that marriage?” he demanded rhetorically, his voice garbled by the water in the basin. “To be yoked to a creature like that madwoman?” He was blind now, but he sensed my presence nearby, and with his good hand he resumed his former occupation of undressing me. Averting my eyes from his disfigured visage, I glanced out the window just in time to see a dark-skinned woman with wild hair falling past it to her death. “Bertha!” my partner shouted, and I knew he had begun to regain the sight in one of his eyes. “I shall never leave your side,” I whispered passionately. “Jane, Jane!” he whispered back. Reader, I still could not remember his name.

*****

Moby-Dick

(based on the novel by Herman Melville)

“Ishmael!” Queequeg called me on the intercom, shouting to be heard over the roar of the engines. “Remind me — why are we chasing this whale again?”

I scanned the water below for our target — the giant, immaculate killer who feasted on men’s limbs — and tightened my grip on the tail gun. I could hear Ahab cursing in the cockpit, and I knew that he, too, was scanning the ocean with an almost religious fervor. I wondered if there might be something literally religious about all this, but I could barely hear myself think over the engine’s noise. “Interesting how the whale is white, isn’t it?” I shouted to Queequeg. “I can’t understand you,” he yelled back.

Just as I was wondering why I had ever enlisted in the first place, Ahab suddenly screamed, “There!” and I saw the nose of his plane jerk violently downwards. Queequeg and I both opened fire on the water that churned below. “Pull up! Pull up!” I shouted to Ahab, wondering why we had consented to let him pilot a jet when he’s so obviously insane. He gave no answer, so I kept shooting, until the water beneath us was dyed with the whale’s blood.

“Did we win or lose?” I shouted to Queequeg over the roar of the ocean surf. “Glug glug,” he answered as he sank beneath the waves. This will all make one hell of a memoir, I thought to myself — and damned if I’m not the only one left to write it.

*****

Fifteen Minutes of Solitude

(based on the novel by Gabriel García Márquez)

A few days later, Miguel Juan Ramirez was to remember that afternoon when he waited a quarter of an hour for Rosa to show up. Lunch at the Cafeteria had been her idea — he had tried to talk her out of it, but to no avail; she was a dreamer, and this was where she had decided to eat. The quesadillas were beyond belief, Rosa had said, and she swore that the margaritas were nothing short of magical. So he waited, and watched the clock. Five minutes went by. Six. He thought about sex. Eight. Nine. He wondered, if he were really desperate, would he have sex with his sister? Twelve. Thirteen. What about with Rosa’s mother?

Finally, Rosa was fifteen minutes late, and Miguel decided to call her. Just as he finished dialing, he heard a voice behind him say, “Sorry I was so late.” It was Rosa. Miguel hung up the phone. He was no longer alone.

They had a lovely lunch.

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