A Short Story
I’ve Written

Love Me Them Mashed Pertaters
(A Painfully True Story)

by Adriana V. DiFranco

Recently, my good friend Colleen suggested that I try a product she liked very much called Mashed Potatoes In A Cup.

Intrigued by the notion of a hearty lunch for under a dollar, I make a bee-line for my supermarket, but alas, they are not hip enough to carry such a visionary product.

So I make a special trip to one of those “alternative grocery stores.”

You’ve been to this kind of store before. Tiny little storefront stuffed to the rafters with carob-flavored everything, bio-degradable rice cake maxi pads, and vegetarian products with cute names like “Not-Dogs” and “Fakon.”

Everything smells vaguely of cloves, including the staff who, when they are not looking grim on general principle, gravely read The Nation between ringing up sales. The place is plastered with 5 dozen call-to-action flyers, meeting announcements, boycotts, petitions, and various personal notices looking to trade zither lessons for hemp-weaving instruction and the like.

I am ill at ease and out of my element. I recognize none of my beloved brands and product logos, and there isn’t a single cereal to be found that boasts a prize in the box. I shudder.

Undaunted, I press on determined to find my grail o’ tubers.........my chalice of starchy victuals....my Mashed Potatoes In A Cup. And there, on a dusty shelf between some 600 flavors of herbal tea and a product called “Espresso Colonic” which I am determined not to think about, I find them!

I let out a little hooray, momentarily drawing the attention of the lip-pierced, Birkenstock-wearing sales girl, er, clerk away from her reading.

I smile nervously and nod at her.

I am suddenly self-conscious of the way I am dressed. I feel my name brand sneakers practically pulsating. Look at me, they announce. See the oppression of the nameless, faceless third-worlders who earn 20 cents a day toiling in American-owned sweat shops! I unconsciously wrap one sneaker behind a knee, clear my throat, and try to look very involved and serious about my product selection.

As it turns out, there are many flavors of Mashed Potatoes In A Cup (MPIAC). Sour Cream and Chives, Garlic, Au Gratin. Ahhhhhhh...choices I think to myself merrily and smile. I love capitalism. But as soon as the thought plants itself in my mind, I immediately feel ashamed. I look around quickly to see if the thought was overheard by the staff.

No...bad. Capitalism is bad. Power to the workers, I think fervidly trying to erase previous ugly thoughts.

I grab a few various flavors and proceed to the check-out eager to get out of the store before: A. I begin to smell like vitamins, or B. the blue-grassy folk music coming over the PA system makes me homicidal against my fellow man, er, comrade.

At the check-out, I try to make light banter with Princess Granola. “Didn’t notice the chocolate mini-donuts anywhere,” I tease brightly. She throws me a withering glance that makes me wish I were safely entombed behind bullet-proof glass like Chairman Mao.

There’ll be no levity here, her sober look says. Apparently, to be truly enlightened is to feel the pain of the oppressed masses....and spread it.

I try to pass the time by reading the message on Ms. Congeniality’s t-shirt. I make out as much as “inalienable rights of poultry” before she catches me in the uncomfortable act of intently peering at her bosom.

I grab my purchases and hustle out.

Days later, at work, I am eager to sample my MPIAC. Fill the cup to the line with water, the directions read, and microwave for 3 minutes on high. “Potatoes we have nuked on high, ” I hum quietly to myself.

I can do this. Look at me I am cooking! I continue to hum as the cup turns round and round in the microwave like some car-show spokesmodel. As I wait, I begin to imagine I am a potato-show spokesmodel, microphone in hand, describing features to an enraptured audience. “You’ll notice how the Sour Cream and Chives work in tandem to complement but never overpower the potatoes.”

The microwave beep interrupts my reverie.

I snap to. Take the MPIAC out of the microwave, set them down on the counter, and plunge in a spoon to stir. I misjudge the depth of the cup, and a heaping spoonful of the potatoes goes flying into the air landing everywhere but mainly across my knuckles.

At this point, I think it’s important to note that the temperature of the sun has been calculated to be in the neighborhood of 5-6,000 Kelvin. The record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth was logged by a couple of Cornell physicists who by splitting an atom momentarily generated heat equivalent to roughly 2,000 Kelvin. In a split second, I have occasion to think of the Cornell boys, and whether the Guiness Records folks should be alerted to the thermal dynamic properties of Mashed Potatoes In A Cup.

While internally I am processing these thoughts, externally I am acting out a Jerry Lewis movie. Running back and forth, shrieking, holding my left hand by the wrist and shaking it like a maraca. Suddenly, it occurs to me that I am not alone in the kitchen. A woman, whom I do not know well has come running in to find the source of the screaming. Fully expecting, I’m sure, to find me with a steak knife lodged in my eye, she instead finds mashed potatoes all over the wall and me doubled over, hand between my knees, alternately hopping and shrieking.

Not my most dignified moment.

I pull myself together long enough, to laboriously mouth the words, “Mashed potatoes in a cup.”

She flees. She honestly flees.

Later I realize she is a reporter for the staff/faculty newspaper. Lovely. I can see the headlines now, “Marketing Director Thought To Be Possessed by Devil and/or Hallucinogenic Mushrooms,” “Marketing Director Asked To Submit To Urinalysis,” “Marketing Director Barking Mad.”

Right now, though, I am not barking. I am howling, as I hold my throbbing hand under some running water. But I put on my brave face, fiercely bite my lip, and casually stroll my way to the receptionist’s desk where the first-aid kit is kept. I say casually strolling, but to the detached observer it will seem more like, a barely contained sprint.

Karen the receptionist, as is her job, is on the phone. She smiles and holds up one finger giving me the universal sign for, “I’ll be off in a sec.” I pantomime the universal sign for “I have barbecued my own flesh and desperately need your help.” Which consists of urgently hopping, holding my wrist, shaking my useless hand at Karen, and trying to wiggle what’s left of my quickly swelling fingers. My eyelids flutter, and although my lips are pressed tightly shut, a tiny howl escapes. It sounds like, “Mmmph.”

Karen seems to get the message.

She opens the drawer, locates the first-aid kit and the burn ointment, and rips open the packet with her teeth. I rub the salve on my now bubble-wrap looking knuckles. The sting sets in. My eyes cross. My pain sensors change shifts, and a fresh new crew punches in eager to put in some overtime. I whimper.

For the next few days I am compelled to wear a gauze bandage on my hand, making typing difficult and charades nearly impossible. One night going home on the packed train, I am standing holding onto a strap above my head, my bandaged hand clearly visible. I notice a woman noticing the bandage.

What must she think, I begin to wonder. What must all these people think?. And then it comes to me. Probably, that I’d been in a fist fight. Of course.

They can see beyond the parka and the sensible pumps, and see the bruiser within, the brawler I truly was. And this realization causes me to square my shoulders and stretch out my height to the full 5 feet and 2 inches.

I look imperiously around the train, with a look in my eye that challenges, “Yes. I could break a man’s jaw just for looking at me crooked. In fact, I have. ” I rub my bandage, visualizing taping both hands and mixing it up in a city gym, stepping in the ring, and pummeling the senses of some unlucky featherweight.

An entirely new and liberating feeling begins coursing through my veins. I look protectively at an older woman seated nearby and mentally communicate, “Don’t you worry ma’am, there’ll be no shenanigans on this train, not while I’m on board.” I smile bravely at her.

My eyes now fall upon the guy who just moments earlier I had fantasized a meaningful relationship with. “Get outta’ here kid,” my eyes beseech him. “Can’t you see I’m nothin’ but trouble for you. I’m a rebel. A no-account. You’re better off without me.” I nearly reach out to touch him reassuringly, but think better of it, sensing, correctly I think, that the contact would make the break-up all the more painful for him.

My stop reached, I look tenderly around the train, radiating the message “You’re on your own now, people.” Jauntily I sling my red plastic lunch cooler over my shoulder and march out.

But what, you may be asking yourself, what of the spuds? Were they worth searing your skin over? I can attest gentle reader, that yes, yes indeed they were. Fluffy, filling, and flavorful, they were manna from heaven. Manna in a cup.

I can further report that yes, Colleen remains a good friend even though she neglected in her original recommendation of MPIAC to point out that the product should be handled with industrial barbecue tongs and dipped in liquid nitrogen before consumption.

The product directions too, neglected this bit of advice. I momentarily entertained, filing a McDonalds coffee-type lawsuit against the Fantastic Foods company, maker of MPIAC. But as many of you may know, Fantastic Foods is an organic whole foods type operation. I flashed forward to actually winning the law-suit and realized my settlement would probably be part ownership of an endive cooperative or something, and dropped the idea.

So, looking down at my still mottled hand, I ask myself, what have I learned from this episode? What wisdom can I impart?

MPIAC? Yes.

Oven mitts, welding helmet, and fireproof protective garb? Definitely.