In my town, all at once there was this Smoothie boom. The first, Caesar Smoothies, had a beach bum sort of vibe, the place to go if you surfed the waves of corn that grew up around our town. People stood around in air-dried wetsuits and leather, exchanged the codename for macrobiotic cleanses for a sweating plastic cup. It was a chill scene until people started say the shop’s name like it was Cesar, which put you in the mind of the National Farm Workers Association. No one wants to think iceberg lettuce when you sip on your smoothie. By then, there was a place was called Smoothie Czar. Smoothie Czar wasn’t even clean. More than once, I saw them dip the scoop from the protein powder into the dried peanut butter, but the prices were reasonable. There was always a line at Smoothie Czar. Someone noticed and that weekend at the mall, in the hole that used to shelter an Orange Julius, we had the Smoothie Tsar. Everyone who worked at Smoothie Tsar wore astrakhan caps.
It got weirder: the don of Caesar Smoothies sent workers to hold pickets in the mall food court. They were pure Astroturf, these picketers, worked shifts, took breaks at scheduled times, including thirty minutes for lunch on the food court’s molded plastic benches. Their signs called out intellectual property theft. “The Good Idea is the Righteous Man’s Capital” said one, and another expostulated, “Choosy Babies Reject Counterfeit Food.” Mall walkers, mostly retired academics, argued about whether the smoothie concept, whether under Caesar or Tsar, counted as transformative or even satire. Work-for-hire Tsars and Tsarinas sweated under their shapkas, envious of the Caesar’s breathable hairnets. Customers queued for smoothies then sipped them standing to one side, waiting for the inevitable confrontation. On the other side of town, mommies and nannies pushed padded prams past the counter at Smoothie Czar.
Being first, or fastest, or cleanest: It didn’t matter to the people in my town. They’d turn up anywhere that had steel blades connected to high powered motors, any shop that could promise to take the hard things in their life and blend them smooth enough to swallow.
Matt Dube’s stories have appeared in Moon City Review, KQ, Front Porch, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and American lit at a small mid-Missouri university, and he’s the fiction editor for the online journal-turned-print book publisher H_NGM_N.