Author’s note: This short story is entirely fictitious. I hope this is obvious to you as you read.
Michael B. Jordan is my name and investigative reporting is my game. I also like gardening.
You may be wondering if I am the Michael B. Jordan, known for his roles in hit films “Creed” and “Black Panther,” or for his lesser roles like Josh Trank’s disastrous “Fantastic Four”reboot. But no, I am not that Michael B. Jordan, nor am I the other Michael Jordan, of Chicago Bulls fame. An easy way to differentiate me from the other Michael Jordans is because of my pathetic physical condition: I do not have the bulging, leading man muscles of the actor Michael B. Jordan, nor the legendary athletic ability of Michael Jordan. Also, I am white.
I am also quite elderly, especially when considering that I am a journalist for WKU’s Talisman. I have been a journalist for the Talisman going on 22 years now; I am in my 18th senior year currently, though I do not expect to graduate this upcoming spring. I gave up on that dream long ago. The University Experience courses are impossibly difficult. How do they expect me to master the experience of attending a university in less than a mere lifetime? Twenty-two years have not allowed me the experience to pass the course, and I doubt that 22 more will!
My wife left me last year. She said that I “needed to get a real job.” But what job could be more than doing investigative reporting for a small, university-sponsored website? Who, if not me, could deliver such fierce, hard-hitting content like my locally prized piece “Hilltoppers basketball coach buys Jimmy John’s subs for team”?
But you are not reading this article to hear about my woes and grievances; I have written about them in the beginning of every piece I have produced for the past 22 years. You, my dear readers, probably know me better than anyone else in the world. Except, perhaps, my wife.
I mean, ex-wife. I miss her.
Anyway, I should reach the point of this article already. Last week, I was given a piece to investigate Mara-ark’s immense production of food: How do they make so much? Where does it all come from? And why does my stomach feel like a hurricane in the hours after I’ve eaten it? Of course, I happily took this piece. I happily take any piece I can get my hands on, or rather, any piece that the Talisman will let me have. Sometimes I feel like they do not want me on their writing staff anymore but don’t have the heart to fire me. Even if they did fire me, I would not leave willingly! That is a joke, to be clear!
So, I did my duties and investigated. I spoke with several representatives from Mara-ark, but I have changed their names, as well as that of the company itself, for the sake of anonymity and for reasons that will come to light. I have also changed certain people’s appearances for the sake of comedy. The following dialogue is transcribed from my personal tape recorder and the following thoughts/ramblings were hastily scribbled in my journalistic notepad. Yes, I still use physical tape and, no, I do not need your negative comments about it! Anyways, I hope you enjoy the story, and feel free to contact me with your positive comments.
“OK, let’s get this tape rolling,” I say after I’ve pressed the “record” button on my tape recorder. “Testing, testing, one, two.” I have no idea why I am saying “testing” into the recorder; it is not as if it is playing back to me. I would have to stop, rewind, then press play to see if the audio recorded. I suppose that is one benefit of digital recording, the ease of it all, but I will never concede to the naysayers hounding me for my old man tendencies! I am old, therefore I know better than you. That is how it works. Do not argue with me about it.
“I’m not going to argue with you about it,” a voice says in front of me, pulling me from the inner ramblings of my mind. My head snaps upward and I realize that I am at the entrance of a somewhat large office. At a stained wooden desk across the room, there is a man looking curiously at me. I realize that my inner ramblings were actually outer ramblings, and I grow horribly embarrassed.
The man at the desk has the head the size of a large watermelon, and his nose is at least 3-feet long. His glasses are the thickness of a ‘90s television, and he must be less than 4-feet tall. He was sitting in a child’s booster seat to make up for his abnormal height. Also, he is green. To remind you, my dear audience, this description is completely false. He actually looked quite normal. But for the sake of the story, consider him as the previously offered description.
I look down at the nameplate on his desk and see that his name is Mortimer Melon. Again, this is a false name. Just go with it.
He stares at me through his several-foot-wide glasses and says in a comically high-pitched voice, “Have a seat, Mr. B. Jordan. Make sure your mask is secured.”
Oh, yes, COVID-19. What an annoyance! I suppose I have to include it in this story, since it is all anyone talks about these days! COVID, COVID, COVID! I’m tired of it!
He motions to a seat roughly 6-feet away from his desk. The seat is a purple yoga ball.
I sit down with a grunt. The ball slips out from under me, and I land with a crashing noise far louder than what I expect, leaving me sprawled out on the hard floor and in a considerable amount of pain. Melon seems like he did not notice this embarrassing display, or maybe he is just being polite. I make no move to get off the floor and instead start the interview.
“So, Mr. Melon, I have a few questions for you, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t mind. Why would I accept an interview just to say I don’t want any questions?”
“Haha,” I nervously chuckle. Laughing is not very comfortable when sprawled out on a tiled floor. “That is a good point, Mr. Melon. Or may I call you Mortimer?”
“You may not.”
“I see. I will start with my questions, then, if that is fine.”
“My first question is this: How are you able to produce so much food for the university, and, I presume, other universities and food-providing organizations?”
“I don’t produce any food,” Melon states, leaning over his desk to look at me on the floor.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what I said. I don’t produce any food.”
An awkward moment passes as I try to discern what Melon is talking about. It clicks.
“Ah! I understand, sir. You, yourself, do not produce any food. Your company does, though, correct?”
“Then let me correct my question: How is your company able to produce so much food for the university, and, I presume, other universities and food-providing organizations?”
Melon considers for a moment. His enormously long, green nose brushes some papers from his desk and sends them scattering on the floor. “I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to someone else about that.”
I blink. “You don’t know? When I called earlier, you said that you could answer my questions.”
“I said I could answer them. I did not say I could answer them correctly.”
“Oh.” I roll on the floor and stand up. I am covered with dust. “Is there someone else I could speak to about this, then? Someone with actual information? I really am in need of answers; I have a deadline to meet.”
Melon considers, tossing his nose over his shoulder with dramatic flare. “There is someone who might have the information you need. Name’s Bobo. Not related to the clown. Don’t bring up anything about clowns; it sets him off. He works over in the Nevada Mara-ark plant. Head of the whole western region of the company, actually. We call him the Don of the West. Don Bobo. If he offers his hand, kiss it.”
“Understood, Mr. Melon. I will head there immediately. Flights are cheap nowadays! You know, because of the virus.” I chuckle. Melon stares back at me, unamused. I lick my dry lips. “Do you want to come with me?” There is something about Melon’s musk that I find irresistible, ashamed as I am to admit it. How unprofessional of me. “We could share a room, maybe?”
“No,” he says.
“Haha! I was just kidding. Just a joke, is all! Haha! Bye.” I sprint as fast as I can out of Melon’s musk-filled office.
I catch the next flight to Nevada after doing extensive research to figure out where the largest Mara-ark facility is in the state. Why is the largest facility in the West in a small town in Nevada? What function does Nevada serve other than for you to ruin your life in Las Vegas?
On the flight, I am comically wedged between two literal elephants, named Peanut and Trunkie, I believe. Their traveling companion Boris purchased his ticket too late to get the seat between them. But the comedy of the situation subsides once the elephant to my left, Peanut, falls asleep, slouches over and puts all of her weight on top of me. My oxygen is cut off, and I am medically dead for a few moments before the plane’s doctor resuscitates me by wafting a tasty doughnut over my nose. It smelled so good that I literally came back to life! The wonders of science, or maybe it was a miracle! Oh, the world works in such mysterious ways.
Peanut offers me her information in case I wish to sue her at a later date, though I have not yet decided whether that is something I will pursue. Perhaps if my Talisman career goes down the drain, I will sue her elephant ass!
After obligatorily ruining my life in Las Vegas through a series of unfortunate, yet wacky, events, I hurriedly make my way north to the Mara-ark plant in Battle Mountain, Nevada. What a name for a town, Battle Mountain! I ask around for Don Bobo, but no one seems to want to answer me. They all give me a look as if to say, “You shouldn’t be asking that question,” but even so, I continue to ask the question.
“Where is Don Bobo?” I ask every stranger I come across. “Where is Don Bobo, and is he a clown?!”
Eventually, on the second evening I am in Battle Mountain, a black limo with tinted windows pulls up to the sidewalk right next to me, and, curiously enough, tufts of curly dark hair are sticking out of each window. People in black hazmat suits hurry out of the vehicle, grab me, and toss me inside. I couldn’t see any of their faces inside the hazmat suits, but, for some reason, one of them forces a new mask over my mouth rather than pulling the one that was already over my eyes down a few inches.
Through my mask, I can see that I am alone on my side of the limo. The hazmat-suited people hurried off down the street once they threw me in. But in the dim light of the limo, I can make out a hulking figure on the opposite side of the limo’s riding room. Is that what it’s called? The riding room? It should be, if it is not.
I pull my mask away from my eyes to see who the hulking figure is. It is a large stuffed bear, and it is quite cute. Next to the stuffed bear, there is a man the size of a toddler, even shorter than Melon was. His hair is wild, curly, like Corbin Bleu’s if it were multiplied by one thousand. In fact, his hair takes up most of the vehicle’s interior, and I can hardly make out my surroundings. But I can tell that he is wearing a mask and a face shield, an annoying reminder of the coronavirus-littered world we live in.
“Stay in your seat. I want you to keep a 12-foot distance from me at all times,” the man says. His voice is disturbingly deep, like what I would imagine the stuffed bear beside him would sound like if it could talk.
“Twelve-foot distance?” I ask, confused. “But the CDC recommends six.”
“Not anymore,” he says. “As of yesterday, the recommendation is a 12-foot distance with both a mask and a face shield. We did not have a face shield to supply you with, but I do not plan on staying in your presence for longer than a few moments, so we should be fine.” He clears his throat. “I am Don Bobo. I have heard that you’ve been asking for me, as well as insulting me with the cruel assumption that, because my name is Bobo, I must be a clown. Well, sir, look at me. Do I appear to be a clown?”
“To be honest, Don Bobo, I can’t see much of your face because your hair is in my eyes. So, I cannot confirm or deny my suspicions that you are a clown.”
“I am not!”
“Alright, fine. You aren’t. If I may, Don Bobo, I was hoping that you could answer a few questions for a Talisman piece I’m writing about Mara-ark’s immense amount of produced food. Mr. Mortimer Melon pointed me in your direction. Are you familiar with the Talisman?”
Don Bobo scoffs. “Of course I’ve heard of the Talisman! What kind of uncultured swine do you think I am?”
“I’m very sorry for the offense. Anyway, could you answer just one question for me? One quality answer is all I need to write my article about Mara-ark. Once you answer, I can go back to the beautiful Hill of WKU! It’s such a beautiful campus, Don Bobo!”
“Ask your question, swine.”
I do not appreciate the insult, but I don’t dare to argue with Don Bobo. He has a certain frightening quality to him. Maybe it is the jungle that his hair creates around us. There could be wild cats and poisonous snakes within the limo’s jungle for all I know, though it seems unlikely. Unlikelier things have happened. I take a deep breath, hearing my heart beating rapidly in my chest and ask, “How are you able to produce so much food for the university, and, I presume, other universities and food-providing organizations?”
“What are you talking about? I don’t produce any food.”
A moment passes. What is he talking about? Oh, I see.
“Ah, yes. I understand. I don’t mean you as in you personally. I mean you as a representative of Mara-ark. How does Mara-ark produce so much food for the university, and, I presume, other universities and food-providing organizations? That would be the correct question.” I should have corrected the question on my notepad (yes, a physical notepad) after the interview with Melon. Even after 22 years of journalism, I still have errors in my processes.
“Oh,” Don Bobo sighs. “I don’t know anything about that. That question is a little above my pay grade.”
I slouch forward, disappointed. “How can you not know the answer to this question? It seems like a pretty standard question: How does your company produce its food? You are the head of the entire western region of Mara-ark, are you not? So, how can you not know the answer?”
“I am the Don of the West. But even I do not have the answers to your question. I must further redirect you to the head of Mara-ark operations.”
“In the country?”
“Not the country, swine. The world.”
“Wow! OK, where can I find him?”
“Him? Are you sexist? Why not say her?”
“Oh, I am so very sorry. Where can I find her?”
“Actually, it is him. I just wanted to bring your sexism to light, Mr. B. Jordan.”
“Understood. Also, how do you know my name?”
Don Bobo ignores my question. “You may find him, and by him, I mean, the global head of Mara-ark operations, on a farm in Bowling Green, Kentucky.”
“You are lying to me. WKU, my one, true home, is in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and not once have I seen the global home of Mara-ark operations anywhere around town.”
“I’m lying to you? How dare you! You are lucky that Don Bobo does not choose to have your knees broken! You can find the man who can give you your answer at a farm down the road from the new Walmart.”
“I still do not believe you, but I don’t believe that I will get any better information out of you, Don Bobo, so I must say good day.” I turn to exit the limo, pushing past a cluster of the Don’s dark, jungly hair.
Don Bobo clears his throat expectantly. I turn to see him presenting his hand toward me, a large ring on one finger. I sigh, remembering that Melon instructed me to kiss the Don’s hand if presented, even though I must break the current 12-foot distance recommendations of the CDC to do so. I’m so sorry, Dr. Fauci. I crawl across the riding room of the limo and bend down to kiss his ring. It is a Ring Pop, grape flavored. My favorite! I must spend far too long kissing and licking this ring because eventually Don Bobo calls for his men to forcefully escort me out of the limo.
I get on a plane to take me back to Nashville, where I will Uber back to Bowling Green for an immense price. But money is a thing that I have plenty of, working at the Talisman and all! Unfortunately, I am on the same return flight as the two elephants from before, Peanut and Trunkie, and am, once again, seated between them. This time, I do not, in medical terms, die. Instead, each of my knees and femurs are shattered, putting me in a wheelchair for the foreseeable future. I still have Peanut’s information, and I am beginning to wonder if these injuries are intentional. Have I done anything in the past to warrant a violent vengeance from Peanut the elephant? Potentially.
Out of curiosity, and though I do not believe any word that left Don Bobo’s mouth, I wheelchair my way to the new Walmart once I have returned to Bowling Green. This process takes me several hours from my downtown residence that I share with three freshmen girls that all despise me; this house, in which I live in a supply closet, has been my first living space since being kicked out of my ex-wife’s house, restraining order in hand. Well, she didn’t kick me out. Her new boyfriend, Chudley, did.
Arriving at Walmart, I do realize that there is one road leading away from the intersection that I have never travelled on. Perhaps, that road could lead to the secret home of the Mara-ark’s global operations, even if it seems rather unlikely.
Nevertheless, I persist! I turn my wheelchair and start down the mysterious road, my shattered legs outstretched before me. My stomach sinks as I realize that the deadline for my article is tomorrow at noon, and I have absolutely nothing to show for it. After 22 years, I have never missed a Talisman deadline, and, by golly, I don’t want to start now.
Night falls before I make any kind of remarkable progress. For hours, all I have seen is empty fields of grass and hay. But now, in the distance ahead of me, I can see one enormous structure with bright white light shining from inside thin windows lining the walls. There are no crops around this building, and the only thing that could be considered a driveway is a dirt path that leads all the way up to a small, yet sturdy-looking door. There are no markers signifying this building as belonging to Mara-ark, but I may as well knock. At this point, I am desperate for any content that I could write about.
Interestingly enough, before I start down the dirt path, I notice that just beyond this building is another, though it is far more rundown. This one has a sign out front that says, “Mrs. Mable’s Home for Children in Need.” There is another, smaller sign beneath this one that says, “Food donations needed. Children are very hungry.”
I know that this building is not what I am looking for.
So I start my wheelchair down the dirt path to the original, more mysterious building. But gravity gets the better of my wheelchair on the path’s downward slope and I accidentally ram my broken legs into the front door. I squeal in terrible pain! “Ouchie!”
There is a rustling inside, and I brace myself for whatever chewing-out I may get for showing up at some horribly late hour of night. The door opens, bathing me in white light, and a slender, strangely handsome figure is silhouetted before me. Is he an angel? That is my first thought upon seeing this figure.
This thought is immediately dispersed as my eyes adjust, revealing an Einstein-esque man before me, nearly rabid-looking. He is wearing goggles and a white tank-top. Who is this potentially rabid man?
He rushes toward me, putting his face mere inches away from mine. There is no mask in sight, and I had not had time to slide mine down from my eyes. “I am Jimmy Mustache.,” he growls, though he has no mustache to speak of. Why did he offer his name for no reason at all? “Now, what do you want?”
I am in mild disbelief at what has just occurred. I wonder for a moment if I’m dreaming. “Sir, would you mind backing up to the CDC recommended 12-foot distance and putting on a mask and face shield?”
“What are you talking about? That is old news,” he screams. His nose brushes mine, and he does not pull it away. “The new CDC recommendations are as follows: no mask, no face shield, and get as close as possible to whomever it is you’re speaking with.” He presses his nose more forcefully onto mine. “Let me know if I can ever get any closer!”
“I’m not sure that those new recommendations make much sense to me, but who am I to question science! Mr. Mustache, this building doesn’t happen to be the global home of operations for Mara-ark, does it?”
“Who told you that?” Mustache shouts.
“Don Bobo did.”
“That bastard! Yes, it does happen to be. What do you want, Mr. B. Jordan?”
It does not occur to me that Mustache also somehow knows my name. “I have a question that I desperately need answered. I have been redirected twice now, so if you could please just answer my question to the best of your ability, I will be on my way. Could I come in, perhaps?”
“Absolutely not. What is your question?” It has become evident at this point that Mustache is going to shout throughout this entire conversation, even being millimeters away. I am not in the mood for this.
“My question is this: How are you able to produce so much food for the university, and, I presume, other universities and food-providing organizations?”
“I do not produce any food myself.”
I want to bash my head against the door frame. “OK, then, how does Mara-ark produce so much food for the university, and, I presume, other universities and food-providing organizations?”
“I will show you,” Jimmy Mustache shouts, stepping maliciously backwards through the doorway. “But,” he stops, “you are not allowed to publish anything you see. If you do, you risk the penalty of death!”
“If it is so secret, then why are you letting me in at all?”
Mustache works his mouth back and forth. “Because we need the story to progress.”
“Fair enough.” I follow him through the door, knowing that I will publish everything that I see within this godforsaken building.
I was expecting to see dozens and dozens of workers inside this plant, if that is what this building is, but instead I see no people other than Mustache and myself. Wide, sterile, towering machines are pressed against the walls. The machines are deafeningly loud, and they seem to be hard at work, filling bins with miscellaneous shapes and colors from a slanted spout. What are these machines producing?
“Where are we?” I shout at Mustache. I suddenly understand why he was shouting the whole time we spoke outside; his ears must be nearly useless after being surrounded by all this constant noise. It’s a wonder that he even heard me arrive at the front door.
“What?” Mustache shouts. He stares at my mouth to read my lips
“Where are we?!”
“We are in the production plant of all of Mara-ark’s food products, believe it or not. All of our food comes from this building.”
My mouth hangs open stupidly. “I don’t understand. How is that possible? There is no one here to make any food, nor any crops around to harvest.”
Mustache grins. “Look a little closer,” he mouths.
I spin around in my wheelchair. What does he want me to look at?
Product being expediently shot from one of the massive machines catches my eye. The machine’s product is being produced so quickly, that when it is shot from the machine’s spout, it is at such a great speed that my eye cannot comprehend what it is. I glance over to Mustache, who nods slowly, creepily even.
So I start toward one of the machines. Once again, gravity gets the better of me and I accidentally ram my broken legs into the metal. I scream in pain. Luckily, the noise of the machines mostly masks my scream. The bin next to the machine is being slowly filled with all the product emerging from the spout. But how can the bin be filled so slowly when so much product is being poured in so quickly? I get a close look and am surprised as I notice that the bin continues far into the earth below. That is when I notice what the product is.
Filling the bin of incredulous depth are eggs. Not eggs in the shell, but fully scrambled, yellow eggs. Well, not quite yellow, but the color that one would find at a low-end cafeteria, perhaps one at a university.
I take a few rolls back and try to get a better look at the inside of the machine. Inside, I can see a metal, mechanical arm quickly moving from side to side, while slowly raising upward. A yellowish substance is thinly secreted from the mechanical arm’s narrow tip, quickly forming a pile of mush, no, scrambled eggs.
Is this machine what I think it is? Surely, it is not.
Then, a swift moment later, the mechanical arm lifts the pile of yellowish scrambled eggs that it has just created and places it at the top of the spout that has been filling the bin. When it shoots out from the bottom of the spout, the eggs are colored yellowish.
Could this machine be what I think it is? In a logical sense, I mean. Could this machine physically, scientifically even, exist?
Mustache’s wrinkled face appears over my shoulder, sending shivers down my spine. “It is what you are thinking: a 3D printer for food.”
“How is this possible?” I mutter.
“Patented technology. The U.S. government is the only other entity that knows of its existence. Elon Musk tried to replicate the tech, but failed, the bastard.”
I am in utter disbelief. We both sit in noisy silence for several moments as my brain attempts to form words. “How much food does it make an hour?” I eventually manage to ask.
“Over ten thousand servings. We have to throw half of it away, though. It produces far too much food for our clients, and the machines are far too difficult to slow down. Most of the waste gets tossed into the Gulf. Then we blame it on BP.” He laughs maniacally, but I cannot deny the genius in his words.
“You throw half of it away? Why don’t you give some of it to the children’s home next door? There’s a sign asking for food donations.”
Mustache sneers. “What are we, a company that produces handouts?! I think not.”
“But how is this possible?” I ask, moving on. “How is it possible to 3D print food? Don’t you need ingredients to make food? Nutrition and such?”
“That’s just a bunch of nonsense. Nutrition? Who needs it?! Our ingredients are proprietary: dust, motor oil and a little bit of love. The machines do the rest.” He takes an intimidating step around my wheelchair and leans down to stare into my eyes. “Let me remind you, Michael B. Jordan, that if you publish information about anything you’ve seen, you may lose your life. In the most brutal of ways, I might add.”
“What way is that?” I ask curiously.
“We will slowly disembowel and then we will throw your remains into one of our machines to become Papa Johann’s. Have you ever wondered why it is so greasy?”
I consider. “Of all the ways to go, that one is far from being the worst. I can think of dozens of worse deaths than that off the top of my head. But I get your point. I will not publish any of this,” I say, lying.
I am quickly ushered out of the building by Jimmy Mustache. He spanks me through my wheelchair as a stern final warning.
So here I am, and here are you, reading my published article, yet I am still alive. We will see if changing the names of involved parties will save me from an unpleasant demise resulting in a delicious but pain-inducing pepperoni pizza.
Only time will tell.
Until next time, this is Michael B. Jordan, investigative reporter saying farewell, perhaps forever.