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Omaha Magazine

Otis Twelve: Capers, Cilantro, and Crazy

May 27, 2022 03:25PM ● By Otis Twelve
Otis Twelve column photo

I used to enjoy grocery shopping—remember, back when the country was only half crazy?

I loved the doors that opened automatically with a little hiss, carts that rolled without a wobble, the smell of deli chicken, page announcements for Carl in dairy, and the sound of supermarket Musak that featured the Four Tops followed by Joe Jackson, Herman’s Hermits, Herb Alpert, and Aretha Franklin drifting from the ceiling.

I liked running into friends in the produce section. We would exchange greetings while I pretended that I knew how to tell when a cantaloupe was perfectly ripe by poking my thumbnail expertly into the melon at its stem and making that “just so” facial expression that experts make when melons are “just so.” We would then exchange knowing nods, and chat about the weather, which, we would agree, had never ever been so odd—back when we thought the odd weather was just odd weather and years before we found out it was apocalyptic. Those were the good old days.

I’d wander the aisles on the lookout for that occasional elderly lady who might need help reaching a jar of capers stocked on the impossibly tall top shelf in the condiment section. And when I discovered her, gazing wistfully upwards at that tragically unreachable necessity—I mean you can’t make Puttanesca without capers—I smiled. There was a small tear of frustration in the corner of her eye, when suddenly out of nowhere, I—a tall mysterious man—would appear to save the day. I would casually retrieve the delicacy from its lofty perch and hand it to the no longer frustrated, but still diminutive, woman with a modest bow and a heartfelt, “you’re welcome.” Then, I would be off towards the soft drink aisle with my squeaky wheeled cart without waiting for any reward other than a grateful smile. Hi ho, Silver, away!

I knew the guys behind the meat counter and they knew how much fat to leave on the chops I ordered, because good fat is every good cook’s secret. And they understood that chicken breasts belong on the bone—something that is nearly impossible to find these days. Our whole culture has gone boneless, it seems. All our meat is cut anonymously. And my cardiologist doesn’t appreciate fat like I do.

I would banter with the checkout clerk as she rang up my purchases. I’d joke about how much the price of asparagus had increased—this was back before every price increase was treated as evidence of some bit of an evil political conspiracy or litmus test for who you could like or who should be ostracized. You know, back when we knew how to write checks, in cursive.

Nowadays, my meals mostly are delivered to my front porch in an insulated cardboard box every Monday. Every meal on the weekly menu is individually bagged within. Each needed ingredient is measured out and ready to be prepped—low-fat and boneless. The instructions are clear and the time apportioned so dinner can be ready on time, every time. It’s the modern way.

But I miss, my friends, the tiny ladies, real live butchers, and the checkout lady who verified my personal check with its mysteriously inscribed signature. And I hate the fact that no matter how much I complain, that box on my porch always, always, always includes cilantro and poblano peppers. 

The world has gone completely mad. 

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 6-10 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.