Royal Ruby Reds

ROYAL RUBY REDS

by

Dwight Hilson

1986

—Thank y’all for calling Billy Stan’s Alamo Fruit, located deep in the heart of Texas, home of the world famous Royal Ruby Reds. My name is Darlene, how may I help you today?

Hello, Darlene, this is James…no, Jim, please call me Jim K— I want to order some of those Royal Ruby grapefruits.

—Well, sir, you’ve called the right place; I’d—

I grew up on Royal Rubys, my dad was a customer, still is I think…if my stepmom hasn’t cancelled—

—Why Mr. K— I’d just be thrilled to death to help you enjoy our delicious—

They’re the best, without a doubt. You know, I ate my first Royal Ruby Red in the sixties.

—Oh, sir, (laughs) you can’t possibly be that old.

No, really, you can look it up, I mean him, John K—, my dad, he’s in your system, probably one of your best customers, certainly in New York City.

—Is that where you’re calling from Mr. K—, all the way from New York City?

Please, Darlene, call me Jim.

—Are all you New York City folks so nice?

No, well, I can’t really say.

—Mr. K— (whispers, conspiratorially), we’re not supposed to address customers by their given name. Now don’t get me wrong, I would, but Mr. Stans would never let me hear the end of it.

No, that’s okay, wouldn’t want to get you in any trouble, I’m just glad you’re still in business. I’d been away for a while and, and I remembered those big red boxes, one used to come to our apartment every month, like clockwork…I grew up on those grapefruits. You see—

—Well then why don’t we get started with your name and address?

Yes, of course, like I said, it’s Jim, James K—, ### Fifth Avenue, New York—

—Now I see a J. K—in New York—oh, wait, that’s a John K—.

Yup, that’s him, my father I mean. He started ordering your grapefruits in ’66, I think, right after he was diagnosed. He was diabetic, you see, needed the sugar when his insulin went out of whack. You had to know the signs, though, he’d act silly, and then like he was drunk, and if you didn’t give him some fruit—something sweet—fast, well he could collapse like he’d been shot.

—Now that sounds just awful.

Yeah, but those Ruby Reds did the trick, I mean you couldn’t use them in an emergency, took too long to cut one up, but the juice worked fine; we always kept a small pitcher filled with fresh-squeezed Ruby Red. I wasn’t allowed to touch it, the juice, but once I tried one of your grapefruits I remember, well, the color for instance, that pale red, almost magenta, none of the others had that color—not California, Florida, and so juicy; you could squeeze out half a glass after eating all the meat, I mean, damn they’re something special. Of course, my dad ordered other food by mail, like artichokes—“Mr. Choke”—it said on the box, from California, and huge, never seen an artichoke that big in a store, big enough to fill a mixing bowl, but then—

—Mr. K—?

Huh? Oh, I’m sorry, Darlene, I got carried away a little bit, I was going to say I never saw those again after I went away to school…but the Royal Ruby Reds, those were in the fridge whenever I came home, even after my parents split.

—And they’re still just like you remember, the best grapefruits in the world. Now—

God, I can’t wait to try them again; I didn’t see any when I was last at my dad’s apartment, but like I said, the stepmom runs the show, and, well…

—Would you like me to use that address? ### Fifth Avenue, in New York City, Mr. K—?

Yes, that’d be great, Darlene…and, say, do you still ship them automatically, during the season?

—Why nothing would make me happier, (laughs) and Mr. Stans, too! We attach an invoice and return envelope to each box, easy as pie.

Right…a grapefruit pie.

—Oh, Mr. K—, you are funny. It’s really been such a pleasure chatting with you today, and we can’t thank you enough for placing your order with Billy Stan’s Alamo Fruit.

1992

—Thank you for calling Billy Stan’s National Fruit, how might I direct your call?

Oh, hi, um…I’m a Royal Ruby Red customer, and—

—Let me connect you to that department—

Thank y—

— (Music)

—Hello, my name is Shari-Lynn, do you have an account number?

Yes, I think so…but I don’t know what—

—You can find it easy enough on the invoice attached to the box for your most recent order.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t save my last box.

—That’s perfectly okay, sir; I can look that up for you… last name?

Then why… Right, thank you, it’s K—, Jim…James K—, New York City, but that’s not what I’m calling about. Hey, would you know if Darlene still works there?

—Darlene, sir? I can’t say I know a Darlene, not here at least (laughs). But we’ve been growing like weeds in a wheat field.

Okay, I was just wondering…I remembered her name, that’s all, last time I called, she took my order a few years back and we had such a pleasant conversation.

—Now I see a Mr. John K—

No, that’s my dad…I mean was—

 James K—, I found you, ### Fifth Avenue, New—

Yes, that’s me, but I need to change the address; you know, got married, moved to the suburbs…

—Well congratulations, Mr. K—, I can certainly help you with that. May I have your new address?

Thank you, it’s #-A Sound View Road, Stamford, Connecticut, but…

—Let me just read that back to you… (Repeats address) We’ll start using this address with the new season delivery in November. Is there anything else I can help you with?

No…well, yes. I’m not sure how to say this, but…my dad, John K—, he died last spring.

—Oh, Mr. K—, I’m so sorry to hear that, please accept our condolences.

Thank you…Shari-Lynn was it? He loved Royal Ruby Reds, started getting them when I was a kid—I told Darlene that story, how I remember the red box arriving each month through the winter. I tried buying a red grapefruit at a supermarket once, but they weren’t the same, tart and tough and dried out. Guess only Billy Stan customers get the best fruit, right?

—Yes, sir, we mail out to every state in the union, even Alaska and Hawaii.  

I…

—Sir? Mr. K—?

Oh, I’m sorry, I was just thinking about something… the box actually, that Royal Ruby Red box. It’s strange, but after my dad died…he died last spring? Sorry, I said that already, well after he died my stepmother was moving out of the house and she found one of your boxes—one of the Royal Ruby Red ones, tucked way in the back of a closet cupboard. I kind of expected she would’ve kept it for herself, but she gave it to me. Anyway, inside were letters, hundreds of letters from World War II. Can you believe he saved every letter written to him during the war? He was sent to the Pacific, Burma; almost got killed. That box also had every letter he wrote to his parents and sister, hundreds of them, letters from his friends sent overseas, teachers sending updates, and girlfriends, lots of girlfriends—seems he had one in every fort. He ended up wounded, in a hospital, in Calcutta, no less, for six months. All these years and that box remained hidden; he never mentioned it, not once, and he sure never talked about his injuries, or anything else from the war years. I’ve got the letters now, still stored in that Royal Ruby Red box, been waiting to find time to read them all. Expect they might answer some questions.

—Well I’ve never heard anything like that before.

Yeah, it is pretty crazy, but there’s another selling point for your grapefruits—the box makes a perfect letter storage box.

—I never thought of that. (Laughs) But, sir, I’m not sure I can remove your father from our customer list, that’s managed by another company and I think you’d have to contact them directly…or maybe your stepmother should—

No, that’s not going to happen. And now that I think about it, it doesn’t really matter anyway.

2000

—(Recording) THANK YOU FOR CALLING RED TERRY’S DIRECT FRUIT…FOR RED’S FRESH GLOW ORANGE CUSTOMERS PLEASE PRESS 1…FOR GEORGIA SWEET ONION CUSTOMERS PLEASE PRESS 2…FOR ROYAL RUBY RED CUSTOMERS PLEASE—

—(Recording) IF YOU’D LIKE TO PLACE AN ORDER PLEASE PRESS 1…FOR ALL CUSTOMER SERVICE—

—Thank you for calling Red Terry, how may I help you today?

Oh, yes, I have a question about my standing order; this is Jim K—, account number #####.

—Thank you, Mr. K—, I’d be happy to assist you. Let’s see—are you sure about that account number? I’m not showing it in our system.

Yes, that’s the number I wrote down last—

—I see the problem, that’s your old number Mr. K—, we assigned you a new, Red Terry account number after Billy Stan’s National joined the Red Terry family of companies.

I guess I knew something had changed when I didn’t hear a Texas accent, and—

—(Chuckles) We’re in Iowa now, order processing and corporate, but your grapefruits are still shipped out, as always, ripe off the tree from South Texas.

The box is different, too, still red though.

—Yes it is. So how may I help you today, Mr. K—?

Right, here’s the problem—my standing order is for nine grapefruit and this time you sent me eighteen…along with a whole set of spoons.

—Why yes (proudly), that’s our way of saying, “Thank You” for being such a loyal Royal Ruby Red customer.

Okay, sure, that’s wonderful, but you see—I’m sorry, what’s your name?

—Marilynne, it’s Marilynne, Mr.K—.

Thank you, Marilynne, I should’ve asked earlier, but you see, Marilynne, there’s no way I can eat that many grapefruits in a month, not even Royal Rubys, so I hope you can—

—Don’t you worry, Mr. K—, like I said, that was just a gift, next month you’ll receive your regular order, but we do hope you’ll enjoy those Red Terry grapefruit spoons with our compliments.

Yeah, spoons…you know we had those when I was growing up —I mean spoons with a serrated front edge, just like what you sent. Never used them, though, didn’t have to. We had a housekeeper, Mary, used to fix my dad’s breakfast; she’d use a paring knife to cut each section, sawing around the segment walls to loosen perfect little chunks of grapefruit flesh, amazing. Why use one of those spoons to grind and twist, mangle the fruit, when you can just lift out nothing but the meat?

—(Laughs) That’s a good—

Mary would cut up multiple halves; guess she thought she’d make sure there was always a grapefruit ready when my dad wanted one. But I wasn’t stupid, if I saw one ready to go and she wasn’t looking, then away it went. Of course, it became a habit—not stealing Mary’s handiwork—no, I mean cutting all the sections. When I was a teenager they, my parents, sent me off to boarding school out in the boondocks of Massachusetts, and believe it or not they had grapefruits there, not Royal Ruby Reds, more like those crappy Florida ones, the ones with yellowish, mostly mealy fruit. I’d eat them, though, like I said, out of habit, or maybe they reminded me of… Anyway, I’d use their lousy cafeteria knives and carve out the sections just like Mary used to do. I must’ve looked like a moron, the dean of students actually made fun of me when he saw me in action one morning. He liked grapefruits, too, but would use his pocketknife and slice around the outside between the rind and fruit, then dig in. But you did that and you had to eat pieces of the section dividing rind, which is just nasty and bitter, even in Ruby Reds. One of these toothy spoons would’ve come in handy; students weren’t allowed to own a pocketknife, that’s for sure. That dean…what was his name? Crocker, that was it; everyone used to say he was a Crock of— Well, he could’ve kicked my ass out of school when I got caught with Daphne in my room, girls were strictly verboten in the dorms, but when he called me in to his office all he wanted to talk about was my silly grapefruit prep technique. It was like he thought my handiwork represented some weird example of discipline, future potential. Crazy, right?

—(Silence)

Marilynne—you still with me?

—Umm…(Hesitates) yes, Mr. K—.

So the dean, Dean Crocker, he let me off the hook with just a suspension. If you think about it, my life could’ve been a total mess if not for Royal Ruby Reds. Maybe if I need to teach my kids how to properly cut a grapefruit—

—Oh (Relieved), do you have children Mr. K—?

What? No, no, not yet, we’re trying, but…

—Well like I said, Mr. K—, your next shipment will return to the normal amount, and by the way, I notice that your credit card will expire in a couple months…would you like me to update that information?

2007

—(Recording) THANK YOU FOR CALLING TERRY DIRECT…PLEASE LISTEN CAREFULLY AS OUR PHONE OPTIONS HAVE CHANGED: FOR HOUSEWARES PLEASE PRESS 1…FOR KITCHEN APPLIANCES PLEASE PRESS 2…FOR FRESH GROWN FOR YOU PLEASE—

—(Recording) THANK YOU FOR CALLING FRESH GROWN FOR YOU. FOR RED’S FRESH GLOW ORANGE CUSTOMERS…

Dammit…

…PLEASE PRESS 1…FOR GEORGIA SWEET ONION CUSTOMERS PLEASE PRESS 2…FOR ROYAL RUBY RED CUSTOMERS PLEASE—

You’ve got to be kidding me…

—(Recording) IF YOU’D LIKE TO PLACE AN ORDER PLEASE PRESS 1…FOR ALL CUSTOMER SERVICE—

—(Foreign accent) Thank you for calling Fresh Grown For You, my name is Aryan, how is it my pleasure to assist you today?

Oh, great—

—Thank you, sir, who is it with I am talking to?

Something tells me you’re not in Kansas.

—(Laughs) No sir, but Fresh Grown For You delivers many customers in—

Right, I get it…say, you wouldn’t be anywhere near Calcutta would you?

—Oh no, sir, Fresh Grown For You is located—

Excuse me, Aryan, but I have a complaint.

—Yes, sir, I am most pleased to—

I’m sure, I’m sure, look, my name is Jim K—, account number ##########, and I want you to credit me for this last batch of grapefruits.

—Whatever was being the problem, Mr. K—?

Simple, these were not Royal Ruby Reds, you’re sending me crappy Florida grapefruits, or from some other God forsaken place, and worse, you’re still charging me the full price.

—I am sad for your displeasure with these Fresh Grown For You grapefruits, Mr. K—.

Look, Aryan, I’ve been a customer for over twenty years and I know what’s what. You guys…I mean, not you, but Terry Direct, they’re just trying to extend the season, probably costs them nothing to buy these things, bet they pick ‘em up for pennies at the local Shop Rite. But I don’t like to waste my money, I…

—Terry Direct wishes a guarantee for your happiness, Mr. K—.

A guarantee? Yeah, that would be nice…a guarantee. Not sure how that could work. Funny, though, Royal Ruby Reds always used to make me happy. Not these crappy imposters mind you, but the real ones, big and heavy and filled with that thick sweet fruit. Christ, did you know you can squeeze out half a glass of juice after you’ve scarfed down all the fruit? Probably not, no way Mr. Terry’s gonna send any to old Aryan when they have the balls to deliver batches of shit to loyal customers. Am I right? I was actually excited when the box arrived, I couldn’t remember getting any grapefruits after early April; but then I sliced into one and it was like trying to cut a coconut. I’m sure I sound like a lunatic, but they shouldn’t try to screw their customers, there’s plenty of companies that that’s all they do, like the goddamn drug companies for instance. And they don’t give you a choice…at least I can cancel my grapefruits if I want. Not my wife’s medication, though, not a chance, they just keep raising the price every year and my company keeps raising my deductible. I bet you don’t even know what that is, a deductible. Doesn’t matter, what choice do I have? I don’t want to think what would happen if she… Well, anyway, I don’t let her see the grapefruits when they arrive, keep them down in the garage fridge. She sure enjoyed them, too; that was one of the reasons I first ordered, so she could taste what I’d been making such a fuss was about—all my Royal Ruby Red stories. Sometimes when an order arrived we’d make a race of sectioning out all the fruit, see which of us could hollow out the most grapefruits. Then we’d squeeze them all into a Tupperware, and spoon the chunks as desired, sprinkle a little sugar. Had to stop when she was first diagnosed, her medication…what was it? Doesn’t matter. Can you believe that you can’t eat grapefruits on the stuff? That’s when I started hiding them in the garage. Probably should’ve cancelled my order right then, but… That was all a few years back, she can eat grapefruits on the new medications, but I think the acid would throw her off, she really needs protein, stuff that’ll…

—Please to excuse me, Mr. K—, but I am not understanding what you wish of me, sir.

Yeah, I’m sorry Aryan; I didn’t mean to get carried away there. Listen, I know it’s not your fault. Just credit me for this last shipment and put it in the system that I don’t want to receive any grapefruits but genuine Royal Ruby Reds…no wait, just set it up so you don’t send me anything after April and we’ll call it a day. That should be easy, right?

—(Silence) 

            Recently

            —(Recording) THANK YOU FOR CALLNG BAKER & HOOD NATURALS, PROVIDERS OF ONLY THE FINEST FRESH DELIVERED PRODUCE. TO INSURE CUSTOMER SERVICE THIS CALL MAY BE RECORDED. TO PLACE AN ORDER, PLEASE PRESS “1”; FOR ALL BILLING ISSUES, PLEASE PRESS “2”; TO REPORT A DELIVERY PROBLEM, PLEASE PRESS—

            —Good afternoon, my name is Crystal, how may I assist you?

            Umm…

            —Sir? Can I help you?

I’m sorry, guess I didn’t expect to talk with a human being so quickly; last time I was connected to someone…someone in India, I think.

—That was a different company, sir.

Do you still sell Royal Ruby Reds? I found an old invoice with this 800 number and it connected me—

—Yes sir, (Proudly) and our Golden sunshine and Coastal Orange grapefruits, too. Baker & Hood is America’s finest purveyor of farm fresh produce; we started selling Royal Ruby Reds just over a year ago. Are you a current customer?

Yes, I think so, I’d receive the grapefruits every month, but—

— Name, sir?

It’s K—, James K—.

—I see a Mrs. J. K—, in New York—

Yeah, well I’ll be damned…no, I mean that’s my father—no, stepmother.

—I don’t see you in our system, but as a prior customer you should’ve received our product catalog.

But I never needed a catalog before; I was a regular customer…for over twenty-five years.

—Yes, Mr. K—, this has been a problem since we acquired the Ruby Red brand.

What? I don’t understand.

—Customer files were sent to our list management division, but we can’t access an old, I mean, previous, customer file here at order processing in Memphis, at least not until an order is placed.

Wait…are you saying I don’t exist until I buy something?

 —Oh, of course not, sir, but have you moved recently?

No, not recently, I moved last year, after my wife… It was such a crazy year, too much to do, I moved to a condo closer to the city but, well, I can’t remember when I ate my last Royal Ruby Red.

— Why nothing would make me happier than to take care of that right this instant, and, as a loyal customer if you order a full season of delicious Royal Ruby Reds, or any other full season of Baker & Hood Naturals products, we’ll throw in free-of-charge a complete set of…

The End