She needed the money. To pay the electric bill and, maybe, take her three kids out for the occasional pizza. They had no money, you see. Vidalia was broke. That's why she did it. She didn't think that she would go viral with 103 million views, nearly lose their health insurance, or meet the owner of the largest fried chicken franchise in the world. But that's what happened. All because she took a secret job as an onion.
"Vidalia. What are you doing home at 2 o'clock in the afternoon?"
"Well, my first job fired me. Cause I was late again."
"Girl, what did you go and do now?"
"Sylvester, my oldest, he needed to be at high school early, so he couldn't take the bus. Then, Shonda had a dentist appointment. I had it worked out, but my baby, Tanya, well, she had a fever and a cough and needed to go to the doctor. So, I was ten minutes late, and that manager, Bob, he was waiting on me. Told me I was done. You know, he never liked me."
"Girl, you have the worst luck. But, what about your main job? You still got that, right?"
"Yep. But it starts at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. I barely can get the kids in the house and fed and started on their homework before I got to be at work. Lordy, lordy, it is tough. And I have to do anything else secretly. Can't let nobody know about the second job except you. Kids don't even know."
"You ain't telling me nothing I don't know. Listen, I heard they need an onion down at the Captain Frank's Chicken House on Monroe Boulevard? You know the one? Got two giant drumsticks out front?"
"Yeah. I do. They have good chicken there. What kind of job is it?"
"You stand out front and wave. Fifteen dollars an hour, four hours a day, five days a week."
"Do they pay in cash?"
"What's the catch?"
" The onion suit."
"It's part of a promotion. Fried Vidalia onions are new on the menu, so you stand out front, wave, and get people to come in and try them."
"This is not funny. You are making fun of me, and my name," Vidalia screeched out to her friend, Neisha. "This ain't the day to be messing with me,"
"Vidalia, I am not messing with you. It's legit. Go check it out," Neisha said as she hung up.
Vidalia had had a rough day. She needed the money, so she had to table her pride, once again. When the kids got home, she trotted off to her regular job as a janitor at the office park. Arrive at 5, work hard to 10:30, go home to check on the kids, then sleep. Then up at 6 to start again. She was getting Medicaid, and the janitor job was the only one she was supposed to have. But you can't live on that. So she had been taking cash-only side hustles to try to survive. Life wasn't fair, but she still had to find a way to move forward. Her no-good man left years ago, and it was just her and mama to give these three kids love and a chance. If she had to be an onion for four hours a day to do it, so be it. Not great, but she had something to pay for the emergency room visits when Tanya's asthma was bad.
The next morning, she went to Captain Frank's.
"Good morning. I am here to find out about the onion job?"
"Yes, ma'am. Here is the suit, you come right before 11 and stay till 3. Hourly wage of 15$, paid in cash. No benefits, and you have to figure out the taxes. Monday through Friday. Captain Frank's closes for the weekend. We like for our employees to have some time with their families and to rest. The only major fast food place to do that. Our big business is for working people during the week, breakfast, lunch, dinner. That's what has made us one of the largest chicken chains in the country." the manager said with a smile. Vidalia didn't ask all the questions on her mind. And wearing the suit would keep her identity secret to keep her out of trouble with the state. She took the suit and waved bye. It was 9 am so she had some time to get groceries before being back at the job.
At 10:58, Vidalia arrived back at Captain Frank's. Vidalia was a large woman. Almost six feet tall. So the suit was a little tight. Her skinny legs appeared extra long in the sheer black stockings she had to wear. Then the onion bulb, which fit snugly on her generous pear-shaped body. Except for the bosom. Vidalia was a very well-endowed mother of three, which gave the onion a definite eccentricity. And then the six-foot-high onion stalk well above her head and hitting the gutter on the store. There were two tan-colored slots in the middle of the bulb where Vidalia could look out and breathe. Except that she was taller than anyone who would normally be in the suit, so the breathing slot for her mouth was down at her throat, and the slot for her eyes was over her nose. But, it was a job.
The first hour or so, she just walked back and forth waving at customers. The temp was already 80 degrees, so she was sweating inside the suit, and she couldn't drink anything through the slots. She was feeling a little tired from the dehydration when she heard someone come running out of the chicken place shouting, "holdup. Three dopes for the cash. run." Vidalia liked rum drinks. Her favorite was three dots and a dash, named for Morse code and a famous Chicago bar. Somewhere in her quivering, dehydrated consciousness, she suddenly thought her favorite rum drink was being offered in the chicken place. She pushed her way through the exiting crowd and pulled her six-foot-high stalk headdress down and behind her to get in the door. Waddling up to the counter, where the three gunmen were nervously fingering their handguns, the woozy Vidalia suddenly spoke.
"Where're the drinks. I need one bad."
The first gunman wheeled around and took a swipe at the onion. Pistol whipping an onion isn't straightforward. He didn't hit Vidalia in the head. No, he hit her square on the shoulder. Vidalia returned the favor wildly since she couldn't see anything through the suit, and her balance wasn't terrific from the dehydration. But, her large fist landed square on the guy's nose, breaking it. Blood gushed out, and he screamed like a teenage girl. Gunman number two threw a lower punch. He hit squarely on Vidalia's beltline. Vidalia carried a 44 Magnum Smith and Wesson Model 29 six-shot revolver for protection when she returned home late at night. She lived in a rough place. A big gun for a big woman! She had tucked it into her pants when she headed out the door from her home this morning and never had a chance to remove it. So, guy number two hit the gun instead of Vidalia. He screamed out like a ten-year-old boy before puberty. As he bent forward, grabbing his hand, Vidalia lowered the boom with a trademark Judo chop she learned in gym class as a kid. Down number two went. Guy number three rushed Vidalia, who was beginning to grasp that there were some aggressive folks at the counter. As he lunged, she judged that her right knee, angled up a little, would take care of him. She had practiced that maneuver on the gents who got a little frisky on Disco night at the American Legion Post 99. He went down whimpering like a doggie who just got hit by a car.
Silence, except for the crying sounds from the three bandits. Vidalia could hear sirens in the distance. And then loud applause from the staff and the few customers still in Captain Franks.
The police arrived quickly and took the bad guys into custody. Vidalia gave her a statement a couple of times. She took pictures with the employees and did an interview for the two local TV stations that showed up, with her onion suit still on and without revealing her name. And she lost track of time. Around 530, she realized that her kids were home without dinner. She headed back out to the car and sped home. She hurriedly whipped up some tater tots and fish sticks. Sylvester ate without comment, Shonda just said "nasty" and went back to texting her friends, and little Tanya said, "thank you, mama. yum, yum." And Vidalia sat down to relax. The three kids were glued to the local evening news to see the breaking story on the judo-chopping, Vidalia onion hero who saved the chicken place. Vidalia was smiling and ready to watch with them. Shonda was looking at the Youtube video of the event from one of the customers. "Mama, this onion hero video was just right down the street at Captain Frank's! That video already had a million views since this afternoon. We got a celebrity here in town!"
Until Vidalia realized that she was late for the cleaning job. She bolted out, forgetting her cell phone and handbag, which required her to stop, turn around, and come back home, which made her later. At 630, she strolled into the office building to the frown of her manager. She tried to explain but just heard the word "fired". She didn't argue. She didn't cry. By this point, she was numb. Life was hard, too hard sometimes, even when you try. She left and headed home to enjoy a rare night with her kids. At least Tanya snuggled up to her while they watched Lilo and Stitch. Vidalia didn't know what she was going to do now, but for one night, she would just put it out of her mind.
The next morning she headed to Captain Frank's. She snuck a peek at Youtube and saw that there were 103 million views worldwide. She sat in the car a minute to collect herself. She had never been involved with anything like this but so far nobody knew she was the Onion. Except for a few people inside the store. As she entered, all eyes were on her. And there were no smiles. The manager came up to meet Vidalia.
"Vidalia, we won't be needing you to wear the onion suit today."
Vidalia could feel the tears beginning to form. Her shoulders slumped, her heart ached, and her soul wept. She figured that the excitement the day before must have gotten her in trouble. Or leaving so fast, maybe. But then something different happened.
From the back of the restaurant, Captain Frank walked up. Tall, with a full head of salt and pepper hair. Thick mustache, broad shoulders in a stylish black suit with a baby blue shirt and golden tie. Yeah, this man looked like he owned a national retail behemoth.
"Ms. Vidalia, if I can call you that, I am Frank. Captain Frank. And I flew in today to personally thank you and welcome you, if you are willing, to our management training program. You are the hero, today, of our entire national organization. And we want to give you this plaque in honor of your heroism." Captain Frank shook Vidalia's hand as cameras snapped impromptu pictures of the two of them. Without the onion suit on.
Vidalia looked at Captain Frank. She looked around the restaurant at the now smiling faces. Applause erupted, and cheers went up. She wondered how and why. Then she thought about Tanya and her asthma. Vidalia couldn't train, she thought, because she couldn't give up her Medicaid.
"Captain Frank, thank you. But I am afraid I can't take it. You see, I need my Medicaid for my daughter. She has..."
Frank looked at Vidalia intently enough for her to blush. "Vidalia, when I was growing up, we were very poor. I know what you are going through, what my mama went through. While you are in management training, you will get a salary and full benefits. Including medical insurance. And that will continue into your regular job, assuming you are interested?"
Vidalia's tears began to flow. And her legs buckled a little. But her shoulders straightened, her heart raced happily, and her soul cried out for joy. And for the first time in a while, a beautiful smile formed. Her secret would be out now. And that was just fine with Vidalia.
"When can I start?"