The world holds its breath this morning as Jim Pobinsky, a produce department manager for the Star Foods supermarket in Omaha, NE, prepares to create the largest display of plums in modern grocery history.
“We’ve got two full pallets of plums coming in on the truck at 10. That’s a lot of plums,” says Pobinsky, in a tense interview a mere day before he runs the fruit gauntlet.
The attempt has garnered a huge public response, not unlike Evil Knievel’s famed cycle jump across the Grand Canyon in 1975, except this time it’s not crossing a canyon, it’s stacking plums. The estimated five-foot pile, to be fashioned in a roughly pyramidal shape, is expected to dazzle a whole store full of anxious spectators watching on location while they shop.
“It’s really not that big a deal,” Pobinsky says with characteristic modesty. “You should have seen the new floor waxer we got in last week. That was exciting.”
Developed over 16 years in the produce business, all of Pobinsky’s fruit piling skills will be required to pull off the feat. Lightning-fast hand-eye coordination, complex geometric calculations and sheer brute strength will serve as Pobinsky’s weapons in his struggle for plum order and harmony. The produce manager must be operating at 100% to defeat the fruit, which is only too ready to roll off the table and plunge his department into chaos.
“I hope I can finish the display before noon, so I can freshen up the greens section before taking off for lunch,” Pobinsky says.
However, if Pobinsky is too hasty, or lets his concentration slip for a moment, his chance at ever-lasting grocery super-stardom will come crashing down—along with the plum pile that would have made him a legend in both the fruit and vegetable aisle and the neighboring deli and meats section.
Donna Laban, Pobinsky’s wife and Star Foods’ grocery samples coordinator, is understandably nervous for her husband’s safety in this high-stakes game of produce display brinkmanship.
“I always remind him to lift with his legs, not his back,” Laban says. “Some of those boxes can be heavy, especially if the plums are ripe and juicy, engorged with delicious nectar.”
Laban also stated that, if necessary, she would leave her samples post by the meat department in order to provide moral support during his heroic effort.
“We’re going to have cocktail wieners on toothpicks. If you come in tomorrow, you should try one,” she says, adding but a second later, “They’re free.”
Pobinsky had responded quickly to nature’s challenge, preparing in advance for the plum onslaught.
“I read in last month’s American Produce Journal that rainfall was heavy in many plum-producing areas. I knew then that we’d most likely have plenty of plums in a few weeks,” Pobinsky says. “So I saved a lot of cardboard boxes to stack around the plum table, to widen the actual base so all those plums could fit.”
Tim Wiegens, 17, a produce stocker under Pobinsky’s supervision, will play a supporting role in the daredevil manager’s fruit-stacking gambit.
“I’ll basically be opening the boxes with an X-acto knife, and Mr. Pobinsky will do the actual stacking,” Wiegens says. “I tried to do a nectarine table by myself once, but I messed it up pretty bad. Mr. Pobinsky took me into the cooler and yelled at me.”
In a final statement before proceeding home to prepare for his moment of glory, Pobinsky asked his millions of supporters worldwide to come in tomorrow and witness his chance at immortality within the world of produce display engineering.
“Don’t forget, plums are 99 cents a pound all this week at the store,” he says. “That’s a special price that will last until this Friday.”