The Tangerine Man

One artist's depiction of the Tangerine Man. To date, no verifiable photos of him exist.
One artist’s depiction of the Tangerine Man. To date, no verifiable photos of him exist.

“EEEELLLEeeccccCCHH!! What is THAT?!!”

It started one overcast, drizzly day as we were cleaning out the fridge specifically for the use of the Records Division of the police department. Thanks to the benevolence of a coworker and her husband, who worked in the beverage industry, we had acquired a dedicated fridge on our end of the building.

Besides being more convenient than the creepy, putty-colored fridge in the designated break room we never used, we felt that our food would be more protected. We were wrong. Someone kept stealing my yogurt at night when our division was closed. Yes. In a police department. It happens more than you’d think. We knew, from surveillance tape, that the janitors had lifted an amaryllis one woman gave to another as a Christmas present, but the person/people with the midnight munchies who helped themselves to my Yoplait and also stole my Blackhawk Down documentary were never apprehended. Officer Yogurt Bandit, I have not forgotten.

Yeah– what was that? Someone had removed what very well could have been a shrunken pygmy head with Smurf-colored hair from a back corner of the second shelf. We gathered round and debated was it was… or had been. No one recalled stashing a fruit even remotely resembling that in our snazzy little cooler. We all had our names on our shelves so that one person’s food cache was not confused with another’s. But that edible has-been had worked its way off the beaten path and morphed into something quizzical and disturbing.

“It was the Tangerine Man,” one coworker stated confidently.

“Who’s the Tangerine Man?”

“He’s the mischievous guy who sneaks rotten fruit into unexpected places.”

Shazam! The light went on. At long last, after decades of wondering, our group finally had a coherent explanation for the times when mystery fruit seems to materialize out of nowhere. Our culture believes in the Tooth Fairy, doesn’t it? Elves? Leprechauns? Honest politicians? Elvis partying on without most of his internal organs? Why not a Loki-like character who specializes in produce? The Tangerine Man is likable in the sense that he gives something instead of taking away as well. He’s a pay it forward type.

A recently discovered planet? Or what you intended to have for lunch Monday?
A recently discovered planet? Or what you intended to have for lunch Monday?

Fast forward to a meal with my grandparents soon after. I began to tell them about The Legend of the Tangerine Man. My grandfather was intrigued and had a sparkle in his eye. “He struck just the other day,” Grandpa said. “Where?” I asked. He told me how he’d reached onto the top of the fridge for something (in my mind that’s the parking spot for an ever present bag of corn chips that has been faithfully replaced on a weekly basis since 1976). His hand touched something unnatural. It was an overripe banana, oozing out of its peel. “Aha!” I thought. “He is real!” Our family proceeded to discuss other recent visits by the Tangerine Man at our various residences.

And why not? Think about the last time you cleaned out your fridge. There was inevitably mystery Tupperware, the contents of which had fermented and evolved into another life form weeks ago. There was that half jug of (insert juice-ish beverage here) that the kids had forgotten about despite their insistence that you buy it because they were dying of thirst. Perhaps there was a moldy can of refried beans or a cubic inch of ancient cheese that could cut a diamond. If you dug deep enough, though, you were sure to find a shriveled little– citrus fruit? apple? maybe a nectarine?– wedged behind a wire rack. No one remembers buying it. It may be unidentifiable. If this has happened to you, you’ve probably been visited by… the Tangerine Man.

How other cultures might see the Tangerine Man
How other cultures might see the Tangerine Man.

The Tangerine Man has visited me when I’m driving. I keep my vehicle relatively clean and while I find an occasional French fry or balled up muffin wrapper that someone tried to hide in the console, there have been times when I’m startled by a hard object rolling out from under my seat and striking my accelerator foot. Perhaps I’ve just been cut off by an oblivious motorist coasting through a stop sign on a side street and have had to hit the brakes. Wham! Something shot out from under the seat and tried to tango with the pedals. “NOW?!!” I roar, hoping the Tangerine Man can hear me while he’s crawling back under the spare tire. There’s usually just a fleeting suggestion of a chuckle as I try to kick the hacky sack-sized object to the passenger side (where I have to remember to pick it up later).

He’s also targeted my purse and bags. I like to take enough of everything to work that I and possibly one or two other coworkers of my choosing will survive a nuclear war if needed. But this generally involves packaged items, and when I bring produce, it’s usually in its own bag. (For my people in Police Records reading this, I don’t carry the Family brand foreign dried mangoes from the white elephant exchange in 2004 to work, but they remain in one of my emergency kits. I knew you’d ask. If they actually do go bad– I don’t think so– the hallucinations might make nuclear war more bearable. Or even hilarious.)

You already believe in these guys...
You already believe in these guys…

Anyhow, I have a mental inventory of what goes to work every day and so when I’m cleaning out a bag and do the “whazaat” shudder when my hand touches mystery fruit, I can say with a degree of relative certainty that the Tangerine Man did it. I don’t like to waste food. I work because I like to have food. I like for my tribe to have food. Yet once or twice a year I’ll find a dehydrated alien pod-looking thing in the bottom of a bag and start debating its origins. You’d think I’d smell it if I were walking around with rotting ___?? in that bag for 39 days. But I didn’t. Here again, it’s only logical to blame the Tangerine Man.

So keep an eye out for the Tangerine Man. He can strike when and where you least expect it. Right now you might be rolling your eyes and sighing away the possibility that such a character exists. Trust me, you will come to believe. He will find you. Sooner or later you’re going to find that pinkish-peachy thing resembling a Nerf ball fried by a death ray and have a “hmm” moment. You’ll ask your husband if he remembers what it was. You’ll ask your children what it was. All will disavow knowledge of the purchase and prior knowledge of the object’s existence, and at that moment you will gasp slightly as you think back to a blog post from last National Skyscraper Day.

“The Tangerine Man… he’s real.”

He certainly is. And I assure you that Officer Yogurt Bandit is as well.

A possible associate, the Kiwi Kid.
A possible associate, the Kiwi Kid.


Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy. -Thich Nhat Hanh


Update, 9/11/14: Further evidence of the Tangerine Man’s existence. I found this… banana peel (?) under a hedge today. Nearby my dog located yet another piece of a discarded double cheeseburger that he keeps sniffing out pieces of. The former matches the Tangerine Man’s MO. The latter was likely the work of a local hoodlum who was using the unfortunate bovine remnant as a Frisbee. Believe…

Oops. He did it again.
Oops. He did it again.


©2014 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/


2 thoughts on “The Tangerine Man

  1. This was great fun! I once heard tell of a woman whose food was being stolen on a daily basis, so one day she decided to make a burrito laced with laxatives. She discovered who the culprit was when a fellow a few cubicles over ended up going home early with the “stomach flu.” He never stole anyone’s food again!
    The fact that this happens so often in a police department is both amusingly ironic and dangerous to my already shaky faith in humanity!


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