“No one’s commented on it, and people in the comments point things out quickly,” says the 21-year-old Auburn senior. “I’m like, there’s literally an onion right there. There are, like, 70,000 comments and not a single person has said ‘what’s in that bag under your legs.’ It’s a yellow onion!”
And the yellow onion started the whole thing! Mom was making hashweh, a Lebanese dish Alexis has no idea how to spell. It was mid afternoon. No one wanted to run to Publix. Things happened.
“I randomly get a text from her saying, ‘hey, do you have an onion,” 20-year-old Auburn junior Collins Kitchens says. “Luckily, we had one yellow onion in the fridge. But I was like ‘is this for a TikTok, or is this for dinner?'”
At this point, who can say?
Collins and Alexis have both been back home in Vestavia since spring break. They grew up as Auburn fans — Collins’ parents both cheered at Auburn in the early ’90s — across the street from each other. They went to school together. They did Birmingham Dance Theater together. And now, thanks to having all the shelter-at-home time in the world — and an onion last Thursday — they’ve finally TikTok’ed together. It was just a matter of time.
“I’ve been begging her forever to do one,” Collins says. “So we were just like, let’s do one now since we’re both outside.”
Also outside, as follower-count fate would have it? Annette Desmond, apparently the coolest U.S. postal worker in the country, just around the corner from the cul de sac, just out of sight, with some junk mail with Collins’ neighbors’ name on it.
“Where we were was directly between our houses,” Alexis says. “For TikTok, you need a good angle, so instead of just laying the phone on the ground, we put it on the mailbox right in front of us. It had some bricks above it that it could sit on.”
They went with Alexis’ phone, because whatever routine they might be able to nail before mom started cooking would have a way better chance at hearts and shares on Alexis’ account. Collins has a decent TikTok following herself, but for some reason, that video Alexis posted last Halloween of a friend dressing up as one of their Auburn professors got, like, 3 million views, which had been good enough for 15,000 followers up to last week.
She hit the button for the front-facing camera and lined up across the street next to Collins and the onion.
“It had actually been recording for a while,” she says. “We’d just been sitting there practicing, then we saw our mail woman down the road.”
Do you yell “cut!”? Do you roll with it? They know she’s going to see them standing there. She’s going to see the phone. She’s going to see that the camera is on, that it’s recording. But if they run in front of the truck and grab it off their neighbors’ mailbox, it’ll be weird, it’ll be awkward. So they play it cool. They hope for the best. Alexis looks down at the ground and brushes her hair out of her face. Collins does that little arm wave.
“I’m a dancer,” Collins says, laughing, “But that little arm wave I did right at the start — that wasn’t my best arm wave. I wouldn’t have done the wave like that if I’d known it was going to go viral.”
“Yeah,” Alexis says, “I mean, we didn’t think she would really even acknowledge it.”
She acknowledged it.
Annette joyfully rolled into frame and waved her surgical glove covered hand at the camera and stuffed the Papa Johns coupons and whatever else into the box with a smile that makes you think that she probably kind of knew what was going on with the cute kids across the street.
“It was the funniest thing ever,” Alexis says, “but the cutest part was when she drove back around. She said ‘are y’all doing a TikTok?’ She doesn’t have a TikTok, but she said her niece has it. She was like ‘do y’all need me to video?'”
Nope, not after that. Annette drove off. They grabbed the phone, hit stop, then hit play. It was perfect. “I’m definitely posting that,” Alexis said. Collins laughed and said goodbye to Alexis and the onion, and apparently even her phone for the rest of the afternoon.
“I’m really bad at checking my phone, so I didn’t even pick it up for two hours,” Collins said. “But I got a Facetime call from Alexis and she was like, ‘have you looked at TikTok?’ I was like, ‘no, what’s happened?”‘
What had happened was 15 million views by the time the Dingas had finished dinner. Even for a 10-second clip on an automatically looping video app, that, to quote Alexis and Collins, is “insane.”
The insanity continues. As of late Tuesday night, thanks in part to stories on Yahoo and Buzzfeed and tons of other outlets, the views are now pushing 30 million. The likes are at more than 8 million. Which means Alexis’ may now the most recognizable face in the family. (Sorry, Uncle Alexander.)
Her new TikTok bio yeah I owe it all to my mail lady sits beneath a follower count that has skyrocketed to 219,000. Hit refresh in a few minutes and it’ll be 220,000. And chances are pretty good that Annette’s niece is in there somewhere.
“The next day, I actually ran into (Annette) on a run,” Alexis said. “I was, like, ‘do you understand how viral you’ve become?’ She was, like, ‘well, my niece told me I had, like, 150 comments.’ I said ‘oh, honey, you have 60,000 comments.’ I just read her all the nice things everybody said about her and she just lit up.”
An example: We must protect her at all costs…
… which, funnily enough during the great PPE craze of 2020, is actually what’s happening.
“When I ran into her, I was like, can we please buy you a gift or something?” Alexis says. “She was like ‘oh, no, do not get me anything. The only thing I could possibly need is more gloves.'”
Once again, Collins to the rescue!
“Collins had an unopened box of gloves in her house so we put a sticky note on it and wrote ‘thank you for being in our TikTok.’ The look on her face was absolutely priceless.”
So was the look on her face in the sequel they shot right after that, which features the same mailbox and the same folks… Alexis, Collins, and, yes, Annette herself, dancing to some hip new TikTok track that starts by sampling — and Annette nails it — the source of the “Something Came in the Mail Today” meme.
Give the people what they want, Collins says.
“We were like, people have been asking ‘where’s the mail lady!’ They’d love it if you did a full dance routine with us!'”
Love it they do. Thanks to Alexis’ newfound influencer-level stats — she was fielding sponsorship offers all weekend — the latest from Vestavia’s trending TikTok trio already has more than 6 million views, nearly 2 million likes. And it just keeps coming.
“My mom didn’t realize how big of a deal it was,” Alexis says. “She was like ‘why is my daughter being tagged by InStyle Magazine?’”
Because you needed an onion, mom…