The Beets Go On

One of my high school teachers was a lanky white-haired Montanan named Mr. Westly who had a gift for teaching encased in a stern countenance. He could be very patient when explaining the quadratic equation for the three-thousandth time, but also quick to anger if one abused a tool in woodshop. He was also my homeroom teacher all through high school and one of his duties there was reading the daily lunch menu. Lunch couldn't always be pizza or tacos; sometimes it was sea franks (a fish stick in a hot dog bun) or some other creative offering designed by the lunch ladies less for consumer appeal than for clearing out the pantry.

Occasionally during the reading of the menu, a student would say something like "Sea franks? Barf", which would cause Mr. Westly to stop reading the menu, slowly rise, looking grave, almost stricken, and in a grim voice say "Oh. So you don't LIKE sea franks, is that it?", all the while slowly walking until he was directly in front of the now-shrinking student.

"Well let me tell you somethin', Mistah", Mr. Westly would continue, building steam, "When I was a boy growin' up in Montana, durin' a little thing called The Great Depression, we ran out of food one day, and my daddy went ta town, and he came back with a hunerd pound sack o' beets, and we had BEETS for breakfast, BEETS for lunch, and BEETS for dinnah every goddamn day for a month! SURE I got sick of 'em! Ya damn RIGHT I did! But I never complained. Some folks had NOTHIN'! I would have LOVED a sea frank. But I didn't HAVE a sea frank. I had beets, BEETS, BEETS, 'cause that's all there WAS! So don't EVAH let me hear you complain about the food you get here!"

Well. Such a grave and heartfelt recounting of stark childhood dining naturally had the class quaking with stifled laughter like two dozen washing machines with unbalanced loads. Not that we were callous, it's just that we had all heard this story before. We had been hearing it for years. With each telling, the story seemed to get worse, and Mr. Westly got more worked up.

And it didn't help matters that when Mr. Westly got worked up, little pockets of foam gathered at the corners of his mouth, and when he was riled up, as he was during the Beet Speech, foam production increased, so much so that during the pronunciation of words starting with `B' or `P', such as "beet", little bubbles would pop off his lips like punctuation, which naturally sent all of us quaking stiflers into involuntary spasms and nose snorts of escaping high-pressure mirth. "Somethin' funny back there, Mistah Muse?" "No, Mr. [snort, quake] Westly".

Finally, the bell would ring and we'd burst into the hall in ejaculations of laughter. After wiping the tears from our eyes, we listened as the hall filled with the sound of a half-dozen Mr. Westly imitators, each doing their best to out-Westly each other:

"When I was kid, growin' up in Montana, we didn't have draperies. We had ta stack beets in the windahs one by one. Sure they looked stupid. Sure they fell down. But I never complained. Some folks had no window coverin's of any kind! I would have LOVED Levelors, but I didn't HAVE Levelors."

"When I was kid, we didn't have underwear. I had ta shove beets down my pants. Sure they chafed me. Sure they turned my legs all purple. I would have LOVED hand-me-down women's drawers, but I didn't HAVE hand-me-down women's drawers. So don't evah let me hear you complain about your jockeys ridin' up, mistah."

"Oh. So you don't LIKE havin' ta use a number two pencil, huh? Well let me tell you somethin', mistah. When I was kid, we ran out of school supplies one day, so I had ta write with beets. I had ta write ON beets. I had ta write ABOUT beets. Cuz that's all there WAS. Beets, beets, beets!"

"When I was kid, I didn't have a pet. Sure, I would have loved a kitty or a doggy, but I didn't have one. I had a beet. I tied a string to it and drug it ta school through the snow. Sure the other kids laughed at me. Sure they teased me and Beety, but I never complained. Some kids had NOTHIN'!"