Red Beets and Beer
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (June 2013)

            The idea of beets fills me with dread. The sight of them turns my stomach. The taste of them? I wouldn’t know. If I have ever actually consumed beets, the experience was so traumatic that I blocked it from my memory, and all that remains is my staunchly beet-averse lifestyle. If I have not, in fact, ever eaten beets, I have no problem staying the course. It has worked for me for close to four decades. Why mess with a good thing? Yes, I have read Green Eggs and Ham. And Nicole I Am is starting to wonder whether Dr. Seuss might have been off track with this one.

            I am all for the red fish, the blue fish, and speaking for the trees, but when I look back at Sam I Am, I see an obsessive nutcase. Maybe that other guy has a good reason for declining your moldy eggs and rancid pork, Mr. Stalker! I wonder if there was an earlier rejected draft of the story where the guy tries green eggs and ham, has a horrible allergic reaction, and throws up on Sam I Am while being rushed to the hospital. They cannot save him, and his last words stumble out in a raspy, wheezing whisper: “I told him and told him, but he wouldn’t listen. I should never have caved. Damn you, Sam I Am. Damn you....”

            Sure, maybe that version would not go over quite as well with the preschooler set, but I kind of like the idea of teaching children to stand up for themselves. Gather ‘round, kids. If you have a funny feeling about accepting green eggs and ham from a total stranger, then by golly, don’t eat any. And if he starts following you around with offers to take you to rhyming sets of secondary locations, call 911.

            Lest you think me unreasonable, I must point out that I love trying new things. In any other case where I prefer not to eat or drink something, it is not a visceral, stomach-churning reaction that drives my choice. It is the more socially (and Seussially) acceptable method of tasting, disliking, and remembering.  Growing up, beer was something I associated with shampoo. “Brewed with one third real beer,” said the Charlie’s Angels-looking lady (who turned out to be Kim Basinger) in the late ‘70s-ish commercial for “Body on Tap” shampoo. She hastened to add, “But don’t drink it!” I did not drink the shampoo, but when I did finally taste beer, it might as well have been Body On Tap. My lip curled up into that universal, “Why do people do this on purpose?” expression. In college, beer is revered as a cheap way to get drunk. As I have always been silly and loud sans alcohol, drunkenness did not hold nearly enough appeal to serve as a reason to drink this stuff. “Ah, but it’s an acquired taste,” they’d say. Blink blink. But, if it tastes bad to me, where’s my incentive to acquire it?

            “Ah, but you’ve never had good beer, like in Germany or Belgium,” they’d say. I’d shrug. It was entirely possible that those special, “real” beers would change my mind. I was open to the possibility. Then I studied abroad in France, and visited Belgium during the trip. Here was my chance. I was in the land where beer quality remains undisputed, and I would finally understand what I’d been missing. I tried three different kinds. And they tasted like three different kinds of... beer. Could I tell the difference between those and the others? Yup. Did I like any of them any more than the others? Nope. I could now and henceforth, for all eternity, say with informed certainty that whatever it is that makes beer definable as beer is something I. Just. Don’t. Like.

            This does not make me a snob. My alternative beverage of choice is not an expensive cocktail, but a glass of ginger ale. If I’m feeling really edgy, I’ll ask for a splash of cranberry juice. Watch out, now. The party’s over here. I do get that beer is a complex, unique, fascinating bit of liquid history. But to me, personally, beer tastes the way I imagine a blend of freshly-squeezed gym socks might taste, with just a soupçon of mildew. It should come as no surprise that the single worst thing I ever tasted in my life as a human was Marmite. I retch at the memory. Similar to Vegemite, is made from a by product of beer. Go figure.

            Side note: I often offer candy to people who visit my office. Dark chocolate M&Ms are among the options, and are usually the first one I offer. One particular coworker would always refuse, and it would go something like this.

            Her: “No thank you. I don’t eat chocolate.”

            Me: “Oh. Are you allergic?”

            Her: “No. I just don’t like chocolate.”

            Me: (Blank stare)

            At around this moment, I remember that it is rude to stare, so I pause and offer Skittles instead. Then a memory stirs, and I ask, “Have we had this conversation before?” She would always say yes. This went on for a year.

            One day, I remembered not to offer her the M&Ms. She was proud of me. Her patience was due to her complete understanding that something like not liking chocolate will simply not register in certain people’s brains (e.g. mine). Because, WHAT? Who doesn’t like chocolate? And so I understand when people say, “WHAT? Who doesn’t like beer?” I simply smile, sip my cranberry ginger ale (WILD! CRAZY!), and ride it out. From time to time, someone will lean in and say, quietly, as though it is a secret underworld sort of thing, “You know what? I don’t like beer either.” So I am just one of the few who will say it out loud. Who knew? We are many. We are powerful. And we still have a great time. The ancient bonding ritual of getting together over a beer is really about the ancient ritual of getting together, period. In my experience, raising a glass with something else hasn’t hurt anyone a bit, and the laughter around the table is just as sweet. Unless someone directly across from me orders a large beet salad. Then I’m going to have to call it a night.  

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