Beets freak me out. And my friend Annie totally agrees with me. In fact, she has a bigger freak factor concerning beets than even I do, because she used to work as a busboy at a cafeteria and a big tub of stewed beets once emptied onto her head from the top shelf of the industrial refrigerator. It happened because Annie is so short that she can never fully reach anything from the top shelf, so she does what a lot of short people do, which is to simply poke at whatever is up there, moving it this way and that, until finally it kind of topples in her direction, in which case the plan — I suppose — is to catch it and go on with her business.
She actually did this with the big tub of beets, which boggled me but I didn't ask her about it because I didn't want to prolong the post-trauma. I sure as hell would never poke at a big tub of beets. In fact, if I ever encountered a big tub of beets I would probably surround it with flares and flag people away. But not Annie; she went back there and poked at that tub until it toppled over and all those beets spilled out like alien guts onto her head. The worst part is that her boss made her finish her shift that way, covered in beet juice.
"I was the saddest purple busboy you ever did see," she recalled. "Soon after that I broke my foot, got dumped by my boyfriend and lost my job, all in a week. I think it was beet voodoo."
If you ask me, Annie should have known better than to poke the beets, but she was probably young at the time and didn't yet know that beets are evil. They're a root food, for one, and roots can lurk underground unsuspectingly, gaining proximity until they suddenly crack the surface and emerge.
So I am doubly grateful that Annie is here with me today at the grocery store to keep me company as I shop for all the crap I need for the diet I'm starting tomorrow. Beets are on the list, and I'm told I have to eat them because they are an important component in the magical combination that is somehow supposed to make me hot by May 28, the date of the Los Angeles book exposition, which is the industry launch of my third book.
Not only do I have to get back into fighting shape to look like my author photo — because I hate it when authors have great book-jacket photos, then when you see them in person they look like a bag of bacon fat — but my former California high-school boyfriend has made it known he plans to track me down and copulate with me for old times' sake the second I set foot on our old turf.
"Luck you," Annie said, and she meant it. I had shown her pictures.
"I CAN'T LET HIM SEE ME LIKE THIS!" I shrieked, because I look nothing like I did in high school, when I was a varsity tennis player and had a rocket body and a curtain of hair that hung to my waist. But Annie keeps trying to reassure me that he is not expecting a 17-year-old, because if he was, she says, "then he can go park his pedophile ass across the street from your old high school and start stalking."
Until I heard about my impending reunion, it had been a stupendously long period of time since I had even thought about sex. In fact, I guess, probably — and I'm not proud of this — somewhere in the back of my head I was figuring I'd never have it again. Because how else can I justify my standard wardrobe choice lately, which is to wear whatever sticks to me from the floor when I roll out of bed in the morning? That's not to mention my standard grooming practice, which is hardly more than patting myself down with the Handi Wipes I keep in the cupholder of my car, and that's not even taking into account my standard diet, which, since Christmas, has consisted solely of deep-fried chocolate-covered butter sticks, practically. How else can I justify that?
Annie thinks I'm exaggerating, but she is one to talk. She hasn't changed since she was in grade school, probably. Not only that, but she's happily married and has no hang-ups other than the beets, and you can't blame her for that. As a teenager when I first sampled beets I remember thinking this must be what it tastes like when a skunk empties its musk glands into your mouth. But today beets are the secret ingredient to my new diet, and I guess I will eat them, because I don't want to break the spell that the diet promises. Who knows, maybe the spell is that the root food will root out the girl I was; maybe she's been in there all along, lurking beneath the surface, gaining proximity, waiting for a reason to crack the surface and emerge.
Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (hollisgillespie.com).