In truth, I am beshat*

In my days in the Diamond Valley I made the acquaintance of a man who enjoyed conversation, a school teacher. He saw that I enjoyed the odd excursion from the straight narrows of medicine and so he told me stories. A tall man, he needed his height to ferry his round tummy, pregnant with decades of plentiful daily ale. His face was merry, his cheeks red, his nose pitted and fretted and bulbous with the veritas of his vinous ways. His skin fell in furrows over his wasted muscles.

The teacher told me stories, breathing over me the rich aroma of his vegetable of choice, tobacco leaf.

He enjoyed company, he liked stories, he was avid to hear mine and generous with his own. Some times the teacher came to consult me about his health, but even then there was always a story.

Doc, I had diarrhoea yesterday. It was funny in a way.

“Are you any better today?”

Fine, as far as diarrhea goes. It’s just the cough. I’d better explain.

Yesterday we took all the Grade Twos and Grade Threes on an excursion. Great excitement. First excursion for those kids. We were taking them to the Museum, forty-one kids, two teachers, two aides and a few parents as volunteers.

 

There was this great buzz. You know the excitement of a bunch of kids? You can feel it, the hum, the excitement.

We herded the kids onto the bus, forty-plus of them, chirping, a bunch of chicks on a first flight from the nest. It took forever to get them aboard, get them seated.  Finally, are we all aboard? I was Senior. I called the roll: all present, all correct. Just to double check, I walked the aisle and did a count: forty-one kids. Two were away sick.

 

I stood up front, next to the driver, to make my little speech. I told the children how lucky we were, how we would visit the museum and see exhibits from olden times as well as models of dinosaurs.

At mention of dinosaurs all the kids are excited. One child near the front pipes up with a question: “Did you see dinosaurs when you were our age?”

You know a question like that, it can be a smartarse wisecrack from some show off, but this was spontaneous, straightforward curiosity. A little girl, free of artifice or design, just wanting to know. I saw myself as she saw me – old, clever, full of knowledge and memory, a relic, a museum piece. As a teacher you live for that freshness, those moments. You relish the child’s gravity and your own absurdity.

 

So the child asked, filled me with delight. And hilarity. I laughed. That’s where I went wrong. I laughed and laughed. Everyone joined in. I laughed until I started coughing. I coughed so hard I lost control of my bowel. I felt my pants fill. I felt it run down my legs.  The children up front smelled it.

We have arrived now at the symptoms – cough and diarrhea: “What did you do?”

The teacher’s face radiates mirth. He sees what the children saw.

What could I do? I said, ‘There will be a short delay while I duck home and clean up and change.’ And that’s what I did. Ten minutes later we were on our way.

I’ll tell you something, Howard. We all had a great day. And those  forty-one kids will never forget their first excursion, that day, that famous day the teacher shat himself in front of them.

*From The Sot Weed Factor, John Barth 

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