You have until the end of the Bloomsburg Fair to steal a “prized possession.”
The next night, after nearly 24 hours of scrubbing the frat house floors with his fellow pledges, Jim contemplated the neon note.
It seemed simple enough, but Jim couldn’t shake the feel that he was missing something. This task didn’t have any hint of the “escalation” Rick promised. Deciding not to be paranoid and take the note at face value, he scoped out a Fair flyer at the Student Center and secured a ride with Mark, one of his World History classmates.
After placing the flyer and a fairgrounds map in his backpack, Jim met up with Mark and his girlfriend, Beth. The trio ate an early dinner and arrived at the fairgrounds a little before sunset. Jim agreed to catch up with Mark and Beth in a few hours, giving them time to connect with their friends.
Jim double-checked his map and made his way to the produce tent, home of the state’s largest zucchini. Jim hoped that bringing back a hilariously phallic two-foot zucchini would be enough to get Rick off his back for the time being.
As luck would have it, the zucchini overseer hadn’t gone to dinner with the rest of the produce farmers. Instead, he was engaged in a contentious conversation with someone from the neighboring display. Not wanting to look conspicuous, Jim drifted from vegetable display to fruit display and back, overhearing snippets of the conversation as he waited for his opportunity.
“Fact: Beets are a far superior vegetable to the zucchini.”
“…beets prevent scurvy…other diseases like heart….birth…cancer…most important…scurvy.”
“Fact: Beets come in a variety of….textures…flavors.”
“…Beet candy is better…other candy.”
“Fact: Beets are an proven aphrodisiac.”
After about 15 minutes, Jim learned enough facts about beets to write a small, albeit annoying, book. He took a surreptitious glance at the speaker, but could only see the back of his head.
“Shame,” he thought. “I really want to know whose prized beet I’m taking home with me tonight.”
A few minutes later, the zucchini grower had had enough of the one-sided conversation and excused himself to dinner. The obnoxious beet farmer turned his back to continue the conversation with his beet-farming partner. Jim seized the opportunity
Using his long legs to close the distance between him and the table, Jim stealthily grabbed the blue ribbon-winning beet and dropped it in his backpack. As he ran off, he heard the beet farmer screech with indignity.
“Hey you, hey! Hey! Get back here with my beet! You can’t steal a Zoot beet. They are the best beets in Pennsylvania! This is unacceptable! I’ll be filing a complaint with the Fair organizers! I’ll find out who you are! Someday, when you least expect it, we’ll meet again and I’ll exact my revenge, you…you beet thief!”
Jim kept running until he got lost in the crowds near the rides. He was laughing so hard at the unexpected outburst, he didn’t even notice Mark and his friends until he bumped into them.
“What’s up, man?” asked Mark, bewildered at the change in Jim’s attitude. He had gone from sullen to giddy in the space of a half-hour.
Without a word, Jim just grinned and opened his backpack.
“Is that a beet?” asked Beth. When Jim nodded, she said, “It’s as big as a human head!”
Jim relayed the story of the obnoxious beet farmer, and the group laughed as Jim regaled them with beet “facts.” For the first time since arriving at college, Jim finally felt in his element. He continued his tale.
“Is scurvy even a problem in this day and age?” asked one of the women in the group.
“It is, if you’re as pervy as Halpert here,” interrupted an unwelcome voice. “Get it? Scurvy Pervy? It rhymes.”
“Yeah, Rick…I mean, Sir, it’s hilarious,” intoned Jim as he hastily separated himself from the rest of the group.
“So, pledge, which one’s it gonna be?” asked Rick with a lascivious look to the group of college women congregating around Beth.
“Which one, what?” asked Jim, a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Which one of those skanks’ “prized possessions” are you going to steal by the end of the night?” prodded the Pledge Master.
“Uh, well, I stole this huge beet right here, so I’m…I’m done,” explained Jim.
“Halpert, you really are a boy scout aren’t you? Think about it. ‘Prized possession’? Chicks? Do I need to spell it out for you?” asked Rick disgustedly. “We need proof of carnal knowledge by tomorrow night, Boy Scout, or you are out.”
Jim watched Rick walk away, taking with him Jim’s hopes for an easy entry into college social life. He turned back to Mark and jumped into the current conversation.
“No contest,” he laughed. “Hercules is the best roller coaster of all time.”
Jim spent the rest of the night getting to know Mark and his friends. He especially hit it off with Claire, one of Beth’s suite mates. She shared Jim’s sense of humor, and her open and friendly demeanor eased Jim’s integration to the entire group. Her natural, yet understated beauty was just a bonus in Jim’s mind. He was happy to exchange numbers with her when she left early to meet her friends from high school.
As the Fair was shutting down for the night, Jim asked Mark and Beth to hold up for a few minutes, so he could run a quick errand. Within 15 minutes, Jim returned, feeling satisfied at having accomplished his mission for the night.
The next morning, as the sun rose over the fairgrounds, a scream of anguish pieced the lifting fog. In the middle of the produce tent, the owner of the award-winning beet came face-to-face with his prized possession—now a gigantic Beet o’Lantern.