The following scenario might relate to a gun fight at high noon in Virginia City, Nevada in the 1800s, but in reality it occurred in a junior high science classroom, circa 1978, in the Northern Bedford County High School.
The characters involved were neither outlaws (at least not that I’m aware of) nor actors in a Hollywood movie, and no firearms were involved at all. The biggest danger to the two participants may have been a slight case of indigestion, nothing more.
In that day, the Marathon Bar was frequently advertised on TV ads, and one famous line used in a commercial was “I bet you can’t eat a Marathon Bar quick, Carl.” Quick Carl was a fictitious gunfighter in the commercial, and he was challenged by another guy, Marathon John, who was intent on making some money in a wager. With my tendency to give many of my students a nickname, I couldn’t resist referring to Carl Mellott as Quick Carl after I saw that first commercial.
Carl Mellott was a quiet, well-mannered student with a likeable personality and friendly smile. He never got tired of me repeating to him daily, “I bet you can’t eat a Marathon Bar quick, Carl.” To be honest, poor Carl may have hated hearing that line so often, but being a good kid, he never once complained about it.
At times I’d work the line into the science lesson when I could. But again, if I’m really being truthful, that probably didn’t happen very often.
In any event, I felt the line was wearing thin -- and I’m sure the students felt the same way -- when an idea hit me. Frank McIntyre was in that class, too. So when I said, “I bet Fast Frankie can eat a Marathon Bar quicker than Quick Carl,” the class immediately responded with excitement. Friendly wagers were taken, the date for the match was set and placed on the calendar, and the hype followed and continued to build right up to the day of the big event.
[Note: If you’ve forgotten your junior high or middle school years, I want to remind you that it was easy to get those kids excited. Bringing them back down to reality and stressing the importance of the lesson was always much more difficult.]
Like Christmas or summer vacation, the anticipation of the big event seemed only to prolong the date’s arrival. Admittedly so, I was just as energized as the kids – maybe even more so. Finally, the day of the duel was here.
I can still picture the contrasting personalities and physical size of each boy as they stood in front of the class. Quick Carl -- tall, lanky, red-cheeked, and shy -- tried the small nibble approach. His plan was to take in less with each bite and try to swallow methodically and steadily. True to the meaning of a marathon, he approached the event like the tortoise in his race with the hare.
Fast Frankie, on the other hand, was much smaller in size. However, in spite of his small stature, he bubbled with boastfulness and confidence. He decided to stuff as much into his mouth as he could, all at one time, and let his saliva work its wonders. Frankie, like the hare in the race, took his chances with speed rather than endurance.
As the contest continued, both kids experienced some major bodily contortions while trying to swallow the gooey mixture. Warm caramel and chocolate dripped down their chins, though the chocolate was much easier to swallow than the caramel. Needless to say, giggles from the contestants as well as the audience didn’t help either boy in his attempt to win the race.
Meanwhile, their teacher contributed his play-by-play analysis, much the same way as a broadcaster would during a horse race. Part of my color comments included incorporating some digestive terms into my description, such as saliva (and other enzymes), chewing, the esophagus, and peristalsis. [Note: Do you see how well I incorporated some life science into this event? I don’t want my former supervisors to think for one second that I was a complete doofus.] The terms epiglottis and respiration also came to mind, but more so in my worries because I surely didn’t want any competitor to choke, pardon the pun.
The suspense finally faded as Fast Frankie won fairly easily. His face told the story of victory, and he was permitted to go to the restroom to wash up. Quick Carl’s runner up award consisted of allowing him to finish his Marathon Bar at his seat at his own pace. If my memory is correct, Carl didn’t require the same immediate attention to soap, warm water, and paper towels as his adversary did.
Following this duel, an imaginary 1878 headline in the Virginia City News may have read “Fast Frankie Beats Quick Carl” on its front page, but that life science class in 1978 witnessed and will remember much more than that. That lesson was part of an era when kids could learn while still having fun in school. No one fretted about their school’s state test scores or if their music and art programs might get cut because of budget issues. A child never fathomed that an armed intruder might enter school and cause harm to anyone. And the words lock down had no meaning. It was simply the best time to be either a student or a teacher.
I’m sure Fast Frankie and Quick Carl would agree. As for me, my biggest worry later that day was, “I sure hope no one gets heartburn from that lesson.”