Writing about (the nutritional perils of) wheat yesterday returned to mind the sketch I wrote with my brother for the Canadian television special he produced and starred in with his then partner Lorne Michaels, which was called – not surprisingly – nor particularly originally – “The Wheat Sketch.”
The sketch was based on a recently passed law in which, as a price-stabilizing strategy, farmers were paid not to grow wheat. Being me, I detected the latent humor in that policy, and, teaming up with my brother, we decided to make comedy hay while the sun shines. See? I’m in “rural patois” already.
The following is not it, exactly. I am a haphazard archiver of written material. But it’s fun to take a fresh crack at things, now and again.
So here we go.
“THE WHEAT SKETCH”
(Revised, and hopefully improved.)
Two middle-aged Saskatchewan wheat farmers rock contentedly on their front porch. Finally, Lem – or Clem – or some equallyinsulting stereotypical “farmer name” – breaks the yawning Saskatchewan silence.
After a long beat, the other replies,
Leading to a veritable torrent of lively conversation. Although not without pauses.
“Good season, eh?”
“Government paying us good money not to grow wheat.”
“Good deal, I’dsay.”
“Real good. Farmers don’t grow the wheat, and the money rolls in.”
“Couldn’t be easier.”
“No wear and tear – man nor machinery. No trouble with the weather. No mechanical breakdowns. Not a thing to go wrong.”
A LONG SILENCE. THEN…
“I just thought of something, maybe, could have gone wrong.”
“Well, you know how the government pays us not to grow wheat?”
“Now I’m not certain about this. But what if, theoretically, say, we didn’t grow oats instead?”
“The Canadian government doesn’t payus not to grow oats. They pay us not to grow wheat.”
“I know. And I’m wondering, what if we didn’t grow the wrong crop by mistake?”
“You mean we didn’t grow oats when were supposed not to grow wheat?
“Things happen, sometimes.”
“There should an easy way to find out about that.”
“What didn’t you plant?”
(STRAINING TO REMEMBER) “Sorry. This is all new to me. I’m used to planting, not not planting.”
“Retrace your steps. Maybe it’ll come back to you.”
“All right. I recall heading out to the field, carrying a shovel, and a bag of no seeds.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“Force of habit, I suppose.”
“Think, man. Were those seeds not wheat, or not oats?”
HE THINKS HARD.
“Wait! (AFTER A BEAT) Nope. I lost it.”
“This is terrible! What if they check?”
“What we didn’t plant! If we didn’t plant oats when we were paid not to plant wheat, we’d be in mighty hot water. That’s “Defrauding the government.” Taking money under false pretenses? They’ll lock us up in the calaboose!”
“What do you think we should do?”
“No choice about it. (RISING FROM HIS ROCKER) We gotta go out right now, and dig it up!”
“Dig it up?”
“To make sure we didn’t plant the right thing.”
“We didn’t plant anything!”
“The government doesn’t pay us not to plant anything. The government pays us not to plant wheat!”
“Hold your horses, a second. You’re over-thinking this thing.”
“It’s too late in the season. There’s no time to dig up the oats we didn’t plant and then not plant wheat instead. We may as well wait it out, and face the music when the time comes.”
(RELUCTANTLY RETURNING TO HIS ROCKER) “I guess you’re right. No need to fly off the handle. We’ll know the truth soon enough.”
“If she don’t come up in the fall, she’s wheat. And if she don’t come up in the spring,
TOGETHER: “She’s oats.”
STOICALLY ACCEPTING THEIR FATES, THE TWO SASKATCHEWAN “NOT WHEAT” FARMERS ROCK ON THE PORCH, WONDERING IF THEY’RE, IN FACT, SASKATCHEWN “NOT OATS” FARMERS INSTEAD.