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Regional Champion

(This is part one of a three-part series. Part two is here.)

When I was in the seventh grade, I participated in our school spelling bee. It wasn’t as though I had some sort of far-reaching ambition and aspiration to ultimately become famous worldwide for my ability to spell on a whim words like conflagration and psychosomatic and even (gasp!) onomatopoeia, delighting and amazing late night talk show hosts and state fair goers alike. Rather, everyone in the school was absolutely required to participate. If you were in an English class—and everyone was—that meant you were automatically a player in the spelling bee.

Our big statewide newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, sponsored an annual state spelling bee. I suppose it was once someone at the paper’s brilliant marketing idea to host and organize this massive event under the auspices that they would be generating gravitas and recognition for what was known at that time as “America’s Frontier Lake State,” while secretly in smoky back-room handshake deals they were in fact conspiring to raise their own profile to more efficiently hawk their wares to a drooling, unsuspecting public. They could feign that it was their vision to encourage literacy in Oklahoma, which if it were true was the worst strategy ever conceived and by no means in their best interests. In fact, had they accomplished such a mission, in so doing they would actually have cost themselves readership, as those with greater than a fifth grade education at the time could easily spot typos, misspellings and absolute blitzkriegs on good grammatical sense throughout their “newspaper.” (I honestly haven’t “read” it in some time; I assume it’s probably much better today.)

Anyway, it was our school administration’s brilliant plan to ferret out our own spelling Cinderella story for the Oklahoman by requiring the English teachers in each of our three grades (sixth, seventh and eighth) to conduct a spelling bee in every English class, a dragnet campaign from which none of us closet wordophiles would be able to escape. Had I suspected then what the true end of this competition held in store for me, I would likely have spelled bus as b-u-s-(dramatic pause)-s. But I didn’t. The top winners from each class would participate in a second round spell-off, held in the form of a schoolwide assembly in the auditorium.

“Hey, nerds! We know how much you love being put on display in front of the entire school! So this is your opportunity to remind all of the other kids that you think you’re smarter than they are—never mind that you wear your big brother’s hand-me-downs from C.R. Anthony’s and have psoriasis and dandruff and halitosis and couldn’t make a layup even if you were the only person on the court and we gave you an oversized basket and a Nerf basketball and a mini-trampoline. Today, you’re the stars!

Thank you, Vice Principal Cruella De Vil.

The winner of the schoolwide competition would then be forced—excuse me, honored—to represent our fine academic institution at the regional contest. Of course I have no idea how the other schools at regionals fielded their own spelling gladiators. (As I said, I was in the seventh grade. That means I was twelve. So you’ll forgive me being hazy on such details.)

I handily dispatched every kid in my English class. I didn’t mean to. It just kind of…happened. (You know, on account of English is my mother tongue and all.) It certainly didn’t hurt that in those days I had a photographic memory and could quite literally picture in my mind words that I had read before, including telling you on what page I had seen them and even where it was on that page. (I have long since lost that freakish ability, my photographic memory replaced by the far-less-useful pornographic memory, in which although I can recall vivid details of every significant event in my life, I can’t remember what anyone was wearing.)

By the time I made it onto the stage in that schoolwide assembly, I found myself surrounded by the kids I considered to be the best and brightest in our entire district. I was fortunate enough to actually attend a school where many of these kids were not nerds; in fact, most were attractive and popular, and several were even athletic as well. It was an honor to find my pasty self esteemed in their company. I was astonished at the rapid pace at which many of these children whom I knew to be brilliant seemed to flub what I reasoned to be not particularly complicated words. (Today I understand why some of my acquaintances from childhood probably considered me to be cocky. At the time, I honestly didn’t know any better. I genuinely couldn’t believe they didn’t know how to spell these words.)

The competition went quickly, and I can hardly remember it, it was a such a whirlwind. One specific detail I do remember happened repeatedly. It went like this: The judge would read aloud my next challenge word, followed immediately by murmurings from the student crowd, things like “Is that even a real word?” and “Impossible!” and “Oh, that’s it! He’s done-for now.” And then I would spell. And the self-satisfied teacher (from whom I had not learned that word, by the way) would beam, “Correct!” Followed by an audible gasp from the crowd. It was honestly like some Disney movie where the entire school starts out against the underdog and then gradually rallies to his side, cheering him on once they realize he is their brightest hope, their unassailable champion. For just a brief, glimmering moment, I felt accepted. I felt…dare I say it? Popular. And perhaps most importantly, I won.

Next up: Regionals beckon.

Have you ever had a moment where you were THAT GUY? What happened? Did you feel worthy or deserving? Do you know the legitimate medical reason why it’s at those moments that our bladder feels most full?

My Skinny Jeans

Have you ever noticed that people refer to certain elements of their wardrobe with adjectives attached that relocate complete responsibility onto the clothing, rather than onto themselves? What I’m describing is I’m pretty sure called transference, but I think that’s only when it refers to essentially blaming other people for your weaknesses, which is not actually the same thing as placing it on inanimate objects. What I mean is like this: “I’m trying to get back into my skinny jeans in time for _insert random special event here_.”

And of course it’s not the jeans that are skinny. (Or not.) It’s me.

Now, just to be clear, when I refer to my own skinny jeans, I’m not talking about inappropriate young cool-pastor or super-mega-hip megachurch worship pastor skinny jeans. My skinny jeans do not contain Lycra (nor any other stretchy fabric), nor do they conform so tightly to my person that wearing them would place me right at home in a photo shoot with my knees drawn up to my chest that will inevitably debut on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Nor do I pair my so-called skinny jeans with a V-neck of, let’s say, 70% opacity or so, which plunges perilously close within striking distance of my navel. I simply mean an altogether ordinary, cheap pair of jeans from Old Navy that are in a size not too far off from what I was able to wear when I graduated from high school. (I would tell you what that size is, but I have been sworn by several people important in my life that I will no longer disclose my weight or sizes on the Internet. And anyways, that’s of course none of your business.)

I can actually (sort of) squeeze into my skinny jeans at the moment, although I haven’t run for weeks because I’ve been ill and busy, so it would be profanely inappropriate to do so. In my closet, I have a skinny suit and a fat suit, and an assortment of skinny shirts and fat shirts. Most of the time I don’t call them by those classifications, but certainly I’m making silent mental decisions when I choose what I’m going to wear on a given day. Basically, at the moment, if you get married, I’m gonna show up overdressed. But if you die, well, I’ll blend right in with everybody else. (My current fat suit is black, and my current skinny suit is brown.) If I could manage to say no to a few more Quarter Pounders with Cheese and yes and to a couple hundred more miles running, I’ll be able to tip that back the other way. (Honestly, that’s been not going too well in either department lately.)

You know what it seems I don’t have any of right now? Any clothes that I’d count as just “in-between.” Mentally flipping through everything hanging in my closet, I can’t think of a thing that’s just straight-up adequate. Or even reasonable for that matter. Only fat or skinny.

But that’s probably just me.

Do you have some favorite “fat” clothes? (I won’t even ask about skinny clothes, because of course everyone has favorites of those.) What are you willing to put yourself through to get into the clothes you want?

Vasectomy Sweatpants

I put off having a vasectomy for too long. It’s hard to explain why. It’s not like I didn’t want to do it. Kendra and I had decided long ago that three children was our limit. We had two boys, and she was pregnant with our third child. If we had a girl, we would stop because then we’d have at least one of each. And if we had a boy, we would stop because no way was I willing to risk trying again and then ending up with four boys. That much testosterone under one roof is the sort of thing that starts wars. Or at least unsanctioned, unnecessary indoor fires. Besides, I came from a family with three children, and I’m perfect. No, we were done.

But we knew conclusively that this third one was a girl. I scheduled my “procedure” for sometime after our delivery date. I’ll tell you that story another time, so I won’t go into the details here. This is more about philosophical concerns than about a specific story, I guess. To me, a vasectomy represented a line in the sand, so to speak. It was a firm declaration: “This is my forever family, once and for all.” Kendra said she thought of it more like it was a liberation for me, giving me free reign to be promiscuous and immoral without consequences. Laughable, of course. As though I was some sort of international man of intrigue. I’ve never even been a regional man of interest. At most perhaps a local curiosity.

In preparation for the blessed event—the vasectomy, not the birth—I interviewed as many friends as I could. It’s surprising how candidly people can talk about something so private. “Dude, have you been snipped? Shut down the baby factory? Had your member severed? Displaced the dong people? What was it like? Did it hurt? For how long? What did you do after? How long till you ‘recovered’?”

I received all sorts of tips from well-meaning friends: Athletic supporters, tight sausage wrap underwear, sling-style underwear (banana hammocks), marble bag underwear, loose pants, sweatpants, and frozen peas. I wore a jock strap at first because my urologist specifically told me to. My recovery was coming along really well the first few days, and feeling particularly ballsy one morning that first week, I decided to try heading off to work one day without it. Turns out that was a mistake. I ended up wearing it 24/7 for six months after that, just to be safe.

The frozen peas actually made sense, so I went with that. The theory is that a bag of frozen peas is better than an ice pack because it’s fairly malleable, so you can wrap it around where you need it. Honestly, they didn’t help a lot, but they were nevertheless delicious later in the week. Hard to say which was greater: the actual taste, or serving that chicken pot pie Kendra made to our friends without telling them where the veggies had been. (I kid, I kid…or do I?)

The best thing by far, though, was a pair of track pants. They’re better than sweatpants because they actually look nice enough to wear out of the house. And not just to Wal-mart, but even to Kohl’s. Maybe even to Target! They’re just as soft as sweatpants, and every bit as comfy. They zip open a little at the ankles to facilitate fast-action dressing. Their stretchy drawstring waist band accommodates jai alai or Thanksgiving dinner equally well.

They would represent flawless perfection, had I not accidentally tainted them with an oil spot while checking my mower’s vitals a couple of years ago. For the cost of all the chemicals I used to try to eradicate that spot, I probably could have bought ten more pairs. But why would I? This pair is special to me. In fact, I’m wearing them as I write this. And they’re just as cozy and soothing as ever.

What’s your favorite clothing item and why? Does it have reminiscence value, tied to a specific time or event in your life? What is your favorite garment that your spouse or significant other threw out without consulting you? What are some other slang names for men’s undergarments that I missed?