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It Was Wednesday

A couple of years ago, my Grandma Lila was shopping for some childrens’ toys. She went into a  toy store near her house and looked around for a while, but everything they had there was weird. She couldn’t imagine any of her great-grandkids wanting to play with any of this stuff. The lone sales clerk in the small store, a woman, approached her and asked, “Can I help you find something, ma’am?”

Grandma told her matter-of-factly, “I’m looking for some baby toys. Do you have any of those?”

The woman seemed confused. “I’m sorry. We don’t really have anything for babies. Um… Uh… What do you mean?

The store, which had the words “Toy Box” on their sign outside, was an “adult” novelties shop. Somehow Grandma managed to escape without them alerting the authorities.

Momma Ethel, Grandma Lila’s mom, used to make the world’s best chicken and dumplings. Although this was undocumented in any literature that I am aware of, nevertheless I’m quite certain that it was true. Certainly I’ve sampled enough variations on chicken and dumplings in my lifetime that I know for sure. When I was little, Grandma Lila made two things that everyone in our family loved: chicken and noodles, and banana pudding.  The pudding she used to make was that kind with actual, real banana slices cut up in it, Nilla wafers stood up all around the edges like a crust, with Nilla wafers both whole and crushed on top. Several years ago, she was making a batch of it because family was coming over, but it just kept getting thicker and thicker until finally she couldn’t even move the spoon anymore. She set it in the fridge for a while to do some other things, thinking she’d come back to it later and figure out what was wrong with it. When she got back to it, it was literally a solid chunk. She decided the pudding mix must have gone bad, so she took it out of the cabinet to throw it away. When she turned it over to check if it had an expiration date, she realized that it was actually powder for wallpaper paste.

Many years earlier, Grandma decided she was tired of the colors in her kitchen, so she resolved to repaint the cabinets herself. After the first coat, the color she picked didn’t seem to have covered thoroughly enough. So she painted over them again, hinges and all. By the time she was finished, the cabinet doors were so thick with paint that they literally wouldn’t close all the way. Undeterred, over the years, she would repaint her kitchen cabinets several more times. They positively were growing as they aged. She never once felt the need to strip them first. In my memory, you could press your fingernail against those cabinet doors, and they had a soft, putty-like texture, almost what I imagine the cool flesh of an alien might feel like.

She had a giant wooden spoon and fork that hung on the wall in her kitchen that fascinated me as a child. In the handles of each were carved elaborate, kind of scary, tribal-looking faces. I remember being frightened of them when I was small, but I simply couldn’t peel my eyes away either. Their horror was such a curiosity that they called to me, compelling me to sit and stare. I always thought that Uncle Roger had brought them back to her once when he came home from a trip in the Navy, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. I don’t care, though, really. That’s what they were to me.

Awesome Plate, Better Than My Sisters’Also on the wall in her kitchen, she prominently displayed a plate I had made in kindergarten. “BRAhhOh,” it said, with a house that looked more like a lighthouse or a rocket because of its height and thinness. I think she had plates from my older sisters, as well, but theirs were ugly and mine was magnificent.

Grandma had this series of weird, staggered cabinets that sort of divided one end of the kitchen from the living room. They just kind of hung there, almost magically suspended in the air on spindly little poles. Because they were open to both sides, that corner of the living room was the worst possible place for a chair. But that was where my Grandpa’s chair was, because it let him sit and watch the TV and still keep up with what was going on in the kitchen. Also, the shelf was a convenient place for him to put his ashtray—and his teeth when he took them out. When I was really little, Grandma had a bunch of plastic and glass figurines all over those shelves that you weren’t allowed to touch. But of course I did, and I broke (at least) my fair share of them. Okay—more than my share. But it was not on purpose. And on that you have my word.

Grandma has been staying at Mom’s for several weeks now because she had been sick and needed some help. Last night, Grandma went to sleep in my mom’s house. This morning when she woke up, she was not in her room. Grandpa and Uncle Roger and Aunt Nona and Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Ardith and Uncle Herbert and Aunt Maudie and Momma Ethel…and I’m sure a lot more people, some I’ve forgotten, and far more that I never knew, probably several from Dillard’s department store, certainly many more than just the handful she left behind here…were all really glad to see her today. In my mind’s eye, I picture them all sitting around a big table and smoking cigarettes and telling stories and laughing together, looking forward to when we will join them. And I find that somehow comforting today.

Grief is such a personal emotion. This is just a tiny glimpse into the life of a woman we will miss this Christmas Eve. We will memorialize her. And then we will go back to my mom’s and eat and open presents together and play games and laugh and enjoy our children and each other. No questions today. Share if you like. Merry Christmas, everybody. Love your people. :)

The Procedure

In the early spring of 2005, when our daughter Evie was still just a brand-new, shiny beautiful baby, I had a vasectomy. I’ve mentioned this particular procedure before, but I promised then that I’d tell you that story sometime. Today’s your lucky day.

I don’t know if all urologists are like this, but because mine, Dr. Samuel Little (everybody make your own joke) was awesome, he put us through a grueling consultation beforehand. Basically, he did everything in his power to try to talk us out of it. I don’t know if dudes get vasectomies and then have second thoughts after it’s too late, but that was totally not going to happen in our case. He said, “Have you seen those billboards between here and Dallas that advertise reversals? That doesn’t work. With the procedure that I use, it’s a done deal. When you…”

I interrupted, “Enough small talk. Let’s light this up, Little. You need us to sign anything?”

He said, “I’m serious. It’s important that you realize this is completely final. You really need to take time to think through…”

I cut him off again. “Hey doc, let’s me save us all some time here. Here’s what we’re gonna do: You’re gonna cut into me, and you’re not gonna just snip things and tie them off. What you’re gonna do for me is you’re gonna completely remove whatever plumbing you find in there. Just totally rip it out. Whatever you do with what’s left over after that is your business.”

He looked at us gravely for a moment. Then he smiled. “That’s all I had to hear. Let’s do this thing!”

When we tried to explain to our boys that Daddy was “having some work done,” we even told them we were doing it because we didn’t plan to have any more children. Kenny, our oldest, asked, “Why not?” I told him, “Because Mommy and Daddy only wanted a girl. And we had to go through two boys to get one. Now that we finally have her, we just can’t risk any more boys. Do you understand?” He nodded quietly. He really seemed to get it.

A friend who had already had his procedure told me that I should ask for Valium to settle my nerves. I’m here to tell you: That’s always good advice. Dr. Little (smirk) wrote me a script for exactly 1, and he told me to take it on the morning of my procedure on my way to his office. Check and check.

By the time we got there on the day, I was already feeling pretty good. (I’ve told you before how much I enjoy a nice Valium.) During our consultation, Kendra had asked if she’d be allowed to watch the procedure, and Dr. Little (hee hee) told her it was fine with him, as long as I didn’t care. I didn’t, so as Kendra and I strolled into the little examining room together, baby Evie in tow, sleeping peacefully in her teeny car seat, we discovered a lovely set of icy stirrups all ready for me. Events are a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure I was buck-naked and looking around for a gown before the door was even closed behind me.

A very polite older woman (who I assumed was a nurse) explained that she’d need to dry shave me a little (gesturing slightly)  “down there in your area.” She asked if that was okay, and I was all like, “Who am I to argue? We’re all professionals here, right?” (Honestly, it’s a shame that aspect wasn’t covered in the orientation video; I would gladly have managed that little pre-prep task myself and saved them the trouble. Probably not dry, though—more likely moisturized and Aloe-scented.)

When Dr. Little came in, a big grin on his face, we were pretty much ready for launch. He surveyed the manscape, made sure he had all his favorite tools (syringes, scalpels, knitting hooks, scissors, hammer, chisel, Brandy, that sort of thing). We bantered a little to set the mood. He asked if I was ready, and I said, “I guess so. Although usually, by the time I find myself in stirrups like this, my date’s already treated me to a nice steak dinner and a bottle of wine.”

Before we got started, he said, almost as a random aside, “I have a doctor interning with us who hasn’t gotten to watch a vasectomy yet. Would you mind an observer?”

I said, “No problem. The more, the merrier. Bring him in. And if you’ve got anybody else out there who’d like to watch, I’m cool with that, too. I had the sense your receptionist was kind of checking me out. Maybe some folks from the lobby.” (I’m not making any of this up, by the way.)

Dr. Little said, “Great! Thanks.” Then he opened the door and invited in the hottest lady doctor I’ve ever seen in my life, probably all of 28 years old. (Apparently she’d taken a couple years off of supermodeling to knock out a medical degree.)

Before we go any further, let’s take a quick head count of all those present, shall we? We have myself, Kendra, Evie, the older lady nurse, Dr. Little, Dr. McHotterson (not her real name), and of course my two knobby knees, which at this point felt a little like they were floating up and scraping up against the ceiling. Add a few red plastic cups and some nice electronica, and we’d have a full-on frat party.

The actual procedure probably took just a few minutes. We continued visiting throughout, and at one point I remember Dr. Little telling me I was the most entertaining patient he’d probably ever had. (What can I say? If you slip me a narcotic, roll me over on my back, hike up my skirt, and break out the knives, my brain-to-mouth filter goes haywire. Honestly, it’s a lot like when I write for my blog, only I’m not wearing pants. No, wait a minute… It’s exactly like when I write for my blog.)

Because my view was blocked by draping, I just kind of had to take the audience’s word for it that everything was working according to plan. Kendra asked if they had a mirror they could bring in so I could watch, like she did when our babies were born. I assured them that wouldn’t be necessary. (As if I haven’t already spent enough of my life checking out my business in the mirror! Am I right? Who knows what I’m talking about?) Anyway, at one point, Kendra said what Dr. Little was pulling out looked kind of like spaghetti. I guess I can picture that—of course that wasn’t the first time I’ve been covered in pasta below the waist.

Dr. Little (woo hoo) held up a section and offered to let Kendra snip it. She considered, but only for a second. She’s much more frugal than I am, and I think she wanted to be sure we were getting our money’s worth out of this guy.

He finished up, cauterized something, tucked some things back in, and buttoned my accoutrement all back up. The entire show was apparently a great success. I can only presume the applause was for his work and not for my contribution; I’ve never received that much “golf clapping” at any other time that I can recall. In any case, nothing too dramatic must have happened because Evie managed to sleep through the whole thing.

The assisting staff gathered up all the medieval weaponry and the buffet leftovers, cleared out the room, lowered me off the rack, and finally gave me, Kendra and the baby a little privacy, so I could collect myself and re-gird my loins (what was left of them, anyway). I was a little sore that day, but I slept a lot, so I don’t remember much of the rest of it. What I do remember was the next morning, when I awoke feeling like Donkey Kong had throttled me with a hockey puck slapshot to the pills. But that’s where my original story picks up anyway, so I can stop here. Besides, just between you and me, I think I’ve probably told you quite enough already.

Have you ever had a procedure with an audience? How did it go? Did everything come out okay? If you have one, what’s your narcotic of choice for having work done? Why do you think it is that you never see a really hot doctor unless it’s on TV or when you’re at your most vulnerable?

Intruder Assassin

Twelve years ago, Kendra and I were sitting comfortably in our living room, enjoying a pleasant visit with close friends, Matt and J.J. It was early evening, the warm, late summer’s twilight just beginning to settle, visible through the windows into our backyard. And I saw him: The beast, slightly larger than a Yeti. Although his features were indistinguishable in the fading light, clearly he was possessed of a demonic rage and evil intent, his blood boiling, filled with malice, positively radiating a soft red glow like lava.

But I should back up a little: A series of two retaining walls held back our yard from crashing through our house, one Lego-stacked pile of carcinogenic creosote-soaked railroad ties stacked on top of the other. In the weeks previous, I had noticed a large hole underneath the top wall. Upon closer inspection, I observed evidence that some diabolical usurper had been coming and going from the hole. For days I dubiously staked out the hole, taking several hair samples and readings in an effort to gather more data about my foe, the better to formulate a suitable paramilitary response to his encroachment. But thus far, the wily creature was toying with me, demonstrating that he was onto me, as he was either using some animalistic ninja trick to turn invisible in his comings and goings, or perhaps escaping and returning at will through some miles-long tunnel system he had somehow managed to camouflage from my detection. I had caught not even a glimpse of the bumble, when suddenly this opportunity presented itself, a gift from the very gods of fate.

Now that I had seen him for certain, no way was I letting him escape. (Call ME crazy, I thought. You want crazy? I GOT your crazy!) I hastily excused myself and ran, Clark Kent-like, for the garage to grab a shovel, intent on manic violence. In just a few moments, I would learn that violence actually has a name. And a face. And that its name…is “Matt.”

Certainly one could be forgiven for misinterpreting my intentions that evening, as from all appearances, I was running in the direction opposite the threat, whereas Matt was in fact running headlong towards it. I bolted for the garage; he bolted directly out the back door. I was headed to procure a weapon; he was a weapon. At first, our attack might even have appeared to be coordinated, with him flushing the beast in a purposeful direction towards me, as I came careening around the corner of the house into the backyard from the garage, my Shovel of Destiny in hand.

And then Matt handily demonstrated how superfluous was my weapon of mass destruction, indeed, how unnecessary was even my presence. I could better have served him by remaining in the house and freshening up his sweet tea, perhaps running out to have his car detailed and to pick up his dry cleaning.

No, Matt was not flushing the Acid-Clawed-Monster towards me, as I had supposed. Rather, he was running it to ground. As it hurtled across the backyard, shrieking its murderous Hell-fury, I rounded the corner just in time to observe Matt close the distance between them, in perhaps three quick bounds, and in one deft motion, Beckham-like, he punted. Matt felled the creature by immediately increasing its velocity ten-fold, taking full advantage of the laws of physics by forcing it beyond—far beyond—what its advanced physiology dictated it could run. And it toppled, end over end, some twenty feet—not unlike a soccer ball, in fact (although of course fifty times the size).

When the beast came to rest, he was clearly disoriented, dizzy and damaged from his tumbling dance across the landscape. It was at this moment that finally I was able to see through his campaign of psychological warfare. He was, in fact, an opossum.  Although, clearly, he was no ordinary opossum, rather more like the giant spider from Stephen King’s It, capable of projecting himself as a terrible, giant fiend. I stood not three feet from him, faltering in that moment, my shovel hanging impotent in my grip, debating whether this might in fact be just another of his clever deceptions.

Then Matt caught up to him. Still without breaking his gait, Matt kicked him once again, this time more American-football style…directly into the brick wall of the house next door. In defense of what some might mistake for my apparent ineptitude and skill in dispatchment, Matt was wearing boots at the time, and I was wearing just sneakers. As everyone knows, of course if you’re going to kick an opossum, you’d best be garbed in the appropriate footwear. The implications of attempting such a feat in the absence of the proper equipment are simply too dangerous for one to even consider.

But Matt wasn’t done. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “playing possum,” and you thought these mastermind marsupials do that intentionally, you’d be mistaken. In fact, they can’t control it. When presented with grave danger, a chemical reaction occurs that both paralyzes and immobilizes them. Matt was counting on that with his first kick. What he was doing with his second kick was ensuring it. He placed his foot over the back of the opossum’s neck, and I suspected he was going to suffocate it or to crack its skull. But of course that’s no way to be sure that your opponent truly expires. What he was in fact doing was applying another principle of physics—leverage—pinning the base of its skull to the ground between the heel and forepart of his boot. He grabbed its tail and jerked its hind end straight up. It’s a maneuver I’ve observed in the game Mortal Kombat, although certainly never perpetrated against a real-live creature, and particularly not against a large rodent. C-R-AAAAAAA-C-KKKKKK!!! went its spine. Yup, he was finished.

I lamely offered to scoop up the corpse with my shovel to dispose of it. Still holding its tail, the opossum now essentially hyperextended to around five feet in length or so, Matt grinned at me, shook his head lightly, as though he felt some mild embarrassment for me inexpressible in words, and he chuckled. He simply released the head from under his heel, lifted it slightly higher by the tail, carried it to the trash bin, and dropped it in.

What can I say? The monster had seemed much bigger in the dark.

What’s the most savage creature you’ve ever dispatched? And what method did you use? By all means, share with us the gory details. Have you ever witnessed another person violently murder a helpless, innocent animal in a way you could never have expected? Why are Kraft Macaroni & Cheese boxes so insanely difficult to open?

Regional Champion (Part 3 of 3)

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

In the weeks leading up to the State Spelling Bee competition, I began to get more serious about the gravity of the possibilities. And by getting “more serious” of course I mean my mom had a heart-to-heart talk with me about what I really wanted from life and whether I thought this might be a door opening, an opportunity to be somebody. Certainly I didn’t feel at all that she was pressuring me or trying to live vicariously through me or trying to get me to do what she wanted. She genuinely wanted to understand what was motivating me and then decide what steps we could realistically take to make that happen.

Every word that would be used in the competition (at least up through State) was provided in the little booklet that we had received. So if we really wanted to, we could technically pore over it and memorize every last one. I can’t say for sure how many words were in there, but it was at least hundreds, perhaps over a thousand. And so we practiced, me lying on the couch, my mom sitting in her chair, reading me words out of the little book, and me trying to spell them. If there’s anything worse—or more nerdy—than participating with ambitious intent in a spelling bee, it would have to be actually studying spelling words for a competition.

It was grueling. I don’t remember how long I lasted, but I’m gonna say maybe two days. At which point I told my mom, “I just don’t care anymore. If I win, I win. If I don’t, I don’t care. This studying is not worth it to me.”

I would like to say I was possessed of an enlightenment approaching Zen-like wisdom, or even that I had just had a solid education in the arts. But more likely I was just too lazy. The State contest was to be televised on our local PBS station, but that didn’t really faze me. I legitimately counted the cost and decided, meh.

Even the prizes were several notches higher than anything at regionals. The runner-up would receive an AM-FM stereo system with a killer cassette deck, which was, let’s say…tempting. But the coup d’état was that for first place—besides the trip to D.C. and all the fame and fortune and everything that goes with it—the winner would also receive a portable TV! This was huge to a seventh grade boy in 1981. I didn’t have my own TV, so that would have been like winning the lottery (presuming my parents would have allowed me to keep it if I won).

And then the worst thing that could possibly have happened, happened. Just a few days before the competition, I got sick. Really sick. Like, Brachiosaurus bronchitis and Grim Reaper cough and a persistent temperature north of 102° sick. But the show had to go on. I can remember crying in the car that night on the way to the TV station because my head hurt so badly. It was yet another of those times when under normal circumstances I probably would have been terrified out of my mind, but as it was I couldn’t even think about all that.

And then the moment was upon me.

Nobody at State seemed to have any tricks beyond the same stock techniques I had seen displayed at every other level. That is to say, if you weren’t certain about the spelling, stall. Try to give yourself some time and space to think. Ask for the definition. Ask to have it used in a sentence. Ask the judge their favorite color. You could ask pretty much anything you wanted except for them to spell the word. These were not practices that I admired nor used. For me, if I didn’t know a word, no amount of time was going to help me sort it out.

I only wish that one of the questions that you could have legally asked was, “So, pray tell me, judge: Where, exactly, do you get off asking a seventh grader from a small rural school in the United States of America to spell a word that’s not even in the English language, and in whose universe and on what planet could that ever be considered fair or appropriate, and how do you sleep at night, and I’ll bet you’re a sad, bitter little person whose life didn’t work out how you planned so now you like to take out your frustrations on helpless little kids…am I right?” (I had to change it up there a little at the end to keep it a question.)

Guipure.

That was the word. We were down to just eight kids remaining, and other kids were still getting words like Brachiosaurus and segregation and abysmal, and they gave me guipure. Honestly, had you ever heard that word before I just shared it with you? I hadn’t. (It’s French, by the way.)

I would torment myself for hours and hours later, watching and re-watching myself on that stupid video, but no matter how many times I watched it, I couldn’t go back in time and repair the damage.

Later that night, on the way home, my brain still throbbing and the top of my moppy hair wet with perspiration, partly from fever and partly from the suit I had to wear, my dad said we had to run an errand before we could go home. He seemed in kind of a rush. I just wanted to get home and put my pajamas on and go to bed and cry myself to sleep. But we stopped at the mall, and my mom and I stayed in the car so I could lie down in the back seat and rest while he ran in. When he came out, he was carrying a portable black and white TV, brand-new in its box. It even had an AM-FM tuner and came with headphones. It was perhaps the kindest, most thoughtful gift I can ever remember receiving in my life. I would watch that TV in my room for the next six years, and I loved it even after it died.

Thanks, Dad. I love you. I know that you were proud of me. But I’m at least equally as proud of you. You were—and are—the greatest dad in the world.

Love,
Brannon

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

So who wants ice cream? Is it just me, or is guipure a crappy word to ask a seventh-grader to spell? Who was the National Spelling Bee champion in 1981? (I don’t know, either.)

Regional Champion (Part 2 of 3)

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

My next stop was of course Regionals. Each school sent their winner and runner-up, so you really only got one shot at your own little taste of the 8 Mile dream.

During the competition at school, I hadn’t really taken it seriously, and I just kind of went with the flow. There were no prizes or anything, unless you count the bladder-expansion-inducing fear of having to spell on demand, competing against brilliant minds from other schools before a crowd of parents who were every bit as ‘roided up and amped as the parents you’ll find at any weekend Metro area soccer league. Under such circumstances, I imagine it’s far worse to hear your dad rage from somewhere in the room, “Spell it, Jimmy! Get in there and get yours! Rip those dork-weeds’ pocket protectors right off their chests!”

My dad of course would never say such a thing, whether at a spelling competition or at any sporting event. And to be fair, while technically I didn’t actually hear that there, I know some kids’ dads were thinking it.

The Daily Oklahoman provided little staple-bound booklets that explained all the rules and lined out all the schedules and listed all the words and, in the back, perhaps most importantly, told what the prizes were. First prize for winning at Regionals was a sophisticated solar calculator. Reading that disappointing fact, I couldn’t help thinking, So THIS is what the organizers of this competition think of us:

“Hey, the kind of nerdy kids who might win a regional spelling bee are exactly the sort of dorks who’d geek out over a solar calculator.”

Um, need I remind you, Mr. I’m-On-Top-Of-The-World-In-My-Career-And-Going-Places, that you’re organizing and presiding over a regional spelling bee made up of middle schoolers in Oklahoma which, although some of us here like to think of it as living in the buckle of the Bible belt, most of the rest of the country pictures us instead as the dirty bellybutton of the Lower Hillbilly Kingdoms? (It’s true. I read a survey online.)

And then I discovered some fine print. Not only the Regional Champion, but also the Runner-Up, would both be guaranteed slots to compete at the State Spelling Bee. The top winner of the State competition would then be flown with one guardian (expenses paid, of course) to Washington, D.C., to compete at Nationals. And we all know where the winner of that mêleé ends up: Lucrative endorsement deals, recording contracts, a butler, etc. A diabolical wrinkle, to be sure.

Random aside: I wonder if in French spelling bees, they have to specify all the wacky accent marks their words include. The main reason I love to spell “mêleé” in the proper French way is because that first tiny “e” looks so adorable, like it’s wearing a silly little hat. But I digress…

This of course led me to check the second prize: A cheap knockoff of a Sony Walkman cassette player. I only make this particular distinction because I want to be perfectly clear: It wasn’t a Sony. It wished it was a Sony. On Saturday nights this player would get all dolled up to go out with its friends and they’d talk about all the ways they were better than Sonys anyways and laugh about how snooty the Sonys were in their club that none of the knockoffs could get into and besides they didn’t want to go to those clubs anyway, because it was probably really lame in there. But any kid who’s ever been in the seventh grade knows: Any music player is better than any calculator any day.

I don’t know if it was because I honestly didn’t feel any pressure, or because it occurred to me at some point that I didn’t care what any of these people at Regionals thought of me because I realized that even if I bombed terribly there none of them would even remember me, or if I actually was so terrified and traumatized by my fears that I have a huge gap in my memory of the event so that today it doesn’t even register with me. But whatever the reason, I breezed through Regionals. I mowed down all those dork-weeds, a flurry of pocket protectors floating to the ground like so much chaff. (And that was without even a hint of irony.)

All of them, anyway…save one. When I first began to reflect on this story, I thought I would tell you the girl’s name. Because I remember it like it was yesterday. She was a seventh-grader from Heritage Hall, and she was my spelling nemesis—my spellemesis, if you will. But then I googled her name and, hand to God, I found her in less than two minutes. She taunts me still, from out there in the ether of the cyberworld. (She evidently is a successful surgeon today. With her permission, perhaps I shall share more of our story another time.)

But on that day, we progressed into the final two, at which juncture the organizers took the opportunity to try and build some drama—as much as you can at a spelling bee of middle schoolers, anyway—explaining to the crowd that both of us would be going on to compete at State. In that moment, we were Titans. And then, once it was time to spell again, I kicked into gear my ingenious plan. The very next word they gave me…I threw under the buss. I smirked shrewdly. Take that, Heritage Hall hussy! Enjoy your solar calculator.

All she had to do was spell my missed word correctly. But she was having none of it. She misspelled it as well, albeit in a new and creatively incorrect manner. Succubus! Wenchical! Cheat! It was my turn to take back the competition. To the shock of all the adults in the room, I missed my next word too. (Collective gasp.) She had the opportunity to steal. And she feigned that perhaps she was descended from secluded mountain people, themselves descended from something less than apes. She missed it. Again, differently, creatively.

Turn for turn, we took dives, trying for second place to grasp that crappy Walkman knockoff. I can’t say how long it went on, but I can tell you it was an uncomfortable stretch. At least five words. Finally, her patience and restraint got the better of me. I could stand it no longer. When I spelled my next word correctly, she positively radiated. Miraculously, she missed.

I have that calculator to this day. And it still works. (Bet she can’t say either of those things about her cassette player.)

Calculator

Up next: State.

Did you ever shame your family in some competition for selfish reasons? Did you ever take a dive in a contest you by all rights should have dominated? When a hole wears in one of your favorite socks, why do you think it’s always just in one of them, and they both don’t wear evenly? I can never bring myself to throw away that perfectly good sock, even though it no longer has its companion, not unlike the sad dog at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows.

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