Changing Up

To my faithful readers (all five of you):

I’m planning some upcoming changes to brannongolden.com soon—well, soon for me…as soon as I can get around to them, anyway. I just wanted to let you know in advance because things are probably going to break and look ugly/ier for a little bit until I can get it all sorted out. Here’s why:

I’ve been using the tagline, “I write…so you don’t have to,” for about four and a half years now. My original premise when I first purchased the brannongolden.com domain was to “pimp my wares,” which is a nice way of saying, “letting people know what services I may equitably provide them.” No, wait…switch those around. People often refer to starting their website as “hanging out a shingle,” but I don’t think that means the same thing now that it did in, you know, medieval times. Now it has a different connotation (to me, at least.) And nobody wants to see that hanging out on the web.

Anyways, several months ago, back when we were visiting Greece (the country, not the musical), I decided that I wanted to start blogging in a manner that entertained me. And if anybody else enjoyed it as well, that would just be gravy. (And who among us doesn’t like gravy? Am I right or am I right?) It’s like that old saying, “Misery loves company,” so I figured at least a handful of people would tag along. (Turns out I was aiming too high.)

I’m a huge fan of the genius of @badbanana, he of the Twitter fame (407,232 followers?!? Seriously?!?). He once tweeted, “Misery loves company picnics.” So true.

So here’s what I’m gonna do (or, as Kanye might say it, “Hee’s what I’ma do”):

I’m going to simplify somewhat. My plan is to move to only words, since that’s what my mom says I’m best at. (And she’s my mom, so why would she lie to me…right?) The home page at brannongolden.com will have two halves, something like “Serious” and “Less So,” or perhaps “Business” and “Fun.” The “Less So” (which on my site now I refer to as “Sillier Things” in the menu options above) will lead you here, to my dumb blog. The other half will be building out what’s now “Serious Work.”

While I had hoped to spend more time entertaining people and giving them the opportunity to laugh (hopefully sometimes even out loud), and just have kind of a respite from all of the seriousness of our lives, I also have to kind of be a grown-up (or something) and be more serious about the writing I do for a living. I much prefer being a doofus online, but of course that’s not paying any of my bills. (Despite my incessant begging, you guys have just been no help in that department.)

At some point, I’ll also be changing over my Facebook structure. My plan is to create two new pages. One will be the same obnoxious smarmy feed you’ve come to expect from me there, and the other will be a “serious” one about the kinds of business services I can offer (like exorcisms and exotic dancing at bachelor parties, bat mitzvahs and kids’ birthdays). The downside to that is that, if you’re my Friend on Facebook, and you want to keep seeing the “fun” stuff, you’ll have to “Like” the page I set up for that. I’ll then reserve my “normal” Facebook profile for family and personal things that actually are related to my friends, and not just me, and not just me embarrassingly screaming for attention. (I haven’t decided yet how I’ll accomplish the same thing on Twitter.)

So, any questions? Certainly I welcome your feedback. (Not that I’ll actually take any of it into consideration, of course—but I prefer to leave you with at least the impression that you are valued in our relationship). Does anybody really even care? Do you think Sarah Palin seriously has a shot at the White House at some point in the future? (Whether yes or no, please defend your position.)

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.

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?

The Pickup Criterion (2 of 2)

(Today’s post is part two of a two-part story. Part one is here.)

When we left Ken’s house, he leisurely drove us…directly to a supermarket. Although it was one I had seen before from the road, I had never been inside. Honestly, I never really even paid attention to it. It was kind of an upscale place on the edge of one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. As we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a smoker over on one side of the building. I pointed and said, “Hey! That looks like one of your smokers.”

It was a big, black and rusty metal, barrel-looking thing, welded onto a trailer frame, with a smokestack and a metal wraparound frame on top so you could cover it with an awning.

He said simply, “Yeah.”

When we parked and got out, Ken stood for a moment and looked around, like he was thinking about something. It was a lovely evening out, pleasant and warm. About 100 yards from where we were standing was the community’s city hall, police department and fire station. Two firemen were standing over a grill out in front of their station, flipping burgers, visiting casually.

I followed Ken into the market like an obedient dog—directly to the meats. He found the department manager and chatted him up for a minute, asking him a few questions about some mutual acquaintance of theirs. The manager said, “Well, he isn’t here right now. And, tell ya the truth, I haven’t seen him around in a while.”

Ken thanked him and said goodbye, then turned to me as we were walking out and kind of half-whispered, “That’s all I had to hear.”

As we climbed back into my truck, I said, “Sorry we missed your friend.”

He popped it into Reverse and said, “Not me,” as he backed us up directly to the smoker. He got it close and left it running. I joined him, a little disoriented, as he got out and slipped to the back of the truck. He grinned broadly as he set down his toolbox. “Looks like I guessed right on the hitch.”

I was confused. “Uh…What exactly are we doing here?”

“You were right. This is my smoker. But the guy who was smoking meat here hasn’t paid me for more than six months. He hasn’t been returning my calls, and he’s never here when I come to check up on him.” Gesturing toward the market, he continued, “I’m betting he probably owes them money, too, which means they’re gonna want to hang on to my smoker until they can get their money. But we’re not gonna let that happen…right?”

“Right?” I whispered weakly.

A Master lock was on the smoker. Because I’m an idiot, I asked, “Do you have the key?”

He opened his toolbox and said, “Sort of,” and produced a hammer. (It turns out there were maybe five things in that toolbox. I imagined it to also contain a single credit card—for jimmying a door lock—a slim jim, and probably a firearm. Maybe a Taser or a hand grenade.) Motioning his head toward the firemen, he said, “Kind of keep an eye on those guys for me, would ya?” And he went to work.

Did you ever see that old commercial on TV where they shoot through the center of a Master lock with a rifle, and it just stays locked? Let me tell you: That’s a preposterous scenario. The center’s not where the latch is. Here’s the precise moment I realized that fact…

Ken lopped up the side of the lock with a hammer. Whang!!! Nothing. Again, harder. WHANG!!! I peed. (But just a little, not so much that you’d notice).

He hit it again and again, louder and louder each time. He looked up at me with a big grin. “Man, this is a tough one!”

“So I guess you’ve, uh…done this before?” I whispered.

“I’ve had a lot of smokers over the years,” he said—as though that passed for some kind of answer—and he took another swing. And that was the one that snapped the lock. He kicked the chocks out from under the tires, attached it quickly to the hitch, and we were off. About seven hours’ worth of terror for me elapsed in less than two minutes.

When we were a few miles from the market and it was clear we had made not just a clean getaway—but more like pristine one—it was Ken who finally broke the awkward silence. “Does it smell like pee in here?”

Not exactly answering, I offered, “You know what? It’s such a nice night, we should roll down the windows.”

I had just taken part in my first repo job. I knew I was in the family now, and all that that implied. Once you’re in the family, you can never get out. The only way I was ever leaving that engagement or my impending nuptials was in a body bag.

(Today’s post is part two of a two-part story. Part one is here.)

How did YOU know you were “in” with your in-laws? Was it a rite of passage? Or just something boring like a wedding? Did you honestly think that your adorable little padlock would protect your stuff? (That’s so cute.)

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