Who Doesn't Love a Good Spelling Bee?


I never even knew such a thing existed. Oh, I knew all about spelling bees. There just are no good ones.

In my early years the scenario would inevitably play out like this: A normally kind-hearted, sincere, respectable teacher would inexplicably decide to torture us children. She would select the two smart girls in the class as team leaders, and they would in turn each select a team. I was always the second to last picked.

The spell down would ensue as follows:

Teacher: Spell “ape”

Smart Girl: a-p-e

Teacher: Spell “bat”

Other Smart Girl: b-a-t

Teacher: Spell “cat”

Next smart kid: c-a-t

Teacher: Spell “dog”

Next kid: d-o-g

And it would go like that until the kid before me. Then she would turn the page and, as it fell with an ominous thud against the prior page, the teacher would casually comment, “Well, it looks like we're out of three-letter words.”
Inside she was transforming into Darth Vader. I am certain I heard the epic theme music. The air in the room would choke off and the lights would begin to pulsate with the rhythm of my heart. Darth Vader was still ten years in the future, but I knew it would be bad. Between the labored breathing, her voice became deep and she would say,

“Mr. Hodge, spell 'obsequious'.”

My throat would go dry and my tongue would become leaden. “Could you use the word in a sentence please?” I would croak out.

The smart kids in the class would begin to snicker and the teacher would reply, “Your lack of attentiveness is disturbing. 'If you were more obsequious, you would get better grades.'”

And the moment of truth would crush down on me. I would reason that it must be a four-letter word and, in desperation, I would try, “Ob-see-kwee-us.”
The room would erupt into chaotic laughter and the teacher would rage, “None of those are letters! If you never learn to spell, how will you ever survive in life? Are you to become a hermit and live in a cave?” Or something that sounded similar to my stinging ears. I would take my seat along with the derision of my classmates.

Then the teacher would instantly transform back to her sweet self and call on the next kid, “Spell park.”

I'm not sure who invented the spell checker, but that person is one of my all-time favorite heroes! The spell checker ranks right up there with peanut butter in my mind. If you should ever get a hand written letter from me and it is neatly done with all the words spelled properly, it's a fake.

There are several ways to determine an original RV hand written letter. First, the writing is really bad. Second, there will be something misspelled. Third, there is likely to be a serial number. I think I'm on about twelve.

Can I Go Out and Be Bad for the Rest of the Day?

I already know the answer to that question.

I got that nugget of insight back in my early twenties. I was at a store called Bi-Mart, in Roseburg, Oregon, making my weekly purchase of wonder glop to keep my jalopy running. As I was perusing the latest offering of miracle cures for worn out cars, a well dressed, middle aged woman approached me.

She seemed all in a dither, and I knew when she called me Sir something was really wrong.

“My husband gave me this list of tune up parts to buy for the car and there are so many options I have no idea where to start and my lunch break is only thirty minutes and could you please help me know which items to get,” was how it all came out.

Ever the teacher, I replied, “Um, sure.” And while inconspicuously glancing around for a hidden camera, I began with her list.

“First you find the make, year, and model of your car in the book. See, here. Then you go to the the air filter column, this is the one.” (Pick from shelf, drop in her cart.) “Then the oil filter column, it's this one.” (Pick from shelf, drop in her cart.) And so on down the list of parts.

I don't think she heard a word I said. Whatever model she was did not seem to feature an OFF switch. All the while I was explaining the parts book, she never stopped gushing about what a great help I was, and how remarkable it was that I had such knowledge of car parts.

I'm not sure if I just looked that stupid and it was a surprise to her that I was helpful, or if she was afraid I would turn into a serial killer without some positive feedback. In all it took less than five minutes. When it was done, she thanked me profusely and left me with, “You've done your good deed, now you can go out and be bad for the rest of the day!”

I was just as stunned as you are.

Since then I have often wondered, was she like that all the time, an over-the-top version of Mr Rogers? Or maybe it really was a hidden camera show and my response was just a dud. What if she had just escaped from an institution and I unwittingly became an accomplice? I may never know. But I do know this, every time I do a good deed, I have permission to go out and be bad for the rest of the day.

My Wife is an Undercover Agent!

She seems nice enough at first glance. Most people tend to think of my wife as generous, loving, and kind. That is most likely due to the baby sweaters she knits. For years, just about every newborn we knew received a handcrafted, Smithsonian quality, custom-colored baby sweater from her. Her philosophy on knitting is if it can't be done to perfection … oh, no. There are no excuses. It can be done to perfection.

She is also an editor. My editor, to be precise. It is that penchant for perfection in the minutia that makes her a fantastic grammar editor. Unfortunately for her, I am a grammar slob. I love to tell the story. I love to write the story. I am not in love with all the rules of my native language. Consequently, my wife of these many decades is by default a grammar enforcement officer.

One of the great frustrations for me is that when I ask my wife to do a quick read through to see if I am connecting with the reader, she systematically edits her way through. I begin to wonder if I have completely missed the mark. I question my self worth. I ponder the universe. I rewrite the entire tome in my head. Then she says, “This first sentence has a problem.”

FIRST SENTENCE! I have reread this stupid thing fifty-three times waiting for you to do a quick read through!

Most of us know someone who is on the grammar police force. They catch our chronic misuses of the language and, at times, can be annoying in the process.

My wife is not like that. She's on the Grammar SWAT Team. When she makes a bust on a grammar crime, the door gets kicked in, the place gets teargassed, and everyone in the room ends up face down on the floor with their hands zip-tied behind their backs! Then everything gets searched and cataloged and there is no negotiating.

This makes her sound stern, militant, and somewhat autocratic. That's not really the case at all. I guess I just give her lots of material to work with. So, if you happen to think my wife is sweet and kind and would like to see her alter ego, just hand her something to proofread. But you had better have thick skin or be really in love with red pencil marks.

Do You Want to See My Legs?

That question came from a lady who was a regular customer in a feed store I worked at in Alaska. The year was 1980 something. And the question seemed to come out of nowhere.

Um, AWKWARD! I fought back the gut wrenching panic that wanted to surface.

Something was way out of kilter in my universe. A lady who was substantially my senior, and who was normally all about her pets, should not be hitting on me.

I looked up. Yikes! She was walking toward me!

There was no where to run and no way to hide. I quickly tallied the odds of keeping my job if I had to jump through the window to escape.

“Look, here's the picture. Those are my legs.”

I'm a married man! My silent plea echoed in my head.

“And this was So-and-so, a such-and-such breed that won first place in …”

My blood pressure dropped back into a measurable range. My alarm was alleviated. The picture was in a book about show dogs, and the lady, whose name has long escaped my memory, had a winning dog in a show way back when. That her knees were visible in the picture was only noticed because she pointed it out.

“That's my claim to fame there,” the lady remarked with chuckle. She then went into great detail about what a great dog that was.

I don't really remember much of that monologue. My mind was busy being relieved to have the universe spinning in the right direction again.

Some days, I think it must be really weird for regular people to be around me.