It was 30 minutes before I needed to leave for the event in the city. It was raining. And I was recounting every good reason not to go.
But in the end I did drive the 50 minutes because I was curious about a spelling bee started by drinking buddies and notable for its toughness. Not to mention, the nights I least want to go to something are usually the nights that prove to be most worthwhile.
“How far did you drive to get here?” asked the man seated to my left.
“Pretty far,” I said.
“Probably not as far as we did,” he countered.
“Try me,” I said.
Turns out he and his wife live in the same far-outside-the-perimeter suburb that I do.
We laughed about this for a while, then discovered we had been in the same line of work. We talked about various parts of our career (he’s now retired), and the Midwest. He said he spent a number of years in a small Wisconsin town, and it turned out to be the very town where my best friend got married in 1988. I shouldn’t be surprised, but you couldn’t make this stuff up.
And you couldn’t make up the words dished out at this spelling bee. About 100 people join in four rounds of increasing difficulty, and they are written rounds – no standing up at a microphone.
I had 19 words correct out of 20 in the first round. I stumbled on “prescience” – wrote it down right the first time, then doubted myself because it just looked too much like “pre-science.” So I wrote “precience,” then “prescience” again, then settled on “precience.” And my competitive standing was over.
Last year’s champ, who was at our table, said it was a classic case of overthinking. I didn’t go on to Round 2 formally, but plodded on. The next round, I was 7 for 15. Then 2 for 10. In the final round, just five words, I got none of them correct. I’d never heard any of them in my life.
How would you have done in the final round?
izzat - personal honor
kolkhoz – a collective farm
psoas – internal muscle of the loin
tael – unit of weight in eastern Asia
myrmecochory – dispersal by ants
Last year’s champ tied for second, and the woman seated on my right tied for third. She was quite a character – almost didn’t compete, just came to watch, then found that her love of gardening, not to mention a rudimentary knowledge of foreign languages, served her well.
Along the way I learned some new words. Confounding, even in its three-letter simplicity, was
lek – a place where animals (esp. birds) gather for mating displays and rituals
I hope to slip that one into conversation sometime during the next week.