Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Congratulations to Black Kim 3/16/10

The Bee last night was a chaotic affair. When NP and I arrived at HK, Bronwyn, the host, told us that there were already three big parties who were signing up. The place really started to fill up as we ate some of the delicious fare that they serve up. We couldn’t keep track of the signup sheet as it circulated around the dining room. It was like the crowd had a mind of its own and it was threatening to take over.

There were some former winners there to try to reclaim the glory of taking home the prize. Kim, who was in the most recent Champions Only Night, was there with her entourage and was going by Black Kim this time. Black Kim lost out in the second round of CON2 and I think that it got under her skin. Christine, a two time winner, is a super loyal speller who has brought many people to the bee. She often looks at me like I just made up a word when we tell her what she has to spell. Then she nails it. Last night, she was with J Pat. Now that I think about it, he might be a leprechaun. With the beard and the jocular demeanor, he had a look in his eye that he knew something I didn’t. And Mars was there too. She once outspelled a man in Reno, just to watch him cry. She seems quiet, but determined. She is a heartless speller.

Other old faves that showed up were Maria, the kindergarten teacher, Lauren, who says she is a beard blogger, and Tim C., the ‘people’s champion’. Tim has come very close to winning a few times. Even the HK staff is rooting for him, but it is difficult to get passed the third round. We haven’t seen him for a few weeks and he announced why when he stepped up for the first round. He says that he’s been at Spelling Boot Camp where everyday he followed a regimen of early rising, pushups, situps, pullups and all day spelling drills. Now he is fit, clear minded and ready to go. And Lauren is another fave who went head to head but lost the first time she spelled. Undaunted, she will get to the winner’s circle by hook or by crook.

Among the new players, Melanie was such a great speller in grade school that she hosted her 5th grade bee when the teacher had laryngitis.

When thirty people sign up, as happened last night, there is more pressure on the players. And it leads to some really bad spelling by really smart people. Dropping or adding syllables is a common pitfall of public spelling. Overspelling is another one. That’s when the speller thinks that it can’t be a simple spelling and turn an ‘o’ into an ‘au’. HK is more crowded, the place is louder and the people are rowdier. Any Tuesday, it is a challenge to make sure the word is heard correctly by the speller and to hear the spelling. It is tougher when we have numbers like this.

The first round was tough on the spellers. Out of the thirty signed up, fourteen went down in round one. Then eight more were out in round two. That left eight standing in round three, including Black Kim, Tim, and Christine. There was also Barbara from Austin, TX an avid dictionary reader who brought her purse to the microphone. I guess she figured out in the Texas badlands that a spelling bee is an excellent diversion for our band of urchins to slither through the crowd and rob the distracted spellers. Alison, a rookie, lost out on ‘chonolith’. She should have asked for the language of origin. I think knowing it was a Greek word would have clued her in to the ‘ch’. She went with just a ‘c’. Molly (A) was bounced on ‘rasgado’. Same thing. The Spanish origin is the clue. Christine got stumped on an unusual word of unknown origin. ‘Slumgullion’ is a meat stew made with meat of dubious origin. Merriam-Webster says that it is ‘perhaps from slum slime + English dial. gullion mud, cesspool’. That loveably coarse English street slang. Then Tim lost out on ‘rascette’. As Tim said, it is a word that has been around the block. Arabic then Latin then French. A word used by palmists to describe the line that crosses the wrist below the palm. After a spirited discussion about the proper jurisdiction of palmists, he spelled it wrong. “Spelling Boot Camp is a waste of money!” were his parting words. He will live to spell again.

That left Black Kim and Barbara. It was a quick end at that point. Black Kim advanced on ‘beguine’ a rhumba-like dance popularized in the US by Cole Porter. Barbara drew ‘perigee’, the point nearest the earth's center in the orbit of the moon or a satellite. Perigee is a tough spell with a Greek origin. Barbara missed and we had a winner. Black Kim became the fourth person to win a second bee, the third to win non-consecutive bees. She told me that losing in the second round of CON2 did bug her and she came to win a place in CON3. Check!

Black Kim paid her bill with the gift certificate from her first victory and walked out with a brand new one for the next time. Excellent job, Kim. Congratulations!

We will see you all next Tuesday at HK for the Bee.

Friday, March 12, 2010

March 9, 2010 Mina from Minnesota

Mina blew in from Minnesota to HK to be in the Bee this week. Actually, she went to Harvard and is on her way to becoming a surgeon. She says she can do 'little surgeries', huh? Tonsil removal and stuff like that. Shouldn't they have a Resusci Anne for aspiring throat cutters? Like Ton Sal or Paul Lyp? She signs up as the 1995 Minnesota State Spelling Champ. I am impressed. She says she is back visiting and is at HK to meet a friend. So begins the Bee begins. Among the contestants are an ESL student from Moscow, former winner Will B, plus a math whiz and an engineer. As usual, a very smart group. This night there was a lot of people signing up their friends without them knowing it. This usually means that more drunks will be spelling and that is, in fact, what it meant this week. Something funny happens when someone with a buzz is suddenly facing a crowded bar and they have to think on their feet. Some become combative, some become very quiet, some giggle, some ignore the crowd completely and address Nicole and I exclusively. For the most part, this crowd went the quiet route and spelled wrong. We lost half the contestants in the first round, from 15 to 7 just to get to the second round. Two things became clear: Mina is a formidable speller, confident and loud, apparently not drunk and she is not going to win easily despite her bona fides. While we lost many in the first round, the ones left are all good spellers who will give Mina a run for her money. Among them Neil, a quiet speller whose style was reminiscent of Charlie Brown in his worst mood, you know, stiff body with head bent toward the floor. But spell he did. After three rounds, it was down to Mina and Neil. Mina declaiming more than spelling and Neil, with his head down, quietly advancing round after round. They seemed like old friends, but had just bonded over going head-to-head at the Bee. They ended up sitting together at the spelling table and going two rounds of correct spelling before Mina's experience started to show. For round six, Mina drew 'Aileron' and spelled it loud and proud. Neil, at her side, says,"This is where Neil goes down." He draws 'Enfilade' and misses it. Great sports, both of them. You had to love Neil who started out intimidated and ended up testing the mettle of the 1995 Minnesota State Champ. Then he calls the whole HK crowd a bunch of 'fucking rubes' over the microphone. And Mayor Curtatone was there! Neil broke two unspoken rules: don't cuss into the mic and don't insult the crowd that has so adoringly supported your against-all-odds run at the bee. Still, we like Neil and think that he could win it one day, especially when we found out from our spies that he was drinking so much that he was still drunk at his mid-term on Wednesday morning. If you can challenge a heavy weight like Mina and only throw one f-bomb in that state then you have a future at the Bee.

The only other highlight, or lowlight, was when I reverted to my redneck roots and wouldn't pronounce 'Obelisk' correctly until I noticed that many of the people in HK were yelling at me. I was saying it with long 'O' and two syllables (ˈō-ˌbləsk) like we do down home instead of short 'O' and three syllables(ˈä-bə-ˌlisk) like the civilized world. It wasn't until a spontaneous call-and-response alerted me to the yelling. "I say ˈō-ˌbləsk, you say ˈä-bə-ˌlisk, ˈō-ˌbləsk, ˈä-bə-ˌlisk!" Fortunately the speller got it right and all was well. Some dictionaries, including the real Bee's official dictionary offer the 'ō' as an alternate pronunciation, but none of them offer a two syllable version. Mob rule has its rewards.
See you on Tuesday night at HK.