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.

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