I could start off by saying I was a shy kid and I liked books more than people and my dad was a rough oilfield man and blah blah blah, woe is me, and now I’m a writer and everything is all better.

The reality is I was shy and I’m not sure why, because inside I felt I could soar as high as the sky if only someone would pay attention to me.

Like in the sixth grade I could stand in my back yard and make fifty straight free throws, but I was barely five feet tall and my feet were already bigger than my dad’s and I didn’t move around very well. Which is why on the playground no one passed the basketball to me and when they finally did I was so surprised I didn’t know what to do with it. Six years later I would make fifteen three-pointers in a single game on the way to 51 total points, but obviously in the sixth grade no one knew that.

On many sunset evenings I would run pass patterns in the front yard and my dad would throw the football to me over and over until I never let it hit the ground. “If you can touch it you can catch it,” he would say. But at school I was short and slow on my clown feet and no one would throw me the ball. The only time they did I scored a touchdown, but somehow no one ever remembered that.

If I had known it was possible I would have sold my soul to be Keith. Keith was the fastest human in our school and possibly the entire city of elementary schools, and like Superman he could score a touchdown every time he touched the ball. He could pour shots into the hoop like Magic Johnson. He could destroy you in kickball, in foursquare, in anything. All I wanted in the world was to be like him.

The situation was different in the classroom. In there I was dominant, or rather co-dominant along with my friend Kevin. It didn’t matter what subject it was, the two of us always finished projects first and tests first and read the assigned chapter first and then sat around wondering what was taking everyone else so long. If there had been teams to pick, we would have been captains, and if there had been a ball to hog, it would have been ours. If you scored lower than the 99th percentile in any subject on the CAT test, you melted from the scorching shame.

I wanted to believe I had a leg up on Kevin because we made the same grades but I was more social than him. Or not so much social as wanted to be social. I was shy but I didn’t want to be shy. Kevin was a vastly different animal. He didn’t listen to music. He didn’t like girls. I had a huge crush on this girl named Gigi ever since I saw her on the cafeteria stage dancing to Billy Joel. She had brown hair and green eyes and put her hands on her side-thrust hips when she talked to you. She had attitude. I knew she wanted to go around with me but that attitude was intimidating so I never asked her. Still, I talked to her every day while Kevin read the extra credit chapter. When I asked him why didn’t he listen to music or talk to girls, he would say, “A Jedi craves not these things.”

As much as I wanted it, I knew I didn’t really have a leg up on Kevin. He was just as smart as me. For that matter, Keith’s grades were almost as good as ours. And even though we were all close friends, along with Jason and Butch and plenty of others in the neighborhood, there was an unspoken pecking order. Keith, being both smart and athletic, was unquestionably at the top. Jason lived in Country Club so he had votes for second place, as did Butch, who was friends with all the girls and whose parents were cool enough to own a Datsun 280ZX. Kevin and I were a bit lower, but to be honest everything below Keith was kind of hazy, and one big victory could propel any of us skyward. And finally in the middle of the sixth grade I found my chance: the Spelling Bee.

One of my mom’s favorite stories is how I took to reading at an early age. I was prone to picking up books and trying to figure out what they meant and learned my ABCs when I was three. By the time I started kindergarten I was already reading, or so the story goes, and my mom always gets a twinkle in her eye when she tells that part.

So it was understood by everyone in our class that I would win the school Spelling Bee. It wasn’t in doubt. The bigger question was if I would win the city and regional competitions and go onto the national finals. I was that good.

Every afternoon, in the days leading up to the Bee, my mom picked up Words of the Champions and grilled me for hours. We spent little time with the first round words because I could spell those in my sleep. The grunt work was in the second round words, and third round words were for heavy lifters. School Bees, we understood, rarely made it to the third round words, but we studied them anyway. The word we loved the most was dirigisme, which I’ve never forgotten how to spell, though I never knew what it meant until just this year.

On the day of the school Spelling Bee, everyone congratulated me ahead of time. Keith especially had little doubt. “You got this, man,” he would say. He knew what a star looked like because he was always that guy on the field. But today was my day and that cafeteria stage was my field, my court, my 18th hole green.

My mom and I suffered through a mostly contentious relationship back then. It was rare to see her smile, but this day was different. She knew how much work we had put in and was ready to see it pay off. There were maybe thirty of us kids who filed on stage and found our chairs. I looked out at the crowd, seventy-five parents and teachers, and found my mom among them. She smiled. I knew this time, finally, I would make her proud. I couldn’t wait for the Bee to begin.

Especially when the emcee of the event announced that this year’s competition would consist of only first round words. I never found out why. But as murmurs and whispers passed over the crowd, I became even more confident. First round words were for babies.

As I said I was a shy kid, so when it was my turn to approach the microphone my heart was galloping in my chest. But the training paid off. I easily knew how to spell that first word and plenty of words after, and gradually the number of kids on the stage dwindled. Every time someone made a mistake, the emcee would ring a bell, like the kind you touch when you’re waiting at a counter.


That tinny ring was the sound of death.

Eventually there were only four or five of us left. I was one. Kevin was one. Keith was one. Every time I answered another word correctly, Keith would give a knowing nod, silently cheering me on. Upon each visit to the microphone I had become more emboldened and was beginning to enjoy the home stretch. My victory lap. This is what it feels like to not be scared all the time, I thought. Finally. Because even though I had always been too shy to ever tell anyone, I knew one day I would overcome my fear and show my real self to the world. This day was the first step. The next could be the city Spelling Bee, and who knew what might happen after that?

I approached the microphone. I could see my mom in the audience. My heart was no longer galloping. The emcee read a word and I knew it immediately, another baby word. She read the word to me and somehow I thought of green stalks reaching toward the sky, of cobs spilling forth from them, I thought of that darkish yellow color you see in the 64-pack of crayons, the one with the sharpener in the back. The word rhymed with haze and blaze and faze and raze, but I wasn’t about to be fooled, because no word in the Bee could possibly be that easy. After all those hours of studying there was no way I would be presented with a word of only four letters, so rather than be outsmarted I confidently spelled the word I saw in my head, a word with five letters, a word like this:


I was already walking back to my seat when I heard the sound, the death sound.


I looked into the crowd and found my mother and the look of anguish was almost too much to take. I left the stage and lurched toward a seat below, my head swimming, fuzzy, barely able to see anything because I was in a daze.




It only occurred to me later that I could have asked for a definition because “daze” is a homophone that shares its sound with the word “days.” Had I asked for a definition I would have immediately known how to spell it, because of course I knew what “daze” meant. I don’t know what the hell I thought “daize” was. All I know is I was too confident and too proud, I was looking to run before I first caught the ball, so I heard “daze” and I thought “maize” and I did not win the Spelling Bee.

My mom was gracious and consoled me even though I didn’t win. My friends were kind enough about it. Everyone was kind. But I knew, like they all knew, that I had blown my chance to win, had blown my chance to climb higher in the pecking order, and it was a bitter pill I could not swallow for a long time afterward.

I don’t remember what the winning word was, or how he fared in the city Bee, but I do remember Keith looking at me with a half grin on his face, almost embarrassed to be the last man standing in this long walk, the winner again, and me barely able to see him, my head lost in a white, shapeless daze.

* * *

P.S. Here’s a school photo of us. This is from second grade, not sixth, so we’re all a bit younger and shorter and perhaps more awkward. But at least you get the idea.

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RICHARD COX is the author of The Boys of Summer, Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

166 responses to “Strange Daze”

  1. Amanda says:

    “He could destroy you at foursquare”…oh, honey!

    I grew up in a “special curriculum” class populated by nineteen other nerds like me–and, among the nerds, I was the dumb one. Or, so I thought at the time, not really appreciating that in addition to being gifted at writing computer code at age 9, gifted at solving your brother’s grade-13-level algebra homework even though you were in fifth grade, and gifted at knowing all the capital cities to, like, every nation in the universe (the universe!), there was also such a thing as being gifted at more esoteric, creative things.

    I’m not sure everyone would agree that today, my skills are as awesome as my friend from way back then who now trains astronauts at NASA, but I like to think I tell a nice little story now and then. And so, it seems, do you.

    : )

    • Richard Cox says:

      I don’t remember how to play foursquare anymore, but I do have a clear picture of Keith and Butch and me and someone else playing, and we had turned it into quite the death match competition. He was so good.

      In high school Keith was a nationally-ranked long jumper and if I remember correctly maybe had a chance to make the Olympic team. He got hurt playing football his senior year but still went on to earn a scholarship to Rice. He was the real deal.

      I like what you said about being gifted at all these things, but then being teamed with a bunch of other gifted students you suddenly felt more ordinary. Ultimately it’s what we do with the gifts and how happy we are with them that matters, more so than the technical achievements we earn.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Becky says:

    In elementary school, I was a terrible speller.

    There was, like, concern about it. Like, “we’re concerned something’s wrong with Becky.” I could read just fine, better than most, but the spelling test would come and I would butcher it.

    I learned to read and write with an experimental system that relied heavily on phonetic spelling. Not the phonetic alphabet per se, but a related alphabet that featured special letter symbols for dipthongs and aggregate sounds like “ch.” Eventually we were switched to a “normal” alphabet. I couldn’t switch. I didn’t continue to use the phonetic alphabet, I just made up new spellings that had nothing to with the phonetic alphabet OR the standard alphabet they were trying to teach me.

    Spelling terrified and confused me and made me feel stupid and caused me to act out.

    Then one day something clicked. Like someone flipped a switch. Sometime between 5th and 6th grade, the planets aligned and in 6th grade, I tested at a college level for reading, writing, comprehension. Just like that. So maybe the phonetic learning did work. But for the first 10 or so years of my life, it was a total nightmare. At that time, I would have spelled it “daez.”

    • Becky says:

      Still can’t spell diphthong, though!

    • Richard Cox says:

      That sucks that it took so long. It’s funny how some things come naturally to us and some have to be beat into us. That’s what happened to me in my first statistics course in college. I flat could not understand it. At all. Standard deviations and all that crap was like Greek to me. I made like 30s and 40s on my exams. Then one day something “clicked,” the same as you, and I aced every test after that. I ended up with a 79.4 average and I begged the teacher to give me a “B,” because clearly once it clicked I had demonstrated absolute mastery of the subject and “C” did not reflect my understanding of it. She declined.

      • Becky says:



        Don’t get me started. They wanted to put me in special ed because I didn’t understand money, either. Math, fine. Concept of money or applying math TO money? No dice.

        Could have had something to do with the fact that they didn’t bother to teach us the concept of fractional numbers before asking us to count change.

        I was also punished in my “progressive” elementary school for being unable to make a significant enough distinction in handwriting between a 5 and an S. And a 2 and a Z. I had to write like 4 pages of 5s and 2s, over and over.

        They were eventually satisfied and let it go. And within two years (and still to this day), my 5/S and 2/Z, were again virtually identical.

        It’s my handwriting. Since I was friggin’ FIVE. My brain likes it and apparently will not be moved. I win! Up yours, Ms. Spencer!!

        • Richard Cox says:

          It would be interesting to study somehow the effect those types of “teaching” have on us over the long haul. In second grade, Mrs. Sprabeary couldn’t stand the messy, unorganized inside of my desk. She always took my name off “Busy Bee” and put it on “Messy Mice.” There were other negative categories, like “Slow Pokey Turtle” and “Noisy Bears” and I can’t imagine being associated with any of them was very useful in the long run.

          One day I arrived at school to find my desk turned upside down with all my papers and glue and crayons splayed out for everyone to see. So embarrassing.

          She even spanked Keith, Jason, and me for talking too much during lunch. And somehow I remember Mrs. Sprabeary as one of my favorite teachers. Go figure.

        • Becky says:

          Well, my school was exceptional in that it was working with an experimental pedagogy that gave little kids way too much agency and responsibility and not enough structure (in my opinion). So I do think it did screw me up in a way. I was 6 or 7, strong-willed and independent, and given the responsibility of making my own schedule for the day; then I was punished when I made decisions that most little kids would make, like playing in the play areas rather than doing my math work. When I consistently failed to make mature, adult-like decisions at the age of 8, they threatened to put me in special ed. They already knew my IQ and they were going to put me in there anyway. I mean, for acting like a kid.

          To this day I am still hostile towards “buddy teachers” and learning situations that lack structure. I associate it with unclear expectations and then being punished or doing poorly or being considered stupid for not living up to expectations I never understood or knew existed in the first place.

          It’s the kind of thing parents, not schools, usually do to screw up kids.

          The first time I ever got a 4.0–or did well in school at all–was 7th grade. I went from special ed candidate to straight-A student my first year in a traditional classroom setting. I mean. What does that tell you? I firmly believe that elementary school was evil, if you really want to know about it.

        • Richard Cox says:

          The teaching environment is obviously key. I’m glad you finally found some structure because otherwise your staggering intellect might have been directed toward something unscrupulous, like Lex Luthor.

          I struggled at times in school because I would get so bored. All the repetition and memorizing wasn’t for me. I’d be writing short stories and then miss something important and later screw up the test. Clearly we all need our own homerooms.

        • Becky says:

          Well, I don’t know if I was Lex Luthor material (though in my fantasies I am), but I know that my IQ suggested that I was far from developmentally disabled, and my behavior was not awful enough to suggest I belonged in the funny room with Jason the Purposeful Pants-Shitter.

          Certainly, in this day and age, though, I would have been pumped full of drugs. A.D.D. or autism or pain-in-the-ass syndrome. So I dodged a bullet, in the end. It’s the little victories that count.

        • Becky says:

          Just realized that this comment is potentially, accidentally offensive on a number of levels. First of all, Shit-Pants Jason was not developmentally disabled. He did it on purpose, potentially on a dare. Tried to shake it out his pants leg or something.

          Second, I am not suggesting that children with A.D.D. or Autism are pains in the ass. Only that I was, and given a school administrator or a parent with an itchy enough trigger finger, I would likely have found myself among the ranks of the unnecessarily medicated.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I get what you mean. I’m of the opinion that most kids diagnosed with A.D.D. are simply energetic kids who don’t need medication. They’re the same kids that weren’t medicated for the first 99 percent of human history. But the pill is easy, and labels are alluring when your kid isn’t making the genius grades you expected him to, or when you’re just plain lazy.

          On the other hand I’m not a parent, so what do I know?

        • Slade Ham says:

          Hahaha, I have to post a link to my bit on this exact subject. Remind me if I don’t get it up tonight.

        • Becky says:

          you said “if I don’t get it up tonight.”

        • Richard Cox says:

          That’s what he said.

        • Slade Ham says:

          You two are children.

          Hahahahahaha. I can’t believe I let that come out like that.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Goddammit. I did it again.

        • Becky says:

          Dueling gravatars! Is that you wisecracking gravatar?

  3. Tawni says:

    Awwww, Richard. This broke my heart, because I completely understand. I was kind of the girl version of you as a kid, including the reading before kindergarten, shyness and good spelling skills. I was taken out of class daily for the nerdy “gifted” program from first grade onward. Too insecure to try out for sports, even though I was tall and built for them, I clung to my English classes like a life raft. This Spelling Bee moment would have crushed me, and would still be bothering me to this day. You did such a good job of explaining why it was the social and psychological equivalent of missing the big game-winning shot or goal in the sports world. Great writing and emotion.

    I am actually still mad about a word that I beefed years ago, during a drunken game of Cranium. I rock at the spelling words (and the spelling words backwards) parts of that game. My good friend Britt and I were teamed up and we could not lose. Annnnnd… I spelled faux pas as “faux paus.” NO. I am still beating myself up over that. Like your daze/maize/daize moment, I KNEW how to spell that. I knew. Damn it.

    It’s crazy how hard we are on ourselves sometimes, isn’t it?

    • Richard Cox says:

      The nerdy “gifted” program. I love that name. “Gifted.” So what does everyone else have? No gifts?

      I hadn’t thought about the Spelling Bee much in a while, but then I put a bit about dirigisme in my manuscript. I had never looked up the word to see what it meant, and it also turned out my mom had been pronouncing it wrong all these years.

      But when I was writing this, it pissed me off all over again. Daze. Fucking daze. I mean, really? Four letters?? I got your four letters right here!


      • Tawni says:

        The “gifted” program made me feel like a freak. In grade school and junior high, it meant I had to get on a bus to go to the gifted classroom at the high school every afternoon. My friends would tease me as I left every day in the middle of normal class to go to my nerd class. I know they were just trying to be funny, maybe even make it less weird for me, but I was so uncomfortable being singled out in any way at that awkward age. I have distinct memories of trying to slink out of math class unnoticed.

        I had to look up dirigisme. I still remember mispronouncing epitome and being corrected by my mom. I had only read that word, but never heard it. I felt pretty stupid. Maybe even the epitome of stupid. I now play an Epiphone guitar, and when I first saw the name, I wrongly pronounced it to rhyme with epiphany. I wasn’t going to make the EPI-TOME mistake again, damn it. (:

    • Matt says:

      I used to get in trouble for sneaking into the 1st and 2nd grade classrooms to raid their books. But what was I supposed to do? The books on the kindergarten curriculum were just too easy, and I’d read through them all already.

      • Richard Cox says:

        I have a story like that. When I visited my grandmother once, in the fifth or sixth grade I think, she took me to the town library and I immediately went to the adult section to find something to read. I hadn’t read children’s books in a couple of years. So here comes the cranky librarian who admonished me for being in the adult section and herded me off to the kiddie books.

        Luckily when I told my grandmother, she took me right back to the adult section and let me check out whatever I wanted. I love telling this story because that day I checked out The Dead Zone, the first Stephen King novel I ever read. I devoured that thing in one afternoon and was hooked.

        Stephen King is the reason I became a writer.

        • Matt says:

          Yeah, by the end of fourth grade I was pretty much reading adult novels–or at the very least, the books that these days end up in the “Young Adult” section of the bookstore. Though I will confess the occasional Encyclopedia Brown or Hardy Boys title still made its way into my hands.

          The first adult novel I read was Jaws, which did not inspire me to become a writer, as it’s honestly a terrible book, one of those rare cases of movie-being-superior-to-the-book (Benchley was a far superior science writer). My inspiration would have been the copies of I, Robot, The Call of the Wild, and Huckleberry Finn I filched from my mother’s collection.

        • Tawni says:

          I scored in that department because my mom was/is a reader, so we always had bookshelves full of adult books, including Stephen King, whom I also loved. The Dead Zone was also a favorite of mine. I still read everything he writes.

          My parents also had a dry erase board with a word of the week (and definition) written on it to help build our vocabulary skills. I’m planning on doing this for my son, who has been sounding out and reading words since he was three. The tradition continues. (:

        • Richard Cox says:

          Matt, Encyclopedia Brown and Hardy Boys novels were among my favorites in elementary school. And so was Phyllis A. Whitney, who wrote my all-time favorite YA novel, The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost. I just looked her up, and she died just two years ago at the age of 104. Wow.

          Tawni, keep the dream alive!

        • Slade Ham says:

          Haha, I didn’t see this until after I had confessed my own love for kid’s mysteries below. No big surprise I suppose that the three of us all dug them.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Nice. The thing that always pissed me off with Encyclopedia Brown is that I could never guess the damned ending ahead of time. The only one I ever got was the story where all the towns were in Texas, not their international counterparts. Paris, Texas, etc.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I got quite a few of them if I remember correctly, though that may be my ego compensating for a few lost engrams.

          I wonder if I can find a few online somewhere and re-read them. I am off to explore the interweb now and find out.

          I certainly hope I can solve them now.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Hahahaha. I hope we both can.

          Another one I remember is how someone typed out a letter but kept hitting “B” instead “V” or something like that. I’d never used a typewriter before, so that they were adjacent to each other on the keyboard was lost on me.

          Let me know what you find.

        • Slade Ham says:

          A quick search popped up THIS frustrating list. I want to find the ones I used to love though.

          And I want to punch Bugs Meany in the face.

        • angela says:

          oh.my.god. i was just thinking about Encyclopedia Brown this morning (for no reason at all) and how i could NEVER figure out the mystery. the only ones i remember are the one about the lobsters, and how they were already cooked and then something something, and the one about the guy who played golf, and they could tell he was right or left handed because one hand was tanner than the other.

          oh lord, Bugs Meany, what an awesome name.

          anyway, my real comment is below.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Those puzzles are absurd. No wonder I could never answer them. I mean, Civil War dates? Union battle names and Confederate battle names? Not when I’m eleven years old, thank you very much.

          In some cases, not even now.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          The Haunted Fort was totally the best Hardy Boys adventure.

          Oh, poor fat Chet Morton. You were never as studly as Joe, Frank, Phil, or Biff, but you had a hot sister and a warm heart.

          I will totally confess: inspired by the Three Investigators, I started ‘The Four Investigators’ in primary school.

          We didn’t solve shit.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Chet Morton! Ha. He never wanted to be involved but of course he always was.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Chet drove a jalopy. Hahaha, It’s all coming back to me now. Callie and Iola too. Iola got blown up by a terrorist actually.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Is that where I got the word jalopy from? Holy shit! That’s one of my top ten all-time favorite words. I laugh every time I say it.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I believe Chet’s jalopy was a cheerful canary yellow, actually.

          Man – screw that Case Files noise. I refuse to accept them as canonical, no matter what the publishers may say.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I know that’s where i got the word jalopy.

          And that’s a worthy argument to have. I read them, and I remember being shocked when they killed Iola. They WERE written under the Franklin W. Dixon name though, no?

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Fuck you, Franklin.



    • Gloria says:

      I was just like both of you, except for the shyness part. I was never cursed with shyness. I was cursed with whatever the hell the opposite of shyness was. I am to shyness what Mary Katherine Gallagher is to grace.

  4. Mary says:

    Man, I forgot the sheer excitement of a spelling bee. Granted, I never won because I’ve never been much of a speller, but god.. the pressure. I love that moment when you realized what it felt like not to be scared. That is a priceless moment, both in writing and in experience.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you. The problem with having that moment for the first time is you don’t know what to do with it. Confidence is great, but overconfidence can bite you in the ass. As I mentioned to a friend earlier, it’s probably better that I didn’t win that time than if I had. I learned a lot more.

  5. Matt says:

    I think I did this once in a second-grade spelling bee. I’d gotten down to like, the final five or so, and was given a word so seemingly simple I knew it HAD to be a trick–and thinking so, totally misspelled it. But I’d come far enough along that I could pick something from the consolation prize table, so the Walk of Shame was mitigated somewhat by the new box of LEGOs in my hand.

    And the schoolyard sports! By sixth grade I’d sprouted up to about 6′, so everyone just assumed that because I was taller than just everyone else, I’d be a good basketball player, so I was always picked–but I sucked. I couldn’t shoot for shit unless I was right under the basket, and sometimes not even then. Things got better by high school; I probably could have joined the team if I wanted too, but by then I really didn’t have any interest.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Consolation prize?? We had no such thing. Although int his case the expectations were so high that nothing short of victory was acceptable. I had fared well in other Bees but lost to older kids on second round words. This year I was in the top grade so there was no excuse not to win.

      It was my sixth grade version of Tom Brady in Super Bowl XVII. Not to be overly dramatic or anything.

      • Matt says:

        If I’m remembering correctly, they had a table where students who survived elimination until the final rounds could pick a toy. There was some grand prize for the winner.

        • Tawni says:

          The only spelling bee I was ever in combined the fourth and fifth grade for competition. I was in the fourth grade. The teacher tried to disqualify me because she thought the word I spelled, thoroughbred, was spelled as thoroughbread.

          I was a horse-crazy kid and knew she was full of shit, so I immediately grabbed a dictionary to show her the word, and she let me back in the spelling bee. I won it. The prize was candy. YES.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Tawni owned her shit! Nice!

  6. I, too, feel your pain. I lost the school Spelling Bee in 4th grade in a similar fashion. A cupcake word I thought was sheer trickery from the judge but was not.

    By the way, 15 three-pointers in one outing…. I think we’ve found our shooting guard for the TNB basketball squad.

    • Richard Cox says:

      You have to maintain focus at all times, man. If you want to win. Anything can trip you up, especially overconfidence.

      I can’t shoot like that anymore, but I am good for a few threes here and there. It’s a terrible thing to watch your skills decline at something you were once so good at. But I’ve tried to make up for it with the golf game improvements.

      We really need a TNB squad, though. And then we can find some other online literary magazine and take them on for world supremacy.

      • Greg Olear says:

        We can do like they do in the M*A*S*H movie and get us a ringer and give, say, Ron Artest a TNB page. Let’s see what the boys from McSweeneys can do with Ron-Ron.

        Then again, the last time I played organized hoop — the Urban Professional League in NYC, which is not professional but for professionals in other fields — I was thrown out with a double technical for setting a hard pick on this asshole who was showing us up because we only had four guys that day…so maybe I can fill the Artest role off the bench.

  7. Brina says:

    This is fantastic. I can sincerely dig it, Charlie Brown.

    Whatever happened to Kevin “A Jedi a Craves Not These Things”?

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Brina! Kevin studied mechanical engineering, materials science, and does work across disciplines such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, fundamental chemistry and physics. He also picked himself up an MBA along the way. That’s one smart dude.

      In the interest of full disclosure, the dialogue in this piece is paraphrased. I don’t remember exact spoken lines from the sixth grade. But as far as they know they are accurate in spirit.

      Except for the “If you can touch it you can catch it” line. That one’s verbatim. Thanks, Dad.

  8. Slade Ham says:

    I never participated in a spelling bee, though I cannot tell you why. I was a hardcore book nerd as a kid, buried in Encyclopedia Brown books and then graduating to The Hardy Boys. If I’d been asked, I’m pretty sure I could have spelled anything. No one asked though, hahaha.

    I moved cities after my third grade year so I kind of had to start over in the friend category. I ultimately squeezed my way into what became a great group of friends, though I somehow I never ended up at the top of the pecking order. My friend Chris did. Despite the fact that I was absolutely convinced that I was smarter, more athletic, and better looking, he always ended up with the better grades and the girlfriends.

    It’s possible that I was having delusions of grandeur, but I like to think it was simply because I never really tried. Pecking orders suck, but they teach us a hell of a lot about the real world.

    “A Jedi craves not these things.” Hell yeah, Kevin.

    You had some kick ass friends, Rich.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Moving sucks, doesn’t it? I lived in Corpus Christi from 2nd to 6th grade, and again in 12th. Moved twice in between. Some of the friends mentioned above are on my FB page now, and since I’d only known them for a few years I wondered if they would even remember. Then Gigi posted that 2nd grade pic and everyone came out of the woodwork to comment on it. For years I thought my past was just implanted stories that I’d never lived. Ha.

      Kevin is also the friend who introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. There were plenty of scantily clad women in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook. That sly dog.

      • Slade Ham says:

        Were those D&D girls not incredibly well drawn? I never played myself, but god, do I remember the guides. We are such nerds.

        On a side note, I haven’t read all the comments, but if it hasn’t been mentioned, this post totally reminded me of this video.


        • Richard Cox says:

          I saw that once and I almost shit myself. So freaking funny, and then he gets up and nails it!

          As shy as I was I don’t think I was ever that nervous.

        • Gloria says:

          Oh my god. Poor baby. 🙁

        • Tawni says:

          It bothers me that nobody walks over with him the second time to make sure he’s not going to faint again. And who’s the jackass trying to get a better picture of the poor kid while he’s passing out? Thanks for helping, everybody. Remind me to skip the “trust fall” team-building exercise with this crowd.

  9. Greg Olear says:

    Terrific piece, Richard. I especially like how you opened it.

    The only athletic thing I was ever any good at was throwing a football, because that’s what we did at recess all through elementary school. The good athletes would say, “Let’s play pros against scrubs,” and I would be the scrub QB — there were only two, and I was one of them. I still think I could have played varsity (our HS team was small and unimpressive) if my mom had let me play — but then, I might have gotten hurt, so it’s just as well. (Jeffro, can you run crossing routes ten yard out? You do that, Richard goes long, Team TNB will be unstoppable.)

    Love the photo, too…you and Gigi are quite the couple.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Greg. I’ve obviously had this story in my head for a long time, and a conversation I had with someone yesterday jogged my memory of Kevin, and that opening line popped out of my head while I was lifting weights. I wrote the entire thing in my study/workout room in between sets. No joke. Funny how one inspired line can be the catalyst for an entire piece.

      I think we’d make a killer QB/WR tandem. You know, Aikman/Irvin. Montana/Rice. Romo/Austin. Staubach/Pearson…um, I’m getting distracted here. Meredith/Alworth?

      The thing about that photo is I was totally embarrassed to be so short that the teacher stuck me in the bottom row. But now I see my true genius. Rubbing elbows with Gigi so that four years later I could flirt with her in class but not ask her to be my girlfriend. Man, I was smooth.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Brady/Moss. Warner/Bruce. Manning/Harrison (Gloria Harrison)

        Nah, you and Gigi look like you two ARE the picture, and the others are just your entourage, miniature hangers-on.

        It’s funny how and when ideas hit you, huh?

        • James D. Irwin says:

          A few years ago when my brother and I got into NFL we spent pretty much all summer trying to work out how to throw a football properly.

          It wasn’t until we went back to New York the next year and saw three simple diagrams on a foam practice ball that we got it… and I have to say, throwing a football is one of the three sports activities I can do consistently and accurately. Unfortunately I just can’t throw very far…

          It always sucked at school. I’m surprisingly good at soccer and cricket, but I never really got to play because I was smaller than the other kids…

        • Richard Cox says:

          James, can you point me to that diagram? I can throw reasonably well but I’d like to improve in case we decide to run a WR reverse pass.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          it was on a box in a kids sports section in a store in New York City… I can’t remember the name ot location… just that there were a ton of Jets Favre jerseys on display which was impressive, because he’donly just become a Jet…

  10. Wonderful post, Richard. Yeah, I always loved spelling bees as a kid. Still do. Spellbound is one of my favorite movies. The spelling bee movie, that is. I also dig the Hitchcock one, too.

  11. Zara Potts says:

    You craizy kid, you!
    I too have the same story as Tawni, when I pronounced ‘epitome’ as epi -tome live on air in a report I was doing. I was mortified, but more so because I KNEW it how it was pronounced, but for some unknown reason it just came out of my mouth wrong.
    I love your photo – it’s a suave move you’re pulling with that one hand in your pocket – but Gigi looks like trouble. I think you saved yourself some heartbreak there…!

    • Richard Cox says:

      The thing with being on air is all your mistakes are broadcast and recorded for everyone to see. We all screw up now and then, but when you are paid to talk, you invariably are going to flub every now and then because of the sheer numbers. And then everyone gets to laugh and put you on YouTube, and all you want to say is, “Let’s see you get up here and do this job every day, motherfuckers!”

      I moved away after the sixth grade and moved back in the 12th, and by then only knew of Gigi peripherally. But from what I understand she was trouble. And she’s likely going to find this post eventually. Now we’ll see if she reads all the comments. Hahaha.

  12. Gloria says:

    “It didn’t matter what subject it was, the two of us always finished projects first and tests first and read the assigned chapter first and then sat around wondering what was taking everyone else so long.” Oh my, how I relate to this. Only I didn’t have a cohort to be in cahoots with. But, still, I was there.

    I misspelled kerchief in the sixth grade spelling bee. I knew how to spell it, too. But I choked. I can’t explain it. I knew that it started with K but that troublesome cunt known as self-doubt hijacked my brain and convinced me that I should say the letter C instead. It was like I had no control over the situation. I was thinking k-e-r-c-h-i-e-f, but then I said, “c…” and before I even got another letter out, they honked that stupid foghorn thing and I was out.

    I think we should turn the next TNB event into a combination Spelling Bee and Drinkathon. That would rock.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Doesn’t it just suck when you can SEE the word in your head and it STILL comes out wrong? Or when all you have to do is say, hey, use that in a sentence, and you’ll immediately know it?

      “They honked that stupid foghorn thing and I was out,” is a funny line.

      I’m all for a drunken Spelling Bee. But we should probably stick to first round words after the third round of drinks.

      • Gloria says:

        Yes. Good idea. I’m all for the inverse equation. We’ll start out strong! We’ll all be spelling annihilate and onomatopoeia from the gate. Each time we’re misspell, we have to drink. Each time we drink, the words get easier.

        Love it.

  13. Judy Prince says:

    Can you spell “Gravatar King”, Richard? I love that you wrote about your experience in the 6th grade; your shyness (Gigi—next to you in the photo!), competitiveness, kid’ly realistic appraisal of you and your Mom, brief arrogance, then crushed prospects. All this told in your kid voice made the events goofy as well as sweetly touching. You led me to remember sixth-grade Judy in all her glory; thanks!

  14. Gloria says:

    I’m not going to try to nest this comment in a logical place up above, so I’ll just start a new comment here:


    And I’ve read tons of proper literature that hipsters, intellectuals, snobs, and professors world over would nod their head knowingly and approvingly in favor of – but still, still, Stephen King is one of my favorites. And I will defend this to the death. I do have a lightsaber now…

    I wasn’t allowed to read any adult literature that might dare mention sex, so I would bring home tons of Anne of Green Gables books and Rebbecca of Sunnybrook Farm books and hide Stephen King books in the mix and read them when no one was looking. So, you can say that Stephen King was my gateway author – reading him lead me into sundry other deviant authors who talked about sex and drugs openly. I’ll go so far as to say that I would never have read Listi, which means I would never have found this site, had it not been for Stephen King.

    Stephen King, man…I’m telling you…

    • Richard Cox says:

      There’s something about that man. His stories have real people in them, energy and drive and far more complexity than he’s given credit for in the literati circles. I mean everyone here knows I love Franzen, and I’m fairly sure King doesn’t care for The Corrections one bit, and yet I can see a lot of similarities in the way they write. I’m sure people will say I’m crazy, because to look at their novels is to see disparate themes and plots and what have you. But I feel the same way reading Franzen as I do when I read a fantastic turn of phrase from King, and the frighteningly real domestic battles, inner turmoil, etc. So great. That King writes/wrote about werewolves and vampires and monsters has nothing to do with his talent. What I love is the real world where his characters live, especially in the earliest work. I will defend him to the end.

      • Cheryl says:

        Stephen King can spin a yarn and he knows how to draw a reader in. I never would have put King and Franzen together, but now that you mention it…

        They both have a way of writing to not just what their characters are experiencing on the outside, but the cost and consequences of those experiences to the core of the characters inner lives, their being. You can’t help but empathize with these characters, whether they are trapped in their car by a rabid St. Bernard, or trapped at the kitchen table until they eat their liver and onions. (BTW, that whole passage in The Corrections is one of my favorite passages in a novel.)

        And King can make anything scary. To this day, if I have to walk past a topiary at night, I walk faster.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Yes! That dinner bit is easily one of my all time favorite scenes. I quoted here a while back and I was roundly dismissed, but every time I feel like I’m stuck in the mud when it comes to my own writing, I pull out that book and that scene in particular and it’s like charging my batteries. The other scene in that novel is when Gary gets hammered and burns the mixed grill and then goes outside to trim the hedges and bludgeons his hand. Be still, my heart.

          You mention Cujo, and another scene I like to use for instructive purposes is when Vic comes home to confront Donna about her having cheated on him. Great stuff.

          Thank you for not telling me I’m crazy regarding King and Franzen. Ha.

        • Cheryl says:

          Oh, the Gary scene is great too! Yeah, that just killed me. I think I need to re-read that book now. The liver and onions scene stuck with me, for one because I had lived it. But also because of its placement in the book, and because it was the transition point between Chip being my least favorite character to becoming my favorite character. I don’t mean to hijack the comments away from your beautiful piece and toward The Corrections; I just haven’t talked to that many people who have read the book and I really really love it.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I have also lived that scene. In a quite literal sense. The sucking sound the liver made and the unspeakable lower sodden crust are images I will never, ever forget. The hoarding of the bacon, eating it too quickly and being left with the nasty liver and the rutabaga, Gary’s inexplicable love for horrifying vegetables…I think if you lived this scene you get it more. How he grew so bored he would make mental maps of the underside of the table, finding his own petrified gum stuck there…I could go on but I’m afraid I would get kicked off the site.

    • Tawni says:

      I love Stephen King too. Book snobs gross me out in the same way that music and film snobs do. We all like what we like. Personal taste doesn’t necessarily reflect on personal intellect, because art isn’t about intellect, it’s about emotion. At least for me it is. The entire concept of making any form of art intellectual, proper or hip bewilders me. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so unsuccessful at it? Haha.

      And I will read anything and everything I can get my grubby little paws on, without shame. I am a proud book slut.

      • Cheryl says:

        Tawni, I know what you mean. I am a coffee snob and a beer snob; but never a book snob or a movie snob. Okay, I am a little bit of a book snob, but not much.

        When Jonathan Franzen rejected Oprah’s book club, I was really turned off. I hadn’t read the book then; and after that brouhaha, I didn’t read the book for a long time, because the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I sort of get what JF was saying there, but if art isn’t for the masses, who is it for? Wouldn’t you want as many people to read your book as possible? It smacked of snobbery of the worst kind, and I really hate that. And it was very disrespectful of other writers, I thought, saying, my work is more important than yours, and I don’t want my work associated with yours. They all worked hard on their books too.

        I finally simmered down enough to read the book, and it has become one of my all-time favorite novels (see above). I still don’t agree with his choice and reasoning there, though.

        • Richard Cox says:

          We had a long discussion about The Corrections in this post if you care to have a look. It was curious because I was defending him in a forum where I thought he would require no defense. Since you enjoy the book so much you might find the discussion interesting.

          If you don’t have time for that I would like to point out one thing about the Oprah snub. During our conversation I went to find the quote(s) that caused her to cancel his appearance. This is the one widely cited:

          “So much of reading is sustained in this country, I think, by the fact that women read while men are off golfing or watching football on TV or playing with their flight simulator or whatever. I worry — I’m sorry that it’s, uh — I had some hope of actually reaching a male audience and I’ve heard more than one reader in signing lines now at bookstores say ‘If I hadn’t heard you, I would have been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick. I figure those books are for women. I would never touch it.’ Those are male readers speaking. I see this as my book, my creation.”

          I take that to mean almost the opposite of how the legend of it has been portrayed. He was looking for a wider audience, both genders, and he feared Oprah’s endorsement would turn off male readers. I know it’s still a bit condescending to assume only women read Oprah books–women do comprise a majority of readers in this country–but I can at least understand his sentiment. I felt the same way you did about him until I read the actual quote. Now I think it was quite overblown in the media, as things tend to be.

        • Tawni says:

          That’s really interesting, Richard. The actual quote does make me less annoyed with him, because I felt the same way as Cheryl when I first heard about that.

          Because of my music world immersion, it reminded me of when bands are afraid to “sell out.” This usually involves the band turning down a chance to make a good living doing something they love in order to keep their street cred and coolness points. I don’t understand why fans would ever want a band to do this, or would ever mock a band for “selling out.” If you really like the creative output of someone, shouldn’t you want them to be successful so they can focus on creating more things you can enjoy?

          Even though he was trying to keep his male readers, I still think he’s kind of silly for turning down success in any form. If his book is good enough, I would like to give male readers enough credit to eventually it. That might be naive of me, though?

        • Richard Cox says:

          I do think Franzen might be the kind of guy who values literary cred over sheer sales, but that’s only a guess. Maybe he never wanted to be an Oprah pick, I don’t know. But he didn’t exactly turn down the offer, did he? Maybe he was hesitant about it, but he allowed the Oprah stickers on the books. He had agreed to appear on her show. So he was willing to “sell out” in that sense. Then he hears from male readers who claim they typically don’t buy Oprah books because they’re perceived to be for women. So I suppose Franzen had always wanted his book to sell well, he just wanted it to appeal to a more balanced audience. And I think he might have been somewhat correct about his book finding far more female readers because of the Oprah recommendation. In the end, if he DID want to sell out, he did it perfectly from a marketing perspective by accidentally starting this mini war between him and Oprah. He sold millions more copies than he otherwise would have.

          In fact I learned of the novel because of the controversy. So at least he picked up one new reader (who became his biggest fan). Funny how the world works, no?

  15. Cheryl says:

    This is such a great post! I was having flashbacks. As Tawni said above, I have a very similar memory. I might have been the girl version of you at that age. Even your class picture gave me vertigo – I swear, I have that same class picture, only mine’s from 4th grade.

    4th grade was my last spelling bee year. I don’t remember what word I missed, I only remember that it was a word I really did know and feeling the shame; the head hung low for the slow walk off the stage, trying to ignore the sting in my eyes. I coulda been a contender!

    After that, we moved from Houston to Central Illinois. Either there were no spelling bees in my tiny school or I declined to participate due my growing sense of “otherness” for being a book-smart nerd in a town where that sort of thing was just not tolerated. N-E-R-D. It was bad enough I had glasses and was exceedingly awkward, but I actually liked to read stuff. Like for fun.

    “‘A Jedi craves not these things.'” Heh.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, Cheryl. I know how it is to move away like that. It sucks.

      We should arrange an adult spelling bee like what Gloria mentioned earlier and have it a bar and act all pretentious like it’s a poetry reading. We could spell in really deep voices and smoke pipes. Show them, we will.

  16. Dana says:

    What a fun read Richard, and the picture is priceless. Gigi’s got that undeniable confidence on display with that wide cocky stance. I think the cute grin can be attributed to standing next to the cutest boy in class.

    I’ve always been a pretty terrific speller too. And oh the pride of winning the spelling bee. Of course how many of you can boast that you were also captain of the safety patrol? 😉

    Tawni and Zara – epitome = ugh!! That word sucks ass. As do facetious, unrequited and many many other words and names (Gaiman) that I’d only read and never heard. I still remember eating dinner with my parents in 6th grade and telling them about the latest book I was reading. I mentioned an unre QUIT ed love. I know they didn’t mean to laugh, but it remains a moment seared in my memories, cheeks still flushed.

  17. Dana says:

    P.S. I love Stephen King too. I can and do re-read The Stand every 5 years or so and am I really big fan of his shorter works — ooh and The Talisman. And Pet Sematary and Needful Things…

    • Cheryl says:

      The Talisman is my favorite book of King’s. I read that book so many times. Every time I see a cop car, a little voice in my head says, “It’s a coppiceman, Jack!”

    • Gloria says:

      His shorter works are gold – and actually the only ones that have any street cred – and they translate into fantastic movies: The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me…

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, Dana. Interesting how you can see the eventual personality of someone so early in life. She was only more confident as she grew older, from what I remember.

      And yes, The Talisman was soooo good. It’s too bad Peter Straub doesn’t get more credit for what he wrote, but that book sure seems like vintage King to me…especially because its firmly rooted in his fictional universe. ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand, Firestarter, Different Seasons, Misery, It…where do you stop?

  18. Jude says:

    I so wish we had spelling bees when I was a kid. I loved spelling and I reckon I would have creamed it! Our spelling bees consisted of standing in front of the class and spelling 100 words given to us by the teacher. My score was a 100% every time! And they were ‘baby’ words…

    How could you not love a girl called Gigi who danced on the stage in the cafeteria to Billy Joel! Her confidence shines like a star in your photo… And then there’s you standing coyly next to her, hand in pocket, adopting a laissez-faire attitude. What a good-looking kid you were!

    Great story – but my heart truly faltered when I saw the word D-A-I-Z-E. Bet your mom didn’t smile much after that…

    • Richard Cox says:

      I only just realized when I saw your Gravatar that I was logged in while replying to these comments and now I have the non-lightsaber one up there. Unfortunate.

      Gigi danced to “Still Rock and Roll to Me,” and though it was a long time ago and I only know her today through the occasional Facebook comment, almost every time I hear those opening guitar licks I think of that scene in the cafeteria. Funny how our young brains imprint certain memories with such gravity.

      Oh boy, the “daize” moment was truly horrifying. But my mom was more understanding than I imagined she would be.

      Thanks for your kind words.

  19. Lorna says:

    Oh, how heartbreaking! I was rooting for you all the way Rich!

    I was so shy in school. Really, I don’t think I overcame my shyness until my mid thirties or so. I have become even more un-shy whilst I hide here behind the computer screen.

  20. angela says:

    oh the humanity.

    i played piano as a kid and usually handled the recitals fine (we had to memorize our pieces). one year my teacher put me in a competition. i went up to the piano, bowed, and saw my mom beaming and giving me the thumbs up, which FREAKED me out because she was usually very negative. and so of course i completely blanked halfway through my piece, froze with hands poised above the keys for what felt like an hour, started over, blanked and froze at the same exact place, till i finally just skipped over a bunch of stuff and stumbled through the end.

    it was so incredibly painful and embarrassing, i never did another piano competition again. thanks for bringing back the memory for me. 😉

    • Richard Cox says:

      Oh, Lord. That is terrible! You should scroll up and find Slade’s YouTube link about the kid who froze onstage at the Spelling Bee. Your story totally reminds me of that.

      You’re welcome. Ha!

  21. Freakin’ daze. That sucks. But at least you once shot 15 three-pointers. That’s awesome! Made for a great story today, though I’m sure at the time it was hell. Look how accomplished you are now? I wonder if the other guys are as accomplished as you.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Of the guys I mentioned above, all are fairly well accomplished. Funny to look back at that photo and imagine what we’ve gone on to do (or not do).

      The 51 points was sweet. I wish I had that shot back. Thanks, man.

  22. Adorable story! I would have been in love with you in sixth grade!

  23. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Richard!
    We left Miami Beach at 3:30 AM and have driven until now. I don’t have the strength to read the comments right now, but I have to tell you that as I read this I could hear the music from “Jaws.” I knew it was coming, but I couldn’t turn away. This was horrible, horrible horrible.
    On the up side, you are, without a doubt, the prettiest person in your entire class, including the girls.
    That has to count for something!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Irene, you’re very kind. I didn’t feel all that handsome. That was my first year in Corpus Christi and I was uncomfortable and still trying to make friends. The look on my face is the discomfort that comes with being forced to wear a Toughskins pantsuit for picture day.

      If you look carefully you’ll notice Butch is wearing a Star Wars T-shirt with Jawas on it. You may not know this but Jawas are short, rodent-like natives of Tatooine, the planet on which your Gravatar photo was taken. How’s that for the SSE?

      • Irene Zion says:

        I didn’t know there were toughskins pantsuits.
        I think you were quite dashing in that suit!
        Just so you know, smartypants, I have been to every starwars movie and seen every star trek and all the oh heck, now I’ve forgotten the name of the great Sci Fi series because i haven’t slept in so long.
        I’ll tell you tomorrow.
        Just cause I can’t make a decent gravitar doesn’t mean I don’t understand them!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Ha. No slight intended. However you must admit that is quite a bit of coincidence for my friend to be wearing a shirt in admiration of your home planet.

          By great Sci Fi series do you by chance mean Battlestar Galactica?

        • Irene Zion says:


          Yes, Gattlestar Galactica! I’m also tivoing Caprica to watch when I do the treadmill. I adore Sci Fi. I was awake for 23 hours yesterday, 15 hours of which was straight driving, well, riding, since Victor drove. My dementia gets worse with lack of sleep.

          Isn’t it amazing how something that happened to you when you were little can be remembered with such detail that you can virtually see it as a movie? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could remember the good things like this and just have these memories that are painful just erased from our memory banks? It’s just another example of how life isn’t fair. You should have won that. They should have told you which “daze/days” they wanted. It was just a mean trick.

          I can’t see that on his T shirt. I think you just remember it. (But my eyes are going too.)

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Wow, that really IS a bit of SSE…

          As is the ‘G’ that should have been a ‘B’… Encylopaedia Brown, where are you now?

        • Richard Cox says:

          Ha, Simon. I only now just caught what you meant by the B and G comment. I guess I would make for a horrible copy editor because not only do I not catch my own typos, but I apparently can’t see anyone else’s either.

          That’s like a double SSE in the same comment thread.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I did that!
          Apparently I was still tired.
          I meant Battlestar Ballactica.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Just so you know,
          My gravatar is randomly switching from one picture to another of its own accord.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Mattlestar Mallactica!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Tattlestar Tallactica!

        • Irene Zion says:

          Rattlestar Rallactica

        • Irene Zion says:

          Capricious Bacchusstar

  24. patti says:

    i was the spelling bee champ in my 6th grade class, and all i received was a dictionary with my name emblazed in gold on the bottom of the front cover. my parents still have that dictionary at their condo in florida, they pull it out during those doubtful moments in scrabble, you know, to eliminate bickering.

    ess. you made me google “dirigisme”.

  25. Marni Grossman says:

    Oh G-d, you were so absolutely adorable! And you had a friend named Butch! It’s like you grew up in a YA novel!

    I love Keith’s line (from “Star Wars,” I assume) “A Jedi craves not these things.” I think he may have won. If only because he didn’t give a shit. If only we’d all had the courage to be ourselves. I certainly didn’t.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I was madly in love with a boy named “Butch” in 7th grade. He had red hair. I only saw him at dancing school because we went to brother and sister schools which were not close to each other and we didn’t live in the same parts of Brooklyn.

      (What’s a YA novel? I’m guessing Young Adult?)

    • Richard Cox says:

      Yeah, Marni, he didn’t really care if he won. Which was a good lesson but also maddening.

  26. Simon Smithson says:

    We don’t have spelling bees here, but some friends of mine and I cracked out four-square a few years back. That’s a surprising amount of fun – we played for hours on a tiled board marked out with flour.

    Oh, man, I completely remember the way girls used to stand with that one-side-hip thing. I had no clue what I was getting myself in for.

    • Richard Cox says:

      We could have a drunk spelling bee as Gloria mentioned, in the evening, and in the afternoon hold an epic foursquare tournament.

      In high school Gigi was especially known for “the stance,” as I’ve heard it called. Funny that she already had it in the second grade.

      • Gloria says:

        Now that I know Quinby lives here in Portland, I’m one step closer to hosting a local literary event. I think a drunken spelling bee should be on the list.

  27. What a wonderful piece– I especially loved the opening. It reminded me of my brother who was always trying to gain weight as a kid– he was gangly with limbs that were too big for his trunk and a body that just wouldn’t cooperate where sports where concerned. He craved that football limelight– but he was too small to play– so instead he memorized the statistics of every player on every team. I recall family dinners where he and my father went back and forth — my father trying to stump him — and my brother whooping in triumph every single time. In the moment I remember hating these stupid games they played until I realized, as an adult, that my father was giving my brother his own TD moment without ever leaving his seat…

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Robin. And your father found a great way to keep someone involved who isn’t as athletic or big enough or whatever. I created a fantasy role playing game where I could stage entire NFL football games based on rolls of the dice. But I also had the chance to play, though in football I wasn’t big enough to be effective until I was an adult. I wish someone had convinced me to lift weights as a kid because I was the same size at 25 that I was at 15, and only when I began lifting did I “fill out.” It makes me wonder if “fill out” isn’t so much a boy becoming a man as a boy putting on the first few pounds of his long slide toward obesity.

  28. Mandy says:

    “So it was understood by everyone in our class that I would win the school Spelling Bee.”

    As I read those words, a feeling of dread came over me, and built and built until your beautiful, sad crescendo. Painful to read. But so human.

    PS: “A Jedi craves not these things” = Pure awesomeness.

  29. jmblaine says:

    Whenever I read a story
    I have so many different things to comment
    on I have to pick just one
    or I’ll go
    & here I kept thinking
    about the book I read
    the other day about
    how irony is worse than cancer
    in the USA these days
    but that once upon a time
    in America a girl could dance
    to Billy Joel
    without an ounce of
    sarcasm in her heart.

    This will be our demise.
    That and spell check.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I didn’t really think about that but you’re right. We were young but there was no sense of irony or superficiality about it. As I said in another comment, even now the song sticks with me because of that moment. Perhaps if it weren’t that I would think of that song in some other way, or not at all.

      • Richard Cox says:

        JMB, you may not see this, but I just wanted to tell you that I listened to “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” today, and I thought of you, because you said,

        “Once upon a time
        in America a girl could dance
        to Billy Joel
        without an ounce of
        sarcasm in her heart”

        and when Billy sings the line

        “Nowadays you can’t be too sentimental”

        I realized your comment was truer than I first realized. His whole song is basically what you wrote in those five lines.

        As sung my Mr. Joel himself.

  30. Jeannie says:

    There were four girls In Elementary School I grew up with. I have to say that I owe my outgoing personality to them. For six years, miraculously we were all in the same classes. Those silent nods of encouragement are awesome when you’re that age. Hell silent nods of encouragement are awesome at any age!

    • Richard Cox says:

      That’s a good story. I wish I had remained with these friends through high school. Instead, our family moved away after this sixth grade year. You have to start all over with the pecking order when you move to a new town. And I totally missed my friends.

  31. Jeannie says:

    Man that is hard. I know we all split up after Jr. High. But by then my head was big enough to find friends easily. Plus it helped having an older brother at the same high school, his friends were my friends.

    I wonder if it’s harder for men to make friends. For us, usually, all we need to do is smile and flick our hair, and show overall niceness to have superficial friendships.

    • Richard Cox says:

      At a certain age it’s difficult for guys because everything is a challenge to our budding manhood. When I left Corpus that year I moved to Midland, Texas, which at that time was the richest city in the country because of a domestic oil boom. So everyone was stuck up because they thought they were rich. The first friends I met were at the end of a street, and when I went over to say hi to them we got into a fight. I lost the fight but picked up some friends in the process. Junior high kids are idiots.

  32. D.R. Haney says:

    I’m sure I’m not the first to remark on your cultivated pose at seven, Richrob, with your hand so suavely in pocket.

    I was an excellent speller as a kid, but I never made it as far as the school spelling bee. It’s only just coming back to me now, in fact, that we had school spelling bees.

    However, along with my general brain decay, my spelling skills have sadly deteriorated. In fact, I just misspelled “deteriorated,” as a red line under the word informed me. Begone, red line!

    • Richard Cox says:

      I hate that stupid red line. As I remarked to Slade above, it’s like hearing the damned bell in my head every time I see it. Only in this case it’s not so much misspelling as it the typos I make far too frequently.

      What has significantly deteriorated for me is handwriting. All this typing has left me with horrific, unpracticed penmanship.

      So where can I procure the full albums of some of my favorite tracks on the CD you made me? Not all of them are on iTunes, alas.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I’ll write to you privately about it.

        Also, handwriting deteriorates for everyone as they get older, or so I read in a book having to do with graphology. I don’t think it’s a matter of typing so much as growing impatience, or maybe because the expectation of good penmanship disappears after we’re done with school.

  33. Erika Rae says:

    My word was pond. I spelled it “pawned”. Crushing defeat.

    Love the way you told this. And the clown feet.

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