Drunks spell and undress at 331 Club

Drunks spell and undress at 331 Club

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After we drove through the death-inviting Saturday night streets, registered and paid and signed a waiver for I'm still not exactly sure what kind of personal risks -- orthographical hemorrhage? -- and listened closely to our host Taffi Vagilante's commandment that we shalt drink our allotted beer between each round, after we thirty-six hale spellers queued up in a long, snaking line, finally then a young man soon to be rechristened Hot Carl (I'll explain) stepped onto the 331's stage and up to its microphone. Born To Spell: the Grown-up Spelling Bee had begun.An informal survey showed that at least a half dozen competitors had won our elementary school bees in years of yore. Your humble City Pages correspondent was included in this number because of a real Rudy-esque, underdog story from the third grade. Still, I hadn't spelled publicly in a long time and, in line, was suffering from irrational anxiety and sweating in strange places.

The first round of seven, aka the softball round, axed only three competitors. One guy misspelled plummet. I moved on with soapbox.

We drank. And had in fact drunk before the first round, so this made beer number two.

The theme of the second round had Taffi Vagilante dubbing each of us with a nickname for the evening's remainder. Hence, Hot Carl, the definition of which, for the sake of public decency, I'm not going to elaborate upon here. On stage Taffi asked whether I had any nicknames and I refused to say anything about a rather unfortunate handle from my telemarketing days that made reference to a flap of anatomy I've long been without. So I ended up with a lame nickname that's not going to get mentioned.

I correctly spelled hookah.

Next came the dirty word round. Hot Carl ooh-ed and ahh-ed the audience, nailing ménage à trois with all the funny accents. The gal in front of me, White Stick, was asked to close her eyes and spell scrotum. The judges gave me axillary intercourse. I asked for a definition. You don't even want to think about hearing it used in a sentence.

After a 15-minute intermission, we entered the underpants round, which, yes, is what it sounds like. I stood on stage in boots, boxers, and a yellow tie (only) before realizing that this round was optional, an opportunity for the misspellers to get back in. The judges took pity and tossed me foolhardy.

The fifth round, also optional, allowed ex-competitors to get back in by spelling a word backwards in less that thirty seconds. I griped to White Stick that rounds four and five seemed maybe a bit too egalitarian and against the spirit of competition. She pointed out that we'd all drunk, like, a lot of beer by then and how would I like to get up there and try spelling even g-spot backwards? My answer was a pretty easy, "yeah, no thanks."

So then here comes my critical moment. It's round six, the lightning round, and I'm up on stage under the lights and have imbibed a serious quantity of Summit's Winter Ale. I get my word and time slows way down. Taffi stands a few feet to my right and back in her hornrimmed glasses, lips pursed in wait of a sarcastic comment. The three judges stare up at me. The audience watches. The word is lipiginous.

And let me go ahead and get the suspense over with and admit I misspelled it. But except what's the problem is that, as far as I can tell, lipiginous isn't a word. As soon as I got home I looked under every conceivable spelling in my very own personal (don't laugh) two-volume Oxford English Dictionary. No dice. Google's got nothing. Unless maybe I repeatedly misheard and the word was callipyginous, meaning to have well-shaped buttocks.

The winner, to add salt to my orthographical wound, got the pretty much straightforward matriculation. I cannot understate my intoxicated ire.

In the end, though, as the Bee's organizer Library Mary reminded me, we'd all journeyed through the blizzardy night to celebrate language. And celebrate, I can safely say, we did.

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