Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'll order oysters and cancel the ersters ...

I haven’t blogged for a while now since the wyf moved back to Baltimore. Not that I’m blaming her. I’m not blaming her. But the classes I’m teaching this semester have kept me busy, and the wyf and I have had some excitement to deal with, which excitement is known to the general public as Ikea.

Ikea. I-K-E-A. That is correct.

And with that transition we come to The Baltimore Bee, a spelling adventure for kids grades 3-to-8, cosponsored by my employer, Towson University, along with a tutoring program called Educate Online and the charitable foundation set up by a player with the Baltimore Ravens named Daniel Wilcox.

I volunteered to be a judge, not knowing what that would mean. I figured I’d listen to words spelled and say “yes, correct,” or “no, incorrect.” Turns out I was going to pronounce words. As the wyf will tell you, I don’t always pronounce words correctly. In childhood I read the word “invalid” and thought it was pronounced “in VAL id” as in “not valid.” My tongue has been tied ever since. So imagine my terror when asked to pronounce words for a spelling bee. I know how these things go. Volunteers do the work, irate parents do the complaining. I prepared for the worst.

And indeed, I apparently screwed up. Mispronounced chutney. Mine was not quite Chooo-tney but not ch-uh-tney either. Something in-between. The innocent left to spell the word took the two Os option. A player with the Baltimore Ravens rang a bell that meant “wrong” and said, “That spelling is incorrect.”

A teacher challenged my mistake during our lunch break, but too late for the kid. The rules say mispronunciations must be challenged before the next round begins.

Every time I woke up the night following the Bee, I thought of chutney. The dog kicks its legs, I awake, and I think: chutney. The wyf tells me I snore, I think: chutney. Some kids stop their car at 2:30 a.m. on the street outside so a girl can get out of the backseat and puke on the pavement, I think chutney.

Imagine how this would go over in Stalin’s Russia. You mispronounce chutney at the Spelling Bee and Little Josef misses the word and suddenly you, Comrade Pronouncer, are off to the Gulag. In Baltimore, the kid might be the son of an Avon Barksdale type from “The Wire” fame. The next day some guys in black SUVs park in front of the house. Some nice pictures of you end up in a file folder at the homicide division of Baltimore's finest.

More likely, I just created a reason for the kid to never like Towson University. He’ll grow up to attend Frostburg State because Towson is careless enough to hire English professors who can’t pronounce chutney.

This sort of thing creates a powerful memory in a boy. My pinewood racer was leading the Cub Scout derby until it hit a seam in the track and bounced off course. No car racing in that lane won the pinewood derby that night at my elementary school in Glastonbury, Connecticut. No, the scout leaders told me, we couldn’t redo the race. No, we couldn’t take into account the bad lane. Go, little Cub Scout, and follow the law of the pack.

Which law says: sometimes you get the guy who mispronounces chutney.

And he apologizes.