Avuncular, Heterozygote, Hallucinogen, Muumuu…


Monday night Mark DeCelles and I participated in the DC Adult Spelling Bee. The following is an attempt at a dramatic recap. It details how I briefly play a role as the Spelling Bee villain and how Mark becomes the crowd's darling and the competition's undisputed spelling champion.

I'm sending this because I think you might like to read it and I want to both praise and embarrass Mark DeCelles.

Thanks to Laura Dugger for taking a lot of the photos below.

If there are any important omissions or glaring inaccuracies, hopefully DeCelles, LeVota or Laura can correct it.

I arrive early to the Warehouse Theater. Mark DeCelles has already beat me by fifteen minutes. We chew the fat in the cafe as Laura Dugger and Mark LeVota walk in a couple of minutes later. It's a good thing we arrived early: the organizers put out the sign-in sheet at 7:30 PM and five minutes later all of the 18 spots to compete were assigned.

I take position 12. Mark DeCelles take position 14. I suggest LeVota and Dugger could sign up to be our patsies and throw the first round to exclude other better spellers, but they say they just wanted to watch.

By 8:30 PM, there's quite a crowd gathered as we all trickle into the theater proper. Mark and I and other spellers take seats up on the stage. There's a shaggy-haired keyboardist playing a suspenseful loop that sounds like it's coming from an 8-bit Nintendo.

A couple of minutes later the spelling judges, Nick and Juhi, sit down at their table on stage.

Nick and Juhi ask all the contestants to go back and sit down in the audience so they can be introduced. We all do so and a couple of minutes later I'm introduced as Contestant #13, "Unlucky Fool Joseph Price," even though I took the 12th spot on the form. I take my seat on the stage again and I see that my sticker says "UNLUCKY FOOL" under the #13. The judges introduce Mark as Contestant #14. Because we're organized by number now, I'm sat right next to him.

The contest begins. Some of the early contestants drop out on easy words and I'm getting nervous that the same thing will happen to me. In the middle of calling up contestant #10, Juhi announces that "we better hurry up because it looks like Joseph Price is getting nervous."

Eventually it is my turn and I go up to the microphone (if you look closely below you can make out the "UNLUCKY FOOL").

Juhi says, "A couple of you may be wondering why we're picking on Joseph Price." I interrupt her and say, "I had said in my e-mail that I had a good time at the last spelling bee." Juhi says to everyone, "This boy sends us an e-mail last week saying that it was unprofessional that we flipped through the Scripps spelling book looking for words instead of picking them out beforehand." Nick adds, "and he implied that some people in the audience were grumbling that we did this so we could throw softballs." Juhi says, "so he's our bitch for the rest of the night." I ask if that means there going to give me tough words. Nick says he wants to keep me in the competition so he can torture me the rest of the night.

They ask me to spell "glaucoma." I get it right.

(On a side note, I gave the above shirt to Mark.)

Mark DeCelles is up next. The judges ask him to spell "heterozygote." He says the word, spells the letters out confidently and correctly, and repeats the word afterward. A couple of people in the audience clap. "Wow," Juhi says, "we should make it so that everyone has to do it like that.

Contestants 15-18 go up and when they're finished, the second round begins. A couple of more people drop and it's my turn.

There's some small talk with the judges I don't remember and they ask me to spell "glaucoma." I get it right.

Mark goes up next. The judges asks him to spell "hallucinogen." He spells the word in a similar execution to the first time and now even more people clap.

The third round begins. There's only 8 of us left.

All but one of the contestants preceding me drop and it's my turn. I go up to the microphone. Someone in the audience yells, "how do you spell choke?!" and a couple of people laugh. I ask the judges if it's the end of the line for me and Nick says, "maybe, your word is muumuu."

I ask for the word origin. Nick says that it's Hawaiian. I think of the Simpsons episode where Homer buys a muumuu but it doesn't help me recall the spelling. I give it a shot:

"m-o-u-m-o-u," I spell.

"n-o-n-o," Nick says.

I'm out. Mark DeCelles goes up to the microphone. He's looking very confident and the audience is loving it.

Someone in the back of the audience starts singing Queen's "We are the Champions." He's shushed, but someone else starts shouting "Mark, Mark, Mark" and about half the audience joins in the chant.

The judges ask Mark to spell "avuncular" and Mark knocks it out. Mark pumps his fist in the air and the crowd is going nuts. It's obvious who the crowd favorite is.

Two contestants go after Mark and one of them drops. There are only three contestants left for the finals. The judges announce they're going to take a quick break so people can go to the bathroom and buy more drinks.

Mark and I come down from the stage and immediately people start coming up to Mark to tell him they're cheering for him. A couple of girls slip him their phone number. Mark is getting sexier by the minute.

The break ends and Mark takes the middle of the three seats on the stage. Two girls sit down at his left and his right–on par for the night.

The judges explain that in the finals each of the contestants will be asked to spell five words and the contestant who gets the most right wins.

The girl stage left goes up to the microphone and gets two words out of five right.

Mark goes up. The chant begins again. Mark gets his first three words correct. He's on a roll.

A girl, I'm guessing a friend of the first finalist, complains, "you're giving all the easy ones to the boy."

Someone in the first row shouts, "that's not a boy, that's a MAN up there!" The crowd explodes in applause.

After the crowd calms down, the judges tell Mark his fourth word is "paraphernalia." Someone in the audience shouts, "Mark can do that with one hand behind his back!" Someone else shouts, "no, with two hands behind his back!" Another shouts, "And a leg too!"

Mark says, "now you're just getting ridiculous." But he puts both of his hands behind his back and spells the word correctly.

The crowd erupts again.

The judges tell Mark his final word is "discalced." Mark asks them to repeat the word. Juhi does and asks if Mark would like a definition.

"That won't be necessary," Mark says. He spells the word and pumps his fist again when he's told he's right. He sits back down to applause and the third finalist goes up, but the crowd has already annointed a champion.

The third finalist gets two words right and engages in an anticlimactic spell-off with the first finalist over second place. I forget who wins.

The judges give out awards. Mark takes home a $15 Warehouse bar tab, a $10 gift certificate to The Diner, three CD's, and a music magazine written in Spanish. The other girls get their loot.

Juhi announces that the next spelling bee is in two weeks and she looks like she's about to say good night to everyone when she says, "you know, I think we all want to see Mark spell a few more words."

The crowd cheers and Mark takes the microphone again. He spells a word correctly that Nick gives him, and then Nick invites a member of the audience up to try and stump Mark. A guy volunteers and Mark spells his word right. Another girl comes up and asks Mark to spell what sounds like "umbridges." Mark makes an attempt, but the girl tells him he's wrong and the crowd gives a collective "Awww." I learn later that the girl mispronounced the word "umbrageous" and the Man can't be blamed.

The contest is over and all four of us try and make out way outside. It's slow going as other men stop by to congratulate Mark and women distract him long enough to slide their phone numbers into his breast pocket.

We finally get outside where Mark spends fifteen minutes in an exit interview with documentarians recording the spelling bee season.

Laura points out that the interviewers aren't the best as they're asking him leading questions:

Interviewer: Would you call yourself a nerd?
Mark: I suppose so.
Interviewer: Please answer in a full-sentence.
Mark: I guess I would call myself a nerd.

The interview finally wraps up and LeVota, Laura, DeCelles and I head to the Metro. I ask Mark if he's going to come down from Pennsylvania for the championship in June and he says, "I'll be here."

Fińe. Thanks for reading. All of the Spelling Bee photos can be found here:


One Response to “Avuncular, Heterozygote, Hallucinogen, Muumuu…”

  1. 1 Kris

    This is one of those entries I read again and again. An excellent job, Joe. Makes me all misty about Mark, too.

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