In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
Last call has changed since grad school.
The Boy won the spelling bee in his class, so he advanced to the school championships, which were on Friday night. Each class sent its champion, grades four through six, and each class champion battled it out for the town championship for that grade.
The bee was surprisingly well attended; the auditorium was more than half full at the beginning. The fourth graders went first, followed by the fifth graders and then the sixth graders. TB is in sixth grade, so we stayed for the whole thing.
If you haven’t been to a public spelling bee in a while -- or ever -- they’re more suspenseful than you might think. Watching someone struggle to spell a word can be compelling, especially when the long pauses start. The audience is told upfront not to do anything that might provide a clue while a student is spelling, so there’s no obvious way to release tension while the kid is wrestling with a word.
It crossed my mind during the bee that English is probably better suited to spelling bees than most other languages. Our spelling rules are so inconsistent -- I suspect it’s a result of a dual lineage of Latin and German -- that the only way to know many words is just to know them. One kid put an “x” in “eccentric,” as if he were spelling “excellent.” If you hadn’t seen the word before, that would be a perfectly plausible guess. The difference between “premier” and “premiere” is pretty subtle, at least by fifth grade standards. On the way to the bee, TB and I quizzed each other, and I realized that I’m so accustomed to the British spelling of “endeavour” that “endeavor” looks weird to me. Why that is, I have no idea.
Girls dominated the bee, per usual, but this year the boys put up a good fight. One boy showed up straight from baseball practice, still wearing his cleats. That’s the fourth grade version of a renaissance man. He lasted several rounds.
Several of TB’s friends were also in the bee from their own classes. One friend of his, in the fifth grade, stuck around to watch TB and see how he did. I couldn’t help but notice how the same faces pop up every year, and how many of TB’s friends were there. There’s no “honors” track yet, but the kids find each other.
The Girl sat in the audience with us, silently spelling the words with the kids when she wasn’t transfixed by her friend’s iphone. We asked her later if any of the words were difficult for her. She allowed that some of the sixth grade words were. She didn’t seem braggy about it; she was just stating a fact. I like her chances next year.
When it was over -- TB didn’t win, but he did well -- several families went out for ice cream. We took over a small local place and celebrated the various triumphs, even though nobody in our group actually won. The banter was happy, supportive, and unapologetically nerdy. References to Star Trek and Minecraft flew fast and furious, and nobody seemed to think twice about it. I don’t remember nerdiness being a bonding experience at that age, but something seems to have changed in the intervening decades, and for the better.
We actually closed the ice cream shop. The owners threw us out just as nicely as you can throw people out. That’s what “last call” looks like these days. It’s better. Even if it comes at 9:30...
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