Anyhow, this year's bee is coming up. Finals on Friday evening at 8:00; catch the details here.
I already wrote at length about the bee last year. (And aptly enough, I'm posting this 21 years to the day after I won Nationals. Not intentional, actually.) So indulge my solipsistic side. What made 1989 for me? (Aside from the obvious, of course.)
- The Capitol Hilton. No cooler hotel EVER. Well, at least until the bee moved in 1996 to the Grand Hyatt Washington. Wait...no. This one was still the coolest, if only for two things. The competition was held on the 2nd floor above ground, and not three claustrophobia-inducing floors below terra firm. Also...
- Trader Vic's, part 1. Probably where I nurtured my nascent tiki fetish, and definitely where I indulged my love of pina coladas. (Virgin at the time, folks, virgin! I was only 14! Geez...)
- Trader Vic's, part 2. Much to the consternation of my fellow spellers, I was not present at the post-banquet spellers-only party. The last thing I wanted to do was while away the evening doing nothing but sign autographs. I felt I'd earned the right to do whatever I pleased that night. So once the banquet was over, I turned to my pal and fellow speller Joel, and said, "Let's get outta here and go to Trader Vic's." Thus began one of the greatest evenings of my life, wherein Joel and I just talked about all things bee-related, and then some. Major bonding, the type that happens rarely in a lifetime, at best. And years later, we're still in touch. (The Trader Vic's didn't enjoy the same fate; when I returned in 1995, I was crushed to find it was gone.)
- Questionable songs, part 1. To be specific, Pink Floyd's "On The Turning Away." Meh, okay version from Momentary Lapse of Reason. But the version I had going through my head was from Delicate Sound of Thunder - exponentially better than the original. This one was with me ALL DAY - literally, from the second I woke up until I nailed that final "r." I even ran it through my head so that I spelled the last letter at the moment the final verse finished and the grand outro began. Video of me at that time shows me deep in thought. Well, kinda. I felt confident I had the bee in the bag, but I was just playing the song in my head, waiting for it to get where it needed to, and I knew the moment couldn't be rushed. Milking it, milking it...
- (Really) Questionable songs, part 2. I can't believe I actually had "Wind Beneath My Wings" running through my head nonstop from shortly after I won for a few days afterward. Actually brought tears to my eyes once or twice. TOTALLY ashamed to admit this.
- (Really, REALLY) Questionable songs, part 3. Of all the cracktastic CDs I could have gotten with my prize money, I chose those two toe-tapping classics: the Batman soundtrack by Prince and American Dream by CSNY. (Sold within a year after purchase, folks.) And for some reason, "Got It Made" ended up being my expression of elation in the weeks following June 1st. Kind of a light sound, but a bummer of a song. Only lyric that really applied: "Glad that you got it made...you are the only one I've ever seen do what you done."
- Superstitions. Like the idea that if I saw my reflection at any time while I was onstage, the next word would have been my last. And in such a mirrored, chandeliered place like the Presidential Ballroom, this could have been WAY easy. But I never saw my reflection anywhere on the second day.
- #218. Out of 222 spellers. MAJOR stroke of good luck. Why? Back then, there was no "tied for 15th place" with 33 other spellers who got out in the same round as you. If you were the first speller to go down, you got 48th place. If you were the last, you got 15th. (The powers that be have since corrected this policy.) Not to mention that if you were at the end, psychologically, you had a good feel for how the round was going. If you were the first speller in a round, getting that first word sometimes felt like being plunged into ice cold water.
- Getting lei'd. Huge banquet the night after the bee. The speller from Hawaii somehow found me a lei and presented it to me that night. Cooler than cool. It looked great, smelled wonderful...how could I put it aside? I happily wore it all night.
- River Phoenix. No less an authority than the Washington Post branded me a River Phoenix look-alike. And the Post is renowned for writing among the best bee articles anywhere. If the Post says it, it must be so.
- The Chattanooga Times. For writing a feature article about "darkly handsome Ojas Tejani," the Chattanooga rep and the 2nd place finisher, while totally branding me the bad guy. Seriously, it was cool. I knew the press rep for the Times at the time...she was sassy and fun, so it was a great inside joke. I'm sure Tennesseeans appreciated it, too.
- Spoliator. Duh.