Alopecoid: fox-like creature. Often causes dizzy spells and fainting when spelled.
“My name is Sherwin,” begins the transvestite with flirtatious show(man/woman)ship, “and welcome to the Honeysuckle Strip Spelling Bee. The rules are simple. If the contestant misspells a word, she is obliged to remove 1/3 or her clothing. On her third strike, she will be expected to strip nude, or as near to nudity as she is comfortable doing. Only the official photographer, which just so happens to be me, can take photos. So if you see someone sneaking photos, please alert one of our towering members of security. Once the offending individual has been ejected and sufficiently mutilated, we will award you with a free beer.” She gestures to the nervous group in the front row and leads a round of applause for the contestants. “Oh, and one more thing: there is a strict No Booing policy. If you hear anybody booing, snitch on them. They will be dragged on stage and forced to remove ALL OF THEIR CLOTHING.”
A fuzzy blonde beard, a cowboy hat and a small paunch make up the first contestant. The perturbing “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” jingle reverberates through the room. Dylan leans over to me and whispers cynically: “it looks like we are going to see a lot of wrench tonight.” There is a hint of masked excitement under his cynicism.
The cowboy is introduced and presented with his first polysyllabic test: Equilibrist. Definition.
A performer who is skilled at balancing in unusual positions and hazardous movements, as a tightrope walker in a circus. The cowboy spells the word with ease, almost guilty to get a word right in front of the hungry crowd. A gaudy menagerie of contestants follows. Each is presented with a wacky word to orthographize: Glossopharyngeal. Schadenfreude. Prophylaxis. Meitnerium. Prolegomenon. Gadolinium. Tsimishan.
Sensual female lips form the auditory contours of the alphabet. The women are tantalizing. Each girl has a peculiar sexuality, a radiating nubile innocence that would drive Nabokov mad with lust. As clothing begins to peel away, there is none of the sad perfunctoriness of molting strippers. There is none of the homogeneity of industrial sexuality. This is lawless nudity, heightened by maddening anticipation and voyeuristic curiosity: just how far will they go? Just what is going to be under there?
Did I mention it only costs seven dollars?
I look over at my friend Caleb, who is frothing over the sides of his seat in excitement. He is a 220 pound instantiation of schoolgirl giddiness. His competitive streak is titillated by the spelling, his carnal side by the inexorable revelation of mammarial flesh. Dylan tries to calm him down. It is common knowledge that Caleb is victim to ‘mammalalia’: he irrepressibly shouts “Boobies!” whenever he happens across a pair of what Dylan refers to as “Baps.” I maintain a more composed exterior although I am secretly mesmerized by the simultaneous engagement of both sets of my marbles.
A stunted, smiling, suited character takes the podium and introduces himself with exaggerated showmanship. “Arcadi is the name.” His nerdiness seems at once authentic and embellished. Squinty eyes shift behind absurd, rounded spectacles. A three piece suit constrains his already jerky movements. A silent stiffening in the crowd marks a silent consensus: this guy is a square.
“Your word, Arcadi, is porphyra.”
The event is explicitly exhibitionist. And here he is actually trying to win the thing. “Porphyra” he repeats, with professional spelling bee poise. Then he rapidly rattles off letters with sublime confidence: “p-o-r-p-h-i-r-a.”
The judge’s apologetic news of his mistake loosens the boulders of his pudgy cheeks. His face falls in mock horror. The red lights of Amsterdam descend on the stage. Music amplifies. Then things start to get a little strange: he collapses, then starts to writhe in exaggerated self-disappointment. Just audible above the blaring speakers is an all too human howling. Immediate captivation sweeps the audience. This is unrestrained imprecation, primal shame, the prostrate stance of self-flagellation. He is a man possessed.
In the second round, Arcadi crawls back onto the stage. The judge starts speaking with a hint of hesitation, “Um, your next word is…”
“Nooo!” the shuddering figure on the podium bellows with theatrical bitterness: “No. I will not spell again. I have been humiliated by a seductive combination of hubris and seaweed. The humiliating stance of the quadruped becomes me! I cannot escape your insatiable eyes! Have it! Have your pound of flesh!”
A cacophony of howls and striptease jazz strikes up once again. Arcadi tears at his clothes . The agony in his eyes and screams couldn’t have been more violent if he were shredding off flesh. This is not the giggling, self-conscious precocity of amateur striptease. It is the the soul-shout of a coliseum casualty. It is the surrendering, existential bleating of the public execution.
Pierce takes the stage, his effeminate face framed by the monstrous collar of a polar bear coat. His grin is sly. His word is Quodlibet: a subtle or elaborate argument or point of debate, usually on a theological or scholastic subject. Pierces sidles up to the microphone, clears his throat, and repeats the word in the booming seductive low-registers of his vocal range: “Quodlibet. Z-7-D-A-B-A-B. Quodlibet.”
His approach is shock and awe exhibitionism. His preparation is intricate. Outer layers are removed with focused method. His frenzy crescendos. His underwear is prepared with the impressive multilayering of a Matryoshka doll. Silk boxers give way to briefs, briefs to speedos, speedos to blue little boy undies with the white trim. He pauses momentarily at one of the nether stages of his strip to highlight the leather codpiece that covers his nether regions.
And then that is gone too. Only a weird, miniature sock type apparatus remains, a diminuitive stocking pulled over his flapdoodle third leg.
People get progressively more drunk. After a few breathless hesitations, someone successfully spells ulu: an inuit all-purpose knife. Dylan offers objective criticism: “Wow. They went for a tricky one, and he sniped it.” Later, a voluptuous brunette lets the men in the crowd know that they are welcome to buy her drinks, alluding to a not-so-subtle win-win situation for her and the audience.
Sherwin, the host with a host of sexual ambiguities, weaves exotic words into lascivious sentences, to give the words context. “Well. In this life I have come across two types of people: the simple fuckers that have barely enough brain mass to support an ocellus but also the intricate, vociferous fuckers that make this pageant worth sticking around for.”
Awkward males resort to the ‘ass floss’ move after stumbling out of their trousers. Wobbly Sapphic spellers come complete with gyrating nipple tassles. Almost everyone goes full monty. After a week of LSAT studying, I am somehow relieved that there are people out there who spent a week in preparing to get naked in public. It’s somehow noble.
The spelling bee winner is called up. Despite impeccable spelling, he must share the fate of his friends. The crowd demands it. Wearing only his briefs he leans in to the mike to make an admission: I promised my mother that I wouldn’t take off my underwear.” A monumental “Awww” of disappointment pours forth from the audience.
Instead of apology, he leans in conspiratorially to the audience: “Sherwin? Can you come up here? Can you come up here and help me? I’m pretty sure I only promised that it wouldn’t be me that takes off my underwear.” A coy smile spreads over his face.
This is the way the spelling bee ends.
Not with bang but a simper.