Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"I" is for Irritable

We continue this excursion away from the theme of "Stuff: Engineering, Materials and Things" with "irritable," a seemingly harmless little word which brought my very world crumbling down around me some thirty-two years ago.

In sixth grade, I was a wreck, at least in my own eyes. I was uncool, unathletic, awkward and self-conscious.  Basically, like me now, but shorter.  I was always the last one picked in any sporting contest.  I had a bit of a pot belly.  I once laughed while drinking milk and it came out my nose.  In front of a pretty girl.

I was not popular.

I could draw pretty well and I was a fiendishly good reader, and no, neither of those did a thing for my popularity, any more than did the fact that I played the clarinet in band.  Yeah, I was That Kid.

Man, I had forgotten just how bad it really was until just now.  Excuse me for a moment while I go collect myself.  Talk amongst yourselves.

Right.  Anyway, I was also good at spelling.  Again, not something that upped my cool factor in any way, but winning the 1981 Charles H. Castle Elementary School sixth grade spelling contest did mean one thing - I was finally the best at something.  And that, folks, most assuredly is better than not being the best at something.

I remained outwardly humble, of course; noblesse oblige, remembering the little people, not wanting to take undue advantage of my newfound notoriety.  I do admit though, I was proud.

Which, I have on good authority, is the very thing that goeth before the fall, and for me the fall came swiftly and terribly.  A few weeks later at the District contest I missed my very first word.  I spelled "irritable" with one "r."

Yeah, I know.

My humiliation knew no bounds.  A third grader should have nailed that one.  I couldn't even look at my principal, Mr. Chapman, who had accompanied me.  I had failed myself and I had failed Mr. Walker, the best teacher a kid could have.  I had failed Charles H. Castle Elementary School.  My ancestors looked down from heaven and shook their heads sadly. Like Icarus, I had soared too close to the sun, and my fall was no less dramatic.

Never again did I scale the dizzying heights of spelling greatness.  Never again did Genius fly so low to brush me with her gossamer wing.  The next year, at O.J. Actis Junior High school, I didn't even get into the contest.  Mrs. Kendrick made up a rule, on the fly, that you had to have gotten 100% on all your spelling tests, and she did it just to keep me out, which she was looking for any excuse to do.  It may have had something to do with me constantly talking in class and being lazy in my classwork, I don't know, whatever.  Everett went instead.  I think he won, and went on to win everything between that and the World Spelling Bee or something, I don't know, whatever.

But shed no tears for me, kind reader.  They may have have cruelly snuffed out a promising spelling career; they may have robbed me of the future greatness that was rightfully mine, but they could not take away the glory of those few shimmering weeks when, for a brief, glorious moment, I was the best.



  1. Jerry,Thanks for the"shout out" You were a good kid and it was great having you in my room!I knew you would do well in life.Please call me Terry!

  2. Thanks, Mr., uh, Terry. It really was a good, fun year, in no small part due to you. People like you and my wife, also a great sixth grade teacher, have an enormous positive impact.

  3. Congratulations on being the best! Loved reading your account! I think I can picture you in my 6th grade class, yeah every class has "that kid!" :)
    Enjoy the rest of A-Z!

  4. Thanks, Roberta, though I think it's time I found some new laurels to rest on. Enjoyed your blog today.

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  7. D-Y-I-N-G!!!!! Oh good heavenly humorous read! Where do I begin?

    From your self-deprecating descriptions of yourself as a youth (LOLOL) to... oh help me... noblesse oblige... to "shed no tears for me kind reader" you absolutely NAILED this one! I am still smiling, biting my lip, and inwardly dying at the pure funny of this blog post.

    THIS is the Jerry I'm talking about. Closet humorist extraordinaire.

    Waiter, drink please!

    1. My day isn't complete until I know you've seen the day's post. You don't even have to say anything about it, you could just say "Read it" and I'd be fine. Plus, people wouldn't start to think you were on my payroll.

      Thanks, Coach.

  8. I love how you've managed to encapsulate all the pain, humiliations and propensity to catastrophize that characterize those pre-teen and early teen years, and yet wrap it in humour and lightness. I'm shaking my fist back down through the years towards Mrs. Kendrick!

  9. Isn't it funny how momentous every little thing is at that age, whether good or bad? It's certainly true for my own twelve-year-old daughter.

    As for Mrs. Kendrick, I kid her. She was a good teacher, but try telling that to a disgruntled twelve-year-old!

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. Jerry, I love your tone and sense of humor. "My ancestors looked down from heaven and shook their heads sadly. Like Icarus, I had soared too close to the sun,..." Terrific stuff; you tickled my funnybone today.

    And, on the "small world" note, I know Mr. Terry Walker.


  11. Thanks, Annis, very kind of you.

    Small world, indeed. Terry Walker is definitely in my Teachers Hall of Fame.

    Thanks for the kind words.

  12. I love your sense of humor, it really shines in print. Yes, you had your three weeks of fame back in 6th grade, but something tells me you are at the top again with all of your wonderful posts.

  13. Thanks, Joan. Being able to laugh at ourselves is a useful ability. And if someone can't laugh at me, they are seriously humor-impaired.

  14. It is a wonderful gift not only to see the pain, arrogance, and humor of our past, but, also, to understand how we have grown as a result of those good or bad experiences. This is a brief coming of age story that is beautifully and skillfully told.

  15. Thanks, Dennis. If we can grow from an episode AND laugh about it, then I guess it's worth it.

  16. Oh my gosh Gerald! I LOVE this! I too was a bookish nerd and I too won the district spelling bee in 6th grade....and I lost at the Regional Bee...guess what I misspelled? Patronize!! :) Isn't life ironic?! We would have gotten along swimmingly back in those days...

  17. No doubt, Missy, no doubt. But please, don't lump me in with yourself. Patronize? Who wouldn't get that one? KIDDING, I'm kidding. But seriously, please be careful where you call me Gerald. People here don't understand your special privilege and I don't want anyone else thinking they can do it.

  18. I apologize for my indiscretion G! I shall heretofore be more careful where I refer to you in that way--names will NOT be changed, in order to protect the innocent! My bad!


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